Showing posts with label Low-Carb recipes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Low-Carb recipes. Show all posts

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Low-Carb Roast Baby Cabbage Wedges with Bacon

My sister, an excellent cook, suggested this method for roasting fresh young cabbages, and I was dubious at first because I'm not enthusiastic about cooked cabbage. How wrong I was - thank you Sophie! These tender, slightly charred wedges are quite simply delicious with their plain dressing of fruity olive oil and fresh lemon juice.

Low-Carb Roast Baby Cabbage Wedges with Bacon
As a Type-2 diabetic, I'm always looking out for good ideas about preparing ultra-simple, nutritious, low-carb veggie dishes, and I'm so sold on this recipe that I've made it three times in the last fortnight.

You can, if you fancy, add all sorts of extra flavours to the wedges - Sophie uses a delicious dusting of powdered fennel seeds. I reckon I might try caraway seeds or garlic next time I make this. But, for now, I think they're perfect with just a tingle of heat from the dried chilli flakes, plus plenty of black pepper.

I've added crisped-up bacon bits for a touch of luxury, but you can of course leave these out. This is best with good quality cubes of bacon (I buy mine at my favourite, most excellent German butchery), but if you can't find these, you can use decent streaky bacon instead.

 Low-Carb Roast Baby Cabbage Wedges with Bacon 

2 baby cabbages
the juice of 1 big lemon
5 Tbsp (75 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp (5 ml) dried red chilli flakes
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup (250 ml) bacon cubes, or 10 rashers of bacon, chopped

Arrange the wedges cut-side up on a tray.
Heat the oven to 200 °C, fan on, or 210 °C if your oven has no fan. Cut each cabbage into four wedges and arrange, cut side up, on a baking sheet.

Drizzle with the olive oil and lemon juice, sprinkle with chilli flakes and season generously with salt and pepper.

Roast for about 35 minutes, or until the edges of the wedges are slightly blackened, and they are tender on the insides.

Ten minutes before the end of the roasting time, fry the bacon until just crisp, then drain and keep hot.

Sprinkle the bacon cubes over the cabbage, add another spritz of lemon juice and serve immediately.

Serves 4 as a side dish; 2 as a main course

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Sunday, 1 June 2014

Low-Carb Slow-Roasted Pork Neck with Caramelised Onions

The gravy I made for this dish was not a thundering success. I figured that whizzing up the golden onions, apple slices & carrots with Dijon mustard and a splash of cream was an inspired idea for a low-carb gravy, but I was mistaken. The flavours were great, but it had a curious grainy texture, with none of the silken mouth-feel I expect from a good gravy. My family weren't at all keen, and did not hesitate to tell me so. The pork and onions were scrumptious, however, so please try this recipe, and disregard the bowl of gravy at the top left of the picture below.  (I have given instructions for preparing the so-so gravy at the end of the recipe, in case you low-carbers feel like giving it a go.) This recipe is suitable for diabetics, and for anyone on a low-carb #LCHF regime.

Low-Carb Slow-Roasted Pork Neck with Caramelised Onions  
Wine recommendation from Michael Oliver: Zonnebloem Limited Edition Pinotage 2010.
 Go to the end of the page for more detail about this pairing.
My 2009 recipe for Roast Pork Neck with Leeks, Carrots and Apples has been the second-most popular recipe on this blog for many years (the first being South African Ginger Beer). Pork neck is an inexpensive cut ideal for slow roasting. It has superlative flavour and a melting, juicy texture that cannot be rivalled by any other cut of pork. It's a little difficult to find, but I'm pleased to see that Food Lovers Market now stocks vacuum-packed pork necks. If you don't have a branch near you, look for it in a good German butchery, or ask your own butcher to order it for you.

The ingredients for this dish include a pan-browned pork neck,
onions, bay leaves, thyme sprigs, fennel seeds and an apple.
The fennel seeds add a very faint aniseed flavour, but you can leave them out if you wish. If you're on a very low-carb regime, you might elect to omit the single apple in this recipe, but I urge you to leave it in, because it adds a lovely sweet note.

It's a pain in the neck to slice onions, so I do this in a jiffy using my food processor and its thickest slicing blade.

Serve this with bright steamed vegetables, or with tender-stem broccoli, griddled courgettes, or shredded stir-fried cabbage.

Low-Carb Slow-Roasted Pork Neck with Caramelised Onions 

1 x 1.8 kg pork neck 
3 Tbsp (45 ml) olive oil, for frying
5 large white onions, peeled and sliced
1 carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
2 slim sticks celery, leaves removed and thinly sliced
1 large apple, cored and thinly sliced (no need to peel it)
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs fresh thyme
½ tsp (2.5 ml) fennel seeds (optional)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely grated or chopped
4 Tbsp (60 ml) red wine
1 Tbsp (15 ml) balsamic vinegar
4 Tbsp (60 ml) water
1 Tbsp (15 ml) prepared Dijon mustard
salt and milled black pepper

Heat to oven to 160 °C. Pat the pork neck dry on kitchen paper. Heat the oil in a large shallow ovenproof pan with a thick base. (You can do this in a heavy rectangular roasting pan, but you will need to watch the onions closely so they don't catch or burn.)

When the oil is beginning to shimmer, add the pork neck.  Sear it over a high heat on all sides, until it is golden-brown all over.  You may find that the meat sticks to the bottom of the pan for the first few minutes, but it will loosen with a gentle nudge once its surface has browned. This process should not take more than about 6-7 minutes, if your pan is hot enough.

Remove the meat from the pan and set aside on a plate. Add the onions, carrots, celery, apple, bay leaves and thyme sprigs.  Cook over a low heat, uncovered, stirring now and then, for 15-20 minutes, or until the onions are soft and a glorious golden colour. Don't allow the onions to burn, or you risk a bitter flavour.

Now add the garlic and cook for another minute, without letting it brown.

Turn up the heat and add the wine and vinegar. Deglaze the pan by stirring and scraping briskly to dislodge any sticky bits.

Place the browned pork neck on top of the golden onions, cover
and roast at a low temperature for two hours.
Pour in the water and place the pork neck on top of the veggies, along with any juices that have collected beneath it.  Cover the pan (use a double layer of tin foil if you don't have a lid that fits snugly) and bake for one hour at 160 °C.  Remove the lid or foil, and add a few more tablespoons of water if the onions seem dry.

Turn the heat down to 150 °C and roast for another hour, uncovered.

Remove the pork neck from the pan, place it on a warmed platter and let it rest, loosely covered with a sheet of tin foil, for 15-20 minutes.

When you're ready to serve, gently reheat the vegetables on your stove top and stir in the mustard. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

Snip through and gently tear away the netting on the pork neck, then carve it into thick slices. Arrange these on a warmed platter, pour over any juices that have accumulated under it, and serve hot with the caramelised veggies.

If you'd like to try my-not-very successful low-carb 'gravy', remove two-thirds of the onion mixture, set aside and keep warm.  Heat the pan containing the remaining veggies, add two-thirds of a cup of water and bring to a gentle boil. Use a stick blender to blitz the mixture as finely as you can, adding more water if necessary.  Stir in 3 Tbsp (45 ml) cream and a little more Dijon mustard, if you think it needs it. Season generously with black pepper and serve hot.

Serves 6.

Wine pairing by Michael Olivier: 

It looks like: Deep ruby at the core, which pales to ruby garnet around the edges of the glass.

It smells like: Red and black berry fruits, whispers of charcuterie and smoke from the barrels.

It tastes like: Classical red Pinotage berry fruits, ripe bloodplums, a smidge of savouriness and smoke. Elegant with ripe tannins, fruit, acidity and the oak all perfectly balanced.

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Monday, 26 May 2014

Quick Low-Carb Gammon Steak with Tender-Stem Broccoli, Garlic & Cream

I'm excited to share this recipe with you because it's so quick and surprisingly delicious. It takes about eight minutes to cook from start to finish, and I eat it at least three times a week because I'm smitten by Woolies' tender-stem broccoli, which has become one of the mainstays of my low-carb regime.

