Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Turkish delight recipe (vegan)

 Pistachio and Raki flavoured Turkish Delight
Like thick wallpaper paste
 The resin like gell
 Once the raki is added, it goes milky white

 This recipe is soft enough to have a gorgeous mouth feel

The saga of creating Turkish Delight: it's not an easy recipe, requiring approximately an hour and a half at the stove, stirring constantly. Things can go wrong: my first attempt, due to following an untested recipe (readers, if there is no photo, you can generally be sure the writer didn't test it) and a moments inattention, ended up dotted with little rock-hard lumps, rendering it inedible. The second attempt, which had too much cornflour in anyway, I got a phone call and even though I'd only stopped stirring for perhaps a couple of minutes, the bottom burnt and I had to chuck it.
I sighed and started again: third time lucky. I reduced the cornflour too.
Traditional Turkish Delight is thickened and set with cornflour not gelatine, meaning that in its proper form, it is vegan. The key to this recipe is getting the amount of cornflour right: too much and it becomes impossible to stir towards the latter stages and sets too hard; too little and it sets too soft.
Other complications in creating this recipe included announcing, while on a press trip to Istanbul, that I had this fabulous idea for raki flavoured Turkish Delight, raki being the Turkish aniseed flavoured drink, and then discovering that one of the other bloggers at the lunch table, erm nicked the idea (consciously or unconsciously, it's amazing how we absorb things) and blogged about it before I could get to it. I mention this in case any readers do a little google and think that I have copied the idea from someone else.
The raki tempers the sometimes cloying sweetness of Turkish delight, adding a naughty alcoholic edge. I wanted to keep the Delight as pale as possible, like raki itself, avoiding notes of amber, and stud it with bright green nibbed pistachios, like insects caught in resin.
I finally got there and am pleased with the results. I will be serving this at a Yeni raki supper club in March where I'll be exploring other culinary possibilities of this delicious drink.

Raki and Pistachio Turkish Delight

Makes 60 pieces

You'll need at 25 x 25 cm straight sided square cake tin, spray oil and clingfilm. You'll also need two mediumish-sized heavy-weight saucepans (one larger than the other) and a strong bicep. And finally you'll need a sugar thermometer or digital thermometer.

For the Turkish Delight:
800g white sugar
375ml of water
Juice of half a lemon
140g cornflour
1 tsp cream of tartar
500ml of cold water

30g nibbed pistachios
150ml raki (I used the Yeni brand)

but you could also use:
1 tbsp of rose water
1 tbsp of orange flower water
a few drops of lemon essence
a handful of blanched almonds or blanched hazelnuts or macadamias
plus a few drops of food colouring say pink or orange or yellow.

To dust:
2 cups of icing sugar
1/2 cup of cornflour

(I've used cups here because you don't have to be accurate to dust, you just want a generous quantity)

Prepare the cake tin by draping cling film (saran wrap) over it, covering the sides, and spraying oil over the clingfilm.
Measure out the sugar, water and lemon juice in one saucepan. Put the cornflour, cream of tartar and cold water in the other, larger saucepan, stirring/whisking well as you pour so that there are no lumps.
Bring the sugar/water/lemon pan up to boil, stirring all the time. Once it reaches 115º (the soft ball stage) remove it from the heat. This will take around ten to fifteen minutes.
Take the other pan with the cornflour, cream of tartar and cold water and simmer the mixture so that it is warming up. Once the sugar pan is ready, pour it into the cornflour saucepan, a little at a time, stirring all the time, so that it is incorporated. Once all the hot sugar is incorporated, settle in for a long wait by the stove, stirring on a low heat for an hour.
On my third go, bored stiff, I prepared my iPad with a movie, propped it up and watched while stirring. This made the hour go by a lot faster.
The mixture will become stiffer and stiffer.
When the hour is up, add the pistachio nuts to the mix then pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin. Leave to cool and set in a cool place but not in the fridge.
Prepare a flat surface with the icing sugar and cornflour. When the Turkish delight is cool, pull up the sides of the oiled clingfilm and flip it onto the icing sugared/cornfloured surface.
Flip it over again so that both sides are thickly covered.
Using an oiled knife cut the Turkish Delight into inch squares (2.5 cms by 2.5cms). Turn each side of the squares in the powder so that every bit is covered.
Set the squares aside and put the icing sugar/cornflour mix into a pretty box lined with waxed paper. Place the Turkish Delight squares into the box.

