Sunday, 31 October 2010

Balkabağı Köftesi (Pumpkin rolls)

In Dublin MikeyFox & I went to a lovely Lebanese restaurant called The Cedar Tree, where we had a delicious mezze followed by chickpea & aubergine stew (om nom nom!). As we ambled back to our hotel (via a few pubs) MikeyFox proclaimed Lebanese food to be The Bestest & we should eat it more often. Having spent the last 4 years making Imam Biyaldi, Baba Ganouj & Imjaddarra, not to mention stuffing our fridge with halva, Beyaz Peynir (a salty white cheese made from sheeps milk) & Labneh, it was all I could do not to just pitch him into the Liffey & be done with it all!

But I was full of various pureed legumes & spinach pastries (and Messrs Maguires fine porter), so not especially inclined towards murderings. Lucky MikeyFox.

This recipe is based on Havuc (woooah, have-a-banana!) Koftesi, a Turkish recipe for carrot rolls. If the name sounds familiar, it's because of kofte, those balls or patties of minced beef or lamb with spices & onions. These little treats are made with pumpkin instead, making them Balkabagi Koftesi. They are herby, sweet & delicious as a snack or part of a mezze.

Half a medium sized pumpkin, peeled, deseeded & roasted (a butternut squash treated in the same way will also work well)
2 slices of bread, rubbed into crumbs
6 dried apricots, finely chopped
3 spring onions, chopped
2 tbs pine nuts, bashed in a pestle & mortar
2 cloves garlic, treated with similar cruelty in a pestle & mortar
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 egg
1 tbs each of dill, parsley & mint, finely chopped
salt & pepper
Plain flour for coating

Mash the pumpkin in a large bowl with a fork. Add the remaining ingredients & mix thoroughly. If there is any liquid in the mixture, add more breadcrumbs (bearing in mind that it should still be moist & sticky, not dry & doughy). Sprinkle a plate with plain flour. Scoop a heaped teaspoon of the pumpkin mixture into your hand & mould into an oblong. Toss in the flour & put to one side while you make the rest of them.
Heat a little oil in a frying pan & place the little kofte in it, turning regularly until they brown on all sides (you can bake them in the oven at 180c for 30 minutes, turning halfway through if you prefer).
Serve hot or cold. They go really well with yoghurt with a little lemon juice, a clove of garlic & a pinch of salt & pepper added, or with some crumbled feta or beyaz peynir

Balkabagi Kofkesi (Pumpkin rolls) with some dolmades. Om nom nom!

Too Early for the Circus, Too Late for the Bars

So I'm kind of late for my annual Week of Pumpkin Recipes.
Meh, if you're anything like me, you'll be trawling the stores monday morning looking for reduced pumpkins & squashes. And you need to do something with them, right?

So until I get myself together & get posting, here's my pumpkin harvest for the year (not including the ones I've already eaten. Sorry, guys, but they were just so damned tasty!)
In the meantime, you can try out previous years posts such as Pumpkin, Lentil & Peanut Stew, Pumpkin Gratin or Pumpkin Bread.

Okay. Cup of coffee. Survey the shameful neglect of the allotment. Blog about veg.

Happy Hallowene, folks!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Baile Átha Cliath

Hello blog. I have returned from the crowded delights of the fair city of Baile Átha Cliath, otherwise known as Dublin.

Most of the time was spent walking around. There are an insane amount of tacky touristy things you can do, but then you'd not have time to see the really interesting (and free) things, like the Irish National Botanic Gardens, 20,000 plants spread across 27 acres, many of them filling up the wrought iron glasshouses. The picture here is of inside the Palm House, a huge glasshouse built in 1884.
If succulents, sub-tropicals, palms, cacti, sugarcane & creepy insect-eating vegetation (a whole room of them - brr!), outside there collections of dahlias, pampas grasses, trees, herbs, vegetables and all manner of things leafy, smelly & colourful.
There are also events & exhibitions at the visitors centre (which also has really tasty fruit scones)
There is also the Herbarium - a collection of over 600,000 preserved plants. Oooo!

There is also the National Museum of Ireland. Well, there's actually 4 of them!
The Decorative arts & History Museum (exhibitions of clothing, furniture, weapons, religious paraphernalia & rammel from around the world).
The Archaeology Museum has exhibitions of Celtic bling & Viking loot, plus a sober & moving collection of Bog Bodies.
And the Museum of Natural History. This has to be my favourite, even though it's commonly referred to as the 'Dead Zoo'. First opened in 1857, it's a mind boggling collection of around 2 million specimens of beasties, birds & bugs, divided into 2 exhibitions; creatures of Ireland & pretty much everything else, all displayed in Victorian cabinet style.

A few things about Dublin.

1, The bus drivers hate you. No matter who you are, how often you smile and thank them, they hate you. Try not to take it personally.

