Famous steamed fermented-chickpea pudding from Gujarat state, India
I first tried this savory snack in London, UK. A very special area of west London known as Southall, famous for it’s sumptouous Indian textiles (my raison d’etre: I wanted sari material for my home, not person) and the best curries outside of India, possibly in the world (my real excuse)
Dhokla is a savoury snack made from fermented chick pea or yellow-split pea batter steamed into a cake, then garnished with an aromatic oil of mustard seed, curry leaf, dried red chilli and hing
My dhokla was light and airy with lots of body, a marvellous lactic tang, and a rounded sweetness. And it was wonderfully moist, a sharp-sweet fruity sauce of dates and tamarind rounding it off to perfection.
No wonder, then, that when I subsequently visited India I looked for this – far and wide, as it happens: dhokla is not ubiquitous in northern India. And when I did find it – in Delhi – I was rather disappoined! It was almost too light and spongy, and also dry, with little or no sourness. It did come with a great coconut and green chilli chutney, though, hot enough to make my throat burn, my nose run and my eyes cry. Marvellous!
I learnt two things from this:
Indian cuisine is highly regional and to enjoy the best food it’s best to stick to the local fair
Dhokla can be made the instant way with chickpea flour and citric acid without having to wait for an overnight fermentation. The result, though tasty and, with a little effort, moist enough, to my mind simply illustrates the vital importance of making dhokla the proper way
You’ll find the step-by-step recipe below. Here’s a summary of the main points of the dish. The spices mentioned are the most commonly used, but you’ll find plenty of variation with just a bit of research, and you’re always free to try your own
chickpeas are soaked overnight then ground to a smooth batter with a drizzle of oil and only just enough water to allow the process of liquidizing
spices can be added: try a pinch of fenugreek (dried leaf or seed), another pinch of hing and a quarter teaspoon of turmeric. A scan teaspoon of sugar, honey or maple syrup encourages fermentation and adds a hint of sweetness
the batter is allowed to ferment for 12-36 hours, depending on the ambient temperature
adding a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda at the last minute definitely helps the batter to rise and be fluffy
the batter is steamed for 15-25 minutes in a cake tin of your choice, covered with a tea towel to stop water dripping onto your cake
once done splash on some water with your fingers while still hot – this prevents the dhokla from feeling claggy and sticking to the throat
cut the dhokla into squares with a sharp, wetted knive
a tarka (aromatic oil) is prepared by popping black mustard seeds in hot oil, along with half a teaspoon of whole cumin, a pinch of hing, a handful or curry leaves, fresh or dry, and a couple of dry red chillies or some red chilli powder to your taste
the hot tarka is poured over the still hot dhokla
enjoy dhokla warm or cold as a snack or starter with some coconut, date-tamarind or other sweet-cour chutneys: try pommegranite-molasses with agave nectar and grapefruit. Be inventive. Have fun!
A Sanskrit term literally meaning “yoga sleep”, the sleep of the yogi is both a practice and a state of consciousness. Nidra is a bordeline state between waking and sleep where you can deeply relax while remaining fully conscious.
What to do when you can’t get pomegranite molasses but have unfettered access to fresh pomegranites? Do the unthinkable and make your own. Absurdly easy to make, for flavour your molasses will outcompete any store-bought version by 1000 miles – and that’s a conservative measure
A few years back when our Mexican friends were visiting us in London we took them out for a traditional British Sunday breakfast down the local caff. They loved the instant coffee, white toast, margarine, sausages, mushrooms, bacon. Then Claudia made a face: “sweet beans? Wákala (yuk)”.
Obviously they didn’t go to waste. I grew up with baked beans and love them. But I thought I’d have a go at making baked beans fit for a Mexican. No cheating, mind: baked beans are sweet, just not so sweet they compete for dessert. They are also savoury with that oh so importnt twang of acidity. I think claudia liked them. For myself, I haven’t bought a tin of beans since
These are typically white beans such as haricot, or cannellini, but any bean is good. I’ve even tried baked chickpeas – they’re great!
The no faff method is to use cooked tinned beans. I find ready cooked beans tend to fall apart and I prefer to cook my own. But if you don’t mind your beans a bit mushy or if you don’t own a pressure cooker who can blame you for wanting to keep things simple?
