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  • Savoury Steamed Cake — Dhokla

    I’m always on the look out for something savoury and spicy to eat for breakfast and this fits the bill perfectly. It’s a Gujarati snack and Gujarati snacks are the best, in my opinion! They always seem to capture the best in crunchy, sweet, salty, hot and spicy and go exceptionally well with a nice cup of tea (or cold beer!) A lot of Gujarati snacks are deep fried, but this one is steamed and made of lentils – it’s pretty much a health food!

    Gujarati’s are very proud of their Dhokla, like British people are proud of their Victoria sandwiches. Everyone who makes Dhokla will have their own ‘special’ twist to make it the best. I’ve tried lots of them and they all do differ – some are light and fluffy, some are dense and chewy, some are fiery hot, some are just savoury. All of them were delicious – it’s tangy and savoury all at the same time. You have to let go of the fact that it looks like the top layer of a Victoria Sandwich with a coconut topping and embrace the fact that when you bite into it, it’s savoury, spicy and nothing like a sweet cake! The more you make Dhokla, the more you can experiment.

    Dhokla is best served freshly made, or possibly eaten the next day. Store any leftovers in an air tight container and if eating the next day, make sure that you blast it in the microwave for 20 seconds to warm it through and make it soft again before you serve it.

    There are a couple of different ingredients which you may have to get, but none of them are expensive. You’ll probably need to go to your nearest Indian grocery store to find them though.

    Different thing #1

    Asafoetida (aka ‘hing’). This is a powdered resin from a plant that comes from Afghanistan. Some people think it has an unpleasant smell. I totally disagree – it is pungent, but I think it smells similar to a truffle with a deep, savoury, garlicky smell. This is the flavour it imparts – just a small amount makes you think that a dish has garlic in it, even when it hasn’t. It’s used extensively in Jain cooking who avoid garlic and onions in their cooking because it arouses passion! It’s sold in little yellow pots and costs around a pound.

    Different thing #2

    Eno (a medicine!) Those of a ‘certain age’ will remember being given this as children when you had an upset tummy. Although it seems very strange to be putting medicine in your cooking, don’t worry. The ingredients in Enos are just good old bicarbonate of soda and citric acid which gives it a lemony flavour, along with the scary sounding ‘anhydrous sodium carbonate’, which is a common food agent which just stops powdery things stop clumping together. The acid and bicarb are in the perfect quantities to give your dhokla a bit of a fruity tang along with a raising agent to make it fluffy. It’s also handy to keep in for upset tummies! The only place you seem to be able to buy this now, is in Indian grocery stores. I’ve tried various chemists and they only stock Andrews which isn’t the same as it has a proper ‘medicine’ ingredient in it that shouldn’t be used for cooking! If you really can’t find it, you can use plain old bicarbonate of soda and a squeeze of lemon juice, instead.

    Different thing #3

    Moong dal (lentils). These are Mung beans which have had their green husks taken off and split into two. They’re tiny and don’t need to be cooked in this recipe before you use them.

    The topping (this is known as the Tarka or Tadka) for the Dhokla is optional, but it’s just not the same without it. It only takes 1tblsp oil to spread over the whole cake and you can use whichever oil you want. Although to be authentic, it should be a fairly flavourless oil such as sunflower/vegetable/rapeseed/groundnut. Feel free just to scatter the topping without the oil, if you’re on a strict healthy diet, although remember that this feeds at least 5 people.

    HOW TO MAKE DHOKLA

    Soak 1 cup of moong dal in enough cold water to come 5cm above the dal. Soak for at least 3 hours, or overnight.

    Drain the dal and put them in a food processor along with 1-5 fresh green chillies (I use 3 or 4 depending on how hot they are). Blend until the mixture is smooth. You can add a splash of water if needed to make the processing easier.

    Put the mixture into a bowl and add 1tsp finely grated ginger, 1 heaped tsp sugar, 3 tblsp plain natural yogurt, 1 tbslp oil, a good pinch of asafoetida, 1/2 tsp turmeric (optional) and 1-2 tsp salt. Taste for salt and heat. Add more of either if necessary. You can add a little more yogurt or a little sifted chickpea flour (if you have any) to adjust the batter if you need to. It should be thicker than pancake batter, but not as thick as cake mixture. Mix thoroughly. You can now cover with clingfilm and leave this somewhere cool overnight if you want to cook it fresh for breakfast or use it straight away. There’s no need to refrigerate as it will start to ferment slightly which improves the flavour.