Quick Low-Carb Gammon Steak with Tender-Stem Broccoli,
 Garlic, Green Peppercorns & Cream

I've always loved broccoli, but it's become something of an obsession since I cut out carbs. I find tender-stem broccoli utterly scrumptious - up there with fresh asparagus - and as far as I know it's available only from Woolworths. If you can't find it, use small florets of ordinary broccoli for this dish.

This recipe serves one, but you can easy double or quadruple it. Please use a large, shallow pan that allows for fast reduction (a big wok will do).

Although this recipe contains a considerable amount of cream - so allowed on a low-carb, high-fat diabetic regime - its main ingredients are good for you, provided you use top-quality lean gammon steak, with all visible fat trimmed away.  You can use Greek yoghurt instead of cream - please see my Cook's Notes at the end of the recipe.

This dish is so convenient because it's made in one pan, in a flash.

The gammon adds a lovely smoky, caramelised note to the sauce, and I wouldn't consider making this dish without it.  If you're not a pork eater, you might try this with a fillet of firm-fleshed white linefish, but I don't think it will taste as good.

I had to leave brined green peppercorns out of the recipe title because they would have made it too long, but I urge you to try them in this dish - they add a wonderful warm peppery pop and pull all the flavours together.

Quick Low-Carb Gammon Steak with Tender-Stem Broccoli, Garlic & Cream

1 lean gammon steak, all visible fat trimmed away
1 tsp (5 ml) olive oil
12 spears tender-stem broccoli
4 Tbsp (60 ml) water
1 small clove garlic, peeled and finely grated
1 tsp (5 ml) Dijon mustard [optional]
1 Tbsp (15 ml) green peppercorns, drained of their brine and lightly crushed using a mortar & pestle [optional]
½ cup (125 ml) cream
a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
milled black pepper, to taste

Pat the gammon steak dry on kitchen paper.  Heat a teaspoon of olive oil in a large frying pan, over a high heat. When the oil is just beginning to shimmer, fry the gammon steak on one side for 2-3 minutes, or until its underside is brown and caramelised.

In the meantime, cut the broccoli spears crossways into thirds.

Turn the steak over. Now add the broccoli to the pan, arranging it around the edges of the gammon steak, and pour in the water. Cover immediately with a lid (or with an upturned plate, if your frying pan doesn't have a lid).

Turn down the heat and cook at a brisk bubble for 3-5 minutes, or until the broccoli is just tender when you poke the thickest stalk with the tip of a sharp knife.  If you've covered the pan with a plate, please be very careful when you lift it off, as you risk an excruciating steam burn (see Cook's Notes, below.)

If the pan looks a little dry, add another splash of water.

While the broccoli is cooking, combine the grated garlic, mustard, crushed peppercorns and cream in a small bowl.

When the broccoli is tender, take off the lid, turn up the heat and pour in the garlic/cream mixture.  It will bubble furiously and immediately turn a caramel colour at the edges. Toss the pan energetically while it does so, not taking your eye off it for a moment, and let it bubble for 30 to 60 seconds, or until the cream has thickened and the sting has gone out of the garlic.

If you haven't used green peppercorns in the dish, add a few generous grinds of black pepper. The sauce shouldn't need any salt, as gammon is salty enough in its own right.

Remove from the heat and add a small spritz of lemon - just enough to add a whisper of acidity.  Serve immediately.

Serves 1.

Cook's Notes
  • You can serve the gammon steak whole, or slice it into strips or cubes, as shown in the picture below. 
  • If you've covered your frying pan with a plate, use a fork to lift up its edge, which will allow puffs of steam to escape. Or wrap a thick dishcloth around your hand as you lift the plate away. 
  • You can use thick Greek yoghurt in place of cream, but be sure to add it to the pan a few tablespoons at a time, over a low heat.  When the yoghurt is hot and slightly reduced, remove the pan from the heat and stir in a little lemon juice.  Here are my tips for cooking with yoghurt
  • This recipe also works beautifully with thinly sliced baby marrows [courgettes/zucchini].

Cut the gammon into cubes, or leave it whole.

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Friday, 21 March 2014

Hello diabetes, and how I have had to adjust my cooking style

In January this year I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes. I was dismayed and shocked, but mostly childishly infuriated. After all, AFTER ALL, I whinged to myself, I've never had a sweet tooth, and haven't eaten a slice of cake, a bun, a biccie or a pudding for at least five years. What's more: I was maddened with my own mulishness in ignoring signals from my body that something was very wrong.

In October 2013, a spectacularly stressful time career-wise, I embarked on a punishing low-carb regime, after a slow transition over the course of two years to an eating plan that cut out most processed carbs.  The weight peeled off, and after a few weeks my appetite had all but disappeared. Excellent, I thought!

A month later, I had the confidence to hoist myself onto a scale, and I was extremely pleased to find I'd lost 8 kilograms.  By that time, I was on a diet so low in calories that it bordered it on starvation, and I was exhausted and demotivated.  By December 2013, I'd shed 15 kg, and I was mildly interested to note that I'd lost a fair amount of muscle mass on my thighs and arms.  But, hey ho! Who's complaining?

It was only in January 2014, after a dramatic weight-loss of another 5 kg, that I finally went to see my doctor, and then only because I noticed my hair was thinning. When I mentioned to her  that my vision was a bit blurry, my tongue was crisscrossed by deep cracks, and my toes, feet and shins were feeling tingly and numb, she insisted on a fasting glucose test, and that came back with very bad news.  A few weeks later I was hospitalised for a few days, on the advice of a thorough and caring endocrinologist, and I came home with a panoply of drugs, including slow-release insulin that I have to inject into tummy rolls every night.

I have to admit that I'm feeling downhearted about this.  But there is also much to be grateful for - my blood sugar has stabilised thanks to medication, a stringent diet and a brutal fitness regime. I'm 22 kg lighter than I was five months ago, I've lost four dress sizes and I'm as fit as a fiddle thanks to daily workouts. I've had great support from a nutritionist, a specialist diabetic nurse and kind friends who are also diabetics.

The biggest challenge of all has been working out what to eat. You can't cut out all carbs when you're a diabetic. It's tempting to do so, when in a panic, but then you run the risk of depriving your body and brain of essential fuel.  So you have to figure out just how many carbs your body can tolerate.

Another big shock - perhaps the biggest fright of all - has been learning to read labels on food packaging, and discovering that almost everything is packed with sugar.  I didn't realise how pervasive sugar was before I came down with diabetes, but I have to tell you that my jaw is on the floor. You will find gazillions of low-fat foods out there, but virtually no sugar-free options.

So how does this pertain to my blog?  From now on, I'll be featuring many more low-carb and diabetic-friendly recipes, and I hope you will enjoy my suggestions. But, because my family needs puddings and sweet things occasionally, I won't deprive you of these treats.

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Monday, 17 March 2014

Low-Carb Cucumber, Dill & Yoghurt Salad with Capers and Anchovies

I can't get enough of this light, flavour-packed cucumber salad, and luckily I get plenty of it, because my kids think it's vile. They just don't understand my love affair with Scandinavian flavours such as dill, capers, lemon, salmon, boiled eggs and anchovies, possibly because their Norwegian DNA - courtesy of my Great-Grandma - has been diluted to the point that it makes up just one pitiful eighth of their gene profiles.

Cucumber, Dill & Yoghurt Salad with Capers and Anchovies

This low-carb salad is quick and easy to make, and gorgeous eaten on its own, or as an accompaniment to grilled salmon or tuna, or smoked salmon, or a platter of tenderly boiled eggs. You can leave out the bottled anchovies if their fishiness doesn't appeal to you, but I encourage you to include them, because they add an intense, salty punch to the salad.

