- NEWS & ACHIEVEMENTS -

2011
Delicious Magazine Recipe Feature Recipes published in Princes Trust Charity 'Trusty' Cookbook Guest panellist on UKTV Food's 'Market Kitchen' Recipes published in 'Come Dine With Me Special Occasions' book Blog named as a "Media Must-Have" in Jan & Feb issue of Olive Magazine

2010
Launch of Sabrina's one-to-one private cookery tuition Guest critic on Gordon Ramsay's 'F-Word' series finale Organised Top Chef Charity Banquet for Haiti raising £70,000 for 'Action Against Hunger' Seasonal Food & Recipe Writer for 'Blue Tomato'

2009
Winner of Channel 4's 'Come Dine With Me' (West London) 'Bronze' winner in professionally judged 'AA Home Cooking Competition 2009' Appointed resident cookery columnist for Foodepedia

Japanese Rice Risotto with Miso, Lemongrass and Scallops

Japanese Rice Risotto with Miso, Lemongrass and Scallops

Seasonal Penne Mediterraneo

Seasonal Penne Mediterraneo

Persian Split Pea, Dried Lime and Lamb Stew

Persian Split Pea, Dried Lime and Lamb Stew

Monday, 29 June 2009

A MEXICAN WAVE

When the weather is this hot, i day dream endlessly about being by the beach in a nice hot country with the cooling waters of the azure sea lapping at my feet, whilst i lay back on my sun lounger, cool cocktail in my hand. Then the face-slapping reality of the oxygen-less, steam-filled, muggy London heat hits home and i'm once again brought firmly back down to earth. Today was one such day. Temporary lunch time frolicking in the stunning roof gardens on 'Coq D'Argent' in the City, walking barefoot in the perfectly manicured lawns, Pimms in hand, laughing with my colleagues on our brief lunch time escape. Back to work and i'm desperate to hold on to that holiday feeling... I've been thinking of planning a trip to Mexico so i can combine beach time with discovering more about the culinary traditions too, when suddenly it hit me! Mexican feast for dinner tonight! So off i skip to my local Waitrose, almost Salsa dancing down the aisles as i liberally toss a few ingredients into my basket, before racing home.

Blackened Chipotle chicken, chargrilled spring onion, home made tomato salsa and green rice. A perfectly healthy and authentic meal with fresh and zingy flavours to cool the fires of my burning cravings for something 'Caliente' (That means 'hot' in Spanish!) I'll be honest, i guess what i deem to be simple, isnt necessarily what everyone else feels is actually simple. But the point is to become less afraid of trying new things and to take risks. Out of your creavity, grows the roots of confidence and competence, so as the old adage goes "Try and try again and you shall succeed at last". So take the following ingredients, 100g Basmati rice, 2 skinless chicken breasts, a pack of fresh coriander, 6 fat garlic cloves, 1 small onion, 1 small jar of 'Chipotle' pepper paste (I picked this up from the Mexican foods section of Waitrose) Salsa recipe to come later.

First things first, cut the chicken into thick strips (thumb width and about an inch longer) and pour over the Chipotle paste. Then using a hand blender, roughly chop your small onion, the 6 garlic cloves, the bunch of coriander and sprinkle about a tablespoon of water onto it and blend it down to a fine puree (which should happen really easily) Take two spoonfuls of the green mixture and add it to the chicken and Chipotle pepper bowl and mix thoroughly, allowing to marinade for as long as you have time (even if just 1o mins!) and leave aside. Take your 100g Basmati rice and add 400ml of cold water to the mix, pour in your green mixture of onions, garlic and coriander and season very generously with salt and place rice on the hob on electric mark 4 or a low flame on gas heat, stir once, but then DO NOT TOUCH the pot until the rice is fully cooked. In a very hot frying pan, add a little oil and top and tail your spring onions, ensuring they are washed, and place them whole in the pan. I like to sprinkle a little Schwartz Chicken Seasoning on them, but this is optional. The idea with the spring onion is to try and blacken them a little, whilst cooking them through also. Once done remove the spring onions and set aside. In the same pan, place your chicken strips and fry on a high heat for a few minutes on both sides until done. They will look burned, but this is because the Chipotle paste is a very dark and smoky paste, which give the chicken the 'blackened' effect.

