Tartare Sauce

Those who read this blog with any regularity will know that I am a dedicated advocate of making every element of a meal myself. I have tried my hand at tomato ketchup, brown sauce, making my own cheese, mayonnaise… anything and everything in fact – if it can be made in a home kitchen then I will give it a go. It’s not because I am some kind of zealot who treats his body as a temple and refuses to eat anything made in a factory – well, okay, to a large degree I am extremely distrustful of processed food of any kind – but the main reason is that I enjoy making new things, and also because when you make something yourself you can adjust its flavour to make it taste exactly how you want it to. There is also the fact that every time you make something new then you can learn something from it. If you want to become a good cook then whatever else you do there is no substitute for actual cooking.

You might wonder whether it’s worth going to the effort of making something as basic as tartare sauce when there are perfectly acceptable jars of it lining supermarket shelves all around the world. If you’re wondering that then you’re reading the wrong blog! Like everything else that you make by hand, the difference between home-made and shop-bought is like night and day. This is dead easy, quick and inexpensive, and because you will probably have more than you need you can store leftovers in the fridge for up to a week.

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RECIPE – feeds 6 people easily

3 medium large cornichons (pickled gherkins)

1 heaped tbsp capers, drained

4 anchovy fillets in oil, drained

a small bunch of flat leaf parsley, leaves and stalks roughly torn

1 lemon, zest and juice

200g mayonnaise

extra-virgin olive oil


METHOD

Put the cornichons, capers, anchovies, parsley and the zest of the lemon in a food processor (or, at a push, a blender), with half the lemon juice and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Blitz until you have a rough paste, if you like a little more texture in your sauce stop blitzing when it reaches your desired consistency. Add a little more olive oil if necessary.

Put the mayonnaise in a large bowl, then add the blitzed paste to it. Mix well and taste, adding as much of the remaining lemon juice as you wish so that it is as tart as you like it.

I have not specified that you make your own mayonnaise here, that is a blog post that will come in the future. This tastes great with shop-bought mayo, and because you are dealing with such strong flavours there is little benefit to be gained from making your own, unless you want to and then you can brag about it.

Hummus – Quick and Easy

A Lebanese classic, hummus is – in theory – quick and easy to make. Actually, it is quick and easy to make, so quite why I have had the misfortune to taste some of the most disgusting muck on the planet masquerading as hummus is beyond me. Admittedly, the disgusting stuff is found on supermarket shelves, alongside some quite superb hummus. Once you have made your own though there can be no going back: you know exactly what you are going to get, you know exactly what goes in to it, and you can tweak the proportions of the ingredients to get it exactly how you like it.

This version is not authentic Lebanese hummus, but it is close, and started life as a recipe courtesy of Sabrina Ghayour and her wonderful book ‘Persiana’. Consider the ingredient quantities specified as a starting point, and if you don’t want to make quite so much just reduce the quantities of everything in proportion. You might be surprised at how much salt you need, just add it little by little until it is just as you like it.

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RECIPE – feeds a crowd

3 tins of chickpeas, reserve the liquid from 1 1/2 tins

6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

3 lemons, juice only

4 tbsp tahini

sea salt

paprika to garnish (optional)


METHOD

Put the chickpeas, garlic, tahini, half the olive oil, half the chickpea liquid and half the lemon juice in a food processor and pulse a few times to break the chickpeas down and roughly mix the ingredients.

Empty it in to a large mixing bowl, and using a fork to vigorously mix it together gradually add the olive oil and then some of the chickpea liquid and lemon juice until the consistency is loose but not sloppy, while the texture remains rough – unless you prefer it very smooth like shop-bought, in which case get mashing!

Now start tasting: gradually add the sea salt, a pinch at a time and tasting as you go. Likewise, add more lemon juice if you think it needs it. Your aim is to get a balance of smoky flavour from the garlic, that the salt will accentuate, while bringing out the sharpness of the lemon juice. If your hummus gets a little too loose then a little more tahini will thicken it again, as well as adding more depth of flavour. Adjust gradually and taste it after every addition and you will end up with the most delicious hummus you have ever had, and all in around ten minutes.

Thai Green Curry Paste

The difference between home-made curry paste and a shop-bought jar is – literally – the difference between night and day. The flavours in home-made are more intense, more bright and just more interesting.

