Mexican pickled red onions

These crisp, pink onions are a traditional Yucatan accompaniment for cochinita pibil, and oh, my beating heart, they’re good. Red onions are par-boiled very briefly, then semi-preserved in a citrus, sugar and salt mixture spiked with chillies and cumin. They’ll keep in the fridge for up to a month, which is good, good news, because besides being a perfectly pitched addition to a taco, these are one of the best accompaniments for strong cheeses I’ve come across. (Try some alongside a Stilton or some Gorgonzola.) They’re great to look at, too; the acid in the preserving mixture turns the red onion, which acts as a universal indicator, a really vibrant pink.

I’ve used a little home-made habanero vinegar in the preserving mixture. It’s a particularly delicious vinegar (and very easy – just steep a few whole habaneros in a bottle of white wine vinegar for a couple of weeks) – it picks up all the citrusy, fruity undertones of the habaneros and packs plenty of heat.

To make a large bowl of Barbie-toned pickled onions, you’ll need:

2 medium red onions
Juice of 1 orange
Juice of 3 limes
Juice of 2 lemons
2 tablespoons habanero vinegar (white wine vinegar in which you’ve steeped a few habanero chillies for a week or so – see above)
1 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon sea salt
1½ tablespoons caster sugar

Halve the onions, and cut into slices. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil and drop in the onion slices. Count to twenty and drain the onions, and set aside in a large bowl.

Stir the citrus juices, vinegar, cumin, salt and sugar together in a saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar and salt has dissolved. As soon as the mixture starts boiling, remove it from the heat and pour it over the onions. Cover the bowl and refrigerate until cold (a couple of hours).

Bubble and squeak

Update, Jan 2009: Gordon Brown has just announced that bubble and squeak (or, specifically, rumbledethumps, the Scottish name for the dish) is his favourite meal. I’ve gone right off the stuff.

I mentioned to a group of friends from America that I was planning on cooking bubble and squeak for supper. They all chorused: “What the hell?” One said that the name suggested the boiling of mice. I suspect that this is one of those recipes which needs a short introduction.

Bubble and squeak is a traditional English supper dish made from the leftovers of a roast dinner. It should always contain potatoes and a brassica (I like spring cabbage for its sweetness, but other, more robust cabbages are often used, and some people like – gulp – Brussels sprouts). There is usually some meat – often whatever you roasted the night before, sometimes anointed with a little gravy. The idea is that first the potatoes and cabbage will have been boiled (bubble), and that when packed down hard into a sauté pan, the mixture should squeak.

What I cooked strayed pretty far from tradition – I didn’t used leftover boiled potatoes, but grated some raw ones, rosti-style. I didn’t have any leftovers from a roast, so I used some lovely smoky lardons of bacon and a dollop of beef dripping – a fat you can buy from your butcher in tubs and should always have in your fridge. Along with some sweet cabbage, spring onions and plenty of pepper and nutmeg, you’ve got a panful of fried English goodness fit for the Queen.

To serve four as an accompaniment for some good sausages, you’ll need:

6 medium potatoes
1 sweetheart cabbage
10 large spring onions (scallions)
150g smoked bacon lardons
2 tablespoons beef dripping
A generous grating of nutmeg
Salt and pepper

A note here – if you’re using leftover boiled potatoes, just mash them roughly into chunky bits with a fork before starting, rather than grating and squeezing them, and reduce the cooking time by five minutes on each side.

Put the lardons in a dry frying pan and cook over a medium temperature, turning occasionally, until golden (about ten minutes). Set aside.

Grate the potatoes. You don’t need to peel them first. The easiest and quickest way to do this is to use the grating blade on your food processor. Take handfuls of the grated potato and squeeze it hard over the kitchen sink. A lot of liquid will be forced out. Put the squeezed potato shreds in your largest mixing bowl and fluff them up with your fingers so they’re not in squeezed blocks any more – this will make mixing the other ingredients with them easier later on.

Shred the cabbage finely (a bread knife is, for some reason, much easier to shred a cabbage with than a cook’s knife). Shred the spring onions finely too. Use your hands to mix the cabbage, spring onions and lardons thoroughly with the potato, adding about a teaspoon of salt, a generous grating of nutmeg and plenty of freshly ground black pepper.

