Friday, 13 December 2013


Served on mash & strewn with cheese: yes, please!
Red kidney beans are potentially poisonous as blogger du jour, Jack Monroe, attests by way of sharing her recipe for Mumma Jack's Best Ever Chilli: 'I had a very bad experience with some dried beans once that I’d left to soak too long and they’d sprouted – I was so violently ill that I was convinced I was dying. I lived to tell the tale but I’ve learned my lesson, I only soak beans first thing in the morning to use for my dinner that evening now!' Indeed, a bout of red kidney bean poisoning is not an experience one soon forgets.

It happened to me more than thirty years ago when I shared a flat in the City with a Welsh. These beans had been soaking all weekend and so I assumed they wouldn't need so much cooking. They were still crunchy when I consumed them. My flat mate finished off what was left in the pan when he came home from the pit an hour later. I went to bed early, feeling queasy, then sprang up and sprinted to the loo, where I embraced the pedestal, to my mate's mirthful amusement. Sobbing 'n' drooling, I gazed up from the floor into his jeering face and informed him, with all the dignity I could muster, "You're an hour behind me, boyo!"

Red Kidney Bean Poisoning is an illness caused by Phytohaemagglutnin, aka Kidney Bean Lectin, a toxic agent found in many beans, but particularly Phaseolus vulgaris, including beans of the red kidney variety. Jack's problem and mine was not that our respective beans sprouted, so much as neither of us boiled our beans long enough to kill their lectin. Jack has acquired a slow cooker (£8 from Wilkinsons!) and should heed these words of wisdom from a fool whose 'Old Technique' of cooking beans consisted of: 'put the beans and 8 cups of water into the slow cooker. Cook on low for 8 hours.' Let's just say that his New Technique involves boiling the beans vigorously for ten minutes before putting 'em into the pot!

Of course, one can dodge any potential poisoning problems by buying tinned beans that are already cooked. When 'Mumma Jack' revisited her Best Ever Chilli she  went for Sainsbury's Basics red kidney beans in a can (not to mention the baked beans and Jack's secret ingredient, two squares of plain chocolate). I don't propose to follow any of those suggestions.

What I've done, in line with my experiments in dal, is evovle a foolproof, automatic rajma cooked in my 1.5 litre pressure cooker. I'm not against tinned beans per se but dried beans are obviously cheaper. Red kidney beans come in two varieties. You want the lighter type. Those darker red kidney beans have thicker skins and take a lot more cooking, I find. I get mine from Fareshares.

Soak 'em overnight, for a least six hours, changing the water a couple of times. A lot of beaniness is retained in the soak water, but so too is fartiness, which is primarily caused by complex raffinose sugars fermenting in your gut. Since canned beans are usually cooked in their cans, with all their natural sugars, tinned beans tend to be fartier than dried beans that have been soaked with several changes.

I usually change the water a couple of times while my beans are soaking but retain the final soak water to cook with. First, I melt some butter or ghee in the bottom of my pressure cooker and fry half an onion, finely chopped, with a clove or two of roast garlic, adding a teaspoon of turmeric (right). This haldi won't impact much on the flavour of my cooked rajma, but it has near-mystical health-giving properties, so I now incorporate turmeric as a matter of policy.

I add a pinch of chilli powder in the bottom of the pot, but not too much. One wants the cooked rajma to be almost sweet, not too spicy. If it turns out to be not spicy enough, that's what hot sauce is for. As the onions turn colour, add the soaked beans with their soak water, plus half a tin of chopped tomatoes and a dessert spoon-sized dollop of Biber salçası. This, as I never tire of telling, is the red pepper paste I get from Oli's, the 24 hour Turkish market in Walworth Road, that is either acı ('hot') or tatlı ('sweet'). It is the secret ingredient of my rajma, mama!

Put it all into the pressure cooker and add a little water, as necessary. As always, the pot should be at least one third empty. Put the weighted lid on the pressure cooker and set it on the heat. When it first releases its steam, turn down the heat and cook for another twenty minutes or so, allowing the steam to escape a couple more times. Turn off the heat and allow the pot to cool naturally before opening it (right).

Transfer the cooked rajma to another pot, give it a stir and taste. It may require a tad more cooking, perhaps a little more liquid (below). I often stir in a small tin of sweetcorn niblets and add a jigger of Cajohn's amazin' Chipotle sauce. Serve with rice or, as I increasingly prefer, mashed potatoes - if I'm not spooning them direct from the pan - and garnish with grated cheese or sour cream as you like.

automatic rajmama

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Mamuśka: Smacznego!

Round my way - London's Elephant & Castle - as the nights draw in, the changing of the seasons is marked by Mamuśka's switch to the Winter menu, which is the season when her meaty meals at £6 per plate make most sense. So far as vegetarians are concerned, it mostly means the buraczki - beetroot - that one orders to go with the Pierogi ruskie - dumplings filled with blended potato, onion and white cheese - will be served hot rather than cold.   

Google Images typically portrays  'Mamuśka' as a buxom lass.

Mamuśka purports to be a modern bar mleczny, offering 'authentic Polish meals  prepared with fresh Polish ingredients, at a price you can afford every day that's been established on the upper floor of the Shopping Centre, by the escalators & handy for E&C overground, for a few years. Now that Southwark Council has decided to demolish the Centre, this winter may be Mama's final season before she leaves us & relocates. To be clear about what goes on here, consider smalec wiejski (£3): 'this is a delicious pork lard spread, served with polish gherkin and our own fresh bread. Have it with a shot of vodka and you’re half way to being Polish!' Get the picture? This picture:

The Heffalump is home to legions of students, with big appetites and small budgets, living in local halls of residence. Away from home for the first time, the poor dears miss their mums, or at least mum's cooking. Enterprising Poles evidently picked up on this demographic and invented an un-frilly canteen they called, 'Mamuśka': your surrogate mother. Their motto is, 'your mother will hate us', but surely they mean, 'your mother may seem jealous of your fondness for our cooking, but secretly she will be grateful that we keep you well fed'?

This approach doesn't work for everyone. As a real, peroxide blonde Polish milf with big tits who once cut my hair remarked, "it's the kind of food I cook at home and I prefer my own cooking." Indeed, I am rarely tempted to order placki ziemniaczan - 'four crunchy potato pancakes covered with mushroom sauce - which is the default option for hungry veggies in this den of carnivores, because I can easily do that myself without getting dressed. Plus, since I do fry potato cakes in my own kitchen, I reckon I'll be in for too long a wait over in the doomed Centre. On the other hand, Mama advises one to 'try them with sour cream and sugar' and I may yet get around to that.

