Chicken livers with pomegranate molasses (Sawda Djej)

Down a side street in Soho – and not far from my favourite comics shop – is a Lebanese place called Yalla Yalla. It’s tiny, street-food-inspired, and really rather good. Particularly excellent is the Sawda Djej – a little dish of chicken livers, fried with handfuls of garlic, and finished with sticky-sour pomegranate molasses.

Chicken livers with pomegranate molasses and pistachiosThat’s more or less the recipe right there, and it’s amazing. It’s like Ottolenghi devised something just for me.

I’ve tried to recreate it here, and I think I’ve got pretty close. The original doesn’t have the onions or pistachios, but those are doing two jobs: adding some extra sweetness and body, and making me feel a bit better about knocking off a restaurant dish.

It’s incredibly piquant and intense, and it’s also done in about twenty five minutes. Not bad.

You really should try it at Yalla Yalla, but it’s pretty simple if you want to have a go at home.

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Smoked tofu corn chowder

As a thickened fish stew, chowder is old as the hills. Practically every coastal community has at some point in its history thrown starch and vegetables at the simmering liquor of their fish of choice, adding a splash of dairy if there was a cow on hand. The word itself may track back to 16th century Cornwall, via much older French terms for stewpot. But it’s hard to be sure – chowder is one of those things that has just popped up all over the world, getting codified when we started writing recipes down more stringently.

Smoked Tofu Corn ChowderCullen Skink is a particular favourite, and you can see something like waterzooi in the history of what’s now pretty much the reference implementation: the New England clam chowder.

Personally, I like to make it with crab meat and sweetcorn, but I do love the smokiness you get in Cullen Skink. So for Veguary, I wondered if you could work up a milder but still silky-satisfying version using smoked tofu.

You basically can.

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Veguary, a retrospective

Veguary. 28 days (29 this year) sans creatureflesh. One truly cringe-inducing portmanteau.

Mushroom peposoWhy? Well, variety and a nagging ecological anxiety for starters. I waft at that in the first post I could find that mentions it, which amazed me by dating back to 2012.

It’s not particularly strict. I give myself some “don’t be a dickhead as a dinner guest” get-out clauses, and I’m certainly not trying anything as rigorous as “Veganuary”. The fun part is getting more innovative in the kitchen.

So this year I did it again. I’ve posted a couple of the recipes, and there are more to follow, but here’s a little overview of how it went.

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Devilled mushrooms

Basing a sauce on English mustard always makes me think of Stoppard’s Arcadia. Frankly, I’d recommend seeing it regardless of what you do or do not propose to do with the ground seeds of sinapis alba,  but in particular I remember Thomasina’s exhortation:

“When you stir your rice pudding, Septimus, the spoonful of jam spreads itself round making red trails like the picture of a meteor in my astronomical atlas. But if you stir backwards, the jam will not come together again.”

Devilled mushroomsThis is an extraordinarily round-about way of saying that you can proper fuck up balance with mustard, and you won’t be able to stir it back out again. Too little and it’s mild heat and boredom. Too much, and it’s an acrid horrorshow, like a mouthful of hops and wasabi.

For all that, I love devilled kidneys. My dad used to make them as a breakfast treat, quick and dirty the way he picked up in the army. He’d thicken with breadcrumbs and dump in a bucket of ketchup. The sauce was pulpy and fiery, perfect for the savoury of the offal.

Veguary precludes that a bit, but here’s a fine brunch of spicy mushrooms.

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Cauliflower fritters with sage and parmesan

This was a quick Veguary lunch that got out of hand. The original idea was to start with a pakora recipe, and pack in the flavour of those big, heavy parmesan/anchovy/garlic meatballs from Kitchen Diaries. But the idea drifted a bit, and they came out lighter, more subtle. You get these wonderful little bursts of slightly astringent flavour where the cauliflower sears and the batter’s crispy, too.

Cauliflower parmesan frittersEven if they hadn’t shaken out gentle, I’ll wager it would have worked – gram flour is basically magic.

This is a bit of an off the cuff one, and you may want to experiment with it.

