Saturday, 14 February 2015

Fish and green mango curry

I can hear you say it. Fish and fruit together in a curry? It may sound a little weird but trust me, it just works so well. And in any case, the green mango is used here as a souring agent, not as a vegetable in the dish. 

Surrounded by the ocean on every side, we eat a lot of fish. While tuna is part of our staple diet, I prefer white-fleshed reef fish for curries and grilling. Any firm fish will do, however.

This is a pretty handy recipe, quick to prepare if you have the ingredients on hand. The curry paste I usually keep prepared and in the fridge. So a spoonful of that when needed saves on time.

The green mangoes are unripe mangoes. They are small and sour. Once they start to ripen, you will need to find a different use for the mangoes because this curry requires green, unripe mangoes.

Fish and green mango curry
Serves 4

500g firm fish
2 small green/unripe mangoes
1 large onion, sliced
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 sprig curry leaves
1 tablespoon yellow spice paste
500ml coconut milk
lime juice

Cut the fish into a little larger than bite sized pieces. Wash the mangoes well and cut into small dice. I do not peel the mangoes because the ones I get here have thin skin. If you prefer to remove the skin, you may peel the green layer of skin off before cutting up the mangoes.

Heat a little oil in a pan and fry the onion until translucent. Throw in the mustard seeds and curry leaves and fry a little longer. Add the spice paste, stir to release the aromas. Pour in the coconut milk and mix well. Allow the liquid to heat and start to boil. Place the fish in the sauce and salt to taste. Cover and cook for a few minutes, until the fish is just cooked and the sauce is starting to thicken a little. Adjust seasoning, sprinkle with lime juice and remove from heat.

Serve straight away with flat breads or plain rice.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Sweet comfort: marble cake

As simple as it is, the appeal of the marble cake probably goes back to it being a childhood cooking memory. I do not like marble cakes made in all kinds of strange colours. I make mine with a mixture of plain vanilla and chocolate. Actually it is not my recipe - I use this one, from BBC GoodFood.

Marble Cake

225g butter, softened
225g caster sugar
4 eggs
225g self-raising flour
3 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp cocoa powder

Heat oven to 180C/gas 160C/gas 4. Grease a 20cm cake tin and line the bottom with a circle of greaseproof paper. If you want to make life easy, simply put all the ingredients (except the cocoa powder) into a food processor and whizz for 1-2 mins until smooth. If you prefer to mix by hand, beat the butter and sugar together, then add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Fold through the flour, milk and vanilla extract until the mixture is smooth.

Divide the mixture between 2 bowls. Stir the cocoa powder into the mixture in one of the bowls. Take 2 spoons and use them to dollop the chocolate and vanilla cake mixes into the tin alternately. When all the mixture has been used up (and if young kids are doing this, you’ll need to ensure the base of the tin is fairly evenly covered), tap the bottom on your work surface to ensure that there aren’t any air bubbles. Take a skewer and swirl it around the mixture in the tin a few times to create a marbled effect.

Bake the cake for 45-55 mins until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Turn out onto a cooling rack and leave to cool.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Spicy pineapple rice

Fragrant, flavoured, baked rice dishes are a wonderful in several ways. They can be prepared ahead and heated in the oven just before you are ready to eat. They aim to impress. They can use up a lot of leftover bits hanging about in the fridge. And mostly - they are delicious one dish meals.

I have been making this pineapple and rice dish for years now. I first made it as a newly wed, when my husband came home with a very under ripe pineapple that was not quite ready to eat or juice. Using it up in this way, it became a big hit, and I continue to cook this from time to time, when I have some leftover pineapple or under ripe pineapple - or sometimes buying some pineapple just to cook this. My kids love this too - they don't even notice that it is vegetarian. 

You can play around with the dried fruits and nuts in the dish, but I like using golden sultanas and Indian almonds as they are widely available here. 

I would only make this with fresh pineapple. The fruit needs to be firm, so you can cut it up without crushing the flesh. A slightly under ripe one works wonders.

I make my own spice paste to go with this. But in a pinch, you could use any good shop bought paste that isn't too over powering. I would go with a thai style yellow curry paste.

This recipe could easily be doubled for a large crowd, and would be great to take for a pot luck style event or to serve s part of a buffet.

Layering the cooked rice and the cooked pineapple makes the finished dish look pretty and ensures that everything is evenly distributed.

