- 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

Sunday, 27 March 2011

RECIPE: Persian Herb Rice (Sabzi Polow)

This is one of my favourite Persian rice recipes, generously flecked with herbs and the perfect accompaniment to pretty much any kind of meat or fish. Traditionally this recipe is the classic dish served for Persian new year (which was last week, remember?) and it is usually paired with smoked fish, in particular smoked cod... but I love to use smoked mackerel fillets instead.

But forget Persian new year, this is such a versatile rice that I have also served it with grilled chicken, as well as my Come Dine With Me Lamb recipe and most recently a lovely whole baked seabass. My colleaugues at work (you know who you are) ate the batch I brought in for them, cold. They assured me it was delicious, although I'm less confident! So without further ado, here is the recipe for this simple rice dish with the added bonus of 'tahdig' a traditional Persian rice crust that all the family usually fight over;

Persian Herb Rice (Sabzi Polow)

500g of Basmatice rice (don't substitute with ANY other kind of rice please!)
1 large bunch of fresh coriander (or 2 small)
1 large bunch of fresh parsley (or 2 small)
2 small packs of fresh chives
2 small packs of fresh dill
1 bunch of spring onions
Vegetable oil
Butter (about 150g, divided into 4 knobs)
Maldon Sea Salt
**Food processor**

In a large bowl, wash/rinse your rice under cold water and empty out the cold water before washing/rinsing your rice with more water. Repeat this process several times until the water runs clear. Then cover the rice with water and add a generous fistful of crumbled Maldon sea salt to the water and allow to soak for 2-3 hours. If you don't have time, even 30 minutes soaking helps.

If you have a food processor then life is a whole lot easier because you can add all your herbs (in two halves) to the processor and blitz them til finely chopped. I would give them a little chop first to make it easier for the processor to break them down. Then chop your spring onions into 4 or 5 pieces and blitz them in the processor too until finely sliced. If you don't have a processor (which I didn't have until last year) then chop it all by hand, don't worry about them being too finely chopped but do make an effort to chop them as best as you can. Once done, add the herbs to the spring onions and set aside.

In a preheated cooking pot over a medium-high heat (or medium if using gas) fill the pan with boiling kettle water (you may need 2 kettle's worth of water), drain your basmati rice and add it to the pan along with another generous fistful of crumbled Maldon sea salt and finally all your chopped herbs and spring onions. Stir all ingredient well and allow to boil for about 6-8 minutes until the rice is par boiled. You will see this when the grain turns from the normal white-ish opaque to a more brilliant white, although it will not have become fluffy yet. Then drain the rice and herbs into a colander and set aside (do not rinse!) Then return your cooking pot to the hob and pour in 3 tablespoon of cooking oil with a couple of generous knobs of butter and add a tablespoon of crushed Maldon sea salt and then scatter the rice into the pan (scatter, dont pack it because you want the lightness of the falling rice to allow for steam to rise up) and then add remaining 2 knobs of butter and wrap a tea towel around a suitable lid for the cooking pot and cover and cook for 8 minutes on the same medium-high temperature, before reducing the heat right down to low-medium (Mine goes on electric mark 3 of 9)and cooking for a further 25-30 minutes. Once done, you can either place a large serving dish over the pan and flip the rice on to the dish OR decant all the rice out of the pan and then scrape the crispy Persian rice 'tahdig' out of the bottom and serve on top of the rice. However you do it, enjoy it!

Saturday, 26 March 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Classic Voices in Food - Modern Cookery For Private Families by Eliza Acton

I love finding old cook books; ones from an era virtually alien to most of us these days. The nice people at Quadrille publishing have a new serious of books called 'Classic Voices in Food' and Modern Cookery for Private Families by Eliza Acton is one of them. 'Modern' cookery refers to advanced cookery of the 19th century and this 636-page novelesque book of recipes has no photography, just a few sketches, which is enough to put most people off. But I promise you that once you start reading it, the somewhat strange practises and intricacies of this special book will have you hooked. Everything one could possibly want to know about basic kitchen prep and repertoire is contained in this book.

The chapters cover various different meats and fish, sauces, stocks, soups, pickling and preserves as well as desserts and puddings galore. It really is an authentic insight into a typical 19th century kitchen, giving you a glimpse inside the laborious preparations, skill and elaboracy that would be needed in order to prepare any meal for a typical, wealthy house of that era. Some of it is absolutely staggering and beyond mind-boggling; to think that people spent all day creating masterpieces of this ilk outside of a restaurant environment isn't remotely plausible these days. Most wealthy people forego this sort of dining in favour of quick, every day fixes or restaurant dining. Only formal entertaining can hold a candle to the lengths cooks went to in the 19th century and even then, we have so many gadgets, tools and new fangled innovations that cut the processes down so drastically that it is not even worth a comparison.

