Happy Thanksgiving

As I’ve mentioned before, I do love a pumpkin.  Few vegetables signify a season quite as well.  And, yes, I know this may in part be to our ever-expanding americanization, but I don’t mind so much in this instance.  I know that the Yankee abduction of our seasons and traditions over here in Europe is often no more than a marketing ploy, but I’ll happily buy into a pumpkin fad.  And anyway, they are the ultimate frugal veg because you can get so much out of them- a bargain rather than a frivolous, unnecessary splurge.  So take that, Hollywood.  

Although I have to admit that for me, Autumn would remind me of the States, even if the shops weren’t trying to sell me Halloween (and, at some delis in Notting Hill, even Thanksgiving).  I think partly this is because when I lived in New York I was so struck by the way the city unfolded in shades of terracotta, yellow and umber.   But, mostly, having gone to American schools when I was young, the autumn holidays made quite an impression.  I loved it.  The dressing up, the crafting, the cooking, the excitement and, if I was very, very lucky, an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner from an American friend.  I was so impressed by the ritual of it all and loved the strange, exotic foods- cranberries, sweet potatoes (occasionally studded with mini marshmallows!), the enormous-seeming turkey and, of course, pumpkin pie.  

So every year, I buy a pumpkin and I cook with it.  This year, I managed to get three decent recipes and meals from 1 medium sized pumpkin.  Here are two with the final one to follow.   

Spicy Thai Pumpkin Soup

Serves 4
You will need:
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 red chilli, half diced finely and half sliced
1 lemongrass, central part only, finely chopped
1 large handful coriander, leaves and stems separated and roughly chopped.  
1 thumb of ginger, grated1/2 pumpkin, peeled and cut into rough chunks
2 onions, chopped
1 litre chicken stock
200ml coconut cream
1.  Heat the vegetable oil in a large saucepan.  Fry off the garlic, the finely diced chilli, lemongrass, coriander stems and ginger until fragrant and aromatic.  Add the onions and fry until softened, then add the pumpkin and stir to coat in the onion and spice mixture. Add the chicken stock bring to the boil.  Simmer until the pumpkin has completely softened, about 15 minutes.  
2.  Blend the soup with a stick blender until completely smooth.  Add all but 2 tbsp of the coconut cream and heat through, simmering for a little longer if not quite thick enough.  To serve, pour into bowls and stir through a little bit of the coconut cream.  Top with the sliced chilli and coriander leaves.  

This recipe is adapted from Ottolenghi’s book Plenty.   It would make a delicious side dish to accompany some spicy grilled chicken, or as a meal of its own with some quinoa and leaves.  
Pumpkin roasted with cardamom and tahini dressing
Serves 2
You will need:
3 cardamom pods
1/4 pumpkin, cut into wedges
2tbsp olive oil
For the tahini dressing:
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp tahini
1 lime, zested and juiced
1 green chilli, sliced finely
1 small bunch coriander, roughly chopped.  
1. Preheat the oven to 200C.  Bash the cardamom pods in a pestle and mortar until you have something you have a coarse powder.  Place the pumpkin wedges on a baking sheet and add the oil, cardamom and season generously.  Toss to completely coat, then bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes, until the pumpkin is soft and golden.  
2. To make the dressing, stir together the olive oil, tahini, lime zest, about 1 tbsp of lime juice and some salt and pepper.  Taste to adjust the seasoning and lime juice.  It should be about he same consistency as plain yoghurt so it seems very thick, lighten with a little water.  Serve the pumpkin wedges arranged on a large plate, drizzled with the dressing and scattered with the coriander and sliced chilli.  Serve with some additional lime, if desired.  

Fashion and Fishcakes

There was a time not so very long ago when fishcakes were ubiquitous on menus across all the land.  From gastropub to chain restaurant, hell, even in fast food joints- you couldn’t move for the dainty little fried rounds.   And of all of those, the Thai version, laced with chillies and coriander, was by far the most popular. 

But fishcakes have have fallen out of favour and all but disappeared from any establishment now.  Gone, like smock tops, out of fashion to be replaced by scallops and black pudding, rillettes and toast or ham hock and split peas. 

I was a fan of smock tops- they were both practical and comfortable. I’ve always liked fishcakes too, especially if the home-made kind accompanied by a crunchy, lime-dressed salad.  They are tasty, filling and cheap to make as you can bulk out the fish with spuds and greenery.  So, I say to you, forget fashion- make fishcakes. 

Thai Fishcakes
serves 2 with leftovers

You will need:

250g salmon fillets (about 2 small ones)
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 red chili, chopped
couple of cm fresh ginger, grated
handful fresh coriander, chopped
2 small egg
salt, pepper
vegetable oil
juice and zest of 1 lime
lime and coriander to serve


1.  Heat the oven to 190 degrees centigrade.  Drizzle the salmon with the lime juice and season with salt and pepper.  Wrap in tin foil and place in the oven for about 20 minutes- the exact time will depend on the thickness of your fillets, so keep an eye on them.  Too long in the oven will make for some pretty dry fishcakes.

2.  Meanwhile,  put a large pan of salted water on to boil.  Drop in your spuds and leave to simmer until soft and completely cooked through.

3.  Place the fish sauce, chili, ginger, coriander and lime zest in a large bowl.  Add one of the eggs and mix well.

4.  Once the salmon is cooked, open up the foil parcels and leave to cool slightly- you don’t want the heat from the fish cooking the egg.

5.  Drain the spuds and roughly mash them with a fork- it doesn’t matter if there are a few chunks left.  Leave to cool for a bit as well.

6.  Flake the salmon into the bowl and then add the mashed spuds.  Season generously with salt and pepper and mix to combine all the ingredients.

