an adventure into my cookbook collection: soul-searching, doing things differently & the truths I learn along the way...

deseeding pomegranates is feminine & erotic, unless you hit them with a wooden spoon...

urm..?

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Cookbook round up

I’ve done a few of these before, going through some of my favourite cookbooks and talking about what recipes I particularly like or am looking forward to making. Despite my blogging silence over the past year, my love of cookbooks is just as strong. I have continued buying books, covering them in post-it notes, reading them religiously, and not really cooking enough from them at all. I’m working on it. So here is a run down of some of the more recent additions to my cookbook collection, and the recipes that have caught my eye.

Honey and Co - Food from the Middle East
Honey and Co - The Baking Book
Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer

A few months ago at the staff cookery competition at my workplace (endlessly smug, see here), I had to do this whole interview thing while the judges were eating my food. I wasn’t really prepared for it, and microphones are scary enough at the best of times. The interviewer was throwing all of these questions at me which in hindsight weren’t the most challenging, but after nights of not sleeping due to the fear of cooking competitively, and then cooking competitively, I was a bit frazzled. But then the interviewer asked me what I thought the best Middle Eastern restaurant in London was, and everything became clearer. I could answer that no question. Honey and Co. And then Oliver Peyton looked up from the food (my food!) and there was a moment of recognition/approval. And then he said that they made the best shakshuka in London. High praise indeed.

I love Ottolenghi too, their food and their cookbooks are just incredible. But what Honey and Co has in spades is love. I know it is such a cliché (and I can’t really believe that I wrote that), but read their books, go to their restaurant (follow them on instagram) and you will know what I mean. They aren’t posting from test-kitchens or various site around London, its just them, their delicious food, and photos of their staff, joking around or holding flowers. The books are beautifully and thoughtfully written, with stunning photos. Their books have won loads of book of the year awards too so it isn’t just me.


One of my favourite things about Food from the Middle East is how the chapters are organised, with sections devoted to dips, pickles, bulgur wheat – to name a few. I haven’t made a huge amount from either of the Honey and Co books yet, mainly due to the fact that I haven’t been cooking as much as I would have liked, but everything just looks divine and I have tasted a few things that other people have made.

Delicious things I have tasted from Food from the Middle East include:
Butternut and tahini dip with hazelnuts - three of my favourite things, combined in an excellent way,
Carrot and butternut fritters or latkes,
Feta and spring onion bouikos (like super cheesey scones),
Mint and lemon chicken with apricots and potatoes,
Courgette stuffed with lemon rice and currants. I made this for a dinner party once, when I had a lot of people to feed. Deliciously flavoured risotto rice is spooned inside de-seeded courgettes, and then baked in the oven – was well as tasting delicious it was pretty hands off, which is always a good thing.
Feta and honey cheesecake on kadaif pastry base – I’ve eaten this in their restaurant, it was incredible. Feta in a cheesecake may seem strange, but it is good in the way that salt caramel is good. This recipe is like a restauranty version of the classic Palestinian dessert knafe – a recipe for which is in The Baking Book, and also looks wonderful. Kadaif pastry can be purchased at a lot of Arabic stores.


Things that look delicious in The Baking Book (given to me for my birthday by the wonderful Brianne) that I want to make include:
Sweet cheese buns,
Shakshuka – I make my own, but if this one is the best in London, it is definitely worth trying (15 cloves of garlic!)
Burnt aubergine burekas,
Spiced cauliflower muffins,
All the babkas – because, well obviously.
Peach, vanilla and fennel seed cakes,
Tahini sandwhich cookies filled with white chocolate and rose (I’ve promised my mum that I would make these for her birthday),

Chriskitch – Big Flavours from a Small Kitchen
Chris Honour and Laura Washburn Hutton

I got this book for my birthday from the brilliant and super foodie Michael and Rachel, and I absolutely love it. Chriskitch is a little café in Muswell Hill, a place where Jay Rayner discovered the joys of salad


