Turkish show and tell

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I spent a lovely hour in a Turkish shop today. I’d been there many times before, but hadn’t visited for quite a long time and as I was passing it, I thought I’d drop in. I’m really pleased that I did.

The shop is in the centre of Birmingham and the first glimpse of the stalls outside give you a taste of what’s inside – a vast array of fresh chillies. I’ve taken these home before – the larger the chilli, the less heat there is. But the white ones in particular (yellow cap) are perfect for stuffing. They taste like normal bell peppers, but they have a little kick. The larger green ones are great to add to curries or wherever you’d normally add a green pepper. They have a lovely grassy, green pepper taste with a little heat.

Upstairs, the Turkish flat bread had just come out of the oven. There’s a stack of white paper next to the piles of warm bread, so that you can pick up a flat bread, wrap it and to take it to the till. If I’d been a little later, they would have had Lahmacun ready for lunch. These are Turkish bread bases with a fiery lamb mince on the top, like a spicy pizza without the cheese. Again, the sheets of paper are there for you to fold the Lahmacun in half and take them to the till. I missed out today…

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As I got to the till to pay, my eye as normal was drawn to the lovely things they had on the counter to tempt you at the last minute – just like they do at the supermarket, but with gorgeous hand crafted goodies – Turkish Delight drenched in icing sugar, baklava that was still in the tray it had been baked in upstairs, grapes and some things in green net bags. I was so happy to see that half of the bags contained green almonds. I’d read about them so often – they are as eagerly anticipated in the Middle East as our first strawberries or asparagus. Their season is as short too: April – July so I was so lucky to find them!

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Almonds are, in fact a member of the peach family rather than being a tree nut and you can really tell with these green almonds as their skins are fuzzy, like peaches. When you cut them in half, there is the almond that we all know and love – except it’s not. When you lift it clear of its casing and bite into it, beneath the skin there is water/jelly instead of nut! The nut hasn’t yet developed and neither has the hard shell that surrounds it. That means you can eat the whole of the green almond, fuzzy skin and all. The taste is ‘pure green’ – it’s like everything that Spring should be! Vaguely nutty, with a firm taste of peas that turns to a bitter, chicory-like note with a crispy bite. The taste isn’t something that is immediately familiar, but I think that if you put them out as a snack with drinks, they wouldn’t last long. I’ve found a couple of dishes that they can be cooked in – mostly Persian Khoreshes (stews), so I’ll be experimenting with a Tastesmith’s kit tomorrow!
Right next to the green almonds was another bag of green things – I didn’t know what these were. The shop keeper told me that they were green plums “a real delicacy”, he said, “you eat them with salt”.
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These were crunchy and sour – like a Granny Smiths apple, but tiny and juicy! They had the same effect on my mouth as rhubarb, but were really pleasing. They are good to add to tagines and stews as a sweet/sour addition. I couldn’t see why salt should be added, but after biting into one I added a tiny sprinkle. I immediately saw why the salt works – the fruit became much sweeter and took the acid edge off. I can imagine having a bowl of these and a pinch pot of salt at a dinner party to serve with cocktails, along with olives. They have the same moreish quality.

I seem to have discovered a whole new set of bar snacks!

 

Turmeric Tea and Kedgeree

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Left to right: fresh red turmeric, fresh white (Mango ginger) turmeric, dried Haldi (turmeric) and ground turmeric.

There has been a lot in the press just lately about the amazing health benefits of turmeric and it seems that people are eager to include more of it into their diets.

Turmeric is that golden powder that you keep in your spice cupboard to add to the occasional curry, but we’re discovering that it has many more uses.

We are lucky enough to be able to experiment with the freshest ingredients available – our trips to market over the years have taught us a lot about seasonal produce. There’s something wonderful about spotting the first Jersey Royals in their hand woven baskets, commanding a truly ‘Royal’ price, or the first slender stems of asparagus and purple sprouting broccoli. I can’t resist buying a box full and sharing them out at work, so that we can all think of new ways to use them to showcase their unique fresh flavours. Even though I don’t buy a big box of fresh turmeric, from my market trips I know when it’s in season and head to my local Indian store to buy enough to freeze (just put it in a freezer bag and use from frozen).

Turmeric is also known as Indian Saffron because of the gorgeous golden colour it imparts to everything it touches. You’ve been warned!

Turmeric (or Haldi as it’s called in Indian) is a member of the ginger family. There is a ‘red’ version and a white version which is referred to as ‘Mango Ginger’.

