Nut dishes


Kashmiri morel mushroom pilau

Morel is the only mushroom to eat at this time of the year – but I’m surprised how little-known and difficult to obtain this fine delicacy is in the UK. You should be able to find morels in well-stocked delis, good health food shops and large supermarkets.

I love their honeycomb-patterned, tulip bud-like shape. What I love even more, however, is that Kashmiris refer to them as ‘gucchi’ – making their traditional ‘gucchi pilau’ sound like a designer rice dish. Suffused with saffron soaked in flower essence and studded with spices (all of which are available in Indian grocers, large supermarkets and specialist spice shops), it is indeed an exotic and aromatic dish.

Serve with plain yoghurt, raita, or a few spoonfuls of my Kashmiri Spiced Spring Greens – the recipe for which I posted on 25th March 2009. The pilau is also grand enough to eat all on its own. Serves 4 to 6.

12 oz/ 300g white basmati rice
3 oz/ 75g almonds
¼ teaspoon saffron strands
1 teaspoon pure screwpine essence (or 1 tablespoon rosewater, orange flower water, or jasmine flower water – they will all give their own distinct taste)
4 oz/ 100g dried or 6 oz/ 150g fresh morel mushrooms
3 oz/ 75g clarified (or unsalted) butter
4 black cardamoms, lightly crushed in their pods
6 green cardamoms, lightly crushed in their pods
3-inch piece cinnamon, broken into 2 or 3 pieces
6 cloves
3 dried bay leaves
A small pinch of asafoetida
1 teaspoon dried ginger powder
Salt
1 ¼ pint/ ¾ litres cold water
1 teaspoon garam masala
Fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves

1.    Wash the rice in several changes of cold water until the water runs clear. Soak the rice in just enough water to cover it, and set aside.
2.    Steep the almonds in boiling water from a kettle for 10 – 15 minutes. Drain, cool a little, remove the skins from the almonds and slice them vertically.
3.    Crush the saffron strands in a mortar, and soak in 1 teaspoon flower essence or 1 tablespoon flower water, as available. Set aside.
4.    Wipe the mushrooms with a damp cloth, but do not wash as they will lose their flavour. Halve them lengthways.
5.    Heat the butter in a wide heavy-bottomed saucepan, taking care not to burn it. Add the whole spices and bay leaves. Stir for a few minutes until they turn a shade darker and start to perfume your kitchen.
6.    Add the asafoetida and let it sizzle for just a few seconds.
7.    Add the prepared mushrooms and almonds, and sauté for a couple of minutes until the nuts begin to brown.
8.    Drain the rice thoroughly and add it to the mushroom mixture. Sauté for a few minutes until the grains of rice become shiny.
9.    Add the powdered ginger, the saffron mixture, and salt. Add the cold water and bring the rice to the boil. Then lower the heat, cover with a lid, and let it cook undisturbed for 20 minutes.
10.    Check to see whether the rice is cooked by pressing a couple of grains between your fingers. Remove from heat and set aside, keeping the lid on. Do not disturb the rice.
11.    Sprinkle the rice with garam masala and coriander leaves. Remove the whole spices before serving, or allow your guests to fish them out individually on their own plates.

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thai-lettuce-wraps-with-tofu-and-pineapple

According to Thai culinary philosophy, every Thai dish should be a perfect balance of savoury, sweet, sour and hot – and if any single flavour dominates, then the dish is all wrong. Well, actually I’m putting it simplistically. Thai gourmets would judge each dish in terms of the first flavour that hits the tastebuds, the second flavour and the third flavour – and how harmoniously all three work together. So I guess you’d need to know what a traditional dish is supposed to taste like in the first place before you could judge. You’d also need a finely tuned, razor sharp, educated palate – and, if you don’t already have it, the good news is that it can be developed.

All this goes to show how complex a language food is: learning to cook a few dishes from a country is akin to knowing just a few words of a foreign language, and it is only by immersing yourself in a country’s culinary heritage with an open mind and a spirit of adventure that you will learn the full vocabulary. Be respectful of different cuisines, become curious, ask questions, read up, and prepare to experiment with new ingredients, flavour palettes, and cooking techniques. Cookery is, in other words, a journey rather than a destination – and like all good journeys, along the way you will learn a lot about yourself.

This lovely, summery recipe has bland, meaty tofu pieces taking on the sweetness of palm sugar along with the savouriness of soy sauce, sharpened by a background of chilli heat, refreshed by the sour, tangy, fruity overtones of lime, lemongrass and pineapple. Cashewnuts provide the necessary crunch, and the entire dish is perked up by the effusive liveliness of fresh green herbs.

