Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Persian cooking class: Fig salad, mini onions with prawns and tamarind, giant rice meatballs, ferni milk pudding

The last session of the current series of Persian cooking classes was to be in August, but was postponed until late September, as our dear instructors Reza and and his lovely wife Tomoko-san had a series of exhibitions of their artwork on around that time. In the intervening month, summer gave way to autumn and the planned watermelon salad starter made way for a more seasonal fig salad.

Lettuce leaves were tossed gently first with olive oil and then with a zesty dressing of Persian lime juice, yogurt, mayonnaise and honey. Reza has such a delicate hand when it comes to tossing salads, and my classmates and I commented on his precision and artistry. This simple salad was then garnished with quartered ripe figs, roughly broken crackers and lightly toasted black mustard seeds. It was a lovely starter, but would also be a nice weekend lunch dish.

This was followed by a very exciting and exotic dish of miniature onions and prawns in a tamarind sauce. The prawns were marinated in fresh ginger and garlic (unusual in Persian cuisine), coriander leaves and a little black pepper and cayenne pepper for the little kick characteristic of cooking of the Persian Gulf area. The mini onions were fried in olive oil with a dried chilli and then simmered with tamarind water, before the marinated prawns were added at the end of the cooking time. I loved this dish but, as the tartness fiend I am, would maybe double up the tamarind when I make it myself.

Next up was kufte berenj, or rice meatballs in a tomato sauce. Tennis ball sized, these are very impressive on the plate, but are also a complete meal in themselves, with rice, beans and a cube of cheese tucked into their orbs. Spiced with saffron, turmeric and dill, and topped with a mix of sour cream and yogurt (in place of liquid whey kashk, perhaps?) these are certainly not your average meatballs.

By this point we were all feeling quite sated, but there was still more to come! Ferni is the Persian take on that popular Middle Eastern dessert standby of rice pudding. Made with ground rice and milk, and scented with rose water, this pudding is usually served chilled. It's a very different beast from the British rice pudding of my childhood.

As usual, Reza and Tomoko-san had a little gift for everyone who participated in the class. This time it was a little atomizer of rose water.

Although it was the last session of this round of lessons, I'm really looking forward to the next invitation to Reza and Tomoko's "Persian Dining Table". It is clear that these lessons are a labour of love for the two, and their warmth and generosity make these lessons very different from those at other schools. Then again, the combination of Persian and Japanese hospitality was always going to be hard to beat!

Reza and Tomoko in action in the homey studio kitchen

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Persian cooking class: Kashk-e bademjan, gheliye mahi, chelo and saffron-scented almond brittle

This month's Persian cooking class was another beauty! The theme was the food of the Persian Gulf (Khalij-e Fars). Unlike the food of other parts of Iran, the food of the Gulf area is spicy, with detectable Indian and Arab influences. Our instructor, Reza Rahbar, is from this part of Iran, and I was super-excited to take this class for a couple of reasons: 1. The food of this area is not so well known, even to this avid Persian cookbook collector, and 2. we were going to make the absolutely mouth-watering stew of fish with herbs, chillies and tamarind (yes, all in one dish!!) that Reza demonstrated on NHK's Asia Crossroads program back in April. Also on the menu were kashk-e bademjan, a starter of fried eggplants topped with a yogurt and feta sauce; chelo steamed rice and sahan asali, an almond brittle perfumed with saffron.

I arrived early and, after having rosewater poured into my palm to refresh my face and hands, enjoyed a nice chat with Reza and his charming wife, who keeps the dialogue going during our lessons when Reza is busy at the stove. A photographer and designer in her own right, she designed the recipe sheet for this month's lesson, and was kind enough to say that my not-so-secret love of the colour orange was an inspiration for the design!

The eggplant starter was a bit of a revelation. There are many eggplant dips in the canon of Middle Eastern cookery, but here was one where the eggplants were pan-fried in oil, rather than grilled over a direct flame. You don't get the smokiness of, say, a mutabbal (baba gnanouj), but with the garlicky-dairy topping, drizzle of hot olive oil and a garish of mint, you certainly don't miss it. The kashk of the recipe name refers to a salty paste of whey, which is a bit of an acquired taste. It's not so easy to get here in Japan, and may not be to the taste of a most Japanese, so creating a similar flavour profile with yogurt and feta cheese was a good option. (Also helpful for those without a Persian grocer's nearby).

I was intrigued by the name of the fish dish, "ghalieh mahi". Mahi is fish in Persian, but what about ghalieh? I asked my dear Iranian friend Hw, who hails from the mountains in the north of Iran. He'd never heard of the word, so I flipped around my Persian-English dictionary till I came up with "qalieh," which was defined as "dish like a fricassee" (don't you hate it when a bilingual dictionary defines a word with another from a third language!). Stew, in other words. Later, I read in my latest Persian cookbook acquisition, A Treasury of Persian Cuisine, that Persian stews were called gholyeh for several centuries under the Arab influence, but the indigenous term, khoresh has once again become the standard term used in most parts of the country, "except for those nearer to the Persian Gulf..." I am now pretty sure that ghalieh, qalieh and gholyeh, are variant spellings of the same word, which translates as stew in English.

If you've had Iranian food before, you will know that there are one or two dishes that are so chock-full of fresh and dried herbs that they take on a worrying dark green tinge. I'm here to tell you that should certainly try any dish like that that you come across, as the odds are that it will be one of Iran's most fabulous dishes, like this one!

Reza's Ghelieh mahi was brimming with fresh coriander and parsley and dried fenugreek leaves. You are not likely to come across fresh fenugreek leaves just anywhere, but it's good to know that Persian and Indian grocers usually have the dried. Ask for shanbalileh if you're getting it from a Persian grocers or kasoori methi from an Indian one. The leaves need to be soaked in water for 10 min, then stir-fried for another 5. To me this seems to defeat the purpose of the soaking, but I am assured that this step does make a difference to the taste in the end.

Although there are many, many fabulous rice dishes in the Persian kitchen, Reza made plain steamed chelo to serve with the ghelieh mahi, which has enough flavour going on not to need a fancy accompaniment. The lovely Afghani (I believe) pottery dish that he served the rice in (photo above) gave the table a festive touch.

As we were all ooh-ing and ah-ing over the unusualness of this dish at the table, I mentioned that the word tamarind in English and Japanese comes from the Arabic for "Indian date". It's a slightly different word in Persian, so our host didn't know this, either, but serendipitously, he had some fresh dates for us as our take-home gift of the day!

Later we had cardamom tea (with a splash of rose water in my case), the almond brittle (which our hosts had made in advance) and a Persian snack of grains scented with what seemed to me to be violet and rose. Delicious! I was so into the food by this time that I forgot to take a picture, but you won't be far off the mark if you let your mind conjure up something from The Arabian Nights (g).


Friday, 9 July 2010

Shiomomi nasu: Salt-massaged eggplants with Japanese aromotics

I have been addicted to nasu (Japanese eggplants) this last while. They are everywhere at the moment, and the cooking magazines (which I really have to stop tempting myself by looking at) have 101 different ways to use them. The "Mighty Nasu" indeed (to paraphrase one of my foodie heroes Ottolenghi).

Yes, the eggplant/aubergine/patlican/baademjaan/badinjaan/baingan/ brinjal is beloved to many cuisines, but have you ever had it raw?? Most of the world makes a fuss about removing the bitterness from eggplants before cooking them, but here in Japan, it couldn't be easier: Just squish around in a bag with salt! The dark, bitter juices come right out, and you don't even need to cook them. How good is that?

This quick side dish recipe is from the June 17, 2010 edition of the Japanese food fortnightly Orange Page (don't ask; I'm as mystified by the name as anyone...). I thought it not bad, for my first attempt at salt-massaged eggplants, but with the Japanese big three aromatics shiso (perilla leaves), myoga (myoga ginger) and raw fresh ginger, it may be a bit "medicinal" for some tastes.

The trick to this dish is to make sure that all the eggplant slices get massaged well, and to slice the aromatics very finely.

I haven't tried this with the larger eggplants that you tend to find outside Japan, which are called bei-nasu (American eggplant) in Japan. For now, I suggest you seek out small, round Japanese nasu, which weigh about 80-100 g each.

