Saturday, 24 June 2017

Under the influence

So these are my main influences. I do like to buy cook books and in my defence, I do tend to read them cover to cover over time unlike some genres I buy. I am that bloke sitting on a tram reading a vegan cookbook.  I am fond of  Arthur Schopenhauer's quote 

"Buying books would be a good thing if one could also buy the time to read them in: but as a rule the purchase of books is mistaken for the appropriation of their contents."

I have tried to be more careful since reading this quote but I do have a weakness for cookbooks. Periodically I do cull them and give plenty away but there is at least another shelf of books in the house on the "I'm not sure about this" or the "past it's hey day but I stil have some affection for it" lists.

But the photo above is the zeitgeist. I recognise five main influences who I am grateful to. Maddhur Jaffrey leads the way. I have always loved her books and stories and these two books are essentials. Prashad gave me the confidence to cook Indian regularly, but Monisha Bharadwaj is my second influence, her India's vegetarian cooking was one of my first Indian cookbooks and where I first began to understand regional variations in Indian cooking. I picked up her The Indian Kitchen from a charity shop and it is really educational about Indian ingredients and spices. More recently her Indian Cookery Course is a great authorative step-by-step guide to Indian cooking techniques.

I loved Meera Sodha's debut and was thrilled her second book was vegetarian. Quirky, with lovely reminiscences of growing up in Lincolnshire, her recipes are fresh and vibrant. 

Fifteen more wonderful  Indian cookbooks follow, three of which are vegan, but it is Richa Hingle who is my fourth influence as well as is her Vegan Richa blog, so informative with really helpful suggestions to veganise traditional recipes as well as her take on world food. A generous soul. 

I have a small selection of Middle Eastern books, my second love, especially Lebanese, I love the simplicity and vibrancy of these dishes.

My fifth influence is Anna Jones. The Guardian food writer not only has an eclectic taste in food and a fondness for  Indian too (her Black dal dish is sublime) but I like how she tries to get you to think for yourself, create your own combinations. I hope she writes a vegan book for her brother some day! 

On the second shelf are what I feel are the best Vegan cookbooks available. Special mention for Isa Does It, Vegan Eats World, Vegan Bowl Attack and The First Mess. Completing the shelf are my pared down set of bread books and Kylee Newton's sensational the modern preserver.I will write about these at a later date... and may be a few not on view, I am thinking of a few battered but much loved paperbacks I still use regularly. 

No doubt there will be additions but when I think less is more, and these books give me a sense of focus. 

So what books do you think are missing from my collection? What is your Desert Island cookbook? 

Monday, 19 June 2017

pressure drop, oh pressure...

"I bet you were not expecting that for your birthday present, were you?" Sue had said two years ago and she was right. A pressure cooker. For years Sue had been reluctant about having a pressure cooker in the house, being quite phobic about them in case they exploded. And there before me was one of those culinary bombs. She thought my love of pulses deserved the right equipment. To be fair, I had never quibbled, I don't mind taking 2- 2 1/2 hours cooking an urid dal, giving it the care and attention it requires. But with a pressure cooker it can be cooked in 30 mins, a bit of a game changer mid-week and environmentally friendly.

I have been reading Vicky Bhogal's "Cooking with Mummyji - Real British Asian cooking" which won awards when it first came out and is soon to be re-released in an updated version with more photographs [edit: actually it has already been published, I was mistaken ] I managed to find a second-hand ex-library copy. It was in near perfect condition having been lent out only twice from a Hampshire library. It cost me £0.01 plus P&P. The book is a little too meaty for my taste it is still a good read with some great recipes, some traditional, some less so. The anecdotes are funny though I probably should not have shared the one that accompanied the urid dal and chana dal recipe I cooked this weekend, the last dregs I will have for lunch tomorrow. She tells of her mother's friend Davinder who rushing to get a meal ready for friends tried to open a pressure cooker of dal too soon leading to an explosion of dal, on the ceiling, the walls, floor and of course, Davinder. Thankfully no-one was hurt but that did not pacify Sue as I got the pressure cooker out to cook the following dal. The result was wonderful. I love whole urid dal, an earthy dal rarely seen in Indian restaurants in the UK. I did see it advertised in a lunch time special in a restaurant in Edinburgh but the bland creamy soup that was presented was a disappointment. This recipe, a very traditional and simple recipe is just lovely.

