Monday, 24 January 2011

Pea Souper

Here's a soup that turns out to be so much more than its name implies.... Pea Soup.   One onion and one small potato chopped and gently fried in butter.  Add 2 packs of fresh peas, a chicken stock cube and 1 tsp vegetable stock and near litre of water.  Boil till the peas are cooked, add some milk and whizz - the colour is worth it alone.  Warm through and serve with pepper, cream, chives, chopped mint, croutons... 
In essence, that recipe had three components, adding up to something special.  That got me thinking of my very simple chicken liver recipe.  I adore chicken liver peri-peri, and found fresh organic livers at the market.  I often check out ideas for recipes on the web.  Martha Stewart has great recipes (real English Mustard for example - but whatever you do, don't trust her measures!), In the end they were all a bit too much trouble, and anyway the livers were already trimmed and in a marinade of olive oil and red chilli.  We have a treasured jar of red chilli paste from Gorima's in Natal, but fresh or flakes would work, as long as they're red. Then into some hot oil and butter, and when they are crispish on the outside, and pink and tender inside - a cup of red wine. Turn down and bubble quickly.  And that's all you need, served on toast, for chicken liver peri-peri - a la DIVINE.

I made this after finding the recipe in "Indian Delights", which is a huge curry book written by Natal Indian women.  It can veer to the impenetrable in the most charming way, with a million recipes, and also uses the Indian names for everything. But consisting really, of just fresh coriander, fresh garlic and fresh chillies, again this is more than its sum.  I bought three bunches of fresh coriander and you just put the lot into a liquidizer.   Honestly, the way this chutney finally came together into a brilliant emerald pesto was quite thrilling!  Mix with mayonnaise for a dip, or spoon into a curry.  Too good to be true.

Dhunia Chutney
2 only whole peppercorns
1 bunch dhunia leaves (coriander)
2 green chilies
2 cloves garlic
1/4 tsp jeero (cummin)
1/4 tsp salt
Juice of 1 lemon
Pound together or liquidize.

Although the book doesn't suggest it, I sealed it in a jar and then sterilized the lot for 10 minutes in the oven in a bowl of barely boiling water, and it has worked - although it did go a bit darker.

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Thursday, 6 January 2011

Natal Memories

Christmas is all about ritual, and although my childhood Christmas was set in the sub-tropics, we do exactly the same here, other than there we were usually barefoot, wearing shorts over our cozzies. We gamely sweltered over a traditional stuffed turkey and a hundred vegetables with steaming gravy - the children being offered a pound if they could finish their plate, which we never ever could.

It's certainly not Christmas without this stuffing. This is my mom's recipe, and its distinctive aroma reminds me of Christmas as a child more than anything else. I made it this year even though there were only three of us - some years, though, there have been so many we served up canteen-style - brilliant.

Mom's stuffing
This starts with Becky making breadcrumbs. I know they say stale bread...but I've never managed to organize that, so it's a job pulling the fresh white bread into little pieces. After she gets fed up, I take over if there's not enough crumbs - and anyway how much is enough. You just take a flyer, really.  This year we decided to try the food processor - although I confused the issue slightly by shouting, as ever, "but don't MAKE CRUMBS!!!"

In a pan, fry plenty chopped bacon and chopped onions in a fair amount of oil and butter. When they've got to the stage where you just want to put it all into a big fat sandwich and run away, pour the lot onto the crumbs. Two or three grated carrots, three eggs, finely chopped celery, loads of pepper, salt, and a big bunch of chopped parsley - very important. I've sneaked prunes in, and indulged once with truffled mushrooms, but that's the basic stuffing, and you go from there. Fresh thyme is good, almost any herb, really, as long as it doesn't overpower. Fresh mushrooms, pine nuts, mix. Stuff just before the bird goes in.

here's the "melt-in-the-mouth"  10-Day ham..... 

Mushy peas
Pathetically simple, this recipe had Ripton asking for it again and again. Boil up plenty of fresh garden peas (or if you're like everyone else, frozen), 2 packs worth. Stock. When they are cooked, return to the heat to dry them off a bit, add butter, pepper, and be over-generous with the double cream. Mash, mash, mash like the wind!!

Glass tree decorations
This was a charming tradition for many years in our house.  I suppose it is a kind of recipe. A bag of coloured boiled sweets, place on a big flat oiled baking tray with plenty of space between them. Now into a low oven, and whatever you do, watch them.  Quite suddenly they all collapse and melt into irregular flat discs. Remove from the oven and allow to cool just a little, before making a hole near the edge of each one. Leave to harden. Then gently prise them off the tray. This is where you will discover if you have used enough oil and like precious ancient artifacts, they snap and stick and disintegrate, and you have to chuck them all away. However if you are successful, the kids just love tying with ribbon and hanging them on the tree where the delicate glass discs twirl in the lights. There won't be any left by Christmas Day.

This is not a recipe. A big bottle of fresh crisp caperberries is a must at Christmas, and at any other time.

What to do with pudding
There's always too much Christmas pudding left over, and this is the best thing: defrost a tub of creamy vanilla ice cream...but so it still has crystals in it. Crumble the pudding, add remaining brandy cream or rum sauce into the ice cream. Stir well and refreeze quickly.

This year I discovered the ultimate Bloody Mary.  I divided a bottle of vodka into three, and infused two cloves of garlic into one, two green chillies into the next, and a bunch of fresh basil into the third.  Stand in a warm place for a couple of days, then decant into sterilized bottles - this will keep, although I did keep them in the fridge.  Mix a good tot of each into a jug along with a glug of ginger wine, tomato juice and celery sticks, pepper and salt, tasting and adding till it was more Bloody Carnage.  We didn't manage to drink any as planned on Christmas Day, but we certainly made good for New Year's.

New Year.  Every year in Durban, on the Natal coast, we'd be woken up by jovial adults, and sleepily we'd stand in our pyjamas in the humid air waiting for midnight.  Memories of chatter and tree frogs. Then we'd hear it.  The long, low mournful sound of all the ships' hooters rising up from the bay.  Another year in.