Onion Salad

You might think that an onion salad is the last thing you want to eat. Though I love the harshness of raw onion, I don’t appreciate the fact that I can still taste it several hours afterward. It stops my wife from kissing me as well…

Fear not, this delicious onion salad is not at all harsh, the underlying sweetness of the onion is accentuated and the harshness completely obliterated just by marinating in lime juice for 30 minutes or so.

This is a great side dish to serve alongside any curry or spicy dish, and if you ever partake of the poppadom starter before having an Indian restaurant meal you will be very familiar with it.

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RECIPE – feeds 4 with a starter, 2 with a main meal

1 large onion, peeled, halved and sliced

1 large ripe tomato, skinned, de-seeded and finely diced

4 inches of cucumber, peeled, de-seeded and finely diced

a generous splash of lime juice

a small pinch of salt

a small handful of fresh coriander, leaves only, chopped

1 tsp of nigella seeds


METHOD

Slice the onion, not too finely as you want the good texture that a thicker slice will give you. Put into a bowl and ensure the onion is fully broken up. Splash generously with lime juice and using your hands ensure that every piece of onion is coated. Season with a small pinch of salt and set aside.

Boil a kettle, score a cross through the skin at the base of the tomato, put the tomato in a large mug or small bowl, pour the boiled water over it until it is fully submerged and leave it for 15 seconds. Empty the water, immediately refill it with cold water, empty it again, now insert the point of a sharp knife under the scored tomato skin and pull the skin away from the flesh; it should peel off cleanly in large sections.

Caution: Don’t leave the tomato in hot water for more than 15 seconds or it will begin to cook. This will mean that the skin will re-adhere to the tomato flesh and you will have a hard job getting it off.

Cut the tomato into quarters or eighths, cut away the seeds and discard them, then finely dice the tomato flesh. Place on top of the onion.

Peel the cucumber, cut it into quarters or eighths, then slice away the seeds from the middle (they will make your salad too soggy). Finely dice the cucumber flesh and place on top of the onion.

Chop the coriander, place on top of the cucumber and tomato and set aside to sit for at least 30 minutes.

When you are ready to eat, toss everything together thoroughly, scatter the nigella seeds on top and toss again, then serve.

South Indian Fish Curry with Chick Peas

There is an awful lot of flavour in this delicious, warming curry. It isn’t a fierce curry, instead it is enlivened by layers of spicing and moderated by a little sugar. The real star of the show though is the tamarind; it adds a deep, sour tang to the dish which balances the sweetness without smothering it while the addition of a little lime juice at the end gives it an aromatic freshness. Though I love vindaloo, there is much more to a great curry than just a lot of heat.

The sauce is very bold, so it needs an equally bold flavoured fish, mackerel is easy to obtain and delicious.

A note about the use of fresh ginger: most recipes call for the ginger to be peeled but by doing so you are throwing away a lot of flavour. Instead, ensure the skin is clean, chop away any rough bits and the grey-looking wounds from previous cuts, then chop it keeping the rest of the skin on. You will only know it is there because of the flavour that it brings with it.

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RECIPE – feeds 2

1 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 medium onion, peeled, halved and sliced

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp black mustard seeds

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1/4 tsp ground fenugreek

1/2 tsp chilli flakes

a large knob of ginger, trimmed but not peeled, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 tin of chopped tomatoes, and 1 tin of water

1 tin of chickpeas

1 fish stock cube

2 tsp tamarind concentrate

1 tsp caster sugar

350g mackerel fillets

lime juice to taste

fresh coriander, stalks and leaves separated, chopped


METHOD

Heat the oil in a large pan, add the onion and sweat under a cartouche for ten minutes or so until softened but not coloured.

*Tip: Sweating vegetables under a piece of parchment is known as using a cartouche. It is a way of cooking that simultaneously sweats and steams the vegetables, extracting maximum flavour in minimum time.

Cut a square of baking parchment that is slightly larger than the surface area of your pan, push it down so it sits on top of your sweating vegetables and then tuck the sides down so the vegetables are completely covered. Keep the heat low and after a few minutes check to see that nothing is catching on the bottom of the pan, then re-cover and continue to sweat them until they are as soft as you need them to be and the aroma is filling your kitchen.

Add the turmeric, black mustard seeds, cumin seeds, ground fenugreek, chilli flakes, ginger and garlic, stir-fry for 30 seconds then pour in the tomatoes, refill the tin with water and pour that in as well, add the chickpeas and crumble the fish stock cube into the sauce. Simmer gently for 20 minutes.

