CHICKEN DUPIAZA

I had a day off yesterday and I’d received family requests for chicken curry. Rather than just make it up as I go along, I thought I’d dig out a recipe book that I picked up in a charity shop for a whopping 75p years ago and actually try to follow a recipe: Murghi do-piazza (Chicken with onions). Dupiaza was one of my frequent choices when we lived in Brum, and I’ve always got lots of onions to hand, so thought I’d give this a go.

The book is Michael Pandya’s Complete Indian Cookbook. Published in the early eighties, it gives a basic grounding in Indian ingredients and simple recipes for a wide range of vegetarian and meat dishes. I’ve referred to it a few times over the years, which makes it a success as a cookery book.

I failed to follow the recipe to the letter, but the dish was an enormous success. The only changes I made were using soy yoghurt, instead of dairy, because that’s what I had in the fridge, and swapping fresh ginger for the dried in the original recipe, slicing the tomatoes,rather than quartering them, and cooking the garnish onions in thick rings.

It worked well. Really well – the sauce, both sweet from the onions and zingy from the lemons, was really much more complex than it would have been if I’d just improvised.

Such are the comings and goings in our house, that we frequently all eat at different times, so I just tend to leave the pans on the side and the kids help themselves when they get in/get up/get hungry or whatever.

When I got up this morning it’d all gone. Which is about as good a recommendation as you’re going to get. If you’re reading this, Mr Pandya, I salute you!

The leftovers.

INGREDIENTS:

1 chicken

1/2 to 1 tablespoon salt

2 tablespoons lemon juice

175g ghee

4 large onion, coarsely chopped.

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 inch/2.5 cm ginger, crushed.

300ml yoghurt

300ml water

6 cloves

1 green cardamom pod

12 black peppercorns

2 x 1 inch/2.5cm peices cinnamon

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon chilli powder

Topping:

1 teaspoon garam masala

2 large tomatos, sliced.

1 onion, sliced and fried in rings.

Cut the chicken into pieces, feed the carcass and skin to the dog or use it to make stock.

Rub the salt and lemon juice into the chicken pieces and leave to stand for half an hour.

Heat the ghee in a pan and add the cloves, cardamom, peppercorns, cinnamon, then the chicken, onions, garlic and remaining spices. Cook gently for 15 minutes, keeping the ingredients moving to stop them catching.

Over a low heat, stir in the yoghurt, then the water and any juice from the slated chicken. Cover and simmer until the chicken is tender (40-50 mins).

Sprinkle with garam masala, arrange the tomatoes and onion slices on top and place, uncovered in a moderate oven (around 180C)for 10 minutes before serving.

We had ours with this delicious rice.

PULAU BROWN RICE

An acquaintance of mine in the 1990s moved to Balsall Heath and, being a bit of an obsessive sort of chap, set about immersing himself in the culture there. As a result, he lived almost entirely on food bought from the local south Asian grocers, eschewing supermarkets.

He did lots of research on how to make decent south Asian food and I still have a couple of photocopied sheets of recipes which he passed on to me, and which I still refer to all these years later.

This recipe is one of them. I’d no idea what book it was taken from, until my extensive internet research this morning led me to Indian Vegetarian Cooking by Jack Santa Maria, – long out of print, but still available as an ebook. My yellowing and stained photocopy bears the handwritten quantities for using brown rice instead of white, which works really well, especially if you can find brown Basmati rice.

I’ve made and enjoyed this hundreds of times, and there is no greater recommendation than that. It works well in either a pan (on stove top or in the oven) or a rice cooker, although you need to fry the onions in a pan first if you’re using the latter. And it’s delicious, either fresh and hot or as a cold rice salad the next day.

INGREDIENTS:

255 grams Brown Basmati Rice (if you can’t find brown Basmati, use whatever brown rice you’ve got).

2 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil

1 onion, sliced

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped.

1 inch/2.5cm piece of ginger, finely chopped.

6 cloves

2 inches/5 cm cinnamon, broken

1/2 teaspoon paprika

2 green cardamom pods

1 teaspoon garam masala

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon salt

1 pint/just under 1/2 litre water

Coriander leaves, chopped (optional)

Fry the onion in the ghee until it’s starting to turn golden, then add the garlic and ginger. Cook for a few minutes more. You want soft-golden-caramelised, not crispy-brown-burnt.

