Tag Archives: Cooking

How to cook the perfect… vindaloo – recipe

15 Aug

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The peculiar place of vindaloo, a fierily fragrant speciality of Goa in popular culture can be summed up by the 1998 World Cup football anthem of the same name, whose irritatingly catchy chorus references the curry no fewer than 11 times. As the Observer pointed out, its authors, the “prank art collective” Fat Les, “persuaded, among others, a lot of xenophobic, racist Little England football supporters to celebrate an item of Indian cuisine as a quintessential expression of Englishness”. This is despite Goa having been a former Portuguese colony and one of the few parts of India that never saw British rule.

Yet the vindaloo with which most Brits are most familiar – the hottest rung on the generic korma, tikka masala, madras ladder – bears little resemblance to the aromatic, pickle-sour original. Dan Toombs, author of The Curry Guy, dubs them “eight-pint vindaloos”, after the amount of lager needed to finish one. As chef Vivek Singh observes, though vindaloo is probably one of the best- known Indian dishes, “it’s also one of the most misunderstood”.

Thought to be a corruption of the Portuguese carne de vinha d’alhos, or meat cooked in wine vinegar and garlic, an authentic, tangy vindaloo tingles the tongue with pepper, clove and other spices, rather than the one-dimensional heat of chilli powder. So unless you’ve got a Goan specialist nearby, if you want to try the real thing, your best bet is to make it at home.

The masala
Whether or not you use it to marinate the meat before cooking, every curry begins with a masala, or spice mix – and in this instance chilli is not the principal ingredient. Though they all use slightly different combinations and amounts, all the recipes I try contain an array of what we might think of as sweet spices – cinnamon, cloves and cardamom – plus a hefty hit of black pepper, and the earthy, nutty flavours of cumin, coriander and turmeric. Chilli powder is generally added for colour, rather than heat, with Jaffrey recommending “bright red paprika” and Stein and Todiwala specifying Kashmiri chilli powder, sold under that name by Indian brands and remarkable for its brick-like hue. According to one Goan of my acquaintance, vindaloo is defined by its “beautiful, deep-red masala”, so be liberal with the mild chilli for maximum authenticity. Jaffrey and Collingham also use mustard seeds, which win points both for their pleasing texture and the little pops of bitter warmth they release.

The vinegar
Though the Portuguese would have originally used wine vinegar (or, some speculate, simply wine that had soured on the long voyage over), the dish was quickly adapted to the local palm vinegar, made from coconut toddy. Collingham notes that if you can get hold of it, “it will add a particularly Goan flavour” to the dish. I manage to source some coconut vinegar, probably made from coconut water, in an Indian grocers (many Oriental stockists may carry a Filipino brand), but as I’m reliably informed, “it’s really hard to find the legit stuff outside the state of Goa, let alone abroad”, I wouldn’t worry too much about hunting a bottle down. Singh uses a mixture of white and malt vinegar, and Stein white-wine vinegar, but the best substitute I find is Jaffrey’s cider vinegar, which has similar sweet notes to the coconut variety.

The vegetables
Todiwala describes the dish as “a sort of meaty pickle, rich and intense in flavour”, which may explain the extraordinary number of onions in his recipe – but, in fact, their sweetness works brilliantly with the tangy vinegar and rich, slightly fatty meat. Much as I dislike chopping the things, it’s worthwhile labour here, especially if you can find the sweeter Indian pink onion; otherwise, yellow ones will work fine. Liberal amounts of garlic and ginger add to the chutney-like effect: rather than crushing them to a paste, however, slice them into thin rounds and strips as Singh suggests, so they don’t get lost in the whole.

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Should you cook with Coolio, Sheryl Crow or Kelis

19 Jul

835The photographer from the Guardian is wearing a curious expression, in which a slightly strained smile does its best to conceal a look of disappointment. It is unmistakably the face of a woman attempting to spare someone’s feelings by pretending to enjoy a black bean quesadilla that she really isn’t enjoying much. “No, it’s nice,” she says, clearly in no great rush to eat any more. Besides, I know it isn’t nice, because I’ve tried one myself. The filling has a bizarre texture: somehow crumbly and claggy at the same time.

