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Soya chunk curry in a spinach and jalapeño base

11 Apr

Soya chunk curry in a spinach and jalapeño base

There’s a lady called Agnes in my aqua-fit class.

Soya chunk curry in a spinach and jalapeño base by Deena Kakaya

 

My mind has a tendency, even on an average and non-pool day, to go into overdrive and often feels like it’s floating away with the echoes of the pool. Light and drifting. Sometimes sinking. Washing and leaving.

‘Get those knees up HIGH, come ON ladies and gents!’ and I wonder where it is all going to end up in 5 years’ time. Oh my goodness, I’ve just realised how old I will be in 5 years’ time. Am I focusing on the right things? Do we move or do we stay what of the house prices. I can’t send him to school in this area, look at how much I have invested in him. Look at what it has yielded; he’s so polite, smart, and sweet and never hits another child, ever. But what of those house prices. More work, move abroad, or to invest, what to do? ‘Oh I am getting them up high, I have lots of practise, he he, he’ yells Agnes. I laugh, with the group, in the present.

‘Rocking horse AND TRAVEL’. What am I doing with this body, why haven’t I been eating those iron tablets regularly, why haven’t I removed this chapped nail varnish from my nails? I miss looking after myself, but that’s a ridiculous thing to say. I should make more time. How long does it take to put some hair oil in my hair at night? Exactly. Some oil in the bath? Some lovely hand cream. And I need to eat better too, I need to cut those cakes out. I come from a family of diabetics; do I want to be one of them? No! ‘oh, I love that rocking motion, you know what I mean!’ chuckles Agnes, then there’s a room full of echoes to the same tune, including mine.

‘PUMP those arms, come on, PUMP, and PUMP’ I need to get sink unblocker. I need to get the house sorted, I can’t live like this, I’m going to go mad if I continue cooking in that kitchen, and it HAS to get fixed. I cannot believe the neighbours have built their entire extension without planning permission or even telling us. It’s looking worryingly light-reducing. More paperwork to deal with, great. ‘Oh I like it, I love it, I like a bit of pumping action, ha ha ha’…belly laughs all round, Agnes throws her head back.

We all need an Agnes in our heads don’t we, well, I do anyway. Clearly.

Just like Agnes, I like it hot. This curry is hot, tangy, and fresh with green glory and has a tang! Again, I am sharing with you an unusual recipe, I don’t think I have cooked spinach and jalapeno peppers in a curry in quite this way, but believe me…it works SO well.

Cooks note: I have used vegetarian chicken from the TKC brand available in wing-yip and it works fabulously. I have also used meet the alternative which is pretty good. I would not use those popular vegetarian chicken products that are made from mushroom protein for this dish.

Soya chunk curry in a spinach and jalapeño base by Deena Kakaya

Ingredients

400g soya nuggets

200g fresh spinach leaves, very finely chopped in a food processor

175g jalapeño peppers in brine, 100g pureed and the rest finely chopped

3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

One medium onion, diced

Salt to taste

1 tsp. cumin seeds

1 tsp. coriander powder

½ tsp. garam masala

450ml water

1 tsp. cumin powder

½ tsp. turmeric powder

The juice of half a lemon

2 tsp. tomato puree

2 tbsp. cooking oil

Method

  1. Defrost the soya nuggets per the packet instructions
  2. Heat the oil in a pan and add the turmeric, cumin and allow the seeds to sizzle. Then stir in the onion and salt then sauté until the onions have softened.
  3. Add the garlic and sauté for a further minute before adding the soya nuggets and coat them well in the tempering.
  4. Sprinkle in coriander powder, coriander powder, garam masala, and grow the tempering to a to a high heat over 30 seconds to a minute then pour in 250ml of water and stir in the tomato puree.
  5. Cook the soya until most of the water has evaporated; it should take about ten minutes.
  6. Add the spinach and cook the curry for a further 3-4 minutes.
  7. Add the jalapeno puree and the sliced jalapeno peppers and cook for a further 3 minutes before turning off the heat.

 

 

 

Chinese 5-spiced Potato, Leek and Feta cannelloni with a panko topping

8 Apr

Chinese 5-spiced Potato, Leek and Feta cannelloni with a panko topping

Chinese 5-spiced Potato, Leek and Feta cannelloni with a panko topping

I have never been one for going on a ‘diet’ or consuming trendy foods just because. I have always eaten what I wanted to yet in moderation, most of the time. I’ve always looked in the mirror and seen room for improvement, but I like bread, cheese and steaming hot pakora. But.

Just before I got married, during the run-up I had decided that I wanted to look every bit the blooming bride. I was only 23 and I wanted pictures to look back on, proudly, of me looking my finest on a glorious day. I wanted no pleats of belly-fat as I sat on the throne-like chair bearing my midriff and neither did I want wobbly arms fanning the guests as I took my vows in the Hindu manner. I didn’t want those shadows around my nose to show and I certainly did not want to reveal stained teeth. There needed to be classy cheek bones, not cute chubby cheeks.  I imagined gliding, slender and light whilst greeting and mingling with my guests. And so it started with eating lean salads at lunch time. I ruled out even miniature chocolates but at work, where celebratory birthday treats decorated communal cupboard tops daily, this was hard. When we were in our favourite Chinese restaurant we ordered stuff that wasn’t deep fried and a curry with salad instead of rice or noodles. I went to the gym every, single day.

I thought it was working. I was wearing white, sheer cotton tops and hot pants that summer.

But as I called my then fiancé into the room whilst trembling, I knew it had not worked. Every time I ran my hand through my hair a bunch fell out. It had worn out to a wispy and flyaway state. That’s what ‘dieting’ did.

