chilli

Chinese chicken wrapped in lettuce leaves

chinese chicken in lettuce leaves

I asked my husband to write an introduction to this recipe. Surprisingly he obliged. He also took the photo.

“If Zoe hasn’t attended a meal out, which is rare, the first thing she has to know is what was eaten and how good it was.  Even if it was a mediocre Chinese.  Which this was.  But the one highlight was a dish of minced chicken wrapped in lettuce leaves.  She was straight on the case to replicate and, of course, improve”.

This is also to appease all those people on healthy eating regimes. It ticks so many diet boxes. No carbs – tick, low in fat – tick, high in protein – tick, two of your five a day – tick. It’s also pretty tasty.

Chinese chicken wrapped in lettuce leaves

Serves 2 as a main course, 4-6 as a starter

  • About 550g of minced chicken
  • 1 large carrot chopped into small cubes, or, if you want to be more authentic, a handful of water chestnuts chopped into small cubes
  • A handful of chives or the green tops of spring onions

Sauce

  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • A thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, grated or crushed
  • Chilli to taste (I use one dried red chilli finely chopped, with the seeds, for a medium hot heat)
  • 1 tablespoon of Chinese rice wine vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of sesame seeds
  • 1 teaspoon of sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar

To serve

  • 1 iceberg lettuce, separated into leaves

If, like me, you struggle to find minced chicken in your supermarket/butcher’s, then you will need to mince your own. For roughly 550g of meat use the legs, thighs and mini fillets from the breast cut from a largish chicken. You will need to trim off the skin and as much fat and sinew as possible before mincing in a mini food processor, or you can chop with a knife.

Heat a tiny bit of oil in a frying pan (I use groundnut) and brown the chicken over a medium heat until cooked through (about 5 minutes). Break up the mince with a spoon as you cook.

Add the carrot/water chestnuts and fry for a minute.

Mix together all the ingredients for the sauce and add these to the pan. Heat for about a minute.

Remove from the heat and stir through the chives or spring onion tops.

Serve immediately. Put spoonfuls of the chicken mixture into each lettuce leaf and wrap around.

NOTE: You could also substitute the chicken mince for pork or turkey mince.

Crunchy chickpeas

crunchy chickpeas

Please look at the chickpeas here.

I was flicking through Tom Kerridge’s ‘Best Ever Dishes’ and was drawn to a recipe for ‘Skate with crunchy chickpeas’. I couldn’t find skate and so my husband pan fried some sea bass instead. The crunchy chickpeas though were a revelation. It’s nice to have something a bit different carbwise from the usual rice/pasta/potatoes (although note the sneaky saute potatoes in the photo above that I added at the last minute to pacify my carboholic husband).

Cooled down and on their own the chickpeas taste a bit like an upmarket Bombay mix. They would make a great alternative to crisps as a pre-dinner snack.

Tom Kerridge’s crunchy chickpeas

  • 1 x 400g tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon of chilli powder (you can add less than this if you don’t like too much heat)
  • ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon of salt

Heat the oven to 180oC.

Mix all the ingredients above in a large bowl.

Spread the spice covered chickpeas evenly on a large baking tray.

Bake for 35-45 minutes until they are crunchy.

Pork with cashew nuts, lime and mint

pork lime cashews

I was rather mean about Nigel Slater in a recent blog post and it’s been bothering me. Being horrible doesn’t sit well with me – I was just trying (and failing) to be clever and cutting like many journalists (forgetting that I am not clever, or indeed a journalist). So I’m sorry Nigel, as I constantly remind my children, how someone looks should never be important.

And my view that Nigel is a really good food writer was strengthened recently when I picked up his recipe book ‘Real Food’ in a charity shop. It was written 16 years ago and it’s brilliant. A no nonsense cookbook, full of straightforward recipes with big flavours – just the sort of food I like. It also includes several Nigella recipes (from the time before she was on the telly).

I’ve tried a few recipes but so far this ‘pork with cashews, lime and mint’ is my favourite. It’s punchy, refreshing and just perfect for a Sunday evening when you’ve drunk a little too much over the weekend. If you like powerful flavours and a feeling that you’ve in some way cleansed your body then you should definitely give this dish a go.

