Best friends, cookbooks and curry

Best friends who know too many secrets about you are worth holding on to. If they share a history with you going back to school days, consider yourself very lucky indeed. Especially if they also believe that you can never own too many recipe books. My best pal, Ria, does a grand job each year of fuelling my obsession with  cookbooks and Christmas or Birthday (and sometimes both…I’m not complaining) a new book will find its way to me and I’ll enjoy months and then years of experimenting with new recipes.

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We talk most days on the phone, which Big Man finds both incredible and hilarious (“what on earth were you talking about for the last half an hour?”…”oh, nothing much, this and that”). Our conversations invariably end with “so, what’s for dinner tonight?” and we’ll happily chat for a further 10 minutes about what we’re cooking, planning to cook, wishing we had the energy to cook, or what we took out of the freezer put by from when we were more organised with our cooking a couple of weeks back.

Lately, I’ve been cooking up a good few curries from my birthday present cookbook. Curries from all over the place and this chicken curry from Pakistan really was fantastic. Definitely dinner party quality, but also simple enough for a family meal. The description of the recipe explains that it was a Special curry because in the fifties and sixties,  if you were invited to dinner and served this, you would know the hosts had spared no expense in your honour because chickens were hard to obtain and expensive.  Luckily for most of us, this is no longer the case, but if your purse runs to it, buy the best you can.

Desi Murgh Curry – Special Chicken Curry (serves 4)

  • 4 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 2 large onions, finely sliced
  • 2 tsp each of garlic and ginger paste
  • 4 tomatoes, skinned and finely chopped (or use tinned, as I did)
  • 50g plain Greek style yogurt
  • 1 ½ tsp hot chilli powder (or more or less, to taste)
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 3 large cardamom pods (the recipe calls for black ones but I used green)
  • 6 cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 chicken approx 1.2kg, skinned and jointed (I used 8 skinned chicken thighs, bone in)
  • Chopped coriander to garnish

Heat the oil and fry the onions until golden brown, take your time doing this, it’s worth it. Remove the onions and when they have cooled slightly, grind them to a paste. I did this using my stick blender with a splash of water added to the mix.

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Add the ginger and garlic pastes to the oil and fry gently for a few minutes then add the tomatoes and next the yogurt. Cook for about 5 minutes then add the onion paste, the spices the bay leaf and a little salt.  Continue to cook gently until the oil separates out.

Put the chicken pieces into the pan, spoon the sauce over and add about 500ml of water. Cover the pan and cook slowly for about 50 minutes until the meat is cooked through and tender. You may need to add a splash more water so keep an eye on it.

Remove the lid, check for seasoning (adjust the salt if necessary) and continue to cook for a few more minutes without the lid until the oil separates out again.  Garnish with coriander, and serve. Don’t forget to call your best friend to tell her how good it was and you’re sorry there’s not a portion waiting for her in your freezer as you ate the lot…oops!

Mung Bean Dhal (9)

If a veggie curry is more your thing, hop over to take a look at my Mung Bean Curry.

Melting Spiced Pork with Aubergine

Not quite a curry, but with just a few fragrant spices and a gentle cook in the oven, you’ll be rewarded with a pot of melting meat and aubergine which will make you oh so happy! And for non meat eaters, read on to the end for a vegetarian alternative.

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Ingredients, to serve four with rice

  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 750g pork cut into bite sized chunks (I used skinless pork belly strips)
  • 2 aubergines cut into bite sized chunks
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 5 star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 onions, peeled and very finely diced
  • 1 tbsp grated ginger
  • 1 red chili, finely chopped
  • 1 bunch fresh coriander (separate stems and leaves and finely chop both)
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • Juice of a lime

Heat oven to 200C/180C Fan Oven/Gas 6. Heat the oil in an ovenproof pan that has a lid and fry the meat until browned (you may need to do this in batches), remove from the pan.

Add the aubergine and brown (you may need a little extra oil), remove from the pan and put with the pork.

Now add the sugar to the pan and allow to caramelise slightly, then return  the meat and aubergine to the pan with the cinnamon and star anise.

Put the onions, ginger, most of the chili (reserving a little for garnishing) and the chopped coriander stalks into the pan and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the fish sauce and enough water to cover the mixture completely.

Cover and place in the oven for an hour. Remove, stir in most of the coriander and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Garnish with any remaining coriander and chili and serve with boiled rice and vegetables.