One of the things I love about this book is that even though it is not a vegetarian or kosher book, I can eat practically everything in it. Which is so unusual and very special. The book is about epic salads, big flavours, generous feasts and vivid colours. And it’s a bit different – the flavour combinations and ingredients are clever and unusual, it is things I wouldn’t have thought of myself or seen elsewhere. And it all sounds so good. I haven’t made anything from this book yet, but I haven’t had it for very long. Recipes that have especially caught my eye include:

Watermelon, feta and pumpkin seed salad – flavoured with basil sugar and herbal tea. I love the idea of ripping up a herbal tea bag and using it in a salad – I’m sure it tastes delicious and would really confuse people about what they were eating.
Salmon ceviche with caramelised pineapple and raw fennel. I love raw fishy things, and the idea of pairing it with crunchy fennel and super sweet cooked pineapple sounds genius.
Salmon with herbs, walnuts and tahini. What I love about this recipe, and what actually made me fall in complete love with this book, is that the first recipe in the ‘mains’ section is for a whole side of salmon. This just makes me so happy – sometimes I will cook a whole side of salmon if I am hosting a lot of people for a meal, and it isn’t that easy to find recipes specifically for that. I love that vibe – it is lush and generous, simple to make with bright and complimentary flavours.
Whole chicken roasted with balsamic vinegar and rosemary. There are a few meat recipes in the book like this, that same vibe of generous and super flavourful. It’s a whole chicken, or a shoulder of lamb, of a big roast beef. No stingy small portions or dinners for two here. It is for people who love to cook, and share delicious things with others around their table.
Blue cheese, Guinness and sunflower seed bread. All of the breads in this book look absolutely incredible, but I will probably make this one first. It is a self-raising flour bread and so doesn’t need anything scary of time-consuming like kneading or proving. 

Salt sugar smoke: how to preserve vegetables, meat and fish
A change of appetite – where healthy meets delicious
Diana Henry

Diana Henry is an absolutely wonderful food writer that I have fallen in love with over the past year. I have been following her on twitter and instagram, and listening to her whenever she is interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme. She knows so much about food, and writes absolutely beautifully.  As well as recipes and thorough explanations about method, the books are full of wonderful memories and stories, just like all the best cookbooks. They are also styled beautifully, in fact I think the photography in her foods is my favourite of all of my cookbooks. Her book about chicken, A bird in the hand, is also excellent, but it is my Mum’s and I haven’t had a chance to really absorb it yet. Like Chriskitch, Diana Henry’s books also have a much larger proportion of recipes that I can actually eat – not a lot of shellfish, or meat paired with dairy, and not that many recipes focused on pork or bacon either.


 I originally bought Salt sugar smoke as a gift for some friends who like making jam and things, and flicking through the book for a few days with another friend before I had a chance to pass on the gift, I fell in love with the book and both me and my friend bought copies of our own. Although I haven’t made very much from the book yet, but my brilliant friends have, and it has all been very delicious.

Salt sugar smoke is encyclopaedic, it covers every aspect of preserving, written in an easy to understand, sensible way. I definitely want to try the white peach and raspberry jam, and I recently acquired a jelly bag and stand from Lakeland so that I can make the apple and thyme jelly. There are a few mustard recipes in the book –it hadn’t even occurred to me that mustard was something people could make in their own homes, but I definitely want to try all of them. I love the idea of me becoming someone who brings friends and family little jars of fancy homemade things.  Naomi has made the elderflower and rhubarb cordials and they have so delicious. I hadn’t realised that elderflowers grow so abundantly all over the place, and now that I know what they look like, I definitely want to make my own cordial with foraged elderflowers this summer. And the gravlax, all three recipes for it.


A change of appetite is a healthy eating book. It doesn’t feel like a ‘diet book’, like some kind of trend or fad thing to get on board with, just really well reasoned, sensible ideas about food. Diana Henry calls it ‘accidentally healthy’, things that are delicious and healthy in the way that they are supposed to be. No substituting mascarpone with low fat yogurt and calling it tiramisu here. What I love about this book is that Diana Henry understands the complex relationships we have with food, and how ‘diets’ can be so loaded. Food is so much more than fuel, it is inspirational, emotional and special, and it isn’t that easy to think of in clinical terms of calories and daily percentages. She writes:

“My biggest problem was thinking about food in terms of ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’. I can’t think of meals a sets of nutrients. A meal is a colourful assembly of foods – many of which we don’t quite understand in terms of health – that should be, first and foremost, enjoyable…I’m much more into living life to the full than I am into thinking of my body as a temple.