    Leave the mixture to one side while you prepare to cook the Dhokla. Very lightly grease a Victoria Sandwich tin and find a saucepan that it will fit inside of. Practice this bit before you have hot water in the saucepan. If you have a steamer that the tin will fit inside of, even better – it doesn’t have to be a round tin. If using a saucepan, put something like a metal cookie cutter in the middle of the saucepan so that the sandwich tin won’t be sitting on the bottom of the pan. Fold some tin foil into a long strip so that you can put it under the sandwich tin and to use as handles hanging over the edge of the saucepan, to help you lift it in and out of boiling water without hurting yourself. You’ll need boiling water to cook the Dhokla, so practice how much water you need to put in, enough to cover the metal cookie cutter. Wrap the lid in a clean tea towel so that any condensation is absorbed and won’t fall onto the dhokla.

    Put the amount of water that you practiced with (plus a splash more, you don’t want the pan to boil dry), into the saucepan and let it simmer while you get everything ready.

    Stir the mixture once more and then add 1 large tsp of Eno. Stir thoroughly, but be quick. Pour the now bubbly mixture into the sandwich tin with the folded tin foil underneath. Using the foil, gently lower the tin onto the cookie cutter. Let the ends of the foil strip hang over the side of the saucepan and cover with the wrapped up lid (make sure the tea towel that the lid is wrapped in has the ends piled on top of the lid, well away from the heat source so it doesn’t catch fire!).

    While the dhokla is cooking prepare the following ingredients for the Tadka – 1tsp mustard seeds, 1tsp sesame seeds, 1/2 – 1 green chilli chopped finely, 1tblsp chopped coriander, a pinch of asafoetida, 1tblsp lemon juice, 1tsp desiccated coconut. All of these are optional, leave out what you don’t have.

    Keep the pan simmering and covered (don’t peep) for 18-20 minutes until the dhokla is risen and spongy when you gently press it.

    Using a toothpick, prick the dhokla all over ready for the Tadka to sink in – this will keep it moist.

    In a small saucepan, heat 1-2 tblsp oil and add the mustard seeds and when they start popping add the sesame seeds, asafoetida and chilli, followed by the rest of the ingredients. Stir well and pour over the dhokla making sure that everything is evenly spread out.

    Cut into 3cm slices across the pan and then turn the pan a quarter way round and do the same again making diamond shapes.

    Eat while it’s warm!

  • Roast Cauliflower Bhaji

    I love cauliflower and I especially love the taste of roast cauliflower. I’m always looking for ways to use up the huge trays of them that I bring home from market. Last night I wanted a side dish to go with the Lamb Saag that I’d cooked for dinner (side dishes are something that I can never decide on!) and my experiment turned into something that was totally delicious. If you’re looking for a seasonal side dish for tonight – please give it a go!

    The word ‘bhaji’ can mean something mixed with gram flour and spices before it’s crisply fried, or it can mean a vegetable dish that has a small amount of sauce clinging to the vegetables. My version is roast rather than being made in a saucepan and is really quick to do.

    You’ll need:

    225g cauliflower (about half a medium one) cut into florets that are quite small about 5cm long by 4cm wide – try to keep some stem attached to them so that they don’t break up. Spread out onto a baking tray. Don’t forget to add any young green leaves to the pan, too!

    1/2 small onion cut into very, very thin half moons. Put on the tray with the cauliflower.

    Heat the oven to 200C, 180C fan

    Cut a handful of cherry tomatoes (or similar) in half and put then on the tray with the cauliflower and onions.

    Spice mixture: 1tsp ground coriander, 1tsp ground cumin, 1/4 tsp turmeric, 1/2 tsp chilli powder, 1 tsp salt. Put all of these in a bowl and add 4tblsp water on top of them and mix thoroughly. As evenly as possible, pour this over the vegetables on the tray and mix around until coated.

    Measure out: 1/2 tsp mustard seeds, 1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds and 1-2 whole dried red chillies (broken into three peices – leave these out if you want less heat). Set aside.

    Peel and cut finely into strips a 3cm piece of ginger. Set aside.

    In a small saucepan, add 3-4 tblsp flavourless oil and set over medium heat. Add the seeds and dried chilli (if using). As soon as the mustard seeds begin to pop, turn off the heat and add the finely cut ginger. Stir well.

    As evenly as possible pour the contents of the saucepan over the vegetables and stir around until they’re all coated.

    Place in the oven and cook for 10 minutes before getting the tray out and gently stirring everything around. Put back in the oven for another 10 minutes or until the cauliflower is cooked through and is starting to go crispy in places and the onions are golden.

    Serves 2-3 as a side dish.

  • Raisins – way past their sell by date!

    Chai Tea Loaf

    I don’t know if you’re like me, but I get very excited about ‘ingredients’. I love to find new things to cook with, but sometimes forget that I’ve bought them and they find their way to the back of the cupboard to wait for their shelf life to come and go.

