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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Found a peanut

Sung to the tune of 'Clementine':

Found a peanut, found a peanut, found a peanut just now.
Just now I found a peanut, found a peanut just now.

It was rotten, it was rotten, it was rotten just now.
Just now, it was rotten, it was rotten just now.

Ate it anyway......
Got a stomach ache...
Called the doctor...
Didn't work...
Died Anyway...
Went to Heaven...
Wouldn't take me...
Went the other way...
Didn't want me...
Woke up...
It was a dream...
Found a peanut...

Despite a term at an American elementary school - in Virginia, where peanuts are a staple crop - I never really liked peanut butter. The texture sticks your tongue to the roof of your mouth, along with the rest of the sandwich or piece of toast, and the flavour is impossibly cloying. Too often peanut butter is sweetened, which I find repellent; so much so that I never even tried the traditional peanut butter jelly sandwich about which I know even more silly children's songs.

But in recent years, a growing familiarity with South-East Asian food has led me to look at peanuts with a new respect and peanut butter with an appreciation of its convenience as a shortcut to satay-style sauce.

There is no attempt at authenticity in this recipe, as it is just the basic spicy peanut sauce that I have developed relying on the regular contents of my store-cupboard.

We usually have it with steamed vegetables and noodles for a surprisingly healthy convenience supper, that shouldn't take more than 15 or 20 minutes to prepare altogether. If you feel the need for more protein, prawns or meat would also go well with this.

Easy satay sauce

One jar of peanut butter
2 cloves of garlic, finely grated
1 inch of fresh ginger, finely grated
2 red chillies (or to taste), finely chopped
250 ml chicken stock
a large dash of fish sauce
juice of one lemon

Dried noodles

Put all the ingredients in a pan and heat gently. Allow to simmer for ten minutes, stirring occasionally and adding water if it gets too thick.

In another pan, bring water to the boil and prepare noodles.

Meanwhile, chop some vegetables (I like courgettes and mushrooms, with red pepper to add colour, and perhaps some fennel for the flavour) and steam them.

When the noodles are done, drain and refresh them, then put them into serving bowls with a dash of sesame oil. Put the vegetables on top and pour over a few spoonfuls of satay sauce and garnish with chopped coriander.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Pancakes for breakfast

One of the joys of living in Dalston, a not particularly salubrious but lively neighbourhood in Hackney, east London, is breakfast in the many Turkish and Kurdish cafés around.
My current favourite is Café Evin (which I think means 'home' in Turkish). The chief attraction of this particular venue is that there are two lovely women called Fatma sitting in the window all morning making goezleme or Turkish pancakes.
Fatma-1 rolls balls of savoury dough into huge circles and covers half of each disc with a filling. You can choose between cheese, spinach or potato. If, like me, you aren't good with choices before you've had your morning coffee, you can have multiple fillings.
The cheese, spinach and potatoes are all mixed with a variety of spices and vegetables - largely spring onions, I think, but am not sure.
Then she hands the delicious semi-circle to Fatma-2, who is in charge of the hob, a domed metal thing heated from underneath with gas.
It comes to the hungry breakfaster as a great dry floury thing, thinner than a pizza crust and wavering between soft and crispy. A much more satisfying breakfast than the full fry, and it won't leave you feeling full of grease.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Low fat? Delicious!

We've been on a bit of a health drive in Compulsive Cookery Towers, so I've been struggling to think how to cook meals that are low fat, low salt but still not depressing. It's not easy.

As with all cooking, good ingredients are key. Skinned chicken thighs from my favourite poulterer are surprisingly good fried in a dry pan: luckily I have excellent non-stick pans.

Tonight's meal was typical (of the successful experiments. I'll write about the unsuccessful ones another time!). We had chicken with brown and wild rice, a dried mushroom sauce and steamed courgettes and mushrooms.

The mushroom sauce is the key to not being depressed by the low-fat meal. I have never been able to like dry food - potatoes need to be soaked in butter, meat needs gravy, sandwiches need mayonnaise. A friend of mine once commented that there was a hint of obsessive-compulsive in my careful buttering of toast to cover every square millimetre. I say 'how could you bear to eat dry toast?'.

Unfortunately, most sauces, or at least most nice sauces, are fattening, ie made with butter, cream or both.

This is where the dried mushrooms come in. Pour boiling water over a handful of dried mushrooms and let stand for thirty minutes (officially at least. In practice, if I'm very patient, I let them stand for about ten minutes). In the meantime, chop a couple of shallots and fry them in olive oil, or other fat, depending on your dietary requirements and whatever is available. Then strain the mushrooms, reserving the water, chop them finely and fry with the shallots. When they start to exude liquid, sprinkle a wee bit of flour on them and cook for a few minutes. Then add the soaking liquid until the sauce is quite a lot runnier than you like it. Simmer it till it has thickened to your liking. Hey presto, delicious sauce!