2, People will warn you that the beer is expensive, which is true. You go into a pub or bar & you're looking at 4 or 5 euros a pint (except for the glorious Czech Inn, which is slightly cheaper, and also has dark lager. Yum!). But in supermarkets it's as cheap as in the UK. A bottle of something Spanish & red in tesco will set you back about 5 euros, but in a restaurant or pub it'll be more like 20. I tried asking a local what the deal was, but he was halfway through a heroic attempt to drink every beverage in the Porterhouse Octoberfest range, and could only manage a brief rant about taxes (and a recommendation on which Weissbier was worth trying). If you can afford a pint, Messrs Maguire on O'Connell Bridge & the Porterhouse at Temple Bar are excellent brewpubs. I heartily recommend the Porter & Red beers.

3, There is a giddy range of foods for vegetarians (speaking as someone who lives over 40 miles & a bloody great estuary from her nearest Vegetarian restaurant, this is about as thrilling as life gets!). If you're short on cash, Govindas is the place to go - friendly staff, delicious food & huge portions. Cornucopia is a cracking vegetarian & wholefood restaurant with a dizzying range of hot & cold food, salads, soups & oaty snacks. Cafe Azteca gets a special mention, even though it isn't vegetarian. They have a vegetarian pozole that I will probably be dreaming about when I'm ancient & we're all living on the moon anyway. The staff were lovely, and if you ask nicely, will happily sell you some of their stash of chiles (I got some chile de arbol!)
If you're in the mood for a cup of tea & a slice of cake, you can't do better than Queen of Tarts, an adorable cosy little cafe down the road from Dublin castle, for an enormous chipped enamel pot of tea & one of the sweet treats (everything from Muffins to Bailey's Chocolate Cheescake**) piled up at the counter.

4, The city is in a distopian-future style permanent gridlock. If you need to get anywhere, you'd better head out at 7am when they're hosing down the streets (though how people have enough money to get that drunk is beyond me). Cars pay little attention to the pretty coloured lights by the road, and the cyclists barely notice the difference between road and pavement, let alone the finer points of the Highway Code. Pedestrians take a rather Zen* approach to crossing the road. Perhaps living in a city where a pint of beer costs the same as a 15 mile taxi ride makes you a little bit suicidal.

So, travelogue over, back to posting recipes & pictures of vegetables!

*I'm not suggesting that they believe in the Universal nature of transcendent wisdom, it's more that they sail out diagonally across box junctions & allow the universe to screech wildly around them.

**Yes, I did. As the song goes, Je ne regrette rien

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Harvest Moon

One of the, um, interesting things about this whole new self-sefficient-ish lark is the terrifyingly steep learning curve. Back in April when I was merrily sowing seeds & chitting potatoes no one mentioned that, at some point, it would all need harvesting.
In my old (much smaller) garden, harvesting was a small daily ritual, venturing out to the single raised bed & seeing what needed eating. By September it was over but for the half dozen Jerusalem artichokes that loitered in the corner.
So (in case it wasn't apparent from the recent spate of harvesting & storing blogs) I'm currently in the midst of frantic harvesting & storing. Potatoes have been dug up, checked over & packed into paper bags (the nibbled ones made into half a freezers worth of mash*), apples have been wrapped in newspaper & stored, beets have been clamped, Pumpkins have been harvested & left to cure in the polytunnel, beans podded & dried & the last of the courgettes harvested.

And in the midst of this flurry of activity, MikeyFox & myself have decided to drop it all and disappear off to Dublin for a week (to celebrate 10 years since the day we met. Yes, we're celebrating the day we met). So I'll be taking a short hiatus from blogging, as I'll be in another country.

But first, there's still the Oca that needs covering with fleece, tomatillos to be harvested & chilli's to be collected & strung up to dry. And the house needs cleaning, so the old lady who's watching the cats in our absence doesn't suck air through her teeth at me (the greatest, unspoken, criticism the elderly can bestow upon the young).

Have a happy harvest folks, and don't break the Internet while I'm gone!

*When we get tired of plain mash, it can be perked up with a spoonful of mustard, horseradish, wasabi paste, grated cheese, shredded fried cabbage or turned into gnocchi, scones, MikeyFox's Fishless Fishcakes or potato cakes.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010


Chorizo is a term for several types of pork sausage, the most famous being the Spanish variety made with smoked paprika (pimentón) that celebrity chefs are always going on about. It's nigh on impossible to find a vegetarian alternative, and even harder to find one that doesn't taste like athletic equipment.

So when all else fails, try making it yourself! And if you can shoehorn in a terrible pun, even better!

This recipe takes a bit of time, so it's not something to do in a hurry, but on a rainy Sunday afternoon while listening to El Vez.

3 medium sized fresh beetroots (2 large, 4 small etc)
350g (1 1/2 cups) Wheat Gluten
200ml (just shy of 1 cup) cider vinegar
2 tbs olive oil
3 cloves garlic
2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp oregano
1 tbs chilli powder
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tbs smoked paprika
1 tbs salt

You will also need;
kitchen foil
a steamer (a Chinese bamboo steamer works well, or a metal stacking steamer. If you don't have a steamer, a bit of creativity using a large pan & some scrunched up kitchen foil, or an upturned saucer should get around that).

