Larb, larp, laap whatever you call it, this Lao mince salad has started regularly presenting its zingy little face at our dinner table. Hot, caramelised meat plus frying pan juices poured over crunchy herbal salad, sharply dressed, sprinkled with toasted rice and skinned up with a crisp iceberg leaf. Mmmm.
The “khao khua” or roasted rice powder is a must and as easy as toasting some Thai sticky (or in my case pudding) rice in a dry frying pan and then pounding to grit (or you could just buy a pack from an Oriental supermarket). I marinated chicken thighs overnight before chopping into teeny tiny pieces, pre-minced meat would of course be the more convenient, if less texturally fine option.
There are no claims to authenticity here; I prefer to see larb as a truly magical way of saving salad drawer remnants from the bin. After six months of Winter comfort food the freshness factor has been a welcome relief.
4 boneless and skinless chicken thighs
2 tbsp. oyster sauce
The juice of one lime
1 shallot or small onion, finely sliced
A little neutral oil (groundnut’s good)
For the salad
3 fat spring onions, finely sliced
½ a yellow, red and green pepper, thinly sliced
A few big handfuls of beansprouts
2 handfuls of coriander, finely chopped
1 handful of mint, finely shredded
1 -2 fresh red Thai chillies, finely chopped
For the dressing
4 tbsp. fish sauce
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp. Thai chilli jam/sauce
Pinch of palm/brown sugar
The juice of a lime
3-4 tbsp. uncooked sticky rice or khao khua powder
1 iceberg lettuce
Mix the chicken thighs with the oyster sauce and the juice of one of the limes. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours, or even overnight if you can.
If toasting your own rice, heat a dry frying pan and tip in the rice. Once it turns golden and smells popcorn-like, remove from the heat and grind to a coarse powder. Keep in an airtight jar, ready for your next fix.
Mix the salad ingredients. Separate the iceberg leaves out. Combine the dressing ingredients and adjust until you’re happy with the sour, salty, hot balance.
Finely chop the chicken and mix well with the marinade.
Heat a frying pan and add just a little slick of oil. When it’s hot, add the shallot and fry until almost crisp. Tip in the chicken and cook until it starts to caramelise in places.
Pour the hot chicken into the cold salad and mix well. Dress, sprinkle with the toasted rice, wrap in leaves of iceberg and eat immediately.
It seems that the whole world and his wife have been struck down by the sniffles. Everyone I talk to sounds a bit bunged up, slightly red around the eyes and just a little bit blue. After working our way through some pretty vile cold powders, mugs of hot honey, lemon and ginger and inhaling endless bowls of steaming Vicks; it was this comforting soup, that finally put paid to monsieur lurgy. Sweet, spicy and ambrosial on the throat, this makes an immense tureen. Perfect for squirreling away freezer-friendly stashes ready for the next onslaught.
850g pumpkin, hacked into chunks
270g parsnip, peeled and chopped into chunks
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp. cumin seeds
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. salt
1 large onion, finely chopped
75g ginger, peeled and finely chopped
150g brown basmati rice
145g/2 medium carrots, diced
110g celery sticks, diced
250g eating apples
4 green cardamom pods
1 tsp. turmeric
500ml chicken stock
400ml coconut milk
400g tinned tomatoes
2 tbsp. mango chutney
2 tbsp. fresh coriander
A big squeeze of lemon juice
- Preheat the oven to 180C. In a shallow roasting tray toss the pumpkin and parsnip chunks with the garlic, curry powder, cumin, salt and half the olive oil. Roast for about 45 minutes, or until tender and charred in places.
- In a large saucepan heat the butter and remaining oil. Fry the onion and ginger for about 10 minutes over a low heat. Add the rice, carrots, celery, apple, cardamom and turmeric and continue to cook for another 5-10 minutes or until everything is well cooked.
- Mash in the roasted pumpkin and parsnip along with the tempered oil from the roasting pan.
- Pour in the stock, coconut milk, tinned tomatoes and adjust seasoning to taste. Simmer until the rice is tender.
- Stir in the chutney and lemon juice. Ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle with the fresh coriander and lots of black pepper.
Soft shell crab. Three words pretty much guaranteed to elicit a hedonic response, particularly as I now live in an area where I can’t get hold of the little critters for love nor money. I find the only thing more satisfying than the crunch of tiny exoskeletons is slathering them with gingery blueberry ketchup and spring onion mayo…the whole crunchy, creamy mess cushioned in a nutty yet sturdy wholemeal roll. Bliss.