After I had my boy I adhered to the dietary requirements stipulated by female elders and ancestors. I overdosed on fenugreek, millet flour, spinach, roasted aubergines and mung beans. I ruled out cruciferous vegetables, tomatoes, spice, potatoes and many other items that lend to a balanced diet. I was borderline diabetic but consumed ghee, jaggery and nuts in the name of natural healing. And I do think that they are useful and nutritious, when they complement a balanced diet.

Again, the horror of losing fistfuls of hair in the bath was upon me. I wore a headband to disguise the thinning, especially around the temples. I was fearful of washing my hair but the greasy look didn’t do me any favours. I felt sluggish, heavy and I just wanted my hair back.

My recipe today offers carbohydrates and cheese and plenty of taste. Let us embrace them with our taste buds, hearts and tummies. I have used Chinese 5-spice in the stuffing and I know it does sound unusual, but really, truly. It’s good. I could the stuffing on its own as a salad, in fact…

Chinese 5-spiced Potato, Leek and Feta cannelloni with a panko topping

Ingredients to serve 4

A pack of cannelloni tubes

2 tins of chopped tomatoes

3 red bell peppers

2 cloves of garlic, minced

Chilli flakes to taste

250ml water

2 tbsp. vegetable oil

2 tbsp. sesame oil

2 large leeks cut into bite sized pieces

200g feta cheese

3 medium potatoes, cubed

1 ½ tbsp. soy sauce

3 tsp. Chinese 5-spice powder

1 tsp. cumin seeds

Method

  1. Wash, cut and drizzle the peppers with oil and roast them until they brown lightly
  2. Head the vegetable oil in a pan and the cumin seeds and once they sizzle, stir in the garlic and sauté for a minute before pouring in the tomatoes and the roasted peppers. Sprinkle in the chilli and water and then cook for 5 minutes before blitzing it smooth.
  3. Boil the potatoes for 4-5 minutes and then drain then and allow them to cook
  4. Heat the sesame oil in a deep dish and then add the leeks and then once they start to soften, sprinkle in the Chinese 5 spice and soy sauce and then cook them for 4-5 minutes on a medium flame.
  5. Stir in the potatoes and then crumble in the feta and then remove the mixture from the heat. Chinese 5-spiced Potato, Leek and Feta cannelloni with a panko topping
  6. Pour some of the sauce into a deep dish, then turn your attention to stuffing the cannelloni evenly and then place each tube into the sauce. The sauce should almost cover the cannelloni tubes.
  7. Once the tubes are stuffed, sprinkle the top of the dish with panko breadcrumbs and then bake the cannelloni in the oven at 180 degrees until the topping is golden brown and the tubes can be pierced all the way through.

Tofu sambal with curried okra, faro and coconut yoghurt

25 Mar

Tofu sambal with curried and Faro and coconut yoghurt

Tofu sambal with curried and Faro and coconut yoghurt I was a difficult eater as a child. My parents regurgitated their experiences of having to travel in search of a specific type of tinned ham (I turned vegetarian later, when I was a pre-teen) because it was amongst the very restricted variety of foods I would willingly eat. They wanted me to understand the pains they went through to nourish me. I remember sitting on an indoor swing, as a toddler with my parents singing to postman pat on the TV and sneaking a scoop potato curry, rice and yoghurt into my mouth at any reasonable opportunity. They would reminisce amongst themselves at the same time, about how they would get excited over every ounce of milk they would cajole me into drinking as a baby. I sensed the heart-swelling joy they felt when I was satiated and growing. I detected the worry, ‘when will she just eat’. The break-through in my eating came when I was about four. I remember attending an Indian function with my dad. I was a shy and quiet child with a silky mop of hair and a generous fringe which I sometimes tucked my eyes behind. I recall frowning at the party of swishing saris and singing aunties. I gripped my dad’s hand in silent protest each time someone tugged my cheek (it hurt) and remarked on my slight frame. My mum would always sigh, ‘yes, she doesn’t eat well’ and my dad would tell her to be quiet. The smell of samosa was overwhelming and I needed them, but I refused repeated offers.  On the way home I asked my dad for samosa. He laughed and bought them from an Indian café. I ate four.  I learned to follow my taste buds and my nose. I loved going to collect a Chinese take-away with my dad. I adored the aroma of sesame oil and the smokes that grew from the massive pans. I adored the look of slippery noodles being chucked around and crisp vegetables mingling their way between rice, egg and noodles. I was much more sensitive to the delicate juices that beansprouts oozed out and I also really fancied their chips. Luckily, this take-away made the stuff of dreams; a tin foil container with everything in it; veg, noodles, rice, and chips. The take-away made its way into my very limited repertoire of stuff I would eat. It eventually grew into non-child-like tastes, like stuffed okra curry. I watched my boy on a video call with his grandfather the other day. The same frown appeared from his very long fringe, it sits under his nose now. Head tilted forwards and eyes full of energy. He was talking about what he saw at the zoo. Most of the time he is asked what he ate and he quickly brushes over the topic, he isn’t bothered about food and he doesn’t know what pains I have been through over the last couple of years to nourish him. Even as a 4 month old, he wasn’t interested in feeding, he wanted to look around at the world and babble. He didn’t want to wean until he was 8months old and he wouldn’t eat a boiled carrot or a sandwich. My child eats pav bhajhi, paratha and quesadilla. My mum laughed out loud in the background of the call, ‘he’s just like his mum’.  The breakthrough for him came with Kadhi, a yoghurt and gram flour soup, but I added spinach. The other day we were driving home from the zoo. We asked him what he would like for dinner. My 25 month old said, ‘I want to eat Chinese food mumma, I want Chinese toast and Chinese rice and SOYA’.  My recipe today is an ode to all those favourites. The spongy tofu is cooked in a fresh, spicy, herby and lively Malaysian style sambal. It is probably one of the best sambal recipes I have made in a while, so I urge you to try it; this tofu is certainly not bland. The faro is nutty and light and is in a mix of curried yoghurt and like every good spicy meal, this is served with plenty of coconut yoghurt.  Ingredients 250g pack firm tofu 100g faro 200g okra, trimmed, washed and cut into bite sized pieces A few tablespoons of coconut yoghurt to serve (I used Rachel’s yoghurt) 1 tbsp. vegetable oil for the tofu 2 tbsp. vegetable oil for the okra 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped for the okra For the okra: Salt to taste, ½ tsp. turmeric, 1 tsp. cumin powder, 1 tsp. coriander powder, chilli powder to taste For the sambal 30g chopped coriander 2 stalks of lemongrass, chopped 3 tbsp. palm sugar (use soft brown sugar if you really can’t get hold of palm sugar) The juice of one lime 4 green chillies Salt to taste ½ tsp. turmeric 3.5 tbsp. tamarind concentrate or pomegranate molasses 4 cloves of garlic 3 inch nob of ginger 5 shallots, diced 1-2 tbsp. of sesame oil Method 1.	Wrap the tofu in some kitchen paper to remove any excess water before cutting it into cubes. In the meantime, boil the faro per the packet ingredients 2.	To make the sambal blitz together the ingredients to a smooth paste. 3.	On a non-stick pan heat the 1 tbsp. of vegetable oil and stir fry the tofu until it catches a lightly golden colour and then stir in the sambal paste and cook for 7 minutes.  4.	Once the faro is cooked, heat the remaining vegetable oil in a non-stick pan and add the okra and garlic and sauté on a medium heat for 5-6 minutes. Don’t add the spices because any moisture will make the okra sticky. 5.	Add the salt, coriander powder, cumin powder, turmeric and chilli powder and sauté for a further minute before adding the faro. Mix it all well and then turn off the heat. 6.	You can either serve the tofu on top or alongside the faro, but this all tastes fabulous with some cool and sweet coconut yoghurt.

