Thai Chicken Soup

I think winter finally caught up with me a few weeks ago. After months of cycling to and back from work at minus temperatures, my body decided it had enough of the cold. As it was a really bad time to get ill, I did the only obvious thing: I boiled some chicken.

Now, I’m happy to admit that I love plain chicken broth, with some rice thrown in and a good squeeze of lemon. It’s what I always ate as a kid when I was ill and it is the first thing I turn to when I start feeling a bit fragile. But apparently*, it’s rubbish. Boring. Greasy. Tasteless.

And therefore, I’ve discovered this spicier, more sophisticated and grown-up version of it. It tastes good and it might even be better for you because of all the green things in it.

Thai Chicken Soup

Ingredients (serves 4)

500gr chicken (if using legs/thighs, remove the skin)
2 litres hot water

2 aubergines, cut in chunks
2 red chillies, chopped finely
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small piece of ginger, minced (about 1cm squared)
1-2 tsp thai green paste

juice and zest of one large lime
2 tbsp thai fish sauce
400ml coconut milk
a large handful of kale

300gr rice noodles
chopped fresh coriander (to serve)
lime wedges (to serve)

First, quickly brown the chicken pieces in a pan and then add the hot water and let it cook for about 1-2 hours to make the stock. Alternatively, you can use leftover chicken meat and ready-made stock. But where’s the fun in that.

In some olive/vegetable oil, brown the aubergines and add the chopped chillies, garlic, ginger and thai paste. Fry for a couple of minutes over medium heat. Shred the chicken and add it to the pan together with the stock, the juice and zest of lime and the fish sauce and cook for 20 minutes, or until the aubergines are tender.

Add the coconut milk, simmer for 5-10 minutes and then add the kale and simmer until cooked. Check for seasoning and add more fish sauce if necessary.

Prepare the rice noodles according to the instructions. To serve, put some noodles in a deep bowl, ladle in some of the broth making sure everyone gets a nice amount of chicken and vegetables (I fight for those aubergine pieces!) and top it with chopped coriander. Serve with lime wedges.

*”apparently” = “according to the boyfriend”.

Sausage Muttar

Don’t you just love it when something comes together with no planning, almost by chance? I was feeling hungry but lazy the other day and, somehow, it was one of those days that I didn’t fancy a big plate of pasta for dinner. It doesn’t happen very often, so I’ve got to embrace it when it does. In an effort to be healthy, I thought peas. And, you know, spices are good for your metabolism. And sausages…well, I can’t justify the sausages. But I don’t have to. They taste good.

Sausage Muttar

Ingredients (serves 5 as a side)

5 sausages
2 large onions, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
olive oil, for frying
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp hot chilli powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp coriander
2 tsp garam masala
500 gr frozen peas
2 tbsp tomato puree
salt, to taste

First, place the sausages in a tray and cook in the oven – how long for will depend on the type of sausages used.

Fry the onions in some oil until soft. Add the garlic and the spices and fry for a couple more minutes, making sure the garlic doesn’t burn. Add the frozen peas, cook until defrosted and then mix in the tomato paste and some water and bring to the boil. Cook until the peas are soft.

Keep checking on the sausages – when they are ready, cut them into inch-thick pieces and add to the peas. Let everything simmer for 10 minutes, season with salt and serve with some naan bread.

This was unexpectedly good. I loved the contrast between the sweet peas and meaty sausages, and the Indian spices made this perfectly fragrant and slightly hot. Sausage might not be hugely traditional but I can see this becoming a favourite either by itself or as part of a curry feast.

Hazelnut and Nutella Brownies

When it comes to brownies, everyone has a very specific idea of what the perfect one should be like. Apparently there are three schools of thought – the cakey, the fudgy and the chewy. I ignore the first one as nonsense, and usually find the second one a bit too rich for my liking. And nuts or no nuts? Too much choice.

But as a lover of Nutella, I wanted to top these with a drizzle of the good stuff, and figured some hazelnuts would compliment it well. “The Boyfriend” moaned.