The recipes in the book are a mixture of Middle-Eastern and Asian in style, and all look so good, laid out in chapters designed around the seasons. Some of the recipes that I will definitely be making include: 
Japanese ginger and garlic chicken with smashed cucumber,
Cucumber and yogurt soup with walnuts and rose petals,
Goats cheese and cherry salad with almond and basil gremolata,
Gooseberry, almond and spelt cake,
Roast tomatoes and lentils with dukkah-crumbed eggs,
Red lentil and carrot kofte with pomegranates and tahini.


Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Roasted red pepper and tomato soup with quinoa and thyme



I’m not really into the whole “New year, new you” clean eating, guilt free thing. Eating clean just makes no sense, and thinking of food as ‘dirty’ just seems to me like a fast track to a really unhealthy and damaging relationship with food, and being someone who is really boring to talk to at parties.


That being said…


I am trying to think a bit more about what I eat. Like what makes me feel bloated and ill, and why however much pasta I eat I am always hungry about an hour later. So I’m trying to find ways to make quinoa more interesting, because it really is more filling and less bloating. And then I can read articles like this one about the quinoa industry’s affect in Peru, to remind myself that we can’t win, and everything is terrible.
  
I’m also making an effort to stop throwing so much stuff away, like disposable coffee cups and food. I bought some little plastic tubs so that I could freeze soup and curries and things in relatively small portions. This means that when I cook at the weekends I don’t need to eat the same thing every day for a week, and the freezer is filling up with tasty homemade things that I can surprise myself with when I don’t feel like cooking.

This soup was thick and warming and absolutely delicious, totally worth the effort of the additional roasting stage. It is also really filling. I am so pleased that I have little frozen portions of it for the cold grim days coming up in the next few weeks.

Serves about 6

Ingredients

5 red peppers
6 medium sized tomatoes
3 cloves garlic (skin on)
1 large onion, diced
5 ish sprigs of thyme
150g quinoa
1 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt/ course salt
About 20g butter (or just use a little bit more oil – butter is great though)
1 flat tbsp/1 cube vegetable or chicken stock powder
Ideally sherry vinegar, if you don’t have use white wine vinegar or cider vinegar
1 tbsp crème fraîche (or vegan equivalent)
Freshly ground black pepper

Serve with croutons, toasted almond slivers or toasted pumpkin seeds

Method

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees.

Cut the peppers and tomatoes in half, and arrange the peppers skin down, tomatoes skin up on a roasting tray. Arrange about half of the thyme sprigs among the veggies. Hide the cloves of garlic under the pepper shells to stop them burning. Sprinkle a bit of salt on the tomatoes. Roast for 30-40 minutes.

After the veggies are roasted, pinch their skins off as soon as they are cool enough to handle, and peel the garlic cloves. Roughly tear or shop the peppers into strips. Discard the thyme twigs.

During the veggie roasting/cooling stage, and heat the oil and butter in a large saucepan on a low heat and sauté the onions for 5 – 10 minutes until softened and translucent. Put the kettle on while the onions are cooking so that hot water is ready for the next bit.

Add the quinoa to the pan and pour in enough hot water to cover, plus a bit more so the liquid rises about 3 cm above the quinoa and onions. Be a little hesitant with the water, its easier to add more water later rather than dealing with too much liquid. Add a generous pinch of salt and bring to the boil. Put the lid on and simmer for about 10 minutes. Then add the garlic, tomato, pepper, and any remaining roasting pan juices, more water if it needs it, and simmer for another 10 minutes.

