Sunday, 22 September 2019

Middle Eastern Meatballs in tomato pomegranate sauce

How To Put a Syrian Spin on your favourite meatballs recipe.

Middle eastern meatballs made with mince and spices offer endless possibilities for combining flavours and textures.Bread can be replaced with potato,cous cous or bulghur wheat, and many alternative herbs and spices also work.Try playing around till you come up with your favoured combo.
This particular spice mixture is so different from the ones I have become used to in my repertoire and I love eating something new and trying to decipher what is in it.Baharat is a blend that can be sprinkled on anything from devilled eggs to dry rubs for meats and fish. It’s smoky, rich, intoxicating aroma is perfect for grilling too,and meatballs will never be the same once you top them with a bold tomato and pomegranate sauce. A perfect twist on the classic savoury meatballs,that will change your world for the better.The meatballs on this occasion can be cooked up to two days in advance and re-heated in the sauce.The  benefit here is that the flavour of the spices intensify the longer you leave them.
Since discovering this sauce i have become enamoured with it. It’s unapologetic and it is in your face! What I most love is the sweet and astringent taste it carries that seems to transform whatever it is added to. I let these faggotesque dumplings swim in the sauce before serving because they can really take on the flavour of being fresh from the oven.
Have them alone, as a light snack or part of an evening of tapas, or pair them with some couscous, bulghur wheat or lentils for a more substantial meal.No story or anecdote I hear you say."He usually gives us a ripping yarn that sets the mood for the recipe" - well here it is.I had no idea why these meatballs were called dawood basha. There was a nobleman Da’ud Basha in the Ottoman Empire – maybe he liked meatballs?  Well the fact is he did, the story goes that Da’ud Basha loved these meatballs so much, he ate them every day.  I also read online that it is good luck to hide a silver ring in one of the meatballs.  I am not a fan of hiding non-edible choking hazards in my food, so I passed on that one. Nonetheless, dawood basha meatballs. These are fiery, moist meatballs, swimming in a light tomato based sauce flavoured with fruity pomegranate.
Syrian Meatballs "Dawood Basha"
These meatballs are like no other! they are are not like your typical Italian meatballs. This is a classic Syrian dish with rich flavours from simple ingredients. Besides the baharat blend of spices in the meatballs themselves, the pomegranate molasses and tomato gravy set this dish apart from your typical meatball dish.I tried something unusual in this recipe The meatballs,I first boiled in stock before being fried then baked in the sauce.There's a few reasons for utilizing this method: You'll end up with a juicier meatball, as it is cooked in liquid. It'll be rounder and more plump because it was cooked in a liquid,and you'll be 100% sure that it was cooked thoroughly without being burned.
Serves: 4
2 tbsp black peppercorns
2 tbsp sumac
2 tbsp coriander seeds
2 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp allspice ground
1 tsp cardamom ground
1/2 tsp cloves ground
4 3-inch cinnamon sticks, ground
2 tbsp ground sweet paprika
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

Toast the black peppercorns, cumin, coriander and cinnamon sticks in a sauté pan. Remove from the heat and add to a spice or coffee grinder to create a powder. Set aside and allow to cool.
In a small bowl, add the paprika, sumac, nutmeg, clove, allspice and cardamom. Whisk in the ground, It will last about 3 months, after that the potency diminishes. Makes about 3/4 cup.

1 lb ground beef or lamb
1 medium sized onion 1/3 cup minced the remainder sliced
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
2 tbsp baharat spice mix (above)
500 ml (2 cups) organic chicken stock
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1 tablespoon tomato puree
1/2 tsp pepper
1 1/2 tsp salt
Soak the breadcrumbs in milk for 5-10 minutes
Squeeze out the milk from the bread and mix with minced onions, ground beef, salt , pepper and form into 1 inch balls (makes roughly 25 meatballs) 6 per portion.
Bring a pan of water to the boil and drop the meatballs in.Lower the heat and cook for about ten minutes.Drain and dry the meatballs completely, then In 1 tbsp oil sauté the meatballs in deep pan for 3-4 minutes on each side, do not cook all the way through or else they will be dry.Set aside.
In the same pan add 1 tbsp oil and sauté the remaining sliced onions for 2-3 minutes on medium heat.
Add the tomato sauce, chicken stock, pomegranate molasses, salt and pepper to taste
Let the flavours cook together for a few minutes.Stir in the lentils. Cover and simmer for 25 mins or until the lentils are almost tender.Return the meatballs to the pan,cover and simmer for a further ten minutes until everything is cooked and all the flavours have melded.

