Sometimes you fall at the first hurdle. I certainly did when I started cooking Yotam Ottolenghi’s gluten free dish: rice noodles with lime and crab chilli oil.
I trekked to the supermarket to get coriander but didn’t check that I had gluten free rice noodles in stock. Doh! No matter. In truth, this dish is good for both gluten freers and gluten imbibers – just use the appropriate noodles. As Yotam says: the star of the show is the crab chilli oil. It’s blooming delicious.
It feels a bit counterintuitive to hoy a pile of brown crab meat into hot garlic, ginger and chilli-infused oil (along with miso and tomato paste) and cook for 30 minutes. But there’s a wonderful alchemy here. A fishy, ozoney intensity that smacks of fish sauce but has a crab-induced sweet and savoury hum.
The chilli oil is hot as the fiery furnace – but this is a furnace you want to keep dipping into. A balancing citrus tang comes from the addition of a healthy slug of lime juice on the hot noodles.
Oh divine pleasures of taste and smell, I salute you! This week’s recipe from Guardian Feast encapsulates the gloriousness of carefully thought-through vegetarian recipes. Every element of Yotam Ottolenghi’s dish delivers flavour, aroma and texture, culminating in a mouth-explosion of deliciousness. And, with a plant-based yoghurt instead of cow’s milk, it would be easy to veganise.
It’s been a bit wild in our household recently. We went hot foot from Covid self-isolation to my niece’s wedding in Suffolk. It was a heart-expanding weekend celebrating love, friendship, family, hope and the future. I am so glad we were there to witness my niece and her partner’s commitment to each other and to partake in the communal breaking of bread and raising of glasses that sealed the deal.
In truth, the journey back to full health post-Covid – even with a double vaccine – is not totally straightforward. Smell and taste are slovenly in returning as are full energy levels – particularly since I’ve now developed pleurisy. But I’m sick of being poorly so am ignoring my scratchy lung and weary body.
Grateful thanks to my friend Barbara for dropping off Issue No.190 of Guardian Feast which I missed out on because of all the wonderful wedding shenanigans.
Bring on roast cauliflower with yoghurt and red pepper sauce which The Husband dubs ‘a microcosm of all things Ottolenghi’.
Yotam has a magic touch when it comes to marrying sharp-sweet-crunch-soft-fragrant-umami. But, dear reader, the magic moment was harvesting and preparing the mint: oh, hallelujah! I could smell its joyous scent! Such sensory delight after weeks of stunted smell brought a tear to my eye.
As ever, Yotam has you frying, toasting, mixing, crushing – but, the brilliant thing is, it’s all easily doable and manageable in the 25 minutes the cauliflower takes to roast. Turkish pepper paste would perhaps have furnished the dish with a hint of sweetness not found in my substitute tomato paste. However, ‘mild Turkish pepper paste’ was not available in the local shops here in Berwick. Next time.
About five days into our Covid-ridden self-isolation, The Husband and I congratulate ourselves that we’re continuing to survive on garden produce, store cupboard items and what’s in the fridge – we haven’t even run out of milk yet. However, none of this really matters as two key elements of life have gone missing in action.
We asked friends to drop by a copy of yesterday’s paper. It’s as if Rachel Roddy is mocking us in her taste and scent-infused column in Guardian Feast Issue No.189 about pizzette fritte – little fried pizzas. She writes:
‘Frying dough – like grating lemons, opening a new packet of coffee or cheese snacks, chopping herbs or grinding spices – is one of the great smells.’
Rachel’s right, of course, the smell of toast, grilled bacon, sweet blackberries, toasted nuts and seeds, all up there too: mmmmmmmm… but the simple truth is, Covid has taken our olfactory sense. We can’t smell anything. De nada. No taste either.
The first time I really noticed the lack, was after a particularly robust fart. I know we all think our own gassy expulsions are either fragrant or odourless, but I’ve lived long enough with mine to know that they are vicious incendiary devices. However, The Husband brushed close by without his customary ‘Oh!’. And so began the listing of all the things we could not smell or taste: that’s everything. A sort of never-ending no-smell I-Spy. When you’ve been banged up together for a week, you get your kicks where you can.
