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Wednesday 17 August 2011

Sindhi Style Chickpea Curry

I have just returned from a weekend of what can only be described as 'bareback' camping, in a friend's valley. (Yeah, my friend has a valley. What of it?) There are no facilities in the valley. It was an interesting (and sobering) experience, and I learned several things about life, myself and what we shall call 'the human spirit'.

Firstly, running water and modern sewerage systems are a blessing. I give thanks for all of us here and now. Washing up in cold stream water in the rain is a chore that would cause most people to contemplate suicide seriously (which is why I am particularly thankful to Rish - Mr. R - for doing most of it), and when the lavatory is a shovel and a quiet spot in the woods near the slate quarry, well, let's just say that I was quite happy to get home a few days ago.

Secondly, positivity and happiness can be achieved by looking for the good points in the numerous evils which we face daily. In the context of bareback camping, this means giving thanks for the acrid, woody and black smoke emitted from the enormous campfires (Mr. Other P and Julia are a little over-zealous where log and flames are concerned) in front of your tent. Yes, it gives you red eyes and makes everything smell horrendous, but it does keep away the dreaded mosquitoes. Vile little bastards, I wish death upon thee.

I also learned that Coca Cola cleans grease and filth off of extremely dirty frying pans simply by being heated inside them. People of the world: stop putting this stuff into your bodies. I mean it!

It's not my first time in the valley, and it definitely will not be the last, but we certainly had less than ideal weather conditions this weekend and I can safely say that I am more 'The Call of the Mild' than full-blooded outdoor enthusiast. Still, we are all of us Campers Who Cope and I loved it. So thanks guys for a great time, if you're reading.

(You better had be.)

Now: back to the matter in hand - my curry. I made this a while ago, and wasn't going to post it, since it doesn't contain any sugar and I know what my readers want. But it was so good that I ended up taking this picture of the leftovers and filing it away for when I had time to write about it.

I make a lot of Indian food (and yes, I am perfectly aware that Sindh is a province of Pakistan, but the recipe is from 50 Great Curries of India, so leave me alone), and love curried lentils and pulses. A good dal is one of the most amazing things to eat in the whole wide world, and the fact that they cost next to nothing to make is all the more reason for gleeful indulgence and hysteria.

This chickpea curry is savoury and well-spiced, and was just delicious with some brown basmati rice. I have adapted it slightly here, purely because my spice cupboard doesn't run to amchoor (dried mango powder). I wouldn't normally dare make a change to a cuisine I don't fully understand but I have been spurred on by a recent run of successes.

Usually, I follow the lead of my beloved Sanjana. I have cooked my way through a good five or so of her recipes and never had any problems. If you fancy trying some Indian dishes in your own kitchen, you'd do far worse than start off with something from Ko Rasoi.

But recently, I realised (while, unable to sleep, I was flipping though Camellia Panjabi's book) that I'd never made a curry (or anything at all for that matter) with real, proper chickpeas, the kind that come dried, in a packet, and need soaking, instead of ready-to-go canned ones.

Well, readers, until several years ago when I first went to the valley, I'd never had a bath in river water either, but the fact is that there is a first time for everything, and this was it for me and dried chickpeas. The fact that as curries go this one could scarcely be easier leads me to suggest you make it your first time too. And if you manage that successfully, well, who knows? You might even be ready for bareback camping.

Sindhi Style Chickpea Curry

You will need:

250g dried chickpeas
3 large onions
a thumb sized knob of fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic
400g tin chopped tomatoes
2 black cardamoms
8 cloves
2 bay leaves
15 peppercorns
1 tsp cumin seeds
4 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp ground coriander
salt and pepper

  1. Soak the chickpeas overnight in cold water.
  2. Chop two of the onions roughly, and the third very finely with the garlic and ginger.
  3. Put the soaked and drained chickpeas into a cooking pot with half of the roughly chopped onion, the black cardamom, the cloves, bay leaves, peppercorns, cumin seeds and a teaspoon of sea salt. Cover with cold water and bring to the boil, before simmering the mixture for 50 minutes or so, until the chickpeas are softened. Drain, reserving the liquid (you can through away the spices now).
  4. In another pot, heat the oil and sauté the remaining chopped onions slowly for about 20 minutes or until browned. Add the finely chopped onion, garlic and ginger, then cook for another 10 minutes.
  5. Now add the turmeric, garam masala and coriander, stir for a minute or so, and then add the tomatoes and chickpeas. Add as much of the reserved cooking liquid as you like to make a gravy (it can be thick or thin, whichever you prefer), and cook for a few minutes until everything is warmed through. Season well.

