January 9, 2011
Christmas and new year’s eve are pretty much non-events for me and Süleyman – mainly because he has to work both evenings, but also because there just isn’t the same emphasis on those particular holidays in Turkey.
I have to say, it doesn’t bother me too much, but what I do miss is the chance to cook something special for the two of us.
Luckily, it’s Süleyman’s birthday a week after new year, and that day he doesn’t have to work. So I always use the opportunity to make a fairly big celebratory meal.
This year, Süleyman expressed a desire to have something along the lines of the slow-cooked lamb shanks I’d made last year when our friends Meryem and Özgür came for dinner. But, said Süleyman, could I do it with cloves? It turns out he’d eaten a lamb dish with cloves in a restaurant a few years ago, and had loved it. I told him I was pretty sure I could come up with something.
What I did come up with was a recipe for duck with prunes, plus various other herbs and spices, one of which was cloves – courtesy of an old post by David Lebovitz. Looking at the list of ingredients – red wine, cloves, bay leaves, thyme, orange zest, pancetta (which I replaced with a spicy beef sausage called suçuk, as porky products are nigh on impossible to get here) and garlic – I saw no reason not to substitute the duck with lamb.
So, on the morning of Süleyman’s birthday, I set to work. I heated some olive oil in a nice deep frying pan, and when smoking hot, added the shanks and browned them all over.
While they were sizzling away, I started peeling some baby onions that I’d decided to add to the dish. And what a flippin’ pain that turned out to be. Not only were they fiddly beyond belief, but the fumes were so powerful I ended up with streaming red eyes. I only managed to deal with about half the bag, and I have a strong suspicion that the rest of those little buggers are going to be sitting in my vegetable rack for rather a long time.
Once I’d cried a river over the onions, I removed the lamb shanks from the pan, added pretty much a whole bottle of red wine, let it bubble away for a few minutes, then threw in all the other ingredients. David’s original recipe calls for the meat to be put in the oven at this point, but as regular readers will know, that’s not an option for me, being oven-less. So, instead, I simply put a tight-fitting lid on the saucepan, turned the heat way down low, and let nature take its course.
Cooking lamb shanks this way, I have found, is just as good as using an oven, but it does take a little longer to make the meat really soft and succulent. But, as the birthday boy and I had plans, after an hour or so of cooking, I turned off the gas, with the intention of finishing it later.
Süleyman and I then toddled off to Istanbul’s Pera Museum to see a stunning exhibition of the work of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. And, I have to say, the intense colour and passion in Kahlo’s paintings put me in the perfect mood for the intense flavours of the dinner waiting for us at home.
Another couple of hours of cooking was needed once we got back. So, while the lamb was gently simmering, and Süleyman and I were getting gently sloshed on some more delicious red wine, I somehow also managed to conjure up some mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli. About half an hour before the lamb was done, I added about 200g of stoned prunes to the mix, which provided a gorgeous sweetness to the whole affair.
Dinner was served – and, if I do say so myself, it was truly scrumptious. Lamb in Turkey has quite a strong flavour (I get the impression the animals are slaughtered at an older age than in the UK), so it held up to the clove-y aroma wonderfully. And what’s more warming on a winter’s night than a spicy lamb stew? Not much, I can tell you.
March 26, 2010
My work colleague Zoe recently gave me some lovely fresh lemongrass, which her dad had brought back from Thailand. Instead of using it in the usual Thai curries, I thought I’d see if I could find a sweet recipe.
I found a number of cakes that had this delicate herb in the list of ingredients, but nothing really grabbed me. Until I spotted this recipe for lemongrass, ginger and sesame biscuits.
Perfect, I thought. Especially as I had a jar of sesame seeds in my cupboard that I wanted to use up. (Don’t you just love it when something crops up like this that conveniently takes care of the dregs of your cupboard?)
Apart from some arm-aching grinding of spices, it was very simple to put these biscuits together, and they really are a taste sensation. Thin, crispy and nice’n'spicy, I’d highly recommend trying them.
March 24, 2010
A while ago, a friend asked me if I had ever cooked the same thing twice since starting this blog, because, as far as he could tell, I wrote about something completely different every time.
Well, I now have to admit there is something I cook with great regularity, but haven’t blogged about it… until now. And that’s dhal.
I absolutely love dhal, and will happily eat my way through a big pot of the stuff on its own. Although, having said that, the great thing about it is that you can not only eat it on the side of other curries, but add any number of things to dhal and it becomes a substantial dish in itself – a kind of dansak, I suppose.
Some of the ingredients I often add to dhal include peas, leftover chopped-up chicken or lamb, spinach, prawns, tomatoes… Like I say, pretty much anything goes.
Last night, I made my basic dhal recipe, and had a cauliflower curry on the side. The cauli recipe is the same one as my sweet potato and cauliflower dish, but just without the sweet potato.
I’m sure there are as many different ways of making dhal as there are people who eat it. And I’m not sure if I got my version from a recipe somewhere or just made it up as I went along.
I always use red split lentils, and add a good pinch of ground cloves and cardamon seeds, which is what I particularly like about my recipe – although I’m sure, if they’re not your bag, you could leave them out.
Anyway, its appearance may not get top marks from the Masterchef guys, but sometimes substance has to win over style.