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.

HUMMUS

HUMMUS FUCKING ROCKS. It’s a piece of piss to make and so very cheap that I am amazed by the tiny tubs they sell in supermarkets and the prices they charge.

Basically, to make it, you need a shit-load of chickpeas (garbanzo beans, if you’re in America). Dried are best, but use tinned if you need to.

Soak your dried chickpeas and overnight in loads of water (they will swell). Some people, myself included, add a teaspoonful of bicarb and a teaspoonful of salt to this water.

Change the water, adding a teaspoonful of salt to the fresh water, and boil or pressure cook, the soaked chickpeas until they are soft.

Drain the cooked chickpeas, reserving the stock.

Set a few cupfuls of cooked chickpeas aside.

Then add:

A jar of tahini (for 1 kilo of dried chickpeas) – an essential ingredient (Dark or light, doesn’t matter; both nice), which adds a dry note to the taste and improves the texture. Tahini has a habit of separating and the solids sinking to the bottom of the jar, and mine had to be practically chiseled out, but that’s OK.

Lemon juice (I’m lucky enough to have a lemon tree in my front yard, so I used the juice from the lemon crop, which I’d frozen in ice cube trays, but have no objection to using bottled lemon juice. Lemons can be ridiculously expensive, and you’ll need far more than you think.) Add until it tastes a bit lemony.

Garlic which has been crushed to a pulp with salt. Some people, myself included, believe that the salt partly cures the garlic, knocking off some of that raw taste. (During an office discussion over this a couple of years ago, one of my former managers, a bit of a funny bugger, got the right hump over the very suggestion of this and tried to start an argument – it seemed to me an odd hill to choose to die on, especially as I don’t really give a fuck what you do with your own hummus.) If you’re planning to freeze some of the hummus, leave the garlic out and add it after you’ve defrosted.

Salt.

Black pepper.

Blend, blend, blend. Get it as smooth as you can. I use a stick blender. Add some of the cooking stock, if you need to. Don’t leave it too thick. In fact, make it a bit wetter than you think you need to, if that makes sense.

Once blended, stir the saved whole chickpeas through.

Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle paprika and drizzle oil on the top (this not only adds another taste/visual/texture element, but it stops it developing a crust.)

Keeps in the fridge for about a week.

I saw a television show recently where Ottolenghi went to Tel Aviv’s best hummus shop and had a big bowl of hummus, served with chunks of raw onion; sprinkled with the juice from pickled chillis and scooped up with fresh pitta. Fuck me, it looked good. I didn’t have any pickled chillis, so I substituted dill cucumbers and their juice, along with a segmented brown onion and a Lebanese pitta (I always keep some in the freezer.) This too was delicious.

TINNED SPAGHETTI ON TOAST

Carb-avoiders avert your eyes

A lot of once-popular meals have found themselves going through the complete cycle, from being staple parts of the diet, to being out of vogue and rather naff, to being rediscovered, albeit with a sense of irony and a hip twist. This dish is somewhere on that cycle. Tinned spaghetti on toast was something I’d be fed with regularly as a kid, when cheap and filling were the only essential ingredients in food. I would gladly never have eaten it again, once I had discovered that there was a whole world of other foods available.

The pleasures are simple in this retro-classic: it’s old-skool enough to not give a single seventies shit about piling one lot of carbs (coated in a delicious, sugar-laden, tomato sauce to boot) on top of another load of carbs (slathered in butter).

A quick look at the internet unearths a few twists to this: adding melted cheese, using fancy-pants pasta and sauce…NO, you hipster fuckers! You open a tin of spaghetti, heat it up and pour it on some toast. In fact, I think I’m already pushing my luck by using brown bread. The only acceptable variations to this dish are to change up to spaghetti hoops (for a special occasion, like) or – if you’re really posh or learning to read – alphabetti spaghetti.

Turns out my wife has brown sauce (HP) with hers. For the sake of marital harmony, I will leave this without further comment.

Also, this is one of the only dishes where the use of margarine is acceptable (but not your modern, butter-wannabe shite – this calls for crappy Blue Riband-style margarine-tasting margarine, full of trans fats, the type that clickbait articles tell you the flies won’t even touch.)

Whilst I grew up on food like this, I rarely eat it nowadays. I’m always really glad when I do, though. However, it’s important to recognise the vast difference in experience between rediscovering and appreciating a meal like this anew, and needing to eat it for the third time this week, because that’s all there is.