Spicy Pineapple Rice
Serves 4

For the Yellow Curry Paste
2 medium onions, peeled
8 garlic cloves, peeled
3 inch piece ginger 
1 heaped teaspoon coriander seeds
1 heaped teaspoon peppercorns
3 fresh chillies (adjust chillies to suit your palate)
4 stalks lemon grass
1/2 teaspoon tumeric
1 stick cinnamon
bunch of coriander (use leaves, stalks and roots)

For the rest of the dish
1 cup rice (I use basmati)
1 large pineapple
2 table spoons oil/butter
handful of golden sultanas
handful of nuts (I use Indian almonds)
100ml coconut milk
25g butter, cut into cubes
50ml milk
large pinch of saffron threads

First, make the spice paste by processing all the ingredients together till finely minced. Taste and adjust heat from chillies to suit your palate. 

Next, cook the rice in plenty of boiling salted water till almost tender. Drain the rice and spread out on a large plate to dry while you get on with the rest of the dish.

As the rice is cooking, prepare the pineapple. Peel off the outer skin, remove the "eyes" and cut into equal sized dice. 

Heat the oil (or use butter if you prefer) and fry the nuts and sultanas till golden. Drain. Into the same oil, add the spice paste and fry for a couple of minutes. Add the coconut milk and mix well. Add the pineapple and cook for a further minute or two. The sauce should be thick and the fruit should be well coated with the sauce. Turn off the heat. 

Coat the bottom and sides of an ovenproof dish with oil/butter. Layer the rice, nuts, sultanas and pineapple, beginning and ending with the rice. 

Heat the milk and crumble in the saffron. Let it infuse for a few minutes. Then, sprinkle this on top of the rice, dot with the butter. Cover tightly and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Sweet, sticky, fiery: chilli jam

I love my chillies. Love them in every form and every level of heat. Even when I was in grade school, one of my favourite sandwiches to take to school was marmite and chilli. My mum would butter white bread slices, smear on a little marmite and add a few thin slices of green chilli. Wonderful!

A couple of years ago I came across Nigella's chilli jam recipe, but as pretty as it looked, I wanted to add a bit more oomph to my own. So I have made various changes over time and have come up with one that I really like - it is sweet but equally fiery. You can tone down the heat by adding more sweet red pepper and reducing the amount of hot chillies in your jam.

I know real jam needs pectin. The problem is, I don't get pectin in the stores around here. So that is one reason I decided to find a way to make the jam without using boxed pectin. I found out that there are fruits you can use in your jam to let it naturally set - so that is why I add tart green apples. It also adds a bit of sweetness to the jam. If you prefer to not use the apples, you could simple use jam sugar and omit the apples.

The chilli jam makes a wonderful gift and keeps well for a long time. Once opened, you have to store it in the fridge, but unopened, it will sit happily in your pantry for many weeks. 

Chilli Jam
Makes 6 250ml jars of jam

250g of chillies (I use whatever chillies I have on hand - and remove nothing from them except their stems)
a thumb length piece of ginger
4 sweet red peppers (cored and seeded)
2 tomatoes (optional)
1 kilo sugar
2 tart green apples
600 ml cider vinegar

To sterilise the jars, wash them well, then place them (without the lids) in a roasting tray and in a cold oven. Heat the oven and once it reaches 100C, turn it off and let the jars remain inside until you need them.

Place a saucer in the fridge.

Place all ingredients except the vinegar in a food processor and blitz it all together till finely processed. Be careful as you remove the lid of the processor (don't have your face too close) as the chilli fumes can be very strong. Scoop everything out into a large pan, add the vinegar and bring everything to a boil. Boil for about 15-20 minutes.

Take the saucer out of the fridge and drop a spoonful of jam into it. After a minute or so, give it a little nudge with your finger. If it wrinkles, your jam is done. If not,boil a little more and test again.

When your jam is done, turn off heat and ladle the jam into the sterilised jars. Tightly cover the jars and leave to cool.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Fast, fresh and wholesome: Kale mallung

I discovered kale fairly recently. Only a year or so ago. It is not something that is available where I live, so I only sampled it when I was on a trip overseas. I fell in love with it and brought some back home with me. Yes, I flew back on a plane with a bunch of kale. That is how I am. 

