Sunday, 29 April 2012

Roasted aubergine with saffron yoghurt

This dish could be served as an accompaniment to grilled meat or just served as a shared starter. The vibrant colours suggest an explosion of flavours and the salad doesn't disappoint. The recipe comes from, however maybe next time, I'd finely chop the basil as the herb can be slightly overpowering. As ever, there is texture in abundance and it's very simple to make.

For 4 people, the cost is about £1.20 per head as a starter dish.

Ingredients : 3 aubergines cut into 2cm thick slices, 4 tbsp olive oil, 2tbsp toasted pine nuts, handful of pomegranate seeds, handful of basil leaves, seasoning, pinch of saffron, 3tbs hot water, 180g Greek yoghurt, crushed garlic clove, 2 1/2 tbsp lemon juice

1. For the dressing, infuse the saffron in the water for 5 mins. Then in a bowl, add this to the yoghurt, garlic, lemon juice, half the oil and some salt. Whisk until smooth and adjust seasoning to taste. The sauce should be golden and creamy. Cover and place in fridge.

2. Heat oven to 220c. Toss aubergine slices in 2 tbsp olive oil and seasoning. Lay on a greased baking tray and roast for about half an hour, turning half way through. Once golden brown, remove and leave to cool.

3. To serve, place the slices on a plate and drizzle over some of the dressing. Sprinkle over the pine nuts, pomegranate and basil and give a final drizzle of the sauce.

Chickpea and Apricot pilaf

Do you ever get stumped by what to put with meat. I love potatoes but there's a limit to how exciting they can be. Then there's rice, pasta, noodles etc but they all look the same and can lack texture. To accompany the previously posted roast chicken with saffron and hazelnuts, I turned to Silvena Rowe's Pilaf.

The pilaf is not packed with flavour, however it still tastes great and as the roast chicken dish is particularly fragrant, it doesn't need to. The combination works well and the textures of the crunchy nuts, fluffy rice, slightly chewy apricots and the al dente chickpeas prove how simple it is to produce a dish that delivers on all fronts. A lot of people probably think that I am nuts, however I'm really enjoying cooking with them. It's not something that us Brits as a whole tend to do. Yet, this w/e, I've used pistachios, hazelnuts and pine nuts with all three having completely different tastes.

Ingredients (serves 4) : 2 sliced shallots, 20g butter, 80g vermicelli, 100g cooked chickpeas, 80g dried and chopped apricots, 300g short grain rice, 400ml veg stock, 80g chopped pistachios

1. Gently fry the shallots in the butter in a saucepan. Add the vermicelli and stir until golden.
2. Add the chickpeas, apricots and rice and mix thoroughly. Pour in the stock and bring to boil.
3. Reduce to a gentle simmer, season and cover with a lid. Make sure that the liquid doesn't dry up.
4. Once the rice is cooked, add the nuts and remove from heat. Cover with a cloth and replace lid.
5. Allow to rest for 15 mins which will make the dish light and fluffy. To serve, pile high on a plate.

Orange Baklava

I'm not ashamed to say that when I go to Spain I eat Paella, in the states I'll have a burger or two, Schnitzel in Germany etc. If somebody does something well, what's wrong with sampling the national / traditional dish. What I then search for is the ultimate Thai green curry, the best pizza or the to die for Bouillabaisse. If you have a sweet tooth, you'll love Baklava. I've eaten dozens in varying countries and despite never having a bad one, I've yet to have one to send my tastometer off the scale.

I've a beautiful book by the wonderful Silvena Rowe called Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume. The pictures are so good, you could almost eat them. Maybe they should invent scratch and sniff cookery books! Anyway, this recipe is amazing. The traditionalists may claim this isn't a proper Baklava, but to take a simple dish to another level is one of the things that inspires me about cooking. Another tip, if you live in or around London, check out your nearest Turkish Food Centre (TFC). They stock a great array of Eastern Mediterranean ingredients and are as cheap as chickpeas. This recipe would serve 8 people at around 70p per head.

Ingredients : 350g caster sugar, 1 tbsp orange juice, 350ml water, 2tbsp orange blossom water, 2 large oranges, vanilla pod, 1tbsp marmalade, 400g filo pastry, 150g melted butter, 100g chopped pistachios

1. To make the syrup, place the sugar, orange juice and water in a saucepan and bring to boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the syrup thickens. Add the blossom water and allow to cool.

2. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and add the oranges. Simmer for 45 mins until soft. Remove the fruit and leave to cool. Slice open and remove the pips. Then place the oranges including the skin into a food processor and blitz to a smooth puree.

3. Place the puree into a muslin bag or cloth and squeeze out as much juice as possible. Place the pulp into a bowl and add the scraped out vanilla seeds and the marmalade. Mix together.

4. Pre-heat oven to 180c. Cut filo sheets to fit size of dish. Brush baking tin with melted butter and start layering up the pastry. After each layer, brush with more butter. Do not press down.

