Author Archives: Sissi

Fresh Goat Cheese Spread/Dip with Chives

I’ve always loved fresh goat cheese, but it has really become my daily fare since I met a lovely young woman selling her organic goat cheese at my French farmers market. The taste has nothing to do with any shop-bought version (organic or not), the cheese freshest possible (produced the same morning) and the price is so low, I let her fill up a big tupperware and enjoy it almost every single day during the goat milking season, i.e. all year round apart from most of the winter (they became all pregnant – I know there must be a proper word for that in English too… – hence the halt in cheese production until baby goats are born).

Even though I had frozen big amounts of this cheese (the texture changes a bit but they still beat whatever one can find in shops), I ran out of them quite a long time ago and was very impatient to start buying it again. Coming back home the very first thing I did was devouring a whole one with a spoon, but just after that I made this delicious spread that makes me feel springtime is already here and reminds me of my childhood.

Actually, it’s an almost identical copy of the simple fresh cow cheese and chives spread I used to eat often as a child and which is very popular in Poland. In countries where goat cheese is expensive, this goat version would be a luxury, but luckily I live close to France where fresh goat cheese is extremely popular and obviously not expensive. The only personal twist I’ve added to my mum’s recipe is garlic, but chives remain the crucial element that makes this spread irresistible.

I usually have this spread on my favourite breakfast bread (this Finnish super thin “diet” one), not only in the morning but also as an afternoon snack. You can also serve it at a party, as a dip with nachos or raw vegetables and it’s delicious on dark/wholemeal bread canapés (if you like pumpernickel, you will love the combination).

If you don’t find fresh goat cheese (or if it’s expensive where you live or if you simply don’t like it), you can use fresh cow or ewe cheese (often called cottage cheese, but make sure it’s all natural).

Here are some other spreads you might like:

Baba Ghanouj/M'tabal (Aubergine Dip)

Baba Ghanouj/M’tabal (Aubergine Dip)

Yogurt/Quark Spread with Caramelised Onion

Yogurt/Quark Spread with Caramelised Onion

Tzatziki with Fennel

Tzatziki with Fennel

Bulgarian Dill Salad/Dip (Dry Tarator)

Bulgarian Dill Salad/Dip (Dry Tarator)

Taramosalata (Fish Roe Dip)

Taramosalata (Fish Roe Dip)

TIPS: While you can perfectly replace goat cheese with cow cheese (the taste is different, of course), I do not advise replacing chives with thick spring onions. They are too aggressive, too “oniony” and at the same time are not as aromatic as chives (I did try once and regretted my experiment). If you have access to the Japanese ao negi (slightly thicker than chives and less pungent), it will be a perfect replacement and you can use more of if, since it’s more delicate.

If you have a source of good quality fresh goat cheese, but it’s far away, buy it in big amounts and freeze it in well wrapped portions. Strangely the texture changes only a bit and the taste is practically the same. It becomes maybe less moist, but I still find it delicious mixed with yogurt and used as a spread. (My experiments in freezing cheese are sometimes surprising: I have always thought hard cheese freezes well, but I recently saw gruyère’s texture become horribly crumbly and dry, while the famous French blue cheese roquefort stayed in perfect shape… though I must say I always vacuum pack my cheese before freezing it, apart from the fresh one which is too soft).

Obviously, if you don’t like garlic, skip it. As I said, fresh cheese and chives are the key to the delightful flavours.

Yogurt is used here only to loosen the texture, so its amount depends on the texture of the cheese.

Preparation: 10 minutes

Ingredients (makes approximately a 250 ml jar of spread):

300 g of fresh goat cheese

125 ml natural yogurt (cow or goat milk yogurt will be ok), or more/less; see the TIPS above

6 heaped tablespoons chopped chives (or more)

1 big clove garlic

salt (to taste)

Combine the ingredients and refrigerate or eat it straight away.

This spread will keep for several days in the fridge.

