Spiralised Sweet Potato Fries

I seem to spend a lot of time trying to figure out what to eat. The main element generally isn’t a problem; I might like a pie, or some pasta, some fish or whatever, or I might have something in the fridge that needs to be eaten before it goes off. No, the problem that I often have is figuring out what to have alongside the main element, something interesting, different and, most importantly, complementary.

A few nights ago I had the reverse problem, there was a lonely sweet potato sitting there needing to be eaten. Now, there are a lot of things I can do with sweet potato, but if I am going to be feeding more than one person then I need more than one. As usual I hit the books for inspiration and found this idea in a few places, a little tinkering with the various interpretations led me to this: the perfect side dish for fish (particularly tuna steaks) or chicken, and you can also treat them like (crunchy) noodles and serve alongside Asian flavours. It also allowed me the rare use of my spiraliser, one of the few ‘gadgets’ I allow in my kitchen.

A few tips: use the largest size of spiraliser blade that you have, otherwise they can become dry and bitter rather than sweet and crunchy. Use 2 tbsp of cornflour per medium-sized potato because they can be quite moist and the cornflour encourages them to go crispy and, perhaps most importantly, leave them for a good quarter of an hour before you eat them because it takes that long for the crunch to fully develop once they are out of the oven.

If you don’t have a spiralizer, you can julienne the potatoes to get the same effect.

sweetpotatofries.jpg


RECIPE  

1 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and spiralised

2 tbsp cornflour

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

Preheat the oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6, and line a baking sheet with parchment.

Thickly spiralise the sweet potato, or cut into thin strips. In a large bowl, toss the sweet potato with the cornflour then add the oil and toss again until everything is coated.

Spread the sweet potato on the parchment, ensuring that as much as possible it sits in a single layer otherwise it will tend to steam and won’t get as crispy.

Bake for 20 minutes, tossing halfway through to ensure even cooking, and leave to sit for 15 minutes before eating – you can eat them immediately, they just won’t be as crispy as they could be.

Sliced Roasted Potatoes with Tomato, Oregano and Basil

My kitchen smelt like Italy yesterday evening, as this delicious gratin released its sumptuous aromas into the atmosphere. It reminds me: I must renew the seals on my oven.

I originally found this recipe in Gennaro Contaldo and Antonio Carluccio’s ‘Two Greedy Italians’, made it. loved it, then promptly forgot about it as I got busy cooking other dishes. What an error; this should have been flagged in my notebook as something to enjoy at least once a week.

The flavours are simple, but marry together exceptionally well. The trick here is to use lots of cherry tomatoes, and to ensure that at least half of them have been de-seeded, otherwise it’s just a little too wet. Cooked this way it has a delicious crunchy topping with layers of soft but firm potato and onion waiting for you underneath.

It is perfect alongside seared tuna or salmon, and with a simple salsa it only requires a few good handfuls of rocket to make you smile.

kudfhgu.jpg


RECIPE – Serves 4 

100ml olive oil

700g thinly sliced potatoes

approx 2 tsp dried oregano

flaked sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

a large handful of roughly-torn basil leaves

400g red onions, peeled and thinly sliced

600g cherry, or baby-plum tomatoes, halved. Half of them de-seeded

1 tbsp dry vermouth

For the salsa:

1 tsp fennel seeds, lightly crushed

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 banana shallot, finely sliced

2 medium tomatoes, de-seeded and diced

a handful of basil leaves, shredded, set aside a couple of small sprigs for garnish

a small handful of pitted black olives, quartered


METHOD

Preheat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan /Gas 4. Slice the potatoes; use a mandolin if you have one, it will make the job much faster and more precise. Otherwise, slice them – very carefully – as thinly as you can. Also prepare the tomatoes and onion.

