Monday, January 1, 2018

Marinated Sweet and Sour Fish

I love fish but don't eat it often enough, which is odd considering how quick it can be to cooked for a weeknight supper. This recipe does not fit into the weeknight supper category unless you make it the day before, but it is lovely if you do! It features fried fish fillets and sweet peppers in a curry-flavoured sweet and sour marinade.

I usually make it with pollack or cod fillets, but you you could use any firm-fleshed sustainably-sourced fish, including halibut, hake, or haddock fillets, or small fish, such as red mullet, sardines, or small mackerel.

It is meant to be served at room temperature as a starter or light supper, but I have also served it warmed up as part of an Indian meal. In fact, in winter I always prefer it warm.

The recipe is adapted from Ottlogenghi's Jerusalem cookbook, but it reminds me a bit of a South African recipe for pickled fish that I encountered in the Time-Life Foods of the World: Africa cookbook. Ottolenghi gives Danielle Postma the credit for this recipe, and Postma is a Dutch (Frisian) name which I assume would also be common in South Africa, so who knows where its origins really lie.

Marinated sweet and sour fish

I adapted the original recipe by finishing the dish on the stove top, rather than transferring it to the oven to cook for 10-12 minutes. Fish is delicate and overcooking it is a cardinal sin, so if it is almost cooked during the frying stage, it is easier to keep an eye on it on the stove.

You can start the marinade first and fry the fish in a separate frying pan as the marinade cooks, or start by frying the fish and then use the same pan to make the marinade. If you are using a single pan, use a saute pan or casserole that is large enough to accommodate the vegetables and fish. Either way, the fish is added to the marinade at the end.


Fish:

500-600 grams sustainably-sourced fish fillets or small fish, scaled and gutted
2-4 tablespoons of flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
1 large egg, beaten
1 tablespoon oil

Marinade:

2 medium onions, sliced 1 cm thick.
2 bell peppers, 1 red and 1 yellow, sliced in 1 cm strips
3 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 garlic gloves, crushed
2 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
3 bay leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons apple or cider vinegar
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
pepper
aprox. 250 ml water
1-2 tablespoons coriander leaf for garnish


  1. Prepare the vegetables, slicing the onions and peppers 1 cm thick, and chopping the tomatoes.
  2. Sprinkle the fish with salt, roll in the seasoned flour, then dip in the egg. (This helps to keep the fish together in the marinade, so don't omit this step.)
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan or saute pan. 
  4. Fry the fish for 3 minutes on each side, then transfer to paper towels and set aside. 
  5. Wipe out the pan, and heat 2 tablespoons of oil.
  6. Add the onions and coriander seeds, and saute on medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring often.
  7. Add the peppers and cook for another 10 minutes.
  8. Add the garlic, bay leaves, curry powder and tomoatoes, and cook for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  9. Add the sugar, vinegar, 1 1/2 teaspoons, several grinds of pepper and continue to cook for 5 minutes.
  10. Add the fish to the pan, pushing the vegetables aside so the fish is nestled on the bottom of the pan.
  11. Add about 250 ml water to the pan, just enough to ensure the fish is submerged, then bring up to a gentle simmer.
  12. Poach the fish for 1-3 minutes until it is just cooked, and flakes when you gently insert a knife. The time required depends on the type of fish and the thickness of the fillets. (Personally, I think it is better if it is slightly underdone and finishes cooking in the marinade as it cools.)
  13. Remove the pan from the heat and let it come to room temperature. 
  14. You can serve it now or let it sit in the fridge for a couple of days. 
  15. To serve, let it come to room temperature or heat it up gently on stove. Taste, adjust the seasoning and sprinkle with chopped coriander leaf for garnish.





Apricot Nut Loaf

Let's ring in the new year with a heirloom recipe from my family. Apricot nut bread is a simple, robust cake, low in fat, and easy to make. The apricots and lemon zest give it a bit of zing, the nuts provide contrast, and it can be served at breakfast, brunch, or with coffee and tea. It tastes even better when spread with some butter, but there goes the low-fat advantage!

My mother has been making it for decades and often gifts it to friends. I think she collected the original recipe from a newspaper back in the 1960s. I have tweaked it a bit by lowering the amount of baking powder, substituting pecans for walnuts, and using oil instead of melted butter. To make it a little more healthy, I often substitute half of the flour with whole wheat flour (which I did for the pictured loaf). This seems to work well with pecans, but it might be too hearty for almonds.

Wrapped in plastic or foil, apricot nut bread keeps well for 4-5 days, and it also freezes well.

