January 21, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Motherhood is about raising and celebrating the child you have, not the child you thought you would have. It’s about understanding that he is exactly the person he is supposed to be. And that, if you’re lucky, he might just be the teacher who turns you into the person you are supposed to be.
I stumbled upon this quote when desperately researching why it is that babies who have slept really well for the last couple of months suddenly hit the four month mark and turn into night terrors. Most of the activity in the Cakesnail household this week has taken place between the hours of 1 and 5am in the shape of crying, bouncing, rocking, crying, feeding, bouncing, crying. You get it. I think (hope) the worst is over, but it’s been big stuff for our little guy: his brain is gearing up for a mega developmental leap that should happen in another couple of weeks. It’s a pretty cool one – he’s going to start rolling, and building towards crawling (eek), and probably making those baba-mama-tata-papa sounds that we will leap to records as first “words”. But at the moment he’s a tad confused, and spooked, and needy. Doesn’t anyone whose head circumference is going to grow three centimeters in a mere month deserve to feel a bit discombobulated?
These changes bit hard to start out. It feels cruel – just as you find a rhythm with your days, and get a glorious 8 hour chunk of sleep from your little one, not only is that snatched away, but it comes with much more middle-of-the-night distress than the pure eating fest of the newborn nights. It’s all too easy to put your parenting decisions under the spotlight: should I have let him sleep “on the go” so much; does he need a stricter daytime schedule; does he need to cry for longer to learn his way out of some of this? The whole experience is quite the teacher: I certainly will never judge anyone else’s parenting decisions having been through this. Learning not to judge your own: well, that’s a much harder lesson.
I don’t write much about my yoga practice on Cakesnail – it’s something I prefer to experience more than to intellectualize, which writing invariably leads me to do. But this week I can’t stop thinking about just how much yoga there is in this journey of parenthood. It’s about dropping attachments to and expectations of an image of what our nights should look like at this point. It’s about acceptance, trust, and faith that everything is exactly the way it’s supposed to be. And it’s about kindness – to a confused, growing little boy, to Ollie, and, hardest of all, to myself. So while my asana practice might look quite different to the days Before Henry – a chaotic mom-and-baby class here, or a mad dash to and from a weekly practice there – it’s fine. I’m chanting and breathing all night long, and that gym ball does wonders for the core in any case.
Being up all night requires careful nourishment: a quick bowl of pasta and tomato sauce doesn’t really cut it. I’ve been eating a lot of meat as a result – some days it’s a sheer physical drive for a burger or steak. But I’m trying to get more fish into this diet, especially before bed, as it’s a digestable protein that keeps you full and aids sleep without a heaviness in the gut. I generally avoid cooking fish, just because I’m not really that good at it. Terrified of the modern culinary sin of overcooking, I usually end up serving fillet of sushi, which then has to go back in the oven or on the stove probably in chunks, while the rest of the meal goes cold and limp. This is why, if I invite you for dinner, I will not be serving fish. Of course this vicious circle is ridiculous: more tethering to fear, and expectations, and perfectionism. It’s only fish!
Speaking of perfectionism, I took this recipe from Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP newsletter on superfoods this month, with recipes from Dr Frank Lipman. You would think that the realities of these past weeks would make any mama infuriated by Gwynny’s curated depiction of idealized motherhood, and I totally get it if you find her ridiculous. But love or loathe, she does have impeccable food taste, and this salmon recipe hits all the right notes, whether you’re trying to get through the night, or just through the hump of late January resolution fatigue. The fish marinades in soy, balsamic, lime and honey, leaving a subtle note when grilled that pairs perfectly with brown rice and greens quickly wok-fried with garlic. Eat up, let go, and enjoy whatever ride you find yourself on right now. You’ll be off it before you know*.
*since I wrote this, nights are almost back to normal! Whatever ‘normal’ means these days…
Soy-Balsamic Salmon with Brown Rice and Kale
Adapted from Dr Frank Lipman for GOOP
2 salmon fillets, around 1/3-1/2 lb each, preferably wild or whatever salmon is sustainably fished where you are
1/4 cup light soy sauce (I used tamari)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
juice of half a lime
1 tbsp honey
3 tbsp olive oil
Brown rice to serve, cooked however you prefer (I do 1 part rice to 2 parts water in a rice cooker)
1 bunch kale
4 cloves garlic
canola or vegetable oil
Combine the soy, balsamic and lime juice in a small bowl. Whisk in the honey until well combined, and then slowly drizzle in the olive oil while continuing to whisk. Stir in a few turns of fresh black pepper.
Place the salmon fillets in a sealable container or shallow dish, and pour the marinade over the fish. Cover and refrigerate for 4-12 hours, turning the fish and basting 3-4 times during this time.
Before you cook the fish, cook your rice and prepare the kale by removing the hard stems and cutting or ripping into pieces. Finely chop the garlic and set to one side.
Line a baking sheet or tray with parchment paper or foil. Remove the salmon from the marinade and place on the sheet, skin-side up. Preheat your broiler (UK = grill) and place the salmon underneath, not too close to the heat, around the second shelf to the top. This is where it gets fun! The original recipe said to broil/grill for 2-3 minutes each side. Mine needed more like 6 minutes each side, but keep an eye on your fish and use your instincts. Just take note of how long it took, even if you end up getting it wrong, so you can tweak the next time.
Once the fish is on the second side, heat about 2 tbsp canola or vegetable oil in a wok or appropriate skillet, and add the garlic. Fry, moving around the pan quickly, for about 1 minute, then add the kale and continue cooking and stirring for about 1-2 more minutes.
Serve the rice and kale alongside the fish.
August 4, 2011 § 5 Comments
Sorry to have been a bit quiet these past
two three weeks. It’s amazing how time-consuming it is to detox! Buying vegetables, chopping vegetables, eating vegetables. In fact, cooking and eating pretty much constantly to keep one step ahead of hunger which can only lead to cravings of bread or, worse, chocolate cake, which is not on the agenda for another couple of weeks week yet. But before I sound completely crazy, let me back track and explain. I’m doing a 30 day cleanse, the main restrictions of which are as follows: no caffeine, no alcohol, no wheat, no meat, no cow’s dairy, no sugar, no salt (no fun). I think that covers the proscriptions; on the other hand, you have to eat lots of brown rice, tons of fruit and veggies, industrial quantities of nuts and seeds, daily hot lemon juice with cayenne. If you’re doing it seriously, you also dry body-brush in the mornings and have plenty of hot baths with Epson salts. And massage, yum. Daily exercise is a must, and daily meditation is preferable. As I said: time-consuming. So why I am putting myself through this, I hear you ask. Quite simply, I was exhausted. I’d had a month-long bout of insomnia which was as bad as I’ve ever had it, my skin was breaking out like a hormonal teenager, and I felt bloated and listless. I needed to reset and I needed something as rigid as this plan to force me into it. And I had just over a month at home before we headed out to Australia and then to England not too long after that. It was now or never.
