February 2009


welsh-teabread-on-a-plate

I have never before posted two sweet recipes back to back on this blog. However, I had already prepared Welsh teabread and had planned to write about it next week, when I realised that 1st March is St David’s Day – Wales’ patron saint’s day. So I decided to swap my schedule around and put up this post this week, in case any of you are looking for traditional Welsh recipes for the weekend.

This is a simple and straightforward take on the famous Welsh teabread known as ‘bara brith’ – which simply means ‘speckled bread’. There are many versions, some made with yeast. Sweet, warm pudding spices, candied peel, and chopped nuts are often added; and sometimes the top of the bread is covered with crushed sugar cubes before baking. However, I prefer this unfussy version. In this unyeasted form, the bread will keep longer than yeasted loaf.

Variations of this bread are found all over Britain. In Scotland, you’ll find Selkirk bannock, and in Ireland, the barm brack – both are similar.

This recipe is easy to make even if you are unaccustomed to baking. If it sinks a little or there are cracks on top, it doesn’t matter – just make sure that the bread isn’t too hard, which is the only important bit.

Butter generously and eat with a pot of tea on a leisurely weekend afternoon. Accompany with plum jam or orange marmalade if you like. Makes one 2lb/ 1 kilo loaf.

6 oz/ 150g currants
6 oz/ 150g sultanas
8 oz/ 200g light muscovado sugar
10 fl oz/ 300 ml strong black tea, freshly made
A little softened butter, for greasing
10 oz/ 250g white self-raising flour
1 medium egg, beaten

1.    Start the preparations the night before, or a few hours in advance. Place the dried fruit and sugar in a bowl, pour over the hot tea, and leave overnight or for several hours.
2.    When you are ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 150C/ 300F/ gas mark 2.
3.    Lightly grease a 2 lb/ 1 kilo loaf tin. Line the base and the sides with lightly greased greaseproof paper.
4.    Add the flour and egg to the fruit and tea mixture. Mix thoroughly.
5.    Place the mixture into the prepared loaf tin, and level the surface.
6.    Bake in the pre-heated oven for 1 hour 30 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes until well-risen and firm to the touch. A skewer or knife inserted into the centre should come out clean. If not, place the loaf back in the oven a little while longer, making sure not to overcook.
7.    Allow to cool in the tin for 10 – 15 minutes. Then turn out on a wire rack and cool completely.
8.    Slice and spread with butter (and preserves, if you like) before eating.

fried-date-cakes

If you like sweet, sticky Middle Eastern sweets but don’t want to spend too long in the kitchen preparing them, you’ll enjoy these quick and easy pan-fried date cakes. The flavour is reminiscent of the sweetmeats found in Lebanon and Morocco.

If you are vegan, substitute butter with light, unflavoured oil like sunflower, omit the honey and add a splash of orange juice with a little finely grated orange rind instead.

Add orange flower water only if you have it on hand: no need to buy it especially for this recipe, which will taste good without it anyway. Serves 4.

6 oz/ 150g plump, juicy, smooth-skinned dried dates
4 oz/ 100g whole almonds
4 oz/ 100g plain white flour
1 tablespoon orange blossom honey (or other honey)
2 teaspoons orange flower water (optional)
3 oz/ 75g butter, melted, plus more for greasing
1 oz/ 25g sesame seeds

To serve:
Plain yoghurt, double cream or vanilla ice cream
Honey

1.    Remove the stones from the dates. You should be left with approx 4 oz/ 100g date pulp.
2.    In a food processor, pulverise the almonds until they are coarsely crushed but still retain some texture. Add in the dates, and whizz again.
3.    Add flour, honey, orange flower water if using, and about half of the melted butter and whizz once more. Make sure everything is mixed thoroughly, but do not overprocess as the little cakes will lose their texture.
4.    With lightly greased palms, shape the date mixture into medium-sized patties. You should have around 10 to 12.
5.    Spread the sesame seeds on to a plate, and roll the patties in them until they are evenly coated.
6.    Heat the remaining butter in a non-stick frying pan. Fry the patties for 2 or 3 minutes on each side until lightly golden. Drain on kitchen paper.
7.    Serve hot with yoghurt, cream or ice cream, and a drizzle of honey. Some sliced fresh or grilled bananas (or grilled oranges) would also go well with these cakes.

socca

In the UK, 24th February 2009 is Shrove Tuesday or ‘Pancake Day’. Is it celebrated in your country? What sort of pancake will you be eating? Well, here it’s becoming increasingly popular – and commercialised. There are several fun pancake races in the morning, and many restaurants offer pancake menus. Speciality pancake restaurants – which are increasing in number – also hold pancake making demonstrations and competitions.