This freezes really well and will last 3 months in a freezer or up to 3 weeks in a fridge, so you can make a double quantity to save time in the future.


RECIPE – makes roughly enough for 8 people

6 medium green chillies, de-seeded and roughly chopped

2 banana shallots, peeled and roughly chopped

a large 2 inch knob of fresh ginger

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

a small bunch of fresh coriander, stalks and roots attached

2 fresh lemongrass stalks, peeled and finely chopped

1 lime, zest finely grated and juice

8 kaffir lime leaves, shredded

1 inch of fresh galangal, or 1 tbsp of jarred

1 tbsp coriander seeds, crushed in a mortar and pestle

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar and pestle

2 tsp Thai fish sauce (nam pla)

3 tbsp vegetable oil


METHOD

Place all of the ingredients in a food processor and blitz to a smooth paste. Use immediately or store in a jar in the fridge for up to 3 weeks or freeze for up to 3 months.

Jerk Paste

Perfect for barbecues or grilled chicken or fish, jerk paste is a classic caribbean seasoning rub that adds a huge amount of flavour to anything with which it is paired. If you like it hot, just add more chilli puree.


RECIPE 

2 tsp ground allspice

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp caster sugar

1/2 nutmeg, finely grated

a big knob of fresh ginger, 3 cm or so, not peeled, finely chopped

3 fat garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 onion, finely chopped

2 banana shallots, finely chopped

6 hot chillies, finely chopped (seeds left in if you like it hotter)

1 tbsp chilli puree

juice of 1/2 lime

1 tbsp olive oil

a small handful of fresh thyme leaves

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


METHOD

Add all the ingredients to a food processor and blitz thoroughly. Nothing could be easier!

Salsa Verde

Having a good salsa verde recipe is indispensable if you cook fish on a regular basis. If you’re stuck for ideas of what to have with your fish then a pile of home made chips and salsa verde will always pull you out of trouble. Vibrancy from the herbs and gherkins, a little bit of heat from the mustard, saltiness from the capers and anchovies, the unctuousness of the olive oil and the sharp tang of the vinegar – it is the perfect accompaniment for fish and chips because, if you think about it, it’s all about salt and vinegar.

The best thing? It takes literally five minutes to make.

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RECIPE – makes enough for 4 very generous servings

3 garlic cloves, crushed

2 tbsp capers, drained

6 anchovy fillets

2 large gherkins

2 handfuls of rocket

a small pack of parsley, roughly torn

a handful of mint, leaves only

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 tbsp English mustard

extra virgin olive oil


METHOD

Put everything into a food processor and turn it on to continuous mode. As it is chopping everything, slowly pour in the extra virgin olive oil and you will find that it becomes a thick puree and then a thick sauce. Only you can judge how you like your sauces, so stop pouring when it looks right to you. As a rule of thumb, around 100ml of oil is the minimum you are likely to need.

As I said earlier this goes great with fish and chips, or just fish by itself – anywhere you would think of using tartare sauce you can easily substitute this salsa verde.

 

Curry Powder

The best curry-making advice I ever received was this: never, ever, EVER use a jar of curry powder that you have bought from a shop. I remember reading, years ago, that commercial curry powder is mainly comprised of the scrapings and dust from the factory floor; while I doubt that is actually true, some of the curry powders I have tasted over the years are so disgusting that it wouldn’t surprise me at all.

Many curry recipes don’t call for curry powder at all, instead they require freshly roasted and ground whole spices. I have an extensive spice cupboard filled with all kinds of whole and ground spices that I use so frequently that there is never a danger of anything going beyond its best. That is the  first true secret to a great curry: use the freshest spices you possibly can. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using ground spices from a packet, just make sure they are from a reputable, high-quality manufacturer – I don’t do endorsements but you will quickly learn which ones are the best – and make sure they are as fresh as possible. If that means digging into the back of a shelf in the store to get the newest stock then don’t be embarrassed.