One's carnivorous play mates are well served by Mama with steaming plates of such carnal delights as bigos - aka 'hunters’ stew' - 'a truly Polish taste!' There's a porky goulash and a beefy stroganoff; Polish sausage & breaded pork loin. Vegetarian main course options, however, are sparse, even Spartan. The supposedly hearty vegetarian winter stew - potrawka warzywna - has the consistency of chunky soup; it incorporates those most banal root vegetables, potato & carrot, and is seasoned with paprika. The mash that comes with it (also available as a side order for a quid) is not bad and good for soaking up the soup.

Soup, served with homemade bread and butter (£3) is one area in which Mama excels. The soups of the day are announced via social media, so I can see if I'm tempted. Mama's best veggie soups, usually thickened with potato, include: ogorkowa/gherkin, which is not dissimilar to koperkowa/dill; pomidorowa/tomato (I usually bring my own hot sauce); and barszcz zabielany/creamy beetroot soup, which is not quite borscht. All these soups I have liked, but I can't say I'm too fond of mama's generic jarzynowa/vegetable soup, or her kalafiorowa/cauliflower.

Polish for chicken noodle soup -  often served on Sundays - is rosol, so I had to try it and can report that it's genuinely greasy like chicken soup is and probably very comforting if you like that kind of thing. Ditto Mama's deeply unctuous beetroot broth, barszcz, which is made with melted pig, coating one's taste buds with a thick layer of lip-smacking animal fat. It is ubdeniably delicious, but one can see why they needed to invent sauerkraut to cut the grease!

Not shown: beetroot & horseradish relish (£1)
The emblematic Polish dumplings - pierogi - cost £6 for ten. Bacon bits, chopped onion & sour cream are offered as garnishes. Empirical research tells me that it IS possible to eat ten dumplings, but they tend to make one waddle. Sometimes, I've found their texture a bit too flabby, and thought they should sear them, like gyoza, but it hasn't stopped me returning regularly.  

During the summer, as a daily special they sometimes serve fruity pierogis, as a rare treat. I am sad not to see a return of last winter's second vegetarian option, sauerkraut and mushrooms , which were firmer and slightly tart with the tang of the kraut. I have one thing to add: chesnuts. Think about it. OK, now forget about it again because the afore-mentioned ruskie, the biggest-seller, is what you're having. You'll probably want sour cream but the onions are sweet too.

I recommend a half order, five for £3, accompanied by one of the afore-mentioned Sides - don't miss the beetroot & horseradish relish (£1) - or the 'Polish classic salad of chopped root vegetables with egg and gherkin' (£3) although strict vegetarians will note the egg. I notice that the menu this season has ditched its ludicrous claim that this 'has converted many of us into die-hard fans of Polish food'. I mean, it fills a hole.

To drink, kompot is their very own fruit juice, blended on the premises. It's sugar water with a faint hint of pears. Then there's soki, supposedly Polish brands of fruit juices, but lately they've been passing off apple juice from concentrate out of a litre carton marked '79p'! Much better is Kubuś, a proprietory Polish carrot 'n' fruit juice blend.

Mamuśka fruit smoothies bring all the boys to her yard and she offers various flavours but, being Polish and fully licensed, she reckons they are even better with a shot of vodka, making 'boozy' smoothies! Mamuśka's 'famously extensive wine list' includes not only red and white wines, but a rosé too. Similarly, the  beer selection includes not only Tyskie & Żywiec, but also Lech. The coolest beer to order is the hardest to pronounce.

Given that crucial staple of student life - free WiFi - one can hang out at Mamuśka all afternoon, eating szarlotka (warm apple cake, served with sour cream) or sernik (chhesecake) or even ciasto dnia (cake o' the day!) while sipping gorąca czekolada (hot chocolate). When I say, 'one', of course I refer to a hypothetical student, not a paunchy middle-aged amputee with a netbook, but I could be there right now for all you know, ensconsed in the mini setee opposite the telly, craftily snapping sly pics with my web cam. 
Mamuśka! on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Mashy Aduki-ooky Pie

The most popular blog post ever on More Gravy is the one about Vegan Cottage Pie which I would have you know has been accessed by more than a thousand Russians. I don't know why they come because their source is Cyrillic, but I think the foxy doctor image is trying to convey a health message and my pie is v. healthful, so I'd hazard it's the recipe they want rather than the dodgy joke about gay sexual practices (for which I hereby apologise)

OK, so I got a better camera but my pics are still poor...
 I suppose I chose to call it a 'cottage' pie simply for the sake of that quip, because it actually isn't. A cottage pie is one topped with sliced potatoes, like the slates on the roof of a cottage, whereas a pie topped with fluffy mashed potato, like a sheep's fleece, belongs to a shepherd. I possibly didn't want to associate my vegan pie with livestock of any description (so I went with the anonymous gay sex in public toilets angle instead). This time, I am calling it what it is.

The way it came about, this pie, in November 2010, was following my stint the previous year running the kitchen at a meditation retreat centre where the cooking is done by volunteers. Back in the mists of time, when the centre was small, their menus had been designed and recipes written by perspicacious vegetarians to feed dozens of people. As the centre grew and the numbers increased - first to scores and now to 200 - these recipes were progressively simplified, leaving some incongruities. 

There's this aduki stew that I couldn't get my head around until I found out that it had been the filling for a vegan shepherd's pie. In my time, the pie  had been de-constructed and the mash was served separately. It's still on their menu, but now they don't even mash the spuds, just serve 'em steamed. To me, this regression seemed a shame and, after my service ended, I played around at home to recreate the pie as I imagined it might have been.

What I came up with was basically a bean stew - a brown bean stew red - incorporating adukis but also other beans - black eye peas; red kidney beans - topped with a mash that usually included other roots - parsnip; celeriac - with the potatoes. I did this in a number of permutations and, as more than a thousand Russians might attest, my well-blogged Vegan Cottage Pie was by no means a Bad Thing.

Then I got a pressure cooker and finally began to understand how well properly-cooked aduki - Google prefers, 'adzuki' - ooky beans can work as a substitute for cooked beef mince. One does not even need to soak those suckers, just bung a cupful in the pressure cooker with three times their volume of water (ensuring that your apparatus remains at least a third empty, leaving plenty of room for expansion) and add a spoonful or two of yeast extract and/or gravy browning. I mean. Bisto!

