So, the latest venue for the Bare Cupboard Tour Of South London 2011 is Penge. Another friend on holiday, another chance to spread myself out in a lovely house.

And this one has an equally lovely garden attached to it – one that is, at the moment, an abundance of tomato plants. From crimson-dark pop-in-your-mouth cherry tomatoes to great big knobbly orange ones, never has the word ‘glut’ been more appropriate. (Don’t ask me what varieties they are – I’m an eater not a grower!)

One of the prerequisites of my staying in the Munyama home while they were away was to use up said tomatoes, and, if I could be bothered, to make something nice with them that the family could enjoy when they get back.

The original idea was to make a green tomato chutney, as both Nicky (the tomato-fingered home-owner) and I thought there’d be plenty of unripe ones to use up. However, when I got round to weighing the two heaving bowlfuls of ripe tomatoes I’d picked, I found I already had nearly three kilos!

I did my usual thing of trawling recipes – online and in print form – and came up with a general idea of how I wanted my chutney to taste. I ignored the many recipes that had raisins in the ingredient list, but sensing that something fruity is a necessity in a chutney like this, I went for some apple. And, instead of using white wine vinegar, which seems to be the most popular, I thought I’d use cider vinegar to complement the apple.

The spices I kept simple – white mustard seeds, ground ginger and coriander, with a couple of green chillies thrown in for a little bit of a kick.

The other essential ingredients for a chutney – some roughly chopped onion, brown sugar and salt – were added to the pot, and I set it to boil for about an hour.

I’d worked out the proportions based on a recipe that had used about one and a half kilos of tomatoes, adding extra vinegar and sugar in what I hoped were the right amounts.

In terms of flavour, it was perfect – warm and spicy, with a delicious fresh sweetness – but I was left with rather a lot of liquid. I would definitely use less vinegar next time, adding less sugar too, so the balance of sweet and sour is right.

Even after draining off the excess liquid, I still had enough chutney to fill four half litre jars – and, having read somewhere that a spoonful of chutney in a stew is a rather tasty addition, I bottled the remaining tomato juices and will keep them for such an event.

Now, my jars of spiced tomato and apple chutney are sitting in a cool, dark place awaiting their moment of truth. I – and the soon-to-return Munyama family – will keep you posted.

Good mornings…

February 5, 2011

My boyfriend is a barman. Which means most evenings I have to amuse myself in the kitchen. And, although we get to have breakfast together every day, there’s only so much you can do with an egg and a slice of toast – what with me not being much of a cornflake girl.

So, when Süleyman arrived back from his early-morning gym session the other day with a box of quails’ eggs, I was a little more excited than perhaps I ought to have been at the sight of a foodstuff. (One of his workout buddies gave them to him – a slightly odd gift, maybe, but one that was much appreciated, nonetheless.)

While looking online for ideas of how to incorporate them into our morning meal, I found a very pretty picture of poached quails’ eggs, so thought I’d give it a go too. And, as you can see from the photo below, I had some success… as well as some squidgy disasters.

I served them on toast with a good splash of olive oil, some pul biber, and a few of the usual Turkish breakfast accoutrements – olives, cheese, tomatoes and parsely. Simple enough, yes, but what really surprised me was just how tasty the wee things were – a flavour that was completely unproportional to their size.

Süleyman’s off the the gym again on Monday – and I’m just looking forward to what he’ll bring back next time!

One of my oldest and dearest friends was staying with me in Istanbul last week. We had lots of catching up to do, and as she is as much of a food-lover as I am, most of that catching up was done over meals of some kind or another – starting over the heaving breakfast table, continuing over lunches of köfte or kebaps with lots of bread, then topping it all off over afternoon teas of baklava, and dinners of a million kinds of meze plus grilled fish, chicken shish or lamb chops.

So, as I waddled home from saying goodbye to my friend at the airport on Sunday, I thought it might be a good idea to curb my eating habits for a few days. However, healthy eating, for me, still has to mean tasty eating – and the easiest way to inject some interest into a somewhat basic meal has to be with strong flavours, such as garlic, chilli, and, in this case, capers.

My weekly market shop was a few days away, so this was going to be a real ‘store-cupboard essentials’ meal. A quick fridge-check, and I saw I had potatoes, tomatoes and onions in abundance, plus some runner-like beans that were on their last legs (ahem, ‘scuse the dreadful pun). And tucked into the corner of the top shelf was a jar of long-forgotten capers. Good thing they keep forever, because, as soon as I saw them, I knew that was the flavour I was looking for.

I’ve often used capers in tomato sauces for pasta, and as I had a kind of potato/tomato-ey stew in mind for dinner, I saw no reason not to use them for this dish.

