When Miss Marmite Lover invited me to host a curry stall at her forthcoming underground food rave, I decided I’d offer dishes that were a little bit different alongside the same old traditional curries. Chaal kumro bhaja is a classic Bengali fried pumpkin dish, which involves panch phoran (Bengali five spice), fresh coconut and chilli. This roasted panch phoran pumpkin salad is my modern version. Fat chunks of the orange flesh are lightly coated in mustard oil, salt and garlic before roasting to fudgy tenderness. Cubes of paneer, raw cashews, fresh coconut, pumpkin and sunflower seeds are browned in panch phoran and chilli tempered oil before everything is tossed with a pinch of sugar, salt, fresh coriander, lemon juice and pomegranate seeds. A drizzle of chillified yoghurt and the contrast of crisp, spicy cheese, nuts and seeds with soft garlicky gourd is pretty unbeatable.
I’ll be serving this on Saturday 5th November, along with a more old school mutton kosha mangsho (slow cooked Bengali mutton and potato curry), saag and pea paneer (with home made paneer), spicy sausage rolls (both veggie and meat), potato and pea shingaras (Bengali samosas with nigella seed pastry) lentil doughnuts in raita (dahi vadai), organic, free-range chicken curry, vegetable biryani, masoor dal and smoked aubergine and tomato borthas (fresh Bengali salsas).
Serves 2- 3 as a main course and 6 as a starter/side dish
1/2 medium pumpkin or 1 small one, halved, deseeded and lopped into chunks
1 tbsp mustard oil plus extra for drizzling
1-2 cloves garlic
1 tsp salt
½ block paneer, cubed
1 handful raw cashews
½ fresh coconut, sliced thinly
1 tbsp each of sunflower and pumpkin seeds
1 tsp each of fenugreek, asafoetida, cumin, mustard and nigella seeds
1 fresh chilli sliced or ½ teaspoon hot chilli sauce
Fresh coriander roughly chopped
Fresh lemon juice
½ fresh pomegranate, deseeded
2 tbsp natural yoghurt mixed with 3-4 tsp chilli sauce
- Place the pumpkin chunks in a baking tray and anoint liberally with the garlic, salt and a little of the mustard oil. Roast at 150C for around 30-40 minutes, or until slightly charred and very soft.
- In a frying pan, heat the remaining mustard oil and when hot, add the mustard and nigella seeds. Lightly crush the fennel, asafoetida and cumin and add to the oil, which should be spit and crackle.
- Add the paneer and coat well in the spices. Add the fresh chilli or chilli sauce and stir in the pumpkin and sunflower seeds, the cashews and the coconut. Mix thoroughly and continue to cook until everything is toasted and golden brown.
- Tip the contents of the frying pan over the roasted pumpkin, add a teaspoon each of salt and sugar and mix well. Strew with the coriander, pomegranate and a generous squeeze of lemon juice and drizzle with the chilli yoghurt dressing. Serve warm.
Sprats. One of those pleasingly blunt, borderline expletive words. It’s up there with “sloes”, “Yarg”, “clod”, “Gurnard” and “sticking”, when it comes to foods that are as much of a delight to say as they are to eat. I clocked these unfashionable and underrated fun-sized fishes on the wet counter of my local supermarket the other day. There have been some pretty impressive offerings of late, including samphire, squid and cockles amongst the usual dyed haddock and mackerel, the sort of stuff you would have had to make a special trip to a proper fishmongers for a couple of years ago.
I bagged enough for two for the princely sum of £1.10 and decided upon a Japanese slant. Tempura can seem a bit intimidating, but like all Japanese cookery, it’s all about getting the little details right. The water should be ice cold, the batter shouldn’t be over-mixed (a few lumps are a good thing) and the oil should be hot enough so that the battered fish sinks down for a second or two before floating to the top where it blooms majestically into puffy crags. We wolfed these down hot from the kitchen paper with a simple brown sushi rice, avocado, spring onion, carrot and lettuce salad and some steamed green beans sprinkled with a toasted sesame and miso dressing.
