Vol.31 Meals

Hello and greetings to you, warm sunshine!

Since this is the third or fourth week of only getting to this email on Thursday, I think I’m going to move it permanently to Thursdays. My Food Letters (I’ve finally settled on a title) are taking a bit longer to write these days (anyone noticed the gifs? 😉) and not only am I sharing them via email I also have a Food Letters page on my website where I also post the menu and add a few extra pictures. I hope you check it out. On to the food we go! 🎢

Here’s Vol.31:

A note on Harissa. This relates specifically to one of the meals but it’s going to be a bit of a long story so I thought I’d talk about it now. You’ll hopefully know that there is a rather spectacular roast aubergine on the Vol.30 menu – it’s served with whipped feta and a harissa oil. Or rather a rose harissa oil. I’ve been using a store-bought harissa paste which is wonderful but it is not the rose harrisa Ottolenghi so often calls for. You guys know how I’m a stickler for “authenticity” – even though I realise me making harissa paste is never going to be truly authentic as I’m not a Tunisian person grinding it by hand under the hot North African sun – but I really do enjoy making things from scratch. This way I know exactly what goes in and understand how each favour builds on the other. Perfect example being the Sri Lankan curry powder I made a few weeks ago. I’m so happy I made it and didn’t use just any curry powder because this one is so unique. The fresh curry leaves and fennel seeds that went into it give it a fantastic aroma and it is SPICY! 🌶 But, the spiciness isn’t the only flavour – there’s that rich smokiness behind it. Anyway, I love it. Back to harissa. I was the very proud owner of a jar of rose harissa bought at an actual Ottolenghi restaurant in London (total fan girl moment, it was AMAZING in case you were in any doubt) which got used up pretty quickly. I then switched to one I found at my all things spice related shop Eastern Temptations in Emmarentia (highly recommend a visit to buy nuts, spices, rice at really good prices). But of course, this is not rose harissa. I decided to have a look if I could find a make your own recipe. And, low and behold, I found one by the man himself – Yotam Ottolenghi!

This, this is what I want to make

I’ve found the required dried chillis (guajillo and ancho) and have some rose petals at home so homemade ROSE HARISSA is going into production this weekend. Who’s excited? It’s me! I’m excited, so excited. Will definitely be documenting on Instagram.

So why have I been telling you about my harissa obsession? Well, it’s in one of the frozen meals so let’s dive in:

Lamb siniyah – I’ve still got my sister’s copy of Simple 🍋 and since someone requested more lamb-based dishes, I had a look and found this unique gem. It’s a Middle Eastern dish. Basically a lamb stew topped with a tahini crust. The stew consists of a base of onion and celery mixed with tomato and Baharat spice blend. Baharat being another Middle Eastern spice blend of allspice, black peppercorns, cardamom seeds, cassia bark, cloves, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, nutmeg, turmeric, saffron, ginger, dried red chili peppers or paprika (this according to Wikipedia). Baharat is actually the Arabic word for spices – so calling it a spice blend is like saying “spices spice blend” 😏. Anyway, you then brown the lamb pieces, add the base mixture back and in goes tomato, paprika and good old S&P. Next step is to simmer until tender, add toasted pine nuts and parsley and the final step is to add the tahini topping. The topping is just tahini mixed with lemon juice, water and garlic. If any of you have mixed lemon juice into tahini, you’ll know that it has a strange effect – the tahini almost goes solid. So that water is very necessary. When you bake it at home, you’ll bake it covered for 20min and then uncovered for 20min. You’ll end up with a thick golden crust and juicy lamb underneath. Can’t wait to try it.

Egg pasta with rose harissa, black olive and caper sauce – This dish is the reason I started researching rose harissa. It’s another one from Simple 🍋 and honestly just looks divine! Id already decided what the fresh dishes would be this week but just couldn’t resist adding this to the menu so it’s coming to you in frozen form. I’ve got a great egg-based pasta dough recipe that dries really well (no risk of going off or something like that) that I’ll be using. Freezing egg pasta is just too anxiety inducing for me. I’m always stressed that the pasta will start to defrost and then stick together and just come out as a giant clump once cooked. And I just can’t have that. One of my most shameful cooking mistakes was when I added dried pasta to the pot before the water had boiled. What a disaster! The pieces got glued together and the whole thing just become a weird squidgy pasta clump. This happened when I was about 17 on a school camp where we had to do our own cooking. I’ve never lived it down. Well, in my mind anyway. My friends have all probably forgotten about it (please let them have forgotten about it 😬). But not me! Why do memories of failure last so long? So anyway, never ever, ever (EVER) add pasta to your water before it’s at a rolling boil.