So after about 15-18 mins, your rice should be done, using a fork, to almost comb through the rice to fluff and seperate the grains. Your chicken should be nicely moist, but cooked through and your spring onions are also ready. All thats left is your tomato salsa, which just adds the perfect freshness and moisture to the other components in your meal. Take 2 large and ripe tomatoes (i like the ones that are still on the vine) and chop them finely, as best you can, keeping in mind to use a sharp knife, as tomato skin tends to blunt knives a lot and without a sharp knife the task at hand is twice as hard... and then chop a handful of fresh coriander and finely dice half a small onion and mix the ingredients together with a generous sprinkling of Maldon sea salt. By the time you dish up, the salt will have drawn all that wonderfully sweet and refreshing juice out of the tomatoes and the salsa will be transformed making the perfect accompaniment to your spicy chicken, green rice and spring onions.

So, come on... be honest... How hard was that? Not that strenuous really now, was it? I did the whole thing in about 30 minutes from start to finish and let me tell you, it was so worth it, because dinner was really good! Just ask the gorgeous 20 year old Swedish model that is staying with me! Who says models don't eat? That child can eat and she said it was the best meal she'd had in a long time, in fact it was the best meal she'd had since she saw me last! I told her to expect a weight gain over the next 10 days and she seems to actually be looking forward to it!

The kind of food i make not only nourishes an empty stomach, but for me it nourishes my soul a little too and gives me what i need to continue doing what i'm doing... especially when stress is a factor. Don't neglect your diet when you are stressed out, good food is brain food. We all need to look after ourselves from time to time and for me, cooking a nice meal for myself and a friend is just the ticket. Summer or no summer, i need meat, carbs and vegetables. Summer isn't all about salads for me, especially with all the usual diet connotations, it sometimes feels more like 'punishment' than 'nourishment'.

I hope you will try this dish, as it really hit the spot tonight and perhaps on a Friday or Saturday night with a big fat sugar-rimmed Margarita, if i close my eyes for just long enough... maybe, just maybe... i could transport myself to Mexico... If only for the night. "Aribaaaa people...!"

Friday, 26 June 2009

HAMBURGER HEAVEN

The trend of gourmet burgers has spread its way through the Capital like a wild-fire, bringing with it the usual mix of good burger joints, coupled with the inevitable not-so-good establishments as well... A culinary ying and ying, if you will. Personally, i think that most of them are pretty decent but, without being too cocky, i would say that my own burgers can mostly definitely hold their own in the quest for the best!

The point with most cooking (with the exception of making cakes & pastries, which are more of an exact science than an art) is that you should be able to look in your fridge and choose your favourite suitable ingredients to add into the mix. There is no exacting, there should be no rigidity! My personal passion for cooking was born simply out of being allowed to mess about in the kitchen when i was a kid... I found it fun and it has since proved to become an enjoyable creative outlet. I really struggle to understand people who just dont have the patience to cook! I think that perhaps, somewhere along the line, they put too much pressure on themselves and suddenly it all comes undone at the seams. The key for those who arent that confident, is to practice alone, without any pressure of having to dish up to the hungry masses and that way you find a few dishes that you do confidently and they become part of your own personal repertoire.

