Sunday 21 February 2010

Chickpea and Feta Fritters with a Mint &Paprika Dressing

Chickpea and Feta Fritters, with a Mint and Paprika Dressing
Chickpea Fritters with a perky mint & paprika dressing 
A chewable form of hummous is how I'd describe these little fritters, because they contain all the ingredients (and flavours) of that heavenly Middle Eastern dip, with the bonus of a little crunch when you bite into them.

I am mad about hummous, and could eat it every day (in fact, I usually do). It's extraordinary that chickpeas - which, face it, taste as dull as ditch water, especially if they've been been boiled to buggery and then tinned - can be transformed, with the addition of just a few sparky ingredients, into a paste that is so zingingly delicious. But it's their very blandness and flouriness that makes these little legumes such good carriers of flavour, and they really come into their own when paired with pungent spices and fresh herbs.

These aren't really fritters, because they're not deep-fried: they're more like griddle cakes. Whatever you want to call them, they're very quick and easy to make if you have food processor fitted with a metal blade. Watch them closely as they fry, as they turn from golden brown to charcoal in a matter of seconds.

When I was imagining this recipe (it's usually when I'm lying awake and fidgeting in the middle of the night that my thoughts turn to food) I thought it would be interesting with grated halloumi cheese, for extra texture, but my local shop doesn't stock it, so feta had to do, and it did well.

Feel free to use dried chickpeas, if you have the patience to soak and boil them. I don't.

Chickpea and Feta Fritters, with a Mint and Paprika Dressing

2 x 250g tins chickpeas, drained
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
half a white onion, peeled and sliced
1 tsp (5 ml) Tabasco sauce
1 Tbsp (15 ml) tahini
finely grated zest of half a lemon
the juice of a lemon
1 tsp (5 ml) salt
3 eggs
½ cup (125 ml) chopped flat-leaf parsley
½ cup (125 ml) chopped fresh coriander [cilantro]
3/4 cup (180 ml) white flour
2 tsp (10 ml) powdered cumin
milled black pepper
100 g feta cheese
vegetable oil for frying

For the dressing:
5 Tbsp (75 ml) olive oil
the juice of a lemon
a pinch of salt
1 tsp (5 ml) smoked paprika
3 sprigs fresh mint

Put the chickpeas, garlic, onion, Tabasco, tahini, lemon zest, lemon juice and salt into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, and whizz to a paste. If the mixture is too stiff for the blades to turn, break an egg into the chute of the food processor. Now add the parsley and coriander and press the pulse button a few times so that the herbs are finely chopped but not puréed.  When the mixture looks smooth, tip it into a mixing bowl and add the remaining two eggs, the flour and the cumin. Mix very well. Crumble the feta cheese into the batter and season with black pepper and more salt, if necessary.  Place in the fridge for 15 minutes to firm up.

Heat the oven to 140°C and put a platter in to warm. Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan. Using a spoon, drop blobs of batter (about 20 ml/4 tsp each) into the hot oil. Fry for about a minute, or until golden brown and crusty underneath, then flip over and cook for another minute. Drain on a piece of kitchen towel and place in the oven while you fry the rest of the fritters.

To make the dressing, whisk together all the ingredients, except for the mint, and decant into a little bowl. Just before you serve the fritters, strip the mint leaves from their stalks, slice into fine shreds, and stir into the dressing.

Serve the fritters piping hot, with the dressing as a dipping sauce.

Makes about 30 fritters.
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Thursday 18 February 2010

Calamari Salad with Thyme, Lemon, Chilli and Olives

This light, summery seafood salad, sparked with lemon juice, red chilli and fresh herbs, takes just ten minutes to make and keeps very well in the fridge for three to four days. Typically, not a single member of my fish-hating family was prepared to taste it.

Marinated Calamari Salad with Thyme, Lemon and Paprika
Plate by David Walters
'I don't do tentacles', said my teen son. 'Are you kidding me?' said the other son.  'Eeeuw!' said my daughter. So guess who gobbled this up for lunch, three days running?

 I think it's such a pity that my kids, and my husband, are so wary about seafood.  Sure, they will eat battered, deep-fried linefish and calamari, and they tolerate - at a push - tinned tuna in a salad, or in a cheesy pasta sauce.  But if I present a fat fillet of spanking-fresh ocean fish, grilled and dressed with lemon juice and olive oil, there is a sullen mutiny at the dinner table.

But I'm determined to convert them, especially now that we are living ten minutes away from Hout Bay's beautiful fishing harbourWhen I have a yearning for seafood (every second day or so), I visit all three of the fish shops located in the harbour, and spend a happy hour poring over the day's catch.  Most days, there's something fresh, flappy and shiny-eyed lying on a bed of crushed ice, but if the weather's bad, and the fish on on display looks like yesterday's goods, I'll grab a slab of something from the freezer.

