New markets…

August 18, 2010

Wednesday is market day in Turkey, and Istanbul is no exception. So, despite a hot, humid, sleepless night, I managed to drag myself out of bed and get to our local pazar in Sultanahmet early enough to avoid the crowds and the daytime heat.

And what a joy it was. I felt like the proverbial kid in a sweet shop – especially when it came to the many and varied salad leaves at one stall. As well as a bunch of gorgeous crisp rocket and the biggest cos lettuce I’ve ever seen, I got a bunch of something the name of which is a mystery to me, but looks like nettles and tastes like nasturtium leaves.

The other intriguing purchase at the salad stall was a bunch of purple basil (on the left in the photo above), but rather than used as a flavouring in a cooked dish, its subtle flavour means it can be used in great handfuls as an addition to a salad. And, I can tell you, with the current high temperatures in Istanbul, I have appetite for little more than a fresh pile of green stuff!

Although, ironically, something I just couldn’t resist were these tiny round chillies (pictured above left). Apparently they are super-hot, but as Turks generally don’t like spicy food, I’ll take that with a pinch of salt. Süleyman rolled his eyes at them, so I reckon I’ll be the only one eating them.

Food is still very much seasonal and local in Turkey, with very little imported. And, boy, can you tell the difference in the quality of fresh produce. At the moment, at the height of summer, there is an amazing array of fruit and veg available (one of my current faves are the huge, plump purple figs sold on every corner), so, if there’s one thing I won’t be feeling homesick about, it’s clearly the food.

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Keep on the ‘grass

March 27, 2010

The last of Zoe’s dad’s Thai lemongrass went into the pot last night, along with some lime leaves that came to me in the same package.

I know, being lucky enough to live in London, these kind of ingredients are readily available here. But there’s something about knowing they came direct from their country of origin, tucked into the corner of a suitcase, that makes them taste so much better.

As well as giving me these Thai delights, Zoe also pointed me in the direction of this Nigel Slater recipe for pumpkin and tomato laksa.

Obviously, coconut milk is the essential ingredient that makes a laksa a laksa, and as I didn’t have any, I’ll just call last night’s supper a Thai curry.

The other things I changed in the recipe were replacing the pumpkin with butternut squash, adding some sweet potato (simply because I had some that needed to be finished), adding some peas (there’s my obsession with green stuff again) and using tinned tomatoes instead of cherry ones (again, just because I had an open tin and it needed to be used).

Served with rice vermicelli noodles, this spicy, citrussy, fresh combination is very hard to beat.

A good pulse…

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.

Last night, I wanted one of those super-quick suppers that involve very little thought or effort. Of course, omelettes fit that bill perfectly, and with a leek and some mushrooms in the fridge, I decided that would be my filling.

Until recently, it had never occurred to me to add spices to egg dishes, but they seem to go very well together. I also like adding soy sauce and sesame oil to the beaten eggs to make a Chinese-flavoured omelette, and I thought the leeks and mushrooms would work particularly well with this.

So, I gently fried the sliced leeks and mushrooms in a little vegetable oil, and added some grated ginger and garlic and a chopped red chilli. To two beaten eggs, I added about a dessertspoon of soy sauce and a dash of sesame oil, and when the vegetables were nice and soft, I poured over the eggs.

My intention was to let it cook through, rather like a tortilla, but it became clear very quickly that I would need more eggs to do this. And I’d just used my last ones. So, instead, I flipped it over into an omelette – which is why it looks a bit rough around the edges!

Anyway, it was a quick, filling, tasty supper – and that, really, was the point.

A spice odyssey…

February 10, 2010

After my rather chilli weekend, I began wondering just how many different kinds of chillies and hot spices I have in my cupboard. So, I’ve just got them all out, and counted nine different ways of heating up my food! Some I use more often than others, and one – the jar of Very Lazy Red Chillies, which I was given – I haven’t used at all.

From left to right, they are: hot chilli sauce, for Thai-style soups; the jar of chopped chillies in wine vinegar, which I haven’t been lazy enough to open yet; the pul biber/tomato paste mix from Istanbul, which I use in my Turkish and Middle Eastern cooking; dried piri piri chillies that I bought on holiday in Portugal a couple of years ago, which I use in more Mediterranean flavoured cooking; flaked pul biber, which, again, I use for a Middle Eastern taste; hot mixed peppercorns, suitable for pretty much anything you want to give a kick to; hot paprika, which is, of course, essential in Spanish cooking; cayenne, for Indian or Mexican food; and, finally, a string of what were originally small, fresh chillies, but I thread them and hang them up to dry out, and these I use mainly in curries.

I know there are much bigger chilli-heads than me out there, so can anyone tell me if I’m missing out on some hot delights? And what about some new ideas for my current chilli collection?

Chinese stuffed marrow

January 15, 2010

I was craving some Oriental flavours last night, so, with half a marrow left in my fridge and a small amount of pork mince in the freezer, I thought I’d do some experimenting.

I’ve only rediscovered marrows very recently. It was one of my few intense dislikes as a child. God knows why, as it isn’t particularly strong-flavoured. But when I saw some big fat ones at Borough Market last autumn for 80p each, the frugal cook in me decided I should give it another go.

I’ve been cooking this highly flavoursome Nigel Slater recipe of pork mince with baked marrow quite a lot, so used it as the basis of my meal last night. After hollowing out the end of the marrow, I filled it with a stuffing of pork mince, onion, mushrooms, grated carrot, garlic, chilli, ginger, soy sauce, fresh coriander and a dash of sesame oil, then put it in a casserole dish with a lid. A little liquid was added to the bottom of the pot, and, with the lid on, it was sort of steam-baked for about 20 minutes.

The result was a yummy combination of sweet marrow, fresh gingery herbiness and a good hot kick of chilli. Another success in the Bare Cupboard Laboratory!

A souped-up supper

January 12, 2010

If there was ever a time for comforting, hearty soups, it’s now. The weather may be getting very slightly milder, but it’s still chilling me to the bones. So tonight’s supper was a winter warmer I adapted from a recipe I cut out from The Guardian a couple of years ago for braised cauliflower with cherry tomatoes. This is another case of me taking the essential flavours of a recipe and adapting it into something of my own.

I added a spoonful of the tomato/pul biber paste that I used in the omelettes I wrote about in Istanbul. But regular tomato paste with a good pinch of chilli will do the job just as well. It also has some ground fennel seeds in it, and I would strongly suggest you don’t leave them out, because they really do add another very tasty dimension. Finally, some chopped fresh basil gives the soup a deliciously fresh lift.

Tonight I added some couscous, to make it extra hearty, and with some toasted pitta on the side, this is what I call real comfort food.

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.