Add the rice and the rest of the ingredients and stir until coated in the ghee/oil and cooked a little bit.

If using a rice cooker, transfer ingredients into the cooker, de-glaze the pan with the water and add that to the rice.

Otherwise, add the water to the pan and cook gently, covered, either on a stove top or in a medium oven

Garnish with the coriander, if you choose.

I completely forgot to take a picture of the finished rice, but this is what it looks like when you’ve added the rice and other ingredients to the pan.

MAKING FACON

Fear can

I DON’T MISS MUCH ABOUT ENGLAND, to be honest. In fact, since the whole Brexit debacle has kicked off, I’m really quite glad to be one 16,328.404 kilometre step removed from it all. I find it disturbing enough to watch from here.

I used to miss British beers, until I gave up the piss; I miss watching my football team (the mighty Leyton Orient, in case you were interested); I miss the chips; I miss Birmingham’s multiculturalism, London’s pie and mash shops, beigel bakeries (yes – beigel bakeries), and my mates (although those who can have got the fuck out of Dodge.)

Bacon in Australia just isn’t the same. I’ve tried the very best and the very cheapest and every step in between, including those purporting to be British or Irish-style. None tastes as good as even the cheapest shit there. Don’t know why.

When I was vegan, there were two types of facon available: the one made of gluteny stuff, shaped and dyed to look rasher-like, with a taste similar to a Frazzle (an allegedly smokey bacon flavour snack from my youth). I preferred the tempeh rashers. These were more expensive, but less artificial in both construction and flavour.

After a few years of trying to find the right Aussie bacon for me, I kind of gave up and thought to myself, I’d rather have a tempeh rasher. However, they seem to have been discontinued long ago.

Once the preserve of ‘health food’ stores and Asian grocers, tempeh is now far more common (available in most supermarkets here) and it’s really easy to make your own facon rashers.

Block party.
Tempeh tantrum.

Block of tempeh, sliced.

Two tbsp veg oil (I used sunflower)

Teaspoonful of smoked paprika.

2 tbsps of Tamari (although any soy sauce will be fine)

Tbsp honey or brown sugar or maple syrup.

Marinating in the marinade.

All you do is marinate the sliced tempeh in the other ingredients and fry like you would if it were sliced pig-arse.

SOUPE AU PISTOU

I FIRST TASTED THIS DISH when it was cooked for me by my then prospective mother-in-law, a woman with a bit of an Elizabeth David fixation, when I was a vegan. It moved straight into my repertoire of delicious winter dinners, where it has remained ever since.

Essentially, this is a mixed vegetable and white bean soup, more of a stew, really, with some pasta added and served with a basil/garlic ‘pistou’ (the French version of pesto). It’s healthy, wholesome, can be easily made in either vegan or vegetarian versions and pretty cheap.

It’s a good recipe to use up those vegetables that have seen better days from the crisper drawer of the fridge and is good for freezing.

In my humble opinion, if people on the bus/in the lift/in the street aren’t asking where that strong smell of garlic is coming from two or three days after you’ve eaten this, you’ve failed.

If you want a better example of my haphazard method, you won’t find one. I decided to cook this for tea on a whim at lunchtime on a day off work. In a perfect world, I’d have gone out and bought the right veggies, rather than digging out what was in the fridge, and soaked the beans overnight, but…

INGREDIENTS

For the soup:

White beans (Cannallini, Haricot, Great Northern – whatever) – either dried or canned. I used dried Great Northern

Olive oil

Chopped onion

Crushed garlic

A leek would have been nice.

Chopped celery

Diced carrot

Diced capsicum (mine was kind of 50/50 green/red)

Diced potato

Diced zucchini/courgette

Glug of leftover prosecco

Water

Few bay leaves

Some chopped bits of tomato, leftover from breakfast.

1 tin tomatoes (these were mini ones, but chopped or full size ones will be just as good)

Some recipes include chopped fresh parsley, but I didn’t have any, so used a bit of dried thyme instead.

Salt

Black pepper.

Small pasta shapes (added 10 minutes before serving) – I used little shells.

