Random Recipe #10: Moro Soup

A note to Antipodean readers before we begin: I’m sorry if you were enticed here by the ‘Moro Soup’ heading. This is not a post about turning the iconic chocolate bar, apparently beloved by triathletes (if you believe the ad campaigns), into a soup. Stop reading now before you get disappointed.

For everyone else, the real title should be ‘Hassan’s celery and white bean soup with tomato and caraway’. It’s from Moro East, the lovely book by Sam and Sam Clark of Moro restaurant fame about their East End allotment, with recipes from fellow allotment holders interspersed with their own creations. It’s particularly poignant now as the allotment has been bulldozed in the name of the 2012 London Olympics. Perhaps athletes do exist on chocolate bars after all.

Hassan’s celery and white bean soup with tomato and caraway
The book was my choice for Random Recipes #10, brought to you by Belleau Kitchen AND Jac of Tinned Tomatoes, who hosts a monthly soup challenge called No Croutons Required. Not only does this deliciously rustic soup fit the NCR vegetarian criteria, but it just happened to use the huge bunch of celery and masses of spring onions in my fridge. I took a few shortcuts along the way – I used two tins of cannellini beans rather than soaking and cooking my own, plus I used a tin of tomatoes rather than “500g of flavoursome fresh tomatoes”, as the latter are pretty thin on the ground here at present.
However I faithfully followed the recipe for DIY celery salt, which is completely addictive. Even if you’re not in the mood for soup, you’ve got to try this.

250g dried cannellini beans, soaked in cold water overnight, then drained and cooked in fresh water for about an hour, or until tender (or two tins of beans, drained and rinsed)
10 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large head of celery, trimmed of roots but including leaves, sliced into 2cm chunks
8 spring onions, roots trimed but including green tops, sliced into 1cm chunks
4 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1tsp caraway seeds
500g fresh tomatoes, blanched, peeled, seeded, roughly chopped (or 1 440g tin)
1tsp celery salt (recipe follows)

To serve:
extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon
a small bunch of rocket
black olives
Turkish bread
Celery salt

Heat six tablespoons of the olive oil in a large saucepan and add the celery. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring often, then add the spring onions, garlic, caraway and a pinch of salt. Cook for another 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft and beginning to caramelise. Add the tomatoes and celery salt and cook for a further five minutes.
Add the beans and either 250ml of their cooking liquid or water, plus the remaining four tablespoons of olive oil. Bring to a simmer, season to taste with salt and pepper, and cook for another five minutes. Check the seasoning and serve with a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkle of celery salt. Rocket, spring onions, black olives and Turkish bread are suggested accompaniments. Makes enough for four.

DIY Celery Salt
Take a handful of green celery leaves and put them on a baking tray. Dry them in a low-medium oven until completely dry but not scorched (takes about 10 minutes). Crumble to a powder with your fingers, then mix with equal parts of flaky (eg Marlborough or Maldon) salt.

Random Recipe #9: Fear of frying

Oy vey, this months’ Random Recipes challenge really pushed me out of my comfort zone. Not only did I have to let some strange man rifle through my cookbooks, but then I had to confront a life-long fear of deep-frying.

Let me explain. The strange man was Gary from Exploits of a Food Nut. I met him on the internet – you know how it is these days. Anyway, as per Dom’s instructions, I had to choose a recipe at random from Gary’s cookbook collection, and he got to do the same with mine, even though we live some 12,000 miles apart. Thanks to Twitter, that part was easy – Gary got James Martin’s My Kitchen and I got New Pleasures of the Jewish Table by Denise Phillips.
The hard part was realising I was going to have to heat a litre of oil to 200C on my stove top. I’m not sure why I’ve got such a deep-seated fear of frying. I think it might have something to do with being at primary school, when one of my classmates, who was pretty and clever and fantastic at athletics, came back from a long absence with a protective bandage covering her lower leg. She never talked about it and we weren’t supposed to either, but it had something to do with boiling oil and a fire. She later went well off the rails and last I heard she was in jail for GBH after beating up an old lady for her handbag, but that’s another story. This one has a much happier ending, even though I was so overcome with the process that I forgot to photograph the end result.