    Thursday, 12 September 2019

    Thou shalt not mix fish and cheese,nonna says.

     A fish-focused pasta with cheese would have many an Italian nonna rising from their graves to deliver a hefty slap on the wrist.
     If the idea of combining seafood and cheese is such a widely-accepted global phenomenon, why is the concept so distasteful to so many Italian home cooks? And, hey, let’s not just point fingers at Italians here. A lot of people all over the world have adopted this notion, if for no other reason than that they’ve heard it from their mothers.
     Italian culinary doctrine – a constitution held up by Italian home matriarchs where infractions can be punishable by no supper or death – is very clear on the subject.Cheese and seafood shall not be mixed. Ever? Yet, if you stumble around France long enough you’re bound to find someone who prepares mussels in an earthy blue cheese broth spiked with white wine and garlic. In Chile, you’ll find both millennials and retirees ordering plates of Machas à La Parmesana, clams baked in wine, butter, and a mild-tasting Chilean version of Parmesan. And who can forget social gatherings in the nineties where no party was without oyster dip packed with enough cream cheese to send a marathon runner into cardiac arrest?
    When it comes to eating seafood, people seem to have a lot of stigmas: they won't eat fish with red wine, they won't eat it raw, or they won't eat it at all. They don't like the texture --- it's too rubbery -- or they don't like the smell -- it's too fishy!
    Fish and cheese is a no-no, right? Wrong. Seafood can absolutely be eaten with cheese -- in fact, you might be surprised how often the pairing comes ups.
    So how come two great Italian incarnations sneaked  through? Caesar salad brings together anchovies and parmesan cheese, and many many pizzas are topped with anchovies, smoked salmon, sometimes tuna and customary mozzarella.I even unearthed a pizza pescatore which incorporated prawns, squid,and mussels along with mozzarella in the topping.
    Parmesan is essential to any risotto regardless of seafood.I also very often stir through mascarpone at the end of cooking.
     A creamy, buttery  seafood mornay would be unthinkable without the inclusion of a cheesy bechamel made with gruyére, emmenthal or any other Swiss cheese.
     There's no official legislation outlawing the presence of fish and cheese on the same plate, but for many Italians — and those of us who would wish to remain in their gastronomic good graces — there is no greater offence. To finish a fish-focused pasta with cheese in the sauce would have many an Italian nonna rising from their graves to deliver a hefty slap on the wrist.Don’t ever disrespect tradition.Nonna knows best. She learned the recipes from her nonna, who learned from her nonna, who learned from her nonna and so on and so forth.
     So where did this commandment originate?
    As always,rules are there to be broken. No one is saying that you shouldn’t pair fish and cheese. Rather,we should become enthusiastic advocates for smartly coupling seafood and dairy, and in the hands of a skilled chef, recipes combining the two can raise the roof, elevating both ingredients to new heights. When used correctly, cheese can enhance the flavours of many seafood dishes.It seems old customs like this are falling by the wayside as chefs have become more creative with the blending of flavours.
    Don’t believe the stigma- fish and cheese can go together quite well.I for one would like to destroy this stigma once and for all:I feel a Cod and Prawn Lasagne with Ricotta and Mozzarella  coming on.Delicious bubbling layers of fish sauce pasta sheets and creamy spinach filling.
    Recipe from Ocado Life magazine
    Cod and Prawn Lasagne with Ricotta and Mozzarella

    250g lasagne sheets
    690g passata 
    400g skinless cod fillet, cut into bite-sized chunks
    350g large prawns, halved
    450g spinach
    250g ricotta
    200g mozzarella
    30g parmesan, finely grated
    1 onion, finely chopped
    2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
    2 tbsp olive oil
    1 pinch ground nutmeg
    1 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped - or 1/2 tbsp dried.