Pancakes are one of those foods that are found in some form or other in all countries and cultures. I’m sure you are familiar with the usual egg and flour versions, so I’m giving a recipe for socca – the legendary thin, crepe-like chickpea flour pancake from Nice. It happens to be vegan, probably gluten-free (though I don’t know for sure, so it’s best to check with a medical advisor if you have a gluten allergy), and baked in the oven rather than cooked on the stove top.

There are countless versions of socca all over Italy, India, and other parts of the world, too. So chickpea flour is available in large supermarkets, Indian stores, and Italian and French delicatessens.

In Nice, socca is eaten as a fast food snack wrapped in a newspaper – much like fish and chips in Britain, except that it is much healthier. My recipe is for a plain pancake, but you can add finely chopped fresh herbs (particularly a little rosemary) if you wish.

Socca is packed with protein, and makes excellent accompaniment to ratatouille, lightly braised vegetables such as fennel and chicory, and delicate stews made from haricot and flageolet beans. Or it can be eaten on its own with a hot or cold drink as a snack. Serves 4 as snack or accompaniment.

5 oz/ 125g chickpea flour (garbanzo flour)
8 fl oz/ 200 ml water
½ teaspoon salt (or to taste)
4 tablespoons virgin olive oil (Provencal, if you have it)

To serve:
Coarsely ground rock salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1.    Pre-heat the oven to 220 C/ 425 F/ gas mark 7.
2.    Place the chickpea flour in a bowl and make a well in the centre. Add water, and whisk the flour and water together until well amalgamated.
3.    Add salt and 2 tablespoon of the olive oil. Mix thoroughly. If necessary, strain through a fine mesh sieve to remove any lumps, pressing down firmly on the mixture. (Alternatively, steps 2 and 3 can be followed using an electric hand blender to make the task easier). You should be left with smooth, thin chickpea flour batter.
4.    Swirl the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy, non-stick round baking pan or gratin dish. Heat the oiled dish in the pre-heated oven for 5 minutes.
5.    Then remove the dish from the oven, and pour in the batter evenly, taking care not to splatter in the hot oil. Bake the pancake for about 10 minutes. Do not overcook. Meanwhile, pre-heat the grill (broiler) on medium heat.
6.    Remove the pancake from the oven, and place under the grill until the surface is dotted with a few brown spots.
7.    Remove from the grill, and let the pancake cool in its pan for a couple of minutes. Cut into wedges, and sprinkle with coarsely ground salt and black pepper. Serve hot.

pickled-black-beans-with-rice

This is the traditional Peruvian dish, frijoles negros escabechados: spiced black beans marinated in red wine vinegar. The black beans to use here are black turtle beans. Chinese black soy beans, Japanese black aduki beans, or Indian black urad beans are not really suitable for this recipe.

Black turtle beans have only been available in the UK for the past few years and, sadly, they are under-utilised. This is a shame because they have a sweet, floury earthiness that makes them very versatile.

I don’t normally like the combination of sweet and sour flavours, but I really enjoy the sweet, tart and deeply savoury tastes in this recipe. So much so that I always try to sneak this dish into the menu whenever I’m cooking Latin American food.

Serve the beans at room temperature with plain, steamed white rice, as Peruvians do. Alternatively, they are excellent as a salad or side dish, served on a bed of shredded lettuce and accompanied by avocado slices. Serves 4 to 6.

