Mum’s Saturday night dhal
I’m a little surprised at myself for not posting this recipe sooner – it’s the simplest dhal you can make. It uses masoor dhal (red lentils), which take a mere 10 minutes to boil. After that, it’s just a case of flavouring it. The entire dish takes about 15 minutes to make. We’ll be eating it tonight with fried spicy sea bass, curried bitter gourd (which is this freakish looking thing), rice and chapattis. [Read More]
The best masala dosas we’ve ever had were, unsurprisingly, in India - at a cafe called Anand in Calcutta. We went there three days in a row for breakfast, and when we left for Malaysia on day 4 we were probably more sorry to be saying goodbye to the cafe than the country.
The masala dosa is a thin Indian pancake made from a fermented lentil batter that gives a subtle sour tang. It’s usually stuffed with a spicy potato curry, and served with a bowl of sambhar (dhal) and coconut chutney.
Even now, despite eating great dosas in Penang (Malaysia) and at Chennai Dosa in London, we’ve never found anything that comes close.
Anand raised the bar for dosas, and so it was with some apprehension that I ordered one from streetfood vendors Dosa Deli at Kerb a couple of weeks ago. I’ll be completely honest, I normally would’ve ordered anything but the dosas – surely I’d be setting myself up for disappointment? However the alternative was vast amounts of meat & carbs (burgers, pulled pork baps, more burgers) from the other stalls which, while mouthwatering, didn’t work out so well for my productivity levels last time.
Dosa Deli’s food looked colourful and healthy and really quite appealing… and so I handed over £5, loaded my tray up with sauces (yoghurt, tamarind and sriracha) and hoped for the best. Dosa Deli’s dosas are a different species to the traditional ones, but still surprisingly good - packed full of spiced potatoes, fresh spinach and creamy homemade paneer, and served with yoghurt sauce, tamarind sauce and sriracha. They were actually the perfect lunch – interesting, full of flavour, and filling, and they gave me enough energy to get through a busy Wednesday morning.
I’ve already posted about Christmas Day lunch, but I haven’t yet told you about our Pre-Christmas celebrations. It’s an annual tradition with my friends from sixth form – Henrietta, Julia, Nina, Paula, Yasmin and Zarlashta – which takes place a week or two before Christmas. It’s a proper ‘family’ get together, complete with food, drink, presents, games and general messing around.
Karl and I hosted it this year and as well as a big roast chicken we cooked a glorious ham. I used Felicity Cloake’s recipe for the perfect Christmas ham, and once again she came up trumps.
The best thing about a ham at Christmas is that it looks absolutely magnificent, but it’s dead easy to make and you can do it the day before and serve it up cold alongside everything else.
For Paula the vegetarian I did a Portobello mushroom and blue cheese wellington in the shape of a Christmas pudding, and garnished with a pretty pastry holly created by Julia.
It went down a treat with Paula who is a huge fan of mushrooms and blue cheese, and it was actually so good that I used the leftover filling to make another one the day after for dinner. The blue cheese I used was a gorgonzola piccante from Sainsbury’s, and I added some crushed roasted hazelnuts too for a bit of crunch.
Now, desserts aren’t really my strong point, I much prefer cooking savoury food, but no Christmas dinner is complete without a good pud. Someone at work told me about Jamie Oliver’s Winter Pudding Bombe (him again?! I know!), and it seemed like a winner. Like the ham, it has that wow factor but takes very little effort to make and is easily done beforehand.
And so to the morning after. Everyone’s going on about bubble and squeak this year, and it really is a great way of transforming all the cold and sorry looking leftover roast vegetables into a crispy and comforting dish the following day. You can have it either with a fried egg and bacon as breakfast the following morning (as I did, see below), or as a cosy dinner with sausages and an onion gravy.
Making bubble and squeak is just a case of heating oil in a non stick pan, tipping in the vegetables and then using a potato masher to break everything up. Then use a big flat spoon to flatten it all into something resembling a thick omelette and let it cook until the bottom starts turning golden brown. Then carefully flip it over bit by bit (you won’t be able to flip the whole thing), and mash it into itself. Do this over and over (browning, flipping, flattening) until the top is looking pretty golden too, and then leave it one last time for the bottom to crisp up a little and turn it out onto a plate. There’s a good recipe here, but I also found this clip from Jamie at Home very useful when making it the first time round (skip forward to 17.50 minutes in).