Roast the beetroot whole in the oven at 180C for about an hour (maybe longer, depending on the size) until cooked through. Leave to cool. The skins should slip off easily, but if they give you trouble, a sharp knife should help. Put in a blender or food processor with the garlic, oil & cider vinegar & blitz to a smooth puree.
Mix the gluten, salt, pepper & spices in a large bowl. Add the beetroot puree & give it a thorough mixing.
If you've used gluten before, you'll be familiar with its, umm, unique texture. If not, my previous pun-tastic beetball post (I bet Heston Blumenthal never thought of Beet-Meat!) might prepare you for the Purple Blob of Doom. If it all seems a bit dry, a splash of water will help. If it's too wet, a sprinkling of more gluten powder, or some breadcrumbs, should help. The texture should be soft, spongy & very, very weird.
Knead for a minute, then shape into equal sized logs. You'll want them to be about twice the diameter & twice the length of your average sausage (though whatever length fits in your steamer, really!). Roll each sausage shape up in a sheet of kitchen foil & scrunch the ends closed. They will expand during cooking & this will keep them in shape. Pile all your foil parcels into your steamer & cook for 40 minutes. You'll need to preheat your oven to 180C again.
After 40 minutes, remove the foil parcels from the steamer and arrange of a baking tray. If any have burst out of their casing, wrap them in some more foil. Put in the oven & bake for another 40 minutes, turning occasionally.

Yes, I know this is all a bit of a faff, but trust me, it's worth it. You could just steam the Chorbeetzo for a full hour instead of baking, but marvellous alchemy occurs, and you get a firm textured, while still tender, chunk of sausage. Either way, the flavour will be rich, spicy and horribly, horribly addictive.

After 40 minutes, remove from the oven. They will have swelled up a bit, but they will shrink a little when cool. You can sample some now, but you're best off leaving them to go cool. Then they can be sliced thinly for topping pizza, chopped into chunks and added to fideos, Mexican rice, stews, casseroles or any amount of pasta dishes.

Friday, 8 October 2010

G(uit)ar Lic(k)s (worst pun title ever!)

There has been a brief (and very pleasant) few days of dry weather here in North Lincolnshire - a perfect opportunity to plant garlic! Yes, you can plant garlic in early spring, but the results can be a bit disappointing. It really needs a bit of cold weather to inspire it to produce fat, heavy bulbs.
You're best off buying your garlic for planting from a garden centre or an online supplier (I can't recommend The Garlic Farm enough! A good range of huge bulbs in excellent condition that are trouble free to grow) rather than stuff from the supermarket. Or you can scrounge some from anyone you know who grows their own*.

Garlic is fairly undemanding, though they do best in well drained, fertile soil. Last year MikeyFox treated me to the Garlic Farm's Garlic Lovers Seed Collection (9 varieties of garlic - on nom nom!), which were planted out in our raised beds. Whatever wasn't scarfed down green in June I harvested at the end of July & stored. So I'm using the most successful varieties of these stored bulbs for seed. Garlic is asexual (meaning it doesn't need pollinating, not that it's indifferent to rumpy-pumpy), so each clove will grow into a clone of the parent plant (and you don't have to fret about cross-pollination). There is something mildly disheartening about harvesting a large, perfectly formed head of garlic & instantly thinking 'I can't eat it', but on the plus side, saving your own seed encourages biodiversity, avoids the juggernaut of F1 hybrids & monocultures & allows you to dabble in a less crazy-haired form of mad science (like seed selecting & plant breeding). Also, it'll save you a few quid!
This year I'm planting Chesnok Wight (hardneck), Albigensian Wight (softneck), Lautrec Wight (hardneck), Iberian Wight (softneck) & Elephant garlic (I like to try & have an equal balance of hardneck & softneck varieties of garlic. Softnecks store better, but hardnecks produce a flowering spike called a 'scape', that you can chop off & use in stir fries, pesto & lots of other delicious, summery dishes).

Before planting, break the bulbs (carefully) into individual cloves. Any that are damaged or bruised are best used in cooking, as they'll rot or succumb to infection (which would be a terrible end, when they could end up being eaten instead!). The cloves are planted 15cm (6") apart in rows 45cm (18") apart (actually, they're planted further apart than that, so in spring I can sow carrots between the rows of garlic & onion to deter the dreaded carrot root fly). The smaller cloves from the middle of the bulb can also be planted out, but you can put them a little closer, about 10cm (4") apart (though a smaller clove will give you a smaller bulb. A big, delicious clove will give you, with luck & good weather, a big, delicious bulb).

I'm also planting Elephant garlic, which is actually a leek, rather than a garlic. It's rather aptly named! It also has a milder flavour that people who usually balk at raw garlic find a lot easier to handle.

They are best off planted September - October, about 30cm apart (they are big, after all). You can plant them later, but the closer you get to spring, the more likely it is that the bulb will not separate into cloves, and you'll pull up one solid bulb of garlic. A nice idea, but in practice it's a little intimidating. The bulb will also have little hard shelled bulblets (they're actually corms) clinging to the outside. These can be planted out right away, and will produce a small round - a solid ball that hasn't divided into cloves. Leave them another year & you'll get a full sized Elephant garlic. Woo!

*So that's a sentence that won't get me into trouble...