For a vegetarian version, omit the pork, and replace with a mixture of robust mushrooms such as brown chestnut and shitake. Substitute the fish sauce with a light soy sauce.

 
Inspired by a BBC Good Food recipe

Vegetarian Hot and Sour Soup

Much as I enjoy a blue fillet steak or a bacon sandwich,  there are times when it feels good to lay off the meat and enjoy meals without. This doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice flavour though.  Hot and Sour Soup is perfect for days like these. Filling, warming, and full of exciting flavours. If you want to add cooked chicken or prawns though,  go ahead. Extra vegetables? Go for it!

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This version was inspired by a recipe from a much used and favoured cookbook, Gok Cooks Chinese. Although my predictive text called him God. He’s good, but not quite THAT good!

Ingredients (to serve 4 generously)

  • 1.5 litres of light, unsalted vegetable stock or use water
  • 50g approx of mushrooms, sliced  (I used chestnut with a few shitake)
  • 1-2 fresh red chillis, finely sliced (or a teaspoon of dried chilli flakes) depending on  how hot you like your soup
  • 50ml light soy sauce
  • Approx 3 heaped tablespoons of thinly sliced bamboo shoots (I used tinned, drained bamboo)
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and very finely sliced then diced
  • 5cm piece of fresh ginger peeled and grated (or use frozen chopped ginger)
  • 3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and grated or crushed
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 4-6 tablespoons of rice vinegar  (to taste)
  • Optional 2 heaped teaspoons of cornflour dissolved in a little cold water
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • Finely chopped spring onion or chives to serve

Bring the stock to a gentle boil and add the carrot. Simmer for about 5 minutes then add all the ingredients except the cornflour, vinegar,  egg and spring onion.

Simmer for about 10 minutes then gradually add the vinegar, tasting as you go until it reaches a level of sourness you enjoy.

If you prefer a slightly thickened soup, add two heaped teaspoons of cornflour to about 50mls of cold water and add to the simmering soup. Allow to thicken (this will take a minute or two).

Turn off the heat and add the egg, whisking as you do to create fine ribbons of cooked egg. Serve garnished with the finely sliced spring onion and marvel that it was quicker to prepare than ordering and waiting for a takeaway delivery.

(For a gluten free option use tamari instead of soy sauce and omit the cornflour).

Slow Cooked Chinese Style Barbecue Pork

We’re now back from Spain after a hectic month of family, friends and house repairs. Some good times and some sad times but that’s life isn’t it? Back in Bexhill for the moment and life is taking on a gentler pace for the next couple of weeks. That’s good as far as we’re concerned!

A gentler pace means time for slow cooking. I seem to have been rather enthusiastic about my passion for the slow cooker as my best pal Ria decided she wanted to give one a go, so I bought her a slow cooker for Christmas. My mum then decided that she’d join in so bought a slow cooker too. We’re all at it – slow cooking with passion and exchanging recipes. Not a bad way to enjoy food, especially when we’re able to share the results of our experimenting with each other.

 

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Here’s a great recipe which works equally well in the oven or the slow cooker. It takes very little preparation and after the required number of hours you’re rewarded with a dish which looks and tastes as though you’ve done something very cheffy and clever.

Ingredients to serve 4-6

  • 2 finely chopped or grated garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped ginger
  • 2 tbsp runny honey
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp mirin (use sweet sherry otherwise)
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
  • a bones and rolled pork shoulder (about 1kg/2lb in weight)
  • Steamed or boiled rice and chopped spring onions to serve

Put the garlic, ginger, honey, soy sauce, mirin, oil and five spice powder in a large bowl and mix. Add the pork to the bowl and coat it in the sauce.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, overnight if possible.

When you are ready to cook, bring the pork to room temperature. Put into an ovenproof dish with a lid or into a slow cooker. In a conventional oven, cook at Gas Mark 3 for about 4 hours, If you find it is drying out, add a small glass of water. In the slow cooker cook on high for 6 hours or low for 10 hours until the meat is very tender (you won’t need to add any additional liquid in the slow cooker).

Slice the meat and shred lightly to serve. Pour over any cooking juices and serve hot with the rice and spring onions.

Leftovers are wonderful cold in sandwiches.

If you’re inspired by this, why not take a look at my twice cooked melting pork?

Twice Cooked Melting Pork (8)

Lemon Rice With Cashew Nuts

I made this lemon rice dish to eat with the Rendang Style Beef I made recently. A local Indian restaurant serves lemon rice, and I always order it but felt it was time I learned to make it myself. As a vegetarian dish it would stand pretty well alongside some vegetables, and is great with many other dishes, not just curries.

