Pea and Pistachio Chelow Rice

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Lately, I have started to experiment with different ways of cooking rice. I’m in my thirties, so it seems like the right time. I can no longer get away with experimenting with blue hair, cocktails made from whatever bottles of drink were left behind from the last party or unsuitable romantic partners, so I have to make my own fun and embrace my sad hobbies. This chelow rice is a traditional Persian dish from Greg and Lucy Malouf’s beautiful book Saraban and it’s simply a foolproof way to cook perfect rice. There are quite a lot of instructions, and it’s a bit more complicated then your standard plain boil approach, or even Anna  Jones’ lovely ‘high heat, low heat, no heat’ method, but it is worth it for the fluffy but defined rice with the slightest bite that it yields. You can just use the method to make plain rice, with the butter and oil, and it will still be an outstanding dish.

Serves 4-6 as a side dish

Ingredients

  • 300g basmati rice
  • 2 tablespoons sea salt
  • 350g peas
  • 70ml rapeseed oil
  • 1 large Spanish onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 bunch of dill, chopped
  • 100g pistachio nuts
  • 40g unsalted butter
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 strip of lemon peel
  • Neutral oil e.g. sunflower or rapeseed

Method

  • Wash the rice in cold running water, and then leave to soak for 30 minutes in a large bowl of lukewarm water, stirring occasionally with your hand to loosen the starch.
  • Strain the rice and rinse again with warm water.
  • Boil two litres of water in a large saucepan, add the salt and then the rice.
  • Boil, uncovered, for five minutes.
  • Quickly blanch the peas in boiling water in a separate pan for thirty seconds then drain.
  • You can test the rice by biting into it, it should be soft on the outside but still hard in the middle.
  • Drain the rice in a sieve and rinse with warm water, then shake and toss it a few times to try and drain as much water out as you can.
  • Melt the butter in a small saucepan and add two tablespoons of warm water.
  • Heat the saucepan again over a medium heat and add the oil and two teaspoons of water (be careful, it might spit a bit).
  • When the oil begins to sizzle, carefully spoon in a layer of rice to cover the base.
  • Quickly mix the peas with the remaining rice and then gradually, spoon by spoon, build a pyramid of rice over the base of rice in the saucepan.
  • Poke five or six holes into the pyramid using the handle of a wooden spoon to allow the steam to escape.
  • Sit the garlic and lemon peel on top of the rice.
  • Drizzle the melted butter and water evenly over the rice.
  • Wrap the sauce pan lid in a tea towel, being careful to tuck it in so none of the towel ends up burning on your stove, and cover the pan with it.
  • Leave the rice on a high heat for two to three minutes until steam is escaping from the sides of the pan, then turn the heat to low and leave for 40 minutes without opening the lid to check on it.
  • Meanwhile, season the flour with salt and pepper, toss the onions in it, and fry in a tablespoon or two of neutral oil over a medium heat for 20-25 minute until golden brown and crispy.
  • When you are ready to serve, put the saucepan into a basin of cold water to separate the crispy rice from the pan.
  • Stir through most of the pistachios and  the chopped dill, saving a bit of both for the top.

 

Harissa

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Harissa is a traditional chilli sauce found across North Africa. It’s also a perennial favourite for trendy menu bingo, holding its own against relative newcomers like kale, burrata and lardo di colonnata. At this stage, with recipes from Jamie Oliver and jars of the stuff in Tesco, it’s practically mainstream. This recipe comes from Morito, where they serve harissa with freshly made bread. This stuff is an entirely different animal from the fiery paste you get in the beautiful Le Phare du Cap Bon tins. It’s actually really mild, perfect for chili amateurs just dipping their toe in the water. You can use this as a sauce with grilled meat, fish, or vegetables, or as a dressing for salads. I’ve used this to dress pearl barley, roasted vegetables, feta and dill to make a packed lunch salad. It keeps well, and would make a perfect handmade Christmas present for any fans of spicy food.

