Thursday, October 1, 2015

Thai chicken curry

This is my favourite chicken curry recipe, a staple over many years.

Curry comes from the Tamil word kari, and means sauce. So curry can be almost anything. 

This one was born from the memory of a wonderful curry made at The Elephant, a Thai-French hybrid owned by a Frenchman on East 1st Street in the East Village. I used to eat lunch there sometimes, when I worked around the corner, at my garden designing desk. Lunch was a fraction of the dinner prices, although the menu was exactly the same. This curry was rich, and deep, a little salty and a little sweet, and also a little sour. It was perfect.

It took me a while, but as far as my taste buds are concerned, this is it.

The Elephant closed a few years ago, so I can't go back to compare.

Part of the curry's charm lay in its presentation - a deep china bowl of amber sauce with islands of chicken, carrot and potato breaking the surface, sprinkled with shredded mint. And beside it, a dinner plate with a dome of jasmine rice, a tiny banana, one side of it neatly cubed, the other lying lengthwise beside the cubes, small pieces of mango, a sprinkling of roasted peanuts and half a lime, sliced not across, but from top to bottom, off center, no mean wedge but a generous, squeezable handful. I usually ate the curry from the bowl, adding lime and mango and banana and rice as I went.

For Two

1 Tbsp coconut oil or other oil
4 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
1 finger of ginger, peeled, and thinly sliced
1 medium onion, chopped finely
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 Tbsp shrimp paste (or 2 salted anchovies - not the same, but not bad)
1 Tbsp palm sugar or brown sugar
1 Tbsp tamarind paste (subst. 2 Tbsp lime juice plus 1tsp sugar)
2 chicken thighs and 2 drumsticks
1 lemon grass base, sliced in half
3 Tbsp fish sauce
1 can coconut milk, without any additives, if possible
2 medium potatoes, in quarters, or 4 small, whole potatoes
1 large carrot, peeled, cut in large chunks
3 cups of water
1 Tbsp red chile flakes (this is not proper), or two hot dried Thai chiles
3 fresh makrut lime or lemon leaves or 1 dried Persian lime (heresy, but it has the same effect, really)
3 sprigs Thai basil
Fresh mint or cilantro or both
1 lime, cut into wedges
3 Tbsp roasted peanuts
1 ripe banana

Saute the garlic, ginger and onion over medium heat till the onion is translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the tomato paste, shrimp paste, sugar and tamarind. Stir to caramelize the tomato a little, and add the chicken pieces, allowing them to take a little colour, about 4 minutes

After a couple of minutes, add the fish sauce. Things will get smelly. Now add the coconut milk and stir very well to scrape up the sticky bits on the bottom. Add the vegetables, top with water until just covered, and stir again. Add the chile and lime/lemon leaves.

Cook at a simmer until the chicken is about to fall apart, about 1. 5 hours. Taste. You are aiming for slightly sweet, a little tart, hot, rich. You can add some more fish sauce or some lime juice if you like. Just before serving add the fresh basil and stir in.

Serve with steamed or sticky rice, with a side of chopped banana, a sprinkle of chopped roasted peanuts and fresh mint or cilantro. More lime is good, squeezed over just before eating.

This goes well with cold, cold, c-c-c-c-cold beer.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Black Currant Chutney

Black currant gin after two months

...and the story of how it was born.

I developed this chutney recipe after straining a large batch of black currants from their gin bath two years ago. I  could not bear to waste the gin-soaked fruit. While pies, cakes and jam are good alternatives, chutney is a more savory and complex way to preserve flavor, and also to eke out an ingredient whose season is fleeting.

Currant season in July

That was a crazy early September: my book was launching, I had menus to prepare and cook for the parties, and we had to move from Brooklyn. I have almost total amnesia regarding the details of the move, as a result.

Ingredients for a book party, ferried by Sarah Owens

I served this chutney with pork belly rillettes at the Book Court launch party, along with lambs quarter and amaranth-stuffed phyllo pastry and Sarah Owens' BK17 bread (her sourdough book is available for pre-order, now).

Rhus Hour cocktail

The place was packed, the food was wolfed, the foraged cocktails - sumac vodka and prosecco - were sucked dry. That is a very happy memory, and quite intact.

