Friday, 11 April 2014

A ceia ultima-Casa Rosada os hospedeiros

The last evening of our Bloggers weekend,and it was time for Casa Rosada to open its doors and play host to our fellow bloggers.Earlier in the day we had chosen a selection of fish to prepare and vegetables and salads to accompany.The idea behind the dinner was to get as many cooks involved in the preparation and cooking of a dinner that included Flor de sal at every stage.Having set all the fish out on the table and the other ingredients on the counter top I started to make suggestions and under my watchful eye delegate various responsibilities to the bloggers. 
The task of cooking prawns fell upon Joli, Jorge Nunes,food and wine blogger.German blogging couple Nicky and Oliver set to preparing us a salad of muxama with rocket and citrus balsamic reduction.
With her culinary sparkle and inspiration Isabel Zibaia Rafael ( www.cincoquartosdelaranja.com ) was assisted by Adriana from chefagency in the prep for a sweet potato salad, and the Baila (sea Bass) which she baked in the oven.
The thespian busied himself preparing a Casa Rosada signature dish Filetes de salmonetes pan fried in mustard seeds and red onion.
I prepared sesame lime and soy tuna skewers which I cooked on salt stones.
The only disappointment of the evening was when we discovered that the large Dourada we were going to bake in a salt crust had had its scales removed and therefore was no good for the star task we had intended.You don’t scale the fish. If you scale it, the salt is absobed through the skin rendering the fish inedibly salty. Scales protect your dinner. Not so ours.
The most popular plate of the evening however was my very own Flor de sal Caramel Brownies.I gave a step by step demonstration of how they are made.Unfortunately our bloggers were so pre-occupied with eating them that they forgot about their photo opportunities and we were left with no record of the finished product."Punishment for gluttons" I would say.

© Foto: João Pedro Rato com Canon EOS 60D

FOTO: http://www.joli.pt/excelencia-da-flor-de-sal/
FOTO:Raul lufinha@ http://mesa-do-chef.blogs.sapo.pt
The Casa Rosada kitchen has never been so vital.We cooked to the acompaniment of clicking camera shutters and every stage of the proceedings was recorded by the sharp and watchful pencil of illustrator Ana Rita Monteiro ( www.aqui - ha - arte.com
The food was washed down with two splendid Douro wines from the house of Carm.Maria de Lourdes Branco 2011 and Vinho Tinto Reserva 2011.

FOTO:Raul lufinha@ http://mesa-do-chef.blogs.sapo.pt

...and to round off the evening yet another surprise.After a hard day´s work, including having provided a most delicious tapas lunch for all of us, our friends Clíodhna Browne e Fabio Zerbo from Puerta Ancha in Ayamonte joined us for a nightcap(more on their story later....)
 
What a great end to an information packed weekend. Brindamos a todos!

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Chermoula baked fish,pure and simple



Sometimes fish is best left alone, and at other times It can take a good rub or paste to help it on its way. Red Snapper has a great, firm texture and a sweet, nutty flavor that lends itself very well to everything from hot chilies to subtle herbs.
 Last week I was putting together a Moroccan-influenced menu for some guests who had booked in for dinner, and was looking for a sauce to pair with a robust fish for baking in the oven.Pargo or African snapper beckoned to me off the cold slab in the market and seemed the perfect choice for this.
Chermoula is one of those sauces—once you taste it, you'll wonder why you´ve never stumbled on it before.Since chermoula can be found in many North African countries and has myriad regional variations, I couldn't find a definitive starting point for my recipe. I approached it focusing instinctively on Moroccan flavours, then tinkered a bit( as usual), eventually coming up with a sauce that proved to be a huge success.
I started with coriander, parsley, and garlic finely choped in the mini processor.I then added in few ubiquitous Moroccan spices like paprika, cumin, chilli, and cinnamon. Then its defining feature—preserved lemon which imparts a strong and unique acidic flavor and a bit of olive oil for the finishing touch.
Chermoula is traditionally paired with fish and as I slathered it on,I imagined it could be be a great change of pace for a quick mid week supper, rubbed onto chicken beasts or even as a dressing for roasted vegetables.
Besides being incredibly versatile and costing next to nothing, the sauce takes only a few minutes to prepare, and can keep refrigerated, for a week or so. 
Chermoula marinade
2 tablespoons Extra virgin olive oil
1 heaped teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 medium red chilli,finely chopped
1 preserved lemon flesh disarded and peel finely chopped or zest and juice of 1 lime
1 clove garlic,finely chopped
1 heaped tablespoon coriander leaves,chopped
1 tablespoon,parsley leaves,chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
Mix all the ingredients together in aprocessor adding alittle water if it is too thick. Make 3 incisions in each side of your fish and rub the marinade all over the fish and into the incisions.
Serve with a jewelled cous cous,rice or Moroccan sweet potato salad.

