Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Beetroot Rasam

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with beetroot.  On one hand, beetroot risotto is one of the greatest things ever, on the other is that lingering taste that can only be described as earthy.  Or to be less charitable, I made a beetroot and chocolate cake, and despite using half a tonne of chocolate and cream, it still tasted of soil.

It is the kind of vegetable that, to my mind, is healthy but dull - the twin of kale in being a joyless thing that healthy eating advocates bang on about, but I really can't stand,  Or at least it takes a fair bit of effort to make it palatable. Of course, it's entirely possible that beetroot has the same effect on me that sprouts have on others - a chemical that renders if awful tasting to me whilst others don't suffer. (Scientists are telling me that this theory could be what they describe as 'utter tripe')

And yet, and yet, here I am, attempting the fourth soup recipe involving beetroot (and reading the old entries, I see I have rather belaboured the point about beetroot's eccentricities, so I won't malign the poor purple vegetable any more) but suffice to say that this Indian soup recipe, through some subtle alchemy of spices tastes amazing, and not a hint of the evil 'soil taste'*

So here at Soup HQ we have a rather small kitchen, mostly consisting of jars of spices of one kind or another, and it's a huge decision every time we think about investing in another kitchen gadget.  "There's no room!" goes the cry.  Which is why I still don't have a deep fat fryer despite recently discovering the joys of making my own chips.  Another gadget that I still crave is a pressure cooker.  If you have one, it would be prefect for this recipe, as it would cook the lentils and beetroot amazingly, but alas, until I open the West Wing of my kitchen and have room for more gadgets, I'll have to do this the old fashioned way - just boiling the heck out of the beetroot.

Also, be careful when blending the soup.  It went everywhere when I deployed my stick blender and made the kitchen look like Halloween had arrived early...

Also, beware the side effects of eating too many beets...

*Some of you may be wondering, if I have such strong feelings about beetroot, why am I eating it?  Well the simple answer is that we got some as part of our veg box delivery and I'll be damned if I'm going to let any vegetables go to waste.  Apart from Kale...

500g Beetroot
100g Yellow Lentils
50g Tamarind Paste
4 Cloves Garlic
1tsp Dried Red Chili Flakes
1tsp Coriander Seeds
1tsp Cumin Seeds
1tsp Fenugreek Seeds
1tsp Mustard Seeds
Pinch of Asafoetida

1. Soak the lentils in water for 30 minutes.  Roughly chop the Tamarind and put ina small bowl, cover with boiling water and leave to soak for 30 minutes too

2. Heat some oil in your soup pan.  Add the Coriander Fenugreek and Cumin Seeds and Chili flakes, and fry gently for a minute or so, until they flavour the oil.

3.  Wash and strain the soaked lentils and add these to the pan, along with the peeled and chopped beetroot and the peeled garlic cloves.

4.  Remove the pulp from the tamarind and add the flavoured water to the pan

5. Add 1.2 litres of water, bring the soup to the boil and simmer on a high heat, covered, for 30 minutes, until the beetroot is cooked and softened.  Remove the pan from the heat

6.  Blend the soup until smooth.  Return to the pan, reheat gently and adjust seasoning to taste

7.  In another pan, heat 3tbsp of oil.  Add the Asafoetida and mustard seeds and heat until the seeds start to pop.  Stir the flaovoured oil into the soup and serve.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Parsnip and Sweet Potato Soup

It's October!  Where did the summer go? Still, now it's time to pack up your shorts and pull out those woolly jumpers, that can only mean one thing - it's soup season again (aka The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year)

I was in two minds  about starting up the soup blog again; after all, there must be a finite number of soups a man can cook, right? So yesterday, I was opening a carton of soup for my lunch and two things struck me - firstly that I feel guilty every time I buy soup rather than making it, especially as cooking soup is as easy as falling off a log, but less painful, and secondly, that most shop bought soups are usually hugely disappointing. As if to prove my point, the Goan Spicy Lentil and Chicken soup that I eat was slightly bitter tasting, had woody vegetables and left me feeling sad rather than being a hug in a bowl, like all good soups should be

To ease myself back into blogging (and soup making) I set myself the challenge of opening up the vegetable drawer of the fridge, grabbing the first few things that I could lay my hands on and tuning them into a tasty soup.  Just to get myself back into the swing of things.