I was a difficult eater as a child. My parents regurgitated their experiences of having to travel in search of a specific type of tinned ham (I turned vegetarian later, when I was a pre-teen) because it was amongst the very restricted variety of foods I would willingly eat. They wanted me to understand the pains they went through to nourish me. I remember sitting on an indoor swing, as a toddler with my parents singing to postman pat on the TV and sneaking a scoop potato curry, rice and yoghurt into my mouth at any reasonable opportunity. They would reminisce amongst themselves at the same time, about how they would get excited over every ounce of milk they would cajole me into drinking as a baby. I sensed the heart-swelling joy they felt when I was satiated and growing. I detected the worry, ‘when will she just eat’.

The break-through in my eating came when I was about four. I remember attending an Indian function with my dad. I was a shy and quiet child with a silky mop of hair and a generous fringe which I sometimes tucked my eyes behind. I recall frowning at the party of swishing saris and singing aunties. I gripped my dad’s hand in silent protest each time someone tugged my cheek (it hurt) and remarked on my slight frame. My mum would always sigh, ‘yes, she doesn’t eat well’ and my dad would tell her to be quiet. The smell of samosa was overwhelming and I needed them, but I refused repeated offers.

On the way home I asked my dad for samosa. He laughed and bought them from an Indian café. I ate four.

I learned to follow my taste buds and my nose. I loved going to collect a Chinese take-away with my dad. I adored the aroma of sesame oil and the smokes that grew from the massive pans. I adored the look of slippery noodles being chucked around and crisp vegetables mingling their way between rice, egg and noodles. I was much more sensitive to the delicate juices that beansprouts oozed out and I also really fancied their chips. Luckily, this take-away made the stuff of dreams; a tin foil container with everything in it; veg, noodles, rice, and chips. The take-away made its way into my very limited repertoire of stuff I would eat. It eventually grew into non-child-like tastes, like stuffed okra curry.

I watched my boy on a video call with his grandfather the other day. The same frown appeared from his very long fringe, it sits under his nose now. Head tilted forwards and eyes full of energy. He was talking about what he saw at the zoo. Most of the time he is asked what he ate and he quickly brushes over the topic, he isn’t bothered about food and he doesn’t know what pains I have been through over the last couple of years to nourish him. Even as a 4 month old, he wasn’t interested in feeding, he wanted to look around at the world and babble. He didn’t want to wean until he was 8months old and he wouldn’t eat a boiled carrot or a sandwich. My child eats pav bhajhi, paratha and quesadilla. My mum laughed out loud in the background of the call, ‘he’s just like his mum’.

The breakthrough for him came with Kadhi, a yoghurt and gram flour soup, but I added spinach. The other day we were driving home from the zoo. We asked him what he would like for dinner. My 25 month old said, ‘I want to eat Chinese food mumma, I want Chinese toast and Chinese rice and SOYA’.

