Food, Recipes

Queen of pickles


The Swedish members of my family know me by the name Miss Gherkin, owing to my fondness for said preserve.

This weekend I felt I had truly earned the moniker, when I bagged first prize in the pickle category at this year’s Lambeth Country Show. (Placed third for my embroidery too, but that’s another blog.)

The annual event is pretty much your usual agricultural/horticultural/community show, but with added spice, given its London location. So there’s sheep shearing, jousting and falconry displays, all mixed up with African drums and goat curry. Plus funfair rides, fudge and scrumpy, stalls selling tat and those exhorting you to join your local library. It’s all very neighbourly.

And, of course, there’s the horticultural show bit, where members of the public bring in their homegrown, homemade stuff to be judged.

I had a hard time determining what to enter, cos I do a lot of preserving. Annabel Langbein’s spicy Indian-style tomato pickle won out, partly because I’d grown the tomatoes myself, and also as a nod to multicultural Brixton. Turned out to be a good choice, seeing as it won over the judges too.

Verily I say unto you, I *am* a domestic goddess. The judges have spoken.

Anyway, here ’tis, the prizewinning pickle, tomato kasundi.

225g green ginger, peeled
100g garlic cloves, peeled
50g green chillies, sliced in half lengthwise and seeds removed
2.5 cups malt vinegar
1 cup peanut oil
2 tablespoons turmeric
5 tablespoons ground cumin
3 tablespoons chilli powder
5 tablespoons mustard seeds, ground to a powder
2kg tomatoes, washed and chopped
2 and a quarter cups sugar
1.5 tablespoons Maldon salt

Puree the ginger, garlic and chillies with a little of the vinegar to make a paste.

Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot. Add all the ground spices and fry until fragrant.

Add the pureed paste, tomatoes, the rest of the vinegar, sugar and half of the salt (check near the end of cooking to see if more is required).

Cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, until the oil floats on the top (about half an hour).

Ladle into sterilised jars while hot with a thin film of hot oil on the top of each jar, to stop the top from drying out, and cover with screw-top lids.

Leave for a couple of weeks to allow the flavours to develop before using. Stored in a cool place, kasundi will keep indefinitely.

Makes about 2 litres.

Food, Recipes

Mother’s little helper


This ginger, shallot and chilli sauce is another great fridge staple, from a book called Chow Down and Chill Out by NZ food writer Jennifer Yee. It makes pretty much anything taste Asian in an instant.

I use it to make the omelettes below (from the same book) and as a base for stir-fries. She also suggests using it as a base for marinades. Mighty useful to have on standby then if you’re getting fired up for the barbecue season.

1/2 cup peanut oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3/4 cup finely chopped ginger
4 red chillies, seeded and sliced
2 teaspoons salt

Heat the oils in a small saucepan until hot. Add the ginger, shallots, chilli and salt, reduce the heat and cook until the shallots are translucent. Do not brown. Remove from the heat and allow to cool before packing into a clean jar. It’ll keep sealed and refrigerated for up to three months.

Makes 1 cup.



Asian-style baby omelettes

This is what I’m talking about. Solo dining in a flash. The recipe makes three of the frittery little critters, just right for one person, with some Chinese greens on the side.

2 fresh eggs
2 tablespoons ginger, shallot and chilli sauce (see the previous post)
1 teaspoon peanut oil or olive oil
1/2 cup chopped chives

Whisk together the eggs and ginger, shallot and chilli sauce.

Heat the oil and toss the chives in it until just wilted. Pour in the egg mixture and tilt the pan to coat. Lift the edges of the omelette as it cooks to allow uncooked the egg to seep underneath.

When it’s just beginning to set, use a spatula to divide the mixture into three smaller omelettes or wedges and flip over to cook the other side.


chive and coriander fried rice
ingreds for one person:
1 teaspoon peanut oil

1 tablespoon ginger, shallot and chilli sauce
1 1/2 cups cold cooked rice
1/4 cup chopped chives
1 teaspoon light soya sauce
1 egg
1/4 cup coarsely chopped coriander

Heat the oil in a wok until hot. Add your dose of mother’s little helper(aka the ginger, shallot and chilli sauce), rice and chives. Toss to mix and stir fry until it’s good and hot all the way through.

Sprinkle the soya sauce over and stir it in. Push the rice to the sides of the pan, making a well in the centre. Break in the egg and stir to slightly blend the white with the yolk.

Fold through the rice mixture and toss until the egg is just cooked. Mix the coriander through and serve in a large deep bowl.

Food, Recipes

Sugar and spice


No work today. Which sucks. But the splendid vege shop is heaving with ripe toms, so it’s been a great opportunity to potter about in the kitchen, stereo at full blast, and replenish my stock of chilli jam.

I’m addicted to this stuff. It rocks my world. The recipe comes courtesy of the wonderful Peter Gordon, from his Sugar Club Cookbook.

His suggestion to spread it on toast with a fried egg on top is what got me actually enjoying eggs. Ace hangover food.

We kicked off our Christmas dinner one year by layering it on top of seared scallops, along with blobs of creme fraiche; each towering little mouthful topped with a sprig of fresh coriander. Yum. And it’s great with grilled mackerel, too.

500g very ripe tomatoes
4 red chillies
4 cloves garlic, peeled
2 thumbs of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
30ml Thai fish sauce
300g caster sugar
100ml red wine vinegar

Blend half the tomatoes, the chillies, garlic, ginger and fish sauce to a fine puree in a blender. Put the lot into a deep pot, along with the sugar and vinegar, and bring to the boil slowly, stirring all the time. When it reaches the boil, turn to a gentle simmer and add the remaining tomatoes, which you have cut into tiny dice, skin, seeds and all.