The first things I pulled out were a can of beer, a bottle of vodka and a lime.  Which would make an awesomely demented cocktail, but not really good for soup.  The next dive into the fridge yielded sweet potatoes and parsnips.  This, I thought to myself, I can work with...

So some quick thinking, a look in the spice cupboard and viola,  a simple, rich and tasty soup that took about 5 minutes to make, 30 minutes to simmer and then was ready for lunch.

Can't say easier than that, can you?  So shut up and make some soup...

2 Onions
2 Parsnips
2 Sweet Potatoes
2 Cloves of Garlic
2tsp Finely chopped Ginger
1tbsp Lemon Juice
1tsp Turmeric
1tsp Cumin
1tsp Dried Chili Flakes
1tsp Salt
1.2l Stock
Fresh Coriander

1. Chop the onions and fry fry gently until golden

2.  Peel and chop the sweet potato and parsnip.  Add these to the onions and sweat gently for a few minutes until the start to soften

3.  Add the stock, ginger, garlic and spices.  Bring the soup to the boil then cover and simmer for 30 minute, or until all the vegetables have softened

4.  Using a stick blender, purée the soup until smooth.  Adjust seasoning to taste.

5.  Garnish each bowl of soup with yoghurt and fresh coriander.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Papas Rellenas Colombianas - WCFC2014 : Colombia

This is my last entry for the World Cup Food Challenge of 2014, and at least one of my teams got through to the quarter finals - Colombia.  Over the (admittedly brief) course of this challenge, during my research and cooking the dishes, I've fallen a little bit in love with South American food.  There are some amazing recipes out there and I feel like it is the undiscovered continent of food.

Of course, probably come this time next week we'll all be eating Arepas Colombianas from street food vendors like the hipsters we are and the secret will be out, but until then, I highly recommend tracking down some South American recipes and giving them a go yourself, there's a (fifth of a) world of taste excitement out there waiting for you...

On to the recipe though.  When I was a kid, I remember going to my Nana's house and there, on the stove top was a huuuuuge black pan that she used to fry chips in (my Nana had two methods of cooking - boiling for hours or deep frying) and I used to love her chips.  As a student, one of my favourite meals was Crispy Pancakes and potato waffles, all chucked in the deep fat fryer and served with mushy peas and drowned in so much vinegar it made my eyes water (Yes, I've come a  long way since then...)

Over the years, deep fat frying has gotten a bit of a reputation as being unhealthy but as I've learned during this food challenge, it still seems to be big in Colombia, and this dish is a fine example - deep fried mashed potato stuffed with beef and eggs - whats not to like? Its like a Shepard's Pie drowned in hot fat, and then served with a spicy fresh salsa called an Aji.

So until the next world cup, Olympic games or other excuse for a blogging food challenge, its back to soup for me...
1kg Potatoes
250g Minced Beef
2 Hard Boiled Eggs
2 Tomatoes
1 Onion
4 Spring Onions
2 Cloves Garlic
1tsp Cumin
1tsp Garlic Salt
1/2tsp Paprika

1 Egg
30g Plain Flour
60ml Milk
1/2tsp Paprika

2 Tomatoes
4 Spring Onions
1 Red Chili
1 Lime (Juice Only)
50ml White Wine Vinegar
50ml Olive Oil
25ml Water
 Handful Fresh Coriander
1tsp Caster Sugar

1. Peel and cube the potatoes.  In a pan, cover with water, add a some salt and boil until they are cooked (10-15mins) and the drain, set aside to cool

2. In a frying pan, heat some oil and then add finely chopped onion and spring onion, plus the garlic.  Fry for 5 minutes, until the onion starts to soften.  Then add the minced beef and continue to cook until the beef is broken up and browned.