1/2 cup whole urid dal
1/2 cup chana dal

Or a 100g of each, when I weighed the cups it came to 190g. Whatever. 
Soak over night, or in hot water for several hours then drain.

Put into a pressure cooker and half fill with water... What?? Surely it depends on the size of your pressure cooker? I used to crave exact measurements and get annoyed when a recipe asked for a "bunch" of coriander, or a "thumb size" piece of ginger... What? Sue's thumb size or mine? Now I smile and realise you just have to taste, when I do a recipe for the first time I will show restraint in the spicing. Less is more. You can adjust the spicing in subsequent meals. So this recipe means the result will be a soupy dal. That's great... I add the water and 2 tsp of turmeric and 1 tsp of chilli powder. 30  mins of pressure cooking and this dal is done. Then fry up a small onion until it is going golden and add ginger, chopped green chilli, and garlic. You don't need to be told the quantities, use your instinct. Season with salt (about 2 tsp but it's about adding a little and tasting...  is that right? Does it need a little more? Garam Masala and a "handful" of coriander leaf. Done. Mahaar Chole Dal. It's delicious. It's a keeper. 

Vicky's book is a delight and I hope the new edition brings a wave of new admirers.

Cookbooks.  I love them, they are my teachers. So what is on your book shelf? Which book is your "go to"?

Sunday, 18 June 2017


fantasy (n) the faculty or activity of imagining impossible or improbable things.

So my debut cookbook will be published in Autumn 2023. Provisionally titled bread, dal, grains and greens it has yet to be written. The bidding war between rival publishing companies has literally been non-existent. I am excited. 

What kind of cookbook would you write? Beautifully photographed or plain text? Healthy everyday food or indulgent? Encyclopaedic or your favourite 60 recipes?

I don't think I have a voice as a cook just yet though I am starting to have an idea of what sort of food I like and what kind of book I would like to write. My love of simple sourdough bread would be prominent, and looking how this could influence more traditional flat bread recipes. I love dal, when I get a new cook book it's the first thing I look up in the index. What's a person's signature dal dish. My cook book would have 20+ dal dishes from the simple to the complex  with plenty of opportunities to experiment. I love dal. 

I love the concept of thali dishes, dal, several vegetable dishes, bread or rice, raita, chutney or pickle. I have some thali trays, I love using them, but they do tend to make food look like prison food... elevated prison food perhaps, but prison food none the less. I love the concept of bowl food, and have been playing with the idea of three bowl food (with a nod to the zen kitchen)... Simple presentation using basic crockery found in most supermarkets... three bowls, commonly labelled a pasta bowl, a cereal bowl and a nibble bowl. That might work. I have six years before publication, time to try and explore my favourite recipes, then time to make them my own. Humour me, it's 10 pm and I have another busy week ahead...

Urid dal plus tempeh burger with pineapple chutney for tea tonight. So hot. Eating out in a small back garden with the sound of bees humming. Nice. 

Sunday, 11 June 2017

mindfulness and the art of making chutney

I work in mental health Monday to Friday working with people experiencing  stress, anxiety and depression, based in busy GP clinics. It can be challenging work with dwindling resources but is often rewarding. Come the weekend I crave some peace and quiet 'down time'.  Sunday often follows the course of baking bread, a short run, reading, Netflix, exploring cookbooks and trying new recipes. A Rock 'n' Roll lifestyle it is not. Sometimes I have to use the stress management tools on myself to avoid fretting about my Monday morning clinic and that particularly aggressive GP. God bless the NHS and all who sink in her!

I think though it is baking bread and cooking new recipes which keeps me sane. We share the cooking duties in our household, some times taking turns to cook for each other, sometimes cooking in parallel.  Sue favours strong spicy cuisines, Chinese, Thai, Indonesian and Mexican. Myself, Indian and Middle Eastern. Middle Eastern and Mexican is where we have common ground. I think we both love the street food ethos -  we love the felafel place in town, felafel in pitta with salad and tahini dressing, £3.80,  we are cheap dates!