Nigel Slater’s pork with cashew nuts, lime and mint (in my own words)

Serves 2

  • 400g of pork fillet (trim off as much fat as possible, then cut into 1/2 inch thick medallions and cut these into thin strips)
  • 5 tablespoons of groundnut oil
  • 90g of cashew nuts (finely chopped with a knife or roughly crushed in a pestle and mortar)
  • 4 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • a 4cm knob of ginger, finely shredded
  • 4 small red chillies, finely chopped, (or I use 1 teaspoon of dried chilli flakes)
  • The zest and juice of 3 limes
  • 2 tablespoons of fish sauce
  • a handful of mint leaves, chopped
  • a handful of basil leaves, torn

Pour three tablespoons of oil into a really hot wok and stir fry the pork for three or four minutes, keeping the heat high and stirring from time to time so that it browns nicely. Tip the meat into a bowl along with any juices.

Return the wok to the heat and add the remaining oil. Add the spring onions, garlic, ginger and chillies and fry for a minute, stirring constantly so that they don’t stick or burn.

Then add the nuts and stir fry for another minute.

Add the meat back to the pan, along with any juices and stir in the lime zest and juice and fish sauce. Fry for a couple of minutes and then stir in the herbs.

Serve with plain rice.

A setback and a recipe for Harissa

Harissa paste

In my last post I vowed to be more adventurous in the kitchen and to try a brand new recipe every week. But in doing this I forgot what a frustrating process it can be when recipes just don’t work. As an example, this week I earmarked Yotam Ottolenghi’s braised cabbage with miso where you cook a small white cabbage for four hours and apparently create some kind of heaven. I set to it, very smug because I was destined to fulfil two of my New Year’s resolutions in one fell swoop (new, interesting recipe, eat more greens).

But the result was disastrous, just a shrivelled, brown, acrid mess that could barely be identified as cabbage. I was gutted, I followed the recipe precisely but my greens were inedible and I had to have a beer to sooth the disappointment (thus breaking my ‘cut down on alcohol’ resolution).

I’m not going to give up just yet though because you do have to try new things. If you don’t life becomes turgid and boring and you turn into one of those households who eat the same meals on the same day every week (baked potatoes on a Monday, sausages on a Tuesday, fish on a Friday etc etc) which is akin to counting down the hours until death in my opinion.

To make up for it I did have some success with a lamb and apricot tagine from Lindsay Bareham’s ‘Just One Pot’ but I need to tinker with the recipe before I can confidently post it on this blog. I’m also going to try a Nigel Slater version in the next couple of weeks.

I did however make my own harissa paste for the tagine and it was delicious. I was unable to find any in Tesco so I trawled through my recipe books and found this recipe in Rick Stein’s ‘Seafood lovers’ guide’.

PS. The red blobs in the photo above are the harissa paste.

Harissa paste (from Rick Stein’s ‘Seafood lovers’ guide)

Makes enough to fill a small 150g jar

  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of tomato puree
  • 1 teaspoon of ground coriander
  • 2 red chillies, roughly chopped, seeds removed
  • A pinch of saffron strands
  • ¼ of a teaspoon of cayenne pepper
  • ¼ of a teaspoon of salt

Cut the red pepper in half, remove the stalk and seeds, and place under a hot grill until the skin turns black (this should take somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes). Once the pepper is cool enough to handle peel off the skin and roughly chop.

Put the pepper into a food processor with all the other ingredients and blitz until you have a smooth paste.

You can keep the paste in a sterilised jar in the fridge covered with a thin layer of olive oil for several weeks.

Use to finish off your tagine – recipe coming soon.

Cheat’s chilli and a New Year’s resolution

cheats chilli

Flicking through my past few posts I see a bias towards quick and simple dishes. It seems I’ve entered into a rut whereby I lazily wheel out easy recipes I know almost by heart and shy away from anything too challenging.

So one of my New Year’s resolutions is to be more adventurous in the kitchen, to try at least one brand new recipe a week and to not always go for the easiest sounding option. My other resolutions are pretty standard – drink less wine, eat more greens, pay my family more attention, clean the house, turn off the computer, do more yoga…blah, blah, blah.

But before I launch into this new realm of extra special effort in the kitchen, I want to quickly tell you about another cheat’s dish (my excuse being that I drafted this post in 2014).

Spaghetti bolognese is one of Britain’s most popular dishes and most people I know can cook it (even those who claim to be hopeless in the kitchen). I’m not going to insult you with a recipe here because you know the thing – garlic, onion, minced beef, a tin of tomatoes, beef stock perhaps a good slug of red wine and some fresh oregano. What I would like to share with you is my trick for turning leftover bolognese into  a chilli-con-carne for day 2 or 3.

All you have to do is add a few bits from your store cupboard and as if by magic you have an entirely new dish.