Serve these light flavour bombs as appetiser or snack, or hand them around to your guests while they’re building up their appetites before a barbecue. Serves 4.

1 iceberg lettuce with unblemished leaves
12 oz/ 300g firm tofu
4 oz/ 100g cashewnuts
4 pink shallots, trimmed, peeled and halved
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 large stalk lemongrass, trimmed
1 or 2 fresh red birdseye chillies
2 tablespoons groundnut oil
4 fl oz/ 100 ml light Thai beer or mild vegetable stock
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon palm sugar or light brown sugar
Salt
4 oz/ 100g fresh pineapple, diced small
Large handful of fresh coriander (cilantro) and mint leaves
2 limes, quartered

1.    Carefully remove the whole outer leaves of an iceberg lettuce, taking care not to break them. Cut off coarse stems and scrape off any tough ribs. Wash the leaves thoroughly to remove grit, and leave in a colander to dry for several hours, or as long as possible.
2.    Drain the tofu between several sheets of kitchen paper, and cut into small pieces.
3.    Dry roast the cashewnuts in a small frying pan until lightly browned. Remove from the heat, and leave to cool a little.
4.    In a small mixer, coarsely chop the nuts – some pieces should still be visible as they will provide texture. Remove and set aside.
5.    Place the shallots, garlic, lemongrass and chillies in the mixer bowl and finely mince into a paste.
6.    Heat a wok on medium heat. Pour in the oil. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the shallot paste. Turn the heat to low, and fry for about 5 minutes until the aromatics turn a light golden colour and perfume your kitchen.
7.    Add the tofu, and stir-fry for another 2 or 3 minutes.
8.    Add the beer or vegetable stock, soy sauce, sugar, and a little salt if needed. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat to very low. Simmer without the lid until the liquid has completely evaporated, stirring occasionally.
9.    Add the pineapple pieces and stir-fry until they’re evenly coated.
10.    Remove from the heat, and mix in the chopped cashewnuts. Let the mixture cool a little.
11.    Now make sure that the lettuce leaves are completely dry – wipe them with a kitchen cloth if necessary. (Wet leaves will make the dish soggy, so I’m emphasising this point). Spoon the tofu and pineapple mixture into the centre of a lettuce leaf. Top with a few coriander and mint leaves. Squeeze over a little bit of lime juice. Wrap the lettuce leaf tightly to make a parcel. Repeat until you have used up all of the tofu mixture.
12.    Serve immediately with extra lime wedges and, if you like, some Thai chilli sauce.

blackeye-beans

mixed-nuts

Beans, nuts, vegetables… what could be healthier? In this version of a traditional Armenian dish that’s normally made only with blackeye beans and nuts, I have added a few vegetables to make it more colourful, interesting and nutritious. This dish doesn’t have a sauce – it’s meant to be sort of mushy, with some crunchiness coming from the nuts.

Eat with flatbreads along with some yoghurt mixed with fresh herbs and garlic; or Western-style, with baked/ mashed potatoes, accompanied by a green, leafy vegetable or a lemony salad. Any leftovers would be great as sandwich filling, or turned into veggie burgers. Serves 4.

150g/ 6 oz blackeye beans (blackeye peas)
100g/ 4 oz unsalted mixed nuts of your choice: almonds, brazils, cashews, walnuts
4 tablespoon groundnut (peanut) or corn oil
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 medium leek, trimmed and sliced
1 medium carrot, trimmed, peeled and chopped
1 medium green pepper (bell pepper), cored and chopped
4 medium mushrooms, quartered
4 tomatoes, peeled and chopped (tinned ones are fine)
1 tablespoon tomato puree
1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
Salt and pepper
4 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1.    Soak the black-eye beans for several hours. Cook in boiling water for 30 to 45 minutes until very tender. Drain.
2.    Coarsely chop the nuts in a food processor. Make sure the nuts retain some texture.
3.    Heat the oil in a saucepan, and cook the onion until slightly brown. Add the garlic and let it sizzle for a few seconds.
4.    Add the leeks, carrots, green pepper and mushrooms, and cook with the lid on until all the vegetables are tender.
5.    Add the tomatoes, tomato puree, cinnamon powder and seasoning. Cook for a further 10 minutes. For this recipe, the vegetables should to be soft to the point of falling apart – not al dente.
6.    Add the chopped nuts, beans, and parsley. Mash some of the beans with the back of a wooden spoon as you go. Stir frequently to prevent sticking.
7.    Adjust the seasoning to taste. Serve hot.

