Dishes like hambaga, mentaiko pasta and potato salada (potato salad) – all reinvented and made wonderfully and uniquely Japanese. These impressions of European food served alongside mounds of seasoned rice and fish in bento boxes saw me through many a train journey, emergency trip to the 7-11 and school lunch during the years I lived out there.
Japanese potato salad is more like a Russian salad with gently pickled vegetables folded in. I was recently sent a review copy of the excellent Japanese Soul Cooking (by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat) which has a whole chapter on Yoshuku recipes including ones for ebi gratin and saikoro steak, which I’m also looking forward to making.
Here’s their version of potato salada, the only adjustments I’ve made are a smidge of Dijon, a touch of sugar to balance and red onion instead of Spanish. Make sure you use proper Kewpie mayonnaise for this, it’s really not the same otherwise.
2 medium Maris Piper potatoes, (about 450g/1lb) peeled and coarsely chopped
1 tbsp. plus 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
115g (4 oz) cucumber, thinly sliced (if using Japanese or Persian cucumbers leave the skin on, otherwise peel and deseed)
1/2 medium carrot, (about 55g/2 oz) peeled, thinly sliced
1/4 medium Spanish onion (about 85g/3oz) peeled and thinly sliced
125ml (1/2) cup water
1 tbsp. vinegar
60ml Kewpie mayonnaise
- to cook the potatoes, fill a saucepan large enough to cover the potatoes with water and add 1 tablespoon of the salt. Place over a high heat and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to medium, and cook the potatoes for about 10 minutes or until a skewer goes through them easily. Drain and coarsely mash the potatoes, so small chunks are still visible. Set aside and allow the potatoes to come to room temperature.
- Add the cucumber, carrot, onion and 1 tsp. of the salt to a bowl. Use your hands to mix the ingredients, making sure they’re well coated with the salt. Allow the vegetables to cure for 5 minutes. Add the water and swirl the ingredients in the water to remove the salt. Squeeze the cured vegetables tightly with your hands to expel the liquid.
-Add the vegetables and potatoes to a large bowl and mix together well. Add the vinegar and mix to combine. Add the mayonnaise, pepper and the remaining 1/2 tsp. salt. Mix together well until the salad is smooth, and serve.
Variations- you can also add a couple of hard boiled eggs for extra richness and flavour. Mash the eggs and add them along with the potatoes and cured vegetables.
You can also riff on this recipe in a bunch of ways, to wit: Add 25g mentaiko, spicy marinated pollock roe. Or add 90g cooked hijiki. Or add 2 tbsp. of chopped shiso leaves or 1 tbsp. curry powder, or 2 tsp. karashi mustard or 1 tsp. shichimi togorashi or 2 tsp. wasabi or 1 tsp. red yuzu kosho.
Sprouts are possibly my least favourite of all vegetables. I’ve always been baffled by their time honoured spot on the table of otherwise deliciousness that makes up Christmas lunch.
So when an errant net of these toxic little brassicas turned up in my veg box I decided to do what I always do when faced with the unpalatable and give them a Bengali makeover.
Panch phoran, that magical Bengali five spice of fennel, fenugreek, cumin, mustard and nigella works really effectively here, namely because the fennel and mustard seeds temper and tame any sulphuric business. You do need to shred the sprouts quite finely and to patiently steam fry over a lowish heat until they’re properly caramelised and charred. A splash of coconut milk to mellow things out and a handful of prawns if you’ve got them make this a killer dish to have alongside a nice tomato, red onion and coriander salad and a stack of parathas to mop the lot up.
brussel sprouts, trimmed and finely shredded
1 tbsp. oil
a pinch of turmeric
1-2 tsp. panch phoran (alternatively add fennel, cumin, mustard, nigella, fenugreek seeds)
1 onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic
1 tbsp. fresh finely shredded ginger
1 tsp. dried red chilli (or chilli powder)
200ml coconut milk
- heat the oil in a frying pan. Add the onion, garlic, ginger and all the spices.