Enjoy with Turkish coffee or apple tea.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Peppers Piedmontese recipe, vegan version

This is a classic Elizabeth David recipe. It really couldn't be easier to make. In fact the ease:deliciousness ratio is ridiculous. No effort for maximum flavour.

So the usual recipe contains a few anchovies, tiny salted brown fish, naturally seized with lavish savoury potential. How to replace the easy umami flavour boost of fish or meat with vegan ingredients is a challenge for the vegan cook, and forms a chapter of my book V is for Vegan (Quadrille).

Vegan peppers Piedmontese recipe

Serves 4

4 red peppers (usually bell-shaped, but in this case I used 1 red bell pepper, 1 long Romano red pepper and 1 green pepper - use what you have in the cupboard)
8 tomatoes or 16 cherry tomatoes, blanched and skinned, quartered
2-3 cloves of garlic, sliced, minced or grated.
1 or 2 preserved lemons, sliced
2-3tbsp capers (I used brined capers; I bloody love capers)
2 or 3 tbsp pine nuts
Sea salt
Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 180ºC.
Cut the peppers in half and remove the seeds, the white pith. You can keep the stems on. Place in an oiled baking tray.
Cut a cross in the top of the tomatoes and blanch them for a couple of minutes in boiling water. You will easily be able to peel off the skins.
Pop the tomato segments into the pepper halves.
Grate or mince the garlic onto the tomatoes.
Add preserved lemon slices. (Hopefully you've made these yourself. Go on. I do at least a couple of jars every year, it's not even hard, and they are better than shop bought).
Sprinkle the capers into the pepper halves.
Tuck in the pine nuts, dotted around.
Rub the sea salt between your fingers into the crevices of the peppers.
Pollock the olive oil all over.
Roast for 30 minutes or until the peppers are soft with the edges curling in, slightly browned, hugging themselves.
Serve warm or cold. For starters. For lunch. For big messy hands canapés. Whatevs.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Pancake day: Sri Lankan hopper recipe with sugar and lemon

Here is a recipe for a different kind of pancake, a Sri Lankan hopper. Mostly these are served savoury, often with an egg cracked in the middle. But they can also be eaten as a sweet dish, in fact they are usually served this way in Malaysia, with palm sugar and lime juice.
It's easier if you can get hold of a hopper pan, available in Asian shops. But failing that you could try a wok or a normal frying pan but you won't have the shape. My parents visited Sri Lanka and brought me back one of these small bowl-shaped frying pans. 
Here I've made it with the traditional British topping of sugar and lemon.
I've tried a few recipes but this has been the best so far...

Sweet Sri Lankan hopper recipe

Makes 6 to 8 hoppers

3 tbsps of warm water

1 tsp of rapid action dried yeast
225g rice flour
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp sea salt
400ml good quality coconut milk, (check the percentage and whether there are too many thickeners)
4 large eggs

Combine the yeast and warm water, leaving it for a few moments to froth up.

Mix the rice flour, sugar, salt together.
Add the coconut milk and eggs, then the yeast mixture.
Leave to rise for two hours.

To cook:

Heat up the pan with a little groundnut oil. I tend to dip some kitchen paper in the oil and give the pan a wipe with the oil each time. Expect that your first 'hopper/pancake/crepe' will be a flop. 
Turn the heat up high and scoop in a half ladle of the batter. Swirl it around, up the sides, until it forms a bowl shape. Add a little into the centre if necessary. You want a lacy effect.
Put the lid on, this helps it to cook more evenly. Check every so often.
Then remove, plate, and add sugar and lemon juice, or shavings of palm sugar and a squeeze of lime juice.
For a savoury version, crack an egg in the middle while cooking and garnish with fresh coriander, chilli and coconut.

Light and delicious, something different for this Shrove Tuesday...