Monday, 7 April 2014

O restauração e documentação do centro gastronómico e arquivo com Pão cozido em forno a lenha

                                Bread with and without salt   PHOTO RAUL LUFINHA
My bread making skills are as you all know seriously lacking and with my recent venture into the territory of “no knead bread”, things went from bad to worse.An artesian bread making demonstration was perhaps what the doctor ordered?.The second stop on our action packed Saturday of Bloggers weekend was just this.Our destination -  Casa de Odeleite.I could barely hold back my excitement and anticipation about this visit, this was something something that was long overdue on my Casa Rosada list of things to do/places to visit.
For nearly two decades, the house of John Xavier de Almeida was an important trading centre in the village and parish of Odeleite, part of the municipality of Castro Marim. It was the richest house in the parish and the authentic nerve centre of the village, located on the banks of the river Guadiana.
In the early twentieth century it provided dried fruits,fertilizers and seeds for the local community.This once important trading post was acquired by the Castro Marim authorities and carefully salvaged and restored.Casa de Odeleite has been transformed it into an authentic historic recreation of a home and a very important gastronomic artefact. As an exhibition centre and archive visitors can enjoy, besides the residential areas,the restored cellar,sewing room,warehouse showing grains and pulses and the focus of our particular visit, the wood burning oven.

                                     A padeira, Dona Celísia Custódio           PHOTO RAUL LUFINHA
                                                                
Lenha esteva para forno a lenha
                                                                                                                                 Dona Celísia Custódio was our
demonstrator.She fueled the oven with wood from the esteva plant
(rock rose),above.This infuses the bread with a distinctive aroma.Bread loves salt.You do not notice the taste of salt in most bread,not even a little bit..." She pinched some of the salt between her fingers and let it fall through the air. "Even a teaspoon of salt in a loaf of bread will change it so much. The salt helps stop the yeast from overgrowing so that the bread will rise but not spill out all over the oven. The loaf becomes strong, sturdy, and shapely. Without any salt at all, the bread will be crumbly and taste sour. Every good cook knows that bread loves…salt.Perhaps this is where I have been going wrong.She baked us loaves both with and without salt and with the fresh cheese from our previous stop and some olive oil we were able to sample the difference which also doubled up as a very welcome mid morning collation.


Fresh cheese warm bread and olive oil
 ..and the moral of this story if bread loves salt make sure you always have a few blossoms of Salmarim in your pocket.

some of the objects found in Casa de Odeleite

More interesting facts about 
Casa de Odeleite
About 1500 unique objects (artefacts, furniture ...) including a wedding dress were also recovered and many other documents (correspondence, invoices ...) belonging to the former owner, who shot himself in 1933.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Blesed are the cheesemakers


