Thursday, 25 July 2013

Afghan Chicken Kebabs with Indian Style Salsa

We were back from Provence and the sun in the UK - it was a May-time miracle (UK readers will understand that up until very recently it seemed that summer had largely bypassed dear old Blighty) - was shining so we decided to have a BBQ.

I didn’t really fancy red meat: there had been quite a lot of that it felt like over the previous week so we opted for chicken and I decided to put a Southern Asian twist on proceedings with these kind of Afghan inspired kebabs (and themselves inspired by a post on The Cooking Ninja’s blog), an Indian style salsa, and, erm, potato salad.

The milk soaked cashews serve to keep the chunks of chicken moist and tender on the BBQ and the cardamom makes them headily perfumed, while the salsa gives a fresh, mildly spiced zing to proceedings. Of course in keeping with the Indian-style it would be more authentic to add cucumber to make a kachumber salad.. except that is I can’t stand the stuff.

Afghani Inspired Chicken Kebabs
serves 2

250 - 300 gms chicken breast, cut into chunks
1 heaped tsp ginger & garlic paste
2 tsp rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp cashew nuts
2 tbsp whole milk
1 tbsp Cheddar cheese, finely grated
8-10 cardamom pods
1 ½ tsp white peppercorns
1 tsp garam masala
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tbsp whole milk

Mix the garlic & ginger paste with the rice wine vinegar and pour over the chicken pieces in a bowl. Set aside while you prepare the rest of the marinade.

Soak the cashews in 2 tbsp milk for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, grind the cardamom pods & peppercorns in a spice grinder until you have a powder, more or less. Discard the bits of cardamom pod that refuse to break down. Add the milk soaked cashews to the powder in the grinder and blend to a smooth paste.

Transfer the paste to a larger bowl and add the cheese, extra milk and about half of the beaten egg. Mix together loosely and add to the chicken.

Leave aside to marinate for at least an hour and while doing so, soak 4 bamboo skewers in warm water.

When you are ready to cook, preheat the BBQ and thread the chicken onto the skewers.

Cook on the BBQ for about 6 to 7 minutes on each side, basting with the remaining marinade and turning often. Make sure the meat is tender and cooked through.

Serve with the Indian style salsa (as below).

Indian-style Salsa

12 mixed colour baby plum and / or cherry tomatoes, finely chopped
4 spring onions, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped
2-3 small sprigs mint, finely chopped
1 medium red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
¼ tsp garam masala
juice of 1 lime
1 tsp olive oil
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

In a large bowl, toss together all the ingredients and season carefully with the salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Read More »

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Wild Mushroom Spaghetti

I cooked this ages ago I think and for some reason can’t find my recipe notes: either I failed to make any (which seems unlikely as I obviously took photos) or I didn’t save the document properly when I wrote it up (or have accidentally deleted it). Although I do remember pretty much making it up as I went along: purely based on the fact that chanterelles had been on offer in Tesco.

My reasoning with the 2-step mushroom approach was that I didn’t want the spicy, fruity taste and aroma of the chanterelles to be masked by the creaminess of the chestnut mushroom sauce so instead sautéed them simply with butter, lemon and parsley.

Quantities given here are very much estimated: as I say this was pretty much a throw-together job so just use your judgement and add ingredients more or less to your own tastes.

Wild Mushroom Spaghetti
serves 2

olive oil
1 banana shallot, finely chopped
1 large clove of garlic, sliced
2 handfuls chestnut mushrooms, sliced
1-2 tsps fresh thyme leaves, picked
splash of white wine
2 tbsp crème fraîche
15g butter
2 handfuls chanterelles, larger ones torn into 2 or 3
small handful parsley, finely chopped
½ lemon, juiced
200g spaghetti

Heat a glug of olive oil in a sauté pan and add the chopped shallot. Fry fairly gently for 10 minutes or so until softened.

Add the garlic and cook for a couple of minutes more before adding the mushrooms and thyme.

Turn the heat up and cook for a few minutes more and when the mushrooms are nearly cooked add a splash of wine. Let the wine bubble up and then turn the heat back down to low.