    Last week end, I decided to do a stock take of the third shelf up in the kitchen – ‘staples’ and found various grains and pulses that I’d forgotten about, along with some not so soft brown sugar half a block of cooking dates and raisins which were 9 months past their sell by date. They’d gone sugary, but were still fine to use in something cooked. I don’t like to think of throwing raisins away – they’ve worked so hard to grow into lovely grapes and then someone has harvested them and spent time drying them! They’ve been used since medieval times to sweeten dishes and were once so valuable that jars of raisins were used as currency. With all of this in mind, I needed to use them up.

    sugary raisins – past their sell by date, but still fine to use in cakes

    My son had used all of the butter up the previous day in a marathon flapjack making session, but had left a small amount of condensed milk (which he likes to put in flapjacks) to use up. I decided to use everything up in a fabulous Chai Loaf!

    I used 600g of raisins (actually a few less than this as I was using up the half a block of dates, too), it made two 2lb loaves. I put them into a medium pan along with 600ml boiling water and two tea bags, brought everything to a boil and simmered for 5 minutes before putting into a bowl and leaving overnight to soak.

    Simmered fruit and tea bags

    The next day I measured out 275g of the not so soft brown sugar and poured the leftover condensed milk on top of it, bringing the total upto 300g sugar (you don’t have to use condensed milk, you can use just sugar. I wish that I’d had a little more condensed milk to use as I couldn’t really taste it in the finished loaf). I mixed the sugar and milk into the raisins (after I’d taken the teabags out) along with 4 eggs and 2tsp vanilla essence. Everything needs a really good stir to dissolve the sugar.

    In another bowl I sifted 250g plain flour and 2tsp baking powder. I also had a couple of handfuls of pecan nuts that needed using up, so I added those in.

    I wanted to make a Chai Mixed Spice to use in the loaf, so collected some spices together to grind.

    Allspice berries, cloves and coriander ready to be ground into Chai Mixed Spice and Pecans

    For those of you that don’t know – I have a bit of a ‘thing’ about spices and love using them in different ways. My company – Hare’s Moor produces D.I.Y. Curry Kits (www.haresmoor.co.uk) which means that I’m always surrounded by spices and if I’m not using them, I’m reading about them or trying out new spice blends.

    The ‘sweet’ spices that we use traditionally in puddings and deserts such as cinnamon, cloves, allspice, coriander, ginger and nutmeg have been used for centuries in British cooking. The mixture that we now know as ‘Mixed Spice’ that is used in Christmas Cakes and puddings was mentioned in recipes as early as 1828, although it had been used in puddings for many years before that. It’s said that in early history, mixed spices were used heavily in cooking to disguise meat that was starting to go bad. I don’t believe that – surely what makes us ill now, would have made them ill then, too. I think it was because spices were new and exciting. They hadn’t got access to the flavourings that we add to our food now (salt was rarely used except by the wealthy) so it must have been a welcome change to be able to flavour food with something.

    Mixed spice contains pretty much the same spices as Chai, which is an Indian spiced tea made with condensed milk. I only needed 2tsp of mixed spice but made more so that I’d have some to use next time. You’ll be able to get a paper twist of mixed spice on our website very soon to buy along with your Curry Kits, if you want to have a go at this recipe.

    My ground spices ready to be mixed together

    I added the mixed spice to the flour and then stirred everything into the wet mixture. Mix thoroughly and scrape into two greased and lined 2lb loaf tins.

    Bake in a pre-heated oven 180C or Gas 4 for 1 hour 15 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. You may need to cover with foil towards the end – I didn’t and the top was a little too brown when it came out, but then I do have an electric oven that likes to burn everything.

    The loaf was really moist and didn’t really need the butter that I put on it, but I just love butter!

    All ready for eating with a nice cupatea!

    Leftover Chai Mixed Spice for next time with a lovely picture drawn by my daughter, for the photo!

  • Potatoes – Bombay or Bravas?

    Where would we be without potatoes? We love them – mashed, roasted, jacketed, dauphinoise, chipped, boiled, steamed, crisped – the list is endless. My personal favourites are Bombay Potatoes and Patatas Bravas, which is why I’ve chosen those recipes for this blog post. Patatas Bravas – crispy potatoes, covered with spicy tomato sauce is one of the best things to serve with cold beer. Potatoes are amazing when they’re slowly simmered – the recipe for Slow Cooked Bombay Potatoes uses a slow cooker and can be left for a couple of hours to carry on soaking up the lovely sauce while you get on with other things.

    Some people think Sir Walter Raleigh first brought the potato back to show Queen Elizabeth I, from Spain (stopping off at his home in Ireland first, to plant a couple). The story goes that Raleigh presented the potato to the Queen and although dubious, she put her cooks to work immediately so that she could taste this new, exotic vegetable. The cooks didn’t know what to do with it, so threw the potatoes away and beautifully steamed the highly poisonous stems and leaves. This made the whole of court ill. Potatoes therefore weren’t a massive hit and it took a good while for them to gain any kind of respect.