Egyptian Fish Balls with Tomato Sauce
I can’t recall how I came to have a copy of New Pleasures of the Jewish Table, nor do I remember ever making anything out of it. It’s a great little book though, full of socio-cultural food history (and good recipes). It’s a bit short on deep-frying advice, but I rolled my sleeves down, banished the Small Girl to watch rugby with her father and got on with proceedings. Fear factor (and a few dishes) aside, this is a great, family-friendly dinner. Make the tomato sauce first so you’ve got one less thing to worry about.

The fish balls:
700g white fish (I used alfonsino, Denise suggests bream, haddock or cod)
2 onions, peeled and quartered
2 cloves garlic
zest of one lemon
handful of fresh parsley
2tsp ground cumin
2tsp salt
3Tbsp matzo meal (I whizzed up a few crackers in the processor instead)
1 egg, lightly beaten
plain flour, for dusting

The tomato sauce:
2Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
2Tbsp tomato puree
120ml red wine
450ml vegetable stock (or water)

For the sauce, heat the olive oil in a large pot and saute the onion and garlic for a few minutes over medium heat. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to the boil, then simmer gently for 30 minutes. Set aside while you get on with the fish balls.

For the fish balls: Put the onions, garlic, lemon zest and parsley in the processor and whizz until finely chopped. Add the salt, cumin and fish and whizz again to form a smooth mixture. Tip into a bowl and mix through the matzoh crumbs and beaten egg. Dust a couple of plates with flour. With wet hands, take tablespoon-sized amounts of the fish and roll into balls, then place on the floured plates.

To deep-fry, heat one litre of vegetable oil in a deepfryer or in a deep, heavy bottomed pot. Heat to about 200C and fry the balls in batches (about five at a time should do it) until golden brown. When they’re cooked, add to the tomato sauce and heat through gently for about 10 minutes.
Serves 4-6 with rice, couscous or bread and salad.

Now, can anyone tell me what to do with the used oil? Can I pour it down the sink?

Random Recipes #8: Corn & Feta Fritters

After the success of last month’s Random Recipes challenge, in which the Small Girl thoughtfully selected ‘Great Ways With Steak And Chops’, I put her to work again to choose September’s recipe from a pile of magazine clippings and pull-outs. I confess, I only gave her a small selection to work with, for I am destined to become one of those mad old ladies who lives in a house overflowing with things she has cut out of the newspaper or scribbled down on the back of a phone bill. Whenever we move house (something we’ve tended to do every 12-18 months in the last six or seven years), I find more recipes tucked into novels or – worse – tucked into other recipe books. There must be a name for this – Compulsive Recipe And Cookbook Kollecting (CRACK) perhaps? Shall we start a support group?

The Small Girl pulled this out of a pile of papers tucked into the handwritten recipe book I made when I first went flatting. There’s a burn mark on the back (left it on the element, Wanganui, 2001) and all sorts of things tucked inside, including a tea-stained note to my 1996 flatmate Kim from her sister Kirsty (“Kimbo: put your heater on the clothes, hope you don’t mind, need some for tomorrow. Early night for me, you crazy partier”), a 100 riel note (Cambodia, 2000), a bank statement from a defunct account (2004) and lots of torn-out pages from Observer Food Monthly (London, 2005-2009). Oh, and the recipes…

Corn, Feta and Microgreen Fritters
I’d like to say the Small Girl chose this particular recipe because she loves corn fritters, but alas, she didn’t eat a single one. Oh well, I thought they were pretty good. Judging from the font and layout, I think the recipe comes from an old copy of NZ House and Garden magazine. The attached story talks about the benefits of cooking with ‘microgreens’, which were the next big thing a while back. Health benefits aside, I think using fresh herbs from your garden (or kitchen) would do the trick nicely.

1 cup flour
3tsp baking powder
1tsp salt
Black pepper
2 free range eggs
125ml soda water
2 cups corn kernels (1 can, drained)
125g feta, crumbled
1 cup microgreens (or finely chopped fresh herbs)

Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper into a bowl. Add the eggs and soda water and beat until smooth. Stir in the corn, feta and greens and let stand for 10 minutes.
Cook spoonfuls in a well-greased pan over medium heat until golden on both sides.
Remember, as with pikelets, the first one will be a disaster while you get the temperature right. Keep subsequent fritters warm in a 120C oven while you cook the rest. Serve with chutney and more greens. Makes about a dozen.

Random Recipes: Burmese Curry

There are few things more random than the meanderings of a two-and-a-bit-year-old, so I put mine to good use and got her to select the cookbook for this month’s Random Recipe challenge.