6 oz/ 150g black turtle beans, soaked overnight, or for several hours
4 oz/ 100g raisins
¼ pint/ 150 ml red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons corn oil
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon red chilli flakes (or to taste)
2 large onions, trimmed, peeled and finely sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
Salt and pepper
4 oz/ 100g pitted black olives
2 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and quartered

To serve:
Cooked white long-grain rice

OR

Shredded lettuce
Avocado slices

1.    Drain and rinse the soaked beans. Cover them with fresh water, bring to the boil, and cook vigorously for 10 minutes. Drain and rinse again thoroughly to remove any toxins. (It is believed that some varieties of beans contain toxins, so this procedure is recommended when cooking black turtle beans). Cover with more fresh water, bring to the boil, and cook for an hour or so until the beans are tender. Now drain the cooked beans and set aside.
2.    Meanwhile, soak the raisins in the vinegar.
3.    Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the cumin seeds and chilli flakes, and let them sizzle for a few seconds until they are a shade or two darker.
4.    Add the onions, and fry until lightly tinged with golden brown colour.
5.    Add the garlic and raisins (leave the vinegar aside) and sauté for a few minutes.
6.    Add the cooked beans and seasoning, and mix well.
7.    Pour in the vinegar in which the raisins have soaked. Add some water if necessary. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes. The dish should be fairly moist – neither dry, nor too sauced. Adjust the seasoning.
8.    Garnish with black olives and hard-boiled eggs. Serve at room temperature.

passionfruit-muffins

These American-style muffins are quick and easy to make, and infused with a distinct tropical fragrance: the sweet, sharp, and hauntingly elusive tanginess of passion fruit will instantly transport you to a far-off island. They are ideal for breakfast for the day after Valentine’s Day…

You can make the muffins more elaborate by adding a splash of orange juice, a little finely grated orange zest, and a pinch of freshly ground allspice berries. You can ice them, too, with fresh orange or passion fruit flavoured icing if you like. I prefer them plain, however, accompanied by tropical preserves, and extra passion fruit pulp squeezed over the top.

I have suggested you remove the seeds from the fruit because I personally don’t like the crunch of the seeds in this recipe – but you can leave them in if you wish. Makes 12 muffins.

6 passion fruits
2 oz/ 50g softened butter, plus extra for greasing
10 oz/ 250g plain white flour, sifted
1 heaped tablespoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 heaped tablespoon sugar
8 fl oz/ 250 ml milk
1 egg, lightly beaten

1.    Pre-heat the oven to 220C/ 425F/ gas mark 7. Thoroughly grease 12 large paper muffin cups.
2.    Halve the passion fruits. Scoop out the pulp, and put through a fine mesh sieve, pressing it down firmly with the back of a spoon. You should be left with only pulp and juice. Discard the seeds.
3.    In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar, and mix well.
4.    In another bowl, mix together the passion fruit pulp with milk and egg.
5.    Tip the liquid ingredients into the dry ones. Mix everything together quickly with a light hand, just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Do not beat the mixture.
6.    Divide the mixture between the greased muffin cups, and place each in a 12-cup muffin tray. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until they are well-risen, and a skewer inserted into the centre of a muffin comes out clean.
7.    Remove the muffins from the tray, and leave them (in their paper cups) on a wire rack for 2 or 3 minutes to cool.
8.    Serve warm or cold with butter and preserves (particularly Jamaican guava jam, if you can find it, or pineapple or papaya jam). Fromage frais, or thick creamy yoghurt with extra passion fruit pulp poured over it, goes well with the muffins, too.

spiced-tomato-vodka-jelly

I was so keen to give you a pretty, passion-coloured Valentine’s Day recipe that I decided to ignore the fact that it’s too cold in the UK to eat jelly, and that tomatoes are out of season.

This recipe is influenced by English and French cuisines – and cocktails – and feature East European and American ingredients, too. So it’s a truly fusion affair.

You can buy vegetarian gelatine from most supermarkets; and vegetarian Worcester sauce (without anchovies) is available in health food shops or vegetarian stores. Select a brand of horseradish sauce that’s little more than grated horseradish with cream, if you can – no mean feat, as most are packed with mayonnaise, additives and too much sugar.

I won’t bore you with clichés about how this recipe might spice up your love life, but it will certainly provide an interesting start to your evening. Whether or not you serve it on Valentine’s Day. Serves 2 generously as appetiser.

