Saturday 24 January 2009

Curried Salt-Sprinkle

A lovely, zingy, all-purpose spicy salt-sprinkle for grilled chicken and meat, rice, stews, soups, dips, curries and popcorn.

I am a great fan of home-made spiced and herbed salt mixtures, and about once a month make two or three small batches - a cup at a time - of flavoured salt, which I use for seasoning our everyday family meals. These mixtures keep well for a month or two in tightly sealed glass or plastic jars, provided that everything is perfectly dry.

For this recipe, curry leaves are an essential ingredient. They are available whole and dried from spice shops, Indian supermarkets and greengrocers. If you can only find fresh ones, you will need to dry them on a windowsill for a few days - or in a barely warm oven for a few hours - before you use them. Or, you can blend the whole fresh leaves into the mixture, and then set the salt outside, thinly spread on a baking tray, in the sun, for a few hours so that all the moisture evaporates. The the same applies to bay leaves.

Whole, fresh spices (or very fresh powdered spices) are essential for this mixture.

Curried Salt Sprinkle
  1. 3 T (45 ml) whole coriander seeds
  2. 3 T (45 ml)) whole cumin seeds
  3. 1 T (15 ml) fenugreek seeds
  4. 6 whole white cardamom pods
  5. 3 whole cloves
  6. 1 small stick cinnamon, broken into small pieces
  7. 3 T (45 ml) yellow mustard seeds
  8. a handful of dry curry leaves (or fresh, see above)
  9. 3 dry bay leaves
  10. 4 dried red chillies, seeds removed (or 20 ml dried red chilli flakes)
  11. 1 T (15 ml) turmeric
  12. 1 T (15 ml) black or green dried peppercorns
  13. 1 and 1/2 cups (375 ml) coarse sea salt
Heat a dry frying pan until moderately hot and add ingredients 1- 7. Toss the ingredients and allow to toast over the heat for a few minutes, or until they begin to release their fragrance. Don't allow them to brown or burn. Tip all these ingredients into a coffee grinder or spice grinder, or one of those little mini-bowls on your food processor, add a few tablespoons of coarse salt, and whizz until well blended. If you don't have an electric grinder, put them in a mortar and bash hard with a pestle. Add all the remaining ingredients and grind to a powder. Tip into a dry jar and seal tightly. You will find that the bigger, dryer particles and husks 'float' to the top of the mixture - which is fine, but do shake well before using. Makes about 2 cups.
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Monday 12 January 2009

Blend-Ahead, Deeply Delicious Spicy Mince, Bean and Tomato Soup

Blend-Ahead, Deeply Delicious Spicy Mince,  Bean and Tomato Soup
Blend-Ahead, Deeply Delicious Spicy Mince, Bean and Tomato Soup
This is a great recipe for feeding a hungry horde of teens on a shoestring, because it uses only 500 g of lean mince and is thickened with nutritious (but cunningly concealed) tinned beans, which are the perfect fibre and energy food for teens.

If you're a vegetarian, leave out the mince - it's just as good without it. It's called Blend-Ahead because it's puréed before it's cooked.

There are a lot of ingredients, and a longish cooking time, but the soup takes less than 15 minutes to prepare. Oh, and did I mention that it is delicious and addictive? I've made it three times this week.

Blend-Ahead Spicy Mince, Bean and Tomato Soup

2 Tbsp (30 ml) vegetable oil
3 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
500 g lean minced beef
6 large, ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 tin good tinned tomatoes, and their juice
3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tin butter or kidney beans, and their liquid (see notes)
1 tin baked beans in tomato sauce
2 Tbsp (30 ml) mild curry powder
2 Tbsp (30 ml) powdered cumin
1 Tbsp (15 ml) powdered coriander
1 tsp (5 ml) Tabasco sauce
1 tsp (5 ml) chilli powder [optional; to taste]
4 Tbsp (60 ml) tomato sauce [ketchup] or 30 ml (2 Tbsp) tomato paste
1.25 litres (5 cups) vegetable stock, chicken stock or water
salt and freshly ground black pepper
200 ml coconut milk

To serve:
a dollop of plain white yoghurt, chopped coriander and a few dabs of olive oil, plus anything else you fancy: grated cheddar, chopped spring onions, fresh green chillies, etc.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Put the onions in the goblet of a liquidizer fitted with a metal blade and whiz until very finely chopped. Fry the onions in the oil until they are softened and beginning to turn golden.

Turn up the heat and add the mince, stirring with a fork to break up any lumps. While the mince is browning, put the tomatoes, the tin of tomatoes, the garlic and the tinned beans and their liquid into the liquidiser. Process until fine.

Tip the cooked mince and onions into a metal sieve set over a bowl and press down with a fork to drain off excess fat. Now tip them back into the pot and add the ingredients you've just liquidised. Add all the remaining ingredients, except for the coconut milk, and use a balloon whisk to combine everything and break up any stubborn lumps of beef.

Bring to the boil, and then immediately turn down the heat. Cook over a moderate to low heat for about an hour and a half, stirring now and then to prevent sticking, and skimming off the foam as it rises. If the soup seems too thick, add a little more stock or water to thin it down. It's important not to rush the cooking: the beef should melt into tender granules and the soup needs time to thicken. Stir in the coconut milk and serve very hot, with the cool and crunchy toppings.

Serves eight.

Cook's Notes:

- Any tinned bean and its juice will do, but this is my favourite combination
- Add a tin of sweetcorn kernels or chickpeas, or lentils, if you'd like to add even more bulk.
- You can use an equal quantity of tinned tomatoes instead of fresh ones, but the flavour somehow isn't the same.
- You can also use dried beans in this recipe, but you will need to soak them and boil them in advance. Remember not to add any salt to the boiling water, which will toughen the beans.

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