Monday, 24 December 2012

Chakhokhbili: a Georgian chicken stew

First things first: this is not my recipe. It's not even my take on a classic recipe. It's a minor reorganisation of recipes for chakhokhbili and ajika which can be found by clicking on the words.
It's worth mentioning, though, that ajika isn't restricted to Georgia - Yuliya remembers ajika from her youngest days in southern Ukraine - and chakhokhbili has similarly spread from its country of origin. It's also worth reiterating the point that tinned tomatoes won't give the same result as fresh ones here: the extra effort will be more than repaid if you're cooking small amounts.
Right. That's all the warnings done. Yuliya had this dish on a trip to Crimea some years ago and found it so mouthwatering that it sings even now. I didn't quite scale the heights with my first attempt - I suspect that adding the tomato juice as suggested in the first recipe made everything a bit too watery - but the flavours were good enough to hint that a return match might soon be in order.

Serves two

    For the stew

Two or three chicken thighs/drumsticks per person, skin-on, on the bone
A bunch each of basil, coriander, parsley, dill and tarragon
Six medium tomatoes
A large onion
Two bay leaves
Olive oil for frying

    For the ajika

I've copied and pasted the ingredients here, so you can basically ignore the quantities on the herbs: if you've bought a bunch of coriander and basil for the stew, above, just stick to the proportions shown.
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1/2 cup fresh coriander
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
3 garlic cloves
1 large red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 fresh red chillis, halved and deseeded
2 teaspoons red-wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Make the ajika first. Grind the coriander seeds and fenugreek seeds with a pestle and mortar or a spice grinder. Finely chop the herbs just for the ajika. Bung everything into a food processor and blend to a fairly smooth consistency. Put it in a dish in the fridge.
Skin, deseed and chop the tomatoes. Chop the onion. Heat the oil in a sautée pan, for which you have a lid, on a medium-high heat and cook the chicken till sealed and golden.
Turn the heat down to low-medium, then add the onion and fry till softened. Add the tomatoes and juice, together with the bay leaves. Mix, cover, then turn the heat right down. Leave for an hour or so. The chicken should be falling off the bones.
Now for the herbs. The quantities are up to you, but I would suggest the following proportions - parsley 3 basil 2 coriander 2 dill 2 tarragon 1. Chop them finely and stir into the stew, together with a hefty tablespoon of ajika. Season well, re-cover and allow to sit for fifteen minutes, off the heat.

Fried lean potatoes on a mistletoe slack day

Mum and Dad came for the weekend and, cooking dinner on Friday evening, I wanted to make sure I served up something which would go down well. Having made prior enquiries of the guests, I knew that "some sort of stew" was the preferred option, but my defective risk-aversion gene winked off, leading me to make my own somewhat spicy version of a Persian lamb stew. Now, my Mum really does not like spicy food, so I went easy on the cayenne pepper then spent the next two hours fretting that I'd overdone it.

The dish is usually served with rice in our house, and Dad and rice don't mix (he always manages to get a grain stuck in the throat) so I rejigged things a bit, leaving out the potato from the stew and replacing the rice with fried potatoes.

By eight o' clock I was seriously worried. The stew tasted just about right to me, which meant it'd blow Mum's head off, and the spectre of crispy fried potatoes sticking in the throat in precisely the same way as rice was now filling the horizon. I began to imagine myself administering abdominal thrusts and backslaps to Dad while Yulya poured a pint of Gaviscon for Mum.

Fearing the worst, I asked Mum to check the seasoning. She tasted, made a face. Oh feck... But - no! "Perfect" was the verdict. I picked myself up from the floor and plated up. Both asked for more potatoes, and ate them without incident, and Mum asked for the recipe for the stew: cue bluebirds.

After the rambling introduction, here be spuds.

One very large potato per person
A tablespoon of herbes de Provence or other mixed herbs
Two or three tablespoons of virgin olive oil
Half to three-quarters of a litre of light olive oil for frying
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper

Peel and thinly slice the potatoes - somewhere around the 50p piece mark is what you're aiming for. Place them in a large bowl, pour in a glug of extra-virgin olive oil, squeeze in the lemon juice, season with salt and pepper and mix with your hands until the potatoes are coated with oil. Leave for half an hour.

Heat the light oil in a sautée pan over a medium-high flame until a piece of potato fizzes vigorously when dropped in but doesn't burst to the surface - this is closer to deep-fried than confit, but not all the way there. Add the sliced spuds in batches, to keep the heat in the pan. All the potatoes should be fully submerged, with room to move around. Cook them at a steady bubble, turning occasionally, until they're nicely browned at the edges and some are beginning to look rather crispy. It should take about fifteen to twenty minutes.

