Homemade Savoury Edible Gifts

driedgFirst of all I would like to apologise to all my dear visitors for such a long silence (some have probably thought I’d stopped blogging…) due to long holidays. Just like every year, I had planned writing at least one post in advance and… just like every year, somehow it didn’t work…

Coming back from my holidays, I started to panic realising it’s time to think and start buying Christmas presents. I still haven’t decided on bigger ones, but I thought maybe this year, for the first time in my life, I might make and offer some edible gifts, at least as a small addition to the more “serious” stuff…

I know cookies, biscuits and jams are often offered, not only for Christmas, so I tried to list here some more unusual savoury edible gift ideas you might find inspiring (if you know my food preferences a bit, you will not be surprised by the abundance of chilli-based products….). All of these are easy to prepare, some can be made in almost no time at all, and all the ingredients are available in December, at least in Europe (fresh imported chilli is available all year round, I hope in the rest of the world too).

Made in less than 30 minutes

Quick Chilli and Garlic Oil with Sediments

Quick Chilli and Garlic Oil with Sediments

Peperoncini sott'olio (Fresh Chillies with garlic and Oil)

Peperoncini sott’olio (Fresh Chillies with garlic and Oil)

Furikake (Rice Seasoning) with Chilli and Prune

Furikake (Rice Seasoning) with Chilli and Prune

Dried Bonito and Sesame Rice Topping (Furikake)

Dried Bonito and Sesame Rice Topping (Furikake)

Requiring more time but equally easy (or even much much easier)

Dried Vegetable Stock Mix

Dried Vegetable Stock Mix

Dried Powdered Garlic

Dried Powdered Garlic

Raimu Koshou (Chilli and Lime Zest Paste)

Raimu Koshou (Chilli and Lime Zest Paste)

Dried Apples

Dried Apples

For those who are not afraid of preserving

Pineapple and Chilli Jelly

Pineapple and Chilli Jelly

Mango and Chilli Sauce

Mango and Chilli Sauce

Time-consuming and requiring more efforts but a rare treat for Thai food lovers…

Thai Chilli Jam (Nam Prik Pao)

Thai Chilli Jam (Nam Prik Pao)

Grilled Razor Clams with Garlic and Parsley

couteauxpI love razor clams for their delicate taste, still recognisable in the presence of strong seasoning, and, most of all, for their texture: soft, but slightly al dente. For years, imagining they were tricky to prepare and/or clean, I was too scared to buy them and ruin the whole big bunch (they are sold in bunches here). Last weekend I finally dared cooking them for the first time and… they turned out to be the best razor clams of my life! I still cannot believe such a simple process yields such outstanding results. You can easily serve them as a starter, as a light main course with a salad or simply have them as a gourmet snack (which begs for a glass of chilled rosé!).

For this first experience with razor clams I didn’t use any particular recipe. I simply chose the most popular French way to serve this shellfish, i.e. grilled with a mixture of parsley, garlic and butter. Some recipes also add some breadcrumbs for an additional crunch, but I chose to skip them this time. There is also a choice between seasoning the clams before the grilling process and after. I preferred to add parsley butter before. As much as I didn’t search a precise recipe, I did look well for best ways to clean the clams. Luckily salt water soaking was cited everywhere as the best way to get rid of sand (the laziest seafood cleaning method I can imagine).

TIPS: You can use only olive oil in the parsley mixture and skip the butter.

Preparation: about 30 minutes + 1 hour soaking

Ingredients (serves two as a main course or four as a starter):

500 – 600 g razor clams

several tablespoons salt

extra virgin olive oil

(freshly ground pepper)

Parsley and garlic butter:

2 tablespoons softened butter

about two handfuls of roughly chopped parsley leaves

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 teaspoon salt

Place the razor clams into a big bowl filled with cold salted water (count at least two tablespoons per litre) and leave them for one hour. This way they will get rid of their sand (hopefully!).

In the meantime prepare the parsley butter, mixing the garlic, the butter, the salt and the parsley leaves in a food processor.

Wash the razor clams in cold water and rinse well.

Place them in an empty pan at medium heat and warm until all of them open up (you can put a lid to accelerate the process, but usually it takes about 3 minutes).

Do this in several batches, so that you don’t overcrowd the pan. Drain on paper towels. (Don’t worry if some of them fall completely out of their shells, you will put them back into their homes afterwards).

Remove the upper shell’s part (it’s not necessary, but this part is completely useless and takes space on a baking tray). Place the open razor clams in a baking dish/tray on their shell’s lower part and brush with garlicky butter.

Heat the oven grill/broiler and grill them until the garlic bits start becoming golden (this should take about ten minutes). Make sure the garlic doesn’t brown too much; it will become bitter.

You can also grill them in a normal grill and spread the garlic butter juste before serving.