The reason I’m cooking black bean quesadillas while a Guardian photographer looks on is because they come with a recommendation from acclaimed Canadian singer-songwriter Leslie Feist. They are one of the recipes in a book she co-authored with chef Adrienne Amato called Pleasures, which details what Feist and her band ate during the making of her 2017 album of the same name. Every track on it has a lunch, dinner and dessert attached to it. And the reason I’m cooking a recipe from Pleasures is because I’m investigating cookbooks written by rock and pop stars. There has been a constant stream of them over the last few years. Rappers, cerebral indie musicians, country music legends and R&B divas alike have felt impelled to share their culinary secrets with the world. What can a music fan and cook of limited abilities learn from them?

The first thing is that their authors have quite a mix of cooking abilities. They range from artists who have trained as chefs – R&B star Kelis is a graduate of the prestigious Cordon Bleu cookery school – to artists who have buddied up with chefs to co-write their books, to artists whose interest seems slightly questionable. Something about the cover of Cookin’ with Coolio – a badly-Photoshopped shot of the rapper apparently flambéing bacon and eggs – which even I know is probably not the best technique – suggests that his enthusiasm for the kitchen might have more to do with prolonging his reality TV career than a lifelong passion for cuisine.

There are books that claim they’ll improve your wellbeing (Sheryl Crow’s If it Makes You Healthy) and books that look like they could kill you. Rapper Action Bronson’s Fuck, That’s Delicious is by some distance the best-written and most entertaining pop cookbook I come across, bursting with knowledge and enthusiasm. But its author is visibly not a man at home to the ascetic health-giving delights of, say, Crow’s brown basmati rice with soy-sage sausage. Put it this way, there’s a photo of him in Japan, shirtless beside some sumo wrestlers and by comparison, the sumo wrestlers look like the “after” photo in a Special K advert. His recipe for “a butcher sandwich the way a guy like me would eat it” contains half a pound of rib-eye steak and involves both buttering the bread and frying it in steak fat, his method for making “the chicken of all fucking chickens” requires three litres of oil, one of his “incredible pairings” reads simply “ten tubs of ice cream and depression”.

Keen to avoid both a physique like Action Bronson’s and/or a visit to the cardiology department, I opt to cook something a little lighter. He claims his two-minute tomato sauce is “the best I ever had”. It’s certainly easy to make – garlic, chillies, basil, tinned tomatoes, salt and pepper – and the end result is fine. If it doesn’t quite live up to its advance billing, perhaps that’s something to do with rappers’ inbuilt capacity for braggadocio. That said, for the purposes of comparison, I make Frank Sinatra’s marinara sauce, from The Sinatra Celebrity Cookbook, and it’s definitely an improvement on that; more garlicky, more flavoursome. Action Bronson 1, Chairman of the Board 0.

I confess to abandoning two of the books without cooking anything from them. I just don’t buy Coolio as a gourmet. There’s no USP to the book, beyond a load of really boring recipes spiced up with the odd “mofo” and “pimpin’” in the method descriptions. Loretta Lynn’s 2006 work You’re Cookin’ it Country, meanwhile, deals in a specific kind of old-fashioned, downhome US cooking that either involves ingredients I can’t find – hominy, catfish – or just sounds, to put it politely, not to my taste. There’s a lot of making casseroles by pouring cream of mushroom soup over minced beef or tinned tuna, and some dewy-eyed reminiscences of Lynn’s childhood in rural Kentucky that make mince floating about in mushroom soup seem like haute cuisine: “Possum is a different-tasting meat, but Daddy loved it.”

I approach Feist’s book with caution, partly because when I open it I’m confronted by a recipe that involves a soup containing halloumi cheese – I love halloumi, but boiling it in soup seems so wrong – and partly because many of the meals are vegan, and veganism and I have previous. I tried a plant-based diet last year, lured by its health benefits, and abandoned it almost immediately, after an ill-starred dalliance with the cookbooks of blogger Deliciously Ella. The taste of one of her dishes in particular, involving roast sweet potato and tahini-dressed avocado, haunted me for weeks. Every time I thought of it, I went off the idea of eating full stop. Keen to avoid a rerun, I opt for the black bean quesadillas in the hope that Mexican spicing will override the lack of dairy.

They are easy enough to knock together, and the song that was apparently recorded fuelled by them – Lost Dreams – is lovely, but the end result is about as far away from the unctuousness of a non-vegan quesadilla as you can get: the only lubrication suggested for the mashed black bean filling is a spritz of lime juice.