Blob the crème fraîche into the soup and blitz with a hand-blender until it is silky and thick. Then add the leaves from the remaining thyme sprigs, about 1 tsp of vinegar and a grind of black pepper. Taste, and add more seasoning if it needs it.

Yum



Thursday, 7 January 2016

Roasted cauliflower steaks with tahini and dukkah

So,
I’m back. I’ve missed you.

2015 has been an interesting year, and although I took a break from blogging, I didn’t stop cooking, or eating, or buying cookbooks, or obsessing about food basically all the time.

I’ve been trying to think about what my food highlights of 2015 were, and its tricky because it was a very good year, but they definitely included:

1. My first ever proper thanksgiving dinner courtesy of my brilliant family in the US, including a whole smoked turkey which was absolutely the most delicious turkey I have ever eaten. I also experienced my first ever turkey-coma, which is a thing.


2. Growing my very own tomatoes for the first time


3. Coming second in a cookery competition at my workplace, with bona fide proper foodie Oliver Peyton actually eating food that I had made.

















So yeah, second place! Pretty great right? For the competition I got to wear whites and cook in a large restaurant kitchen, with all of my ingredients portioned out in little plastic tubs like on the telly. I absolutely loved it – all shiny metal surfaces, massive pots and big knives. I won a copy of the National Gallery Cookbook, which is a really lovely combination of beautiful art and tasty recipes, and a whole load of Peyton and Byrne vouchers, which is very handy. Seeing as asides from food I absolutely love going to art galleries, this was a pretty excellent prize.

For the competition I chose to cook a vegan meal, as I don’t eat non-kosher meat and I thought that the chances of me overcooking fish in the pressure of a competition was too high. Once I was cooking vegetarian, the jump to vegan wasn’t actually that difficult, as most of what I wanted to make was vegan anyway. I also thought it was important to demonstrate that it is possible to create filling and delicious meals that don’t have animal products in it.

For the competition we had to make a savoury main, and my dish was:

Celeriac and artichoke sofrito with roasted cauliflower, dukkah and a pomegranate herb salad.

I’ve made the celeriac dish many times before and you can see the recipe for it here, all I changed was adding frozen artichokes and canned chickpeas instead of potatoes. I chose it because a. it is bright yellow and yellow makes people happy b. it is really delicious c. it cooks surprisingly quickly for something so hearty.

I’ve blogged about cauliflower with tahini before, but this was a bit different – its all competitiony and fancy.  It is more complicated, but definitely worth it if you want to impress a bit more than usual. And it is really, really tasty. Reserve the cauliflower off-cuts to use in something else, like soup, mash or cauliflower ‘rice’ (which sounds gross).

Shana introduced me to the joys of dukkah. It is like a middle-eastern crunchy rubble – the soggy crumbs that I have started seeing on top of some brands of humous does definitely not count. Dukkah is delicious on its own with bread and olive oil (in little bowls for alternate dipping), sprinkled over scrambled eggs, garnishing dhal, or with practically anything else.

Ingredients

Cauliflower, cut into steaks about ½-2/3 inch thick
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
Date syrup

For the tahini sauce:
(this will probably make more than you need, but always useful to have some in the fridge)
3 tbsp tahini (don’t use organic tahini as it is like cement).
Juice of half a lemon
Water
Salt and pepper

For the dukkah:
2 tbsp Coriander seeds
2 tbsp Cumin seeds
2/3 cup Hazelnuts (or almonds)
1 tbsp Nigella seeds
2/3 cup Sesame seeds
1 tsp Sea salt

Method

To make the dukkah, toast the seeds and nuts separately, either in a dry frying pan or in the oven. Rub off hazelnut skins (or buy blanched). Roughly smash/grind in a mortar and pestle with the salt. End result should be rubble, as opposed to paste.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Fry the cauliflower steaks in olive oil over a medium heat, about 5 minutes each side, seasoning as you turn, until golden. Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes to ensure that they are cooked through.

To make tahini sauce, put a few tablespoons of tahini in a bowl and add a little water and most of the lemon juice. When you start stirring, the mixture will seize and become grainy, but don’t worry this is normal. Continue adding water and mixing until the sauce becomes creamy. Add more lemon juice to taste along with a little salt, and some garlic or garlic powder (optional).