7.  You should have enough for 6 small cakes- dived the mixture up and roll into balls, flattening slightly.

8.  Crack the remaining egg in a bowl and whisk with a fork and brush over and under the fishcakes.  Heat some oil in a non-stick frying pan and then carefully drop the cakes into the pan, lowering the heat.  They may well be a bit sticky, but they will come together in the end.  Do three at a time and keep an eye on them, moving them about the pan so they don’t stick to the bottom.  Flip after about five minutes and cook on the other side until golden brown.

9.  Serve with scattered coriander, lime wedges and a crunchy salad.  I made mine with radishes, spinach, carrots, spring onion and a dressing made from lime juice, sugar, chopped chili, fish sauce and sesame oil. 

Incredible Okra

I often lament the lack of proper places to go food shopping in my area (near Roman Road Market in the East End).  I’d love to have one really decent fruit and veg shop nearby, where the goods haven’t been stacked on the pavement gathering dust for weeks.  Or even a larger supermarket, just for convenience.  We do have a Ginger Pig butcher’s in Victoria Park village, which is great for a special occasion, as is the posh fruiterers, quaint deli and yummy mummy bakery… but what I really need is something more basic (and cheap) for my day-to-day needs.  A place where I can get stuff to make lunch with.  Some leaves, a couple of tomatoes and a bit of soft cheese for when I can’t be arsed to make anything else.  A loaf.  You know? 
What we do have in abundance, however, is the exotic and unusual.  Ingredients that are quotidien to many in this area, but quite difficult to find in other parts of the country or even in other parts of London.  For example, it’s a cinch, a mere two minute hop and skip, to find tapioca flour, a bottle of ayran, strands of saffron, bunches of plantain, mustard seeds (very useful for pickles and preserves- see my upcoming preserved lemons post), dragonfruit, custard apples, wholewheat bulgur, ghee and absolutely any spice under the planet.  Which, if you like to cook, means that a culinary adventure can be found, quite literally, just around the corner.    
Something I’ve been experimenting with a bit is okra.  I ate it for the first time in the beginning of the year at a curry place on Tower Bridge Road with my friend Kate.  It’s delicious and can be prepared, in my view,  in two basic ways- healthily (stewed, baked or lightly sautéed) or unhealthily (deep fried in a light and crispy batter a la Deep South… amazing).  I’ve been experimenting with the healthy version, by chopping it up and stewing it with a tomato-based, spicy sauce (see below for a recipe), but I’m sure there must be countless other ways too.  The okra lends itself very well to sauces, as it gives off this creamy, sticky goo once you chop it up and goes slightly glutinous, thickening the sauce.  Sorry, that probably didn’t sound very appetising, but I can assure you, it is delicious.  
Spicy Tomato Okra
Simple Spicy Stewed Okra
You will need:
okra- two handfuls, or a pack from your supermarket (Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s both stock okra)
1 onion, chopped finely
2 garlic cloves, mashed
1 tin chopped tomatoes (or 300ml veg stock and 3 chopped plum tomatoes)
fresh coriander
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp coriander seeds
salt, pepper
olive oil
lime juice
to serve: rice and lime yoghurt (Greek yoghurt with some lime zest grated in plus a squeeze of juice)
  1. First, ‘burn’ the spices.  This is how you will get most of the flavour for the dish.  Heat your oil until it is really, really hot (be careful).  Add your onion and garlic, chili powder, coriander seeds, salt and pepper.  Turn down the heat immediately, but keep an eye on it, stirring constantly while letting the spices combine and begin to catch, giving off a strong, smoky smell. 
  2. Chop up your okra into pieces and add this to the spice mixture, stir until completely coated in the spices.
  3. Add the chopped tomato and about 100 ml of water, leave to stew for 15-20 minutes until suitably saucy. 
  4. Serve with chopped coriander, rice and a squeeze of lime or the lime yoghurt.
Another quick and simple way to cook okra is to roast it in the oven.  Simply rinse and pat dry your okra before tossing in olive oil and roasting in a hot oven for about 10-15 minutes until tender in the middle and beginning to crisp up on the outside.  Meanwhile, grate the zest of one lemon and some about 3 tablespoons Parmesan and mix with salt and pepper.  When the okra comes out of the oven, coat it with the lemon and cheese mixture.  Makes for a gorgeous starter or a fit accompaniment to fish. 

Something sharp and piercing

As I haven’t done entries about drinks yet, I thought it might be about time. These are some pics of the gimlets we made on Friday.

A gimlet is, basically, pretty much just gin. And some lime juice. So this is definitely a cocktail in the old sense of the word- none of this faffing about with cranberry juice and peach schnapps.

Apparently “a real gimlet is half gin and half Rose’s lime juice and nothing else” according to Terry Lennox in Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye (1953).

So we did ours half and half- Gordon’s and Rose’s.

I didn’t know this but a gimlet is, apparently, a tool for making small holes, but can be used to describe something sharp and piercing. The world makes sense again.


Or… A way with green tomatoes
Instalment no. 1

Alright, so the title of this post is a little off, but what better to serve with green eggs and ham than….. green tomatoes!

My kind manager at work, Annabel, gave me a massive bag of these and I spent all of last week looking forward to the weekend so that I could experiment with them.

The first and most obvious choice was that Whistlestop Café favorite- fried green tomatoes.

After scouring the Internet and absorbing a few different ideas, I came up with a triple-dip method: flour, then beaten eggs, then seasoned polenta.

Fried in about a cm of hot hot hot (careful!) vegetable oil for a few minute on each side, until golden and crisp on the outside, warm and oozing on the inside.

With this I made an easy peasy dip of sour cream, chili, coriander, spring onions and lime zest and juice. Absolutely brilliant.

Fried Green Tomatoes with lime and chili sauce on a blustery Saturday afternoon

Moments later….