This pie is in three parts: the aduki-ooky; its gravy; the mash on top. While the pressure cooker does its thing, organise these other elements. Put the spuds in the steamer and chop a mirepoix of onion, carrots and celery for the gravy. Mince a handful of mushrooms to make a meatier flavour.

Sweat the veggies in oil with the minced 'shrooms, plus a couple of cloves of roast garlic and, perhaps, a few shakes of dried herbs, until they soften and start to caramelise, then add a bit more than a pint - 600ml, say - of bouillon and mix in a couple of teaspoons of gravy browning.

After your pressure cooker's steamed at least twice, take it off the heat and leave it to cool, continuing to cook as the gravy browns and thickens, before eventually combining the aduki-ooky with its luscious gravy. Put the pie filling in the bottom of a casserole dish and leave it to cool.

For the mash, I use red-skinned spuds, which I don't bother to peel before steaming for 20 minutes. Once the potatoes are cooked, I slice them and place each piece cut side down in a ricer. A ricer is the essential bit of kit for making unlumpy mash and you don't even have to peel the potatoes, because their skins will stay inside the ricer while their flesh will be pushed through its holes. In this way, I cover the aduki-ooky pie filling, which should have sufficient surface tension to support it, but if one's filling is on the sloppy side and absorbs some of the potato, so what?
...maybe I need a tripod.

Cover the filling completely with mashed potato and seal it around the edges of the casserole dish as best  you can, so that more flavour is infused into the aduki-ooky in its secondary cooking. Using a ricer to squeeze your mash means it will have little noodly peaks that will crisp up in the oven when you come to bake your pie before serving it with a dollop o'mustard.

As seen in this very dodgy snap, here. I am ashamed of the quality of my pics, really.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Kastoori Puris

Manoj Thanki's legendary flavour bombs shall henceforth be known as 'Kastooris'.
I have been noshtalgic lately for Kastoori, SW17's legendary Indian vegetarian restaurant, run by the Thanki family. According to Manoj Thanki, 'from 13th February 1987 up until 23rd November 2010, Kastoori was my life and breath,' but then his lease expired. Loyal customers were bereft. I would have been more upset at the time, myself, had I not been leaving for India, but now that I am back and have been through big changes, I'm sad to find the familiar old frontage absent from Upper Tooting Road.

Noshtalgia, as scholars of Proust will recollect, is a taste memory associated with a particular time & place. In the case of the dahi puris that were the signature starter at Kastoori, multiple occasions. After first turning on to Kastoori's 'famous taste bomb', on subsequent visits I habitually ordered two plates as we were seated: one just for me; t'other to share while perusing the menu.


A puri is an unleavened bread, most commonly served on the sub-continent for breakfast, that is deep-fried and puffs up in the process. Pani puris are smaller and made crisp with semolina in the dough. Crack a hole in its shell and pack the puri with a variety of textures and spicy flavours. Pop the whole thing in your mouth, but before you do, dunk it swiftly in the pani water so that the puri collapses rather than crunches on the tongue.

Stuffing puris at the puri party!
The basic puri filling is usually chick peas and potatoes, diced or mashed and spiced, of course. Highly spiced. As Tarla Dalal says, 'after a round of spicy pani puris, eating dahi puris is the perfect way to soothe your palate. Dahi puris are a favourite with children as well as with adults who cannot handle the fiery pani puri. What makes a dahi puri truly divine is obviously the humble curds which are made daily in every Indian household.'

The creamy dahi - yoghurt - contrasted with the sour-sweet tamarind, combined with the collapsing crunch of the puri, are the flavours and textures that compose my taste memory of Kastoori puris. I resolved to recreate them. Kastoori may be gone, but Dadu's, the supermarket next door to its old premises on Upper Tooting Road, goes on and it purveys all one needs to manufacture one's own imitation Kastoori puris. Given a few more clues, like.

There's this old article from The Grauniad:  'Manoj Thanki is fixing me one of his celebrated dahi puris. In one hand he holds a round, crunchy case about the size of a golf ball, like a giant Rice Krispie with a hole in the top. With the fastidiousness of a scientist mixing volatile chemicals in a test tube, he spoons in precise measures of tamarind sauce, dates, jagaree, nuts and yoghurt before carefully passing it to me. "What they would do [in India] is dip it in a pani, which means water," he explains, "then put the whole thing in the mouth, and it just collapses with the taste."
Not only does it taste delicious, it makes my head spin mildly.
"Yes," he says, matter-of-factly. "Some people have described it as the taste bomb."'

OK, Manoj, mate. We get that you are a molecular alchemist who manufactures beguiling taste bombs. What we need to know, in order to replicate those exquisite explosions on the palate, is their secret ingredients: 'tamarind sauce, dates, jagaree, nuts,' but in what proportions? And does he really mean, 'nuts'? My taste memory does not include nuts.

In the recipes I've scoped out online - Sharmi's is a keeper - the added crunch usually comes from sev, deep-fried gram vermicelli, which is a popular savoury snack, or chaat. Sev comes in various gauges, the finest being 'nylon'. It is not, however, mentioned among Kastoori's ingredients, although Manoj does include PUFFED RICE, aka mamra, which really are like anaemic Rice Krispies.

Dates & tamarind, kharjur & imli, are the basic constituents of a sweet'n'sour chutney that is an essential component of many varieties of chaat. The addition of jagaree - unrefined sugar, more usually known as, 'jaggery' - makes it sweeter. This is no doubt what the Kastoori menu described as SWEET AND SOUR SAUCE, but what exactly is PANI SAUCE?

Sharma's puri shack at Chowpatty Beach, Dec. 2010
As Manoj did not quite explain to The Guardian guy, at Chowpatty Beach in Mumbai, customers stand around the puri vendor - on the left, Mr Sharma - who moistens the laden puri by dipping it in the flavoured pani water that's in the bucket in front of him before passing the fizzing taste bomb to the next lucky customer. Note his hygienic disposable glove. Of course the pani water itself is liable to be teeming, but I went for it and suffered no severe gastrointestinal repercussions.

Manoj has modified this pani water for more refined restaurant service, but gives no clue as to what he puts in it. I went to Dadu's with the vague plan of asking the lady behind the till, but swiftly found a packet of Pani Puri Masala that mixes a teaspoon to a cup. I had a harder time locating Chaat Masala, but was directed to Achar Masala: 'chilli powder, salt, fenugreek, sesame seed oil, dry mango powder, mustard & asafoetida'. It is the properly vivid red.