Kidney Bean Curry Stew

This recipe comes from Meera Sodha’s Made in India, a collection of highly inspiring and surprisingly feasible home Indian recipes. An occasional Ugandan touch (due to the author’s family history) means I’m not sure where exactly this curry – called Junjaro – comes from, but it does taste and smell like an Indian dish to me. And a particularly delicious one too, which came as a slight surprise since it calls for quite simple ingredients, readily available in standard western supermarkets (at least in Switzerland). Actually, it proved so delicious and versatile, I have served it at least in several different forms in the past three weeks (see the TIPs below), each of them proving highly palatable. The above “stewy”, i.e. more liquid, version is my favourite. I love serving it in a bowl topped with an egg, feta cheese (yes!), baked chicken, mushrooms…

As usually, I have slightly changed the recipe (making this dish more “soupy” than advised or adding chilli powder, more garlic…), so check Meera Sodha’s book for the original recipe.

TIPS: You can serve this curry as a side dish in an Indian meal (with meat dish and rice/flat bread ,for example), but I strongly advise it a bit more liquid (as above) served in a bowl, topped with warm…. feta cheese (yes, this spicy dish goes perfectly with the famous Greek cheese!), fried/poached egg, fried ground meat, grilled bacon, leftover grilled meat, mushrooms…. You can also add even more water or tomato juice and treat it as a thick stew.

If you want to keep a typical thick curry texture, simply add less water.

This curry keeps in the fridge for several days, but you can also freeze it.

I strongly advise using dried beans and soaking them overnight. It makes a huuuuge difference in both the texture and the flavours (for example freshly cooked beans tend to absorb more flavours than the canned ones).

Preparation: about 1 hour (if the beans are already cooked or if using canned)

Ingredients (serves four to six, depending if you treat it as the base of the main course or a side-dish):

200 g dried kidney beans (or 400 g canned, drained)

1 cinnamon stick

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

4 big shallots (or two small onions), chopped

3 cm finely chopped fresh ginger, finely chopped

4 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 teaspoon turmeric

2-3 fresh green chillies (or more!), sliced

2 teaspoons garam masala

3 tablespoons tomato paste

(100 ml canned or freshly chopped tomatoes)

oil (I have used here coconut oil)

(chilli powder)

If using dry beans, soak them in water overnight.

Drain and cook until soft (depending on the beans it might take even several hours).

If you use canned beans, drain them and rinse.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a big pan.

On low heat stir-fry the whole cinnamon stick and the cumin seeds until aromatic. (Make sure you don’t burn them).

Add the chopped onion or shallots and stir-fry until golden and soft.

Add the garlic, the ginger and the fresh chilli. Stir-fry for a couple of minutes.

Add the turmeric, the garam masala, chilli powder, if using, and the tomato paste. Stir-fry for 30 seconds.

Finally, add the beans, 1/2 later water, salt and canned or freshly chopped tomatoes, if using.

Give the curry a good stir, cover and let it simmer at low heat for about one hour (if you use canned beans, it might take less time because canned beans sometimes fall easily into pieces).

Check every 15 minutes adding more water if necessary.

Serve with fresh coriander leaves.

Filo Rolls with Buckwheat (Groats) and Mushrooms

If you like Japanese soba noodles and don’t mind a typical coarse texture of certain grains, you might be tempted to test this combination of buckwheat and mushrooms in crisp thin layers of Greek filo rolls. I can only hope you will love the results as much as I did. If you have never tasted buckwheat, forget all the health benefits you have heard about (I know it puts some people off…) and see it as I do: just another delicious fuss-free carb, versatile enough to go with Greek pastry or spicy Korean meals.

I know many people put it in the same bag as quinoa or other recent wonder food discoveries, but in countries where buckwheat groats/grains have been eaten for generations (Ukraine or Poland, for example) it’s simply an alternative to rice, potatoes, pasta or bread. The traditional method is to toast the grains before selling them and I advise against the non-toasted version (see the TIPS below). In Poland it’s eaten mainly with meat or mushrooms (or both) in sauce, but sometimes also as a filling in dumplings; I guess there are also some regional dishes I’m not aware of. I grew up eating buckwheat quite regularly topped with meat in sauce and I’m pretty sure my mum never insisted on it as being healthy (the way she did with some vegetables…). This attitude made me appreciate buckwheat the way it is: beautifully nutty scented, strong-flavoured carb that nowadays reminds me at the same time of Polish and Japanese cuisines (a curious and rare coincidence!).