    The truth is probably that the potato was brought over to England and/or Ireland by the visiting trading Spanish, but I don’t like to let the truth get in the way of a good story.

    Potatoes originated in Mexico and were cultivated by the Aztecs. There were many different colours of potato and some reports of a variety that grew under the water. When the Spanish invaded the Aztec empire, they liked some varieties of potato and not others. They obviously only cultivated the varieties they liked and the rest became extinct, it looks as though we’ll never get to taste the underwater potatoes…

    Maybe because of the stems and leaves being so poisonous, people weren’t quick to accept the potato into their lives and for many years they were only considered good enough to feed to animals. Wheat bread was the national staple, but where wheat was difficult to grow and oats were the staple (Scotland, Ireland), people were more eager to eat potatoes than rough oat bread. The rest of Britain soon followed and I for one, am very happy that they did!

    Here are two of my favourite potato recipes – Patatas Bravas and slow cooked Bombay Potatoes

    Patatas Bravas – Serves 4-6

    This is a famous tapas dish – crisp crunchy potatoes topped with as hot as you like smoky tomato sauce. I prefer to roast my potatoes instead of the traditional frying but you can fry them if you prefer. Serve with cold beer or as part of a tapas meal.

    Parboil around 500g of potatoes (I’d use Maris Piper) until nearly cooked. Strain and leave the heat underneath to dry them off for a minute. Put the lid on the pan and shake gently to roughen the outside of the potatoes. Roast in olive oil until golden and crisp.

    Finely chop 1 onion and fry in olive oil along with 1 clove of garlic, until the onion is soft and golden brown (don’t let it burn). Finely chop 1 red chilli and add as much of it as you like to the onions, cook for another couple of minutes. Add 1 can of chopped tomatoes or plum tomatoes OR 400g passatta, along with 1tsp sugar and salt to taste (I used a big 1/2 tsp). Add 1 tsp of smoked paprika and a few shakes of Worcestershire sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Simmer for 10-20 minutes until the flavours have come together.

    Remove the roast potatoes and put into a warmed serving dish. Sprinkle them with salt and top with the tomato sauce.

    Slow Cooked Bombay Potatoes Serves 4-6

    This classic Indian accompaniment goes well with anything – even your Sunday lunch roast! If you haven’t got a slow cooker, cook the potatoes in a pan with a well fitting lid on the lowest heat possible (I stand my saucepan on a dry frying pan over the heat to make the heat even more gentle) and just check from time to time that nothing is sticking.

    Peel 3 large or 5 medium/small potatoes and cut them into thick chunks. Use waxy red potatoes or large new ones.

    Either peel and grate or using a stick blender blend 3 cloves of peeled and chopped garlic and a small piece (about 1cm) of peeled and chopped fresh ginger with a splash of water.

    You’ll need 5-6tblsp of either pastatta OR blended tomatoes from a can OR 1tblsp tomato puree and 5 tbslp water mixed together.

    In a small dish collect 1/2 tsp turmeric, 2tsp coriander, 1tsp cumin, 1tsp garam masala and chilli powder to taste (1/2-1tsp). If you don’t have all of these spices, you can leave whichever you haven’t got, out.

    Heat some oil in a large pan and add 1tsp cumin and/or mustard seeds. Finely chop 1 onion and add to the seeds in the hot oil. Stir and cook over a low heat with the lid on for around 10 minutes to soften the onions. Turn the heat up to medium and take the lid off. Continue cooking until the onions are golden brown.

    Add the prepared garlic/ginger mixture and stir for a few more minutes until the raw smell has gone. Add the ground spices and cook for another minute. Add the tomatoes and 1 heaped tsp salt (or to taste). Stir and turn the heat up to medium high. Cook, stirring often for around 10 minutes or until the mixture starts to look glossy.

    Add the raw potato cubes and stir thoroughly. Taste the sauce and add more salt if necessary – potatoes take more salt than you think!

    Transfer to a slow cooker if using and cook for 2 hours on medium or until the potatoes are soft. If cooking on the hob, cover with a lid and use the lowest heat

    Taste and add salt if necessary. I bet there won’t be any leftovers!

  • Popcorn is dead – long live Sev!

    We’re always looking for something to munch on Saturday nights – dinner is prepared and cooked at a leisurely pace in between glasses of wine, while we all catch up on what’s been happening to us all during the week. The evening usually ends up with us all of the sofa, watching a film or something on TV, with a big bowl of home made sweet or salty popcorn.

