Sunday 27 November 2011

Aubergine & Tamarind Curry

Have I ever mentioned how much I love aubergines? It's borderline obsessive really. They're big meaty things with fantastic texture and they absorb flavours like a sponge, what's not to love? This curry is fairly similar to the aubergine, coconut and lime dhal in that they both contain aubergines, coconut - this time though, with a Thai twist and a sour tang that comes from tamarind.

A vivid orange curry was packed full of iron-rich cavolo nero and a head of pak choi that I had spare in the fridge; you can really use any green vegetable you like. Lots of dried red chillis were minced together with galangal, lemon grass and garlic to make a curry paste but it's the lime leaves thrown in while cooking that really gives it that fragrance the Thais do so well.

Aubergine & Tamarind Curry

Serves 2

For the spice paste:

A large handful of dried red chillis, rehydrated in boiling water
2 inches of galangal
6 cloves of garlic
1 stalk of lemongrass, inner soft part only
Half an onion
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp shrimp paste
2 tbsp vegetable oil

Deseed the chillis and blitz all of the above with a little of the water from soaking the chillis.

1 medium aubergine
3 stalks of cavolo nero, or other dark leafy greens
4 lime leaves, torn roughly
1 can of coconut milk
A few seeds of tamarind - put these in a little boiling water and work the tamarind paste away from the seeds. Drain, reserving the tamarind paste. Alternatively, use 1.5 tbsp ready made tamarind paste
1 tbsp sugar, to taste
2 tbsp fish sauce (or to taste)
1 tbsp each of chopped basil and coriander

Slic the aubergines into fingers and fry in a little oil until coloured on both sides. Set aside. Heat some oil in a wok and add 2 tbsp of the curry paste. Stir fry until fragrant, then add the aubergines back in. Add the leafy greens and stir to coat. Add the coconut milk with the lime leaves and cook gently for 15 - 20 minutes.

Add the tamarind, the fish sauce tbsp by tbsp and the sugar; taste as you go. Add more of whatever you think it needs but keep tasting; it should be perfectly balanced.

Scatter with the chopped basil and coriander and serve with rice.

Thursday 24 November 2011

Mackerel with Harissa, Orange & Fennel

Whenever I hear the word 'harissa' I think vaguely of a spicy, aromatic North African sauce. It's actually most closely associated with Tunisia and Algeria, though some associate it with Moroccan food. Vivid red in colour, the Sichuan dried chillis I used aren't really the right type but after I was left aghast at the fancy £4 pot in the fancy section of Sainsburys, I decided it would do.

I used the harissa with some really fresh mackerel fillets, orange and fennel so that I could finally finish off that bloody cous cous that's been lingering in my cupboard for months. A splash of rose water brought it all to life; though quite a summery dish, the fiery spice made it nice and warming. The orange juice and pomegranate seeds cut through the richness of the mackerel flesh beautifully.


Makes a small jar

100gr dried chillis, soaked in boiling water for an hour
1 small onion
8 cloves of garlic
2 tsp caraway seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp salt
100ml vegetable oil

Toast the cumin and caraway seeds till fragrant and grind to a powder. In a blender add the garlic, onion, chillis (deseeded and rehydrated) and the salt and blend well, adding the oil as you go. Transfer to a small pan and simmer gently for 10 minutes, stirring often. Spoon into a sterilised jar and leave to cool.

Mackerel with Harissa, Orange & Fennel

Serves 2

2 large mackerel fillets
1 orange
2 tbsp harissa
1 tbsp rose water
1 orange, zested and juiced
1 bulb of fennel, sliced
1 small pomegranate, seeds picked
Cous cous, flecked with coriander and parsley, to serve

Heat up a tablespoon of oil and fry the fennel until softened. Salt the mackerel skin and in a non-stick pan fry the mackerel fillets skin side down until crispy. As they're frying, smear the flesh with the harissa paste. Transfer the mackerel fillets flesh side down on top of the fennel. Squeeze the orange juice into the fennel pan with the zest of the orange, add the rose water and cook until the mackerel is done. Transfer the fish out and if it's quite wet simmer until thick, or just spoon the fennel and the orange onto the cous cous. Scatter with the pomegranate seeds.

