In the three years I’ve been coming to Istanbul, I’ve eaten and drunk many many delicious things. But I was recently introduced to something quite unlike anything I’ve tasted before. I hesitate to call boza a drink, because its consistency is so thick, it easily supports the roast chickpeas you sprinkle on the top, and really you have to eat it with a spoon.

Not dissimilar to lassi in appearance, boza actually has no dairy in it at all, and is, in fact, made from fermented millet. Only drunk in the winter, its mild, tangy, yoghurty flavour is supposed to give you the strength to get through the cold weather.

And the only place to drink boza in Istanbul is in the beautiful old Vefa Bozacısı, on Çelebi Caddesi. It’s quite a ritual to have your boza there. First you buy your chickpeas from the little shop opposite, then you cross the street and take your place at a wooden table, under the immaculately tiled walls. The glasses of boza are lined up along a long counter, sprinkled liberally with freshly ground cinnamon. Then, drop a few of your roast chickpeas on top, and dig in. It’s a surprisingly light and refreshing pick-me-up, made all the more special by the surroundings, of course.

“Never eat more than you can lift” – Miss Piggy

Merry Christmas! x

Fancy a nibble?

December 23, 2009

There are some dishes that are so much greater than the sum of their parts, and these fritters are absolutely that. It’s a recipe I picked up from David Lebovitz’s blog (he calls them ‘panisses’), and tried simply because I had some chickpea flour and didn’t know what else to do with it. There are only four ingredients – water, salt, olive oil and chickpea flour – and the batter is super-quick to put together.

Once the batter is cooled, cut into thick fingers, fry them to a nice brown crispiness, sprinkle with cracked black pepper and chunky sea salt, and there you have it – the most delicious nibbly thing that it’s possible to make out of chickpea flour! If you have any batter leftover after you’ve stuffed yourself silly with them (unlikely, but you never know), it freezes very well (wrap tightly in clingfilm).

If you want to vary the flavour, try throwing a teaspoon of cumin seeds into the frying pan before cooking the fingers of batter, or a couple of sprigs of rosemary and a squashed clove of garlic. Both are very tasty, although I prefer them au naturel.

As previously mentioned, I’m off to Istanbul on Thursday. So, currently, I’m in a desperate bid to finish off everything in my fridge. I’m doing a fair job of it so far, but I do seem to have a surfeit of eggs. So, last night I thought I’d give myself a taster of all the fantastic Turkish food I’m going to be eating soon, and cook one of my favourite eggy dishes. It’s an Allegra McEvedy recipe from somewhere or other, that I discovered when searching for dishes that include pomegranate molasses. I’d bought a bottle of this sweet’n’sour syrup on an earlier trip to Istanbul and it had sat unopened on top of my fridge for a few months, before I made a determined effort to use it.

And once I’d tried out the molasses a few times, I realised it was a lot easier to use than I’d orginally thought. One of my favourite dishes with it is a chicken stew with ground walnuts, a recipe from Claudia Roden’s A New Book Of Middle Eastern Food. I’m sure it won’t be long before I cook that again, so I’ll tell you more about it then.

In the meantime, this is my version of this poached egg dish. The eggs are cooked in a fairly liquidy sauce, so to make it more substantial, I added some frozen peas, and had some basmati rice on the side. But it’s also very tasty as a winter brunch dish with flat bread.

Something rather fruity…

December 21, 2009

One of my very few childhood food dislikes that has stayed with me as an adult is sultanas and raisins. Which is why I couldn’t (and still can’t) stand traditional christmas pudding or fruit cake. But now I do my own baking, I can make those kinds of cakes with all the other dried fruits I love so much. And that’s what I did yesterday.

I took a recipe for vegan fruit cake from Breakfast, Lunch, Tea – the cookery book from Paris’s Rose Bakery – not because I have any vegan tendencies (I think you may have guessed by now that my eating habits are as far from veganism as it’s possible for a human to be!), but just because the recipe was pretty simple, and it uses sunflower oil instead of butter. This means the two cakes I made should remain moist and fresh for longer.

Which is exactly what I wanted, as the small cake is going to Japan (sorry Kazumi, if you’re reading this – that’s your birthday surprise ruined!). While the other, larger cake is coming with me to Istanbul on Thursday, as I’m spending christmas and new year there with my boyfriend, Suleyman. The cake is for our friends Meryem and Özgür. Meryem is a great cook, and when I was last in Istanbul in September, she made me an amazing Turkish feast for my birthday. So I’m returning the favour with this quintessentially English cake.

I made half the amount of mixture again, in order to have enough batter for the two cakes, and, as there was a bit left over, I made these teeny-tiny fruit-cake bites – perfect for a sneaky nibble when I fancy something sweet!

Beef and oyster pie

December 20, 2009

I don’t think I’ve ever made a savoury pie before. And if this icy cold weather that’s sweeping across the south of England at the moment is doing anything, it’s making me crave soothing, comforting food. So I thought now is as good a time as any to try my hand at one.

The plan was to make a couple of small steak and kidney pies. But the woman who runs my favourite veg stall in Borough Market told me she’d recently had a very tasty steak and oyster pie, which sounded much more interesting, so off I went to find some oysters. Not being able to afford the two dozen required by some recipes I found, I bought four good-sized rock oysters from the Richard Haward stall (90p each, ready hinged), and decided to pop two in each pie, just as a taster. The stewing steak I bought from The Ginger Pig.