Use a slotted spoon to remove the herby potatoes from the oil and place into a dish lined with kitchen paper. Serve immediately. You could add a sprinkling of paprika, if Mum's not around.

By the way, it's a crap title, I know; the potatoes are thinly sliced and we have no mistletoe; blame the tempranillo for the rest.

Friday, 23 November 2012


A very basic one, this. No mustard, no beans, no bells nor any of the whistles you sometimes see. I'm almost embarrassed to write it down.

Serves 2, with some left over.

A medium-sized aubergine
Three courgettes
One red pepper, one yellow
A small onion
Four cloves of garlic
A teaspoon of herbes de Provence
A handful of fresh basil
A tin of chopped tomatoes
A tablespoon of tomato purée
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Wash and dry the courgettes, aubergine and peppers. Cut the aubergine and courgettes into large pieces (at least 1"/2½ cms) and layer them in a colander, sprinkling each layer with salt (I sometimes use kitchen towel, too, but I'm never sure whether it works better than without it). Now you want weight on top - I use a side plate topped by by a soup dish with two pestles and mortars in it. The aim is to press some of the moisture out of the vegetables without squashing them (as well as improving the aubergine's flavour), so stand the colander on a plate. Leave it for an hour, then pat all the vegetables dry with kitchen towel. You don't want a soggy ratatouille.
Now heat the olive oil in a large pan, roughly chop the onion and garlic and fry them gently with a sprinkling of herbes de Provence for five or so minutes. Don't brown them. Meanwhile, core and de-seed the peppers, then slice them thickly. Turn up the heat to middling then add the vegetables in batches so as not to cool the pan too much. Finally stir in the chopped tomatoes and tomato purée. Season well, bring to the boil, turn the heat right down, cover and simmer very gently for twenty to thirty minutes, until the vegetables are softening.
Remove the lid. Tear up a few large basil leaves, reserving the smaller ones, and stir those in, then bring the heat up to a good bubble to reduce the liquid, if there's too much. You still want some bite in the courgettes at the end of this.
Now finely shred the remaining basil leaves and stir those in. Check the seasoning and serve with crusty bread.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Celeriac and bacon soup

Winter appears to have got the jump on Autumn, meaning that I'm turning to the soup pan and the double cream extra-early this year.

I love celeriac: its gnarly dreadlocks make me smile, but something about its fragrant, creamy flesh speaks to my inner vampire. Watch the coriander here - a little warmth is all that's wanted.

For four servings:

1 small celeriac, peeled and roughly diced
1 large potato, peeled and diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 shallot, peeled and chopped
1 leek, washed and thinly sliced
1½ pints of chicken stock
A good handful of bacon lardons or pancetta cubes
A clove of garlic
Quarter to half a teaspoon of ground coriander
Two or three good-sized sprigs of thyme
A thick slice of butter
Double cream
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Set the stock warming.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter in a glug of olive oil. When it begins to foam, add the celeriac, potato, carrot, shallot and leek and stir well to coat. Turn the heat right down, put the sprigs of thyme on top and cover. Allow to sweat very gently for fifteen to twenty minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a small frying pan and add the bacon. Peel and halve the garlic clove, removing the root, then cut into chunks and add to the bacon. Cook till the bacon fat is breaking down and beginning to crisp up and the garlic is browned.

Remove the garlic and discard, then drain the bacon with a slotted spoon.

Take the thyme sprigs out of the veg pan and strip the leaves, adding these back to the pan along with the bacon. Stir in the ground coriander and the stock, then bring to the boil. Now turn the heat down again and simmer gently, covered, for twenty minutes until the celeriac is very tender, checking the seasoning midway.

Cool a little then reserve some of the chunky vegetables. Blend the rest of the soup (a bit of cheese could go in, here, but watch the saltiness) then add the reserved vegetables and a swirl of double cream. Reheat, checking the seasoning again, and serve with crusty bread.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

A noodle soup

The original of this was a clear soup with chopped chilli and no mushroom, but this is our favourite version.

For the soup:
Udon or soba for two - I use Clearspring, which come conveniently portioned
Six or seven spring onions
Six or seven shiitake mushrooms
A clove of garlic
Half a litre of chicken stock
Chilli oil, for frying

For the tempura:
Twelve raw king prawns, shelled
A red pepper
A courgette
Tempura batter mix (lazy? moi?)
Oil, for frying

Thickly slice the courgette and pepper, salt, and place in a bowl lined with kitchen paper, with a gentle weight on top.