The specific plan is mostly based on one that Ollie did not long before we met but with a heap of common sense and adaptations that we’ve both added over the years as we’ve periodically used it as a base for a week or two of cleansing here and there. Once the whole thing is over and done with I’ll create a page here with links to all the recipes in case anyone else is thinking of doing something similar – there really are some great things you can eat and some of them I’ve documented in a flickr set. The thing I was most looking forward to this time was getting to do the detox in California and in the summer: it’s much less of a hardship to have to eat heirloom tomatoes and stone fruits than carrots and turnips in wintery England. And since I love eating whole grains and am building a vegan repertoire, I haven’t found the day-to-day food too much of a chore at all. Indeed, more than a couple of recipes are total keepers and I wanted to share two of them with you here today as they’ll both be staples in my kitchen long after I’m back on the toast.
Both the recipes are breakfast items, although one can also be adapted as a sweet treat. If you’re used to reaching for the cereal or popping a couple of slices of bread in the toaster first thing you’ll need to think of breakfast a bit differently to get through the detox, but there are plenty of great options. My favourite is a riff on a muesli, made by grating apples and ginger and adding in handfuls of chopped nuts, coconut flakes, and dried fruits. It’s sweet from the apple and dried fruits but with an earthy bulk from the nuts and a comforting warmth underpinned by the ginger. I top it with a couple of spoonfuls of Bellweather Farm’s sheep’s yoghurt: bliss. The second is a rice pudding, made with black Thai rice, coconut milk, and a touch of honey. It’s incredibly easy and delicious hot or cold. I keep a jar in the fridge and top bowlfuls in the mornings with seasonal fruits: it’s great with berries but also works especially well with sliced nectarines. In case you’re wondering, I’ve slept through most nights since I started the detox, my skin is clear and glowing, and my tummy is flat. And, yes, I’m bored stupid.
Apple and Ginger “Muesli”
Makes about 4 servings
The quantities here are really approximate: feel free to dial up or down any ingredient to your preference. The key is to get a good mixture of ingredients with most spoonfuls.
2 apples (I’ve used Fujis and Cameos most recently but any sweet apple should be fine)
1 tbsp ginger
1/3 cup almonds
1/3 cup hazelnuts
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup dried apricots, diced
1/4 cup flaked dried coconut
Yoghurt, to serve
Use your food processor to chop the nuts, or chop them by hand. You are looking for a coarse chop rather than fine meal here. If you have flaked almonds you could substitute those here. Put in a large bowl and add the raisins, diced apricots and coconut.
Quarter and core the apples and then use the attachment on a food processor to grate them. You can do this by hand too: it’s just a bit harder work. Add to the bowl with the fruits and nuts.
Grate the ginger finely on top of the apples (I use a microplane for this). Mix everything together thoroughly. Spoon into bowls and top with yoghurt (sheep’s or goat’s if you are detoxing).
Coconut Black Rice Pudding
Adapted from Lorna Sass’s Whole Grains: Every Day, Every Way
I kept my version on the low-fat side and sweetened it only marginally. It would of course be a richer and more decadent treat with whole coconut milk and with more added honey, agave nectar, or sugar. It’s your call.
1 cup Thai black sticky rice (or any glutinous black rice)
pinch of salt (I omitted this)
1 can (14oz) unsweetened coconut milk (I used low-fat this time and it worked well; the richness of whole coconut milk would be great too of course)
1 tbsp honey (or more to taste, or 2-4 tbsp sugar to taste)
In a heavy, large saucepan, bring 1 3/4 cups (425ml) to a boil. Add the rice (and salt if using) and return to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat, and simmer until the rice is tender: this will take about 25-30 minutes. Most of the water should be absorbed but it’s ok if there’s a little left.
Stir in the coconut milk and honey or sugar to taste. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and boil gently, uncovered, stirring from time to time to stop the rice from sticking. It will take about 10 minutes for the rice to absorb most of the coconut milk. Leave it slightly wet and soupy since once it sits the rice will continue to absorb the liquid and it will firm up (even more so if you plan to let it cool).
You can serve the pudding warm, room temperature or chilled. Top with fruits.
July 4, 2011 § 3 Comments
The other night we got around to watching Bertolucci’s adaptation of Bowles’s The Sheltering Sky. Since this is not a film blog I will only say two things: that the novel is far superior; and that it appears that this season’s Anthropologie lookbook was mostly based on Kit’s wardrobe in the film, which, since more or less undocumented on the web, you will have to watch to see for yourself. But I digress. The Bertolucci film makes you wait right till the very end before it hits you with the novel’s (rightly) most famous quote:
“Death is always on the way, but the fact that you don’t know when it will arrive seems to take away from the finiteness of life. It’s that terrible precision that we hate so much. But because we don’t know, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.”
How many more times do you think you will cook supper in your life? Thousands, we hope. Maybe even tens of thousands if you’re really lucky, although on a busy Tuesday dinner prep can feel anything but luck to be in front of the stove. But how many more times will you, for instance, cook this specific dish of a halibut curry? Let’s say it blows you over (which it does) and you make it four or five times a year (that’s already a big repetition of the exact same recipe in our kitchen). Tastes change; fishery practices and guidelines change; you might take a dislike to dishes with coconut in the future. Realistically, I might eat this dish twenty times in my life at the absolute most. It’s torturous to go through the process of figuring this out: it seems futile even to try and put numbers on such everyday events when life spreads itself before you with all its permutations and possibilities. Surely the only sensible thing is to savour the dish as though this is the one and only time you will cook it, eat it, write about it.