Fresh dill is an essential ingredient, because it's that delicate aniseed taste that brings all the flavours together.

I use my easy home-made Greek-style yoghurt in this dish, but you can use any thick and luscious store-bought natural yoghurt in its place.

Cucumber, Dill & Yoghurt Salad with Capers and Anchovies

1 large English cucumber
1 Tbsp (15 ml) fine salt
1 cup (250 ml) thick Greek-style yoghurt
3 Tbsp (45 ml) finely chopped fresh dill
4 Tbsp (60 ml) capers, drained of brine
the juice of a small lemon
white pepper
6 anchovy fillets, drained of any oil
a little olive oil, for sprinkling

Trim the ends of the cucumber and remove the skin, using a light touch and a sharp potato peeler. Cut the cucumber in half lengthways, and use a teaspoon to scrape out the soft pulp and seeds. (Alternatively, and for a neater result, you can cut the peeled cucumber crossways into three sections, bore out the softy pulpy centre using an apple corer, and then cut each section in half lengthways.)

Neatly slice the peeled, de-seeded cucumber into fine crescents.  I use a mandolin for this.  Place the slices in a colander set over your sink and sprinkle over the salt. Toss well, using your hands, and set aside for 20-30 minutes.   During this time, the salt will draw the excess liquid from the cucumber.

Rinse the cucumber slices under cold running water to remove excess salt and pat them dry on a few sheets of kitchen paper, or a clean towel.

Place in a bowl and stir in the yoghurt, dill, capers and lemon juice.  Season to taste with salt and white pepper.  Tip the salad onto a platter - or individual bowls - and top with anchovy fillets.  (You can chop these into small pieces, or drape them in pairs over the top of each serving, as shown in the picture above.)

Sprinkle with a little olive oil and serve immediately.

Serves 4 as a starter or side dish. 

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Friday, 14 March 2014

How to Make Thick & Creamy Greek-Style Yoghurt

Take a litre of milk, plus half a cup each of cream and milk powder, and in six hours you can create this gorgeously thick snowy-white yoghurt, which has a voluptuous texture and a creamy, tangy taste. I haven't bought a single tub of supermarket yoghurt since I nailed this method five months ago, and my family devours it in such great quantities that I make a batch almost every day. This is astonishingly easy to make, and foolproof if you follow my instructions to the letter.

My home-made Greek-style yoghurt with Turkish apricots,
raw almonds and honey.

As I've mentioned on this blog before, I'm smitten by Greek yoghurt because it's such a versatile and interesting ingredient. It's a good substitute for cream, a brilliant tenderising agent, and packed with protein, calcium and gut-friendly probiotics. I use this yoghurt in marinades, dips, salad dressings, sauces, stews, soups and ice creams.

If you're following a low-carb or diabetic regime, you can use this ingredient with confidence in your kitchen.

This recipe makes three to four jars of thick natural yoghurt.

You can make this with ordinary homogenised supermarket milk alone, but you will end up with a rather thin and meek yoghurt. Please trust me when I recommend that you add instant milk powder to thicken and enrich the yoghurt, plus a modest half-cup of cream for taste and a silky texture.

In the recipe below, I've given instructions for heating the milk in a microwave oven. I do this to save on washing up, because this method uses just one big plastic or glass bowl.  If you don't fancy microwaving, you can heat the milk in a pan and then transfer it to a bowl.

I've tested this recipe umpteen times using a variety of starter cultures. Any natural Greek-style yoghurt from your supermarket will do for your first batch; I suggest you experiment with different cultures (mixing and matching them if necessary) until you are satisfied with the taste and texture. I have had the best results from Woolies Double Cream Greek Yoghurt and Buffalo Ridge's yoghurt, and I have mixed them up over the months to create my own culture.

I make this in my amazing Wonderbag, but I've also thoroughly tested the recipe using a dense woollen blanket, and detected no difference in the final product.

This recipe is quite forgiving as regards its temperature when you add the culture. I've added the culture when the milk is just above blood temperature, and I've added it when it's still quite hot, and there has been no discernible change in the outcome.

Although this is an easy recipe, I've written detailed instructions below so your yoghurt turns out perfectly every time.

Thick & Creamy Greek-Style Yoghurt 

1 litre full-cream milk
½ cup (125 ml) dried instant skim-milk powder
½ cup (125 ml) cream
5 Tbsp (75 ml) Greek-style yoghurt (this is the starter culture)

Place the milk, milk powder and cream in a microwave-safe plastic or glass bowl, whisk lightly to combine and microwave on high for about 8-10 minutes, or until the milk is just below scalding point. (Alternatively, gently heat the mixture in a pan: when it's seething and just below the boil, remove it from the heat. Now pour the milk into a plastic or glass bowl. )

Set the mixture aside to cool for about 25 minutes. To help prevent a skin forming, cover it tightly with clingfilm, or press a sheet of clingfilm to its surface.

When the mixture has cooled to the right temperature, it's time to add the culture. Here's my method of judging when the temperature is right: stick your index finger into the milk. Count slowly up to six: if you can bearably hold your finger in the milk to that count, without it burning, it's ready. Scoop out about half a cup of hot milk, place it in a little bowl and whisk in the Greek yoghurt starter culture. Gently trickle this mixture back into the bowl and give it one more very gentle stir.

Replace the clingfilm and wrap the bowl in a thick woolly blanket that you've folded in half or into quarters.

Set aside for six hours -  or overnight if you like - without unwrapping, shaking or disturbing the yoghurt. When you open and remove the blanket, the yoghurt will have set to a beautiful wobbliness. Give it a light stir with a balloon whisk, replace the clingfilm and leave the bowl on your kitchen counter to cool to room temperature. Decant the yoghurt into glass jars - or lidded plastic containers - and refrigerate.

Keeps for up to ten days in the fridge.

Makes 4 x 250 ml jars. 

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Monday, 3 March 2014

Low-Carb Parchment-Baked Feta with Thyme & Chilli

A puffed-up parcel of melty feta, hot and rustling from the oven, makes a splendid snack when you're entertaining friends and family.  Part of the fun of food baked in paper is tearing open the parcels and inhaling the gorgeous aromatic steam, so bring this straight to the table and open it in front of your guests.

A slab of flavoured feta cheese resting on fresh vine leaves and
 baking paper, ready for wrapping and baking.

Mild, creamy feta cheese is perfect for baking en papillote because it so eagerly accepts other punchy flavours.  In this dish, I've flavoured the feta with a simple combination of fresh thyme, black pepper and chilli flakes, but you can add any other ingredients you fancy - garlic, rosemary, lemon zest, chopped olives, sundried tomatoes, preserved lemons, and so on.

I make two or three of these when I'm expecting a crowd, and I accompany the dish with crisp cubes of watermelon or prickly pear, or ripe baby figs (see picture below).

Served with slim iced celery sticks, this is a great choice of starter if you or any of your guests are on a low-carb or diabetic regime.

In the picture above, I've lined the baking paper with some fresh leaves from my grapevine, but you can omit these, or use baby spinach leaves.  

Wrap the feta in baking paper, and secure the parcel
with raffia or kitchen string.

Serve the hot feta parcels with ripe baby figs or crisp watermelon cubes, or with chilled
celery sticks if you're on a low-carb eating plan. Plate by David Walters

Parchment-Baked Feta with Thyme & Chilli 

1 x 250 g slab of feta cheese
5 fresh vine leaves or baby spinach leaves [optional]
1 tsp (5 ml) dried chilli flakes, or more, to taste
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
milled black pepper
2 Tbsp (30 ml) fruity olive oil

Heat the oven to 190 ºC.  Place a rectangle of baking paper on your countertop and arrange the grapevine or baby spinach leaves in the centre. Position the slab of feta cheese on top of the leaves and sprinkle over the chilli flakes, thyme and pepper. 