Cook the noodles by placing them in boiling water then adding a small cup of cold water when they come to the boil. Repeat the cold water at least three times, until the noodles are cooked almost al dente. Drain and rinse in cold water immediately, then cover with cold water until needed.

Get the oil for frying the tempura heating - if you're using a fryer, you know how long it takes; if not, slowly heat at least two-and-a-half inches of oil in a pan.

Heat the stock, if cold.

Clean and chop the spring onions and de-stalk then thinly slice the mushrooms. Mince the garlic. Reserve some of the green spring onion tops for garnish.

Heat the chilli oil in a large saucepan and gently fry the spring onions. When softened, add the garlic and mirin and cook for a minute. Add the mushrooms and the stock and simmer for ten minutes. Add the noodles and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat, season with shoyu or salt if needed and leave to simmer for up to ten minutes.

Meanwhile, make up the tempura batter, salt the prawns and turn out the courgette and pepper. Dipping in batter, fry first the prawns, then the peppers, in batches if necessary (both about 90 - 120 seconds), placing them on kitchen paper to drain; then the courgettes, frying till almost golden then removing, resting, and returning to the oil for a final blast.

Serve the soup garnished with spring onion, with the tempura.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Cataplana Dreaming

Having had our first encounter with a cataplana at The Wheelhouse in Falmouth, we'd been longing to try cooking with one ourselves for ages, but the price for a new copper vessel - approaching £100 for a medium-sized one, with shipping from Portugal - seemed rather steep for an occasional cooking pot. Step up, eBay: we managed, against all hope, to secure one for thirty quid including delivery and, having eventually de-lacquered it, finally got to grips with cataplana cooking last weekend. This is the sort of recipe that can be found in various places online, but I'll note my own variations, nevertheless.

Serves 2, very comfortably!

One chorizo sausage, approx 200g, cut in large chunks. The picante from SpainSun is perfect here
Twenty raw king prawns, in the shell, preferably intact
A medium-sized Spanish onion, roughly chopped
Six large, ripe tomatoes, skinned, deseeded and chopped, juice reserved (or a 400g tin)
A good handful of paella rice
Two cloves of garlic, minced
A red pepper, roughly chopped
A teaspoon of smoked paprika
A pinch of cayenne pepper
Tomato puree
Salt and pepper
Wine - a glass each of red and white
Lemon juice
Olive oil

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan for which you have a lid. Fry the chorizo gently for a few minutes till it begins to brown and release its oil. Remove the sausage from the pan with a slotted spoon. Add the onion to the pan, letting it soften, and then add the garlic for a couple of minutes. Next stir in the tomato puree, red pepper and spices and cook for a minute, then add the red wine and tomatoes. Bring to the boil then cover and simmer gently for thirty minutes. After twenty minutes, stir in the rice and season well.

Once the sauce is cooked, transfer to the cataplana and stir in the white wine. Lay the prawns on top - don't push them down - check the seasoning and seal the lid, allowing it to steam on a very low heat for around ten to twelve minutes, depending on the size of the prawns.

Serve in the cataplana, with finger bowls and perhaps with bread.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

The Grains With No Name

I've been buying the Food Doctor instant pots recently, as part of an on-and-off drive to eat a bit more healthily and lose a little weight. However, at the same time we've been meaning to cut back our food bill a little, too, and paying £1.39 a throw for what's essentially some grains in a pot began to seem a little excessive; so I trawled a few pages search results for some likely recipes, to see how to approach it, and came up with this for starters. It tastes not bad at all.

One third of a cup of quinoa
Two-thirds of a cup of bulgar wheat
A handful of green lentils
Two cups of fresh chicken stock
A small onion, chopped
Two cloves of garlic. minced
A tablespoon of tomato puree
A teaspoon of ground cumin
Half a teaspoon of cayenne pepper
A squeeze of lemon juice
A splash of white wine
Two handfuls of baby spinach
A handful of fresh coriander, chopped
Olive oil

Heat the olive oil - a couple of tablespoons should be plenty - in a thick-bottomed pan for which you have a lid, then soften the onion for a couple of minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute. Stir in the tomato puree and cook for another minute.

Tip in the bulgar wheat, quinoa and green lentils and stir to coat. Add the white wine and let it bubble for a few seconds, then pour in the stock. Stir in the spices, bring to the boil, then cover and simmer on the lowest heat for twenty minutes. Fold in the spinach and a squeeze of lemon juice and season to taste. Add a little more stock if necessary. Put the lid back on and cook for another ten minutes, until the lentils are tender, then serve with chopped coriander. I might add a little halloumi or feta when I take it to work tomorrow...