    Preheat oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6. Heat the oil in a saucepan, add the onion and garlic and cook for 10 mins, until soft.
    Meanwhile, wash the spinach and wilt in a saucepan – press out excess water in a colander afterwards.
    Finely chop the spinach and place in a bowl with the ricotta and nutmeg, mix well and season to taste.
    Add the oregano to the softened onions, cooking briefly before pouring in the passata. Simmer for 10 mins, until thickened, season and mix in the fish and prawns.
    Place a layer of lasagne sheets in a large baking dish (about 34 x 24cm), and top with half the fish sauce.
    Cover with lasagne, then all of the spinach mixture and another layer of lasagne.
    Top with the rest of the fish and a final layer of pasta. Tear and scatter the mozzarella over the top with the parmesan.
    Bake for 30-35 mins, until the top is golden, and serve with a green side salad.

    Thursday, 5 September 2019

    "not a tomato and egg sandwich"

    an ode to late summer tomatoes
    There is something magical about mayonnaise....when you look at the ingredients before making it:egg yolks,olive oil,lemon juice or wine vinegar,salt and pepper...a little dijon mustard and out of that amalgamation comes on of the greatest cold sauces ever, a flavour without which summer would be incomplete. Purists claim that true mayonnaise must be made by hand in a stone mortar with a wooden spoon.This is time consuming and the mayonnaise is prone to separation during the early stages.True food processor mayonnaise is a poor imitation of the real thing, but mayonnaise made using a hand-held electric whisk or a food mixer is excellent, and I would challenge anybody to tell the difference between one made in minutes using a whisk and one made by hand.I accept that,given the time,there is an almost sensuous pleasure to be had from making mayonnaise the old-fashioned way.It is an elemental process which is deeply satisfying. However I have never had that half an hour needed to indulge myself in this way.
    More often than not I make a sandwich for our lunch.But in this hot weather I often feel the call for a simple salad, and sometimes when I want a break from leaf greens, this is the sort of recipe I hanker for,a nearly end of summer but not quite autumn yet dish. It is basically a deconstructed egg mayo and tomato sandwich. I call it  "not a tomato and egg sandwich".All the makings of a sandwich, but just not one.It is missing the sandwich part of the equation and so becomes a salad.Something else that differentiates this tomato salad from all the others  I make is that there is absolutely no olive oil being drizzled. Just big dollops of luscious home made mayonnaise. This salad is all about the  unique texture and taste sensation that happens when you combine tomatoes and egg with home made mayonnaise. Just boil some eggs for six minutes, slice the tomatoes in thick slices, and spoon on dollops of home made mayonnaise.Just to show it was a deconstructed sandwich I served it with bread too.Well after all, that is what we do in Portugal. There is always bread on the table. 
     "not a tomato and egg sandwich"
    2 x medium sized eggs
    1 tsp flor de sal
    1/2 tsp ground pepper
    300 ml /1/2 pt sunflower oil
    2 heaped tsp Dijon mustard
    juice of 1 lemon
    300 ml /1/2 pt olive oil
    Separate the eggs* and put the yolks into a bowl with the salt and full speed,beat the yolks and begin adding the sunflower oil a few drops at a time, until it starts to thicken.Start to pour the oil in a thin stream until all the sunflower oil is incorporated.The mixture will now be very thick,so beat in the mustard and half the lemon juice before adding the olive oil.if it is still too thick,add the rest of the lemon juice and some boiled water, a tablespoon at a time.When you have incorporated all the oil,taste and add more salt and pepper if needed The final mayonnaise should have a dropping consistency.
    *for a less rich mayonnaise do not separate the eggs and use the whites also

