A chilli sauce with a twist..


When it comes to cooking, l’m always up for a challenge; to me, nothing is impossible, I’ll have a go at anything, as long as someone is going to eat it! So when Angie issued a recipe challenge, I was, naturally, curious…

Angie issued a Fiesta Friday Healthy Recipe Challenge – healthy eating is my thing, that posed no threat to me, however, Angie also declared that the recipe must include leafy greens (no problem) and…..pineapple….there’s my challenge…!

I don’t eat or use much fruit, and I’m not a fan of anything sweet, so the thought of including pineapple, in any form in a dish, was a real challenge for me. I needed to let my brain ruminate and ponder and create a way to use pineapple in my way, in a dish that I would eat or serve my menfolk.

Hence, this chilli sauce… Yes! This chilli sauce includes pineapple. Freeze dried powdered pineapple to be exact. I found this freeze dried version in my local supermarket and I powdered it.

A lot of recipes I read for chilli sauces include some kind of sugar, and sometimes HUGE amounts of sugar! I do not eat refined sugar in any form, I do not eat sugar substitutes, and I don’t like honey or maple syrup, and I just can’t bring myself to add the required sugar to these recipes. If I make chilli sauces I therefore don’t add any sugar, but sometimes I can taste that it needs something to give it a final finish, so have tried adding cinnamon as an alternative, or even ‘anardana’, which is dried pomegranate powder, both of which were interesting. So, you guessed it, today I tried adding a bit of dried pineapple powder; it’s extremely sweet, to me anyway, so you don’t need much, and it worked very nicely! 

I was going to then add spinach to the sauce for the leafy green vegetable element but I didn’t want to muddy the colour, so I paired the sauce with spelt, spinach, red onions and garlic, and mixed it all together to eat it…


The sauce recipe..


This makes a lot of sauce, I don’t know how to make small quantities, plus I like to maximise my cooking and make batches of everything!

2 medium red onions, peeled

2 long red peppers

5 long red chillies

1 bulb of garlic, cloves peeled 

2 bay leaves

1/2 tbsp dried oregano

1/2 tbsp dried thyme 

1 tbsp ground roasted cumin

And..

Several tablespoons of olive oil, apple cider vinegar & lemon juice

600g  passata, or a tin of chopped tomatoes plus a splash of water

3 tbsp tomato puree 

2 tsp pineapple powder

Method..

Roughly chop then blend the first 8 ingredients together to make a rough paste 



Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a wide pan over a medium heat 

Cook the paste in the olive oil for a few minutes

Add the passata, tomato puree, vinegar, lemon juice and pineapple powder and cook over a low heat for 15-20 minutes. 

Keep it covered to avoid splashes but stir occasionally

You can then blend the mixture again if you prefer it smoother 

It’s a tasty tasty thing! You can use it like I did, use it like a ragu, use it as a pasta sauce, whatever takes your fancy.

If you want to create this as a thicker, condiment sauce, reduce the amount of passata or even replace it with sunblushed tomatoes. 

For the spelt base, I heated olive oil in a small pan, cooked some chopped garlic, added some defrosted frozen spinach, some roasted red onions and cooked spelt and heated it all through. Mixed with the sauce, it was a lovely concoction.

My next plan is to use pineapple powder in a spice mix of some sort, possibly a barbecue spice rub…watch this space! 

So, thank you, Angie, for challenging me, I always enjoy it! And do check out what everyone else is creating

Spices: where to begin…with whole spices…

Following on from my last post about where to begin cooking with spices, using the same collection of spices from the masala dubba (spice tin) from Spice Kitchen UK that I based that post on, this time I’ll refer to the ‘whole spices’ in the collection..

If you are just venturing into the world of using spices, I would, personally, suggest that you start with some good quality ground spices first; these are spices that have already been ground for you. Whole spices may seem even more daunting than the ground versions, and may be something to come onto later..that’s what I did! 


In this tin, we have brown mustard seeds, cardamom pods, cloves and cinnamon sticks. Used whole, these are often utilised in India cooking to flavour the oil and add extra layers of flavour to any number of savoury dishes; the cardamom, cloves and cinnamon are also used widely in baking worldwide, and it may be that usage that you are more acquainted with; any whiff of cloves and cinnamon take me straight to Christmas time! And cardamom is often used in cakes and biscuits and buns. 

I am focussing on their savoury uses for boosting the health and flavour of meals. 

Whole spices are used sparingly, a little goes a long way.

Brown mustard seeds
: the tiny seeds in the bottom right of the above picture, are actually dark yellow in colour, and have a pungent acrid flavour on their own; they are used to make Dijon mustard, however, that does not mean that your dish will therefore taste of mustard. They are typically heated carefully in oil until they start to sizzle at the start of cooking, before having more ingredients then added to them; if you leave them for too long in the hot oil, they will start to pop and fly round your kitchen…I have learnt this the hard way…! 