In the meantime cook the spaghetti in a large pan of salted boiling water according to package instructions.

In a separate small frying pan heat the butter with a splash of oil and when it starts to foam throw in the chanterelles. Cook for a few minutes then stir through the chopped parsley and some lemon juice to taste (you want the lemon it to enhance the other flavours, not overpower).

The pasta should now be nearly ready so add the crème fraîche to the chestnut mushroom pan, stirring all together well for a couple of minutes.

Check the seasoning carefully, adding a little salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper.

Add the drained spaghetti and a tablespoon of reserved cooking water (to loosen the sauce) to the crème fraîche and mushroom sauce.

Mix well and divide between two plates.

Top with the sautéed chanterelles and some shaved parmesan.

Read More »

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Tomato & Pea Curry with Lemon Coconut Rice

This is a very simple meal - based on recipes featured in Nigella’s Kitchen but with various amendments and additions - which packs a punch in terms of flavours, aromas and textures: tartness of tomato, sweetness of peas, bitterness from the methi leaves, and the creaminess of the rice.

Visually it also helps that it is vividly, prettily pleasing.

I used Piccolo cherry tomatoes which have an intense tart sweetness but most decent, ripe, cherry tomatoes will do. In fact, if for whatever reason cherry tomatoes are lacking, larger tomatoes chopped up will also do the trick: particularly if there is a garden glut at the end of the summer (wishful thinking?).

The methi (which I have discussed previously here) gives a unique flavour to the curry: you can play around with the quantities (indeed that stands with any of the spices really) or consider it completely optional and leave it out. I’m sure it will taste good regardless.

A quick note about salt: here the quantities are for sea salt flakes. If you use free flowing / table salt halve the quantity used.

Tomato & Pea Curry with Methi
Serves 2

2 tsp rapeseed oil
pinch of asafoetida
½ tsp yellow mustard seeds
½ tsp cumin seeds
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
½ tsp sea salt
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
500g cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tsp turmeric
½ tsp english mustard powder
½ tsp hot chilli powder
½ tsp garam masala
1 tsp coriander powder
75ml water
120g frozen peas
1 tbsp methi (dried fenugreek leaves)
125ml milk

Heat the oil in a lidded wide casserole or sauté pan and when hot add the asafoetida, followed by the mustard seeds and then cumin.

When the mustard seeds start to pop, add the chopped onions, sprinkled with salt, and cook over a low to medium heat for at least 10 minutes, stirring frequently until the onions are golden brown.

Stir in the chopped garlic and cook for a further 5 minutes.

Add the halved tomatoes and remaining spices. Stir it all together before adding the water, putting the lid on and cooking over a low heat for 20 minutes.

Cook the peas in a separate pan of boiling salted water then drain and add to the tomato curry with the methi & milk for the last 5 minutes of cooking time with the lid off.

Serve with the lemon coconut rice (as below) and chopped coriander leaves scattered over.

Lemon Coconut Rice
Serves 2

1 ½ tsp garlic infused olive oil
2 spring onions (finely sliced)
1 tsp nigella seeds
3 curry leaves
150 grams basmati rice
200ml can light coconut milk
300ml freshly boiled water
½ teaspoon sea salt flakes
zest & juice of 1 lemon

Warm the oil in a saucepan that has a closely fitting lid and add the spring onions and nigella seeds. Cook for a minute or so, stirring.

Stir in the rice, making it sure it gets coated in the oil and that the spring onion and nigella are all evenly mixed in. Stir in the curry leaves.

Pour the coconut milk and boiling water in and add the salt.

Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to very low. Place a piece of kitchen towel on top of the pan and then put the lid on so that the kitchen towel is forming a seal, and cook for 15 minutes.

Stir through the lemon zest and squeeze in the juice to taste, fluffing up the grains as you go. Divide between two plates or bowls and top with the curry, scattering chopped coriander over.

Read More »

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Provençal Braised Chicken & Fennel

This is actually a “5:2” recipe that I first saw at Lavender & Lovage, a blog focussed on French & English 
seasonal cooking. As it happens I didn’t have this on one of my fast days anyway, although I probably could with a little adaptation (as I tend to have lunch on fast days rather than one “big” evening meal so look for slightly less calories in my dinners).

