Thursday, September 16, 2010

Glass Onion (part A)

This is going to sound conceited. At least I hope it doesn't.

I get asked, a lot more often than you'd expect, for recipes. Specifically vegetarian recipes that I have (ahem) perfected over the last 20 years. With one exception - this being Lu who bi-annually asks me for my turkey soup recipe.

Just the other day, the wife said, "Can you write down blah blah blah for blah at work?"

So, I decided that perhaps I could, you know, universally do them, rather than scrawl my spidery writing across a tatty bit of paper that will eventually get lost or incorporated into some bad cook's latest evil creation - accidentally, I hope.

So, to kick this off, here are three house faves...

Saag Paneer (or spinach and cheese)

1 large onion
1 inch chunk of fresh ginger
4 cloves of garlic
3 medium sized tomatoes - softer and redder the better.
1 300g or as near as damn it bag of spinach
1 packet of paneer - approx £1.75 worth
A good handful of coriander leaves

That's your basic ingredients. You can substitute the paneer with potatoes or even chicken if you really want to stick intensively reared creatures in your food.

You will also need:
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
½tsp turmeric
¼tsp chilli powder (more if you like it hotter, but not much more, this is a) a dish about flavour and b) once you put over a certain amount of chilli in anything it doesn't really get any hotter, it just starts to taste of chilli powder.)
2 tsp garam masala - now, I actually find Natco GM really good value and just aromatic enough; there are other good makes, if you don't want to make your own. I do however add
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp asafoteida (optional - my own jury is still out over whether I can taste a difference when I remember to use it)
salt - more than you'd imagine, but I'll not tell you how much, you need to work that out for yourself.
½ tsp mustard seeds - white or black, or use fennel seeds to give it a slightly different taste.
Oil (or ghee or butter)
Water or milk or cream

The method:

Fry chopped onions and ginger until golden, add all your spices except the garam masala and then fry gently until you start seeing the oil again - now coloured by the spices. Add your chopped tomatoes, garlic (never at the start or it will burn) and garam masala and cook this down until it makes a sauce that essentially looks like a curry. Now, you could add some cooked vegetables and some water to this and make a perfectly good curry as it stands, but...
Put your spinach in a bowl, cover and microwave for 3½ minutes, then let it stand to one side.
In a separate frying pan, get some butter, some cumin seeds and heat until the seeds are beginning to frizzle. Then add your cubed paneer chunks and fry gently, being careful not to burn it, because it burns quite easily. When you've gently fried most of the sides, transfer this and the butter and seeds straight into your masala mixture in the other pan - which you've reduced the heat on or turned off, depending on how cooked it is.
Mix the lot together and leave to steep. Get the spinach, and a spatula and go to the sink. You want to squeeze the excess water out of it, but not mangle it. There should be about half a cup of slightly brownish green water collecting in the bottom of the bowl, discard this, or put it in a jug. Then put the spinach into a blender with the coriander leaf and blitz the living daylights out of it. you want something that looks like Regan from the Exorcist spewed at Damien Karras! A kind of vibrant green smoothie. Add this to the other mixture and stir it together. you'll notice that the spinach takes over.
If it is too thick, you can always put a little milk into the blender container and swirl out the left over spinach and add that to make it a little thinner - if you need to; sometimes there's a lot of moisture in the spinach and it isn't needed. Right at the end after you've heated the mixture through, you can add a dollop of cream, just to give it a creamier consistency. I often use a bit of milk, sometimes I don't bother. depends on the kind of flavour I fancy.

You can also towards the end of cooking throw in some sliced green finger chillis, ala your local Bengali restaurant. I don't, but I know people that do.

Have it with some boiled rice and a naan.

Cheese and Lentil Loaf

I can't take any credit for inventing the above recipe, nor can I for this, which is a variation of a Sarah Brown recipe that the wife adapted to suit her tastes and I've since tweaked.