There are two aspects of this recipe which you might be tempted to skip and the whole point of this vaguely digressive rumination is to pleed with you to go the whole hog with the details. The core of the dish is a thai-style green curry, chock-full of lemongrass, jalapenos, galangal, cilantro. The curry base is simmered with coconut milk until thick and perfumed, at which point you take it off the heat, add chunks of silver-fleshed halibut, and leave to one side while the residual heat gently cooks the fish through. I am a complete seafood novice (although trying to improve) and I promise it is impossible to overcook the fish in this recipe. It comes out soft and flaky, the perfect foil for the pale sauce. Sounds good, right? Well, it really is, but the dish only gets better if you go to the pains to make the garnish of chiles, red onion and lime. And the optional black sesame seeds? They really do add visual impact. If I eat this dish two or twenty times in my life I want it to be that version: the one with the pretty black flecks and the sharp crunch of the garnish. I don’t want it to be the half-assed version, because I couldn’t finish my email ten minutes earlier or contemplate chopping two extra vegetables. This is it, right now: cook like there’s no tomorrow.
Halibut Coconut Curry with Charred Chiles and Lime
Adapted from Becky Selengut’s Good Fish (watch this space for more on this amazing book)
2 jalapenos (remove the seeds from one or both if you want less heat)
2 stalks lemongrass, woody top half removed, chopped roughly
1/2 cup roughly chopped shallots (about 2 medium sized shallots)
1/4 cup cilantro stems (about 10 stems)
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp chopped fresh galangal or ginger
1 tsp coriander seeds, ground in a spice grinder or pestle and mortar
1 tsp cumin seeds, ground in a spice grinder or pestle and mortar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp dried tumeric (or 1 tsp grated fresh tumeric)
5 Kaffir lime leaves (or zest of 2 limes if you cannot get hold of these)
1/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock or water
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 14oz can coconut milk
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 lb halibut fillet, skinned and cut into 1 inch cubes
black sesame seeds for garnish
For the topping:
1 tsp vegetable oil
4 Fresno chiles (red chiles), seeded and minced (you can sub jalapenos if you can’t get hold of red chiles)
2 tbsp minced red onion
1/3 cup chopped cilantro leaves (1.e. a good handful)
2 limes, peeled and flesh cut into small dice
Combine the jalapenos, lemongrass, shallots, cilantro, garlic, galangal, coriander, cumin, salt, tumeric, and 1 of the Kaffir lime leaves in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to blend, using up to 1/4 cup (65ml) stock or water to help it become a smooth paste. You’ll need to scrape the bowl down a few times and run the processor for at least 3 minutes to get a smooth puree.
Heat the vegetable oil in a small saucepan over medium high heat. Add the curry paste and fry it for 2-3 minutes. Add the coconut milk, fish sauce, and the remaining Kaffir lime leaves. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium low and simmer for about 10 minutes.
While the sauce is simmering, make the chile topping. Heat the vegetable oil in a small saute pan over medium high heat. Fry the chiles and onion until they are caramelized, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cilantro and lime. Season to taste with salt and leave to one side while you finish the curry.
Add the halibut to the hot curry and turn the heat off. Let the residual heat gently cook the fish. It will be ready to serve after about 5 minutes. Divide between bowls, top with the chiles and lime and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve with rice.
June 21, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Ah, the V word. While vegetarianism has become more than acceptable – almost trendy – veganism persists in carrying baggage of the hairy hippy, knit your own cashew cheese, variety. It is, to be fair, a lifestyle for the most committed, as I discovered while standing by a market stall last week, only able to think up dinners that involved cheese, or eggs, or fish. Imagine doing that every single day, for every single meal. And it’s not a lifestyle I would dream of taking on personally: while I have a lot of respect for vegan philosophy, I believe in the benefits of biodiversity and omnivorism a la Pollan. But from a culinary point of view, veganism fascinates me. In the wrong hands, vegan food is bland and unrelentingly wholesome: squeeky almost. But with care and a pinch of inventiveness it showcases produce as well if not better than any other cuisine, playing around with texture combinations and teasing out clever layerings of flavours. This is why some of my favourite places to eat in the Bay Area are either vegan or vegan-friendly: the sassy and spicy vegan Mexican at Gracias Madre, the mind-blowingly inventive Millennium and now, as of last weekend, the omnivorous Gather in Berkeley, where around half the menu is vegan, the other half including contrarily a burger and a bacon and egg pizza. It was like I had found my soulmate. A kale “caesar” salad with almond “parmesan” (you have to put up with a lot of quotation marks when it comes to vegan menus) rocked my world and completely outshone the said brunch pizza. On the dinner and lunch menus there’s a vegan “charcuterie” board which has been highly lauded: I can’t wait to try it.
It was over the Gather brunch that I was inspired to commit to cooking a vegan dinner once a week. I want to play around with the ways to get those savoury, satisfying, mid-palate flavours into food without having to rely on cheese or meat, where they abound. I’ll post the resultant dinner/recipe each week and we’ll see how it goes, and for how long. One of the best ways to coax that savoury roundedness into vegetables is through the use of Japanese or Chinese flavourings, especially tamari, shoyu or other soy sauces. At the farmer’s market, once I was past the almost irresistible draw of doing something with peas, favas and ricotta, my eye was caught by a pile of beautiful, flowering baby bok choy leaves. I grabbed several handfuls, as well as a bunch of pungent onion flowers and some bulbous garlic and knobbly ginger. The resultant stir-fry, peppered with sesame seeds and served over rice, could not have been improved by meat, fish, cheese, eggs or yoghurt. Vegan Tuesdays are on, until further notice.
Sesame Bok Choy Stir-Fry
1 cup rice
1 tbsp sesame seeds
2 tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil
1 tsp sesame oil (optional)
2 cloves garlic and an equivalent amount of ginger – about 1 inch, both finely diced
around 3 cups/3 large handfuls bok choy or another Asian green like tatsoi; broccoli rabe would also work.
2 tbsp soy sauce – preferably tamari or shoyu
onion flowers (optional) or spring onions
Start by preparing rice as per your preferred method. We use a rice cooker, which since we eat an awful lot of rice is worth its place in our kitchen, but prior to that we used the absorption method: take 1 cup of rice, toast briefly in a small slug of oil in a small pan, add 1.5 cups water (for white rice; 2 cups for brown), bring to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer for around 20 minutes, or until the water is absorbed. Resist the temptation to check it until the full 20 mins are up. If the water is absorbed, then fluff the rice very gently with a fork, cover the pan with a clean tea-towel and replace the lid. Set to one side, off the heat, so that the rice steams and fluffs for around 5 minutes.
When your rice is about 5 minutes away from being ready, start the stir fry. Heat a wok over medium high heat and add the sesame seeds to the dry pan. Toast for about 1 minute, shaking the pan from time to time and keeping a close eye on the seeds. If they start to pop or brown, remove the pan from the heat momentarily and add the oil.
