Asparagus and Streaky Bacon Rolls, or the Quickest Asparagus Dish

asparagus_bacon_rollspAfter a particularly cold spring, we’re having  impossibly hot days (28°C at 9 pm is not my favourite weather in the city…), so my body and mind have had a thermal shock. As a result I’ve been utterly lazy in the kitchen. The asparagus bought with the intention to make chawan mushi (Japanese steamed savoury custard) ended up in these simple rolls because suddenly chawan mushi (which otherwise I prepare practically every second week) seemed too messy, too long, too tiresome… I know they are far from being original, but I thought it’d be a good idea to remind my dear readers of such a quick and easy asparagus treat many of us tend to forget about (at least I do).

The rolls are perfect as they are, served with rice or bread or on their own, as a snack, but since I always try to smuggle an egg into every asparagus meal, here is the same bowl with a fried egg (the egg is not the best looking, but it was another quick shot with my camera because I was simply too hungry and exhausted after 15 minutes spent in my sauna-like kitchen):

asparagus_rolls_bacon_egg

(If you are curious about the ugly-looking powdery stuff on the rice, it’s my homemade spicy furikake with prune (a Japanese rice topping).

TIPS: I hate mushy green asparagus, so here it’s practically half-raw and very crunchy, but feel free to precook it if you like it soft.

Preparation: about 15-20 minutes

Ingredients (serves one):

8 thin (I prefer about 5 mm/ about 1/5 in thick in the middle) green asparagus spears, the lower tough 1/4th or 1/3th discarded (the thinnest the spear, the smeller the tough discardable part)

4 super thin (transparent, cut thinly like cured ham) slices of smoked streaky bacon

Cut the asparagus spears into pieces a bit longer than the bacon’s width.

Divide the pieces into four groups (make sure you have at least one asparagus top in every group, since it’s the most delicious part).

Roll tightly into the streaky bacon and stir-fry on medium heat until crisp, starting with the sealed part of the rolls and then turning once (you can also grill the rolls).

Since my asparagus is raw, I like to cover the rolls during the first half of the frying process (thus they cook a bit, but not too much).

Serve with rice or as a snack with toothpicks.

Indian Mint and Yogurt Chutney/Sauce

mint_yogurt_chutneypI hope my dear readers aren’t bored yet with all my recent herb-centred posts because there will probably be more to come. With its abundant crops, my humble balcony garden has recently been dictating a big part of my meal choices and since I love fresh herbs, I certainly don’t complain, especially when it comes to mint. This chutney (or sauce, as it would probably be called by most non-Indians) is perhaps the best and quickest way to transform a big bunch of mint. It’s obviously refreshing (yogurt+mint) and the presence of fresh chillies gives it a nice fiery kick all the hot food lovers will appreciate. I imagine it with ethnic cuisines from all around the world, also as a dip, but it tastes best with grilled meats.

The recipe comes from Meera Sodha’s “Made in India. Cooked in Britain” and is a huge upgrade of the Mint Sauce I posted several years ago. As usually, I have adapted the amounts to my taste, so I encourage you strongly to check this wonderful collection of Indian home recipes to see the original and much much more.

TIPS: The choice of green chillies is not accidental here (in my opinion) because they have a sharper and livelier taste than red ones and suit much better this chutney. At worst you can replace them with red chillies, but make sure they are fresh.

The amounts below are very versatile; especially the yogurt’s amount plays a big role: the more yogurt you add, the creamier, the more refreshing and the milder the chutney will be. If you reduce it, the chutney will be sharper and hotter… I have already made it several times and each time the ratio between ingredients is different, but I love it every single time.

If, like me, you are regularly confronted with abundance of fresh herbs (or simply have a habit of buying them in huge bunches at farmers’ markets), here are some ideas you might find useful:

Meat Patties with Dill

Meat Patties with Dill

Indian Coriander Chutney

Indian Coriander Chutney

Kenyan Coriander Chicken

Kenyan Coriander Chicken

freshchradish2p

Fresh (Cottage) Cheese Spread with Chives and Radish

Bulgarian Dill Salad (Dry Tarator)

Bulgarian Dill Salad (Dry Tarator)

Polish Brined Cucumber Soup

Polish Brined Cucumber Soup with Dill

Udon and Spring Onion Burger

Udon and Spring Onion Burger

 

Preparation: about 5-10 min.

