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!

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Chickpea Curry with Cleriac

Jay's coming round and he's always hungry, so I cooked everything I found in the 'fridge, which happened to include some boiled chickpeas and cooked quinoa. If you're veggie & rely on pulses that need to be soaked to be digestible for your energy, it's as well to have some handy, otherwise you might end up living on junk, like Jay, who's idea of 'gourmet' is one of Tesco's Finest pizzas.

There are those who advocate tinned chickpeas, but only ever on the grounds of convenience, never taste or nutritional integrity. No! I insist upon organic chickpeas, from FareShares, and I soak 'em over night. If I don't use 'em the following day, I may sprout 'em, or  boil 'em up & save 'em for later, as in this case. Ahem.

The red quinoa that I got from Fare Shares ages ago was left over from an experiment to see if it cooks any better after soaking for 24 hours. It does! I cooked up a pan of short grain brown rice and mixed the quinoa into it.

My Assistant chopped carrot, celery & onion to a fine dice, plus this half bulb of celeriac that's been in the 'fridge since before Christmas, which she cut into quite large cubes, because I knew they would shrink in the oven. I tossed the celeriac cubes in sesame oil, diluted with rape seed oil, and roasted them for twenty minutes or so in a moderately hot oven.

Later, I slipped out to Hiep Phat, my local Vietnamese shop, for coconut milk, bean sprouts and coriander. I didn't need to buy green curry paste, since there was half a jar in the 'fridge that wanted using up and, anyway, I didn't want the flavour to be too intense. I had the green curry at Busaba recently and it was too fierce on its own, IMO, although delicious when mashed up with their coconut rice. Busaba's rice, BTW, is always impeccable.

When it comes to cans, I'm restricted to the expensive, ring-pull variety and so paid £1.50 for my coconut milk. (As it goes, I had a cheap tin of custard in the cupboard, which I got Jay to open, later, to go with our leftover Christmas pud.) It was too late in the day to get the fresh items from my Oriental friends and I thought about trekking down Walworth Road to Oli's, the 24 hour Turkish supermarket, for the coriander & also because they have blocks of creamed coconut which work out way cheaper (as I used to do), but it was too far to stagger. Instead, I went across the road to Tesco and scored a bag of veggies ready-prepared to stir-fry, marked-down because it was after 5pm.

Back at home, I sweated the diced veg, then added the coconut milk and green curry paste, mixing them together before adding the chickpeas & simmering for five minutes with the lid on, then adding the cooked celeriac, leaving the pan on low heat, uncovered for the sauce to thicken while I stir-fried the bag of prepped veg. from Tesco. This was  pretty decent plate of food and Jay cleared his in record time. The roasted celeriac was sublime with the chickpeas, in the green curry cream, although it would have been improved by a handful of chopped fresh coriander.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Nothing Special

This image has been shrunk,
following the realisation that
it may be the sloppiest pic. ever.
This was my dinner on 04.01.13. It's nothing special. I snapped it in a solipsistic but also salutary spirit to say, Happy New Year! We made it through the portentous winter solstice to 2013 and life goes on. As they say in Zen: 'Before enlightenment: chop wood, boil water. After enlightenment: chop wood. boil water.'

On this plate: griddled aubergine in blackbean sauce; mushroomy rice; broccoli florets. I have a heavy, ridged cast-iron griddle on my stove top, which is a wonderful thing, but you could use a heavy-bottomed pan. Cut the aubergine into thick 1cm slices and coat one side liberally with good olive oil. (I usually have at least two olive oils on the go, the virginal good stuff for flavour and a lighter one that I cook with). Pour some oil onto a plate and put the cut aubergine pieces into the oil, leaving them to soak it up for ten minutes or so. Then place the dry side down onto the hot griddle pan. The oil will be drawn into the sliced aubergine as it cooks. Turn the slices and baste them with more oil, using a brush or your finger. Try to keep the oil on the vegetable and off the griddle, where it'll burn malodorously.

For the rice, I used Tilda Wholegrain Basmati, which cooks quickly and easily. I idly read the instructions on the packet and they speak of volumes of water and straining, but I usually just cover the rice with two-and-a-half times its volume of cold water, using the same measure, bring it to the boil in a covered pan (I've got one with a glass lid, which is handy) and turn the heat down to simmer until most of the liquid is absorbed. While this was going on, I cut up maybe half a dozen mushrooms into wedges (my one-handed knife technique is coming on well, in the seasonal absence of my Glamourous Assistant). I sauteed the mushrooms in butter and sesame oil, then added the cooked rice to the frying pan to amalgamate the flavours.

Repeat readers may know of my maxim that few dishes are not improved by the addition of a handful of frozen peas and this is very obviously applicable in the case of mushroomy rice! Finally, I finished it with a few drops of tamari and also stirred in a smear of blackbean sauce.

I have a bit of a thing for Ken Hom's Blackbean Sauce (for Tesco). Not only am I not ashamed of this, but I don't mind telling you that Tesco is offering a significant discount if you buy two jars of 'Ken's own savoury and full flavoured sauce made with black beans, ginger and garlic' before the end of January. What you choose to do with this information is your own affair.

Finally, I steamed broccoli florets in the non-stick frying pan (having returned the rice to its cooking pot) using this technique I'm developing: I put a splash of water in the pan with a teaspoon of minced garlic 'n' ginger (from a jar), bring it to boil, add the florets, loosely cover, boil off the water to cook them and finish with a knob of butter or jigger of oil, cooking on for a minute or two to slightly sear the still-crunchy florets. I have to confess that it's not quite working perfectly, yet, but I'm still experimenting;-)


Elsewhere in my kitchen, the under-reported quest for the ultimate frijolemole continues, my latest effort incorporating quite a lot - too much - double cream left over from my neighbour's New Year's Eve chilli, as seen in the pic. There are various issues, but that's another story. I've also been trying a jar of pieces of char-grilled aubergine in sunflower oil from Morrison's, here served with some capers. These have a peculiarly chewy texture, unlike my griddled beauties, which fair melt in the mouth.