I never appreciated lentils until I left home. Lentils were boring, weren’t they? And y’know, farty. I then discovered Indian dal and Spanish lentejas and the little French puy lentils and I’m not sure how it happened but I now love the little legumes. They’re cheap, they’re healthy, they’re tasty – what’s not to like? Well, ok, so they’re still a bit farty but we all can’t be perfect.

Lentils with Chorizo

This recipe for lentils with chorizo is easy – if you didn’t want to mess up both a pot and a pan, you could fry the onion, garlic and chorizo in the pot and then chuck everything else in and set it to simmer. I wanted to get my lentils on first to save time that chilly weekday. It makes for a budget meal too as I reckon it costs about £1 a serving. You can bulk it out a bit more by adding potatoes too.

Poor Blai though! Just the look and smell of these triggered memories of terrible school lunch lentils; he admitted to feeling despair when presented with a bowl of them. Luckily (for him and me), he did proclaim enjoyment of the dish after a few spoonfuls! Hurrah!

Lentils with Chorizo
serves 3-4.

250g green lentils
150g chorizo
1 carrot
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp tomato paste
olive oil
1 onion
1 clove garlic
a large pinch of dried chilli flakes
a large splash of dry sherry
1-2 tsp pimentón
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pick through your lentils (you’re checking for stones), wash them thoroughly and cover them with plenty of water and set to boil. When it comes to a boil, reduce the heat till it’s at a strong simmer. Stir occasionally.

Peel and cut the carrot into large chunks and throw them, the tomato paste, and the bay leaf in with the lentils. Cut the chorizo into large chunks. Heat a frying pan over medium heat and throw in the chorizo and let fry in its own oil until the cut surfaces are golden. Stir the chorizo and its oil into the lentil pot.

Finely chop the onion. Place the frying pan back over the heat, add some olive oil and add the chopped onion and a large pinch of dried chilli flakes. Fry until the onion is golden. At this point, mince or chop the garlic and add it to the pan and fry until fragrant. Deglaze with the dry sherry and once all the alcohol has bubbled away, scrape everything into the lentil pot too.

Stir in the pimentón and continue simmering lentils until done – about 45 minutes altogether. Add more water if required during the simmering time – how thin you wish to have it is up to you. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve with some bread on the side.

Here are the recipes for the sweet treats I made for my Marie Curie tea party. They all have a link to my childhood somehow, well except the cupcakes…those were an experiment!

Kuih Bakar

I definitely wanted to bring a kuih of some sort to the tea party; kuihs are Malaysian and Nyonya cakes, usually very brightly coloured and certainly very different to western-style cakes. Coconut and glutinous rice usually feature heavily. I didn’t want to steam, the cooking method used to make many of these sweets, and instead chose to bake one. Kuih bakar it was going to be, literally meaning roasted cake. Coconut milk and pandan and eggs are used, giving it a flavour similar to that of kaya, a Malaysian coconut jam, another popular sweet spread that I loved as a child. However here flour is used to make it a proper cake.

Kuih Bakar

I used this recipe from My Kitchen Snippets, but used only one 400ml can of coconut milk with water to make up the total volume. The batter is alarmingly thin but fear not, it does set in the oven. It was quite delicious with a firm custard like texture but I don’t think it keeps very well; it became a bit too firm after a spell in the fridge. It’s probably one to make and serve on the same day.

Graham Cracker Toffee

Here’s one that my mother used to make for us when I was in high school. It’s pretty much a tooth-rotter but hey, what’s wrong with a bit of that (followed by lots of tooth brushing) once in a while? I remember that she found the recipe on the side of a box of crackers – the recipe does work with savoury crackers such as saltines or matzo (and the recipe is all over the Internet in all its guises); if you use them, leave out the salt on top. If you’re wondering where I purchased graham crackers in London, look for them in Asian shops – I purchased a Filipino brand.