I was recently privileged to participate in a food bloggers weekend.From Friday to Sunday we had the chance to sample some of the modern, innovative,fine dining and molecular gastronomy of the East Algarve and Southern Andalucia.The highlight of the weekend for me however was not the modern Algarvian fine dining - interesting and delicious as it might have been- but discovering some more traditional gastronomic Portuguese treasures to be found on our doorstep.Artesan cheese making and bread baking.There is a common denominator here, artesan Flor de sal.Salt is not just a seasoning “chefs in the know” sprinkle over their food, but an integral part of cheesemaking and we were also able to taste bread baked with and without salt.Flor de sal was the focal point  and we witnessed how chefs use it in their creations.The weekend started on Friday evening when we were guests of Monte Rei Golf and country club and some clever molecular gastronomy presented to us by Jaime Perez and chefs Renato and Dalila Cunha from restaurant Ferrugem in Porto.You should have seen the expression on my face when a white capsule was miraculously transformed into a warm “oshibori” wipe as warm lemon infused water was poured over it.It rose serpent like from my plate,reminiscent of a Chinese cracker trick.I did not know whether to admire it or eat it and only avoided an embarrassing culinary moment when I noticed my fellow diners were cleansing their hands with it.
Putting my naivety aside some of the canapés and degustation items were indicative of Perez´ time with superstar chef Ferran Adria at El Buli´.
Next morning it was an early start, to drive north from Castro Marim through some stunning countryside that an uninformed tourist would sadly miss.Arriving in the remote little riverside village of Foz de Odeleite,the sun managed to break through clouds threatening an impending spring shower.A narrow weed strewn street led us to our Nirvana.There was a sweet smell in the air which was already giving us a clue as to where we were heading,an artesan dairy.
The smell intensified as we entered a room,almost surgical in its appearance.Large pans of milk were heating on the stove and a large stainless steel table filled the centre of the room.While 72 year old Dona Isabel Cavaço washed pots, 78 year old Dona Otilia Glory Gonçalo Ribeiro,mother of the current owner was preparing to apply gloves ready for the filling of the moulds with the fresh cheese.What we witnessed was an operation of hospital like proportions with the highest levels of hygiene being observed.

What i found most encouraging was to see the young granddaughter of both these septuagenarian ladies assisting and therefore ensuring the future livelihood of this traditional artesan business.In turn she brought pans of the warm milk to the table,where she drained the whey in a muslim bag and tipped the discarded liquid into the bowl that contained the moulds.The two, now gloved ladies rinsed their hands in this warm liquid.This ensured that every contact with the cheese was covered and no flavour was lost.By this point I was welling up with the nostalgia of the situation and overcome by the strong aroma of the warm fresh cheese.Dona Otilia then explained to us how the cheese was made.
First the milk is boiled.It is then cooled to 56 or 57 ° C. To help speed up the process there are large containers full of water where they put the pots of hot milk . 



When it reaches the desired temperature rennet and salt are added. The rennet is extracted from thistle flower. The flowers are crushed and placed in water overnight, the liquid is then strained.The result is a chestnut coloured water.This was a surprise for all of us. We knew that the thistle flower was used in some way to curdle milk , but did not know exactly how it was done.Thistle rennet can only be used with goat's or sheep's milk,the other type of rennet being animal based.We left that small room reassured that this method of cheese making was 1000% sustainable.As fellow blogger Raul Lufinha,"Mesa do chef", so rightly put in his blog post- "Não há queijo de cabra… sem cabras"
(“You cant have goats cheese without goats”)
The son of the owner Joáo M.G.Ribeiro has a herd of goats numbering between 150 and 200,which produce the milk used in the cheese making......

......Next stop Casa de Odeleite. which will be my next post about artesan breadmaking

Friday, 21 March 2014

“Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Butarga more.”

The first day of spring,the sun shines and its time to talk salad

What is the deal with Caesar salad?? I’ve ordered it in many different places from neighborhood cafes and beach bars to stylish city lunch spots. If there’s no dish on a restaurant’s menu that coaxes me instantly. and the particular establishment happens to offer Caesar salad – mission accomplished. That, however, doesn’t automatically mean that all of my Caesar salad endeavours have been pleasurable ones. Quite the contrary, in fact I’ve had really bad ones. Either my expectations towards this very salad are way out of reach for most restaurants or serving this classic gives chefs a good excuse to muck up a classic. Limp leaves, drowned in way too much dressing, over the top garlicky or Parmesan cluttered – all these things can quickly ruin an otherwise beautifully balanced mix,not to mention the heinous crime of dressing it with mayonnaise.
I realize I’m possibly opening up a can of worms, triggering a debate on authenticity. Try this at your own risk: Open a thread about Caesar salad in any food forum and you will be rewarded with an endless and heated debate between people telling you what ingredients you have to use, why you are a complete moron if you don’t and the ones altering the recipes from start to finish. In my own words

“There are  certain classics that can not be messed with and this is one of them. Accept no substitute, being palmed off with a flavoured mayonnaise is just not good enough”
Blog post June 2011

“Trust me, a Caesar is no proper Caesar without anchovies.Accept no substitutes”.
Blog post April 2013