Not to be confused with their blue swimming brethren, I had to make a special trip to Chinatown and came home minus twenty quid. On the plus side, I now have a massive box of individually wrapped Thai beauties half of which have taken up residence in the freezer, ready for my next craving. Blueberry ketchup is incredible and even if you can’t be done with faffing about over seafood, I’d recommend my tangsome blue sauce to fulfil all manner of dunking needs; it’s smashing with egg and chips.
Back in January I signed a two book deal with the mighty Kyle publishing. The first of my cookbooks will be out early next year, and although I haven’t included this recipe, it’s a little taster of the kind of thing you can expect.
For the blueberry ketchup
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tbsp. finely chopped ginger
1 fat garlic clove, minced
1 tbsp. bottled tamarind sauce
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
- Heat the oil in a small saucepan and cook the onion until softened but not browned.Add in ginger and garlic and cook until fragrant.
- tip in the blueberries, tamarind, sugar, vinegar and salt and simmer over a low heat for about 30 minutes and until nicely thickened.
- Allow to cool, blend if you want a smooth texture and pour into a sterilised jar. Keeps happily in the fridge for a good fortnight.
For the soft shell crab
1 tsp. sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbsp. grated ginger
1 tsp. 5 spice powder
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. rice wine
100g rice flour
v.cold sparkling water
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. garlic powder
2 egg whites, beaten till frothy
1 heaped tsp. baking powder
8-10 soft-shell crabs
Rice flour for dusting the crabs
oil for deep frying
1 spring onion, finely chopped and mixed with 2 tbsp. mayonnaise
some token lettuce
- defrost the crabs. Combine the sesame oil, garlic, ginger, five spice powder, salt and rice wine and carefully marinade the crab (they’re pretty fragile) for a few hours in this mixture in the fridge. I managed to wait for about 6 hours.
- Mix the cornflour and rice flour, salt, garlic powder and baking powder. Gradually add enough sparkling water until it reaches the consistency of double cream. Fold in the soy sauce and egg whites.
- Have a plate ready with more rice flour and heat the oil in a wok. When you’re ready to deep fry, dust the crabs in the rice flour then dunk in the batter, coating well.
- Fry two at a time to golden perfection (they tend to spatter a lot so take care). Drain on kitchen paper before sandwiching in a roll with a hefty spoonful of blueberry ketchup, lettuce and a smear of spring onion mayonnaise.
Hello, it’s been a while. Don’t worry, this isn’t another one of those “sorry I haven’t blogged in ages” posts because I don’t really see the point of those. Personally, I blame the year round availability of unseasonal fruit in our supermarkets – people just think they can have what they want when they want it all the time. Perhaps it might help if you just think of me as an organic greengage, or something.
Anyway. Aren’t peas brilliant? I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve podded and ploughed my way through a fresh bag fully intending to use them in a meal but with absolutely nada to show at the end. I had to exercise a lot of self restraint for this dish, but am super pleased I did because it’s bloody sensational.
At about 4am last Tuesday I had a proper hankering for mutter paneer, palak paneer and also for makhani paneer (think butter chicken but with paneer instead of poultry). You might say I really, really wanted paneer.
This was the result – a glorious mash up of all three. Packed with sweet fresh* peas and spinach for all those crucial vits plus sour cream (SO authentic, I know) butter and cashews for a healthy dose of hedonic richness. A win-win dish if ever there was one.
2 large onions
4-5 cloves garlic
2 inch piece ginger, peeled and chopped
60g roasted cashew nuts
A little blitzing water
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. curry powder
salt to taste (I used a teaspoon)
¼ – ½ tsp. chilli powder
½ – 1 tsp. dried fenugreek (methi) leaves
1 tsp. coriander powder
½ tsp. turmeric powder
1 tbsp. tomato puree
2-3 tbsp. sour cream (coconut milk would be lush)
1 tbsp. lemon juice
2 green chillies chopped finely
2 tbsp. coriander stems, chopped finely
1 tbsp. sunflower oil
A large knob of butter
2 tsp. cumin seeds
227g paneer cubed
300ml veg. stock
chopped fresh tomatoes (250g-ish)
200g spinach leaves-wilted in a colander with boiling water from the kettle then chopped
145g shelled peas (*you can of course use frozen if you don’t have fresh)
coriander leaves chopped fine to garnish
A few extra whole toasted cashews to serve
- Blitz onion, cashews, garlic and ginger to a rough paste in a blender with a little water.