Hazelnut and Nutella Brownies (adapted from here)

Ingredients (makes 16 small squares)

4 oz. salted butter (plus a bit more for the tray)
4 oz. dark chocolate
1 cup (225 gr) caster sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup (110 gr) plain flour
3 tbsp cocoa
50 gr hazelnuts, roughly chopped
Nutella, for drizzling on the top

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C (or 170 for fan assisted) and lightly butter and flour a tray. I used a square one, about 20cm each side.

Melt the butter and chocolate in a pot over low heat. Let it cool slightly and add the sugar and vanilla. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking until they are incorporated. Add the flour and cocoa, mix for a minute or two using a spatula or spoon and, finally, mix in the nuts.

Empty the mix into the prepared tray and drizzle/pour Nutella over the top. I warmed up the Nutella slightly by placing it on the radiator for a few minutes. Alternatively, you could spoon out little blobs of it and randomly throw them on top of the mix. You get the idea.

Bake for 35-45 minutes. You can test after half an hour by inserting a knife; it shouldn’t be completely clean but have a few small crumbs on it. Cooking times will depend on type and size of tray used and every oven works differently so keep an eye on it – you don’t want to overcook them.

So it turns out that these ended up being somewhere between chewy and fudgy – I might have slightly undercooked them but we did enjoy the texture a lot. The best of both worlds. I loved the hazelnuts and the Nutella topping. I’m making these again tonight and I have a feeling this will be my staple recipe from now on.

Aubergine and Anchovy Pasta

This dish might not look like much, but it really does pack a punch. The aubergine makes the sauce creamy and thick, while the anchovies are really the dominant flavour. I’ve been quite vague about the amount of anchovies you should use in the recipe, as it really depends on your taste. I used four, and it was strong. I was not sure about the cheese/anchovy combination, but it works really well. Just don’t eat this before a date – you’ve been warned.

Aubergine and Anchovy Pasta

Ingredients (serves 2-3, depending on appetite)

300 gr linguine
1 aubergine
2-4 anchovy fillets, drained
2 garlic cloves
2 tbsp tomato paste, dissolved in 1/2 cup water
freshly ground pepper
good pinch of dried oregano
grated pecorino or parmesan
fresh parsley, to serve

First, pierce the aubergine all over with a knife, place it in tray and under a hot grill and cook until it’s collapsing, with a burnt skin.

In the meantime, chop the anchovy fillets finely and grate the garlic into a paste (I do this using a microplane grater). Put some olive oil in a pan, cook the anchovies over medium heat until dissolved, and add the garlic. Cook for a further couple of minutes, making sure the garlic doesn’t burn.

Cut the aubergine in half and scoop out the soft flesh. Chop finely and add to the pan. Fry it with the anchovy/garlic paste for a couple of minutes, before adding the diluted tomato paste and letting the sauce simmer for 5-10 minutes. Season with pepper and oregano (the anchovies with make this salty enough so I doubt you’ll need more salt).

Cook the pasta in salted boiling water and, before draining, reserve 1/3 cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the sauce and use the reserved water to bind it together. Sprinkle with the grated cheese and stir until melted. Serve with some chopped fresh parsley on the top.

Marmite pasta

This is a serious case of “don’t knock it till you’ve tried it”. There seems to be a trend for really simple pasta dishes recently (-ish), and this is my contribution to it. I’ve been eating it several times a week (unhealthy? what about all the vitamin B in Marmite?) and I’m currently having withdrawal symptoms because I can’t find any Marmite in Greece. I didn’t even like the stuff before I tried this.

A lot of the enjoyment comes from the texture, so cook your pasta al dente and choose a good shape. I love bucatini, there’s some good bite on it as it’s thick, but the hole running through the middle makes it light and fluffy. If you’re one of those people that don’t understand others’ obsessions with the geometry of pasta (I can’t wait to read my Christmas present), spaghetti will do just fine.

Marmite Pasta (thank you Nigella)

Ingredients (serves 1 greedy person – me)

150 gr pasta
15 gr butter
1/2 – 1 tsp marmite (depending on how strong you want the flavour to be obviously – I normally do something in the middle)
freshly grated pecorino (or parmesan)
ground pepper (optional)

Cook the pasta in salted water until al dente. Reserve about 1/3 cup of the cooking water – you’ll need that starch to bring the dish together. Drain the pasta.