Wonderful recipes like Blancmange, Mock Turtle Soup and the scary-sounding Brain Cakes are all nods to the trends of the period. Serving food that was not the height of chic, would be an utter 'faux pas' for well-to-do families of the era. I especially loved the hilariously titled chapter on 'Foreign and Jewish Cookery' - a sweeping generalisation that would have been completely appropriate for the time. I have read this book, as you would a novel, from cover to cover and I think it is truly wonderful. I would highly recommend this as a very special and unique edition to any cook's book collection. Another title which I am yet to lay my hands on but is also from the same 'Classic Voices in Food' is Madame Prunier's Fish Cookery Book. If Eliza Acton's book is anything to go by, I am certain there is plenty to learn from both books and that they each posess a certain charm that will have long been forgotten in the more modern titles that grace the shelves of shops and homes, alike.

Modern Cookery For Private Families - By Eliza Acton
Available from Amazon priced at £10.99

Saturday, 19 March 2011

RECIPE: Flourless Carrot, Pistachio and Coconut Cake

When fellow blogger and author of the blog 'A Forkful of Spaghetti' gave me a wonderful recipe for a flourless almond cake, I was dubious of it working in my own kitchen as baking tends to send me running for the hills. So when I first I replicate the Torta Caprese, I added my own touch of grated orange zest and it turned out pretty great. A little more moist then I would have wanted but because of the moist nature of the cake, it was wonderfully soft for over a week.

This time around, I decided to make a carrot cake, of sorts, studded with some wonderful giant pistachios that someone had gifted to me from Iran. The result was pretty spectacular, even if I do say so myself and I have adpated the recipe to whittle out the excess moisture and to allow for the variation of carrots. Here is the super-simple recipe;

Flourless Carrot, Pistachio and Coconut Cake

200g ground almonds
100g dessicated coconut
3 large free-range eggs
200g golden caster sugar
2 teaspoons of best quality vanilla extract
2 medium-large sized carrots (No Franken-carrots!), peeled and grated
150g of pistachio nuts, roughly chopped (you want chunky pieces ideally)
2 teaspoons of cinammon
150g of melted unsalted butter
Generous handful of golden raisins
24cm spring mounted cake tin (or any pyrex or cake tin you have)
**Greaseproof paper to line cake tin**

Preheat your oven to 160 degrees and line your tin with the greaseproof paper enough to cover base and also sides to prevent the cake from sticking. You won't need to grease the tin or the paper as the oils from the nuts and butter from the mix prevent the cake sticking (tried and tested)

In a mixing bowl, beat your eggs, sugar and vanilla essences together. Then add the ground almonds, coconut, cinnamon and stir before adding in the butter and giving the ingredients a thorough mix. Add your grated carrots, pistachios and raisins and mix again until all ingredients are evenly incorporated and then gently pour (or spoon) the mixture into your cake tin or vessel of choice and bake for an hour (checking at 40 mins to ensure its cooking evenly). Once done, allow to cool overnight if you can wait; the cake comes out much moister than it will be once cooled so the best result really does come with overnight cooling. I simply keep the cake on a plate covered with cling film and it lasts all week... Although that does largely depend on how many nights I am at home, gobbling my way through it, of course.

Crazy Eats (or Treats?)

Lately I have found myself craving bizarre foods that most pregnant women would turn their nose up at... Hot cross buns with Marmite, sharp cheddar cheese and spicy lime pickle and all other manner of bizarre combinations. So when I popped into Selfridges and saw the very glamours Vosges 'Mo's Dark Chocolate Bacon Bar', I had to take it home with me.

As this is an import, you can expect to pay an eye-watering £7.25 per bar for the privilege of getting your gums around this fusion of dark chocolate and salty bacon. The taxi driver that drove me home asked me if I'd bought any nice and I told him about my find and offered him a piece, to which he replied "Fanks love but I fink I'll give that a miss". So I guess it's not everybody's cup of tea, which is fair enough.

But what does this bizarre marriage of Franken-fusion actually taste like? Well it tastes like your average good quality dark chocolate with the addition of chewy bacon bits in it. In a blind test, my Guinea pig (in this case, my poor Mum) was made to close her eyes and try it. "God, ok... I'm not going to be eating any bugs am I?" No Mum, no bugs... just chocolate with a different ingredient. At first bite she commented that it contained some kind of nuts, then salt; but she couldn't put her finger on the key ingredient. After divulging the porky secret to her, we both felt that there wasn't enough bacon in the bar to merit the a repeat purchase. I guess we are both from the school of "If you do something, then do it properly." So although I would recommend that you try it if you have the opportunity, I would suggest you race out to buy it. Bizarre combinations don't always work and in this case, they seem to make a bigger statement than they do impact.