- Tip in the sprouts, mix well and fry over a lowish heat, partially covered with a lid for about 15-20 minutes or until charred and caramelised.
- Add the salt and sugar and adjust seasoning according to taste. Add the coconut milk and serve.
Faced with a glut of coxes I decided to try my hand at pickling a few. I can’t believe I’ve never done this before because pickled apples are truly superb. Sweet and crunchy yet saturated with the acidity of cider vinegar, these were the perfect partner to some smoked mackerel and fat chunks of garlic roasted onion squash. I trickled over lime and cumin yoghurt dressing for a truly autumnal mid week supper.
for the apples
2-3 coxes or other eating apples
100ml cider vinegar
8 tsp. caster sugar
1 tsp. salt
for the roasted squash
one onion squash (or any squash) hacked into chunks
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
a sprinkling of mace
for the dressing
250ml greek yoghurt
a splash of olive oil
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. ground roasted cumin seeds
1 tsp. sea salt
1/2 a finely diced red onion
the juice of half a lime
a handful of toasted sunflower seeds
smoked mackerel, flaked
- mix the sugar, salt, vinegar and water together in a bowl until dissolved. Core and chunk the apples and leave to steep in this mixture.
- Toss the pieces of squash in the mace, garlic, salt and oil and roast for about 40-50 minutes at gas mark 4 until tender.
- Mix the dressing ingredients together. Place the lettuce, seeds and cress in a salad bowl with the mackerel. Add the roasted squash and the drained pickled apples. Dress liberally with the yoghurt.
Tricky, pretty things, courgette flowers. Fiddly to stuff and yet too good to chuck away. I’m a big fan of Helen’s brown shrimp and crab recipe and also this quesadilla one, by Homesick Texan. My mum likes to rake them through a lightly spiced batter before shallow frying. These are especially good with cucumber raita and a hot cup of tea.
2 tbsp. gram flour
2 tbsp. rice flour
1 shallot, grated
1 clove of garlic, crushed
2 tsp. grated ginger
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. powdered cumin
1 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. curry powder
1 tbsp. finely chopped coriander leaves
1 tsp. salt
- Mix all the ingredients bar the flowers, adding enough water to form a thick paste.
- remove the stamens from the flowers. Dredge each flower in the paste until fully coated.
- shallow fry until crisp. Eat immediately.
Now that we’re finally onto salad weather, I find myself hankering for nice bit of smoked mackerel. Not that flabby rubbish they vac pack in supermarkets but a proper whole smoked specimen from the fishmongers. For something cheap and delicious that will last for ages in the fridge you can’t do much better than one of these golden beauties.
salt and pepper
- mix the dressing ingredients adjusting the levels of horseradish, chilli and lime to your personal preference.
- combine the salad ingredients. Mix with the dressing just before eating.
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.
AKA Japanese salad dressing. I used to buy bottles of this stuff ready-made before I realised just how easy it is to knock up at home (except for the bit where you have to grate the raw onion – wearing shades helps). Just the thing for when you definitely don’t want to turn the cooker on.
(optional) dried seaweed salad mix, which you can buy online here
1/4 small onion, finely grated including juice
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 tbsp. grated ginger
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp. rice vinegar
2 tsp. sugar
2 tbsp. roasted white sesame seed, lightly pulverised in a pestle and mortar
grated carrot, radish, batons of cucumber, tomato, etc.
soak the seaweed salad if using in cold water
combine the dressing ingredients.
Drain the seaweed, mix together all salad ingredients and pour over the dressing
*(apols for the blurry photo-taken while holding a very wriggly 12 week old)
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.