The flavours of Provence are sun-kissed: look at any market there and you can pretty much see that yourself - garlic, onions, tomatoes and olives. The latter I decided to add to the recipe (alongside extra bacon of course) as I thought their flavour would sit well alongside the others. And olives, including the heavy use of olive oil as lipid, are pretty much used in all aspects of Provençal cuisine, having being introduced to the region by the ancient Greeks 2,500 years ago.

Anyway - it is very good, serve with rice if you like, or have, as we did, some nice crusty bread, toasted or not. And having not long ago come back from a holiday in Provence (half cycling around Cote du Rhone vineyards and half relaxing by the sea) I think I would strongly recommend a Chateauneuf de Pape Cassis Rose to go with this!

Provençal Chicken & Fennel Braise
serves 2

2 tsp olive oil
2 shallots, halved lengthways then sliced across
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and cut into quarters (green fronds reserved)
2 rashers of bacon, cut into strips
2 skinless chicken breasts
1 tsp plain flour
150ml chicken stock
40g mixed olives, pitted & sliced
½ lemon, juice only
75ml dry white wine
¼ tsp dried thyme (or ½ tsp fresh thyme leaves)
2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan (that has a lid) and add the shallots and fennel quarters. Fry for 5 minutes or so over a medium heat and then add the garlic for a few minutes more.

When the vegetables are coloured, remove with a slotted spoon and set to one side.

Add the chicken breasts and bacon to the pan and fry for 5 minutes, or until the bacon is crisping up and the chicken is golden. Turn the chicken over cook for 2 to 3 minutes more.

Sprinkle in the flour and stir into the oil well (scraping up any bits off the bottom of the pan while you’re at it) before adding the stock and white wine.

Return the shallots, garlic and fennel to the pan, add the chopped tomatoes and fresh thyme,  then pop the lid on and leave to simmer gently for 45 minutes.

Carefully adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, and serve immediately with the reserved fennel fronds scattered over the top.

Read More »

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Tomato Soup

A few months ago I decided to give the 5:2 "diet" a bit of a whirl - for a couple of weeks at any rate to see how I went (and in fact I’m still doing it, apart from when on holidays or work trips). Although the 5 days of eating what you want (well within reason, as a woman you’re still supposed to limit your calorie intake to 2000 calories on the “feast” days), was of course plenty appealing, the 2 “fast” days a week frankly terrified me.

But actually, it has been absolutely fine - some days there are moments when I am eyeing up the cat and thinking how tasty she looks - but generally it is OK. I think the key is to plan ahead: making sure that you will have plenty to eat within those 500 calorie allowance onn those days. Or at least as “plenty to eat” as 500 calories will allow you - and this frankly is where vegetables come in... and soups are an excellent way of upping your veg intake generally.

First things first then, a dead easy tomato soup, that not only looks bright and cheerful and delicious but actually tastes it too and is only around 85 calories a serving

Tomato Soup
serves 4  

5 sprays of low cal cooking spray
1 banana shallot, chopped
2 small carrots, finely chopped
½ red chilli, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
800g ripe tomatoes, decored and chopped
2 tsp tomato purée
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 bay leaves
1200ml hot vegetable stock
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

 Spray a fairly large saucepan with the cooking spray and heat over a medium heat until you can just feel heat rising from the pan.

Tip in the shallot, chilli, garlic and carrot and stir together. Turn the heat to low, pop on a lid and cook the vegetables slowly until they're soft and just starting to colour, about 10-15 minutes. If the veg start to catch, add a splash of water to the pan.

Add the tomatoes and tomato purée and stir it all together.

Tip in the balsamic, bay leaves and a hearty grinding of black pepper.

Stir around and then cook on a low heat, covered for a further 10-15 minutes. Stir on occasion.

Pour in the stock and give everything another good stir then bring to the boil. Turn back down to a simmer, cover again and let bubble gently for another 25-30 minutes.

Remove from the heat and let cool a little. Remove the bay leaves then blitz with a stick blender.

Reheat when you are ready to eat, making sure to check the seasoning carefully before serving.

Read More »