Selfridges - Oxford Street, London W1

RECIPE: Russian Beef Pancakes

Ok, so I didn't do what every other blogger on the planet did by blogging this recipe in time for Shrove Tuesday (or Pancake day, as it's known here) But it is such a wonderful recipe, that it should be eaten more often and not just once a year in honour of pancake day.

My Mum's friend used to make this for me as a kid; many Russian dishes are popular in Iran and we are no stranger to foods like pancakes and Pirogies (or 'Piroshgie' as we call them). I'm heading to Russia next month to explore Moscow and St Petersburg and eating will be a big part of my trip, so in honour of my trip, here is my recipe for fabulous Russian pancakes **Beware, they are addictive**

Russian Beef Pancakes

400g best quality minced beef
150g Chestnut mushrooms (finely chopped)
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 small onions (or 1 large), finely chopped
1 pack of ready-made pancakes (I used 'Woodside' brand from Sainsburys)
1 small bunch of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 small bunch of dill, finely chopped
5 shallots, very finely chopped
3 large free-range eggs, hard boiled and chopped
Oil for cooking

In a large preheated frying pan over a high heat (or medium-high is using gas) dry-fry your mushrooms, stirring constantly for a couple of minutes before adding a little drizzle of oil. This will prevent them for stewing and becoming all nasty and watery; instead you will cook them perfectly and get a better colour and overall texture from them. Once they are cooked, empty the pan contents into a bowl and set aside.

Then reduce your heat a little and in the same pan, drizzle a good quantity of oil and caramelise your onions to get a rich, golden-brown colour from them without burning them. If they look like they are prematurely burning, reduce the heat and remove pan from hon until cooler before finishing off your onions. Then empty the onions into the same bowl as the mushrooms and turn up the heat a little, once again.

Add your meat to the hot pan and sautee the meat, ensuring your are constantly moving it so it doesn't stew and become grey and flabby. You want colour and a nice charring, almost, of the meat. Just as the remaining pinky/red bits of meat begin to change colour, add your turmeric, cayenne and ground cumin and mix well to incorporate into the meat. Then add your mushrooms and caramelises onions and finish cooking for another 6-8 minutes before adding your chopped parsley and giving it one final mix.

If you have been good and made your own pancakes, then great! But there is nothing wrong with getting a little helping hand from ready made ingredients too, especially if they are tasty. I zapped my panckes for about 30 seconds in the microwave at full temperature before serving topped with meat and side dish of the raw shallots, chopped eggs and fresh dill. Perfect! A shot of vodka wouldn't go a miss either! Nastrovya!

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

'Nowrouz' - Persian New Year 1390

It's 'Nowrouz' (meaning new day) 1390 and every Persian should be preparing for the new year. Yes, I know what you're thinking... "1390? How did we get from 2011 to 1390?" Well the Persian calendar is a solar calendar and therefore the current year will be just a tad different to yours. This year, the 'tahveel' or precise time of the New Year falls on Sunday 20th March at 11:21pm Universal Time (Formerly know as Greenwich Mean Time or GMT) which is when every family embraces their loved ones wishing them a wonderful year ahead and saying "Ayd-e-shoma Mobarak" - Meaning "May your new year, be a prosperous one". Tradition dictates that you spend the 'tahveel' with your family and for about a week or more after New Year, everyone visits each other, customarily with the elders of the family hosting 'open house' for guests to visit them. Most people exchange gifts and everyone wears a new outfit... this has always been a big deal for us; but it is kids who get the most gifts and lots of money to boot. When I was a kid, I could easily make several hundreds of pounds from just one event! I wish the same generosity applied these days because I'm pretty sure I didn't even need the money back then whereas we all have bills to pay now, I'm sure.

The main tradition to be embraced at home is the 'haft-seen' this literally means 'Seven S's' which is a special table you lay out for Nowrouz consisting of various key components each of which have a different meaning or representation and seven of which MUST start with the letter 'S'. For example Hyacinth flowers are very popular and in Persian we call them 'Sombol' - so that's a TICK! Also the wheat grass we use, which signifies re-birth and renewal, is called 'Sabzeh'; another 'S' and usually the first 'S' to go on the table. Other things added to the table included red apples, a whole garlic bulb, vinegar, gold coins, 'Samanoo' (a brown wheat pudding) and live goldfish, both a symbol of life and the end of the astral year also associated with the constellation Pisces. People take the 'haft-seen' table very seriously and above you will see my own bijoux version as well as my Mother's pimped-up, deluxe model which includes 10 times the quantity of effort, time, spending and energy that my own one does, but her haft-seens are kind of famous now and they are completely different in colour and design from one year to the next.