It’s the scent that yanks me back, pinching at my nostrils and dragging me helplessly by the nose. A fat, fragrant double-taker of headiness. The brain doesn’t quite compute at first, because all I’m met with is the gaping maw of a white van spewing crimson viscera onto the road, while a flock of Christian youth rap energetically about salvation. But then I gaze a bit further and there they are in all their scarlet splendour. Punnets upon punnets of them. “3 for a pahnd” bellows the red faced man, and the people jostle and throng with their pounds. Further in there are stalls flogging free range organic duck and quail eggs, the biggest papayas I’ve ever seen, chicken’s feet, goat’s livers, ginseng, mustard oil, fresh shea butter, live crabs, green coconuts and tangerine chillies. However, none of this interests me, for it’s that most English of juicy fruit that I’m after. It feels like the whole of Hackney is here, shopping, shouting and bumping into each other in the sunshine. People hug and argue, they flirt with and avoid each other, they coo over and swear at sullen-faced little ones. There are mountain ranges of rubbish everywhere and an intermingling of other, less savoury smells. Drugs are dealt and hearts are broken. You would never get this in Borough Market.
Back home I think about the flavours that might fit. Because they’re not exactly Gariguettes, I decide that they’d be most at home in a savoury salad, one with plenty of balsamic and black pepper to really flatter the fruit. I decide to team them with some tender grilled feta, watercress, cucumber, parsley and smoked almonds in what turns out to be one of the freshest of summer salads and the beginnings of an infatuation with the chaotic brilliance that is Ridley Road market.
Serves 2-3 generously
1 punnet of strawberries, picked over and halved
1 bunch watercress, torn up
gem lettuce roughly chopped
½ cucumber, diced
1 block of feta
a handful of smoked almonds or walnuts
1 tablespoon parsley, finely
1 orange pepper, diced
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus a little extra for drizzling on the feta
plenty of black pepper
1 tbsp toasted pine nuts
3 tsp honey
Small pinch of dried oregano
Sprinkle a little olive oil and the oregano over the feta and brown under a hot grill until tender
While that’s cooling, combine the watercress, cucumber, toasted pine nuts, smoked almonds, orange pepper, strawberries and lettuce in a salad bowl.
Cube and gently mix in the feta
Combine the parsley, balsamic, remaining olive oil, salt, pepper and honey and carefully dress the salad
There’s only so much cauliflower cheese you can take before you start to feel a bit peaky. Awkward bride that I was, I’d demanded one of those cakes made up of cheesy tiers for my big day. At the time I didn’t really register the pungent reality of being confronted with a Kilimanjaro of fromage every time I opened the glowing cupboard door. We’re talking mighty truckles of Yarg, Manchego, Red Leicester and Stichelton – very much my kind of challenge.
“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.
Crisp Bitter Melon
Bitter Melon, or Karella as it’s called in Bengali is a violently bitter vegetable. To temper this and extract those mouth-puckering enzymes a good long salting is required. Once broken down into paper thin crescents, fried up crisply with cumin, chilli and salt and eaten with mouthfuls of steaming rice, it makes a delicious dish, one that’s simultaneously salty, crunchy, bitter and ever so slightly sweet. These alien looking vegetables resemble warty, tubercle-ridden cucumbers and can be found in most Asian shops and markets. This recipe works well as a side with a mild dhal as a slightly sweet foil to the bitter edge, or as the palate-rocking prelude to a more substantial feast.
I’ve been ordered out of bed on a Saturday morning to conjure up a Bengali feast for a posse of aunts, uncles, cousins and their adorable yet eternally hyperactive progeny. I usually relish these big messy get togethers; the preparation even more so.
This takes place with a casual sort of precision, all the women in the kitchen gossiping and joking at once. My aunt surveys me over her glasses whilst hacking at some pui saag (otherwise known as Malabar Spinach) and gives me the usual “so when are you going to start having babies then?” ribbing. I test the dhal and mutter something about one thing at a time but they feign deafness and chatter pointedly about my cousin Mitthu in Bangladesh who’s just had a beautiful baby girl. My other aunt tells me I look a lot more attractive now that I’m finally getting a bit of meat on my bones. What none of them can work out though, is why on earth I insist on cutting my hair short like a little boy. I turn a delicate shade of plum and defensively stroke my shorn occipital bone. They talk about how beautiful, plump and “fair” Mitthu is – “she has hair down to here!” my aunt pauses mid chop to hold the knife against her sari clad arse while everyone murmurs approvingly.