To serve, drizzle the cauliflower artfully with the date syrup and tahini, and scatter dukkah over the top.


Sunday, 25 January 2015

Taking a break

Hello world, readers, whoever you are. I haven’t written for a while, but I thought I had better tell you why. I’ve decided to take a break, or sabbatical, from this blog. I haven’t stopped cooking or attempting new recipes; I just think that I have lost a bit of my writing mojo. I started this blog because I wanted to put some of my creativity out there into the wide world, and to see if I could stay committed to something. It has been a few years and I think I have proved that I can do it, I just feel like I have been getting a bit stale, and losing some of my authentic voice. I also have heavy year coming up, I have taken on a lot of new responsibilities and I don’t want to over-commit.

So anyway, here’s to a few months off. My goal is that sooner or later my writing inspiration will kick in like it used to, and the words will just explode out of me. I miss that feeling.

For anyone interested in my foodie adventures over the next few months, you can find me on twitter at @MiriLewis, where I will still be posting about food, and sharing photos of my culinary successes and failures.

Not goodbye, but see you again soon,


Miri xo

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Roasted chicken with Jerusalem Artichoke and Lemon

I can’t believe that I am reaching the stage where I have all the ingredients to cook Ottolenghi dishes – my cupboards are bursting since I started buying tons of tahini paste, pomegranate molasses, date syrup, kecap manis, sumac, pink peppercorns, barberries…

I have a complete mental block when it comes to following recipes – or following instructions of any kind. My mind wanders and inevitably I miss out a vital step sometimes I find it easier to read a recipe and then close the book and just do my own thing. I need to really focus my mind and concentrate to follow a recipe fully, but even then it rarely works, my big head gets in the way and I decide to do my own thing anyway.

With Ottolenghi cookbooks, I think that the recipes are written unnecessarily complicated-ly. For me, this makes cooking from them an exciting challenge and a bit of an experiment. They are always really delicious though.

I have adjusted the quantities in this recipe a bit, based on trial and error during the cooking process. Some of this is just because the specified volume was just plain ridiculous, and another was to calm down some of the very strong, and slightly conflicting flavours.

Do the prep before you start cooking – so so much prep for this recipe. I know it does seem like a lot of work, but essentially once everything is chopped you just bung it in the oven, making it a surprisingly simple Ottolenghi recipe. The finished dish does taste like something that someone spent a lot of time on, so I think its worth it.


 Whoever thought that raw chicken could look that pretty?

Ingredients

8 chicken thighs or mixed pieces, on the bone with skin
Roughly 450g Jerusalem artichokes – AKA fartichokes, AKA duvet-lifters. If you buy these from a grocers or good supermarket, the slightly pink skin may be really clean and they won’t need peeling. When I buy them from the Farmers’ Market no amount of scrubbing with a nailbrush removes all the dirt, and they need to be peeled. To prepare them for this recipe, peel or not, and cut in half lengthways – or more wedges depending on how big they are – you want the wedges to be a similar size to the shallot halves
10 banana or echalion shallots, peeled and cut in half lengthways
8 cloves of garlic – this seriously is less than the recipe – peeled and sliced
1 lemon, cut in half lengthways and sliced thinly
1 tsp saffron – if you have it
50ml olive oil
150ml water
1tbsp pink peppercorns, bashed a bit (in a mortar and pestle if you have one). This is less than the original recipe
10g fresh thyme
10g fresh tarragon, plus a few more leaves for garnish (this is also less than the original recipe)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

Put the Jerusalem artichokes in a saucepan, cover with plenty of water (add a squirt of lemon juice to the water) and simmer them until tender but not completely soft –roughly 10-15 minutes. Drain and leave to cool.

Mix the cooled Jerusalem artichokes with all of the remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Cover and leave to marinate for at least two hours – overnight is better.