In a large, oven-proof dish, drizzle 3 tbsp of the olive oil over the base and then place a thin layer of sliced potato. Sprinkle 1/3 of the oregano over the top and season lightly.  Scatter a thin layer of basil leaves, then a single layer of sliced onion followed by a mixture of tomatoes, some de-seeded and some with seeds in. Drizzle with a little more oil, then repeat the layers twice more: potato; oregano; a little seasoning; basil; onion, then tomatoes. Drizzle with a little oil to finish, with the vermouth.

Cover with foil and bake in the middle of the oven for 45 minutes, then remove the foil and gently loosen the bottom layer of potatoes. Put back into the oven, uncovered, for a further 25-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the salsa: combine the lightly crushed fennel seeds, shallot and vinegar in a bowl and set aside while you de-seed and chop the tomatoes; then add the tomatoes, basil and olives. Combine well, season lightly and set aside for now.

Allow the potatoes to rest while you cook your fish, then serve on warmed plates with the salsa and a simple rocket salad.

Indian Spiced Potatoes with a Crispy Fried Egg

Eggs and potatoes, yum. Eggs and curry, yum. Eggs and potatoes and curry, yum yum yum!

I made this for the first time last Sunday for lunch, then again on Monday, and yet again last night (Tuesday) as a side dish with a curry feast. I think it’s fair to say that I love it, that my family loves it, and I bet you will too.

indianegg.jpg


RECIPE – Serves 4

800g floury potatoes (Maris Piper, Roosters etc) peeled and diced into 1cm cubes

6 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 tsp black mustard seeds

2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

a fat thumb of ginger, finely chopped

1 tbsp curry powder

1/2 tsp turmeric

25g unsalted butter

6 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped

1 long green chilli, finely chopped

1/2 tsp coarse sea salt

1 tsp nigella seeds

4 large eggs

a small handful of curry leaves


METHOD

First, prepare the potatoes: bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, add the diced potatoes and simmer gently for 13 mins or until just soft. Drain in a colander and set aside while you prepare the spice base.

Mix the curry powder and turmeric with a little water to make a paste. This will prevent the spices from sticking and burning when added to the pan.

Heat 2 tbsp of the oil in a large frying pan then add the mustard seeds. Cook over a medium heat until they just start to pop then add the garlic, ginger and curry powder/turmeric paste. Cook for 30 seconds or so, stirring constantly until aromatic, then add the butter.

When the butter has melted, add another tablespoon of oil and the potatoes. Fry for 5 mins, turning often and taking care not to allow the potatoes to disintegrate.

Add the spring onion, chilli and salt top the pan, stir and toss together for a minute or so then scatter the nigella seeds over the top, mix and transfer to warmed plates while you cook the eggs.

Line the base of a large frying pan with baking parchment, as you would if you were lining the base of a cake tin. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of oil over the top of the parchment, heat the pan, break the eggs on top and fry for a couple of minutes until thoroughly cooked and the bottom of the eggs are starting to crisp. This is a great way to cook a fried egg under any circumstances.

Place an egg on top of each mound of spiced potato, heat a tablespoon of oil in the frying pan and add the curry leaves. Fry for a minute or two until dark and glossy, drain on kitchen paper and serve on top of the eggs.

Oven-Dried Tomatoes

sdt.jpg

The first thing I consider whenever I cook something is: where is the flavour coming from? If it is a risotto the quality of the stock is crucial; if I am making a curry then the spices in the curry paste are the most important elements for flavour, and when making a tomato sauce the quality of the aromatics (not to mention the tomatoes) is key. Get that first consideration wrong, and it won’t matter what else you do, your dish won’t be as delicious as it could possibly be.

I long ago got into the habit of using fish sauce as a way of delivering ‘umami’, and if that isn’t appropriate then an anchovy fillet or two cooked in oil until it all-but dissolves will do the job. If you are making a dish for a vegan though, neither of these methods is appropriate, so I started using commercial sun-dried tomatoes to intensify flavours.