- Mix sugar, curry powder, salt, chilli powder, fenugreek leaves, coriander powder, turmeric and tomato puree in a bowl. Add the cream and lemon juice, green chilli and coriander stems
- Heat a large frying pan over a medium heat and add oil. Once it’s hot add the butter and cumin seeds and wait for them to splutter.
- Add the onion mix and fry until it turns a sort of frazzled beige colour (this took about 20 minutes over a low heat, giving any excess water the chance to evaporate). Add the paneer cubes and cook until everything is well crusted and golden.
- Stir in the stock, spiced cream and fresh tomatoes. Cook for 10 mins on a low heat.
- Finally, add the peas and spinach. Adjust seasoning to taste, scatter over the toasted cashews and coriander leaves. Serve with hot plain rice.
Our “ruby murray” stall – photo by Kerstin Rogers
Flaky, delicate pastry with a spicy thwack of chillified filling, my spicy sausage rolls were a bit of a hit on Saturday and turned out to be just the thing for bonfire night.
I literally had no idea what to expect from Ms Marmite Lover’s underground market. I’d never been to one, let alone run a stall there, but her latest was a fantastic, gloriously surreal festival-like shebang. Although I didn’t actually get a chance to see everything, as we were too busy serving food, I met an almost endless stream of genuinely lovely people. I particularly enjoyed the spirit of camaraderie amongst the stallholders, and was really touched by some of the comments about our food.
Quantities had been a bit of a question mark. I had absolutely no idea how much to make, despite having spent the previous few days frantically exchanging emails with Helen from Food Stories and Kerstin trying to work this out. So I was super chuffed and much-surprised at our popularity – we managed to sell out of pretty much everything in the few hours we were open. I’ve always relished the idea of feeding people the food I love to eat at home, you know, the stuff you never really come across in restaurants. Seeing the delighted look on people’s faces after taking an initial bite was an incredible buzz, and some of the nicest feedback came from people who seemed gobsmacked that I didn’t sell my food regularly and demanded that I immediately rectify this.
Huge thanks to Kerstin for inviting us and organising such a terrific event.
8 sausages, slit down the middle and liberated from their casings (I made half a batch with Quorn sausages and half with beef)
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2-3 fresh green chillies
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 inch ginger, peeled
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp brown mustard seeds
2-3 tsp mustard oil
All butter puff pastry
1 egg, beaten
- Blitz the onion, ginger, garlic and chillies in a spice grinder/coffee mill
- Heat the mustard oil and when it’s hot add the mustard seeds, which should sizzle immediately.
- Introduce the onion mixture and fry until golden.
- Once this has cooled, mix into the sausage meat, along with the curry powder and a pinch of salt.
- Roll out the pastry and fill with the sausage meat. Seal and brush liberally with the beaten egg and bake for 25 minutes at 200C/gas mark 6 or until golden brown and cooked through.
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.
Creamy, oozing with comfort and addictive little stabs of chilli this savoury French toast with an Indian twist is just the dish to take refuge in whenever you’re feeling hungry, tired, skint or all three. It’s a proper serotonin-raiser, whether we’re talking a decadent breakfast in bed gesture or a midweek, post-work-pre-flicks/plonked on the sofa type affair. The peach and tomato salsa is bright, punchy and the perfect accompaniment (it’s basically my Bengali tomato salsa recipe plus a couple of very ripe peaches), although a hefty blob of ketchup is just fine if you really can’t be bothered. My aunt in Rochdale makes hers using cheap white sliced bread but for me it’s all about the nuttiness of wholemeal.
1-2 tbsp single cream
A large pinch of curry powder
4 of the finest eggs money can buy
slices of bread
½ Fresh green finger chilli sliced (or more if you like your heat)
1-2 tbsp finely chopped coriander
1 shallot, finely chopped/spring onion
Salt and pepper
Tomato bortha/Bengali tomato salsa with a couple of ripe peaches roughly chopped and crushed in.
- Beat together the eggs and add the curry powder, cream, chilli, coriander, shallot and salt and pepper.
- Place a slice of bread in the mixture and leave for about 5 minutes then turn over, until well saturated with the egg mixture.
- Melt a knob of butter in a frying pan over a medium heat and when sizzling carefully add the bread. Brown on both sides.
- Repeat until all the egg has been used up and serve hot with plenty of salsa/ketchup.