So, how do you make a quick and simple burger? My take on it is that you simply take 500g of good quality minced beef, 1 small onion (whizzed in a processor until minced, but not so much that it starts to become slushy), teaspoon of garlic granules, 1 teaspoon of normal paprika (not the fancy Spanish smoked variety) 3 generous pinches of Maldon sea salt, crushed and sprinkled in along with a generous seasoning of black pepper.and your done! Put all ingredients straight into a bowl and mix it thoroughly with your bare hands, really kneading the mixture with your fist, so that every ingredient is thoroughly blended in. Divide the mixture into 4 equal portions (or 3, if you want to portion up like me) and roll them into tennis-sized balls until they feel smooth and simply pat them down, quite gently, until they are still no less than 1.5 inches thick... and fry them on a medium heat until done. DO NOT keep flipping them over... Just leave them in the pan and turn them once only. The cooking process should take no more than 10-15 mins depending on how well cooked you like them. If you like them really well done, then lower the heat to avoid burning the outside and leaving the inside raw. I serve my burgers with sweet potato wedges, which are basically sweet potatoes, peeled and then cut into chunky wedges, drizzled with olive oil and seasoned generously with Maldon sea salt and baked in the oven at 200 degrees for about 25-30 mins until nice and brown on the edges. They are a superb accompaniment for your burger, which i gently nestle into a nice crusty white roll (in my opinion, the only way to eat a burger)and add a teaspoon of mayonnaise and a generous dollop of ketchup to and its ready to devour!!!

Tonight's batch (pictured inset) i had a few ingredients left over from a Thai meal i'd made and so i added a green chilli, a handful of fresh coriander and 2 spring onions, which were then whizzed in the processor along with the basic onion recipe and then blended with the meat as usual. I served it with a tomato and chilli chutney instead of ketchup. The result? A burger packed with fresh, aromatic flavours similar to those of Indian 'Sheek' kebabs... which when paired with a nice sweet chutney, proved to be a marriage made in heaven. Surprise, surprise... there wasn't a single scrap left on my plate! Now THAT'S what you call fast food! Quick to make, quick to disappear! Sometimes when i'm feeling fruity, i add a teaspoon of the Spanish smoked sweet paprika, which gives a real smoky BBQ flavour to it and i top the burgers with crispy bacon (always streaky, never back bacon) and a squirt of good BBQ sauce and a few sliced raw onions.

I have made my burgers everywhere from Lausanne to Los Angeles and they have proved incredibly popular, which does baffles me somewhat because they are so simple! Try them for yourself and dont be afraid to vary the mixture by using different herbs and seasonings to suit your own personal taste, because there is really very little that can go wrong here, just as long as you exercise a little moderation. Simplicity is key... Remember that. Although i emplore you... Don't add an egg and don't add breadcrumbs, this is a nonsensical bastardisation of a perfectly good burger recipe and thus totally unecessary! "Don't fix what ain't broke"... Ahhh, the beauty of simplicity!

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

THE DOCKMASTERS HOUSE - CULINARY NIRVANA











Every so often, i am asked by a Chef or Restaurateur to come and have dinner at their restaurant, usually after an opening or launch of a new menu, to experience the food and also write a little 'review' (if you will) that will give some constructive feedback about my findings. Recently i was lucky enough to be asked to do so, at a restaurant i have been dying to go to for 6 months... so naturally i leapt at the chance and here are excerpts of my reportage.
Located in Westferry, East London... Dockmaster's House is a stunning venue, with a colourful history dating back 200 years. Purpose built by 'The West India Company' as the excise house which served West India Docks. In 1846 it was converted into 'The Jamaica Tavern' which also doubled as a hotel mostly occupied by merchants. Tales of Opium scandals and ill repute plagued the building, until 1926 when the building was adapted to provide office space for the Dock Superintendant and his staff. So in fact its current name 'Dockmaster's House' is somewhat inaccurate, but nonetheless, the building is absolutely stunning and with the touch of modern architecture and design, it is still very much formidable.

As I walked through the doors, a pleasant incense scent greets me and an atractive blonds leads me to my table by the floor to ceiling glass windows, overlooking the stunning private garden. The restaurant is opulent and tasteful in design, yet understatedly so. There is nothing offensive in your line of sight, everything is muted and pleasant and the dining room is calm and serene. An Amuse Bouche of a spiced potato cake is sent to the table. I find that potato doesn’t do much to amuse my ‘Bouche’, so to speak but the drizzle of tamarind sauce is both sharp and piquant, which lifts and compliments it perfectly.