Melt the butter in a pan, add the Marmite and the reserved water – stir until the Marmite has dissolved. Add the pasta back in the pan, then the cheese, and stir until everything is covered in gooey sauce and the pasta has turned a golden colour from the Marmite. You shouldn’t need any salt, but add pepper if you fancy it – I actually prefer it without. Serve immediately.

Top 10 things I ate in 2010

Like most good things in life, you can have enough of reading other people’s blog lists at the end of a calendar year. And there’s only one thing to do then: go and make your own.

So here are some things I ate and liked in 2010. I am not pretending that 70% of my favourite dishes are mine – this is more of a list of my favourite posts. And maybe someone will find a recipe to try or a restaurant to visit and my yet-another-2010-list will be justified. 

1. Stuffed Onions
I do love Greek-style stuffed vegetables – peppers, tomatoes, aubergines. This was the first time I had stuffed onions. A pain to peel off onion layers whole, but worth it. Soft and sweet onions, meaty filling, caramelised- almost burnt- edges. Lovely.

2. Homemade Pita Bread
A revelation not in the taste sense (not the first time I’ve had pita bread!) but because of how easy they were to make. Great effort to result ratio and one of those things I make several times a month. A real keeper.

3. Apple Tarte Tatin
Possibly my favourite pudding ever – maybe I’m biased, but I thought my version was comparable to the one we had at Launceston Place. Take that Tristan Welch.

4. Lamb and Spinach Curry
I thought I preferred chicken curries to lamb ones. What a fool. Can’t wait to try this with goat, like the original recipe suggested.

5. Aubergine in Yoghurt
This blog does love aubergines (maybe even more than steak…) and I’m always happy when I find new ways to cook them. These Indian-style aubergines are spicy and creamy and perfect as a side to a curry. Leftovers make great sandwiches when wrapped in pita bread.

6. Oxtail Ragu
Oxtail makes for a great ragu because you first cook it on the bone and the marrow melts away, creating a rich, thick, flavoursome sauce. When it’s done, the meat will be falling off the bone. Serve with homemade pasta and wear some stretchy trousers.

7. Chinese Pork with Aubergines and Crackling
Maybe not the most authentic recipe – it was a mish mash of the few things I know about Chinese cooking. It worked though. I bloody love aubergines. And crackling should be served with everything.

and a few more I didn’t make myself…

8. Goose Egg and Mushroom at Launceston Place
I loved the whole meal, and in a way it is a bit of a shame that the highlight was something I only had a tiny bite of. I want this egg to myself and I am going to have it soon. First New Year’s resolution, done.

9. Fish Fragrant Aubergines at Chilli Cool
Have I mentioned that I love aubergines? These were silky, soft, sweet and spicy. And there was some pork, which always improves things. The whole place is an absolute bargain too.

10. Game Ragu with Polenta at Alimentum
You know a plate of food is good when you dream about it for months after you’ve had it. Maybe I should ask for a double portion for my main next time I go. And have it for starter too.

So, for 2011, I’m hoping I’ll get to try a few more exciting restaurants, make some more tasty meals and, erm, finish my thesis (because I’ve promised myself a Midsummer House meal when I do so). I’m also hoping for other, more selfless things, like world peace and stuff, but this is my blog so I’ll keep it personal (and selfish).

In short, may 2011 be a new and improved version of 2010, for everyone.

Greek Octopus Stew

Have you not had enough of all this roast turkey/goose/stuffing/cranberries chat? I know I have and without actually eating any of it! Our Christmas tradition involves cockerel stew served with pasta, and a lemony-eggy chicken soup on Boxing Day to help the hangover. But whenever I’m in Greece I also try to take advantage of all the nice seafood here. This octopus stew is one of my favourite dishes – if you don’t fancy a bird anymore then give it a go.

As is the case with quite a lot of seafood, you need to cook octopus either for seconds or hour(s). Anything in between, and it’ll be tough. I normally grill my octopus, and have it drizzled with red wine vinegar and some chips on the side, but this stew is also a great (and very traditional) way of having it. The meaty chunks of octopus cook in the sauce long enough to give the whole dish a strong seafood taste and a thick gravy that you will want to lick off your plate.

