Monday, 30 March 2015

Lebanese Style Green Lentil and Spinach Rashta Soup

I really wish I was more of an organised person. I know a few people who are always super tidy and punctual and seem to always be ticking things off to-do lists. And I just look at them and think, how are you doing this?? I'm more of the type who is always running around to catch the train on time and looking for that thing you lost under that pile of stuff you keep meaning to sort out.

You don't even want to get me started on to do lists. Whenever I try to get into the habit of keeping one, I always seem to end up with a load of papers or notebooks that I either never bother to look at or end up losing. I used to think it added a certain creative quirk, but let's be honest, as you get older, it loses a bit of its charm and you just come across as a bit of a scatter-brain.

Scatter-braineditis is my official excuse for preparing this recipe for MENA cooking club's Lebanese theme and then not posting in time because I got the dates messed up. It was a real face-palm moment, guys. However, all is not lost, as I can still post the recipe here even if I did miss the final cut.


I'd never heard of this soup before I saw it on the MENA cooking club website. I'm still not sure if it's called Rishta or Rashta soup as I've seen it spelt both ways in English. I'm going for Rashta though because as a Desi girl, the word Rishta is something I hear enough of in everyday life...

Being a self confessed soup-lover, who could pretty much live off the stuff, I am so glad to have been able to try out this recipe because it is so lovely. If there is one word that I could use to describe it, it would be nourishing. It's filling and warming whilst also remaining quite light and refreshing. A squeeze of lemon into a bowl before serving helps to also lift the slightly earthier notes. It is, in all honesty, a hug in a bowl. 

And as I sit here, wrapped in layers of clothing in what is now allegedly the start of British Summertime, I can't help but fondly reminisce over this soup. My fingertips are veritable icicles tapping over my keyboard, and a bowl of soup could not sound any better right now. 

So if you're also enduring some chilly weather, or looking for a simple Meatless Monday supper, look no further than here, my friend. 

Being a tres lazy cook, I took as many shortcuts as I could. I used tinned green lentils and fresh egg noodles which considerably cut down on cooking time. In another display of scatter-brainednitis, I didn't realise until I had started cooking that I had no onions in the house. So there is no onions or oil in this recipe, which means that everything is super light and quick to make. As everything is pretty much cooked, it could be done in 30 minutes, but I like to cook a little longer on a slower heat to allow the broth to become as flavourful as possible.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Citrus and Cardamom Pound Cake with Candied Blood Orange

For the last few weeks, I have been seeing recipes using blood oranges pretty much everywhere on social media. I had only tasted this exotic looking fruit once before, but I was enraptured by all the pictures I saw of these jewel like oranges and vowed to make something myself using them. And that's where the mission began. You may assume, dear readers, that living in London, the metropolitan capital of culture in UK, it wouldn't be too difficult to get your hands on what is simply a red coloured citrus fruit. I've written previously on here about how you can find the most obscure Bengali fish and vegetables in big supermarkets here these days, but finding blood oranges was like looking for a rare and endangered species.

I went to no less than 4 different supermarkets within a several mile radius looking specifically for this fruit. And each time they seemed to have every other fruit under the sun except blood oranges. And when I would ask some poor employee if they had any blood oranges, they would stare at me blankly with a confused expression. I'm pretty sure I scared off a few with the word 'blood' too...

I had just about given up on finding it before the end of the season, when I chanced upon a small selection of blood oranges in a larger supermarket I was shopping in with my cousin. It was one of those light bulb moments and I only just about refrained from fist pumping in the air to celebrate.

 Despite buying a few bags of them, Me and my family gobbled down the blood oranges. I'm not sure if that was to do with the actual taste of them or just the novelty of their appearance. Nonetheless, I began to seek out a recipe to use up the last oranges before my small window of opportunity disappeared.

I've been wanting to make a pound/loaf cake for a while now, and as it didn't seem to complex for a beginner baker like me, I decided to give it a go. The recipe I used as a basis for this cake, used a mix of oil and yoghurt instead of butter and I was surprised at how light and airy the texture of the cake turned out to be.

I also subbed some of the plain flour for half a cup of ground almonds as I seem to love the taste of it in bakes these days.I think I must be turning into an almond nut (get it??).  I used a mix of both lemon and orange zest to add perfume to the cake and then a good pinch of ground cardamom which seems to complement citrus flavours well.

I wavered between decorating the cake with a blood orange royal icing (which comes out a super cute pastel pink, btw) or candied blood orange slices. However, as I'm not too fond of sugary icing, I opted for the latter. To make the candied blood orange slices, you simply let them cook in a hot sugar syrup. While I wasn't altogether sold on the taste of it, it's a pretty way to dress up an otherwise humble pound cake.