Alternatively you can throw a few uncooked seeds over a salad.


Cardamom pods
: if you’ve ever eaten a curry and suddenly bitten into a strange little green pod, that’s a cardamom pod; again, they add to the flavour of a dish, but aren’t particularly nice to eat themselves. Cardamon is very strong and aromatic. It has a spicy, herbal, citrusy character and goes very well with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, clove, and other aromatic spices. Also with citrus such as preserved lemons, lemon or orange zest, etc, hence being used in sweet baking. 

One or two may be added to the oil along with the mustard seeds. Always remember to count how many you put in, in case you prefer to fish them out before serving. 

Alternatively, you can crack open the pods and remove the inner little black seed and grind to a powder and add the powder to a dish later on in the cook. 


Cloves
: the little brown sticks with ‘buds’ on the end, are the unopened pink flower buds of the evergreen clove tree, synonymous with so much at Yuletide, that give a warm, sweet, aromatic flavour to ginger bread and pumpkin spice. In savoury dishes they provide the same flavour in a new way. 

Again, they can add flavour to your oil, or you could grind them and use the ground spice later in a dish, but be warned, a little goes a long way! Start carefully and build it up. 


Cinnamon sticks
: come from the inner bark of Cinnamomum verum or cassia and again work well is savoury and sweet dishes, providing a lovely warm flavour and aroma. Cinnamon can also be a great way of adding sweetness for food in place of sugar. 

To use the actual sticks, again use sparingly and try adding them to the pan at the start of your cooking and heat for a little while until you start to smell the aroma, before adding your next ingredients. 

Or again, try grinding them to add to your dish.

All of these spices can be used in the same way, together or individually. Again, I would recommend trying them each individually in dishes that you know well to gauge their flavour, then start to play with them. It’s a great time of year for soups and stews, and adding any of these four, in whatever mix you like or on their own, can add a wonderful extra flavour and warmth to your soup. 

Cooking with spices does not mean that you suddenly have to embrace Indian cooking, these spices can be used to create many flavours and cuisines, as well as Indian. It’s all about how you put the ingredients together, which is all part of the magic. 

I add cardamom, cinnamon and cloves to my porridge each morning, along with turmeric, nutmeg and ginger, which brings wonderful flavour and warmth and goodness to the start of each day. 

My suggestion..

Going back to the idea in my previous post, try making a simple tomato sauce: heat some flavourless oil in a pan over a medium heat; add half a teaspoon of the mustard seeds, 2 cardamom pods, 2 cloves, and a finger length stick of cinnamon to the oil; heat them on their own for a minute, then add a tin of chopped tomatoes or a jar of passata. Cook it all together on a low heat for a few minutes and see how they whole spices add flavour to the tomatoes. 

You could then chuck in some of the curry leaves from the spice tin and see what they do to the flavour too – because the only way to understand what they bring to a dish, frankly, is to try them! It’s too hard to describe the flavour!! 

I hope this has been useful, I will continue into the world of spices again next time…until then, let’s join Quinn and Monika and everyone else at this week’s Fiesta Friday

Spices: where to begin..

This post is the result of 3 different friends of mine saying individually to me recently how they’d like to cook with spices, but wouldn’t know where to start…so I thought I’d try and provide some ideas from my experiences.

I use spices daily, but I was not brought up with a knowledge of spices; I have taught myself over the last few years, through trial and error, and from reading lots and lots of recipes. Reading recipes shows how spices can be used individually or how to use selections of spices together, and in what quatities, I find it very educational. 

I fully believe that spices are your friend. 

Spices are health enhancing, food enhancing, gifts from nature. 

Spices can take a meal from bland to tasty, from being just okay, to being truly amazing. 

If…you like the full on flavour you get from food you eat out and you’d like to recreate it at home, spices are your answer.

If…you’re making changes to your eating habits, and you have any concerns about healthy food being bland, spices are your answer. 

If…you’d like to enhance your eating habits by adding health boosting and immunity strengthening properties, spices are your answer.

BUT….if the thought of cooking with spices makes you nervous and you don’t know where to start, I am here to help; consider this a starting guide to cooking with spices….

It’s too easy to get carried away when buying spices, so for my purpose, I am basing this post on a typical Indian housewife’s ‘masala dubba’, or spice tin, using the photos from my lovely friends at Spice Kitchen UK (I am not being paid or sponsored or strong armed to do so, I just like the company and their products) as I think this provides a good beginners introduction to spices. The quality of the spices is wonderful, and the quantities are small enough not to be overwhelming, whilst being large enough for lots of cooking.  And to save you from buying large quantities of spices you might never use! 

This collection includes ground coriander, ground turmeric, ground chilli powder, cumin seeds, garam masala spice mix and mustard seeds, as well as a few whole spices: cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon sticks and curry leaves. 