Salt-massaged eggplants with Japanese aromatics

Serves 4 as a small side dish with other Japanese dishes

2 nasu Japanese eggplants (about 160 g total), sliced into 2 mm thick rounds
2/3 tsp salt
3 shiso (perilla) leaves, rolled and sliced very thinly
1 myoga (myoga ginger) bud, halved lengthwise and sliced thinly
1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped into thin shreds
splash of Japanese soy sauce (to taste)

1 Place the eggplant slices in a small polythene bag and add the salt. Press out all the air and hold the opening of the bag tightly closed with a thumb. With both hands, gently squeeze the eggplant slices until they loose their juices, most of their bulk and become pliant. Make sure not to miss any of the slices. Tip into a colander and rinse with water. With your hands, squeeze out as much of the water as possible.

2 In a small bowl, toss the shiso leaves and myoga. Add the salt-massaged eggplant, sliced ginger and a splash of Japanese soy sauce. Toss again and serve in tiny bowls as an accompaniment to other Japanese dishes.


Thursday, 8 July 2010

Harumi's summer: Rice bowl with stir-fried veggies & teriyaki chicken

I must not buy cookbooks and foodie magazines, I must not buy cookbooks and foodie magazines, I must not buy...

And the reason I must not buy them is that I have been asked by the landlady to move out of my rented apartment after 15 years, as she wants to move in! I really don't know who she thinks she is! It is a terrible imposition, this not being able to buy cookbooks and--- (you get the picture).

I know it in my mind that I need to be shedding rather than adding to my foodie hoard, but heart wants what it wants. All of which is to say, I couldn't resist the latest edition of Haru-mi magazine, Harumi Kurihara's eponymous quarterly featuring, this time, izakaya-style recipes for summer.

Surprisingly, summer cooking in Japan does not necessarily mean light food. The humidity and high temperatures here can really zap the energy, and quite often people want a hearty meal to get them through the dog days of summer. Grilled eel is a case in point: Some enterprising eel purveyor back in the 1800s hit upon the idea of flogging his oil-rich catch as just the thing for boosting flagging energy levels during the summer. And just like that, a connection was made between eel eating and Doyo no ushi no hi (the hottest day of summer by the traditional Japanese calender; July 26 this year).

But I digress.

As I was saying, Japanese people often seek out substantial, well-seasoned food when the temperatures soar, so it is no surprise that quite a few of the dishes in the summer edition of Haru-mi are fairly hearty. This rice bowl being a case in point.

With a soy-and-sugar seasoned mince topping AND slices of teriyaki chicken, you might expect this to be stodgy, but the herbs and lemon keep this meal-in-a-bowl on the right side of the line.

The recipe does require some Japanese groceries, so do read it through first.

-- Mirin is a sweet sake used extensively in Japanese cooking. If you can't get it, you could try this substitute, just a plain sugar syrup or a dash of sugar at a pinch (but I wouldn't recommend this in this recipe).
--Katakuriko (dogtooth violet or more commonly potato starch) is used for thickening sauces and, as in this recipe, to give a distinctive mouthfeel.

On the other hand, you won't need store-bought teriyaki sauce for this recipe. Yay!

Rice bowl with stir-fried veggies & teriyaki chicken

For the ground meat topping

200g beef or pork mince
2 tbsp Japanese soy sauce
2 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp sugar

For the stir-fried veggies
100 g bean shoots, roots removed
1/2 small zucchini, cut into 4 cm long batons
1 small red (bell) pepper, halved and cut into thin slices
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 tsp powdered chicken stock
salt & pepper

For the teriyaki chicken
4 chicken fillets
salt & pepper
Katakuriko or cornflour (cornstarch), for dusting
2 tbsp Japanese soy sauce
2 tbsp mirin
2 tsp sugar

steamed rice
lemon halves
coriander leaves, mint leaves and toasted sesame seeds (optional) to garnish

1 Make the ground meat topping. Heat Japanese soy sauce, mirin and sugar in a small pot, add the mince and stir, breaking up with bamboo cooking chopsticks, until most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove from the heat and allow the meat to absorb the remaining liquid.

2 Prepare the bean shoots, zucchini and red pepper.

3 Make the teriyaki chicken. Remove any fibrous parts from the meat, place between layers of cling film and flatten with a rolling pin [Saffron: lazy folk, like me, can just flatten the fillets right on the chopping board with the heel of their hand (I won't tell, if you don't)]. Cut each slice in three width wise. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and dust each piece with katakuriko or cornflour. Heat oil in a frying pan and fry chicken on both sides. Remove from the pan.

4 Wipe out the frying pan and bring the Japanese soy sauce, mirin and sugar to a boil. When it becomes glossy, add the cooked chicken and toss well to coat. Remove from the pan.

5 Heat a little more oil in the pan and toss the zucchini and red peppers until slightly softened. Add the bean shoots and toss until heated through. Add powdered chicken stock and salt and pepper to taste.

6 Place a single serving of rice in each of 4 domburi or pasta bowls. Top each bowl with a layer of vegetables and a layer of the ground meat topping, sprinkle with coriander and mint leaves, and place the chicken slices on top, sprinkling over any teriyaki sauce that remains. Squeeze lemon over and garnish with sesame seeds, if desired.


Monday, 17 May 2010

Persian cooking class 2: Nan-cheese-herbs, fesenjan & rose jam

I was super excited about my most recent Persian cooking class, as it was fesenjaan again! After my success with Najmieh Batmanglij's recipe in February, and after seeing our instructor Reza cooking this version on the NHK program Asia Crossroads, I was more than ready for another plate of Iran's classic party dish.

Reza's version, which somehow came to be dubbed "pomegranate curry" in Japanese, is certainly simpler than Najmieh khanom's. Onions and chicken are sauteed, and then spices and roughly chopped walnuts added. The chicken is removed, water added and the onion-nut mixture left to simmer for 20 min. It is then ground into a paste in a food processor or blender, making the sauce base. The chicken is returned, pomegranate paste and saffron water added and the lot left to simmer some more. The food processing bit seemed a bit radical to me, but certainly resulted in a smooth and dark sauce, so it looks like a winner.

None of my Japanese classmates had had fesenjaan before and were, I think, very pleasantly surprised by the combination of pomegranate and walnuts. In any event, there was a great deal of chatter about it round the table. Sour notes are not especially well represented in main dishes here, other than vinegared dishes like sushi, I suppose. No doubt an Iranian would probably have a similar reaction when presented with vinegared rice!

Speaking of rice, saffron rice was also on the menu, and the Iranian way with rice was another hot topic with my classmates. Japan is no stranger to rice, of course, but I can't think of any dish where boiling and draining the rice occurs. Grains that just hold together are preferred to separate grains, which would be much more difficult to corral with Japan's pointed chopsticks.

All of us had a surprise with our teacher's chosen method of cooking the nan for nan panir sabzi (bread, cheese and herbs), which was the appetizer for the evening. Flour tortillas (which being readily available, do duty as all kinds of flat breads) were toasted on a stove-top griller that's normally used for grilling fish here in Japan. Apparently it's the best way he's found of crisping up nan in Japan. There's a bit of a knack to getting the tortillas to puff up, but it works a treat. Must tell my dear Indian friend Sm next time he's in Japan!

Our last treat for the evening was rose jam. How wonderful to know that you can make jam from dried rose petals (or even rose "tea"! The roses here (even in Yokohama, which claims the bloom as it's city floral emblem) don't have a lot of perfume, let alone taste...

The dried rose petals are soaked in water for 3 hours, so you need to plan a bit in advance. Other than that, it's just sugar, rosewater and lemon or lime juice. But oh, oh! What a flavour. Although we had it with ice cream, rose jam is equally delicious on pancakes, bread and stirred into yogurt.

In Iran, of course, fresh rose petals are used, and it seems that when they are in season you get them from the veggie shop. How great would that be??!

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Bonito bowl with Japanese aromatics and chilled miso soup with summer vegetables

This is a recipe I learned around this time last year at the Japanese cooking classes I was taking at ABC Cooking Studio. It's a blow-you-away explosion of flavour that really wakes the tastebuds up!