Part of the fun of Persian new year is kids get the chance to involve themselves in the preparations, which heightens the actual celebration itself. I remember my Grandma would put several different 'Sabzeh' to grow in the house and I would be roped in to help water them, cover them with a damp cloth and then ensure they sprout. I would also get to decorate eggs (just like Easter) that would also have their place on the haft-seen and generally help my parents with the laying of the table before the big day arrived. It was a fun time and I thought if I ever have children, I would want to ensure they understand the traditions and symbolic gestures of what is a wonderful part of their heritage. But I was born in Iran and although I left when I was two, I still feel very Iranian and want to celebrate my heritage at every opportunity.

But the traditional meal for Nowrouz is really what I adore. 'Sabzi Polow Mahi' simply means 'Herbs, Rice and Fish' and that is pretty much all it is. The fish is dried smoked fish which very few people use these days and the rice is perfectly cooked basmati rice (cooked the Persian way of first soaking, then par-boiling, then rinsing and gently steaming it until fluffy) BUT when you par-boil the rice, a myriad of herbs in a large quantity are added to the boiling water and once drained, your rice is flecked with emerald strands made from coriander, dill, parsley, chives and the like. I like to serve this simple rice with salty smoked mackerel fillets; a perfectly heavenly way to enjoy this special dish.

Food is a big part of the life of any Iranian/Persian but never more so than at new year. The fridge(s) will always be full to the brim with food, fruit for guests and an enormous array of sweet treats to welcome your guests with, is an absolute must! You must always prepare for unannounced guests at this time of year, so stocking up is crucial. Most Iranians in central London go to one man for all the good stuff.. His name is Agha Reza. 'Agha' simply means 'Mister' and Reza, being his name. There isn't an Iranian in London who doesn't know who Agha Reza is. The man is a legend in his own right and most of us look to him for all our provisions, especially for Nowrouz and he puts on a big show every single day in the week-long run up to Nowrouz and I seriously recommend you stop by one evening or on Saturday this weekend. This way you can see just how nutty, generous, fun-loving and friendly we Iranians really are! Reza's shop is the first in a mini-parade of shops and a Persian restaurant on High Street Kensington (between the Odeon cinema and Olympia)

So "Ayd-e-Shoma Mobarak" everyone... Whether you're Persian or Iranian or black, white or green, I wish the coming year of the lunar calendar be filled with health, wealth and happiness for you all.

And if you want to visit a Persian restaurant to get some good eats soon, here are my recommendations for authentic Persian food in order of preference:

Alounak Restaurant - 10 Russell Gardens, London, W14 8EZ (Nearest tube Olympia)
Tel: 020 7371 2350

Mohsen Restaurant - 152 Warwick Road, London, W14 8PS (Nearest tube Olympia/Earls Court)
Tel: 020 7602 9888

Sunday, 13 March 2011

BOOK REVIEW: The Food of Spain & Portugal - Elisabeth Luard

There has been an influx of new cookery books on to my shelves lately but this title is definitely something a little different to all the others. Despite my first love being Portuguese, I never really learned anything about the food of Portugal other than the dishes he didn't like. Caldo Verde, a Portuguese classic, was always made to sound like an impossible green sludge with a disturbing flavour; only to realise it is actually a wonderfully warming kale soup! Exactly the kind of thing I would absolutely gulp down by the bowlful! In hindsight, I should have known from the start we utterly wrong for each other.

Although I know very little about the author Elisabeth Luard, I do know the photography of the genius food-snapper Jean Cazals and having your recipes photographed by him can only ever be a really good move because he really brings food to life in his images. Elisabeth Luard is actually an award winning food writer and author of many other cookery titles, so I feel safe in the knowledge that this book will indeed make an authentic contribution to my shelves.

The book is divided in to two sections, one representing Spain and the other for Portugal and each section has multiple sub-sections representing the various regions of each country. Obviously as both countries are blessed with generous coastlines, the book has many (many) fish and seafood recipes that are pretty condusive to the Portuguese and Spanish way of eating; however there are some wonderful recipes in both sections. The very unsual 'Ilebre amb xocolata' or hare with almonds and chocolate from The Catalan region gets my vote and a Balearic favourite of 'Ensaimadas' - A wonderful 'snail-curled' yeast cake that I would buy several of and take home to family whenever in Majorca... A must for cake/donut lovers. Varieties normally included cinnamon, pumpkin and pastry creme and all are utterly delicious. Lamb tongues, Serrano ham croquettes and of course classics like churros and Tortilla all feature also.