14 fl oz/ 400 ml tomato juice
1 teaspoon vegetarian gelatine (such as Vege-Gel)
2 scant tablespoons fresh lemon juice
6 tablespoons vodka
2 teaspoons vegetarian Worcester sauce
½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons very finely chopped red onion
2 tablespoons very finely chopped celery
2 tablespoons very finely chopped green pepper (bell pepper or capsicum)
1 tablespoon horseradish sauce
3 tablespoons single cream

Optional garnish (one or more of):
A little extra finely chopped red onion and celery
Fresh parsley
Watercress
Lettuce or lamb’s lettuce

1. Place the tomato juice in a saucepan, add the vegetarian gelatine, and stir until it has dissolved.
2. Then put the saucepan on low heat and gently bring the tomato juice to the boil.
3. Once it has reached the boiling point, remove from the heat immediately. Add the lemon juice, vodka, Worcester sauce, Tabasco, and seasoning. Stir the mixture thoroughly.
4. Place the chopped vegetables evenly in a heart shaped mould (or divide between two bowls or glasses).
5. Pour the tomato jelly on top and leave to set for 30 minutes. Leave the jelly in a cool place, but do not refrigerate.
6. When you are ready to serve, carefully unmould the jelly (if it has been set in a mould). Just before serving, mix the horseradish sauce with cream, and swirl some on top of the jelly. Garnish with extra onion and celery, if you like, and/ or fresh parsley. You can also serve the jelly on a platter lined with watercress or salad leaves, if you wish.

veg-cocido

This is my inauthentic vegetarian version of cocido, the classic soup-stew from Madrid. Cocido is one of Spain’s national dishes – old-fashioned fare that harks back to medieval times, with origins in a Sephardic Jewish recipe. It is made with a range of meats and sausages, combined with chickpeas and vegetables; and each region has its own variation. A Spanish person would argue at length as to what constitutes real cocido.

Traditionally, cocido is served elaborately in two or three courses. First, the broth is separated and cooked with rice or vermicelli and served as a light soup. Next, the chickpeas and vegetables are served separately; and finally, the meat is eaten on its own. The soup used to be ubiquitous in Spain, but nowadays is served mainly on special occasions. In Madrid, it is often sold in restaurants on Tuesdays – though I have not been able to find out the significance of this tradition.

I have retained the authentic combination of vegetables, but the herbs and spices are my own touch. They give the soup a bright, sprightly flavour. (If you want a denser, meatier flavour, omit the saffron and mint, and add a couple of cooked, sliced vegetarian sausages along with a little bit of smoked paprika. If you go down this ‘meaty flavour’ route, serve the soup with cornichons and pickled vegetables).

The cooking technique is somewhat unusual in that everything is boiled together, with olive oil added only at the end for a rich mouthfeel (rather than frying the vegetables in oil first, as is the case with many recipes). Many soups around Europe use this technique.

Cocido is a meal by itself, but you may serve it with Spanish bread, garlic bread, or any other bread of your choice. Serves 4.

350g/ 14 oz chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
4 pints/ 2 litres water
4 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
1 large onion, peeled, trimmed and sliced
1 large leek, trimmed and thickly sliced
1 large potato, peeled and chunkily diced
1 large carrot, trimmed, peeled and chunkily diced
2 small turnips, trimmed, peeled and quartered
1 very small cabbage, trimmed and cut into 4 or 8 wedges
2 oz/ 50g green string beans, trimmed and halved
1 level tablespoon sweet paprika
¼ teaspoon Spanish saffron, crushed in a mortar and soaked in a tablespoon of water
Bouquet garni made by tying together several sprigs of fresh parsley, thyme and bay leaves inside a piece of muslin (cheesecloth)
2 tablespoons virgin olive oil (Spanish, if you have it)
Salt and pepper
4 oz/ 100g fine vermicelli, lightly broken if preferred
A few fresh parsley and mint leaves to garnish
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling (optional)

1.    Soak the chickpeas overnight, or for several hours. When you’re ready to cook, rinse and drain the chickpeas.
2.    In a large soup pot, cover the chickpeas with the water, and boil them for an hour or so until tender.
3.    Add all the vegetables to the saucepan, including garlic and onions. Bring to the boil, lower the heat, and add paprika, saffron, bouquet garni, olive oil, and seasoning. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes or so until all the vegetables are tender.
4.    Towards the end of the cooking time, add vermicelli and cook, uncovered, for the length of time stated on the packet instructions (usually between 2 to 5 minutes).
5.    Add more stock if you wish.  Adjust the seasoning to taste. Remove the bouquet garni.
6.    Ladle the soup into individual bowls. Garnish with parsley and mint leaves, and pass around the extra olive oil for drizzling on top.

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