For the pistou:

Bunch of fresh basil leaves

Garlic

Olive oil

Salt

Black pepper

Parmesan (or similar) cheese, if desired. This can be incorporated into the pistou or,a swe did, sprinked on top after, using pecorino the first night and walnuts the second. Walnuts work really well if you want to replace the cheese for a vegan.

I notice that Rick Stein adds a tomato to his, but I haven’t. Ponce.

If you’re really pushed, or if basil isn’t cheap and plentiful where you live, then use a jar of shop-bought pesto.

Essentially, what you do is make a veg soup (by cooking down the vegetables in more or less in the order listed above, then adding fluid, whilst cooking the beans (or opening the cans), then add pasta and beans to the soup and adjusting the seasoning…et voila!

You then blend the pistou ingredients into a paste and serve a dollop on each serving.

In my case, I pressure cooked the beans for far too long, so I ended up adding a panful of bean pulp + disengaged husks. Never mind, though – still delicious.

ICED COFFEE

UNTIL I MOVED TO ADELAIDE, I’D NEVER TASTED ICED COFFEE. Along with AFL, pawpaw cream, emu oil, bikie associates and the chicken parmie, it’s one of those things that are almost ubiquitous here, and virtually unknown in most other places.

Very soon after arriving, we’d noticed that it was everywhere; predominantly Farmers Union down here in those days, although their market share has been encroached upon by many pretenders to the iced coffee throne in the intervening years. Apparently, it out-sells Coca-cola – this is one of those things people in Adelaide tell to newcomers (along with “It’s a large country town”, “two degrees of separation” and “I like to smoke a bit of ice to get the housework done”). I remember me and the little ‘un, keen to start living the ADL dream, going out one morning and sitting on a bench overlooking the sea (or ‘ocean’. As we’d come to know it) and drinking a Farmers Union Strong, which tastes like cold, watery-milky instant coffee with a shit-load of sugar, served in a tetra-brick. Not bad at all.

Iced coffee: the perennial Adelaide favourite.

I later went on to try the fancy ones available in cafes, which suffer from the curse of Australian food, which is Too Many Ingredients. Essentially, they end up being a coffee-based knickerbocker glory.

I’d assumed that iced coffee was introduced to Australia by Vietnamese migrants at the end of the last century, but, according to wikipedia, it’s been around a lot longer than that. The warm weather makes you want your drinks cool, I suppose.

Just the first of many Vietnamese iced coffees.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure to visit Vietnam, where I did my best to drink as much coffee as possible. These varied in quality, from those where single-filter coffee, full of bitter dark chocolate notes drips tantalisingly slowly into a glass of ice, cooling before it touches the layer of condensed milk in the bottom of the glass, where both elements mingle into, what has to be, one of the world’s great coffee – if not taste – experiences, to those that tasted a bit rough-arsed and Caterer’s Blend-y.

So, here’s my recipe for iced coffee. Sometimes I drink it with sugar; sometimes I don’t.

Large shot of espresso (see here).

Milk (whichever variety tickles your fancy)

Brown sugar

Ice

Dissolve the sugar in the coffee and pour over the ice. Add the milk. Drink. Best served whilst wondering if the weather will ever get cooler again.

BREAKFAST SMOOTHIE

I MENTIONED THIS IN A PREVIOUS POST. It’s a smoothie I make every work morning in my Nutribullet and don’t drink until I’m sitting at work at my desk, where I find it sweetens the blow as I am forced to ponder the crushing reality of another day at the (figurative) coalface. I sometimes vary the ingredients and am constantly surprised that I continue to find it so delicious. It’s also full of lots of good stuff, ‘keeps me regular’, and keeps me sustained until lunchtime.

INGREDIENTS

Mixed the night before:

Half a cup (~70g) of muesli.

1 dried fig

1 dried date (pitted)

Kombucha, water, fruit juice or milk to soak overnight.

Added before blending:

1 banana (fresh or frozen)

Handful of frozen berries.

Large dollop of yoghurt (I use homemade soy).

Ice cubes or water, if needed.

Sometimes, I add a quarter teaspoonful of turmeric powder, which adds a pleasant dry taste.

If I have any odd bits of leftover tofu (which happens more than you’d imagine), that goes in.