We begin with the mixed Tandoori selection, Duck Confit Samosas and Crispy fried scallops and squid. The Tandoori selection was a platter of chicken, lamb, swordfish and giant prawns, which were particularly good. The Duck Confit samosas were two perfect little triangular pastry pillows brimming with meaty duck filling, served with an apple and ginger chutney. The deep fried spiced squid and scallops… Perhaps not the most appetising appearance, would benefit from the addition of some colour, but were absolutely delicious in their golden crunchy spiced jackets.

Studying the main courses on the menu, it appears that i was spoilt for choice. I have a particular penchant for ‘all things rice’… and so the Biryani caught my eye immediately. The Biryani was (simply put) the most magnificent Biryani I’ve ever had in my life. The puff pastry was cooked perfectly and peeling it back, steam arose from the pot and its aromatic perfumed teased my nostrils and intoxicated me instantly. Inside was beautifully cooked Basmati rice with the delicate but beautifully noticeable accent of saffron, which was nothing short of a pleasure to behold. Tucked away in the dish were juicy, succulent pieces of the most perfectly cooked lamb and as an added treat, lots of juice at the bottom of the dish, which was just wonderful. The dish was not spicy at all, subtle notes of chilli were present, but what really sent me into a spin was the delicate layering of spice that really made this dish so fantastic. I really couldn’t fault it, in fact I would have been happy to just have the Biryani and nothing else!

In addition, we chose a lamb curry which was brimming with perfectly cooked tender morsels of lamb in a deliciously rich and perfectly spiced sauce, just wonderful! We also had a side dish of Tamarind aubergines, which I found surprising at how well the acerbically tart Tamarind worked with the delicate flesh of the aubergine, it was truly delicious.At this stage I’m totally stuffed and not being a dessert person, its all a very tricky affair… but still lots of interesting things to choose from. We decided to be greedy and taste three desserts… Mango Pannacotta, Pistachio Crème Brulee and the Chocolate Fondant with homemade mint Ice Cream. The flavour of the Crème Brulee was everything you’d expect from a Pistachio-laden treat… thick, rich and gloriously unctuous with a freshly baked cardamom cookie. The chocolate fondant was cooked perfectly and was absolutely fantastic and fulfilled every expectation revealing a gooey centre of oozing chocolate. I wasn’t a big fan of the mint ice cream, but that’s just a personal dislike for mint really. Lastly the Mango Pannacotta… The dessert itself was too gelatinous and not creamy and rich as it should be and the concentrate of mango was not nearly enough, although the flavour of the Mango sorbet was excellent and perhaps if more of the sorbet’s flavour would lend itself to the Pannacotta, the problem would be solved.

Executive Chef Navin Bhatia came over to our table after the meal to see if we enjoyed everything, which of course we did. He very kindly gave us a tour of the venue and its grounds. It even has a stunning bar and club on the ground floor, adjacent to the private garden, which is so elegent. Navin is a lovely man and he really puts his heart and soul into his food and his business. To conclude, the meal was superb and the standard of cooking that takes place here is clearly a cut above the rest! The restaurant is very special, not just historically, but also the uniquely modern design and attention to detail and décor. A perfect place for a date or a really special meal… Check out the restaurant at: http://www.dockmastershouse.com/ Namaste!!!

Sunday, 21 June 2009

"TASTE OF LONDON" REGENTS PARK - WITH THE GIRLS






Starting from 5:30pm on Friday afternoon, the whole weekend was all about my favourite thing in the world.... food. A couple of friends and i visited the 'Taste of London' food festival in Regents Park, where hundreds of exhibitors had stands to show off their wares to the masses. From top Chefs and restaurants, to farmers, producers and bars... There was something for everyone. With my good friends Nicki and Katy by my side, we kick started the evening with a couple of swift Mojitos, followed by a stand-by-stand tour of all the show had to offer. First stop is Michelin starred TV Chef, the very sexy Giorgio Locatelli... Pictured here, making me my very own Prosciutto and freshly shaved black summer truffle Crostini. Giorgio owns two restaurants 'Locanda Locatelli' in Marble Arch and 'Refettorio' in the City.