A box of 40 puris cost £3.99 and I spent about another twenty quid at Dadu's. Natco do a tamarind & date sauce, but it's a bit sweet; I preferred the 'home made style' chutney by Sagar, who don't have a web site and whose business address reads like it's a house in Edgware. I was glad to discover Mitchell's green chilli sauce, apparently a Pakistani insitution since 1933, which I preferred over the other jar of green chilli wot I got.

In the absence of freshly home made curds, I bought Greek yoghurt from the Turkish shop, Oli's, where I also got coriander and a couple of Nicola potatoes. My chick peas had been soaked overnight, natch., and very slowly simmered as I carefully skimmed the fart froth, eliminating flatulence. If I was Indian, I would've spiced them as they cooked. Kastoori refers to DICED POTATOES, but I mashed mine, using a ricer and mixing in a teaspoon of haldi & jeera - turmeric & cumin.

As its name suggests, the dahi is the crucial ingredient of dahi puri. Of course, the yoghurt has to be fresh and chilled, but most importantly, it must be neither too thick or too thin, so that it pours into and fills the puri without making it too soggy . Kastoori puris are TOPPED WITH YOGHURT SAUCE, not with yoghurt. Some recipes suggest adding sugar to the yoghurt and beating it with a fork to make it sweeter and lighter. I simply used fresh'n'creamy Greek yog. and diluted it a little with filtered water. Next time, I'll try lemon juice. 
Puri station with pani water bottom left.
I set up a puri-stuffing station in my kitchen and experimented with various combinations in different proportions, tasting until I got close to my memory. Then I took everything up to the roof, where my neighbours were celebrating a birthday in the evening sunshine, and set myself up in a corner, stuffing puris until and inviting revellers to dunk 'em in the pani. It was fun and the puris went down well, even if they were not quite as gob-smacking as I remember Kastoori's.

I'll definitely be having more puri parties this Summer, but am hoping that Manoj Thanki will revive Kastoori, if only for one night, to cater for his fans who congregate at a 'Bring Back Kastoori' Facebook page and are actively seeking a venue. Join us!

Friday, 12 July 2013

Daily Dal Too: My Makhani

I've made Dal Makhani since the days of Pullens Soup Kitchen but my current Makhani recipe - an actual recipe, derived from KO Rassoi with reference to Manjula - is designed to fit my  baby-sized 1.5 litre Hawkins Classic aluminium pressure cooker and serves 2. Or me, twice. As with all dal, it's even better the second time. 
pop this little lot into your pressure cooker, missus.
110g urad (black gram lentils)
50g dry weight kidney beans  
- both must be soaked in cold water overnight.

In the bottom of the pressure cooker pan, over low heat:
* melt a dollop of ghee, or nub of butter
* add a thumb-sized nubbin of grated ginger
* and some roasted garlic, crushed,
* dana 'n' jeera (cumin & coriander)
* plus, I add a teaspoonful of my chilli jam, but you might use hari mirch,
chopped green chillis.

Mix the spices together in the butter, amalgamating the flavours before adding the soaked, strained beans and covering them with 450ml hot water, with an added pinch of baking powder. That's baking powder, which is baking soda mixed 1:2 with cream of tartar. A raising agent commonly used in cake baking, this powder is said to help the beans cook evenly and to eliminate flatulence for fart-free dal.

Before shutting the pressure cooker lid, I add a good dollop of tatlı biber salçası, sweet pepper paste, but you might use tomato puree, and one large roasted tomato, blended, or two tablespoons of shop-bought pasata or tomato 'n' chilli pasta sauce. 

Lock down the lid, turn up the heat and wait for the steam to release in a vicious hiss before dialling down the heat and cooking on for twenty minutes or so, allowing the steam to escape three more times.

After 15-20 mins, turn off the heat and leave it to cool while you nip out to score from the nan man.
What are you saying, there's no nan shop on your manor? 
OK, I understand and sorry it is that I am feeling for you, my under-privileged friend, but down in old East Lane - where Charlie Chaplin was born, nearly a Century before the tandoori arrived - a couple of taciturn brothers turn out x4 nan breads  for only one of your English pounds. 
Nip down the nan shop, by bicycle or skateboard, going the back way down Browning Street and through Nursery Row Park - shop is next to The Masons Arms - and back in 13 minutes flat. I might turn the griddle on before I go so it's hot when I get back, to crisp the breads. 

Gingerly, I release what steam remains and open the pressure cooker, stirring my dal makhani with a wooden spoon. Transfer it to be a saucepan, maybe add a splash of water if it's looking a bit thick, and finish the dal with cream, creme fraiche, or Greek yoghurt.

Get in!

Friday, 5 July 2013

The Camberwell Falafel Sadwich (sic)

Scene of the sadwich (sic)
I am glad to return to a routine of swimming regularly at the refurbished Camberwell Pool in Artichoke Place, which means that I have thoroughly renewed my acquaintance with sarf London's premier falafel purveyor, 'Falafel', the pertinently-named Lebanese fast food counter at 27 Camberwell Church Street.

Words can barely express my love for this place and its falafel sadwich (sic), which costs only three quid and goes down especially well with a cup of carrot juice, spiked with ginger, costing  another pound, for the perfect après swim snack. You would find me there every other day, soon after 4pm, but I am trying to reduce my sadwich (sic) ration to no more than two per week.

The Camberwell Falafel is easily the best of its breed on this side of the river - unless you know better? - but for my money it's every bit as good as the fabled falafel wrap of Ranoush, the juice bars of the mighty Maroush empire (which includes Beirut Express). Maroush has run the West End falafel trade for decades, Maoz notwithstanding.

I briefly ran a falafel stand myself, not too long ago, at the Pullens Yards Open Studios event in the Summer of 2010. I persuaded mi amigo, Carlo, to scoop chick pea paste into balls and deep-fry them in the fryer I inherited from Shaun Thomson, R.I.P. I deep fried my falafel in memorium Shaun. If I recall correctly, wily Carlo firmed up & filled out the chickpea paste we made with polenta.

We offered five golf-ball sized falafels, freshly fried, plus humus, crisp shredded white cabbage salad, with a judicious squirt of the crucial garlicky tahini sauce that is what everyone really loves about a McFalafel, all in a pitta pocket, for £4. Additionally, I ran a masticating juicer, churning out whole watermelon and strawberry juice for a further £2. Or a fiver for the combo. Which proved popular. 

