Thursday, May 24, 2012

Ottolenghi Soba Noodle Mango & Aubergine Salad & Lao Larb encounters

The problem with going on benders with your friends, is that you always talk a load of shit, and make huge promises of how you're going to do all of this awesome stuff together; like "Let's go on a 3 month road trip around Eastern Europe where we only take €30, and have to rely on our raw survival skills & irrepressible charm to get by. We can hitch cargo trains from town to town, swim naked in the lakes, hunt bears, fashion couture from their pelts & become mountain children who live in log cabins", or even "When this crazy bender is over, let's cook dinner with each after only 2 hours sleep" (equally unrealistic). The nice thing was that this week, after postponing a day for recovery, we managed to come together to make really delicious dinner that we promised on one of those nights of excess. Oh rapture!

The initial proposition was that we were going to do some American style BBQ pork ribs, but this plan fell apart, like so much tender meat, when we weren't able to find a decent or affordable butcher. Berlin has quite a few Turkish butchers, but since pork is like Muslim Kryptonite, it wasn't such an easy find. Roll on plan B. 

Finbar called me up and said since it was so stinking hot outside, he was thinking of making a Lao dish - chicken larb. This was my introduction to Lao cuisine, & larb is one of their most common dishes. It's a salad, that's usually mince-meat based and mixed together with fresh herbs & raw vegetables, citric juices, chilli & a side of sticky rice. The result is a mouthwateringly salty, sour, spicy but fresh combination. People from Laos are commonly referred to as the "children of sticky rice" and their food is eaten without cutlery,  most dishes are made fit to bundle together by hand. 

I bought along a Soba noodle mango salad that was originally put together by Yottam Ottolenghi, but I borrowed a modified version by 101 cookbooks, and then further mutated it myself. It contains raw mango, coriander, basil, boiled soba noodles, fried tofu, fried aubergine, fresh basil & coriander, & a dressing made from brown rice vinegar, brown sugar, garlic, chilli, ginger, lime, peanut oil & sesame seeds. It was the perfect counterpart for larb, not worlds apart in flavours or ingredients, but sweeter & fruitier than the saltier meatier dish. We left out the sticky rice & just ate the larb wrapped in full iceberg lettuce leaves, as the mango salad already had noodles for the carb factor.

It was a perfect end to a scorching hot Berlin day, eating in the abandoned lot by the Spree with Simon, Finbar, Justine & Lisa.

And Finbar made a dog-friend!

Or a dog-foe...?

Mango Soba Noodle Salad Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup / 120 ml brown rice vinegar
  • scant 1/3 cup / 1.5 oz / 40 g fine-grain natural cane sugar or brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes or 1/2 fresh red chile, minced
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil (I substituted this for peanut butter oil & added a few teaspoons of sesame seeds)
  • grated zest and juice of one lime
  • 1/3 cup / 80 ml sunflower oil or olive oil
  • 1 medium eggplant/aubergine 3/4 lb / 12 oz, cut into 1/2-inch / 1cm chunks
  • 8 ounces / 225g dried soba noodles
  • 1 large ripe mango, cut into small chunks
  • 8 ounces grilled or pan-fried tofu (I cut it into really tiny cubes & cook it till it's almost chewy for a complementary texture in the salad)
  • 1/2 medium red onion, very thinly sliced
  • a handful of basil leaves, slivered
  • a handful of fresh cilantro / coriander, chopped

Directions: (Stolen from 101 Cookbooks)

While you are prepping the rest of the ingredients bring a large pot of water to a boil.
In the meantime, make the dressing by combining the vinegar, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring, for up to 1 minute, or until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and add the garlic, red pepper flakes or chile, and sesame oil.
Allow to cool, then add the lime zest and juice.

Heat the sunflower oil in a large skillet and shallow fry the eggplant/aubergine in three batches, until deeply golden. Transfer to a large plate lined with paper towels and sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt.

Cook the soba noodles in a large pot of boiling salted water, per package instructions, or until just tender. Drain and rinse under cold running water. Shake off as much of the excess water as possible, then leave to dry in the colander or on a tea towel. If you're not using the noodles soon, toss with a tiny splash of olive oil to prevent the noodles from sticking to each other.

In a large mixing bowl toss the noodles the dressing, mango, tofu, eggplant, onions, and most of the herbs. You can now set this aside for an hour or two before serving topped with the remaining herbs.

Serves 4-6.
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Friday, May 11, 2012

Alles Gute zum Geburtstag! Happy Birthday Gemma!

