Bream with garlic, saffron and preserved lemons

“As the Italian say, cook with love and passion. Which I translate as: enjoy it, give it time and patience, and be tender.Niamh Shields

I totally agree. Sometimes, cooking feels like meditation, all the stars aligned. I remember the first time I felt like this. Or perhaps the first time I consciously noticed feeling like this. It was over a big pot of ragu for lasagne. Everything felt just right: calm, complete, whole, balanced. I was happy and connected. And the dish turned out just delicious.

It’s similar with flavours, but the feeling is stronger and shorter. Like a dart of pleasure, a stronger connection, but one that lasts a shorter time. Some combinations just hit the right note. Like a culinary, gustatory G-spot. They’re simply perfect. Such as the flavours in Claudia Roden’s chicken tagine with lemon and olives, which were a springboard for this dish. I thought how well its flavours of lemon, saffron and herbs would go with fish. And then I made it and they did go together  so well.

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Burek: stories from Croatia, Turkey, and my English kitchen

I’ve always loved burek. It was my favourite lunch treat at school. I used to have cheese burek with plain, and my best friend with strawberry yoghurt. We’d sit in the parks near our school and look at the sea. Surprised that a kid from Croatia lunches on what is by all accounts a Middle Eastern treat? Don’t be. Burek is firmly part of the eating tradition in the countries of the former Yugoslavia, a legacy of the Ottoman Empire. DSC_6413

DSC_6408   If you are yet to be introduced to this deliciousness, burek is layers of thin thin pastry, filo-like but somewhat thicker, stuffed with a variety of fillings. Cheese, meat, spinach, potatoes – these are just some of the examples. In our parts, there is even a sweet version stuffed with grated apples, probably a playful offspring of the Ottoman burek and the Central European apple strudel. To a Croatian, a burek is any of the afore-mentioned; to a Bosnian, burek is only the one made with meat, all others are simply pies (pite, or pita singular). Here bureks normally come in coils, or layered in trays (tepsije – probably from the Turkish tepsi). In Turkey, burek or börek comes in all shapes (cigars, triangles, coils, envelopes, layered larger pies, etc.), and is both baked and boiled. It is made with the thin yufka dough, or even with puff pastry.

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Jenna’s glorious coconut dhal

Jenna was an East African Asian, of Indian descent, who moved to the UK from Uganda, fleeing the bloody dictatorship of the violent dictator Idi Amin. ‘Tender and feisty’ she was, says her daughter, lovingly. I wish I had known Jenna. I hadn’t, but I got to know her through her daughter’s book, her memoir in food.  In Settlers’ Cookbook, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown tells so wonderfully her mother’s story, intertwined with her own, and which forms a part of her people’s history.

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“Our family tree is puny, barren in large part. The roots don’t go down deep enough to produce a plenteous crop of ancestral stories or fruity relatives. The few memories hanging on are losing colour and juice, soon will wither and fall away.

The human urge to trace long, biological bloodlines is strong. But our far past was swept away by careless fate impetuously carrying off my folk across the seas, away, away to new beginnings. They took little and left behind even less. Like many other East African Asians whose forbears left India in the nineteenth century, I search endlessly for (and sometimes find) the remains of those days. Few maps mark routes of journeys undertaken by these migrants; hardly any books capture their spirit or tell the story. Then Africa disgorged us too, and here we are, people in motion, now in the West, the next stopover. There is no place on earth we can historically and unequivocally claim to be ours, and so we have become adept wayfarers who settle but cautiously, ready to move on if the winds change.”

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Every recipe in the book is interwoven in the fabric of Yasmin’s Jenna’s life, or the life of their people.

Jenna’s coconut dhal has become a favourite in my home.

This post has been long in making, I’m sorry to say. Hope you enjoy the recipe as much as I do.

 

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This is one recipe where mise en place is not necessarily essential.

 Jenna's coconut dhal

 

Jenna’s Coconut Dhal

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SOURCE:  Adapted from Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s ‘Settlers’ Cookbook’, her mother’s recipe

PREPARATION TIME: about 5 min

COOKING TIME: 1 h 5 min

CUISINE: Indian (Ugandan Asian)

SERVES: A crowd!