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Fish and chips recipe using Skrei, a Norwegian cod

News has just come in that Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, a land-locked country, has its first British-style fish and chip shop, A classic English dish, fish and chips were introduced to this country by Portuguese Jews in the 16th century. But you can't get decent fish and chips in London: I've tried all the recommended places and none of them are all that. Although I've yet to try Bonnie Gull in Exmouth Market, a specialist fish restaurant, run by my friend Luke Robinson,  about which I've heard good things. My parents, who live in that street, and always have fish and chips on a Friday, recommend Bonnie Gull. Their other fishnchip hangout is Kennedy's, round the corner in Clerkenwell, on Goswell rd. The main reason for visiting is to see the train of black cabs parked outside on a Friday night, with drivers lining up, wearing their green cabbie badges around their necks, for fried fish. A truly cockney experience.
The best fish and chips I've ever had was in Birkenstead, near Liverpool. I was taken there by my mate Derry, an Amazonian blonde Liverpudlian with a quick wit and the ability to drink more than any other woman I have known. (With the possible exception of another Scouse woman I knew in France who, one night when I was with her, drank 5 litres of rosé by herself, one of those big plastic jugs, and was still standing).
Derry and I and my kid looked at the counter; the hot glass compartment where they usually keep the fried battered fish was empty. "Oh they've run out" I lamented.
Derry looked at me sideways "we'll have two cod n chips!" her voice rang out.
To my surprise, they took fresh fish, battered and fried it right there in front of our eyes. Being a cockney (all Londoners are cockneys to Liverpudlians) I'd never seen this before.
We ate our dinner from paper soggy with malt vinegar and salt, fingers warmed by the moist potato, crispy golden pillowy batter and scorching pearlescent fish. Food always tastes better when you eat it outside, in the biting wind, by the sea.
In January I went to the Norwegian embassy in London for dinner. It was down a street I'd never been into before, a private road, Kensington Palace Gardens, lit by gas lamps. Going to posh parts of London is as bizarre as visiting a foreign land. Along the dark wide avenue, so much secret space in the centre of London, stood armed policemen, guarding all the different embassies. I asked the way and got chatting. "Somebody just bought a house here for 90 million pounds" one Diplomatic Protection Officer said.
Behind the wrought iron gates of the Norwegian embassy, Michel Roux Junior was hosting the dinner in the grand dining room. It was held to publicise the existence of 'skrei', a type of Norwegian cod that is seasonal, fished in the winter months and sustainable. Michel Roux Jnr is very charming and modest, easy to talk to. A fan of skrei, "it's got big white flakes, a wonderful texture" he told me.
Afterwards we talked, his kids attended the French lycée in London like my daughter. I mentioned Madonna, whose daughter Lourdes went there at the same time. Michel Roux Jnr felt the same way as many parents: "I had to work so hard to get my children into the school, I had to petition the French ambassador and we are both French, my wife and I..."
I chipped in "and Madonna has only a very tenuous link with France, her mother was partly French Canadian" continuing "I had to move country to get my daughter into the lycée, move to France for a year".
Then I told the story about how another friend of mine, who is very ambitious and upwardly mobile, moved heaven and earth to get her kid into the lycée, partly, I suspect, to make sure she made friends with Madonna's daughter.
One day she complained to me that her daughter was upset because of this horrible girl in her class who kept making fun of her clothes. "I went up to the teacher" my friend said "and complained about this Lola."
Turned out Lola is the nickname of Madonna's daughter. Then Madonna wrote a children's book about four nasty bullying English girls, one of whom had the same name as my friend's daughter...

Fish and Chips recipe

Serves 4

I'm using half of Felicity Cloake's batter recipe; it was really good, producing a crispy billowy coat, keeping the fish inside moist. Felicity emphasised that the batter ingredients should be very cold, even briefly freezing the flour, in order to get the reaction necessary when the batter hits the hot oil. Ideally the fish is deep fried, I used a special deep fryer.
Start by 'blanching' the chips, leave them to rest, then fry the fish. Once all the fish is fried, you can fry the chips a second time.

6 large potatoes, peeled and cut into thick chips
Maldon's sea salt
4 litres of Groundnut oil for frying

200g plain flour, cold (kept in the freezer for 15 minutes before using)
1.5 tsps baking powder
275ml cold beer (I used Buddy's Bourbon Beer with a hint of honey but you could use pale ale, bitter or lager)
1/2 tsp salt
a few shakes of white pepper
4 x 250g Skrei filets, skinned

Prepare the potatoes, cutting them to the size and shape you like.  Then bring the oil to a temperature of 145ºc. Prepare a baking tin lined with kitchen towels. Taking care not to overcrowd the pan or chip basket, fry them for five minutes until translucent. Then drain, remove and put the chips in a single layer in the baking tin. Sprinkle them with Maldon salt. Continue until all the chips are blanched. Raise the temperature of the oil to 185ºc.
Make up the batter in a bowl, mixing until you have a thick cream. Dip each filet into the batter until it is thickly covered.
Make sure there is enough oil to comfortably cover the fish (you will find that the fish and the batter seem to expand). Lower the battered filet into the chip basket which is already in the oil. Leave to fry for around ten minutes or until completely golden.  If you are concerned that the filets are not cooked, use a digital thermometer probe to check that the centre of the fish is cooked, around 70ºc.
Remove the fish and leave to drain on kitchen paper.
Fry the chips a second time at the higher temperature until deep golden.
Serve with wedge of lemon or malt vinegar and more salt. 

