Saag Aloo (v)

A short tale of small dishes of Indian cuisine.

Last weekend during a trip to London we headed off in to the East of the capital to Brick Lane. Once associated with slum living and the crimes associated to Jack the Ripper, Brick Lane is now, as well as being the hub of London’s Bangladeshi community, a hive of market trading, art and social activity. There are so many restaurants you could probably spend month’s down there and not sample all there is to offer. Delicious smells fill the air as  restauranteurs stand at the doorways, luring you in with offers of free wine or beer, all claiming to have the best curry in London.

Brick-Lane-Street

Ordinarily I don’t like places that have faded photographs of their food outside the restaurants, it reminds me too much of 1980’s Spain in largely British resorts where chips and egg were the dish of the day but, I saw a photograph of a tray of Thalia outside this little place on Brick Lane and I was sold.

And I was not disappointed. Tiny dishes of saag aloo, spicy vegetable curry, creamy yogurt and mint dip, sweet onion bhajiis, little fried parcels of fresh vegetables, carefully folded aromatic chapati and crisp fresh poppadoms, and the most delicate rice I have ever tasted. Everything was cooked perfectly and the flavours married up together so well.

All week I have been planning my own Thalia and I am pleased to share with you my simple recipe for saag aloo. It  will serve 4 as a side dish and sits happily alongside curries or grilled fish or chicken.

  • 300g Potatoes, peeled, cubed and boiled until tender
  • 200g spinach, chopped
  • Half a red chilli, finely sliced
  • Half a large white onion, roughly chopped
  • Two cloves of garlic
  • Half a teaspoon each of mustard seed, cumin seed, ginger powder and turmeric
  • A little water or coconut milk

In a blender mince up the onion, garlic, mustard seed, cumin seed, ginger powder and turmeric. Heat a little oil in a pan and sweat off the mixture for a few moments before adding the cooked potatoes and enough water or coconut milk to make a thin sauce. Add the chilli. Cook for a few moments before adding the spinach. Leave the spinach on top of the potatoes whilst it wilts, then stir it in. Serve as a side dish to other curries or on its own with rice and chapati.

 

 

Potato Salad with Mustard Dressing

Its is funny how certain foods spark a memory in you. Fish and chips remind me of the seaside, little plates of prawns remind me of our weekly trip to the market in town when I was allowed a snack after the shopping was complete and potato salad always without fail reminds me of a deep pan pizza, served piping hot in the Pizza Hut restaurant in the town centre with my parents when I was just a child.

I remember the restaurant well. It had a dark interior and there were booths with brightly coloured light fittings hanging over the tables. Little shakers of chilli flakes and parmesan sat along side the salt and pepper. I loved the salad bar with its unusual dressings such as thousand island and blue cheese (fancy), the little trays of red beans (adventurous), beetroot cubes (retro), canned sweetcorn, croutons, onion scallions, green salad and, rosy red tomatoes. I can remember piling my bowl high (in those days you got one shot at the salad bar), green stuff in the bottom, always to be kept to a minimum but present to keep the parents happy,  topped with huge amounts of potato salad and maybe a splodge of thousand island dressing, carried gingerly back to the table to avoid spillage.

It was a treat to eat out and although the restaurant has now long been closed, boarded up and moved to the burgeoning retail park a few miles away I will always remember it fondly. I also wonder if my son will remember our trips out for food fondly, or regard them as just something else we do and  take them for granted.

This is my version of potato salad, into which I always throw in a few extras such as raw peas, maybe a few finely sliced radishes, or some finely chopped carrot leaf – what ever I have  looking lonely in the fridge to add a bit of extra crunch.

Delicious served with chicken skewers, grilled fish or, of course, a slice of pizza.

Potato Salad

Serves 4-6 as a side dish.

  • 320g new potatoes
  • 2 free range eggs
  • 15g capers
  • 15g green spring onions (including stems), finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons of low fat crème fraîche
  • 2 teaspoons of Dijon mustard
  • 20g raw, freshly podded peas, some sliced radish or carrot leaf (optional)

Boil the potatoes and eggs until the potatoes are tender and the eggs hard boiled. Set aside to cool and then roughly chop the potatoes, peel and roughly chop the eggs.