Heat a tablespoon of dripping in a large, non-stick frying pan over a high flame until it begins to shimmer. Pile the bubble and squeak mixture into the pan and use a spatula to push the mixture into a rosti-like patty, packing it down hard into the edges of the pan. Lower the flame to medium/low, and leave to cook for 20 minutes.

When 20 minutes are up, you’ll notice that the vegetables on the top surface of the bubble and squeak are turning translucent. Put a large plate on top of the frying pan and turn the whole arrangement upside-down, so the bubble and squeak turns out neatly onto the plate. Turn the heat back up, add the remaining tablespoon of dripping and, when it is shimmering, slide the bubble and squeak back into the pan, uncooked side down, turn the heat down to low and cook for 20 minutes.

Serve with some good butchers’ sausages and some apple sauce, preferably while wearing a bowler hat or other symbol of Britishness.

Roast Poblano crema

I live about ten miles from Ely, where there is a cathedral, a very, very good bookshop, and an excellent twice-monthly farmers’ market. There are about 30 stalls, and it’s a great place to pick up local meats (a slab of belly pork is lurking deliciously in the freezer as we speak) and things like good free-range eggs, pork pies and ostrich products from Bisbrook farm. Because this area is right at the heart of East Anglia’s patchwork of farms, the stalls are packed to the gills with interesting fruit and vegetables. The bread in particular tends to run out early – if you do visit Ely for the market, try to get there before 11am.

Edible Ornamentals, a Bedfordshire farm growing chillies, usually has a stall full of chilli plants, pots of sauce and chillies both fresh and dried. I love their chilli sauces (some so hot it’s amazing that a glass jar can contain them without dissolving in protest), but their fresh chillies can be downright amazing, and I was delighted to score five big, fresh Poblanos for £3.

Poblanos are the fresh pepper which, when dried, become Ancho and Mulato chillies. (An Ancho is dried more than the slightly soft and fruity Mulato.) They are a mild, purple pepper with a deep, fruity background – lots of flavour and very little heat, although the redder pepper in my bag was a little hotter than the others. I was planning a chilli con carne, and had some Mulatos in the cupboard ready for deployment in that. What better to eat as a side dish than a Poblano crema – those fresh Poblanos roasted, skinned and mixed with crème fraîche, lime and coriander?

To make enough crema to accompany a chilli for two or three, you’ll need:

5 fresh Poblano peppers
5 tablespoons crème fraîche (or Mexican crema, if you can find it)
6 spring onions (scallions), chopped
1 large handful chopped coriander
Juice of 1 lime
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

Rub the whole peppers with olive oil and arrange in a baking tray. Cook at 180° C (350° F) for 20 minutes, until the skin is browned and blistering (see picture). Put the whole cooked peppers in a plastic freezer bag, seal the top and put aside for five minutes while you chop the spring onions.

The business with the freezer bag will help the peppers steam from the inside, loosening the skin so you can peel it off easily. When the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel off their skins and discard, then chop open and carefully remove all the seeds. Some people like to do this under a running tap, but I recommend keeping the cooked peppers well away from water to preserve their delicious juices. Slice the silky peeled peppers into long, thin strips and put in a bowl with any juices. (I really enjoy this bit – peeled, roast peppers feel beautiful between the fingers.) Reserve a few strips on a plate to use as a garnish.

Stir the crème fraîche, pepper strips, spring onion and coriander together with the lime juice. Taste, and add salt and pepper. Garnish with more coriander and the reserved peppers, and chill for an hour before serving.

This is deliciously cooling served alongside a chilli con carne – it also makes a fantastic filling for baked potatoes and is gorgeous slopped on a baguette.

Boston baked beans

Home-made Boston baked beans are deliciously, wonderfully, shockingly different from the canned variety. When you try these, you’ll wonder just exactly what happened in the long-ago board meeting when Heinz made their plan to pass off their sweetly uninteresting beans as the real thing. There’s so much more going on here than a thin tomato slime surrounding stiff little beans. In beans made properly you’ll find delicately soft beans in a thick, rich sauce packed with clove-studded onions, herbs like bay and cinnamon, and deeply savoury chunks of ham.

Baked beans want your time and your love. You’ll be baking them at a low temperature for six hours, stirring attentively every now and then. Your house will fill up with some really, really good smells. Eat these beans as main course with some good bread, or to accompany a porky barbecue or some pulled pork. This happens to be one of those recipes which improves after a night’s refrigeration, which will help the flavours meld to an even deeper degree.

