We spent a fun Friday night in Barbados down at the coastal town of Oistins for its famous Fish Fry night market. It’s undeniably a big tourist draw – we could follow the hoards of white/burnt shoulders to find it – but there were plenty of locals down as well, and it felt like a genuine Bajan experience with the music, dancing and plenty of food a’frying…
After perusing all the stalls – each has its own seating area with informal waiter service – we sat at Mo’s Place and ordered beers, grilled fish and a big plate of veggie noms for me.
Everyone thoroughly enjoyed their food and, for an island where restaurants can get crazy expensive, it was a total bargain at around $40 Bajan per person – under £15 each including all the beers.
We sat for a bit afterwards and watched little kids and older breakdancers do their thing on the stage to some disco classics. The fish fry is there every evening but Friday is the busy party night, so get there early to grab a table.
I’m sure that if you’re into blogs and into food, you’ve already seen Smitten Kitchen: a lovely food blog from self-taught cook and photographer Deb Perelman. Her food seems to tread a very clever line: not too saintly-healthy but not dripping in fat either, very rarely a fancy or expensive ingredient, and a love and appreciation of technique that I very much admire. It’s home cooking levelled up by someone who really loves and understands food, and it’s all captured beautifully thanks to her photography expertise.
I’m pleased to see that Deb’s newly-released Smitten Kitchen cookbook follows the same, um, recipe. From just a glance at the contents page – with chapter headings including Breakfast, Vegetarian Main Dishes, and Sandwiches, Tarts and Pizzas – I could tell it was going to be right up my street. I’ve already tested a few recipes from my advance copy, so here are my highlights so far.
I’m often guilty of having breakfast-as-dinner, and the Breakfasts chapter offers plenty of recipes that would suit an evening meal, from a twist on Huevos Rancheros with crisped tortilla shreds and lime cream to individual baked eggs with greens and hollandaise.
We had the huevos as a Sunday supper: it was super fast and easy to make, with an all-in-one blended tomato sauce and cooked in one pan with storecupboard ingredients – perfect lazy-day cooking.
I have to admit I often skip the Salads chapter of cookbooks, but this one contains several hearty-looking dishes that I’d be happy to have for a light meal. Courgette ribbons with almond pesto and Borlotti beans with walnuts and feta particularly caught my eye. I served the ribbons with a side of bulgur wheat and some toasted pine nuts. It took all of five minutes – literally! – to prepare but made for a great zingy dinner.
As an ex-vegetarian herself, Deb’s recipes are often still veggie or light on the meat, and she points out something I believe too: that vegetarian food can be just as flavourful and filling as meat, given the right choice of flavours and cooking techniques. The book is probably 75% vegetarian overall so it’s definitely a good buy for the veggie cook or those looking for some non-meat based meal ideas. I was delighted to find a recipe for Mushroom Bourgignon – a dish that tends to induce meat-envy in me – amongst smoky black bean ragout, butternut galette, and a simple but bold dish of roast tomato and baby onion, served with white beans and a crouton to soak up the umami-rich juices.
I made that one on Tuesday night, throwing in some romano pepper and courgette for good measure (and substituting shallots for baby onions since i had them in the fridge). Even with crappy out-of-season cherry tomatoes, the pronounced flavour you gain from roasting them in a bit of salt and olive oil is incredible, and for such low effort.
This book comes Lila-approved
This book really is a gorgeous package. Every single recipe is photographed beautifully and prefaced by a personal story about its history, invention or method, which makes it a great sofa read as well as informative cook book. Yet it’s practical and straightforward too: it’s littered with helpful extra cooking notes and I’m pleased to see that no recipe appears to be particularly long or complex. Deb has several techniques that save time but don’t sacrifice flavour, like cutting ratatouille vegetables into thin slices with a mandolin so they cook quicker. A giant bonus is that the publishers have made the effort to convert the entire book – ingredients, measurements and technique names – from U.S to British English, so everything is immediately familiar without having to Google what the heck ‘broiling’ is or how much a cup is.
I haven’t even mentioned the rather sizeable puddings section yet as I’m on a semi-diet, but yes: the puddings look immense too.
I always think it’s a good sign when I flick through a new cook book and immediately earmark about 90% of the recipes as ‘must make soon’, and even better to find I already have the ingredients for several of them in the house already! It’s the kind of book that I will find myself reaching for midweek inspiration as well as for ‘occasion’ cooking. Needless to say, I highly recommend it to everyone. It’s out now: order it here for just £11.
An advance copy was sent to me by the publishers for review.