Portugal, I know infinitely less about. However pleased to see that the first two recipes include one of my all time favourite Portuguese/Brazilian treats 'Bolinhos de bacalhau' Lovely saltcod fritters, perfect to snack on with a glass of something cold. And the infamous 'Caldo Verde' soup my ex hated is also featured and a rather interesting recipe from the Beira mountain region for tomato jam with vanilla and a spiced pumpkin jam from the Algarve (both of which, I shall be making very soon!)
So I'm glad to have been sent this book because like every DECENT cookery book, it should make a genuinely useful contribution to your shelves and not just be about the Chef or the pretty cover. This book ticks all the right boxes for the consummate foodie in my opinion and will make a fantastic new addition to my collection.

The Food of Spain and Portugal - By Elisabeth Luard
Available on Amazon

Korea Town, New Malden

I didn't actually think we had a 'Korea Town' in England until a few years ago. I've been dying to check it out and finally had my chance this weekend with a few friends in tow. We headed down to New Malden and upon Tom Parker-Bowles recommendation, visited 'Su La' restaurant for a big Korean style BBQ chow down.
For those who have never been to a Korean restaurant, BBQ'd meats are the order of the day; accompanied by a myriad of 'Banchan' which are an assortment of accompaniments to your meal including the infamous Kimchee fermented cabbage pickle, as well as pickled radishes, potato salad, shredded spring onions and so much more. You choose your desired meats, ready to be grilled right in front of you on a special gas-fired grill with a special extractor nozzle that is pulled down onto the grill itself.
.We also chose several side dishes; the first being 'Japche' Korean noodles which are glossy cellophane noodles made from sweet potato (of all things!) enrobed in a sweet(ish) soya dressing, shredded vegetables and beef. Bibimbap is another famous Korean staple; a mega hot earthenware bowl filled with steaming hot rice, vegetables, raw egg and strips of raw meat, which are mixed (and effectively cooked) at your table. Another renowned favourite is the seafood pancake, which surprisingly isn't remotely fishy at all and has a lovely delicate flavour as well as a spicy dish of halved boiled eggs with seafood pancakes and vegetables. But lets face it, the meat is the star of the show and we wait patiently as our server expertly grills the meat to juicy perfection. Once done, you take a bit of meat, you dip it in the sweet soya sauce, place it in a lettuce leaf before gobbling it all up. Absolutely delicious and to be honest, one of the main reasons I eat so much Korean food... all that meat is heavenly to a carniverous girl like myself.
After eating all that food, we thought it time to go for a little walk and explore the locality. One of my friends and fellow blogger of the wonderful blog Tamarind and Thyme excitedly informed me that a branch of 'H Mart' is rumoured to have been opened in the area. "H Mart? What the hell is H Mart?" I thought. H-Mart is an North American Asian superstore for groceries, meats, fish, deli goods and homeware and it's HERE in LONDON (or New Malden to be precise) and so to H-Mart, we went!
Shops like this are my absolute guilty pleasure. I could spend hours and hours strolling the aisles of this superstore, reading through ingredient lists of products, checking out new foods and produce that I have never seen, let alone used before. Aisle after aisle of sauces, seasonings, rice, noodles, vegetables, meats and fish... A whole line of giant freezers filled with everything from Dim Sum to Mochi balls and a rather suspect looking bag of frozen green stuff with Marijuana leaf emblems printed on the pack... Could it be? Err, no... probably not! If it was actually wacky-backy, then H Mart would end up having queues all the way from New Malden to New York! But seriously, this is the kind of mega store I love to shop at. I bought 3 kinds of pears, pickled radishes, kimchee, Korean noodles, chilli powder and about 8 bottles of assorted Aloe Vera juices. I'm somewhat of a closet food shopaholic who tends to overstuff my kitchen cupboards with 3 times more than should actually be fitted in them. I'm Iranian, its the only way I was raised to know! Overshoppers of the highest degree, but when things are so cheap and so unusual and interesting, I just can't help myself. But hands down the funniest part of the day was how it ended, with a trolley-picnic with the 4 of us congregating over our trolley in a disused Disabled car parking space outside the front of the shop, stuffing our faces with Coconut Mochi balls, Aloe juice and curried donut buns... to the horror and hilarity of all the other shoppers. Well, when its good, its good... You can't always wait!

Su La Restaurant - 79-81 Kingston Road, New Malden, Surrey, London, KT3 3PB
Tel: 020 8336 0121

H Mart - Beverley Way, New Malden, Surrey KT34PH
Tel: 020 8949 2238 http://www.hmart.co.uk/

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

RECIPE: Tamarind, Lamb & Aubergine Stew

How often do you use Tamarind in your cookery? Not used nearly as often in the West, Tamarind is a staple of the East; it use stretches from Africa and India, through the Middle East (including Iran) all the way to Southeast Asia. It's use extends from everything like marinades and stews to drinks and candy; and despite being famed for its incredibly sour flavour, there is a certain pleasing sweetness to it also.

