Saturday, January 19, 2008

Try Before You Buy

Pilaf/pilaff/pilau, however it is spelled, is rice-based, and the recipe coming up has amazing flavours which burst out. Don't be put off by the long list of ingredients, the trick is to collect them up ready to use before you start, after that it is a doddle.
Admittedly there is some butter in the recipe, but not a lot (per head) and necessary for the flavour and for coating the rice. All the ingredients we probably have in our storecupboards, although I might substitute soaked green or brown lentils rather than trotting off to buy the puy lentils. Try if you can to make the recipe as given, as the flavours work well together, but don't feel tied - feel free to experiment.
Persian Pilaff: serves 4
1 oz (25g) butter
2 onions, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and shredded
1 tblsp peeled and shredded root ginger
8 cardamon pods, crushed
7 oz (200g) long-grain rice (pref basmati)
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 oz (25g) puy lentils
1 pinch saffron (opt)
1 tblsp runny honey
5 oz (150g) no-soak apricots
2 oz (50g) sultanas
16 fl. oz (450ml) hot vegetable stock
salt and pepper
2 oz (50g) toasted flaked almonds
Heat the butter in a pan and fry the onions until golden (10 minutes). Stir in the garlic, ginger, the crushed cardamon pods, the rice, celery, and lentils. Set aside. Put the stock into a saucepan over medium heat and add the saffron, honey, apricots and sultanas. When just beginning to simmer, pour the contents of the pan (stock and fruit) over the rice, season to taste, cover and cook gently for 15 minutes or until the rice is tender and all the stock absorbed. Stir in the flaked almonds and serve.

Still on the less-fat, more use of grains, path to health, not to mention the money-saving, this next dish is one that can be prepared and chilled before serving. It makes very good use of the scraps pulled from the chicken carcase, and although not really a dish for the colder weather, it could be served as a starter, or eaten between a soup and a hot pudding.
Couscous Salad with Chicken and Cashew nuts: serves 4
8 oz (225g) couscous
pinch salt
boiling water
1 tblsp olive oil
2 onions, thinly sliced
4 oz (100g) cashew nuts or whole split almonds
approx 12 oz (350g) cooked chicken, shredded
4 tblsp capers, drained
handful fresh coriander leaves (or herb of your choice)
salad dressing
Put the couscous into a bowl, stir in the salt and cover with boling water (to a fingers depth above the grains). Cover and leave to stand for 15 minutes. Then fork up to separate grains. If you wish, fork in a tiny knob of butter and this helps to prevent grains sticking. Set aside.
Put the oil in a frying pan and fry the onions over medium heat for about 10 minutes until soft and golden. Remove the onions and place them into a large bowl. Add the nuts to the pan, stirring to brown them slightly. Drain on kitchen paper. To the bowl of onions stir in the couscous (drained and forked again if necessary), then add the nuts, chicken, capers and roughly chopped herbs. Dress the salad (see below - for dressing recipes, the lemon one works well with this dish), tossing well. Spoon out into a large shallow serving dish. Serve immediately, or chill in the fridge for up to 2 hours before serving.

French Dressing:
8 tblsp olive oil
2 tblsp red or white wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, crushed (opt)
half a tsp Dijon mustard
half a tsp caster or icing sugar
salt and black pepper to taste
Put everything into a screw-top jar. Fasten lid and give a good shake. This will store in the fridge for 2 weeks, always give a shake before using.
tip: for a strong flavour use extra virgin olive oil, for a lighter flavour use half extra v. (or ordinary olive oil) and half sunflower oil

balsamic dressing:
replace vinegar with balsamic vinegar and the Dijon with whole-grain mustard.
lemon and coriander:
replace vinegar with lemon juice and a little lemon zest. Add 2 tblsp finely chopped coriander.

Because of their shape, these palmiers would be very good served on St. Valentine's Day. The excuse being that eaten once a year they can't do us that much harm. But why not make them now, as frozen (uncooked) they can be baked whenever you wish.
Naughty and Very Nice Palmiers: makes 16 (F)
375g pack ready-rolled puff pastry (oblong not round)
2 oz (50g) caster sugar
6 tblsp red jam
5 fl.oz (150ml) double cream
icing sugar
Unroll the pastry and brush with water, sprinkling over half the caster sugar. Press the sugar into the pastry with your hands, then turn the pastry over and do the same on the reverse side.
Fold the two short sides in about an inch (2.5cm), then repeat until they meet in the centre. Then close the two sides together (like closing a book). Cut into 1/2" (1cm) thick slices (at this point they can be laid on a baking sheet and frozen, bag up when solid). Lay the palmiers on a baking sheet, flat side up (so you can see the folds), keeping them well apart as they spread when baking. Press down lightly with the heel of your hand to flatten them slightly (they will look a bit heart-shaped) , then chill for at least half an hour before baking.
Bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 for 15-20 minutes, turning with a fish slice (or palette knife) halfway through. When cooked they should be golden and crisp. Place on a wire rack to get cold. When ready to eat (or within 2 hours of serving), sandwich together with jam and whipped cream and dust with icing sugar.