I’m not usually a big fan of fakey meat products – I mean, I’m vegetarian for good reason – but there’s something about the cold weather that makes it appealing to fall back on simple protein-based stews and casseroles for dinner. I made up this recipe when my decidedly-omnivorous sister came round as a substitute for a similar dish that my mum makes, and it turned out really nice. It’s not very photogenic I’m afraid, but it does taste much better than it looks!
A classic combo of mushrooms, thyme, and white wine is given texture by the Quorn, which is torn into irregular pieces to give a – dare I say – meatier texture. Low fat creme fraiche gives acidity and a nice saucy base – you could swap it for half or full fat sour cream for a creamier, more decadent result. Mustard gives the whole thing a final warming kick, and serve with buttery mash for ultimate comfort factor. Give it a go!
Feeling hungry? Time for a little round up of things I’ve been eating on my way round London lately…
First up, Sweet Thursday, a new neighbourhood pizzeria not too far from me in De Beauvoir town. There’s a wine shop out front and a big clay oven out back: my kind of place. The pizza menu’s small but the pizzas themselves certainly aren’t: you could definitely share one with a few of the antipasti-type sides for dinner. They are the properly charred and chewy-crusted types too, with lovely flavourful toppings. Will be back soon.
I had to run an errand in South London a few weekends ago, so we popped to Brixton Village to make the most of this rare foray. I loved how vibrant and energetic it was, with all the hip new popup places like Wishbone, Bukowski and Honest Burger elbow-to-elbow with the Caribbean grocery stores and kitschy gift shops. Unfortunately I don’t think we picked the best place for lunch – the Mexican was the only place without a queue but it wasn’t anything special. Coffee and a brownie in Federation afterwards made up for it, though, and we’ll just have to go again to try Mama Lan’s noodles, Okan’s okonomiyaki or the best-ever pizza at the original Franco Manca.
Finally, Josh’s parents kindly treated us to lunch at La Porte Des Indes at the weekend. To be perfectly honest, it’s not the kind of place I would usually choose – the bonkers French-colonial decor, high prices and Marble Arch location put it off my radar. But I was extremely pleasantly surprised by our lunch: they do a buffet on Sundays with street food starters, curry mains and fresh little fruity desserts. I went back to the starters table twice: each little dish, from lentil dumplings in fiery soup to mini beetroot dosas to crispy spinach fritters, was a tiny taste ‘pow’! Of course I then sampled three curries for main and couldn’t resist the vibrant dessert table either, so left feeling very full indeed.
That’s it for indulgence for the rest of the month now – we’re off to Barbados at the beginning of March (!) so it’s health kick to get beach-ready before then. Um, anyone have any foody tips for Barbados?!
Since doing an Indian cooking course and having a gander at the beautiful Prashad cook book, my home curry-making has definitely gone up a notch. In particular, Prashad’s mattar paneer is sure to become a weekday dinner staple: it’s so quick and easy yet authentic-tasting, uses storecupboard/freezer ingredients (did you know paneer freezes?!) and feels pretty healthy despite the main ingredient being um, fried cheese. Must be better than a takeaway at least. I like making more interesting rice dishes as an accompaniment too: the lemon, mustard seed and curry leaf rice we made on the course is perfect with a mild, creamy curry, and Prashad’s tumeric dal rice does great with the mattar paneer.
My absolute favourite thing to make however is chapattis, the little wholewheat puffed flatbreads that are so perfect at scooping up handfuls of curry to convey it to the mouth. I use the Fabulous Baker Brothers’ recipe and method, which involves the pretty fun task of toasting the chapattis over an open gas flame to get that wonderful airy texture and charred outside. I even videoed myself doing it, at immense personal risk – you’re welcome. Ignore my filthy hob please.
Finished with a dash of butter, they’re the perfect finishing touch to a homemade curry.
Amongst my wonderful Christmas gifts was a bibimbap kit from Sous Chef. It’s a Korean dish literally meaning ‘mixed rice’ – a bowl of rice cooked in a stone pot topped with various vegetables and meat or tofu, finished with an egg and seasoned with hot pepper paste. I’ve been wanting to try it again since we had a similar thing in Tokyo. There are also a couple of Korean restaurants serving it in London now, like the aptly-named Bibimbap in Soho.
It turns out that bibimbap, despite looking quite impressive, is really fun to cook and barely even needs a recipe, although I’ve attached my notes below. The cooking process is really just a prep and assembly job: cooking the rice, heating the dolsot and chopping and cooking the veg (simply steamed or sautéed). If you’re alright with multitasking it can be ready in about half an hour.
