BIRYANI

I HADN’T HAD A BIRYANI IN YONKS. Then, the other week, we were having a few days away in Sydney, stuffing as many of that fine city’s foodie-treats as we could into our fat faces, and my wife suggested we have tea here, because it’s a bit of a Sydney institution. I didn’t have to be asked twice.

Occupying the midway space between fast food joint and curry house, their specialty is knocking out plates piled high with meat or chicken, spiced to your preferred level, under mounds of long grained basmati, glossy, succulent, and with the occasional crispy bit. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

This started a biryani craving, and my internet research led me to this recipe, which I followed almost exactly (for me) – I used skin-off, boned chicken thighs, cooked my onions in ghee, forgot to add the coriander before cooking, so added it after, did the final cook in the oven. This was a total success. If I’d had this in any restaurant, I’d have been raving about it…in fact, I was raving about it.

So, I strongly suggest you give it a go. It’s fancy enough to be a special, weekend/day off dinner, but not particularly time-consuming.

I served it with just a dollop of plain yoghurt.

Fancying a vegetable/vegan biryani, I thought I’d give it a go and it worked out really well.

INGREDIENTS::

Top layer – where you hope to achieve that combination of glossiness, crispness, lightness and fragrance.

Basmati rice 450 grams

Water 3 litres

1 star anise

10 cloves

6 green cardamom pods.

2 tbsp salt

5 Bay leaves

Middle layer – where the onions bring succulence and sweetness and the coriander adds that soapy floral note.

5 or 6 medium brown onions

Vegetable oil, I used sunflower

Copped fresh coriander.

Bottom layer – where the protein and your own choice of seasonal/available vegetables, contained in a delicious sauce bring the texture and an intense hit of spicy flavour.

A few potatoes, cubed

A couple of carrots, sliced

Half a green capsicum, chopped

Half a cauliflower, broken into florets

Tin chickpeas, drained

2 cups soya yoghurt (or 1 tin coconut milk)

Vegetable oil (I used sunflower)

6 garlic cloves

2 tsp ginger

½ tsp turmeric

¼ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp ground cardamom

½ tsp cayenne

2 tsp garam masala

2 tsp ground coriander

1 tbsp ground cumin

2 tbsp paprika

Salt to taste (approx 1 ¾ tsp)

About a cupful of water

1. Slice onions. Gently fry them in the oil until caramelised, golden and sweet. Resist the urge to over cook them.

2. Bring water to the boil in large saucepan. Add vegetables according to length of cooking time (I added spuds and carrots, then cauliflower and capsicum 5 minutes later) and boil until they are partly cooked. Remove with a sieve or slotted spoon.

3. Add rice, spices and salt to water and cook for 4 mins, then drain.

4. I blended together the garlic, ginger, oil and yoghurt, (but you can do this by hand, if you prefer) then put it in a bowl with the spices and a drop of water.

5. Add the par-cooked vegetables and chick peas to the mix and make sure it’s well-mixed.

6 Put the veg and spicy sauce mix into the pan.

7. Layer on the caramelised onions.

8. Sprinkle the chopped coriander leaves evenly over the top.

9. Add the par-cooked rice (leaving the whole spices in).

10. Put the lid on the pan, and place in the oven at around 200°C for about 30 mins. You’ll smell when it’s done.

Once more, I’d forgotten to take a photo of the finished meal, so here’s one of some of the leftovers I took to work the next day.

There’s an interesting article on vegetable biryani here. I know you should never read the comments, but fuck me…!

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.

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.

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.

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.