    Monday, 2 September 2019

    Dealing with the "F" word

    Food in your salad drawer freezing? 
    Waste no want not, make freezer burn summer soup.
    Can you believe it? I’ve been cursed with freezer burn again.  And it’s all the fault of my stupid fridge instead of my stupid self.You see, we have one of those refrigerators with the freezer on the bottom*, that were tout la rage about 10 years ago.You know … the kind you have to press your face onto the kitchen floor to get the ice cube tray out of.  Yes …. one of those.Well the other problem with having the freezer directly below the fridge is that everything in the salad drawer tends to freeze very easily and without warning.We've all had the misfortune of opening the fridge to find our precious Cos lettuce that we drove all the way to Spain to purchase has been frozen. It could be fruit, vegetables, meat, or even dairy,accidental fridge freezing is not disastrous,but very very annoying.  
    I am sure you have heard rumours that once vegetables are freezer burned they are no good and should be thrown out. This is not true. While they may look and taste a little “different”,the FSIS (food safety and inspection site) states that freezer burned vegetables are not dangerous. So, all is not lost! Here is one way to save your freezer burnt salad and eliminate food waste in your kitchen. Using freezer burned vegetables is just like using any frozen vegetables. 
    Why is this little oxymoronic food term important? Many of us are eating fresh, sustainable food these days and such foods do not have the shelf life of processed foods. This means that we all need to know how to store “real food” (as opposed to processed food) to retain maximum flavour, texture, and all of those important nutrients. Storage know-how is especially apropos this time of year, when fresh produce is so bountiful that you might be wondering, what the heck do I do with all of these um vegetables?

    Freezer burn summer soup
    12 oz (350 g) potatoes, peeled and finely diced
    4 or 5 spring onions, finely chopped (including the green parts)
    1 small lettuce (approx 8 oz, 225 g in weight),, washed, patted dry and shredded
    ½ medium cucumber, chopped (no need to peel) 
    6 oz (175 g) frozen peas
    3 oz (75 g) butter
    1½ pints (850 ml)chicken or vegetable stock
    Approx. 2 tablespoons single cream (optional)
    snipped fresh chives, to garnish
    salt and freshly milled black pepper

    First of all, in a medium saucepan, melt the butter gently, then add the potatoes, spring onions, lettuce and cucumber.Stir everything round in the butter then, keeping the heat very low, put a lid on and let everything sweat for 10 minutes. Now pour in the stock, stir, add some salt and freshly milled black pepper and bring to the boil.Add the frozen peas, then reduce the heat to low, put the lid on and let it simmer gently for another 20 minutes.
    Leave the soup to cool a little, then puree the whole lot in a blender. If you need to do this in two batches, it is helpful to have a bowl to hand to put the first batch in.Transfer to a bowl and leave in the refrigerator until completely chilled. Just before serving stir through the cream,if using, until blended.
    Garnish with the freshly snipped chives stirred in at the last moment or sprinkle a few into each bowl.
    *Refrigerators with top freezers use 10 to 25 percent less energy than ones with bottom freezers.
    A top-freezer is the traditional option. It’s also the cheaper option and the more energy-efficient option. The main drawback? It won’t win you any design awards and you’ll have to face the risk of a shower of ice cubes tumbling out and hitting you in the face as you stretch up toopen the ice compartment