2 cups (280 grams) flour
1 cup (200 grams) sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (60 grams) chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts for preference, but unblanched almonds or hazelnuts would also work)
3/4 cup (100 grams) dried apricots, chopped
2 tablespoons oil or melted butter
1 egg
1 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoon lemon peel, grated


  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.
  2. Grease a loaf tin well. Optionally, also line the bottom with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on the sides. (This cake as a tendency to stick a bit, perhaps because of the low fat content, so this prevents the problem and makes it easy to lift out of the tin.)
  3. In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and, salt.
  4. Chop the apricots and nuts, then stir them into the flour mixture.
  5. In a large measuring cup or small bowl, beat the oil and egg together, then add the milk and stir in the lemon peel.
  6. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and stir just long enough to ensure that dry ingredients are incorporated into the batter. Do not over mix or beat, as this will prevent the cake from rising properly.
  7. Pour the batter into the loaf pan and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until the crust is golden and a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean.
  8. Let cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes before loosening the sides with a knife and turning out onto a rack to finish cooling.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Addictive Beetroot Kebabs

A couple of months ago, I acquired a new cookbook by Meera Sodha called Fresh India. This is a fabulous book and I have it almost constantly open on my cookbook stand. The recipe I turn to most frequently is one that uses that under appreciated vegetable--beetroot. This recipe is so good, even people who don't like beets (like my brother-in-law) love them.

Although I live alone, I make a whole batch of these and keep some of the patties in the fridge or freezer and fry them up when desired. They can be served as an appetizer or snack, or you can make them the focal point of an Indian meal, with some rice, dal, and raita on the side.

For me, this is almost fast food because I can buy cooked beets in the local supermarkets and greengrocers, and paneer cheese in a little Indian/Suriname store near me. But cooking beets is not hard, and you can make your own paneer too (see Saag Paneer). But I have also made it with drained cottage cheese. I think you could make it with soft feta cheese too (although I would reduce the salt then).

These kebabs are quite soft and delicate. They need to be gently handled, but are easy to make.

2018-01-01 Update: I no longer add an egg to the mixture. It just makes it too wet and the chickpea flour is enough to bind it. I have also used this mixture in samosas made with filo pastry.

Indian Beet Kebabs

Adapted from Meera Sodha
Yield: 18 small patties

500 g cooked beets 
225 g paneer cheese (or cottage cheese or feta)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 cm fresh ginger, peeled and minced fine or grated
3 cloves garlic, minced or puréed 
2 small green chillies, chopped fine
1 teaspoon garam masala
1.5 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons chickpea flour (or wheat flour)
30 grams fresh coriander, chopped fine
1 egg, beaten (optional)
1 tablespoon oil, for frying





  1. Purée the cooked beets in a blender or food processor. (I use my immersion blender.)
  2. Pour the beet purée into a large frying pan and cook for 5 to 10 minutes to reduce the liquid.
  3. Crumble in the paneer or other cheese, and mix thoroughly.
  4. Add the lemon juice, ginger, garlic, chillies, garam masala, and salt. Cook for another 5 minutes.
  5. Take the mixture off the heat and stir in the chickpea flour and chopped coriander. Let it cool down.
  6. Add the egg and mix thoroughly.
  7. Take 1-2 tablespoons of the mixture and roll it into a ball, then gently flatten it and place it on a plate or baking tray lined with parchment paper. You should get 18 to 20 patties. At this point you can choose to chill or freeze the for future use.
  8. Heat a teaspoon of in a small frying pan over high heat, then add 4 patties and fry for 1.5 to 2 minutes. Gently turn the patties over and fry for another 1.5 minutes.
  9. Transfer the kebabs to a plate and serve with cucumber yoghurt raita and naan bread or pappadums.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Briam

I love one dish meals with lots of vegetables. The countries of the Middle East and North Africa are a great source of such recipes, but this one hails from Greece, although Turkey may claim this flavourful stew too.

Briam is a dish that is definitely more than the sum of its parts. It's basically sliced vegetables layered into a casserole dish with fresh dill, garlic, and salt and pepper, but the flavours meld together in a way that is hard to describe. The vegetables can be varied as can the herb. If you prefer to use basil, marjoram, or oregano, or something else, that would work too. But I think dill is the best, and I like to add crumbled feta to it to make it a complete meal.

This makes enough to serve 2-3 people, so double or triple it for more people. You may have to adjust the cooking time. The layers of vegetables should be 10 cm / 4 inches at most

Feel free to substitute vegetables, such as zucchini or sweet peppers for aubergine or sweet potato. Or use any vegetables that are in season. This is just my favourite combination.