'Red' turmeric on the left and white (Mango Ginger) on the right
‘Red’ turmeric on the left and white (Mango Ginger) on the right

Red Turmeric

The red turmeric is the one that is boiled, dried and ground and gives us the golden powder that we’re used to buying in jars. This is one of the spices that doesn’t deteriorate hugely after grinding as it’s mainly used as as a colouring rather than to flavour. So that pot you’ve had in your cupboard for the past five years? Yep, it’s fine to use!  When you taste fresh red turmeric, you’ll understand why less really is more when it comes to using the dried stuff. It has a pleasing crunch which gives way to a fresh taste, similar to ginger but without the heat. It also has a bitter after taste. That’s why when using turmeric, it’s best to add a small amount because it can make a whole dish taste bitter while you’re trying to achieve a deep orange colour. In a shop, if you’re unsure if what you’re seeing is fresh red turmeric, a little scrape with your finger nail will reveal the golden colour beneath the skin, so that you can be sure.

White Turmeric

White turmeric is used extensively in Indian pickles, chutneys and relishes. It looks like a thinner version of fresh ginger and that same finger nail scrape will reveal a white interior. It has a warmer taste that red turmeric and is still nice and crunchy. It’s a little sweeter too and does indeed have a taste similar to a tart mango. The bitter aftertaste is there too, which is why it is still only used in small quantities.

Dried Haldi (Turmeric)

Red turmeric is boiled, peeled and dried to preserve it. If you’re looking for it in Indian stores, look for Haldi which is its Indian name. This is what is ground into powder and sold in jars. If you want to use a fresher version of the powder, you can keep a jar of these and then finely grate them into any dish.

Ground Turmeric

Whenever we open a bag of turmeric in the production unit, I always think it smells of earthy boiled new potatoes with butter! So for me, turmeric and butter go hand-in-hand – dhal, beans, kedgeree, eggs all of these are made better with a bit of turmeric and butter.

If you want to include more turmeric into your diet, you can add 1/2 tsp to anything that you’d like to have a more golden hue – scrambled eggs, egg tortilla, quiche, soup or dhal. You can add a pinch to dishes that you won’t be able to see its golden colour in, too – chilli, stews etc. Just remember to not add too much so that you don’t make your dish bitter.

2.5cm (1″) of fresh turmeric = 1tblsp grated dried turmeric = 1tsp ground turmeric

Turmeric Tea

In 2 small mugs, divide: 1″ ginger, red turmeric and white turmeric peeled, thinly sliced and cut into quarters (you can substitute both turmerics for 2tsp ground turmeric), 1 lemon grass (or a lemon grass tea bag) and 6 peppercorns (optional). Add boiling water, a squeeze of lemon juice and honey to taste.

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 Kedgeree. Serves 2

2 eggs, hardboiled peeled and cut into quarters

1 small onion, finely chopped

3cm ginger, grated

3cm white ginger (optional)

3cm fresh turmeric (or 1tsp ground)

4tsp Madras spice blend

1/2 red pepper

Handful of peas (optional)

Finely chopped red chilli (optional)

Small handful of coriander or parsley roughly chopped

1 cup rice

200g flaked smoked fish

Fry the onion in a glug of oil with a knob of butter until it’s translucent. Add the grated gingers and fresh turmeric (if using). Add the Madras curry powder, red pepper and peas (if using). Add the chilli (if using). Stir in the chopped herbs. Add the rice and stir until it’s coated in spicy butter. Add enough boiling water to just cover the rice with 2cm over. Stir gently and add 1/2tsp (or to taste, don’t forget some smoked fish is salty, so don’t add too much) of salt and some pepper . Bring to the boil (or turn your rice cooker on, put the lid on and leave it to do its stuff). Cover your pan with foil and then put the lid on. Turn the heat right down and simmer for 5 minutes, then turn the heat off. Don’t look under the foil, just leave the pan alone for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes peep underneath and try a bit of rice – if it’s not quite cooked, add another splash of water and then bring back to the boil before turning off and leaving (still covered) for another 5 minutes. If using a rice cooker, leave it alone until it tells you it’s cooked! Stir in the fish (I’m using Arbroath Smokies picked up from Whitby last week!). I also added some smoked salmon too. Peel the eggs and cut them into quarters. Serve on top of the kedgeree. Garnish with more chopped coriander/parsley and a squeeze of lemon. Traditionally served for breakfast, delicious any time!

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