National Curry Week 2011

Tomorrow is the start of National Curry Week . Sure, the national event might’nt have as much clout as Christmas or New Year (not yet anyway…) but it is a chance to have a go at breaking the poppadom tower challenge (currently 5ft 1”) or the samosa speed challenge (how many can you wrap in 10 minutes?)

…or, you could just use it as an excuse to whip up a curry, which is exactly what I did. The lovely ‘wallahs’ at Dishoom - my favourite Indian restaurant –sent me the recipe for their legendry Ruby Murray curry, which kept me warm on many not-so-balmy summer evenings at their not-so-tropical Chowpatty Beach pop up on the South Bank.

The great thing about this curry are the clean, delicate flavours – it’s not swilling in ghee or saturated with cream. Although mine did taste good, Dishoom’s version was darker in colour then mine, and the flavours ran deeper…maybe I just prefer eating other people’s food…but if I work out any sort of tweaking to the recipe that makes the curry end up more like Dishoom’s version, I’ll let you know.

Don’t be intimidated by the ingredients – they’re so cheap and easy to come by (especially round Bethnal Green) and once you’ve invested in a boxful of ‘Indian ingredients’ then the next curry you make will be even cheaper, and you’ll already have the key ingredients which is always satisfying.

Ingredients (for 2)
50ml vegetable oil
6 chicken thighs (boneless and cut into 2 inch cubes)
5 green cardamom pods
4 bay leaves
4 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
20g tomato paste
several dried chillis (Dishoom recommend a Kashmiri red chilli pod)
3 large chopped onions
20g ginger paste
30g garlic paste
20g coriander powder
10g cumin powder
3 large, chopped tomatoes
salt
fresh coriander (to garnish)

I thought I’d stick to the recipe and use boneless chicken thighs – I’m not a fan of using chicken breast, especially in a recipe that involves cooking things for a long time, because they dry out so easily. The problem is that buying boneless thighs is pretty expensive, so have a go at boning them yourself – this guy will show you how. It really is worth it, and the meat is so much more flavourful. Do this before you begin so everything is all prepped and good to go.

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan and add the cardamom, bay leaves, cloves, cinnamon sticks and chilli until they start to crackle and release their flavour.

Add the onion and sauté for a few minutes, then add the ginger and garlic pastes, then the coriander and cumin powder.

Then, after a couple more minutes, put in the tomatoes and chicken, and whack up the heat.

Let the curry bubble away for 25 minutes. The chicken should be juicy and tender – but not pink, so do check before serving. Garnish it with fresh coriander, and serve with rice, nan, poppadom…or my favourite, rotis.

Frozen coley fishcakes

I maintain that frozen coley is an excellent thing to keep in the freezer—it defrosts quickly, it’s super healthy, and the fact it’s frozen so quickly after it’s caught means that it’s probably fresher than the fish lying about at supermarket counters.

Annoyingly, Tom sees frozen fish on about the same level as spam—something that should only be used in the event of nuclear fallout. But clearly he’s in the minority. The last time I wrote a post on frozen coley it received tons of hits…and because wordpress lets me see how visitors ended up at TheFoodIEat, I noticed that lots of you had googled ‘frozen coley recipe’. Interesting. So, in the name of supply and demand, here’s another:

Ingredients
Roughly 1 large potato per person (good mashing potatoes, preferably)
Roughly 1-1 ½ frozen coley steaks per person
Around 150 ml milk – basically enough so the fish are sitting in 3cm-deep milk when they’re nestled in the frying pan
Seasoning: black pepper, chilli, mustard, garlic, spring onions…(use your imagination)

(For proper fishcakes – I didn’t do this because, frankly, I couldn’t be bothered)
1 egg
Dried breadcrumbs

Method
Peel the potatoes and boil them until they’re nice and soft, and the potatoes will slip off a sharp knife.

While the potatoes are bubbling away, pour the milk into a frying pan, add seasoning (I used black pepper, mustard and chilli) then poach the fish until it’s cooked through—this usually takes around 6-8 minutes.

Strain, so the fish is separated from the poaching milk—but make sure that you keep both the fish and the milk.

Add some of the poaching milk to the potatoes, and mash them into a silky, fishy, potato mash – yum. Next flake the fish into the potato, add some spring onions and stir. As you can see, coley is a particularly good fish for this recipe—it’s quite a meaty fish so it holds its shape which adds texture to the whole dish rather than making it too paste-like.

Sprinkle flour on a board, and mould a handful of fishy-mash into a burger shape. If you manage to keep them all the same width then they’ll cook through more evenly—heat will take far longer to reach the centre of the fishcake if they’re in a big ball-shape.

If you fancy making your fishcakes really swish like the ready-made ones in a supermarket, then beat up an egg, coat the patties it and then cover them in breadcrumbs. As you can see, I didn’t bother — this decision was made on the grounds that 1) I was hungry, and it’s quite a time-consuming process, especially when you have to begin by making breadcrumbs and 2) because adding a load of egg and bread to a meal doesn’t make it any more nutritious—Tom and I are making a vague attempt to eat healthily.

Now, when it comes to cooking the fishcakes, I put them in an oven for 10 minutes, so they were warm the whole way through (note that the potatoes and fish are actually cooked already, so it’s just a matter of making all them hot and tasty). I finished them off by briefly frying them so that they had a crispy outside. Serve with a big salad, and some sort of condiment—mayonnaise, sweet chilli sauce…

Just a final aside for those of you who aren’t convinced by this recipe. Seeing as I already had lots of frozen coley in my freezer (there’d been a deal at Tescos a while back) I spent £2 on supper lastnight….and it got a resounding thumbs up from Tom, who was so moved by the fishcakes, I’ve got a feeling that he might re-think his stance on frozen fish.