Believe it or not, one snarky neighbour complained about our prices, compared to Ranoush, but he didn't recognise my business benchmark, which was Falafel King.  The King - or Shlomo, as the grumpy cabbage patch king of Portobello Dale is also known - serves his pitta pockets, judiciously-stuffed as above, for a fiver. And he gives good pickles. It is, however, more of a meal in a pitta - similar to the one Gaby Elyahou, the godfather of London felafel, has been proposing at Gaby's Deli on Charing Cross Road since 1965 - than a simple sadwich (sic).

The Camberwell Falafel sadwich (sic) does not purport to be dinner, but is more substantial than the Maroush model. It all begins with the falafel its good self and here the eponymous stars of the shop are displayed on a platter under the glass counter upon which you are advised not to lean. They are plump and perfectly-formed (as if pressed into shape by some contraption designed for the purpose) and have been deep-fried in back, beforehand, to be warmed in a microwave before getting wrapped into the sadwich (sic).

 Camberwell's happiest after-swimming snack.
You get three falafels, crushed, and wrapped up with chopped lettuce and onion, creamy humus/tahini, optional chilli + garlic sauce (never say no to more gravy!) rolled into a flat bread, then put into a sandwich press. Mario, on gets it bang on in his recommendation of adding a scoop of aubergine salad, 50p extra, into your standard £3 falafel wrap and washing it down with a cup of fresh carrot juice with a tinge of ginger, £1. That's £4.50 for the combo. I give 'em a fiver and feel like a prince.

And, Mario, m8, you don't need to be hungover for Falafel. It is right around the corner from the leisure centre & swimming pool, where the men's changing room has been closed for months. So we are obliged to use the family facilities, which invariably means the place is flooded with squealing eight year-olds in school uniform when one arrives and shouty mums with scads of snot-nosed tiny tots when one goes to leave.

This may not be the place to vent my feelings about Southwark's Fusion leisure facilities, but I stand as much chance of being heard here than if I complained through the official channels. I mean, how do you break a changing room? Well, obviously, you first must spend millions of quid on 'refurbishing' it.

Falafel on UrbanspoonConsider:  Shlomo, the Falafel King, advertises his product as bursting with happy energy, yet he rarely smiles. Falafel's overhead menu describes their product as a 'sadwich' and yet I have never left there not smiling. And I go there all the time. One day, that typo is going to be corrected and that will be the day this place puts its prices up, but I will forever delight in Falafel.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Daily Dal 101 - Toorism

Oily Toor dal - a.k.a. yellow pigeon peas (not yellow split peas) - is the pulse used in South India to make soupy sambar. Sia@MoonSpice tells a romanticised version of the tale of Udupi Sambar, declaring, 'for a foodie like me, Udupi is paradise. 

pau bhaji, sorta
I have been there - it's an overnight trip into Karnataka from South Goa on the train - and am sad to report that Udupi is foodie paradise well and truly lost. Or, maybe, the culture of Indian towns that make no appeal to foreigners doesn't easily reveal itself. Udupi is a tourist town, but the visitors are overwhelmingly Hindu pilgrims coming to worship at the Krishna Temple, where the cuisine that made Udupi famous was developed.
I picked up a copy of Udupi Cuisine by U.B.Rajalakshmi and dipping into it is like glimpsing a parallel world in which food is prepared by high caste priests as an act of worship, in accordance with Ayurvedic precepts, with different dishes prepared in different seasons, designed to prevent the diseases that are prevalent during, say, monsoon times. 

Ginger is OK, but onions and garlic cannot be offered to Krishna in case they make him angry or randy. They may be added later, as tarka, but are absent from the basic toor dal recipe, in which asafoetida is used for flavour used instead. So pungent that Germans call it Teufelsdreck – devil's dung - cooking this peculiar powder transforms its taste into something a bit like leek. Asafoetida is a digestive aid that is anti-flatulent and anti-microbial, with a range of medicinal applications.

If asafoetida gives this dal its distinctive flavour, its yellow colour comes from haldi, a root related to ginger. Turmeric aka haldi, is the distinctive yellowy orange powder that characterises Indian cooking with its peppery flavour and mustardy smell. It has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties;  turmeric paste may still be used in India as an antiseptic in open wounds.

The third vital spice in the mix that goes into this toor dal is kalonji. Erroneously called, 'onion seed', nigella sativa is apparently used in folk (herbal) medicine all over the world for the treatment and prevention of a number of diseases and conditions that include asthma, diarrhoea and dyslipidaemia! The seeds/oil have anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antipyretic, antimicrobial and antineoplastic properties while the oil decreases blood pressure and increases respiration. Verily, these tiny seeds are a pharmacological cornucopia!

In Manjula's Toor demo video, she calls kalonji, 'black mustard seeds' and refers to asafoetida as 'hing'. Manjula is pretty enthusiastic about salt, which I am not, and includes chilli powder as well as asafoetida whereas, in terms of flavour, I would prescribe one or t'other. As Manjula makes a couple of versions of toor dal, so too do I: one has asafoetida in its base and is finished with chopped coriander; the other has chilli and may be served with soothing yoghurt.

Most pertinently, Manjula uses a pressure cooker, which is the indispensable bit of kit for cooking dal of all types. Boiling one's dal in a saucepan takes a lot longer and it never quite seems to achieve the requisite creamy texture. If you haven't got a PC but have read this far then I am sorry to have dragged you down this cul de sac. I should have said something upfront. Or, you could just get one. Go on, it's the 21st century internet: have a pressure cooker delivered tomorrow. You won't regret it.

I use the smallest classic Hawkins, 1.5 litre, which is a handy size for a single person and easy to operate by a person with a single hand. Pressure cooking is always going to be an adventure, because you can't see what's going on, and it is somewhat dramatic when the valve emits a burst of steam, to the dog's alarm. He takes up a position by the front door when the pressure cooker starts hissing in the kitchen, primed to supervise the inevitable evacuation, when that demonic contraption goes critical.

Do not overfill your pressure cooker - you want it about a third empty - and remember to fully release the pressure before trying to open it and you can't go far wrong. After one or two experiments, you'll evolve your own basic dal. Here's mine:

A cup of oily toor dal, washed & drained. When I say, 'cup', I mean the coffee cup I use as a measure, which is 220ml. Use your own cup! When I say, 'washed', I mean soaked for at least half an hour in several changes of water.

under pressure
chilli spice mix
In the pressure cooker, over low heat, put:

* a dessert spoon of ghee, or nub of butter of similar size
* dessert spoon of grated fresh ginger
* bare (i.e.: flat) teaspoon of asafoetida/hing
* teaspoon of haldi/turmeric
* teaspoon of kalonji/nigella seeds

Mix the spices in the melting butter, add the dal, and cover with three cups of water. Seal the lid of the pressure cooker and turn up the heat. When the valve on the pressure cooker releases steam in a sudden hiss and the dog runs out of the room, reduce the heat to a minimum and continue cooking for another quarter of an hour or so, at least three steamings.