Graham Cracker Toffee

Preheat your oven to 190 Celsius. Toast two large handfuls of flaked almonds in a dry frying pan; set aside to cool. Line a 36cm x 25cm Swiss roll tray with foil and arrange graham crackers in a single layer on top of it. Put 120g unsalted butter and 120g brown sugar in a heavy saucepan and melt together over medium heat. Let it bubble together for about 5 minutes. Pour over the graham crackers, using a silicone spatula to spread it roughly (it will spread more in the oven). Place the tray in the oven for about 10 minutes – the toffee should be bubbling furiously and make sure you pull it out of the oven before it burns. Let it cool for a couple of minutes before scattering on top about 120g chopped dark chocolate. Let it sit for a few minutes before spreading the now melted chocolate evenly over the toffee – top with a bit of fleur de sel (I used a vanilla one) and the toasted almonds. Let cool completely (you can place the tray in the fridge to hasten this) and then snap into presentable chunks.

Mango Cupcakes with Lime Buttercream

OK, here’s something I have to admit – after tasting these, my little experimental cupcakes, I felt that mangoes have no place in baked goods. Perhaps on top of baked goods, yes, but certainly not in the batter/dough itself. That said, some of my colleagues really enjoyed them and perhaps the issue of mangoes-in-baked-goods is quite like Marmite – it must be a love-hate thing.

Mango Cupcakes with Lime Buttercream

Anyway, the cake recipe can be found here at The Baking Stone. I used alphonso mango puree and just straight up all plain flour rather than a mix of white and wholewheat. I also baked the cakes in fairy cake pans so ended up with about 20 cakes altogether rather than 12.

For the lime buttercream, I used 112g of softened unsalted butter and 112g of icing sugar, along with the zest and juice of half a large lime. This was enough for all my cakes. Frost the cakes when they’ve cooled fully.

There was one more sweet cookie that I made for the tea party – lemon blueberry drops.

Lemon Blueberry Drops

However, I feel like I wouldn’t be giving them the respect they deserve by lumping them with the other recipes! It was a recipe my mother made often in Canada and they feature a lot in my memories. I have no idea where she first found the recipe – anyway, I hope to blog them soon!

I held my Marie Curie Blooming Great Tea Party (my original post on this is here if you’d like to read more on the charity) this past Monday and I think it went well! I opted to hold mine at work, incorporating two neighbouring offices (about a dozen people), and to my surprise, everyone was quite enthusiastic about it – no one can turn down cakes and biscuits come 4pm. There was even a theme to the tea party – food from your home country, home being quite varied in our office as we have quite an international group here.

Tea Party

It’s not a a tea party without tea and our little work kitchen (if you can call it that) with its hot water dispenser sorted us out. We drank black tea (assam) with condensed milk, a nod towards the teh tarik (only without the pulling) from my birth country.

For eats, portability was the key when I planned my tea party menu; apart from the hot and cold water dispenser, we only have a fridge and sink in our kitchenette. Almost everything I made was prepared at home and transported to work – just the sandwiches were made on site. I made a platter of savouries, kuih bakar, lemon blueberry drops, graham cracker toffee and rather experimental mango cupcakes with lime buttercream. Yes, they’re almost all linked to my growing up and I’ll be blogging most of the recipes.

I had invited my colleagues to bring food if they wished and I was chuffed that they took me up on that offer! As the general theme was foods from your country, we also had an American blueberry cheesecake, British cakes, Pakistani pastries, Taiwanese mochi cakes and Chinese sesame sweets. All very yummy and we had so much food, we were snacking on the leftovers for a few days after! (Somehow we also ended up sampling American spray cheese…)

Thank you

I do have to say a big thank you to my colleagues for coming and donating generously – we raised over £100 for Marie Curie, not a bad effort for our little party, I reckon. If you’d like to donate to Marie Curie too, you can do so online.

Savouries

Recipes! I’ll split these into two posts – savouries now and sweets another time. These were the three savouries I made and I think they went down quite well as the platter was quite empty at the end!

Curried Potato Mini Croissants
My mother used to make curry puffs at home but when she wasn’t in the mood to make the pastry and deep fry, she’d just make the filling and stuff them into hot, buttery, flaky croissants. I couldn’t heat them up at work but they still went down a treat cold.