It is all very weird and quite distressing. But also interesting.
We still get taste groups: sweet, sour/bitter, heat (spice), salt, but that’s it. We can taste the bitter back taste of coffee but not the pleasing aromatic beany earthiness; we get the spicy punch of our Thai prawn curry but no hint of the sea or richness of coconut.
What is scary is that you can’t do the sniff test on on-the-brink items in the fridge. You also can’t smell burning (as The Husband discovered when he burnt his potato waffles – he’s working his way through his crime-buys from Iceland). The aroma of your cooking is absent as is the taste-as-you-go option – no matter the deliciousness of the ingredients.
Of course, we are by no means alone in our unhappy state – and it’s a salutary reminder that many are permanently without their sense of smell and/or taste. The eldest stepson suggests it’s a good year to release an unsatolfactory cookbook – and I’m sure there are clever people who are already on the case.
The Husband and I agree we can’t live on crisps and jelly tots. But what to do with our zero powers of taste and smell?
Yotam Ottolenghi’s peanut butter cornflake brittle has several things in its favour: it’s crunchy, sweet, salty and it’s a great use of the desultory pile of cornflakes left by the departing grandchildren last week. The only substitutions are desiccated coconut instead of flakes and salted peanuts instead of unsalted – but that’s probably a positive in the circumstances.
This is a cracking granola-esque snack which would be nice crumbled on your morning fruit and yoghurt. It’s got a great crunch and very satisfying mouthfeel. It certainly brightened up our bitter coffee water. Very easy to make and definitely one for the cupboard in future.
By yesterday (Saturday) evening, all I could think about was Rachel’s little fried pizzas. The very idea of them made my mouth water. They had to be made: we have basil coming out of our ears, four ripe tomatoes, parmesan and plenty of flour. Yes, it would use some of our dwindling milk supply, but needs must! I set to.
All that tomato, olive oil, garlic and basil, you know it’s going to be good. And even if you can’t smell the dough frying or taste the full nuances of flavour with Covid palate (no basil or garlic zing), these are satisfying, fun-to-make bites. Rachel says the dough usually only puffs on one side – not mine – dough balls of delight! After juggling the unctuous sauce onto the first few, The Husband devised a press-and-plop method which worked well.
A bit like making Japanese gyozas (which we’re very fond of doing), these little darlings are a communal effort – particularly the tearing off of plum-size pieces of dough, flattening them and the sauce distribution – oh, and eating them while they’re piping hot with a glass in hand. Student Daughter has already put in her order for them when she’s allowed back home. Bring it on!
As I tackle yet another recipe from Guardian Feast, it strikes me just how many riffs there are on the same ingredients – and how still they keep coming. Surely there can’t be many more combinations of ingredients to explore and write about?
This thought led The Husband to reminisce about a teenage angst he claims to have had. Apparently he worried that the ‘last possible permutations of all the melodies’ would be used up in the 60s. That every tune would be derivative. Isn’t everything basically derivative? I asked in my usual brutal, unromantic way.
Yotam Ottolenghi’s soft amaretti with coffee sauce and whipped cream from Guardian Feast Issue No.186 is a cross between deconstructed cookie dough ice cream and a caffeine-rich affogato.
The recipe is simple enough – whisking, whipping and rolling (stop it!). I had an issue with my amaretti dough which was so loose it was impossible to shape into the required 18 x 28g balls. Yotam had no guidance for me. I winged it and thickened the dough with a goodly extra serving of ground almonds.
There are real touches of genius in this recipe. The smattering of salt at every stage gives a wonderful ting in the eating. The teaspoon of lemon zest hums gently in the background. The coffee sauce delivers a rich, heady bass note. Overall, the dish harmonises to create a reet posh dinner party pud vibe.
And there we have it: perhaps there’s always a new melody to be found within an established set of ingredients. I’ll let The Husband know. I’m sure he’ll appreciate it.