    On Friday, we ventured into the new snack territory of Sev and now we’re all convinced that no other snack will ever do! (Although, we did have to turn the volume up quite a bit, so that we could hear what was going on over loud crunching!) We’d eaten Sev before, you can buy it in bags from Asian shops, but it hadn’t really made a huge impression on me. I was talking snacks with my Gujarati friend (Gujarati’s are experts in the savoury snack field, to my way of thinking) who said that I should try a freshly cooked batch of Sev, instead of popcorn. She promised that there’d be no going back once I’d tried it. I did some recipe research and decided to give it a go. It’s one of those recipes that you can barely believe: can 2 spuds and some chickpea flour really taste that good?

    It was so supremely wonderful, that I have to share the recipe with everyone so that you can all see what I mean! It’s spicy (or not, if you don’t like spicy things), crunchy potato, salty – everything you want in a savoury snack!

    Ok, it’s not exactly a health food – but it’s gluten free, suitable for vegans and kids love it too. I fried it in rapeseed oil, to try and convince myself that we were all getting lots of essential fatty acids in a fun way! It will also last for at least a couple of weeks if you put it in an air proof container (and hide it), although I haven’t tried this out as there’s never any left over!

    You can only make this snack if you have either a special sev making machine or (which you can pick up from an asian store for a few quid) a potato ricer (which you can pick up at Morrisons for £4).

    A potato ricer is like a huge garlic press which you use in the same way, but with cooked potatoes, making them completely lump free for mash, gnocchi etc. The potato that it produces looks like grains of rice. You can put the ‘riced’ potato straight on top of Cottage/Shepherds/Fish Pie with a few blobs of butter and some cheese over the top of it before baking in the oven, to make the topping extra crunchy. Everyone needs a potato ricer in their lives.

    You’ll also need to buy a bag of Chickpea flour (also known as Gram flour). You can buy a small bag in Asian shops for around 70p. Normal flour can’t be substituted.

    Sev

    Boil 2 medium sized potatoes in their skins until cooked through. Peel them while they’re still hot so that the skins come off easily – I hold them with a fork so I don’t burn my fingers! While they’re still hot, put each one through the potato ricer and leave in a bowl to cool completely.

    When the potato has cooled, gauge roughly how many cups of potato you’ve got by patting it into any cup/mug you have to hand, so that you know how much Gram flour to add. You’re going to need roughly half to three quarters of the potato that you’ve measured, of flour. I had 2 small mugs of potato and so I used 1 mug and a bit more of chickpea flour. Don’t worry about being exact.

    Put the potato back in the bowl and add: a big pinch of turmeric, 1 dessertspoon of lemon/lime juice (fresh or bottled), 1 tsp sugar, 1tsp salt (you may need a little more, taste it at the end), chilli powder (or cayenne pepper), you can use paprika if you don’t like heat, or don’t put either in. I put a heaped half teaspoon of chilli powder in mine and it was moderately spicy, so add less or more to your taste.

    Get your hand in there and mix everything together really well.

    Still using your hand, put half a mug of chickpea flour into the potato mixture and combine it thoroughly. Continue to add flour until you have a dough that isn’t too sticky. The amount you use will depend on how much moisture was in your cooked potato. At this point, taste a bit of the dough, it should taste savoury/salty. Add more salt if you think you need to and more chilli powder if you want to turn the heat up. If adding salt and chilli powder now, you’ll need to knead the dough thoroughly to combine it.

    Heat some oil in a wok/deep medium sized pan over a medium heat. You’ll need around 5cm oil. When you can put a cube of bread in the oil and it takes around 30 seconds to turn golden, the heat is right.

    Put a large satsuma sized piece of the dough into the potato ricer and hold it over the hot oil. BE CAREFUL AROUND HOT OIL. Press the handle of the ricer down over the hot oil, so that the bottom of the strands of dough start to fall into the oil. Keep a knife handy, so that you can scrape the strands off, as they’ll cling to the ricer.

    Keep the heat at medium, making sure that the oil is bubbling gently around the cooking sev (like in the picture). After a minute, turn the sev over to cook the other side. Fry for another 1-2 minutes until the Sev is light golden and crisp. It will crisp up more when you take it out of the oil. Don’t let it get too dark in colour.

    Using a slotted spoon, scoop out the cooked Sev and leave to drain on kitchen paper while you cook the rest in different batches until all of the dough is used up. Obviously at this point, the cook’s perk is to have the first taste (just don’t eat it all before anyone else gets to taste it).

    I had some raw peanuts to use up, so I fried some of those at the end too, to add to the mixture.

    To make it look authentically Indian, make cones out of newspaper and stuff each one full of sev to hand out to everyone.

    Enjoy! You. Are going to be SO popular.

  • No fuss Naan bread

    I’m not a huge fan of barbecue cooking in the back garden, although I do love eating outside. I much prefer to put something in the slow cooker or oven, open a bottle and sit outside in the sun secure in the knowledge that my dinner is getting on with it. Lovely smells start wafting outside and you can sit back and pretend someone else is doing the cooking.