Cheat’s chilli-con-carne

Serves 4

  • About 700g of leftover bolognese (give or take 100g or so)
  • 1 tin of kidney beans, drained
  • 1 x 10g square of dark chocolate
  • ½ a teaspoon of cumin
  • ¼ a teaspoon of cinnamon
  • ¼ a teaspoon of fresh or dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ a teaspoon of sugar
  • Chilli, either dried chilli flakes or chopped fresh chilli, amount will be according to how hot you like it with 1 teaspoon of chilli flakes resulting in a fairly mild chilli that my children and husband will eat (with yogurt).

Put all the ingredients above into a saucepan, heat slowly and let the mixture bubble away over a medium heat for 10 minutes. Serve with rice.

PS. This only works if you’ve made a pretty standard bolognese. If yours is laced with pancetta, chicken livers or similar fancy ingredients I wouldn’t suggest trying this (but then if you’re making that extra special effort you probably wouldn’t appreciate the cheat’s tip anyway).

PPS. I’m off to yoga now.

cheat's chilli

Alchemy

Lamb flatbreads (Lahmacun)

Lahmacun

Lamb flatbreads (or Turkish pizza as they are sometimes called) are my new obsession. They are aromatic but not too spicy and great if you love pizza but can’t eat diary like my two sisters Gemma and Laura.

So this recipe, my lovely sisters, is for you. PS. That means that you’ve got to try it (said in a bossy older sister voice).

A little lamb mince goes a very long way in this recipe ,which is good because it’s very expensive these days (said in my best old lady’s voice).

Lamb flatbreads

Makes 4 flatbreads, roughly 28 cm square, to feed 2-6 adults (depending on appetite)

Base

  • 350g strong white bread flour
  • 2 teaspoons of yeast
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • Water to mix (200 – 250ml)
  • A sprinkling of semolina

Topping

  • 300g of lean minced lamb (buy the best quality you can)
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 5 tablespoons of tomato puree
  • 2 tinned plum tomatoes, drained and finely chopped, or use two fresh ones
  • 2 tablespoons of fresh flat leaf parsley
  • ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon of cumin
  • ½ teaspoon of paprika
  • ½ teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 2 large garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 large onion, grated
  • 4 small green chillies, chopped finely
  • 1 tablespoon of coarse sea salt, plus more for sprinkling
  • lemon wedges to serve

To prepare the topping simply add all the topping ingredients into a bowl and mush up with your hands until everything is incorporated. I like to leave the mixture for a few hours to allow the flavours to mingle but you don’t have to do this.

For the pizza base put the flour, salt, yeast and olive oil in a mixing bowl and add the water gradually mixing with your fingers. You want to bring the mixture together into a fairly wet dough – you may not need the whole 250ml. If you add too much, and the dough is too sticky to work with just sprinkle on a little more flour.

Tip the dough on to the work surface and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. Ideally you should knead for 10 minutes. Put the dough back in the bowl, cover with cling film, and rest for 2 hours.

When you’re ready to cook the flatbreads first set your oven to its highest temperature (mine goes up to 270oC) and place a flat, square tray into the oven to heat up.

Take your dough and give it a good punch to knock out the air. Transfer to the work surface, knead lightly for a few seconds and divide into four.
Roll the first portion of dough out as thinly as you can without getting holes (this will be somewhere between 25 and 30 cm square).

Take the hot tray out of the oven and sprinkle with semolina. Transfer your rolled out dough to the baking sheet and spread a couple of handfuls of the lamb mixture thinly over the base with your hands as evenly as you can.

Bake the flatbreads for 6-8 minutes until the edges are brown and crispy.

Remove from the oven sprinkle over some sea salt and serve with wedges of lemon to be squeezed over the top just before eating.

Repeat the process with the other 3 portions (this is where you feel a bit like a pizza slave but I assure you it’s worth it).

NOTE: An Iraqi friend of mine made me something similar using ready-made tortillas so this is an option if you don’t have the time or the inclination to make pizza dough from scratch.

You will probably find that you have a handful of topping left over. It’s not really worth scaling down the quantities so you can make it into little meat balls or fry up with some left over rice and an egg which is especially delicious and a winner with my children.

my sisters copy

My sisters.

Super quick prawn curry

prawn curry 2
When we go for a curry my favourite dish is prawn puri and (being very stuck in my ways) this is what I always order. As a special treat my husband recreated the dish for me at home, cobbling together several recipes he found on the internet. He did such a great job that I kept the recipes and whilst I don’t bother with the puris (deep frying them is a bit of a faff) I love the prawn curry filling so much that I’m happy to have it with just rice.

This is super quick and ideal for a mid-week dinner when you don’t have much time. You can make it in less than 15 minutes – which is the time it takes to cook the rice. If you keep a bag of frozen prawns in the freezer then it makes a great standby.