I’ve used part of a ham I cooked according to this recipe. That ham yielded three meals: the ham itself with fried potatoes, a Pasta alla Medici, and these beans. One of the ingredients in the beans is the liquor the ham cooked in. If you haven’t made a ham yourself, or have made a ham to a recipe which doesn’t yield a sweet cooking liquid, just replace the 500 ml of sweetened stock with 500 ml cola (not diet). It sounds barking, but it tastes divine.

To make six servings, you’ll need:

500 g dried haricot beans
1.5 l water
500 g cooked, smoked ham (recipe here)
500 ml stock from a ham cooked in cola (see above for substitution)
1 large onion
10 cloves
3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon molasses (treacle)
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 dried chipotle pepper (use any hot chilli pepper if you can’t find chipotles)
1 head garlic
1 cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons salt

Put the dried beans in a large bowl and pour the cold water over them. Soak overnight. The next morning, simmer the beans in this water in a covered pan without salt (which will make them tough) until they are soft – about an hour.

Heat the oven to 180° C (350° F). Drain the beans, reserving their soaking liquid, and put them in a heavy casserole dish with a tight-fitting lid. Quarter the onion and press the cloves into it, and chop the garlic. Push the ham, onion, garlic, chilli pepper, bay and cinnamon into the beans, stir in the garlic, then combine 500 ml of the soaking liquid from the beans with 500 ml of the ham’s cooking liquid in a jug and stir in the molasses, the maple syrup, the salt and the mustard. Pour this over the bean mixture, put the lid on and put in the oven for six hours.

Stir the beans every hour or so. You’ll notice that very gradually, the beans will take on colour and the sauce will thicken. If you think the dish is looking too dry, add some water to the casserole dish – if you reach the last hour of cooking and the mixture is looking wetter than you would like, remove the lid.

The beans will keep in the fridge for over a week, but they’re so good that you’re very unlikely to be able to keep them in the house for that long without eating them.

Sweet potato and chickpea curry

I like to make a vegetable curry as an accompaniment when I make a meat one, but this curry is substantial and tasty enough to stand up as a meal on its own with rice. This curry is in a southern Indian style, with coconut milk making the curry rich and thick, and lime juice adding zing. It’s great for vegetarians – it’s loaded with flavour, and will have the meat-eaters fighting among themselves (probably with forks) for a helping too.

I have been lazy in this recipe and haven’t made my own curry paste. A good shop-bought curry powder works very well here – as usual, I recommend Bolst’s Madras powder, which is really well-balanced and fragrant. To serve four, you’ll need:

3 sweet potatoes
2 onions
6 spring onions plus more to garnish
2 tablespoons curry powder
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 inch piece of ginger
4 cloves garlic
1 can chickpeas
1 can coconut milk
1 bird’s eye chilli (more if you want a hotter curry)
1 handful chopped coriander leaves
Juice of 1 lime
3 tablespoons oil
Salt to taste

Dice the onions and slice the spring onions, and sauté them in the oil with the curry powder and the coriander, cumin and fennel seeds until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the garlic and ginger, both chopped finely, with the diced and peeled sweet potato and the sliced chilli, and continue to sauté until the sweet potato starts to caramelise and brown a little at the edges.

Pour the coconut milk over the curry, cover and simmer for fifteen minutes, until the sweet potato is soft. Add the drained chickpeas to the pan with half the lime juice and a teaspoon of salt, and simmer for another five minutes. Taste for seasoning – you may want to add more lime. Remove from the heat and stir in the fresh coriander, and garnish with some sliced spring onion.

This curry tastes even better if you leave it in the fridge for a day before reheating and serving. If you do this, add some more fresh coriander when you serve it.

Japanese coleslaw

This coleslaw is very quick and easy to throw together, and it’s a great alternative accompaniment for your barbecues. Wasabi and ginger give this coleslaw a great SE Asian kick, and the sweet white cabbage and carrot shreds really respond well to the savoury dressing.

I’ve used powdered wasabi here, which you can usually find at Asian grocers. It’s sweeter and has more zip to it than the pre-prepared version. Check your wasabi packaging to make sure that wasabi (horseradish on some packs) is the only ingredient.