Pressure cooked beans don’t need pre-soaking, though they will cook that much quicker if soaked. Throw them straight in the pot with 4 times their volume of water and a teaspoon full of salt. Yes, salt. Salt does not make your beans hard, instead producing beans with a lovely creamy texture
Cooking times varies with the type and age of your beans, your pressure cooker and the altitude of your kitchen. As a rule of thumb cook unsoaked white beans for 18-20 minutes at high pressure then turn off the flame and let the pressure reduce naturally to ambient – around 15 minutes
If you don’t have a pressure cooker soak the beans for 8-12 hours and cook in fresh water (with salt) for around an hour
Another thing about tinned baked beans is a sauce thickened with corn starch. Yes, corn starch produces a nice shiny glaze. But essentially if your sauce needs cornstarch it’s just too thin. The best thickener for a tomato sauce is tomato, albeit with a little help from …
Carrot and celery are a magic combo in Italian tomato sacues. For good reason. They are packed with umami (deliciousness) and impart a gentle sweetness to the sharpness of the tomato. They also add body – that is, they help thicken your sauce. So you’ll never need to resort to corn starch
Tinned tomatoes, of course … ? The pic indeed depicts tomatoes of the tinned variety. And if the alternative is the insipid hydroponically grown, sun-starved tomatoes we get in Northern European supermarkets you’re better off with tinned
Got access to decent fresh tommies? Great. Cut them in four, throw them in the blender and blitz them till smooth. No blanching, no peeling, no chopping, no sieving. Tomato skin is full of lycopenes. And discard the seeds and you’re throwing away half the flavour.
SWEET & SOUR
I’ve known chefs use tomato ketchup. Fair enough. But if it’s sweet and sour you’re looking for there are alternatives, Here’s a few
SUGAR jaggari, muscovado, demerara, white
VINEGAR malt, wine, cider, sherry, rice
NECTARS honey, agave, maple, coconut
CITRUS lemon, lime, bergamot, yuzu
OTHER pomegranite & blackstrap molasses, stevia, xylitol
OTHER tamarind, dried mango powder
You can really go to town here. Or keep things simple. The recipe below has Korean gochujang: fermented rice and red chilli paste. Why? Because that high priestess of Korean food Maangchi keeps telling us how totally different real gochujang tastes to the shop bought variety and I was nuts enough to follow her recipe. Be warned: it’s massively hard work. And totally worth it
If gochujang is a step to far to exoticism, or you don’t have a Korean store nearby, or if you don’t want your beans spicy try Spanish paprika or whatever you fancy
Za’atar is a wonderful Palestinian blend of oregano, marjoram and thyme with ground sesame, sumac and salt. Using any of the above herbs singly or in pairs gives equally great results
Other condiments include
chipotle in adobo, guajillo, pasilla, ancho and just about any other fresh or dry chilli, epazote, hoja santa …
cumin, garam masala, black cardammon, fenugreek, asafoetida …
1/2tspza-ataror any combination of thyme, oregano and marjoram
2tbspvinegareg apple cider
1-2tspsugar, nectar or stevia
2tspKorean gochujangor 1tsp Spanish smoky paprika
Dry Beans Without Pressure Cooker
If you're using tinned beans skip this step
soak the beans in plentiful water 6-8 hours or overnight
discard the soaking water and rinse the beans under a running tap
cook the beans generously covered with water with a teaspoon of salt for around 1 hour or until tender but not mushy
No-soak Beans In A Pressure Cooker
place the beans with 4 times their volume of waterf and teaspoon of salt in the pressure cooker and cook on a low flame at high pressure for around 20 minutes. But please note that the cooking times will depend on the type and also age of your beans. Turn off the flame and allow the pressure to come down gradually to ambient pressure (about 15 minutes)
Make The Sauce
peel of scrape the carrot and celery stick, then chop very finely
finely chop the onion and garlic
saute all the above in a pan with a little oil. When the mixture is well covered in oil pop a lid on and cook until very soft (this can take 15-20 minutes). Avoid browning by adding a large pinch of salt and an occasional small splash of water
Cut fresh tomatoes in quarters and liquidze in a blender. Chop whole tinned tomatoes
add the tomatoes, za'atar herb mix and gochujang or paprika
Add the "sugar" and vinegar
cook the sauce for 10-15 minutes
Purée The Sauce
purée in a globlet blender or a hand-held to a very smooth sauce
adjust the seasoning, sweetness and acidity to your taste
Add in the beans and cook them in the sauce for 10 minutes, stirring gently so as not to break the beans, and adding a little water if the sauce starts to get too think
eat with a couple of poached eggs and sautéed mushrooms on hot buttered toast, crumpets or english muffins
I’m not especially gluten intolerant. But I do like to avoid the insulin spike you get from starchy food with a high glycaemic index, essentially flooding your bloodstream with glucose to be inevitably stored as fat for a rainy day
The rate at which starch and other carbohydrates enter your blood stream as glucose is known as the glycaemic index, scaled from 0 – 100 and conveniently divided into three categories. Obviously the lower the index the healthier the food
70 or above
56 – 69
55 or less
The glycaemic index of unprocessed oats averages 58 putting it at the lower end of the medium category. Compare this with instant porridge oats which have a whopping 83 glycaemic rating!