To prepare my octopus, I remove most of the skin on the inside of each tentacle (the opposite side from where the suckers are!). I’m sure you could just leave it, but if it’s quite a big octopus the skin tends to be quite thick and I don’t like it. You can (should) of course use the head, but I’d remove the skin from that too.

My normal portions of pasta are bigger than average, but when you cook it in sauce it somehow goes a long way. We had 500gr between 4 of us for dinner and a light lunch the next day. I think that 300gr would be more than enough for dinner for 3. We use short tubes of pasta (kofto) for this dish. If you can’t find them, you could use macaroni or pasta shells.

Greek Octopus Stew

Ingredients (serves 3)

1 medium-sized octopus, chopped in 2 inch pieces
1 medium onion, finely chopped
olive oil

1 small glass of red wine
1 can of good quality tomatoes
4 allspice berries
1 bay leaf

300gr pasta
lots of ground pepper
salt to taste
sprinkling of oregano
fresh chopped parsley (optional)

First, place the octopus pieces in a large pot (it will need to fit the pasta later) and let them simmer over a medium heat. You don’t need any water as they will release a lot of (very red) juices. Reduce until you have a thick red coating all over your octopus. Add the chopped onion and some olive oil, and let it all fry slowly until the onion is soft.

Turn the heat up, add the glass of wine and let the alcohol evaporate. Add the tomatoes, enough water to cover the octopus and the allspice and bay leaf. Let it simmer slowly for an hour.

Add the pasta and some more water (but not too much, you don’t want to end up with a soup). While the pasta is cooking, keep an eye on it and add more water if it’s getting dry. You want to end up with a thick sauce. Season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with the oregano. Enjoy.

Chinese Pork with Aubergines and Crackling

It turns out I love Chinese food. And although there is a place and a time for the sickly, bright red, sweet and sour sauce at the all-you-can-eat buffet (say, Sunday lunch somewhere in Zone 7), it doesn’t come close to making your own sweet and sour at home.

This is not quite it I suppose. Maybe somewhere in between a sweet and sour and the fish fragrant aubergine I had at Chilli Cool a few weeks back. I’ve been wanted to make something similar since then. And just in case that wasn’t exciting enough, I thought I’d use the skin to make some crackling. I don’t like waste, you see.

Please don’t get angry at me for the generic name I’ve given this dish. I didn’t follow a specific recipe and didn’t want to call it something that it isn’t. If you have any better suggestions I’d love to hear them!

The crackling was amazing, properly puffed up and with soft bits every here and there. It was in fact so good that we ended up eating it all before I could take a picture of it. I’ll be making this again.

Chinese Pork with Aubergines and Crackling

For the sauce
a small pork joint
3 tbsp chinese rice vinegar
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp red wine

Chop the pork in inch thick cubes and add all the ingredients in a bowl. Let it marinate for half an hour (or longer if possible – you can do it overnight in the fridge). Reserving the marinade, fry the pieces of pork over high heat until browned. If they are releasing too much liquid you can add that to the marinade. You don’t want them to simmer. When browned and with crisped edges, take out of the pan and set aside.

2 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp sunflower oil
2 onions, chopped finely
3 garlic cloves, grated
3 dried birds-eye chillies, chopped
2 aubergines, sliced in fingers*
2 tbsp ketchup
1 tbsp soft brown sugar
extra soy sauce or rice vinegar, to taste

* I threw in some courgettes and peppers because I had them in my fridge, but the aubergines were by far my favourite – no surprises there!

In the same pot used to brown the meat, add the oil and soften the onions. Add the garlic and chilli, fry for a couple of minutes and then add the aubergines (or any other vegetable you’re using). When they’ve browned a bit, add the meat pieces, the reserved marinade, the ketchup and sugar and enough water to cover everything. Let it simmer until the sauce thickens and the pork is tender. Taste and add more soy sauce or vinegar if you want it saltier/more sour. If the sauce is too thin you can use some cornflour to thicken it.