Lemon Rice (3)

Ingredients (to serve 4-6)

  • 2 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1  tsp black mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • ¼ tsp asafoetida (optional)
  • ½ small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 long green chilli (finely chopped and deseeded too if you prefer it less hot)
  • 10g fresh ginger, peeled and grated or chopped finely
  • About 10 fresh curry leaves
  • 100g unsalted cashew nuts
  • About 500g cooked and cooled basmati rice
  • juice of 1 large lemon plus the zest of ½ the lemonfinely grated
  • Optional – finely chop the remaining half of the juiced lemon
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat the oil in a large pan or wok and add the mustard seeds, turmeric and asafoetida. Fry, stirring constantly, until the mustard seeds begin to pop.

Now add the onion, green chilli, ginger, curry leaves and the nuts and fry for a couple of minutes until the nuts take on some colour and the onion has softened.

Curry Night (9)

Add the rice into the pan and stir fry until hot (a few minutes) then add the lemon juice, zest and lemon pieces. Mix well and season with salt and pepper before serving.

Inspired by a recipe from The Hairy Bikers’ Great Curries.

Rendang Style Beef and time to catch up with myself…

It’s been quiet on the blog for a while. Spain was hectic and by the time we got back to England just over four weeks ago we made a conscious decision to take things a little more slowly for a while. Old favourites were made in the kitchen, lots of comforting chickpea stews and delicious bowls of Spanish style lentils.

There was time for me to relax a little finishing off my summer quilt. It will have to wait to be used until next year as it’s enormous but thin. Not warm enough for the cold winter weather that has moved in here on the English South Coast.

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Totally hand made, Every. Single. Stitch. And I loved making it!

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Then I moved on to making my first proper socks for Big Man to keep cosy in. Thanks to Evie at Pendle Stitches for sending me this great pattern.

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I know the heel looks a bit odd, but it is a proper one, I promise! It’s just a dodgy photo.

And now, as we are one day away from December (some of my pals on the other side of the world are already into December!), I am allowing myself to tentatively think about Christmas menus. But we also have another very important celebration on 27th December. Best pal Ria’s birthday, and I have the honour of cooking a meal for a group of us. Nothing remotely Christmassy, so we’ve chosen a curry menu. A mix of different curries, some old favourites like Monkfish and Prawn curry. And a new one. A Rendang Style Beef Curry.

I say Rendang Style and not Beef Rendang as I don’t think the method of cooking it is entirely authentic. I’ve also been told that if the curry is saucy, it’s not a Rendang. So, a curry cooked differently, with plenty of sauce –  but well worth the time it takes to prepare and the longish list of ingredients. I had a trial run with it and (she says humbly) it was amazing! Fantastic flavours, meat that melted in your mouth, second and third helpings and clean plates all round.  I’ll post some of the other recipes in the coming week. Lemon and Cashew nut rice, potato and spinach curry and Keralan parathas to follow soon.

Beef Rendang

Ingredients (Recipe from Sainsbury’s Oct 2015 Magazine) Serves 6

  • 1 piece of brisket or silverside about 1.7kg cut into bite sized cubes
  • 1 tbsp vegetable or coconut oil
  • 8 green cardamom pods, crushed
  • 3 star anise
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 teaspoon each of ground cumin, ground coriander, hot chili powder
  • 1 beef stock cube
  • 1 400ml tin of coconut milk
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of palm sugar or soft brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoons tamarind paste
  • 2 tablespoons of Thai fish sauce
  • 8-10 kaffir lime leaves
  • 4 stalks of lemongrass, lightly “bashed”
  • juice of 2 limes
  • Chopped coriander, toasted dessicated coconut and red chili slivers to garnish (optional)

 

For the Spice Paste

  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 8 garlic cloves, peeld
  • 20g root ginger peeled and finely chopped
  • 20g galangal peeled and finely chopped (or use paste)
  • up to 6 birds eye chilis, stalks removed (I used a couple of my super hot, Bexhill grown chilis)
  • 3 tablespoons lemongrass paste
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil

Make the paste by blending all the ingredients in a food processor with about 50ml water to make it smooth. Add to the beef and marinate overnight in the fridge.

I used a slow cooker but this can also be done in the oven which you will need to preheat to 160C, (fan 140c) or gas 3. Otherwise preheat your slow cooker.