Oats are also rich in soluble fibre helping to regulate blood cholesterol. And besides being delicious they are indisputably versatile
Tasty as it is there’s so much more to oats than porridge. Here’s the first of my non-porridge oat recipes. Great for breakfast, lunch, tea and supper: oat hotcakes
The term psychosomatic, though having a precise scientific meaning, is often associated with negative beliefs such as: disease resulting from neurotic behaviour, or maybe an imagined ailment which exists only in your mind. This could not be further from the truth
The term embraces psycho (mind) and soma (body) and refers to the observation that there is an intimate relationship between mind-body where the condition of one is reflected in the other
Using salt to preserve food spans millenia. The earliest known records span back to 6000BC in an area around the Nile valley and Mesopotamia known as the fertile cresecent. Japan, however, has turned this process into the artform known as tsukemono
Tsukemono or pickled thing in Japan accompanies literally every meal, can be served over a bowl of rice and even forms part of the tea ceremony.
The simplest of tsukemonos is salt pickle (shiozuke) and includes fermented and non-fermented varieties. The lactofermented plums in the previous post are in this category.
Vegetables with a high water content such as cucumber are best just lightly and briefly salted just to extract water and concentrate their flavour without fermentation
salt can be added directly to the vegetable
the vegetables are steeped in a 5 – 10% slat-to-water brine with the help of weights. You can buy special fermentation weights or just use suitable crockery to keep the vegetables fully submerged in the pickling brine
5% brine requires 8 hours pickling and will last for 2-3 days
10% brine requires 5 hours of pickling and will keep closer to a week
You can pickle vegetables with or witout extra condiments. This recipe uses kombu (sea kelp) and dried chilli with whole coriander seeds. The flavour combination is potentially endless: for cucumbers try dill with sumak, or preserved lemon with black pepper. Experiment to your heart’s content
Our second post on the subject of tsukemono, Japanese pickles, introduces you to the subject of lacto-fermentation.
Soured ume plums are an absolute staple in Japan. The small, yellow fruit is part of the genus prunus and though referred to as a plum is more closely related to the apricot. The plums are salted and allowed to ferment before the addition of crumpled red perilla leaves and finally sun-dried
Ume can sometimes be obtained in the West from Korean and Japanese stores when in season, but they are far from ubiquitous. Fortunately you can get fantastic results and comparable health benefits from standard plums. They will taste different. They’re a different fruit. But they are, in my mind, every bit as delicious.
Umeboshi is quite ubiquitous in health-food shops, so you can enjoy these with your meals right now
This is an old concept and much has been written about it. What follows is a simple summary for your convenience
What is it?