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Mushroom peposo

So, I’m doing “Veguary” again. It’s what it sounds like: a horrifying portmanteau, and 28 days off the meat. It’s great fun, more about shaking up my cooking habits than any kind of health-nut hand-wringing. I am, as a friend put it, “in it for the pies not the piety”.

Mushroom peposoAccordingly, I like to use Veguary to do two things: explore exciting vegetable flavours, and work up veggie hacks of meat dishes to see what I can get away with. This is the latter.

Peposo is a Tuscan beef stew I first had cooked from Jamie’s Italy years ago by a friend. It’s stuck with me – feisty and warming, and so satisfying. It takes balck pepper, and punches it up to curry levels of spicy impact.

But at its core, it’s a simple stew. You can do it with just wine, beef, pepper, and about four hours. There’s a pretty good recipe here. For the mushroom version, I’ve had to cheat a bit and nudge some flavors around for body.

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Mexican style smoky corn soup

Winter isn’t the most fun, and the foods that get you through it tend to attract words like “hearty”. Big one-pot stews, heaps of potatoes. It’s pretty great. But sometimes you want something with all the warming body, but a bit less of the stodgy heft. Vegetable soups, you’re up.

IMG_5754One of my favourites is the Mexican bean soup from the River Cottage veg book. You can squint at that and just about see the heritage for this I suppose. But it’s been on a little trip via Authentic Mexican, my enthusiasm for sweet corn, and the fact that I really really hate photographing soup.

Seriously, it’s just no fun. Which is probably why this goes in quite so hard on the corn, roasted corn, and peppers. Quite apart from tasting nice, that gives us something to look at, and a nice mix of colours. So yes, it’s both a little sweet and a little focused on corn. It’s like a nursery-tastes remix of a classic pozole soup, I suppose, and it won’t be for everyone. I  do like the hot sweet and sour of it, and the bit of bite.

 

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Stilton oatcake blancmange – have the cheese course for starters

For Christmas, and knowing I like to muck about in the kitchen, my aunt gave me a packaged crash course in jellies, blancmanges, and matters retro-wobbly. There were two packs of robust gelatine, the wonderfully faux-archaic Jellies and Their Moulds, and its arch postmodern cousin, Bompas & Parr’s Jelly. I’ll be honest, it felt like a dare.

From there, and via the well-mapped topology of my cheeseular brainwrong, an outcome of “yeah, but with stilton, right?” was pretty much a foregone conclusion.

Stilton oatcake blancmange

Jelly has some fun stuff in it, and even some of the more intricate ideas are actually pretty simple to pull off. But having never exactly skewed to desserts, a starter seemed like a neat idea. This is an attempt to bring the cheese course round to the front of dinner: stilton, port, and oatcake, a handful of walnuts – splendid stuff. And all set off with an unsettling wobble!

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Potato-topped haddock and crab chowder pie

Potato-topped chowder piethink it was Nietzsche who first and best expressed the sentiment: “When you gaze too long upon the tweets of 70s Dinner Party,  you’ll end up covering everything in duchess potato.”

And so it was. Bored and confused, I pushed most of a kilo of potatoes through a sieve, all in the name of putting deeply silly hat on a crab chowder.

Honestly, if you don’t enjoy dicking about with a piping bag then it is not worth it – just slather on the mash and carry on with your life. Maybe run a fork over it to make those weird little furrows that seemed mandatory in the 90s. But if you really want a fish pie that Robert Carrier would have thought looked fancy as balls, then this might just be for you.

It’s a thickened crab and smoked fish chowder, with a load of mash on top, and it’s big and solid and satisfying.

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Bundobust, Leeds – sensational Indian street food (and craft beer)

This weekend we were up in Leeds for the Thought Bubble comics festival (podcast here). Even when it isn’t full of enthusiastic nerds Leeds is a fun city. It’s got some storming places to drink beer, a lively (and growing) food scene, and since 2014 it’s had Bundobust.

This is one of the best places I’ve eaten all year.

It’s also – and get this – completely vegetarian. In fact, it’s often vegan. How cool is that? Packed to the gills in Leeds centre, serving eclectic veggie street food and exciting beer that puts some of my Soho favourites to hide-under-a-rock levels of shame.

Bundobust selection

So what’s it doing?

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