Mexican Dried Chillies

Dried chillies are used extensively in Mexico. Originally it was obviously because chillies grew prolifically in the summer months and they were dried in the intense Mexican sunshine to use over winter.

Ancho chillies drying in the sun

Jalapenos (say hal-a-pen-yo) are one of the favourite chillies in Mexico, but these proved to be a little more tricky to dry as they’re a lot more fleshy than other chillies and tended to rot before they’d dried sufficiently. Maybe through trial and error, someone eventually decided to try smoking the chillies over a fire to see if that made any difference – fortunately it did and gave us the smoky, hot taste that we know and love in barbecue flavoured sauces.

So, dried jalapenos chillies are called Chipotle (say chip-ot-lee) chillies. There are two types of chipotle chilli – Morita and Meca. The Morito chilli is a deep berry red and has a light, smoky taste. Some say the Meca chilli is the superior and has a tan coloured skin from the smoking process – this has a fruitier taste along with intense smokiness, a little goes a long way. The heat of a dried chilli is similar to the fresh version, so the chipotle is a medium to hot chilli.

Morita chilli
Meca chillies

The Ancho chilli is the second favourite chilli in Mexico and in its un-dried state it’s called a Poblano chilli. Poblanos are a mild chilli and traditionally eaten as a vegetable in Mexico. They have a chilli kick, but are similar in size and taste to a green bell pepper. They are prepared as rajas by charring over a flame until the skin has turned black. The poblanos are then left to cool before the skin is removed. They are then cut up into strips (rajas means strip) and added to rice or eaten as an extra like we do with red, orange and green peppers. When they are fully ripe they turn an almost black shade of reddish green. This is when they are picked to be dried. They intensify in flavour and have a sweet, almost prune like taste along with a chilli hit. They can also be soaked whole and when they have rehydrated, stuffed and eaten as a main dish.

Preparing and using dried chillies is great fun, but they can be difficult to find and expensive when you do find them. I love cooking with them and wanted to share the experience.

Mother’s Day Chocolate Brownies

I was invited to talk about Mother’s Day on BBC Radio WM on Thursday. They wanted me to think about what to cook for your Mum.

Mother’s Day used to be called Mothering Sunday and was originally the time to celebrate the mother of Christ, which is why it was on the fourth Sunday of Lent. This developed into going to Church to not only to think about Christ’s Mother, but also your own. During this time a lot of people were in domestic service and Mother’s Day was the only day they were given as a holiday, so that they could go and visit their Mums. If they had nice employers, they’d also give the servants the raw ingredients to cook a cake to take to their Mothers as a gift – usually a rich fruit cake decorated with marzipan. It was called a Mothering Cake.

As time progressed, Mother’s Day was largely forgotten. It wasn’t until the early 1900’s that it was resurrected by a card company (presumably to boost their funds). They re-named it ‘Mother’s Day’: Mothering Cake got absorbed into Easter and was now called Simnel Cake.

As Mother’s Day is still on the fourth Sunday of Lent, I wondered what people were cooking for their Mums on their special day. A straw poll found that most people still eat a roast on Mother’s Day – either cooked at home or out.

I decided not to stray too far from tradition and give advice on how to ‘pimp up your roast’.

My suggestions are:

Lamb

Make a rub for your lamb joint by adding a few sprigs of fresh herbs (rosemary, mint or parsley) to a pestle and mortar (or a bowl with the end of a rolling pin!), along with a couple of peeled cloves of garlic, some slices of lemon rind, a glug of olive oil, salt and pepper and bash the whole thing to get the flavour into the oil. Add some lemon juice and taste. It should taste a little too salty and very herby! Pierce the lamb all over with a sharp knife and rub the marinade into the lamb. Roast as you would normally, making sure that you cover the roast with some foil for the first hour of cooking. Remember to baste frequently.

Chicken

Take 1/4 block of soft butter along with 2 cloves garlic and some chopped herbs and pepper. Mix them all together. Lift the skin of the chicken up (it’s best to start by the cavity of the chicken) and grab a handful of the butter mixture. Using your fingers, push the butter down the chicken breast and along the top of the legs (still underneath the skin) and put all of the butter under the skin this way. Roast the chicken as normal, making sure to baste frequently as the buttery, garlicky juices fall through the chicken.