My recipe today is an ode to all those favourites. The spongy tofu is cooked in a fresh, spicy, herby and lively Malaysian style sambal. It is probably one of the best sambal recipes I have made in a while, so I urge you to try it; this tofu is certainly not bland. The faro is nutty and light and is in a mix of curried yoghurt and like every good spicy meal, this is served with plenty of coconut yoghurt.

v

Ingredients

250g pack firm tofu

100g faro

200g okra, trimmed, washed and cut into bite sized pieces

A few tablespoons of coconut yoghurt to serve (I used Rachel’s yoghurt)

1 tbsp. vegetable oil for the tofu

2 tbsp. vegetable oil for the okra

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped for the okra

For the okra: Salt to taste, ½ tsp. turmeric, 1 tsp. cumin powder, 1 tsp. coriander powder, chilli powder to taste

For the sambal

30g chopped coriander

2 stalks of lemongrass, chopped

3 tbsp. palm sugar (use soft brown sugar if you really can’t get hold of palm sugar)

The juice of one lime

4 green chillies

Salt to taste

½ tsp. turmeric

3.5 tbsp. tamarind concentrate or pomegranate molasses

4 cloves of garlic

3 inch nob of ginger

5 shallots, diced

1-2 tbsp. of sesame oil

Method

  1. Wrap the tofu in some kitchen paper to remove any excess water before cutting it into cubes. In the meantime, boil the faro per the packet ingredients
  2. To make the sambal blitz together the ingredients to a smooth paste.
  3. On a non-stick pan heat the 1 tbsp. of vegetable oil and stir fry the tofu until it catches a lightly golden colour and then stir in the sambal paste and cook for 7 minutes.
  4. Once the faro is cooked, heat the remaining vegetable oil in a non-stick pan and add the okra and garlic and sauté on a medium heat for 5-6 minutes. Don’t add the spices because any moisture will make the okra sticky.
  5. Add the salt, coriander powder, cumin powder, turmeric and chilli powder and sauté for a further minute before adding the faro. Mix it all well and then turn off the heat.
  6. You can either serve the tofu on top or alongside the faro, but this all tastes fabulous with some cool and sweet coconut yoghurt.

 

 

Asparagus, radish & wakame in a lemongrass and chilli broth

14 Mar

Asparagus, radish & wakame in a lemongrass and chilli broth

 

After additional, nuisance bout of food poisoning or something gruesome of that nature it has been a week of gentle eating. It could have been the colossal over indulgence; there was the vomit-precluding list of sev puri Chaat, pakora, sandwiches, cheese, coco-choc ice cream, paprika chocolate…well, you get the picture.

Anyway, the result was a day in bed with very, very frequent visits from a 2 year old that chanted, ‘I want mumma, I want mumma’. I tell myself that maybe my body needed this rest; perhaps my body is not cut out for vast and enormous amounts of food or bacteria in sarnies. Whatever the course, a fast followed and then some actual nourishing food.

This recipe is truly refreshing and soothing; it even made my hair feel cleaner. It’s like the welcome drink in Thailand when you feel hot, sweaty, tired yet excited in a need-to-sleep-first sort of way. All of the ingredients are gentle. Crisp heat from the radish and bite from the asparagus meets silky wakame (seaweed), and they work gloriously well with nutty brown rice. The broth is fragrant, easy and fresh.

The folk at Holy Lama sent me some of their lemongrass spice drops recently. It is potent. Really potent. I used just enough to fill the tip of the pipette that comes in the packaging and that was enough. The great thing is that I didn’t have any annoying bits of lemongrass getting stuck between my teeth but all of the flavour. You could of course just use a stalk of lemongrass and get a lovely impact…just make it and enjoy it.

Asparagus, radish & wakame in a lemongrass and chilli broth

Ingredients

200g asparagus cut into 2 inch pieces

200g red radish, sliced

2 cloves of garlic

2 tbsp. sesame oil

3-4 spring onions, cut into bite sized pieces

3 tbsp. wakame

One litre of vegetable stock

Red chilli flakes to taste

One tiny drop of lemongrass spice drops or one lemongrass stalk slit open

1 tbsp. rice wine vinegar

125g brown rice

Method

  1. Cook the brown rice per the packet instruction and leave it to a side
  2. Soak the wakame in water and leave it to a side.
  3. Heat the oil in a deep pan and when it is hot add the onion, garlic, asparagus and radish and sauté for two minutes before adding in the vegetable stock, lemongrass, chilli flakes and rice wine vinegar.
  4. Bring the broth to a simmer and add the brown rice, wakame and cook for a further 5 minutes before serving hot.

 

Courgette and gram flour dumplings in broccoli soup

11 Mar

 Courgette and gram flour dumplings in broccoli soup

Her grass is so much more luscious

I’ve learned, over time and with some stumbling, to count my blessings more deliberately, more appreciatively, knowingly and openly.  When anyone tells me how lucky I am in a discussion that ultimately leads to my being lead to sympathise with their heroism in coping with the comparatively (and self-declared) unlucky (rather than of course apathetic) position that they are in, I say ‘thank you’.

This week, I have been told that I am ‘lucky’ that I have just one child and not a crowd of three. One, mother-infatuated child is a doddle apparently, even though my husband is off on his fourth international trip this year and my family is a couple of hours away. I say, thank you because I am blessed to be a mother.

The next thing I am ‘lucky’ for this week is opportunity to work with a new food brand who sought out my freelance support to reinvigorate their brand by creating some youthful and energising recipes for them. I nodded at my banker friend, who brings home a guaranteed, fixed income each month on a permanent contract. She tells me how she toils over each accomplishment in her career. I wondered whether to send her a cheeky ‘hello’ text message at 1.30am when I was wearily churning inspiration into submission. Instead I say thank you, because I am grateful that a new brand understood and appreciated my style of cooking, had faith in me to deliver something exciting and innovative for them and that that I feel fulfilled.

Also, I was made aware of how ‘lucky’ I am to be in a position where I have career options. I think this is the one that set of expletives in my head. Options. It has taken me three years of loosening my grip on that rope which bound me and the world of security and sort-of-positive-affirmation of capability through my ascent into corporate middle-management, then nursing my wounds of confusion and lack of direction and eventually finding my real inclinations and talents and then turning them into some sort of purposeful and meaningful reality. Instead I said thank you, for if it weren’t for this slogging and striving, I would not have the hope that I do today.

