Saturday, May 23, 2009

Spicy Chinese noodles

Serves 2

The yearning for noodles has now officially reached breaking point... This recipe can honestly be adapted to whatever you can find in the fridge or freezer. You could add bacon, prawns and peas, or peppers and bean sprouts, but for a pure and authentic experience - buy your ingredients specifically for this, it will be worth those few extra minutes of effort.

125g fine Chinese egg noodles
2 knobs fresh ginger
1 clove garlic
6 spring onions
10 shiitake (or button) mushrooms, trimmed
½ cucumber1 lettuce, such as romaine, trimmed
1 tsp cornflour
2 tblsp good soy sauce
1 tblsp dry sherry or sake
2 tblsp sunflower oil
50g salted peanuts or cashews
¼ tsp dried chilli flakes

Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions — they normally take about 3 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare all the ingredients before you start cooking: finely slice the ginger into strips; finely chop the garlic; slice the spring onions; rip (or slice) the mushrooms; and peel, halve and slice the cucumber.

Trim and wash the lettuce and cut into 1cm-thick strips. Keep each ingredient separate.

To make the sauce, mix the cornflour with the soy sauce, honey, sake (or sherry) and 5 tblsp water.

Heat a wok or frying pan over a high heat. Add the sunflower oil and ginger. As soon as it begins to sizzle, add the peanuts and garlic. Briskly stir-fry while you slowly count to five, and then add the chilli flakes. Stir-fry for another count of five, then add the vinegar and stand back as the kitchen fills with chilli fumes. Next, add the spring onions and mushrooms.

Keep stirring: as soon as the mushrooms begin to look cooked, mix in the cucumber and lettuce. Stir-fry for a few more seconds until the lettuce begins to wilt, then mix in the noodles and the sauce. Allow the liquid to bubble up and thicken, then serve.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Double chocolate chip cookies

Makes 12

50g unsalted butter
450g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
2 eggs
170g soft light brown sugar or light muscovado sugar
¼ tsp vanilla extract
85g plain flour
½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder

2 baking trays, lined with greaseproof paper

Preheat the oven to 170°C/gas 3. Put the butter and half the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (do not let the base of the bowl touch the water). Leave until melted and smooth.

Put the eggs, sugar and vanilla extract in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) and beat until well mixed. Pour in the chocolate mixture, beating on slow speed until well combined.

Sift the flour, salt and baking powder into a separate bowl, then stir into the chocolate mixture in 3 additions, mixing well after each addition (scrape any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula). Finally, stir in the remaining chocolate until evenly dispersed.

Arrange 6 equal amounts of cookie dough on each prepared baking tray. Make sure that the cookies are spaced apart to allow for spreading while baking. Bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes, checking regularly after 10 minutes. They are ready when the tops start to crack and look glossy. Leave the cookies to cool slightly on the trays before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Red mullet with grilled peppers

Serves 4 as an appetiser, 2 as a main course

The shellfish, almost gamey like quality of red mullet is perfect with robust flavours like charred peppers and just cooked garlic. You could add prawns or even lobster if you feel like a special treat to really bring this dish up a notch, but the core flavours here are full on and intense already.

2 large red peppers
2 large yellow peppers
4 small red mullet, filleted
2 tblsp olive oil for cooking
2 cloves garlic
Half a glass of rosé wine
2 ripe tomatoes
Small handful fresh oregano or marjoram
Salt and extra virgin olive oil to taste

Char the peppers over a gas flame or under a very hot grill, until the skin is darkened on all sides. Allow them to cool, covered, so that they steam themselves a little. Then push the skins off with your thumb and forefinger. (Don’t be tempted to do this under running water, as you will lose those vital juices and flavours. A hint of charred flavour is ideal for this dish anyway)

Cut the peppers into fairly fine strips. Set them aside. Place the mullet fillets on a chopping board, skin side down. Run your finger gently along the flesh and pull out any small bones you find with tweezers or nail scissors.

Heat the oil in a wide-bottomed frying pan and, when it is almost smoking add the fillets, skin side down. Let them cook briskly for at least two minutes. As soon as you turn them, add the garlic and, a minute later, the pepper strips.

Now add the wine and turn the heat up until the juices go bubbly and glossy. Remove from the heat immediately and season to your liking. Scatter the herbs on top of everything and swirl a reasonably generous amount of extra virgin olive oil over the whole dish.

Serve with little slices of toast for mopping up the oily juices. Don’t give people lemon on the side or the harsh acidity will take over.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Makes 20-25

These fluffy chickpea fritters are variations of a theme from all over the Middle East, but this version in particular was one of the highlights of a trip I've just had to Cairo, and to my mind, one of the finest street food of all. They are easy enough to make at home, either in the traditional manner, as deep-fried, slightly flattened balls, or as little flat patties cooked in shallow fat. Home-made falafel tends to be less fluffy than shop-bought versions. Adding one egg to the ground-up mixture gives a lighter texture, but it's not authentic and it makes the dough softer and a bit trickier to handle.

100g dried chickpeas (soaked in cold water with 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda)
200g split dried broad beans soaked overnight in cold water with 1tsp bicarbonate of soda (or use more chickpeas instead)
5 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
50g bunch of coriander, with most of the stalk discarded
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp Lebanese 7 spice mixture or ground allspice
A pinch of cayenne pepper
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
150ml extra virgin olive oil
Vegetable oil for frying

Rinse the chick peas and beans and drain them well. Put them in a food processor with all the other ingredients (except the vegetable oil) and start the motor. You may need to stop the machine and scrape down the bowl a few times, but keep going until the mixture is a fine, sandy paste

Shape the mixture into walnut sized balls, rolling them in the palms of your hands. If they come out in a slightly pointed, spinning top shape, so much the better, since this is very authentic. (At this point the balls can be frozen for up to a month. Defrost them before frying.)

Heat the oil about 5cm deep in a saucepan. Drop a piece of bread in the oil to check if it is hot enough. The oil should bubble around it. Fry the falafel in batches, for 3-4 minutes, turning them occasionally, until deep golden brown all over. Lift out with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.

Although tahini is one of the traditional lubricants for these crisp fritters, I much prefer yoghurt. Particularly when it has had a little cayenne pepper and some chopped mint stirred into it and is spooned over the falafel.
Serve them hot, stuffed into warm pitta bread. Traditionally, a cucumber and tomato salad would be in there too.