For the most part, getting old sucks. Sure, we pretend that we are all getting wiser with age, and that with maturity comes fulfilment and clarity; but the reality is that there's a generation of younger, more technically abled & mercilessly intelligent children, nipping at our heels, ready to pounce & replace us as pack leaders the very second we show any sign of weakness. The weight of our fate at the hands of these usurpers is a terrible burden on the conscience; for this very reason we will do anything to forget our age when it's birthday time, the most common being getting drunk and burying our heads in food. On Wednesday night we did exactly that for Gemma's birthday, and it's a lucky thing all of her friends are brilliant in the kitchen, because it made for one hell of a potluck dinner (It was less of a "pot-luck", and more of a "pot-everything-is-gonna-be-fucking-awesome").

Everything was vegetarian, so naturally a panoply of salads were on offer; including a Mediterranean alphabet pasta salad with sundried tomato, olive, basil & feta. A beetroot, apple, tomato & spinach salad, & a lentil, cherry tomato, red onion, feta, cumin, lemon & coriander salad which I bought along.

Everything was of really high standard, but even so there were a couple of stand out dishes, including a sweet/savoury crumble (I'm not even sure what to call it), with an almost butter-biscuit like crust, caramelised red onion base & cherry tomatoes. Kind of like flammekueche I suppose. DAMN, it was good. The dish that bought be back three times was Ruben's chick-pea stew. I didn't catch the recipe, but I know it had a tomato base, and it was cooked for several hours until two whole aubergines disintegrated into the broth. The end result was a rich, thick, peppery melt in your mouth stew. I am going to chase the recipe for this and post it in the comments when I have it.

If our future lives as humble slaves to indigo-children is a grim prospect, then at least we can all live in moderate ease that we have approximately another decade of these birthday feasts before they take over.

Feta, Lentil & Coriander Salad


  • 200g feta cheese, cut into chunks
  • 250g green or black lentils (or puy lentils)
  • 200g cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 red onion, halved and sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 large handful of coriander leaves


  • Simmer the lentils for 20 minutes until tender.
  • Drain and dress with 3 tbsp olive oil, the lemon juice and garlic while still warm.
  • Cool to room temperature then pile into a large serving dish and stir through the rest of the ingredients.

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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Super Verdant Sopa de Verduras

This little dish has been a favourite of mine for awhile now, I always make it when I feel poorly or, like my body is screaming for vitamins, it's just so damned fresh. If you're one of those people who doesn't like coriander, I pity you FOOL (sorry mum), because it's a key flavour here. I acquired this recipe from Natalia Escobar, a friend of my flatmate who stayed with us for a week in London. She is from Bogota, and one sunny afternoon I had the pleasure of trying this Columbian soup with her for the first time. It uses two jacket potatoes (or a handful of baby new potatoes), spinach, brocolli (if in season), coriander, lemon or lime, onion, salt, pepper, paprika, cumin & avocado.

Whenever I describe this soup, nearly every person turns their noses up when I mention adding avocado; "Avocado? In a soup? Really!?". Yes, really. Dick. 

In my version, I've started using lime instead of lemon (who in their right mind choses lemon when you can have LIME?) and adding bean sprouts as well, which with the coriander and lime, makes the dish start to feel like it's in Vietnamese territory.

This is the first time I've cooked something in my new kitchen in Kreuzberg, and despite the fact I REALLY fucking miss having a gas hob, the soup eventually turned out perfect as it always does. So thanks Natalia!

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Monday, May 7, 2012

Alles klar in Berlin

All my life in the last week has consisted of wandering, wonderment, loneliness, self assuredness, surprise, intrigue, alienation, miscommunication, my heartbeat.

Becoming familiar with new territory comes faster to some than others, but I've wasted no time trying to the crux of Berlin. On Sunday I went to one the city's largest (if not THE largest) fleamarket in Mauerpark, north Berlin. It was a huge breath of fresh air after experiencing the absolute commodification of anything vaguely antique or second hand in London. Generally, these flea markets have far less mediation & sorting from their stand holders than in many places, which means there are bargains for those who are looking with the right set of eyes!

I spent the day processing all of the visual input, enjoying people watching & searching for my own little trinkets to take home. Of course this post wouldn't be going anywhere without me consuming some form of food, and I have to say I had one of the best burgers of my life (and perhaps this was aided by the fact that it was only €3.50) made by Sun Day burgers.
Their burgers are completely vegan, and packed full of healthy ingredients & mouth watering flavours. It's basically a sunflower seed bun filled with fried tofu marinated in ginger & soy sauce, lettuce, capsicum, tomato, beetroot, fried onions, fresh coriander, alfalfa sprouts & sauced up on chipotle chilli chutney (or there is the option of peanut sauce or mango chutney as well).