6 oz red lentils cooked till soft and pease puddingy consistency.
3 oz strong mature cheddar - grated
1 small onion or shallot - chopped finely
some fresh seasonal herbs - chopped
an egg - optional
red pepper - chopped up relatively small
a slug of wine

Fry your onions and red pepper until they start to look cooked, you can add some wine to this while its frying. Put to one side. If your lentils are cooked correctly and all the water is gone, you should be able to whip it up into a sort of mashed potato consistency, when you done this, add the cheese and continue beating it like you would a cake mixture. Add your herbs and the onions and peppers, with the oil they cooked in and mix together again. Then leave to stand until cool.
Now, you can add the egg now, which will help it rise in the oven, or if you want to go vegan leave it out, the loaf will be a little heavier, but if you're using it as an alternative to a Sunday roast, then this works very well. If you want to use it with a salad, or as a pate styled sandwich filler, the egg makes it more user friendly - malleable.
Bung the mixture into a greased loaf tin or a Pyrex dish and stick it in a hot oven - about 190 degrees - for about 45 minutes, but sometimes it needs up to an hour. Leave it to stand for a little while before attempting to turn it out or take slices from it. It needs to firm up a little.

Goes well with loads of things and is very versatile.

Phil's Chilli non carne

Most people do a chilli; most people think their chilli is the dog's bollocks. The best chilli I ever had wasn't in Mexico, it was in a pub called the Britannia in Northampton, a couple of months before I got married! I've never had a meat or veggie version anywhere that compared to this since. But, I've honed my vegetable chilli to the point where I think it is my best meal. My signature dish, as it were. Nothing posh or poncy, just good solid tasty food with a kick.

Now, this is also one of the few recipes where I advocate the use of quorn. Personally, I'm not a big fan of it. I think, in general,. it reminds me of spam with all but the essence of flavour taken out. but, the mince works for me big time, even if people criticise me for having a meat substitute. To my knowledge no animals died making quorn, unless they were fed the initial batches and had adverse reactions to a substance that is pretty horrible in its production. I've heard quorn referred to a Vegetarian Soylent Green.

This recipe works well with quorn, or alternatively with a selection of mixed pulses, soya mince - if you want to subject yourself this this... substance or chunky cut root vegetables. It's one of those fantastic one-pot meals and over the years I've discovered the best thing to do with it is just chuck it all in at the same time and cook it. Don't ponce about. This is something that takes 20 minutes to prepare and you leave it. As long as it doesn't stick or burn and keeps most of its liquid, the longer you cook this and then leave it to steep, the tastier it is.

1 large onion - chopped finely
3 cloves garlic - smashed to bits
2 red chillies or ½ tsp chilli powder
tin of red kidney or pinto beans - drained and rinsed
tin of tomatoes - blitzed in a blender
1 tsp cumin powder
chopped mixed peppers - as much or as little as you want (optional)
chopped mushrooms - ditto as above and also optional
a squirt of marmite
½ tsp stock powder - low salt preferably
black pepper and salt
Tomato puree - if needed

AND... if you're feeling very adventurous, you could grate a couple of chunks of high cocoa content chocolate into it or some cocoa powder. If you do though, balance it out with ½ tsp of cinnamon.

Fry your onions and your cumin, add your garlic and fry a little longer, add your vegetables or fungus, fry for about another minute and then chuck everything else in - tomatoes, kidney beans, stock, marmite and if it looks a little anaemic then put a tablespoon of tomato puree in it as well. Stick the lid on, turn it down as long as it can go and leave it for at least two hours - stirring occasionally.

Goes well with brown basmati rice, Morrison's Nacho Cheese tortilla chips, chopped raw onion or fresh crusty bread. Keeps well; freezes well and any non-quorn variation is vegan friendly.

Next time

When I can be arsed, I have a couple of pasta dishes to share, another 2 curry dishes, how to make the tastiest chicken and mushroom pie without the chicken you could imagine; my now almost famous samosa pie - which is a kind of cross between Indian samosas, Punjabi samosas and a Beef Wellington (but obviously without the beef!) and a pasta starter to compete with anything the top chefs can come up with!

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