Tofu is not universally celebrated in our house. The Husband considers it ‘blandness incarnate’. In some ways I guess he’s right. A bit like bread, rice, potatoes and pasta, tofu’s basically a vessel for flavour. But just look at the miraculous flavours and textures you can create using these superhero vessels.
If you are ambivalent about tofu, read on.
Our favourite tofu dish to date has been the ridiculously easy to prepare chilled tofu with soy sauce, ginger and katsuobushi (dried fermented tuna flakes) from Tim Anderson’s inspiring JapanEasy. In his introduction to the dish, Tim concedes that the dish sounds unprepossessing. However, he also says it’s a cracking dish. He’s right: it’s lipsmackingly delicious. A perfect introduction to bean curd for the tofu sceptic.
However, it’s time we branched out. London Daughter and I agree that Meera Sodha’s dry-fried beans with minced tofu sounds both straightforward and intriguing – a good weekend supper dish. Confession time: it was the mention of Sichuan peppercorns that caught my eye. I’d bought a sackload of them when London Daughter took on Ixta Belfrage’s (from Ottolenghi Kitchen)biang biang noodles with numbing oil and tahini soy sauce.
That was from Guardian Feast back in November 2020 before my self-imposed challenge to cook at least one recipe from each issue of Guardian Feast in 2021 began. And so to Issue No.180 and week 25 of the challenge.
Bring on Meera Sodha’s vegan dish: dry-fried beans with minced tofu
London Daughter and I both decide to cook Meera’s plateful. We head out for ingredients – me in Northumberland, her in North London.
I manage a pack of green beans from our Saturday market and pressed tofu and dried shiitake from our local organic gem the Green Shop. I receive a WhatsApp from London Daughter: ‘Got fresh shiitake but no green beans 😂. Only in Crouch End!’
London Daughter cooks her version of Meera’s beans and tofu the night before I do. From the pics, I’d say she makes a better job of the dish than me. I rather overdo the burning of the beans but hers look just right.
The combo of minced tofu and mushrooms gives an almost meaty chew to the dish and both the daughter and I opt to chuck in a few extra red chillies on top of the crushed Sichuan peppercorns as suggested by Meera.
London Daughter declared the dish ‘salty and crunchy, quite different’. For The Husband it ‘makes tofu interesting – no small achievement!’.
Praise indeed for this underrated superhero of vegan food.
Erchen Chang’s dan dan tofu noodles
Clearly at a loose end, London Daughter decides to use up her block of pressed tofu on another dish in Issue No.180 of Feast: Erchen Chang’s dan dan tofu noodles. I suggest she might like to blog about it for me. She sends pics and comments instead:
Erchen describes the noodles as a ‘simple, savoury dish’. London Daughter describes it as:
London Daughter couldn’t lay her hands on any black vinegar and used balsamic instead. In the taste test she judged it as having ‘lots of oil, not much veg, but it’s very tasty’. She thought the heat might defeat her, but slurped down the whole bowl. She says I should definitely cook it.
Rachel Roddy – gateau au yaourt
We were completely beguiled by Rachel Roddy’s wonderful tale from an Italian kitchen this week which involves an elderly gentleman, yoghurt and a careless supermarket trolley driver. The Husband, London Daughter and I agree it would make the youngest daughter weep. We discovered through lockdown that anything involving elderly men and vulnerability (in films, cartoons, stories) will for some reason set her off.
London Daughter was so beguiled by Rachel’s story that she cooked the yoghurt cake of the tale. In the end, she was a little underwhelmed by it. She wondered if it was to do with ingredient quantities: the cake rose magnificently but remained rather dense and a ‘a bit bland’. Fortunately the youngest daughter is on her way to London to visit her sister and loves an olive oil cake (and she’s always hungry!).
I’ll sign off this week with three cheers for two superheroes of the kitchen: tofu (and its sidekicks heat, rice and noodles) and London Daughter.