Monday 21 November 2011

Minestrone alla Genovese

Soup season is upon us. London has been a resolutely slate-grey monochrome for the past few days and my breath comes out in foggy clouds, reminding me of those cigarettes I so loved, now given up. Soup can be terribly boring though; those uniformly smooth one-dimensional bore-fests are enough to have you in a right depression. Add some texture though and the bowl is transformed.

Minestrone is a typical Italian soup; I'm most used to it being very tomato-heavy, almost like a thick chunky stew. It is mostly made of whatever vegetables are in season though much of its flavour comes from the broth it is cooked in.

This particular recipe omits to tomatoes, favouring instead the clean pure broth from simmered pork bones and aromatics. Vegetables are added for a brief cooking so that they still retain a bit of bite, though my beloved cavolo nero are given a long, slow cooking for ultimate silkiness. Cannellini beans and ditaloni pasta bulk the soup out and thicken it ever so slightly. I couldn't help but add a hefty tablespoon of a roughly bashed pesto, that heady aniseed from the basil and salty pecorino adding another layer of flavour and a Ligurian twist.

Minestrone alla Genovese

Serves 4

1 large pork shank
4 carrots
4 stalks of celery
1 onion
2 bay leaves
150gr dried cannellini or borlotti beans soaked overnight
200gr ditaloni (I bought this at the Turkish Food Centre) or any other soup pasta, or even rice
1 large courgette
4 stalks of cavolo nero
3 cloves of garlic
1 head of fennel

For the pesto:

A handful of basil leaves
Half that of parsley
A couple table spoons of extra virgin olive oil
50gr of pecorino
Salt & pepper

Boil the beans in plain water for 10 minutes, then drain. To make the broth, blanch the pork shank in boiling water for 5 - 10 minutes, then rinse and wash the pot out thoroughly. Add to fresh pot of water to cover the shank and add the onion, quartered with the bay leaves, 2 of the carrots and 2 stalks of celery. Add the beans in. Dice the rest of the carrots and celery and set aside.

Simmer for 4 or so hours.

Your beans should be nice and tender by now. Fish out the onion, carrots and celery and bay leaves and discard. Strip the fat and skin off the shank and discard. Strip the meat off and chop roughly, discard the bones. Divide the pork meat into four bowls. In another pan, heath a little oil and add the garlic, minced. Add the fennel, roughly chopped with plenty of salt, and when tender add the broth and beans back in. Simmer the broth and beans with the cavolo nero for 10 minutes, then add the reserved diced celery and carrot. Dice the courgette and add this in with the ditaloni. Simmer for a further 10 or so minutes until it is all tender and take off the heat.

To make the pesto, chop basil and parsley finely. Mix well with the olive oil, then grate the cheese finely and add this in to make a rough sauce. Season to taste.

Divide the soup between bowls and top with the pesto.

Tuesday 15 November 2011

That Doughnut

It's hard not to think of vulgar or obscene things when you see these plum jam and custard doughnuts - look! They look like they're spewing! But they are one of the very best things I've eaten this year.

I never much liked doughnuts; they remind me of a brief teenage time I spent in Ipswich, biting into grease sponges fried in whiffy old fat from carts that lined the high street. Krispy Kremes make me feel sick and give me a toothache. But these, at Hawksmoor's new Guildhall branch, are light and fluffy, the cold custard and jam a welcome smooth contrast.

Oh, and my 250gr ribeye with an egg and hash browns was pretty damn sexy, even at 8am. What a breakfast to start the week. I only wish I didn't have to go to work that day, or I'd have gotten right stuck into the Bloody Mary buffet, or some breakfast cocktails, or a cornflake hardshake; nothing like a slug of bourbon to wake you up.

Hawksmoor Guildhall

10 Basinghall St.

Tel: 020 7397 8120

I dined as a guest of Hawksmoor. But I've also eaten at other Hawksmoors several times on my own dollar.