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Oatcake recipe with seaweed

This is a great recipe for using up the odd and ends of bags of porridge oats (oatmeal). I like to vary the textures by adding different kinds. I also added the colourful seaweeds, bright green sea lettuce and heather hued dulse which adds flavour and nutrition to these oatcakes. I used seaweed from this company.
I'm going to experiment with a vegan version with coconut butter rather than ordinary butter but you could always replace the butter with soy margarine.
These are lovely as a snack, with butter and Marmite, with cheese and chutney, or to use as canapés with smoked salmon and cream cheese.

250g fine oatmeal
50g pinhead oats
50g rolled oats
1 tbsp sea lettuce, ground
1 tbsp dulse, ground
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
50g salted butter
100 to 125ml water

Preheat the oven to 190c. Prepare a baking sheet covered with parchment paper or a Silpat.
Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl then add 100ml of water. Allow the mixture to soak a few minutes then form a ball. If it needs a little more water, is too dry to form a ball, then go ahead and add more.
Scatter some fine oatmeal over a clean surface to roll out the oatcakes. Carefully roll it out until it is about 5mm thick. Use a cutter to cut out the circles, carefully removing them and putting them on the baking sheet.
You can roll it out a second time, carefully, adding a few drops of water to the mix if necessary.
To make the traditional triangular oatcakes, roll it out into a large circle and cut it into triangles, removing them with a fish slice or palette knife and laying them on the baking tray.
I baked them for 15 to 20 minutes or until the edges are golden. Remove from the oven and transfer the oatcakes to a wire rack to cool.
These will keep for several weeks in a dry plastic container.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Istanbul in winter

 Making Gozleme
 Hammam towel shop in Grand Bazaar
 The colour of pomegranates
 The power of prayer
 Refik restaurant
 Sahlep drink
 In the blue mosque
 Fruit and veg seller, open late at night
Hammam, drying towels
Water borek, Su boregi

I finally figured out how to buy an Istanbulkart, the transport card.  Where do you buy an IstanbulKart? A chestnut seller, of course. He pulls one out from under the neat pyramids of chestnut shells criss-crossed open with a knife, the yellow brains of sweet fudgy flesh emerging from the brown petals, tempting the passerby, smouldering on the charcoal. Winter treats.
In the metro, a young man talks to me and says he will show me the way to the blue mosque. I am wary. I've heard about Turkish men. They are so weird/desperate that they sleep with 70 year old European women. I'm not yet 70 but I feel very uncomfortable being chatted up by a man in his 20s because Madonna. My mind wanders: how can she go out with those young boys? Does she really think that they love her and not her fame or money? And then I think about all the old men that go out with young women and I ask, how can they bear it? Heroic levels of self-delusion.
We have to change trains and we meet one of the Turkish boy's friends, a Swedish woman with bright cornflower blue eyes and a vivid blue spot on her cheek. 
Later, in the blue mosque, which isn't blue, the Turkish boy says he is not a devout Muslim because he has tattoos. I didn't know that was a thing, haraam. Then I say 'you have a tattoo' to the Swedish woman. She says, 'No. I got this three years ago. I just woke up one day and I had a turquoise blue spot on my cheek. I thought I was dying. But it's fine.'
'Maybe you are royal,' I remark.
The Turkish boy starts to irritate me with his clumsy flirting, which consists of elbowing me in the side and winking. He no doubt thinks this is alluring, but it's more akin to Tourettes. He keeps photobombing all of my photos. Turks are obsessed with selfies. In fact, everyone is. Even when people are praying they are taking selfies... sometimes with a selfie stick.
Having 'lost' the Turkish boy, I trudge to the Grand Bazaar where I buy six hammam towels for 120 Turkish lira (about 35 quid) because I've decided to convert from towelling to cotton and linen because a) it's cooler/trendier and b) it takes up less room in the washing machine. (I got this from my mum. She has a total neurosis about filling up the washing machine. She says if you put too much in it breaks and doesn't wash properly. But her idea of 'too much' is one big towel on its own.)
Time for a hammam bath, scrub and massage. Fat ladies with EXACTLY the same body as me are a comfort when suffering from self-loathing and internalised misogyny. They introduce themselves with a smile then make you lay down on a marble altar under a pink concrete dome punctured with stars and planets leaking in navy daylight. They scrub you with a rough linen hand mitt all over. Next, they fill a pillow case with soap and cover you in foam. Their strong hands snap each one of your fingers. The mitt scratches your uterine scars, your stretch marks, your dimpled buttocks, wobbly thighs and digs into your stiff shoulder blades. 'You stressed, yes?' Then a frown and a slam of the heel of the hand onto the offending part. 'This very hard.' They throw buckets of water over you. They beckon and tell you to sit on a marble step while they wash your hair. You feel as helpless as a baby. 