In a bowl add the capers, spring onion, crème fraîche, mustard and any other raw extras you feel like adding. Combine well. Add the cold potato and egg and gently fold into the mixture. Will keep covered for a day in the fridge.

Tomato and Sorrel Omelette (v)

A sorrel story…..with a bit of tomato and egg thrown in.

This weeks fruit and vegetable box was like looking into summer itself, sweet shiny nectarines,  apples, sunshine yellow melon, long green courgette, colourful mixed peppers, fresh orange carrots, new potatoes galore, a little paper box of sweet cherry tomatoes and a packet of sorrel.

Sorrel is a herb whose name derives from the French word for sour given its acidic taste. Unlike more popular culinary herbs such as mint, basil, rosemary and thyme it is rarely to be found in local supermarkets. Once a very popular ingredient in stews, soups and salads sorrel fell out of favour with cooks for a very long time and is even considered by some to be a weed to be tossed into the composter. Thankfully sorrel is becoming more readily available via local producers and independent health shops. Sorrel should not be eaten in any great quantity due to its mild toxicity but in small amounts it’s lemony flavours add a welcome burst of flavour to all manner of dishes, particularly egg and fish dishes.

For this dish only small amounts tomato, sorrel and (if using) cottage cheese are required due to their natural tanginess which are balanced out by the rich egg yolks and the sea salt.

Tomato and Sorrel Omelette

  • 3 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 3 sorrel leaves, finely sliced
  • 2 free range eggs
  • 1 pinch of sea salt
  • (Optional), desert spoon of cottage cheese or creme fruit

In a bowl, mix all the ingredients together, ensuring the egg yolks and white are well beaten. Heat a small amount of butter or oil in a non stick frying pan and add the egg mixture. Twist the pan carefully around to ensure an even covering of the mixture in the pan to enable the omelette to cook evenly.

As the omelette cooks it will begin to lift from the pan enabling you to fold it in half and turn it. This should only take a few moments. Carefully lift the omelette from the pan and serve. If it breaks up, why worry?  A dish packed with all these flavours won’t fail to taste amazing. Delicious served with freshly sliced avocado.

 

Chachouka (North African Spicy Pepper Stew)

Todays short kitchen tale is one of hangover recovery. This morning whilst I was rounding up and returning misplaced belongings that my friends children had left scattered around the house last night, my neighbour and very good friend invited me in to see what she had cooked up for her breakfast. I could smell the spices as I crossed the hall to the kitchen where she presented me with a small bowl of Chachouka. I accepted it gratefully and, on her advice came home and served it up with some scrambled eggs. Not only was it delicious but the warming spices, oily chorizo and colourful vegetables soon began to heal my sore head and calm my turning tummy.

This is my version of Chachouka which is meat free and has the added iron punch of a handful of fresh spinach.

Chachouka

  • Two large salad onions, finely sliced
  • One clove of garlic, finely sliced
  • Half a red chilli, deseeded and finely sliced
  • Handful of spinach, torn
  • Teaspoon of cumin seed
  • Teaspoon of smoked paprika
  • 400g of tomato passatta or a can of chopped tomatoes

Heat some oil in a frying pan and fry off the cumin seeds for a minute before adding the onion and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes before adding the chilli and pepper. Fry off for a further 5 minutes before adding the tomatoes and paprika. Over a low heat, simmer for about 15 minutes to allow the sauce to reduce. Scatter over the torn spinach and allow it to wilt before serving.

Serve with scrambled eggs for breakfast, add some red beans to any left overs for a quick vegetarian chilli dish and enjoy with plain boiled rice, or serve it hot on a slice of crusty bread with a sprinkle of cheese.

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Hamster

Well, my New Years resolution of writing a #FoodFriday post every week along with a #TuesdayBookBlog post every other week has really fallen on its knees. There is a small band of blogs that I read each week and I am always truly amazed that the authors can turn out great post after great post on a weekly basis on top of carrying on with their daily lives.