Courgette and gram flour dumplings in broccoli soup

On the subject of green grass and positive notes, my broccoli soup with gram flour and courgette dumplings has been a total joy to eat. It’s very lean because the dumplings contain no oil whatsoever and the green; well that’s just a healthy colour isn’t it. It’s mellow, kind, lightly sweet. It’s juicy and the dumplings are dense and spongy with the courgettes keeping the dumplings moist. This is again a very easy recipe to whip up. We ate it with some fresh apple and spice bread. Now if I hadn’t finished off with a cheeky lemon curd biscuit, I would have been very ‘lucky’ to have cooked and eaten a gratifying bowl of goodness.

Courgette and gram flour dumplings in broccoli soup

Ingredients

300g broccoli florets

One large onion, coarsely sliced

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1200ml vegetable stock

1 tsp. chilli flakes

1 tsp. cumin seeds

2 tbsp. cooking oil

For the dumplings

225g grated courgette

¾ tsp. caraway seeds

125g gram flour

Salt to taste

½ tsp. chilli powder

1 tsp. coriander powder

¼ tsp. ground turmeric

Method

  1. To make the soup, heat the oil in a pan and add the cumin seeds and allow them to sizzle before stirring in the onion. Sauté the onions until they soften lightly before introducing the onion and sauté until the  onion has softened down and caught light colour.
  2. Mix in the broccoli and then the vegetable stock. Bring the soup to a simmer before sprinkling in the chilli flakes.
  3. Simmer the soup for 5-6 minutes or until the broccoli is tender before blitzing it smooth.
  4. Whilst the soup is cooking, mix together the grated courgette, caraway seeds, salt, coriander and turmeric and chilli powders before mixing in the gram flour. It should form thick slightly sticky dough.
  5. Whilst the soup is simmering on a medium flame, gently drop in 50p coin sized amounts of the dough into the soup and cook them for 8 minutes or until the dumplings are cooked through.
  6. Serve hot so that the dumplings are moist and tender all the way through.

 

 

Tenderstem tip, roasted red pepper and barley salad with curried mayonnaise

7 Mar

Tenderstem tip, roasted red pepper and barley salad with curried mayonnaise

Fake it and make it

Tenderstem tip, roasted red pepper and barley salad with curried mayonnaise

 

I am not normally an advocate of faking anything. I’m not very good at it either.  I had pretty worthy week this week; Monday was filled with promise and colour, celebration and indulgence. Tuesday pulsed with exhaustion yet productivity. Wednesday was beamed with sunshine, innocence and smiles. Thursday was a right-off. The bubble of promise popped, the forthcoming celebration cancelled.  Someone sent me a message telling me that my writing is ‘raw and honest’. That encouraged me further to say it how it is.

As my I read my emails over and over again, my little one clambered over me whilst tugging onto my hair and strands floated down my pale t-shirt. I had got dressed up for playgroup this morning and I am glad that I did. I rested my forehead on my fingers to try and reason with clarity, but it wasn’t meant to be. My husband sometimes says that my boy doesn’t comprehend that he isn’t a part of me.  If I am thinking of something, my boy will often vocalise it. If I am happy, he frolics around encouraging loud, rapturing laughter from me. If I am sad, he throws himself onto me into a clumsy embrace and repeatedly reassures me with confessions of love. Today, he whimpered, reminding me that I have a choice…well sort of. Get, up and get on with it…or. Or what?

I didn’t want to make dinner today, but we had to eat. If we are going to eat, it has to be a satisfying one, both for the taste buds and the stomach. So here, in all its honesty, is how this recipe happened.

I put the barley on to boil, because I didn’t want to eat rice or pasta. I was on the phone trying to decipher what this potentially useful contact was advising me amidst, ‘mumma where’s the dinosaur train gone, its FINISHED’. So then I over cooked the barley a bit and it grew a bit lavender-ish so I disguised it in soy, chilli, basil and ginger and it tasted good.

I put the peppers onto roast but I forgot about them whilst fervently messaging my friend, ‘It thought it was…but it wasn’t’. They ended up well done, sweet and juicy but not burned. I simply trimmed any damaged ends and discarded them.

I can always be bothered with a dressing. In the same way that I got dressed for playgroup this morning, it makes something special of something understated. It styles uncomplicatedness and when you wash your hair, wear a nice top or put a fried egg or some creamy dressing on your food, life is a little bit better. Ordinarily I don’t use curry powder in a curry. Never ever, not at all, just no. It’s not bad (very good in fact) in a noodle soup or in mayonnaise though.

I made good from not-so-good. I made tasty from lack-lustre. I decided to get up and get on with it and do that same with Friday.

Tenderstem tip, roasted red pepper and barley salad with curried mayonnaise

Ingredients to serve 2-3

100g pearl barley

30g fresh basil, shredded

2 tbsp. soy sauce

1 tsp. minced ginger

1 tbsp. sesame oil

1 tsp. dried chilli flakes

125g Tenderstem broccoli tips

3 red peppers cut into thick strips

7 tbsp. mayonnaise

1 lemon

2 tsp. curry powder

Method

  1. Boil the barley per the packet instructions and when it is cooked, drain it, wash it and leave it to a side.
  2. Roast the peppers in the oven at 180degrees until they blister and start to brown. Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool to room temperature.
  3. Boil the Tenderstem tips for 3 minutes.
  4. Heat the sesame oil in a pan and add the minced ginger and sauté for a minute on a light flame. Mix it well with the soy sauce and chilli flakes before combining it with the barley.
  5. Toss in the shredded basil, squeeze in half the lemon and mix it all well.
  6. In a bowl mix the mayonnaise and the other half of the lemon juiced and whip it all together with the curry powder.
  7. When the roasted red peppers have reached room temperature and the broccoli is cooked combine them with the barley and serve with the curried mayonnaise.

