Monday, 30 November 2009

Pataks tandoori paste disappointment

So following on from the post below, here's the bit on the prawns. Not being minded to make up my own tandoori paste from scratch, I thought I'd utilise the one made by Pataks instead. I've used other pastes made by them before and have been impressed. They've always been very dense, and intensely flavoured with spices and ginger or garlic, with a thin layer of oil to keep everything well preserved. They've proved to be a very useful shortcut when marinating flavourless things like Quorn before cooking. So I thought I was on safe ground with buying a jar of Patak's tandoori paste to marinate my prawns in before grilling them.

But I probably should have exercised caution when I saw the colour of the contents of the jar. Rather than the rich, fiery red of Kashmiri chillis, this paste was more like a deep fuchsia pink. And this was with the assistance of several varieties of colouring. However my faith in Pataks remained strong and I continued with my purchase. On actually opening the jar, the 'paste' turned out to be more of a gloopy sauce, and on adding yoghurt to make the marinade the colour changed to an even more disturbing raspberry tone. I had a quick taste to check levels of spiciness and found these to be approximately none. I know that tandooris are not usually meant to be super-spicy and I am certainly no chilli-head, but this 'paste' really lacked any significant flavour. I went ahead and added some chilli to the marinade and after a couple of hours, the prawns went under a hot grill. They only took a few minutes to cook through so admittedly not much time to take on that slightly charred effect that an authentic tandoor would produce.

The taste was acceptable but definitely bland. Maybe using the product with meat (or possibly fish) and it's concurrent longer cooking times would improve the finished product, but I remain pretty skeptical. I very sincerely hope that this is a one off failure by Pataks and the rest of their proper pastes remain as good as I remember them being.

Pataks tandoori paste
I rate it 5/10
Cost: Around £1.80

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Bengali ful kofi and North Indian saag paneer with methi

There is something about the onset of autumn and winter that makes me crave Indian food. Which is strange really as it comes from completely the opposite climate to the UK's grey and dull weather. On the menu last weekend were Bengali-style cauliflower with ginger and cumin, North Indian/Punjabi spinach with paneer and fenugreek seeds, and tandoori-style prawns. More on the prawns later, but this post focusses on the vegetables. Oh and before I forget kudos to my mother for the recipes.

So traditional Bengali Hindu cooking generally doesn't use onions or garlic when cooking vegetables, instead mostly favouring ginger and a variety of different spices. This ful kofi (cauliflower) recipe is incredibly simple and can be eaten with either rice or an Indian bread like naan or chapattis.

Recipe (enough for 2-4 depending on what else you're eating)
1 tbsp oil
1 medium cauliflower
1 dried bay leaf
1.5 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 green chilli
0.5 inch piece of ginger
About 0.5 tsp salt or enough to season

Peel and crush the ginger into a paste and fry gently in the oil for a minute or two. Add the bay leaf. Pierce the chilli a couple of times with the tip of a knife, and add to the other ingredients to achieve flavour without heat. If you do want more heat, slice the chilli up, and leave the seeds in for extra hotness. Chop the cauliflower into medium florets and add to the pan with the cumin seeds and salt. Stir everything well and cover with a lid. I like my cauliflower au naturel, but if you'd prefer some colour add a little tumeric too. This should take around 10-15minutes to cook through on a low heat, but give it a stir every now and again. If it looks like things are sticking to the pan, pour in a spoon or two of water.

The Punjab region of India is known for its fondness for all things dairy, including paneer, but the combination of green leaves with this plain 'cheese' is something that is popular across North India. If you find them you could use fresh methi leaves instead of spinach in this dish, but I much prefer cooking with the uniquely fragranced methi or fenugreek seeds. I remember my mother making paneer from scratch back in the day, a process involving cheese cloths and various stages of boiling and straining milk. Luckily (as I don't own any cheese cloths) ready made paneer is pretty widely available in supermarkets these days.

I also use frozen spinach for this recipe. It comes blanched in little blocks so it's much easier to see how much you're getting, compared to bags of the fresh stuff which always seem to shrink down to about a teaspoon's worth no matter how much you start with.