Fending for myself today I find myself cooking a dal, some jeera rice, steamed broccoli, coconut yoghurt and a chutney. The chutney is homemade yesterday from a fresh pineapple. When your meals consist of dal/beans, veg, rice/bread then it is the little accompaniments that make the difference. In recent times I have been exploring chutneys, pickles and ferments to add a little zing to my meals. 

I love Meera Sodha's cookbooks. Indian home cooking with seasonal Lincolnshire veg. Yum. But this relies on an exotic fresh pineapple. When I grew up pineapple came in tins. Here, I used a fresh pineapple, diced. I heated some rapeseed oil in a pan and added 1tsp of mustard seeds and 1 tsp nigella seads. It should have been more mustard seeds but, embarrassingly, I had run out. I like the taste of nigella seeds so thought they might work. I added chilli powder, grated ginger, black pepper and seasoned with salt. Then added the pineapples and cooked on a low heat  with the lid on for 20 mins. I then added 125g of jaggery -the recipe called for sugar but I thought this would be nicer and I had a piece left over which weighed 127g so it was kind of fate. I continued to cook until it became jam-like, 20-30 mins, but keep an eye on it. Then store in a clean glass jar in the fridge. Allegedly it will last 2 weeks but I don't think it will be around that long. A simple tea this evening elevated by this chutney. Nice.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Half a bunch of fenugreek leaves...


... a sorry looking aubergine and some organic Jersey Royals potatoes. A quick Google and I am watching a you tube video in Hindi. Time to cook.

I boil the potatoes. In a cast iron wok I temper some spices, cumin and mustard seeds and then add a red onion thinly sliced and fry until translucent. I add the chopped aubergine, some garlic, stir, then add a chopped tomato, chilli powder and turmeric. Cook until the aubergine is soft, then add the chopped methi. Drain the potatoes when cooked and chop into pieces. Add to the aubergine mixture and season. Cook a little more until the methi has wilted. 

The Jersey Royals really make this simple dish special. 

Saturday, 3 June 2017

I am so sorry Sue...

Every couple of weeks I get to the Sheffield indoor market. My main goal is to find curry leaves, I love the aroma and dried curry leaves just don't cut it. If I am lucky I may find fresh fenugreek leaves, methi, too. These have to be smuggled into the house as the pungent smell they add to your cooking lingers.  "You've been cooking methi again, haven't  you? " says Sue and then gives me that despairing look the next morning over breakfast. The house does indeed smell of curry. This is not a bad thing.

I learned how to cook this recipe, methi dal fry, four years ago from Dassana Amit's excellent blog "Veg Recipes of India". I use a mix of dals which I usually wash and then soak for a few hours before cooking.

80g toor dal
80g channa dal
80g mung dal
900ml water
3tbs oil (I use a local rapeseed oil)
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 red onion, finely sliced
2 cm piece of ginger, I know, I ought to weigh it, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 green finger chillis, slit
1 dried red chilli, broken up and de-seeded if you prefer (I don't)
1/2 bunch methi, oh okay, about 1 cup of the leaves, maybe a little more.
2 tomatoes, finely chopped
Pinch of asafoetida
1 tsp chilli powder, mine is not too hot but adds colour
1/2 tsp garam masala
Season with salt

Cook the lentils in about 900ml water. Usually about 45 mins dependant on how old your channa dal is. Keep an eye on the pan and add more water if necessary. This depends on how you like your dal. It will also impact on how much salt you add to season.

In a non-stick heavy frying pan or skillet add the oil and heat. Add the cumin seeds, they should darken slightly and release their aroma. Add the onions, garlic, chillis and ginger and cook for several minutes until translucent or, if you prefer, a little further until golden. Add the tomatoes, chilli powder and asafoetida and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the methi leaves and cook until they have wilted. The tomatoes should be nice and soft now. Add to the the cooked dal, adjust the consistency with added water, if you want a thinner dal and season accordingly with salt. Simmer a further 5 mins.

Apologise to any non-curry loving residents in your household. No, seriously, you are in the dog house.


My Legume Love Affair #108