tomatoes

Say Cheese

I've just returned from the City of Angels and boy am I missing that Southern Californian sunshine! Los Angeles is a city I'm fortunate enough to visit regularly, as I have a son who lives there, in fact I'll go as far as to consider myself an honorary Angeleno! It's not about smiling, posing and saying cheese in front of the iconic Hollywood sign, oh no Los Angeles is all about the impressive dining scene. Being a devoted food-lover, LA is quite honestly a foodie mecca and it's the diversity of cuisines available which astounds me. The quality of gourmet food is unrivalled and the dilemma arises when deciding on what to eat, once you've got to grips with such prodigious choices.

The food scene in LA has changed markedly. The food truck explosion offers not only excellent high end food, but with the added bonus of being on a budget as well. One of the most famous is the Kogi BBQ truck, under the direction of Chef Roy Choi, which serves up gourmet fusion Korean Mexican tacos to discerning Angelenos. The food truck platform has evolved and if it's a late night grilled cheese sandwich, taco chaat or a lobster roll which satiates your hunger, it's all within easy reach.  

If something a little more refined takes your fancy LA has it all. Whether you want Mexican, Chinese, Korean, Indian, Japanese, French, Italian, farm-to-table, vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, zero carb, healthy, unhealthy, it's all there. Yes La La Land, a very apt moniker by the way, will actually render you into a state of unconsciousness, a food coma in fact, with this dizzying array of options. My never-ending bucket list of restaurants in LA just keeps growing every time I visit. All food aficionados will head straight to Wolfgang Puck, Thomas Keller and Nobu Matsuhisa establishments, but there's a Japanese inspired restaurant Hinoki and the Bird, which has a fabulous cocktail menu, many of them being fruit inspired. The food is very tactile and our senses are heightened by the use of innovative cooking methods. The lobster roll is genuinely a rave for your tastebuds. The citrus, basil piquancy of the lobster is the antithesis of the charcoaled bread roll. Sublime!

Gjelina is a favourite farm-to-table restaurant in a health obsessed corner of LA. The eggplant caponata on toast with burrata, pine nuts and balsamic is a mandatory choice as far as I'm concerned. Its big, bold, brash flavours are complemented by the delicate, creamy burrata. Bottega Louie is a no-reservations buzzing downtown Italian restaurant with a French patisserie, housed in a palatial Romanseque revival style building. Be prepared for sizeable portions, huge crowds and a cacophony of chefs, waiters and diners, but Bottega Louie has worked out the formula for success. Despite the grandiose, imposing, stately decor, the restaurant is very moderately priced. For appetisers, you absolutely must get the crab beignets...totally addictive! You have to order the thin-crusted Italian style pizza in any flavour that takes your fancy, but the proscuitto di Parma with burrata and rapini will have you reminiscing long after you've left. And if you don't have any room left for dessert, you can always buy the pastries, cakes or macarons, lined up in glass cases with military precision. LA has too many convivial restaurants for me to visit, and on leaving this extraordinary food city I suffer from separation anxiety; from my son of course! What else? 

I want to share a very simple recipe that I created for my love of burrata, the most delicious Southern Italian cheese. Burrata is a Puglian speciality and has an outer shell of mozzarella and the inside is filled with ribbons of mozzarella and cream (stracciatella), which gives it that rich, buttery, creamy texture. Burrata used to be quite difficult to find, so you can't imagine how thrilled I am, that I can now buy fresh burrata from my local Waitrose. This simple salad with heirloom tomatoes, avocado and topped with torn soft burrata is embellished with my coriander and pistachio pesto and it is a fresh salad to enjoy the last hurrah of summer.

Heirloom Tomato, Avocado & Burrata Salad with Coriander & Pistachio Pesto

Serves 4

  • 400g Mixed Heirloom Tomatoes
  • 1 Avocado
  • 200g Burrata Cheese
  • 35g Coriander
  • Handful of Pistachio Nuts
  • 1 Clove Garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp Parmesan, finely grated
  • 75ml Olive Oil
  • Salt to taste

Method

  • Make the pesto by blitzing the coriander, pistachio nuts and olive oil in a herb mill, food processor or even a pestle and mortar. Once done, place into a small bowl.
  • Fry the chopped garlic in a frying pan with a teaspoon of olive oil, until it starts to turn golden, which should take a couple of minutes. Add into the coriander mixture and add the parmesan cheese. Taste and add a little salt if needed. Set this aside.
  • Chop the tomatoes into bite-size pieces and arrange them onto a platter.
  • Slice the avocado and add them to the tomato platter.
  • Roughly tear the burrata and place randomly onto the platter.
  • Drizzle the pesto and a little extra olive oil and serve.

Tips

  • Heirloom or heritage tomatoes are available in most supermarkets. They are colourful and their flavour is superior. Sustainable farming methods are used to grow them.
  • If you do not like coriander, then you can substitute it for basil to make the pesto.