Party, waiting for packing

So, to the chutney - since this year's currants are freshly bottled in gin. Step one is covering the clean fruit in gin (or vodka), of course. It's not quantum physics: Pack your chosen jar with fruit, top with the liquor. Simple.

I leave this mixture to infuse for up to two months.

For the Chutney:

10 cups gin-soaked black currants
1 cup sugar
1 cup raisins or dried 'black currants'( just to confuse you; they are very small raisins)
5 slices peeled ginger (slice lengthwise, about 3")
3 slices peeled fresh galangal (omit if you can't find it)
8 allspice berries
1 Tablespoon dried chile flakes
2 teaspoons freshly cracked pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 cup sherry vinegar
1 cup water

Variations: 5 bay or 10 bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) leaves, 6 spicebush (Lindera benzoin) berries

(There is no reason you can't make a black currant chutney by skipping the gin-infusion. Use fresh fruit, and add 8 juniper berries to the spice mix.)

Combine all the ingredients in a large, non-reactive pot. Heat the mixture gradually over medium heat, stirring often to prevent any sticking and scorching. When foam rises, skim it. Cook at a gentle simmer until the currants and raisins are tender and the mixture resembles jam - about 20-25 minutes. Taste for seasoning.

Meanwhile, sterilize glass jars in a 200'F oven (10 minutes) or in a boiling water bath.

Allow the chutney to cool a little before pouring into the glass jars.

When it has cooled, store it in the fridge.

It is excellent served with pork, especially ham and rich cuts like pork belly, as well as with game, curried lamb, pâtés and cheeses.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Elderflower cordial

I love elderflower cordial. I used to settle for commercial versions (some very good). But in June 2014 I walked into a grove of elderbushes in bloom and struck white umbel nirvana. I picked till I was drunk. Then I began to read.

And here is a recipe that made me very happy. The manymany cordial recipes I researched were very similar, though some use even more sugar, and about half called for citric acid. I decided to rely on the acid in the lemons, alone.

Having made many batches over two summers, I know now that fermentation speeds vary. My recipe below calls for 4 days, but recently I made a batch that I bottled only after 8 days, because it started out so slowly (I picked the flowers after rain) and then remained very active. Please do more reading on your own - I am just scraping the top of this fermentation iceberg and rely a lot on instinct.

Elderflower Cordial - a lightly alcoholic fizz

(I use the same method for common milkweed flowers, but with half the lemon juice)

6 oz / or approx. 30 elderflower umbels
1 lb sugar/450 grams sugar
1.5 liters /52 fluid oz/6 cups water
1/2 cup (about 3-4 lemons-worth) fresh lemon juice
Zest of 4 lemons, peeled in strips, without pith

Don't wash the flowers. Instead, shake them upside down over a cloth to evict any small insects. Strip the tiny white flowers from the green stems, using your fingers. Discard as much green as possible (in any plant it will add a tannic note, but with elderflowers the green is toxic). Weigh the flowers, if weighing, and pack them lightly into a large mason jar (I use a 1.5 liter capacity jar). Dump the sugar on top of them, and add the lemon juice.

Add the cool water and the lemon zest and fill the jar to the top (include the zest), stir well, and screw the lid on.

Leave the jar at room temperature for 4 days. While the mixture is sitting out, open the jar's lid once or twice a day to allow any accumulated gas from natural fermentation to escape ("burping"). For the first day or two you may notice no gas accumulation.

Whatever you do, don't just walk away from a sealed jar and forget about it for days or you will have an elderflower detonation on your hands...

After Day 4, strain through a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth. Bottle, and keep in the fridge.

I found that some live yeast persisted in the elderflower bottles even after 12 months. Basically the cordial is aging on the lees, a Champagne making method. You can disgorge the bottles when all the yeast has settled on the bottom (died). I never have.

To drink, dilute with sparkling water, add to a gin and tonic, or to shaken cocktails (like this one, with vermouth, or this one, with hyssop, or this one, with mint and gin), or simply splash into a glass of prosecco or Champagne.

Good luck not finishing this in a week, flat.

[This was still effervescent one year later.]


                        Book a Botanical Summer Walk

Friday, April 24, 2015

Cheese bread with field garlic

Picnic in the rain

When I was little my mother baked a rustic, cheesy loaf I loved (especially toasted, smeared with love-it-or-hate-it Marmite).