Recently, I haven’t been keeping up with the idea of this blog as a ‘dinner diary’. It’s morphed into ‘general food blog’ instead, but don’t worry – I definitely am still eating!
This is what was on the menu last week:
Monday: Spinach & paneer, chickpea curry and hot chapattis.
Tuesday: Jerk chicken, rice & peas, salad. Usually we use the recipe for Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals and although it’s tasty, we’ve never been very convinced about it as a proper jerk chicken recipe. It’s not all that spicy for starters. So, this time we used Felicity Cloake’s recipe for the perfect jerk chicken and it was really bloody good. Some of the best jerk I’ve had, actually, and properly spicy.
Wednesday: A special weekday breakfast of avocado on toast and some fresh coffee, a lovely way to start the day. Dinner was chilli con carne with a jacket potato for Karl, and cheese on toast for me because I was quite late home.
Thursday: My work Christmas party at Caravan Kings Cross. The starters included corn bread with chipotle butter, a rocket and greenbean salad with some awesome unknown dressing (I wasn’t paying much attention to the menu for once), and some beautifully cooked pork with a sweet and spicy sauce. My main was half a baby chicken with salsa verde and broccoli. I think it must have been a teeny tiny baby chicken. It was very tasty though, even if they did neglect to add any real carbs to the dish.
Friday: A glass of mulled wine at The Morgan Arms, followed by fish & chips and an episode of The Wire.
Sunday: Smoked mackerel and poached egg on toast for breakfast, a baked potato with cheese and beans for lunch, and chicken pie for a cosy dinner. Lemon tart for pud.
I’ve grown up eating my mum’s fantastic Indian cooking, so when it comes to curry I have quite high standards. Here are some curries this week that I particularly enjoyed, even if they didn’t all go entirely to plan…
Mum comes over for Sunday lunch
Normally when someone comes over for Sunday lunch, you cook for them. Not so with my mother – she brings lunch with her. For everyone, I mean, not just for herself. This weekend she picked up some fresh pigeon peas so that she could make my all-time favourite curry, tuwar ringan, made from pigeon peas and aubergine. She also brought along a couple of matoki (green banana). To cook this, you cut it into big chunks with the peel still on, boil for about 15 minutes until soft, and then peel and discard the skins. While the matoki is boiling, you can make a spicy tomato chutney (in the same way as the start of this recipe, but without the prawns), adding the matoki once it’s ready. We had this with rice, dhal and sweet lime pickle.
Karl and I spent six weeks in India during our year abroad, and although we had mixed feelings about a lot of it the food alone made it all worthwhile. Breakfast would often be masala dosas, a thin pancake made from a fermented lentil batter, filled with a spicy potato curry, and served with dhal and coconut chutney. It might sound silly, but we’ve been missing them.
This weekend, on spying a dosa ready-mix in Sainsburys, we decided to give it a go ourselves. Turns out it’s quite hard. The batter is straightforward (just add water!), but getting the pancakes thin enough is near impossible. After an enormous amount of trial an error we managed to make a few dinky ones which just about did the job. The potato curry was delicious, made in the same way as my regular spicy potatoes but crushed to turn it into more of a mash, and with a good squeeze of lemon added at the very end. The coconut chutney was fantastic (no picture, sorry) – we used this recipe and I reckon it’s fine to leave out the roasted lentils if you don’t have them.
There are very few Indian restaurants that offer anything resembling great home-cooked curries, and I’ve generally found the cafe-style places most promising. Karl and I have been going to the Biryani House in Whitechapel for a couple of years now, most often before a trip to the Genesis cinema across the road.
When faced with an empty fridge and a hankering for something spicy on Saturday afternoon, we decided it was about time we swung by there again. We went for our usual - a lamb biryani, chickpea curry, plain naan and a can of coke. Always a winner.
Other Indian cafes I’d recommend in London include Curry 2000 on Bethnal Green Road, for curries and tandoori kebabs (which come wrapped in hot fluffy naans straight from the tandoor, and doused in a spicy, bright green coriander and mint chutney); and Maru’s Bhajia House on Ealing Road for the best vegetarian snacks in west (if not all) London, best followed up with a cup of hot sweet chai.