Makes a 400g jar

  • Ingredients
  • 250g red chillies, halved and deseeded
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • 100g roasted peppers
  • 2 tablespoons ground and toasted caraway seeds
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons toasted and ground cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tablespoon toasted and ground black cumin
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 2 tablespoons wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon honey (optional)

Method

  • Blend all of the ingredients together with a stick blender or in a food processor. Season to taste.
  • You can store this in a jar in the fridge for a couple of weeks.

Crispy Spiced Lamb with Aubergine and Pomegranate

Lamb with Aubergine

During my most recent, technically ongoing,  attempt at becoming one of those fit, healthy, exercise loving people, I signed up for the daily Women’s Health Magazine email.  Ever since then, it’s been a daily barrage of guilt (“four foods you have to stop eating or your loved ones will turn against you”, “five ways your flabby arms are ruining your career”) combined with some fairly sweeping statements about physical intimacy that do not bear close examination. It’s a constant reminder that I am just not one of those gym junkie types.

I’ve heard a lot of people talk about the gym being both relaxing and addictive. For me, it’s cooking that offers the kind of buzz and sense of calm people get from exercise. I exercise based on a combination of Catholic guilt and fear.  The most relaxing thing for me is a day with nothing to do but cook. This lamb dish from the Morito cookbook was made on one of those kind of days, a lazy Sunday with hours to spend in the kitchen. It’s a little bit time consuming, but not tricky to make, and it looks so pretty at the end that you get a fantastic sense of accomplishment.  I followed the recipe pretty much to the word, but if I was remaking it, I’d add some tahini to the aubergine to give a bit of extra bite. This dish serves 6-8 as part of a mezze.

Ingredients

  • 600g stewing lamb
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (or a cinnamon stick)
  • 1 onion, halved
  • a few sprigs of thyme and some bay leaves
  • 3 aubergines
  • 3 tablespoons greek yoghurt
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 50g butter
  • 1 white onion
  • 1 teaspoon toasted and ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • chilli flakes, to serve
  • 2 tablespoons chopped mint
  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds
  • 2 tablespoons toasted pinenuts

Method

  • Put the lamb in a large sauce pan with all of the ingredients down to and including the bay leaves.
  • Simmer for around 45-50 minutes, skimming the froth off the top as you go (appealing, I know!)
  • The meat should be very soft and easy to tear apart with a fork/your hands once cooled (test with a fork before taking off the heat)
  • Roast the aubergines in a very hot oven, over a gas flame or over a barbecue until soft (around 45 minutes in an oven at 220C)
  • Once they cooled, scrape the flesh from the skin into a bowl, and blend with a stick blender.
  • Stir in the yoghurt, oil, lemon juice and garlic.
  • Once the lamb is torn into small shreds, heat the butter in a saucepan.
  • Cook the onion in the butter with a pinch of salt until soft and sweet, 10-15 minutes.
  • Add the spices and cook for a minute, then add in the lamb.
  • Fry until bits of the lamb are crisping up, then remove from the heat, and pile on top of the aubergine in a big bowl.
  • Top with the pinenuts, mint and pomegranate seeds.

 

Dulce de Leche

Dulche De Leche

I’m firmly ensconced in study land at the moment, which means any recipe that is a bit time consuming and smacks of procrastination is doubly enticing. Stirring a pot of sugary milk for two and a half hours seems infinitely preferable to learning how to calculate Capital Acquisitions Tax. I’ve also rearranged the cutlery drawer, my kitchen cupboard, planted up a window box and tabbed the bejaysus out of all of my textbooks in lieu of actually reading them. 

Dulce de leche (milk jam/confiture de lait) is a thick, creamy caramel substance made from cooked milk and sugar. It can be thick and spreadable, or more liquid and pourable. It features heavily in South America but is still a bit niche in Ireland. 