Blend until smooth and drink whilst getting paid.

KNOW YOUR ONIONS

I’D FIND LIFE VERY DIFFICULT WITHOUT ONIONS.

Leaving aside pickled onions for a moment, which we get though a fair whack of in this house, as I’m married to a pickled onion fanatic (and let me take a moment to pay tribute to the delightful tiny cocktail onions which blessed my Gibsons, before I stopped drinking alcohol). I tend to buy three types: red onions (which, for some unknown reason, are called Spanish onions round these parts), spring onions (or scallions to our American comrades) and brown onions.

I generally use the red onions for salads, often lightly pickling the sliced onion segments in the bottom of the salad bowl, either in lemon juice or vinegar, as I prepare the other ingredients. It’s also worth noting that a red onion, sliced in half against the grain, is a thing of remarkable beauty.

Spring onions are obviously good for dishes originating in Asia, like stir-fries or ramen, or indeed in salads – but not in the truly wretched British salads of my childhood, which consisted of a couple of lettuce leaves, some slices of cucumber, a couple of tomato quarters, a couple of spring onions and some protein (usually one of the following: a hard-boiled egg, some cheese, a slice of ham, Spam, tinned corned beef, tinned salmon), with only a blob of Salad Cream to alleviate the suffering.

As I use brown onions for all other basic cooking, from finely chopped in sauces and stews, to sliced and fried on a sausage or vegeburger sandwich, I get through a lot more of these.

Spem in Allium.

Here, then, is my hot tip: I always buy brown onions by the sack. In my experience, a sack costs not much more than what at small net of onions costs (see above pictures) and contains about ten times more. It’ll be ages before they start to sprout and go soft (pick out any that do), and you’ll have already saved loads of money. Obviously, you need to have somewhere to store them, and I’m fortunate to have room. Keep an eye out for any that go off, though, because they stink.

If you come to the end of a jar of pickled onions, don’t discard the vinegar, try just filling the jar with sliced brown onions. They’ll quickly pickle and are delicious.

As something of an afterthought, it came to me that I should include onion powder here. I’d never used this until a year or so ago, when I saw it being included in lots of American cooking shows. If you’re making something burger-y, onion powder is a fantastic addition; it gives loads of onion flavour without disrupting the form of the burger. Anyone who has despaired as their vegeburgers fall apart in the pan will appreciate this. It’s also essential in those barbecque or chilli sauces that you make for, say, baked beans or Buffalo wings.

YOGHURT

Yoghurt is truly wonderful stuff. I still recall getting a tub of flavoured yoghurt as a treat as a kid and just loving it. In those days, it was all fruit pulp and sugar. Things are very different now, with supermarkets having a huge range of flavoured and unflavoured yoghurts to choose from. (In Australia, I think we have to give a big shout out to our Greek community for pushing things forward in this area). Still, similar to the hummus situation: such small tubs; such high cost.

The English-speaking world struggles with the word yoghurt. It’s apparently Turkish in origin and the way people say the word in English tends to fall into two camps: yo-gurt and yog-ert. I think each group considers the other’s pronunciation as odd and slightly foolish. I come from the yog-ert part of the world and live in the yo-gert part, can’t find it in myself to change and have had to come to terms with the fact that I sound faintly ridiculous.

I eat yoghurt most days, either in my morning muesli smoothie or with something like preserved peaches or a drizzle of honey for a simple dessert. Making dairy or non-dairy versions are just as easy, as the same ‘good’ bacteria work on both dairy and plant milks.

That, dear reader, is the perfect consistency.

Years ago, when I was a vegan, I started making my own soy yoghurt. The homemade stuff is really cheap, has all the good stuff in it (blah, blah, probiotics), and can be made with the minimum of faffing about.

In the old days, I had a wide-necked thermos and I’d bring a pan of soy milk up to just below the boil, let it cool to just above blood temperature (too hot, the bacteria will die; too cold, the bacteria won’t multiply), take off the skin, then add a bit of the previous batch (or some shop-bought live yoghurt) and let it sit overnight.

More recently, I’d been making it directly in mason jars using much the same method, only this time putting the filled jars into an esky with a jar of boiling water overnight to maintain the temperature.