So, I roughly chopped an onion and a couple of garlic cloves, and fried them in some olive oil. When soft, I added a couple of potatoes cut into small cubes. After giving them a few minutes in the olive oil, I added a chopped tomato, some tomato purée, a couple of bay leaves, some of my ever-essential pul biber (a Turkish chilli, for those of you who haven’t yet come across my obsession with this spice), poured in enough water to just cover the potatoes, seasoned with a little salt and pepper, and left it all on a low heat to bubble away.

For some strange reason, I always find potatoes take longer to cook if they are in anything other than plain salted water, and this dish was no different. Despite being in small chunks, it took almost half an hour to get the potato really soft – which was fine, as it gave the flavours in the stew a chance to really deepen. About halfway through cooking, I added a couple of spoons of chopped capers, and checked the seasoning.

And that, dear readers, was simply that. Some steamed beans on the side, and here was a healthy meal, making good use of some store-cupboard leftovers, and, most importantly, it was delicious.

I don’t think Süleyman would mind me saying his taste in food is perhaps a little traditional. Traditionally Turkish, that is.

The Turks, I am discovering, are very protective of their customs – and cooking in particular. So, although this means you can go to pretty much any restaurant here in Istanbul – and most people’s homes, too – and get an amazing Turkish meal, it’s harder to find decent non-Turkish food.

And, as much as Süleyman loves his grub, he can sometime be a weeny bit suspicious of some of the dishes I cook – simply because it’s something he’s not familiar with.

So, when I pointed out some slices of vivid orange pumpkin at the market the other day, and asked if he liked it, I wasn’t surprised when he told me he’d only ever eaten it as a sweet – as that is the traditional Turkish way with pumpkin.

I resolved to change his view of this vegetable and bought some with the intention of making something savoury with it, but not really knowing what. When it came to using the pumpkin, I noticed I also had some jerusalem artichokes left, and it occurred to me that the two might go very well together.

I was, however, fully aware that it could result in a rather odd concoction – and if my tastebuds thought it odd, then god knows what Süleyman would make of it. Oh well, nothing ventured, I thought.

So, here’s what I did. I roughly chopped a red onion and sautéed it in olive oil along with a chopped clove of garlic. I wanted the flavours to be resolutely Mediterranean, so I added a couple of bay leaves, and a sprinkling of dried thyme and rosemary. Once the onion was soft, I added the jerusalem artichoke and pumpkin, both of which had been cut into smallish cubes. I added enough water to cover the bottom of the pan, seasoned well with salt and pepper, then left it all to simmer until cooked. (This actually took much longer than I thought it would – the pumpkin, in particular, I was surprised to find, took a good half an hour to become really soft and sweet.)

About ten minutes before the end of the cooking time, I added a chopped red pepper and a couple of skinned and chopped tomatoes. Finally, to make the dish a little more substantial, I made use of some minced beef I had left over. Here, the mince is very fine, in readiness for it being made into köfte. This means it’s very easy to squish together into tightly bound wee balls, with no need to add egg or breadcrumbs.

I rolled my mince into walnut-sized pieces and simply dropped them into the cooking juices of the pumpkin, artichokes, tomatoes etc. They took barely five minutes to cook through.

And what did this bizarre assortment of ingredients taste like? Well, the delicious earthiness of the jerusalem artichoke really permeated the whole dish, and, added to the sweetness of the pumpkin and a hefty hint of beefiness from the meatballs, it was a surpringly tasty combination.

And, luckily, even Süleyman thought so.

Bulgur it!

September 15, 2010

As is generally the way in Turkey, Süleyman works a six-day week, so, on his day off, I like to try and cook something special for our evening meal.

And that was certainly the intention this week. The menu I had planned included a dish of sautéed carrots with a garlicky yoghurt sauce (sarimsakli yogurtlu havuc sote), a bulgur and tomato salad (kisir), köfte and something with aubergines (Süleyman’s favourite vegetable).

However, after a day of running around getting the week’s accumulated chores done, I was too whacked to start thinking about juggling so many dishes in the kitchen. So, in the end, we ate a meal that was more or less a combination of the above recipes – just leaving the carrot and yoghurt dish for another time.

Remembering a Nigel Slater recipe of old for bulgur and aubergines, I got to work on this one-pot wonder. As I had some beef mince to use, I simply added this to the mix, plus some pul biber paste, and, because I have a rather huge jar of the stuff, I used dried instead of fresh mint.

A good sprinkling of parsley finished it off nicely, and, although a fair way from my original idea of an evening meal, it was nonetheless very tasty – made all the more so by the fact that I didn’t have to knock myself out cooking it!