To serve about four people, you’ll need:

1 white cabbage
2 large carrots
½ inch piece of ginger
3 tablespoons seasoned Japanese rice vinegar (I like Mitsukan, which you should be able to find at a good supermarket)
1 ½ tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 ½ tablespoons soy sauce
1 heaped teaspoon wasabi powder
2 teaspoons soft brown sugar

Shred the cabbage finely with a knife, and grate the carrots. Mix the vegetables together in a large bowl.

Add the vinegar to the wasabi in a small bowl, and leave aside for five minutes. Grate the ginger and stir it into the vinegar and wasabi mixture with the soy sauce and sugar, and keep stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Add the sesame oil, whisk briskly to emulsify all the ingredients, and pour the finished dressing over the cabbage and carrots. Toss everything together and serve immediately. This coleslaw does not keep well (the salad will wilt in the dressing), so you have a great excuse to eat it all in one go.

Focaccia with onion and rosemary

My week was brightened no end yesterday when I discovered that Jean-Christophe Novelli was linking to one of the recipes on Gastronomy Domine. I’m cooking a lot of things like the aubergine caviar he mentions at the moment – it must be the weather. To make the most of the short English summer, it’s lovely to eat a cold al fresco supper with some good, home-made bread. This explains the bread-making binge I appear to be on at this week. Fresh bread tastes great, it makes the house smell fantastic, and there is something strangely soothing about pummelling the hell out of a wodge of dough as you knead it; not to mention the lovely feeling you get from poking your fingers into a baby-soft, freshly-risen batch to knock it down. Bread dough is deliciously tactile, but I shrink from describing the full puffy, silky, stretchy glory of it in case you all decide I’m some sort of dough pervert.

Focaccia is an Italian bread enriched with plenty of olive oil. The oil in the dough makes it a dream to work with, and although it has a long rising time to help it develop its lovely open texture, all you have to do is knead, then wait for the dough to rise a couple of times. I’ve flavoured this focaccia with rosemary and chillies stirred into the dough itself, and a caramelised onion topping slathered on top. It’s lovely cut into squares and served with some Mediterranean-style cold nibbles like caponata, aubergine caviar, hummus or panzanella, and a bowl of olive oil and balsamic vinegar to dip into.

To make one focaccia you’ll need:

Bread
500g strong white bread flour
1 packet instant yeast
275ml tepid water
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons olive oil (plus extra for oiling bowl and dough)
5 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons Italian chilli flakes

Caramelised onion topping
2 large onions
3 tablespoons olive oil
A few sprigs of rosemary to decorate
12 olives
Olive oil to drizzle and salt to sprinkle over

Put 250g of the flour in a large mixing bowl with the yeast, chopped rosemary and chillies, then pour in the tepid water – this should be around blood heat – and the olive oil. Beat with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth, then start to stir in the remaining flour, a handful at a time, until you have a soft dough. The dough should not be completely dry – a little stickiness is fine, and should have vanished by the time you have finished kneading because of the magical development of the gluten in the wheat. You may not find you need to add all the flour – the amount you use will depend on the flour you have bought and the humidity and temperature of your kitchen. (I had about 20g left to put back in the bag when I was done.) Knead the dough vigorously for at least ten minutes, until it is very smooth and stretchy. Oil the dough ball and put it inside an oiled mixing bowl, cover with a damp cloth and leave to rise for two hours in a warm place.

The dough should have more than doubled in size. Knock it down to its original size and knead again for five minutes, then spread it out in a baking tin (mine was 25cm x 35cm), making sure the dough is even and pushed well into the edges and corners. Cover with the damp cloth again and let the focaccia rise for 45 minutes, then push the dough flat again and let it rise for a further 45 minutes while you heat the oven to 220° C (425° F) and prepare the onions by sautéing them in the oil over a low heat until they are sweet and golden (about 20 minutes), then putting them aside to cool.

Push 12 olives into the surface of the risen focaccia in a pattern with some rosemary sprigs, and spread the onions gently over the top (don’t push too hard when you spread, so the bread does not deflate). Pour over some more olive oil to fill the olive holes, sprinkle with coarse-grained salt and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden on top, then place on a rack to cool.

Sautéed cauliflower

Ah, the cauliflowers of our youth. I’m sure you remember the buggers: grey and brain-ish, boiled until soft and claggy by the school dinnerladies; or (worse) bobbing up and down in salty water in your Grandma’s kitchen sink as a legion of little black insects died in unison and floated out of the florets. They never all vacated the cauliflower – I spent miserable hours at the table with the tip of a knife, digging out wiggly, squashy bodies and things with far too many legs, and smearing them on my napkin.