Turn the heat off under the cooker, but the contents will keep cooking under pressure. As this happens, you can make a tarka of fried onion , garlic, & spices to give it more oomph, or chop fresh coriander to stir into the finished dal for a more fragrant taste.

What I tend to do these days is leave the sealed PC while I nip out for nan or chapatis from the tandoor in East Street and finish it off upon my return ten minutes later.  You might cook rice, or serve your dal with a bread roll, like the pau bhaji in Goa.

When you feel the moment is right, release the pressure and open the lid of your cooker. If not quite cooked enough, return to the heat; if the cooked dal is too thick, add a drop of water. Boomshankah!

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Chipotle Away!

tear the lid off the sucka!
You've seen that episode of South Park, right? The one where Billy Mays endorses Chipotle Away, a product that changed Eric Cartman's life, enabling him to carry on scoffing his favourite fast food without worrying about the cost of replacement underpants??  A 'chip-oat-lay' is a smoked Jalepeno chile pepper, but Chipotle Mexican Grill is a 'fast casual' dining concept that launched two decades ago in Colorado - South Park (not South Wark) Country -  and has grown into a behemoth that now includes five London locations

Chipotle's USP, supposedly, is the quality of its ingredients and freshness of preparation, theoretically making 'food that's richer and more sophisticated'. Mullie's London burrito blog was inspired by the Chipotle she sampled on a work trip to NYC a couple or three years ago: 'They are fat and juicy and delicious with the perfect balance of lime and coriander (or ‘cilantro ’) rice,  black beans, salsa, cheese, lettuce, meat and sour cream.'

I tried a vegetarian burrito - roast veg. rather than meat - at the Chipotle in St. Martins Lane, late in the evening following a beer in The Salisbury, and found it better than OK, if not exactly out of this world.  I am glad to report that no rectal bleeding ensued.  (Although I cannot vouch for my meaty mate, who is staunchly Arsenal.) Poncho No.8, however, claims to wear the crown as Best Burrito in London and what kind of a food blogger would I be if I didn't verify that for myself?

I celebrated the first available sunshine one Spring lunchtime by riding my especially-adapted amputee's bike 1.73 miles to  Poncho8 St.Pauls, dismounting to cross the Millennium Bridge from Bankside. There, legions of City workers were basking & feeding. The queue at London's  allegedly best burrito shop went twice round its premises & down the street. Doh! So, I came back at 3 o'clock when the place was empty, but by then their roast veg. was looking tired and their burrito was OK but no better than that. Its chipotle salsa, in particular, lacked verve.

I wonder why London's best-rated burrito shops - incl. Adobo & Donkey Dave's, not to mention the latest Poncho8 outlet that's pioneering the breakfast burrito - are clustered around the edges of The City? No doubt for valid economic reasons. Can it be a coincidence that the burrito craze that raged through London a few years ago came at the same time as the second dip of the interminable recession? It has left hordes of forlorn finance workers, desperately clinging to dreams of prosperity while lunching on designer sandwich wraps that offer the illusion of freshness & choice.

A tomotle!
I'm getting off the point, which is not iffy burritos, but chipotle. Not the dining concept, but the flavour. The smoky, lip-smacking sweet gentle heat that elevates its Black bean, corn & chipotle soup head and shoulders above any other variety in Tesco's Finest range. A jigger of chipotle sauce transforms humble cream o' tomato soup and negates the need to buy Heinz (which, sadly, is a Monsanto brand). As you're going to modify its flavour with a serious splash of hot sauce, own brand will do. In fact, I find tomato soup an ideal medium to assess any hot sauce. Question is, what sauce?

Hot Headz offers a range chipotle sauces, but you will notice that CaJohn's commands a premium price. This is because it truly is, as billed, 'Killer'. Your Jalepeno is not an especially hot pepper and many chipotle sauces lack bite, which may be why it's sometimes blended with hotter peppers, as in Who Dares Burns! Naga & Chipotle,  where the smokiness of the chipotle comes through after the blast of naga heat. To get that heat which chile heads crave into a bottle, many manufacturers resort to using capsaicin (cap-say-ah-sin) extracts, but CaJohn has apparently developed a chemical process that boosts the heat to much higher levels without their use.

While over at Hot Headz, don't miss their Chipotle ketchup, which is every bit as good as this enthusiastic review suggests, and do check out the chipotle-inflected refried beans, as seen at the top of the page. I couldn't resist, despite the can lacking a ring-pull, which presented me with a problem, having only one hand. I solved it by wedging the can opener, locked onto the can, into my counter top grabber and opening it with the can parallel to the counter. I won't be doing that again, not because it was messy but because having cans of beans delivered by post is a mite decadent. It's cheap 'n' easy enough to soak and boil up pinto beans and blend 'em with chipotle ketchup. Be daft not to.

My current hot sauce selection includes 3 chipotles.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Bean Pot

Early April bean pot
Spring's finally sprung - hasn't it? - and it may at last be safe to emerge from my kitchen, where I've been cocooned all winter with at least one of the burners under my stove top griddle constantly on as a radiator and, constantly warming on that there griddle, my trusty cast iron bean pot. I bought a set of cast iron pans from an ad. in a colour supp. more than a quarter of a century ago and, boy have they come in handy! They've tight-fitting lids, so the bean pot enables me to cook by infusion in much the same way as Mr Heinz bakes his beans (they put all the ingredients in the tins before heating them).

When I was growing up, baked beans was the acme of working class grub of the sort scoffed by people who hold their cutlery like pens & butter their loaf before cutting a slice of bread from it, i.e.: common people, of the kind my mother most definitely did not approve. If my mum despised bean eaters, she certainly disapproved of fart gags, which all small children delight in and most grown men find forgiveable at worst and, frequently, downright hilarious.

Same pot, different beans, nine days later.
The oldest joke in history, recorded in a Sumerian scroll four thousand years ago, was a fart gag. It would not pass today's standards of political correctness: what do all squeezable women have in common? If you squeeze them, do they not fart! That's my version of the oldest joke in the history of civilization, which just goes to show how very wrong my mother was. In fact, farting has always been funny and beans are good for you precisely because they encourage flatulence. As any child can tell you, beans are good for the heart because the more you eat, the more you fart and the more you fart, the better you feel. Therefore, so the puerile reasoning goes, beans should be served with every meal.

