Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Harissa (A North African Dried Chilli Sauce)

This fiery paste, harissa, is known thoughout North Africa for its fiery and pungent taste and has well crossed its borders. It is served as a condiment, marinade or a dip for warm crusty bread. This is a basic harissa recipe, you can add your choice of spices and herbs such as fennel seeds, fresh coriander, mint and parsley leaves. Instead of using all fiery chillies I have substituted red bell pepper to mellow down the heat considerably. When I prepared harissa for the first time, I used all chillies with no bell pepper and it was so hot that I could hardly use a blob of it in any of my dishes. It gave so much of heat and with such a less amount not much flavour was locked in any of the dishes. So going through some recipes on net, I decided to make a paste using a mixture of red pepper and hot dried chillies. Fabulous, I would say.  You can simply stir them in salads, use them to flavour meat, fish, prawns and even soups. It can also be stirred into tagines and couscous to impart a distinctive chilli taste. Harissa paste is now easily available in African and Middle Eastern stores as well some supermarkets and delicatessens. But this is so easy to make, tastes so fresh, why would you want to get one that is processed – My thought.

  Preparation time : 10 minutes
  Yields about 1/2 cup

  • 6-8 hot red chillies, whole (Horn or New Mexico variety, but you can use any dried chilli you have in hand. I used the mild Indian Kashmiri chilli).
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • ½ tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 3 garlic cloves minced
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ teaspoon paprika (optional)
  • ¼ cup olive oil

1. Soak dried chillies in warm water for about an hour to soften them. Drain a squeeze out any excess water. (I seed them and soak if the chillies are really spicy).

2. While the chillies are soaking, Place the red pepper in a baking tray. Grill/bake the capsicum until skin is all blistered, blackened and wrinkled. Peel them under running tap water, seed them, drain and set aside.

3. Warm a dry frying pan until it’s just beginning to show wisps of smoke, then throw in the caraway, coriander and cumin seeds. Remove the pan from the heat immediately, give it a shake and set aside. This helps unlock the flavour of the spice. Pound the seeds using a pestle and mortar or a coffee grinder and set aside.

4. Place, soaked chillies, peeled capsicum, garlic in a blender and blend till smooth or coarse as per your liking adding little oil if necessary. (If you like your harissa paste to be chunky, you can use pestle and mortar instead of using a grinder). Tip it into a bowl and add paprika, pound spices and salt and mix well. Add in olive oil and mix.

Store the harisaa paste in a sealed jar in refrigerator and making sure there is a thin layer of oil on top all the time. This increases the shelf-life of harissa paste. It keeps well over a month and can be frozen.

Caraway seeds are quite similar to cumin seeds, but they are slightly longer than cumin seeds and a bit thinner, have a sweet aroma and is very much different from cumin seeds.

Thursday, 15 December 2011


I love the Christmas season in the UK.  It is the most celebrated festival here where the preparations start as early as October. Everything around is in the X’mas spirit now and there is lot of things going on at Richu’s school too. There was a Xmas party this week and I baked loads of cupcakes as part of my contribution. Rishan is also quite excited about all the Christmassy things happening at school and neighbourhood. His teacher also mentioned that he wrote a lovely letter to Santa which I reckon I heard her right, as he just started reading few words apart from the alphabets.

 Here, Xmas is celebrated with lot of hype with all shops and malls putting up their Xmas decorations, Xmas trees and selling Xmas goodies and gifts as early as October. Shops are loaded with Xmas goodies and stuffs and it will bring you in Xmas mood and spirit from then on. Even though it’s quite serene on Xmas day, until then all malls are jam packed and chaotic with people shopping in frenzy as if there is no day tomorrow.

Not to forget, there is this so called ‘Boxing Day’, that falls on 26th December, which is a bank holiday here in the UK. Basically, it is a national holiday and that is the time when shops have massive sale with dramatic reduction in their prices.  Many shops open as early as 5 am, and can you believe people queuing outside the shops as early as 4 am?!!It is a bit strange, but true. I am thinking of going quite early this year amnd that is if my better half wakes up. He hates being in that shoulder to shoulder crowd and mostly prefer not to shop on that day. And by the time we go, all the good ones would have taken way to someone’s bag.

Here is a real good cookie that best suits the celebratory mood and a great gift to offer your friends and relatives - Florentines. You may serve them as dessert or a cuppa tea.  I am kind of creamy, luscious dessert loving person rather than a dessert with crunch. I would prefer a tiramisu to an apple crumble, if you know what I mean. It was one of my dearest friends Dhanya Lakshmanan who seduced me into making these which otherwise I wouldn’t have really tried. I reckon I should be a pound heavier than I was a week ago! I had almost all of it. It was quite good, I should say.

