Monday, January 19, 2009

Tasting the Difference

Today am returning to the 'adding flavour' part of cookery and am giving three recipes where the end results burst with flavour, yet can be quite inexpensive to make (once we have the herbs and spices). At this time of the year it is worth planning to sow and grow a wider variety of herbs than we may already have, or just maybe grow a few on the windowsill if we have never grown them before. Sow seeds, or buy the plants from a garden centre or through the Internet. My 'must have' herbs are Garden Mint, Basil, Thyme, Chives, Sage, Parsley, and Rosemary. Coriander and Tarragon are other good 'cook's herbs'.

The next two recipes are for meat balls, ones made with lamb, the others with beef. Using fresh mince, once made, they can be frozen to be later thawed and cooked as per the recipe.
Spicy Lamb and Herb Balls: makes 24, serves 6 (F)
1 small onion, grated
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tblsp olive oil
2 lbs (500g) minced lamb
2 tblsp chopped fresh mint
1 tsp paprika pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
half tsp chilli powder
salt and pepper
Using a food processor blitz together the onion, garlic and oil to make a paste. Add the lamb, mint and spices, adding seasoning to taste, then blitz further until well mixed. Shape into 24 balls, chill for 30 minutes then open freeze, and when solid bag up, label and seal. Use within 3 months. If preferring to cook immediately after chilling, the balls can be grilled for 10 minutes, turning occasionally. Good served with a cool cucumber, yogurt and mint (Raita) dip.

These beef meatballs are probably best frozen before being fried, although they could be fried for longer, then frozen, and after thawing they can be cooked on in the tomato sauce. The name for this dish in Greece is Soutzoukakia.
Beefballs in in Tomato Sauce: makes 20 (serves 4) (F)
1 lb (500g) minced beef steak
1 egg, beaten
1 oz (25g) stale breadcrumbs
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp dried oregano or marjoram
1 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper
3 tblsp olive oil
8 oz (225g) pitted olives (green, black or both)
4 oz (100g) Feta cheese, crumbled
Either by hand or pulsing in a food processor, mix the minced beef, egg, breadcrumbs, garlic, onion, cumin and herbs together. Season well and form into 20 balls (if freezing, open freeze and when solid bag up, seal and label. Thaw slightly before continuing with the recipe). Chill for half an hour then heat the oil in a frying pan, and fry the meatballs (best done in 2 - 3 batches) for five minutes until browned. Set aside whilst making the sauce (using the same pan and oil/juices to cook the sauce).
tomato sauce:
1 onion, finely chopped or grated
2 cans chopped tomatoes
1 tsp sugar
2 tblsp tomato puree
5 fl oz (150ml) beef or vegetable stock
Fry the onion in the pan until golden, then stir in the tomatoes, sugar, tomato puree and the stock. Bring to the boil and cook for five minutes until reduced slightly, then blitz together in a blender or food processor until smooth.
Returnt the sauce to the pan with the fried meatballs and olives and simmer, uncovered for half an hour. Check seasoning, adding more if necessary. Serve with Feta cheese crumbled over the top.

This next is a soup that is normally made with pumpkin, but (in my opinion) tastes even better made with Butternut Squash and can be made as gentle or as spicy as you wish. Remember that a cook always has control of the amount of flavouring so always start with the smallest amount (in this instance a hot chilli/Tabasco sauce) then taste, for more can be added to the strenght that we wish. Good cooks always taste before they serve up anything that can have a spoon dunked into it (more difficult if it's a pie), and possibly why I never feel like eating when I have been preparing a large meal for guests. During the day will have probably tasted enough spoonfuls to fill a large dish.
Squash Soup Creole fashion: serves 4 - 6
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 rib celery, finely diced
2 carrots, finely diced
2 tblsp sunflower oil
4 tblsp demerara or soft brown sugar
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 pints (1.25lts) chicken stock
2 lb (1kg) butternut squash, peeled and deseeded
3 tblsp smooth peanut butter
half pint (300ml) double cream
3 tblsp lime juice
2 tblsp chilli sauce, or few drops Tabasco (to taste)
salt and pepper
Using a sturdy pan, fry the onion, celery and carrot in the oil until just softened, then stir in the garlic and cook for a further minute. Add the sugar and nutmeg, and stir in the chicken stock. Cut the squash into 1" (2.5cm) cubes and add this to the pan. Cover and simmer until the pumpkin has softened, then cool slightly before blitzing in a blender or food processor.
Return the soup to the pan adding the remaining ingredients - the chilli sauce and salt and pepper to taste. If a thinner soup is required, thin down with more stock or water. Reheat to just a simmer, but do not boil. Serve with a good dollop of creme fraiche.

If we choose not to eat garlic, do we then dismiss any recipes where garlic is given as an ingredient? What happens if we have no olive oil and only have a cheaper vegetable oil? Would margarine be as good for frying as butter? What happens if we are missing a spice or herb?
Myself would never throw a recipe out because it does not fit in with 'what we have' (or perhaps have not). By all means leave garlic out if you do not like it. Quite often less garlic is given in a recipe on this site because many people do not like too much (my Beloved being one) , so if garlic is 'your thing' feel free to double the amount. Olive oil does give the best flavour to a dish that originated from a region where olives grow (and surprisingly each region's oil tastes slightly different so purists may prefer to make a Spanish dish using oil made in Spain). Try if you can to buy 'ordinary' olive oil (not the extra-virgin), and make it go further by blending (half and half) with a cheaper vegetable oil such as sunflower. This gives the flavour without the expense.
Margarine should not be used for frying. Butter has such a wonderful flavour it is worth saving up for. In fact a lot of the cheaper butters are no more costly that the quality soft margarine. As butter burns easily when heated in a frying pan, use less butter and add a little oil. You then get both the flavour and a higher frying temperature.
If we are short on herbs and spices, then we can only use what we have. In all recipes these are there mainly to enhance the natural flavour of foods, never to overpower them (with the exceptions of some curries and chilli dishes), and we might be able to manage this by using other spices and other herbs than those suggested in the recipes' Always remember that tastes differ, and what might be perfect for one person may be far too weak or even too hot for another. When serving to guests try to suit the tastes of those being served.