Unfortunately, it contains some traditional Japanese aromatics that might be difficult to find outside the country. For green perilla (shiso), you could try substituting basil or even Thai basil, but there's not really any substitute for myoga (the bud of a ginger plant) that I know of. I've seen celery suggested, but other than a little crunch, I don't see any commonalities with myoga. Certainly, I wouldn't want celery with this dish, but to each their own. You'll also want to seek out ponzu or make your own instant ponzu by combining citrus juice (citron juice, for preference), soy sauce and unsalted dashi stock in a ratio of 1:1:1. (Or you could go the whole hog and make bottleable ponzu using this recipe, but that might be one to save until autumn, when citron is in season (g)) .

Katsuo no tataki, or bonito that has been seared on the outside and dunked in an ice bath to ensure that it is still raw inside, is sold in triangular ready-to-use blocks at Japanese supermarkets. You could try tuna or horse mackerel if bonito is not available, but there's no need to do the searing and ice bathing routine for this recipe, as the fish will be lightly fried in any case.

This went very nicely with chilled miso soup with summer vegetables, another ABC recipe. Chilled miso is a specialty of Miyazaki Prefecture, although this recipe seems to be a pared back version. There's no cooking involved in this, so it's perfect for a muggy Japanese summer's evening. I say the recipe is for 3-4. ABC recipes are often so calibrated that the portions of each dish can be rather small. The original recipe is for 4, but the Young Man and I pretty much polished this off between us in one sitting. Greedy guts that we are (g).

Just a quick note about surigoma or ground sesame seeds. You can buy ready-ground sesame seeds in Japanese supermarkets, but the flavour is better if you toast and grind them to a fine powder yourself.

Bonito bowl with Japanese aromatics

Serves 3-4

200 g katsuo tataki or tuna or horse mackerel
1 tsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp ponzu

200 ml short-grain rice
200 ml water

For the aromatics
4 green perilla leaves (ao-jiso)
12 g fresh ginger
1 myoga (aka myoga ginger)

1 g shredded nori (optional)
12 g garlic, sliced and deep fried (optional)

4 tsp ponzu

1 Wash rice 4-5 times until the water runs clear. Cover with water and leave to soak for around 30 minutes, drain, then cook in a rice cooker with the measured water.

2 Prepare the aromatics. Cut the stalk out of the perilla leaves, stack one on top of the other and roll together to form a "cigar". Slice finely into shreds. Peel the ginger and finely julienne. Soak briefly in water, then drain. Cut the stalk off the myoga, halve lengthwise and slice finely on the diagonal. If using garlic chips, peel each clove and slice into rounds. Punch out any green part with a chopstick. Deep fry until golden brown at 160 degrees C, then drain on kitchen paper.

3 Cut slices from the bonito block about 7 mm thick. Heat vegetable oil in a large frying pan and cook bonito slices briefly, turn and cook the other side (about 2 min total). Remove to a bowl and pour over 2 tbsp ponzu.

4 To assemble, divide rice between bowls, top with bonito slices, shiso, ginger and myoga. Garnish with shredded nori and garlic chips, if using, and sprinkle 1 tsp of ponzu over each bowl.

Chilled miso soup with summer vegetables

For the soup
2 g dashi konbu (dried kelp for stock)
220 ml water
24 g miso paste (mixed miso, for preference)
2 tbsp white surigoma (roasted sesame seeds ground to a course powder)
1/2 tsp raw sugar

2 ripe fruit tomatoes or other mid-sized tomatoes, peeled
1/2 Japanese cucumber (around 50 g)
1 myoga bud

1 Make the dashi. Wipe the kombu with a damp cloth and make cuts in 2-3 places to help the flavour come out. Place in the water and leave for at least 30 min.

2 Prepare the vegetables. With a sharp knife, cut the tomatoes in half through the stalk end, then cut shallow crosses in the rounded side of each tomato half. Slice the cucumber thinly on the diagonal, then cut the slices lengthwise into shreds. Cut the stalk off the myoga and halve lengthwise. Cut each half into thin slices on the diagonal.

3 Make the soup. With a whisk, blend the miso, sesame paste or tahini and raw sugar until smooth. Gradually stir in the kombu dashi. Chill until ready to serve.

4 To serve, place tomato halves in four bowls with the rounded side upwards. Divide the soup between the bowls and top each tomato half with the cucumber and myoga.


Friday, 23 April 2010

Persian cooking class!

A serendipitous series of events led me to discover that a Persian cooking class is being held right here in Tokyo!

And even more exciting, the instructor, Reza Rahbar, is from down south in the Persian Gulf region of Iran. The Persian cookbooks in my collection do not cover this area of the country, and from the recipes Reza presented on the Ajiwai Kitchen segment of the NHK program Asia Crossroads in April, I knew I was in for something a bit different!

The class was held in a private apartment in swanky Aoyama, just a couple of stops by subway from my office. It was a very homey atmosphere, with a dining table set for 6 and a small hob where the cooking demonstration and hands-on cooking took place.

Reza-sensei was a charming host and very laid back in the kitchen, answering my barrage of questions as we went along.

The first dish we made were adorable kupeh fried rice cakes stuffed with a delicious filling of mince, onions, yellow split peas, sultanas, saffron and cinnamon (photo above). The aroma was very much like that of my favourite adas polo (rice with lentils and dried fruit). I wondered if they also eat adas polo where kupeh are from, and it seems they do. A variation on a theme, then.

The assembly of these little parcels is quite fiddly, but the resulting packets were like tah-dig sandwiches. Delicious.

Next, we made sandali soltan ("the Sultan's seat"), a puree of garlic and turmeric-infused broad beans that was topped with ground dried lemons and sizzling olive oil, giving that unmistakable Persian tartness. I was surprised to know that this relative of the myriad purees, pastes and dips that feature heavily in non-Persian Middle Eastern meze, is considered a borani. I had thought that borani were all yogurt "salads". There you go!

With glasses of wine (at a small extra cost), we ate this with fresh chives and crackers, although it would probably have been lavash in Iran. Great stuff.

The other two dishes were a delectable stew of layered lamb, vegetables and prunes, which had been prepared in advance due to time constraints; and a dessert of dates stuffed with almonds and dusted with rosewater, coconut and cardamom that Reza prepared while we ate the first two courses, all washed down with Persian tea and saffron sugar crystals.

At the end of the meal, we were all happily sated and eager for the next session.

This was a trial lesson for me, but I think I was sold the moment I walked in the door to such a warm welcome, knowledgeable host, and the thoughtful offer of wine. A designer by trade, Reza had personalized our recipe sheets with beautiful artwork, and even presented us all with a thank you gift of two dried lemons in a presentation bag with a tag of his own design.

It was a lovely finishing touch to what had been a very enjoyable session of cooking with (new) friends. I signed up for more on the spot (g).

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Diana Henry's lamb and orange khoresh

Add Image
When I wrote about Margaret Shaida's Orange khoresh back in January, I knew I would have to revisit the version in Diana Henry's Crazy Water Pickled Lemons. Diana's version of orange stew was one of my very first forays into the wide world of Middle Eastern cooking. It really opened up my eyes and taste buds to how good the eating is in that part of the world!

There is some kind of alchemy involved in this dish. Other than orange flower water (which I consider optional, as it makes little difference to the taste in all honesty), there is nothing out of the ordinary in this recipe, but for a citrus lover like me, the results are nothing short of phenomenal!

Diana does not give a source for her recipe, but she's definitely done her homework, and perhaps even bettered the other versions of this delightful dish that I've tried since. Her addition of mint is inspired (whatever made her think of adding mint to lamb...? (g)), and really lifts this dish onto a higher plain. I use teeny, tiny peppermint leaves, which do take some prepping, but I think it's worth it.

On the other hand, Diana saves us some time by only boiling the orange peel once to remove the bitterness. Most recipes call for several changes of water to do this job. However, since we are using lamb here, it can take the stronger orange flavour very well.

I've adjusted Diana's recipe for the pressure cooker. The meat will take roughly double the time to cook in step 3 if simmering without pressure.