Cumin isn’t really a spice you’d associate with Chinese cooking is it? However, head for the more Islamic districts of North West China and these cumintastic lamb skewers are all the rage. Sadly, I’ve never had the chance to check out the street food of Xinjiang, but I have spent many a belt-loosening evening in Chilli Cool, the Sichuanese hotspot in King’s Cross. There the skewers come fried and spice encrusted on a plate that’s practically scarlet with chillies.
I decided to make my own for a spot of Victoria Park BBQ action and I must say these really couldn’t be easier. Super nice with a hot and sour cucumber salad (diced and dressed in salt, garlic sizzled in sesame oil, sugar and rice vinegar) and crammed into toasted pitta, these were wolfed down the very minute they came off the heat and I only wish I’d made more.
The Sichuan peppercorns add that “ma la” hot, numbing and almost lemony back note which works gorgeously with the toasted cumin. You can get them in most Chinese shops or online. If you really can’t be bothered, just stick in a bit more chilli powder/paste and a load of black pepper- it won’t be the same of course but you’ll still be dead chuffed with the results. It’s important to toast and grind the cumin – you want that lamb properly infused. Like all the best hot-coal related treats, the longer you marinade the tastier the rewards (I held out for two days). If you don’t have access to a barbecue, you can always slide them under a hot grill. Either way, you’re guaranteed all manner of smoky, juicy, spicy fun times.
(makes four generous skewers)
500g lamb steaks hacked into skewerable hunks
skewers ( if wooden, soak in water for at least an hour)
For the dry spice mix
1 ½ tbsp dry roasted and ground cumin seeds
1 ½ tbsp dry roasted and ground Sichuan peppercorns
2-3 tsp sea salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp ground fennel
½ -1 tsp chilli powder
For the wet mix
2 tsp sesame oil
1 ½ large red chillies, sliced roughly
2-3 large spring onions, cut roughly into chunks
2 tbsp Shaoxing wine
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp chilli bean paste
1 tbsp groundnut oil
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
- Combine the ingredients for the dry marinade and coat the lamb chunks thoroughly.
- Combine the ingredients for the wet marinade. Tip the contents of the dry into the wet and mix well.
- Cover and leave overnight in the fridge or for a couple of days if you can.
- Thread onto skewers. Fish out the chilli and spring onion chunks and alternate the bits of lamb with these.
- Cook for about 3-4 minutes on each side over or under a medium to fierce heat. You basically want these to be charred on the outside but still a little pink in the middle. Devour while hot. Regret not making more.
If like me, you managed to OD on mini-eggs and treacle tart over the weekend, you might be thinking about injecting something a little bit healthier into your poor, saccharine-addled body. This chilled green soup of mind-boggling goodness is just what the overworked NHS GP ordered. Verdant with veg and gorgeous supped with tomato juice ice cubes, a touch of greek yoghurt and a piquant crab salsa (don’t worry if you can’t get fresh crab, the supermarket tinned lump-meat stuff is just as good for these purposes) it’s something you can put together super-quickly after the shock of being back at the electronic coalface. Perfect for when you’re feeling a bit kitchen shy and just want to bask it up in those final rays of the day…
for the soup
1 x 230g bag spinach leaves, washed and blitzed right down in a blender with ½ pint cold vegetable stock (I used 1 tsp Marigold powder)
2-3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
2-3 spring onions, roughly chopped
1 avocado, roughly chopped
1 small clove garlic, crushed
The juice of a lime
A couple of pickled chillies
A dash of sherry/balasamic/rice/not Sarsons vinegar
1 hefty pinch of salt and a few twists of pepper
1 handful of fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
2-3 tbsp peas (I used defrosted frozen petit pois)
For the salsa:
One tin of whole lump crab meat (or fresh if you can get it)
A red pepper, diced
½ red onion finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 red chilli, finely chopped
Juice and zest of half a lime
A glug of good olive/avocado oil
Salt and pepper
a spoonful of greek yoghurt
frozen cubes of tomato juice, or if you’re feeling a bit flash, whole mint leaves frozen in tomato juice cubes.
- Place all the soup ingredients in a blender, whizz and adjust the seasoning to taste (it develops over time, so if enjoying this straight away, I’d add a smidge more garlic, salt and/or chilli).
- Chill in the fridge with ice cubes while you get on with the salsa.
- Combine the salsa ingredients.
- Serve with the chilled soup.