I am not suggesting that cooking Indian food is your only option with spices, or even with this selection, it’s just a case of starting somewhere!

Let’s start with the ground spices and cumin seeds…


Ground coriander:
don’t confuse this with fresh leaf coriander; even if you hate fresh coriander, you won’t therefore dislike ground coriander. Ground coriander has a light citrus flavour, providing a lovely flavour to, rather than overpowering, a dish.

Ground turmeric: turmeric is a root, its very distinctly coloured, and will turn anything and everything yellow if you’re not careful. It’s packed full of goodness, and is a real health booster. It’s flavour on its own it’s not particularly nice, but once cooked into a dish, it’s good. And adds a golden tint to everything. If you can add 1/2-1 teaspoon to as many meals as possible, it will only do you good 😉

Ground chilli powder: chilli powder adds the heat to your dish. You need to experiment with chilli powder/s to gain an understanding of what level of heat you  like. Build it up gently, don’t go all maverick and pile it in in the first instance.

Cumin seeds: this is one of my favourite spices; the flavour is difficult to describe, they bring a warmth to cooking, although they’re bitter if you tried to eat them raw. They add a lovely flavour to roasted vegetables, or to an oil (cook them gently though, burnt cumin seeeds aren’t nice), they’re even better lightly roasted. You can leave them whole, or grind them yourself and use them as a powder.

Garam masala: this is an Indian spice mix, used widely in Indian cooking. ‘Masala’ means ‘mix’ so whenever you see masala against an Indian spice name, you known it’s a ready prepared spice mix. Garam masala typically includes black peppercorns, mace, cinnamon, cloves, brown cardamom, nutmeg, and green cardamom, adding a warmth rather than heat to a dish.

If you want to test the flavours of each spice and gain an idea of how it can flavour foods, try adding half a teaspoon (maybe just a quarter of the chilli powder) of one each at a time to some of your typical meals/dishes: try them in your soup, in your baked beans, in scrambled eggs, something that you’ll be able to detect a change of flavour in. 

Then, try making or using a standard tomato sauce, or maybe just a small saucepan of passata, and add a teaspoon of the coriander, cumin seeds and garam masala, and half a teaspoon of the turmeric and chilli powder, cook it briefly and allow the flavours to infuse, and you’ll already be creating a curry flavour. The aroma will be amazing! And if you leave it to eat the next day, the flavours will have developed further – I highly recommend doing this.

Rest assured, that you can’t really get it wrong with spices, the flavours just chop and change, the key is to play; just give it a go on a small portion of something and build from there. 

Hopefully this will show you how easy it is to add spices to your cooking and take out some of the fear factor.

In my next post I’ll talk about the whole spices in this tin, then I’ll move onto some different spices, then making spice mixes, and on and on with more ideas…in the meantime, I hope this has been helpful, have fun experimenting..and Happy New Year!

(PS If you’d like more inspiration, check out Sanjay and his lovely Mum with the Hairy Bikers in their new series ‘Home Comforts’ on 3rd January at 3.45pm, the episode is called ‘Spice it up’ – I’ll be watching!) 

I’m taking my spice tips to the last Fiesta Friday of the year, co hosted this week by the lovely Jhuls and Ginger

Hassleback potatoes..

I’m probably the last person in blogworld to post about hassleback potatoes, but having made them a couple of times this week for my son and his various mates, and watched them scoff them very happily, I thought I’d share it in case it’s useful for anyone over the next few days. I find it a useful way to cook smaller potatoes and create something different, and maybe even a little bit impressive, on the plate..

I also think little ones would also make nice little canapés or buffet bites. 

The best tip I can give you for preparing these, is to sit your potato on a spoon, I used a tablespoon, and slice into them down to the spoons edges, it stops you from cutting all the way through..

Preheat your oven to 200C 

Slice the potatoes, as above, using similar sized potatoes if possible

Place them in the pan and drizzle a little oil over each one; I use rapeseed oil

Sprinkle with a little salt if you like 

Put the in the oven and roast for as long as necessary 

Take out after 20 or so minutes and baste each potato again then put the tray back in

They’ll look like this once they’re done, and you’ll be able to push a sharp knife through the middle.

You can sprinkle with cheese at this point and put them back in the oven to melt it, but to be honest, the cheese pretty much falls off! What stays on is good though..and what falls off creates cheesy wafers in the bottom of the pan..

So, some easy potatoes for the season 🙂

Let me now take the opportunity to wish those of you who celebrate a very Merry Christmas, and happy holidays to everyone. I hope you all enjoy the next few days’ festivities xx 

Now let’s see what everyone’s serving up at this week’s Festive Fiesta Friday..