I asked the the lovely staff if I could take a photo for my food blog, I sensed a little disappointment when the lady serving asked if I was a vegan and I said no, but she kindly said I could have a job as soon as I become vegetarian. I was flattered, & even though I am not a huge meat eater  (ignore the last post) & do enjoy vegetarian food a lot, I don't think I would ever want to be totally vegetarian, I just believe in meat in moderation.

The bad news is that means I will never be employed by Sun Day Burger, but the good news is that they also have a shop in Kreuzberg at EisenBahn Strasse 42/43, Kreuzberg (at Gorlitzer Bahnhof), so I can eat there till my heart is content.

The Sun Day burger

Sun Day Burger stand with suspicious customer

Happy burger makers, no dead animals here!

Ohh, lots of dead animals here...

Next off was Bonanza Coffee Heroes at Oderberger Strasse 35, Prenzlauer Berg. These guys do seriously good coffee, their latte is so smooth it's like supping on a soft, milky cloud; I doubt breast feeding is even this good....probably... I followed up with a Flat White which had a little more punch, it kind of gave me that "fuck yeah, COFFEE" feeling that I was after. I won't waste words trying to pretend I'm an expert at coffee characteristics, but these guys are roasting their own beans and the mere 3 metres that they have to travel from the roaster must make a shit load of difference, because this is some of the best coffee I've ever had.

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Dylan's "Goodbye London: Farewellathon"

The time had come to leave the capital of capital cities. As I've made clear in earlier blog posts, I have really mixed feelings about London. In hindsight, it's so fantastic, but it's also extremely taxing. As I write this posthumously from my new home in Berlin, I am beginning to see London through rose-tinted spectacles, but equally, I am actually becoming acutely aware of the privileges of London, a lot of which I had mistaken as the uniform fabric of large European capital cities; not so!

I was well aware of the cultural wealth of the city, in institutional terms. The Victoria & Albert Museum, The Natural History Museum, The Science Museum, The British Museum, The BFI, The Tate Modern/Britain, The National (Portrait) Gallery, The Saatchi Gallery, The Wellcome Collection...these are just SOME of the MAJOR players, not to mention any medium or small scale venues. It's actually quite mind boggling how much opportunity is at the fingertips of your average Londoner, and now I'm starting to realise it was the same with ingredients. I really took it for granted that my local off license had any variation of tinned bean, dried lentil, Chinese noodle, or Indian spice, not to mention the number of African vegetables that I don't see anymore (oh plantain, oh puna yam, where are you old friends!?).

Don't get me wrong, of course I knew that London has a unique level of multiculturalism, but perhaps because it's so commonplace & readily available, it ceases to amaze a new migrant eventually. I remember when I first arrived, that first walk through the corner shop was so extremely exciting; so many food products I'd never seen before, some raw, others already packaged & ready for consumption! Subconsciously, I was well aware that I was going to be leaving behind a great deal of convenience, which is why for my leaving party I was determined to put in some fucking effort & try make some dishes that I've never done before.

The star of the show was inspired shortly after going to Pitt Cue Co. in Soho, which is basically providing down home American style cookin' (BBQ pulled pork, hot wings, pickled slaw, burnt ends and things of that nature). I decided to give pulled pork a go because it's so soft & delectable & I could make it in abundance for all of the guests. I did a dry rub with paprika, garlic powder, dry mustard, brown sugar & course salt - then refrigerated the meat overnight. In the morning, BAM, into the oven for 6hrs. Then some orgasmic BBQ sauce made from cider vinegar, yellow mustard, ketchup, brown sugar, garlic, cayenne pepper & black pepper. It was like a damned good ketchup on crack; I love vinegary things and this just made my taste buds dance for mercy.

Then we had a couple of salads which really complimented the salty vinegary meat well. There was strawberry & baby spinach salad with white wine vinegar, vege oil, paprika, sesame & poppy seed dressing. For the next salad we had fried plantain & watercress salad with a basic balsamic & oil dressing. Basic snacky tricks were catered for by some home made salsa & salted corn chips, boiled artichokes with a home made mayonnaise, some sweet potato chips, and pita bread pizzas which disappeared incredibly fast. A few of the favourite toppings were asparagus & spinach with blue cheese on a tomato base, and classic italian-esque numbers like baby tomato, brie with olive oil, oregano & fresh basil, guests were like birds of prey eyeing up these pizzas as they arrived.