Anyone who knows me knows that I shy away from anything commercially processed, so will know what came next: of course, I started to dry my own tomatoes. It is a simple process, and delivers such intensity to any tomato-based sauce that you will never need to add tomato puree to anything ever again. I now use oven-dried tomatoes in all my tomato sauces, using one or two per tin of chopped tomatoes – so if a recipe calls for two tins of chopped tomatoes, I will augment it with two or four chopped dried tomatoes, depending on the intensity that I require.

They are also lovely spread on toasted bruschetta, with a little goat’s cheese as an antipasti.

To make oven-dried tomatoes:

Heat your oven to 140C/ gas 1.

Cut ripe tomatoes in half and scoop out the seeds, toss the tomato flesh in a little olive oil (I put a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large freezer bag, add a kilo of seeded tomatoes and work the tomatoes around the bag so they are fully coated) then lay the tomatoes in a single layer on a rack, set over a baking tray.

Just pop them in the oven and leave them for 2 to 3 hours, until they are reduced in size by about a third. At this point they will still be quite plump, you can go even further and leave them in the oven for up to eight hours so they are fully dried out and leathery. Cooked this way they can be stored almost indefinitely in the fridge.

Pack a kilner jar (or similar) with the dried tomatoes, cover completely with olive oil and store them in the fridge. I have had a jar of plump-dried tomatoes in my fridge for months and they are still perfect, so I have no idea how long they will actually last – long enough, that’s for sure.

If you completely dry your tomatoes then in most cases they can be stored dry, but will need to be re-hydrated in water overnight before use.

The Most Incredible Sweet Potato Mash EVER!

I can be a bit of a snob in the kitchen; for example, in my house the microwave gets used to reheat leftover curry and that’s about it. The concept of actually cooking with it is entirely alien to me. So, when I spotted this recipe for microwaved sweet potato mash in the current issue of BBC Good Food magazine I was dubious that I would get the results that I wanted.

What swayed me toward making the mash in the microwave, rather than roasting the sweet potatoes then scooping out and mashing the flesh as I normally would, was the tantalising prospect of what the limes in the recipe would do when they were microwaved with the sweet potato.

What happened next was very exciting indeed: this is without doubt THE most perfect sweet potato mash I have ever tasted. The magic is what happens when the limes release their juice into the sweet potato, and sesame oil turns out to be the perfect seasoning for sweet potato.

It is one of those side dishes that not only tastes wonderful but is low-calorie while being filling – so it is perfect for those following the 5:2 diet, or any diet at all – it is completely dairy-free yet deliciously creamy so it is perfect for vegans. It will work alongside a whole host of dishes, for all tastes and from many cuisines. This has gone straight to the top of the ‘must make again, and soon’ list, I shall be experimenting like crazy…

mash.jpg


RECIPE – serves 2 as a side dish

2 large sweet potatoes, scrubbed and cut into wedges

1 lime, cut into wedges

1 tbsp sesame oil

1 red chilli, de-seeded and thinly sliced

a pinch of sea salt


METHOD

Scrub the sweet potatoes clean and cut away any rough bits, otherwise leave the skin on. Cut each potato into eight wedges, and the lime also into eight wedges. Put the sweet potato and lime wedges into a large glass bowl and cover with cling film.

Microwave on high power for three minutes. Leave to stand for a couple of minutes then microwave for three more minutes. Repeat this process until the sweet potato is completely soft; it took me a total of 11 minutes of cooking – I judged that the last blast in the microwave should only be two minutes.

Remove from the microwave and take out the lime wedges. You should see a puddle of hot lime juice in the bottom of the bowl, leave that there and roughly mash the sweet potatoes with the lime juice, using a fork. Add the chilli and sesame oil with a small pinch of salt, then mash until fairly smooth. Check the seasoning and serve.

Rainbow Bhajis

Oh my goodness.

I love onion bhajis, especially home-made, so when I spotted these variations in an old BBC Good Food magazine I just had to try them. I say again: Oh my goodness.