I wanted to cook the greens in a simple way that preserved all its superfood nutrients. So I made a mallung. This is a SriLankan style of stir frying with vegetables that includes freshly grated coconut and a few whole spices. I have always liked mallungs but this is not an authentic version. I have simply followed the idea of a mallung and created something that is now a firm favourite with my family.

I serve the mallung with plain rice and a simple curry.

Kale Mallung
Serves 4

large bunch of curly kale (about 300g)
1 tablespoon oil
1 red onion, sliced into half moons
2 curry leaves
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
4 green chillies slit lengthwise
3 teaspoons dried fish (in flakes)
1/2 teaspoon tumeric
1/2 cup grated coconut (use fresh or frozen)
juice of 1 lime

Wash and dry the kale. Finely shred it.

Heat the oil in a large wok. When nearly smoking, add the onions and cook for a few minutes. Throw in the curry leaves, cumin and mustard seeds. When they crackle and pop, add the chillies and fish flakes. Stir in the turmeric and the coconut. Give it a quick stir and add the kale, salt to taste and cover for a minute. This allows the steam to cook the greens. Uncover, mix in the lime juice and you are ready to serve. 

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Sweet lusciousness: Caramel pudding

This is comfort food that is easy and indulgent. It does take a while to cook and be ready to eat, but actual time spent preparing the dessert is barely ten minutes. I like it served cold, but you can serve it warm or at room temperature too.

Caramel Pudding
Serves 4 

4 eggs
1 tin condensed milk 
vanilla extract
4 tablespoons sugar

Beat 4 eggs until frothy. Add the contents of the tin of condensed milk into the eggs, together with the vanilla extract. Half fill the tin with water, swirl it about to get the last bits of the condensed milk from the tin and add to the eggy mix. Mix well. 

Place the sugar in a small saucepan. Set it on a gentle heat with a little splash of water. Don't stir. Just let the sugar be until it starts to melt and caramelize. Give the pan a swirl, to ensure that the colour remains even. Once the caramel has reached a light amber colour, turn off the heat and pour the caramel into a heatproof bowl that can hold all of the milk mixture in it. (You could also make this in individual ramekins but I prefer to make it in one single bowl. 

Fill your steamer with water and place the bowl inside it. Fill the bowl with the egg and milk mixture. Cover the steamer and steam for about 45 minutes. The pudding should be set. Remove from the steamer and let it cool. Then chill for a couple of hours before serving.

You can also cook the pudding in the oven. To do this, half fill a large roasting tray with water and place the pudding bowl (or individual ramekins) in the tray. Cover the whole thing tightly with foil and place in a hot oven for about 45 minutes. 

To serve, run a sharp knife round the inside edge of the bowl/ramekins, to ensure that the pudding will loosen from the sides. Upturn it onto a serving plate. The caramel will flow a little but I like the pudding to stand in a little pool of caramel. Enjoy!

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Homely and comforting: lentil and beef soup

This is a homely and comforting soup. Perfect for cold days, when it is wet outside. It's pepperiness is great for colds and blocked noses.

It is simple to make and keeps well in the fridge for a few days. I also like to make a big batch to freeze in individual portions so that I have something wholesome to come home to on busy days.

You can have it thick and almost stew-like. Or, if you prefer a thinner soup, add more water until you have the consistency you like. 

Beef and Lentil Soup
Serves 6

500g beef
1 cup dried red lentils
1 large onion, diced
1 cup carrots, diced
1 cup celery, thinly sliced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons pepper, crushed
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
4 cups beef stock or water
100g frozen chopped fenugreek leaves or spinach
lime juice
chopped coriander leaves

Cut beef into small cubes.

Wash and drain the lentils. Then boil in a pan of water. Once the scum rises, scoop off, wash and drain.

Pour a tablespoon or so of flavourless oil into a large pan and soften the onions, carrots and celery. Cook for a few minutes, then add the garlic, beef, lentils and stock (or water) and salt to taste. Add the pepper and cumin seeds, then bring to the boil. Once it comes to a boil, partly cover and lower the heat. Cook for about 30 minutes, or until the meat is tender and the soup is of a desired consistency.

Add the frozen greens and cook for a few minutes, until the fenugreek leaves (or spinach) has mixed into the soup.

Check the seasoning, add lime juice and serve hot, sprinkled with the coriander leaves.