Peel approximately 500g of floury potatoes and dice them into 1cm cubes. Chuck them into a pot of water and bring them to a boil, cooking until they are soft but not mushy. Drain and set aside. Chop two medium-large onions finely and fry with a little oil until soft. Add 4 tbsps meat curry powder and 1 tsp turmeric and a little water to form a paste and continue frying. After a few minutes, add the cooked potatoes and stir well to combine – add some water if this is difficult. Continue frying until the entire thing is quite dry. Season with salt and sugar. If desired, a little chopped chicken can also be fried in too – I left the meat out for safer storage. Stuff the mixture into mini or regular sized croissants.

Sardine Rolls
Apart from curry puffs, sardine puffs are also popular in Malaysia and Singapore. When pushed to create another dish for the table (we regularly ate multiple dishes with rice for dinner), she’d put together canned sardines in tomato sauce with lots of sliced chillies and shallots and lime juice. This is based on that combination.

Take two tins of sardines in tomato sauce (mine were 120g each) and take out the fish, removing the backbone. Add about 2 tbsps of the tomato sauce and 2 tbsps of chilli sauce and mash the fish roughly. Chop an onion finely and fry in a little oil until soft. Add in the fish and fry until hot. Add the juice of half a lime and continue frying until quite dry. Season with salt and sugar. Roll out shortcrust pastry, fill with this mixture as you would sausage rolls, brush with some beaten egg and bake.

Sambal Dried Shrimp Sandwiches
I’ve described this one before – essentially this is hae bee hiam and you make it just like the filling in this recipe. I used to get bags of this stuff sent to me from my mother when I was in university for putting into sandwiches or topping boiled noodles. I was actually very surprised at how well these went down – I didn’t expect my colleagues to take to the strong dried shrimp flavour. I would have made more if I had known!

Make sandwiches with plenty of butter, a good sprinkling of the hae bee hiam and some sliced cucumber (optional). Slice off the crusts and then slice into triangles or fingers.

It’s time for more blog posts that I’ve been bookmarking around the web!

The chilli pan mee recipe from Happee Monkee looks insanely good. I love dry noodles and I do love pan mee, having made it from scratch while I was in university (I must’ve been insane). And now a chilli variant seems to have appeared recently and I want some!

A recipe for the most beautiful stecca sandwich bread can be found over at Macheesmo.

Wen at Going With My Gut has posted her family recipe for pork belly with mui choi. I tasted it at plusixfive’s supper club and lemme tell you – it’s fantastic. Go make it!

Hot & Chilli have a recipe for Brazilian brigadeiros. These Brazilian chocolate and condensed milk truffles are very sweet and very addictive.

I adore rice dishes and would never turn down a biryani or pilaff. Kavey at Kavey Eats has a recipe for a Persian baked yogurt rice with chicken while Sharmila at rice and pickle shares a recipe for a Persian raw meat biryani (where the meat is cooked in the rice). Both look insanely good.

Sambal ikan bilis (little anchovies in a spicy chilli paste) make up the filling for this Burger Malaysia over at Almost Bourdain. I probably wouldn’t call it a burger (but to be clear this seems to be the terminology used in Malaysia) but instead a very good looking sandwich.

Fatty Dumpling shares a recipe for kettle corn! I had no idea one could make kettle corn at home. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s like the sweet popcorn of this country but the sugar is more of a thin coating on each puff.

Doesn’t the congee with poached chicken slivers over at 3 hungry tummies look utterly comforting? I’ve been in need of some comforting food lately and this would surely hit the spot.

Finally, I managed to visit the Singapore Takeout while it was here for couple of days but just didn’t find the time to blog it. This initiative from Singapore sees some of their top chefs paired with chefs from around the world. In London, Janice Wong from 2am dessert bar in Singapore came with the travelling kitchen in a shipping container and paired up with local chef Peter Gordon of The Providores. My photos from the event can be seen in this Flickr photoset. If your city is here on this list (sorry, I’m almost too late for Paris – Singapore Takeout was there this past weekend!), you’re in for a treat: Moscow, New York, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Delhi, Dubai, Sydney. All dates and details of these other visits can be found on their Facebook page.