The key to an authentic bibimbap is the special stone cooking pot called a dolsot. It’s warmed on the hob and seasoned with sesame oil before adding the rice for its final cooking. The roasting-hot stone imparts a mysteriously wonderful quality to the dish, as well as making delicious crackly morsels of rice around the edges to pick off with your chopsticks. It holds the heat extremely well, cooking the egg yolk and keeping the rice warm as you dig in.
You can easily adapt the basic recipe to your favourite vegetable/protein combo, and make it vegan by omitting the egg. The one absolutely essential ingredient is the gochujang, a salty, spicy red pepper paste that provides all the seasoning the dish needs. It comes in a pleasingly Asian-looking little tub and will last in the fridge for ages – if you don’t make bibimbap every night anyway, as I’m now tempted to do.
For such low effort, the taste is just amazing, and it’s a pretty healthy yet hearty and filling dish. It’s definitely being added to my regular roster. You can buy a bibimbap kit with everything you need to get started from Sous Chef. Let me know if you have a go!
* Tofu puffs are tofu chunks that have been frozen then deep-fried, to give a spongy interior with crisp outside. They're really yummy and perfect for bibimbap as they soak up flavours really well. I found mine in the Chinese supermarket. Plain firm tofu fried off would be fine too
** Furikake is a Japanese seasoning made from shiso, seaweed and sesame seeds (and sometimes fish, so check the label). Most supermarkets have it, or substitute with sesame seeds.
If you're using the dolsot for the first time, fill it with cold water and place on a very low heat. Bring up to boil very slowly (the pot can crack if exposed to sudden temperature changes), increasing the heat gradually. Dump out the water, return to the heat and add a splash of sesame oil to the pot. Swirl around so the pot is coated and keep warm while you prepare everything else.
Wash the rice well and drain for 15-20 minutes. Put into a pan with 300ml cold water, cover, bring to boil and simmer very gently for 12 minutes (or follow packet instructions). Leave to cool a little and season with salt and furikake.
Slice all of the veg thinly. Steam the carrot and pak choi in a bamboo steamer over hot water until just tender - about 7 minutes.
Sautee the mushrooms in a mix of vegetable and sesame oil.
Sautee the tofu puffs in a little soy and sesame.
Sautee together the chilli, spring onions and soybeans for a minute or two. Mix into the rice, adding a bit of the gochujang to taste.
Transfer the rice mix to the dolsot - you should hear a nice sizzle as it hits the oil. Separate the egg, keeping the yolk - make a small well in the middle of the rice and drop the egg yolk in. Leave for a couple of minutes to let the yolk heat through and the rice get crispy around the edges.
Arrange your other toppings in sections around the egg, and finish with a blob of gochujang and a sprinkle of furikake. Mix it all together before eating!
I think We Feast is one of the best street foody eat-ups I’ve been to in a while! It had all the great vibes of the food truck meetup we went to in San Francisco, with bonus Christmassy touches that made it feel lovely and festive.
Firstly, it was in a perfect venue – a wonderful semi-derelict old Victorian sorting office in Islington, decked out with cool huge globe lights and twinkly fairy lights.
Organisation-wise it was spot on, not too crowded or queue-heavy with plenty of seating and a big bar. I had a delicious lemongrass Dark and Stormy.
Great live music added to the festive vibes.
And of course the food, with stalls from all of London’s current best and brightest…
I started with Anna Mae’s mac & cheese, levelled up with jalapenos and sour cream…
Then went for a delicious mushroom, walnut and miso Yum Bun
Sweet treats from Meringue Girls, almost to pretty to eat
Pakoras from Delhi Grill
And the rest… The only slight downside was that a fair proportion of the stalls didn’t have a veggie option so I didn’t get to sample Rainbo’s gzoyas, Tonkotsu’s ramen, Mishkin’s, or a Lucky Chip (veggie)burger. But I think I did pretty OK anyway.
Ramen is fast becoming a new foody trend, with lots of new places opening up in town serving delicious bowls of noodles swimming in sweet-sour stock. Unfortunately the key component of traditional ramen is a dollop of sizzling pig fat (along with boiled bones to make the stock), so I can’t indulge in the real deal very often. But I’ve made a pretty good take on it at home a few times, perfect for cold nights and very healthy! It gets its body from marinated crispy-fried tofu, and the addition of an egg or two, swirled into the stock, makes it even more filling.
Portion of your favourite noodles - I love these ones
4 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp mirin
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp cornflour + extra for dusting
1 pack firm tofu
1/2 pack mixed stir-fry vegetables - I like a mix with baby corn, spring onion, beanshoots, soybeans, cabbage and carrot.