Actually, I understand both sides, I really do, yet I never got the point why people tend to become overly bossy and dogmatic when discussing food.
I started talking Butarga (" the caviar of the Mediterranean “)on this blog in November last year when I had my first hands on encounter with it.Since then Its subtle taste of smoked sea flavour has left me with a curious appetite for experimenting with other permutations.
It doesn’t hurt to inform yourself before preparing a classic recipe of what the traditional recipe involves.That said, your kitchen is your playground, feel free to try whatever floats your boat – just don’t call it authentic or classic anymore.Restaurant Caesars I have come across have included Creole chicken,crispy bacon and even cubes of avocado.So i don't feel so bad about my very minor twist.I replaced the anchovies with shavings of Butarga.Butarga can be used sliced or grated and so for a bit of added punch I grated some over the top of the salad along with the parmesan

Caesar salad with buttarga

FOR THE CROUTONS
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
100g 3-day old white bread cut into 3cm cubes

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/390F/ gas mark 5. Toss the bread cubes around in a bowl with the oil.Spread over a baking tray  and bake in the oven, turning occasionally for 20 minutes until golden brown.Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

 CLASSIC CAESAR DRESSING
2 cloves garlic
4 anchovy fillets
1Tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 eggs plus two egg yolks
Juice of 1 lemon
125ml white wine vinegar
250ml extra virgin olive oil
300ml sunflower oil
Blend all the ingredients in a processor until smooth and creamy.

FOR THE SALAD
12 thin slices of Butarga
1 large head crisp cos or romaine lettuce, centre stems removed
and leaves torn into bite-size pieces
⅔ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a large bowl, toss the torn up lettuce with the croutons and Butarga slices. Add the dressing to taste, reserving any extra for another use. Add the Parmesan and butarga grating, toss again so the cheese and fish gratings adhere to the salad leaves.Serve immediately.

Butarga tips:
Can be used sliced ​​or grated on salads or in sauces or stuffings
Grate into scrambled eggs just before serving
Use in Spaghetti dishes as you would anchovies or smoked salmon



Friday, 14 March 2014

The emperor´s new clothes-chocolate and orange


French week continues at Casa Rosada and this time a pudding.This is all a bit "Emperors new clothes".The pudding is there but parts of it are invisible to the eye.Things are seldom what they seem, and two secret ingredients hide under this sumptuous mousse.
Some people enjoy mousse that is rich in sugar and light in chocolate,while others, I for one, swear by mousse that is rich in cocoa,with robust flavour.Whichever camp you are in the consensus of opinion is that chocolate,orange and liqueur are a ménage a trois made in heaven. 

The original Cognac belongs to the French and was invented in the 17th century.But it was the Belgians who wedded it to the flavour of tangerines and Mandarine Napoleon was born.Tangerines steeping in French cognac , so why not Seville oranges steeping in Bagaciera ( Portuguese aguardente).I decided to combine this chocolate pudding and its hide and seek nougatine,with Casa Rosada´s signature home made house licore - Licore de laranja Sevillana.
Mandarine Napoléon-not tonight Josephine......

Chocolate mousse with nougatine 
and Licore de naranja Sevillana
serves 6
150g(5oz) good quality dark chocolate,melted
2 eggs,separated
250ml(1 cup) heavy cream chilled
40g/ 2 tablespoons sugar

FOR THE NOUGATINE
150g/ 2/3 cup sugar
80g/2/3 cup almonds and hazelnuts chopped
50ml/ 3172 tablespoons orange liqueur
mint leaves and orange zest for garnish
Chop the chocolate and melt it in a bain-marie.
Separate the egg whites from the egg yolks
Add the yolks to the melted chocolate stirring briskly.Set aside to cool.
Whip the cream until stiff peaks form.Fold it gently into the chocolate/egg yolk mixture.
Beat the egg whites until firm but not stiff or dry.
Add the sugar and continue beating until you have a firm meringue.
Fold gently into the chocolate mixture and set aside.
Prepare the nougatine by cooking the sugar in a heavy pan over a medium heat until it starts to melt and turn golden.Pour the chopped nuts into the mixture and stir to combine.
Spread the hot mixture onto a sheet of baking parchment and cover it with a second sheet very quickly rolling it out firmly with a rolling pin until it is an evenly flat wafer.When cool and set break it into small pieces.
Cover the bottom of each goblet with the pieces of nougatine.
Pour the Orange liqueur over the nougatine,filling them about1/4 full.
Fill the goblets the rest of the way with the chocolate mousse:Garnish with mint leaves and orange zest

