Monthly Archives: April 2013

Tabbouleh

IMG_2225If you said “let’s go out for a Turkish tonight” I would previously have had to weigh up the time span between now and my last kebab and consider if my body was ready for the next undertaking. But now I know better than to conjure up such a swift image of mayo and chilli slathered wraps. The cuisine of almost the entire Middle East take their traditional dishes from Turkey, thanks to the Ottoman Empire rule, and they don’t all eat kebabs every day in Jordan. No, sir. Mezze is king. And besides those gloriously charcoal charred lamb chunks with natural yoghurt you will find a beautiful array of light, vegetarian low-carb accompaniments.  Tabbouleh is the staple of these.

This dish will stand proudly by itself as a healthy lunch box salad, but does just as well siting alongside many main dishes. Its quick to make too.

To serve 4 as a main

2 cups of bulgar wheat
4 tomatoes chopped into small chunks
1 cucumber seeded and chopped into small chunks
4 spring onions finely chipped
Bunch of parsley, stalks removed
Bunch of mint, stalks removed
Juice of 1 lemon
Olive oil

Firstly soak the bulgar wheat in boiling water and set aside for 10 minutes until it is soft to bite. Next loosely chop the parsley and mint, along with your tomatoes, cucumber and spring onion. Add the vegetables, herbs together in a bowl. Drain the bulgar wheat and refresh under cold water, before adding to the mix. Toss the mixture together with the lemon juice, oil, salt and pepper. Serve.

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Good ‘ol Hummus

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For the last 11 years I have been making this very same hummus. It was a recipe handed to me by a dear old indian friend in West London and it has been stuck to the side of my mum’s fridge in Wiltshire ever since. I get the call up almost every time I am back with the family to get a vat-load made, which never lasts more than a few hours despite the vast quantities produced.

Ingredients

2 tins chickpeas (or 800g soaked chickpeas)
1 onion finely chopped
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
2 teaspoons tahini
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon paprika
Good glug of olive oil

Add all the ingredients into a blender and give it a good whizz. If you like your hummus runny add some more olive oil a bit at a time until you reach your desired consistency. It will store in the fridge for around 3 days.

There are all sorts of ways to give this some variety and depending on what I have in the cupboard determines what goes in. But given my recent excursion to the Middle East for a few months I saw a completely different aspect to hummus, in its original environment. Ingredients that have been put together for centuries, since the age of Saladin fighting the crusaders, have kept generations of people fit and healthy across the furthest western tip of the asian continent. To me, olives and harissa always give that something extra, but the show stoppers that take bronze, silver and gold, in that order are sesame seeds, pine nuts and olympic champion za’atar.

If you don’t have za’atar in your cupboard already, or you haven’t even heard of it, please take my word for it and buy some as soon as you can. My Jordanian friends eat a teaspoon of this for breakfast every day, which is a far cry from the porridge I have most mornings, but they swear by its health benefits. Made from predominantly oregano and thyme, it has a beautiful citrusy tang that will liven any dish into middle eastern paradise.

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Carol’s Quince Paste

IMG_2175My surrogate Kiwi mother, Carol, (who is in fact American!) has been teaching me a thing or two in the kitchen over the last few weeks. Given the antipodean seasons we experience over here, it is quince season. That funny, oversized pear, that is too often overlooked.

I still can’t get over that we are headed for winter in April. I can only conjure up images of a dewy cider on Regent’s Canal in Islington on the first surprisingly hot day that the UK experiences before summer kicks in. Instead we are destined for declining temperatures and rain. We can’t complain after the hottest summer in 60 years. But what all this musing about seasons equates to, is that we have quinces now, the UK will have them in October/November.

You will reprimand me for the volume of sugar here, but this is really just to be sampled with a lovely dry cheese (e.g. Manchego). For me, the addition of quince paste (membrillo, to give it it’s original Spanish name) is to bring a fullness of flavour to your cheesy bite that will make your eyes roll to the back of your head. And for the trivia hungry amongst you, this was the original fruit used in marmalade.

Makes 2.5kg (you’ll have to give some away!)

3kg quince – around 7 pieces of large fruit

2.5kg sugar

Zest of an orange

2 vanilla pods

You will need a couple of hours for this, so make it a labour of love for the presents you can make out of it, or the looks of pleasure you will create.

Firstly, top and tail the quince, setting the ends into a bowl. Then coarsely chop around the core, tossing the fleshy bits into a separate bowl. Now chop the core in half and if it looks healthy, throw it in bowl with the ends. If, however, it has moulded in the centre, throw it out.

Now place the ends and cores in a muslin, and tie it off. Place the quince flesh and vanilla pods in a saucepan, with the muslin in the centre, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Boil steadily for 30-40 minutes.

Without discarding the water, vanilla pods or muslin, scoop out only the flesh and place in a separate saucepan.

Now add the orange peel and whizz with a hand blender until it is an even purée with no lumps. Once blended, gently heat the purée and add the sugar.

Here’s where the real love comes in. You need to set the heat on very low and stir almost continuously for approximately 40 minutes. If you stop stirring, the mixture becomes volcanic! After 40 minutes, the mixture should be an orangy colour and part with a wooden spoon so you can see the bottom of the pan clearly.

Line a 25cmx40cm baking tray with parchment and evenly spread the paste into it. Bake at 120C for 90 minutes until maroon coloured. Then leave to cool and set. Voila.

Quince

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Energy truffles

Power truffles

I am endlessly looking for something to forage from the kitchen mid-afternoon. If I’m not careful those snacks in the cupboard that I swear I didn’t buy will get it. But, with a deep breath, and a zen-like attitude, I keep my cool and remain committed to a diet that is sugar-free.

So, I’ve found the perfect answer. Cocoa truffles that  don’t have an ounce of refined sugar, just pure goodness. They keep for an age and they keep me going that age before the evening’s meal arrives. They are a synch to make, to boot. So move over KitKat, there’s a new kid in town.

This can be done with most seeds and nuts so whatever you have to hand you can substitute in,

 

Makes approx. 16 balls

2/3 cup cocoa powder

1 cup desiccated coconut

16-20 fresh pitted dates, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup pumpin seeds

1/2 cup sunflower seeds

1/2 cup water

Pinch salt

You could throw this all in a blender together at once and whizz away, but I prefer to start with the seeds and cocoa together and whizz until they combine. Then add the coconut and salt and pulse again.Then I add the dates, pulse, then the water, and pulse until the mixture is smooth.

To make sure you have even sized balls, use a heaped teaspoon of the mixture at a time, take it in your palm and roll on a chopping board. Set aside until you have all the balls prepped. You can eat as they are, or to jazz them up, I like to chop more desiccated coconut up on the board and roll them on it to stick. You could do this with chopped pistachio, cocoa nibs, or crushed buckwheat. If you ‘bejazzle’ your truffles they make a cracking light dessert that will just top everyone off!

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