Ma Po Tofu

DSC_0775aMy friend Nayan is a talented polymath who claims that he can cook anything. A professionally-trained chef turned itinerant winemaker, Nayan professes to have perfect palate memory: that he can taste something, identify its components, and duplicate it. On Sunday, for the first time, we cooked together. We were both craving spicy food. What started as a vague idea to cook something with chillies turned into a foray into regional Chinese cooking. Continue reading

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Braised Short Ribs with Cepes

Since my move to Bermondsey, my Saturdays have fallen into a pattern. I get up early, so I can get to the Butchery (now only a five minute walk from my flat) soon after they open. Then I slaver over the meat case, which Nathan the butcher and his young disciples have stocked full of lovely cuts of rare breed meat. Then I count my money, which usually isn’t enough. (Like most of the Maltby Street traders, the Butchery only takes cash.) After I’ve made my purchases, I call friends Jess and Will, who (I like to imagine) have been waiting by their phones like addicts waiting for a call from their dealer, and I announce what I’ve bought. My first Saturday back from Seattle, it was, “dry-aged Dexter flatiron, Old Spot streaky bacon, and marrow bones!” Two weeks ago: “Two whole pork jowls!” And last week: “two kilos of white park dry-aged short ribs! Oh my god they’re so beautiful! Streaky bacon! And one-and-a-half kilos of marrow bones!” Continue reading

Roasted Mackerel with Radicchio, Black Olives, Red Peppers and Rosemary

I have three rules when cooking and eating fish: 1) eat sustainably; 2) only eat it if it’s fresh; and 3) do as little as possible to it. When I was younger and possibly more obsessive-compulsive than I am now, I strictly limited myself to five ingredients when cooking fish, not including salt. Yes, it was an unnecessarily lunatic culinary flourish, but it also taught me to respect the fish. The mark of a well-prepared fish dish is that two hours after you’ve eaten it, the flavor that you remember is the fish, not the accompaniments or the sauce. Continue reading

Renata’s Red Beans and Rice

My sister, Renata, is a fantastic cook. Unlike me, she’s humble and understated; she doesn’t feel the need to spray her accomplishments all over the internet. But she is supremely accomplished in the kitchen, and a master of comfort food. I don’t mean that in some passive-aggressive denigrating way. Hers is the kind of food you crave when the weather is cold and blowy and you’re feeling a little forlorn. It’s the food you share with family and close friends.

This recipe is for Renata’s famous red beans and rice, which is adapted from a recipe by Nuyorican chef Joe Quintana. Continue reading

Chicken, Peanut, and Yam Stew

I have blogged before about my volunteer work with the Food Chain, and about the fact that I, a Polish Jew, am responsible for coming up with tasty recipes suitable for our service users who request “African” and “Afro-Caribbean” meals. The latter are somewhat easier; while the Afro-Caribbean population is incredibly diverse, at least the Caribbean is a relatively small geographical area. The produce in the markets in Trinidad and Domenica tends to be similar, even if their roti recipes are different. But “African”? Africa is a CONTINENT. It’s taken me a long time to gain a passing familiarity with Moroccan food, and that’s one country, in North Africa, out of 53 (if you include the island nations). So time and again I find myself seeking guidance from that indefatigable source, the internet. Everything’s true on the internet, right?

This lovely chicken dish, which I’ve now cooked to rave reviews at the Food Chain (twice) and at home (once) is a somewhat-adapted “Ghanaian” stew. I feel compelled to offer a disclaimer: I have not been to Ghana. I don’t think I’ve been to a Ghanaian restaurant. I have no idea whether I’ve gotten my proportions all wrong in cooking to my Eurocentric palate. But this stew, in which chicken cooks slowly with peanuts and tomatoes and ginger and spicy peppers until the chicken falls off the bone and the sauce becomes a rich thick fatty paste, is DELICIOUS, and it’s what I’m eating for dinner. Thank you internet! Continue reading

Duck Tagine with Quince and Apricots

A very dear friend once said to me, after I’d served her a pigeon salad with orange and figs, “Susan, you pair meat with fruit more than anyone I know.” This is one of my favourite observations anyone has ever made about my cooking, and it is true that I love to pair meat with fruit.  That same friend is imminently expecting her first child, and I have been happily making and freezing meals for her and her partner in anticipation of their first couple of weeks at home with the baby. (I was born for this kind of task.) A few weeks ago, at Borough Market, which ordinarily is one of the most expensive food markets in London, I picked up three quinces for a pound. Earlier this week, I pounced on some Gressingham duck legs, which had been discounted at Waitrose. Gressingham duck is a cross between a wild mallard and a pekin duck, which means that it is a little bit less fatty than most duck you find in supermarkets, and its meat has a more gamey flavour. I use it whenever I can find it. Yesterday I emailed my friend, “I’m cooking you meat with fruit!”