Wednesday 3 August 2011

Coconut and Mango Macarons

The top left mac has cellulite, but if you don't tell him, I won't either...

I know I'm not supposed to have favourites, but when it comes to macarons I do, and these are, definitively, them.

I feel this is OK because of all the people out there who whine that they don't like coconut. Someone has to, and that someone is me. You're all missing out!

I was in Taormina, Sicily, recently for a wedding (which was amazing - congrats again, Sam and Jen), and ate really well. The local cakes of choice are cassata (which is going to get made, so we won't be talking about it here), and canoli, which are little tubes of fried pastry, filled with creamy ricotta cheese and topped with candied orange peel and chopped pistachios. They are delicious, but presented a huge problem when competing for a place on Delicious Delicious Delicious: I have a 'Just Say No' policy when it comes to deep frying.

This is not because I am fat-phobic (as if - these macarons are filled with Swiss meringue buttercream!). It is because I never know what to do with all the oil afterwards. Wouldn't keeping it be gross?

I digress. I was at home for all of about five seconds after Sicily before I had to come back to work, so there just wasn't time to get a cassata made and photographed. Well, actually, that's not strictly true, but I would have had to leave the whole cassata in the fridge for Mr. Other P to eat while I was away working, and that seemed a little unfair to me. I mean, I love the man dearly, but a whole cassata? Hell no.

So I decided to craft a macaron recipe (we've not had macarons for a while, and too much of a good thing can be wonderful) that would take all of my favourite Sicilian flavours and combine them with a little Parisian chic to make a quick little petit four to wow and dazzle. I know that coconut and mango are neither of them Sicilian in any respect, but you're going to have to work with me here.

The thing about Taormina is that it's best by night. It's too hot to be in town during the day, which is why we spent almost all of our time on the beach. But in the evenings, when it's a bit cooler, the Corso Umberto and little streets that run off it are startlingly beautiful. Everywhere you go, the night air carries the sweet fragrance of jasmine and orange blossom, and flowers of all colours decorate the church steps and square; it is truly one of the most lovely places I've ever been.

Now. I went as far as buying the orange blossom extract. But when it actually came to making the macarons, I just wasn't feeling in the mood for it. My bottle of coconut extract was giving me the old puppy dog eyes, and when I found some mango buttercream in the freezer I knew I was good to go.

Yes, jasmine-scented macaron shells filled with orange blossom infused white chocolate ganache sound wonderful, but only a fool would make ganache when there's ready-to-go Swiss in the freezer. I am no fool. And I had less than 12 hours at home.

So Taormina will have it's time on these pages when I get round to that cassata. In the mean time, let me introduce you to my favourite macarons...

Coconut and Mango Macarons

You will need:

110g icing sugar
50g ground almonds

1 tsp coconut extract

2 egg whites (60g), aged for 24 hours (just leave them on the kitchen counter, uncovered)

40g caster sugar

Mango flavoured Swiss meringue buttercream - follow the recipe here, using mango purée instead of strawberry. You'll need about a quarter of the recipe; freeze the leftovers for up to 6 months.
  1. Sift the 110g icing sugar into a large bowl, and mix in the almonds.
  2. In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until frothy, then slowly whisk in the caster sugar until you have soft peaking meringue. Add the coconut extract and carry on whisking until stiff peaks form. If you want to add a colouring to your macarons, I recommend the gel type, and you should add it with the extract.
  3. Add the almond and sugar mixture, and fold in. You are supposed to do this in exactly 50 strokes, and turn the bowl 45° after every tenth stroke. I don't think it's of paramount importance - you should just have a smooth mixture. Thick is good here. If you spend too long folding in, you'll get a too-thin batter and your macarons won't stay in pretty little rounds.
  4. Put this mix into a piping bag with the end snipped off, and pipe circles about 2 inches in diameter, well spaced apart on a lined baking sheet. You should have between 28 and 30 blobs of mixture. Let's call it 29.
  5. Let them sit for 30 minutes while you pre-heat the oven to 150°C.
  6. Bake for 12 minutes on the bottom shelf. Cool completely on the sheet, and then remove using a pallet knife.
  7. For the filling: use the Swiss meringue buttercream to sandwich the mac shells together. If you don't fancy all the work of a Swiss, you could use strawberry jam and sprinkle in a little dessicated coconut for extra texture. It would be delicious, and I'd be happy to taste them for you.
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