Fermentation is the microbial transformation of carbohydrates into either alcohol or lactic acid. Both are useful preservatives and have been used for millenia to preserve food
Lacto-fermented foods are pro-biotic, providing health-promoting micro-organisms and their bi-products to benefit not only gut function but also strengthen the immune system and even enhance your mood
Since most fruit and vegetables naturally contain lacto-bacteria, all you have to do is to provide the conditions for these to proliferate in preference to other potentially harmful bugs. Two conditions must be met:
While salt kills most bugs our friendly lacto-bacilli don’t mind a bit of it, though they do mind a lot. So for example, the addition of anything above 7% salt by weight will start to kill our lacto-friends and cure food, but not ferment it. 2-5% salt, on the other hand, will allow lacto-fermentation to get to work on virtually any fruit or vegetable transforming it into something to grace any meal, great or humble
Lactofermentation will only take place in anaerobic (no air) conditions. If your fruit or veg are edirectly exposed to oxygen they will soon develop mould and harmful bacteria and the whole batch will spoil
There are 3 commonly-used methods for preventing aerobic exposure
Salting draws out water to create a brine in which you can keep your fruit immersed with the help of a weight – sliced sauerkraut is usually made this way
Or you can mix a brine in which to immerse your veg – this is the method used for fermented whole cabbages, the leaves of which are used to make the Turkish stuffed-cabbage dish Sarma
Large pieces of fruit such as plums do very well fermented inside a vacum-seal bag. These are very easily available and guarantee a scrupulously anaerobic environment. When fermenting plums this is, for me, the method of choice
or, if you're using a jar or crock or a previously used vacu-seal bag wash these in warm soapy water and allow to air dry, especially in direct sun-light. Jars and crocks can be dried in an oven on the lowest setting. Lids and rubber seals can be plunged in boiling hot water before air-drying
preparing the fruit
wash the plums under running water, cut in half and stone
in a bowl toss the plums with the salt to cover evenly
place in a vacuum seal bag, spaced apart by a couple of inches
remove all the air with a pump
leave in a warm place to ferment
when the fermentation is underway the bag will fill with CO2: burp the bag by opening, resealing and pumping out all the air once again
Jar or crock
recipes and ideas for using fresh and dried lacto plums and their skins follw
place the salted plums cut-side down in layers
weigh them down: I fill sandwich bags with 2-3% brine, tie theem woith a firm knot and place them over the fruit covering all available space so the lid squeezes the bag tightly against the fruit
after a couple of days open the jar and press the fruit down so it is well immersed in its developing vinegar and releasing any air pockets at the same time. Replace brine-filled bag, adjusting the water volume as necessary to keep the fruit wholly immersed
At 25-28C this can take around 5 days. Fermentation at higher temperatures is quicker but gives a rather more acrid result. Generally, the slower the fermentation the better the taste
As usual the degree of fermentation depends on your taste. I like them sharp but retaining some fruity sweetness. Let your tongue make the decision
the plums and their vinegar will continue to ferment. To slow this down:
store the fresh lacto-plums in their vinegar in the refrigerator for a month to 6 weeks
or sun-dry for 3 days and store without the vinegar in a jar or plastic wrapper. They will stay good potentially indefinitely without refrigertion
the vinegar can be stored seperately, preferably refrigerated
the skins can be removed and sun or oven dried until crisp, then flaked or powdered to be added as a garnish to raw salads and cooked dishes
recipes and ideas for using fresh and dried lacto-plums, as well the vinegar and skins follow
An intrinsic part of the Japanese way of eating, tsukemono pickles accompany most major meals. Salted, fermented, vinagered or exposed to a variety of micro-organisms from miso to fermented rice-bran, these vegetable side dishes are often pro-biotic, aiding digestion, and always full of that deliciousness we know as umami
Steeped in history and tradition, and with a wide range of styles and techniques the subject of tsukemono could fill several books. But, as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating and we’ll approach tsukemono hands-on, starting with one of the simplest: miso pickling
That’s a long story too. We’ll cover some major points about miso later, including how to make it at home. For now, suffice it to that say miso is an aged micro-organism rich soy paste. Though complex in taste with varying degrees of sweetness the primary tastes are salty and umami – perfect for pickling vegetables
The variety of misos is great and can be daunting to the uninitiated. We’ll explore some of the major varieties in later posts. For now just remember this is a hands-on approach: use which-ever miso is available in your local shops and just get stuck-in
What about the vegetables?
Any vegetable with a good crunch can be pickled this way. Good examples include carrots, capsicums, radishes, daikon, cucumber … the list is endless. The vegetables can be immersed dirctly into the miso paste in a jar or pot, then cleaned off. A tidier method is to set up two thin layers of miso separated by a thin gauze or muslin: literally a miso bed!
What is the optimum pickling time?
Pickling times vary substantially with the type and size of the vegetable pieces, ambient temperature and of course, personal taste. Softer vegetables like radishes or cucumbers will be ready in an hour. Harder root vegetable may take 2-3 hours.
Vegetables with a high water content are best salted first to extract excess water, then rinsed to remove the all the salt before miso-pickling.