This particular recipes comes with a confession on my part. It's creation came as a result of **not having** the required ingredients to make another dish using my little chunks of lamb neck fillet. Originally, I was going to make a Massamun curry but realised I didn't have any coconut milk in the my cupboards (a first) and so this dish was born. Ingredients vicariously chucked together in a pot, fingers crossed, hoping for the best... only to end in a triumphant result! Splendid, utterly splendid and here is the recipe;

Tamarind, Lamb and Aubergine Stew (Serves 4)

400g of lamb neck cut into large chunks (1.5 inches thick)
1 jar of Barts Tamarind paste
2 x Knorr beef stock pots
6 shallots or 1 medium onion, roughly sliced (not chopped and not too thin)
6 inches fresh ginger, grated
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
2 heaped tablespoons of caster sugar
2 heaped teapspoons of ground cumin
1 heaped teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1 heaped teaspoon of turmeric powder
1 large green chilli **optional, but delicious** sliced thickly into about 6 pieces
2 medium sized aubergines, chopped thickly into 2 inch squared chunks (roughly)
Vegetable oil
Water

Preheat a deep pan over a medium/hight heat (or medium if using gas) and add enough oil to cover the base of the ban. Saute your onions until they begin to brown and then add your lamb to the pan and stir, keeping the meat moving, so its gets nicely browned but not cooked through. Add the grated ginger and stir well for another minute or so. Follow by adding the tamarind paste, chopped tomatoes and sugar and stir well before adding the spices. Lastly add your aubergine chunks to the pan, stirring again and then pour enough water over the ingredient to just about cover them. Stir one last time before turning the temperature down to a low-medium heat (or low is using gas) and cook for 2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes to prevent it sticking. Serve with basmati rice or lovely naan bread.

Monday, 7 March 2011

RECIPE: Persian 'Mirza Ghasemi' Aubergines

I don’t know how to best translate what this dish is into English. It is not a dip and definitely not your trendy aubergine ‘caviar’ but it is traditionally eaten as a side dish (or starter) with other dishes like grilled meat and chicken or even a stew with rice.

This delicious dish comes from the ‘Rasht’ province of northern Iran and is one of my absolute favourites dishes and a must have whenever I eat out in Persian restaurants. I decided to make it for myself one day and couldn’t believe how straightforward it was and so from now on, it has to be homemade all the way!

It is a great dish that is actually incredibly low fat as the aubergines are oven baked so they don’t absorb the massive quantities of oil they tend to when being fried. Perfect for vegetarians yet also incredibly satisfying for carnivorous types (like myself) too and I find the best way to eat it is with Persian Lavosh bread, but toasted pitas are my other favourite way to scoop up copious amounts of this garlicky aubergine favourite. Garlic lovers rejoice as this dish has quite a bit of garlic in it, which really is delicious, but if you don’t like garlic you can use caramelised onions instead, although only if you really must.

Persian 'Mirza Ghasemi' Aubergines (Serves 4-6 as a starter or side dish)

Ingredients

4 large aubergines
4 large ripe tomatoes
2 whole garlic bulbs (peeled, crushed and roughly sliced)
2 tablespoons of tomato puree
1 heaped teaspoon of turmeric powder
2 heaped teaspoons of Maldon sea salt
3 medium sized whole eggs
Oil for frying

Method

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees and once hot, place aubergines directly onto the oven griddles and without pricking or breaking the skin, roast them for 40-45 minutes.

In a large frying pan over a medium heat, add some oil and slowly cook your garlic slices making sure you are cooking them through rather than browning them. If they start to brown too quickly take the pan off heat and the residual heat will still give you a decent temperature for a while longer if needed. Once you garlic has cooked through and just as some of the edges begin to brown, add your turmeric powder and ensure it is mixed well into the garlic and cook it through for a minutes or two. Quarter your tomatoes, removing the core and throw them into the pan and cook them with the garlic until they break down and are full cooked through. Then turn the temperature off and set aside.

Once your aubergines are cooked, carefully remove them from the oven using a plate to catch them as sometimes they burst so its best to put them straight into the plate. Then using a knife score the skin and take a spoon and scoop the flesh out from all 4 of them and add it to your frying pan. Then turn the high on again to a medium temperature and mix the aubergine pulp with the garlic and tomatoes and cook them through for a few minutes, mashing them a little with your cooking utensil of choice. Add your tomato puree, mix thoroughly and leave it to cook through again for about 5 or so minutes, ensuring you keep it moving so it doesn’t burn.