1 fresh red chilli, finely chopped (optional)
1 egg (optional)
Mix the seasonings (soy, rice vinegar ,mirin, sugar) in a small bowl.
Bring 1 litre of water to a simmer in a pan. Add half of the seasoning mixture. Mix the cornflour with a little water to form a paste and stir in too.
Add the vegetables (and chilli, if using) and noodles to the pot. They should only take 5 minutes to heat through and soften, a little longer if using dried noodles.
Meanwhile slice the tofu into 1cm slices, blot to remove excess moisture, dust with extra cornflour and fry off in vegetable or sesame oil. When it's becoming golden and crispy, add the remaining seasoning and cook for a minute more, turning the tofu, to give a tasty glaze.
If using the egg, break it into a jug and whisk to combine. Keeping the soup at a simmer, pour the egg into the water in a very thin stream, stirring with a chopstick as you do to make ribbons. This gives the soup extra texture and thickness.
I bought Josh a South Indian cookery course day at Food at 52 for his birthday last month. It sounded so good that I bought myself a ticket too! South Indian food is one of my favourites – and it happens to be largely vegetarian – but I’ve never been able to master a good curry at home, so I was desperate to pick up some tips.
The class’s menu did include one prawn dish but was otherwise veggie and I recognised a few of the dishes from my favourite Keralan restaurant Rasa. The day class covers a mighty ten dishes, including chutney, snacks, sides and a mix of dry and saucy curries.
We began by splitting into two groups – the class is a snug 8 people – and preparing the spice blends for the various curries. This stage involved lots of measuring and frying off the base spices, which usually include some combination of cumin seeds, mustard seeds, asafoetida (an orangey powder with a leek-type flavour), and curry leaves.
As a warm-up we made the prawn and paneer curry first, by simply adding coconut milk to the fried spices for a subtly-spiced, warming curry dish. We then got to work on the other dishes, which included a beetroot pachadi with grated coconut and a green bean thoran, a dry curry flavoured with cumin seeds, tamarind paste and chilli. We even prepped some vadai, a doughnut-shaped snack made with lentils and spinach.
After all our hard work we were led upstairs to relax with a glass of wine for a bit, while the table was prepared for us to try our dishes out. The space, situated on Central St about halfway between Old Street and Angel, has fun eclectic decor with the cosy, welcoming feel of someone’s home.
The final feast was a colourful spread and everyone agreed all the dishes were delicious. My favourites were the paneer curry and heavenly lemon rice, given substance by the addition of cashews, crunchy dal and tindori, an Indian vegetable a bit like a gherkin. In fact I’ve already re-made them both at home, for my parents no less, which went down extremely well.
The day classes at Food at 52 are quite pricey, but it was a brilliant fun day and we feel equipped with lots more skills and knowledge to carry on making curries at home. They also offer shorter, cheaper evening classes across cuisines including Vietnamese, Thai and Italian.
After the joy of Brindisa, it’s marvellous to see another of my favourite London restaurants open up a little closer to home too. Dishoom‘s original site (blogged here) is a sweetly kitsch recreation of a Bombay cafe in Covent Garden. It’s nice to see that for the new site on Boundary Street, Shoreditch, they’ve sized up and gone for a more area-appropriate grunge-luxe decor. The huge two-floor warehouse space is filled with mahogany room dividers, textured vintage glass and industrial metal lighting details.
We popped in on a gloomy Friday night just after their soft launch period ended. Without a booking we had a 40-minute wait for a table, but this was no hardship thanks to a cosy bar area and delicious cocktails – my chaijito was a great spicy twist on a classic mojito. Josh enjoyed a bottle of the house IPA, brewed especially for the restaurant by local Beavertown Brewery.
The menu is mostly grill-heavy with several marinated meat choices, plus lots of nibbly starters and some sauce-based ‘ruby murrays’ too. We’d been perusing as we drank, so ordered as soon as we were seated. The food arrived impressively quickly, complete with super tasty little chilli, coriander and chutney dips.
I’m a little ashamed to say that I ordered exactly the same as when I last went to the other Dishoom – I hardly ever do that but had to make an exception for paneer tikka, black dal and roti – why would you stray? It tasted just as I remembered from before: fresh, rich and deeply layered with flavour.
Josh got lamb chops and fabulous gunpowder potatoes which were soft and smoky. Service was a little chaotic (our credit card was temporarily lost after opening a bar tab) but given that it was the first real night after the soft launch, I forgive that – it was still efficient and friendly. I feel I’ll be back very soon.