All in all, I would say that this is my favourite orange khoresh, if not one of my very favourite things to eat. If it takes a little time to make, I'm not going to complain. It is a joy to make something so very good to eat.

Lamb and orange khoresh

Serves 6

3 oranges
40 g unsalted butter
2 tsp caster sugar
olive oil
675 g lamb from the leg, cut into 3-4 cm cubes
2 onions, thinly sliced
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
275 ml orange juice
Juice of 1 lime
275 ml lamb stock or water
salt and pepper
3 carrots
good handful of mint leaves, torn
2 tsp orange flower water
25 g shelled pistachios, roughly chopped, to garnish

1 Remove peel from the oranges with a vegetable peeler, taking care to leave the pith behind, and cut into fine strips about the size of a match. Cover with cold water, bring to the boil, cook for 2 min, then strain. Heat half the butter in a a small pan and add the orange rind. Stir, then add the sugar and cook over a medium heat for a couple of minutes, until the sugar has melted and the rind has lightly caramelized. Set aside.

2 Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pressure cooker. Fry the lamb cubes over fairly high heat, so that they get a good browning on the outside. You should do this in batches to ensure that they get properly coloured. Remove and set the lamb aside.

3 Add another 1 tbsp of olive oil to the pressure cooker with the rest of the butter. Heat this and saute the onion until soft and translucent. Sprinkle on the cinnamon and cardamom and cook for another minute. Add the juices, stock and water, and the lamb, with any juices that have run out of it. Season, seal the pressure cooker and and bring up to pressure. Turn down the heat and cook at low pressure for 40 min.

4 Peel the carrots and cut them into batons about 6 cm long. Using a very sharp knife, remove the white pith from the oranges then, cutting close to the membrane, remove each segment. Add the carrots and caramelized orange peel (reserving a little for garnishing) to the lamb once it has been cooking 40 min. Simmer, uncovered, for a further 20 min, adding the orange segments in the last 10 min. Gently stir in half of the mint in the last couple of minutes.

5 Stir the orange flower water, if using, into the khoresh and turn it into a heated bowl, scattered with the remaining mint and orange peel and the pistachios. Serve with plain white rice.


Monday, 22 March 2010

Aash-e reshteh: Ottolenghi's take on the Persian soup

Happy Persian New Year! It's No Ruz again and that means aash-e reshteh (Iranian noodle soup) at the Saffron household.

A couple of weeks back, Yotam Ottolenghi posted this recipe for legume and noodle soup in his New Vegetarian column on the Guardian website. One look at the picture and I was mitten. It wasn't until I read through the recipe that I realized it was the Ottolenghi take on aash-e reshteh! And just in time for the spring equinox, and No Ruz. I knew I had to try it!

Chock-full of greenery to celebrate the arrival of spring, I have always thought of aash-e reshteh as a herb and spinach noodle soup, but I guess there are other interpretations (g). With three different legumes--chickpeas, butterbeans and yellow split peas--legume-lovers will certainly cheer at Ottolenghi's version (g).

The soup has a lovely velvetiness from the yellow split peas and is garnished beautifully with turmeric onions (you could also add some dried mint to the onion garnish, as Najmieh-khanom does), sour cream and a few reserved butterbeans and chickpeas. It's those cheffy but not fussy little Ottolenghi touches that I love. It looks lovely and tastes like spring should.

All those lovely legumes means, of course, that you are going to have to get them recipe-ready (almost, but not quite cooked). The easy way--if you have a pressure cooker-- is to soak and cook each variety separately. After soaking for 8 hours, it only took me about 10 minutes to get both legumes cooked up this way (around 2.5 min for the chickpeas once they came to pressure, and around 6 min for the "butterbeans" (in my case a pricey larger Japanese variety called shirohana-mame). Real butterbeans would probably take less time, I suppose.) I don't soak with bi-carb soda, but it could make a difference to the cooking time, who knows? When in doubt about cooking times, err on the side of caution with a pressure cooker. You can always cook some more if you need to.

Does all that sound like a lot of work? It's really not. I made this version much quicker than the Najmieh Batmaglij recipe I usually follow from Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies. And the results were just as fabulous, even substituting hard-to-find ingredients like kashk (whey paste) with readily available ingredients like sour cream and vinegar. I'm now hard-pressed to say which version I prefer!

I have been tickled pink to see Ottolenghi showcasing Persian cooking of late; first with eggplant kuku and now aash-e reshte. With food this moreish, all I can say is More please!

Legume noodle soup: Ottolenghi's take on aash-e reshteh

Serves 8

125 g dried chickpeas, soaked in water overnight with 1 tbsp bicarbonate of soda
125 g dried butterbeans, soaked in water overnight with 1 tbsp bicarbonate of soda
2 large onions, thinly sliced
10 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
80 g clarified butter
1½ tsp turmeric
Salt and black pepper
225 g yellow split peas
Roughly 2 litres vegetable stock
35 g chopped parsley
35 g chopped coriander
15 g chopped dill
100 g spring onion, thinly sliced
150 g baby spinach
100 g reshteh (or linguine) [S: broken in half]
150 g soured cream, plus 1 tsp per portion to finish
1½ tbsp white wine vinegar
4 limes, halved

1 Drain and rinse both the chickpeas and butterbeans, then either boil them separately in lots of fresh water until almost cooked – anywhere ­between 25 and 55 min, or cook under low pressure for around 2.5 min for the chickpeas and around 5 min for the butterbeans, once they come to pressure – and drain. Reserve a few of each legume as a garnish

2 In a large, heavy-based pot, sauté the onion, garlic and butter on ­medium heat for 20 minutes, or ­until soft and golden-brown. Stir in the turmeric and some salt and ­pepper, then lift a third of this mix from the pot and transfer to a dish for use later.

3 Add the chickpeas and butterbeans to the pot, then add the split peas and stock. Simmer for 30 minutes, skimming off the froth occasionally, or until the peas are tender. Add the herbs, spring onion and ­spinach, stir and cook for 15 minutes more; add extra stock (or water) if the soup is very thick. Taste and season generously.

4 Add the noodles and cook for about 10 minutes, so that they are just done. Stir in the soured cream and vinegar, adjust the seasoning and serve at once, garnished with extra soured cream and the reserved cooked onion mix. Serve lime halves to squeeze over every portion.


Sunday, 7 March 2010

Kotmis Garo: Georgian chicken with garlic and walnut sauce

I've been meaning to delve further into Georgian cooking for ages. The cuisine's tart, herby and garlicky tastes are like a red rag to a bull to me. Even just reading the recipes, I know the big, bold tastes are going to excite my taste buds.

This recipe comes from Please to the Table: The Russian Cookbook by Anya von Bremzen & John Welchman. I can't tell you how much of a treasure this book is. Written in the dying years of the USSR, it covers all the states of the Union. The vastness of the USSR ensures that many of the world's great cuisines are represented in or at least influence "Russian" food. That makes this book, alongside other favourites likeThe Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden and Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian Cookbook, a real tour de force tour of the the world's cuisines.

I've heard it said more than once that Georgian cuisine is the "best" of the Soviet cuisines. I can't verify that, but I can easily see the attraction. Take this recipe: chicken marinated with garlic, lemon and olive oil, roasted, then slathered in a walnut-garlic sauce spiked with coriander, fenugreek, turmeric and cayenne pepper--a pared-back approximation of the Georgian spice mix khmeli-suneli.

Given the Young Man's more delicate palate, I had to cut back on the cayenne, which would have changed the flavour profile quite a bit. But to me, the sauce was like nothing I'd ever tasted before. Garlicky, a little sharp, a little herby, a little rich from the walnuts and a little musty (if you'd call it that) from the spices. Considering that it is made with finely chopped nuts, it is very smooth: perhaps the nuts "dissolve" a little when they come in contact with the liquid? Georgian cuisine has many delectable sauces, and this is just one.

The original recipe called for fresh tarragon. That herb is sometimes available here, but not on the day I did the shopping, so I substituted chervil, which has a similar anisey note. If you do the same, I reckon up the amount you use, as it is much subtler than tarragon.

As recommended in the OR, I served this with a tomato and garlic salad (recipe also in Please to the Table) and a vinaigrette dressed French potato salad. That was a lot of lip-smacking tartness, so next time I'd do the potatoes with a creamier dressing.