    You won’t be surprised to know that I love spicy food, Indian in particular. A lot of people think that when we get lovely sunshine it’s too hot for a curry. I disagree – they seem to cope really well in India! You should really turn up the heat, chilli-wise during a heat wave, it has a cooling effect on your body.

    Last Friday was hot and sunny, so I didn’t want to miss a second of such wonderful weather after I got home from work. I refuse to think of Friday night as being anything other than fresh, home cooked Curry Night. I’d prepared a Madras Curry Kit up to the stage where you add the tomatoes, the night before. When I got in from work, I just mixed the prepared masala with some chicken thigh fillets and par-boiled potatoes and put it all in the slow cooker with a slosh of water and turned the cooker to high.

    Naan bread was needed to mop up the gorgeous gravy. I don’t like to buy ready made flat breads, they’re so simple to make and taste so much better. Naan bread is traditionally made in a Tandoor oven: dough is rolled out thinly and pressed against the side of the hot oven which makes the underside of the naan crisp and brown, but leaves the top soft – ready to be brushed with butter. If you haven’t got a tandoor, help is at hand! This recipe doesn’t claim to be authentic – it’s easy and requires the minimum of attention. It makes great tasting soft, spongy bread which soaks up sauce – what more could you ask for?

    This is the recipe that I always use – it’s a Dan Lepard one and he says that bread dough doesn’t need lots of kneading, it just needs time. Minimum effort, while sipping cold drinks in the sun – perfect. They freeze really well too. This recipe makes 6 naan.

    No Fuss Naan

    Put 300g plain flour in a bowl, along with 50g wholemeal flour, 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda, 3/4 tsp salt, 1 tsp sugar and 1-2 tsp black onion (nigella) seeds (these give you the stereotypical taste of naan bread, but leave them out if you don’t have any, or substitute with cumin/fennel seeds).

    In a large bowl add 125g plain yogurt (whatever you normally use), 100ml cold milk, 50ml boiling water and 1tsp fast action yeast (the sachet yeast is fine, but don’t use a whole sachet). Stir everything together and make sure there are no lumps.

    Add the flour mixture to the yogurt mixture and stir well. This will produce a very soft, sticky dough. Make sure that you’ve gathered together all of the flour at the bottom of the bowl and then cover the dough with a sheet of cling film and go back to the garden for 30 minutes.

    After half an hour, pour 1 tblsp of any oil on to your work surface and rub it out to the size of a dinner plate. Tip the sticky dough on to the oil and roughly knead the dough into a ball. This should take around 10 seconds and then put in back in the bowl, cover with cling film and go back to the garden for an hour.

    After an hour, lightly flour the worktop and place the dough on it. Pat it into a circle and cut it into 6 pieces. You already roughly have your classic naan tear drop shape. Put the oven on to 200C/180C fan/390F.

    Melt a large knob of butter/4tblsp oil (or a mixture of the two) in a small pan and grate 1 clove of garlic into it, along with a handful of chopped coriander if you like it – you can use any other chopped herb in it’s place, such as parsley. When the butter has melted, turn the heat off and leave the flavours to infuse while you cook the naan.

    Put a large frying pan on a medium heat, don’t add any oil to the pan. When the pan is hot, roll out the first of your triangles to around 1cm thick using extra flour to stop them sticking.

    Stretch the triangle as you place it on the hot frying pan. Brush some of the garlic butter onto the top of the naan as it’s cooking. Soon you will see little bubbles appearing on the surface.

    Keep an eye on the underside of the naan so that you can take it out when it’s starting to brown.

    Using a spatula/fish slice take the naan from the pan and place it on to the racks in the oven. This will finish off cooking the top while you get on with the next naan.

    Repeat the process until the dough has been used up. Keep a close eye on the naan in the oven and take them out if they start to get brown.

    They soak up sauce perfectly and taste wonderful. Give them a go when you want to give yourself time to sit in the sun!

  • Nettle (or Spinach!), Pine Nut and Feta Pasties

    I love to eat nettles – to my way of thinking, they’re one of the most underused free ingredients that we have access to all year round. If you like spinach, there’s no reason for you to be pulling up nettles from your garden to put on the compost heap. If you have a patch where nettles like to grow in your garden, just regularly trim them back to the ground to encourage new, tender shoots to appear. These are the ones that you need to cook with. Nettles are edible at any stage of their growth, but once they have flowered the taste can be bitter and they’re a bit stringy so it’s best to look beneath the flowering nettles for the new ones that are just coming up.