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Coq au vin,the return of the rooster

French week at Casa Rosada continued with an unctuous classic
A rather neglected figure,the Portuguese galinha (old rooster) is nowadays seen only as an image on sports teams´shirts or as an iconic symbol of Portugal found in almost every souvenir shop.It used to be different story,though.This cockerel,the male mate to the more tender hen,used to play his role from dawn to dusk.His morning call would wake the slumbering countryside at dawn and the hens would lay their eggs for their owners.
Worn down after a life well lived,the old rooster would eventually end up in the casserole,slowly tenderized in a wine sauce.Today the proud rooster is more often replaced by a chicken,for faster preparation of coq au vin.Let the cock fight begin.
Two ingredients face off in the pot.A tired old rooster and robust red wine,rich in alcohol and tannins.With such a match going on,the other ingredients become spectators.Carrots cut into rounds add vitamins while bouquet garni,garlic and onions contribute essential aromas,and the peppercorns give a bit of spice to the flavour.A bit of brandy thrown in and burnt oiff for good measure is always a good idea I think,The French did it with Calvados so I decided to douse my old bird with Portuguese Maciera.Exactly which liquor you choose and which country you are in at the time depends much on how you feel at the moment.
Pearl onions,mushrooms and a slab of bacon chopped up and browned in butter finish it off.Small new potatoes with delicate skin and a good flavor are cooked whole and added to the dish at the end. Overcome by garnish the poor old rooster can not escape from this final battle,It is too bad he is hiding at the bottom of the dish.
 

Coq au vin
Serves 6

2.8kg (6 1/4 lb)Galinha (rooster)
Freshly ground pepper
200ml / 2/3 cup olive oil
4 carrots
2 onions
6 to 8 sprigs parsley plus extra for garnish
2 sprigs Thyme
3 large bay leaves
2 tablespoons flour
100ml / 7 tbsp maciera/Brandy
12 black peppercorns
11/2 bottles robust red wine
6 cloves garlic
500g/8oz small potatoes
200g white pearl onions
300g fresh mushrooms
50g butter
200g slab of bacon in small pieces

Get the butcher to joint the bird for you.When you get home wash all the pieces and season them well with salt and pepper.Heat the olive oil in a large cast iron pot.Put the chicken pieces in the pot and brown them rapidly by turning them on all sides.You may have to do this in batches.Cut the carrots into rounds,chop the onions and garlic and make a bouquet garni from the parsley thyme and bay leaves.Add the vegetables and herbs to the pot and stir for 5 minutes over medium high heat.sprinkle with flour and mix well.Add the brandy and peppercorns followed by the red wine.Cover and cook for two and half hours over a low heat then remove the chicken from the sauce and keep it warm.Boil the potatoes in salted water for 20 minutes while the chicken is cooking.Set aside.Cook the pearl onions in salted water for 10 minutes,then drain them.In a frying pan, fry the bacon and mushrooms in butter until golden brown. Keep warm.
Reduce the sauce by  a quarter over medium high heat.Add the mushrooms bacon,pearl onions and chicken.Cover the pieces of chicken with the sauce then add the potatoes sprinkled with parsley.
Bom apetite!!!

Pleas sir, can I have some more?

Monday, 10 March 2014

De cabeça para baixo -thats the way it turned out


Numerous culinary specialities are the result of simple mistakes.In 1808,Stéphanie Tatin and her sister Caroline ran an inn across the street from the train station in Lamonte- Beuvron in Loire-et-cher,France. Stéphanie was renowned for her melt in your mouth caramelized apple tart.One day when the restaurant was full,the usual apple tart was not ready in time.Whether by miracle or in confusion,Stéphanie put her tart in the oven upside down.Apples,sugar and butter on the bottom of the pan and and the pastry covering on the top.Her guests pronounced it a resounding success.One of them, a certain Louis Vaudable,hurried back to Paris in order to put this tart on on the menu of his restaurant, the famous Maxims.The success of the demoiselles Tatins´tart cannot be denied.On the centenary of this dessert,celebrated in 1998,the people of Lamonte-Beuvron prepared the largest tarte tatin ever created..With  a diameter of 2.5 metres  (8.2 feet ),it used 250kg (550 lb) apples,30kg (66lb) sugar and 7kg (15.5 lb) butter.
 