The best way is to check frequently until the taste and texture please your palate, then make a note for the next time.
How long will my miso last?
Live miso is best after 5 years. When using miso for pickling the moisture drawn from the vegetables eventually renders it unfit for the task. You should be able to use a batch for up to a month. Some suggest cooking it to remove excess moisture and any tendency to mould-growth. Though still flavourful, cooking literally kills the miso and I personally don’t recommend it. When your miso’s pickling career comes to a natural end use it in soups, stews, spreads, and marinades. Mix with a little honey or maple syrup, a teaspoon of toasted sesame oil and a splash of citrus or vinager to paint onto tofu, aubergines and other vegetables for roasting or grilling
Miso is a living organism producing a range of macro and micro-nutrients, including B vitamins and notably B12. Even pasteurised shop-bought varieties contains essential enzymes which will denature with boiling and long-cooking. As a general rule opt for adding miso to dishes at the end of cooking
Too late to make it to the supermarket yesterday I woke to just enough milk for coffee and no bread. Oat porridge, then, with rich, thick soya cream for Sunday breakfast: veganly delicious! StillI I thought I’d better try to make the 2pm deadline for the corner shop for emergency supplies. Little bags of green thingummies in the fridge were figs. Eyeing big, ripe beef tomatoes out of the corner of one eye lunch was sorted
I’m not overly attached to eating things in season. We humans have come a long way in farming since our hunter-gatherer days, and I’m OK with that. Still, I have to admit that things taste best when in season, and figs and beef tomatoes are in season here in Extremadura. As are cherries. Paprika, mercifully, is a condiment for all seasons.
Spanish tomato soup is served with figs and slices of toasted or fried stale bread. I skipped the latter in favour of using up left-over buckwheat risotto in a frittata. Some crisp endives over rocket and a bowl of Jerte cherries rounded off the meal
There many ways to skin a tomato: the most straight-forward is under a hot grill. you want the skin quite charred, but the fruit still firm. Roasting by this method cooks the tomato quite a bit, so no need to sweat them: jump straight to peeling them once they’ve cooled down enough to handle and proceed accordingly
Roasting over a flame or charcoal gives the best flavour. I have a wok-shaped pan full of holes especially for the job. I love it, and wholeheartedly recommend it. Flame roasting requires a period of sweating to cook the fuit and let the charred aromas of the skin penetrate the flesh. !5 minutes is minimum. Longer is better.
The tomatoes as well as the garlic can also be blackened on a hot skillet. You’ll need to stick around to turn them over frequently, though.
If you don’t have all day you can just skip the roasting: plunge your tommies in hot water for 30 seconds, peel them and proceed accordingly. But you will be missing a whole dimension of flavour
Roasted Tomato & Garlic Soup With Figs And Goats’ Cheese
Roasting & resting tomatoes30mins
Cuisine: Mediterranean, spanish
Keyword: broth, figs, soup, stock, tomatoes
vegetable stockor stock cube
2-3ripe beef or plum tomatoes
4 cloves garlic
a splash ofolive oil
a knob ofbutter
fresh goat's cheese(optional)
Start your vegetable stock by adding whatever veg you have to hand with a handful of herbs and spices to a pan. Boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain off the solids and keep back the stock
Meanwhile roast the tomatoes whole or halved if they're very large, and garlic, skin-on in a very hot oven or grill, on a skillet or over a naked flame (see notes above)
When the garlic and tomato skins are blackened wrap them in a kitchen towel over foil or plastic film and let them sweat for 20-30 minutes
Slice the onion and soften in a little olive oil with the finely chopped rosemary and the thyme. Adding a little salt stops then over-browning.
Skin the tomatoes and garlic. Slice the tomatoes thickly and the garlic very thinly. Add them to the onions, along with the paprika and cook for 5-10 minutes or until softened through
Add the tomatoes and other ingredients to the stock, or vice versa, season with salt and black pepper to taste, bring to the boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes
Top and tail the figs and cut them in 4 or 6, depending on their size, and sautée in a little butter or olive oil to keep the dish vegan
serve the soup in wide soup bowls topped with sautéed figs. Traditionally some toasted or shallow-fried slices of yesterday's bread are added. I prefer a couple of medallions or soft goats' cheese or a dollop of thick soya cream and a few chopped chives with fresh crusty wholemeal bread on the side