At Home in SW12 – Bulgar Wheat, Quinoa, Roasted Vegetable and Lime Salad

the sw london food blog - quinoa salad recipe

Serves four.

Ingredients

For the roasted vegetables

  • 1 x yellow pepper
  • 1 x red pepper
  • 1 x courgette
  • 1 x aubergine
  • 1 x small red onion
  • (Un) healthy glug of olive oil
  • Tsp of smoked paprika
  • Tsp of paprika
  • 1/2 tsp of dried chili flakes
  • Salt and pepper

The middle class bit

  • 300g Quinoa / bulgur wheat (or 75g each)
  • 1/2 x stock cube
  • 250ml boiling water or till it covers the grains by about 2cm

the sw london food blog - quinoa salad dried grains

Mixing it up after

  • Handful of mint
  • Handful of parsley
  • 1x 400g tin of chickpeas
  • 3 x diced tomatoes
  • Half large garlic clove, crushed
  • Juice of half a lime
  • Handful of green beans

Chop the vegetables into substantial chunks – they’ll shrink after cooking. Shake the paprikas and chilli over the vegetable and give it a good toss with your hands. Generously season.

Shove in the oven for 20-25 minutes at about 200 degrees. Check every 10 minutes or so in case it needs a drop more oil – give them a mix too.

Add the stock, boiling water to the grains and let it simmer until the quinoa gets its little tail out (about 20 minutes). The water should have evaporated. Turn off the heat, add the crushed garlic and place the saucepan’s lid on top.

Cook the green beans in boiling water until al dente. Blanch in cold water.

Once the grains have dried out add the roasted vegetables, drained chickpeas, torn mint, parsley and chopped tomatoes. Mix thoroughly and drizzle over the lime juice. Mix again. Taste and add more seasoning if it needs it. Add a drizzle of olive oil if you’re that way inclined.

Serve on its own, with a lamb chop or whatever other thing you gets you carnivores off.

the sw london food blog - quinoa salad

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SW12 Clapham – Old School Thai curry pastes

So you’ll probably have guessed by now, either from this blog or my Twitter account, that I am middle class enough to have taken a Gap Year. I am not however, sufficiently upper class to have taken a Gap Yah. I’ll leave that for my pashmina-ed pals across the river in South Ken. But yes, yes…I’ve been to Thailand. I’ve bought a Chang vest from that chap on the Kao San Road. I got a PADI qualification in Ko Tao. I’ve drunk Thai whiskey out of small buckets with iridescent straws. Those days however, are over. I am wise enough now to know there is another way; if you stay in the comfort of your own home, then the buckets are much larger.

I didn’t have a spiritual awakening in Thailand; I was too busy eating for that to happen. Travelling to the Isaan region in the north east, completed the trip with respect to Thai cuisine. When Mekong catfish is barbecued, served with steaming sticky rice in a reed basket, with a side of som tam (a spicy salad comprised of unripe papaya) it is like eating what you’d dream of serving up to Daniel Craig if he were to attend your imaginary dinner party. Me and ‘Dan’ are pretty close* so I don’t have to imagine – I’m sure he told me once that he liked a good Laarb Gai.

Thai curry, be it green or red, is the most overdone thing in the book, right after pad Thai. I rarely make it because the sheer volume of ingredients make it a ridiculously expensive – cost per head – dish. Also I can guarantee you’ll always find, some weeks later, a lemon grass stick at the back of the fridge which is beyond redemption.

I was approached by a company called Old School Thai (presumably they had not heard about my lewd exploits in Pattaya – I jest, I jest!) who asked me to try a couple of their Thai curry pastes. They’re based around south west London, and, as as you know I’m always in the business of supporting good, local producers. Founder Brett Cowie claims his pastes will take you “on a trip back in time to Thailand when my grandma was still making curries herself”. That’s marketing speak if ever I heard it (in the day job I hear it a lot). But let’s get down to brass tacks; what we all want to know is, are they any good?

Well yes, they’re not bad. I like the idea of having something which is incredibly fresh at hand which negates those ‘bugger it’ moments when you realise you missed out ONE ingredient on your Tesco shop (you’d sworn you’d bought everything). I put together a prawn curry with the red curry paste. All the ingredients I added were some sugar snap peas, cherry tomatoes, fish sauce, kaffir lime leaves, prawns, coconut milk, chilli, Thai basil and palm sugar. Still seems like a substantial amount of ingredients – but then there’s about double that in the paste itself.