Heat the coconut or vegetable oil in a large pan or your casserole dish if it can go on the stove top. Add the cardamom, star anise, bay leaf, cinnamon sticks, cloves and ground spices and stir fry until fragrant.

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Add the beef and marinade, fry for a few minutes but you don’t need to brown. Then add the crumbled stock cube, coconut milk, tamarind paste, Thai fish sauce, lime leaves and lemongrass and bring to the boil.

Cover and transfer to the preheated oven for about 3 hours – I cooked mine in the slow cooker on low for about 8 hours.  Return to the hob and simmer, uncovered until the sauce has thickened and reduced. When you are ready to serve, stir in the lime juice and garnish.

I made mine ahead and found that when it has chilled there was a layer of oil from the cooking which solidified and was easy to remove. Of course, you don’t need to do this!

Curry Night (9)

We drank this with a delicious sauvignon blanc, but I think an ice cold beer would be great too.

Chicken Thighs with Pomegranate Molasses

The Curry Monster came knocking at my door recently. Does he visit your house too? If I allowed him to, he’d take up permanent residence with me but I don’t think Big Man would be overjoyed. He likes curry, but doesn’t have quite the same love affair with it as I do. Fair enough, two’s company, three’s a crowd! Sometimes I come across a dish like this which presses all the buttons for a curry lover and a curry liker alike. If you’re still with me, I’m sure that makes perfect sense…

The Curry Monster told me that he also fancied the tang of pomegranate molasses. I know, it just gets weirder and weirder. None of my old favourite books could help, so I went a-googling and I came across not only a fabulous recipe (which I adapted a little) but also an amazing blog. Do pop over, there’s plenty to enjoy.

Chicken with Pomegranate Molasses (4)

Ingredients (to serve 2-3 people)

  • 6 chicken thighs, skin on
  • 200mls thick yoghurt/ Greek yoghurt
  • 2 tbsp gram flour/ chickpea flour
  • 1 tbsp garlic paste
  • ½ tbsp ginger paste
  • 1 tsp chilli powder (or less if you want a mild flavour)
  • 110mls pomegranate molasses
  • ½ tsp garam masala powder
  • Salt to taste

Add the gram flour and the yoghurt in a bowl. Mix well to get rid of any lumps to form a thick paste. Next add the ginger and garlic pastes, chilli powder, molasses and the garam masala powder and salt. Add the chicken and mix well making sure to coat them well in the thick marinade. Leave to marinate for a few hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 200c/ Gas mark 6. Line a baking tin with foil and put the chicken and marinade in. Roast for approx 40 mins (until the juices run clear when the thigh is pierced) basting half way through cooking. I found that I had lots of lovely sauce which I love, Big Man less so. I drained the sauce off and gave the meat a further 5 minutes in the oven then served the chicken sprinkled with chopped coriander and the sauce on the side.

Serve with your favourite Indian bread, plain boiled rice and whatever else the Curry Monster tells you to cook.

Spicy Cucumber Salad

We recently celebrated Mother’s Day in England and for my mother I cooked a Chinese inspired meal with lots of different dishes. Some I’ve cooked before, like Stir Fried Beef with Ginger. Alongside the meat and fish dishes, I made a fresh and crunchy salad, inspired by one in my Gok Wan Cooks book. Sadly, there were very few leftovers the next day, and none at all of the salad!

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Ingredients to serve 4-6

  • 1 cucumber, partly peeled
  • ½ fresh chilli, finely sliced
  • 3 spring onions, finely sliced
  • A few handfuls of bean sprouts
  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon caster sugar
  • A pinch of salt

Slice off the ends of the cucumber then slice it in half lengthways. Scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon and then cut the cucumber into chunks about .5cm wide.

Mix the cucumber with the chilli, beansprouts and spring onions. Mix the rest of the ingredients together to make the dressing and pour over the salad a couple of minutes before serving.

Vaguely Vietnamese Summer Rolls

I know, I know…late for the train again. I seem to be a few steps behind at the moment when it comes to food fashion, but I get there in the end. And then, like the woman who still thinks shoulder pads should come with t-shirts (what…me with the sloping shoulders?!) I’ll keep trotting out my “new food discovery” for years to come!

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Summer, even in England this year, makes us want lighter more refreshing foods and a trip round the local Caribbean/Asian store rummaging for new foodstuffs resulted in the purchase of some rice paper wrappers. Summer Rolls – enjoyed from time to time in restaurants but never made – it seemed like an obvious choice.