Recipe (also enough for 2-4 depending on what else you're eating)
1 block of paneer (c.225g)
1 tsp tumeric
1 tsp ground cumin
0.5 tbsp oil for frying

500g frozen chopped spinach (defrost overnight or in the microwave)
3-4 fat cloves of garlic, crushed
1.5 tsp whole methi (fenugreek) seeds
1 green chilli
0.5 tbsp oil
About 0.5 tsp salt or enough to season

Cut the paneer into smallish pieces (as in the above picture), and combine the tumeric and ground cumin. Lightly dust the paneer pieces with this coating and fry until they're slightly browned. Once this is done set the paneer to one side.
Heat the remaining oil and put the fenugreek seeds in. Stir and cook gently until they just begin to colour and then add the spinach. Also add the whole green chilli, following the same procedure as with the cauliflower dish above to adjust the amount of heat. Stir everything well and then add the crushed garlic. Cook on a low heat for around 10minutes, add the paneer back in, mix well and return to the heat for another 10minutes or so. Scoff with rice or an Indian bread, ideally with some Bengali cauliflower on the side too.

Clawson Dairy paneer
I rate it 8/10
Cost: Around £2.00 per block

Chopped frozen spinach
I rate it 8/10
Cost: Around £1.00 for 1kg

Saturday, 14 November 2009

World's simplest nectarine crumble

I can't really remember if I read this recipe in a book, saw it on television or randomly devised it myself. But it is something I have been making for quite a few years now, and is always a winner. It's one of those light puddings that's fresh enough to have during summer but also warming enough for winter. It is also incredibly quick and simple as it's essentially some baked fruit with a crushed biscuit topping.
To make the world's simplest crumble halve one nectarine per person, and scoop out the stone with a teaspoon to leave a little hollow in the middle. For the topping, melt around 1 tablespoon of butter for every two pieces of fruit and roughly crush a big handful of amaretti or ratafia biscuits. Mix these together and add a little orange juice (or another fruit juice) so that the 'crumble' topping can be lightly molded over the cut fruit, but not so much that the biscuit crumbs are totally saturated. You could also use peaches for this or apricots for mini versions, as these fruits all go well with almond flavours.
Bake in the middle of a moderately hot oven at gas mark 6, for around 15 to 20 minutes, or until the fruit is soft and the topping is starting to darken. Serve with cream or ice cream, savour the contrast of crunchy crumble and juicy, giving fruit, and start contemplating making some more!

Doria Italian ratafia biscuits
I rate them 9/10
Cost: Around £1.30 for 150g

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Japanese style noodle soup

So first the honesty declaration- my knowledge of Japanese cuisine is very limited so this recipe is completely non-authentic but does use some Japanese ingredients. It is also very quick, super-tasty and feels like it's very good for you.
The soup uses dashi stock as a base, and since the chances of me boiling some edible kelp to make my own are highly limited, I use a powder made by Shimaya. I am really not sure if this is a 'good' brand or not (it is made in Japan), but it is the only one I could find in Cambridge. It does contain MSG, which I guess is the seaweed/umami substitute, but I don't know if this is standard practice in ready-made dashi or not.
The other components of this soup are whatever you want really. I gently fried some thinly sliced garlic, mild chilli and spring onions in as little vegetable oil as possible, added a sachet of dashi stock powder and a bit less than a litre of water and brought it up to a simmer. Chinese leaf, sugar snap peas, baby sweetcorn and oyster mushrooms then went into the stock to poach for around five minutes, rapidly followed by some raw prawns and thin egg noodles. After another five minutes or so, when the prawns were cooked through, I finished the soup off with a tablespoon or so of dark soy sauce. The resulting soup was full of tender vegetables and soft noodles in a stock which is intensely savoury with a hint of chilli, and was more than enough for two hungry people.
This is a soup that can be made with any vegetables or type of noodle, with as much heat as you like, and for me it manages to tick all the comfort food boxes without being at all stodgy.

Shimaya dashi no moto stock powder
I rate it 8.5/10 (though would probably prefer an MSG-free version)
Cost: Around £1.80 for 50g box containing 5 sachets