1 medium potato, sliced to 1/2 cm
2 tomatoes, sliced to 1/2 cm
2 more tomatoes, skinned and crushed (or use some canned tomatoes)
1 medium onion, sliced to 1/2 cm
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 baby aubergine, slice to 1 cm
1 small sweet potato, sliced to 1/2 cm
2-3 tablespoons fresh dill, finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons water or tomato juice
100 trams of feta cheese, crumbled

  1. Preheat the oven to 190C / 375F
  2. In 2 litter casserole dish that is at least 4 inches high, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
  3. Spread all the sliced potato in the bottom. 
  4. Add half the sliced tomatoes, 1 sliced garlic clove, and a tablespoon of chopped dill. Season with some salt and pepper.
  5. Add a layer of 1/2 the eggplant slices, followed by half the sweet potato slices. Season with some salt and pepper.
  6. Repeat the layers of tomatoes, onions, garlic, dill, aubergine, and sweet potato, and seasoning. Tuck in the remaining garlic clove slices.
  7. Mix the crushed tomatoes with the remaining olive oil and the water, then pour over the vegetables.
  8. Bake for 25-30 minutes, and then crumble the feta cheese over the top.
  9. Return to the oven and be for another 15-20 minutes. The vegetables should be completely done and tender.
  10. Serve with some good bread to sop up the juices, or with some rice.



Friday, February 6, 2015

Tweaking Ottolenghi Recipes


I have two cookbooks (Plenty and Jerusalem) by Yotam Ottolenghi, the London-based Israeli restauranteur, and have tried quite a number of recipes from the books and from those gleaned online, where he is everywhere.

I like his big bold flavours and sometimes unusual combinations, but I also have some caveats--his penchant for not easily obtainable foods (cobnuts or barberries, anyone?), the high fat content, the complexity of many recipes, their narrative style which does not always progress in the most logical order, the cooking times that sometimes bear no relationship with my experience. You wonder whether his recipes are actually tested in a home environment. I've been surprised in going through my cookbook notes that I've often had comments like "disappointing", "too dry", "mango doesn't work in this",

So I tweak his recipes, trying to reduce the fat where possible, substituting or omitting unobtainable ingredients, adjusting proportions and cooking times. I go to him for vegetarian inspiration, because he does have great ideas.

Here is one of my favourites.

Cauliflower Cake

This is a great vegetarian main dish. It would make a good dish for a picnic or buffet because it can be eaten hot or cold, and is sturdy enough to be picked up and eaten with your hand. In small slices, you could serve it as hors d'ouevres.

The original recipe calls for 10 eggs (!) and is intended to make a 24-cm cake that he says will serve 4 to 6 people. The man is mad, as that will easily serve 8-10 people. The following recipe makes an 18-cm cake that will serve 4 people as a main course with sides. I've reduced the oil, eggs, and cheese, increased the proportion of onion, and simplified the method.

31-Oct-2015: Even more variations are possible! These days I often add something spicy to give this cake a bit of a kick--a chopped chili pepper sauteed with the onion, or a couple of teaspoons of sambal or hot chutney. And I substitute chickpea (gram) flour for part of the flour to give it a more Indian vibe.

1 tablespoon of butter
2-3 tablespoons of nigella seeds (aka black cumin, onion seeds) or sesame seeds
1/2 head of cauliflower (350-400g)
1 tablespoon (15ml) olive oil
1 red onion
1 teaspoon of finely-chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon dried basil, or 10g fresh basil, chopped
4 eggs
3 tablespoons (45ml) milk
90 grams flour
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
freshly-ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
100 grams of sharp cheese, such as parmesan, aged Gouda or aged cheddar


  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.
  2. Line the bottom of an 18-cm springform cake tin with parchment paper and use the butter to grease the bottom and sides of the tin. Sprinkle in the nigella or sesame seed and toss them around to coat the bottom and sides. This will add a pleasant crunch to the crust. (If you haven't got an 18cm springform, you can line a loaf tin with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on the sides so that you can lift it out.)
  3. Cut the cauliflower into medium florets and steam covered over simmering water for 10 minutes until just tender. Set aside to drain and cool.
  4. Peel the onion and cut a few rings off to use as decoration, and chop the rest of the onion rather finely (1.2 cm dice). Mince the rosemary.
  5. Over medium low heat, saute the chopped onion and minced rosemary in a tablespoon of oil for about 8 minutes until soft. Take off the heat and mix with the steamed cauliflower and basil.
  6. In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, turmeric, salt, and a generous amount of pepper. Grate in the cheese and mix well.
  7. In a small bowl, beat the eggs and milk.
  8. Add the egg mixture to the flour and cheese mixture and stir until just combined.
  9. Gently fold the vegetables and herbs into the batter, then pour into the prepared cake tin. Decorate the top with the reserved onion rings.
  10. Bake for 35-45 minutes until golden brown and let cool for 5 minutes. Take knife around the edge to loosen the cake, before loosening and removing the side ring. 
  11. Serve warm with a green vegetable and sharp salad (steamed spinach and three-bean salad or tabouli). Or let cool and wrap in cling film and eat it the next day.