Soy-Masala tofu, Quinoa, avocado and mozzarella salad

26 Feb

I remember that as children, my cousins and I knew broadly the menu we would be served at any family wedding, before even the wedding invitation arrived and each summer we would receive a collection of them.
Steamed, fluffy, lightly sour and spiced gram flour dhokla, potatoes in thick and rich curry gravy, black chickpeas perhaps or a curry of Val (field beans) and lots of fried puri breads. We knew there would probably be flaky samosa and multi-coloured mini poppadum’s that we would use to scoop up Kadhi-doused biryani. We would grab a compartmentalised plastic plate from the buffet and perch ourselves on a chair where we could find one and sometimes eat standing and giggling away.

Soy-Masala tofu, Quinoa, avocado and mozzarella salad

Weddings would always be in the hottest part of summer back then and we would look forward to seeing our lists of cousins and enjoying the banter between loud music and many guests. We would turn our chairs towards each other and admire one another’s colourful and detailed clothes, an arm full of bangles, glistening bindi and very often back then, weddings were held in school halls, where the walls evidenced children’s activities and the guests spilled over onto the green fields. Everyone attended you see. As young children we would run around the hall giggling and playing as the many parts of the ceremony carried on whilst our parents mingled.

Things have changed so much. Nowadays weddings are in hotels or stately homes and so there aren’t scores of guests spilling over, maybe because the venue is so hard to find. Cousins aren’t in lists, but in treasured few numbers. You won’t see kids running around; maybe they aren’t allowed at the ‘event’. Sometimes silence is observed during the abbreviated ceremony, sometimes it’s just quiet. Maybe that’s because not everyone goes, people are busy these days, aren’t they. Sometimes they aren’t invited, invitations nowadays are at the couple’s discretion and friends are the new family.

Soy-Masala tofu, Quinoa, avocado and mozzarella salad
People don’t always wear bindi or bangles, but certainly not an armful. Sometimes it’s just not fashionable to look overly celebratory, subtly or nonchalant, I am not sure. There are seating arrangements and food comes to the table and is kept warm. Gone are the days of Val bean curry or multi-coloured poppadum’s and established are the days of carrot halwa with ice cream and whatever else the couple fancies; from indo-Chinese and robustly spiced paneer to sweet corn curry in a mellow cashew nut gravy.

So I got thinking about some of the modern stuff served at celebrations these days and the cult recipe of chilli paneer came to mind. Doused with soy, ginger, garlic, chillies and ketchup this recipe seems to be an obvious option on most local Indian restaurant menus. Without doubt, and someone secretly, I admit..it tastes good.
BUT, that doesn’t mean I would make a meal of it or cook it up at home. It’s become to…well, ‘been there done that’. Taking healthy inspiration from of it, I have created this recipe for soy-masala tofu (healthier and protein fuelled) salad with Quinoa, avocado and mozzarella. I don’t know if you use mozzarella as a sponge in your dishes but it soaks up juices beautifully. Use fluffy clouds please, not the tough stuff.

Ingredients
250g cooked Quinoa
1 400g pack of firm tofu
One ripe avocado
200g mozzarella, torn into bite sized chunks
2 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tbsp. ketchup
1-2 tbsp. chilli sauce
1 tbsp. tomato puree
4 spring onions, trimmed and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp. ginger, minced
1 tsp. cumin seeds
2 tbsp. sesame oil
1-2 green chillies chopped (optional)
1 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
1 tsp. coriander powder
¼ tsp. turmeric

Method
1. Wrap the tofu in kitchen paper to soak up any excess water. When it is dry, cube it.
2. Heat the sesame oil in a non-stick pan and add the chillies, cumin seeds and tofu. Stir fry until the tofu is golden before adding the onion, garlic, ginger, spring onions and turmeric. Cook for 3-4 minutes before pouring in the soy sauce, ketchup, coriander powder, chilli sauce, and tomato puree and rice wine vinegar.
3. Cook the tofu for a further 3-4 minutes before turning off the heat.chilli tofu
4. In a large bowl mix the cooked Quinoa, avocado, mozzarella and then stir in the tofu whilst warm and serve immediately with lovely flatbread.

Deep and Smokey Mexican-Asian noodle soup

9 Feb

Keep the song

Deep and Smokey Mexican-Asian noodle soup

 

My parents fretted that I was a bit of a hermit as kid.  It was somewhat the opposite as a teen but as a child I would hear my dad express his qualms about whether he was dipping me into social activities enough. Often when he asked if I wanted to join him on one of his frequent but small shops, I would say no.  My brother would always go.  The reason I stayed behind was so that I could sing freely, loudly, expressively and privately. I would day dream lots. I laid out piles of books around the room and became utterly lost in them, gleaning and storing snippets of them in a pensive haze. I remember how captivated I was by them both; books and music. So much so that when anyone hollered for me I wouldn’t hear them.

I took singing lessons as a teen. I sang on the way to lessons at college and even to exams. In fact I even had, ‘exam songs’. I sang in the park with my friends, whilst cooking and always in the bath. People tell us all the time that we should learn from our elders. I have to tell you quite honestly and humbly that I am right now in my life, learning from my younger self.

For I had a focus that I am only proud of now and wish that I still had. I knew that with every song and with my own decidedness I got myself in the zone. I knew that singing made my heart flutter and gave me a rush of energy. So why then had I let the song out of my life in recent years?

The radio in the car played the same nursery rhymes. The kitchen was quiet. The TV played as background noise and social media was the go-to.