I wanted a transportable treat for the attendees of my Inwood Field Garlic Walk, and this recipe, a hybrid of several found online, with plenty of my own interference, has delivered a walk staple.

Garlic mustard and field garlic

We top the slices with field garlic butter or a garlic mustard pesto. 

Garlic mustard pesto

This recipe uses baking powder, not yeast, for leavening, and is best eaten fresh, within 24 hours, and later, as the toast I loved when I was small. It is still excellent with Marmite.

In a nod to our South African campsite baking adventures, I added beer, and of course you can substitute your favourite cheese.

Cheese Bread with Field Garlic

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour ( I use King Arthur, unbleached)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Black pepper
2 large eggs
1/3 cup milk
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil or field garlic oil
1/2 cup beer, plus a little extra
3 oz coarsely grated Gruyère
2 oz cheddar, cut into very small cubes (about 1/4")
1/2 cup minced fresh field garlic greens (or chives)
Coarse salt to sprinkle on the top of the loaf

Variation: instead of the field garlic or chives, use 1 Tbsp of ground sumac, and substitute cider for the beer.

Preheat the oven 350'F/180'C. Butter or oil an 8.5" long loaf pan (or muffin trays, for that matter,  if you'd like individual servings. They will bake much faster).

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add the eggs, milk, olive oil and the beer. Stir gently till well mixed. Add the cheeses and field garlic or chives and stir with a wooden spoon until just combined. The mixture should be quite stiff, but if it is too dry to turn easily with the spoon, add another slug or two of beer. Do not overmix, or it will become a brick.

Pour the bread mixture into the prepared pan,  making a shallow hollow down the middle of the batter, lengthwise. Sprinkle the top lightly with coarse salt (or sumac).

Bake for 50 - 60 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean. Remove from the oven and gently tip the loaf from its pan. Place on a cooling rack. It can be eaten right away.

Cheese and field garlic bread with field garlic butter


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Spring Meatballs

This recipe is inspired by well, spring; and then by dishes with a heavy Middle Eastern spin, unapologetic with the spices and herbs. It owes a lot to Ottolenghi's Jerusalem cookbook, which pretty much changed my meatball life.

The Frenchman wolfed these. I only told him he was eating weeds halfway through. That's how you reel them in.

You may know the knotweed story by now. Japanese knotweed hails from Asia, as its common name suggests, where I assume it has natural pests and competition. But Polygonum cuspidatum (its other botanical names are still floating about: Reynoutria japonica, Fallopia japonica) is highly invasive in parts of North America and Europe (the UK has an annual budget in the millions to combat it).

And it happens to be a really good vegetable in the springtime, when it is tender. Most people do not know that. It is also packed with anti inflammatory - they say - resveratrol, which has been cited in treatments for heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's and diabetes.

I just like the taste. I have still not run out of ways to use it.

Serves Two, with Leftovers

Adding some breadcrumbs to meatballs makes them wonderfully pillowy; the dill and cumin reward you with a fragrant puff of flavour when you bite into them. Dill works well with tart flavours, and sorrel-tart is what Japanese knotweed is all about.

(If you don't have Japanese knotweed, increase the lemon juice to 3 Tbsps, and add a cup of peas to the fava beans.)

For the Meatballs

1lb grassfed or organic beef
1/2 cup Panko breadcrums (or homemade, coarsely ground bread crumbs)
1 cup finely chopped scallions
1/2 cup chopped dill
2 teaspoons cumin
1/4 tsp salt
1 happy hen egg

Grapeseed oil, for browning

For the Sauce

2 cups tender Japanese knotweed tips, or 2 cups peeled J. knotweed stems, joints removed
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
3/4 cup water (or chicken broth)
1 cup fava beans, shelled
10 springs mint, torn up
1 Tablespoon olive oil

In a large bowl combine all the meatball ingredients except the egg and mix well, but gently. Add the egg last and stir well to incorporate. (You could do this the day before and leave, covered, in the fridge.)

Form the mixture into golfball-sized meatballs. It helps to wet the palms of your hands every now and then, to keep the mixture from sticking. Put aside on a plate (this can also be done the day before, and left covered in the fridge. But it does not take long - about 10 minutes).