As per usual, the task of hosting a party got the better of me, and I only managed to get a few rudimentary photos, but it serves as a reminder that it actually happened (even if the event itself lives on as being more legendary in my mind!

Dem porks after 6hrs of roasting in their own juices.
 Pulling that pork to shreds!
Captain Pork Puller & his table of salads

Boiled artichokes, home made mayonnaisse, fried plantains, sweet potato chips, & pita pizzas.
Home made salsa & other salady-goodness.

Vlada, getting a little excited by the tray of pulled pork...

The morning after the morning after spelled the end of my London chapter, some goodbye crepes in the morning, whose weeping faces bid a citrus soaked farewell to both me and themselves simultaneously as they hastily met my digestive tracts.

It's a seriously weird feeling to leave a city by necessity instead of choice, it only adds to the complex panorama of emotions I experience when confronting this ancient, monolithic city. I'm eternally happy for the people I've met through living there, the friendships I've forged & the temporary chances with acquaintances, who will pass into dust & obscurity. I raise a glass for the present & future adventures; I have a feeling there are many more to come :)
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Thursday, May 3, 2012

What's a "squiche"?

This wasn't exactly the most successful encounter I've had in the kitchen, but it really was a learning curve. Basically, I was copying a recipe for vegetarian quiche, served in a roasted squash (hence squash + quiche = squiche!) which I'd found on Around Britain With a Paunch This blog is by a mysterious food wizard called Jonathan. I don't know a lot about him other than he seems to travel a lot, mostly to really beautiful parts of the English countryside, and he has a partner or fiance or wife or imaginary friend called Cowie. Also, if this guy is ANYTHING other than a professional chef, then I'm going to just shoot myself in the face & call it a day, as his dishes are AMAZING.
I knew I was out of my depth when the first line of his instructions said "so mix a quiche as you normally would", and I'm thinking "I've never even made a quiche before, let alone a squiche :( 
The ingredients were really great (wild mushrooms, garlic, capsicum, toasted pine nuts) but basically, all of the things that went wrong with my attempt at the dish were.

  • My butternut squashes weren't big enough to carry the quantity of quiche liquid as "bowls".
  • Pretty sure I lost a lot of the wild mushroom flavour by trying to rehydrate them in water.
  • The garlic didn't absorb into the squash enough, it lacked any strong flavour (I would make garlic butter next time, instead of loose garlic cloves.
  • I discovered I don't like the taste of tarragon, it's going with fennel onto the "don't like list"
  • I took it out of the oven too early, the squashes hadn't gotten to that super soft stage yet & their skin wasn't puckering (maybe par boiling them would've helped?)
In any case, it was still a nice dish, & only really suffered from my execution. The saving grace was a little contrasting salad of cucumber, radish, red onion, mint & feta. I don't know if it was the right kind of accompaniment for this, but I enjoyed it & it was a hit with the guests.

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The Deptford Project

London truly is the city of plurality. Never have I experienced a city so vast yet condensed, complicated & utterly contrary. It gives with one hand, and it takes with the other. It's a place of extremes, where the difference between the haves and the have-nots, is almost unbearable to think of. It has a wildly fascinating history, & it's sheer scale & ability to reinvent itself is enough to keep a mind busy for years. 

I had the fortune and misfortune of living and dying in London for two years, and one of the things that became obvious to me all to late, was that the real London is now in the South East. This is where the level headed people, the young, inspired, hardworking creative people with bright ideas are really making things happen. Away from the self-aggrandizing, "doing little / talking a lot" crowds of Dalston/Shoreditch, is a testimony to this 
generation of doers/thinkers, in the form of Deptford's Carriage Cafe. When I was brought here for lunch by some friends living in Brockley, I realised this was the first time in ages I had been somewhere that had an air of authenticity about it. The staff were friendly, and probably because the success of their cafe is due to its actual merit, and not just because it had been turned into a bandwagon for trenders to jump on.

The Carriage Cafe is a superbly designed space (and this place makes great use of it), a gutted & refurbished train carriage with an outdoor elevated deck attached, seems like a great concept for a cafe, and it is. It offers great protection from the elements, but is also  flooded by sunshine when it's know....kind of like a train would.

The menu offers up hearty portions of vegetarian pies, frittatas, quiche, baked sweet potatoes all with a variety green salads on the side, and all for a good price. Every time I look back at these photos, I have a little sigh & wish I was eating there again.

I went for the baked sweet potato with mozzarella, basil & cherry tomatoes & a side of fresh peas, blanched courgettes & feta salad. I don't know how they managed to make the skin crisp & lift right away from the flesh with that sweet potato, but it was damned good.
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