Trickle the olive oil all over the cheese, then fold the paper up to create a parcel, as if you are wrapping a birthday present.  Don't wrap it too tightly - there needs to be some leeway so the parcel will puff up in the oven.  Secure the parcel with a length of raffia or kitchen string. 

Slide the parcel onto a baking sheet (or place it in a ceramic dish) and bake at 190 ºC for 12-15 minutes, or until it is piping hot and puffed. 

Serve immediately.

Serves 4 - 6 as a snack. 

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Thursday, 5 September 2013

Low-Carb Slow-Cooked Courgettes & Cherry Tomatoes with Melty Feta

Vegetables cooked to a tender mush are frowned upon these days, and I have to agree with the general sentiment that bright, fresh and tender-crisp is the way to go. I very seldom cook any plant to the point of disintegration but, then again, there are a handful of vegetables that are sublime when subjected to long, slow seething, among them aubergines, fennel, leeks, onions, waterblommetjies and tomatoes. And - as you will see in this this recipe - courgettes!

Slow-Cooked Courgettes & Cherry Tomatoes with Melty Feta Wheels
Slow-Cooked Courgettes & Cherry Tomatoes with Melty Feta Wheels.

Courgettes are meek veggies packing very little punch in the flavour department, but I love them in all forms - shaved raw into salads, grated and tangled into fritters and quiches, pencilled into stir-fries, and pan-fried in thick coins, all ready for a simple dressing of olive oil, lemon and salt.

They're also gorgeous when carefully cooked to a state of silken collapse: just think of the best ratatouilles of your life!  In this recipe, I've added cherry tomatoes, which are blistered in a very hot pan before they go into the oven.

This is good piping hot, with wheels of peppered feta, and it's also delicious cold as a snack or starter: see my Cook's Notes at the end of this blog post for further tips.

Slow-Cooked Courgettes & Cherry Tomatoes with Melty Feta Wheels
A simple but intense baked tomato sauce. Try this with halloumi cheese
instead of feta!

Slow-Cooked Courgettes & Cherry Tomatoes with Melty Feta 

3 Tbsp (45 ml) olive oil
1 kg cherry tomatoes
a large sprig of thyme
2 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped or grated
5 Tbsp (75 ml) dry white wine
1 kg courgettes [baby marrows/zucchini]
salt and milled black pepper
3 'wheels' or squares (about 220 g in total) of feta cheese, patted dry on kitchen paper
baby mint or basil leaves, or fronds of fresh dill (see Cook's Notes)
extra olive oil, for sprinkling

Slow-Cooked Courgettes & Cherry Tomatoes with Melty Feta Wheels
The tomatoes are first blistered in a
frying pan, then roasted with the
Heat the oven to 180 ºC. Place a large roasting tray over a fierce heat on your hob and add the olive oil. When the oil is very hot - but not yet smoking -  add the cherry tomatoes and cook them, tossing the pan energetically, for a few minutes, or until their skins begin to blister and peel. Add the thyme, garlic and wine, stir well, and cook for another minute or two. Remove the tray and set aside.

Rinse the courgettes to get rid of any grit, top and tail them and cut them into 5-cm lengths. Add them to the roasting pan and mix everything together. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover the pan tightly with tin foil and bake at 180 ºC for 30 minutes. Now remove the foil, give the veggies a good stir and turn the heat down to 160 ºC, fan on (or to 170 ºC if your oven has no fan).

Cook uncovered for another 65-75 minutes, or until the tomato sauce has reduced and slightly thickened (see Cook's Notes, below). Add the feta to the tray, turn the heat up to 220 ºC, fan on, and blast for another 5-10 minutes, or until the feta is soft and bubbling. Drizzle with a little fruity olive oil, scatter over the mint or basil leaves, and serve immediately, with hunks of bread.

Serves 6 as a side dish; 4 as a main course. 

Cook's Notes
  • The tomatoes need to cook down slowly to a deep, intense sauce. If the sauce seems watery, leave the veggies to bake for a little longer.
  • This dish needs a topping of young herb leaves, but I advise that you choose just one type of herb, because clean, simple flavours are important here. Mint and basil are good, and it's also lovely with small snippings of fresh dill.  
  • You can bake the dish well ahead of time and keep it, covered, on your counter top. Add the feta wheels when you reheat the tray in a very hot oven. 
  • This is a great served cold as a topping for bruschetta: dollop it onto toasted ciabatta slices and add cheese: nuggets of goat's milk cream cheese, or Parmesan shavings, or milky slices of excellent mozzarella.    

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Monday, 1 April 2013

Low-Carb Green Bean, Tomato & Prosciutto Salad with Basil Oil

Substantial meal-in-one salads are so quick and versatile. I can fling them them together in the late afternoon, then serve them for dinner a few hours later (on their own for family members watching their waistlines, and with warm bread or crunchy potato wedges for those of a scrawnier build). You'll have to forego the bread and potatoes if you're on a low-carb regime, of course, but I don't think you'll miss them: this salad is quite filling, packed as it is with fibre-rich baby beans.

Low-Carb Green Bean, Tomato & Prosciutto Salad with Basil Oil
This salad is good with a dab or two of Tabasco sauce.
I also love how fresh and abundant these veggie salads look when they're heaped in glistening piles on large platters, and the fact that you can use all sorts of store-cupboard ingredients to add texture and contrast: toasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds, sultanas, dried apricots, olives, croutons, and so on.

I make this sort of salad often in winter using, variously, butternut, carrots, couscous, chickpeas, rice and lentils combined with spicy, garlicky dressings, left-over roast chicken, feta and chopped fresh herbs. (At the end of this post you'll find links to some of these recipes.)

That's not to say that a meal-in-one salad should be regarded as a dustbin into which to turf ingredients that are past their best.

For a salad of utter simplicity, such as this one, only the best ingredients will do, and my strategy is to combine one or two luxurious foodstuffs with inexpensive, beautiful veggies at the peak of their ripeness.

Here, I've used gorgeous prosciutto made by Richard Bosman’s Quality Cured Meats, luscious peppered cream cheese from Fairview, and a selection of interesting cherry tomatoes in yellow, red and near-black, from Woolies.

I wouldn't make this with elderly, stringy or lumpy green beans, because there are only so many of them you can eat half-cooked before they set your teeth on edge.

If you're making this ahead of time, blanch and refresh the beans no longer than 45 minutes before you serve the salad, or their lovely green will begin to dull to a muddy algae colour. You can, however, cut up the tomatoes, douse them with basil oil and leave them to steep up to four hours ahead.

Low-Carb Green Bean, Tomato & Prosciutto Salad with Basil Oil
A few shining ingredients are all you need
 to make a beautiful salad.
Here's my cunning short-cut for topping and tailing a whole lot of beans in double-quick time: make sure to buy beans neatly aligned in their packet (not the ones jumbled up in a roomy bag).  Shake the bag, stalk-side down, so all the ends are flush against the packet seam. Now slice off all the stalks in one go, cutting straight through the plastic wrapping with a very sharp knife.  Do the same thing on the other side to trim off the 'tails' (although I usually leave these on because I like how they look).

If you'd like a more garlicky dressing, add as many cloves as you fancy to the basil oil. I prefer just a flicker of garlic in this salad.

This recipe makes more basil oil than you'll need to dress the salad, but you can save the rest to use in salad dressings for the next few days.

The oil may partly solidify in the fridge, but it will turn liquid if you leave it out of the fridge for an hour or two.