You need to start marinating this dish at least 6 hours, and make the sauce at least 2 hours before you plan to eat. The actual cooking will take just over half an hour, though.

Both the YM and I were licking our fingers after this.

Kotmis Garo: Georgian chicken with garlic and walnut sauce

Serves 4

4 large chicken legs, skin on
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
50 ml olive oil
150 ml lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, crushed
4 sprigs fresh tarragon, stems crushed with the back of a knife

For the garlic and walnut sauce
3/4 cup walnut pieces
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 cup fresh coriander
1/2 cup chicken stock, warm (not hot)
1 1/2 - 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
salt, to taste
1/8 tsp ground coriander
1/8 tsp ground fenugreek
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp ground turmeric

1 Rub the chicken pieces thoroughly with salt and pepper.

2 Combine the olive oil, lemon juice, tarragon and additional salt and pepper in a shallow dish. Add the chicken and turn to coat with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for a least 6 hours, turning occasionally.

3 Meanwhile, prepare the garlic and walnut sauce. In a food processor, combine the walnuts, garlic and half of the fresh coriander. Process until the walnuts are finely ground.

4 Transfer to a bowl and stir in the stock, lemon juice to taste, salt coriander, fenugreek, cayenne, turmeric and the remaining fresh coriander. Let the sauce stand at room temperature for at least 2 hours before serving.

5 Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C. Heat a large frying pan over high heat. Remove the chicken from the marinade and, without drying, place meat side down in the pan. Sear for about 3 min, turn once and sear the skin side for about 3 min. Place in hot oven and roast for 30 minutes, turning and basting with the remaining marinade once so that the skin side takes on a golden colour.

6 Serve accompanied by sprigs of fresh coriander, tarragon and mint.


Thursday, 4 March 2010

Fried potatoes with paprika and mint

I was in a bind. I'd not done the weekly grocery shop as fridge space and time was at a premium getting ready for my big party. I literally just had staples in the house, and no chance to get groceries in before the weekend! It was a bit of a challenge, but the Young Man and I managed to eat very well, thanks to a binder full of recipes like this one I printed up ages ago from NPR.

S&L readers will probably already be familiar with the quintessentially Turkish paprika-mint flavour profile. It seems to have been news to NPR food writer T Susan Chang, however. She charmingly tells of her discovery here, and throws in a few recipes for good measure, including some adaptations of recipes from Australia's very own Greg and Lucy Malouf!

Essentially just potatoes, fat and spices, these are totally addictive! I made them to go with a red lentil soup (not the one in the article), so we had a Turkish supper made only from kitchen cupboard basics. I reckon these would also be great with beers (if you're into that) or instead of potato chips in front of the TV (if you have time for that).

I've upped the paprika and mint by 50% below, and added some cayenne to my own portion. Enough is just never enough with some people (g).

Fried potatoes with paprika and mint

900 g yellow-fleshed potatoes, such as Yukon gold or carola
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 teaspoons sweet paprika, divided
1 1/2 tablespoon dried mint, divided
Salt and pepper to taste

1 Fill a large saucepan with water; add the potatoes and as much salt as if you were cooking pasta. Bring the water to a boil, then simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, depending on size of potatoes, or until you can just pierce them with a sharp skewer. They shouldn't fall apart. Drain the potatoes and set aside to cool.

2 When the potatoes are cool enough to handle (and don't rush it), cut into 8 mm slices with a sharp knife. If you have large potatoes, divide them lengthwise in half before you start slicing, so you end up with half-moons rather than coins.

3 Heat the largest, heaviest skillet you have — cast iron works best — over high heat until it makes a water droplet dance. Add the olive oil, swirl it and immediately add the potatoes, half the paprika and half the mint. Spread the potatoes out into a single layer as best you can (you may need to do two batches). Let them cook without disturbing for 3 or 4 minutes, or until they have formed a gorgeous golden crust. Flip them over with a spatula, and cook the other side the same way, for 3 or 4 minutes. (If you're really obsessive about getting a good crust, as I am, you may find yourself swapping the outside potatoes into the center a few times.) [Me too, Susan]

4 Season with the remaining paprika and mint, and salt to taste. You don't really need pepper, but you might like it. Serve immediately.


Sunday, 28 February 2010

Najmieh Batmanglij's chicken fesenjaan

It's been a while since my birthday party, but I've promised a my dear friend Zanmei in Iraq to post the recipe for fesenjaan, that wonderful Persian pomegranate and walnut stew, so that she can try her hand at it with local ingredients.

Fesenjaan (or fesenjoon and various alternative spellings) is perhaps not the prettiest dish in the Persian culinary book, but the lip-smacking tart fruitiness and creamy texture are unrivalled. Not surprising, then, that this is a classic of Iranian cuisine.

It was also this dish that got me to thinking about a possible connection between Persian and Georgian cuisine when I first started reading about the latter. The walnut sauce connection is undeniable. As to which came first, who knows? It has to be said that Georgia does seem to have a larger canon of walnut-based sauces...

For all the stature this particular dish has in Iran, this was actually my first time to make it myself. Walnuts--and pomegranate paste, for that matter--are pricey luxuries here in Japan. But if you can't splurge on your birthday, when can you, eh? You can get both at Tehran Shop in Yokohama, and various shops in Ameyoko in Ueno, Tokyo sell bulk nuts cheaply, if you are making this in Japan.

This recipe comes from Najmieh Batmanglij's New Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies, the master work of the doyenne of Persian cooking. Najmieh khanom doesn't take shortcuts or spare the wallet. You've been warned (g).

For contrast, I've translated an alternative fesenjaan recipe, taken from the Ajiwai Kitchen segment of the NHK program Asia Crossroads, below Najmieh khanom's. I've not tried this version, but I probably will soon, as I am taking a cooking class with the guest cook on the Ajiwai Kitchen segment, Reza Rahbar. I'll let you know how that goes, shortly!

Pomegranate khoresh with chicken

Serves 6

2 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1 kg chicken legs or duck breast, skin removed and fut into bite-sized chunks
5 tbsp oil or butter [Saffron: you can get away with less]
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup pomegranate paste dissolved in 2 1/2 cups water, or 4 cups fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice
1 cup peeled and cubed butternut pumpkin (optional)
450 g shelled walnuts, chopped roughly
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground saffron dissolved in 1 tbsp hot water
2 tbsp sugar (optional)
Seeds of a fresh pomegranate, to garnish

1 In a large pot, brown onions and chicken in half the oil or butter. Add 1 tsp salt.

2 Heat 2 tbsp oil in a non-stick frying-pan and brown both sides of the butternut pumpkin, then set aside.

3 In a food processor, finely grind the walnuts, add the diluted pomegranate paste or pomegranate juice, cinnamon and saffron water and mix well to create a creamy paste.

4 Add the nut paste to the pot, stirring gently. If the pomegranate paste is too sour, add 2 tbsp sugar. Cover and simmer gently, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon to prevent the walnuts from sticking, until the oil from the nuts rises to the surface. Add the browned butternut pumpkin and simmer until tender.

5 Taste the sauce and adjust for seasoning and thickness. If the stew is too thick, add warm water to thin it. The stew should taste sweet and sour according to your taste. Add pomegranate paste to sour the the taste or sugar to sweeten it.

6 Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with 2 tbsp fresh pomegranate seeds. Serve with steamed saffron rice.

Fesenjaan: Chicken stew with pomegranate and walnut

Serves 4

300 g chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
3 tbsp pomegranate paste
70 g walnuts
1 pinch saffron threads
1 pinch sugar
2 tbsp boiling water
1 onion, sliced thinly
1 tsp plain flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
black pepper
1/3 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups water
1 tbsp vegetable oil
pomegranate seeds, to garnish (optional)

1 Heat oil in a frying pan and fry onions gently until they start to change colour.

2 Add chicken and brown on both sides.

3 Add cinnamon, black pepper, flour and salt and stir.

4 Add walnuts and fry for 1 min. Remove chicken pieces and set aside. Transfer the remainder of the frying pan contents to a pot, add water and simmer over medium heat until the nuts give off their oil.