Heat a couple of tablespoons of grapeseed oil in a large pan. When it is hot add about 8 meatballs, brown them on all sides; remove to a plate and brown the next batch. Once they have all been browned return them to the pan, and add the knotweed, the lemon juice and the 3/4 cup of water or chicken broth. Over high heat shake the pan to get the knotweed in touch with the heat. It will begin to lose its fresh green colour. After a couple of minutes add the fava beans and continue cooking until they are tender.

Taste the pan juices, and add salt and pepper. Just before removing the pan from the heat drizzle the tablespoon of olive oil over everything and add the torn up mint leaves. Stir to allow the oil to emulsify, and serve at once, in bowls.

* Pick knotweed only where you see the previous season's canes growing above the shoots. This indicates that no weedkiller (usually Round Up) has been sprayed there.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Boerewors spice recipe

Updated, 02-13-2015.

A South African braaivleis (BRIGH [like high] - flayce, lit. 'roast meat,' but meaning barbecue) is nothing without boerewors [BOO-ruh-vawrs, farmers sausage].

But boerewors is close to impossible to find in New York, and when you do, it's not great.  It amazed me that this ubiquitous South African sausage, available in every supermarket and butchery and corner joint in South Africa had very few recipe-references, online. One cut and paste job was everywhere, I dug deep, experimented, and we took delivery of many batches. I ground and mixed the spices myself and delivered them to Los Paisanos, our butchery on Smith Street in Brooklyn, where the sausages are still made for us, for a minimum order of 6lbs (we order 12lb, when we are feeling flush). 

We worked our way heroically through coils and coils of sausage, becoming neurotic in our analyses of texture and taste. Back in South Africa we chewed with squinty eyes on delicious local sausages, comparing, judging, fattening visibly.

Ivan Palma and Pedro Franco

Pedro Franco of Los Paisanos mixed up the first batch for me in October 2010, and then Ivan Palma started to help. They discovered that marinating the meat overnight with the vinegar and spice mix yielded a superior flavour. The previous version of the recipe below (since tweaked) yielded good sausage, and was given the seal of approval and published by Go (Weg)  Magazine (Media24, South Africa).

But I still felt something was missing. I fetched the most recent iteration from Los Paisanos a few weeks ago and my most recent spice mix produced the best sausage yet, at least for our tastes.

The difference? More salt, more coriander, and a tablespoon of baharat, a Middle Eastern spice mix I had leftover from some Ottolenghi meatballs. Go figure. It contains many of the traditional boerewors spices plus some extras. So I isolated those and they are the optional extras for this recipe.

About the spices: if you omit the garam masala and the asterisked spices you'll have the basic boerewors recipe. It's good. But with the cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, it's epic. 

I buy spices from Sahadi's in Brooklyn, and use their premixed garam masala - it is fresh. But if you'd like to make your own see the recipe in the link. 

It's not complicated to mix spices at home if you have all the individual spices on hand.  I use a coffee grinder for mixing and seal the results in a jar, where it keeps for months.

You could use either beef or lamb, but you must use the fatty pork. This is a fine grind and we ask for lamb casings. If you make your own, marinate overnight.

For 6lbs of Sausage:

The Meat:

2lbs beef
2 lbs mutton or lamb
2lbs fatty pork belly 

Boerewors Spice Mix:

3 Tablespoons whole coriander seeds (once a year I use my own!)
2.5 Tablespoons salt
1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
1 Tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons ground allspice
2 teaspoons garam masala*
1 teaspoon plus 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 tsp cumin*
1/4 teaspoon cardamom*
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon*
1/2 cup Malt vinegar

* omit for basic recipe

For the spices: 

In a hot pan singe the coriander very lightly and then grind into powder. Add the other dry spices, mix, and bag.

Hand this to your butcher, with the bottle of malt vinegar, and say, Please.

Los Paisanos will make this sausage for you, IF you commit to a minimum order of 6lbs and IF you bring your own spices and vinegar. Ask for "the South African Sausage," and for Ivan or Pedro.