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.

baked-pears-with-fudge-sauce-on-blue-plate

Ok, so you’ve been good all month. You’ve eaten healthily… most of the time. You’ve kept to all your new year resolutions (well, you have, haven’t you?). So you certainly deserve a little treat.

This is a slightly elaborate dessert of pears stuffed with dried fruit and nuts, bathed in a sweet spice-infused honey and citrus sauce, dolloped with hot chocolate fudge sauce. What’s more, the heart-shaped fruit is perfect to feed your loved one on Valentine’s Day. Tempted?

So how does this healthy but indulgent treat fit into the concept of ‘global veggie’? Well, it’s loosely inspired by the poached pear desserts of Italy (I also make those), the stuffed baked apple puddings of England (I spent my childhood making those), and the classic Pears Belle Helene of French cuisine. But to be honest, I never need an excuse to whip up a sweet treat.

Ideal for dinner parties, these pears can be served with the sauces on their own, or accompanied by double cream, mascarpone, or vanilla ice cream for an extra flourish of extravagance. Serves 6.

For the pears:
6 ripe but firm, unblemished pears (any variety)
2 oz/ 50g hazelnuts, toasted and finely chopped
2 oz/ 50g almonds, toasted and finely chopped
2 dried ready-to-eat apricots, finely chopped
1 tablespoon apricot jam
Amaretto liqueur, to taste

A little softened butter, for greasing

For the honey and citrus sauce:
5 oz/ 125g aromatic honey (such as orange blossom)
3 fl oz/ 100 ml orange juice
Juice of 1 lemon
3 fl oz/ water
2 cloves
1-inch piece cinnamon

For the hot fudge sauce:
3 oz/ 75g unsalted butter
1 oz/ 25g good-quality cocoa powder
1 oz/ 25g good quality dark chocolate, finely chopped or grated
6 oz/ 150g white or light golden brown sugar
3 fl oz/ 85 ml evaporated milk
Small pinch of salt
A few drops vanilla essence

Edible flowers for garnish (optional)

1.    First, prepare the pears. Peel them, but leave the stems intact. Using a corer, carefully remove the cores from the bottom end of the pears.
2.    Mix together the nuts, apricots, jam and liqueur. Stuff the mixture into the pears, packing in firmly.
3.    Grease a baking dish that’s just large enough to hold the pears. Arrange the pears so that they are closely huddled together, stem side up.
4.    Heat the oven to 180C/ 350F/ gas mark 4.
5.    Combine all the ingredients for the honey and citrus sauce in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil.
6.    Pour the honey and citrus sauce over the pears. Cover the dish with a lid or a piece of aluminium foil, and bake in the pre-heated oven for approximately 40 to 50 minutes. The pears should be tender, but not falling apart. Take the baking dish out of the oven every 15 minutes or so, and baste the pears with the sauce.
7.    Meanwhile, make the hot fudge sauce. Melt the butter in a non-stick saucepan, add the cocoa powder, and whisk until smooth.
8.    Stir in the chocolate, sugar, and evaporated milk. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring continuously so that it doesn’t stick. Remove from the heat immediately.
9.    Add a pinch of salt and a few drops of vanilla essence, and mix well. Cool a little.
10.    Place the pears in individual serving dishes along with any remaining honey and citrus sauce, and pour the hot fudge sauce over each pear. Garnish with edible flowers, if you like.

sweet-potatococonutpistachio-cake

I have a friend who maintains that drinking is good for him – because he only drinks organic wines and beers. I feel similar way about this recipe – it’s packed with vegetables and nuts, so surely it must be good for you… even if you are detoxing?

Traditional Caribbean cakes are scented rather heavily with sweet spices and essences. While they are delicious – especially with a cup of coffee made from freshly ground Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee beans – I have reduced the amount of spices that would normally be used in this cake, and have made the essences optional. This suits my own personal tastes but you can, of course, be more liberal with them if you wish.

For the best flavour and an appealingly moist texture, use freshly grated coconut. However, if it isn’t readily available or is too much of a hassle to prepare, desiccated coconut (sweetened or unsweetened) will still be delicious. You may reconstitute it in hot water, if you wish – though this is not strictly necessary for this recipe. If you use dried desiccated coconut, the cake will keep longer than it would if you were to use fresh or reconstituted coconut.

Use any kind of nuts you like – cashews, almonds and walnuts are all traditional, and I often ring changes by using different varieties in this recipe. If using pistachios or almonds, you may want to dip them in boiling water for a minute or so and remove their coarse skins – but again, this is not strictly necessary.