I feel no shame at all in buying good-quality frozen seafood - including calamari, prawns and mussels - and I'm heartily sick of reading diatribes by food writers who claim that frozen shellfish (or frozen anything, for that matter) is disgusting, mushy and akin to dog food. Of course I'd rather have a fresh crayfish plucked from the ocean floor than one that's been ossifying in the deep-freeze for a month, but I reject, with a sniff, the idea that all frozen seafood isn't worth eating.

Now that I've got that off my chest: for this recipe, you will need small tubes and tentacles of calamari, which you will find fresh in selected branches of Woolworths, and frozen at good fish shops. I bought this batch from Mariner's Wharf, and it was as tender and sweet as a baby's bottom. The trick with calamari is not to overcook it: be warned, it turns from butter-soft rings to chewy elastic bands in a matter of minutes, so do set a timer - or watch the clock - while you cook it. If you can't find fresh calamari, use frozen Patagonian tubes.

This recipe is easily doubled.

Calamari Salad with Thyme, Lemon, Chilli and Olives

500 g small calamari tubes and tentacles, thawed and cleaned
1 tsp (5 ml) salt
12 calamata olives, pitted and halved
1 t (5ml) fresh paprika
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
5 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves stripped from stalks
a small red chilli, deseeded and very finely diced
200 ml fruity olive oil
the finely grated zest of a lemon
the juice of two lemons
salt and milled black pepper
a handful of chopped fresh parsley

Rinse the calamari under cold water. Slice the tubes into slender rings. Fill a large pot with water, add the salt and bring to a rolling ball. Throw in all the calamari rings and cook for exactly one minute. Fish the rings out, using a slotted spoon, and place in a colander to drain. Now do the same with the tentacles, but cook them for a minute and a half.  Drain.  Place the calamari in a dish and add all the remaining ingredients, except for the parsley. Toss well, and place in the fridge for at least three hours for the flavours to mingle. Add the chopped parsley just before serving. Serve with brown bread and butter.

Serves 4 as a starter. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Sunday 14 February 2010

Black Fruit Salad with Figs and Brown-Sugar Crème Fraîche

Black Fruit Salad with Brown-Sugar Crème FraîcheFigs are in high season in the Cape now, and my goodness they are luscious things. We had a fig tree in our garden when we were children, and every time I taste a fresh fig I'm reminded of standing under that tree inhaling the musky perfume of sun-warmed green figs and marvelling at the sticky white sap that welled from the stalks.

Actually, the figs of my childhood are not a patch on the beautiful figs in the shops now:  with their dusty purplish-black skins and gorgeous coral-coloured flesh, they look and taste just  irresistible. These dark figs are grown in the Paarl area, I believe, while the bulk of South Africa's fig crop comes from the Klein Karoo region.

Also in season in the Cape are blackberries, blueberries and table grapes, so I've combined them with figs to make this mysterious-looking black (well, mostly black) fruit salad.   The first time I made it (and photographed it) I left it undressed; the second time, I tossed it with a little lemon juice and icing sugar, which gave the fruit a lovely zingy gloss.

Mix the brown sugar with the cream just before you serve the salad, so it stays thick and retains a crunch: if you make it in advance the sugar will dissolve and liquefy the cream. Chill all the fruit before you make the salad.

Black Fruit Salad with Brown-Sugar Crème Fraîche

1 big bunch sweet black grapes, halved and deseeded
1 cup (250 ml) blackberries
1 cup (250 ml)blueberries
4 purple figs, quartered
1 Tbsp (15 ml) icing sugar
the juice of half a lemon
1 cup (250 ml) crème fraîche or mascarpone
1 tsp (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
2 Tbsp (30 ml) brown sugar

Combine the fruit in a bowl and stir in the icing sugar and lemon juice. Place in the fridge for 10 minutes. Just before you serve the salad, mix together the crème fraîche, vanilla and brown sugar. Divide the salad into four bowls and place a dollop of crème fraîche over each portion.

Serves 4.

Note: the redcurrants adorning this salad come straight from my deep freezer: they're locally grown redcurrants, which you can read about here.

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Saturday 13 February 2010

Lightly Curried Mussel Soup with Fresh Coriander

A quick, fragrant soup: plump mussels on the half shell simmered in a gently spiced, turmeric-yellow, winey liquor, enriched with a little coconut milk. I know wine and coconut milk are strange bedfellows, but they work well here.