Add the sunflower oil and sesame oil if using and swirl to coat the seeds. Turn the heat up slightly and add the garlic and ginger, moving them both quickly around the pan to prevent browning. Cook for about 1 minute to allow them to flavour the oil, then add the bok choy. Stir frequently for about a minute, coating with the oil and other ingredients, then add 1 tbsp of the soy sauce and stir to coat. Place a lid on top of the wok to allow the greens to steam for a minute or two (I use either the lid from a large casserole pan or the lid from a bamboo steamer for this purpose). Remove the lid and continue moving quickly around the pan for another minute or two, until the greens are tender and a bit wilted. Add the remaining soy sauce and onion flowers or spring onions if using and cook together for a final minute.
Serve, piping hot, over rice.
June 7, 2011 § 2 Comments
There are foods worth learning to perfect. Others less so. The item “learn to make croissants” has persisted in appearing on my ever-expanding list of goals for a couple of years now. But it might just be time to scrub it out and focus precious efforts elsewhere. A good croissant is priceless: a crisp crust – baked just shy of dark brown – yielding to a pale golden, butter-moist, pillow-soft interior. Hunting down an exceptional croissant might require a modicum of effort but, let’s face it, finding a better than good crescent pastry is straightforward enough thanks to its canonical place in French patisserie and the centrality of such techniques in any kind of culinary training. In other words, there’s almost always going to be someone nearby who can make a croissant better than I ever will (without giving up the day job to become a pastry chef: another previous list-item of which I have since thought better). More than anything, I can’t imagine ever living in any place without a good pastry-offering-cafe within stumbling distance: such locales are central to my wellbeing and productivity. So the flakes of that perfect crust that persist in working their way in between the keys of my laptop will continue to come from someone else’s kitchen until further notice.
There are other less ubiquitous sweet treats that should come with a waiver, presenting, as they do, the acute danger of acquiring an addiction that hangs on the whim of a chef. One bored Wednesday in the test kitchen can spell death for your twice a week financier fix as some new cake on the block muscles it out of the way. And this is how I recently came to be making an arborio rice cake spiked with madeira, inspired by a similar creation erratically available from local coffee purveyors Blue Bottle. The fragrant loaf had long been a fixture on my mental cake and cappuccino map of San Francisco and has persisted as a craving even since our previously slightly sketchy block has exploded into a hopping “micro-hood” where baked goods now abound close to home: retro-chic lemon bars and whoopie pies, quadruple chocolate cookies as big as your palm, scones flecked with seasonal fruit and cocoa nibs. But none of these fill quite the rice cake-shaped niche and so I set to making good use of that time now free from the planning of croissant making (yes, I know) to find a good home-made version.
The Blue Bottle Ur-loaf is always moist, not overly sweet, and perfumed with vin santo. I contemplated plucking up courage to ask for the secret formula until discovering with cowardly glee a recipe in Marcella Hazan’s classic Italian cookbook for a traditional Bolognese rice cake which seemed more than close enough to warrant an attempt. Apparently this cake is a staple around the Easter table in Bologna and the egg-dominated loaf certainly conveys a feel of spring festivity, although it would be equally at home on a foggy afternoon or as part of a summer brunch platter. You start out by making a gloupy rice pudding which, once cooled, is folded into a simple egg batter along with flaked almonds and candied peel. There’s no leavening apart from the egg and the resultant cake is very dense but with its moisture preserved through the milk from the pudding and the final soaking in liquor. Hazan suggests rum; I wanted to use vin santo in my quest for the Blue Bottle flavour but for reasons of cost and convenience used some madeira we had lingering in the cupboard. The cake is tightly wrapped in foil and left to mature for at least 24 hours and ideally longer: I’d suggest having alternative treats on hand to distract during the period for optimum results. And the taste-test: well, it wasn’t an exact replica of the Blue Bottle cake but in the end that was fine. It was delicious and it was my own.
Bolognese Rice Cake
Adapted from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
1 quart (950ml) whole milk
¼ tsp salt
2-3 strips of lemon peel, skin only with white pith removed
1 ¼ cups (185g) cane sugar
1/3 cup (75g) risotto rice (Arborio or Carnaroli)
4 eggs plus 1 yolk
½ cup (60g) almonds (blanched and chopped, or see instructions below for blanching your own)
1/3 cup (60g) chopped candied citron
butter for smearing the pan
Fine, dry, unflavored breadcrumbs
2 tbsp madeira, vin santo or rum
To blanch your own almonds: take your almonds, which should be shelled but with the skin on, and drop them into a pan of boiling water. Drain after two minutes, enclose them in a damp towel, and rub briskly for a minute or so. Open up the cloth, remove the almonds whose skins have been removed and repeat the rubbing until all are peeled clean. For any stragglers you should be able to pull the skins off easily. Chop roughly with a knife to pieces about the size of a grain of rice.
Put the milk in a saucepan along with the salt, lemon peel and sugar and bring to a moderate boil. As soon as the milk starts to boil, add the rice and stir it quickly with a wooden spoon. Reduce the heat so the milk mixture cooks at the lowest of simmers and continue to cook for 2 ½ hours, stirring from time to time. The mixture will become dense and pale-brown in colour when done. If the lemon peel hasn’t dissolved, remove the pieces, and set the mush aside to cool.
Preheat the oven to 350F. Prepare a loaf pan or square cake pan that holds around 6 cups in volume (approx 1.5 litres): smear the bottom and sides of the pan generously with butter. Sprinkle the buttered pan with breadcrumbs, then turn the pan over and tap out any excess.
Beat the 4 eggs and the yolk in a large bowl until evenly blended. Add the cooled rice mush, beating it into the mix one spoonful at a time. Add the chopped almonds and candied peel, stirring them into the mix gently until well combined. Pour the mix into the prepared pan.
Place the pan on the middle rack of the preheated oven and bake for 1 hour, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
As soon as you remove the pan from the oven, pierce the cake all over with a fork or skewer and drizzle the madeira or alternative liquor over it. Leave to cool to lukewarm in the pan, then turn out the cake and leave to cool fully on a wire rack. Once cool, wrap the cake tightly in foil and leave to mature. You should leave the cake for at least 24 hours for the flavours to mingle and deepen, ideally 2-3 days longer.
March 20, 2011 § Leave a Comment
I was bracing myself for some kind of existential crisis when I turned 30 a year and a half ago. It never came. Quite the contrary: life as a 30-something has never been better. I’m more confident in who I am and what I want and willing to use my time more wisely in accordance with this. I’ve dabbled in enough things to know when something really isn’t worth persistence and when the interim teeth-gritting is worth the end result. I also have a bit more urgency in the face of life. This has stirred up intense wanderlust on the one hand, and provoked the creation of something of a bucket list of activities on the other. One instant result: a season of learning to ski (or, as it eventually turned out, snowboard in my case), a bruised arse and ego, and a renewed respect for fearless 4 year olds.