5. After 8 sheets, gently spoon over the puree and spread evenly. Then continue the layering process for another 8-10 sheets. Cut the baklava into squares or diamonds and place in oven for 30 mins.

6. Reduce heat to 150c and cook for a further 15-20 mins until golden and puffy. Once cooked, pour over the cooled syrup ensuring that every gap is filled. Sprinkle over the pistachios.

7. Once cooled completely, serve with either ice-cream or mascarpone.

The combination of textures makes this baklava stand out from others, not to mention the creamy, zingy orange filling. It's about 11.30am now, time for my elevenses which means a nice cup of coffee and maybe another square of this scrumptious delight.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Mackerel with olive, celery and raisin salsa with Kosheri

It's always nice when people come to dinner who are happy to eat anything. It's not that I don't trust recipes, but often I tweak them after the first attempt. Also, tonight I was doing two dishes which looked interesting although probably wouldn't necessarily complement each other. Regardless, sometimes it's worth cooking things just to see what they go with. After last week's trip to Ottolenghi, I was desperate to get stuck back into

The main was grilled mackerel, which after tossing the fillets in some olive oil, salt and pepper takes just about 4-5 minutes under a hot grill, skin side up. This was served with a cheeky little salsa which is so easy to make and whose sweet and salty notes balanced well with the fish. To make the salsa (for 4 people), mix 2 finely chopped celery stalks with 60g of thinly sliced green olives and 3 tbsp of capers. Next add 70g of good quality raisins, 1 1/2 tbsp of sherry vinegar, 4 tbsp of olive oil, 3 tbsp of honey, 15g of chopped flat leaf parsley and season to taste. Mix together, then place in the fridge until about half an hour before serving. Once fish is cooked, lay on a plate and spoon over the salsa. The combination of ingredients may seem a little unconventional but it works.

I was thinking about doing some sort of wild rice side dish with this, but then I noticed a recipe for an Egyptian street dish called Kosheri. Traditionally it is served with a spicy tomato sauce which next time I will make. I relented on this occasion due to it clashing with the above salsa. Anyway, the ingredients are : 300g green lentils, 200g basmati rice, 40g unsalted butter, 50g vermicelli noodles, 400ml chicken stock, 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg, 1 1/2 tsp ground cinammon, seasoning, 4tbsp olive oil, 2 onions - halved and thinly sliced.

1. Wash and drain the lentils in a sieve. Place in a saucepan and cook as normal for about 20 minutes until al dente. Drain and set aside.

2. Wash and drain the rice. Melt the butter in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the noodles, coat and stir until golden brown. Add the rice and stir well. Now add the stock, spices and seasoning. Bring to the boil, cover with a lid and then simmer for about 12 minutes. Remove from heat and place a towel over the top.
3. Saute the onions in olive oil until they caramelise and turn dark brown. Drain on kitchen paper.
4. To serve, fluff up the rice with a fork and add the lentils and 3/4 of the onions. Season to taste, then pile high on a plate. Garnish with the remaining onions.

The textures are very wholesome, but it does need something spicy or zingy to lift it.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Ottolenghi @ Islington

Over the past few months I've waxed lyrical about the creations of Yotam Ottolenghi. Last night, I ventured into Islington to his restaurant for a spot of supper. The menu is fairly short, around nine starters and nine mains, some of which you can gaze your eyes on when entering the building. I would call it a 'salad' bar, but that conjures pictures of the dreadful offerings at places like Pizza Hut and Harvester. This is salad taken to another level.

Back to the menu, I wanted EVERYTHING. However, to accommodate one of my companions who's vegetarian, we decided to omit any meat dishes. In truth, the flavours and textures were so good, you didn't miss meat. We had roasted aubergine with garlic, sorrel yoghurt, roasted cherry tomatoes and pine nuts, Roasted butternut squash with miso, cashews, chili, spring onion, pickled ginger, wasabi and sesame seeds and Roasted beetroot with pecorino, red onion, walnuts and roasted rhubarb. Each salad was amazing, a symphony of flavours and textures.

For mains, we opted for the fishy offerings which again were faultless. The Pan fried sea bass with samphire, brown shrimp and leek and mustard vinaigrette was classical. The poached Mackerel with orange was inspirational and the Seared scallops with squash, cauliflower fritters, spinach, curried pumpkin seeds and balsamic sauce was historic.

The dishes are quite small but that then allows you to pick a dessert from the Aladdin's cave of cakes on display in the shop window. The lemon and mascapone tart was perfectly sweet and sharp, the Vanilla Plivier with forest fruit just yummy and the rum and chocolate torte incredibly rich, but light and brownie like at the same time. The only slight moan is that the wine list is quite expensive with most offerings north of £25. Nevertheless, three course with drinks, water, coffee and tip came to around £40 a head.

The restaurant has a lovely laid back feel though and all of the staff are knowledgeable on the ingredients and the concept. Can't wait to go back :o)