It might be seen as a step too far by some of my dear visitors, but I see buckwheat most of all as a nice change from rice in many Asian dishes. After many experiments I realised it’s more versatile than I thought! I find it perfect with spicy Korean dishes, such as bibimbap or the Chicken Simmered in Gochujang Sauce. It’s also delicious when replacing… rice in fried rice! Because of its nutty strong flavours, it pairs perfectly with mushrooms, such as in this Japanese-inspired eringi and teriyaki version.

When experimenting with buckwheat never forget a sauce (either served on top, aside or mixed into the dish) because buckwheat is very dry. I have served these rolls with the spicy Gochujang and Sour Cream/Yogurt sauce and it was just perfect:

Gochujang and Sour Cream Sauce

This Greek Yogurt with Caramelised Onion would be fantastic too:

Yogurt/Quark Spread with Caramelised Onion

or this Bulgarian cousin of tzatziki:

Bulgarian Dill Salad/Dip (Dry Tarator)

I have posted two other buckwheat recipes, both very easy, so in case you want to explore other options…

Eringi and Buckwheat Groats

Fried Buckwheat Groats

TIPS: If you have never had buckwheat, make sure you buy a toasted version (the colour is medium to dark brown, while the non-toasted is light greenish), which is the traditional one and which has these unique wonderful nutty flavours. The non-toasted one is bland, softer and, just like many people who grew up with toasted buckwheat, I hated the non-toasted form when discovered accidentally in a health food aisle in Switzerland.

Cooking buckwheat is not difficult, but follow the below instructions because it quickly becomes mushy and inedible. The result should be dry and crunchy.

Do not omit fresh parsley! It suits perfectly the mushroom and buckwheat mixture.

Make sure you have another sheet or two of filo pastry just in case… The mushrooms might lose more or less water and you might want to put more or less filling in each roll.

If, on the other hand, you have leftover filling, you can add some vegetables, even some meat leftovers, and prepare it like stir-fried rice, adding some soy sauce, putting a poached or fried egg on top…

The soy sauce is not obligatory. You can add some more salt to taste or nothing.

Preparation: about 1h30

Ingredients (serves two if eaten with a salad as a main course):

6 – 7 sheets of filo pastry (make sure you have one or two more, just in case you have more filling to use up)

250 g (about 1/2 lb) button mushrooms 

200 ml (about 6.8 oz) uncooked toasted buckwheat groats + 1/2 teaspoon salt

6 big European shallots (or 2 medium onions)

6 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce or 3 tablespoons normal soy sauce (I use Japanese soy sauce, but if you use Chinese, choose the light coloured one)

a handful of chopped fresh parsley

ground pepper

thick creamy sauce (such as the above gochujang sauce)

oil for stir-frying and for brushing the rolls (you can use melted butter to brush the rolls)

Put the buckwheat groats into a cup.

Measure the double of the buckwheat’s volume in water.

Pour the water into a pan. Bring it to a boil, add the salt.

Throw the buckwheat into the pan and let it cook partially covered at medium heat for about ten minutes.

Lower the heat and let it simmer, fully covered, for about 5 more minutes.

The water should be completely absorbed by the grains. If it’s not absorbed yet, put the pan aside, leaving the cover on and it will get absorbed without cooking too.

As soon as it’s absorbed, don’t uncover the pan and put it aside keeping it warm, for example wrapped in a blanket, though in this dish you use the buckwheat cold, so simply don’t lift the cover and prepare the rest of the filling.

Chop the shallots and the mushrooms.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a pan and stir fry the shallots at medium heat.

Put the shallots into a big bowl.

Stir-fry the mushrooms in another tablespoon of oil until they start losing volume, season them with salt and add to the shallots.

Finally add the buckwheat groats, the soy sauce and the chopped parsley.

Season with freshly ground pepper and combine all the filling ingredients.

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Spread one filo sheet on a big chopping board.

Place horizontally, about 2,5 cm/1 in. from the filo sheet’s shorter edge which is closest to you, a portion of the filling (5-6 heaped tablespoons per sheet).