The wind from the Bosphoros blows you uphill, like Mary Poppins. Everyone is wearing dark coats, flapping in the gusts, and head scarves. The scene could be a black and white movie.
I drink sahlep in a cafe jumbled with books and jazz. Sahlep is made from wild orchid tubers, ground up into flour. The Turks make a wintery hot drink from this, a kind of sticky Horlicks, freckled with cinnamon. 
The sunset is grey. The moon is nearing full.
I meet Roshni and we drink double rakis, gazing as the anethol refuses to dissolve in water, turning cloudy. If you watch closely, you can see the oily molecules coagulate, like a 1960s lava lamp. 
We go to Refik, a famous restaurant in Galatas off the way from Istisklal Avenue, the mile-long main shopping drag, strung with Christmas lights, as busy as Oxford St. We are surprised to find our two chairs side by side not facing each other. We find out why when the waiter brings an enormous tray, arm span wide, and rests it on the other side of the table, facing us. It is loaded with white china plates of meze: roast red peppers with toothy sprinkles of garlic; slick dishes of yoghurt, palest blush of tarama, a rough ochre of salsa 'esme'; giant flesh coloured beans 'fava' laying nude and limp in parsley flecks, coils of pickled anchovy encircling green olives speared on cocktail sticks. The waiter shuffles these plates, piled two stories high, like playing cards. 'You want this?' 'Or this?'. Clink chink.
'That,' we point. He doesn't rummage, because the system is so organised. He moves the plates around, up down, around, like a Rubrik's cube. 
In the end we choose five plates, more raki. 
The tarama is like no taramasalata I have eaten before. Because it is so unashamedly bready. Usually the bread is processed, smoothed out, disguised. Here you can see the texture so clearly, there is a crumpety mouthfeel. It is delicious. 
I'm disappointed that he gives us western bread not flatbread and the other dishes aren't great. The esme lacks salt and lemon; the beans need garlic. 'I've had these better elsewhere,' says Roshni. We pay 80 turkish lira (just over 20 pounds) and leave. 
In the main street we taste elastic icecream, sold in brightly coloured slices stacked up on a cornet. A vendor plays a game with purchasers, making them 'catch' the ice cream as he plays hide and seek with the cone, ringing bells above his head with the icecream tool, a long metal stick.
I want to try borek or filo pastry, but not the ordinary borek of spinach, cheese or meat... water borek. We find an open 'Borek Centre'; he has one portion left. This buttery sheep cheese 'lasagne' blows my mind. It's a Food Moment. We are on the very edge of Europe, looking over at where Asia begins. The silk road, the journey of pasta from China to Europe, passes by here, turning flour and water, which is paste, which became pastry, which in turn became pasta. 
Water Borek or Su Boregi is filo pastry boiled briefly, like fresh pasta. It is drained before being layered into a baking pan  with a filo pastry base. The pastry is wrapped around the water borek and baked. 
I drink ayran, a mildly salty yoghurt drink similar to lassi. Roshni, who is from Bombay, can understand some Turkish, when the words are similar to hindi; peyneer is paneer, cheese for instance. There are Persian roots to both languages
She also uses her iPad: google translate will not only find your phrase but, if you hit the speaker symbol, it will speak for you. You can talk to anyone if you have wifi. 
I buy pistachio chocolate on the long climb to my hotel. 

View from the Intercontinental