16 November 2010

Simple (and delicious!) Cannellini Bean Dip

I was walking down the hall at the office today with my flatmate.  I thought I'd be fun and silly and try to ride her bike down the corridor (we are both annoying eco-friendly cyclists).  Her legs are much longer than mine, and I totally crashed her too-big-for-me bike after a distance of about 1 foot, at a speed of about 5 metres-per-hour.  Fortunately, it was after hours and no one saw me viciously attack a doorknob all slow-motion-like with the soft part of my arm, which nearly instantaneously bruised to holy heck.  It was the slowest bicycle crash in the history of bike riding.  Fact.

There's no point to that story other than communicating how silly and uncoordinated I feel lately (whereas usually I am the perfect picture of ladylike gentility).  Okok, maybe that's not exactly true.

Anyway, this is the one thing I haven't screwed up in the last few days, which means it must be dead easy.  And (bonus!) if you serve it to someone, they will probably think you're elegant, even if you feel clumsy like me.

Cannellini Bean Dip

~450g (16oz) cooked cannellini beans, drained & rinsed
~60ml (1/4 cup) olive oil
1 clove crushed garlic
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt, to taste
1/4 tea (or less if you prefer) cayenne
pinch ground nutmeg
few sprigs chopped coriander leaves (cilantro)

Place beans, oil, garlic, lemon juice, salt, nutmeg & cayenne in food processor - or do as I do and use an immersion blender because I'm too cheap to buy a food processor.  Whir until smooth.  Mix in coriander with a spoon.

Serve warm in a bowl drizzled with some extra olive oil & sprinkle some cayenne or paprika over the top.  The end.

10 November 2010

Chilli-Roasted Butternut Squash & Lentil Salad with Feta & Lime

Ladies and Gentlemen, repeat after me:

"I will never make butternut squash soup again."

Trust me, guys.

Now, I've made my share of curried butternut squash soup.  It's alright.  I sometimes make it extra-spicy.  People like this.  I like it, too... but this is better.  Any time I puree a butternut squash soup, I am inevitably reminded of something I've spooned into the mouth of a miniature human.

But, I'm a grown-up.  I am normal-sized and have teeth.  I decided to start demanding more from my butternut squash.

I've seen some people doing really pretty things with butternut squash these days.  They've inspired me.  This is one of the more colourful and flavourful dishes I've prepared in quite a while, and I'll be returning to this recipe for years to come.  Never again will I make butternut squash soup.

Chilli-Roasted Butternut Squash & Lentil Salad with Feta & Lime

Half of a butternut squash, peeled, seeded & cubed - reserve seeds
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon chilli powder (or cayenne)
1/4 cup (dry) french green lentils
handful of slivered almonds
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
50g feta, in 1-cm cubes
juice of 1/2 lime

Wash & pat dry seeds from butternut squash.  Spread onto an oiled baking sheet (I used sunflower oil for its neutral flavour) and sprinkle on some salt.  Roast at 200C (400F) until browned, mixing as needed.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, toss butternut squash with 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and cayenne. When seeds are finished, reuse the baking sheet for the squash.  Roast in a single layer at 200C (400F) until beginning to brown.  Remove from oven and mix around on baking sheet, then return to oven for an additional 10 minutes or so, until completely cooked and nicely browning.  Set aside to cool in a large bowl (where you will mix your salad).

While squash is roasting, bring a pot of water to the boil and add lentils.  Simmer 20-30 minutes, until lentils are fully cooked but still have a little pop to them when bitten.  Set aside.

Toast almonds over medium heat in a dry skillet, add to squash in large bowl.  Once everything has cooled enough that it won't melt the feta, add lentils, chilli, feta & lime juice.  Gently toss together and serve sprinkled with toasted seeds.

Serves 2 as a main or 4 as a side dish.

07 November 2010

Israeli Mejadra

I have a food crush on Yotam Ottolenghi.

It's kind of the same as the science crush I have on Ben Goldacre.

If I were to meet either one of them, I'd go all soft and giggly and hang on their every word.  I'd gaze at them with admiration.  I'd try to say something witty and charming and intelligent, but come off as a weird girl with boundary issues (as per usual when I have a normal, run-of-the-mill love crush).

So it looks like I've just spilled the beans on myself.  I was never any good at hiding my feelings.

But that's not the point of this.  Ottolenghi.  Food hero.

A recent trip to London left me not caring so much for London.  Overpriced drinks and "style bars" are definitely not my thing, and I had one of the most disappointing meals of my life at an "Italian" restaurant near Leicester Square.  I wish I could remember the name of it, so I could tell everyone in the world to stay far away, but even google maps doesn't recognise it as a restaurant (which should tell you something, indeed).

The saviour of my trip was Yotam Ottolenghi, whose stellar reputation is well-deserved.  I've been tuned into his column at the Guardian for some time now, and my friend and travelling companion humoured me with a late morning trip to the Kensington location of his eponymous bakery/deli, Ottolenghi.  It was as though I had entered the gates of heaven.  There were beautiful cakes and some salads for takeaway, and we picked up a lemon pistachio cake that made all my dreams come true.... and a bagful of other goodies to snack on during the day, including some ridiculously amazing sweet potato wedges, and a blackcurrant meringue as big as my face.  I had to hold back from the temptation to go back to the shop and promise my firstborn child in return for a full day's eating privileges (and maybe that lemon pistachio cake recipe).

Deliciousness at Ottolenghi, Kensington

So, Yotam Ottolenghi saved London in my eyes.  I vowed that I would make his recipes for ever and ever, even the ones that I wasn't so sure about.  Yotam would not lead me astray.