Roll tightly but delicately, starting from the edge which is closest to you, folding the two lateral edges into the roll, so that the filling doesn’t leak during the baking process (I have folded here about 3 cm/about 1,2 inch on each side).

Proceed in the same way with the remaining rolls.

(You can also cut the filo sheets in two and make smaller rolls; this is what I did obtaining the tiny size of rolls you see above).

Brush the top of the rolls with some oil or melted butter, place on a baking tray or baking paper and bake in the oven until slightly golden (about 30 minutes in mine). Watch them often as they tend to burn quite quickly.

Since the filling is dry, make sure you don’t forget a sauce!

Chicken with Gochujang Sauce, Korean Rice Cakes (Tteok) and Celery

This wonderful one-pot meal is a perfect example of how my Asian food experiments evolve throughout months or years: first, they typically become spicier, more garlicky (if it suits them); then they get adjusted to my lazy nature, becoming easier and eliminating side-dishes, requiring even less dish washing… This one started with the Hawaiian Shoyu Chicken, to which I added gochujang and lots of garlic, then one day I threw in some celery (avoiding the necessity of a side dish) and, finally, I ha the idea to complete it with the cylindrical tteok rice cakes creating a delicious easy one-pot meal.

Tteok (떡) is a Korean word weirdly translated as “rice cake”. Contrary to what most Asian cuisine neophytes think (“rice cakes” exist in some other cuisines too), rice cakes are savoury and I would rather compare them to gnocchi. Of the two most famous kinds – coin-shaped flat ones and cylindrical ones – I prefer the latter, much chewier and thicker, and actually find them highly addictive. The flat ones are cooked in a mild typical New Year soup (tteoguk), while the cylindrical ones are most often simmered in a sweet & fiery sticky sauce (tteokboki). Cylindrical tteok can be found in two sizes and my favourite are the smaller ones (probably because I eat less of them…) and you see them at the above photograph. Whether big or small, I find my favourite tteok extremely versatile: I stir-fry them and add to different soups and sauces, not only Korean (they work perfectly with the remains of Indian or Thai curry…).  If you find them refrigerated, they freeze very well (I usually freeze individual portions) and if you buy them frozen, don’ thaw them; once at home, quickly divide them at home into portions and have fun experimenting!

If you don’t have rice cakes, you might want to try Shoyu Chicken in Gochujang (with or without celery):

Shoyu Chicken with Gochujang

TIPS: This dish is easily reheated or defrosted, but if you are sure you’ll want to keep it for later use, it’s better to cook it without rice cakes which are less chewy when reheated and without celery, which becomes too soft (for me). Remove the sauce’s and chicken’s amount for later use and add the celery and rice cakes only to the same-day portion.

If you don’t like having bones in your bowl or plate, remove them before serving, but don’t use boned chicken legs. Bones add lots of wonderful flavours.

If you like soft chicken skin, leave it. I always use skinned chicken legs when simmering because I hate soft skin (I love it crisp from the oven though!).

Preparation: about 2 hours

Ingredients (serves 2):

2 small chicken legs (cut into two pieces), without skin or two big thighs

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)

4 big garlic cloves chopped or sliced

toasted white sesame seeds, chopped green onions

2-4 celery stalks, cut into bite-sized pieces (“threads” removed)

250-300 g rice cakes (fresh or defrosted)

(1-2 tablespoons sesame oil)

Bring all the sauce ingredients to a boil (apart from the four last ones : sesame seeds, rice cakes celery and oil).

Lower the heat, put the chicken into the sauce, cover (add more water if needed) and let it simmer for at least one hour until the meat falls apart from the bones (if the chicken has actually walked, i.e. free range or organic) it might take two hours.

Add the rice cakes and let them simmer until they become thicker (it takes usually about 15 minutes).  Add the celery and let it simmer until the celery is soft enough. I like it crunchy, so I add it ten minutes before the end, but you can add together with rice cakes (it will cook 20 minutes and will be soft).

Finish cooking it uncovered until the sauce thickens.

Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds, green onions and with sesame oil.