However, about six months ago, I bought myself a rice cooker. Turns out that the ‘keep warm’ setting is perfect for yoghurt fermentation. I just pour in two litres of unsweetened soy milk, add the starter (either the last of the previous batch or a few tablespoons of bought yoghurt), flick the switch and leave overnight. I end up with two litres of thick, delicious, nutritious soy yoghurt.

My extensive internet research tells me (rightly or wrongly) that I don’t need to bring my milk up to near-boiling point anymore, so I don’t.

I primarily use unsweetened soy milk, largely because it has a good protein content (as opposed to, say, oat or almond milk, is lower in cholesterol than cow’s milk, and has a pleasant ‘beany’ taste. Also, I’ve found that different brands of soy milk produce very different results – not so much in flavour, but in consistency. I recently tried hemp milk, which made a runny yoghurt, with a pleasant taste, but cost a dollar or so more per litre.

I understand that you can also put it in your pants if you get thrush.

MUESLI

MUESLI IS PROBABLY THE MOST VIRTUOUS of all the breakfast choices. I find it a bit hard work to be honest – even possessing a set of teeth resilient enough to have survived the dentistry inflicted on the British working class, I still find all that chewing tedious; there’s just not enough hours in the day. Much of the commercially available, ready-mixed muesli is all-filler-no-killer, so to speak; heavy on the wheat flakes and light on the tasty shit. I make my own.

Approximately twice a year I fill my shopping trolley with a variety of nuts, seeds and dried fruits, which I mix at home with rolled oats and eat each work day morning. Whilst this is something of a financial investment initially, you have to keep telling yourself as they scan them through the checkout, that the cost-per-day is negligible, especially as you will be able to start your day with a delicious and righteous meal of plant protein, good fats and soluble fibre.

Because of the chewing issue, I’ve taken to soaking it overnight (in homemade kombucha, don’t you know, but you can use water, milk or fruit juice; whatever floats your breakfast boat) and including them in a fuck off breakfast smoothie, which I drink at my desk (I’ll do a separate post about this).

The ingredients and quantities will vary in each batch, according to what’s cheap and available (or not available), but I get as many of the following as possible and mix them in with some cheap rolled oats:

Brazil nuts

Hazelnuts

Almonds

Walnuts

Pumpkin seeds/pepitas

Sunflower seeds

Chia seeds

Hemp seeds

Dried apricots

Dried cranberries

Sultanas

Cranberries

Then I just save the dry mix in plastic tubs and use a half-scoop a day until it’s time to start again.

GARLIC KNUCKLE-DUSTER

WE EAT A LOT OF GARLIC. I’m old enough and white enough to remember the days when, If someone had had, say, a curry the night before, everyone would comment on the smell. I can still remember how exotic and delightful the taste was when I first used it when I left home and started cooking for myself – we would NEVER have had it at home when I was growing up.

Describing how alien garlic was to the British working class tastebuds would now seem almost unbelievable. I think its absence from British food until relatively recently was due to the Protestant fear of inflaming the passions. I’ve always quite liked the smell on other people, to be honest, and have never really given a shit if I sail around on a garlicy waft myself, or indeed if my passions become inflamed.

Along with flossing my teeth, filling the car with petrol and unloading the dishwasher, I find crushing garlic a bit of a ball-ache. Getting the skins off, chopping, mincing…not a major ball-ache, but just a rather tedious element of cooking, a process I otherwise enjoy greatly.

I own a traditional hinged garlic press, which I never use, because of the large amount of uncrushed garlic which remains inside, making it both inefficient and a pain in the arse to clean. I also own a pestle and mortar, which is good for grinding a few cloves down with salt. Mostly, though, I’d just use my knife to finely chop and/or puree it with a little salt.

Until recently that is, when I saw an advert for this little tool. It’s basically a garlic crushing knuckle duster which makes short work out of garlic crushing, either with salt or without, but also rinses off very easily afterwards. I bought mine from AliExpress for about $6 I think, and have used it regularly ever since. It also easily rinses clean under the tap after use.

A quick bit of internet research tells me that our current unelected head of state doesn’t eat garlic. Although this is probably a generational thing, it also turns out that lizards hate garlic. I’ll leave you to form your own conclusions.