I am still reading and still cooking. Presently I am halfway through eating a great bowl of homemade chilli reading a great book which, I must admit was chosen solely on its title “Time Travelling with a Hamster“. It isn’t even just a clever title. The book does have a hamster, and a time travelling one at that – albeit at the moment he is a bit of a secondary character as he is missing action after being the subject of a test run on a homemade time machine but I am holding out hope that Alan Shearer (in real life a Newcastle United and England legend, in this context a furry rodent) is happily washing his whiskers and eating a nice piece of cheddar in 1984 rather than being rigid in some space time continuum or spinning uncontrollably down a worm hole with his eyes bulging out of his head.

440px-Read_the_hamster_manual_advertisementThe recent acquirement of our own tiny hamster (a delightful little chap who is quite happy spending his days face down, bum up in a bowl of sunflower seeds, curled up in his nest or hanging off the top bars of his cage like tiny, furry circus performer) lead me to some serious Googling about their habits, how to keep them happy and so on and so forth.

Apparently, hamster fancying (as it is known amongst the more serious of hamster
owner) is a relatively new business brought about by one Albert (coincidentally the name of the main character in Time Travelling with a Hamster) Marsh from Alabama in the US during the 1940’s who saw a gap in the pet market and began furiously breeding the furry little critters. He even produced a Hamster Manual, a weighty tome of some 34 chapters and 20 illustrations dedicated to all things hamster. Hamster Pic .jpg

Of course, now we don’t need to have a one dollar manual sent to us. Google does all the work. Simply type in HAMSTER and you will get pictures, care tips, and all other kinds of hamster related madness such as  hamster fancy dress costumes for humans, hamster hats (for hamsters), a bizarre headline stories of people who take their tiny complainants to sporting events and a blogs allegedly written by hamsters, for hamsters.

The latter has concerned me slightly has given me a little hope. If a bunch of Alan Shearers distant cousins could master the art of writing their own life stories on Tumblr, then surely a little nibbly time travel would be a doddle……watch this space (no pun intended).

 

Tuesday Book Blog – The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

David is a girl trapped in a boy’s body. Leo is harbouring a secret. Both are from different lives in the same town. Neither fit in. Over the plastic cafeteria tables at Eden Park School an unlikely friendship occurs, one full of surprises, tears, laughter, heartache and love.

There are many stories and many lovely relationships  within this book but what struck me most was the one between Leo and his dad. Contains spoilers.

Leo and his twin sister never met their father. Their mother barely holds down her job, chain smokes their grocery money and prefers boyfriends and bingo to child raising and bonding. I could see from the outset that Leo had placed his father so high on a pedestal from such a young age on the back of his mothers failings that you can barely find him in the clouds of Leo’s imagination. He doesn’t have a face for a long time into the story. But when that face becomes a reality and the eyeThe Art of Being Normals are set on the  hopes and longings  of a daughter he abandoned before birth you realise that pedestal is nothing but a platform for him to jump even further away. Married with a family of his own, he regards Leo as a nuisance, and a liar and casts him aside once more.

Pedestal smashed, Leo returns home. Who was going to be his hero now? Who was going to fill that void of hope. As it turns out, the one who had been his enemy for so long. The one who knew more about broken hearts that he could ever imagine…

If you only read one book this year, make it The Art of Being Normal…..it had me laughing and crying and despairing at the cruel frailty of life’s emotions. Buy it, borrow it, steal it. Just read it.

 

 

Food Friday – Oven roasted sweet potato with olives & pine nuts

Pine Nuts

 

Quick #FoodFriday recipe……works well with cheese stuffed mushrooms or steamed chicken and greens.

 

  • OlivesOne sweet potato cut in to wedges
  • Black and green olives, pitted
  • Two tablespoons of pine nuts
  • Oil
  • Sea salt
  • Twist of black pepper
  • Heat the oven to 190ºC.

 

Add a good glug of oil to an oven proof tray and add the wedges. Sprinkle with sea salt and add a twist of fresh black pepper and bake for approx 20 minutes until they are soft and beginning to colour.

Sweet Potato Wedges with Pine Nuts and Olives

 

Add the olives and pine nuts, cook for a further 10 minutes until the wedges are just starting to crisp up and the nuts have taken on a lovely golden brown colour.

Super simple supper. Love #FoodFriday.