Now we all know that the reason skiing is so attractive as an activity can be attributed to one (hypenated) word alone: apres-ski. Think post-exercise altitude-fueled hunger satisfied by a roaring log fire, brandied hot chocolate and rounds of pungent melting cheese. Quite the cozy scene. And quite the opposite from the picture heading up this post which is of a zesty, bright wehani rice and citrus salad. Yet without the former I would never have discovered the latter. Even the best of us start to tire of the cheese and bacon-laden ski resort meals after a while and need something to cleanse the palate, regroup, and reinvigorate the appetite for the next round of fondue. And the Pyramid Bistro in Aspen turned out to be the perfect place for this pick-me-up. Nestled into the top floor of the utterly charming (and dangerously good) Explore Bookshop, the cafe specializes in whole-food oriented dishes, like an amazing kale and shredded butternut squash salad topped with bean-cakes which I washed down with a cucumber and coconut smoothie and some homemade 7-grain bread served with a shocking-green chard pesto. I would transport the cafe to San Francisco in a flash and eat there at least once a week, it was that good. Instead, I went for the next best option and bought a copy of Lorna Sass’s Whole Grains which the cafe had sitting out on a shelf as an exemplary source of inspiration. It has very quickly become one of my go-to books for inventive, nourishing, attractive dishes. The book starts out with a treasury of information on cooking and storing grains of all kinds, from amaranth to wheat berries, which alone is worth the cover price. The second half is packed full of delights building on this foundation, with highlights including a rye berry and smoked trout salad, bulgar and lamb soup, and a brown rice and peanut salad with soy and ginger marinated flank steak, which I fully intended to blog but didn’t stand a chance of surviving long enough to be photographed. I’ll be quite happy to sacrifice myself to making it again soon enough, just for you…
In the meantime this wehani rice and three citrus salad is far from a consolation prize. It’s an unashamed taste-bud titillator, making for a refreshing lunch or a prime candidate for the first course of a larger dinner, especially as it’s so darned pretty. Yet I have to admit that I hesitated before making this salad because of the always off-putting moniker of “fusion” levied at it in the recipe headnotes. Do not fear: the Southwestern pinch of chipotle is what makes this dish so brilliant, gently bringing the citrus high notes back to earth. And if fusion means taking in a bite of soft-as-butter avocado along with the chewy rice and crunchy pumpkin seeds, then sign me up as a fusionist for sure. The original recipe suggests just regular oranges for the salad, but I went for a triple threat citrus mix since we’re fully in the season for it right now and I’ve been looking for an excuse to bring home handfuls of the jewel-like kumquats that are currently popping out on market stalls. They pep up the level of tartness alongside the naval orange juice in the dressing, while slices of blood oranges fan out on top of the dish with their sanguineous flashes of colour. The end result turns out to be the perfect porthole from winter to spring, fully appropriate for this day of vernal equinox. Bring it on.
Three Citrus and Rice Salad
Adapted from Whole Grains: Every Day Every Way by Lorna Sass
Yields 4 appetizer sized portions, or 2-3 lunches
2 cups cooked Wehani, Chinese Black Rice, or long grain brown rice, slightly warm or at room temperature (see note below)
1 cup diced and peeled Naval or Valencia orange segments (1/2 – 1 orange)
1 cup diced and peeled blood orange segments (1 small blood orange)
4-5 kumquats, very thinly sliced
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (from about 1/2 orange)
1/4 cup raw unsalted pumpkin seeds, toasted
1 1/2 tsps grated orange zest
1/4 tsp salt, plus more to taste
1/8 tsp ground chipotle
1 ripe Hass avocado, peeled, pitted and diced
4 large lettuce cups or leaves
*Rice notes: Wehani is a red-brown basmati style rice, with some similarities to wild rice. Cook it by rinsing one cup of grains then combining with 2 cups of boiling water and simmering, covered, for about 40-45 minutes until tender. Remove from the heat, fluff with a fork, then cover the pan with a tea towel and replace the lid and leave to steam for a further 5-10 minutes before using. This will yield approximately 3 cups of cooked rice. If you can’t get hold of Wehani rice, which is likely outside of the US since it’s proprietary to Lundberg Farms, you can use Chinese black rice, wild rice or simply long grain brown rice as needed.
In a bowl, combine the rice, orange and blood orange segments (reserving some for decoration), kumquats, orange juice, pumpkin seeds, orange zest, salt and chipotle. Gently fold in the avocado chunks. Taste for seasoning and add a touch more salt if needed.
Place a lettuce cup on each plate and spoon the salad into the cup. Garnish with orange segments if you like.
January 18, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Sometimes you only realise how much you wanted something when you actually have it. This happened late last week when two suspiciously identical and officious envelopes emerged from between the piles of catalogues and junk mail in our mail box (new year’s note to self: sign up for one of those opt-out lists) and turned out to contain our green cards along with a very jolly congratulatory note welcoming us as newly-minted permanent residents of the United States of America. Now it wasn’t that I hadn’t wanted the green card to arrive but since we’d been in possession of all the advance work and travel permits I had sort of mentally filed away this final part of the process. And, well, it turns out that the concept of being able to live and work here for as long as we like is really rather lovely. Not to mention that the next time I enter the US from abroad I can go through the nice residents queue rather than the snakingly depressing visitors one. Cheers to that!
I guess I should now be writing some post about short ribs and apple pie, or something similarly patriotic, but I have wanted for a really long time to tell you a little about my adventures with Sichuanese food and, on reflection, what could be more appropriate than talking about a cuisine that I have only had the chance to experience because of immigration itself. Where you find immigrants, you find adaptations and reworkings of home cuisines. It’s a way for the newly arrived to make a dime of course, but also food can provide one of the purest expressions of community and just feeling a bit more at home. There’s nothing more grounding and reassuring than tastes that have become so familiar over time as to be a part of oneself. And whether we are immigrants ourselves or not, we all benefit from this process and are able to savour exotic dishes without having to get on a plane or boat or train. It’s really quite magnificent.