A very traditional Bengali feast consists of several courses, beginning with something bitter (to wake up the palate), followed by the lentil and vegetable dishes. Next comes fish, followed by meat or chicken and finally dessert. We aren’t that formal today, but nonetheless fry up crisp slivers of bitter melon simply adorned with cumin, turmeric and plenty of garlic to start. This is followed by the Malabar spinach sautéed in panch phoran (Bengali five spice) and smoked aubergine dahl, then a coconut prawn curry, a slow cooked beef curry and kitchuri. (the word “kedgeree” originates from kitchuri but instead of fish or egg, it’s made with a mixture of lentils, rice and spices). It’s more standard to make a biryani for these big gatherings, but there’s something informal and comforting about kitchuri and it goes perfectly with the beef. We finish with some Payesh, a rich, cardamom scented Bengali rice pudding.
It’s all finger licking good and even the fussiest child eats every last loving handful. There’s much boisterous laughter and yelling over one another, the little ones surge around, fuelled up on Vimto, while the uncles tease them and talk shop – everyone sated on the rich juices of family life.
Over the next week I’ll put up all the recipes, but for starters, here’s that smoked aubergine dhal…
Sometimes only GITS will do. If you have time to clean, wash and soak the black lentils overnight before grinding to a paste with salt, ginger and bicarbonate of soda then of course the results will be infinitely tastier, but when I want to cut corners I always turn to the little box of GITS in my cupboard. Dahi Vada (or Doi Boda as we call them in Bengali) is my street food of choice whenever I visit Bangladesh. Savoury doughnuts of spiced lentils are fried, soaked briefly in water and then combined with cool, thick yoghurt. This is garnished with coriander, chilli powder, tamarind and roasted cumin and served chilled.
I had the most amazing meal at Salt Yard – a rabbit dish so good that it made me laugh, fried parsnips with truffle and rosemary honey and padron peppers were all stand out tapas that I couldn’t wait to try to recreate at home. It’s really hard to get hold of padron peppers, the only place I could source them was from Brindisa in Borough Market, where you can get a bag of 30 for around £3.50.
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I hate broccoli. Liver, spinach, anchovies, olives – I have no problem with any of these things. But broccoli? Bleugh. I only eat it if it’s so smothered in something else (cheese sauce) that there is no remaining hint of that weird, irony taste. At least that’s what I used to do. I recently discovered that if you roast it, it becomes not only edible but actually very very delicious.
I am proud to say that my anti-broccoli days are now behind me. Indeed, it is not uncommon for me to make a bowl of these as a little snack, or have them as a side dish with a nice bit of grilled fish. The broccoli becomes charred and almost caramelised, and the salty, garlicky juices go perfectly with a squeeze of lemon.
This is the simplest soup ever. Add whatever vegetables you have knocking around, I find carrots, spinach and mushrooms work well. The only essentials are seaweed and the spring onion. I like to have this for breakfast with a fruit salad, or if I’m feeling particularly virtuous for supper with steamed brown rice, furikake and a tamagoyaki omelette. Although it’s not strictly authentic, I find a drop of rice vinegar adds the most delicious tang to to the salty broth. The miso paste and dashi can be bought online or from Chinese and Japanese food shops and once you have them they last for ages so it’s well worth investing in decent quality miso, i.e. with a minimum of ingredients. The one in my fridge only contains rice, salt and soyabeans.Read the rest of this entry »
This is lovely hot or cold in a packed lunch with the ganmodoki recipe above (fried tofu-vegetable balls).