Subtly spiced, gorgeously colourful, easy to make and great as a starter or party snack, these little beauties have become a must-make alongside any and every curry I ever make.

bhaji.jpg


RECIPE – feeds 6 as a starter/side dish

For the batter:

4 tbsp curry powder

250g gram flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp garam masala

¼ tsp hot chilli powder

2 medium onions, thinly sliced

For the bhajis:

140g carrot, grated

2 tsp nigella seeds

100g parsnip, grated

2 tbsp desiccated coconut

small pack coriander, stalks only, finely chopped (use the leaves to garnish)

140g beetroot, grated

2 tsp fresh ginger, grated

1l sunflower oil, for frying

lemon wedges, to serve

lime wedges, to serve


METHOD

First make the batter, stir the curry powder into a little cold water to make a paste, then top up to a total of 250ml of cold water. Mix the flour, baking powder and spices in a mixing bowl, make a well in the centre, then pour in the curry water and gradually stir together to a smooth batter. Stir in the onions, then divide the batter evenly between three bowls. Leave the batter to relax for 30 minutes or so.

Stir the carrot and nigella seeds into one batch of batter, the parsnip, coconut and chopped coriander stalks into another, and the beetroot and ginger into the third.

Heat the oil in a fryer, a deep pan or a non-stick wok to 180C, or until a piece of bread browns in 20 secs. Starting with the parsnip and ending with the beetroot, add spoonfuls of the mixture to the oil, a few at a time, and cook for a few mins, turning occasionally until evenly browned and crispy. This will take about 4 mins. Lift out onto kitchen paper with a slotted spoon, sprinkle with a little salt and keep warm in a low oven while you cook the rest.

Serve the hot bhajis scattered with coriander leaves alongside lemon and lime wedges for squeezing over.

Home-made Baked Beans

I got a very strange look the other day: “What are you making?” was the question; “Baked beans” was the answer. There was no tin in sight, just a pressure cooker doing its thing with some dried haricot beans while the delicious aroma of a tomato sauce was filling the air.

“You’re actually making them, aren’t you, from scratch?” Um, yes I was, but why?

I admit it, there is no real need to make baked beans, the tinned variety are delicious after all. The pointlessness of the whole process is underlined by the fact that this recipe tastes exactly like a certain market-leading tinned variety. So why make them?

Why not? I like a challenge, and it took a lot of tweaking to finalise this recipe. The whole point was just to have a little fun in the kitchen. They are delicious though, and the sauce freezes well so you can make a big batch of sauce, freeze it in portions and just add haricot beans to it when you come to use it.

beans.jpg


RECIPE – Serves 6 

450g dried haricot beans, soaked overnight

2 tbsp vegetable oil

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 small carrot, finely chopped

1 celery stick, finely chopped

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

2 1/2 tbsp tomato ketchup

1 1/2 tsp cornflour

300ml just-boiled water

20g unsalted butter


METHOD

Soak the beans overnight in cold water. The next day drain and then rinse the beans well in running water. Place the beans in a large pan and cover with fresh cold water, bring to the boil and boil rapidly for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until tender. If you have a pressure cooker the job is much quicker; follow the instructions for your own device, but mine takes around 12 minutes to cook the beans.

To make the sauce, put the oil and garlic in a large, cold pan then heat gently until the garlic is aromatic. Add the carrot and celery, cover with a cartouche and soften for around 20 minutes.

*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.

Heat the oven to 200C/ Fan 180C/ gas 4.

Remove the parchment, add the tinned tomatoes and tomato ketchup, season well and simmer for ten minutes. Allow to cool slightly then use a blender to blitz to a smooth puree. Put the puree into an ovenproof dish or casserole.

Mix the cornflour with a little cold water to make a paste, add to the puree and stir thoroughly, then add 300ml just-boiled water and the cooked beans. Stir thoroughly, check and adjust the seasoning, put a lid on the casserole and place it in the oven for 20 minutes.

To serve: bring it to the table in the casserole, stir in the butter and enjoy.