The actual taste of the cake however was amazing! I think it is my favourite bake on the blog to date. Like I said, the texture is light and airy and has a range of flavours from the citrus fruit and ground cardamom. I'm just a little bit sad I couldn't get a few more photos of the cake. As I rushed home from work to take a few pictures on another grey and dull London afternoon, I only got a few minutes to photograph before sunset. The odds just seemed to stacked against me from the get go for me on this one, but as they may or may not say, what doesn't kill you, makes you a stronger and more willfully resolved food blogger!

Monday, 23 March 2015

Murghi di Khadur Salan (Chicken with Bottle Gourd Curry)

Ah, the humble khadu. Sometimes known as doodhi or laukhi, this bottle gourd vegetable is now widely available in a lot of supermarkets in the UK. There are apparently lots of health benefits associated with doodhi too, from helping with digestion and weight loss to helping with stress relief. According to online sources, duudhi tastes great in desserts such as halwa, however, I bring you a recipe today using this vegetable in a curry. Typically, in Bangladeshi home cooking, khadu may be cooked either with fish or chicken. When it is cooked with fish, it is often cooked with less chilli. My preferred version however is in a spicy curry with chicken.

It is also around this time of year that many Bangladeshis in the UK attempt to grow  khadus in their own gardens. It's no easy feat considering the obvious difference in climate between the UK and Bangladesh. Even for the most seasoned of gardeners, growing a khadu takes dedication and and a good dose of coaxing. And in the end, you might only just end up with the one or two khadus, if even that. Yet, despite the odds, you get some people who will try to grow these vegetables year in and year out. If that doesn't show a love for vegetables, I don't know what does.

To prepare the khadu, you must first remove the outer green peel. You could do this with a vegetable peeler or a knife, but these days I like to do it using a traditional Bangladeshi sickle shaped knife called a da which you kind of crouch down over on the ground, allowing you to use both of your hands to hold the food item (remind me to blog about this strange but highly precise tool at a later date).
Once peeled, you need to cut the khadu in half lengthways. Then you can scoop out the seeds using a spoon. Once scooped out, roughly dice the khadu into big chunks.

Khadu as a stand alone vegetable doesn't really have a lot of taste to it, but it takes spice well and as such it makes a great accompaniment to the chicken in this curry. Some of my family members prefer this dish with minimum amounts of chilli so that they can enjoy the taste of the khadu more, as such I would recommend trying out the recipe and varying the amount of chilli powder according to your own taste. So if you like the flavour of South Asian curries but can't always tolerate the heat, then try this recipe out.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Peanut Butter Cookies

I must have been about 16 or 17 the first time I tried peanut butter. I remember hearing about it through American cultural references, but I think it has only become more popular the UK in the last few years. I also remember thinking how strange the whole peanut butter and jam sandwich combination sounded. But then I actually tried it and I was made to eat my hat. Or sandwich. Whatever,

The same applied when I first heard about peanut butter cookies. Although it seems to be another American favourite, it always seemed a little strange to me. I guess I should add here that I've never been much of a peanut fan. I only really ever came across them in packets of Bombay Mix and I always used to pick them out.

But I have slowly become quite fond of peanut butter. I like a spoonful in a hot bowl of porridge or as a dip with slices of apple sprinkled with ground cinnamon. So when I saw the great reviews of peanut butter cookies, I took it upon myself as a reformed peanut-skeptic to try it out at least once,

And what a pleasant surprise these cookies turned out to be. As you can tell from the pictures, they are crisp on the outside but super soft on the inside. I found that the actual taste of the peanut butter was quite subtle in the cookie, and it came through more in the smell rather than taste. The use of brown sugar also gave quite a nice fudgy taste too.

All in all, it was a recipe that was enjoyed both by myself and my family. And considering it took less than 1 hour to make them all, it's a pretty great recipe to try out.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Individual Homity Pies

Hello all, I'm coming at you today with my version of a traditional British Homity Pie. I will confess, I'd never heard of this dish up until a few weeks ago when I stumbled across it online. Apparently, it dates back to World War Two where this meat-free dish served as a rationing meal. It is an open vegetable pie and usually consists of a pastry case filled with an onion, potato and leek filling. 

I came across a version of mini filo homity pies on Great British Chefs and immediately loved the look of them. Using filo is great shortcut instead of making your own pastry, and a little lighter on the old waist too. Though I used some of the traditional filling ingredients of onion, potato and cheese, I decided to add some kale and peas instead of leek for some colour and sweetness. I also topped the pies with some red chilli and spring onion which is great for adding some spice and a little bit of texture.