The cooking process needs a bit of a trial and error approach. I looked to both Smitten Kitchen and Farmette’s recipes, which cautioned against both too little and too much heat. At first I erred on the side of caution and kept mine very low. I’m still getting the hang of temperature control on my new gas stove. After a while I realised nothing was happening and turned up the heat. Soon the colour started to change and things started to happen. Something just above a gentle simmer seems to be the best approach. This recipe doesn’t make a huge amount considering the amount of milk involved, you end up with about 300ml or so of dulche de leche. The length of cooking time depends on the consistency you want, whether it is pouring and a bit liquid, or thick and slightly jelly-like.

Ingredients

  • 1 litre full fat milk
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda/bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cinnamon stick (optional)

Method

  • Put all the ingredients in a high sided pot or saucepan.
  • Bring to the boil, being careful not to let it bubble over, as the milk can very suddenly rise dramatically.
  • Lower the heat, and cook on a medium-low heat for 1.5-2.5 hours, stirring every 5-10 minutes.
  • Leave to cool, and store in the fridge in a clean jar for up to one week.

Two-Day Venison and Chorizo Stew

Venison and Chorizo Stew

Although we’ve had a relatively mild Winter in Dublin this year, Ireland has been repeatedly bashed by intense storms over the past month.  Among the many effects the storms have had is the fact that shops have been badly stocked over the last few weeks, especially for fish and produce. My new(ish) tradition is to cook a special dinner on New Year’s Eve but this year a trip to three fishmongers and four butchers failed to yield the results I wanted. In desperation, I impulse bought a pack of venison and tried to bury all thoughts of the deer I used to hand-feed in Denmark. 

I’d never cooked venison before, and was a bit wary of it, but I turned to the trusty Casa Moro cookbook and adapted their recipe for oxtail stew. I’d previously tried it when my dad adapted it for beef cheeks, which were also fantastic cooked this way. This is a two day process, but it involved a lot of my favourite ingredients (wine, chorizo, and smoked paprika among them). It yielded a very rich stew which was perfect for a bit of end of the year indulgence. Two days later, I went for a walk in the Phoenix Park without feeling even a pang of regret, it was that good. It would be a perfect dish for dinner parties as nearly all the cooking is done a day in advance, so the final stage only takes 30 minutes the next day just before serving. It’s nice with roasted potatoes or just served with some crusty bread to mop it up.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

Day One

  • 1.5kg diced venison
  • 1 tablespoon of flour
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 4 cloves
  • 5 black pepercorns
  • 1 bottle of red wine
  • A few sprigs of thyme
  • Olive oil

Day Two

  • 1 carrot, finely diced
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 120g  chorizo, cut into 1cm rounds
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 2 tablespoons tomato puree
  • Olive oil

Method

Day One

  • Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.
  • Flour and season the venison.
  • Brown the venison and remove from the pan.
  • Add the carrot and onion and cook over a gentle heat for 10 minutes to soften.
  • Add the garlic, herbs and spices, and cook for two more minutes.
  • Add the venison back in
  • Pour in the wine and then top up with water to make sure it is submerged and bring to the boil.
  • Lower to a gentle heat and simmer for 2 hours.
  • Season
  • Strain the sauce and venison into a container, leave to cool and refrigerate overnight.
  • The next day, heat up a large pan with some olive oil.
  • Saute the finely chopped onion and carrot until soft 7-10 minutes.
  • Add the chorizo andfry for 5 minutes.
  • Add the flour, and cook for 2 minutes.
  • Add the paprika, fennel seeds and tomato puree and cook for a minute
  • Add the venison and its sauce and cook for 15-25 minutes until the sauce is  reduced and the meat is meltingly soft.
  • Season and serve.

Pea Pancakes For All Your Christmas Leftovers

Pea Pancakes

These pancakes are adapted from a recipe by Domini Kemp and serve as the perfect base for turning Christmas leftovers into a nice brunch or light dinner. If your house is anything like ours, you are looking at a fridge filled with cold ham, turkey, stilton and smoked salmon guarded jealously by a cat. Christmas for us involves two Christmas dinners, one on actual Christmas hosted by my aunt and uncle, and another hosted by my family the next day. By the 27th I’m usually sick of the sight of Christmas leftovers and looking for a bit of a change. The pancakes are quick and easy to make up from ingredients you probably have around the kitchen. I made some blini sized ones with herbed whipped feta and iberico ham and brought them as canapes for pre-Christmas drinks with friends. I’ve also had them with goats cheese and leftover Christmas ham, and with turkey and stuffing as a light dinner.

