Wednesday, 20 February 2013

This blog has recently moved to Please visit me there. :)

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Dhal and Hilsha

I’ve been living in Bangladesh for six months now, and since my arrival haven’t written a single word about food. It’s not that I’ve stopped thinking about it. Indeed, I’m just as greedy as ever and I’d say that about thirty percent of my thoughts still centre on dinner, and another thirty goes for lunch and breakfast. It’s just that it’s hard to fully appreciate a national cuisine when every other meal seems determined to produce a serious bout of food poisoning.

Indeed, I’ve experienced just about every possible stomach upset imaginable since coming here. My colleagues at work are convinced that I’m not used to chilli or spices. They don’t seem to realise that Bangladesh does not have a world-wide spice monopoly. (Besides, on my second day in Bangladesh, a fellow AYAD dared me to pop a green chilli in one go – local style – and crunch it down as an after-dinner snack. It made me cry, but my stomach did not seem to be bothered.)

Instead, I think that I’m just not used to the bacteria levels of much Bengali food. Perhaps that’s because I try to forgo the protective layer of oil that seems to coat many dishes. You think I’m joking – but really one sometimes needs a whole role of paper towel to sop up the grease that sits on top of a bowl of dhal.

Even so, it’s not like I haven’t discovered some amazing food since I’ve been here. I’m a little addicted to shingara, the vegetable-filled fried pastries that we get most mornings for elevenses. I’ve also come to appreciate the art of “smashed” cuisine. There’s often nothing better than a hot paratha and fresh omelette for breakfast. The sweet ginger tea, that I sometimes get in the office of a DPHE official (instead of the usual condensed milk chai) is always a treat and has never made me sick.

So, I’ve resolved that for my last six months I will resume writing Nutmeg and Anchovies (although those two ingredients will be on a hiatus for a while). Until September, I’ll rename my blog: dhal and hilsha.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Fennel and Blood Orange Salad

It wasn’t really salad weather, but sometimes you just need something raw and crunchy. This salad was a cracker. Raw fennel is my new favourite salad base.

1 fennel bulb, sliced thinly
2 blood oranges, segmented with all pith removed
1/2 cup (of so) of green olives, sliced
several sploshes of olive oil
several splashes of apple cider vinegar

Toss thoroughly. The olives that we bought at the market had been marinated in some kind of Italian herb oil (with oregano and basil I think) which was not a bad idea.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Cheat's Italian Part Two – Roast Veggie Lasagne

Cheaters' veggie lasagne is a favourite in our house. It’s never quite the same because the ingredients depend on what is going cheap and fresh at Lidl. The following is a list of the usual suspects:

1 eggplant
2 red peppers
2 small zucchini (or courgettes, but I’m Australian after all)
1 large sweet potato or some pumpkin
a head of garlic
1 or 2 large mushrooms

You’ll also need:
a box of lasagne sheets
parmesan cheese

and a few other things (including anchovies and nutmeg) to make a red sauce:
1 onion (red or brown), sliced
1 bottle of passata, a tin of tomatoes or some simple red pasta sauce
an anchovy
whatever herbs you have lying around (usually dried oregano and bay leaves and fresh basil and thyme in my kitchen)
olive oil

and a béchamel sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup warm milk
gratted nutmeg
1-3 tablespoons of grated parmesan

Slice the aubergine in 1 cm thick rounds; lay on a plate and sprinkle with salt. Leave to stand for 20 minutes; rinse and pat dry. Coat in olive oil and grill or roast in a hot oven, or fry on a ridged griddle, until soft. Turn once.

Bake the peppers whole on a tray in the middle of the oven at 180ºC, until the skin is black and the flesh is soft. Remove from the oven and place them directly into a ziplock plastic bag; this makes the peppers sweat. Remove from the bag after 10 minutes and peel off the skin with your fingers. Cut into fat strips.

Slice the zucchini in long rectangular strips. (It gets less soggy this way than it does in rounds.) Oil your hands and coat the slices. Grill in a hot oven, turning once, or fry on a ridged griddle until soft and char-lined.

Slice the mushroom in fat strips and fry in butter until soft.

Cut the pumpkin or sweet potato into 1 cm thick slices, coat in olive oil and roast in the oven at 180ºC. Remove from the oven, let cool a little and peel off the skin.
Break apart the head of garlic and roast the cloves whole in their skins. (This can be done on the same tray as the sweet potato, but the garlic will be ready first and should be removed from the oven when soft to touch.) Squeeze out the insides of the garlic and add to the red sauce.

Make the red sauce by frying the onion and garlic in some olive oil. Add the passata, tinned tomatoes or basic sauce. (Fresh tomatoes are also nice to add but you need to remove the skin by plunging them into boiling and then cold water first.) Add the anchovy, roasted garlic and whatever dried herbs are lying around. Simmer on low heat until any whole tomatoes have dissolved completely into sauce. Usually this just gets better the longer you cook it.

Make the béchamel by melting the butter in a small saucepan. Fry the flour in the butter, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Gradually add the milk and whisk to combine. Continue to stir until sauce simmers and thickens. Grate in some nutmeg and parmesan. Grind pepper to taste.