Along the way i stopped at so many different stands, stumbling across people i used to work with, everyone from Chefs to Restaurant Managers and Ice Cream Producers. My companions enjoying the 'perks' of knowing a Chef or two. Having worked with both Gary Rhodes and Michel Roux on previous events, i took the chance to take some pictures with them and they happily obliged. We stopped at so many different restaurants and food producers and we spoke to top Chefs Michel Roux (Le Gavroche), Francesco Mazzei (L'Anima), Gary Rhodes (Rhodes 24 etc), Giorgio Locatelli (Locanda Locatelli), Atul Kochar (Benares) and Alfred Prasad (Tamarind), all of whom were very kind to take the time to stop and talk to us and some of whom gave us some delicious dishes to try! Not a bad life eh?

Another favourite food stop of mine is Artisan Ice Cream maker "Oddono's" co-owned and managed by my good friend Marco and founder Christian Oddono... This is the best ice cream you will ever taste outside of Italy. My friends were both shocked at just how delicious and creamy it was... It really is superb and i am telling you that you MUST try some if you are ever at Selfridges (in the food hall) or Whiteleys, alternatively you can visit the shop where they actually make the ice cream in Bute Street, South Kensington. Visit Oddono's website at: http://www.oddonos.co.uk/ and get some! My favourite flavour is "Bacio" which means 'kiss' in Italian, followed by Pistachio. Try them and you will see why!

After polishing off our ice cream, we stumbled across a sausage company called "Simply Real Sausages" and we loaded up on the Suffolk and Cumberland varieties of these little porky beauties, which were absolutely the best sausages that i have had in a very long time! You can order them online at: http://www.simplyrealsausages.co.uk/ They have all different varieties and even more interesting, so many different colours ranging from purple to green! Don't panic, its all natural and its not colouring, its just the unique variety of ingredients that create such a vibrant array of sausages.

So what else did i get up to? On Saturday night we decided to have a girly BBQ and on the menu were sticky BBQ pork ribs, corn on the cob, some of those delicious sausages we bought at the food festival, Thai chicken skewers, Vine tomatoes and whole roasted garlic. Ok, we didnt actually manage to get through most of it, but washed down with a gallon of Champagne and some of my 'Casbah Cooler' Bison Grass Vodka cocktails, it was just fabulous. Sunday morning, we woke up, went back into the garden and had some more of those fabulous sausages with English mustard and thick country style bread, followed by Chocolate fondue with marshmallows, bananas and strawberries.... I stayed in my pyjamas until 5pm. Soooo not glam, i know. But sometimes you just have to leave the stress behind, find some good company and indulge yourself on some of lifes little luxuries. This weekend was no exception! What a perfect, blissful weekend spent with great company and best of all, spent enjoying great food! Ahhhhh, THIS is what summer time is truly all about!

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

80's FOOD CULTURE


Slobbing around at home on my only, truly, free night alone in weeks... I sit down to watch BBC series "The Supersizers Eat... The Eighties", a show hosted by famed food critic Giles Coren and actress/comedienne Sue Perkins, who together spend a week 'living' in the 1980's, but more importantly experiencing typical 80's food trends and re-visiting famous 80's restaurants, bars and work life. The whole show is based on the typical diets, largely based on trend, of Great Britain in the 80's.... combined with hilarity courtesy of our two hosts. Looking back on 80's culture from everything like Pot Noodles to Nouvelle Cuisine...not to forget the start of our mad obsession with 'convenience food'. It really brought back a lot of memories from way back. About lifestyles, about music, about fashion but more importantly about food. So watch it here and let me know what you think. There are 5 more shows to catch on Mondays at 9pm on BBC2... Click here to watch it online while you still can! : http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00l9ryq/The_Supersizers_Eat..._The_Eighties/