Unfortunately, what I didn’t have was a pie dish. So (and here’s how dedicated I am to cooking), I trekked up to John Lewis on Oxford Street – yes, on the last Saturday before xmas – to get what I needed. Several hours later, I dragged my sorry self home and started working on the pies. I hadn’t been able to find a recipe for beef and oyster pie I liked, so I used Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe for steak and kidney (without the kidneys) from The River Cottage Year, and added the oysters just before putting on the pastry lid. I also used Hugh’s recipe (in the same book) for rough puff pastry. Both recipes are incredibly simple, but do take time. Which meant I didn’t get to eat my pie until nearly 10pm! But, oh boy, it was worth the wait.

I had just enough ingredients to make two smallish pies, one of which went into the freezer (uncooked) for my little sis, who’s staying in my flat while I’m away in the new year. You’re in for a treat, Sis!

I don’t know if it’s just that my tastebuds are finally coming back to life, but this simplest of dishes has been my favourite meal of the week. I was sitting on the bus heading home last night, pondering the bag of purple sprouting broccoli in my fridge, and trying to conjure up an interesting meal from it. Then, from the depths of my memory, I remembered an Italian dish I’d read about that involved this very vegetable, along with a combination of three ingredients I can never resist – anchovies, chillies and garlic.

While I steamed the broccoli, I gently fried the anchovies, garlic and chilli in a frying pan. When the broccoli was barely tender, I tossed it into the frying pan with the other ingredients. When all nicely combined, a squeeze of lemon gave it a nice sharp edge (plus, it brings out the vivid green colours), and piled it onto the cooked pasta. Dee-licious!

By the way, I used peri-peri chillies in this dish, which I’d bought last year in Portugal, as I thought they’d work well with the Mediterranean flavours.

As a keen foodie living on her own, there are always going to be times when it’s impossible to make a one-portion sized dish. Roast chicken being a case in point. Well, any roast really, but as roast chicken is one of my all-time favourite meals, that’s what comes to mind. (When I was a kid, I used to say that if I was a princess, I would have roast chicken for breakfast every day. Clearly, I learned young…) And that’s why the freezer is the single foodie’s best friend.

Here are a few of my favourite uses for my friendly freezer:

  • Bread. I’m not a huge consumer of bread, but when I do buy a loaf, like a nice crusty sourdough from The Flour Station in Borough Market, I’ll cut it into quarters and freeze what I’m not going to eat that day. Once thawed out, pop it in the oven to crisp it up a bit.
  • Cakes. I haven’t really experimented too much with this, but so far I have successfully frozen my homemade biscuits and cupcakes (without fillings and icings), and my date loaf cut into slices and wrapped individually in clingfilm. I’ve also frozen some leftover chocolate ganache, which was fine to use when I thawed it out.
  • Herbs. Pretty much all herbs freeze well. I don’t usually bother freezing parsley as I use it up so quickly, but rosemary, basil, thyme, sage and mint are permanent residents in my ice-box. Do not attempt to thaw herbs before using – they’ll just turn into slimy mush. But straight from the freezer they’re nice and brittle, and crumble easily into your cooking.
  • Tinned tomatoes. Not in the tin, obviously. But often I’ll use half a tin of tomatoes, and if I don’t think I’ll want to use the rest of it within a day or two, into a tupperware pot it goes and into the freezer. And the best thing is you can use it straight from frozen.
  • Frozen veg. I think all frozen veg is pretty horrible except peas – so that’s the only vegetable that graces my freezer.
  • Fresh meat and fish. If I buy two or three items at the market on a Saturday, I’ll usually eat one of them at the weekend, and put the rest in the freezer to cook during the week. I also use a fair bit of pork and lamb mince, so I’ll buy, say, 300g, divide it into 100g portions and freeze them. And, again, you can cook mince from frozen, if you don’t remember to take it out in time to thaw.
  • Leftovers. The above-mentioned roast chicken is not as extravagant a meal as you might think for one person. Once the leftovers are cold, I remove all the meat from the bones, divide it into portions and freeze. Perfect for risottos, soups, salads, stir fries, and, most delicious of all, fried in olive oil to crisp it up with a side of oven chips. Mmmmouthwatering.

So, am I missing any tricks here? What’s in your freezer?

A very British stir-fry

December 17, 2009

This is one of my favourite kinds of meals, because it’s infinitely adaptable in the ingredients you can use, and really simple to cook. Last night, I used up some pork mince, a leek and some fast-fading brussel tops to make what is essentially a stir-fry. I sautéed the sliced leek and chopped brussel tops in a little olive oil, added some garlic, sage, and salt and pepper, then once the vegetables were soft, chucked in the pork mince, raised the heat a little and stirred to break up the meat. Add a little water at this stage, if you don’t like it too dry. The mince takes barely five minutes to cook, so it really is as quick as any Chinese stir-fry. I had some boiled potatoes with it, but you can have pretty much any form of carb – rice, pasta, or some crusty bread to mop up the delicious juices.

It’s one of those convenient meals where you can use anything that’s in your fridge. Simply adjust the herbs and seasoning to go with the vegetables and meat you’re using, and it’ll be really tasty every time.

I usually like my steaks nice and simple – charred on the outside, bloody on the inside, and a dollop of Dijon mustard on the side. But, last night, I had some mushrooms in the fridge that were in dire need of being eaten, so instead of just frying them and plonking them next to the steak, I thought I’d make something a bit saucy out of them. So I added them to a sautéed shallot, thinly sliced clove of garlic, and sprig of thyme. Then I splashed some water in the pan to make a bit of liquid, added a teaspoon of mustard (another of my store-cupboard essentials), a grind of salt and pepper, reduced it a little – and a sauce was born…

Thanks to my distinct lack of appetite over the last few days, I also had a number of fresh vegetables lying around beginning to show their age. The answer? Simply steamed romanesco cauliflower and carrots – oh-so tasty and pretty healthy, too.