Chocolate Brownies

This is a basic brownie recipe which you can again pimp up to suit yourself. Add chopped milk and white chocolate/ raisins and chocolate coated biscuit/ sour cherries and chocolate – whatever you want!

200g dark chocolate snapped into pieces

175g butter

325g caster sugar

130g self raising flour

1 tsp vanilla essence

3 eggs

Oven temp 170C 325F Gas 3. Baking tray – it’s best to use a rectangular shaped tray 33 x 23, or anything you’ve got really! Line it with baking paper to make it easier to remove when cooked.

This 50% cocoa chocolate from the Savers range at Morrisons was absolutely fine for Brownies.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl over simmering water until they have melted together. Stir well

Remove from the heat and add the sugar and vanilla essence. Stir well.

Add the flour. Stir well.

Mix the eggs together and then stir into the chocolate mixture. Stir well. If you are using extras, now is the time to put them in. You may want to  leave a small handful of extras to sprinkle on the top before you put it in the oven – just for effect.

Chopped chocolate, sour dried cherries and dried cranberries to cut through the sweetness.

Put the mixture into your baking tray and bake for around 30 minutes.

Pay no attention to what you already know about how to cook cakes. Brownies don’t have to have a skewer put in and come out clean to say that they’re cooked. The fact that they still feel raw in the middle is a good thing – it makes them gooey and delicious!

Take it out after 30 minutes and leave until cool enough to lift out and cool on a baking tray.

Eat. Enjoy. Your Mum will love you even more.

 

 


Potato Stuffed Paratha

My favourite fail safe supper of the moment is Stuffed Paratha – they’re morish, filling and totally delicious. They’re also not fat and salt laden like the ones that you get from some takeaway restaurants. They’re made with the cheapest possible ingredients and if you have left over Aloo Gobi or any spicy, potato and cauliflower or chickpea dry type dish – mash it together and keep it in the fridge or freezer for when you need a meal at a moment’s notice.

You’ll need to make some chapatti dough first, which is the easiest thing to make. There are no hard and fast measurements but here’s a rough guide.

Chapatti Dough

  • 3 cups Atta flour (if you have it, this is special flour normally used for chapatti making) OR 1 1/2 cups wholemeal flour and 1 1/2 cups white plain flour, if you don’t have atta flour will be just as good. The cups I’m suggesting here can be american measurements or not. Just use any cup or medium sized mug that you have to hand.
  • 1 1/2 cups (use the same one that you used for the flour) hot water – or more
  • 1 tsp salt (optional)
  • 2 tsp sunflower oil

Mix the flour and salt together in a bowl. Add the oil and rub together with your fingers. Add the hot water, bearing in mind you will probably need more water, and stir with a wooden spoon until coming together in a ball. Get your hands in there and mix until you end up with a soft dough. It shouldn’t be dry or TOO sticky, but definitely slightly sticky. Add more flour if you accidentally add too much water. Tip out on to a work surface (or ‘the side’ as we say in the West Midlands!) and knead lightly (no longer than about 5 minutes) until the dough is smooth. Put into a plastic bag and leave until needed. You can keep the dough for up to a week in the fridge, but you’ll need to bring it back up to room temperature and knead in a little more flour as it tends to go a bit sticky.

Paratha Filling

  • 2 medium potatoes microwaved until cooked or boiled in their jackets until cooked. Leave to cool.
  • 1 small onion, very finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp chilli powder or flakes (or less, or more!)
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander (buy it freshly ground here Sally & Stef Spices)
  • 1 tsp garam masala (buy our house blend here Sally & Stef Spices)
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric (buy it here Sally & Stef Spices)
  • Salt to taste (you need to make it taste quite salty)
  • a squeeze of lemon juice
  • small handful of coriander finely chopped (optional)
  • Possibly some instant mashed potato, in case your finished filling is too wet

Don’t worry if you haven’t got all of the spices you need – just leave the ones you haven’t got, out.