Hawksmoor (Guildhall) on Urbanspoon

Saturday 12 November 2011

Street Food in London - Hot Dogs, Tacos & Meatballs

The street food scene is kicking off with fervour. Gone are the days of dodgy hot dog carts wafting of fried onions selling their questionable fare to pissed up Londoners swaying towards night buses. Instead, tacos, hot dogs, burgers, noodle soups, paella, bits of offal and much more are on offer.

Petra Barran of Choc Star fame has headed up a collective, under the name of Eat.St and they now have a permanent residency in Kings Cross. Open Wednesdays to Fridays, 4 to 6 traders a day, 10am - 4pm every week, I snuck in a visit while in the area.

The Rib Man's £5 rib sandwich consists of baby back ribs slow smoked and roasted. The meat is then shredded off the bone and shoved into a white bap, for you to adorn with whichever sauce takes your fancy. I went with a fruity, Scotch-bonnety firebomb called 'holy fuck hot sauce'. Sweet Jesus this sandwich is good.

On the same lunchtime I had a Junior dog from Big Apple Hot Dogs; for £2.50 this was quite a bargain. The sausage had that great crunchy skin, the kind that snaps between the teeth as you bite into it. Polish mustard and sauerkraut complemented it nicely; now I know why people rave about them. I also love their 'no brains, no bones, no butts' line on their website. I'm going for the Big Frank next time.

Buen Provecho are also part of Eat.St but my only visit was when they were outside The Rye pub, now closed for refurbishment, in Peckham. I am a bit wary of tacos as I don't like corn tortillas much - look, they just taste a bit muddy, ok? - but Buen Provecho's were different to any other I've had. The tortilla is nicely toasted; crisp in places, soft in others. Soft, silky meat topped with crunchy salads and salsas, I haven't had any better. (Photo courtesy of Cheese & Biscuits.)

My most recent visit was to Luca Italian Meatballs in Ridley Road Market. Not yet part of Eat.St but brought to my attention by Sandwichist, as soon as I saw that article I had to have it.

Ridley Road Market isn't a pretty one. Proper East End stuff with ferocious elderly ladies elbowing you out of the way for the best veg-in-a-bowl-for-a-paaaahnd, I had my ankles rammed several times by wheelie shopping trollies. I traversed the length of the market before I found my bounty; as soon as I saw that the meatballs were on offer with polenta, memories of the sandwich flew out of my mind. I love polenta.

For £4 you get three meatballs (meat or veggie), a carpet of polenta and a choice of sauces which I was told you could mix. I went for a spicy tomato sauce and a creamy mushroom sauce, which was then topped with little tiny asparagus and black olives, as well as a tangle of peppery rocket (I had eaten most of it by the time I took the above pic).

The meatballs were great too; fluffy inside and spiked with cheese. This was utterly delicious; total comfort food on a slate-grey blustery day. Available Thurs - Saturday lunchtimes.

I'm looking forward to eating my way round London's streets; Anna Mae's Southern Street Food , Kimchi Cult and Tongue N' Cheek are high on my list.

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Meat Liquor

Meat Liquor, the 3 year outpost from the people who brought you the #MEATEASY, is now open. 90 covers and in W1, the menu consists of the legendary burgers, wings and even deep-fried pickles, amongst other such tastiness. When I went to the opening party the party sized food was as great as I remember (in fact, we almost fought over it...), the jam jar cocktails as delicious / potent too. It's now on 72 Welbeck Street so nice and central. Off you pop.

The website says 11.11.11 but it has opened early, 5pm every day this week; next week they'll start doing lunchtime service.

Sunday 6 November 2011

Hot Chocolate

I don't get excited about chocolate much, so I was fairly nonchalant when Nudge PR asked for my address to send me some chocolate during Chocolate Week, some weeks ago. A good kilo of chocolate turned up from places like Rococco, Amadei, William Curley and even Thorntons. What took my attention though was Sir Hans Sloane dark chocolate beads, to make drinking chocolate.