Oil the bottom of a lasagne dish and cover with a layer of pasta. If the pasta sheets are the instant kind, you can use them raw; otherwise they will need to be plunged into boiling water for a minute or two first. (If the red sauce is very watery, there’s no need to pre-cook the lasagne sheets.) Spread over a layer of red sauce and cover with the aubergine and mushroom. Add another layer of pasta and cover with the sweet potato; cover and fill in the gaps with béchamel sauce. Add another layer of pasta, followed by red sauce and the remaining roasted vegetables. (Any number of layers of red sauce and veggies is fine but I prefer to have only one central layer of white sauce.) Finish with a final layer of pasta and top with the rest of the béchamel. Grate a fine layer of parmesan over the top. Bake in a moderate oven for 20-30 minutes, until the top has browned and the pasta is soft to cut.

Monday, 30 July 2007

Salted Potatoes

Mum reinvented the baked potato last night. Well not really. She used to do salted potatoes a lot, but you know how it is with food. You’ll make something every week for two months because it’s on your brain and everybody liked it the first time. Then you’ll forget about it for years because, well, there are newer and more exciting things to try.

Wash potatoes well and prick all over with a fork. Rub with coarsely ground salt. There’s no need to add oil as the moisture from the fork holes will help the salt to stick. Bake as usual directly on the rack in the centre of the oven.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Cheat's Italian Part One - Spaghetti

I’ve had some disgusting meals recently and many of them have been presented, in some for or other, under the label of “Italian cuisine”. Yet real Italian food bears no resemblance to the messes I have been offered. A cooking culture whose prime interest is in fresh ingredients prepared simply should inspire quick and lively meals. “Let’s grab an Italian tonight” is not a phrase that should send us running to the chilled ready-meals, the freezer or the local take-away. Yet this is precisely what I’ve experienced in the form of heat and serve pasta sauces, frozen lasagna and (shudder) dominos pizza. In response, I’ve decided on a three part set of cheaters' Italian recipes. While not straight out of a Neapolitan cookbook, these recipes are about fresh ingredients and are quick enough to prepare in the middle of the week.

Here are two favourite spaghetti sauce recipes. (There really is no excuse to reach for a bottle of red slop with the odd onion or mushroom slice thrown in.) The most important ingredient here is fresh basil, so buy a live plant and keep it on your window sill. With water only, it will last a month or two.

Firstly, please cook your pasta properly. Heat the water to a rolling boil and add a little salt. Cook the pasta only until it is just cooked through - 'al dente' if you want to pretend that you speak Italian. I often find that a minute less than the guide cooking time is a good way to go for UK packs.


While your pasta is cooking, mix

a nob of butter
100 mls cream
1 tablespoon of lemon juice

in a small saucepan over low heat. (Don’t be tempted to add more lemon juice or it will sour and curdle - I tried it.) Stir until combined.
Drain you pasta but do not rinse, and leave a few tablespoons of cooking liquid sloshing around the bottom of the pan. Pour over the lemon mixture and add
the grated zest of 2 lemons
(Only take the yellow part of the lemon, as the white pith is bitter.)
Toss the pasta around and once it has cooled a little add
grated nutmeg
a handful of torn basil leaves
a handful of grated Parmesan.

(If you add the Parmesan while the pan is too hot, it will turn to a sticky glue on the bottom.)
Toss again and serve with extra basil and Parmesan scattered on top.


While the pasta is cooking, rub

a few hundred grams of small or cherry tomatoes in
olive oil.
Place on a baking tray with short sides under a hot grill. Give the tray a little shake after two minutes so that the tomatoes grill evenly. Once the tomatoes have split, released some juice and turned a little brown on the edges, remove from the oven.
Pour the tomatoes and the juices over the drained pasta. Add
another slosh of olive oil
a generous handful of fresh torn basil leaves
a handful of Parmesan.

Toss and serve.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Black Pepper Chicken

P recently made this wonderful chicken kali mirch and it was so good that I had to note it down. Here's what he did:

500 grams roughly cubed chicken breast or thigh
4 tablespoons whole black pepper corns
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons ghee
3 cloves
15 dried curry leaves
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
1 medium red onion sliced
1/2 teaspoon coriander powder
3 cloves of garlic chopped finely
1 cup water

Coarsely grind the pepper corns, turmeric and salt. (It is perfectly all right for some whole pepper corns to remain.) Mix this powder with the chicken and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Heat the ghee in a wok; add the cloves, then the garlic and onion. Saute over a slow fire until the onion is tender and golden brown. Add the tomatoes and saute for about 15 minutes. Add the coriander powder and saute until the oil separates from the paste. Add the water and curry leaves. Once this sauce is boiling, add the chicken and cook covered. Once the chicken is cooked through, serve with basmati rice.

Compared to his usual dishes, this one was relatively quick to put together and is something that we will happily whip up mid-week or serve to friends. It seems like a lot of pepper but the curry leaves seem to cut that (adding an almost a sweet touch) and I just loved the pop of the whole pepper corns between the teeth.