3. Add the peeled and chopped tomatoes, along with the cumin, garlic salt, paprika, salt and black pepper.  Cook for 2 or 3 minutes then remove from the heat and set aside to cool.  Roughly chop the hard boiled eggs and add these to the mixture

4.  Put the ingredients for the Aji in a food processor and blend roughly.  Pour into a bowl and put in the fridge until it's time to serve.

5. In a large bowl, mix the batter ingredients, whisking until smooth.

6.  Mash the cooled potatoes and then split into roughly 8 balls.  Roll them out until they are about 8mm thick and spoon some of the filling into each one, carefully shaping into a ball.

7.  In a heavy pan, heat your oil to 180ºc and then carefully put the batter covered balls in, frying them for 4 minutes then remove with a slotted spoon and place on some kitchen towel to remove any excess oil.

8. Serve with the Aji.  Enjoy!

Friday, 27 June 2014

Avgolemono -WCFC2014 : Greece

The second country that made it through to round 2 from Group C is Greece (Not The Ivory Coast, which is both a shame - as I'd bought the ingredients for an Ivorian soup as it looked like they would get through and I'd done my research, and a blessing as it was a gaspacho soup style made with avocados, and as we all know from yesterday, I really don't like avocados) and as this is the Soup Round, we're having a Greek soup.

A while ago, I made a Turkish dish - it's name escapes me right now - but it was basically lamb meatballs in lemony custard.  This soup is very similar and I would say it's kind of an acquired taste. It's a standard chicken soup but it's thickened with an egg and lemon mixture that resembles a custard as it's cooked.  It was, ummm, interesting, but worth a try as it was also quite a summery taste

Also, if you can't get orzo (rice pasta) you could just use ordinary white rice, and cook it for a little longer than you would pasta

4 Chicken Breasts
2 Carrots
2 Celery Stalks
1 Onion
60g Orzo Pasta
3 Eggs
Zest of 1 Lemon
Juice of 2 Lemons
Bay Leaf
Salt and Black Pepper

1. Put 1.5 litres of water into a large pan, then add the chicken, finely chopped carrot, onion and celery.  Bring the water to the boil and cook for 30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked.  Remove any foam that forms on top of the pan.

2.  Remove the meat and vegetables, shred the chicken and set aside.

3.  Add the orzo pasta to the stock and simmer for 10 minute, until the pasta is cooked.

4.  While this is cooking, in a separate bowl, whisk the eggs until they are fluffy, and then add the juice and zest of the lemon, mixing thoroughly.

5. Take about 2 cups of the stock and slowly add them to the egg and lemon mixture, whisking constantly to stop the eggs from curdling or separating

6.  Return the egg mixture to the pan, along with the vegetables and chicken, taste and adjust seasoning as you like, then simmer over a low heat, stirring constantly for 5 minutes

7.  Garnish with some fresh parsley and then serve.  Enjoy!

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Ajiaco - WCFC2014 : Colombia

And so Team Soup head into the second round with our heads held high, unlike *some* teams I could mention, where the two qualifying teams get a second crack of the whip.  And because we are Team Soup, this 2nd round will henceforth be known as The Soup Round, where, you guessed it, I'll be making soups from the Group C qualifying countries.

First on the list is Colombia.  Much like the huge Colombian fry-up that I made for round 1, this soup is an 'everything and the kitchen sink' type of soup, which skirts closely to being a stew (but remember, it's not a stew unless it has dumplings in it, and even then that distinction is blurred) Many versions of this recipe call for not two, but three types of potato, but that seems like it might be over-egging the pudding (over potato-ing the soup doesn't have the same ring to it, does it?)

Also, it's been ironic that pretty much every Colombian dish I've looked at involves avocado in some way, either as a main ingredient or as a garnish, when it's just about the only fruit that I don't really like.  I find its texture unpleasant, and the taste vaguely awful too, yet here I am, manfully preparing dishes and then eating them, piled high with avocado.  The life of a food blogger isn't as easy as you think it is, I suffer for my 'art' sometimes too...