There are times however when a good curry powder is exactly what is needed, and this mix – compliments of Madhur Jaffrey – is as good as it gets. It has layers of complex flavour and aromas, it bursts with life and does a little dance with your taste buds. If that all sounds like I’m getting a bit carried away, make it and see for yourself…


RECIPE – makes a small jar

2 tbsp coriander seeds

1 tbsp cumin seeds

2 tsp black peppercorns

1 1/2 tsp brown mustard seeds

6 whole cloves

1 tsp fenugreek seeds

1 1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes

2 tsp hot chilli powder

1 tsp turmeric


METHOD

In a large pan – NOT non-stick – place the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, black peppercorns, brown mustard seeds and whole cloves. Put over a high heat and stay with the pan, shaking every few seconds. Within a minute or so the spices should start to become aromatic, this is the dangerous time…

If you burn your spices you have no option but to start again, so watch them carefully. Just as the cumin seeds start to darken and you can really smell everything – this takes just a couple of minutes at the most – add the fenugreek seeds. Shake the pan for ten seconds then take off the heat and immediately empty the spices onto a plate (preferably a metal one) to cool. The pan will be very hot so if you had left the spices in it they would burn.

Using a small electric coffee grinder – I have a small, cheap one which I use exclusively for grinding spices – or a mortar and pestle, add the chilli flakes, chilli powder and turmeric to the toasted spices, and grind to a fine, well mixed powder.

Store in a jar in a cool, dark place and this mix will easily last 3 months or more without losing much of its vitality. It is quite exceptional when used straight from the grinder.

 

Ghee

If you like cooking Indian curries, middle eastern cuisine or southern Asian food in general then it is essential that you have a supply of ghee in your fridge if you are going to get the very best results.

Ghee is used in place of vegetable and other oils because of its high smoke point (the temperature at which its molecules begin to deteriorate) of around 250C, higher than most vegetable oils, and also because of the unique taste and scent that it adds to a dish.

Ghee is a kind of clarified butter that has had the milk solids removed and is slightly caramelised, as such it is incredibly easy to make. You can of course buy it, many major supermarkets now stock it and if all else fails you will definitely find it in specialist Asian shops. Why go to the bother of searching for what may well be a more expensive yet inferior product though? The chances are that what you buy will not be made from the best quality butter and will have all kinds of preservatives and other chemicals added to it to extend the shelf life. You can make home-made ghee with the butter that you like, and with nothing added it will last for months in the fridge.

Ghee


RECIPE – makes enough to fill a small Kilner jar

1 kg unsalted or slightly salted butter

 


METHOD

Place the whole blocks of butter in a large pan over a very low heat and allow to melt slowly and completely. Once melted, the butter will begin to separate into three distinct layers: foam will appear on top, the milk solids will begin to drop to the bottom, and the clarified butter will float in the middle.

Turn the heat up very slightly and leave, undisturbed, for up to an hour. The butter will take a little time to fully clarify, and the longer you leave it the more the ghee will caramelise, giving you a distinct and delicious flavour.

Three important points to note while cooking it:

  • DO NOT LET THE GHEE SMOKE
  • DO NOT LET THE GHEE BURN
  • DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, STIR YOUR GHEE

Turn the heat off when the ghee is coloured to your liking, which could be anything between the yellow in the picture above to a deep, dark toffee brown. It is all a matter of taste so feel free to experiment to see how you like it best.

Without disturbing the pan, skim off the floating sediment. Allow the ghee to cool a little, for ten minutes or so, then strain the ghee through a muslin cloth into a sealable jar. The muslin will catch the solids at the bottom, which will likely be very dark brown by this stage.

Refrigerate your ghee and use every time your recipe calls for vegetable oil. It will go solid in the fridge, but if you take it out half an hour or so before you need to use it then it will soften sufficiently for you to get a spoon into it.

 

Guacamole

There must be as many recipes for guacamole as there are people living in Mexico, and everybody will tell you that theirs is the best. I have lost count of how many different guacamole recipes I have tried, all of them were missing an elusive something. The recipe I give you below was, in a slightly different form and for a couple of years, the best one that I had distilled down from all the others. Everybody raved about it, but I always felt that it was still missing something. It was only when I read Thomasina Miers’ excellent ‘Wahaca: Mexican Food at Home’ that I realised that all it needed was a little garlic to make it complete.

Garlic. Among the most common of all cooking ingredients, and yet it had never crossed my mind (nor that of virtually every other guacamole recipe-writer) to add it to my guacamole. It just didn’t seem right; guacamole should taste like a bright, zesty ray of sunshine, garlic brings undertones of darkness and danger. And yet, that little bit of shading that garlic brings to guacamole makes the brightness shine even harder. It was a reminder to me that a recipe is never finished, is always evolving, and there’s always somebody out there with a different perspective on things who can bring real enlightenment to you. I’m not one to give advice to others, but my advice to myself is: always seek those people out.