Monday, 8 June 2009

TELEPATHIC CAKE SIGNALS

Just like everyone else, i sometimes need comfort food to cheer me up. Today is one such day as I'm having a pretty tough day of it. I have simply been craving all kinds of sugary, moist sweet things... But especially cake. What kind of cake? ANY kind of cake. Just cake! So here i was sitting at home feeling sorry for myself, wishing i had some cake and out of nowhere my fabulous friend Claire calls me telling me she has some cake for me and wants to bring it over! Hallelujah for good friends... Especially the telepathic kind that hear your needs from down the street and deliver within 10 minutes! Cake is high on my list this week and in my experience, every once in a while, you have to give in to temptation and satisfy the devil in you. Tonight was such a night where the devil in me is well and truly happy and has buttercream frosting all over his face!

Sunday, 7 June 2009

AFGHAN TALES & CHICKEN CHOW-DOWN


This weekend i had planned to bring you my story of visiting a lovely Afghani restaurant that i had been wanting to visit for a long time... "Mapquest" told me the journey would take me 30 minutes and after 90 minutes of driving, we finally, if not painstakingly, arrive at 'Masa'. Why Afghani food? Well, when i was a kid, i used to spend summers in Lausanne, Switzerland staying with my Mum's best friend who was married to a man named Nehad from Afghanistan. Nehad's mum, would cook for us and the memory of one special dish stayed in my mind and never left it... Afghani Polow (Polow meaning rice). Its a rice dish, very similar to that of Indian Biryani, but in my opinion, far more interesting.

From what i remember, there was a particular layer of spicing that made this dish so special. I recall fresh green chillies, cinnamon, ginger and of course bountiful chunks of wonderfully tender lamb. Anyway, sadly to my great disappointment, the restaurant menu was unspecial, the staff were not very helpful and despite my phonecall in advance to ensure they have this dish, i failed in my mission to re-visit childhood nostalgia 'Afghani style'. So alas i have no exotic tales to tell you, but watch this space as i've decided to get the spice mix from my Mums's friend and i will be making that special dish, one day very soon! So stay tuned!

In the meantime i have, of course, been up to my own cookery exploits and in the name of trying to make my diet more interesting, i have come up with a couple of very simple ways to make your average chicken breast much more exciting... and i wanted to share it with you. The first recipe is for Asian Pesto chicken and its so quick to make and so here goes! Using a hand blender (or processor) whizz up 3 inches of ginger, 2 fat garlic cloves, half a roughly chopped onion, 2 whole green chillies, a large handful of coriander (stalks n' all), 4 tablespoons of fish sauce, 2 tablespoons of soya sauce, juice of half a lime and a heaped teaspoon of sugar to balance all the saltiness from the fish & soya sauce out. You simply slice 1-2 chicken breasts and sautee them in a pan (with a tiny bit of oil) on a high heat until they cook through. At this stage i toss some chopped spring onions in the pan (about 2 inches long) and then i add the Asian pesto mixture and allow it to cook for about 5 minutes, before serving with some basmati rice. Zingy, fiery, delicious, almost zero fat and extremely non-boring for your average meal at home!