Prawn curry

Serves 2

  • About 15 large prawns (cooked or raw), if you’re using frozen prawns then defrost them first
  • 1 teaspoon of turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon of ghee, or oil
  • ½ onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large clove of garlic, crushed
  • 1 thumb sized piece of ginger, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon of garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon of ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin
  • ½ – 1 teaspoon of chilli flakes, depending on how hot you like it, or you can use fresh chillies
  • ½ tin of chopped tomatoes
  • A good pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of malt vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons of single cream
  • A tablespoon of chopped coriander (or thereabouts)

First dust the prawns in turmeric and set aside.

Fry the onions in ghee or oil over a medium heat until softened and golden brown (about 3-4 minutes).

Add the crushed garlic, ginger, garam masala, ground coriander, cumin and chilli and fry for one minute.

Then add the tomatoes and cook for another 3-4 minutes until the mixture reduces and thickens slightly (if it thickens too much then you just need to add a little water). Add a good pinch of salt at this stage.

Stir in the prawns, cover the pan with a lid and cook until the prawns are cooked through. This will only be a couple of minutes if you are using cooked prawns and a little longer 3-4 minutes if you’re using raw ones.

Finally, add the malt vinegar and cream and stir.

Serve with rice and garnished with fresh coriander.

NOTE: If you need a recipe for cooking rice see my previous post ‘Nice Rice’ and follow the instructions for cooking rice to accompany Indian food.

My chilli

chilli small1    chilli small 2

In a survey on meals that Britons could cook from memory chilli-con-carne, along with spaghetti bolognese, topped the list. This isn’t very surprising – it’s one of those dishes that even the most basic of cooks can cook.

And it seems that everyone has their own version of chilli-con-carne with often their own twist or special secret ingredient (when I was a teenager mine was tomato ketchup, now it’s dark chocolate). In its worst guise chilli can be awful (think grey fatty mince, stewed peppers, overbearing heat without any flavour) but when made with care it’s one of my favourites and just perfect for a night in front of the TV watching World Cup football.

Someone once told me that authentic chilli-con-carne is made with pieces of beef not mince so I started to make it that way and I much prefer it. Since you probably already have your own chilli recipe you may not be fussed about trying another but here’s mine anyway. You may find it interesting even if it’s just to compare it with your own.

Chilli-con-carne

Serves 4-6

  • 1kg of lean braising or stewing steak

For the marinade

  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin
  • ½ teaspoon of cinnamon
  • A sprig of fresh thyme, stalks removed and chopped
  • ½ – 2 teaspoons chilli flakes (depending on how hot you like it) or you can use 1 or 2 fresh chillies
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 10 twists of the pepper mill
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato puree

For the sauce

  • 1 onion
  • 400g tomato passata or a tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tin kidney beans, drained
  • 1 Knorr beef stock pot or other concentrated stock
  • 20g good quality dark chocolate (optional)

I like to buy my steaks whole so that I can cut them to the size I want and remove any fat. I chop the steak into pieces roughly 3 cm square.

Once you’ve cut up your steak put the pieces in a bowl and add all the marinade ingredients. With your hands give everything a good mix massaging the flavour into the meat. Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge overnight.

Take the meat out of the fridge and leave to come up to room temperature for half an hour. Heat a little oil in a frying pan on a medium high heat and add the steak pieces. Arrange so that each piece has a centimetre of space around it so that you can get a really good colour on your meat. When the meat is a lovely dark brown colour (this usually takes about 5 minutes) turn each piece over and colour on the other side. You may need to fry the meat in a few batches but don’t rush this part as it is essential for the deep meaty flavour of your chilli.

Place the browned meat into a casserole dish with a lid. Now in the same frying pan add a little more oil and fry the onion until soft and a nice golden colour. Add the tomato passata (or tin of tomatoes) and concentrated stock to the pan and when they are bubbling add this mixture to the casserole dish. Give everything a little shake to settle. If the tomato mixture doesn’t completely cover the meat then add some water so that the meat is just covered. Put on the lid and place in an oven heated to 160oC fan for 1 hour.

After this time turn the heat down to 140oC and cook for a further 2 hours, or until the meat breaks apart easily with a fork. Check periodically to make sure that the sauce isn’t getting too thick – if it is before the meat is tender then just add a little more water and stir.

Add the tin of kidney beans and dark chocolate and give everything a good stir. Cook for a further 10 minutes to heat the beans through. It is also a good idea to test the heat of your chilli at this point so that you can add more chilli flakes if necessary.

Serve with rice, a good dollop of sour cream and (if you like it really hot) some extra fresh chilli.