‘Moroccan or Thai,’ asked The Husband as he cooked the prawns to go with my marinating peppers. I was on the phone to London daughter and gave her the choice. Thai it was. Perhaps not the obvious choice with vegan red peppers drenched in soy sauce, cider vinegar, garlic, maple syrup, sesame oil and topped with a cumin seed, pine nut and coriander crunch. The moral of the story: don’t consult someone who’s not there on your menu creation. Or, maybe, just don’t give options.
Fortunately, Yotam Ottolenghi’s sweet ‘n’ sour peppers with pine nut crumble from Guardian Feast Issue No.179 is so easy peasy and so darn delicious, you could serve them with old shoe leather and they’d still dazzle and dance around all your senses. These beauties made right pepper pigs of us!
And so my self-imposed challenge to cook at least one recipe from each issue of Guardian Feast in 2021 (find out more about that here), continues to surprise and delight.
I was right out of red romano peppers but Billy at Berwick market’s fruit and veg stall supplied me with some spot-on red peppers ordinaire. As there were just two of us, I halved the quantity of peppers to 500g (wish I hadn’t – so tasty!) but stuck to the same amount of nutty cuminy crumble (Yotam counsels to make double: he’s right, it’s a super crunchy, salty topping – a condiment as well as a crumble).
The only faff is peeling the roasted red peppers – but it’s worth the time. This easy vegan recipe punches above its ingredient and effort-weight in terms of flavour, aroma and prettiness.
Some weeks the urge to mix it up is irresistible. With our lockdown clan (The Husband, the two daughters and me) reunited for my birthday, this was just such a week.
We needed celebration. We needed snacking. We needed playful food. Enter Guardian Feast Issue No.178 the let me entertain you issue with Ravneet Gill’s pineapple and coconut jelly, Felicity Cloake’s perfect cheese empanadas and Yotam Ottolenghi’s zingy tofu rice paper rolls.
My challenge to cook at least one recipe from each issue of Guardian Feast in 2021 (find out more about that here), continues apace. This week it was lovely to have the return of the eldest daughter’s nimble fingers and strict kitchen protocol.
Read on for the usual useful insights into tackling unknown recipes and tempting mouthwatering deliciousness.
The photo of Ravneet’s beautiful pineapple and coconut jelly was simultaneously droolingly succulent and terrifying. I wanted to grab a spoon and plunge it into the photo but I wanted Ravneet to make it for me. However, part of my reason for tackling a recipe a week from Feast is to wrestle through recipes I would otherwise skip over. Here goes.
Ravneet Gill’s pineapple and coconut jelly
We only have one jelly mould in the house and I felt a tad offended that The Husband considered it ‘eccentric’ for the jelly in hand. I mean, it is ‘a great jelly mould’ as required by Ravneet, perhaps just not the one she had in mind (see below).
Since the coconut jelly (a delicious smooth, creamy panna cotta) must set before the pineapple wobble is poured on top of it, I made this over two days (I’m learning to read a recipe properly before I start it!). I used the gelatin powder I had in stock, rather than the recommended platinum leaves. It seemed fine. I ended up with more of both jellies than required – a small ramekin of the coconut and double pineapple and lime! My daughter was clearly right in her interpretation of the recipe: ‘400g pineapple, trimmed, peeled and cut into small chunks’ means the unpeeled and untrimmed weight. Oh well, double dibs on pineapple jelly? No one’s complaining.
If I were to make this gorgeous party centrepiece again – it’s a wibbly wobbly pina colada, why wouldn’t I? – I would clingfilm the surface of the coconut panna cotta to prevent it forming a slightly rubbery skin while it’s setting (although The Husband loved the ‘texture’).
The eldest daughter picked up the baton for Yotam Ottolenghi’s zingy tofu rice paper rolls and Felicity Cloake’s perfect cheese empanadas to create a welcome home feast for the youngest daughter.
Feleicity Cloake’s the perfect… cheese empanadas
The eldest daughter ordered in masarepa (pre-cooked cornmeal) specially to make these golden cheese toasty wraps.