Florentines are a festive treat that uses all the luxurious fruits and nuts to suit any festive occasion. These are jewelled with glace cherries, raisins, flaked almonds, and mixed seeds and a breeze to make. You can use whatever you have in hand, like just nuts of any kind, dried cranberries, apricots, figs, crystallised ginger, candied peels, seeds so on. Options are endless. Florentines are gorgeous to look at and a pleasure to bite into. It can be chewy or crunchy depending on the time you cook. You may undercook and get it chewy or cook it a bit further to get it crunchy. I like it slightly crunchy so cooked it for about 12 minutes at 170 degrees Celcius. Make sure you don’t cook it for too long as it may burn and taste bitter.

On a different note, Please check out this fantastic blogzine www.spolightonline.in founded by Mr. Srinivas Nyapathy. This fortnightly web Blogzine based in India covers all sections from politics, sports, news, film stories and lifestyle. Also please check this link (http://spotlightonline.in/#/64/) for a little surprise. Won’t you?

Recipe: Florentines
Adapted from The Italian Cook book

Makes about 30 cookies
Preparation time:20 minutes
Baking time:20 minutes

  • 75g unsalted butter
  • 75g/ 1/3 cup caster sugar
  • 2 tsp plain flour
  • 2 tbsp cream
  • 100g/ 1 cup flaked almonds
  • 25g/2 tbsp sunflower seeds or any seeds of choice
  • 25g/2 tbsp raisins
  • 100g/ ½ cup glace cherries
  • 175g good quality dark chocolate

1.Preheat the oven to 170C.

2. Heat the butter, sugar and flour in a pan over a medium heat, stirring continuously, until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved.

3. Gradually add in the cream, stirring continuously until well combined. Don’t let the cream boil. Turn the heat off.

4. Throw in the almonds slivers, seeds, raisins, cherries and mix well until combined.

5. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper and place a dessertspoon of the florentine mixture onto it. Allow plenty of space for the cookie to spread while cooking so that they don't merge together when heated.

6. Transfer the florentines to the oven and bake for 8-13 minutes, or until golden and bubbly. The cookies will be really soft at this stage and will harden in a matter of 3-5 minutes, so don’t worry about it not being hard when they are just out of the oven. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool on the tray, then transfer the florentines to a cooling rack.

Note: The Florentines won’t have perfect round shape when they come out of oven. But if u want them to be perfect rounds, place a cookie cutter or any transparent glass around florentines and slowly tap the uneven edges or all around to make a neat circle. You can avoid this step as it doesn’t alter the taste, just the shape. If you are doing this, you should do as soon as it comes out of oven as it starts setting in a minute’s time and once it sets, it will start cracking.

7. To melt chocolate, bring  water to a simmer in a pan. Place a heatproof bowl over the water (do not allow the base of the bowl to touch the water). Add the chocolate pieces and stir until smooth and melted.

8. Turn the florentines so that the flat base is facing upwards. Spread the melted chocolate over the florentine bases and set aside. Use a fork to make wavy lines across the chocolate and leave aside to cool completely.

Instead of spreading the chocolate and setting, you can also dunk the cookies halfway through in a bowl of melted chocolate and leave to set. You can use milk, white or dark chocolate for this.

I am sending couple of pictures of this post to a photography contest held at Beloved Star. Please check her beautiful blog out there.


