Sunday, 24 January 2010

Casa Moro

I was lucky enough to receive Casa Moro for Christmas - it's even more beautiful than the first Moro cookbook, all turquoisey azulejos on the cover, more stories about ingredients and places. There's more of a Spanish leaning in this one, with detailed accounts of the Sams' travels through Andalucia and Morocco.

I tried making their their 'potato cakes stuffed with lamb and pine nuts', which sounded quite like the bombas picanté I enjoyed at Café Andaluz in Edinburgh over Christmas. The recipe involved making an aromatic lamb mince mixture with lovely herbs and toasted pine nuts, which would then be encased in a potato dough and fried. I use the conditional tense because I got flustered and totally screwed up the potato dough. I get stressed about fiddly bits of cooking and try to avoid complex pastry making and other fine-motor-skill-demanding processes. So I turned the dish into a 'middle eastern' Shepherd's Pie by putting the lamb mix in a casserole dish and topping with the potato dough! And it was wonderful - who needs fiddly little balls anyway?!

I served it with my interpretation of a dish I had at Café Andaluz - roasted cubes of parsnip and sweet potato, with chick peas in a yoghurt-tahini-parsley sauce. It was lovely and earthy, tangy, warming.

To make the lamb mixture fry some finely chopped onion in olive oil and butter. Once golden, add 300g lamb mince, a teaspoon of ground cinnamon, some grated nutmeg, the ground seeds of 3 cardamom pods, 3 ground cloves. Cook for a bit longer before adding some toasted pine nuts, finely chopped parsley, a tablespoon of tomato purée and a splash of water to add moisture. Cook for another few minutes and you have a beautifully fragrant, exotic dish that will transport you far away from this grim British winter.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Persia, near Primrose Hill

My favourite thing about living in London is the sheer cultural diversity of its inhabitants. I love being on a bus and hearing different languages in every direction. But most importantly, every diaspora group brings with them their culinary traditions by opening restaurants, cafes, grocers and delis as cultural outposts for diaspora to seek comfort and for curious diners' to discover the exciting and far flung cuisines.

I admire the dedication of The World in 202 Meals in their mission to sample every national cuisine moonlighting in London's restaurants. I have a similar mission in mind, and made a visit to Iran on Haverstock Hill last weekend in the form of a restaurant called Tandis.

I've long been intrigued by Persian/Iranian cuisine - my good friend Afsi is half-Iranian and I have many fond memories of popping round her family's house and snacking on leftover Salad Oliviyeh or hearing tales of the perfect Tah-dig. More recently, I've been dying to go to Persepolis in Peckham and get my hands on some rose petals, dried limes, barberries and other exotic staples of the Persian kitchen. Similarly, Tandis has been on my radar for some time having featured in numerous lists.

Everything about Tandis was great. The service was warm, helpful, personal - the owner was keen to ensure we chose dishes well and entered into a jovial debate with my friend Tamara over the virtues of different condiments for her Loobia Polow (her Iraqi roots said yoghurt, he said tomato salad). The décor is stylish and luxurious, the space light and airy. And the There is a big range of starters that you could eat Mezze style, but the waiter advised us to save ourselves for the mains. The mains include a wide range of kebabs as well as some rice dishes and a long list of meaty and vegetarian stews.

I was most interested in the stews - some with split pea and aubergine, others with ground, dried limes and sour plums. I opted for Khoresh-e esfenaj-o alu - a stew of Lamb, spinach and sour plums. It was incredible - the sour, sweetness of the sauce, the green vigour of the spinach and the tender, slow-cooked lamb. Wow. It was almost overwhelmingly tasty with such potent flavours. It came with a huge pile of saffron rice - I love that pungent, perfumed taste. A vegetarian friend had the a split pea and aubergine stew which was also tasty.

We had been advised to save space for dessert - and it had to be
faloodeh - a rose and lime sorbet filled with thin vermicelli and topped with sour cherries. It was invigorating, perfumey, sour and bizarre. But very good.

I learnt that the sour taste is prominent in Persian food experience. I think sour is quite an acquired taste - it doesn't feature in many European cuisines and, when it is, it's balanced against another taste sensation. I like it though. That said, there were plenty of dishes that weren't all about the sour. I will definitely be going back - it was very reasonably priced (£7-8 for a stew main, £10 - 11 for a kebab main) and there is just so much on that menu I want to try!

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Christmas lunch #2

I like a traditional Christmas lunch - turkey, trimmings, etc. Without fail, I have had that traditional lunch at some point over the Christmas period, even as my family shrinks, expands, ages, modernises, dissipates and reforms. New techniques have been introduced over the years - goose fat on potatoes, parmesan on parsnips, pancetta and chestnuts with the sprouts - but the essential dishes are always the same:

Bread sauce
Cranberry sauce
Roast potatoes
Roast parsnips
Brussels Sprouts
Pigs in blankets

The most important things in that lunch for me are bread sauce (well-cloved) and the stuffing, which my mum makes every year from a Good Housekeeping recipe - chestnut puree, lemon zest, parsley, bacon and breadcrumbs coming together so nicely, they'd do as a dish in themselves. My mum makes the cranberry sauce from scratch with generous shavings of orange zest.

A recent addition to the Christmas food experience is the turkey hunt. My sister is a free-ranging environmentalist and can quite easily live off food that supermarkets throw out. On some more Christmas Eves my sister has showed up at my mum's house with a couple of top notch turkeys that she picked out of M&S or Waitrose bins totally free. This year my mum had her offspring positioned in supermarkets across Edinburgh waiting for the turkeys to be reduced in price. At Morningside Waitrose other people were onto the same trick as me (those canny, tight-arsed Morningsiders!), and turkeys were flying (almost literally) off the shelves as soon as the halo'd red and white reduction sticker had been slapped on. My good timing helped us to get a gigantic organic, free range, bronze-feathered turkey for £27 (would have been £65!).

This Christmas was a funny one - my mum's husband was stuck abroad, my sister was stuck at a protest camp and, in the end, there was just three of us eating. It was an awesome dinner and we enjoyed it with a lovely bottle of Gewürztraminer. I piled my plate so impossibly high, but still managed to finish every last morsel.

Needless to say, there were plenty of leftovers. I love re-creating the meal in smaller quantities until there is only leftover turkey. Then it's time for turkey pie, turkey curry, turkey soup, turkey risotto, turkey salad and so on.