As an adult, I've discovered that there are other types of bean, beyond the humble haricot, and sound nutritional reasons for eating them. In actual fact  - I am reminded in a Proustian rush - during those 1980s days of heady aspiration, before lads mags had been invented and one could get away with running recipe-based features in a men's style magazine, I produced a widely-derided cassoulet in the page of Nick Logan's Arena! Cassoulet is, basically, posh baked beans mixed with parts of pig charcuterie and duck confit, the haricots becoming extra unctuous with the fat as they bake. But since I no longer eat meat, say no more of that particular rib sticker.

Incessant farting wins one few truly sophisticated friends, but there's ways of cooking the gas out of one's beans, which is caused by indigestible carbohydrates. They need to be cooked lo-ong 'n' slow. First, they need to be soaked and then boiled. Have no truck with beans from tins, which tend to be slimy and are inevitably farty, but always start with dried beans and soak 'em overnight in filtered water. Unless you live somewhere the tap water is relatively pure.

I like a selection of beans in my pot. When I started writing this, back in the depths of February, I was apparently using pinto, red kidney & cannelloni beans, plus blackeye peas, but the pot has been replenished several times since then. Instead of pintos, I bought rosecoco beans, which are a similar pink, flecked with beige and brown. From my good neighbours at Fare Shares, I purchased beautiful black turtle beans.

Obviously, different beans cook differently and you can soak and boil 'em separately if you wish, but it's not strictly necessary when the beans are going into a iron pot, because this cooking method stops them becoming too mushy. On the other hand, it's important to cook the bigger beans - especially kidney beans - thoroughly. Throw away the soak water, cover the beans with a lot of cold water and bring it to the boil. Let the beans boil for a minute or two and then drain and rinse them. This mitigates their gassiness. Leave the beans to stand for an hour in this cooling liquid and they will become less gassy still, but you'll leach out a lot of their goodness, too.

Bowl o'chilli beans.
Now, cook the beans. Ideally, they should absorb all the liquid they cook in, so start by just covering them with water and add more as necessary. Simmer the beans slowly for as log as it takes, skimming any scum, and when they're cooked, turn off the heat and put the lid on the pan, so the cooling beans absorb more of their cooking liquid.

While this is going on,  I make a sauce in the cast iron bean pot, using tinned chopped tomatoes. Inevitably, I start with chopped onion, carrot & celery sweated in a copious amount of oil, adding the roast garlic and chilli jam I've made so much of this winter. I've mixed some chilli powder with paprika and/or used biber salçası, red pepper paste in jars from Oli's, which comes in two types: aci (hot) and tatli (sweet).
Few dishes are not improved by frozen peas!

The cooked beans are introduced to the sauce and put on the griddle with the lid on the cast iron pan and they sit there, sometimes for days, warming, cooking gently, with more ingredients added as portions of beans disappear into hungry bellys, served with rice or baked spuds, but mostly in a bowl with sour cream & grated cheese. It's kept me going all winter, that. And it's not like bean season ever ends. Next, it will be bean salads!

Friday, 22 March 2013

Imperfect Aubergine Parmigiana

So, the new-to-me camera doesn't much help my shakey hand
 & its clock has turned back time three years!
I was inspired by Felicity Cloake's advice about how to cook the perfect aubergine parmigiana to have a go myself. 'Brighten up your bleak February evenings with a touch of stodgy Mediterranean magic,' she said. Now it's supposed to be Spring, but the temps. remain brass monkeys.

I'm sure that you, like me, are an ardent fan of Charlie Hicks' brilliant monthly veg. market report,  produced primarily for the benefit of his lucky customers in restaurants across the South West. In Chazza's report for early March, he includes typically eccentric details of a Tilda Swinton aubergine-related brouhaha with the salient detail that Spanish aubergines are a washout this season and melanzane from Sicily are a better bet. Well, I've had to settle for a couple of the firmer-looking specimens from the selection offered by Olis of the Walworth Road.

There's no real need to salt aubergines - as any fool knows - so I don't. I slice my aubergines lengthways, about 8mm thick and, like Jamie Oliver, I griddle 'em. Unlike Jamie's - allegedly - my aubergine slices don't end up 'disappointingly dry' because I make sure they are well soaked with oil before they go on the griddle. I repeatedly baste one side of each slice with good, tasty olive oil and let it soak in before putting the slices onto the griddle, dry side down, so the heat draws the oil through the flesh of the aubergines.

I do like copious sauce. I picked up an economy bag of tomatoes, 10 for 99p, sweated them until their skins split, skinned and cooked 'em with sautéed onion and roasted garlic, plus a splash of red wine. I couldn't get fresh oregano and the dried stuff is indeed redolent of '1980s pizza', so I used thyme instead. Then, in a stroke of genius or insanity, I added the last few drops from the end of a bottle of Cajohn's Killer Chipotle Hot Sauce. It was bound to obliterate any herbiness, but what can I say? I am having a chipotle moment. (On which subject, much more TBA!) My sauce was spicy, but not sufficiently tomatoey, so I added a tin of chopped plum tomatoes and cooked it down further.

Apparently, no-one disputes that Parmesan cheese is 'the soul' of this dish, but it's expensive and I usually buy the similar but cheaper Grana Pradano instead. I'd have used the 'firm mozzarella used as a pizza topping' that supposedly works much better than good buffalo mozzarella, but Morrisons has severely restricted its range of cheeses in order to accommodate Indian & Caribbean specialities. So, I was obliged to go across the road to Marks & Sparks and they only do the posh stuff.

Only on top and, in this instance, out of a packet: Wroclaw breadcrumbs, from Poland! I know it seems wrong to be buying Polish breadcrumbs in a Turkish supermarket to make an Italian dish and by rights I should have had some home made bread going stale in the bin with which to make my own breadcrumbs, but my bread maker has been idle for weeks now because I have been taking advantage of the supermarkets' roll offers: four for a quid in Tesco, but Morrisons give you five!

The packet breadcrumbs took browning under the grill and their texture was too fine to provide much crunch; I probably used too much sauce, or not enough cheese, and the chilli was a mistake in this context; the cheeses were OK, but not stringy enough. It was pretty damn good, though, washed down with a glass of Merlot. As The Guardian's experts say, it was better warm rather than piping hot and also pretty damn good cold the next day with salad.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Miso Menavelins

'Minavelins' was one of my mother's words, a nautical term for the clutter in the corners of a ship's tack room that she took to mean 'leftovers'. Liverpudlians are nautical folk and both my grandfathers went to sea. And frugality was a virtue. The emblematic Liverpudlian stew, Scouse, is usually made from scrag end of lamb, whereas 'Lobscouse', my mother told me, is so-called when you lob whatever you can find into the pot. Webster's has three different explanations of the etymology, but I think you'll find that my mother was correct. She was always right. And in our house, stewed leftovers was 'Minavelins'.