 

 

2/3 mug channa dhal

2/3 mug red lentils (masoor dhal)

2/3 mug moong dhal (split and hulled)

water

1/2 tsp turmeric

1 1/2 tbsp oil

1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds

8 green chillies, sliced (deseed if you wish, or reduce number of chillies)

1 1/2 tin tomatoes

1 tsp turmeric

3 cloves of garlic, minced

2 handfuls of coriander leaves, chopped

Juice of 1 lime
Salt to taste

A pinch of jaggery (or brown sugar)

3/4 tin of good-quality coconut milk

 

 

METHOD:

1. Wash the channa dhal until the water runs clear. Then wash the mung and masoor dhals together.

2. Boil channa dhal for about 10 minutes, then add the mung and massor dhals, turmeric and more water, and continue cooking until the munch and masoor dhals are soft and mushy, and the channa dhal is soft. This will take about an hour in total.

3. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a pan, then add the cumin seeds, garlic and green chillies and cook until the garlic turns golden. Then add the tomatoes, the remaining 1 tsp of turmeric salt, and sugar. Cook until the oil separates, and then add chopped coriander, and cook for another 5 – 10 min.

4. When the dhal is cooked, add coconut milk to it, cook for about 5 min, and then add the tomato mixture. Cook for another 5 min to combine, and then finish off with lime juice, a pinch more of sugar, and some more salt to taste. I like my dhal rather thick, but do add some water if you’d like it soupier.

 

Serve with rice, or bread, as a part of an Indian meal or for a simple lunch or dinner. It’s delicious either way.

Sri Lankan Fish Cutlets with coriander

If you don’t have curry leaves, you can use fresh coriander in Sri Lankan Fish Cutlets.  The other day, I  I made the fish cakes with coriander, instead of curry leaves, and lemon instead of lime juice. I also add about a tbsp of desiccated coconut. It worked great!

Sri Lankan fish cutlets

Spiced carrot and caramelised onions soup

Reminder: Birthday giveaway open until 19 May! Do join in!

 

This shouldn’t be soup-making time, but unfortunately it is, so let me share with you what has become my favourite way of making soup. The basic method comes from the 1977 edition of ‘Mousewood Cookbook’ via Slashfood, and I blogged about it before with my carrot and rose harissa soup. While the vegetables are cooking, you make a kind of tarka of caramelised onions, nuts and freshly grounded and roasted spices. Then you combine the two and blend to esired thickness. The possibilities are many! Pumpkin works well here, too. You can even use this method to make and flavour vegetable purees.

In this recipe, the nuts give the soup some body, the onions provide an earthy base, while the spices bring it into life. The result is a warming carrot soup fragrant with roasted cumin and coriander, with a hint of heat from the chillies. I love it!

This picture of spices from St George’s market in Breakfast always cheers me up.

Spices on sale in Belfast market

Spiced carrot and caramelised

onions soup

 

SOURCE: the basic carrot soup recipe is from ‘Mousewood Cookbook’ (1977), via Slashfood, adapted by me

PREPARATION TIME: 5 min

COOKING TIME: 20 – 30

CUISINE: ?

SERVES: 6

INGREDIENTS:

1 kg carrots, peeled and chopped

water or stock

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp coriander seeds

3 dried red chillies (deseed them if you don’t like hot food)

1 tbsp olive oil

1/2 tbsp butter

1 large yellow onion

3 cloves of garlic

a handful of almonds, roughly shopped

salt and pepper

a handful of grated cheese (optional)

METHOD:

I. Cover the carrots with water and  stock and boil until tender.

II. Heat a pan over medium heat and add cumin, coriander seeds and chillies. Roast until lightly toasted and fragrant (about 1 min), and then put into a pestle & mortar/spice grinder and let cool. Grind into powder and set aside.

III. Heat the olive oil and butter in a pan, then add the onion and cook until the onion starts going golden. Add chopped garlic and nuts and sauté until the onions are caramelised. Then, add roasted spices, stir and cook for a minute or two to give time to the spices to release their flavours.

III. Put the onion mixture and carrots into the food processor and blend until smooth. (It’s easier to blend if you retain some cooking water and add it to the soup later on as necessary.)

IV. Return the vegetable puree to the pan, and check for salt. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add water to achieve desired consistency. Ladle into bowls or mugs ,and if you wish, sprinkle some cheese on top. Add another pinch of freshly ground black pepper and serve. Enjoy!

 

Scarf

 

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Other soups at Maninas:

Celeriac soup (V)

Creamy carrot soup with rose harissa (V)

Dalmatian fish soup

Fragrant and aromatic salmon soup with noodles

Jerusalem artichoke soup with lemon zest and parmesan (V)

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