The second recipe is for a quick sweet chilli chicken wrap, which starts by crushing 1 fat garlic clove and grating 3 inches of ginger into a pan on a low heat. Low heat is a must to prevent the garlic and ginger from burning and turning bitter. Then slice a chicken breast (across the width) and turn up the heat in the pan to a high heat and sautee the chicken breasts until cooked through, but not too brown. At this stage add 2 tablespoons of sweet chilli sauce and a squeeze of lime, and you will notice that the mixture will start to caramelise and encrust the chicken (almost burning) but dont panic, because this is what you want. Just ensure you keep moving the chicken so you arent actually burning it and instead trying to draw all the chilli sauce onto the chicken. Remove from heat. Take a Tortilla wrap, spread it with Greek yoghurt (i use 'Total 0%' fat) and then place the chicken in the middle lengthways, chop some onions in to half moons, add some chopped tomatoes and some coriander and roll it up ready to eat! Go and sit down, preferably alone somewhere (to prevent the embarassment of public juicy messiness!)... and enjoy it, because its now high on my list of treats and no doubt will pretty high on your list too! (See pic at top right)

Thursday, 4 June 2009

KOREAN B-B-Q




I can't quite recall exactly when it was that i fell so deeply in love with Korean food, that it has now almost overtaken (dare i say it) my former first love, Chinese food. Perhaps its been a handful of years but definitely not more.

I'll get straight to the point. Korea is known for its barbecued meats... Everything from pork, beef and chicken to squid and prawns... and it is all superb. The tradition is that you sit at a table that has a special built in gas hot plate and they bring you the raw marinaded meats and grill them right in front of your very eyes. I found this whole process torturous, because when foods is so blatantly paraded in front of me yet i have to be patient... Its like a 'Red rag to a bull'. I'm told, my pupils dilate and my mouth begins to water as i focus on bounty in front of me.

Bulgogi is one of the most famous dishes that comes from Korea. Usually thin slices of beef marinated in a very delicate, almost sweet, soy-based sauce and grilled to perfection. Also DaegiBulgogi (my fave) which is thin slivers of pork belly meat marinated a sweet and spicy sauce, kind of like that of a BBQ rib marinade, but far better and using real chillis, charred on the grill to give it a smoky finish. Typically served with steamed rice and a variety of accompaniments to suit all tastes.

The most famous accompaniment is Kimchee. Fermented Chinese cabbage pickle in a fiery ginger, chilli and garlic pickling brine. Sounds digusting? You would be wrong. I admit, at first i was a little apprehensive. I can only say that the very first mouthful was bizarre, so much so that the first word that popped into my head was "Fizzy".... "The cabbage tastes fizzy!" This can probably be attributed to the fermentation process, having said that, i will be perfectly truthful with you... I absolutely love the stuff!!! I cannot get enough of it. So much so, i have (as we speak) no less than 12 packs of it in my fridge. I am completely addicted to it. No wonder it is a national institution in Korea, so much so, they put it in everything! Stir fried Kimchi rice, Kimchi stew, Kimchi noodles and even (wait for it) Kimchi topped pizza! Its a global phenomenon! and even more intriguing is that it can be traced back nearly 3,000 years ago! There is even an entire Wikepedia page devoted to it and best of all for me it has virtually no calories and chilli, garlic and ginger are incredibly good for the digestion.

Whilst there is a thriving Korean community in New Malden in London, it is still hard to find really good Korean food in the centre of town. But good news folks as i am more than happy to share my favourite Korean joint with you! "Arang" is a gem of a restaurant, tucked away in the heart of Soho on Golden Square. The staff are lovely and very friendly and the food is always fantastic and extremely reasonable. You can have a very substantial lunch in there with a BBQ meat of your choice, some rice, Kimchi, 2 other accompaniments AND my favourite beef and rice noodle salad "Jap Cheh" for under £10 pounds! Hard to believe? Well go and see for yourself! Who knows? Maybe you will feel more brave and go for some Bibimbab, which is a rice based dish in a scorching clay pot that sizzles when brought to the table and they crack an egg into it, in front of you, which makes a kind of special fried rice, if you will!

Visit Arang's website and see for yourself: http://www.arang.co.uk/ So go and see for yourself, just how good Korean food is! Its healthy, delicious, diverse and a fabulously inexpensive treat, expecially in hard times like this! If you feel a little adventurous, i did pick up one word in Korean on my travels and that is: "Cum-sum-mee-daaa" which simply means thank you.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

COOL AS A CUCUMBER!!!