Ingredients:

125ml/about 1/2 cup natural yogurt

2 big handfuls of fresh mint leaves

1-2 fresh green chilies (the heat level is up to you; I prefer medium hot chillies here, but it can also be made with mild peppers)

2 teaspoons sugar (or more to taste)

juice of 1/4-1/2 lemon or 1/2-1 lime

salt

Chop roughly the chillies (remove the seeds if you don’t want too much heat) and mix in a food processor with the remaining ingredients (add the lemon or lime juice gradually and taste as you mix to make sure your chutney is not too sour). Add salt to taste.

Keep in the fridge for several days.

Aubergine with Nigella Seeds (Kalonji)

auber_nigellapOne ingredient, one spice and ready in ten minutes. I would never expect to find anything similar among Indian dishes, so obviously it was the first recipe I tested from a recently bought cookery book. After several meals served with this delightful side-dish, I am still in awe at its simplicity.

I found this gem in Madhur Jaffrey’s “Curry Nation”, a very interesting collection of Indian and in general South-Asian recipes from UK-based bars, restaurants, also from home cooks who live in Britain, but originate from this part of the world. I have already bookmarked many pages, but  when I saw this aubergine stir-fry by Saumya Singh, a banker from London, I almost jumped with joy, not only because it’s such an unusually quick dish, but also because nigella (aka onion seed/black seed/kalonji) is one of my favourite Indian spices. Even though the recipe is unbelievably easy, I have managed to add it my tiny personal touch: the addition of my beloved coconut oil. It has added a wonderful, somewhat buttery aroma that seems to suit perfectly the aubergine. (I have also slightly changed the ratio of the ingredients).

As a mildly flavoured dish, it is fantastic with just anything, not necessarily Indian. I like to have it with meat in any form and a yogurt-based dip/sauce (such as raita or tzatziki).

TIPS: You will find nigella seeds in every Indian (or other South-Asian) grocery shop (also easily on internet), but some vendors will call it by different names (onion seed/black seed/kalonji). The seeds are small, black and when cooked they resemble black mustard, though they are not round. I was also told nigella can be found in North-African shops, but I have never checked.

You can use any aubergine here, but I prefer either the small Asian ones or the “zebra” variety you see above and which has a thinner skin, as well as lighter, almost white flesh.

Preparation: about 10 minutes

Ingredients (serves three as the only side-dish):

1 medium Western aubergine/eggplant or 2 Asian ones, cut into 1cm (about 1/2 in) cubes

2 tablespoons coconut oil

1 tablespoon nigella seeds

salt

Heat the oil and stir-fry the seeds and the aubergine at medium heat (if you have a heavy pan, such as cast iron or steel, you might want to lower the heat even more) for maximum ten minutes (or less, depending on the aubergine and the heat). Make sure you stir constantly and don’t burn the aubergine.

Add salt and serve.

Meat Patties with Dill

kotlety_zkopDill has been growing like crazy on my balcony, so use it now several times a week. Luckily, it’s one of my favourite herbs, so I cannot complain. Patties were probably among the most frequent dishes my mum cooked. I don’t think she has ever made them with dill, but she would sprinkle dill on top of most dishes (a typical culinary gesture in Poland), especially in spring and summer. This gave me the idea to add the dill to the meat mixture (though of course I didn’t skip the sprinkling final touch either!). The result makes them taste lighter, more refreshing, more summery… and actually quite original in the world of meat patties. Serve them with a yogurt-based sauce for a perfect hot weather meal.

Throughout the years I have slightly changed even the basic meat patties making procedure. First of all, I don’t add raw onion, like my mum did, but stir-fried one (I have found this improvement at Nami’s Just One Cookbook; thank you so much, Nami!!!). Secondly, I make smaller patties (my mum’s have a size of my hand), which cook quicker and are juicier without excessively fatty meat. Last, but not least, I find brushing the patties juste before serving with a mixture of soy sauce and sake, a fantastic flavours enhancer, whatever the seasoning and whatever side dishes I have.