- If you’re mega-organised you can make tomato ice cubes ahead of putting this together, otherwise a cold swirl of yoghurt it is. Some toasted almonds would be nice too.
Because it’s definitely picnic o’clock.
a good, sturdy loaf of bread (I experimented with sourdough and ciabatta but found one of those Grand Mange Blanc loaves in Waitrose worked brilliantly)
cheese (I used Emmental, Jarlsberg and Gouda)
for the vegetarian half
1 aubergine sliced and griddled until tender
2 or 3 spring onions, halved and blistered on a griddle
1 jar grilled courgettes
for the carnivorous half
for the olive salad
6 marinated artichoke hearts, plus a tablespoon of the oil they’re marinated in
approximately 10 sunblush tomatoes, plus a tablespoon of the oil they’re marinated in.
100g marinated olives
1 stick celery
1 carrot, grated
1/2 red onion
1 tbsp fresh parsley
1 clove garlic
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp oregano
Tangy, aromatic and fresher than a boxfresh pair of hightops, this is a lovely little springtime cuzza. Based on a Keralan pal’s recipe, the layers of nut do make it fairly rich, so you might want to go easy on the oil/tinned milk/flesh if you fancy more of a sour finish. Perfectamente with a hot portion of lemon rice (there’s a fab recipe here- http://www.videojug.com/film/how-to-make-lemon-rice) chapattis and a spoonful of mango chutney on the side.
- 2-3 fresh squid, cleaned and hacked into rings (tentacles included)
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 fresh coconut, cut into thin slices
- 250ml coconut milk (you could use the water from the fresh coconut for a lighter result or tinned coconut milk for a richer finish – I used a mixture of both)
- 1 tbsp coconut oil (which incidentally also makes the most luscious popcorn)/ghee/olive oil
- 1 large handful of curry leaves
- 1 red chilli
- 2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 inch fresh ginger, grated
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 1 tsp coriander seeds
- 2 large fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 250ml tamarind water
- 1 large handful of frozen peas (optional)
- 1 tsp curry powder
- fresh coriander
- 1 fresh green chilli, finely chopped
- 1 lime, cut into wedges
- Heat the fresh coconut slices, coriander seeds and chilli in a dry frying pan over a medium heat (you’ll be cooking the curry in this later, so make sure it’s not too small).
- While that’s toasting, smear the squid in turmeric and salt in a small bowl.
- Set the toasted coconut and chilli aside and tip the seeds into a grinder/mortar and grind to a powder.
- Heat the coconut oil in the empty pan and once it’s sizzling, lob in the squid pieces for a quick flash fry.
- After a minute or two, remove the squid and drain on some kitchen paper.
- Add the mustard seeds, coriander powder, fennel seeds and curry leaves to the hot fat.
- As soon as the mustard seeds pop (this should happen fairly immediately) add the onion, garlic, whole red chilli and ginger.
- Once everything’s nice and brown, turn the heat down a little and add the fresh tomatoes. Cook for about five minutes until they break down and thicken into a sauce.
- Add the curry powder, tamarind water, coconut milk and stir well. Check the seasoning, you might want to add a bit more salt at this point,or if you think it could do with a bit more heat add the green chilli (I prefer it without personally).
- Re-introduce the squid pieces and simmer for 10 minutes . Add the peas if you’re using them and simmer for a further 5 minutes. The squid should be cooked through but also extremely tender.
- Strew with the toasted coconut and coriander and serve immediately with wedges of lime.
This is Incredible.
Make it for someone you love kind of incredible. Can’t wait to make it again and again kind of incredible. Make it in the afternoon and watch it cease to exist by the evening kind of incredible. Thyme scented garlic, slick with balsamic syrup, glossier than Cheryl Cole’s barnet kind of incredible. Clods of butternut roasted to coax out the sugar, cosseted in a duvet of delicately shuddering dairy kind of incredible. There are no words kind of incredible.
Mr Ottolenghi – I salute you.
You wouldn’t catch your average Japanese housewife faffing around making a curry roux from scratch. Not when there are dozens of excellent ready made versions requiring little more effort than the mere flick of a kettle switch.
Katsu curry is a veritable thing of joy and one that’s warmed me through many a grim London winter but I must admit, I’ve always turned lazily to those ready made bars of S&B. So when an old friend from Osaka passed on her recipe, I was excited at the thought of seeing what actually went into this unique dish.