5 In a blender or food processor, reduce the nut mixture to a paste.

6 Return nut paste to the pot and add the browned chicken pieces. Simmer at a medium heat.

7 Gently grind saffron and sugar with a small mortar and pestle and mix in the boiling water to dissolve. Add the saffron water and pomegranate paste to the chicken and simmer for 20 minutes.

8 Garnish with pomegranate seeds.


Ottolenghi's eggplant kuku

Photo courtesy of my dear friend Malaka at Aloha Mahalo

I've been meaning to give kuku, the Iranian filled omlette/frittata, a go for the looooongest time. Considering I have numerous delectable-sounding recipes in various Iranian cookbooks, it is ironic that it took a recipe from an Israeli chef to get the ball rolling, but there you go...

I first had kuku in Iran while staying with my dear friend Gh's family in Shiraz. Although a family of gourmands, my hosts ate simply in the evening as the midday meal was the main meal of the day. If I remember correctly, we had kuku twice, once a potato version that we had for dinner wrapped in lavash bread. The second time, one that we took with pots of other delicacies, bread and soft drinks to a pretty spot for a night-time picnic!

Featuring saffron and tart zereshk (dried barberries) this Ottolenghi version from the chef's New Vegetarian column in the Guardian contains some of the essence of Iran in one delicious dish.

I made this for my 40th birthday celebration, and it was a big hit with both guests and cook (g). It can be made up in advance (I made it the night before the party) and just reheated in the microwave. It is also lovely at room temperature, so great for a picnic (any time of day).

I used homemade ghee (made by my dear Indian friend S's Mum) instead of oil for the onions and eggplant, and the results were sensational. Really sweet and rich.

Barberries are tiny berries less than half the size of a dried cranberry. They are super tart and feature in quite a few Iranian dishes. I had some dried barberries lying about (the fresh ones I have stashed in the freezer would've been even better), but they may not be so easy to come by. In Japan, Tehran Shop in Yokohama (directions in Japanese here) stocks them, and in Melbourne, Australia, I've seen them at NSM Importers & Wholesalers, just down the road from Brunswick Station. If you can't get them, Ottolenghi recommends substituting 1 tbsp of lime juice. A lot of the other kuku recipes I have also have lime juice in them, so it is quite authentic. Give it a go! I might even add BOTH next time round!!

The recipe calls for a 22 cm spring-form cake tin. I was using mine for the birthday cake (!), so this went in the oven right in the T-fal wokpan the onions and eggplant were cooked in. It came out perfectly without greasing and papering and that's how I will cook it from now on.

My dear friend and fellow foodie Malaka at Aloha Mahalo, who took the photo above, blogged about the food at my party in Japanese here. Thanks Malaka, this one's for you!

Ottolenghi's eggplant kuku

Serves 6

120 ml sunflower oil, plus extra
3 medium onions, peeled and sliced
3 medium aubergines, peeled
5 free-range eggs
2 tbsp plain flour
1½ tsp baking powder
25g chopped parsley, plus extra to garnish
1 tsp saffron strands, dissolved in 1 tbsp of hot water
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
½ tsp salt
Black pepper
20g dried barberries, rinsed and dried

1 Heat the oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-based pan and sauté the onions over medium heat for seven minutes, until soft but not brown.

2 Meanwhile, cut the aubergines in two widthways, cut each half into 1cm-thick slices, then cut each slice into 1cm-thick strips. Add these to the onion pan and cook on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, for around 10 minutes, until the aubergines are completely soft (add a little more oil if needed, but not a lot). Set aside to cool down.

3 In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, flour, baking powder, parsley, the saffron and its water, garlic, salt and a good grind of pepper. Once smooth, fold in the barberries and the aubergine and onion mix.

4 Brush a 22 cm spring-form cake tin with plenty of oil, line with greaseproof paper and brush the paper with more oil. Pour the egg mix into the tin and bake for 30-40 minutes, until golden-brown and cooked through – insert a skewer in the middle to make sure the egg has set.
Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature, sprinkled with parsley. It will keep in the fridge for two days.


A 40th birthday celebration

I celebrated my Big 4-0 in February and had the best time cooking up a storm to feed my guests.

As often happens given the month, there were some last minute cancellations.
The trains were also affected due to tsunami warnings after the massive earthquake in Chile. In our rush to get things ready for the party, none at the Saffron household had heard about that terrible tragedy.

I didn't really have a theme in mind for my party this time, but Iranian inspirations featured quite prominently in the end.

Here we have Iran's famed chicken fesenjan, a dish of particular delicacy (if not good looks) made with pomegranate molasses, ground walnuts and saffron.

Another Iranian-inspired delight is Israeli chef Ottolenghi's take on the Persian frittata, kuku. His moreish version is chock- full of caramelised onions, eggplant, little zesty barberries, and all perfumed with saffron. This is perfect party food and will probably go into high rotation.

I doubt any of my guests had had kuku before, but they cleaned it all up!

I decided to make the Bangladeshi curry at the last minute worrying, as always, that there would not be enough food. It was a little lucky that I did, as my dear Iranian friend M, who was to bring a main dish, took ill and wasn't able to make it in the end. M, I'm still looking forward to trying the carrot stew (g). The fact I was able to whip this up on the morning of the party will give you some idea of how easy it is (g).

In the cold corner, I put out two breads and two dips: the Argentinian chimchurri and plain breads, and the Syrian/Lebanese avocado appetizer and hummus with pomegranate molasses dip I've featured here before.

The salad was a brown rice variation on my red-and-green Christmas staple wild rice, pomegranate and parsley salad. I am totally devoted to the dressing in this salad, and this time, with the new Microplane I received from Saffron Papa and Mama as a birthday present, the lime zest grating was laughably easy. What did I do before I had this darling implement??

The piece de resistance was, of course, The Cake. (Or if you count my usual chocolate number, two cakes!) The cream topped cake was baked by my dearest friend, H, as a special order. It was a mighty big project, involving baking the two delicate layers one by one at home in Tokyo, then transporting them and the goodies to decorate the cake all the way to Yokohama for assembling the following day!

Called Persian Love Cake, this is not a true Iranian cake, but a divine cake inspired by the saffron, cardamom and rosewater flavours of the East. I don't think I've tasted anything more heavenly. Thanks, H. It was a spectacular end to what I think was a pretty good meal.

Thanks, also, to my dear friend Malaka at Aloha Mahalo for taking the lovely pictures you see here. If you can read Japanese, she blogged about the party here.


Wednesday, 24 February 2010

One-pan Spanish chicken bake

I am always on the lookout for recipes that don't take too long to make on busy Saturdays when the weekly house clean and grocery shop take place. I imagine that pasta would be the fallback for many in these sorts of circumstances, but just between you and me, I've never really got into the pasta groove. Guess I prefer a higher veggie : carb ratio than you get with pasta.

With no time till hitting the shops, I suddenly remembered this recipe in the September 2009 edition of Sainsbury's Magazine that I picked up when the Young Man and I were in Scotland last year. Only requiring you to fling a few things in a roasting tin and maybe basting them from time to time, it's a real corker for those times when you don't have time but want to eat well.

Not living in the UK where Spanish influences abound, I chorizo and smoked paprika were not to be had (I asked the spice people at Ohtsuya in Ueno about smoked paprika. They hadn't heard of it, but looked intrigued. Maybe they will look into it for me...). I used black pepper sausages and regular paprika instead. You could add a dash of cayenne to the paprika, as well, if you want.

I only had chickpeas in the freezer, so that's what we had. The original recipe called for jarred butter beans. A classier rendition of tinned beans, perhaps? I always think homemade is best, though, which is why I soak and pressure cook beans and store them in the freezer in approximately can-sized portions.

The picture of this dish in the magazine shows what looks to me like bone-in chicken thigh halves. My supermarket here in Yokohama has boned whole thighs only, so I used 3 large ones folded in half. I turned them over partway through cooking so that the skin on both sides crisped up golden and lovely (aided and abetted by the paprika oil, no doubt).

I also basted the chicken and veggies a few times, mainly because I am not used to standing around doing nothing while the dinner cooks itself. It's just not cooking! (g) I skipped the sage as the Young Man is a bit of a non-fan.