Sprinkle them with olive oil while they are still hot and serve them simply with good quality bread or baguette (you can also season them with ground pepper).

 

Indian Aubergine with Sesame, Tamarind and an Egg

indian_sesame_aubIn which part of the world do you look for inspiration when looking for new aubergine recipes? For me India is a definite number one (Japanese cuisine comes in second position), so whenever in search for new aubergine ideas, I usually start with this part of my culinary library, especially if I have a new cookery book to play with! The recipe I chose contains a generous amount of sesame seeds, not what I’d expect in an Indian dish. Moreover, the presence of tamarind announced a slightly tangy dish… The result is fantastic, but the sesame seeds transform the other – less surprising – ingredients to the point where, I must admit, I’d never guess the origins of this dish. As a lazy cook, I simply topped it with a poached egg and had it with bread, transforming it into a delicious, creamy full one-bowl meal. The dish was memorable because it was the first time – I think – I had an excuse to sprinkle an Indian dish with my beloved roasted sesame seeds!

The new book I’ve mentioned above is Fresh India, a second recipes collection by Meera Sodha. I love her Made in India, but I hesitated a lot before buying this one because it is vegetarian. I am an avowed pisci- and carnivore, so I was worried it might even be vegan… but when I saw eggs are also featured here (luckily there’s Amazon’s “look inside” option), I was relieved. The pages are of course filled with meatless dishes (but I already visualise those topped with an egg, enriched with sliced chicken breast or shrimp…) and, most of all there are some mushroom and egg-including recipes that don’t need any other proteins, even for me.

This aubergine dish comes from Anhdra Pradesh, apparently known for a combination of tangy and fiery flavours. As usually, apart from the addition of an egg, I have transformed the recipe, for example replacing half of the sesame seeds with white sesame paste (I was afraid my blender wouldn’t transform the sesame into a smooth paste and I was right : the result was creamy with some tiny bits of sesame seeds). In short, whether you are a vegetarian or just an Indian cuisine fan, I encourage you to buy the wonderful Fresh India and check the original recipe for this delicious aubergine dish.

TIPS: Don’t skin your tomatoes. It’s absolutely unnecessary and mixed skins add more flavours anyway.

If you find poaching difficult, you can fry the egg too.

If you don’t own a “magical” Indian blender and aren’t sure if yours will crush sesame seeds to fine powder, add half sesame seeds and half sesame seed paste or grind the seeds in a spice/coffee grinder. By the way, if you cook Indian from time to time, I strongly recommend buying a cheap coffee grinder you shouldn’t use for coffee (cheap ones have blades and not burrs and cuts coffee instead of properly grinding it). It’s perfect for freshly ground spices and the difference is huuuge!

The recipe suggests serving this dish with cracked wheat and yogurt. I haven’t tested either, but,  maybe because of the poached egg, the dish was great simply served with bread.

I suggest warming up your individual bowls in the oven (at the lowest temperature; don’t go above 50°C if they aren’t heatproof) before serving this dish. It might take some time before fried/poached eggs are ready and this way your aubergine dish will keep warm for longer.

Preparation: 1h – 1h30

Ingredients (serves 3 as a side dish or 2 as a main course  with a poached egg):

2 medium aubergines/eggplants, cut into 3 cm thick sticks

1 medium onion (I have used two big shallots)

fresh mint or coriander leaves (or chives/green onion)

1 tablespoon oil (I have used coconut fat)

(toasted white sesame seeds)

(yogurt)

Sauce:

2 medium tomatoes (or 1/3 small can of tomatoes)

2 heaped teaspoons white sesame seeds or 1 heaped teaspoon white sesame seeds + 1 heaped teaspoon white sesame paste (see the TIPS)

2 garlic cloves

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons tamarind paste (or 2 tablespoons tamarind “juice” made from a block of tamarind and hot water)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds

3 teaspoons medium hot chilli powder (I have used here Kashmiri chilli)

Place the sauce ingredients in a blender and mix well.

Heat the oil in a pan, add the sliced shallots and stir-fry until light brown.

Add the sauce and, when it’s warmed, the aubergine pieces and about 1/2 glass of water (they will absorb water, so the sauce must be more liquid).

Simmer, covered until the aubergine pieces are soft.

Add water if necessary.

Heat the water for poached eggs.

Divide the aubergine dish into individual bowls.

Poach 3 eggs, one by one, and place on top.

Sprinkle with chopped mint and, if you like, toasted sesame seeds.

 

Raita (Yogurt Sauce/Dip) with Pomegranate Seeds and Mint

pomegranata_raitapI thought this colourful raita might be like a ray of sunshine after a week of horribly cold rainy weather. The funny thing is that as soon as I prepared it, the sun really went out and suddenly the day felt like an extension of summer… so my roast chicken dinner felt particularly joyful. In spite of its summery appearance, this it is definitely an autumnal dish: here pomegranates are abundant (in full season from what I read, though of course imported) and, when it comes to fresh herbs, they still thrive on my balcony, so I am still able to pick fresh mint every day.