Makes about 12 4-inch pancakes

For the pancakes

  • 225g frozen peas
  • 1 egg
  • 90g plain flour
  • 60ml milk
  • 65 ml cream
  • 1 large banana shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon lemon or lime zest
  • Salt and pepper

Method

  • Cook the frozen peas for 1 minute or so in a pot of boiling water until soft.
  • Submerge in cold water to cool and stop cooking.
  • Meanwhile, mix the remaining ingredients together in a large bowl and whisk together to combine, seasoning well.
  • Add the cooled peas and blend with a stick blender.
  • It’s ok if some of the peas aren’t completely blended and have a bit of texture.
  • Heat some neutral oil over medium heat in a large frying pan.
  • Drop tablespoons of the batter into the frying pan (it doesn’t spread out too much and keeps a nice shape)
  • Fry in batches.
  • Cook for 2 or so minutes on each side until they are golden brown.
  • Remove from the pan and drain on a plate lined with kitchen paper.
  • Serve warm or at room temperature with your topping of choice.

Christmas Party Recipes

Since this is the season for parties and entertaining, here are some quick links to my favourite recipes for party food. Apologies in advance if you don’t like beetroot, it seems to have turned into a theme for this one.

Finger Food

Prosciutto Crostini with Caramelised Pear and Blue Cheese

Parma Ham Crostini

These are so easy to make in advance and put together at the last minute.

Chorizo Croquettes

I’ve been addicted to croquettes ever since living in the Netherlands. Parties are always better with fried food.

Frikadeller with Mustard and Dill Sauce

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Fry these up earlier in the day, reheat at the last minute and stick a cocktail stick in each for easy finger food. You can also cook them in the oven to save time.

Goats Cheese, Fig and Prosciutto Parcels (coeliac friendly)

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These are always a hit at my family home on Christmas eve. You can’t go wrong with a recipe from Nigella Lawson.

Roasted Beetroot Tartlets with Fennel Marinated Feta

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These are simple to make with ready-made pastry. Just learn from my mistakes and don’t use supermarket own-brand, it really is the worst.

Mussels with Fennel Alioli (coeliac friendly)

Mejillones con alioli

Clean the mussels and make the alioli early in the day, then quickly steam, dress and serve at the last minute. These are traditionally served as a cold tapa in Spain.

Crab Cakes with Avocado Salsa

Crab Cakes

Gougères (vegetarian)

Christmas party food isn’t meant to be healthy.

Beetroot Meringues with Blue Cheese

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Ok, these are a little fiddly to make, but they are delicious and unusual. More of a dinner party show-off dish then something you’d want to make for a big crowd.

Dips

Smoky Haydari with Feta and Red Pepper (Vegetarian and Coeliac-friendly)

Haydari

You can put this together in just a couple of minutes and serve with crudites and warm bread.

Roasted Beetroot and Walnut Hummus (Vegetarian)

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I think it’s time to admit I have a beetroot problem.

Hummus

Hummus 2

This is the perfect hummus recipe. End of story.

 

Crab Cakes with Avocado Salsa

Crab Cakes

One of my earliest memories from childhood is my parents releasing live crabs from lobster pots that had washed up and been left to languish on a beach in Cork. I was aged around 3, and was completely baffled as to why my parents had for some reason chosen to unleash these monstrous clawed creatures in my vicinity, where they were sure immediately nip me with their claws. I didn’t much warm to crabs after that.

During my college years, my favourite restaurant for a special occasion (when someone with more than a student budget was paying) was a place called the Mermaid Cafe. It had a bright interior with big windows looking out over the bustle of Dublin city centre, and served American inspired food like pecan pie and their renowned crab cakes. Sadly, the Mermaid Cafe went the way of the Celtic Tiger, and with it, the best crab cakes in Dublin.