Finally beat your 3 eggs whole and make lots of little holes in the aubergine mixture and simply pour the beaten egg mix straight onto the pan and do not (I repeat DO NOT) stir it in. You don’t want the egg mix to enrich the aubergine mix but instead you want it to cook through and once cooked, then you mix it in to the aubergines. This takes approximately 8 minutes or so and you will see when the egg is cooked as it goes opaque. Once cooked, give the whole mix a good stir so that it has an even consistency and it is ready to eat. Personally I think it is best served warm, but the truth is you can eat it warm, hot or cold. Take your bread of choice and scoop a massive dollop of the mix and enjoy.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

RECIPE: Aubergines with Feta Cheese and Saffron Yoghurt

In case you haven't yet realised it, my signature cookery style is fast becoming what I like to term as 'Modern Persian'... using many of the ingredients that are popular in my culture but with modern accents and twists of fusion which make them more enjoyable on a daily basis.

This is one of my favourite accompaniments to lamb as the meaty flesh of the aubergine, always proves a great pairing with the aromatic spice-rubbed lamb dishes I like to make. Every time I make it, I vary the dish somewhat... In the images above, you will see the first where I made a much stronger saffron yoghurt, less mint and added chopped pickled chillies to give it a lovely heat, but I have also made it using less saffron and more mint also. The point to my cooking, as always, is to adapt it to your own taste (and available ingredients) and come up with something that works well in your own home. There is no exacting of quantities with this sort of recipe, so feel free to adjust accordingly.

Aubergines with Feta Cheese and Saffron Yoghurt

3 large aubergines (unpeeled), sliced widthways into 1 inch discs
2-3 generous pinches of good quality saffron
250g of full fat 'Total' Greek yoghurt
Small bunch of fresh mint, leaves picked and roughly chopped or shredded
100g-200g of feta cheese (use as much as you want, I like 200g!)
Vegetable oil
Maldon sea salt
Pickled chillies (optional)
**pastry brush**

Over a medium-high heat (or medium if using gas) preheat a large frying pan and start brushing both sides of your aubergine slices with vegetable oil. Do not salt them as this will draw moisture out of them, which you don't really want. Aubergines do not need to be salted as they once used to as their juices are no longer bitter due to new varieties cultuvated. You can season them once they are cooked. Then once the pan is nice and hot, fry the aubergines for about 10-12 minutes each side (or until nicely browned on each side) Repeat until all the aubergine is cooked and then set aside.

If you have a pestle and mortar to ground your saffron down to a powder, then great... if not, crumble your saffron into a little cup using your fingers and add two tablespoons of boiling kettle water to the cup and allow the saffron to infuse into the water, making 'liquid saffron'. Allow to cool and once cooled, combine with your yoghurt and mix well until the colour is even.

Arrange the aubergine slices on a large flate plate, season well with Maldon sea salt and crumble your feta cheese liberally over the top. Dot your saffron yoghurt around the plate and garnish with mint and (if desired) pickled chillies.

REVIEW: Vinoteca, Marylebone W1

When my friend invited me to dinner at Vinoteca, I heard the word 'Vino' and being someone who doesn't actually drink wine (unless its a dessert wine) I wasn't overly enthused but being that she is a fellow foodie, she is most definitely someone who can be trusted to choose somewhere suitable for dinner.

Tucked away in Seymour Place, right behind Edgware Road, Vinoteca is an intimate buzzy bistro with walls lined with scores of different wines and a list of over 285 wines available for purchase. They don't take reservations and although the restaurant was totally full, we didn't wait more than 10 minutes before we were seated... this in itself means extra brownie points for them in my opinion.

The menu is an informal mix of hearty rustic dishes, Tapas style dining and other delicious sounding combinations each paired with a wine recommendation, for the devoted wine drinker. The kitchen is visible and the Chefs pass is in plain sight for all to see. Not feeling overly hungry (yes, a rare event in my lifetime) I chose the goat cheese and beetroot salad with vinaigrette dressing and walnuts and my friend chose the salad of smoked eel with potatoes and mixed leaves. Now eel is something that I have always said, you would have to kill me to make me eat and how on earth people eat jellied eels, is beyond me! But, when the salad was served up, it did look rather good. My friend offered some to me and I was quick to turn her down but changed my mind in the spirit of trying new things and was surprised how delicious it was. My own salad was pretty straight forward but really gratifying. I love beetroots, yellow and purple and love goats cheese and walnuts, so it was a winning combination for me.

I realised that for the first time in my life, I accidentally ordered an entirely vegetarian menu... This has NEVER happened before... so once my tagliatelle with Pied de Mouton mushrooms arrived, I was hoping that it would do the trick for me and I wasn't disappointed. An extra heavy hit of garlic which luckily I love was a suitable companion to the mushrooms and the al dente ribbons of homemade tagliatelle; very satisfying. My friend opted for a lighter main course of 'Lomito' cured pork loin with blood oranges with almonds and Jalapeno peppers; a vibrant visual plate or delicious cured meat with the juicy citrus kick from the sharp slivers of blood orange. Delicious and so much better then the non-existent blood orange slivers hiding under the Burrata cheese I ate at Nopi restaurant recently ans curiously almost half the price!