Low-Carb Green Bean, Tomato & Prosciutto Salad with Basil Oil

2 punnets (about 1 kg ) mixed cherry tomatoes
2 packets (about 750 g, or enough for 6 people) baby green beans, topped and tailed
12 slices of excellent prosciutto
1 x 100 g roll of peppered cream cheese (you can use peppered feta instead)
juice of a small lemon
salt and milled black pepper

For the basil oil: 
a large bunch of basil
1 cup (250 ml) olive oil
a small clove of garlic, peeled and sliced

First make the basil oil. Pick the basil leaves off their stalks. Fill a very large bowl (you'll use this for the beans later) with cold water and add a handful of ice cubes. Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil, drop in the leaves and blanch for exactly 10 seconds. Fish them out with a strainer and plunge them straight into the iced water: this will help to set their colour. Leave them for two minutes, then squeeze them into a ball and pat them as dry as possible with kitchen paper or a clean tea towel. Place them in the jug attachment of a stick blender,  or a similar liquidising gadget. Add the olive oil and sliced garlic clove and whizz until the leaves are very finely chopped, but not puréed to a sludge. Pour the oil into a bowl and set aside for an hour or two in a warm place.  After this, you can strain the oil through fine cheesecloth to produce a clear green oil, but I never bother with this.

Cut up the tomatoes - some crossways, some lengthways, for variety - and put them into a bowl. Drizzle over just enough basil oil to coat them generously.  Add a good squeeze of lemon juice, plus salt and pepper to taste, and toss well.  At this point you can set them aside, covered and at room temperature, for a few hours.

Add more ice cubes to the bowl if the chilled water is no longer very cold.  Reheat the water on the stove and add a few pinches of salt. Throw in the beans and cook them until just tender-crisp. This will take between two and three minutes, depending on the size of the beans; I suggest you set a timer for 2 minutes, and then cook them for a further minute if they're still too crunchy.  Plunge them into the iced water, as described above, pat them dry on kitchen paper and add them to the bowl of tomatoes. Toss everything together and have a taste - you might want to add more lemon juice, basil oil, salt and pepper.

Pile the beans and tomatoes onto a large platter and tuck the slices of proscuitto into the salad, as shown in the picture. Pinch off pieces of cream cheese and scatter them over the salad.  Drizzle over some more basil oil, and take the salad straight to the table.

Serves 6. 

More salads like this: 

Moroccan-Spiced Carrot and Chickpea Salad with Mint & Almonds

Roast Aubergine, Gammon & Mung Bean Salad, to please a crowd

Feeding a crowd: Roast Butternut and Baby Corn Salad

Herby Rice Salad with Feta, Walnuts and Dried Pomegranate Seeds

Salad of Green Beans with Lemon, Garlic, Olive Oil, Toasted Hazelnuts and Peppered Cream Cheese

Lemony Green Beans with Frizzled Prosciutto, Fried Breadcrumbs and Aïoli

Spring Salad of Edamame Beans, Fennel, Avocado and Pancetta

Crunchy Quinoa Salad with Beetroot and Feta

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Monday, 22 October 2012

Coriander & Coconut Satay Chicken with Creamy Peanut Sauce

I'm often disappointed by satay chicken made by restaurants and caterers because the chicken is almost always chalky and tough, and the peanut sauce a gloopy, oily, over-spiced mess. After some experimenting, I've come up with a version (using chicken thigh meat) that is fresh-tasting, tender and juicy, with a mild and creamy peanut sauce. The basic marinade mixture used for the chicken is also used in the sauce (this cuts down on preparation time), and I've added yoghurt to the chicken marinade because it's a brilliant tenderiser.

Allow me a little rumination (okay, a moan) on the subject of chalky chicken here. The problem can be blamed, I reckon, on the ubiquitous skinless, deboned chicken breast. Although it's the darling of dieters (and for good reason because it's so lean), the chicken fillet has a lot to answer for when it comes to spectacular failures on the poultry-recipe front.

If chicken breasts are cooked over too fierce a heat or for too long, they will turn into rubbery curls or into sawdust-dry cubes. They have the least flavour of any cut of chicken, and the only two things they really have going for them is that they are very low in calories, and can be most succulent if correctly cooked. For example, the soft breast meat torn from a properly roasted whole chicken, still attached to papery golden skin (and possibly dunked in a gorgeous gravy) is an unforgettable eating pleasure.

The ingredients for this dish.

I can't help but be annoyed by recipes (and there are many) that ask you to cook cubed or sliced chicken breasts in their sauce for 30 or 45 minutes, or even longer. This isn't necessary, and will only result in unpleasant mouthfuls of what might as well be boiled sea sponge. It's a waste of an expensive (and, let's face it, wasteful) ingredient.  It often strikes me, when I buy six deboned breasts, that three chickens gave up their lives for me to obtain a perfect packet of smooth, pink, flavourless flesh.  Look, I appreciate that the remainders of the birds are used elsewhere in the chicken-farming business, but I think that - because this is a luxurious and expensive ingredient -  it needs to be cooked with care and respect.

To find out how to oven-poach chicken breasts (for salads, sandwiches and so on) so that they are meltingly tender and juicy, see my recipe for Summer Linguine with a Cold Sauce of Poached Chicken, Tomatoes and Basil.   

For a touch of Thai, you could add some fish sauce to this marinade, but I'm not convinced it needs it. Boneless, skinless chicken thighs are available at Woolies. You can, of course, use breasts here, but they won't be as soft and juicy.

Coriander & Coconut Satay Chicken with Creamy Peanut Sauce

800 g skinless, boneless chicken thighs
a little sunflower or canola oil, for frying

For the marinade: 
1 x 400 ml tin coconut milk
a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely sliced
3 fat cloves garlic, peeled
2 tsp (10 ml) Kikkoman soy sauce
1 tsp (5 ml) brown sugar (or palm sugar, if you have it)
the finely grated zest and juice of a lime
a small green chilli, deseeded and sliced, or a large pinch of red chilli flakes
milled black pepper (but no salt)
1 cup, fairly closely packed (250 ml), fresh coriander
½ cup (125 ml) thick natural or Greek-style yoghurt

For the sauce: 
8 Tbsp (120 ml) smooth peanut butter

Trim any visible fat globules from the chicken thighs and prepare them as follows:  place a thigh, shiny side down, on a chopping board. Holding a knife parallel to the board, slice horizontally through the thicker part of the thigh to take off an upper 'leaf' of meat (see picture, below). Repeat with the other thighs.

Cut all the chicken into long strips about the width of your thumb. Don't worry if there are some raggy left-over bits and pieces: each thigh should yield one or two nice neat strips, and some smaller pieces. Thread a few pieces of chicken onto each stick and arrange them in a plastic or ceramic dish with their thick ends facing inward in  'teepee' formation (see picture, below).

Place the coconut milk, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, sugar, lime zest, lime juice and chilli into a blender, or the jug attachment on a stick blender, and whizz at high speed until smooth. Now add the coriander and pulse until the leaves are very finely chopped, but not obliterated.  Measure out three-quarters of a cup (180 ml) of this marinade into a small bowl and add the yoghurt. Stir well. Cover the leftover marinade and set aside (you'll use this for the sauce).

Pour the yoghurt marinade all over the chicken kebabs, turning them gently to make sure they are coated. Add the squeezed-out lime halves, cover with clingfilm and place in the fridge for at least an hour, preferably two. (You can marinate these for up to 24 hours without any discernible loss of texture.)

Just before you're going to cook the chicken, make the peanut sauce. Into a saucepan, put the peanut butter and 4 tablespoons (60 ml) of the reserved, non-yoghurty marinade (don't use the marinade you poured over the chicken!)  Over a very low flame, heat the sauce, stirring constantly, until it comes together smoothly and begins to darken. Don't allow the mixture to boil. Whisk in just enough of the remaining reserved marinade (about three-quarters of a cup should do this trick) to create a smooth, creamy, thickish sauce. When it is very hot, but before bubbles break the surface, remove from heat. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning: it may need a little more fresh lime juice for acidity, or some salt and pepper. Cover the surface of the sauce with a sheet of clingfilm and set aside.

Heat a large frying pan or flat griddle pan and add a lick of oil.  Shake the excess marinade from the chicken kebabs and fry them over a medium-high heat, in batches, for about 6 minutes, or until the chicken flesh is just cooked through and there is not a trace of pinkness. They will stick to the pan at first, but let them fry undisturbed for at least two minutes on one side before gently nudging them with a spatula until they loosen. Then flip them over and fry the other sides.