When I first read of the combination of yogurt and poached eggs, I was quite sceptical. Really? I just couldn’t get my head around the liquid yolk paired with the tangy yogurt. But then more recently, this photo on Flickr had me wondering again. The answer is a resounding yes as I decided to make it at home topped with a chili spiced melted butter for a light supper one evening. The original dish is called Çılbır and comes from Turkey though I’m not sure what time of the day it’s normally eaten over there; I imagine it’s excellent for brunch. Garlicky thick yogurt, poached eggs with centres of liquid gold, and chili infused butter, all mopped up with accompanying slabs of Turkish bread; proper Turkish Aleppo pepper was not used but it was still good.

Turkish Eggs with Yogurt

In London, a version is available at the Providores and Tapa Room where whipped yogurt is use (I’ve not tried it). I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s also offered up in the many Turkish cafes in Dalston.

And this is what I put together at home; what follows is not so much a recipe as just general guidelines. If I remember correctly, we had a salad of chopped cucumber and tomato on the side to cut the richness.

Turkish Eggs with Yogurt

Allow at least two eggs per person. Poach them. Crush a small clove of garlic into a generous amount of plain Greek yogurt. Divide the yogurt between your serving dishes. In a small pan/pot, heat approximately 1-2 tablespoons of butter per person. When the butter has melted, add some hot paprika, allowing it to be cooked into the butter, colouring it a deep orange-red. Top the yogurt with the poached eggs and drizzle over with the melted butter.

I didn’t have anything green to sprinkle on top but I reckon chopped fresh mint or flat leaf parsley would be lovely. Serve immediately, while the contrast between the hot eggs and the cold yogurt still exists, with some Turkish bread or pita on the side to mop up the yogurt and yolk.

Mmmm… cake. I was very much on a baking kick a couple weeks ago, the result being that we gain weight and the blog gains a few recipes. When I went to our local market one Saturday, as soon as I laid my eyes on these fat, glossy, juicy blackberries, I knew they’d end up in a cake. Of course, then Blai asked if they were the same berry that we ate off a wild bush on a recent bicycle ride. Yes, doh! I could’ve just ridden up there and picked some wild blackberries; if you have access to a wild bush, pick them there!

Slice of Cake

Coffee cake was what I had in mind – and no, there’s no coffee in it; instead it’s a snack cake meant to be eaten while having coffee. Confused? Yes, why can’t it just be called cake?! Or snack cake? Quite often, they have a crumbly topping, as mine did, so why not just… crumble cake? The original recipe I based my cake on made use of sour cherries and I reckon any tart berry would be a good substitute. I reduced the sugar in the original recipe as we tend to find a lot of North American recipes to be too sweet and I thought the sweetness level what resulted was just right.

Blackberry Coffee Cake

I love fruit in cakes: the sweet-tartness of the berries burst through the butteriness of the tender cake and the crumbly shortbread-like topping, creating an incredibly moreish snack cake. Heck, late the next evening, we ate over half of the cake for dinner, with Larb Pretz on the side.

Blackberry Coffee Cake
adapted from Martha Stewart Living, via Lottie + Doof

For the topping
50g unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup plain flour
1/4 cup caster or granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

For the cake
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
50g unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup caster sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup milk
1 punnet of blackberries

Preheat your oven to 180 Celsius. Butter and flour an 8-9 inch square baking pan (or equivalent area pan).

Mix the topping together. In a bowl, mix together the flour, sugars, salt and cinnamon. Drizzle in the melted butter and stir together until mixed together and lumpy. Set aside.

Now mix the main cake batter together. Mix together the flour, salt and baking powder and set aside. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until smooth. Add the vanilla and stir in. Add half the flour mixture, stir until just combined, add the milk, stir again, add the rest of the flour and stir until just combined again. Spread the batter in the prepared pan. Dot the batter with the blackberries and then sprinkle the topping evenly over it all.

Blackberries and Batter And a Crumble Topping

Bake in the preheated oven until a skewer comes out clean when poked in the centre of the cake – this should take about 50 minutes to 1 hour. Let cool a bit and serve.