It's still really cold and I have been cocooning in my kitchen, where the griddle on my stove top is permanently on instead of the central heating and a pan of heartiness is usually warming. It's been beany.

This pot of minavelins started with cooked cabbage, Brussels sprouts and griddled chicory left over from Sunday lunch, plus half a bowl of mashed potato. I also happened to have some butter beans that I'd soaked and skinned for another, forgotten purpose. So those went in as well.

I started, as ever, by sweating diced onion, carrot & celery; spicing with cumin & coriander, plus a few cloves of roasted garlic; then adding the butter beans, covering them with a litre of stock and simmering for ten minutes until they started to soften before adding the chopped leftover veggies. I wanted to finish the stew with miso, but didn't have any in and it was actually snowing today, so I didn't want to walk too far. So I went to Baldwins.

I'd run into Kevin, who works there, the other day and was saying, the reason we'd not met since the Bad Thing happened to me is that I can't afford to shop in Baldwins. He protested that they only charge the RRP but, as an independent business, they don't have the purchasing power to negotiate significant wholesale discounts. I was, like, whatever. Fare Shares is way cheaper, I find. But Fare Shares wasn't open and it was farking freezing. So I went to Baldwins and paid £5.59 for a packet of Clearspring brown rice miso.

At the checkout, I told Kevin about nearly falling for an online sales scam that would've bound me in to an agreement to keep buying an expensive mineral supplement that was basically seaweed. Google told me that the product was actually pretty decent, but the sales tactics were not. Kevin suggested I try the Clearspring sea salad, a 'ready-to-eat blend of three North Atlantic sea vegetables', so I did, for £4.79. That slickster sold me more than a tenner's worth of organic Japanese foodstuffs! And that's why its best not to visit Baldwins, if you are poor:-(

Back in my toasty kitchen, I thickened the stew with the leftover mashed potato, served myself a portion and stirred in a nubbin of the miso. You do not want to cook live miso, or you kill its goodness and waste the premium you've paid for it. The sea salad sprinkle that Kevin suggested proved the perfect garnish.
Like I told him at the till, living well is the best revenge.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Beetrooty Rislaf

Rooty rislaf with grilled haloumi - so good it cracked the plate!
I've eaten a lot lately at Mamuśka, the Polish canteen within London's least lovely shopping centre which, contrary to long-held plans, is no longer to be demolished, but is actually going to be 'refurbished and get a new tower', according to the Standard. I was surprised to learn. But then, I thought they were in the process of replacing the dismal old leisure centre in the graveyard across the road with a new one. I'm not wrong, except that it turns out to be at the bottom of a 37 storey residential tower called, presumptuously, One The Elephant.

The reprieve of the shopping centre is good news for Mamuśka, obviously, not only because they can keep their premises, on the upper level by the escalator, but also because the area is about to turn into a huge building site with hundreds of big hungry boys working on it, a sizeable proportion of whom are bound to be Polish.

Poles are famously big on beetroot and Mamuśka serves it hot & shredded, mixed with a touch of cream, for a quid. So, should you go there to eat pierogis (for instance) don't miss the buraczki na ciepło. I'm still waiting to try Mama's borscht and see how it compares to my Soup Kitchen borscht of five years ago. I had high hopes after reading a review that said Mamuśka's version was vegetarian (i.e.: not made with beef stock), but a cup of their beetroot both, barzcz, brought me down to earth with a bump. It's not as if it's not good, that's the problem: it's too delicious. It is so lip-smackingly rich because it's made with pork stock. "It used to be vegetarian, but we've improved the recipe," the lovely lady behind the counter told me with a smile, like it was the punchline to a Polish joke.

Buraczki with a full portion of Mama's pierogis
There was a time, before Polish people came to do most of the work around here, when fresh beets were hard to come by. Beetroot was boiled and then usually peeled and pickled in vinegar. A market stall in East Street had steaming mounds of beetroot boiled by a man in Iliffe Yard, around the corner.  Even a few years ago, at the time of the Soup Kitchen, we were obliged to order our fresh roots in advance from Cruson, the greengrocer in Camberwell Church St, and buy 'em by the 'net'. Not any more!

I got a couple of bunches of beets and my Assistant peeled them when she visited on Thursday. I roasted them off that evening and kept them in the 'fridge. She also chopped a mirepoix of finely-diced onion, carrot & celery, which I sweated off also and put in the 'fridge until I was ready to use it a couple of days later.

Pearl barley gives a chewier texture.
I like to make rissotti using roasted beetroot, or butternut squash, but this time I wanted something a bit different. At Findhorn, when I worked in the Park kitchen during Experience Week, we made a beetroot 'risotto' using their colossal roots and short grain brown rice, because that's all there was, slowly adding stock while stirring continuously to break down the starch. I spent the best part of an hour stirring stock into that rice, but had to leave before the beetroot was added. Apparently, I was told the next day, it was a great success.

I also wanted to incorporate pearl barley, because I like its chewy texture and I think it's appropriate, seasonally. So, in a pan, I reheated the pre-cooked mirepoix with a few cloves of roasted garlic (which I keep in a jar, covered with oil) and made up a litre of vegetable bouillon. I put a couple of tablespoons each of short grain brown rice and pearl barley grains in with the sweated veg, mix and began to slowly add the bouillon, stirring all the while.

It went on for some time, stirring, adding more stock, occasionally covering the pot. The pearl barley takes longer to cook than the rice and had to stand for a while, to infuse. Next time, I'll soak it for a good few hours first. I cubed the roasted beetroot, adding it in the final five minutes of cooking.

grilling haloumi
The difference between a risotto and a pilaf is primarily the cooking method - a risotto must be stirred, making its texture sloppy, but otherwise it's down to provenance, Italian or Turkish? I accompanied my beetrooty rice with grilled haloumi, bought from Oli's, the Turkish supermarket, so it's more pilaf but I stirred in the stock slowly, so it's a little bit risotto, although the pearl barley absorbed all the liquid, so its texture was firm. I'll  call it rislaf, which even sounds a bit Polish. Smacznego!

P.S.: Some time later, I found this Polish vegan cookery blog!