Making za’atar…

Za’atar is one of the key flavours from the area of cuisine close to my heart, typical in so many Levantine dishes and homes. You can read more details about za’atar here, but in short: 

Za’atar can refer to wild thyme or dried thyme alone, or to a herb and spice mix in which thyme is king. If you read a recipe that states za’atar being required, it can easily require just thyme, but if you use the whole mix, that will work too! 

I’ve tried many many versions of za’atar, it is typically traditionally a mix of thyme, sesame seeds, sumac and salt, often including oregano and/or marjoram, sometimes including coriander seeds or cumin seeds…it’s one of those things that every home in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, all over the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean, will have their own safely guarded version of making. And of course, everyone’s is the best! 

It can be used as a condiment, put on the table next to your salt and pepper, and sprinkled liberally over everything! Or mixed with olive oil to create a dip, or spread over flatbreads to make manaeesh. Or added to sandwiches of feta and salad…the possibilities are endless. 

Za’atar boasts lots of health benefits from its lovely ingredients, and is said to increase your intelligence – what’s not to like?! 

And of course, at this time of year, it could also create a homemade gift 🙂 

I haven’t liked all of the various versions I’ve tried, so it was time to make my own and I read a recipe recently including cumin seeds, and having bought fresh thyme at the market, i made it this weekend. 

So my version includes equal amounts of sesame seeds and cumin seeds, lightly toasted and cooled; a smaller amount of sumac, an even smaller amount of salt, and lots and lots of fresh thyme leave stripped from the stalks. You can chop up the leaves and blend it all in a food processor, but I roughly chopped the thyme by hand and stirred it all together. You can also use dried thyme instead of fresh. 

It smells amazing!!!! 

You can play around with quantities and what you add or don’t, it’s all about your own taste, I’m really happy with this mix and have been throwing it over everything I’ve eaten since! 

This was yesterday’s lunch, grilled aubergines with za’atar. I added the za’atar for the last couple of minutes only and kept an eye on it, otherwise it would burn. I ate these with some freshly made chunky mutabal and muhammara. 

I hope your week is going well 🙂 

Perfect roast potatoes 

I’ve posted about making crispy roast potatoes before (then inadvertently deleted all the photos!) and it’s been one of my most visited posts over the years; this is a newly revised version, with only a slight amendment. I use this method week in, week out, it works! 

The best potatoes to use are ‘floury’ potatoes, as opposed to waxy. In the U.K., I use Maris Piper potatoes.

Method:

Preheat the oven to 200C fan.

Peel the potatoes, cut them into even sized chunks, ensuring some flat edges

Place them in a large saucepan and cover with water

Bring the water to the boil then turn the heat down enough for the pot to continue to boil for a good 5 minutes, a bit longer is fine, this is just to par boil the potatoes though, not completely boil them 

Then drain the potatoes and – this is the key – keeping them in the saucepan, hold a lid over the pot and give them a good shake to break up the outsides of the potatoes, basically rough them up a bit

Then leave the potatoes to one side to cool in their own steam. You can leave them for as long or as short a time as you like, they can cool completely or just a bit. 

During this time, pour a shallow layer of oil of your choice – I use rapeseed oil, it’s a lovely light oil and perfect for roasting potatoes – into your roasting tin and put it into the top of the oven to heat up for about 10 minutes

When the oil is very hot, add the potatoes to the pan carefully, I do it one by one with tongs. Be careful not to splash yourself with hot oil

See the roughed up finish?

Then spoon some of the hot oil over each potato

Put the pan back into the top of the oven for 40-60 mins depending on the size of the potatoes

Halfway through, take the pan out and baste each potato with hot oil again, then put them back into the oven

And watch them crisp up 🙂 

Enjoy! 

These will be coming to this week’s Fiesta Friday, are you…?

Spiced sprouts, farro & pine nuts..

This was my dinner last night, and too good not to share! 

It includes…

Coconut oil, 2 tablespoons  

Red onions, 4 small, peeled and roughly chopped

Garlic, 4 large cloves, peel and roughly chopped 

Sprouts, a couple of handfuls, outer leaves removed, and quartered 

Shawarma spice mix, a couple of tablespoons (you can find details in this post)

Farro, half a cup, cooked my way 

Pine nuts, a little handful 

Dried barberries, a little handful

Tahini, as much as you want!

I cooked it pretty much as I’ve written the list above: 

I heated the coconut oil in a wide pan and started by cooking the onions over a medium heat for 5-10 minutes; I then added the garlic and sprouts and cooked them for a few minutes, before adding the spice mix. I cooked it for a few minutes, adding a splash of water as necessary to stop the spices from burning, before adding the farro and pine nuts. Once it was all warm enough and the sprouts were cooked sufficiently, I served myself half of the panful, topped with dried barberries and drizzled with tahini..

The collection of ingredients worked so well together, the farro added a lovely chew and the pine nuts added a nice crunch, and of course the tahini added the perfect finish! 

Sprouts need never be boring! Enjoy!