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.

A big tart

July 14, 2010

The other day I got a marriage proposal. Not from the man currently awaiting my arrival in Istanbul. But from the lovely Lene, my friend whose spare room I’m currently occupying.

We’d spent a very profitable but tiring morning selling off my excess baggage at Chiswick car boot sale, then returned home to make tea for our friend Helen and her two kids, Eric and Agnes.

Despite having got up at the ungodly hour of 3.30am, we quickly made cake, scones, sandwiches, salads and dips – and it was our impressive teamwork that led Lene to suggest I should not, in fact, move to Istanbul, but stay in London and marry her instead. I told her that if things didn’t work out with Süleyman, I’d definitely consider the offer!

And I’m certainly loving the way we’ve just clicked living together – easily sharing the cooking and household chores, and having someone to talk to when the practicalities of moving to Istanbul become a little overwhelming. In return, I’ll make sure I’m around to cook for her boys when she wants to go out (and to send Dexter to bed before he falls asleep in front of the television with his Xbox in his hand).

Which is what I did last night. Lene, being a bit of a yoga bunny, headed off for an evening of bending into strange shapes, while I fed Dexter (Wesley still making very rare appearances, thanks to a summer of parties stretching ahead of him).

As I mentioned in a previous post, Dexter is a pretty adventurous eater (especially considering he’s a young vegetarian), and is always willing to try new dishes. But it’s still something of a challenge for me to come up with veggie meals that he and the rest of us will enjoy.

So, a trawl through my trusty folder of cut-out recipes came up with this delicious-looking French tomato tart, which I’d seen on David Lebovitz’s blog. I decided to buy the tomatoes from Lina Stores, the lovely old Italian deli on London’s Brewer Street, and thought, rather than the French goat’s cheese David suggests, I’d stick with the Italian theme and try some of that country’s cheese instead.

A chat with the lady behind the counter resulted in me buying a nice big chunk of flavourful Fontina, which I thought would be the perfect foil to the sharp mustard base of the tart. (Dexter tried a slice of it while I was preparing the tart, and declared it his second favourite cheese, after brie!)

The beautiful, plump plum tomatoes combined with some fresh herbs direct from Lene’s garden gave the tart a truly summery flavour. So, on the side, I kept it seasonal and made a crunchy radish and gherkin coleslaw with mustard mayonnaise, and one of my all-time faves, cauliflower, fennel and celery salad with a lemon dressing, from Claudia Roden’s A New Book Of Middle Eastern Food. We also ate several slices of my latest loaf of sourdough bread, slathered in lots of butter.

This is the kind of food I could just eat mounds of in the summer – and, luckily, Dexter felt the same. Although, we did manage to leave a few morsels for Lene…

Last night, I looked in my fridge to find half a tin of tomatoes, half a tin of butter beans and half a bulb of fennel. And, despite the gorgeous spring weather here in London, I decided to make a soup from these ingredients.

I finely chopped the fennel bulb, reserving the lovely green fronds, and simmered it in some stock with the butter beans, tinned tomatoes, a chopped clove of garlic and, to add some spring zing, some finely chopped fresh rosemary. (I always use Marigold stock powder, as it’s got a far better flavour, plus you can adjust how much you use more easily than with cubes.) Also added was a spoonful of my Turkish tomato and pepper paste for what is, in my books, an essential hot kick.

Left to cook for a good half an hour, the fennel and butter beans were nice and soft, and ready to purée. To stop it becoming like baby food, I added a little more water, seasoned with salt and pepper, and sprinkled the chopped fennels fronds over the top.

If you’re going to try this, I’d definitely recommend you find a fennel bulb with lots of fronds on the top, as it ensures a deliciously fresh hit to this light, refreshing soup.

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.

Not sure why I’m craving hearty soups now the weather is actually getting better. But hey-ho.

I spotted a recipe for fennel soup on another blog recently, and as it is most definitely one of my favourite vegetables, I knew I’d be making my own version of it before long. (Apologies for not posting the link, but I can’t for the life of me remember exactly which blog it was on.)

I simmered some chopped fresh fennel in stock, along with some tinned tomatoes, a pinch of ground fennel seeds, a spoonful of pul biber paste and lots of garlic, until it was all really soft. Fennel can be a bit stringy, so I left it for a good half an hour.

Then I liquidised the broth, added plenty of finely shredded cabbage, and simmered again for a few minutes, until the cabbage was cooked. A final handful of chopped parsley, and supper was on the table.

What’s nice about this soup is that the liquidised fennel gives it a comforting creaminess, while the cabbage adds a fresh, crunchy bite. Perfection in a soup bowl, in my humble opinion.