This delicious version of raita is one more jewel from Made in India: Cooked in Britain by Meera Sodha. As soon as I made it, I ranted once more about the boring almost identical choices in every Indian restaurant I went to in my area… but luckily I have wonderful cookery books and time to cook! Anyway, it’s the first time I added pomegranate to yogurt and I loved it! It can be served just like any raita (i.e. with Indian dishes), but it’s also fantastic with simple roast chicken, any kind of wrap and any heavy and/or fiery dish (such as my previous recipe, Spare Ribs in Guchujang), since it’s particularly mild and refreshing. I didn’t really look at Meera Sodha’s exact ingredients’ amounts, so I invite everyone to check the recipe in its original source.

TIPS: The recipe calls for dried mango powder (it’s available in Indian shops and on internet; I bought it from Amazon in UK), but I think you can easily replace it with tamarind juice.

Do not skip the tiny amount of sugar! It does add an additional flavour to the tangy raita.

If you are afraid of splashing pomegranate juice all around the kitchen, fill a big bowl with cold water, cut the pomegranate into 4 or two pieces and then tear it up under the water, taking out the seeds. The yellowish “skins” will float at the surface and thus will be easy to remove. All you need to do afterwards is straining the seeds.

Preparation: about 10 minutes

Ingredients (serves two):

seeds from 1 small pomegranate (or 1/2 big one)

1 natural unsweetened full fat yogurt (125 ml/about 4 oz)

a pinch of salt

a pinch of sugar

1/2 flat teaspoon dry mango powder

a pinch of powdered cumin (the best taste is obtained with freshly toasted whole seeds, which are then ground just before being used)

1 heaped tablespoon chopped mint leaves

Combine all the ingredients, taste and adjust the flavours, if needed. Chill for one hour (or not, if in a hurry) and serve.

Do not prepare it a day before: mint becomes soggy and spoils the whole raita.

 

Pork Spare Ribs in Gochujang (Korean Chilli Paste) Sauce

ribs_gochujangpI love pork ribs, but they have always been a rare treat, due to their fat content. I usually manage to avoid them in the summertime, but when it gets colder I start dreaming of my beloved sticky Chinese ribs simmered in soy sauce…. This autumn I’ve already made my beloved Chinese sticky pork ribs simmered in soy sauce and recently I thought I’d experiment with gochujang sauce I usually simmer chicken legs in (see the recipe here). I didn’t change anything apart from adding ginger which usually goes well with pork. If you like a mixture of sweet and fiery flavours, you will fall in love with this easy dish, just like I did.

If you don’t like hot flavours, you might be interested in this delicious Chinese dish:

Chinese Spare Ribs Braised in Soy Sauce with Star Anise

Chinese Spare Ribs Braised in Soy Sauce with Star Anise

TIPS: Gochujang is a sticky Korean chilli paste. It has a slightly sweetish taste, it’s really unique and cannot be replaced with anything else. The good news is that it’s sold in “general” Asian shops (I find it in Chinese and Vietnamese shops) and most of all, it’s sold widely on internet, also on Amazon.

You can prepare the same dish with any fatty pork cut (belly for example) and even with tenderloin (adjusting the ingredients’ amounts and the cooking time), but not with loin, which will be too dry.

Apart from the normal soy sauce, you can add also some Chinese dark soy sauce. I find it great with Korean dishes, though I know it’s not Korean…

Preparation: 1h30

Ingredients (serves two-three, depending on how much meat there is on the bones):

1 kg pork ribs (I always trim the fat and cut them in half horizontally if they are long, but neither is necessary)

100 ml (about 3 fl oz) low-sodium Japanese soy sauce (or 70 ml of “normal” soy sauce)

300 ml (about 10 fl oz) water

60 ml (about 2 fl oz) agave syrup or honey

2 tablespoons rice vinegar (or any other vinegar)

2 heaped tablespoons gochujang (Korean chilli paste)

2 big garlic cloves chopped or sliced

3 cm fresh ginger, sliced

toasted sesame seeds

(1-2 tablespoons sesame oil)

Put all the ingredients into a pan (apart from ribs, sesame oil and sesame seeds).

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and put the ribs.

Cover and cook for about 1 hour.

Take off the lid and check if the meat falls off the bone.

If it’s the case, increase the heat to medium (thus the sauce will thicken). (If not, cover and cook until the meat becomes more tender, then increase the heat and uncover to thicken the sauce).

Cook until the sauce is thick enough for you.

Sprinkle with sesame seeds and add a splash of sesame oil.

(You may want to remove the ginger slices before serving, unless they were really super thin and edible).