The perfection of this dessert rests with the judicious choice of apples.They must have high sugar content and be both firm and soft.Many chefs prefer the Reinette variety.The grey reinette of Canada (reinetta gris) is a large,tart fruit with slightly rough skin,grey bronze colour,soft flesh and a distinctive flavour.The Reinette is one of the most popular apples in Portugal, available in markets
all year round.
So with this lovely story of the incarnation of tarte tatin,what better way to kick off French week at Casa Rosada.God knows why French week ,we have no French guests in the house, but I just felt like celebrating some of the great classics of this nations cuisine, finding out how they came about and selecting some favorites that have a somewhat, if tenuous, Portuguese connection- in this case apples
The original tart tatin
Serves 8

 

Squeeze as many apple slices as you can into the pan,because the heat makes them shrink.If necessary,add a few more apple slices during the cooking to maintain uniform crown.

1 kg (2.25lb) Reinetta apples
100g/7tbsp butter
150g /2/3 cup sugar
1 packet shop bought puff pastry


Take a loose bottomed round cake pan and grease it with butter.Line it with baking parchment allowing a generous overlap above the rim of the tin.Melt the butter and sugar in a non-stick pan over a high heat.cook until you have a golden butter caramel tip the caramel into the lined cake pan and spread evenly and quickly over the bottom.Peel the apples and core and cut them into eighths.
Arrange the apples in a crown in the caramel.Crowd them in,overlapping one slice against the next in order to make an impressive presentation when unmoulded.Bake in the oven for 25 minutes at 180C/350F.remove from the oven.Roll out your ready-made puff pastry and cut out a circle slightly larger than the diameter of your pan.with the back of a spoon tuck the pastry into and around the side of the tart.Return to the oven and bake for further 15 minutes.remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.Carefully  invert the tart over palate and peel away the baking parchment before serving.



Friday, 7 March 2014

There´s no knead for pao caseiro

Flat and rock hard-a bâtard perhaps?
I have never had much luck with bread making so why on earth did I get drawn in to this? There was absolutely no Knead.I suppose that these must of been the words that coaxed me. Another possible factor that influenced me was also the recipe informing me that the dough would make four one pound (500g) loaves.And would keep in the refrigerator for 14 days.GREAT!! It indicated a certain simplicity.The dough is made with nothing but all-purpose flour, yeast, salt, and water, and promised me that it was “the easiest thing to handle, shape, and bake. “This white dough can be used to make a boule, baguette, bâtard ( i think that might have meant what my loaf should have been called!!!), ciabatta, couronne, crusty white sandwich loaf, and soft dinner rolls”.Promises promises… I had three attempts, but it was not until the fourth and last that I produced something moderately edible.The word worthy came to mind with each attempt.

a slight improvement in texture but still "worthy"
What I loved about it was the not knowing what you were going to get. Its was  like having a baby. You know whats coming out – a little tiny being, but you don’t exactly know what it will look like, its traits and features are a mystery until it is born. No Knead Bread is like that. Each time I baked it – it came out looking different. Sometimes it was lop sided, with different cracks, nothing that was was destined for the stage. Artesan it said and artesan it was.Each time I gave birth to mutant loaf,and I have to say this voyage into the unknown was the only modicum of enjoyment of my first and last time tackling “ NO KNEAD” bread
The internet abounds with recipes for quick and easy artesan breads of this method.Judging by the pictures some lucky peeps are having success and the comments re-iterated….

“Wow! What a gorgeous, beautifully colored, irresistible loaf of artisan bread!”

“The loaf had a chewy crust and a beautiful interior.”

“The ingredients for the dough were fast and simple to assemble”.