Sunday, December 28, 2014

Ginger Cheesecake

I have a new love. For years I've been true to Susan Mendelsohn's Lemon Cheesecake, but this year I saw Mary Berry bake a white chocolate and ginger cheesecake. It was love at first sight, and with a few tweeks, I made it as dessert for our Christmas meal. The general consensus was that it was one of the best cakes we've ever had, so you are forewarned!

This recipe is for a 20 cm spring-form pan, which I don't have. Instead I made it in an 18 cm pan, and used the extra to make a 10 cm tart.

If you have leftovers you will notice that the ginger flavour gets more pronounced after a day or two. I baked it on Christmas Eve and served it Christmas Day and the balance between ginger and white chocolate was perfect then.



Ginger Cheesecake

Based on a recipe by Mary Berry, I didn't use chocolate in the crust or decorations, Instead, I added dry ginger and ginger syrup in the crust, and increased the amount of stem ginger in the cheesecake itself. If you have access to ginger snaps, you could try using those for the base instead of digestive biscuits.

I had the oven a bit too hot with the result that the cheesecake browned a bit at the edges. Surprisingly, it didn't crack, but to produce a more attractive finish, I whipped some cream cheese and ginger syrup and spread that over the top before finishing it off with slices of stem ginger.

For the base
150 grams  digestive biscuits (or ginger snaps)
50 grams softened butter, plus extra for greasing
30 ml ginger syrup

1/2 tsp ground ginger

For the filling
300 grams white chocolate
330 grams  cream cheese
150 ml  sour cream
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 pieces of stem ginger (in syrup), finely chopped

For the decoration
100 grams cream cheese
30 ml ginger syrup
1 tablespoon fine sugar
2 balls of stem ginger, sliced
pearl sugar


  1. Grease the base of a 20cm/8in spring-form pan and line the bottom with baking parchment.
  2. Put the digestive cookies in a plastic bag and beat with a rolling pin to crush them, then add the 1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger. (If you uses ginger snaps, don't add the ginger.)
  3. Mix in the softened butter and ginger syrup. I find it easiest to use my hands.
  4. Add the crumb mixture to the cake pan and press into the bottom with your fingers to make an even layer. Chill in the fridge for a half hour or so.
  5. Preheat the oven to 170C/325F while you make the filling.
  6. Break the white chocolate into pieces and melt them in a microwave oven or in a bain-marie (a bowl placed over a pan of simmering water, without touching the water), stirring occasionally.
  7. In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and sour cream together until smooth. Add the egg and vanilla extract and mix until smooth, then stir in the melted white chocolate. Fold in the chopped ginger.
  8. Pour the mixture onto the crumb base in the spring-form pan and spread out evenly. 
  9. Bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes, or until firm around the edge and just set in the middle.
  10. Remove from the oven and rest for 10 minutes, before loosening with a knife and releasing the spring. Let cool completely, then chill in the fridge.
  11. For the decoration, mix the cream cheese, syrup, and sugar until smooth, then spread over the top of the cheesecake. Thinly slice the ginger balls and arrange attractively around the edges and center of the cheesecake. If you can find it, at a piece of pearl sugar or other type of decoration to the slices.


Saturday, December 27, 2014

Spatchcocked Turkey

This year, after detours to ham and venison in the past couple of years, I returned to tradition for the Christmas dinner, so a small free-range turkey was on the menu.

Some years ago I discovered the technique of dry brining turkey to completely season the meat. This year I discovered spatchcocked turkey for more even and much faster cooking. (Isn't spatchcock a wonderful word?) I've done this with chicken so I don't know why it hadn't occurred to me to do this with turkey before.

My turkey was just over 6 pounds and I dry-brined it with about 2 tablespoons of sea salt, three days before it went into the oven . On Christmas Day, I removed the wishbone, removed the backbone and flattened the turkey. Then loosened the skin and tucked herbed garlic butter under the skin of the breast and over the sin of the legs. It roasted for 20 minutes at 250 degrees and another half hour at 200 degrees, then rested for 20 minutes before I carved it following the directions here. It was easy to do and looked great.

I like to make my version of Jamie Oliver's make-ahead gravy a couple of days in advance. I find it hard enough to juggle the timings for appetizer, oven room and vegetables, so not having to make gravy reduces the stress. This year I included a chopped fennel bulb and only one carrot.  It was good!

As usual, good company and good food made for a memorable meal.