Crab meat is not as easy to find in Ireland as it seems to be in the US, and is pretty damn expensive. When I saw it on special offer a few weeks back, I jumped at the chance to recreate the crab cakes I’d tried years before in the Mermaid. I tried making these the American way, with crab meat only, but ended up with shapeless lumps for cakes and hands with a glove like coating of crab meat. So I caved to the Irish way, with some mashed potato added to give it body. They still taste wonderfully crabby, and are easy to make for the festive season. You could make miniature ones for a party, or this recipe will make 8 reasonably sized starter versions.

Ingredients

Crab Cakes

  • 280g cooked crab meat
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 chopped spring onions
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped tarragon
  • 2 teaspoons mustard powder
  • pinch cayenne powder
  • pinch nutmeg
  • 1 large mashed potato
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 100g breadcrumbs
  • Neutral oil e.g. sunflower or vegetable

Avocado Salsa

  • 1 avocado, finely diced
  • 1/2 red pepper, finely diced
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Pinch of smoked paprika
  • Pinch of cayenne

Method

  • Mix all the crab cake ingredients but one of the eggs and the breadcrumbs together.
  • Season well.
  • Beat the remaining egg in a bowl.
  • Lay the breadcrumbs out on a plate and season well.
  • Shape the crab cake mixture and dip in the egg, followed by the breadcrumbs.
  • Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  • To make the salsa, mix all the ingredients and season well.
  • Fry in oil over a medium heat until crispy and golden on both sides.
  • Serve warm.

Mejadra

Mejadra

This is yet another recipe from ‘Jerusalem’. *Insert grumble about food blogger Ottolenghi hero worship here*.  One of my favourite things about the book is how is explores recipes in Jerusalem from the perspective of the many different cultures and traditions that exist there. It shows what makes up a local traditional cuisine and where the different facets of a dish or type of dish came from. This is something I have thought about a lot when it comes to traditional Irish food. I’ve often been asked, what is traditional Irish food? Most European countries can point to a distinctive cuisine, whether regional or throughout the country. When I taught in Denmark, I used to supervise the school lunches, and became aware of just how many traditional Danish dishes there were that every kid could name. I’m not sure the same could be said in Ireland.

An article in this week’s Irish Times tried to tackle the issue of ‘what is Irish cuisine’ and came to much the same conclusions as I have. The article found that what really typifies Irish food is the freshness and quality of ingredients, rather than a huge selection of traditional dishes. If you ask any Irish person, they’ll give you a different answer as to what a traditional Irish dish is.  Irish culinary traditions that I have introduced the Dane to include breakfast rolls and putting crisps into sandwiches, so I may not be the best ambassador. What do you think of when you think of Irish food?

Anyway, back to the dish at hand. Mejadra crops up in a lot of cookbooks, and seems to be traditional across the Arabic world. According to Wikipedia, the recipe was first recorded in 1226 in Iraq. To put this in perspective, the food that most people think typifies Irish cuisine, potatoes, weren’t even introduced in Ireland for another 300 or so years!  Mejadra (or mujaddara) is a tasty dish of rice, onions and lentils. It is so much more than the sum of its parts and is easily a meal in itself. It’s quite easy to make and is a good foundation to build a mezze around (particularly with this fantastic hummus). Serves 6 as a side dish.