Old School Thai Red Curry Paste

Old School Thai Red Curry Paste

Some additional ingredients

What I missed from the sauce was the rich intenseness of flavour. The packets tell you to add more paste to increase the heat; I didn’t find this. Adding more paste made the sauce darker with more floaty bits of lemon grass and galangal (etc.). It was a nice,well-rounded taste – aromatic – but I sought more of the spikes in flavour that Thai food is so famous for; the peaks of the salty, sour, and sweet. I don’t wish to convey that the sauce was un-flavoursome – it just didn’t pack a punch. My taste buds need a royally good arse kicking and the backbone of the curry paste wasn’t going to be that bully – regardless of my extra additions of lime, chilli, fish sauce and palm sugar. Milder palates would disagree, I’m sure.

Old School Thai Red Curry Paste with king prawns and sugar snap peas

The recipe card ideas which come alongside are useful are informative. I especially liked the inclusion of Tod Mun Pla infused with the Gaeng Ghet paste – fishcakes in any shape or form are consumed in abundance at mine and the Welshman’s house. This is something that I know I’ll try with Old School Thai’s pastes in future (they’ve got a reasonably long shelf life).

What we’ve got then is the raw materials for a busy person to make a decent, Thai-inspired meal. I know other food bloggers read other food blogs, and maybe Old School Thai wouldn’t be the one for them: GOD DAMN IT –  they’ll make the sauce themselves, rogue or no rogue lemon grass stalk! Even if it is just to take Instagram snaps for every stage of the recipe.

Old School Thai curry pastes can be bought online on their website or at selected stockists priced around £3.90.

I was generously given the pastes by Old School Thai.

*we’re not sadly.

My Food Week in pictures – A farewell lunch, Brixton style

When you’ve been friends with someone for so long, regardless of how diligent you both are at keeping in contact, you’re always going to feel a little tug on those strings which are, apparently, attached to a frosty cardiac muscle in the centre of your thoracic cavity (my scenario anyway).

My friend leaves Wednesday, having been so close to me in south London, for the Wild West – Portland, Oregon. Having a terrible geographical knowledge of US States (c’mon, they’d never be able to point out where Brixton is on a map) I couldn’t tell you if it is actually the Wild West – you know – with cowboys and all. They still have them, right?

The second farewell I bid this week was another westward escape. This time to Wales; land of bara brith, laverbread, and Welsh cakes (posted a sneaky link to Debs’ site. Hers are, quite frankly, the dog’s proverbials).

Because I need great content for my blog, and, because I love my friend (notice the ordering of that sentence) I invited some of my closest mates for lunch (dinner – nudge to the northerners). All I need is a film crew and I’m basically your next Naked Chef (I throw roughly chopped food into the pan from great heights too y’know).

Pukka.

A farewell dinner which would not be forgotten had to include some of Brixton’s finest produce. Seemed only fair since I had directed the party all the way up Brixton Hill. My cooking of late is naturally following the nature of the weather; increasingly inspired by spring. Elderflower and apple spritzers started us off, with some of my favourite olives on the side – nocerella. If you’ve never had them before and are a fan of olives in all forms, please try them. Bright green (like giant peas) and unusually round (like giant peas), they are a lot less salty than your average green olive, have a fleshy texture and nutty flavour.

I served up two whole sea bass between five of us, stuffing it with mint, basil, parsley, and lemon slices. I really don’t understand people who don’t like to see the animal they’re about to eat whole. I demand to know what I’m eating, which is why I always ask my fishmonger to just clean and gut the fish. Plus, the bones and head keep all the divine juices inside, retaining the fish’s moisture. Dust the skin with a reasonable layer of sea salt and I can promise that you will be fighting for leftover pieces of skin from the plates of the fusspots.

Sea bass from Brixton Village

Offering the carbohydrates for the meal was a large portion of kisir (I may have made too much) – a Middle Eastern dish made principally with bulgur wheat, parsley, and tomato paste. I used a recipe I spotted about three years ago in the Guardian by one of my favourite columnists and chefs, Yotam Ottolenghi. I needed to add more chilli from the original recipe, and I preferred my bulgar wheat a little softer, so I added more water. It’s a beautiful traffic light platter when all is done and dusted, but I can tell you finding pomegranate molasses when your bastion of hope (Brixton Wholefoods) have run out of stock, can be a little unnerving an hour before your guests arrive. Luckily A&C Co Delicatessen saved my bacon, and my kisir, incidentally.

Ottolenghi's Kisir

Ottolenghi's Kisir

And the rest of the week…well just a quick one about a fabulous and entertaining cheese and wine evening at Entrée restaurant, on Battersea Rise. The event was hosted by their new restaurant manager, Chloe Gounder-Forbes. She’s a bit of a cheesy star having been on the judging panel of the British Cheese Awards – she knows her stuff.