And the taste? Superb! I loved the citrusy notes, the creamy garlic and, surprisingly, the baked sausages.

Sainsbury's Everyday Easy one-pan Spanish chicken bake

Serves 4

400 g cooked butter beans or cannellini beans
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled, halved lengthwise and cut into large chunks
3 red peppers, deseeded and cut into large chunks
250 g chorizo or other sausages, cut into bite-size pieces
1 bulb garlic, loose papery skin removed but left whole
200 ml chicken stock
2 large oranges, one juiced and the other cut into wedges
2 tsp sweet smoked paprika
8 chicken pieces
1 tbsp olive oil, plus a little more
a handful of fresh sage leaves
sea salt

1 Preheat the oven to 22 degrees C. Arrange the beans, sweet potatoes, peppers, sausage and garlic in a large roasting tin about 30 x 42 cm.

2 Mix the stock, orange juice and 1 tsp of the smoked paprika Pour into the tin and toss with the vegetables.

3 Put the chicken pieces on top of the vegetables to ensure they crisp up while cooking. Sprinkle with a little sea salt and a good grinding of black pepper.

4 Roast for about 40 min. Mix the oil with the rest of the smoked paprika.

5 After 40 min, brush the chicken with the smoked paprika oil and add the orange wedges to the tin. Dip the sage leaves in a little oil and scatter over. Roast for a further 10-15 min, or until the chicken and vegetables are cooked through. Leave to rest for 10 min. Don't forget to give everyone some of the lovely creamy roast garlic!


Thursday, 11 February 2010

Ottolenghi's harissa-marinated chicken with pink grapefruit salad

The weather's been pretty miserable in Tokyo this February. Clouds, rain, snow! Dull weather always gives me the blahs, and that sometimes that affects the weekly menus I cobble up before doing the weekly shop.

I usually try to limit myself to one cook book when planning the meals for a week. It keeps the cook book clutter to a minimum (g). But I wasn't getting the right vibe from the book I'd chosen for the week. Not enough vavoom. You really need vavoom when the weather's miserable. So it just had to be Ottolenghi: The Cookbook.

Not all of the recipes in Ottolenghi are weeknight friendly, it has to be said. It is, after all, a restaurant cook book. You would probably want to be a bit dedicated (do I hear you say obsessed?!) to attempt this when you don't have a few hours spare. Luckily, February 11 was a national holiday in Japan. Unfortunately, it was also the day that Iran's Green Movement was to gate-crash the hardliners' own revolution anniversary party! I was glued to the computer, with BBC Worldwide playing in the background. Other than making the harissa paste and slathering the chicken in the marinade in the morning (the night before would have been even better!), I had to rush at this like it was a weeknight dinner in order to get back to the action in Iran.

But it was well worth it. This has vavoom and then some! A real harissa marinade (also excellent as a dip; I'll be making more of this very soon!), peppery rocket, mild pink grapefruit and a grapefruit-lemon-honey sauce (lip-smackingly fabulous and very much to be recommended!).

I have a spice grinder, which makes powderising the spice seeds a breeze. You could probably get away with using pre-ground spices, but only if they're really fresh. You'll want to toast them for a shorter time, in that case. Just until they start smelling fragrant. My little grinder cost about 3,000 yen (around US$30) and I wouldn't part with it now.

Since my chilli-averse Young Man was going to have this, I scaled the chilli way back and doubled the coriander, cumin and caraway seeds in the harissa. The original recipe is for 1/4 tsp of each seed, if you want to revert to that.

I used yellow pepper in this, having used up the red in another dish. The tomato puree covered that up very nicely, though. I also substituted honey for the maple syrup. Delicious, either way, I'd say!

Oh, and don't you just love the description of segmenting a grapefruit in this recipe! Or am I sounding a bit too "recent convert" to you...?

Harissa-marinated chicken with pink grapefruit salad

Serves 4

800 g chicken thighs

For the harissa marinade
1 red pepper
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp caraway seeds
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 small red onion, roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 mild fresh red chillies, seeded and roughly chopped
1 dried red chilli, seeded and roughly chopped
1/2 tbsp tomato puree
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp Greek yogurt (or strained plain yogurt)

For the pink grapefruit salad
2 pink grapefruits
120 g peppery wild rocket
1 tsp olive oil
course sea salt and black pepper

For the sauce
150 ml pink grapefruit juice
130o ml lemon juice
150 ml maple syrup (or honey)
1/4 tsp salt
a pinch ground cinnamon
1 star anise

1 First make the marinade for the chicken. Over a gas ring or under a very hot grill, toast the red pepper until blackened on the out side. This should typically take about 8 min on an open flame, 15-20 min under a very hot grill. Place the pepper in a bowl, cover with cling film and leave to cool. Peel the pepper and discard the seeds.

2 Place a dry frying pan on a low heat and lightly toast the coriander, cumin and caraway seeds for 2 min. You should be able to smell the aromas of the spices. Transfer them to a pestle and mortar and grind to a powder.

3 Heat the olive oil in a frying pan, add the onion, garlic, and fresh and dried chillies and fry until they turn a dark, smoky colour. Blitz together all the marinade ingredients except the yogurt in a food processor or blender; you will have a pure harissa paste.

4 To marinate the chicken, mix the paste with the yogurt and use your hands to rub it all over the chicken thighs. Layer them in a plastic container, seal and refrigerate overnight.

5 The next day, take each grapefruit and use a small, sharp knife to slice off the top and tail. Now cut down its sides, following its natural lines, to remove the skin and white pith. Over a small bowl, cut in between the membranes to remove the individual segments. Squeeze any remaining juice into a bowl and keep to make up the 150 ml juice required for the sauce.

6 Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C. Lay out the marinated chicken pieces, spaced well apart, on a large baking tray and place in the hot oven. After 5 min, reduce the oven temperature to 180 degrees C and cook for another 12-15 min, until the chicken is almost cooked. Now place the chicken under a hot grill to give it extra colour and cook it through completely.

7 Meanwhile, place all the sauce ingredients in a small pan and bring to a light simmer. Simmer for about 20 min, or until reduced to a third.

8 To serve, toss the rocket and grapefruit segments with the olive oil, salt and pepper, Pile in the centre of 4 serving plates, put the warm chicken on top and drizzle about a tablespoonful of the sauce over each portion.


Thursday, 21 January 2010

Ottolenghi's meatballs baked in tahini

I've been in a bit of an Ottolenghi kick the last while. The man has a genius for putting the bold and brassy tastes I love together to make something even better. I just can't get enough of him. You might say I have the overwhelming devotion of a new convert (g).

This is recipe from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook is a variation of an Arab dish I made some time back based on a recipe from The Arab Table by May Bsisu that I found quoted on NPR.

Both recipes feature spiced mincemeat baked in a tart-but-creamy tahini sauce. In May Bsisu's version, the meat is pressed into the baking dish in meatloaf fashion, while it is formed into meatballs in this rendering. Where May Bsisu's sauce is sharpened with lemon juice, Ottolenghi's takes its tang from vinegar. Given the title of my blog, you probably won't be surprised to learn that I prefer the lemony version; but making the kafta into balls is a pretty good idea too.

I also adore the parsley and lemon zest topping in the Ottolenghi version. I've doubled the amount of lemon zest here, but that's totally up to you.

You can also vary the spices depending on your taste or whim. I'm not a big fan of allspice, so I reduced the amount of that spice and ramped up the others.

This was a big hit with the Young Man, who can't seem to get enough of meatballs in all their incarnations, and I make some pretty "out-there" versions (g). Despite the ordinary-sounding name given this dish, some might consider it a little out-there. Not to worry. It is the real deal and would make a lovely introduction to Arab cuisine, even for the less adventurous. Just make sure there are no sesame-averse people in your crowd.

Next time, I'm going to cross the two recipes and see what we come up with!