The biggest challenge was (as Felicity hints) handling the corn pastry. Felicity counsels ‘handling it with wet hands at all times’. The issue for us was that the pastry tore and holed really easily. Wet hands helped but the biggest breakthrough was using extra masarepa and greaseproof paper in the envelope creation. That way you barely need to touch the empanadas with your hands.
Felicity suggests a range of acceptable extras to add to your cheesy filling. To be honest ours needed a bit of flavour-plumping – the blend of mozzarella and halloumi was not the most flavoursome. We all agreed that we’d add jalapeno peppers in the mix next time and probably change the cheese combo for something with a bit more oomph. We baked ours – although I can see the appeal of deep frying!
Yotam Ottolenghi’s zingy tofu rice paper rolls
Like Ravneet’s jelly, Yotam’s vegan rice rolls look so pretty and appealing on the page. We couldn’t wait to recreate them. Yotam’s right to call them ‘zingy’. Bursting with pine nuts, sesame seeds, chestnuts, ginger, garlic and chilli, they have exactly the right balance of chew and crunch and zest and heat.
The eldest daughter took charge of prep while I got the shitake shrooms soaking and searched out the rest of the ingredients. Instead of adding the fried ingredients to the cold marinated tofu, we popped the tofu in the pan and let it warm through and soak up the soy saucy flavours. Other than that, we stuck to Yotam’s instructions. Bish bash bosh: top nosh.
It’s probably the same countrywide but I didn’t realise until we moved to Northumberland that many people judge a café purely on its scones. We’ve lived here nearly 11 years and I now know people who won’t enter the doors of certain establishments because of perceived scone quality.
Such people would surely celebrate were Yotam Ottolenghi to set up shop selling pull-apart scones with za’atar and feta on the corner of Marygate in Berwick-upon-Tweed. These gluten-free, veggie beauties are scones, Jim, but not as we know them.
My take on Ottolenghi’s pull-apart scones with za’atar and feta from Guardian Feast: they are scones, Jim, but not as we know them (in a good way)!
I’m six months into my epic challenge to cook at least one recipe from each issue of Guardian Feast in 2021 (find out more about that here), and the goodies just keep coming.
Some may take issue with a 16-ingredient scone. They’re wrong. But they’ve probably stopped reading already so they’ll never know. The only ingredient I couldn’t source here in Berwick was ‘powdered pectin’. After much consideration and a bit of Googling, I decided to eschew gelatin and agar agar and up the quantity of ‘finely grated lemon zest’ to a full lemon instead of 1/2 tsp. My square baking tin wasn’t quite the dimensions required by Yotam, but all was well with the end product.
My za’atar was what I’d term cupboard vintage – but it worked a treat.
Only two crisis points for me in the recipe:
Yotam says: ‘Pour in the cream mix, pulse again until the ‘crumbs’ are moist but not quite coming together’ – see picture below. Also, am I the only person who, when a recipe says ‘in a small bowl’, takes it literally and then has to upgrade to a bigger bowl? There was no way I could safely whisk my cream, yoghurt and egg in my chosen bowl.
Not sure what a ‘rough 15cm long rectangle’ looks like. I made a square – see below. The pile of cheese looked impossibly huge heaped on it, but it wrapped up just fine.
As Yotam promised, I ended up with nine scones and had 54g of dough left over rather than the predicted 80g – not bad!
The alchemy of Yotam’s scones is not only in magically making something gluten free feel light and fluffy (I know enough people with celiac disease to understand the sad hefty mouthfeel of many gluten free products), but also in the perfect balance of intense cheesy herbiness and floaty pastry.
The Husband (not the biggest fan of chicken wings) wolfed down Yotam Ottolenghi’s chicken wings with banana ketchup from Guardian Feast Issue No.174. These sticky spicy delights are scrumptious with dollops of the yummy sweet, sour and chilli rich banana ketchup – and all very easy to make.
I personally wouldn’t make a beeline for them at a picnic – not without a ready source of soap and running water. I would, however, cook them for a quick and easy evening meal – particularly for kids (maybe with a little less chilli in the ketchup). Although, when I say quick, remember marinade time – something I always manage to forget! The wings and ketchup are also fab cold (which maybe they would be for a picnic?).