Tell them Marie sent you.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Southeast Asian meatballs

I often crave the sparkling, powerful flavours of Southeast Asia,

These meatballs, highly fragrant and very tender, satisfy many cravings. Sweet-sour-salty and chile-rich, they can be eaten:

- Warm, with a dipping sauce - serve in a bowl topped with fresh mint, cilantro and basil leaves
- Warm, with miso broth poured over them in the last minute of cooking, to make a light sauce
- Added to a bowl of broth, eaten as a comforting soup
- Cool in banh mi, with pickled carrots and herbs
- Cool, wrapped in soft lettuce leaves with herbs

Meatballs - for two, with trimmings

The key to the flavouring is to chop everything exceptionally finely. I use some breadcrumbs to lighten their texture. If you can't find tamarind, just leave it out. I have made the meatballs successfully with pork and with beef.

1 lb ground pork
2 tsp lemon grass (the end of 1 stalk, outer leaves peeled off), exceptionally finely chopped
2 tsp garlic (2 medium cloves), very finely chopped
1 1/4 tsp hot red chile, very finely chopped
3/4 tsp black pepper
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp tamarind juice or syrup
1 Tbsp lime juice
1 Tbsp ginger, very finely chopped
2 Tbsp fish sauce
1/3 cup Panko-style breadcrumbs

In a bowl, mix all the ingredients thoroughly and let the mixture rest, covered, in the fridge for an hour at least or, if possible, overnight.

Make the dipping sauce or broth (see below). Both can be made up to a day ahead.

To Cook

Shape the meat mixture small ping pong balls. Heat a good, heavy pan and add the meatballs (oil is not necessary if using fatty ground pork). Cook on each side for about 3 minutes, till caramel-y brown. Flip and repeat.

Dipping Sauce

2 Tbsp fish sauce
1 Tbsp soy
2 Tbsp lime or lemon juice
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp chopped ginger
1 thumb-sized stick lemongrass, halved
Slices of hot red chile

Mix all the ingredients and stir to dissolve the sugar. Taste. Adjust the balance with more lemon or sugar.

Optional broth, for deglazing the pan

1 cup water
2 Tbsp miso paste
1 Tbsp bonito flakes
1 strip dried seaweed
1 Squeeze lemon or lime juice
1 thumb sized piece of lemongrass, halved
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
Slices of hot red chile

Heat the water and dissolve the miso in it. Add the other ingredients, keeping it very warm for about 10 minutes till the flavours mingle. Strain through a fine mesh sieve. Keep hot and pour over the meatballs in their final minute of cooking. Stir once or twice and serve topped with fresh cilantro leaves, with sticky black rice on the side (in a perfect world).

Or else double the quantity and put the meatballs in the broth and serve in deep bowls.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Cilantro chicken

Endless chicken dishes, in this house. We eat little red meat at home - partly a budget thing, partly an availability thing. There is no organic or grassfed raise beef nearby. We can find humanely raised poultry.

So here's a one-dish wonder. Strong flavours. Don't be afraid of the anchovies, they add salty complexity. There is nothing fishy about this and they will be undetectable to anchovy-haters.

Serves Four, or two hungry persons, with leftovers

4 thighs
4 drumsticks
1 head garlic, cloves all chopped finely
1 bunch cilantro (coriander), well washed, stems chopped finely
6 anchovy fillets, chopped finely
Zest of 1/2 a lime
2 large limes' juice (approx. 3-4 Tbsps)
1 Tbsp Halaby pepper (also called Aleppo red pepepr, otherwise use dried or fresh chiles)

Heat oven to 450'F/220'C.

Here's the fun part: Whop each piece of chicken in half with a big kitchen knife or cleaver. Pick out any small bone shards (the harder you whop the fewer there'll be. Really. Lift the knife above your head and aim well. Visualize the knife where you want it to land...Whop!).

You can skip that step if you're in no mood for fun. But the idea is that the more exposed surfaces you have, the more flavour sticks to them.

Put the chicken pieces in a large bowl.

Add the chopped garlic, cilantro stems, anchovies, the lime juice, the zest and the pepper. Toss very well.

Transfer to a roasting dish or skillet with low sides (it should accommodate the chicken pieces in a single layer with a little space between each).

Roast for 1 hour to 1 hr 25-ish, depending on how brown the bits become. Turn the pieces after about 40 minutes. If the liquid in the pan is drying add a splash of water every now and then. You want delectable stickiness when done, not soup.

While the chicken is cooking chop the cilantro leaves very finely. Pu the leaves in a small bowl and add the juice of a lime, a large pinch of salt, a teaspoon of sugar and stir very well. Serve this as fresh green sauce.

I served this with some steamed couscous.
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