Meatballs baked in tahini

Serves 4-6

35 g stale white bread, crusts removed
600 g minced meat
3 garlic cloves, crushed
35 g flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 1/2 tsp ground allspice
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 egg
light olive oil for frying
1 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley, to garnish
grated zest of 1 lemon, to garnish

For the tahini sauce
150 ml tahini paste
150 ml water
70 ml white wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, crushed
a pinch of salt

1 First make the tahini sauce. In a bowl, mix together the tahini paste, water, vinegar, garlic and salt. Whisk well until it turns smooth and creamy, with a thick, sauce-like consistency. You might need to add some more water. Set the sauce aside while you make the meatballs.

2 Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Soak the bread in cold water for 2-3 min until it goes soft. Squeeze out most of the water and crumble the bread into a mixing bowl. Add the minced meat, garlic, parsley, salt, spices and egg and mix well with your hands.

3 Shape the meat mixture into balls, roughly the size of golf balls, Pour a 5 mm depth of light olive oil into a large frying pan. Heat it up, being careful it doesn't get too hot or it will spit all over when frying. Shallow fry the meatballs in small batches, turning them round as you go, until they are uniformly brown on the outside.

4 Put the meatballs on kitchen paper to soak up the oil and then arrange them in a single layer in an ovenproof serving dish. Place in the oven for 5 min. Carefully remove from the oven, pour the tahini sauce over and around the meatballs and return to the oven for another 10 minutes. The tahini will take on just a little bit of colour and thicken up; the meatballs should be cooked through. Transfer to individual plates, garnish liberally with the parsley and lemon zest and serve at once.


Friday, 15 January 2010

Chargrilled asparagus, zucchini and semi-dried tomato salad with yogurt cheese

When I was in Ikea for a bookcase to corral my ever-expanding cookbook collection (I swear that they reproduce all by themselves; it's nothing to do with me!), I found a cast-iron ridged grill pan/griddle. Ooohhh. I've been wanting one of those for soooo long. The Young Man said he'd chip in to get it for me as a Christmas present (he can be a real sweetie like that and he certainly knows the way to his mother's heart (g)).

The find couldn't have come at a better time, as I'd spied this lip-smacking salad in my new Ottolenghi cookbook (see previous post). The photo of the salad in the book is pure food porn. It was the first thing my dear friend H pointed out when she flipped through it, too.

Admittedly, this is a little bit fiddly, but the results are sensational. The YM was totally blown away by this, and was showing it off at school the next day. That is without the manouri cheese, which, even if available here, would probably cost an arm and a leg anyway (butter is now up to 360 yen for 200 g. It's an outrage!).

Instead, I drained plain yogurt in a kitchen towel-lined sieve for a day. That is longer than I've ever drained yogurt, but in truth, it wasn't long enough to get a really cheese-like firmness. Not to worry, it was very tasty just the same. Next time I'll just start the night before. The cheese is chargrilled, too, in the original recipe, but drained yogurt would just melt at that temperature, so we didn't go there.

I was so pleased with the semi-dried cherry tomatoes in this recipe that I've since made up a whole batch (dried for an hour and a half) and put them in a jar with olive oil. Yum! These are going to go in some homemade bouillon I'm going to make based on this River Cottage recipe highlighted on 101 cookbooks.

Chargrilled asparagus, zucchini and semi-dried tomato salad

Serves 4-6

350 g cherry tomatoes, halved
95 ml olive oil
24 asparagus spears
2 zucchini
500 g plain yogurt, drained for 24 hours
25 g rocket
course sea salt and black pepper

For the basil oil
75 ml olive oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
25 g basil leaves
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp black pepper

1 The night before, drain yogurt by drain yogurt in a kitchen paper-lined sieve over a bowl in the fridge. You should end up with a large disc of yogurt cheese.

2 Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C. Mix the tomatoes with 3 tbsp of the olive oil and season with some salt and pepper. Spread out on a baking tray lined with baking paper, skin side down. Roast in the oven for 50 min or until semi-dried. You can leave them in for a bit more or less, depending on how dry you like them. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

3 Meanwhile, trim the woody bases off the asparagus and blanch for 3-4 min in plenty of boiling water. Drain and refresh under cold water, making sure the spears are completely cold. Drain well again, then transfer to a mixing bowl and toss with 2 tbsp of the remaining olive oil and some salt and pepper.

4 Slice the zucchini thinly lengthwise. Mix in 1 tbsp of the olive oil and some salt and pepper.

5 Place a ridged griddle pan on a high heat and leave there for a few minutes. It should be very hot. Grill the zucchini and asparagus , turning them over after about 1 min. You want to get nice char marks on all sides. Remove and leave to cool.

6 To make basil oil, blitz all the ingredients in a small food processor or blender.

7 To assemble, arrange the rocket, vegetables and drained yogurt in layers on a serving plate. Try to build the salad up while showing all the individual components. Drizzle with basil oil and serve.


Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Ottolenghi's roast chicken with sumac, za'atar and lemon

I had a little manna from Amazon Japan at the end of last year. Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, which I had been lusting after for ages (but hanging out for the paperback edition), was somehow on sale for under 2,000 yen: nearly half-price. I jumped right in and bagged myself the last copy at that price--book storage space worries be damned!

I can't remember when I first heard the name Ottolenghi, but have been following the London restaurant chain's eponymous founder in his New Vegetarian column on the Guardian for ages, so I knew the guy had the goods for me: bold tastes, layers of flavour, and plenty of tartness (favourite ingredients like sumac, pomegranate molasses and lemons (!) all feature prominently).

Judging by the size of his Guardian archive, Yotam Ottolenghi (the chef) clearly has a big heart. This shows absolutely in Cookbook, which is lovingly written with partner/Ottolenghi head chef Sami Tamimi, and showcases recipes from other Ottolenghi (the restaurant) leading lights: a bonus I wasn't expecting. I also loved the touching story of the pair's meeting in London after living parallel lives for years on the two sides of the Israel/Palestine divide. May delicious food unite us all.

This was my Cookbook debut, made for my dearest friend H, who had kindly offered to come, jet lagged, 70 minutes to Yokohama to help me build a bookcase (just in time, really)!

The recipe is apparently a pared down version of the Palestinian classic, m'sakhan. Elsewhere on the Net, you'll find that dish described as spiced chicken with caramelized onions and bread. Ottolenghi's recipe doesn't caramelize the onions, but next time, I might fish out the onions from the marinade and fry them up for a few minutes before putting the whole thing in the oven.

A couple of notes to myself, here: do not use lemons which you've already zested for another recipe (the bitterness from the exposed pith was a bit annoying when I reheated this for lunch the next day. My fault. Live and learn.) And I reckon go with chicken legs next time: saves on chopping up and everyone gets a leg that wants one (everyone, really)!

This dish needs to marinate overnight, so you'll need to be prepared. And please don't be tempted to chop all those onions at midnight after a few glasses of wine, boys and girls. Auntie Saffron knows what she's talking about!

Oh, and if you don't have a bag of za'atar (a blend of thyme, sesame and sumac) lying about (g), you could try this recipe. In Japan, I have seen sumac/somaq at Tehran Shop near Yokohama (see here for directions in Japanese). It is also used in Turkish cooking, so you might be able to track it down at one of the many online Turkish shops.

Roast chicken with sumac, za'atar and lemon

Serves 4

1 large chicken, divided into quarters, breast and wing, leg and thigh, or 4 large leg & thigh pieces
2 red onions, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
4 tbsp olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 1/2 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp sumac
1-2 lemons, thinly sliced
200 chicken stock or water
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp za'atar
20 g unsalted butter
50 g pine nuts
4 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 In a large bowl, mix the chicken with the onions, garlic, olive oil, spices, lemon, stock or water, salt and pepper. Leave in the fridge to marinate for a few hours or overnight.

2 Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Transfer the chicken and its marinade to a baking tray large enough to accommodate all the chicken pieces lying flat and spaced apart. They should be skin-side up. Sprinkle the za'atar over the chicken and onions and put the tray in the oven. Roast for 30-40 min, until the chicken is coloured and just cooked through.

3 Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small frying pan, add the pine nuts and a pinch of salt and cook until they are golden. Transfer to a plate lined with kitchen paper to absorb the fat.

4 Transfer the hot chicken to a serving plate and finish with the chopped parsley, pine nuts and a drizzle of olive oil. You can sprinkle on more za'atar and sumac, if you like.