When ready to cook, pre-heat the oven to 220 degrees, or 200 with fan. Arrange the chicken pieces (skin-side up) in a large roasting tin, and tip the veggies and saucy marinade liquid around the edges and gaps. Season with salt and pepper, and roast for 40 minutes. Cover with foil and cook for a further 15 or so minutes, until the chicken and the veggies are cooked through. Serve garnished with a few flourishes of reserved tarragon leaves.


Tuesday, 9 December 2014

On spices

Alternative title: Spice up your Life

The other week there was a really interesting article in the Guardian about out of date spices. 

“We called it the “Ottolenghi effect”. Where once our spice cupboard was really just dried basil and mild curry powder, suddenly it was playing host to harissa and sumac and saffron. And then we forgot all about them. According to a recent survey, there are £240m worth of unused spices languishing in UK kitchens. And 13% of us confess to owning jars of spices more than four years out of date. (Paraphrased)

I have always wondered about out of date spices. There are many family stories about jars of spices older than various family members, significant world events etcetera. It was reassuring to read that it isn’t just us.

Spices are brilliant, adding flavour and depth without extra fat or sugar. A good way to ensure that you don’t end up with four-years out of date spices is to incorporate more of them into every day cooking. Especially during these dark winter days, spices can add exoticism, and a kind of festive familiarity.

The history of spices is really fascinating, their usage spans so many different aspects of our history, discovering civilisations and causing wars. There is archaeological evidence of spices being traded since ancient times, from the Maluku Islands (Spice Islands) in Indonesia spreading throughout the ancient world. From around 1600, spices had such high value in Europe that the Portuguese, Dutch and English fought to gain a monopoly over the trade. The fighting was so intense in the 17th and 18th centuries that the Dutch gave the island of Manhattan to the British in exchange for the tiny island of Run in the Spice Islands, giving the Dutch full control over nutmeg production. Many of islands’ populations were killed off during the so-called ‘Spice Wars’.

Here are some words and recipe ideas about some of my favourite spices.

Cardamom

Green cardamom is native to India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bhutan. The seed pods look a bit like lemon pips, with a few black seeds inside. There are references to cardamom in the Bronze-Age Mycenaean Greek Linear B tablets (incidentally, I wrote an essay on Linear B for my masters, in case you are interested), and in the New Testament.

They can be used whole, lightly bashed, or split open and the seeds ground. They are intensely fragrant, and work really well in sweet and savoury dishes. If using whole pods, make they are removed after cooking. Cardamom is a common ingredient in Indian and South Asian cooking, used in curries, traditional sweets and masala chai. It is used in Scandinavian pastries, to flavour coffee and as a botanical in gin. Cardamom seeds can also be chewed, like chewing gum to freshen breath.

Green cardamom also has a lot of medical uses. It has been used to treat infections in teeth and gums, to treat throat issues, lung congestion and tuberculosis, digestive disorders, kidney stones and gall stones. It has also reportedly been used as an antidote for snake and scorpion venoms.

Here is my interpretation of Ottolenghi’s pistachio and cardamom shortbread recipe. It makes the most perfectly crumbly, short (positively tiny) biscuits, and the dough freezes well too. 


Cloves

Cloves are the flower buds of a tree native to the Spice Islands, and have been found in archaeological remains going as far back as 1721 BCE. Cloves are used in the cuisine of Asian, African, and the Near and Middle East, flavouring meats, curries, rice, and sweet dishes.

Cloves are used in Ayurvedic medicine, Chinese medicine and dentistry, where their essential oil is used as a painkiller. This oil can also be used to anesthetize fish (I’m not sure how that was discovered), and repel ants!

Many Ashkenazi Jews use cloves as part of the ritual to mark the end of Shabbat, and for years that was all I thought cloves were for – getting stale in silver little boxes, brought out on Saturday night for a quick sniff, and put away for another week. While now of course I use cloves for so many other things, for me they always smell of that particular time.

Cloves are a key ingredient for my seasonal favourites, mulled wine and cranberry sauce. I genuinely don’t know how I would get through winter without them. My favourite recipe for cranberry sauce comes from Delia Smith, it is zingy and delicious. When cooking with cloves, be careful to count them, so you know how many to remove; nobody wants to bite down on a clove.