    Sunday, 1 September 2019

    Under wraps,wrap party

    Homemade Fresh Summer Rolls with Easy Peasy Peanut Dipping Sauce
    I think that Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls are one of those things that people love but always assume are just too fiddly or too hard to make. To dispel that myth, let me tell you – I am not into fiddly. That’s why you’ll never see fancy decorated cakes on this blog. I simply don’t have the patience or co-ordination for fiddly dishes – sweet or savoury. Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls are packed with bright, fresh flavours and served with an insanely addictive Vietnamese Peanut Dipping Sauce that takes a minute to make. So let's keep this one under wraps until we've practiced and perfected it sufficiently. These spring rolls are a refreshing change from the usual fried variety. They are great as a cool summertime appetizer, and are delicious dipped in one or both of the sauces. Even the hardest of hard-core carnivores devour these as enthusiastically as they would a rack of ribs.They truly are that good.Vietnamese food is my idea of the ultimate “accidentally healthy” food.There are a handful of deep fried recipes,but generally, most Vietnamese dishes are really fresh, full of bright flavours, pretty colours and loaded with herbs and salads, with just a bit of protein. Dressings and sauces are refreshingly light and devoid of oil, unlike basically every Western dressing.
    Oh! And before I forget – THE PEANUT SAUCE! This peanut sauce is essential!! This is a Vietnamese Peanut Dipping Sauce. The 2 key ingredients are peanut butter and hoisin sauce which is thinned out with either milk or water (I used milk for colour, using water, the sauce is darker).
    Why not try filling them with plump, sweet prawns, avocado and a sprig of purple basil and slithers of fresh mango. Vary the filling combinations according to what’s seasonal or to your personal preferences.These wraps also make ideal summer canapés
    7 - 14 sheets of 22cm/8.5" round rice paper 
    2 cooked chicken breasts,skinned and shredded
    2 cups finely shredded chinese cabbage
    1 cup grated carrot
    172 cup freshly chopped mint leaves
    fresh coriander leaves
    crispy fried shallots
    dry roasted peanuts

    2 fresh chillies,seeded and finely chopped
    2 tbsp brown sugar
    1 tbsp rice vinegar
    3 tbsp fresh lime juice
    3 tbsp nam pla ,fish sauce
    3 tbsp sunflower oil
    2 spring onions finely sliced

    Vietnamese Peanut Dipping Sauce
    1 tbsp peanut butter, preferably smooth (crunchy is ok too)
    2 tbsp Hoisin Sauce
    1 1/2 tbsp white vinegar (or lime juice)
    1/3 cup milk (any fat %) (or water) 1 garlic clove, minced
    1/2 tsp crushed chilli, samba oelak or other chilli paste, adjust to taste (optional)

    ORIGINAL PEANUT DIPPING SAUCE: The one I have provided in the recipe is more authentic and akin to what you get at Vietnamese restaurants .But here is the original one.

    ½ cup smooth peanut butter
    1 tbsp sugar
    4 tbsp hoisin sauce
    1 tbsp sweet soy sauce (ketjap manis, it's thick like syrup)
    2 small garlic cloves (or 1 large), minced
    1 birds eye chilli, finely chopped
    1 tbsp sesame oil
    2 tbsp lime juice

    Combine the Peanut Dipping Sauce ingredientsin a saucepan Mix  until smooth. Set aside to cool. Adjust sour with vinegar, salt with salt and spiciness to taste. Thickness can be adjusted with milk or water once cooled.
    Fill a large bowl with warm water. The bowl doesn't need to be large enough to fit the whole rice paper in one go.
    Place rice papers one at a time into the warm water. Note which side is the smooth side - this is supposed to be the outside of the spring roll. Submerge the rice paper into the water for 2 seconds. If your bowl isn't large enough to fit the whole rice paper in one go, that's fine, just rotate it and count 2 seconds for each section you submerge into the water.
    On the top part of the rice paper, place a spoonful of the filling as you would make a tortilla wrap
    Fold the left and right edges of the rice paper in, then starting from the bottom, roll up very tightly. Then keep rolling firmly. The rice paper is sticky, it will seal itself.
    Serve immediately with the peanut dipping sauce.

    Milk doesn't add flavour to the sauce, it just makes it a lighter colour so you know it's a peanut sauce. This is the colour of the sauce at most Vietnamese restaurants. So you can use water if you prefer, but the sauce will be a darker brown.
    The secret to success here is not to leave the wrappers in the water bath too long, they will continue to soften after you have dipped them in the water.

    STORAGE: Some recipes will tell you that you can make rice paper rolls the day before and you can keep them moist with a damp paper towel. Firstly, I find that the rice paper rolls smelt of towel and secondly, they didn't hold up well at all. My rule of thumb is 6 hours (max 8) - you can make them up to 6 hours ahead, tightly wrap each one in cling wrap as soon as you make them and refrigerate. Don't just put them on a plate and put cling wrap on the plate, you should roll up each on in cling wrap (you should be able to fit 2 per piece of cling wrap - wrap one first, then place another next to it and roll up with the remaining cling wrap).