Garlic Butter and Garlic Bread

It’s the little things that matter when you are cooking; whether it is the choice of oil, the freshness of the ingredients or the judicious selection of side dishes.

I guess everyone knows how to make garlic butter: take some butter and mash some garlic into it. Yes? Well okay, yes, but add a few little extra things and you will experience garlic butter that will make you cry with joy. Simon Hopkinson, restaurateur and writer, is responsible for this, and he has my eternal thanks.

Garlic bread is a must-have when I am serving meatballs, lasagne or spaghetti Bolognese. It is so easy to make you will never reach for the ready-made supermarket version again.

buytter.jpg


RECIPE – Sufficient to make a baguette into garlic bread 

125g unsalted butter

4 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

a small handful of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

2 tsp Pernod

a pinch of flaky sea salt

a twist of freshly ground black pepper

a pinch of cayenne pepper

3 drops of tabasco

1 long French baguette


METHOD

Put all of the ingredients (except the baguette, of course) into a bowl and mash together until fully combined. Roll out a 30cm square piece of cling film and place the butter mix in the middle, then using the cling film to shield your hands, mould and roll out into a sausage. Wrap the cling film tightly around it and chill in the fridge for at least an hour.

To make the garlic bread: heat the oven to 220C/200C fan/Gas 7. Cut the baguette 3/4 of the way through in slices 1cm thick; the baguette will still hold together but is easily torn apart when served.

Take the chilled sausage of butter and cut thin slices, place a slice of butter in between each slice that you made in the baguette.

Take a length of baking parchment, long enough to wrap the baguette. Scrunch it up and wet it under a tap. Shake it so there is no excess water, then place the baguette into it and wrap tightly so it is sealed. Doing this ensures that your baguette (which has already been baked) steams as it heats and remains moist. Place onto a large baking tray and bake for between 10 and 20 minutes until it is done to your liking – keep an eye on it!

Chana Masala

Indian restaurant food has the undeserved reputation of being unhealthy. I struggle to understand how this has come about, when you examine the ingredients used in freshly-made Indian food and compare it to the ingredients list of any ready-meal or processed foodstuff it is immediately plain which option is the healthier.

Admittedly, I have had (poor) Indian meals in the past that have been swimming in ghee, but that’s bad cooking, not bad cuisine.

Chana Masala is one of my favourite healthy foods; the chick peas are stuffed full of fibre, protein, trace minerals and vitamins, while the spices are a smorgasbord of antioxidants. It’s very filling, so you don’t have to eat much to feel satisfied, and because it is a ‘dry’ dish if you ever see any oil then you know it has been poorly prepared.

I worked my way through a great many recipes for this, tweaking and testing along the way, until I finally came up with this perfect copy of the unbeatable chana masala that my local Indian restaurant serves up.

chana.jpg


RECIPE – serves 4

250g dried chickpeas, soaked overnight

1 tbsp flour

1 tbsp fine sea salt

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 bay leaf

2 cinnamon sticks

2 tbsp ghee (or vegetable oil if making vegan)

2 large onions, halved and finely sliced

4 garlic cloves, finely sliced

a large thumb of fresh ginger, cut into matchsticks

1 long green chilli, finely chopped (remove the seeds if you don’t want the extra heat)

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tbsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground cumin

2 tsp paprika

1 tsp turmeric

1 1/2 tsp garam masala

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

a pinch of sea salt

250ml cold water

1 lemon, zest and juice

2 tsp golden caster sugar

a big handful of fresh coriander, chopped


METHOD

The evening before, soak the dried chick peas in plenty of water (they will absorb a lot) with 1 tbsp flour, 1 tbsp fine sea salt and 1 tsp of bicarbonate of soda, stir well and set aside.