Now add the chopped coriander stalks – never throw the stalks away, again they are full of flavour that you would otherwise lose – stir in the tamarind concentrate and sugar and adjust the balance of the two by adding a little more of either until it is as you like it. Season very carefully with salt and a little ground black pepper.

At this point you can leave the sauce to sit and infuse for a few hours, or overnight. It’s an old cliche that curries taste better the day after, but it’s true. It’s almost as good if you carry straight on though…

With the sauce at a gentle simmer, cut your fish into large chunks and gently push them into the sauce so they are just submerged. Poach gently for around 8 minutes (the exact time will depend on the thickness of your fillets).

Adjust the seasoning if necessary, add a couple of dashes of lime juice (fresh is always best) and garnish with the chopped coriander leaves.

The population seems to divide equally between those who love coriander and those who think it tastes like soap. Personally I love it and use it in huge quantities – in the picture above I have used only a little, but when it went on the table you couldn’t see the sauce for the coriander. It’s best to be aware that some people might not like it before you use it!

This goes very well with steamed or plain boiled basmati rice, and carrot and ginger salad.

Seared Tuna Stir-Fry

Stir-fried food is the ultimate fast food, taking literally less than 5 minutes from hot oil to finished dish. Obviously, that means that once you start cooking things move fast so you need to be well organised and have all your ingredients weighed-out, measured and chopped before you even think about turning on the gas. There really isn’t much that goes into this dish, but even so it is absolutely packed with flavour. Preparation should only take 10 minutes even if you take your time.

If Chinese takeaway food is your only experience of Chinese-style cooking then you are in for an extremely pleasant surprise, and this dish is a quick and easy way in to a delicious, filling and healthy cuisine. The sauce is what really makes this dish sing, the interplay of the various aromatic components is just divine. Hoisin sauce is the only ingredient that you might struggle to find, though it is now readily available from larger UK supermarkets.

I have specified Ramen noodles here, just because they go extremely well with stir-fries, but feel free to use whatever you have, or perhaps serve it with Beijing rice. The Ramen noodles I use have a cooking time of 4 minutes, at which point either serve them immediately or plunge them into cold water to stop them cooking. If you want to ensure you don’t have too many things going at once it is a good idea to cook them in advance. They can be heated again when you are ready to use them by plunging them into a pan of boiling water for a few seconds. Always make sure you know how long your noodles take to prepare by reading the instructions on your particular packet.

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RECIPE – feeds 2

2 tuna steaks

dark soy sauce

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

2 servings of Ramen noodles (approximately 160g dry)

For the sauce:

2 tbsp lemon juice

2 tbsp hoisin sauce

1 tbsp dark soy sauce

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

For the stir-fry:

1 tbsp groundnut oil

a large knob of fresh ginger, cut into thin matchsticks

2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced

1 medium red chilli, finely chopped (seeds left in if you like it hot)

2 red peppers, chopped into 1.5 cm chunks

3 fat spring onions, finely sliced at an angle

For the garnish:

a bunch of fresh coriander, leaves and stalks, chopped


METHOD

Fill the bottom of a dish large enough to hold your tuna steaks with dark soy sauce to a depth of 2 millimetres. Crush two garlic cloves into it, stir thoroughly then place the tuna steaks in the soy sauce, turning until it is completely coated. Cover with cling film and chill in a fridge for 30 minutes.

Prepare all the other ingredients.

Combine the sauce ingredients, stir thoroughly and set aside.

Heat a wok over a high heat, and a ridged griddle pan also over a high heat.

Get a large pan of unsalted water to a strong rolling boil, add the noodles and cook for 4 minutes. Set a timer – everything moves fast from here…

When the griddle pan is very hot, scrape any pieces of garlic and excess soy sauce from the tuna steaks and lay them in the pan. Cook for approximately 1 minute per centimetre thickness on one side, and half that on the other – to make that clear, a 2 cm thick tuna steak would be cooked for 2 minutes on one side, then flipped over and cooked for a further 1 minute. Do not move the tuna while it is cooking, it is likely to stick until it is properly cooked, and you want well-defined char lines where the ridges are. Cooking it this way should ensure the outside is well-sealed and the very middle is still quite rare, the tuna steak will cook on even when it is on your plate though.

At the same time as the tuna is cooking, when the wok is smoking hot add the groundnut oil and swirl it around the wok to coat all surfaces. Add the ginger, cook for a few seconds then add the chilli and garlic and stir fry for around 15 seconds, then add the chunks of red pepper. Stir-fry for 1 minute then add the spring onions and the sauce and bring to the boil, by this time your noodles should be ready so tip them in to the wok and toss everything together. Garnish in the wok with chopped fresh coriander leaves, and serve the tuna steaks on a bed of the noodles and stir-fried vegetables.