TIPS: These patties taste great with tzatziki, Indian raita or similar yogurt-based sauces/dips.

Here are some other dill use ideas:

Bulgarian Dill Salad (Dry Tarator)

Bulgarian Dill Salad (Dry Tarator)

Pickled Dill Cucumber

Pickled Dill Cucumber

Moomins' Pickled Cucumber Salad

Moomins’ Pickled Cucumber Salad

Polish Brined Cucumber Soup

Polish Brined Cucumber Soup

Preparation: about 40 min – 1 hour

Ingredients (serves 3 as a main course, if served with some carbs, such as potatoes):

500 g ground beef+pork or pork or beef+pork+veal (beef alone becomes too tough)

1 egg

aprrox. 5 heaped tablespoons breadcrumbs (you can use Japanese panko) or 1 slice of toast bread soaked in milk or water and then well squeezed

oil to pan fry

1 medium onion or 3 medium shallots

salt, pepper

1 big handful finely chopped dill (discard only the thick…) + some for decoration

(soy sauce+sake, mixed, to brush over the patties before serving)

In a big bowl combine the meat, the salt, the pepper, the dill, the raw egg and the breadcrumbs.

(If you think the mixture is not thick enough to form patties, add more bread crumbs or soak a small bit of bread (don’t put too much bread/crumbs! it might change the taste and also make them tough).)

Put aside.

In the meantime chop the onion finely and stir-fry until golden.

Add to the meat mixture.

If you have time, you can leave the meat, covered, in the fridge for several hours. This will improve the flavours. However, it’s not necessary and you can proceed directly with frying.

Heat some oil in a pan. Form the patties with wet hands and pan-fry at medium heat, covered, until they are well cooked (because of the pork). It usually takes about 15 minutes for each batch. Covering the pan accelerates the process.

Brush the patties with soy sauce just before serving.

Serve sprinkled with dill and preferably with a yogurt-based sauce.

 

 

 

Olives with Lemon Zest and Fennel Seeds

fennel_olivespI haven’t bought seasoned olives for long year because homemade ones are simply better, cheaper and can be ready in about five minutes. Until now I have been seasoning them either European or what I call Korean style, always applying the same method (i.e. combine everything and put into the fridge). I eat them all year round, at any time of the day, at every occasion and even take them as an afternoon snack to the office. Somehow I feel this newly discovered version will be my first choice for hot summer evenings… These olives are particularly refreshing, slightly tangy and, maybe because of the fennel seeds, they simply beg for a glass of ouzo!

I found this mixture of flavours in Smashing Plates by Maria Elia, a wonderful imaginative source of Greek- and Cypriot-inspired recipes. I’ve barely modified the amounts and the method, but I strongly encourage everyone to check Smashing Plates, an original take on traditional Greek culinary traditions.

TIPS: As a big fan of fennel seeds and in general whole seeds as condiments, I loved the additional crunch and texture they add. If you don’t like the idea of whole seeds (or you aren’t sure about your guests’ preferences), you might use of course ground fennel seeds, but I’d advise coarse ground (and do it after roasting whole seeds).

The author advises to warm in the pan all the seasoning ingredients, but I prefer harsher taste of both garlic and chilli, so I have skipped it and only roasted the fennel seeds. Choose the method that suits you best.

Preparation: about 5-10 minutes

Ingredients (serves as a drinks snack for 8 people):

500 g brined olives (unseasoned, of course), drained and rinsed

3 medium garlic cloves, grated, crushed or finely sliced

2 tablespoons fennel seeds

2 fresh chillies, chopped (any heat level and colour will be fine; all depends on your preferences)

lemon zest from one medium lemon, cut into small pieces

5 tablespoons olive oil (or more)

Heat a pan on medium heat and roast fennel seeds for about 30 seconds (don’t burn them).

Combine with all the remaining ingredients and olives.

You can serve these olives straight away if you are in a hurry, but they improve after a night in the fridge (of course covered). If you have kept them in the fridge, take them out about 30 minutes before serving because the oil will solidify during the refrigeration.

They usually keep in the fridge for at least a week (or more).