The next day, rinse the chick peas well, there should be no salt left on them. Put into plenty of water with the bay leaf and cinnamon sticks and bring to the boil, then simmer for 60-90 minutes until they are soft and tender, skimming off any scum if necessary. You may need to add more water as it evaporates. If you have a pressure cooker it will save you a lot of time, cook as per the instructions for your device (mine takes around 25 minutes).

Drain and set aside, removing the bay leaf and cinnamon sticks.

If you are using tinned chickpeas, use two tins; you won’t need the flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda, bay leaf or cinnamon sticks.

Heat the ghee (or oil) in a large pan, when hot cook the onion over a low heat for 10-15 minutes until softened but not coloured, then turn the heat up and cook for another couple of minutes until they are lightly browned. Make a paste out of the ground coriander, ground cumin, paprika, turmeric, garam masala and cayenne pepper by putting them into a small bowl and adding a little water. Set aside for now.

Add the garlic, ginger, chilli and cumin seeds, turn the heat off for a moment and stir thoroughly in the hot pan for a couple of minutes. Turn the heat back on and add the spice paste. Cook on for a minute, stirring so everything is thoroughly coated, then add the tinned tomatoes and a pinch of sea salt. Stir thoroughly again, add the water, bring to the boil then add the drained chickpeas. Simmer gently for as long as it takes to reduce the sauce to a thick and sticky consistency.

At this point you can leave the chana masala to sit for a few hours until you are ready to eat. Giving it time will intensify and soften the flavours.

When ready to eat, warm the chana masala gently and add the sugar. Just before serving stir through the lemon zest and juice, top with a little garam masala and fresh coriander. Garnish with onion salad and a birds-eye chilli lightly fried in a little ghee.

This is great served alongside Basmati rice, naan bread and carrot and ginger salad or carrot salad with cardamom, ginger and lemon.

Carrot salad with Cardamom, Ginger and Lemon

At the risk of being boring, once again I am going to extol the virtues of delicious, fresh ingredients coming together and doing their thing, with minimum interference. Putting together a great salad – any side dish in fact – is like putting together a great guest-list for a party, every element must contribute something to the whole, and the more variety you have the more interesting the result. The most important proviso – for parties as well as food – is that every element must get on with the others, otherwise it can be a disaster.

Every element in this dish has a clear and well-defined job, and when they come together… well, make it, taste it, and find out…

This is an excellent accompaniment to anything spicy: Middle-Eastern dishes and curries in particular.

cscgl.jpg


RECIPE – serves 4 to 6 people as a side dish

A good thumb-sized knob of ginger, roughly chopped

1/2 red onion, roughly chopped

1kg very fresh organic carrots, topped and tailed

the zest and juice of 2 lemons

1/2 tsp ground cardamom seeds

5 tbsp extra virgin olive or rapeseed oil

2 tsp flaked sea salt

1 tsp golden caster sugar

1 pinch of freshly ground white pepper

a small handful of chopped coriander leaves, or whole mint leaves to garnish


METHOD

Using a food processor makes this extremely quick and easy to make. First, cut away any ugly rough bits of the skin of the ginger, but otherwise leave it unpeeled. Roughly chop it then process it in the food processor, until it is chopped. Now add the red onion and process again.

Change the chopping blade for the grating attachment and grate the carrots into the processor bowl with the ginger and onion, then tip the whole lot into a large bowl and, using your fingers, mix everything thoroughly.

If you don’t have a food processor then you are going to be busy using a grater on the ginger, onion and carrots so allow some time to do this.

Grate the lemon zest over the carrot mixture, and take a small handful of cardamom seeds and gently bash them with a mortar and pestle. Take the seeds out of the husks, and pound them into a powder. Set aside for a moment.

To make the dressing, mix together the lemon juice, oil, salt, sugar, white pepper and cardamom, mix well then drizzle it over the carrot mixture. Toss well so everything is coated, then put into a cold place and leave to sit for a couple of hours for the best flavour – you can of course serve it immediately if you wish.

Stir through some finely chopped coriander leaves just before serving, or scatter with a small handful of whole, small mint leaves.