3 Chicken Breasts
2 Ears of Corn
400g Red Potatoes
400g White Potatoes
1 Large Carrot
1 Onion
3 Cloves Garlic
Chicken Stock Cube

3 Spring Onions
1 Tomato
2 Red Chillies
3Tbsp White Wine Vinegar

Sour Cream

1. Cut the corn in half, peel and cube the potatoes, slice the carrot and onion and chop the garlic

2. Put 1.2l of water in a pan and add the chicken, veg and stock cube, then bring to a simmer and cook for 30-40 minutes, until the potatoes are just starting to break up.

3.  Put the spring onions, tomato, chilies and vinegar in an blender and puree until smooth

4.  Once the soup is cooked, shred the meat and then put into a bowl, put some of the purée over the top and garnish with sour cream, avocados, capers and freshly chopped coriander.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Kedjenou - WCFC2014 : Cote D'Ivoire

Today's dish in the World Cup Food Challenge is from the Ivory Coast, and is the last of the first round dishes I'll be cooking.  Whichever teams go through to the next round will get another dish, those who go home, well... I'm never eating anything from their country again.

Before we get to the food, let's hit up some Cote D'Ivoire facts, for your edification and mine...
1. The Ivory Coast is the world's largest producer of cocoa beans
2. You've heard of the Nobel Peace Prize, but have you heard of the Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize? Named after the first President of the Ivory Coast, amongst its recipients was Nelson Mandela
3. The national motto of The Ivory Coast is Unity, Discipline, Labour. Which, whilst being inspirational, is also a bit dull

One of the fun things about the World Cup Food Challenge, as well as compiling my fun facts, is researching the recipes, finding out what fun and unusual ingredients I might need for a dish and where to find them.  Some of these things are relatively easy to find - Plantains are found in most supermarkets, if you're lucky, Cassava in good markets, duck tongues in any Chinese food suppliers, but then some things are almost impossible to find.

When I googled Ivory Coast cuisine, I found that giant land snails were an ingredient that is eaten in that country, which peaked my culinary curiosity, but alas, no giant land snails were to be found anywhere (and I didn't want your common or garden small snails.  Where's the fun in that?)

I finally found a dish that sounded fun - a stew called Kedjenou, traditionally cooked in the embers of a fire, but seeing as there are court orders preventing me from setting fire to things (not really) I decided to do mine in the oven - of which more later.  Kedjenou can be made with a variety of meats - beef and chicken seem to be most common, but then I can across Kedjenou avec Agouti.  Ooooh, what can that be, I thought and promptly searched for it, only to be greeted with... this

A Cane rat.  I giggled.  Where the heck could I get a cane rat from? I checked, I asked twitter, I considered stealing the next door neighbour's Guinea Pigs (But their grandkids would be heartbroken) but sadly, my search was frustratingly drawing a blank.  So in the end, I had to settle for chicken.  Bah! I feel defeated.  Still, the kedjenou was delicious, but it just goes to illustrate that even in the days of being able to get most things from Amazon, it's still a struggle to make some dishes authentically

4 Chicken Thighs (or 1 Cane Rat, quartered)
1 Large Onion
1 Aubergine
1 Red Pepper
1 Green Pepper
3 Tomatoes
4 Cloves of Garlic
2tbsp Chopped Ginger
1tsp Dried Thyme
Salt and Pepper

1. In a large heavy pan, add a little oil, heat and brown the chicken pieces.

2. Add the vegetables, chopped and seasonings then cover the pan with silver foil before putting the lid on, to create as near to an airtight seal as possible.

3. Put the pan in the oven at 150ºc for 90 minutes, shaking the pan regularly to ensure that the ingredients don't stick.  You don't need to add any more liquid, the vegetables should provide enough to cook everything properly and make a sauce.