Coriander seeds

I absolutely love coriander seeds, and probably get through more of them than any other whole spice. They taste completely different from coriander leaf: when toasted and crushed they are lemony citrus, nutty and warm, with none of the leaf’s soapy tang. Coriander grows wild through most of the Near East and southern Europe. Traces have been found in the Pre-Pottery Nahal Hemar Cave in Israel, which may be the oldest archaeological find of coriander in the world. A lot of coriander was also found in the tomb of Tutankhamen.

Whole and ground coriander seeds are used widely in Indian curries, in its ground form used to help thicken curries as well as flavour them. Outside of Asia, coriander seeds are widely used when pickling vegetables, making sausages, brewing beer, or making rye bread.

One of my favourite ways to use coriander seeds is with roasted vegetables. Toast the seeds in a dry frying pan, and then roughly crush them in a mortar and pestle. Mix the crushed seeds with olive oil and a pinch of salt, and coat lumps of sweet potato, butternut squash, or cauliflower, and roast in a hot oven until cooked through and caramelised, with crunchy bits. This will take around 30-45 minutes for the sweet potato and butternut squash, and about 20 minutes for the cauliflower. Serve with a drizzle of tahini sauce.

Toasted coriander seeds and peanuts, crushed for this aubergine curry recipe
Mustard seeds

Mustard seeds, funnily enough, are the seeds from mustard plants! They range in colour from pale yellow to black. Despite having such a strong flavour, they seem to be a really multi-purpose spice. I love the zing they give to dishes, and the fact that they always try and jump of the pan when being toasted, like they know what is about to happen.

When researching mustard seeds (on Wikipedia), I found that they are mentioned in quite a few religious or mythological texts*. Clearly mustard seeds have for centuries inspired people to think about their place in the world, and I think that is really special.

The earliest reference to mustard seeds comes from the Indian story of Gautama Buddha in the fifth century BC. Gautama Buddha told the story of the grieving mother and the mustard seed. When a mother loses her only son, she takes his body to the Buddha to find a cure. The Buddha asks her to bring a handful of mustard seeds from a family that has never lost a child, husband, parent, or friend. When the mother is unable to find such a house in her village, she realizes death is common to all, and she cannot be selfish in her grief.

In the New Testament, the mustard seed is used by Jesus as a metaphor for ‘the Kingdom of God’, which starts small, but grows to be the largest of all garden plants.

He said, “How will we liken the Kingdom of God? Or with what parable will we illustrate it? It’s like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, though it is less than all the seeds that are on the earth, yet when it is sown, grows up, and becomes greater than all the herbs, and puts out great branches, so that the birds of the sky can lodge under its shadow.”
    Mark 4:30–32

Jewish texts compare the knowable universe to the size of a mustard seed, demonstrating the world's insignificance and teaching humility. The medieval Jewish Scholar and philosopher, Nahmanides (the Ramban) writes that the universe expanded from the time of its creation, in which it was the size of a mustard seed.

Mustard seeds work incredibly well in curries and Middle Eastern style stews. Make a quick and refreshing carrot salad to accompany an Indian meal by combining julienned or shredded carrots with toasted mustard seeds and a little lemon juice. Whole grain mustard is also a fantastic ingredient, making a wonderful vinaigrette or as a surprising addition to cheese sauce. 

*Religious as mythological?? Look into Karen Armstrong if you are interested.

Sumac

I wasn’t sure if I should include sumac, because it has become a bit of a cliché. But it really is one of my favourite spices, tasting a little bit like a cross between lemon and paprika. I seem to be adding it to pretty much everything these days.

Sumac is a dried berry of any one of 35 species of plants (Rhus genus), and is found throughout subtropical and temperate regions in the world, especially in Africa and North America. The berries are ground into a reddish-purple powder, used a lot in Middle Eastern cuisine. I had no idea that they had a history of usage in North America, so imagine my surprise when I came across ‘sumacade’! Like lemonade, but with sumac! Apparently Native Americans also used to combine sumac with tobacco and smoke it!