You add hot milk to the chocolate beads, stir like crazy to melt them and you have a smooth, deeply chocolatey drink unlike any other hot chocolate I've tried. Most on the market that I've tried are weak and thin, but not this. A good slug of brandy helps give it a bit of pep. I love hot booze.

I used two teaspoons per cup and a shot of brandy - no sugar required. It's not cheap at a whopping £10 per 300gr tin but it's a smashing treat, especially as the weather gets colder.

Wednesday 2 November 2011

The Heron - Fire in the Depths of London

One of my most distinct memories as a child was sitting in a beach hut on the island of Bohol, in the Philippines, slurping on a sour, broth-like soup. I came across what I thought was a green bean and carried on merrily munching away. There it was. That initial tingle that tells you its a chilli, the panic rising in your throat, and then the full force, lighting your very saliva into flames, rendering you speechless and spluttering. Or, like me, running around the restaurant screaming, much to the amusement of the restaurant staff. My dad, quite the chilli nut himself, scoffed and had a taste of the spat-out offender. He went a deep shade of crimson.

It was tonight in the brightly lit, garishly furnished basement of The Heron, an old man's pub near Paddington, that a dish consisting of minced duck (laab ped, opening photo) that almost did took me back to being 6 again. I managed to hold it together though and instead became light-headed and giddy, gently panicking within and sucking the air through gritted teeth like a woman in labour.

The Heron is like no other Thai restaurant I've experienced in London. It's situated opposite a ropey-looking estate, and upstairs serves an English menu of Thai food, while the basement has an entirely different menu only in Thai. Large plasma screens adorn the walls for their customers to do some karaoke pre, mid or after their meal. While eating if I'd shut my eyes it would've taken me right back to Bangkok street stalls; none of this dumbed-down guff that other London restaurants peddle.

Luckily for us, The Skinny Bib has been kind enough to translate the menu in full, though when we were there our lovely waitress was more than happy to take us through the menu. I went for things you don't often see in other Thai restaurants so with that caveat this is what we had.

Cashew nut salad, while we waited for our tardy friend. Tossed together and eaten with a spoon, I made sure to avoid the red birds eye chillis. They are mothers. It was still spicy, and tiny little pieces of lime were chopped with it to flavour every mouthful.

This was a special of the day, from the board in the restaurant. Pork hock tom yum soup; served bubbling in a pot, this was intensely flavoured with lemongrass and was pleasingly tangy. Wibbly wobbly bits of pork lent great depth to it.

Yum pla duk fuu - dry catfish salad. The catfish was almost dehydrated to a floss and once doused with the sweet-spicy-sour sauce it made a great mouthful to have a long chew on with celery leaves adding freshness.

Kaeng som goong cha om tod kai - orange curry with prawns and cha om omelette. This came out with squares of omelette made with cha om, a medicinal, slightly astringent-tasting herb inside. I've never had orange curry and it was thin and soup like, no coconut milk and was surprisingly mild and sweet.

Kai yiew mar kra pow krob - minced pork and century egg. This was one of my favourites; the black, gooey egg quarters were fried so that they had a crispy coating. Minced pork on top with stir-fried basil leaves were doused in a sweet sauce. One of only three mild dishes of the evening, this went really well with rice.

Som tam Thai + poo (stop sniggering at the back) - Papaya salad with peanuts and salted crab. The shredded green papaya is pounded with lime juice, chillis and peanuts. Salted crab is pounded with it for seasoning and a mild fishy flavour. This was fiery, as I'm accustomed to.

Tam taeng poo + pla rah - cucumber salad with fermented fish essence. I ordered a dish at Nahm in Bangkok which contained fermented fish and it was so funky I could barely even look at it. I'm pleased to report this was not in the same league and was actually cooling to our fiery tongues.

Yum nhaam - Northern sour sausage salad. The sausage was slightly lost in amongst the big flavours of the lime, chilli and red onion. I was beginning to wonder if perhaps we had ordered one too many salads.