For the crackling

the skin of the pork, in one piece
vinegar (use some of the chinese rice vinegar from before)
salt

Score the skin and place it on a rack over the sink. Poor boiling water over it, pat dry and rub with the salt and vinegar. Roast in a preheated oven at 200 Celsius for about an hour. When it’s looking crispy, pop it under a hot grill to puff up. Make sure you keep an eye on it as it can go from puffy to burnt in seconds!

Serve the pork with some plain rice and a bit of crackling on the side.

Lentil and Aubergine Curry (Indian #7)

While I love meat and I could never be vegetarian, there is really no need to make vegetarian dishes bland and boring. Lentils are full of flavour (and iron, so no need for that steak) and aubergines are the meatiest vegetable out there. Both make a healthy alternative to meaty dishes and, combined with some Indian spices, you have the perfect winter warmer.

This started as a lentil and carrot soup, until I realised I had no carrots and had to improvise. So please don’t judge me on the authenticity of the dish. It’s yummy.

Lentil and Aubergine Curry

Ingredients

1 large onion, chopped finely
3 cloves garlic, chopped finely or grated
2 dried birds eye chillies, chopped (optional)
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp chilli powder
olive oil

1 aubergine
200gr lentils (I used green, but red perhaps will be more authentic)
2 tbsp tomato paste, diluted in some water
1 tsp garam masala
salt, to taste

200gr Total Greek Yoghurt, to serve

Fry the onions and the garlic in the olive oil together with the spices (chillies, turmeric, ground coriander, ground cumin, chilli powder) over low-medium heat, until soft. Add the aubergines and fry them a little longer, until they start to soften.

Add the lentils and the tomato paste and let it simmer over low heat. You might need to add more water as this is cooking since the lentils will absorb quite a bit. When the lentils are soft (about 40 minutes later), add the garam masala and season with salt.

Serve with a dollop of yoghurt and some warm pita bread.

Previously on Round the World in 100 Recipes:
King Prawn Puri 
Saffron Yoghurt with Fennel Seed Biscuits
Aubergine in Yoghurt
Heston’s Chicken Tikka Masala
Lamb and Spinach Curry
Red Onion and Pomegranate Salad

Cherry and Yoghurt Cake

There’s been a serious amount of baking on this blog and in my house recently, but this weather is begging for a slice of cake and a cup of tea to get through the afternoons.

Recently, I was given a very generous amount of Total yoghurt to sample and I tried to think of different ways of using it up. It is lovely by itself drizzled with some honey and I’ve been having a dollop of it on top of a lentil curry (recipe coming) for the last couple of days, so now I thought I’d bake something with it. I’ve used yogurt instead of sour cream in Nigella’s Guinness cake before, but the chocolate and stout are quite overpowering and I wanted something simple to let the yoghurt come through.

I slightly adapted a recipe for a Gâteau au Citron from Orangette, leaving out the lemon zest and juice. I had a jar of some brilliant Greek sour cherries in syrup (spoon sweets we call them in Greece) and thought I could pour some of the fruit and juice at the bottom of my tray and cook the cake on top of it, flipping it over when cooked for a lovely caramelised topping. Instead of the spoon sweet you can just use whatever fruit in syrup you fancy, either homemade or from a can.

Cherry and Yoghurt Cake

Ingredients

1/2 cup Greek yoghurt (I used full fat Total, but 2% will do too)
1 cup caster sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup plain flour
1/2 cup ground almond
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup sunflower oil

3-4 Tbsp sour cherries in syrup (or other fruit you like)

Whisk the yoghurt, eggs and sugar together until smooth. Add the flour, almond and baking powder and combine. Finally, mix in the oil and vanilla extract and give it a bit of a whisk until smooth.

In a round pyrex dish, spread the syrupy fruit and add the cake mix on the top. Bake in a preheated oven at 170 degrees Celsius for 50 minutes to an hour (the original recipe said 30-35 min but both times I made it it was way too liquid after half an hour), until a knife comes out clean.

When it’s out of the oven, cover the dish with a plate and quickly flip the cake over. The top should be sticky and caramelised and the cake will have a lovely soft and pale crumb. Enjoy!