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).

Light Yogurt Mousse with Passion Fruit

yog_mousse_passionSpring has been particularly cold this year and strawberries (I mean the edible ones) are late, so I keep on buying other fruits. A week ago I was thrilled to find exceptionally aromatic and sweet organic passion fruits and then wondered what dessert I could include them in… Finally, I thought the cleaner the flavours, the better. I’m glad I steered away from chocolate and strong tasting ingredients this time because this simple yogurt mousse proved perfect enhancer of the intense flavours of passion fruit. While shopping the following Friday I even didn’t look cravingly at strawberries and headed straight to passion fruits’ corner.

TIPS: I often make several individual portions of my light yogurt mousse-based desserts (see some of them here) and they keep perfectly several days in the fridge. This one is no exception (of course passion fruit should be added just before you eat).

Whatever the form of gelatin, it’s always indicated how much you need in order to set a certain amount of liquid. I don’t want to obtain here a stiff jelly-like texture, but something similar to a mousse, so I always check the advised amount and use only about 3/4 of it.

For the first time I used here only full-fat natural yogurt, but the following time I wanted it richer/creamier, so I reduced the amount of yogurt (see below) and added a bit of cream (mine was half-fat). It was just heavenly and still remained a light dessert.

Instead of normal full fat yogurt you can use here Greek yogurt or very smooth (mixed) fresh cheese/curd cheese/quark/, also called fromage frais/serek homogenizowany)

Ripe passion fruits have wrinkled skin (I learnt it very recently!), but if you buy smooth ones, you can put them at room temperature and wait until they ripen. Afterwards keep them in the fridge.

Preparation: 5 minutes+at least 2 hours in the fridge

Ingredients (serves 4-5): 

500 ml  (about 17 fl oz) unsweetened full-fat yogurt (or see the TIPS above) or, if you want this dessert richer and creamier: 450 ml yogurt+50 ml cream

3/4 of the amount of gelatin necessary to set 500ml/17fl oz of liquid (usually 1 tablespoon gelatin or 6 – 8 sheets, depending on the size/brand, so check well the package and reduce the amount to about 3/4, see the TIPS above)+4 tablespoons warm water (I prefer to use hot water with powdered gelatin)

4 flat tablespoons confectioner’s sugar or sweetener of your choice

4-5 passion fruits (or more, depends on the size; I count 1 big per person or 1 and half of smaller ones)

Dissolve the gelatin in 4 tablespoons warm or hot (not boiling) water. (If using leaves, proceed as indicated on the package). (I’ve recently stumbled upon instant gelatin powder which can be added directly to any creamy mixture or liquid without previous dissolving, so check well the procedure on the package.)

Mix the yogurt (or fresh cheese) and the sweetener/sugar in a food processor.

Add the dissolved gelatin and mix well.

Pour the yogurt mixture into individual bowls or glasses and put into the fridge for at least two hours.

Just before serving, cut the passion fruits in two and scoop out the flesh on top of each mousse.

Growing Garlic Leaves Indoors, or What to Do With Sprouting Garlic?

garlic_leaves_I bet some of you also keep on finding old, last year’s sprouting garlic heads. Once they sprout, the taste becomes harsh and when the next – mushy – stage arrives, most of us usually throw them away. This year, I decided to do exactly what I have been doing for years with sprouting onion bulbs and simply planted a garlic head indoors. In barely one week I obtained 20 cm (about 8 in) of delicious, strongly scented fake garlic chives and at the same time saved my garlic from the bin. I didn’t even need to use my balcony! The small amount of light (we’ve been having an awful spring this year) was enough to make these green leaves grow at an impressive speed!

Though I have been treating this away sprouting onions almost for the pas four years, I’ve never had the idea to experiment with garlic. I’m glad I did because it’s such a rewarding and funny experience! The garlic leaves have a stronger scent and taste than garlic chives, but they can be used in a similar way or as a substitution of garlic.

Here is a quick reminder of what can be obtained if you plant a sprouting onion bulb:

springonions

TIP: You will probably have to throw the soil away once the experiment is over because garlic’s root grow at a speed even higher than the leaves and quickly the fill the whole potted space.

If you have a garden, obviously you don’t need to pot the garlic bulb!

I haven’t tried growing leaves from single garlic cloves yet. If you do, please let me know if it works.

Directions:

Take a garlic head with sprouting cloves (don’t worry if some of them don’t sprout; they will sprout once they are potted) and plant it, covering about 2/3 of its height, in a pot filled with soil.

Place it in any room you prefer, as long as there is some light during the day.

Water it every day or every other day (depends on the soil and air dryness), keeping the soil moist and wait patiently until the garlic leaves/spring onions appear.

(I haven’t checked yet if a second generation of leaves would keep on growing…I’ll update this post if it does).