Green tomato curry
We had so many tomato plants this summer, and although we harvested a good few bowls of sweet, brightly coloured toms, there unfortunately was not quite enough sun to ripen them all. I hacked down the last of the plants this weekend, as the recent cold spell means they’re unlikely to last much longer anyway, and as I was doing so I filled the bowl pictured above.
As you’d imagine, green tomatoes have a much tangier flavour than ripe ones, but they’re not actually that sour to eat and don’t take too much effort to cook into something delicious. It seems a shame to waste them when they are perfectly edible (quite delicious in fact!), so this evening I turned half of my bounty into…well, a curry of course, what else?
Green tomato curry
Green tomatoes (I used about a cereal bowl full)
1 big onion, chopped
2 green chillies, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
small knob ginger, grated
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp chilli powder
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
5/6 curry leaves (if you have them)
Start frying your onions in some vegetable or sunflower oil, along with the curry leaves if you’re using them.
Meanwhile, chop your tomatoes. For the bigger ones, I cut them into quarters and then cut each quarter in half. Most of the cherry tomatoes were halved, except the smallest ones which stayed whole.
When the onions have started to brown a little, chuck in the chillies, ginger, garlic, salt and all the dried spices. Fry for about 20 seconds and then tip in the tomatoes.
Give it all a good stir and leave to simmer gently on a medium heat until the tomatoes start to soften and break down, and the flavours have all mingled nicely.
It’s basically ready when you want it – I let mine cook for a further 10 minutes to get rid of some of the liquid and create a thicker sauce, but you don’t have to.
We had this with rice, dhal and a side dish called sambharo – vegetables that have been very quickly fried in a few spices, along with big slices of green chilli. You only cook them long enough to combine the flavours, so the vegetables should still be crunchy. It’s very slightly salty, and you generally just have a little on the side of your plate as a different texture and flavour from the rest of your meal. In a way, it’s like an unpickled pickle.
Potato and onion curry
It feels like absolutely ages since I last made an Indian dinner with chapattis so we made sure it was on the menu for this week.
We had this potato and onion curry with a kidney bean curry, while watching Great British Bake Off.
Everyone’s talking about… Kerb, a new street food setup which will bring together some of the city’s best street food vendors, including The Rib Man and Horn Ok Please. It launches this Thursday at Kings Cross. It’s by the people behind the hugely successful Eat St so, although details on exactly what it’s all about are scarce at the moment, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be a winner.
Thai style stir fry
We fell back on this dinner tonight - a spicy, healthy stir fry with a creamy coconutty sauce.
I just use one of the stir fry packs from the supermarket for this as they always have a good selection of vegetables and they’re really not too expensive.
It’s been a great weekend for all kinds of snacks. We spent a lot of time with my mum – at her place on Saturday, and ours on Sunday when she popped round for a trip to Columbia Road flower market.
Over the weekend she treated us with two kinds of Indian treat. Kachori, a round pastry filled with a spicy pea mix:
And aloo paratha – a flatbread stuff with spicy potatoes. It’s the first time she’s ever made it, and it was delicious… as well as being a great snack, I reckon it’d make a fantastic Indian breakfast.
As for me, I made a bowl of sweet & spicy popcorn to eat while we watched an episode of the addictive drama series Breaking Bad this evening – it’s using a Nigella recipe, and although it’s from her Christmas book, it’s definitely suitable for any time of year. The popcorn is flavoured with paprika, cumin, cinnamon, salt and sugar, so there’s a whole mix of interesting (and complimentary) flavours.
And during the week i baked cookies using my usual foolproof recipe as a base. The recipe is for white chocolate and cranberry cookies, but as I had neither of these I substituted them for crystallised ginger and flaked almonds (no choc I’m afraid!), and I also threw in a couple of handfuls of oats too, for texture.
Curry, dhal and rice
We usually have Indian food once a week, and tonight was that night. My mum had picked up some fresh tuwar (pidgeon peas) for me from an Indian grocery shop, so I cooked these up with some aubergine - it’s my absolutely favourite curry, and always has been. It’s great with kadhi, but as we’d already had this at the weekend I decided to make a dhal instead.
Usually if I make dhal on a weekday evening, I’ll go for a quick and easy option (like maybe these split yellow mung lentils), but tonight I fancied something a bit more complex so I went for a soupy variety that we often have with rice. It takes longer to boil, but it’s tangy as well as spicy, and it’s one of Karl’s favourites. A pile of steaming hot chapattis were on hand to mop the whole lot up. Delish.