    Choose the first 3 or 4 top leaves of each nettle

    Nettles only sting you while you’re collecting them, so use rubber gloves. The sting disappears the moment the nettle comes into contact with heat, so there’s no danger of you stinging your mouth! Give the nettles a good wash when you get them into the kitchen, like you would with spinach, give them a quick shake and then steam them with the washing water still clinging to them.

    These pasties are perfect picnic food, especially if you make the small ones. The nettles can be replaced with spinach or chard leaves and the pine nuts can be replaced with any nut that you have to hand, or be left out completely.

    Makes 3 large or 15 small pasties

    You need to collect 250g of nettles for this recipe, which is a good half a carrier bag full. If you find you haven’t got enough when you get home, you can either go hunting in your own back garden or add some spinach or watercress leaves. Only pick the tops of nettles that aren’t flowering – the first 3 or 4 leaves. Use rubber gloves!

    Pastry:

    Do what you normally do for pastry – either buy 2 blocks ready-made, or if making from scratch, make an amount using 250g plain flour.

    For the filling:

    250g nettle tops/spinach/chard, thoroughly washed and put into a colander to drain

    1 medium onion, finely chopped

    1 clove garlic, crushed

    ½ pack of feta cheese, crumbled

    A handful of pine nuts toasted (you could use toasted, chopped hazelnuts or cashews if you haven’t got any pine nuts)

    A pinch of nutmeg (optional)

    A squeeze of lemon

    1 egg beaten

    Salt and black pepper

    Make the pastry if making from scratch, or get the ready-made pastry out of the fridge.

    Preheat the oven to 180C, Gas 4. Line a baking sheet with non stick baking paper.

    For the filling: using scissors, chop the nettles roughly and then tip them into a large saucepan with just the water that is still clinging to the leaves.

    Wash the nettles

    Turn the heat to high and leave the nettles to wilt in the small amount of water that is in there. If the nettles are dry, just add a tiny splash of water. This will only take a couple of minutes. Leave to cool.

    Heat a splash of oil in a frying pan and cook the onion and garlic over a medium heat, until soft and translucent.

    Squeeze as much water as possible from the cooled, cooked nettles (the sting will have completely disappeared by now) and add them to the onion. Mix well and leave to cool.

    Tip the cooled mixture into a bowl and add the crumbled cheese, chopped nuts or pinenuts, nutmeg, a squeeze of lemon juice and some black pepper. Taste for seasoning, don’t forget feta is salty anyway. Add salt if needed. Mix together thoroughly with ¾ of the egg (leave the rest for glazing the top of the pasties).

    Roll the pastry out until about as thick as a 2p piece. Cut either into 3 large circles or squares or 15 smaller circles or squares, depending on what size pasty you want to make.

    Mix the leftover egg with a little milk or water and moisten the edges of the first cut out pastry with it.

    Using a teaspoon, place the filling on one half of the pastry (don’t overfill or the pastie will burst during cooking)

    Fold the pastry over the filling and press the edges together to seal. Place on the baking tray.

    Repeat until all of the pastry and/or filling is used up.

    Brush with any remaining egg mixture and bake until golden brown – approximately 10-15 minutes for small pasties and 25-30 for large pasties

  • Meat Free Monday – Egg & Potato Curry.

    One of the first kits that we made was Timatar Masala. It means ‘Tomato Mixture/Blend’ in English – it sounds much better in Indian!

    It has more whole spices in it than any of the other curries that we make, which gives it a lovely authentic taste. It’s one of the first curries that I ever learnt to make and so has a special place in my heart. It’s Indian home cooking at its best – this kind of curry is the Indian housewife’s ‘go to’ mid week curry. If you’ve never tried making a curry with bone in chicken, this is the one to try it with. The bones add a richness to the dish – add a few new potatoes and you have a thing of beauty! Simmer it long and slow, or for a more carefree dish just add a splash more water and put it in the oven on low oven (160C ish) in a casserole dish and leave it to cook for a couple of hours until the meat is falling from the chicken legs/thighs. Delicious.

    Timatar Masala also lends itself amazingly well to any kind of vegetable, so it’s ideal for you to add your left over veggies and a can of chickpeas/beans to.

    For a fantastic Meat-Free Monday, try an Egg & New Potato curry, it sounds strange, but works amazingly well! A friend of mine keeps Quails and I bought a dozen gorgeous little eggs to use in a curry, but you can use 6 normal eggs if you prefer.

    Make the Timatar Masala up to where you’ve added the tomatoes and have let them cook until glossy. Boil the eggs and shell them. Boil the new potatoes (you’ll need about 8 small ones or 4 big ones). Sprinkle the eggs with salt and turmeric and set to one side.

    Heat a small amount of oil in a frying pan and add the eggs and potatoes. Shake them around until they start taking on some colour and then add to the curry with 50-100ml water (or coconut milk).

    Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 5 minutes. At this point, leave the curry as long as possible so that the flavours can soak into the potatoes and eggs before serving. Taste before serving and add more salt/sugar if necessary. Stir in some fresh chopped coriander if liked.

  • Maltesers and Milky Bar Cake – it’s Easter!

    If ever there was a good time to make a truly indulgent cake, it’s at Easter. Alternatively, you could always make it after Easter to use up the Easter eggs!

    The cake itself is just a chocolate Victoria sandwich and you don’t have to use Maltesers for the top, you can pile it high with your favourites.

    I always start a cake by weighing the eggs. Use 3 or 4 eggs, depending on how deep you’d like your chocolate sponge to be. Once you’ve weighed the eggs, write down the weight and make sure that you use the same for: butter, sugar and self raising flour (plus 1/2 tsp baking powder). When it comes to adding the cocoa powder (not drinking chocolate) I prefer to dissolve a couple of tablespoons with a tablespoon or so of boiling water – stir to make a paste (use a splash more water if you need it). Add this after you’ve creamed the butter and sugar together and then mix well before the next step. When the mixture has been made, it should drop from a spoon with some gentle encouragement. If it doesn’t, just add a splash of milk. Bake in two lined Victoria Sandwich tins.

    You’ll need 125g of Milky Bar but don’t eat the rest, you’ll need to melt it to put on top of the finished cake! You’ll also need a small bar of your favourite milk chocolate for decorating the top, too.

    For the icing, you’ll need:

    175g butter, 175g icing sugar, 125g Milky Bar, 1tsp vanilla (optional)

    Melt the Milky Bar and leave to cool. Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the cooled chocolate and beat again until really light.

    Sandwich the cake together with a layer of Nutella (or similar) and using a piping bag (optional) pipe half of the icing over the nutella layer before putting the other layer of cake on the top.

    Spread the rest of the icing on to the top of the cake and gently press the Maltesers into the soft icing – don’t push them too far in, it’s just to make sure that they don’t roll off. Cut some of them in half to drop into any gaps and give a different texture. Drizzle over the leftover melted Milky Bar and some melted milk chocolate. Sprinkle over some edible glitter or sprinkles (optional)

  • Lentil and Spinach Pakora

    Pakora (aka Fritters) are a fantastic addition to any Indian meal or perfect to serve with drinks. As with all Pakora, they use only a few fresh ingredients, making them a great, cheap choice for parties.

    Because they’re made with lentils, they are light and fluffy inside and crisp and golden on the outside. Filled with spinach, coriander, spring onions and chillies (if you ignore the fact they’re deep fried…) they’re a health food!

    Spinach & Lentil Pakora – makes around 24

    186g Moong dal (these are skinned, split mung beans and are available from supermarkets in the World Food section, or Indian stores)

    100g pre-washed and dried, finely shredded spinach (I grab a handful and roll it up into a cigar, then finely slice my way along)

    4 spring onions, washed, dried and finely sliced

    Small handful of washed and dried coriander leaves, roughly chopped (you can use parsley or any other mild tasting herb, if you prefer)

    2 green chillies (you can use more if you prefer, or leave them out completely)

    1/8tsp (pinch) of baking powder

    1/2 – 1 tsp salt

    Soak the Moong dal for 4 hours in water.

    Drain, rinse and put into a food processor with 4fl oz water and whizz together until smooth, light and fluffy. This should take about 5-6 minutes in 1 minute bursts. Each time, scrape down the sides of the processor before whizzing for another minute.

    Mix in the other ingredients with 1/2tsp of the salt at this stage. Don’t be tempted to add any more spinach, coriander or spring onion than stated above in the recipe, if you overload the mixture the pakora will turn out to be heavy and chewy instead of light and fluffy. Taste and add more salt or chilli if it’s needed.

    Fill a pan no more than half full of oil and heat to 190C, or set your deep fat fryer to 190C. You can tell when it’s ready by dropping some bread into the oil – it should turn golden brown in 10-15 seconds. Another way to find out is to put the handle of a wooden spoon into the oil – little bubbles should appear around it.

    Gently slide small dessert spoons of mixture into the hot oil. Don’t overcrowd the pan because it will make the pakora soft instead of crisp. You may be able to get around 8 pakora at a time into the pan. They should have lots of smaller bubbles around them. The photo below is of the first four pakora going into the pan which means there are a lot of larger bubbles around them. Turn your heat down slightly so that the bubbles are smaller than this, otherwise the pakora will brown too quickly.

    Using a slotted spoon, turn the pakora over so that they cook on both sides and fry until golden brown. Lift out onto kitchen roll to drain. Repeat with the remaining mixture.

    You can cook the pakora in advance and then reheat, covered at 180C for 10 minutes, although they won’t be as crispy as they are when served fresh from the pan.

    A dip would be great with these, such as raita.