Physalis, that tiny paper covered cousin of the tomato is back. If you like a tart little treat you’ll be relishing them just as they are, minus their papery cases (that goes without saying) but if you’re like me, you’ll be looking at them, sitting there looking more than reminiscent of their Mexican cousin the tomatillo, thinking they must have so much more to offer other than the traditional pies and flans. And as there’s nothing like putting a good theory to the test, that’s just what I did.
If you’re not Mexican or from the U.S. I suppose you could be forgiven for not knowing anything about the tomatillo. To be fair until I’d lived over there I’d lived a long and happy life not knowing anything of their existence. But times they are a changin’ and tomatillos are becoming far more wide spread and although you possibly won’t be able to pick them up on the shelves of your local supermarket once you know what you’re looking for you’ll be amazed at how much more often you’ll see them cropping up.
Every so often a few culinary planets align and something magical happens on even the most mundane and boring days. One such moment happened last week. I had a perfectly ripe avocado. Only one. And a perfectly ripe mango. Now I can always find a home for a perfectly ripe mango but only one avocado is slightly harder. In a family our size we need at least two so we can get stuck into some guacamole but waiting for another one to catch up never seems to work for me. Even with the help of the revered brown paper bag and over ripe banana. Of course there was always the option of devouring it mashed on wholemeal toast with some roasted tomatoes (one of my favourites) before anyone got home but I was feeling magnanimous. And summery. A winning combination. The avocado and mango ice cream idea was born.
You’ve got to love the humble courgette or zucchini as it’s known over the water haven’t you? Originally from the Americas, over the centuries the popularity of this firm fleshed fruit masquerading as a vegetable (like the rest of its fradulent family, the squashes) has spread world wide. It’s true that it often doesn’t really shine simply boiled as a veggie side (you should hear the cries of ‘boring!’ when I serve them up like that in my house) probably because of their rather inconvienient tendency to carry on cooking as they sit on the table but they are so versatile that you really shouldn’t feel the need to stop there anyway.
When I grew up home cooked food could be pretty much divided up into four categories. There was the standard British fare, the Mediterranean which was basically Italian with a bit of French mixed in, Chinese and Indian. All delicious but (even back then) not considered exotic. But that all changed about twenty years ago when Thai food hit the mass market in the UK big time. I remember the first time I tried a green curry well; it was so totally different from anything I’d had before. Obviously everyone else felt the same because it didn’t take long for green and red curries to make it onto everybody’s monthly meal rotation and for curry pastes of varying quality to hit the supermarket shelves. I admit it; it was enough for me. I kind of fell out of love with them. That is until last week.
I’ve sung the praises of middle Eastern food before on this blog but I haven’t yet touched on Ful. Ful Medames (also spelt foule mudammas or Ful mudammes) is a mouth wateringly delicious Egyptian breakfast dish popular all over the Levant. The recipes vary as much as the region but essentially it consists of cooked broad (fava) beans blended with olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and cumin. A bit of a surprise it hasn’t cropped up here yet then; full as it is with all my favourite flavours. I have to confess though that I hadn’t tried it at all until recently when a good friend of mine (who experienced it first hand from the Syrian refuges she helps out) pointed me in its direction. I owe her; I’ve been hooked ever since my first mouthful and amazed that the rest of the world doesn’t want to start the day with the same style.
I feel like I have been playing catch up and dashing around like crazy since I got back from holiday and for one reason or another (well four kid-sized reasons more likely) it doesn’t seem to be easing up. Meals have all had to be under fifteen minute jobs and there’s only so long I can carry on like that. I don’t know about you but need my pottering time. So today I decided to have a couple of hours off and do just that around my kitchen, cooking slowly. Sag Aloo had been on the cards for a while and as I had spinach and potatoes (something of a minor miracle after a weekend in my male dominated house) that seemed as good a place as any to start.
One of the reasons why meat free Monday is such a great idea is that cooking veg is usually much less time consuming than a similar meat dish would be (in fact for that reason I think I’d change it to meat-free mid week if it were up to me, but all you meat lovers out there can breath a sigh of relief- it isn’t). And right now we’re finally coming to the time of year now when nature is really on our side, when most of the veg just needs the briefest of cooking times or even just dressing, helping make our lives so much easier and stress free. And tastier. Take this family friendly curry for example. It’s jam packed full of some really healthy spices and is ready in just less than half an hour. Perfect for any mid week night when the time (and more probably inclination) just isn’t there for starting on dinner preps before lunch is even finished.
I do love where I live. Who wouldn’t? It is pretty and rural and full of healthy things like fresh air and country walks. But just sometimes I miss some of the things I used to able to pick up at a moment’s notice when I lived in Frankfurt or New York. Take miso soup, for example. It’s not something that turns up on my local supermarket’s shelves. Why not, I do not know. They have all manner of horrible soups to make up in a cup, the kind that always leave a powdery residue on the bottom of any cup and always taste the same whilst giving absolutely no nutrition whatsoever, no matter what flavour you buy. But no miso. When most of us were struck down with the dreaded flu, all we wanted to eat was a nice warm miso soup, but despite my rudely healthy husband (I have not got over that yet, I am the healthy one round here) kindly bringing back supplies from London, we just didn’t have enough to go round. From my sick bed I gathered the family around and vowed that as soon as I was fighting fit again I would experiment until I found a version that I could knock up quickly and painlessly in my own kitchen so we would never have to go without again. I am happy to report that I did just that and now luckily we can get back to enjoying the country walks without cursing the lack of miso soups. Continue reading
Chayote (or mirliton) is one of those vegetables that doesn’t crop up too often in the UK. Strange that. It favours an almost tropical climate (don’t we all?) and shows up a lot more in Southern Europe as well as the Caribbean, southern American states and, of course, Mexico. But this week, I was lucky enough to be presented with a couple and therefore given a good enough reason to spend a day in my kitchen messing around with them. Continue reading