Bowl by David Walters

Are you put off making this recipe because you can't buy  fresh mussels where you live? Please don't be: there is no need to use quivering live molluscs in this recipe.  Instead, buy a bag of good-quality frozen mussels-in-their-shells from your local supermarket or fishmonger, and use them with confidence. For this recipe, I use inexpensive frozen South African mussels, when I can find them.  If I can't,  I use imported New Zealand green-lipped mussels which are good, fat and flavoursome, and available in most big branches of Pick n' Pay. You can, of course, use fresh mussels, if you're lucky enough to have them to hand.

You do need a nice chicken or fish stock for this recipe. If you don't have any stock, or can't be bothered to make one from scratch, use some of the mussels you've bought to make a quickie stock: half an an hour before you make the soup, put 10 mussels (don't bother to thaw them) in a saucepan. Add half an onion, roughly sliced, a stalk of celery, a carrot snapped into thirds, a bay leaf, a few peppercorns and a sprig of parsley.  Cover with two cups of water and half a cup of white wine, bring to the boil and simmer  for 20 minutes. Strain into a clean jug, and discard the mussel shells, flesh and flavourings. Set aside.

You can use any mild curry powder in this soup, provided that you buy it spanking fresh. The chilli is entirely optional.

Lightly Curried Mussel Soup with Fresh Coriander

2 Tbsp (30 ml) vegetable oil
1 large onion, peeled and very finely chopped
6 curry leaves, fresh or dried
3 white cardamom pods, cracked
2 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped [optional]
2 tsp (10 ml) cumin
2 tsp (10 ml) medium-strength curry powder
1 tsp (5 ml) turmeric
3 Tbsp (45 ml) flour
½ cup (125 ml) white wine
1 cup (250 ml) chicken or fish stock (see note, above)
2 cups (500 ml) water
1 cup (250 ml) low-fat coconut milk
1 kg frozen mussels in their shells, or fresh mussels
salt and milled black pepper
the juice of a lemon
a handful of chopped fresh coriander

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the onions, curry leaves and cardamom. Cook over a brisk heat until the onions are golden brown. Drain off any excess oil. Stir in the garlic, chilli, cumin, curry powder and turmeric, and cook for a minute.

Now stir in the flour and cook for another minute. Add the wine and the stock, whisking well to prevent lumps forming.  Stir in the water and coconut milk and simmer gently for fifteen minutes, stirring occasionally.  Now tip all the frozen mussels into the soup, and bring gently up to the boil. Simmer for another minute or two, then turn off the heat. Add salt and pepper to taste, stir in the lemon juice and serve immediately, topped with fresh coriander.

Serves 4 Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Thursday 11 February 2010

Invent a Simba crisp flavour and get rich

As this blog has grown, so I've started to receive a steady trickle of press releases imploring me to feature various foodstuffs.  I scan these emails eagerly, hoping to find an attachment containing a bribe coupon to the value of at least R5000.  When no such inducement is offered, I delete the email with a hollow laugh.

But this particular press release caught my attention, and I share it with you here for two reasons: one, I think this competiton - What's Your Lekker Flavour? -  is a clever, original campaign (I love the funky artwork; see left). Two, I want to return a favour.

Let me start with the brand. I have a soft spot for Simba chips (crisps, actually: South Africans call potato crisps 'chips', and call French fries 'chips' too) because they were part of my childhood, along with all those other iconic South African brands: Mrs Ball's Chutney, Ideal Milk, Ouma's Buttermilk Rusks, Zoo Biscuits, and so on.  As a child, the trip from our smallholding in Muldersdrift to what was then Jan Smuts Airport (now O.R. Tambo Airport) seemed to drag on for hours, and I remember eagerly looking out for the huge Simba lion which stood (and still does) outside the Simba factory near the airport, because this was a sign that we were almost there.

I am also grateful to Simba for a special childhood memory. When I was ten or so, I sat down and wrote a letter to the company asking them how they made their chips. I have no idea what prompted me to do so (genuine curiosity, I like to think, but more likely opportunistic nosiness). Very soon I received a polite letter thanking me for my interest and inviting me - oh, joy of joys! - to visit the factory for a tour, and to bring along some friends.  This, to me, was akin to being given a golden ticket to Mr Wonka's Chocolate Factory.  A few weeks later, a gang of us piled into the back of my mom's station-wagon and headed off to the factory, where we spent a happy hour being led, open-jawed, around the factory, with its hissing cauldrons, its clanking conveyer belts and the heady aroma of salt and vinegar.  At the end of the tour, we were taken to the dispatch area, where - double joy! - our arms were filled with as many packets as we could carry.