This recipe is adapted from a lamb tagine I found in my favourite Moroccan cookbook, the marvellous Food of Morocco by Tess Mallos. Duck legs are browned in butter and then slowly stewed with saffron, coriander, ginger, onion, and cinnamon, and finished with meaty, tangy quince and sweet dried apricots. Crushed red pepper adds just a hint of heat. I’d never cooked with quince before, although membrillo, the thick plum-coloured quince paste sold in Spain by the slab and served with salty cheeses, is one of my guilty pleasures. (You can find a recipe for membrillo here.) The fruit is very hard and has a dry tang to it (i.e., is not to be eaten raw), but when cooked becomes soft and tender, almost like cooked pear, and takes on a dusky pinky-orange hue. It’s perfect with meat. Continue reading

Rabbit Ragu

For a long time I didn’t ‘get’ rabbit. “It tastes just like chicken,” people told me. Why not eat chicken, then, I wondered. It was like frog’s legs (which, by the way, taste like chicken only if one imagines one’s chickens cold-blooded and amphibious). I.e., it seemed to me like bourgeois foodie one-upmanship. And there’s the cute factor. When I tweeted about making this ragu, someone replied mournfully that their father had killed their pet rabbit and they never got over it. I too had a pet bunny as a child, and I have cats, and the little rabbit carcasses uncomfortably remind me of my kitties. But if you are a carnivore, wild rabbit is about the most sustainable meat you can eat. Rabbits breed, well, like bunnies (apparently a wild rabbit will have five to six litters a season), unlike most animals we eat they spend their whole lives outdoors, they are killed humanely, and the meat consists entirely of lean white-meat protein. Rabbit beats all or almost all other lean meats for protein to fat ratio. In the UK, you can buy a whole two to three kilo wild rabbit for about £4, which, considering that nearly all of that is usable meat, is extraordinarily good value for those of us trying to cook well on a budget. And rabbit doesn’t really taste like chicken, any more than monkfish tastes like lobster.

When I’m cooking lean gamey muscular meat, I like to do three things to it, usually in this order: marinate it; braise it; and stew it. It’s a lengthy process, but once you’ve determinedly battered at the collagens with low, slow cooking, the meat relaxes, absorbs all the delicious braising juices, and attains mythic proportions of deliciousness. The first time I cooked a rabbit ragu I was astonished by how flavourful it was. The meat stood up to the rich sauce, maintaining its density and distinct, subtle flavour. The first time I cooked a rabbit ragu was also the first time I jointed a rabbit. Nobody had ever showed me how, and it’s possible that actual butchers and chefs would throw up their hands in disgust at my efforts, but it wasn’t too difficult.

When you are buying a rabbit (if you’re motivated by environmental concerns, do cook wild rabbit – farmed rabbits have almost the same impact on the environment as farmed chickens), look for a rabbit with firm, dark-pink flesh and a sweet smell. Rabbits shouldn’t smell particularly gamey. You probably will start out with something that looks like this (tender-hearted vegetarians, don’t read further; this blog post has bunny carcass photos): Continue reading

Moroccan Stewed Pumpkin with Chickpeas and Preserved Lemon

I have been feeling Blog Guilt lately (as a nice Jewish girl, I am good at guilt, especially over pointless things) because I haven’t posted any vegetarian recipes for a while. But, vegetarians, this recipe is a delicious vegetarian gem. It is one of those recipes that you feed to ignoramus meat eaters and say “take that!” and they say, “I didn’t realize vegetarian cooking could be so tasty!” and you smile smugly and maybe you tell them it is vegan just to really mess with their heads. This recipe came about as a happy kitchen accident, which is my favourite kind. There was The Pumpkin which I bought on impulse because it was an exciting blue-gray colour, and then there was the sack of onions that I bought with the vague idea of making onion jam. And the rest, as they say, was delicious. Continue reading

Foraging and Cooking with Wild Garlic

Last week a new friend of mine, Nicola (a brilliant cook and blogger in her own right), crowed on Twitter about a recent discovery: she’d found loads of wild garlic at a Secret Location. I immediately demanded to be taken to the spot. She agreed, but not before exacting a “wild garlic tax” (some of my orange-blossom-saffron-vanilla macarons). It was an easy trade. I adore wild garlic. Wild garlic, also known as ramps, wild leek, and wood leek, grows in cool damp woody areas. Its colour is strikingly chlorophyll green and it’s got a sharp allium flavour and intense aroma. It’s gorgeous stuff. Monday, the appointed day, was cool and very wet. Nicola picked me up from an Overground station, her sweet and excitable dog, Toro, in the back of the car, and drove us to the Secret Location, a lovely wooded path Somewhere In London. Continue reading

Duck Egg Pasta with ‘Nduja Sausage, Grape Tomatoes and Arugula

I am overjoyed! I finally got my camera back after a three-week separation. I picked it up from Parcelforce on Thursday, and on Friday, one of a spate of truly lovely spring days we’ve been enjoying in London, I went to Borough Market, a market I’ve avoided lately because I usually spend a fortune there on lovely food. (Friday was no exception.) A week or so ago I bought some duck eggs which I planned to use for fresh pasta, and in Borough Market I was looking for one product in particular: ‘Nduja sausage. ‘Nduja is a soft, spreadable Calabrian sausage loosely related to Andouille. It’s seasoned with fennel and oregano and Calabrian chilis – apparently it can contain up to 60% chilli peppers – and the chilis give it a beautiful deep red colour. It pairs naturally with pasta Continue reading