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RECIPE – to feed 4

2 limes, zest and juice

2 large, ripe avocados

1 small green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

4 spring onions, trimmed and very finely chopped

1 plump garlic clove, crushed

1 ripe medium tomato, skinned, deseeded and finely chopped

A bunch of fresh coriander, leaves chopped, stems finely chopped

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

First thing, zest the limes then juice them, putting both into a large bowl. It is essential that you do this first as cut avocado requires citrus to prevent it from oxidising.

Now cut your avocados in half lengthways, take out the stone, then score the flesh down to the skin (but not through it) and using a spoon remove the flesh and toss it thoroughly through the lime juice and zest immediately. Roughly mash the avocado so that approximately half is fully mashed, a quarter is not mashed at all and the final quarter is slightly crushed; this will give you a lovely texture.

To skin your tomato, boil a kettle, lightly score a cross in the base of the tomato and put it into a cup. Pour the just-boiled water over the tomato and leave for 15-20 seconds. Empty the hot water out and immediately refill it with cold water. Lift out the tomato, insert the point of a knife under the score and lift the skin away, you should find that the skin peels off easily. If you leave the tomato in the hot water for too long it will begin to cook, and the skin will not come so easily.

Prepare and combine the remaining ingredients, stir thoroughly and season carefully. You may need to add more lime juice, just keep on testing and seasoning lightly until you have the perfect balance of sharpness from the lime and flavour accentuated by the salt and pepper.

To feed a crowd, just double the quantity; you will be amazed how far it will go and how quickly it will be demolished.

Sun-Dried Tomato Paste

I try to make as many things from scratch as possible, partly because I like to know exactly what I’m eating (I am very distrustful of processed food after extensive reading into the subject) but mainly because I like the challenge, I like to experiment and, well… why not?

Sun-dried tomato paste is widely available in UK supermarkets, and the type that we keep in our pantry is very good indeed – if a little expensive. I use it as an ingredient in many Italian dishes, and often use anything from a teaspoon to a tablespoon to augment the flavour of a tomato-based sauce, so it is something we get through a lot of.

Stuck with an hour to spare one afternoon I decided to start making dinner early, and on a whim I filled that hour experimenting with my own sun-dried tomato paste. The results were spectacularly good, yielding a more intense flavour than shop-bought, and it is so quick and easy to make.

Sometimes life is too short to muck around making everything from scratch, and sometimes life is too short not to. Sometimes, all you’ve got time for is a bowl of pasta with something stirred through it – stir a tablespoon or two of this through a pan of fusilli, add a good handful of freshly grated Parmesan, a dribble of good extra-virgin olive oil and a handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley and I’m sure you’ll be eternally thankful that you did muck around making this from scratch.


RECIPE 

2 x 280g jars of sun-dried tomatoes in oil

8 fat garlic cloves

3 tbsp olive oil

2 tsp red wine vinegar

1/2 tsp sea salt


METHOD

Drain the jars of sun-dried tomatoes in a sieve, put into a bowl and cover with just-boiled water. Stir for a minute then drain again. This softens the tomatoes up so they will blitz more easily, and cleans off the remainder of the oil.

Peel and crush the garlic, put into a food processor with the tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar and sea salt, then blitz until it is a smooth puree. You may need to add a little oil if the paste is too stiff, and you will very likely need to scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times to get everything. You can also do this in a blender, or if you’re really keen a pestle and mortar will do the job.

Decant into a sterilised jar, top off with a little more oil (do not mix it in, the idea is that it sits over the paste and protects it from the atmosphere) and refrigerate. This will happily keep for two weeks or more, and quantities can easily be doubled or trebled.

*To Sterilise Glass Jars: Heat oven to 140C/120C fan/gas 1, then turn it off and keep the door closed. There is no point in wasting energy! Wash the jars and lids in hot, soapy water then rinse well. Place the jars on a baking sheet and put them in the oven to dry completely. If using Kilner jars then boil the rubber seals, as the dry heat of the oven will make them perish.