Three of the dishes we ate were priced at just £6.50; what a bargain, no? My handmade tagliatelle pasta was priced at just £10.50 and loaded with meaty mushrooms. You can't even get that sort of value at Ask, Zizzi or any of the other dodgy high street chains anymore; and you certainly can't match the quality of produce used by Vinoteca. For dessert, we shared a lovely rhubarb fool (which we forgot to take a snap of) but was served in a rather stylish Martini glass with a lovely biscotti and I did have a cheeky glass of 2007 VAT 5 Botrytis Semillon de Bortoli to wash my dessert down with, which was a rather splendid way to end a rather splendid meal.

Vinoteca, despite its wine affiliation, won me over for its food. I am definitely coming back to eat here because the food is fantastic and the prices are incredibly reasonable for the high standard of cooking and service you receive. A gem of a find that I am reluctantly sharing with you but this is definitely one of those lovely little London discoveries that is too good to keep secret.

FAB FINDS: Peter's Yard Artisan Crispbreads

Thanks to my fellow foodie friend Signe Johansen, author of the incredibly popular 'Scandilicious' Blog, I have been introduced to something pretty wonderful... Delicious Artisanal crispbreads, so far removed from the usual supermarket crap.

Edinburgh-based Peter's Yard, make the most delicious and versatile crispbread I have had in a long time. Listed by The Times' Dan Lepard as one the the top 10 small bakeries in Britain, scoring the full 5 stars in the 'Observer Food Monthly' Scandinavian taste test and 'Gold' winner at the 2010 Great Taste Awards.

The large box of Swedish crispbread wheels 'for sharing' are wonderful and perfect for Tapas or Mezze style dining with friends but my favourites were the feather-light smaller crispbread rounds... perfect for my own indulgent snacking. To be authentic, I piled mine high with Swedish Gravadlax and mustard sauce but to Persianise things, I tried Feta with my own Pistachio pesto which was superb also. If you aren't anywhere near Edinburgh, don't despair because you can find Peter's Yard goodies at Wholefoods, Selfridges and also online directly from Edinbugh. Visit their website http://www.petersyard.com/ You will never by Ryvita again!

Friday, 4 March 2011

BOOK REVIEW: French Country Cooking - The Roux Brothers

Having fabulous cookery books sent to me is a perk of having a blog and when the lovely people at Quadrille Publishing sent me 'French Country Cooking' by Michel and Albert Roux I did wonder if I'd missed a trick. Perhaps I was a bit too young and had my attentions elsewhere but I don't recall seeing this book when first released. However it's recent hard back re-print has certainly come at a perfect time for me as of all the 350+ cookery books I own, less then 5 are French and there is definitely room for more pearls of French culinary wisdom on my bookshelf.

The book, divided into twelve regional chapters, gives an excellent insight into popular dishes of each region along with the traditions and ingredients unique to the area. From Provence and Alsace to the lesser known regions of Vendee, Pays Basque and Guyenne; the book is a colourful journey into the secrets of regional and seasonal cookery of France. There is also a very useful pre-chapter on 'Basic Recipes' which include the classic French recipes for several different types of pastry, from choux to shortcrust, as well as stocks, mayonnaise and custard.

One of my favourite recipes comes in pretty early on in the 'Normandy and Brittany' chapter in the for 'Blanquette de Veau' that fabulous French classic courtesy of Albert and Michel's own Mother, Maman Roux. For those who remember watching Keith Floyd prepare a Pays Basque classic of Piperade to an utterly disgusted lady restaurateur, you can create this now infamous dish yourself from the recipe on page 99. Other classic recipes included Crepes Suzette, Bouillabaisse, Gourgeres as well as the more interesting 'Jambon au foin' (ham cooked in hay)and the oh-so-decadent 'Tourtiere aux Morilles' a heavely puff pastry pie filled with a generous amount of my absolute favourite Morel mushrooms with ham and truffles. Heaven.

This is a book of classics; filled with rich, butter-laden, truffle-scented recipes. Not a book suited to dieters of those practising the art of moderation. This is a book for lovers of decadent, full-flavoured cooking and the fact that it is penned by the Roux brothers gives it that extra edge of authenticity as well as the reassurance that what you are recreating will have a spectacular end result.

French Country Cooking by Michel and Albert Roux is now available on Amazon at the special price of £17.16 (instead of the full price of £25.00) CLICK HERE to order your copy... Bon appetit mes amis!