Serve immediately with lime wedges and the warm peanut sauce.

Makes about 24 kebabs; serves 6 as a snack or starter.  Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Low-Carb Jellied Turkey Terrine with Parsley and Capers

Jellied Turkey Terrine with Parsley and Capers
Here's an unusual way to use up left-over roast turkey: a delicate terrine set with naturally jellied stock and flavoured with a zingy mixture of fresh parsley, capers and gherkins.

I made this with the leftovers of two chickens (not having a spare gobbler to hand) but it will work just as well with turkey, provided that you boil the stock long enough for it to form a gentle jelly.

If you have any left-over gammon, cut it into cubes and add it to the terrine to create a beautiful white, green and pink mosaic.

Speaking of gammon, the inspiration for this recipe comes from the memory of a glorious ham terrine I tasted in France more than 20 years ago.

My husband and I had (foolishly, in hindsight, considering we had a nine-month-old baby at the time) spent a few weeks driving around France, and while we were in Burgundy we bought a thick slice of jambon persillé - a classic of French charcuterie - from the local shop. I can honestly say it was one of the most delicous things I've ever tasted, with its  cubes of rosy ham encased in a sparkling, flavoursome jelly and layered with plenty of finely chopped parsley.

Jellied Turkey Terrine with Parsley and Capers
This is easy to make, but you will need to simmer the entire turkey carcass (or two chicken carcasses) for at least two hours in order to extract enough collagen from the bones to achieve a set.

If you're not confident that your stock will set, add 6 to 8 whole raw chicken wings to the pot.

I've added chopped cocktail gherkins and capers to the terrine because I love their spiky flavours, but you can use a mixture of chopped fresh herbs of your choice, and add anything else you fancy.

Jellied Turkey Terrine with Parsley and Capers
2-3 cups leftover roast turkey, pulled into large shreds
1 cup (250 ml) finely chopped fresh parsley 
7 Tbsp (105 ml) capers, rinsed and chopped 
7 Tbsp (105 ml) finely chopped cocktail gherkins
the juice of half a lemon
salt and milled black pepper

For the stock:
a turkey carcass, or two chicken carcasses
3 litres water (or enough to cover the bones)
1 cup (250 ml) white wine
1½ tsp (7.5 ml) sea salt
1 onion, halved and studded with 3 whole cloves
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
a stick of celery
a few stalks of parsley
a sprig of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 tsp (5 ml) black peppercorns

First make the stock. Place the turkey bones in a large stock pot and add the wine, water and salt. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, skimming off any foam as it rises. Now add all the remaining stock ingredients and cook, covered with a tilted lid, at a gentle simmer for two hours, topping up with a little more water if necessary.

Strain the stock through a sieve lined with a laundered napkin (or a new kitchen cloth) and pour it back into the rinsed-out pan. Bring to the boil again and simmer briskly for another 30 minutes, or until the stock has reduced by about a third. Strain the stock again and allow it to cool to lukewarm. Skim off any fat and set aside.

Line a wet metal loaf tin with clingfilm. If you have a silicone loaf tin, there's no need to line it. Combine the parsley, capers and gherkins in a bowl, stir in the lemon juice and season well with salt and pepper. Scatter quarter of the parsley mixture on the bottom of the tin and arrange a third of the chicken strips on top. Sprinkle more of the parsley mixture over the chicken, and carry on layering until you have used up all the chicken and parsley. Season each layer with a little salt and pepper. Press down firmly on the mixture with the flat of your hand.  Now gently trickle the cooled turkey stock into the terrine; the stock should cover the top layer to a depth of about 3 mm. Cover the tin with clingfilm and chill for 3 hours, or until the jelly has set.

Serve cold, with crusty bread, or with boiled new potatoes and salad.

Serves 6-8, depending on the size of your loaf tin.

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Sunday, 18 December 2011

Warm Marinated Olives with Lime, Thyme and Chilli

Fresh limes and olives are unlikely bedfellows, I know, but I was fresh out of lemons when I made this yesterday, so slices of lime it had to be. And, my goodness, the lime tasted good! (Although there's no startling difference in the final taste, a green and perky note of lime adds special zip to the olive-oil marinade.)  I often make this dish in summer as a snack to go with drinks: it's so quick and easy to prepare in advance, it tastes gorgeous, and it goes a long way if you serve it with a big platter of sliced crusty bread for dipping.

Warm Marinated Olives with Lime, Thyme and Chilli
It's not essential to warm the flavouring ingredients in the olive oil (if you're in a hurry, pack everything into a jar and leave it to steep for three days) but I've found that heating the marinade helps to release the lovely aromatic oils in the thyme, citrus zest, chilli, garlic and pepper.

It takes less than a minute gently to reheat the olives before you take them to the table, and it's well worth the effort, because the aromas that drift from the warm oil are quite irresistible.

You can stone the olives if you like, but I think half the fun of eating an olive is rolling its pip around your mouth (and then seeing how far you can spit it  placing it daintily on the side of your plate).

I alway use Calamata olives because they're so big and glossy and delicious, but you can use any sort of black brined olive, or a mixture of green and black olives.

Warm Marinated Olives with Lime, Thyme and Chilli

1 large jar Calamata olives, drained (or olives of your choice)
enough extra-virgin olive oil to cover the olives (about a cup and half; 375 ml)
2 slices of fresh lime or lemon
½ tsp (2.5 ml) dried red chilli flakes
1 large fresh red chilli, split in half lengthways (or more, to taste)
4 cloves of garlic, unpeeled and sliced in half lengthways
2 large sprigs of fresh thyme
2 fresh lemon leaves, if you can find them
milled black pepper
flaky sea salt
the juice of half a lemon

If you have time, cut a slit in the side of each olive.  Pour the olive oil into a saucepan and stir in the olives, lime slices, chilli flakes, fresh chilli, garlic, thyme and lemon leaves. Add plenty of freshly ground black pepper (eight to ten twists of the mill). Very gently heat the olive oil over a low flame, until it's quite hot and beginning to seethe, but not yet bubbling; this will take 3-4 minutes.

Take the pan off the heat and, using the back of a fork, squash and squish the garlic cloves to release more of their flavour. Tip the mixture into a lidded plastic container (or a very large glass jar) and set aside at room temperature to steep for at least six hours - preferably overnight.

If you'd like to make this a few days in advance, you can refrigerate the mixture. Don't worry if the oil solidifies in patches: it will melt down again when you rewarm the mixture.

When you're ready to serve the olives, tip the mixture back into the saucepan and reheat it gently over a medium flame for one minute, or until very warm, but nowhere near piping hot.

Remove the pan from the heat and squeeze in the fresh lemon juice. Season with flaky sea salt, add a few more grinds of black pepper and stir well. Tip the mixture into a shallow serving dish and take it straight to the table with some sliced fresh bread.

Serves 6-8  as a snack

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Saturday, 6 August 2011

Salad of Shaved Baby Fennel, Apple and Smoked Mackerel. And my Norwegian Ancestry

Smoked mackerel is one of those love-it-or-hate-it foods, and I fall happily into Camp Love It. My fish-hating children and husband, the philistines they are, make gagging noises and organise protest marches when they see a packet of smoked mackerel fillets in the fridge. I am flummoxed by their attitude.

Salad of Shaved Baby Fennel, Apple and Smoked Mackerel
Salad of Shaved Baby Fennel, Apple and Smoked Mackerel

I love all kinds of fish: smoked, pickled, cured and oily (especially snoek and anchovies) and I reckon this craving has something to do with my Norwegian ancestry.