Mad about Curry

There's something that's been agitating me for a while. Why is all Indian food referred to as 'curry?' The original Tamil word is kari, meaning spiced sauce. This generic reference doesn't actually mean anything. Indian flavours are complex and intricate, and to refer to everything as 'curry' simply devalues a cuisine that is inextricably linked with such a rich and vast culture.

'I'm going out for a curry' is a phrase unheard of in the Indian subcontinent. This was a phrase conceived by the British colonialists to refer to a generic sauce-based, homogenised, spicy Indian dish. The swathe of blanket kormas, baltis and tikka masalas with a choice of any meat, chicken or vegetable, swimming in oil, is irritatingly inauthentic. Indian cooking should manifest its regional diversity. Recipes are often not documented and handed down from generation to generation just by word of mouth, for fear of plagiarism. This is one of the reasons that Indian food, despite its culinary refinements, is not as well chronicled as French food for example.

The Mughals from Afghanistan settled in Northern India bringing an array of spices, fruits and nuts and combined these with yoghurt and cream, thus concocting 'Mughlai' cuisine. Punjab with its fertile land, ideal for the production of wheat, is known as the 'Granary of India.' Punjabis are well known for their love of food and the Punjab is acclaimed for its tandoori cooking. The Persians came and settled in the southern half of India and these 'Parsees' as they are known, introduced their 'Dhansak' style, which integrated lentils and spices into their mutton or chicken dishes. The Western part of India, mainly Mumbai and Goa with its Portuguese influence due to four hundred years of Portuguese colonialism, has outstanding seafood dishes using coconut milk and tamarind. Gujarat in the west is predominantly vegetarian. Many Gujarati dishes are often simultaneously salty, spicy and sweet. Rice and lentils are the staples of South India, as well as fiery vegetable dishes using coconut, mustard and curry leaves to embellish their food. Bengal in the East is where fish is abundant and therefore widely eaten alongside rice. Bengalis are renowned for their 'Mishti,' or sweetmeats. These various regional distinctions are only the tip of the iceberg of our profound culinary heritage.   

The popularity of Indian food is undeniable. The 'national dish' in the UK is curry and the Indian restaurant industry in Britain is worth almost £4 billion. The food of India recreated abroad has become a melting pot of Indian culture. Furthermore, it's impossible to represent intricate regional nuances. So the umbrella term 'curry' has actually done wonders for the profile of Indian cuisine and curry is now ubiquitous having become a worldwide phenomenon. 

On a more personal note, all celebratory, significant moments in my life, whether they be birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, weddings, have always been accompanied by exquisite food and feasting. We are a family who eat together everyday; the sights, sounds and aromas are all a requisite and integral part of my family's ethos. From my Punjabi kitchen I would like to share with you a real crowd pleaser. Dare I call it a 'curry'? I have to relinquish my own aversion and start embracing the word, so I'm going to take the plunge and invite you to experience my Prawn Curry. With its North Indian influences, the spicing is subtle, but as always, every recipe is open to personal interpretation. The sizeable, juicy prawns are cooked in a rich, creamy, tomato based sauce with a final flurry of some added citrus notes. All that remains for me to say is Curry on Eating!

Perfect Prawn Curry

Serves 6

  • 1 kg King Prawns, raw, peeled & deveined
  • 2 large Onions, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp Sunflower Oil
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • 5 cm piece Ginger, peeled
  • 6 large cloves Garlic, peeled
  • 1 green Chilli
  • 1 tin chopped Tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp Tomato Puree
  • 3 Plum Tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp Salt
  • 2 tsp Garam Masala
  • 1 tsp Coriander powder
  • 200 ml Double Cream 
  • 3 Spring Onions, finely chopped
  • 1 Lime

Method

  • In a herb mill, grind the ginger, garlic and chilli to form a paste.
  • Take the prawns out of the fridge and set aside.
  • In a large pan heat the sunflower oil and add the onions, the bay leaves and the ginger, garlic and chilli paste.
  • Fry this on a moderate heat until the onions are a toasted brown colour, stirring occasionally.
  • Add the tinned tomatoes, the tomato puree and the fresh tomatoes and stir in. 
  • Lower the heat slightly and cook until the tomato sauce becomes a darker red and the oil starts to emerge from the edge of the pan. Make sure you regularly stir this to prevent it from sticking.
  • Stir in the salt, garam masala and coriander powder.
  • In a small bowl place the chopped spring onions with the juice of the lime and set aside.
  • Add the prawns into the tomato sauce. They should cook quite quickly and will change from grey to pink in about 5-10 minutes.
  • Keep stirring and once all the prawns are pink, add the double cream and stir in.
  • Stir in the lime infused spring onions and serve.
  • Serve with hot basmati rice, or roti or parantha.