The easiest chicken supper

There are so many chicken dishes out there, but this one really is so easy.

If you get back from work and need to turn around a quick supper for lots of people then this is always a great option. Or, if you’ve got loads of people coming round, and you can’t be bothered to do anything fussy, then try this recipe…. 

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My HERB HEROES entry – PLEASE VOTE FOR ME

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Over bank holiday weekend I went to visit my parents, armed with a culinary project. I was determined to become a Herb Hero. On first reading, this mightn’t sound quite as cool as Wonder Woman or Superman. But, the lucky Herb Hero, wins £2,500 and get to meet the true hero that is John Torode…so game’s on.

Anyway, to become a Herb Hero, I need to cook up a 4 minute film of me making a dish with at least two fresh herbs in it. This has proved tricky—not because of the herby, cooking part, but because I’m a moron with camcorders.

I have a horrible feeling that I might fall at the first hurdle by being too incompetent to mash together the footage and upload my film by 6 May. (If anyone reading this has ANY advice, please get in touch).

I took some photos of what I made though (I’m considerably better with cameras than camcorders) so, I thought I’d share with you, dear readers, my Herb Heroes dish.

I decided to make the herbs the hero of the dish (!) rather than shrouding their flavours with lots of meat or sauce. So, I went for a herb tabbouleh which has clean and fresh flavours that really showcase everything that my mint and marjoram and chives had to offer. I served it with homemade falafel (though shop bought falafel is excellent too) and a mint and yoghurt dip.

STEP1 – THE TABBOULEH
Ingredients (a good-sized, side salad for 4 people)

125g couscous
150 ml boiling water
1 Handful of sultanas
2 big handfuls of fresh marjoram
1 big handful of fresh mint
About 20 chive strands
2 spring onions
Zest and juice of one lemon
One large handful of toasted, skinned and then ground hazelnuts
One yellow pepper (roasted, skinned and copped)
5 large chestnut mushrooms

Before I launch into the recipe, I want to quickly stress that you can add or take away pretty much any ingredient from this tabbouleh (though do keep in the couscous!) As you can see, many of the ingredients are measured out in handfuls, because it’s such a loose guideline of a recipe. Roasted courgette, grated carrots and pecan nuts are just a few examples of other things that would go superbly.

Finally, some eating advice: although I served this with falafel and dip, this is a lovely salad on its own. It’s also a great accompaniment to barbeque buffets because it’s jam-packed full of interesting flavours.Recently I’ve recently eaten it with lamb sausages & rocket, and with coronation chicken & roasted vegetables.

Method
Put the couscous in the bottom of the big bowl that you’ll end up serving it in (I think that a glass bowl is quite nice, because there end up being so many interesting colours and textures in the salad).

Pour 150ml of boiling water over the couscous, and stir it with a fork to make sure that its all been exposed to the water. Put a plate on top the bowl, and leave it so all the hot water gets absorbed, and the trapped steam keeps everything nice and moist.

Next, put the sultanas in a small bowl, and tip some boiling water over them so that they’re all nice and plump and juicy by the time you add them to the tabbouleh. At this point, it’s also a good idea to pop your pepper in the oven to start it roasting.

Gather your herbs together, then pick off the leaves and put them in a mug. Use a pair of scissors to snip them all up – it’s not nice coming across whole leaves in the salad.

If you’re grinding the hazelnuts yourself (as I was) then pop them in the oven for 4 minutes (switch on a timer, because nuts and seeds are one of those things I always seem to forget in the oven!) Peel off their skins, and then grind them into a dust. This is a really good dish for a vegetarian, so it’s good to pop in lots of nuts as a source of protein.

Cut and fry the mushrooms, slice the spring onions and snip the chives. Then zest and juice the lemon, and drain the excess water from the sultanas if they’re looking suitably plump at this point.

By this time, your pepper might be roasted – you’ll know if it’s ready because the skin will blister and peel off easily. Skin the pepper, then slice it into very small chunks.

Now you’ve done all the hard work – it’s just the easy bit of putting everything together. Add everything to the couscous, stir thoroughly and season.

STEP2 – FALAFEL

Ingredients
250 g chick peas
2 heaped teaspoons of Harissa paste
2 heaped teaspoons of ground cumin
2 heaped teaspoons of coriander (finely snipped up)
2 garlic cloves (crushed)
2 tablespoons of plain flour

Whizz your chickpeas in a magimix. While you’re doing that, measure out all the other ingredients, then add to the chickpea mixture and whiz thoroughly.


Mould into nice round balls – they should be bigger than a blackberry but smaller than a golf ball…think along the size of a large strawberry.

Heat up a reasonable amount of oil in a frying pan, and fry them for about 7 minutes until they’re warm throughout, and nicely browned on the outside.

STEP3 – MINT YOGHURT

Ingredients
1 lemon
1 large handful of mint
100g Greek or plain yoghurt

Snip up the mint, squeeze the lemon, and combine with the yogurt to make a fresh, light dip.

Now all that’s left to do is plate up – a generous scoop of the tabbouleh with five falafel balls and a dollop of dip.
Fresh, herby deliciousness!

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