Looking forward to Spring

It’s been a full and busy February, the time seems to have flown by. We’ve had crazy weather in the UK with gloriously sunny days, biting winds and now a little snow with more predicted.

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Days have been filled with beautiful beach walks, even on the windiest of days…everything looks so much more dramatic and exciting.

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I took delivery of a wonderful new book, Artisan Sourdough Made Simple, written by a fellow blogger, Emilie Rafa who blogs over at The Clever Carrot. I’ve loved reading it and beginning to experiment with her wonderful recipes, starting with a brioche loaf which we loved and a fabulous sourdough focaccia .

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I’ve also been making my regular sourdough loaf which is our “daily bread”. For my mum I bake a rye and caraway loaf which she enjoys and Big Man is in charge of thinly slicing it for her once it has cooled.

Food has been comforting and warming with old favourites making regular appearances with a few new dishes being tried too. I made a sweet potato and kale curry…it was ok, but rather too sweet and not quite spicy enough for us. More work needed on that one!

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One particularly spectacular day Big Man and I hopped on a train heading West along the coast for an hour and spent the day in Brighton. We went on the i360, an enormous pod which holds about 200 people which rises up a 162m tower to give incredible views at a height of 138m across the channel, the city of Brighton and across the South Downs…and of course the panorama is a 360° one.  Absolutely fantastic and we had a cheeky glass of champagne to make the experience extra special.

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Today the cold weather is moving in, people are panic buying (ridiculous) in the supermarkets and I’m getting ready for Big Man to come back from a couple of weeks in Spain. In our house, this means making food…warming chicken and chickpea soup, pork and beans and maybe even a fish pie. Well…he says he’s missed my cooking!

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Despite the cold, there are little signs that spring is on its way with the bravest of bulbs pushing up through the ground,  defying the cold and reminding us that after the dark days of winter there is always sunshine and new life to look forward to.

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Something Old, Something New – Melokhia

Don’t you just love it when you discover a new ingredient, something you’ve never come across before that just leaps out at out and says…buy me, try me, taste me! Or is it just me?  No, I didn’t think so.

Melokhia Soup (1)

The other day I popped in to see my new chum at the Caribbean shop and he had bunches of something green and leafy. It looked similar to bunches of basil which has sprouted a bit too high. It was, he informed me, Melokhia (there are many variations on the spelling) and was used a lot in Arab cooking. If you don’t like the texture of okra, he said, don’t buy it. Well, I do like okra, so I did buy it, and to be honest, I didn’t find anything slimey or slippery about it at all, it adds texture to a simple soup.

I got straight onto the phone to my oracle of Arab recipes, my mum, and she knew immediately what I was talking about and told me that she had bought it dried and made a recipe from Claudia Roden’s A New Book of Middle Eastern Food. I jotted down the details to make it, and then promptly ordered the book together with another of hers Arabesque which I am now devouring slowly.

Ms Roden tells us “Melokhia is one of Egypt’s National dishes, an ancient peasant soup”. As I like to embrace my inner ancient peasant, I knew this was for me. Fear not if you can’t get hold of it, use spinach or some delicate green leafed vegetable.  I was thinking of something old, something new as this is essentially a chicken or vegetable soup recipe with the added new ingredient.  Sorry the photos don’t look that exciting, it’s not a looker, but it really wins points on flavour.

Ingredients (these are my scaled down version, the recipe calls for double)

  • 1.25 litres of chicken (or meat stock, but I think vegetable would be good too) reserve the meat if using
  • 500g of melokhia (leaves only), washed and chopped (or 60g of dried melokhia crushed and saked in hot water until doubled in size)
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Seasoning
  • Olive oil
  • ½ tablespoon of ground coriander
  • Cayenne pepper (I used pimenton)

Bring the stock to the boil and add the fresh or reconstituted melokhia and boil for 10 (fresh) or 30 (dried) minutes. Prepare a garlic sauce  by frying crushed garlic and a little salt in a small amount of oil. When the garlic is golden add the coriander and cayenne, mix to a paste and fry for a few moments longer.

Add the paste to the soup and simmer for a few minutes more.

This can be served as is or with rice. I added in the vegetables and chicken from my stock. The flavour is delicate from the Melokhia, and it was exciting to be discovering a new ingredient and rediscovering the wonderful recipes of Claudia Roden.