Archive for the ‘food’ Category

Sweet Tatty Soup Packs a Punch

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

I first came across the hierarchy of sweet potatoes outside a greengrocer’s in Tooting Broadway some years ago, in the look of disgust on an old woman’s face when she realised they didn’t have any Jamaican sweet potatoes in, just the Egyptian kind.

But I don’t think I ever actually tried the Jamaican variety until this evening. I always assumed Jamaican sweet potatoes were the pink ones, and the paler looking ones were Egyptian, but it’s the other way round. And they’re twice the price. The Sherwood greengrocer I visited yesterday kindly warned me that the two sweet potatoes I was about to buy cost almost £5, which turned out to be more than half the price of my shop. But I persevered with my purchase anyhow.

The Jamaican sweet potatoes, it turns out, are white inside, like yams. And they’re rather peculiar. The peeled vegetable starts to go a nasty grey in places on exposure to the air, and it seems to corrode the skin, leaving it dry and rough, though not as bad as butternut squashes.

The texture when cooked is like taro—soft but firm at the same time, and crushes with a delicious sensation when you bite on it. I could well imagine it as the sweet filling inside some Taiwanese pastry.

But it’s the heavily perfumed flavour that really astonished me. It was a particularly fragrant soup—I’d used ginger and chilli, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, and cardamon—but I don’t think any of those can have accounted for the distinct whiff of rosewater (yes, the stuff they put in Turkish delight) I got with several mouthfuls. Well, it could conceivably have been the cardamon, but I’m siding with the sweet potato for the time being.

The Duchess Bakery

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

I normally pride myself on my ability to eat pretty much anything that comes my way. Chinese chicken feet, Icelandic sheep’s eye, Colombian deep-fried ants…I’ve had them all. The ants weren’t actually that bad. They had a woody kind of flavour—a passable alternative to peanuts. But the Duchess Bakery really put my courage to the test.

“What’s that?” I asked, pointing at the display cabinet.

“Carrot and tape cake,” said the woman behind the counter.

“Tape?” I said, “not….”

“It’s made from carrots,” she explained, “and the kidneys of tape worms. They go into the fluffy white frosting round the outside.”

I paused for a moment. “Imagine that was your job—extracting the kidneys from tape worms!”

“Oh, there’s no need for that, it’s all mechanical these days.”

There was something reassuring about the way she said it, so I took the plunge: “I’ll take one, please.”

“Would you like horseradish with that as well?”

Pick your own bilberries…and beat the minimum wage!

Saturday, September 5th, 2009

When I set out to quantify in money terms the potential utility and remuneration for picking your own bilberries, I didn’t even expect to beat the minimum wage. I thought that picking your own bilberries would turn out to be a brazen act of self-exploitation, and that any self-respecting homo economicus would choose to hire cheap migrant workers to undercut themselves, thus freeing up their own labour time up for more profitable ventures.

However, this afternoon two of us picked around 3,000 bilberries in just one hour (with the jet-engine roar of a geothermal power plant in the background). That’s marginally over 800g. If bilberries sell for around £3 per 150g in the shops, then according to my calculations we earned ourselves about £8 per hour of bilberry utility.

And then there’s the benefit of being out in the fresh air and striking yoga-type poses on the hillside as you try to balance on the slope while reaching for those low-lying berries. Lets say the exercise and suppleness value-equivalent is two hours of yoga sessions at £6 per hour – and I’ve no idea how you monetise fresh air – that brings the total quantifiable utility of our harvest to £28, or a very respectable £14 an hour.

Of course, I’ve not included transport and fuel costs, which can apparently have a considerable impact on bilberry prices (read a detailed analysis of the relationship between fuel prices and blueberry prices here).

how to make a really nice curry

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

Yes, it’s cookery school time! What could go wrong? – You could burn the garlic, overdose on asafoetida, get bits of coriander seed stuck in your teeth, and end up chewing on a raw potato…or you might find yourself marvelling at something approaching the golden yellow, crispy, succulent, sweet fragrant dish I discovered I’d made earlier. I’m told it had a hint of currywurst, but without the wurst, and suitable for vegans. You can serve it with rice, but maybe just a bowl on the side because it really doesn’t need much. Probably feeds four.

The Materials
2 onions, chopped into eighths
10 small (but not tiny) red potatoes, peeled
the larger half of a cauliflower
1 green pepper, cut into strips
6 cloves of garlic, maybe more
light olive oil
1/2 tin of coconut milk

ground turmeric
ground hot paprika
ground asafoetida
black peppercorns
cardamon pods
coriander seeds
fenugreek seeds

The Method
There are four things to do here, and they all need doing at the same time, so don’t do one after the other, do them all at once – be a whirlwind of culinary activity, impress your friends, post the pictures to facebook, show the world that you have produced something. Now, back to the recipe.

  1. we’re going to par-boil the potatoes and cauliflower here, before we roast them – that way the potatoes don’t take ages to roast while everything else burns, and the delicate cauliflower gets less rough handling; give the potatoes 10 minutes, then the cauliflower 7; when they’re done, cut the potatoes into roasting-size chunks (quarters or fifths), and cut the cauliflower into florets or attractive-looking chunks
  2. meanwhile, set the oven to 220C and get the other vegetables roasting; the onions and green peppers probably need a 10-minutes headstart, then add the potatoes, then the garlic (at least 5-7 mins later), and then the cauliflower – make sure the onion is properly cooked before adding the cauliflower, as the increased bulk will reduce the cooking speed; give the vegetables a stir every 5-7 mins so everything gets a little bit of oil and radiant heat (and add more oil if necessary), but always return the dish to the oven as quick as you can so it doesn’t lose heat and momentum
  3. meanwhile again, while the vegetables are roasting, get your spices ready: toast the coriander, fenugreek, and black pepper in a dry pan on a medium-high heat till they start to release their aroma and begin to turn golden – take care not to burn them; crack open the cardamon pods and mix the seeds in a mortar with the toasted spices and grind them, then add the other spices; sprinkle the spice mix over the vegetables, stir, and return to oven – I did this after having added the cauliflower, but you could do it earlier…probably not before the potatoes are in though, because you don’t want the spices to burn
  4. meanwhile again again, cook the rice; you could use the water the potatoes and cauliflower were cooked in for extra flavour and goodness
  5. finally, when the spices and everything are in and definitely cooked, chuck in the coconut milk, stir, and give it a few more minutes; that way you get a bit of sauce to go with your crunch