Now you’ll recall that I am a girl who likes a good project and bringing the flavours and methods of Sichuanese cookery to my kitchen is one of my current culinary obsessions. And there can be no better companion to this spicy terrain than Fuschia Dunlop’s veritable bible on this cuisine, which I discovered last year when it rocked in at number 9 on the top 10 cookbooks list from the Observer. Dunlop was fortunate enough to be the first Westerner allowed to study at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine in Chengdu and she very kindly went on to make the vast body of knowledge she accrued on this remarkable cuisine available in a way that is completely accessible at home. Admittedly you might have to put in a bit more effort than a jaunt to the local supermarket to get hold of some of these ingredients, but I promise that the extra work is well worth it. And once you’ve stocked up your store cupboard with the luscious black soy sauces, lip-tingling peppercorns and fragrant vinegars that underpin this recipe, you’ll be able to have some of the best home-cooked Asian food you’ve ever had on your table, and all in about a half hour at that.
If you are going to cook Sichuanese at all, it isn’t going to be long before you turn your hand to Kung Pao chicken. Probably the most famous Sichuan dish in the Western world, it’s also one against which the skills of a Sichuanese chef are often measured. As with much of the cookery emanating from this part of the world, it relies on a subtle balance of the sweet and the sour, underpinned by a round heat and the distinctive numbness that comes from the Sichuan peppercorns. Don’t even try to recreate this recipe without getting hold of some Sichuan pepper: it’s such a crucial part of the dish’s character. As with all the other ingredients this recipe calls for, if you like the flavours of Sichuanese food they are also the basis of so many amazing recipes that it’s worth your time to get hold of them. In the US if you can’t get them locally (in SF they are stocked at Rainbow and Boulette’s Larder by the way) you can order from Penzeys, and in the UK Dunlop herself recommends the Sichuan pepper in the Bart’s spices range, also saying that they are fairly readily available in good supermarkets. Dunlop spends a lot of time in the book discussing Sichuanese knife skills and the importance of different kinds of cuts and slicing techniques to the Sichuanese aesthetic and while this clumsy, plaster-wearing cook is unlikely to get anywhere near that kind of finesse, Kung Pao chicken does derive a certain beauty from at least attempting to get a parity in the size of all the ingredients, chiefly to match the peanuts. But whatever you do to this dish, if you have the right components in hand at the start you are going to end up with something pretty much unbelievably tasty and that I guarantee will have moved from a new year project dish to being a staple of your weeknight supper rotation before you know it.
Around 10oz/350g boneless chicken breast
3 cloves garlic and an equivalent amount of fresh ginger
5 scallions/spring onions
2 tbsp peanut/groundnut oil
a generous handful of dried red chiles (at least 10), preferably Sichuanese
1 tsp whole Sichuan peppercorns
2/3 cup/75g raw unsalted peanuts
For the marinade:
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp light soy sauce
1 tsp Shaoxing wine or medium dry sherry
1 1/2 tsp potato flour (or 2 1/4 tsp cornstarch)
1 tbsp water
For the sauce:
3 tsp sugar
3/4 tsp potato flour (or 1 1/8 tsp cornstarch)
1 tsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp light soy sauce
3 tsp Chinkiang or black Chinese vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp chicken stock or water
Begin by marinading the chicken. Dice the chicken breast into 2cm/ 1/2 inch cubes as evenly as possible (this helps them to cook evenly and is also part of the overall aesthetic of the dish, where all the components are roughly similarly sized). Place in a small bowl and mix with the marinade ingredients. Set aside while you prepare the other ingredients.
Peel and thinly slice the ginger and garlic. Slice the scallions into pieces about the same size as their diameter (ideally to match the chicken cubes). Cut the chiles in half and discard as many of the seeds as possible.
Combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
Heat the 2 tbsp oil over a high flame in a seasoned wok until it is hot but not smoking. Add the chiles and Sichuan pepper and stir-fry briefly until they are crisp and the oil has taken on their flavour and fragrance. Be careful not to burn them: you can remove the wok from the heat if necessary.
Now quickly add the chicken and stir-fry over a high heat, stirring constantly. When the chicken pieces have separated and have turned white, add the ginger, garlic and scallions and continue to cook, stirring, until the chicken is fully cooked through (you can test a large piece to be sure of this).
Give the sauce a stir and add to the wok, tossing and stirring it with the other ingredients. Cook for a couple of minutes until the sauce turns shiny and thickens slightly, and then add the peanuts. Stir them in and serve immediately, with rice.
December 14, 2010 § 1 Comment
I had set out today with the intention of sharing the delights of hazelnuts in cake form but have taken one for the team and reined myself back. I guess that you have more than enough sweet things on the go right now, such that a rainy-Sunday-afternoon cake of this type is unlikely to make it to the top of the pile, and I really really want you all to make this cake. So, it will wait on the sidelines until January where it will hopefully return as a glimmer of comfort in that harshest of months. In the meantime, I will unleash on you a few of my favourite restorative mid-week meals: the kind that I use to reset in between indulgent dinners out or excessive cake-eating of the kind these couple of weeks bring.
Heidi Swanson’s blog is hardly an internet secret and deservedly so: she rescues healthy eating from the “knit your own fermented yoghurt” image and makes it elegant. Her double broccoli quinoa recipe has become one of the most-cooked dishes in our kitchen: we like it with feta and avocado on the top. I normally omit the cream in the pesto, adding a little extra oil to get the right consistency instead, but implore you not to skip the amazing chile fire oil to finish it all off. We also love the chopped miso salad which I usually make with ricotta salata in place of the tofu: it’s savory, crunchy, and filling yet light all at once.
I’ve told you all before how much I love Ottolenghi and his renowned big, bold flavours, and this sweetcorn soup with chipotle and squash is no exception. It’s a great way to use up some of the pumpkin and squashes that call out to me with their vibrant colours and knobbly forms right now. Corn, like peas, freezes very well, so if you don’t have fresh cobs in season, don’t hesitate to reach for a bag of frozen kerns. I make the full batch of soup and then freeze portions just at the stage before the soured cream and lime are added to use as fast, tasty lunches and suppers through the week. I can also recommend toasting up some tortilla strips as a garnish. And one more favourite from a lady who has become a legend in the food blogging world: the carrot and harissa salad from Smitten Kitchen is a dish that combines health and warmth which is just what I am looking for on a December Tuesday. We ate it last week with wholemeal pitta breads and some homemade hummus and it was perfect.