The ketchup’s super easy to make and the recipe creates three times the amount you need – so there’s plenty to have with another batch of wings. In fact, it goes well with everything, from pork pies to cheese on toast. Wonderful to have a truly delicious recipe for overripe bananas that, as Yotam says, is ‘not banana bread’.
I never tire of the joyous fragrance of onions, chilli, garlic and ginger chopped then fried. Mouth-water central.
I was celebrating submitting my final assignment for the first year of my master’s degree, so filling a couple of chicken-wing-marinating hours marinating myself with a glass of fizz and a fire was rather pleasing. The wings soaked up garlic, chilli, lime and freshly made banana ketchup while I gazed at the fire. Kind of like the old TV test card in the 70s but with more movement.
The cooking’s as you’d expect for chicken wings high and fast. Yotam’s salad of spring onions, lime juice and olive oil (come on Yotam, surely this is a garnish, not a salad!) is the quickest thing in the world to make and totally the right sprinkle for the wings.
As regular readers will know, I’m celebrating my love of the food columns and supplements in The Guardian by trying to cook at least one recipe from each issue of Guardian Feast in 2021. Find out a bit more about that here.
This week it’s all about asparagus – every last bit of it.
Historically I always considered asparagus a sort of exotic, premium ingredient. Probably to do with the short harvest season here in the UK and with memories of my mum’s reverence in cooking it. She seemed almost nervous of it, standing it carefully in a pan of boiling water so as to cook the end but not overcook the delicate tips. There only ever seemed to be three spears each but, boy oh boy!, such flavour – all the greenness and optimism of spring into summer served with a slap of melting salted butter.
My perception now is that asparagus is way more available and the days of a lonely showcase of seasonal spears accompanied by a dollop of hollandaise or knob of butter are long gone. Our absolute favourite asparagus dish is Ottolenghi’s asparagus and samphire from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook (it involves black sesame seeds, fresh tarragon and garlic too). So, it’s fitting that it’s an Ottolenghi dish that greets me when I open Guardian Feast Issue No.170 – the 15-minute meal issue. Eggs are a perfect pairing for asparagus and buttered eggs and asparagus on toast looked just the ticket for a Sunday brunch.
It fell to The Husband to recreate Yotam’s dish, and he did an excellent job. The butter-double-dipped fried sourdough slices are a masterstroke; the spring onions, chives and pinch of chilli flakes (we don’t have aleppo) the perfect seasoning lift; and the squeeze of lemon zings merrily across the buttery eggy richness. However, The Husband muttered darkly when I said that Yotam gives the prep time as three minutes and cooking time 12: ‘When was the last time you tried peeling six soft boiled eggs?’ he said.
I always enjoy Tom Hunt’s ‘Waste not…’ column in Feast – there’s no doubt that a no-leaf-or-limb-in-the-bin is a kitchen aspiration of our household. Through the various lockdowns we have definitely become more fleet of foot when it comes to using up fridge scrapies – any veg offcuts go into a bag ready to create ‘compost stock’ for soups, risottos and so forth.
However, this week, the end bits of asparagus from Yotam’s breakfast feast went into Tom’s chilled almond and asparagus soup. And what a fabulously creamy, acidic decadent vessel for them. The soup is vegan – the creamy aspect comes solely from the almonds and olive oil. I topped up my handful of asparagus ends with broccoli to get the 100g required by Tom. For the breadcrumbs I used a white roll I found gathering dust in the freezer, and for sherry vinegar I used white wine vinegar with a splash of sherry – same thing, right?
I whizzed all the ingredients in the blender as instructed, but wasn’t totally happy with my ‘smooth paste’. Another going over with the stick blender sorted the texture. In some ways, the soup is a bit of a ‘nail soup’ (the nail soup in the story is augmented by so many other delicious ingredients that the rusty old nail itself is superfluous). However, I’d definitely do it again – great use of asparagus ends. And the handful of other ingredients. Nice one Tom.