When I decide to make something, I behave in the same way as I do if I have made the purchase of a new gadget or a pair of shoes. I have to use/wear them straight away. All the recipes for Vietnamese Summer rolls seemed to call for minced pork or prawns. Which would have been lovely if I’d had them, but I had avocado so I went for an (almost) vegetarian/vegan version. They would have been properly veggie/vegan if I’d left out the fish sauce.

Most of the recipes did seem to agree that you can pretty much do what you like and were rather loose on quantities. I just boiled up some fine rice noodles, finely sliced an avocado and made up a batch of finely sliced vegetables then kept rolling until I ran out – 9 rolls later.

Ingredients

  • Rice paper wrappers
  • Finely sliced vegetables (I used a piece of red pepper, half a large carrot, one spring onion, 2 leaves of Chinese cabbage and about a third of a courgette) mixed with some finely chopped mint, coriander and basil and a splash of fish sauce and the juice of half a lime
  • Rice noodles soaked in hot water until soft (I used one block which gave me about a cup and a half)

For the peanut dipping sauce

  • 2 heaped teaspoons of smooth peanut butter
  • 2 teaspoons of warm water
  • 1 teaspoon of soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of fish sauce
  • The juice of half a lime
  • A pinch of sugar

Get a little production line ready with a bowl of warm water big enough to hold your rice wrappers, a plate with a folded tea towel on top, your various filling ingredients, a clean plate to put the finished rolls onto and a few pieces of wet kitchen paper (or a damp cloth) to cover the rolls with to stop them drying out.

Dip a wrapper in the water and gently rub until it is transparent and soft (mine took less than 30 seconds). They are fragile but not overly so. Lay the wrapper on the plate with the clean tea towel.

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Place your various fillings in the centre of the wrapper, piled on top of each other) then roll the top of the wrapper over the fillings, fold in the sides to seal and then roll the bottom half of the wrapper up. As the wrapper is still wet it will seal and keep the filling in. Place the completed roll on the serving plate and cover with a damp cloth or kitchen paper.

To make the dipping sauce, simply mix all the ingredients together. I also served the rolls with some sweet chilli dipping sauce.

Fiddly, but not too challenging, and fun to make. Healthy, delicious and surprisingly filling. Result all round!

Beef Massaman Curry

When I was in England last time I was able to stock up on some ingredients which are harder for me to find in Spain.  I took them back to make sure I was able to cook up a curry when the urge struck. It tends to strike quite often but sometimes I just can’t do anything about satisfying it if I don’t have the ingredients to hand.  This means that curry pastes are the best way for me to sort out the curry craving as the spices often linger unloved in the cupboard. Yes, I admit it.

Beef Curry (4)

The Caribbean Food store in Bexhill is run by a jolly character who sells a range of curry pastes (and I really should have taken note of the brand name) which contain no artificial nasties – perfect for someone who loves to cook but feels a little guilty that she is not blending her own spice mixes. I was not familiar with Massaman Curry – a Thai curry which gives a gentle heat, sweet, sour, spicy and is utterly delicious.

Beef Curry (1)

The recipe comes from the BBC Good Food site with just a few little tweaks, but I have given details here too. I omitted the peanuts because I didn’t have any, but I expect they add a delicious crunch to the finished dish.

Ingredients to serve 4

  • 85g unsalted peanuts
  • 400ml can coconut cream
  • 4 tbsp massaman curry paste
  • 600g stewing beef steak, cut into bite sized chunks
  • 450g waxy potatoes, cut into 2½ cm chunks
  • 1 onion, cut into thin wedges
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tbsp tamarind paste
  • 1 tbsp palm or soft light brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 red chilli, deseeded and finely sliced, and chopped fresh coriander to serve

Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6, then roast the peanuts on a baking tray for 5 mins until golden brown. When cool enough to handle, roughly chop. Reduce oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4.

Heat 2 tbsp coconut cream in a large casserole dish with a lid. Add the curry paste and fry for 1 min, then stir in the beef and fry until well coated and sealed. Stir in the rest of the coconut with half a can of water, the potatoes, onion, lime leaves, cinnamon, tamarind, sugar, fish sauce and most of the peanuts. Bring to a simmer, then cover and cook for 2 hours in the oven until the beef is tender.

Sprinkle with sliced chilli and the remaining peanuts, then serve straight from the dish with rice.

If you are a curry fan too, how about this one? Or this vegetarian curry? Or nip on over to Soup Guru’s great blog and check out this gorgeous Indian Minced Beef Curry….