Tough day in the office? Repeatedly sneezed on during the central line rush hour? Feeling a bit sniffly? Had your favourite pair of Cheap Monday’s tsunamically and indeed deliberately drenched by some sadist in a white van? If like me you’ve recently suffered from any/all of the above then what you need is a great steaming bowl of shorba. Nothing sorts me out quite like that rich, soothing hug of a soup, alive with spices and the spiky warmth of ginger. It truly is the perfect antidote to so many of life’s woes.
There was once a time when all you’d ever hear about was Nobu and that black cod miso dish. That was until “The End of the Line” exposed it to be the bluefin-plundering, money-grabbing, z list hang out it really is. Still, you can see why the dish was such a winner. That deeply savoury rot of the marinade, sweet and salty against oily flesh was and still is pretty genius.
Mark Hix certainly seems to know his Asian food – I’ve had my eye on the mutton chop curry recipe in his latest cookery book for some time now. I chanced upon his recipe for these lentil and potato cakes on a yellowing scrap of old Independent I’d ripped out around, ooh seven years ago. Gently spiced potato cakes filled with a piquant mango chutney and lentil mix and rolled in coconut, they are the perfect packed lunch fodder and definitely taste more intense the next day. I used fresh coconut instead of desiccated and added some bay and grated ginger to the potato mix. I think a spot of fresh green chilli in there wouldn’t go amiss, or if you can get hold of it, the weeniest dollop of Mr Naga hot chilli sauce.
Living around the corner from Brick Lane means I’m always getting hassled for decent curry house recommendations. Despite being surrounded by a multitude, there really aren’t many in this area that I would actually rate. Most serve up dishes that are either creamed and sweetened beyond recognition or are so authentic, that no one but the most local of Bangladeshis would really want to eat them (dried fish curry is definitely an acquired taste). I quite liked Chaat when it first opened, a little place on Redchurch Street, but my last visit was disappointing. Tayyabs is the main reason I live where I do, and I’ve eaten there regularly for the past few years – so it’s nice to have a bit of a change now and again. I was therefore performing all manner of double take when I spotted “Cafe Kaati” from the top deck of the 205 the other day.
So the Great British Summer is upon us and of course it’s all grey and drizzly out there. I always swear by a big steaming cup of tea, with a good book in one hand and a plate of fresh bhajis to munch on as the most comforting way to counteract the dreaded June mizzle. But today I discovered something a little bit different, something that turned out to be astonishingly delicious….
“I want the bastards that tortured my grandmother to bleed” spits Susan, her face contorting and reddening to match the hue of our food. “I want them to feel just a fraction of her pain.”
We’re in a tiny izakaya in Saitama-ken, just around the corner from my flat and Susan is explaining her dark reasons for being here over a bowl of kimchi ramen. “So your grandmother was a…a comfort woman then?” asks Manola, who teaches in the town next door. Manola is dead cool. The other JETs we’ve met are an assortment of private school tossers and downright weirdos, so we’ve made a point of only befriending Japanese people and each other. We spend our weekdays teaching English and our weekends in throbbing clubs and bars in Tokyo, grabbing steaming 5am bowls of ramen and larking about in purikura booths before catching the train home to the suburbs… Her Kanji count is enviable and she’s definitely the sensible one. I, on the other hand manage to unwittingly get us into countless dodgy situations, like the time we find ourselves in the car of a minor yakuza who tries to press pills upon us and entice us to some warehouse party with his mafia pals.
We love it all, but Susan has made it clear she’s purely here for vengeance.
She’s a towering half Texan, half Korean model type, and she fascinates us with tales of growing up in a trailer with anorexic friends. She’s like something out of a JT Leroy novel. She confirms that yes, her grandmother was one of the comfort women Japanese soldiers famously took “refuge” in during the war. A group of young Japanese men nearby openly ogle her, one plucks up the Asahi-powered courage to saunter over and tell her how “sekusi” she is. She tosses her hair and casts out a murderous look before archly turning her back on them. “Wow this kimchi’s great” murmurs Manola. Susan scowls and tells us about the proper stuff her gran used to make in huge earthenware pots which she’d bury in the garden for months. Years later and faced with a superabundance of cabbage I come across the napkin with her recipe scrawled over it.
Regularly stocking up on cookbooks can get a bit pricey, so I’ve started borrowing them from my local library, which harbours a superb selection. I get a vicarious thrill out of lugging them home and leafing through, before post it noting the recipes I want to try before the dreaded due date (never let it be said that I don’t like to live life on its absolute edge).