Another special of the day, clams stir-fried in a soy-like sauce. These sweet little grit-free clams were a welcome respite to our heat-blasted faces and were extremely moreish, the sweet caramel flavours melding and not masking the seafood well. Finally, stir-fried broccoli with salted fish (kar nar pla kem). Cooked till tender but crunchy, another soothing, cooling dish.

The 5 of us have pretty strong constitutions and one by one, we were all hit slowly but surely with the chilli blindness. We went down like dominoes at the table; firstly, a hush would descend over that person, beads of sweat popping out. Breathing more laboured, hands would then flap to motion more beers toward them. But strangely you don't stop eating. Like an addiction, you just keep shovelling it in, perhaps more wary of rogue chillis hidden in your pile. It recedes eventually. But its not just about the spiciness; the flavours of each dish were pronounced and well balanced. Herbs used shone though the fire, complementing the meat or fish perfectly.

More than one of us wondered how many other of our friends would have been able to cope (the answer is none, I suspect) but they do ask you how hot you would like your meal and we enthusiastically replied "pretend we're proper Thais!" so you have some control over it.

4 boys and 1 girl stuffed themselves silly on the above with steamed rice, sticky rice and fire-extinguishing beers for £36 a head, with tip. We all wished each other luck and headed off home.

The Heron

Norfolk Crescent
London W2 2DN
020 7724 8463 (We didn't bother booking but by 8pm on a Wednesday it was packed, mainly full of young Thais.)

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Ten Ten Tei - A Soho Stalwart

I've been working in or around Soho since I was 17, and Ten Ten Tei has been a regular over the years. It has always been my go-to place for cheap, decent sushi and while they don't serve certain things, like sea urchin, what they do is done well.

The service, disinterested at best and surly at worst makes for a somewhat stifled atmosphere but it didn't matter much at a recent dinner with my parents there. Cucumber with miso sauce was new to me; the cucumber crunchy and refreshing, the tiny little intensely sweet and savoury beans had the texture of pearl barley.

Agedashi tofu could have done with a thinner exterior but the portion generous and the crunch of the coating a pleasing contrast to its soft innards.

Natto (there is a GREAT video that demonstrates the horrifying stickiness of the stuff on that link) was always a bit of a beast for me. I first tried it at Koya and was repulsed by its slimy smelliness but rolled into sushi it was actually quite nice. The nuttiness of the fermented soy beans came through nicely with just enough slime to keep you rolling it about in your mouth.

Vinegared seaweed was another slimy one. Intensely sour, the silken seaweed hung suspended in a jelly-like texture. Surprisingly addictive.

Grilled salmon skin in vinegar sauce would have benefited from the salmon skin being crisper, but was otherwise pretty good with a scoop of the grated daikon underneath. Less was more with the vinegar dressing, as it had a faint whiff of soapiness.

The sashimi plate was well presented, the fish all very fresh. Sweet shrimp were a particular favourite this evening.

Scallop nigiri was a great example of its kind, sweet and silky. Ikura nigiri, while messy to eat gracefully was excellent.

As if this wasn't enough, I finished off the dinner with the Oden stew, served only in wintertime. Fishcakes, egg and daikon are simmered in dashi. The broth is slightly sweet, slightly fishy with a deep umami flavour, the perfect bath for the springy fishcake. Though I'd have preferred a soft boiled egg, the tradition is hard boiled so I can't really complain about that. The grey rectangle you see in the middle of the picture is konnyaku; it doesn't taste of anything but is valued instead for its chewy texture. The bright smear of mustard on the side of the bowl livened things up somewhat. This dish was comforting and homely, one I've not tried before but one I'd definitely return for.

As our dinner progressed the restaurant became busier and busier; downstairs is the place to be as the upstairs is a bit cold in atmosphere. With a couple of beers and an tempura udon each for Ma and Pa, the three of us ate handsomely for £30 a head.

Ten Ten Tei

56 Brewer Street
London W1F 9TJ

They do not take reservations

Ten Ten Tei on Urbanspoon