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

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

Red hot and raring to go


They’re big and beefy and, when ripe, up for almost anything. Not to mention utterly delicious. And they’re just hitting their peak around about now. No, in spite of my penchant for Southern men, I’m not referring to the Crusaders, but tomatoes. Hence the beefsteak reference. At this time of the year, they’re the best thing around.

They’re fab. In sauces and soups and relishes, sandwiches, salads, or simply sliced on to hot buttered toast. In practically anything really, tomatoes are great. What ever did we do without them? Lucky for us, we don’t have to, especially now.

This is the month I hang out for all year, when the tomatoes are truly sublime, bursting with flavour after soaking up the last and hottest of the summer sun. Forget the wimpy hothouse varieties; gorge yourself on beefsteaks and remember what a truly good tomato is all about.

My advice to you is to rush along to your favourite fruiterer now and snaffle up the infinitely tastier outdoor toms while you still can – last week’s rain will have damaged the crop, and once the skins split, the growers don’t even bother sending them off to market.

Roasting tomatoes is one of the best ways to appreciate their toothsome qualities – below, two different takes on the same thing. The first, which I think I nicked from one of Nigel Slater‘s lipsmackingly tasty books, will give you the best (and definitely the easiest) tomato sauce in the world, just toss it through spaghetti for an instant meal.

The second is Delia‘s slightly poshed up version: dig into it for lunch or as a starter, with lots of crusty bread to sop up the divine juices. Heaven on a plate.

roasted tomato sauce
Halve 500g tomatoes and place in a dish big enough to take them in a single layer.

Add a chopped onion, a few whole cloves of garlic and half a cup of olive oil.

I usually manage to rustle up a wizened carrot and a stick of celery from the back of the vege bin – diced finely and added to the tomatoes, they’ll add sweetness and depth to the finished sauce, but aren’t vital.

You could throw a few fresh herbs on top, and a chilli if you fancy, before roasting them at 180C.

Fling the lot in a blender when the wonderful aroma of caramelised veges fills the house – after about an hour.


roasted tomato salad
12 large tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, finely sliced
extra virgin olive oil
fresh basil
balsamic vinegar
Skin the tomatoes first by pouring boiling water over them and leaving for one minute, then drain and as soon as they are cool enough to handle, slip off the skins.

Now cut each tomato in half, around the middle rather than vertically, and place in a shallow, oiled roasting tin.

Sprinkle with salt, freshly ground black pepper and the garlic. Top each tomato with a basil leaf and a few drops of olive oil, turning the leaves in the oil to coat them.

Now place the roasting tin in the top half of the oven and roast the tomatoes at 200C for 50-60 minutes or until the edges are slightly blackened. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

All this can be done several hours ahead. When you’re ready to eat, transfer the tomatoes to individual serving plates, then whisk together 2 tablespoons each of olive oil and balsamic vinegar and drizzle over the top. Artfully scatter olives and loads more basil over the lot. And don’t forget the bread.