You also get a little bit of a crunch from the petal like edges of the filo pastry which turns lovely and crisp in the oven. The combination of ingredients used in the pies mean that they're actually quite filling, however, because of their miniature stature, it doesn't really feel like it's heavily calorie-laden.

These individual pies would make a great party food or appetizer and is sure to impress dinner guests. But while your friends or family admire these cute little bites, you can revel in how easy they are to make. As a bit of a traditional desi girl, I'm not too much of a fan of using the oven and prefer just to cook on the stove. I whipped up the pie filling in one pot on the stove, using a bit of a cheat's roux sauce to bring it together, and then just stuck the pies with the filo pastry in the oven to let the pastry cook and cheese melt. 

Like a lot of South Asian families, we often make samosas using filo pastry and usually have some in the house. We usually keep our in the freezer, and let it thaw before using it. As such, I didn't really have too many problems with the pastry drying out during prep. However, if using filo pastry from the fridge, the usual advice is to keep it covered with a damp tea towel to stop it drying out. 

 I got 12 pies out of my ingredients, however, if you use a little less filling or a smaller baking tin, you may be able to get more. 

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Bengali Pabda Macher Jhol (Bengali Pabda Fish Curry)

It occurred to me recently that almost three whole months into my food blogging career, I still don't have a single fish curry on here. Due to the geographical location of Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal, freshwater fish is very commonly consumed, sometimes more than meat or chicken. This is something that has been exported with the Bangladeshi diaspora in the UK and beyond.

Although we cook and eat a lot of fish curries in my family, I haven't posted any recipes here under the assumption that not many people would really be interested in them. But then after some thought, I realised that actually fish dishes are what sets Bengali cooking apart from Indian and Pakistani cuisine. It is far more representative of traditional Bengali cooking and really does deserve a lot more exposure. And thus this post was born!

Depending on where you are, buying Bengali fish may not be as difficult as you might think. Asian or Bengali food stores are to be found in most cities in the UK, and in actual fact, the Pabda used in this dish can be purchased from several of the big supermarket brands in larger cities like London. However, if it is not available to you, from what I have heard from chefs, something like John Dory or maybe even whole tilapia could be used.

As we buy our pabda frozen, we have to do all the preparing ourselves. There are no scales to remove, however, we do remove the tail and the head at about a 45 degree angle to remove some of the innards of the fish. Then depending on the size of the pabda, I cut it into small pieces, usually two. The fish is then washed out with water and left to soak in salted water while the other ingredients are being cooked.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Raspberry and Almond Bakewell Cake

Can you believe it's March already??? February really did seem to zoom by, however I am glad to start saying goodbye to what seemed like an endless winter. I enjoyed a leisurely lunch in the garden today, and as I greedily soaked up the sun, it really did feel like spring had finally come. Of course, it started raining about an hour and a half later which somehow took away from the novelty, but some sun is better than none in my books.

And I rather think that the intermittent spells of sunshine adds to the thrill of the season. There's nothing quite as exciting for me as that small period of time just on the cusp of spring when you're filled with the hope of a new beginning. And as the days gradually start becoming longer and ever so slightly warmer, you suddenly notice that barren tree that you've been passing by for the last few months has flourished with a delicate smattering of blossom.

Raspberry Almond Bakewell Cake

Of course, as a newbie food blogger I'm discovering that there are many practical benefits associated with spring time. In the last few months, preparing and photographing the food for my posts has often been a rushed endeavour what with the 10 minutes of daylight we get. Now as the days are getting longer, I feel as if I'm able to take my time a bit more and not just limit myself to the weekend when I'm not working.

For me spring is associated with freshness and some much needed colour to what had been an otherwise grey landscape, all sentiments that I think are very well epitomized by this cake today. It is elegant and fresh, and decorated with a smattering of raspberries just like the blossom on the trees.

It's also a great bake for novice bakers like me, as it is meant to be a bit dense so it's a bit more forgiving. For the traditionalists, this cake would be great with some afternoon tea however with the slight tartness of the raspberry it also would pair well with some vanilla ice cream or even my personal fave of custard.

If you've seen my thumbprint cookies, you might have already picked up on my love of almond flavoured sweet treats. I also don't like overly sweet desserts so I found the sharpness of the raspberry to be very refreshing.

If you're looking for a cake that is easy to bake and looks pretty without a lot of fuss, this is a great recipe to try out.