Sumac is a lot easier to get hold of here than it used to be, and it can often be found in most decent ethic corner shops, and many supermarkets. Nothing is as fun as getting huge red baggies of the stuff in middle-eastern markets.

Add a heaped teaspoon of sumac to a salad of chopped tomatoes, onion and parsley for that surprisingly authentic kebab-shop taste, or use it to roast or fry courgettes


Turmeric

Sunshine yellow turmeric is a rhizome, similar to ginger and galangal, native to southeast India. It has been used in Asia for medicinal purposes for thousands of years, as a remedy for stomach and liver ailments, as well as to heal sores. As of December 2013, turmeric is being evaluated for its potential efficacy against several human diseases, including kidney and cardiovascular diseases, arthritis, Alzheimer's, and irritable bowel disease.

Turmeric is considered to be highly auspicious and holy in India, and it is used extensively in Hindu ceremonies. In the mythology of the ancient Tamil religion, turmeric was associated with the sun (Thirumal). The solar plexus chakra is yellow, which in traditional Tamil Siddha medicine is the energy centre relating to the metabolic and digestive systems.

As well as its many culinary, spiritual and medicinal uses, turmeric is also used as a colouring. It is used in canned beverages, baked products, dairy products, orange juice and popcorn.

Turmeric is used widely in Indian and Middle Eastern cooking. As well as its fabulous, joyful colour, it also adds to flavour profiles helping create depth and overall flavour. I really like it because eating bright yellow food just makes me happy. At the moment I am using buckets of turmeric making celeriac sofrito, my delicious (if a bit farty) winter staple. Turmeric, along with cloves, coriander seed and cardamom also come together to make perfect pilau rice (to be blogged soon).

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Butternut squash and onion tart

Every time someone mentions Waitrose to someone I know, they quote the late Alan Coren’s observations about Sainsburys:

“The best thing about Sainsburys is that it keeps the riff-raff out of Waitrose.”

Personally, I think this is a load of nonsense. People may decide that they are in the ‘elite’ because they decide to pay more for vegetables and loo roll, but that doesn’t mean anything about anybody else.

Saying that, there are some very nice things in Waitrose, and their avocados are nearly always perfect. They also do excellent free recipe booklets every season, and this recipe is from the autumn book.

This tart/pie was very tasty, but probably would have been tastier if I had made my own pastry – meh. I’m still a bit scared of making my own pastry. Its silly really, but then I’m not as scared of spiders as I used to be. So it seems ok in balance.

Another good thing about using ready made pastry is that this dish then becomes something relatively speedy, of the weeknight supper variety.

Serves four, assuming that everyone will want a corner piece, with leftovers

Ingredients

1kg butternut or coquina squash, peeled, deseeded and diced
75g cream cheese (low fat or tofutti is fine)
½ or ¼ chilli powder
2 tbsp fresh thyme, leaves only
salt and pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, sliced
Handful pine nuts (optional)
(Guiltily) 1 sheet shortcrust pastry, defrosted if frozen (they are just over 200g)

Method

Boil of steam the cubes of squash for approx 15 minutes, or until tender. Drain well and mash them with the cream cheese, chilli, thyme and seasoning. Set aside to cool down a bit.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees, 180 with fan.

While the squash is steaming, fry the onion slices in olive oil with a pinch of salt over a medium heat, for 7-10 minutes until softened and golden. If using, add the pine nuts to the pan for the last few minutes.

Stir two thirds of the fried onions (and pine nuts) into the mashed squash, reserving the remainder for artful scattering.

Unroll the pastry sheet onto a baking tray. Lightly score a border in the pastry, roughly 3cm from the edge. Dollop the cooled squash mixture into the pastry (within the border), and artfully scatter the remaining fried onions over the top. 


Fold the pastry edges over the filling to make a snug little frame, and bake the tart for 30 or so minutes, until golden.
When I make this again, I would probably brush the pastry with a bit of milk or egg to make it shine.