My Norwegian grandmother Agathe Torstena Olsen
My Norwegian great-grandmother, Agathe Torstena Olsen, known as Bestemor

I'm a quarter Norwegian, as you might gather from the rather Nordic picture of me as a nine-year-old (below). My grandmother Cecilie Kröger Jacobsen was born in 1911 in Durban, South Africa, and her immigrant parents were both born in Norway.

My great grandfather Bernt Jacobsen came from Arendal and his wife Agathe Olsen from Bergen. Both Bernt and Agathe were dead by the time I was born, and I know very little about them.

One lovely piece of family lore has stuck in my mind, though. Agathe ('Bestemor') used to say that when she was a little girl and saw the great Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg on the streets of Bergen, she always dropped him a curtsey. I don't know whether this is true, and - like all wonderful old family legends - it doesn't really matter if it isn't. The very idea that Bestemor was born in the same town as Grieg tickles me pink.

I've had Norway in my thoughts recently, after the devastasting massacre of so many young people on Utøya island.

My family has virtually no connection at all to Norway these days - though my mum, I think, is still in touch with some distant relatives - but my heart felt curiously broken to hear this news. This tenuous ancestral connection has ignited an interest in Norway and I hope to spend some time in the next few weeks exploring Norwegian food.

My Norwegian grandmother Agathe Torstena Olsen
Me, aged nine, dressed up in Norwegian traditional costume.
Anyway, back to the salad. I picked up some beautiful baby fennel at my local Woolies in Hout Bay, and it was just too young, fresh and snappy to cook. I shaved it, using a mandolin, and combined it with sweet thin slices of apple, flakes of smoked mackerel, and - for a bit of crunch and vim - a crisp topping of croutons dusted with chilli powder.

I used apple-cider vinegar to make the dressing, but you can use any good white-wine vinegar.

Salad of Shaved Baby Fennel, Apple and Smoked Mackerel

For the dressing
3 T (45 ml) apple cider vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
½ cup (125 ml) good olive oil
1 tsp (5 ml) Dijon mustard
½ tsp (2.5 ml) white granulated sugar
salt and milled black pepper

For the salad:
6 young, crisp fennel bulbs
a lemon
4 small, crunchy apples (I used Golden Delicious)
2 large fillets of smoked mackerel

For the chilli croutons:
4 slices white bread, crusts removed
4 T (60 ml) vegetable oil
a pinch of chilli powder (or more, to taste)

First make the dressing. Whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.

Trim the fennel bulbs and cut them in very fine slices lengthways, using a mandolin or sharp knife. Set aside.

Fill a large bowl with cold water and add the juice of half a lemon. Peel the apples using a potato peeler (or this excellent device) and drop them immediately into the lemony water. When all the apples are peeled, use a corer to remove the cores and stalks. Cut the apples horizontally into very fine slices, and put them back into the bowl of acidulated water (this will prevent them from going brown).

Remove any fine bones from the mackerel and pull it into large flakes.

Just before you assemble the salad, make the chilli croutons. Heat the vegetable oil in a small pan. Tear the bread into little tatters and fry in the hot oil, tossing once or twice, until they are a rich golden brown. Drain on a piece of kitchen paper and sprinkle with chilli powder and a little salt.

To serve, arrange the fennel, apple and mackerel on a platter, or on individual plates. Drizzle the dressing over  the salad, and top with the croutons. Serve immediately.

Serves 6

Salad of Shaved Baby Fennel, Apple and Smoked Mackerel

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Sunday, 31 July 2011

Braised Baby Leeks with Halloumi 'Popcorn' and Frizzled Prosciutto

Dreaming up new recipes, then testing and refining them, is one of the most rewarding and interesting things I've done in my life, and describing these dishes to readers of this blog comes a very close second. I am excited to share this recipe with you: it's the culmination of my recent kitchen experiments involving slow-cooking of leeks (a passionate outburst of leek braisery, in other words).

Braised Baby Leeks with Halloumi 'Popcorn' and Frizzled Prosciutto.
Leave out the breadcrumbs if you're on a low-carb regime.

The leek may be a humble vegetable, but it is capable of great nobility, if it's cooked just right. The French refer to leeks as l'asperges du pauvre, or 'the asparagus of the poor', and it's not difficult to see why. Young, tender leeks very slowly and gently softened in butter, or braised with white wine and herbs, are delicate and delicious. The challenge, though, is to find really good young leeks: most of the elderly specimens sold in South African supermarkets are tough, stringy and suitable only for tossing into a chicken stock, or making humdrum vichyssoise.

If you see baby leeks in your local greengrocer, make a dive for them, and energetically slap anyone who gets in your way.

Braised baby leeks have a lovely melting texture, so they need to be paired with something with crunch, crumble and snap.

In this recipe, I've gone for all three: crisp breadcrumbs, puffy deep-fried bits of halloumi cheese, and frizzled prosciutto. If you're on a low-carb regime, leave out the breadcrumbs.

Halloumi is a tricky cheese to fry: if you haven't cooked it before, have a look at my tips for perfect results with halloumi.

Two more recipes with braised leeks: Wine-Braised Baby Leeks in Crisp Prosciutto and Salad of Warm Baby Leeks with Blue Cheese and Chilli Croutons.

Braised Baby Leeks with Halloumi 'Popcorn' and Frizzled Prosciutto

24 baby leeks (or enough for 6 people)
5 Tbsp (75 ml / 75 g) butter
a large (15 cm) sprig of fresh rosemary
two cloves of garlic, peeled and cut in half
5 Tbsp (75 ml) white wine
2 Tbsp (30 ml) water
the juice of a lemon
5 Tbsp (75 ml) good olive oil
salt and milled black pepper

For the toppings
150 g halloumi cheese
vegetable oil for frying (I use sunflower oil)
2 slices day-old white bread
6 slices prosciutto
rosemary sprigs, to garnish

Rinse the leeks and trim off the roots and the dark green leaves. Heat the butter over a medium-low heat in a large frying pan and add the leeks, rosemary sprig and garlic halves. Cook gently, tossing frequently, for 6-7 minutes, or until the leeks are beginning to take on a little golden colour. Don't allow the garlic to brown. Add the wine and water, and season with a little salt and milled black pepper.

Cover the leeks with a cartouche (a cut-to-size circle of baking paper, or the wrapper from a block of butter). If you don't have baking paper, place a lid, at a slight tilt, over the frying pan.  Now turn the heat down to its lowest setting and braise gently for 15-20 minutes, or until they are very tender and the liquid has reduced to just a few teaspoons. If the pan looks as if it's drying out, add a little more wine.

Turn up the heat again and add the lemon juice and olive oil. Bubble for just 30 seconds, then remove the pan from the heat. Check the seasoning.

While the leeks are braising, prepare the toppings. Pour enough oil into a small frying pan to cover its base to a depth of 1 mm, and set over a medium-high flame. Whizz the bread slices in a food processor until you have rough crumbs. Fry in hot oil until golden brown, then drain then on kitchen paper. Now fry the prosciutto slices until they are crisp and golden, with frizzled edges. Drain.

Immediately before you serve the leeks, make the halloumi 'popcorn'. Pat the halloumi quite dry with kitchen paper, slice it thinly, then cut each slice into a very fine dice: each piece should be about the size of a lentil. Add more oil to the pan in which you cooked the breadcrumbs (the oil should cover the bottom of the pan to at least a depth of 2 mm). Turn up the heat, tilt the pan, and add the halloumi bits to the 'deep end', in small batches. As the pieces of cheese puff up and turn a light golden brown, remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain them on the kitchen paper. Watch them like a hawk as they darken quickly, and will continue to cook after you've removed them from the heat.

Fish the braised leeks from the pan and arrange them on a large platter, or on individual plates. Pour the braising liquid over the leeks. Scatter over the breadcrumbs and halloumi bits, and arrange the fried prosciutto rashers on top.  Garish with a sprig of rosemary and serve immediately with bread.

Serves 6.