Clearly I can’t write a post about my favourite things without mentioning Nigel. If you’re looking for a bit more meat with your veg, look no further than this recipe, which was probably our all-time favourite kitchen discovery this past year and has perked us up many times the day after a later-than-ideal night before. And it features not just any old meat: chunks of minced lamb which you wok-fry until dark and sticky with chile and garlic infused oil, no less, before topping off with a generous amount of broccoli. It’s crunchy and chewy, spicy and soothing, all at once. I love it with fragrant brown basmati rice. Bookmark this now for new year’s day.
Lamb and Broccoli Stir-Fry
Adapted from Tender Volume 1: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch by Nigel Slater
Yields 2 hearty servings
a medium sized head of broccoli or a medium bunch of broccolini (see note below)
3 spring onions
3 cloves garlic
2 hot red chiles
3 tbsp groundnut or canola oil
300g / 1/2lb minced lamb
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp sugar
a small handful of coriander (cilantro) leaves
If you decide to use broccolini, which I prefer in this dish, you don’t need to blanch it as the smaller stems cook fine from the stir-fry stage. Otherwise start by blanching the florets of broccoli in boiling water for a minute. Drain and set aside, running in cold water for a minute or so to stop the cooking.
Chop the spring onions and peel and finely chop the garlic. Seed the chiles and chop them finely too. Get the oil very hot in a wok then cook the chiles, garlic and onions till soft but not coloured. You will need to stir them constantly and quickly.
Crumble the minced lamb into the wok and let it colour to a rich, golden brown. You’ll need to be a bit brave here – let it really crisp up before you add the rest of the ingredients. Avoid moving the meat too much initially so that it sautes in the oil and seals rather than leaching out its juices which can lead to it boiling rather than searing in the pan.
Add the drained broccoli or the raw broccolini and continue to cook, stirring, for a couple minutes more. Mix the lime juice, fish sauce and sugar in a small bowl. Tip into the hot pan and allow to sizzle briefly, scraping at the bottom of the pan and ensuring that all the gooey parts from the lamb are reincorporated. Check the seasoning and add more salt and lime as desired, and then turn off the heat, stir in the coriander/cilantro, and serve while sizzling, over rice.
November 17, 2010 § Leave a Comment
It happened a week ago. I returned from one of those lunches that makes you happy to exist: good simple food, in the park, sun warm on the back, and swung by the mailbox on the way up to the apartment, where I planned to nap, knit and bake away the rest of the day. I knew immediately: two matching envelopes, with a suspiciously inflexible right hand side. The work permit had landed. I giggled for five minutes or so in the way that could quite easily have turned into tears but it didn’t. For all of the amazing time I’ve had over the past three and a bit months, I was ready to go back, to engage the bit of my brain that has been skirting around cloud-cuckoo-land recently, to engage in productive labor, as the immigration folks would have it. I’m also ready to be paid again, to be quite frank.
So it’s day 4 of real life and it hasn’t been bad at all. I feel lucky that I ended up sticking pretty close to home during all my leave: there are so many things I have made a new part of my everyday life and am determined to keep up even with reduced hours to lavish on hobbies. This site being one of those things. And perhaps a dose of realism in the kitchen will be a good thing: fewer three day ravioli making indulgences and more weeknight supper ideas. Not that there isn’t a time and a place for complicated cooking on this site and you can always guarantee that I have a scrap of paper somewhere on my desk with a Project being concocted. And there is of course, always the middle ground: that special category of recipes that are versatile enough to undergo adaptation and serve as an easy supper for two or a classy dinner for friends. One of my absolute favourites for this chameleon act is the humble jambalaya. First of all, I adore the whole category of rice dishes into which this Creole speciality fits: pilafs, paellas, risottos. Food with substance and heart. Second, anything involving the smoky warmth of paprika, cayenne or chile powder gets an automatic boost up my “to cook” list. And finally this is excellent make-ahead food as the flavours intensify and mingle if the dish sits for a few hours or overnight, meaning I can take advantage of home-working and do the bulk of the work at lunchtime and then just slide the casserole into the oven before dinner while popping open a bottle of wine or taking a bath.
I’m listing the Sunday version of the recipe below, which is both tasty and involved enough to warrant a place in the middle of a table surrounded by friends. I’ve never known it disappoint. My Tuesday version really just omits the shrimp and even sometimes the chicken depending on what I have on hand or how much time I have to get to the store. Making it a rice, chorizo and tomato version practically turns it into a store-cupboard supper, which is my kind of weeknight cooking. Especially these days…
Adapted from the Lee Brothers’ Southern Cookbook
Yield: 6 servings
*Make-ahead notes. You can make the stew as per the instructions below up to the point of adding the shrimp, then let it cool and keep refrigerated until needed. You can then reheat in a medium-hot oven (350F or 180C) for about 30-40 minutes. If you want to have shrimp in the stew, remove the pan from the oven ensuring the rice is hot and thoroughly cooked and then add the shrimp as per the final instruction below.
1 lb headless medium shrimp, unpeeled, heads on
3 1/2 cups/850ml chicken broth
1 tbsp shrimp boil (see note/recipe below)
1 tbsp canola or vegetable oil
10 oz/300g chorizo, cut on the bias into slices about 3/4 inch thick
6 chicken thighs, skinned (about 2 lb)
2 tsp salt
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 large onion, diced
5 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 28oz (or 2 400g) can Italian plum tomatoes, drained with the juice reserved
1 cup long grain rice
6 stems of thyme
This recipe, from the same book, makes about a cup of this spice blend. If you do not have the time or inclination to make it, you can substitute red chile powder for the shrimp broil without ill effect, as I discovered by accident the last time I made this dish
1 tbsp peppercorns
1 tbsp celery seeds
6 bay leaves, shredded with scissors
1/2 cup salt
3 tbsp ground cayenne pepper
Pound the peppercorns, celery seeds and bay leaf with the salt in a mortar, in batches if need be. Place in a small bowl and mix in the cayenne. Store in an airtight container for up to about 2 months.
For the jambalaya:
Peel the shrimp and place in a bowl, keeping the shells to one side. In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a boil and add the shrimp shells and the shrimp broil. Simmer over a low heat for about half an hour. Remove the shells and discard. Turn off the heat and keep the pan to one side.
In a large casserole or dutch oven that can go in the oven, heat the oil over a medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add the sausage and brown all over, for about 6 minutes. Remove to a plate or bowl and set to one side.
Brown the chicken in the same pan in the sausage oil. You might need to add the thighs in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and saute until golden brown, agitating if necessary to stop them from sticking. Turn over, sprinkle again with salt and pepper, and saute the other side. Add them to the plate with the sausage and set again to one side.