Chop the onion very very finely and cook in a couple of teaspoons of oil until soft. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the spices and stir well to incorporate. Peel the cooled, cooked potatoes and crumble them into the pan. Mash well with a potato masher until everything is combined. Add 1tsp salt and mix. Then add a small squeeze of lemon juice (not much, you want a very dry filling mixture) and the chopped coriander if using. Taste and add more salt if necessary – don’t forget it needs to taste quite salty as it’s got to flavour a whole chapatti. If the mixture seems wet, add some instant mashed potato a tablespoon at a time until the mixture firms up, although you may not need this. Put in a plastic bag and chill until needed, or freeze.

To assemble and cook

Melt a quarter of a block of butter and leave to one side in a small pan.

Tear off golf ball sized lumps of the dough and roll them into a ball. Dip in flour and roll out thinly and evenly.

Get golf ball sized lumps of the filling and roll them into a ball and put them on top of the chapatti. Gather up the edges to make a large parcel.

Dust the top of the parcel with flour and very gently press them down with before rolling out with your hand or a rolling pin.

Press down lightly and then roll out gently with a rolling pin.

Dust with flour underneath the parcel and on top again and then roll out very thinly. Make sure that you don’t press down too hard as tears in the chapatti aren’t good and make it difficult to cook.

Rolling out
Roll out as thinly as you can, but not so thin that the filling starts to burst out

 

 

 

 

 

 

Put a tava (Indian frying pan with a low rim) or dry frying pan on a high heat and heat it for 2 or 3 minutes. Place the rolled out paratha onto the dry pan and turn the heat to medium/high. Immediately get on with making your next paratha, whilst keeping one eye on the pan! It takes a bit of co-ordination, but you’ll have it down to a fine art by the fourth one!

Keep the heat on medium high and you’ll soon see little bubbles starting to appear on the top of the paratha which will keep getting bigger. With a spatula, gently lift up the paratha so that you can see underneath and when you see a good scattering of little brown spots (like you can see on the picture above), turn the paratha over to cook. Now you have the brown spots on top and the paratha may start to puff up like in the picture. Don’t worry if it doesn’t, it will still taste good. Cook until underneath has the same brown spots. Brush the top of the paratha with some melted butter and turn the paratha over again. This time, you’re crisping up both sides while finishing off the cooking. Brush a little more butter on the side you can see now, while you’re waiting for the underneath to crisp. Keep lifting the paratha up with the spatula so that you can see how brown underneath is getting – you’re looking for a lovely light, golden brown. Then turn the paratha over one last time to crisp up the top. When both sides are golden and crispy, serve straight away. Wipe the pan with some dry kitchen roll and start on cooking the next one. You can keep the paratha hot in the oven, wrapped in foil but they won’t be as crispy as they are served fresh from the pan.

Serve with yogurt that has a swirl of harrisa stirred in!

By this time, you should have drawn crowds waiting for the first one – hot from the pan. You may like to serve it as I did with some yogurt swirled with a little harrisa, or you might want to wolf it down just as it is!

Either way, once you have made your own paratha it will become a regular event in your house!

Sabzi Polo – Rice with herbs

Big bunches of herbs

 

Persian Chicken with Sabzi Polo – not forgetting the gorgeous crispy base!

Sabzi Polo Serves 4

I wanted something nice to go with Persian Chicken rather than run-of-the-mill rice and decided on a dish called Sabzi Polo (Sabzi means ‘green’ and Polo means rice and that’s pretty much what it is!). If you live in the Middle East, you love the crispy base (it’s called tahdig) on  your rice dishes – and I have to agree. They go out of their way to make sure that the bottom layer of the steaming rice forms a crispy, ricey crust that is wonderful. I thought it might be a bit like if you like the skin on rice pudding – but it’s not that controversial, it’s pure yumminess!

1 bunch of parsley, dill and coriander OR substitute for 5 tblsp dried Sabzi (buy it here Sally & Stef Spices)

1 bunch fresh fenugreek (methi) OR substitute for 2tblsp dried methi (buy it here Sally & Stef Spices)

4 spring onions

1 1/2 cups of basmati rice soaked for anything from 1-2 hours before you’re ready to cook (I soaked mine for 1 hour)

1 cup of stock

25g butter

If using fresh herbs, wash dry and chop them finely.