The words “ready meals” suffer a bit of a stigma over here as one initially pictures the sad sweating plastic wrapped packets on the supermarket chilled shelves, ready for a nuking in the microwave. But the ready meals I’ve come across in Barcelona were always wonderful – freshly made croquetes, roasted chicken parts and meat stews, cooked legumes, and trays of prepared canalons ready for a cooking in the oven. Needless to say, you can pick all these up and more at one of the many fabulous markets scattered throughout the city. This is what London is missing!

Catalan-Style Stuffed Aubergines

Anyway, what I wanted to really talk about was what I recently encountered on my last trip there – stuffed aubergines. I saw trays of them ready for the oven – halved aubergines (usually the slim kind rather than the large bulbous ones) stuffed with a meat mixture and slathered in a rich bechamel. They looked fantastic and though I never tasted them, I knew I wanted to recreate something like that at home. But aubergines are not the only vegetable that’s filled; if you take a look at Colman Andrew’s fabulous book Catalan Cuisine, he has a whole section on stuffed vegetables.

Stuffed with Pork Filling

It turned out to be quite straightforward – all the components can be cooked ahead of time and put together well before they need to be baked. The meaty filling was so flavourful with the onion and tomatoes cooked down until they were melting together in their sofregit; the silky aubergines, though quite lovely by themselves, were really just carriers for the meat! The bechamel was luxuriously rich and I dolloped it on with a generous hand – the recipe below does make quite a lot. The only things I’d change next time is to try the thinner Japanese aubergines and to be more generous with the Parmesan cheese on top!

Slathered in Bechamel and Parmesan

Catalan-Style Stuffed Aubergines
serves 4 as a main course.

4 small-medium sized aubergines
olive oil

For the filling
2 tbsps olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 medium or 1 large tomato
500 g minced pork
a large pinch of dried thyme
a large pinch freshly ground nutmeg
salt
freshly ground pepper
4 tbsps fresh breadcrumbs
1 egg

For the bechamel
500 mL milk
80g unsalted butter
4 tbsps plain flour
salt
freshly ground pepper
a large pinch of freshly ground nutmeg

freshly grated parmesan cheese

Prepare your aubergines. Cut each in half lengthwise and scoop out the insides leaving at least a centimetre of flesh (I tossed the insides as mine had a lot of seeds). Arrange cut side up on a baking tray and brush liberally with olive oil. Roast in a hot oven until tender and set aside while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Prepare your filling. First we’ll make a sofregit of the onions, garlic and tomatoes. In a frying pan, heat the oil over low heat and add the finely chopped onion. This has to cook until the onions have become soft and golden – this will take at least 15 minutes on a low temperature. When the onions are close to this, you can add the minced garlic and continue cooking until the onions are cooked and the garlic has lost its rawness. In the meantime, prepare your tomatoes – cut each in half around its equator and deseed them. Use your palm to push each cut half against a box grater and grate the tomato pulp, leaving behind the skins. Add this tomato pulp when the onions are golden and continue cooking over low heat until the tomatoes have melted into the onions and its redness is darker. That’s your sofregit. Add the minced pork and fry, stirring frequently so that the pork is crumbly, until the pork is all cooked (about 10 minutes). Add the thyme and nutmeg and season well with salt and pepper. Stir again and then turn off the heat. In a bowl, beat the egg and add the breadcrumbs to this. Stir together and then add this mixture to the pan with the pork. Stir to incorporate and there’s your filling.

Make the bechamel. In a heavy bottomed pan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the flour and whisk together until incorporated. Let cook for about 3-4 minutes, whisking from time to time. Pour in the milk about a quarter of the volume at a time (you could whack in the whole thing but then it always seems to take longer). Whisk very well after each milk incorporation and then continue adding once the mixture gets thick. After all the milk has been added, continue cooking over low heat and whisking often until the bechamel is thick. Season with salt, freshly ground black pepper and a little freshly ground nutmeg, give it a final whisking and turn off the heat.

Put it together. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Lay your roasted aubergine halves in a baking dish and fill them with the pork mixture. Really stuff them well – use all that filling up! Top each filled aubergine half with a good couple of spoonfuls of bechamel and then sprinkle with some finely grated parmesan cheese. Bake in the oven for about 15-20 minutes – the filling should be cooked through (that egg) and the tops should be golden brown.

Serve with a salad and bread on the side.