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Thursday, 30 June 2011

Cauliflower Salad with Crisp-Fried Chorizo Sausage and a Warm Lemon Dressing

An easy, tapas-style dish with sensational flavours and textures: shaved raw cauliflower with crumbled fried chorizo, crisp breadcrumbs, a whisper of garlic and a warm lemony olive-oil dressing. If you're on a low-carb, #LCHF or diabetic diet, leave out the crumbs and will still taste wonderful.

Cauliflower Salad with Crisp-Fried Chorizo Sausage and a Warm Lemon Dressing

I really like raw cauliflower when it's young, fresh, snappy and unblemished, and reckon it's an ingredient that deserves to be used more often in salads. This vegetable may have a college education, but it's not naturally gifted in the flavour department, so when you serve it raw it's important to give it a kick in the pants with some bright, zingy ingredients. The inspiration for this recipe comes from my version of Robert Carrier's Cauliflower à la Polonaise (which, gratifyingly, remains among the most-viewed recipes on this blog).

It's not easy making neat, thin through-the-stalk slices of cauliflower - there is only so much 'tree-trunk' available on individual florets. Use a mandolin, or a very sharp paring knife. Chop the pieces that don't have a stalk attached, and hide them under the prettiest looking slices.

An authentic Spanish chorizo or Portuguese chouriço, made with smoked red peppers, will give you the best results. These beauties - available at good delis - are not cheap, but you need only one sausage for four servings, and they're of much better quality than most local versions, which tend to be fatty and somewhat, er, flaccid. If you can't find imported chorizo, add a pinch or two of fresh paprika to colour the dressing.

And if you'd like some heat in this dish, add a pinch or two of red chilli flakes to the pan when you cook the garlic.

Cauliflower Salad with Crisp-Fried Chorizo Sausage and a Warm Lemon Dressing

1 young, perfect cauliflower (or two smaller ones)
1 good chorizo sausage (15-20 cm long)
3 Tbsp (45 ml) sunflower oil or similar light vegetable oil
a small clove of garlic, peeled and finely grated
the juice of a lemon
2 breadrolls (or slices of bread),  a day or two old [optional]
6 Tbsp (90 ml) good olive oil
a big handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley
milled black pepper

Cut the core out of the cauliflower and break off the florets. Using mandolin or sharp knife, cut the florets vertically into thin slices and arrange on a platter. Put a piece of kitchen paper on the counter. Cut off a third of the sausage and set aside. Peel the skin off the rest of the sausage and crumble the flesh (or dice into very small pieces).

Heat the sunflower oil in a frying pan, add the sausage bits and fry, over a moderate heat, for a minute or two, until they're beginning to crisp and darken. Crumble the bread into the frying pan - you need some pea-sized nuggets, as well as smaller crumbs - and fry until crisp. (The crumbs tend to carry on browning after you remove them from the heat, so take them off when they're a pale gold, and watch them like a hawk.)

Tip the contents of the pan into a sieve, drain off all the oil and spread them out on the kitchen paper. Return the pan to the heat and add the garlic and a tablespoon of the olive oil. Gently cook the garlic for a minute or two, making sure not to let it brown. Now add the lemon juice, all in one go, and stir briskly to dislodge the sediment on the bottom of the pan. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the remaining olive oil.

Pour the warm dressing over the cauliflower and sprinkle with the fried sausage bits, breadcrumbs and chopped fresh parsley. Finely slice the remaining piece of sausage and arrange the slices on the salad. Grind over plenty of black pepper. You shouldn't need to add any more salt.

Serve immediately.

Serves 4 as a starter or side dish. 

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Monday, 23 May 2011

Lemony Green Beans with Frizzled Prosciutto, Fried Breadcrumbs and Aïoli

A pile of squeaky green beans dressed with lemon, olive oil and garlic is my idea of heaven on a plate. In this recipe, I've added a luxurious touch to the beans by topping them off with crunchy fried prosciutto, breadcrumbs and a flurry of pungent, garlicky home-made aïoli.

Lemony Green Beans with Frizzled Prosciutto, Fried Breadcrumbs and Aïoli
Michael Le Grange's photograph of my Lemony Green Beans with Aïoli. In this version of the recipe, from my cookbook, I added toasted, flaked almonds. Image © Random House Struik 2012. Bowl by David Walters.
As I mentioned in my previous post (Dill Baby Potatoes with Smoked-Salmon Mayonnaise) I'm a great fan of dishes that take a small quantity of a luxurious ingredient and spread it between many portions, and this is such a dish. Top-quality Italian prosciutto is very expensive, but you need only six large slices (although of course you are free to add more, if you're throwing caution to the wind).

Here, I've used Richard Bosman's excellent locally cured prosciutto, which is available in selected delis and other outlets in Cape Town. I know it may seem like heresy to fry prosciutto, but it is so splendidly crisp and flavoursome prepared this way that every time I taste it I want to fall into a dead faint.

Lemony Green Beans with Frizzled Prosciutto, Fried Breadcrumbs and Aïoli
Although authentic aïoli calls for olive oil only, I use a mixture of good fruity olive oil and sunflower oil for a lighter mayonnaise. Feel free to add more garlic, if you want your mayo to deliver a good punch in the nose.

You can serve these beans piping hot or at room temperature. If you're not serving them hot, don't omit the step of plunging them into iced water to set the colour.

Lemony Green Beans with Frizzled Prosciutto, Fried Breadcrumbs & Aïoli

two packs of young green beans (enough for six)
4 Tbsp (60 ml) extra virgin olive oil
the juice of a lemon
salt and milled black pepper
six slices of prosciutto
two breadrolls
sunflower oil for frying

For the aïoli:
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
a pinch of salt
1 tsp (5 ml) Dijon mustard
150 ml light vegetable oil (such as sunflower or canola oil, or any other flavourless oil)
170 ml good, fruity olive oil
the juice of a lemon
a large clove of fresh garlic, finely grated (or more, to taste)
freshly milled black pepper

First make the aïoli. Put the two egg yolks into a small bowl (a ceramic soup bowl is ideal) and add the salt and mustard. Mix the vegetable oil and olive oil in a small jug with a sharp pouring nozzle. Place a damp cloth underneath the soup bowl so that it doesn't skid around while you're making the mayo. Using a rotary beater (electic whisk) beat the egg yolks and salt for a minute. If you don't have such a gadget, use an ordinary wire whisk, and plenty of elbow power.

Now, as you whisk the egg yolks with one hand, pick up the jug of oil with the other, and dribble a little splash of oil onto the yolks. Keep whisking and dribbling, a little splash at a time, with great energy, and within a few minutes you will see the egg mixture begin to thicken rather dramatically. Keep adding the oil, a dribble at a time, until you have a thick yellow ointment. You may not need to add all the oil: stop adding oil once the mayonnaise has thickened to your liking. Stir in the lemon juice, garlic and pepper, and add more salt if necessary. Set aside.

Fill a bowl with cold water and add to it a handful of ice cubes. Top and tail the beans. Bring a pot of salted water to the boil and add the beans. Boil rapidly for 2-3 minutes, or until the beans are just tender. (How long you cook them will depend on the size and age of your beans.)

Drain the beans. If you're not serving this piping hot, immediately plunge them into the ice water. Leave in the water for three minutes, then drain and pat dry.

In the meantime, prepare the toppings.  Heat sunflower oil, to a depth of a millimetre, in a frying pan. When hot, but not smoking, add the prosciutto slices, a few at a time, and cook for a minute or so, or until frizzled and crisp. Drain on a piece of kitchen paper.  Now crumble the breadcrumbs into the hot oil and fry until crisp and golden (remember that they will carry on browning once you remove them from the heat, so don't let them get too dark). Drain on kitchen paper.

To serve, toss the beans in the olive oil and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.  Pile onto a platter (or onto individual plates) and top with the prosciutto and breadcrumbs.  Serve with a large dollop of aïoli.

Serves 6.

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