Monday, 12 December 2011

Egg Kebab

I recently started observing that every time I go to India, I come across many innovative and great range of food that is prepared using new techniques and new flavours yet retaining that rich Malabar whiff. Whenever I visit my relatives, the food they serve never stopped to surprise me. They are nothing of the sort that I used to have while I was young.  It has all taken a new twist. I can’t stop praising and admiring one of  my husband’s cousin’s mother in law who makes great variety of finger licking food in no time. She is the best cook I have met and come across. Every time we visit her, no matter how late we give her notice, she lays the table with at least four dishes of her own, most of which I have never had before. They may not be the authentic trademark dishes, but something with previously acquainted flavours and a new outlook.  Her dishes are very appealing and the tantalizing flavours will leave a lingering taste making you crave them forever. The amount of stuff she makes is just unbelievable. She is so innovative and talented. If I ever get a chance, I would love to take lessons from her, seriously! She is that damn good. I so wish she makes a book of her own, I would be obliged to be her first customer. I did ask her the recipes and bits and pieces of them remains in mind, but I don’t think I can ever create those great masterpieces. She gave me approximate measures that you usually get when you ask elderly people about recipes including our moms. Not really helpful for amateurs like me. Especially when it comes to elaborate cooking.
Anyhow, here is a snack that I tried quite recently. It is a sensational recipe that is perfect for picnics, Iftar or as an evening snack. In egg Kebabs, the boiled and shelled eggs are encased in seasoned meat mixture and then deep fried until golden brown. It is always preferred to use lamb or beef mince as chicken mince is quite tasteless no matter how much ever you season it! These are similar to Scotch eggs we get here. This can be had with ketchup or mayonnaise.
Egg Kebab
Makes 10-12 Kebabs
5-6 eggs, boiled, shelled and halved
½-1 egg
½ kilo minced meat (chicken, mutton or beef)
1 tsp coriander powder
1-1½ tsp  Kashmiri chilli powder
½ tsp turmeric powder
4-5 slices of bread, 120g, ground
2 green chillies
2 ” piece, 30g ginger
30g, a good handful or coriander leaves
1 Tbsp lime juice
¼ tsp garam masala powder
5 cloves
2” piece of cinnamon sticks
salt as required
Oil- to deep fry
1. Cook minced meat along with salt, turmeric, chilli powder and coriander powder until cooked and void of any moisture.
2. Place chillies, ginger, cinnamon sticks, cloves in processor and crush them all. Add cooked minced meat and coriander leaves to this and mince fine.
3. Tip the whole mixture to a bowl, add in the bread crumbs, lime juice and garam masala and mix well. Add egg little. You may not need a full egg. Just add enough egg to combine the mixture.
4. Divide the mixture into 10-12 portions, depending on the number of eggs and shape each of them into a ball.
5. Flatten each of these minced meat mixture in your palm, place an egg halve into it  and cover the egg with the mixture. Place them in a greased place and do the same with rest of th egg and minced meat mixture.
6. Heat oil in a deep pan and fry these stuffed eggs on low-medium flame until golden brown all over. Do not fry on high heat as it gets burnt quite fast. Everything is pre-cooked, so you don’t have to worry about inside being uncooked. It will take just couple of minutes frying.
Tip: While boiling eggs, add ½ a teaspoon of salt and it will be very easy to peel your eggs. Similarly, add eggs to tap water and bring to boil rather than adding it to boiling water and cooking. This will prevent eggs cracking when you add them to water. Eggs, especially the ones kept it fridge crack open when they are plunged into boiling water immediately.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Apricot and Almond Cake

Even though it is winter and apricot has nothing to do with winter, this cake is so good to have at anytime of the year. Canned apricots are readily available throughout the year and this cake is just can be made in no time. This is one of the simplest cakes I baked recently; packed with flavour, delicious with its nuttiness and fruity goodness. I got this recipe from Asda magazine, which is a one of the popular supermarket range in here. I pick up these supermarket magazines religiously every time I come across them and save them just for some recipes. I have been collecting them for few years now and I should tell you, they really have some fantastic recipes all of which are seasonal using seasonal fruits and veggies. I they also contain festive treats and other aspects of everyday life including latest trends, fashion and health. I am sure you can replace the apricots with other fruits like apple or pear.

Apricot and Almond Cake
Serves 8
Ready in 1 hour 10 minutes

125 unsalted butter, softened
125caster sugar
2 large eggs
1 orange /lime rind
few drops of almond essence
½ tsp vanilla essence
100g Self raising flour
75g ground almonds
a pinch of salt
3 tablespoon milk
1*450 can sliced/halved peaches
30g Almond slivers, a small handful
Icing sugar to dust

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celcius. Grease and line a 23cm/9 inch shallow cake tin or a pie tin.

2. Beat butter and sugar for about 3-4 minutes until it is light and creamy. Add in the almond extract and vanilla essence and mix well again. 

3. Beat in eggs, one at a time adding a spoonful of flour with the second one.

4. Add rest of the flour, almond flour, salt and lemon/orange rind and fold gently adding milk in between.

5.Transfer the mixture into the cake tin and level the top.

6. Arrange the rained apricots on top and scatter flaked almonds in between them.

7. Bake in the oven for 40-50 minutes until the cake springs back when gently touched in the middle. If the cake starts browning, cover it loosely with aluminium foil.

8. Let is cool down. Dust it with icing sugar and serve it plain or with whipped cream or crème fraiche. Best served warm.
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