Ingredients

  • 4 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • 2-3 tablespoons of flour
  • 250g green or brown lentils
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2tsp coriander seeds
  • 200g basmati rice
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ tsp ground turmeric
  • 1½ tsp ground allspice
  • 1½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 350ml water
  • Neutral oil like sunflower or vegetable
  • Greek yoghurt (optional)

Method

  • Cook the lentils in boiling salted water until cooked through but not completely soft (about 10-15 minutes).
  • Sprinkle the flour on a plate and season well with plenty of salt and pepper.
  • Toss the onion slices in the seasoned flour.
  • Pour a couple of tablespoons of neutral oil into a frying pan.
  • How much oil you use is up to you. You can get away with not that much if you’re very health conscious, but if you want really crispy  and delicious onions, you’re going to need  a fair few tablespoons.
  • Depending on the size of your frying pan, either fry the onions all at once or in batches (there should only be one layer of onions in the pan at a time).
  • Fry them in the oil over a medium high heat for 5-7 minutes until crispy and golden brown.
  • Remove from the oil and drain on a plate lined with kitchen paper.
  • Heat a large saucepan big enough to hold all the ingredients over a medium heat.
  • Toast the cumin and coriander seeds for a minute or so until they start to pop.
  • Add the oil and remaining spices and season well.
  • Add the rice and toss in the spicy oil to coat.
  • Add the cooked lentils and the water and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low.
  • It won’t look like there is enough water, but there is.
  • Simmer for 15 minutes covered with a lid.
  • Take off the heat, remove the lid, cover with a towel and leave for 10 minutes.
  • Serve topped with the onions, and a dollop of Greek yoghurt (if you like).

Lentil and Sausage Cassoulet

Cassoulet

This post seems to be one that needs a few apologies. I know, the picture isn’t great. We are coming into the season where I am never near a kitchen during daylight, and with that comes some slightly off photography. Also, for the purists among you, I know this isn’t really in the strictest sense a cassoulet. It’s like a cassoulet light, all the taste with a reduced chance of ending up with gout after a few mouthfuls. Proper cassoulet from Languedoc is made just with beans and the contents of a farmyard (duck, pork, lamb, goose and sausage).

I had a lovely rich cassoulet last winter in Ma Bourgogne in the Marais that left me gasping for air and fully fortified to face the bitter Parisian cold. I remain convinced that Paris in winter is the coldest place in Europe. Northern Denmark seemed balmy in comparison when I returned. While there is a time and a place for that, this recipe takes a little of the meat and replaces it with juicy stock enriched lentils. It’s a lovely dish for the blustery weather we’re having, and one that actually tastes even better the day after its made. Dublin has a big Polish community and with that comes lots of Polish supermarkets filled with fantastic and inscrutably labelled sausages. Kielbasa is a good one to try with a nice garlic flavour that substitutes well for Toulouse sausage. This recipe serves 4 generously, especially if you have some nice crusty bread to accompany it.

Ingredients

  • 3 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 350g Kielbasa or good quality garlic sausage, sliced into 2cm thick slices
  • 150g bacon, chopped
  • 250g lentilles verts or puy lentils
  • 1 x 400g tin of flageolot beans, drained
  • 4 tomatoes, chopped, or half a tin of tomatoes
  • 2 tsp tomato puree
  • 300ml good chicken, pork or beef stock
  • 150ml red wine
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 150g breadcrumbs
  • Olive oil

Method

  • Cook the lentils for 10-15 minutes in a pot of boiling water  with a bay leaf and a clove of garlic until chewy and almost completely cooked.
  • Fry the bacon in a large ovenproof casserole with a little olive oil over a medium heat until starting to crisp.
  • Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve.
  • Fry the onion over a medium-low heat in the bacon grease until glossy and soft 6-8 minutes.
  • Add the garlic and the kielbasa and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
  • Add the bacon, wine, stock, bay leaf, tomato puree and tomatoes and cook for 15 minutes.
  • Add the beans and the lentils and season well.
  • Cook in the oven at 175C for 20 minutes until some of the liquid has absorbed.
  • Top with the breadcrumbs and cook for another hour to 1 and 1/4 hour until the liquid has been almost completely absorbed, the cassoulet is bubbling and breadcrumbs are crunchy (if it is not cooking fast enough, you can reduce it a bit on the stove at the end, but this will make the breadcrumbs a bit soggy).
  • Leave to sit for 10 minutes to rest and then serve.
  • Alternatively, refrigerate overnight and reheat the next day.