When the sudden presence of the sun makes temperatures soar, London becomes a steamy, sticky cauldron of sweaty, sunburnt people with no clue how to keep cool.... Enter the humble cucumber, widely disregarded by most as 'boring'. Oh how wrong you are. Used plentifully in so many cultures, but underused and mistreated by us Brits for reasons unbeknown to myself. Being Iranian, cucumber has very much been a part of my culinary upbringing. It is usually a salad staple, but two particular dishes that i remember as a child are "Maast-O-Kheeyar", which is thick yoghurt and cucumber served as a prelude to a meal or as a cooling accompaniment... and the other is Salad Shirazi, a very simple salad of finely diced cucumber, tomatoes and onions, with an oil & lemon juice dressing, often served on the side of a main meal. Both of these dishes are so simple and we eat masses of the stuff! The yoghurt dish has many different variations, all still using yoghurt and cucumber, but some add dried mint, walnuts, rose petals, raisins and even freshly chopped dill. The rules are, there are no rules. Indians have Raita which is incredibly similar to our dish and the Greeks have Tzatziki, with the extra addition of garlic (which i just love!).

But ask yourself what these countries have in common? Hot climates? Soaring temperatures, especially in the summer? Yes... Well done! Cucumber and yoghurt are both reputed to cool body temperature, so it is commonly served with most meals, summer or winter time. Although we dont really chew on the skin like you Brits do, we peel them. But the one part of cucumber prep i feel is not just odd, but almost sacrilegious... and that is the needless scooping out and discarding of the soft pulpy centre of the cucumber. WHY?????!!!! What kind of madness is this? I have heard all kinds of pathetic excuses for this "It makes it too watery", "It tastes bitter"... And i say RUBBISH. If anything, i feel the cucumber is more dull and becomes a one dimensional texture without it. Don't do it!

So the phrase "Cool as a Cucumber" must have come from somewhere, eh? Indeed. So what can you do to make it more exciting? Well apart from my suggestions for Iranian salads, how about a nice Greek Salad? Olives, feta, tomatoes, cucumbers and some dried mint... so simple and so delicious with a lemon dressing. Or for those who like a bit of spice, Thai chicken or beef salad? Take a cooked chicken breast or rare-seared steak, sliced into thin strips (no exacting here, do what you like) and peel half a cucumber, half it length ways and cut thick strips the size of your little finger, using half a peeled red onion, slice them thinly into half moons and add some chopped coriander and mix it all into a bowl, adding the juice of a whole lime, 2 large tablespoons of sweet chilli sauce (and some fresh chilli if you like) and a couple of drops of sesame oil and serve with some salad leaves or some nice Basmati rice.

So don't neglect the humble cucumber this summer, its so underrated and could do with a revival, especially with the hot summer ahead. Its cheap and cheerful and makes a great snack and if the large ones arent your thing, your local Turkish, Middle Eastern or Iranian supermarkets sell delightful little mini cucumbers that are wonderfully sweet and can be eaten with the skin on. Iranians like to take a bite and season with salt and take another bite (repeating until it disappears!!!)

Cucumbers also appear on many cocktail lists in top bars throughout the world... Great with alcohol (think Pimms!) again because of its cooling properties, cucumber 'water' is made and mixed to perfection with Vodka and the like. Yummy! If booze isnt your thing, whizz half a peeled cucumber with 2 apples and a handful of juicy strawberries and also raspberries and you have a delicious summer fruit cocktail! No hefty price tag either, just because it came from some Hippy Organic Juice Bar!
All that is left to tell you is to take whichever cocktail you like, into the sun-filled garden, baste yourself with suntan lotion, taking 2 slices of cucumber with you and place them on your eyes and bake yourself in the sun until your nice and golden brown!!! And if you go lobster red? Slice cucumber length ways and apply to sunburnt areas for instant relief! Coooooooooooooool!!!!