It took me some years to mentally rehabilitate the cauliflower, and I know plenty of adults who still won’t touch the things. Happily, these days you are very, very unlikely to come across an insect-riddled specimen (pesticides are the modern cook’s friend), and grey mush is easily avoided if you’re cooking them at home. Best of all, it turns out that a cauliflower which is roasted or sautéed is totally delicious. It has a great texture and takes on a sweet and toasty flavour a little like roast chestnuts – nothing at all like the bitter, wet stuff you remember from school. Serve as a side dish or as one of a selection of vegetably nibbles. And if you’re low-carbing, which at least two of my friends are at the moment, this is a very tasty way to get your vitamins without carbs.

To saute a head of cauliflower you’ll need:

1 cauliflower
Olive oil to cover the bottom of a large saute pan
Salt

(This may be the shortest ingredient list I have ever posted!)

Separate the cauliflower into large florets (see picture) and slice them lengthways so you have flat pieces of cauliflower about a centimetre thick. Heat the oil in the pan until it is shimmering, and slide the cauliflower in. Brown on one side (four or five minutes) before turning carefully and browning on the other side. Serve spread out on a large plate, sprinkled generously with sea salt.

Plantain and sweet potato cake

This is a kind of rösti, which I came up with to accompany some jerked chicken. Plantains are great: they are a cousin of the banana, and look like a giant, green, yellow or creamy version of the things you eat for pudding. Unlike a banana, a plantain is usually served cooked, either when under-ripe, when they are wonderfully starchy, or overripe, when they become sweet.

You can treat an under-ripe (green) plantain much as you would a potato. I’ve teamed my plantains up with a sweet potato here for some colour and extra sweetness. The allspice here is typically Jamaican, and goes really well with the jerked chicken you’ll find on this site.

To serve 3-4 as a side dish, you’ll need:

2 large green plantains
1 large sweet potato
1 medium onion
1 ½ teaspoons ground allspice
Butter and oil to fry
Salt and pepper

Peel the plantains by chopping them in half widthways (not lengthways, as you would a banana) and easing the tough skin off. Grate the creamy flesh of the fruit. Peel and grate the sweet potato and the onion. Mix the grated sweet potato, plantain, the onion and allspice and some salt and pepper to taste in a large bowl, and melt a generous amount of oil and butter together in a large, non-stick frying pan until the butter starts to bubble.

Add the plantain and sweet potato mixture to the pan and pack it down so you have a thick pancake. Fry over a medium heat for ten minutes, then put a large plate over the pan and turn the whole arrangement upside-down, so the pancake ends up crispy side up on the plate. Return the pan to the heat, add more oil and butter and slide the pancake in, uncooked side downwards, and fry for another ten minutes. Serve piping hot.

Roast asparagus with shaved parmesan

If you thought the hollandaise sauce recipe from the other day sounded like too much hard work, this asparagus recipe will suit you down to the ground. It’s very quick and easy, and this cooking method makes the most of the tender sweetness of the stems. It also looks posh, so you can serve it up as a starter (or as an accompaniment) to guests and feel smug when they congratulate you on something which, in reality, only took you five minutes to put together.

For a starter, look at serving between six and eight stalks of asparagus per person. You can get away with less than this if you’re making it to accompany something else as a main course, but it’s worth making plenty because roast asparagus is downright delicious.

To serve two as a starter you’ll need:

16 stalks of asparagus, as fresh as possible
½ teaspoon flaked Italian chilli peppers
Zest of a lemon
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
50g parmesan cheese
Salt (preferably something crystalline, like Maldon) and pepper

Preheat the oven to 180° C (350° F).

Snap the bottoms off the stems of asparagus. They’ll come apart naturally, with a lovely snapping sound, at the point where the woody part (which you don’t want to eat) begins. Arrange them in a single layer in a baking dish.

Sprinkle the flaked chilli and lemon zest over the asparagus, and drizzle with the olive oil. Roast the asparagus in the oven for 10-15 minutes until bright green.

While the asparagus is roasting, use a potato peeler to shave the parmesan into little pieces. As soon as the asparagus comes out of the oven, scatter over the parmesan, which should soften a little as it meets the hot asparagus. Serve the roast asparagus with crusty bread if you’re eating it as a starter.