Still using the same pan, add the onion, garlic and 1/4 cup or 50ml of the reserved tomato juices and saute, scraping at any brown bits on the bottom of the pan, until the vegetables are softened and fragrant, around 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and use a spoon to crush them. Turn the heat down to medium-low and simmer until the ingredients are well-mixed and thickly soupy. This should take about another 4 or 5 minutes. Add the chicken pieces, nestling the thighs in the stew. Then add the sausage and any juices that might have accumulated from the meat.
Strain the broth into a measuring cup and add enough of the remaining tomato juice to make it up to 3 cups/750ml. Add the liquid to the pan and then add the rice. Stir once very gently to combine, cover and cook over low heat for 25 minutes, or until the rice is tender and has absorbed most of the liquid. Turn off the heat and add the shrimp, stirring to distribute.
Cover and let the jambalaya rest for 10 minutes before serving. At this point the rice should be moist and plump but not soupy. Serve garnished with thyme.
November 8, 2010 § Leave a Comment
If it were to happen that some cruel being were to send out an edict that we all had to choose only one meal a day (who would do such a thing?!), I would be first in the breakfast queue. I can’t remember the last time I skipped the first meal of the day and I always wake up hungry and looking forward to it. Sometimes (ahem, often), I even eat breakfast twice in one day. Wild, I know.
Breakfast also fascinates me culturally, the meal that reveals most about lifestyles and attitudes to food. Perhaps because it’s so often constrained by the morning clock, we seem to fall back on patterns and traditions more than at other times of the day. And I know many people who would order a curry for dinner without a second thought but who would be shocked at the idea of spiced rice just after getting out of bed. If one day you wake up in a strange part of the world and need to get your bearings, order breakfast and you’ll start to figure things out. Our trip to Bordeaux this summer was emblematic of this cultural connection. We were mostly staying in chambres d’hotes and the pride and care our hosts took over our morning eating was inspirational and oh-so-French. We worked our way through clafoutis and caneles, home-made brioche and a cornucopia of jams and preserves, and a lot of local melon. We also fell head over heels for the amazing home-made yoghurt we enjoyed in a couple of the places and promptly came home and starting making our own (recipe to be shared as soon as I have finished playing with it). But more than anything else we brought home a new appetite for breakfast and for getting beyond the routine of oatmeal or granola (good though both those dishes might be), for trying new combinations and most of all, for pausing and appreciating the first flavours of the day.
I want to share two very different recipes (one being more of an idea than a recipe) that prove the point that I could, and do, eat breakfast all day long. I’ve eaten both these dishes for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner and supper and highly recommend you follow my lead. The first, wonderfully straightforward concoction is inspired by the “daily toast” on the menu at farm:table in San Francisco’s Tendernob district. This adorable postage-stamp sized joint doles out chunky cuts of toast each morning with a topping of either some kind of nut butter or lashings of cream cheese and slices of seasonal fruit. It’s perfect for these autumnal months when apples and pears are abundant and fragrant. I love to combine apples with peanut butter and pears with almond butter and a scattering of cocoa nibs on top of either works a treat. In the summer you might consider pairing mascarpone and berries and swapping out the nibs for a few chopped pecans or walnuts. Just thickly slice a couple of pieces of bread – I especially like sourdough or farmhouse levain for this – lightly toast them if the bread is anything other than fresh that day (feel free to leave them be otherwise), slather generously with the nut butter and arrange fine slices of the chosen fruit on top before scattering cocoa nibs over it all.
The second recipe is something quite different, to the extent that I expect many readers will immediately file it under “dinner” or “lunch” rather than breakfast. That’s fine by me since it’s delicious at any time (NB especially post-exercise of any kind) but do give it a chance as a weekend brunch with a kick. The recipe is for an aromatic, cardamom-infused, oven-baked pilaf, which is topped with a dollop of thick, creamy, Greek yoghurt and an unctuous soft-poached egg. It exemplifies the comfort fusion dishes I have come to expect, nay, demand, from Yotam Ottolenghi and won out as the first thing I cooked from Plenty, in the midst of stiff competition. The egg oozes out over the yoghurt, giving the firm and spicy grains of basmati rice a silky coating without suffocating the warm spices. It was love at first mouthful and more than enough to get me out of bed on a cold dark morning.
Cardamom Rice with Yoghurt and Poached Egg
Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty
The recipe yields 4 servings. I made a half portion of the rice without any problems. The original recipe uses curry leaves rather than curry powder; I couldn’t get hold of these but you can swap out the powder for 6 fresh curry leaves if you have access to them.
4 tbsp groundnut or canola oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tsp curry powder
8 cardamom pods
2 tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp turmeric powder
2 fresh green chiles (such as serranos), thinly sliced
400g basmati rice (I used brown but white would be fine)
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
8 medium eggs (you can reduce this to one egg per person if you are less hungry or have fewer eggs to hand)
a large handful of parsley leaves, chopped
a large handful of cilantro/coriander leaves, chopped
6 tbsp lime juice (approx 2 limes’ worth)
8 tbsp Greek yoghurt
salt and black pepper
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Start by making the rice. Heat the oil in a large ovenproof saucepan or Dutch oven for which you have a tight fitting lid. Add the onions and garlic to the oil and cook over a low heat for around 8 minutes, until the onion is transparent and the garlic fragrant. Add the curry powder, cardamom, coriander seeds, turmeric, chiles and a teaspoon of salt. Increase the heat a little to medium and continue to cook, stirring, for about 4 minutes.
Add the rice and stir well to coat in the oil, onion and spices. Add the water, which should come to about a centimeter above the rice. Bring to the boil, cover the pan and place in the oven. Cook for about 25 minutes, at which point the rice should be completely cooked (it might take a little longer if you use brown rice). Try not to let too much steam out of the pan when you check the rice. Remove the pan from the oven and set somewhere warm while you prepare the eggs. If you like, you can turn off the oven and leave the pan in it with the door ajar.
Now you want to poach the eggs. Fill a shallow saucepan with enough water to cook a whole egg. Add the vinegar and bring the pot to a vigorous boil. To poach the eggs, break first into a cup then tip gently into the boiling water. Remove the pan from the heat immediately and set to one side. After about 4 minutes the egg should be soft-poached. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon to a bowl of warm water to prevent the eggs from cooling while you cook the others.
While the final egg is cooking, stir the herbs and lime juice into the rice and fluff with a fork. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more lime juice if you like. Divide the rice among bowls, spoon yoghurt on top and finish with an egg or two. Sprinkle salt and pepper on top and serve immediately.