Tips

  • I use raw, peeled and deveined king prawns. Use fresh or frozen raw king prawns.
  • If you use frozen prawns, make sure that they are defrosted and drain out any excess water in the bag. You can slowly defrost them overnight in the fridge.
  • If you use cooked prawns, they will be tough and chewy in the curry, so use raw prawns.


Queen of Dals

My memories of homemade hot buttery black lentils cooked in a delicious, mildly spicy sauce tantalises my tastebuds to this day. There was nothing more comforting than to come home from school to the warmth of my mother and the aroma of dal and roti. My favourite of all the dals was by far and still is the Punjabi iconic 'Maa ki Dal,' or now more commonly known as 'Dal Makhani.' The whole black urad lentils are cooked with rajma (red kidney beans) and spices for hours over a low fire and just before serving, the dal is tempered with some butter and spice, and a splash of cream is the finale. Once the cream is added, this lentil has its status elevated from humble to regal and now has the grand title of 'Dal Maharani,' the Queen of Dals. This was a staple in our Punjabi home and is ubiquitous at any lavish dinner party or wedding. It's a luxurious, rich, robust meat substitute for all the vegetarians. 

Dal Makhani as we know it today was put onto a pedestal by the famous Delhi restaurant Moti Mahal. They were looking for a vegetarian equivalent to their famous creation, 'Chicken Makhani.' They added their eminent makhani sauce, which included tomatoes and cream, to the lentils and there the modern day 'Dal Makhani' was born. The most celebrated place to eat this, is at Bukhara in New Delhi. 'Dal Bukhara' is cooked from the finest urad lentils, sourced from only the best; mineral water is used to cook the dal and the chefs cook it on a low flame overnight, with the cooking continuing for a further 18 hours. Rest assured it isn't necessary to cook it for that long in order to create the creamy, silky, moreish dal. I urge you to cook and savour this quintessential lentil recipe. You'll be back for seconds!

Dal Makhani

Serves 6

  • 225g Whole Black Urad Dal
  • 115g Rajma (Red Kidney Beans)
  • 1 Large Onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp Sunflower Oil
  • 7 cm Piece of Ginger Root, peeled
  • 3 Large cloves Garlic
  • 1 Green Chilli
  • 1 dessertspoon Tomato Puree
  • 2 tsp Salt
  • 2 tsp Garam Masala
  • 1 tsp Coriander Powder
  • 100 ml Double Cream
  • 1 tbsp Coriander, finely chopped (optional)

Method

  • Soak the dal and rajma together in a large pan overnight, making sure that water is filled to the top of the pan.
  • The following day drain the lentils and rajma in a colander and wash well under cold running water.
  • Put the lentils and rajma into a pressure cooker and add a full kettle of boiled water. The heat on your hob should be maximum at this point. Put the lid onto the pressure cooker and after the build up of the pressure, reduce the heat to a moderate level and cook for a further 20 minutes. (Each pressure cooker is different and it is important to follow manufacturer's instructions. If you don't have a pressure cooker, boil the dal and rajma in a pan until it is soft when you squeeze a kidney bean between your thumb and forefinger. Just ensure that the water remains topped up whilst boiling).
  • Take off the heat and allow the pressure to dissipate.
  • Take the lid off the pressure cooker and add enough boiled water to cover the dal. Stir in the salt, garam masala, coriander powder. At this point it should resemble a thick stew. Add a little more boiled water if necessary and cook on a very low heat.
  • In a separate frying pan add the sunflower oil, heat on a moderate flame and add the onions.
  • In a herb mill grind the ginger, garlic and chilli together and add to the frying onions.
  • Once the onion mixture is golden brown, add the tomato puree and stir in. Cook for a further 3-4 minutes and then add into the simmering pot of dal.
  • Cook the dal for approximately an hour, stirring regularly. 
  • Add some boiled water if the dal is looking too thick and gloopy. Whilst cooking slowly the water does continue to evaporate slowly, so its fine to add a little water to loosen it.
  • It should resemble a thick stew once cooked.
  • Before serving add the cream and stir in, saving a little to embellish the dal in the serving bowl.
  • Sprinkle chopped coriander on top if you wish, but this is optional.
  • Serve with hot rotis, naans or basmati rice.

Tips

  • I often cook double the quantity and freeze half of it into tupperware containers. When I want to use it, I just defrost, warm it up in the pan and loosen with some boiled water, as the dal becomes quite thick when it cools down. Fry an onion in a little butter and add to the dal as it is warming up.
  • I only add the cream if I'm serving it to guests, or its a special occasion.
  • To make coriander powder, I just buy the coriander seeds and grind them in a coffee grinder. The flavour is far more intense than the shop bought version.
  • I suggest that the dal simmers for about an hour. This is an approximation. You can do it for 30 minutes if you don't have the time or 2 hours if you do. The longer it cooks, the better it tastes!