Sunday, 26 April 2009

I like it hot

Here's my cast iron casserole. Possibly he most important piece in my kitchen. It weighs a ton, but you can cook huge meals for 10, and also use it to fry up tiny little always has a good even heat.

".....I'm writing this to you because for some reason this was the best lentil curry I have made, creamy and simple as it is. I don't want to forget it." To Val, 20/09/06.

I've never cooked it again, though.

Lentil Curry
Chop 1 onion and fry in plenty of oil. Soften well. Add 2 whole cloves of garlic and a large Tbs hot Durban masala. Fry together for a bit. Add half a tube of tomato concentrate, half a box of washed puy lentils and a tray of cherry tomatoes. Add one tsp of powdered vegetable stock. Cover with boiling water and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Serve with brown rice and a tomato salad. Or with crispy lamb chops.

Durban Curry
This is probably my signature dish. I'm always so grateful that I grew up in Durban. Apart from the sea, the sub-tropical climate and the jolly mix of Zulu Indian and English it is the home of Durban Curry....obviously, the best curry in the world!

As ever, start with lots of chopped onions - at least three. Plenty of oil. Gently simmer for ages, then add the curry powder. I always use two different powders or paste, a hot Durban masala and a garam or something else. Three large Tbs altogether. Fry for a bit. Then add the meat. My special is braising steak in biggish chunks and a pack of oxtail. The bones give the curry a nice depth, and I really only eat the oxtail - it is the best bit - creamy and tender. After the meat, all the other ingredients: plenty garlic cloves - whole; 2 tins of tomatoes, plenty tomato concentrate, diced ginger, whole green chillies, curry leaves - which I keep in the freezer; 2 organic beef stock. Place in a lowish oven and let it gently cook. After an hour, add peeled halved potatoes (by now the casserole dish is getting VERY full, but no matter). Return to the oven, and gently bubble for another two hours. Long and slow of course. Fresh sheep's milk yoghurt and chopped fresh coriander on top....well you can't beat it.

Samp is something you eat as a child in South Africa. It's what the Africans cook every day. On the farm they do it in big round black potjies, three legs over the fire, with the smoke giving it that little bit extra. They always share it, because all kids love it. Some call it stamp, and if they were Xhosa, they called it gn"d"oosh. That little "d" denotes a click from the front of the mouth "nnn"d"ooosh". What a satisfying word for a child! Made from mature corn, it is creamy white with big tough kernels. We soak the samp overnight and boil it for hours on the stove. A little salt at the end, maybe some cream. It's a creamy, chewy, chunky porridge, and it goes a treat with boerewors. Boerewors is a farmhouse beef sausage with a good spicy bite to it. Not fatty at all, so don't overcook.

Chakalaka is the wonderfully named chillie tomato sauce that developed in the townships. They add baked beans as well as a few other vegetables, but this simple recipe went down a treat.

".... we had the most wonderful dinner tonight......baked boerewors with a lovely slow-cooked samp with butter added afterwards, and a wonderful first attempt at chakalaka: fried onions / garlic / red chillie / beef stock / tomato puree and two tins of chopped tomatoes....delishhh!"

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Did I mention I love peppers?

My back garden in London this morning. Spring is here and a perfect time to continue my obsession with peppers.

I love the way yellow peppers collapse into a delicious nuttiness, but I have re-discovered red peppers, and I adore doing them too. To really bring out their fine sweetness, the secret is, as ever, long and slow.

Red pepper baked with tomato and basil
This was my first ever red pepper dish. It's a Delia, although I have added my own little twist. I made it over and over again. My girlfriends loved it. And it's quick, quick, quick....slooow.

Two red peppers halved and cleaned. Fill with basil and half a tomato and drizzle over balsamic vinegar (that's my bit) oil, salt - bake as long as you dare.

Dreamy creamy pork chops with red pepper
I made this up by accident.....and this is exactly as I wrote it:

"Start with chopped spring onions and two or three fairly thinly-sliced red peppers. Bake with a little oil and a vegetable stock cube for about twenty minutes. Add pepper, and then lay thinish-cut pork chops (we had the ones without the bone and not too much fat) over the peppers. Bake in a hottish oven until chops are nicely browned and the peppers all soft. Then bring it down lower in the oven, and sprinkle in a good 3 tbs of rich balsamic vinegar (my new gravy/vegetable wonder-discovery!!). Bubble for a bit, then remove from the oven and stir in half a small tub of double cream and let it sit for a bit to tenderize.....with cyprus potatoes (sauteed in goosefat) ....I'm still thinking about it....."

Goosefat isn't just for Christmas! I've just worked this out. A little jar just about stretches to three meals of fried potato, and it really does elevate a chip.

Red pepper melt
This is a dish they do at Strada, a classy Italian chain. It is irresistible. I've done it wrong a couple of times, because the secret is to cover it so it doesn't brown at all and almost turns to jelly. Start with thinly wedged onion, at least three, and put them in to bake for 15 minutes or so with a bit of salt, till just sweetly softened. Add long, thin-sliced red peppers. I'd do four or five, seriously. Mix in with the onions and add a stock cube. These days I'd probably add a little balsamic vinegar too. Cover with foil. Turn occasionally and check they're not going too fast. They're probably done in a hour or so, but it could easily be more. Good on toasted Ciabbatta with sliced goats cheese on top, or spooned onto baked potatoes. If for some reason it doesn't get finished in one sitting, it keeps.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

A Classic

Salad Nicoise

We had this last night, the first summery evening of the year. It was a triunph. Fun to prepare, although not exactly a snip, but we all got involved, and nothing was exactly a big job.

First we got the eggs boiled, also the baby new potatoes - which were perfect for the dish. I boiled them very, very gently in a little vegetable stock. Cooled then halved. For the eggs, it doesn't matter how hard, softish even is okay. One each, halved. Everything was fresh-bought that afternoon, which gave it a restaurant standard (not my words)....Whatever. Did this work!

French green beans just cooked and dressed with a little butter and lemon, with lemon wedges. Fresh black olives, a jar of anchovies, two beautiful Romaine lettuce which I chopped straight onto the plate. Wedged tomatoes, salted and let to stand in a little olive oil. And some thinly-sliced red onions.

So. The final step was the tuna steaks, which we fired hot, just like steaks, a teeny bit charred on one side with a bit of fresh crushed pepper, then turned over and turned down to cook through. Or rare, as Ripton likes it. The rest was simply putting the components on the table. So began the building of this wonderful classic. Chunks of fresh tuna on top. And then a Ceasar dressing. We used Tesco's Finest, which was fine.

The pleasure in the eating of this dish is the infinitely variable combinations as you eat your way through. We were talking about it all day today - me especially.

So here's the list:

Tuna steaks, one each
Romanine lettuce
1 hard-boiled egg each
anchovies, four each
new potatoes, one or two each
black olives
French green beans
red onions
Ceasar salad dressing