What a blessing the fourth version made the best ever tastiest buttered toast
Well my dear peeps with all those recipes on offer out there why not see if you can do justice to no knead bread. From the pictures on their blog, Jam hands. this one almost tempted me to try again.Let me know how you get on.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Asafoetida,a life without onions and garlic

“Eat no onions or garlic, for we are to utter sweet breath,”
A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Alliums are aromatics,they are  eaten precisely for their smelly qualities. But God forbid what if religion dictates or your dietician forbids you onions and garlic for life?
Some vegetarians in India are required, for religious reasons, to shun onions and garlic. They have come to rely on a potent resin as a replacement: asafoetida. Once upon a time, Western cooks were familiar with asafoetida. Alexander the Great’s armies are said to have introduced asafoetida to Europe, and during Medieval times the resin was used by apothecaries.
Today this ancient spice needs a bit of a push from the publicity department. It’s known in German as Teufelsdreck, in French as merde du diable, and in Swedish as dyvelsträck, all of which mean the same thing: devil’s dung. Asafoetida, especially in its powdered form, merits rediscovery in the West. Popular cookbook writer Madhur Jaffrey said on a radio show “For those of you who don’t know this spice: Go, run and get it.”
I am always on the lookout for the next flavor sensation and now I have this I am going to be on the lookout for new applications. I was introduced to the ancient world of asafoetida by a guest, who on receiving our pre-stay dietary requirement enquiry, responded with the challenging answer that she was on a month long aversion diet of avoiding anything that is cooked with onion and or garlic.I researched carefully but rather hopelessly what we could serve her,but on arrival she presented me with a jar of asafoetida powder.
Because asafoetida powder imparts a very strong onion-like flavour, it only needs to be used in small quantities. Asafoetida in its resinous form has a bitter, acrid taste and a pungent smell, but once cooked it adds a distinctive flavour to meat, fish, grain and legume dishes, as well as pickles and chutneys.
Oh, that odour. Asafoetida is notorious for good reason: it is powerfully, funkily redolent,but less so in its powdered form. One explanation for this could be that in Afghanistan,(one of the world’s leading exporters of the spice) manufacturers sometimes age the dried resin in fresh animal skin (sheep or goat) to augment its already powerful aroma. These days, the spice is sold powdered, in a saltshaker-like container. (The powder is usually mixed with refined flour, although there is also a gluten-free version available.) Purists say that asafoetida powder doesn’t have the same potency as the chunk version. They crush the resin and add gum arabic and flour to it.If you are celiac or wheat intolerant check out that rice flour has been used in this respect.Schwarz produce a rice based asafoetida in a shaker container.
Please don’t let its stink deter you from trying asafetida. When you sauté a pinch of the resin in hot oil, the sulphurous spice breaks down and gives out the same smell as pan-fried onions or garlic. This spoonful of oil can transform a variety of savoury dishes, in particular Indian rice dishes, asafoetida adds depth and complexity.
Asafoetida really shines through in lentil-based dishes. Vegetarians in India depend on legumes, beans, and lentils for protein, and these plant foods aren’t always easy to digest. Asafoetida however, is a digestive aid as well as an aromatic. Because of this dual duty, asafoetida has become essential in much Indian vegetarian cooking. It may have started out as a stand-in, but in certain dishes there’s now no substitute for asafetida.It also works well in chutneys and sauces.
My first venture into the strange world of asafetida was an extremely tasty Indian vegetarian curry of rice and peas.The aroma it gave off while cooking was quite pungent, but attracted the thespian into the kitchen to enquire what I was cooking that was giving off such a truly authentic smell of old fashioned curry.
Chura Matar
Serves 2 generous portions
1 cup rice
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup green peas(frozen can be used)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 green chillies
2.5cm(1”) piece of fresh ginger
bunch of fresh coriander, leaves and stems separated
174 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
lemon juice
                                             1/2 teaspoon asafoetida

Rinse the rice in cold water and put in a bowl with the milk.Set aside.In a food processor make a paste with the chillies, ginger and chopped coriander stalks.
Heat some butter in a pan.Add the cumin seeds and cook until they splutter.Add the curry paste asafetida and peas.Cook for 3 minutes on a low heat.Add 1/2 a cup of water and season with salt and pepper.Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat,cover with laid and cook until the peas are cooked and the water has evaporated.add the milk and rice and coriander leaves.Replace the lid and continue cooking on a low heat until the rice is tender.Stir in the lemon juice and garam masala.
Traditionally this is a main dish but I chose to serve it as aside to spiced chicken livers.

Asafoetida is available in most Indian grocery stores; just ask for hing (pronounced “heeng”). You can also order it from numerous suppliers online. it has a good shelf life but should not be refrigerated. Chuck it out as one would with all spices when the spice seems to have lost its potency.