I went on a girl’s night on Friday. I met the girls on my NCT group and the three of us have seen each other through big, emotionally-overhauling life changes.  We have spoken to each about stuff we wouldn’t normally say, candidly, angrily, ecstatically and most of all we have been exhausted together. We talked about our most recent changes in life. One of us is having a new baby; another is going through a separation. Then there is me.

I drove home at nearly midnight, eyes sore from fatigue. As I turned into the driveway I heard a song that threw me back to my teenage years. I closed my eyes and I was with my books and the windows were open, net curtains billowing…I was crouched on the floor, face cupped in hand, and hair everywhere. The romantic potential unlocked and singing, smiling, lost and with swelling with a beat.

knew that the moment I walked in through the door I would become a mother, so when the song had stopped playing I found it on youtube and played it again, thrice.

To fit the deep and smoky mood, I made this Mexican-Asian noodle soup.  I was sent some wonderful Mexican ingredients by CoolChille Company and I knew that I had to do it. The black beans are deep and earthy and brought to a further earthiness with soy bean paste. Guajillo chillies are wonderfully rich in colour and smoky. I toasted, soaked and then blitzed them to a paste and this has really released immense richness. Avocado brings silky and creamy quality and it works superbly with the soup. I have up epazote which is a citrus-medicinal type Mexican herb and works fabulously with black beans.  This one works as a bowl of surprise and sumptuous taste.

Deep and Smokey Mexican-Asian noodle soup

 

Ingredients to serve 2-3

200g cooked black beans

6 baby onions, quartered

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

700ml water

2 tsp.

1 tsp. soy bean paste

2 tbsp. soy sauce

2 tbsp. rice wine vinegar

Half an avocado, sliced

6-7 baby corn, thinly sliced

1 tsp. cumin seeds

2 large guajillo chillies

2 tsp. epazote

2 tbsp. cooking oil

A few sprigs of coriander to garnish

A couple of slices of lime to garnish

Method

  1. Start by toasting the Guajillo chillies on a non-stick pan to release the flavour. You will notice that the chilli will soften and will release a wonderful heat. Toast for about a minute on each side and then let them cool to room temperaturechillies 1
  2. Soak the Guajillo chillies in hot water for about 15 minutes, before grinding them to a paste.
  3. In a deep pan, heat the oil and add the cumin seeds. When the seeds sizzle add the baby onions and fry them until they brown lightly. Then add the garlic and baby corn and sauté for another minute
  4. Pour in the soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and the epazote and cook for another minute.
  5. Pour in the water and add the soy bean paste. Bring the soup to a simmer.
  6. Introduce the black beans and the guajillo chillies then add the noodles.
  7. Allow the soup to simmer for 3-4 minutes or until the noodles are cooked.
  8. Serve the soup and top with the slices of avocado, coriander and lime. The lime infuses beautifully with the soup.

Indian spiced crispy bean curd skin, ung choi and carrot pancake wraps

5 Feb

 

 Indian spiced crispy bean curd skin, ung choi and carrot pancake wraps

Why don’t you just eat duck?

 

My first ‘proper’ job was at the Bank of England when I was 21, in research. It was my first proper job because it was the first structured and full time role I had taken. I was so proud. I’ve long since forgotten that particular feeling of executive pride and I am sighing and smiling wisely as I write this.

I loved that black suited and focused people walked carefully on their heels, echoing their esteemed selves to somewhere clearly, very important to aid decision-making for the economy of our great country.  Tiny mice made intermittent visits around the history of the building and one of my ‘down time’ favourite activities was mooching around economic papers in the vast and superior library within the Bank in the vault, near where old money was you know…it was hot there.

 

We had rule books on how to structure charts for publications.  On one occasion whilst discussing it during drinks with some colleagues he asked me whom I would support if India and England were playing a cricket match. I said that I didn’t follow cricket, I’m not into sport. ‘But if you were, lets say’. You see  I didn’t understand all this, I was a feisty, ambitious and focused young lady but in hindsight, naive. I wasn’t used to being made aware of race. I’ve never actually really thought about it.  My now-husband accompanied me to work on the tube for the first couple of days when I started work, because I was a tube virgin. He took pictures of me outside the Bank.

 

Then the questions followed at work, ‘do you wear a headscarf at home?’ No, I’m Hindu. ‘Do you make samosas?’ I’m 21; I go out with my friends. ‘Are you having an arranged marriage?’ I’ve got a boyfriend.

 

One of the questions I often get asked is whether I am vegetarian for religious reasons. No. No.

Indian spiced crispy bean curd skin, ung choi and carrot pancake wraps

One of the things I learned over the years is that the people around you, your own mind-set and your own actions make something special happen. Not a place, hierarchy, status, or a title or any other outwardly definition, for those just doesn’t last. Really and truly, they don’t.  I used to read words like this and dismiss them. As much as we would will it to be progressively checking the milestones we plan, Life isn’t a freaking chart, is it.

 

In that must lay some strength. As I pick up the fragments I’m not piecing them together, I’m visualising new things. My heart isn’t as heavy as I thought it would be. In fact I’m even more able to give good wishes and love. As a youngster I didn’t experience failure but they always said it’s important to fail. I never understood why. Nobody ever said.

Failing is a process that allows a person to develop coping skills, growing skills, maturity, humility, grit, resilience. These shouldn’t just be words you bang out in the opening statement of the CV.  If we don’t fail at the smaller hurdles in life, when the bigger stuff hits (and it will, it does) then we don’t know what to do with ourselves. And the older we grow, often there are fewer hands to walk us to shore.

 

I tell my boy that he should be kind, clever, and brave and always love his mumma.