Now this is rolling boil!

Back to the sauce. It’s a fairly simple tomato-based pasta sauce but it’s got some gorgeous extras – rose harissa (made by yours truly), kalamata olives, capers and parsley. Make sure to serve it with some plain yoghurt to mellow out the spiciness of the harissa.

Smokey white bean and pepper quesadilla – I struggled to think of what else to put on the frozen menu this week. Well, someone (the same someone that asked for lamb dishes) suggested Mexican and well, these quesadillas are sort of Mexican. I don’t think they pass any authenticity test but they’re scrumptious none the less. Home made tortillas encase a filling of mashed cannellini beans (the least heavy of the tinned beans), roast red pepper, fresh parsley, smoked paprika fried spring onion and a little lemon. Oh, and the cheddar cheese. I could I forget the cheese! It melts as you dry-fry the tortilla sandwich and it’s not stringy (like what you get with a pizza slice) but rather melds into the bean mixture and makes the whole thing creamy and oozy and just really, really nice. These are great to have in the freezer as they cook directly from frozen and are done in about 15 minutes. I can’t wait to have a couple in my freezer for impromptu fancy lunch.

For the fresh dishes this week I’ve decided to bring back one of my favourites and to try something new.

Spice cupboard overflow situation in my kitchen

Palak paneer and aloo paratha – I love palak paneer. I really, really do. Whenever I’m at an Indian restaurant I can’t help myself but order. Palak = spinach and paneer = paneer (those cubes of cottage cheese). It such a simple but wonderful dish. Spinach is wilted down and then pureed (lets see how my stick blender manages). Some garlic, cumin and mustard seeds are fried, in goes the spinach and finally the panner (I’m going to fry the slices for extra flavour). The whole thing is finished off with a little fresh cream and mhh mhh mhh you’ve got yourself a bowl of green delight. And to go with that I’ve decided it’s time I have a go at aloo paratha. Aloo = potato and paratha = paratha (flat bread). Basically, aloo paratha is a paratha stuffed with potato. The potato mixture is flavoured with ginger, chilli, garam masala, cumin, amchur and fresh coriander. The recipe I picked also adds ajwain – a spice I’ve haven’t used yet so of course now I get to add ANOTHER spice to my frankly humungous collection. Here’s how it’s done. A soft dough is rolled out, a spoonful of filling is added and the dough is then pinched around the filling. Then the parcel is rolled out again. So, what you end of with is a flat bread with a thin layer of delicious potato filling. I decided to make these instead of rice or naan or roti mostly because I love potatoes. I hope you share my 🥔🖤.

Oyster mushroom tacos with all the trimmings – Once I had that suggestion to include Mexican, I immediately wanted to add these to the menu. Firstly, I legitimately have thought about how amazing they are at least once a week since I made them in April; secondly, avocados, kohlrabi and oyster mushrooms are consistently in stock; thirdly, do I need a thirdly? I just really want to eat them again. A little refresher in case you don’t remember these. The oyster mushrooms are torn into pieces and flavoured with a mixture of soy sauce, maple syrup, dried chilli and allspice berries. They’re then roasted at a high heat and become these gorgeous, chewy, crispy, umami flavour bombs! They are the main bit of filling for some soft corn tortillas. I buy mine from the excellent Baha Taco (I tried making my own once – it did not work AT ALL). Seriously, please try this dish. I found it so amazing. The trimmings are as follows:

– Red onion pickled in vinegar spiked with orange, hibiscus and all spice berries

– An avocado crema made of avocado, coconut cream and coriander

– And kohlrabi pickled in lime juice – to make it extra crunchy

I mean, come one. That just sounds too good!

And now for dessert. I decided on another indulgent one this week since I had such a great response to that coffee almond one with the mascarpone cream. I’ve landed on a Butterscotch layer cake. The cake is another oil based one which means it’s bound to be moist and airy. The sponge is flavoured with cocoa and coffee which will help it hold its own against the sweet butterscotch. Butter, brown sugar, cream and a pinch of salt are heated until they caramelise with the rest of the cream stirred through once cooled. Can you taste that caramel? I can picture it; I can even almost smell it. And I can’t wait to taste it.

So that’s the end of Vol.31. I was lacking inspiration for this one so thanks to the people that gave me some suggestions. It definitely helped get the creative juices flowing. And thanks to someone who’s already sent me a dish for the following menu – and inspired me to dive into some Nigella Lawson recipes – because they really are rather good, aren’t they?

Now that you’ve read all about the meals, why not order!?