Cook gently for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring every five minutes to release the solids that settle to the bottom. Also, be sure to scrape the sides of the pot during cooking so the entire mass cooks evenly.

When it’s done, pout into warmed glass jars and allow to cool to room temperature before storing in the fridge for later use. Makes two and a half cups.

Food, Recipes

Spear a thought

One of the famed Cleopatra’s charms is said to be the special way she had of serving asparagus. Well, no, not really, I just made that up, but I’m sure it’s entirely possible.

The ancients were pretty fond of asparagus so I reckon it probably appeared at her table, and she was a smart enough chick not to have overlooked its erotic symbolism.

Asparagus is one of the few things in polite society one is encouraged to pick up and eat with one’s fingers.

Cooking it can be accorded as much mystique as cooking the perfect omelette, but that’s all bollocks.

Lay down your spears in a large frying pan containing just enough boiling water to barely cover them, bring the pan back to the boil and cook until a knife inserted in the tip lets you know the desired degree of doneness has been reached. If you’re doing heaps and heaps, just plunge the lot into a huge pot of boiling salted water. Or toss stubby spears in olive oil, sprinkle with flakes of Maldon salt and a good grind of black pepper and roast in a hot oven until tender and patched with gold.

Mum used to make this Chinese-style beef every year with the first of the asparagus – as sure a harbinger of spring as the more traditional lambs and daffs, it was a thrifty treat. Sliced fine and piled up with sticky soy-smeared beef and rice, it made the four of us think we were eating a feast of asparagus, when in reality we had fewer than half a dozen spears each.

The recipe comes from the Beauty and the Beast Cookbook, which seemed terribly exotic in the late 70s when it was published. It contains one of the all-time best recipe instructions: “as much fresh asparagus as you can afford”. Fabulous.

Beef Shreds and Asparagus:
500g rump steak
4 tablespoons dark soy
2 tablespoons sherry
1 clove garlic, crushed
thumb green ginger, grated
black pepper
as much fresh asparagus as you can afford
peanut oil for frying

Cut steak into strips 5-8cm long and 1/2cm thick. Marinate for an hour in the soy, sherry, garlic, ginger and pepper.

Slice asparagus diagonally into 1/2cm slices and fry quickly in medium hot oil until soft on the outside but still crisp in the centre. Transfer to a small covered dish and hold in a warm oven.

Fry the beef shreds in the oil and toss gently until they are coated and glossy brown. Serve immediately with the asparagus and a mound of fluffy white rice.

Food, Recipes

Curry nirvana


nirvana – any place of complete delight and bliss and peace

Curry makes the world go around.

Well, it’s an entirely reasonable assumption. Visit any big city and breathe deeply. That’s not teen spirit you’re smelling, it’s curry.

Indian used to be the staple, with its aromatic mix of ancient and familiar spices – nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, fenugreek, turmeric, dried coriander seeds, roasted and crushed, and pepper, to name but a few.

But breathe deeper. There’s more. Garlic and chillies, coconut cream and kaffir lime leaves, cashew nuts, lemongrass and tamarind. There’s a whiff of miso, the paste made from fermented soya beans which tastes like Asian vegemite, sweet, salty and yeasty all at once. There are the zingy top notes of fresh herbs there too, coriander, holy basil and mint. And all the while the mix of curry houses on every corner is expanding. What do you fancy tonight? Japanese, Thai, Indonesian, Malaysian, Korean, Vietnamese? Cambodian maybe?

It’s a heady brew. Let yourself be led by your nose, and your taste buds will follow. Bliss in a bowl. Now that’s nirvana.

Soupy curries, dry curries, rice steamed or fried and slippery, slurpy noodles. Fragrant and filling, it’s the world’s favourite food.

England is no exception, and curry is cheaper here than anything else bar chips. I practised in New Zealand before I left, my last few meals a blur of pad Thai, mee goreng, rendangs, kormas and schwarmas, red, green and yellow curries and all manner of broths and dumplings.

I kept it up as I crossed the dateline, choosing curry for every meal on the plane. Given the usual state of airline food, it proved a wise choice. I’ve yet to meet a curry that didn’t take well to reheating.

My first meal out in London was curry too – roasted duck served up in an intensely sweet-savoury spicy stew of tomatoes, peppers, basil, lime and lychee. And whaddayaknow? The Chinese bloke cooking in the Thai restaurant in Acton was from Brisbane.

A favourite curry, one I keep coming back to again and again, is this one from Jill Dupleix, from a brilliant little book called I Hate to Cook. She says it’s a one-pot wonder, and it is.

lamb curry with fresh mint

750g boned lamb, from shoulder
4 onions
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated
1 teaspoon garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
3 tablespoons peanut oil
half a cup of fresh mint, chopped
half a cup of fresh coriander, chopped
4 fresh green chillies, chopped
3 tablespoons lemon juice

Cut meat into 2.5cm cubes. Combine meat, onions, salt, cayenne, ginger, garlic, turmeric, oil and 2 cups of water in a heavy pot. Bring to a simmer, cover, lower the heat and continue to cook gently for two or three hours.

Blend mint, coriander, chillies and lemon juice in a food processor until smooth. Stir herb mixture through meat, simmer for a few minutes and serve, with rice.

Serves four.