Cheese Board at Entree

SW9 – My food week in pictures – Brixton Farmers’ Market

I remember when I was a child sitting up at our kitchen’s breakfast bar watching my mum curate culinary activities and prepare the dinner. Quite often there was only me and her in our house; my dad worked away from home, sometimes several months at a time, and I used to sit and keep her company while she cooked up mountains of food for me – I may have been an only child – but my appetite was equivalent to that of two other siblings. We used to chatter about our days, plan the activities for the week, or sometimes she would tell me about her jungle experiences when she lived in Brunei.

While we chatted I would give her a hand with the preparations. Even though I was young, I was given responsibility with the sharpest Kitchen Devil – chopping and peeling the vegetables – checking every now and then that the carrots were the correct  thickness. My mum liked things just so, and as her only daughter, I aimed to please. By helping out and observing her I learned how to gut fresh fish, make gravy from scratch, and test how al dente the pasta was – never has there ever been a better excuse to thrown spaghetti at the wall! I learned ridiculously simple, yet ridiculously useful tips – tips which cooks learn only through experience – at a very young age. Most importantly I learned about timing. A roast dinner is one of the simplest meals to cook, but allowing the chicken to rest, ensuring the potatoes have a crunchy exterior, making sure the gravy doesn’t burn, and not overcooking the broccoli can be one of the hardest things to coordinate.  Yet by my early teens I was a comfortable kitchen hand and cook.

Between the ages of 19 to 24 I lost my love for the kitchen and the joy of cooking fresh food. It started when I moved to London. I was studying full time, paying out of my nose to live somewhere that, really, I couldn’t afford. It’s not that I couldn’t afford to eat – I obviously did and have survived to tell the tale – but when you have a limited budget you cook up meals with no more than four ingredients. It means the cooking experience lacks joy and creativity. Meals are filling, but uninspiring. Those who try to pay an affordable amount of rent in London do so through the mechanism that is the house-share. We all shudder with the term ‘Gumtree’.  When your living space is not your own, and you share with strangers, you keep yourself to yourself.  Kitchen space is at a premium and you become increasingly accommodating to a lack of utensils, space, and others’ unusual culinary habits. Also, making soup is mightily difficult when the household only has one bowl (my house-mate and I affectionately, and somewhat originally, named it ‘the house bowl’).

But there is a light ahead of this story’s tunnel. It came in the form of The SW Food Blog. I’ve been blogging now for just over a month, and unintentionally it has given me more impetus and desire to cook that I ever have had before.  I set out to review a few restaurants and local producers, but now I’m finding myself planning dishes for a Sunday night and inviting friends over for dinner. I’ve been rekindling those tips and tricks my good old mum taught me (less of the old, she’d say), and for the best part of Sunday I was completely engrossed in the kitchen; making brownies as a teatime treat, as well as home-made fish cakes and cauliflower cheese.  Not only have I been consumed by cooking once again, I have also been consuming the cooking.

The ingredients for Sunday night’s cauliflower cheese were sourced from Brixton’s weekly Station Road Farmers Market which is open from 10am until 2pm.

Meat and vegetables at Brixton Famers' Market

Perhaps it was the sunshine, but the market seemed to be more bustling than usual. Turning the corner under the bridge off Brixton Road, the eyes were greeted with Brassicas of all hues and varieties. Cauliflowers were selling for as little as 60p, and the purple cauliflower (actually a broccoli, although different from purple sprouting broccoli) was one I couldn’t resist. Cavolo nero, other varieties of kale, and leeks, were among the glut of potatoes, onions, carrots and storeroom essentials.

Brixton famers market broccoli

Sampling the wares I settled on a mature cheddar made by Green’s of Glastonbury. Strong, creamy with a grainy texture, it was going to give my cauliflower cheese a tangy bite.

There are so many other stalls there which I have yet to try. I did however pick up Giggly Pig’s Irish sausages; I have it on authority that they were meaty and filling. They didn’t lose any volume on cooking, which says a lot about the amount of water in your average supermarket saucisson.

Colourful and intriguing was the greenery of Wild Country Organics‘ salad leaves. Tatsoi, claytonia, and their mixed salad with spinach and rocket were just some of the highlights.

Wild Country Organics at Brixton Farmers Market

Veggie lovers can delight at Brixton Farmers’ Market, but those looking for something altogether less wholesome can still tuck into the Carribean vegan cakes of Global Fusion foods, and the pastries of the Old Post Office Bakery.