This is an old-fashioned cake recipe that’s quite forgiving – you can put as much or as little effort into it as you like, and the end result should still be finger lickin’ good. The only thing you have to remember is not to be heavy-handed in mixing the cake mixture, and not to over-cook the cake. Serves around 6.

9 oz/ 225g orange-fleshed sweet potatoes
Juice and finely grated zest of ½ lemon
4 oz/ 100g fresh grated or desiccated coconut
3 oz/ 75g sultanas
3 medium eggs
4 oz/ 100g white or pale brown caster sugar
6 oz/ 150g unsalted butter, softened
9 oz/ 225g wholemeal flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cinnamon powder
¼ teaspoon allspice berries, freshly ground
A couple of drops natural almond or vanilla extract (optional)
2 oz/ 50g unsalted, shelled pistachio nuts, chopped

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/ 350F/ gas mark 4. Grease a deep, 8-inch round cake tin, and line the base and all the sides with lightly buttered greaseproof paper.
2. Just when you’re ready to bake, peel and grate the sweet potatoes (not too far ahead in advance, otherwise they’ll start turning grey-black). Combine them with lemon juice and zest, coconut, and sultanas.
3. Beat the eggs, and whisk in the sugar and butter. Add to the sweet potato and coconut mixture, and mix well.
4. Sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and all the spices, and fold them into the cake mixture. Add the almond or vanilla extract, if using, and the chopped pistachios.
5. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin. Bake for 1¼ to 1½ hours. Pierce a skewer or knife into the centre of the cake to make sure it comes out clean. If not, place the cake back into the oven until done, taking care not to overcook.
6. Leave the cake in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn out on a wire rack to cool before serving warm or at room temperature.

roquefort-souffle

I love soufflés. I love the fact that they’re light and fluffy, yet have a distinctly ‘special occasion’ feel to them. For someone to make an effort to make you soufflé, they must really love you. Which is why my advice is: don’t be nervous of making soufflé. So what if it sinks? Your friends and family will adore you all the same.

The secret of a successful soufflé lies in folding in the egg whites correctly – with long and semi-circular movements with a palette knife – and in not stirring the mixture too much, certainly not in heavy-handed way.

This recipe is very French in its influence – though the cranberry sauce is a non-French festive touch. You can leave it out if you wish, and simply serve the soufflé with steamed baby vegetables, or a crisp salad made from sliced apples, rocket (arugula), chicory and red radicchio.

This recipe is dedicated to those vegetarians who are looking for something light yet indulgent, and would never go near a hale and hearty nut roast! Serves 6.

For the cranberry sauce:
7 oz/ 175g cranberries
5 oz/ 125g white caster sugar
Juice and finely grated zest of ½ orange
1 teaspoon allspice berries, finely crushed in a mortar

For the soufflé:
2 oz/ 50g hazelnuts
2 oz/ 50g unsalted butter + extra for greasing
2 oz/ 50g plain white flour
8 fl oz/ ½ pint whole milk (not low fat)
2 dried bay leaves
4 oz/ 100g roquefort cheese, crumbled
3 eggs, separated
4 oz/ 100g celeriac (celery root), peeled and finely grated
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Salt and pepper

1. Start by making the cranberry sauce. Wash the cranberries and, with just the amount of water clinging to them, heat them in a saucepan on gentle heat for 10 minutes until they are soft.
2. Add the sugar, orange juice and zest, and ground allspice. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for about 15 minutes until the sauce acquires a jelly-like consistency. Set aside to cool.
3. To make the soufflé, pre-heat the oven to 375 C/ 190 C/ gas mark 5.
4. Grease 6 individual ramekins. Toast the hazelnuts in a small frying pan without any oil or butter. Cool, and coarsely grind in a small mixer. Lightly coat the base and sides of the ramekins with half of the ground hazelnuts.
5. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the flour and cook for a minute, stirring continuously.
6. Pour in the milk and bay leaves and cook until the sauce thickens. (You will need to stir the mixture frequently to make sure that it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan, and also to avoid lumps from forming). Cook for a couple of minutes, then cool slightly.
7. Add the roquefort, egg yolks, grated celeriac, thyme leaves, seasoning, and the remaining hazelnuts, and stir gently.
8. Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Fold them into the celeriac mixture.
9. Remove the bay leaves, and pour the soufflé mixture into the prepared ramekins. Place the ramekins into a roasting pan and add enough boiling water to reach two-thirds of the way up the sides of the dishes.
10. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes until well risen and golden. Serve immediately with a little of the cranberry sauce.

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