4.  Serve with cous cous or white rice.  Enjoy

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Souvlaki - WCFC2014 : Greece

Our trip round the great (and not so great) footballing nations of the world has reached number 3 in Group C, and as is customary, we'll start with some fun facts about Greece

1. Greek citizens are required by law to vote in elections.  This is presumably because they invented the whole democracy thing...
2. Greece is the world's leading producer of Sea Sponges
3. Football is the national sport of Greece.  They must be good at it then (checks results. Hmmm hold that thought)

And that brings us, in a roundabout way, to the dish I've chosen for Greece, souvlaki (Which has nothing at all to do with the Slowdive album of the same name, 90's shoe-gazing indie fans...) but it a fast food that is popular in Greece.

One of the things I hate is watching a TV chef lecturing me about how, instead of eating a burger, kebab or other fast food, it's really easy and healthy to make your own.  Whilst this may be perfectly true, it's kind of missing the point. When I want a greasy kebab, I'm usually drunk, on the way home from the pub and in no fit state to have a crack at anything more elaborate than opening a bag of crisps.  Therefore takeaway food is the perfect solution and all those multi-millionaire TV cooks so 'do one' in the parlance of the youth. 

The same thing goes for any restaurant that advertises 'dirty' burgers. No, sir, your burger is prepared with the finest ingredients, served on a clean plate that I sit in your tastefully decorated establishment to eat with a knife and fork.  There is nothing 'dirty' about it.  'Dirty' is a burger from a pizza/kebab/fried chicken/burger shop at 2am that drips with grease and assorted and unidentifiable other sauces.  Anything else is simply for people with too much money and too little sense trying to relive their student days in the safety of a street food vendors. (takes deep breath and thinks about meat to calm down...)

That being said... if I could get my hands on some awesome souvlaki at 2am, I would die a happy happy, drunk man. Its a tasty, meaty, sloppy delight and would work just as well for a family BBQ as a tasty snack. Still, I'm not trying to claim it will replace your takeaway treat, I'd never be that much of a hypocrite...

Ingredients (Makes 4)

For the Souvlaki
500g Shoulder of Pork
30ml Lemon Juice
3tbsp Olive Oil
1tsp Dried Oregano
1tsp Dried Mint
1tsp Chili Flakes
4 Cloves Garlic
Salt and Pepper

For the Peppers
3 Peppers

For the Flatbreads
200g Self Raising Flour
1/2 tsp Baking Powder
200g Greek Yogurt

For the Tzatziki
1/2 Cucumber
200ml Greek Yoghurt
1tsp Dried Mint
4 Cloves Garlic
2tbsp Lemon Juice

1. Mix the ingredients for the marinade and cover the meat. Put in the fridge overnight.  At the same time, soak 4 wooden skewers to stop them from burning when you grill/BBQ the meat

2. Grate the cucumber, then squeeze as much of the liquid out of it as you can.  Add this to the yoghurt along with the mint, crushed garlic and lemon juice. Mix well and refrigerate until needed

3.  Heat your grill to maximum and put the peppers under it.  Keep turning them until the skins are charred and black on all sides.  Remove from the heat and put into a bowl, then cover with cling film and allow to cool.  Then remove the skin, seeds and stalk and cut into strips.  Put aside until needed.

4.  Make the dough for the flatbreads by combining all the ingredients and kneeding for 3 minutes.  Then cut into 4 chunks and roll into flat circles about 15cm in diameter.

5.  Put the meat on the skewers and then put under a hot grill (or BBQ) until they are cooked through - about 10-15 minuted, depending on the size of the chunks. 

6.  Heat a griddle pan and cook the flatbreads for about 2 minutes per side

7.  Assemble the dish - put some tzatziki on the flatbread then peppers and finally chucks of pork.  Eat them with your hands, not knife and fork, and from a polystyrene carton for that '2am takeaway' feeling, or possibly overlooking a sunny Mediterranean beach for that authentic Greek feel