 

Drain the rice and add to a pan of boiling, lightly salted water. Bring back to the boil and fast simmer for 2-3 minutes before draining into a sieve. Set aside.

Mix the herbs together.

Add the butter to the base of a large saucepan and leave it to sizzle until melted.

Spread 1/3 of the rice over the base of the pan, turn the heat to low.

Spread 1/3 of the herb mixture over the rice.

Spread another 1/3 of rice over the herbs and continue with the rest of the rice and herbs.

With the handle of a wooden spoon, make 5 holes in the rice/herb mixture that reach right to the bottom of the pan.

Pour the stock over the holes that you’ve just made in the rice and follow with a quarter of a cup more hot water. Cover the rice mixture with a piece of crumpled up greaseproof paper.

Then put a piece of foil over the saucepan and finally, top with the lid. Now don’t look at the rice until it’s cooked

Leave the heat on high for a minute until you can hear the stock bubbling and then turn to medium for 3 minutes.

If you have a diffuser put the saucepan on top of it. If you don’t have a diffuser put a dry frying pan over the heat and the saucepan inside that which will take the direct heat away from the bottom of the saucepan. Carry on cooking on the lowest possible heat for 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the pan undisturbed for 10 more minutes.

Take the lid off and gently mix the rice and herb layers together, taking care not to disturb the crusty base.

When serving the dish, make sure that everyone gets some of the wonderfully crunchy tahdig!

Rich with spices and dried lime – Persian Chicken with Sabzi Polo.

 

Dried Limes

I get to spend a lot of time looking around shops, supermarkets and markets, I know it would seem like hell to some people – but I love it, especially when I come across new things. That exact thing happened to me last week when I saw some Dried Limes (or Lumis as they’re also called) in a small shop. Normally you can only buy them in Middle Eastern shops/supermarkets, but let’s face it, unless you live in London you’re lucky to find a shelf with Middle Eastern ingredients on it, let alone a whole shop full of them!

There were two bags left, which I hastily put into my basket and smugly bought.

When I got them back, we had a quick ‘Dried Lime Show and Tell’ time before ripping open the bag. The smell from them was amazing – like the most powerful lime sherbet that you’ve ever experienced. They’re about the same size as ping pong balls or smaller and are as light as a feather, sounding hollow when you tap them.

They are made by being boiled briefly in brine and then drained and left to dry in the desert sun, until all of the juice has dehydrated and concentrated inside the now dried out lime. They are called the ‘power ingredient’ and it’s said that once you’ve started to use them in your cookery, you’ll never look back and will always want some close to hand.

We cut one open so that we could see what it looked like. the remnants of the lime segments are flimsy and dark brown/black in colour and rubbery while the membrane is brittle.

I took some home and set to work. They’re very simple to use – just give them a wash, pierce them a couple of times with a skewer and drop them into your soup or stew. This is where the alchemy happens. As long as you’re cooking your stew or soup for an hour or more, the outer skin starts to soften and the cooking juices in the dish start to work their way into the lime, creating a lovely bomb of flavour. After about 30 minutes, you can gently press the lime against the side of the saucepan to release some of the delicious juices that have accumulated inside.

I’ve heard that it’s considered good manners, at the end of cooking, not to give the lime a final squeeze, but to put it un-squeezed into your guest’s bowl so that they can squeeze the gorgeous juice out into their meal. But I think that is completely unfair to everyone else at the table! I made sure that I got a lime in my portion of dinner of course, but I had the decency to give it a good last squeeze before I put the food onto the dishes! I cut open the cooked lime and the flavour is completely addictive – I found myself eating the now luscious flesh inside, along with my meal.

The taste wasn’t overpowering as I was expecting it to be, it just ‘lifted’ the whole dish, a little like adding a squeeze of lemon but with far more flavour. It very much completed both dishes that I tried them in and even though I’ve eaten both dishes before without dried lime, I will definitely be adding a couple of lumis to them when I cook them in the future.

I made a Persian Chicken Stew with Chickpeas and dried limes. The dish was heavy with cinnamon, paprika and nutmeg which went very well with the sweet tang of lime, but I also added one into an Indian Dahl which was amazing – the taste perked up the Indian spices and lentils very well too.