For the sprats
About 15 sprats, washed thoroughly
110g (4oz) plain flour
75ml (3fl oz) sparkling mineral water, kept in the fridge, and then when you’re ready to cook in the freezer to ensure it’s as icy as possible.
Oil for deep frying
For the sushi rice salad
300g sushi rice
1 piece seaweed
4 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 large carrot, diced
1 spring onion, finely chopped
Some shredded lettuce
1 avocado cubed
Toasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds
For the sesame miso beans
Green beans, topped and tailed
1 tbsp miso paste
1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
1 tsp sugar
To make the rice salad
- Weigh out the rice and rinse well in a sieve. Leave for about 30 minutes for the rice to absorb some of the water droplets that cling.
- Tip into a saucepan and add the water. Add the seaweed, cover and bring to the boil over a medium heat.
- Let it boil for about 5 minutes, before turning the heat off and leaving it to steam with the lid on for 10-15 minutes. The rice should be perfectly cooked through.
- Mix the rice vinegar, salt and sugar, and once the rice has cooled down a little, add this and combine well.
- Pour into a bowl and mix with the lettuce, carrot, avocado and toasted seeds.
To make the beans
- Top and tail the beans and blanch in boiling water for a couple of minutes, so they’re cooked through but remain crisp and vibrant.
- Meanwhile, toast the sesame seeds in a dry frying pan until golden and crush in a pestle and mortar
- Mix with the miso paste and sugar before folding into the warm beans.
To make the tempura sprats
- Put the water in the freezer. Heat the oil in a pan/fryer to about 190 degrees.
- Once the oil is almost hot enough, beat the egg in a bowl, before adding the iced water. Lazily stir in the flour, being careful not to over-mix. Lumps are your friend.
- Rake the fish through the batter and test a piece. If it sinks for a couple of seconds before bobbing up to the surface, it’s hot enough.
- Fry in small batches for about 4-5 minutes and drain well on kitchen paper.
- Serve with a dipping sauce of dashi, mirin, sugar and soy, the rice salad and the beans.
I’ve got really into pot roasting lately and had been thinking about making this dish for ages. I wanted to experiment with the combination of robust curry spicing and the technique of browning off a choice hunk of flesh before leaving to languidly blip away in the oven for hours with a bit of stock and some vegetables, then maybe stirring in a touch of dairy to enrich matters. Ultimately you’re left with a supper that satisfyingly disintegrates at the merest suggestion of a spoon.
The results are mind blowingly good. Mouthful after mouthful of unrelenting deliciousness sort of good. The shanks provide the vertebrae of flavour while the roots become melting and sweet, with kicks of heat from the spice, then finally the whole lot is mellowed with thick cream…scooped up with some blistered chappatis I can think of no finer way to herald the colder months.
1 large onion, diced
2 lamb shanks
1 dsp mustard oil
1 dsp vegetable oil
2 bay leaves
7 green cardamoms
2 tsp cumin powder
1 tbsp each of crushed garlic and finely chopped ginger
2 tsp coriander seeds
½ tsp asafoetida
I tsp each of salt and black peppercorns
1 tsp dried fenugreek
½ tsp fennel seeds
1 heaped tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
2-3 green chillies, sliced
1 cinnamon stick
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
1 small turnip peeled and diced
A dozen new potatoes
¾ pint stock (I used chicken)
3 large tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 heaped tbsps of double cream
- Heat the oils in an ovenproof casserole dish and add the onion. Gently brown over a low heat.
- Grind the cloves, coriander seeds, asafoetida, salt, black peppercorns, methi leaves and fennel seeds to a powder.
- Add this powder, the ginger and garlic to the caramelised onions and mix in the chilli powder, along with the fresh green chillies.
- Turn the heat up, add the lamb shanks and brown all over. Add the carrots, turnip and potatoes and stir well.
- Pour in the stock and add the tomatoes. Stir again and cover the pan with a close fitting lid.
- Place in the oven at 160C/320F/Gas mark 3 for about two and a half hours or until the lamb is meltingly tender.
- Uncover and place over a high heat on the hob to reduce the liquid slightly. Stir in the cream and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
- Sprinkle with fresh coriander before serving with hot chappatis to scoop up all that delectable sauce