Breaking the Fast

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)
720ml water
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.


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