I have better luck on the vegan front the following day, with a recipe from Sheryl Crow’s book written by the singer and her chef Chuck White after she beat breast cancer. The book is filled with radiant testimony to the antioxidant and immune-system-boosting qualities of the meals within and, less lovably, terrible posed photos of the singer smiling broadly while stirring saucepans and chopping salad. I make the hot and sour miso soup with tofu and bok choi considerably less healthy by frying the tofu rather than boiling it and slathering it with sriracha. The result is good, a decent midweek supper.

Zoe Adjonyoh’s corned beef stew

22 Jun

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This recipe brings back so many memories of childhood. It’s such simple and economical fare and yet so good for the soul. Don’t be put off by the idea of using canned corned beef; you can buy corned beef from the butcher, but the canned variety is just so handy. My mum also loved this one because it was dinner done and dusted in 20 minutes.

(Serves 4)

For the chalé sauce
600g tinned chopped tomatoes or 375g fresh tomatoes
45g (3 tsp) tomato purée
1½ onions, roughly chopped
7½cm piece fresh root ginger, grated (unpeeled if organic)
1 or 2 red scotch bonnet chillis, deseeded
1½ tbsp dried chilli flakes
1½ tsp sea salt
4 garlic cloves (optional)

For the stew
2 tbsp rapeseed oil or sunflower oil
1 onion, diced
1 tsp extra-hot chilli powder
1 tsp curry powder
350g tinned corned beef
2 carrots, peeled (if not organic) and diced
75g peas
4 soft-boiled eggs

Make the chalé sauce by putting ingredients into a food processor and whizzing until you have a smooth paste.

For the stew, heat the oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan, add the onion, chilli powder and curry powder, and sauté over a medium heat for a few minutes. Stir in the chalé sauce.

Divide the corned beef into four equal pieces (which avoids arguments over portions later), or break it up into the sauce, then add the carrots and peas. Leave to simmer for 15–20 minutes. You may find that the sauce starts to dry out, so add a little water if necessary.

Peel the boiled eggs and slice in half, then add to the stew. Cook for a further five minutes.

Serve with boiled yams and plantain or rice – either way, it will vanish in no time.

Char Koay Teow

20 Sep

Being unable to look for a Char Koay Teow that tastes as good as those in Penang is one of my major frustrations in food while working in Klang Valley. So I am glad to have found one that is able to fry up an authentic tasting plate of Penang Char Koay Teow, which is ironically so near to me all this time – the stall in Sun Hin Loong at SS2 just next to Watsons.

I know this might be old news but this entry is actually dedicated to you Penangites out there who are working in Klang Valley like me. If you wish to have a fix of some authentic Penang Char Koay Teow, this is the place to be.

There are countless Char Koay Teow stalls in Klang Valley that include the word ‘Penang’ into their stall name but the taste is always far from being close. After a while I just gave up the search totally. But recently a close friend managed to convince me to try Sun Hin Loong’s, because his recommendations usually won’t go wrong.If you wish, you could have extra prawns for an additional RM2 (normal price RM4.50) But do note that the number of prawns given are not fixed, more towards size I guess. So you could get 8 regular sized prawns or 5 large ones. Nevertheless, they are sweet and sea-fresh with a nice crunch, just scrumptious.

Panera Bread Grilled Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Sandwich

16 Sep

510 calories
16 g fat (6.5 g saturated)
860 mg sodium

 

 

 

 

Remember, bagels are shaped like zeros for a reason. You’d be better off with two glazed doughnuts. Or, simply move outside the menu’s concentration of doughnuts and pastries and Dunkin’ Donuts proves itself to be one of the better on-the-go breakfast joints in the country. Pair a couple of the Wake-Up Wraps with a zero-calorie cup of coffee to switch your metabolism from sleep mode to high gear.

 

510 calories
24 g fat (10 g saturated, 0.5 g trans)
1,060 mg sodium

 

 

 

 

 

There are two differences between these two sandwiches. First, the Grilled Bacon, Egg & Cheese is built on ciabatta, which provides 50 more calories and half as much fiber. And second, it replaces the ham with bacon, which means an extra 100 calories of mostly fat.

 

590 calories
18 g fat (3 g saturated)
55 g sugars

 

 

 

 

 

Similar approaches to breakfast with very different results. Replacing an oatmeal base with sugars and granola is never a good swap.