 

I don’t eat duck. I eat things that taste good without having quacked. Bean curd skins are a good source of protein and have bite. The wraps contain ung choi, which is a bit like spinach and it wilts quickly, but it’s a bit more peppery. I picked my latest batch up from Tesco.  This wrap is peppery, silky, slightly sweet, has bite and they’re easy to eat. Easy is good, isn’t it.

 

Ingredients to make 15 pancake wraps

 

250g of Ung choi, washed and sliced

One large carrot, grated

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 tsp. fennel seeds

¾ tsp. cumin seeds

1 ½ tbsp. soy sauce

¼ tsp. turmeric

1 tbsp. sesame oil

1 tsp. coriander powder

½ tsp. garam masala

75g of bean curd skins (the sticks, they are available at oriental supermarkets)

Oil for deep frying the skins

 

For the pancakes

300g bread flour

100ml boiling water

75ml cold water

2 tsp. sesame oil

 

Method

1.     Soak the bean curd skins (use the sticks) in plenty of warm water for about two hours. They will swell. Drain the water, and then slice them into 3-4 cm rounds. Leave them to dry.

2.     Heat oil in a deep pan and then deep fry the bean curd skins until the fluff up and catch a golden colour

3.     Make the dough by first pouring the boiling water into the flour and mix it well. Then pour in the cold water and form dough, kneed it well and then rest the dough for 15 minutes, before dividing it into 15 equal portions. Roll out the pancakes into thin chapatti before toasting them on a non-stick panpancake 1jpeg

4.     In another pan, heat the oil and add the cumin and fennel seeds and when the sizzle, stir in the garlic. Sauté for a minute, then add the ung choi and carrot and stir it well. Sprinkle in the turmeric, coriander powder, garam masala and stir well. Sauté for a minute before drizzling in the soy sauce and introducing pieces of fried bean curd skins. Cook the vegetables for another 3 minutes before turning off the heat.

5.     Finally, assemble the wraps by putting a little filling in the centre of the pancake, wrap it, and eat it.

 

Spicy paneer wontons in a gentle spinach soup

23 Jan

spicy paneer wontons in a gentle spinach soup

I am pretty sure that I wasn’t well acquainted with paneer when I was a child, as my earliest memories of it must be from my pre- teens. I recall that one of my dad’s friends had landed a business deal delivering this marvellous new product that was increasingly popular, so popular in fact that it was flying off the shelves. It may have had something to do with the popularised chilli paneer dish? Packaged paneer ready in the fridge. I was new and it was exciting.

So he handed my dad some freebies and naturally I ensured that they landed in my lap and thus started an era of paneer experimentation. It had fast become the favourite food of every other Asian person in my network. Paneer is an unsalted, full fat Indian cheese that may be crumbly when fresh and spongy or even chewy when pressed and ready-made for sale. I think that a lot of tired taste buds weere wakened when paneer came into fashion with is almighty, loud and punchy flavours. Plenty spice, liberal use of garlic and ginger, copious soy sauce and ketchup made for lively and lasting tastes.

I love that paneer is a wonderful sponge for juices and flavours; it is clean and will mop up full flavours generously.  I experimented many times over the years, scrambled paneer in a bhurji is one of my favourites and this has become the stuffing for my wontons today.  I love thick and creamy shahi paneer dishes, kofta (balls with veg and simmered in thick gravy), I love paneer in cashew nut gravy and who can deny the simple, clean and guilty pleasure of ras malai?

A few people wrote to me this week asking about palak paneer (curry of paneer cubes simmered in smooth spinach) and it got me thinking…so I made this and I am very excited about. It’s pretty special. The spinach soup is light and easy, but incredibly addictive and soothing. Not a bad thing to find spinach addictive! The paneer is punch and full, has bite and parcelled into slippery smooth wontons. Can it get any better?

As a tip, make sure the paneer is pretty warm all the way through, cold paneer is chewy but when warm, this recipe really comes to life and it’ll be juicy and tender. Perfect.

Ingredients to serve 4 (makes 16 wontons)

For the wontons;

150g paneer, grated

¼ tsp. garam masala

1 tsp. mixed cumin and coriander powder

¼ tsp. turmeric

¾ tsp. cumin seeds

1 tsp. tomato puree

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped or minced

1-2 spring onions, finely chopped

1 tbsp. sesame oil

½ tbsp. soy sauce

16 wonton wrappers

Salt to taste

½ tsp. chilli powder

For the soup

1 tbsp. vegetable oil

200g finely chopped (or in the food processor) spinach

800ml vegetable stock

One medium onion, thinly sliced

4-5 curry leaves

One chilli, finely chopped

1 tbsp. corn flour mixed with water

1 tbsp. rice wine vinegar

1 tsp. minced ginger

1 clove garlic, minced

Method

  1. To make the soup, heat the oil in a deep pan and then add the chilli, onion, curry leaves, garlic and ginger sauté until the onions have softened.
  2. Add the spinach and mix thoroughly, before adding the vegetable stock and the rice wine vinegar.
  3. Bring the soup to a simmer before adding the corn flour and water paste to thicken the soup. Simmer the soup for 5-7 minutes.
  4. To make the stuffing, heat the oil in a pan and add the onion and garlic and sauté for a couple of minutes introducing the grated paneer.
  5. Stir in the turmeric, chilli, and coriander and cumin powder and mix thoroughly.
  6. Stir in the tomato puree and soy sauce and then cook the curry for 4-5 minutes.
  7. To make the wontons, place a teaspoon of paneer mixture in the middle of a wonton and then create little drawstring purses and seal them with a little water.
  8. Steam the wontons for 8-10 minutes before removing them from the steamer.
  9. Ladle the soup into bowls and then place 4 wontons into the bowl and serve immediately.

 

 

 

 

 

I’m linking this to Anneli and Louisa for four seasons because its comforting an

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