They’re said to work very well with Lamb or Fish too, which I will selflessly test very soon.

Did I think they were as delicious as they were supposed to be? Yes! Have I become a convert to always having some at home? Yes, I’ll buy some whenever I see them!

Have you ever tried using Dried Limes? Let me know what you used them in, if you have!

 

Raisins – way past their sell by date! Chai Tea Loaf Recipe

I don’t know if you’re like me, but I get very excited about ‘ingredients’. I love to find new things to cook with, but sometimes forget that I’ve bought them and they find their way to the back of the cupboard to wait for their shelf life to come and go.

Last week end, I decided to do a stock take of the third shelf up in the kitchen – ‘staples’ and found various grains and pulses that I’d forgotten about, along with some not so soft brown sugar half a block of cooking dates and raisins which were 9 months past their sell by date. They’d gone sugary, but were still fine to use in something cooked. I don’t like to think of throwing raisins away – they’ve worked so hard to grow into lovely grapes and then someone has harvested them and spent time drying them! They’ve been used since medieval times to sweeten dishes and were once so valuable that jars of raisins were used as currency. With all of this in mind, I needed to use them up.

sugary raisins – past their sell by date, but still fine to use in cakes

My son had used all of the butter up the previous day in a marathon flapjack making session, but had left a small amount of condensed milk (which he likes to put in flapjacks) to use up. I decided to use everything up in a fabulous Chai Loaf!

 

I used 600g of raisins (actually a few less than this as I was using up the half a block of dates, too), it made two 2lb loaves. I put them into a medium pan along with 600ml boiling water and two tea bags, brought everything to a boil and simmered for 5 minutes before putting into a bowl and leaving overnight to soak.

The next day I measured out 275g of the not so soft brown sugar and poured the leftover condensed milk on top of it, bringing the total up to 300g sugar (you don’t have to use condensed milk, you can use just sugar. I wish that I’d had a little more condensed milk to use as I couldn’t really taste it in the finished loaf). I mixed the sugar and milk into the raisins (after I’d taken the teabags out) along with 4 eggs and 2tsp vanilla essence. Everything needs a really good stir to dissolve the sugar.

In another bowl I sifted 250g plain flour and 2tsp baking powder. I also had a couple of handfuls of pecan nuts that needed using up, so I added those in.

I wanted to make a Chai Mixed Spice to use in the loaf, so collected some spices together to grind.

Allspice berries, cloves and coriander ready to be ground into Chai Mixed Spice and Pecans

The ‘sweet’ spices that we use traditionally in puddings and deserts such as cinnamon, cloves, allspice, coriander, ginger and nutmeg have been used for centuries in British cooking. The mixture that we now know as ‘Mixed Spice’ that is used in Christmas Cakes and puddings was mentioned in recipes as early as 1828, although it had been used in puddings for many years before that. It’s said that in early history, mixed spices were used heavily in cooking to disguise meat that was starting to go bad. I don’t believe that – surely what makes us ill now, would have made them ill then, too. I think it was because spices were new and exciting. They hadn’t got access to the flavourings that we add to our food now (salt was rarely used except by the wealthy) so it must have been a welcome change to be able to flavour food with something.

Mixed spice contains pretty much the same spices as Chai, which is an Indian spiced tea  made with condensed milk. I only needed 2tsp of mixed spice but made more so that I’d have some to use next time. You’ll be able to get a paper twist of mixed spice on our website very soon to buy along with your Curry Kits, if you want to have a go at this recipe.

My ground spices ready to be mixed together

I added the mixed spice to the flour and then stirred everything into the wet mixture. Mix thoroughly and scrape into two greased and lined 2lb loaf tins.

Bake in a pre-heated oven 180C or Gas 4 for 1 hour 15 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. You may need to cover with foil towards the end – I didn’t and the top was a little too brown when it came out, but then I do have an electric oven that likes to burn everything.

The loaf was really moist and didn’t really need the butter that I put on it, but I just love butter!

All ready for eating with a nice cupatea!
Leftover Chai Mixed Spice for next time with a lovely picture drawn by my daughter, for the photo!