I even had a go myself at counteracting all this beautiful fruit and vegetables. Decadent brownies made with Green and Black’s cocoa, and a whole bar of 70% chocolate, made my Sunday cooking and domesticity a pleasure. It’s so great to be back in the kitchen after this long overdue absence and put the love of cooking and fresh food, learned from my ma, back into practice.

70% Chocolate Brownies

My food week in pictures – I’m no pastry chef

I’m quite organised in life, but when it comes to preparing meals in advance, I’m terrible. I think it’s because I like to eat on stimulus, inspiration, and to be honest I’ll eat whatever I bloody well fancy, whenever I bloody well fancy it. This usually results in paying an extortionate amount in my nearest Sainsbury’s local.

This weekend I was returning to the motherland (Yorkshire) and I knew that on Sunday evening, when I was to return, a flaccid £5 fishcake was not going to cut the horseradish. Pre-empting this disappointment I made, and then froze, an aubergine parmigiana. As it happens, it’s not the most attractive dishes to photograph, but it’s pretty tasty.

Aubergine parmigiana prep

Aubergine parmigiana prep

The aubergines and tinned tomatoes were sourced from various grocers and purveyors of vegetables in Brixton. I’ll give a shout out to A&C Co Continental Grocers on Electric Avenue where aubergines were only 60p! Their parmesan cheese was excellent value and great quality. Furthermore they’ve got a brilliant selection of fresh herbs – even found some fresh oregano which didn’t break the bank. Leave a comment if you’re interested and I will post the recipe.

Thursday night was simply marvellous. I really enjoyed tapas at Seven at Brixton in Market Row which I reviewed. I’ll recommend the patatas bravas, as well as the wilted spinach, rocket and warm manchego salad.

Patatas bravas, Seven at Brixton

Warm spinach, rocket, and manchego salad

I returned a little earlier than I thought on Sunday night, and to keep myself entertained (Sunday night television is simply dire), I made apple pie. Although I love to cook, baking is not my forte. I don’t think I allowed the pastry to rest enough, and as a result it was crumbly and a bit short. But by god, eating it in a cosy lounge when the rain is hitting the window horizontally outside makes it taste flipping good.

Home made apple pie

 

My food week in pictures – £5 for 5lbs – A lot of food

I will give you £5 if I’ve not put on five pounds this week. This week’s gastronomical extravaganza will be difficult to surpass.

Monday was the day of the trout; fresh from Brixton Village market, I left it whole and steamed it with ginger, garlic, bonnet chillis, spring onions and a dash of soy and lime zest. It wasn’t rainbow trout, but you can see from the spectrum of spices and colours, it might as well have been named as such.

Fresh trout, lime, soy, ginger, garlic, chilli

Although I have no pictures to show for it, I reviewed The BreadRoom in Brixton on Tuesday – check it out if you fancy a cheap lunch.

Wednesday heralded the mid-week beer (I’m trademarking that phrase), in celebration of my friend’s birthday. We may have enjoyed food from the voucher-friendly All Bar One (which I will not be reviewing), but the festivities were not complete without a quartet of cakes from the one and only vegan-friendly Ms Cupcake.

Chocolate chip

Saturday was a treat. Beating the queues at 11.30am, the Welshman and the Scouser and I sampled, what for pizza aficionados can be best be described as Mecca.  Franco Manca in Brixton Market has a reputation for its glorious sourdough bases. It has, whether you agree or disagree, been crowned as one of the best pizza joints in London. I made notes. There will be a review. Watch this space.

The number 5 at Franco Manca

On what was a very windy day post-pizza, our trio left Franco Manca and headed to the vintage market which had set up shop on Station Road. Catching my eye and nose, was not the rustle of a musty mink vintage fur coat*, but the fragrant waft of roasting coffee. This traditional Ethiopian coffee vendor, who I am assured comes down to the road opposite the Rec every Saturday, roasts whole Arabica beans in a small tin handled pot, before grinding them and brewing them in a beautiful Jebana (long necked coffee jug). You’re poured a lovely little cup; the actual coffee is thick and grainy with a comforting amount of  astringency (when unsweetened). There’s also a large reed basket full of popcorn to snack on while you sup. Please visit – it’s a real treat.

Ethiopian coffee

Just when I thought the week couldn’t get any better, the Sunday comfort club (me) decided to cook up, not a roast, but a hearty wholegrain smoked salmon tetrazzini (spaghetti bake) with lightly smoked salmon, cream, chestnut mushrooms with a parmegiana topping.

Smoked salmon tetrazzini with mushrooms, cream, and a parmigiana topping

Happy Sunday!

*I don’t wear fur. Please don’t e-attack me!