 

Chicken with Curry Leaves from Andhra Pradesh (Kodi Gasi)

When I ordered The Essential Andhra Cookbook: with Hyderabadi and Telengana Specialities by Bilkees I. Latif I didn’t know much about this part of India (I even had to check on the map…) apart from the extensive use of my beloved curry leaves by its inhabitants. Now, having tested only one recipe from Ms Latif’s humble looking book, I know I have found a precious addition to my cooking library. This chicken dish might seem similar to any another Indian curry, but it is really unique. Like many Indian dishes I know, it’s packed with spices and laced with creamy coconut flavours, but it has a unique, clean touch and a tantalising new aroma I got quickly addicted to.

If you have never tasted curry leaves, they are small, highly aromatic and grow on Murraya koenigii trees. They are particularly popular in southern parts of India and, contrary to bay leaves, they are cooked fresh and are actually eaten. They are usually fried at the beginning together with onions and sometimes also used as a topping (in the above dish they appear in both).  Thanks to their wonderful unique aroma, they change the flavours of the final dish and make it very special. After dozens of meals in Indian restaurants in several European countries I had never had the occasion to taste them (no comment, but you can imagine my angry face) until I started to cook from Rick Stein’s India. I fell in love as soon as I took the first bunch of leaves from the shop: their pungent smell was so amazing, so complex, I couldn’t stop myself from sniffing my shopping bag throughout the whole trip back home….

Since curry leaves are now very difficult to get in fresh form in Switzerland, whenever I have an opportunity to buy them, I vacuum pack small portions and freeze them because dried form loses much of its aroma (not to mention the texture which makes leaves too thick to eat). (If you don’t have a vacuum packing machine, before freezing, wrap the leaves in plastic film as tightly as you can). If you want to taste fresh curry leaves and don’t find them in your local Indian shop, you can easily order them on internet (they are not only grown in Asia, but also in the US!). Write to me if you need precise information about internet sources I’ve found. In short, do whatever you can to get fresh leaves. At worst you can use dried ones, but they are not even half as good…

I don’t have access to good quality fresh coconut or frozen fresh coconut, so, as I often do, I have used here coconut milk instead (my experiments with dried coconut in curries have always been a failure, so I stopped trying). I have cut down on frying oil and had to modify also the cooking process and adapt it to a lower amount of fat. Apart from that, I have slightly tweaked ingredients’ amounts, used chicken breast instead of whole chicken, shallots instead of onions, and so on… so check The Essential Andhra Cookbook for the original recipe.

TIPS:  If you like this curry as much as I do, I advise preparing a big batch of masala and either keeping it in the fridge (it will keep for five days) or even freezing it in small portions. Then you stir fry onions and curry leaves, take a protein source (meat, seafood or paneer, and why not tofu?) or a vegetable to the masala, add some water and the quick delicious meal is ready in no time at all!

Preparation: about 30 minutes

Ingredients (serves four):

3 medium chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces

2 tablespoons coconut fat (or any oil of your choice)

5 big European shallots, finely sliced

15 curry leaves (fresh or frozen)

salt, water

Masala:

150 ml coconut milk

4 long fresh red chilli peppers (choose the variety according to your heat resistance), sliced

1 1/2 tablespoon coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

1 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon crushed garlic (about 3 medium garlic cloves)

4 black peppercorns

2 teaspoons turmeric powder

4 shallots, sliced

1 teaspoon salt

First prepare the masala. Roast the whole spices in a pan (make sure they don’t burn and take the pan off the heat as soon as they start to yield a strong but pleasant smell).

Grind the spices in a coffee grinder, spice grinder or in a mortar.

Mix well with the remaining ingredients in a food processor until you obtain a thick sauce.

Heat the oil in a shallow pan and stir-fry approx. 2/3 of the shallots with half of the curry leaves.

When the shallots start becoming soft, add the chicken pieces, salt them and stir-fry until slightly browned.

Add the masala, about 200 ml water and let the dish simmer until the chicken is cooked.

In the meantime, heat 1 teaspoon coconut oil in a small pan.

Stir-fry the remaining shallots and curry leaves until the onions are slightly browned.

Serve this curry with fried shallots and curry leaves on top. It’s excellent with naan.