I can’t remember how I came to be in possession of Great Ways With Steak & Chops. It was probably a joke gift – I have ‘Cooking For Couples’ and ‘100 Dishes For Two’ that we got as engagement presents. GWWSC was published in 1972 by the Australian Women’s Weekly and written by its well-respected food editor, Ellen Sinclair. Her name should have prompted me to open this book earlier, but food snobbery being what it is, I thought the whole book would be full of appalling examples of 70s cuisine. There are many things in this book I will never, ever, make – such as Veal Oscar (veal steaks topped with canned asparagus, lobster meat and bearnaise sauce) or Pineapple Bacon Cutlets (lamb, topped with tinned pineapple rings, wrapped in bacon, breadcrumbed and baked), but GWWSC actually has some interesting, even enticing, recipes. This is one of them.

Burmese Curry

Ellen Sinclair, who wrote loads of other titles for the Australian Women’s Weekly, certainly knew her stuff. These recipes are very well-written and easy to follow (even if the photos are hilariously awful). The original recipe was very dry, so I splashed in about a cup of water as detailed below and upped the chilli quotient as detailed below. This can also be cooked in the oven – after adding the water clamp the lid on and let it bake for about 1 1/2 hours at 150C.

900g chuck steak, cut into 2cm chunks

2Tbsp oil

4 onions, finely chopped

5cm ginger, grated

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2tsp turmeric

1/2tsp chilli flakes

1 beef stock cube

1 1/2 – 2 cups water

2tsp soy sauce

Heat the oil in a large, heavy pan with a lid. Add the meat and brown well, add the onions, ginger and garlic. Cook until golden brown.

Add turmeric, chilli, water and stock cube and bring to the boil, stirring.

Cover, reduce heat and simmer gently for one hour or until the meat is tender. Add soy sauce and salt to taste. Serve with rice. Serves 4-6.

Random Recipe #6: How To Eat

It was easy choosing the book for this month’s Random Recipe challenge – all we had to do was pick our favourite title. Finding something in it that I hadn’t made before was slightly harder.
I first read Nigella Lawson’s How To Eat when visiting my sister in the UK in 1999. I was having a mid-twenties crisis and the flu – a bad combination – and my recovery involved a lot of lying on her sofa and reading. Looking back, perhaps Nigella had some impact on what happened next: I went to Italy, came home, applied for journalism school and got my own copy of the book, which has gone everywhere with me ever since (I bought another copy when we moved to London a few years later).

How To Eat predates the BBC commodification of Nigella into a finger-lickin’, satin dressing gown-wearing caricature. There are few pictures and none of her except a very Sophia Loren-esque author photo. But the writing is wonderful and the recipes are incredibly useful, whether you’re cooking for one or planning a long Sunday lunch. I never thought I’d have a use for the section on ‘feeding babies and small children’, but it was the only book-based information of its kind that I wasn’t disgusted by, even if I’ve yet to feed the Small Girl duck liver sauce. Yet.
When it was published the Daily Telegraph reviewer called How To Eat “the most valuable culinary guide published this decade”. Some 13 years later, I think that still holds true.

Hummus with seared lamb and toasted pine nuts
My copy of How To Eat falls open naturally at many well-thumbed pages so it took some turning to find something we hadn’t eaten before. Now I’ve discovered this I think we’ll be having it a lot.
In the book, Nigella devotes a lot of words to discussing the making of hummus – the soaking and cooking of chickpeas etc. Ignore this bit if you think making your own hummus is akin to kitchen slavery, but it really does taste better. AND, cooking your own chickpeas means you can use their cooking liquid to slacken the hummus instead of adding more oil. Don’t be tempted to use the brine from the tin – do as N suggests and dollop in a bit of Greek yoghurt instead.
For the lamb, she suggests using lamb noisettes, cut into little rags and tatters, but I used lamb rumps, sliced into 2cm steaks and quickly fried (it was such nice meat, I didn’t want to tear it up).
You can find her updated version of the recipe here – essentially it’s just a case of, a) make hummus, b) toast pinenuts, c) sear lamb, d) dollop hummus on plate, add lamb, sprinkle with pinenuts and chopped parsley. Over-achiever that I am, I also made some flatbreads to go with it, but you could just as easily use bought ones. It’s just that I like a sprinkle of smugness with my dinner, don’t you?