His mejadra recipe intrigued me, as I've never had anything like it.  The combination of spices was unlike anything I'd ever seen... like a curry, but with cinnamon and sugar?  Huh?  Still, I had faith in the power of Yotam.  I persevered.  So worth it.

I ate this as my whole meal, because I was feeling lazy.  It was a little oily, probably because I used brown rice instead of white (brown rice still has the outer layer of bran attached to the kernel, which acts as a barrier and leaves oil on the outside).  Next time I'll leave some of the oil out - ideal proportions are reflected in the adapted recipe below.  I bet it would be a great side dish for any meat (if you eat meat) or baked tofu, roasted squash or aubergine/eggplant (if you don't).


250ml sunflower oil
4 medium onions, thinly sliced
250g green or brown lentils
2 tsp ground cumin 
1½ tsp ground coriander 
200g  brown basmati rice
dash olive oil
½ tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp sugar
Salt and black pepper
greek yogurt, sour cream or crème fraîche for serving.

Heat the sunflower oil in a medium-size heavy-based saucepan. When very hot, carefully add a third of the sliced onion. Fry for five to seven minutes, stirring occasionally with a slotted spoon, until the onion takes on a nice, golden-brown colour and turns crispy. Use the spoon to transfer the onion to a colander and sprinkle with salt. Repeat with two more batches of onion.

Meanwhile, put the lentils in a small saucepan, cover with plenty of water, bring to a boil and cook for 12-15 minutes, so the lentils are almost done but still have a little bite to them. Drain into a colander.

Wipe clean the saucepan in which you fried the onion and drop in the cumin and coriander seeds. Place over a medium heat and toast the ground cumin and coriander for a minute or two, until fragrant. Add the rice, olive oil, turmeric, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar, half a teaspoon of salt and plenty of black pepper. Stir to coat the rice with oil, then add enough water to cook the rice.  Bring to a boil, cover and simmer (add water as needed).  When the rice is almost finished, add the cooked lentils and simmer for an additional 15 minutes.

Remove from heat and remove lid from the pot to allow excess water to escape.  Make sure all the water is absorbed or steamed off so the mixture is not wet.  Tip the rice and lentils into a large mixing bowl. Add half the fried onion and stir gently with a fork. Pile up in a shallow serving bowl and top with the rest of the onion.  Serve with greek yogurt, sour cream or crème fraîche.

Serves 4.

03 November 2010

Sweet & Spicy Chilli + Apple Jam

My love affair with chilli jam began a while ago.  I purchased an interesting-looking jar from my favourite deli in Liverpool, and quickly fell hard for the stuff.

The first time I had it, I smeared it inside a baguette, stuffed said baguette with brie, and toasted it in the oven.  I would never love again.

I used it sparingly, savouring every last little droplet.  Then, I ran out.

I had already moved up to Scotland, far away from my specialty foodie shop, so I considered making my own.  Then, upon finding a bunch of recipes online, each one different (and in heavily distinct ways), I gave up on that task.  Then I was wandering along the street at a local farmers' market, and I magically found some that were local and homemade.  I actually had a conversation with the guy who made them.... my hopes were high.

But when I got home, they were actually not very good.  The mixture was far too runny and not hot enough for my liking.  So I fixed them by adding more chillies and heating the mixture up in a saucepan, simmering for a while to see if the pectin just needed some activation.  Some of the extra water steamed out of it and they firmed up a bit, thus renewing my confidence.  I could, indeed, make chilli jam after all, and I didn't need 100 different recipes out there confusing me.  Turns out, I only needed three ingredients and a little bit of science knowledge.

Science fact number 1: Apples + Water + Heat = Pectin.  You need pectin for jellies and preserves.  It's in all fruits and vegetables, but it has a high concentration in apples.  This is something that the evil giants of food industry don't want you to know.  You don't need to buy Certo or jam sugar or any of that extra stuff.  You can make your own, and in the easiest way - by boiling apples in some water.  Tart, unripe apples have more pectin than sweet, ripe apples, so I tend to use Bramley (popular here in Britain) or Granny Smith.

Science fact number 2: Pectin + Sugar + Heat = Jelly.  Pectin by itself is all well and good, but it doesn't do much.  It needs sugar to firm up and make those nice, thick jellies and spreadable preserves.  Don't forget about sugar.

Chilli + Apple Jam

4 large-ish apples, any kind will do (I use Bramley or Granny Smith)
6 red chillies (2 de-seeded, chop the rest with seeds & ribs included)
150g (3/4 cup)  sugar

Roughly chop up the apples (no need to peel or core) and place in a saucepan with some water.  Simmer gently until the apples are completely cooked through, adding more water if needed.  The water will boil off when you're not looking, and it's ok to add more.  Bear in mind that you're looking for about a cup of liquid in the end - just add some more water until you have about 1 cup.

Allow the mixture to cool completely, then strain out solids using a mesh strainer or cheesecloth.  I've seen advice about not pushing down on the solids to extract more juice.  It's true that it does make the juice cloudy, but it doesn't effect the flavour at all, and you DO get about twice as much liquid.  Leave the mixture to chill in the fridge overnight (I waited about 3 days, due to laziness).  Some of the solids will have settled to the bottom - simply leave them behind when you pour the juice out into a saucepan for the next steps. At this point you should have about 1 cup of liquid.  ***

Place juice in saucepan with minced chillies and sugar.  Heat over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves.  Simmer for 15 minutes.  Test a few drops on a chilled plate to see if the jam has firmed up enough.  If so, then you're done!  Store in a glass jar in the refrigerator and cherish every spoonful.

*** Stop the presses!  What else do you want to make?  At this point, you can add whatever your heart desires to this mixture, making any kind of jam you like (like plums!).  Or, you can not add anything to it, and make yourself a simple apple jelly.