Anyway, the idea behind the What's Your Lekker Flavour? compeition is that you come up with an original new flavour that is distinctively South African.  If you're the winner, you'll walk away with R200 000, plus 1 per cent of the future sales of your chips. This, says the company, could add up to a cool half a million rands a year.  So, what will it be?  Bobotie and Lemon Leaf?  Snoek Pâté and Chilli?  Waterblommetjie Bredie?  If you're going to enter the competition, you'll need to come up with something staggeringly original, as the campaign has already attracted over 78 000 entries. The panel of judges - which includes one of my favourite South African chefs, Reuben Riffel - is certainly going to have its work cut out.

You can enter online, by MMS, or by snail mail: Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Saturday 6 February 2010

Chilli Snoek Pâté: a taste of Hout Bay

Chilli Snoek Pâté: a taste of Hout Bay
Please admire the little double-walled amuse-bouche dish,
 from a bespoke set of dinnerware made for a famous Franschhoek
 restaurant by my uncle, master potter David Walters.
Few tastes capture Cape Town as delightfully as smoked snoek pâté.  When you visit Cape Town you will find this noble fish - an honoured staple for centuries - virtually everywhere you go along the coast.

You'll see fishing boats avalanching their silvery cargos of fresh snoek onto the quayside at little working harbours, you'll see it it vlekked (gutted and splayed) on drying frames, you'll see it sold in oaked-smoked fillets, you'll see smoorsnoek, and you'll see it sizzling over braai fires.   You're most likely, though, if you're a casual visitor to the city, to encounter it in the form of a salty, smoky pâté.

Today I spent a happy hour in the kitchen with my darling friend Claire (here from Jo'burg for the weekend), concocting our visisticated version of this dish. Claire was driven in a taxi from the airport to her brother's fabulous flat in Kalk Bay, and was inspired by a discussion she had with the driver and his wife. Just outside Muizenberg, they passed racks of golden snoek drying in the sun, and the conversation turned to recipes for preparing the fish.  The driver and his wife told Claire stories of  being put to work as children by their grandmothers: their task was to pound fresh red chillies and deboned salted snoek together in a mortar; the resulting paste was spread on bread.

After a walk on the beach this morning, and a sinful bockwurst roll at Muriel's Munchies, we  picked up a package of  oak-smoked snoek at Hout Bay harbour, gathered chillies, coriander and lemons on the way home and set to work producing snoek pâté, only better - with pounded chillies.

 Please do not be put off by the fact that this recipe contains a whole red chilli.  When you first taste it, you may be alarmed and think your mouth has caught fire.  But, given four hours in the fridge, this pâté mellows  and the chilli fades, leaving just a tingle.

You can pound these ingredients together with a mortar and pestle in the old-fashioned way, or use a food processor fitted with a metal blade. The important thing here is not to over-process the pâté: it should not be whizzed to a silken paste, but retain some texture.

Chilli Snoek Pâté: a Taste of Hout Bay

250 g oak-smoked snoek [or any similar smoked white fish]
1 red chilli, halved and deseeded
a big pinch of coarse salt
half a clove of fresh peeled garlic
½  tsp (5 ml) finely grated lemon zest
2 Tbsp (30 ml) soft butter
3 Tbsp (45 ml) crème fraîche
milled black pepper
1 Tbsp (15 ml) finely chopped fresh coriander [cilantro]

Flake the fish into a small bowl and remove all bones. Put the chilli into a small mortar with the salt and garlic; pound to paste. If you don't have a mortar, finely chop the chilli and garlic and mash into a paste with the salt using the back of a spoon or a knife. Set aside.

Scrape the chilli and garlic paste into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the flaked fish and all remaining ingredients. Pulse lightly to combine without pulverising the fish. Tip the mixture into a little bowl and refrigerate for three to four hours.

Serve with sliced wholewheat seed loaf or crackers.

Serves 6 as an appetiser or dip.

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Wednesday 3 February 2010

Seared Peppered Tuna with Fresh Oregano, Radishes and Verlaque Dressing

Seared fresh tuna is often served with oriental-style dressings, and it's certainly good this way, but it's not often you see it combined with the singing flavours of Mediterranean
Seared Tuna with Fresh Oregano, Radishes and Chillies Plate by David Walters
herbs. Fresh, pungent oregano, in particular, is just lovely with almost-raw tuna, as are thyme and basil.

The trick here is to use the herbs quite sparingly so that they don't overwhelm the delicate tuna: I raided my recently planted herb-garden-in-pots and pinched off just the tiniest new leaves.

In this dish, tuna is rolled in crushed black pepper, seared in a blazing-hot pan, sliced, and combined with fresh herbs, a little chopped red chilli and crunchy radishes.

You can use any salad dressing you like - this is good, for example, with a zingy lemon vinaigrette - but I cut corners and dressed the tuna using a local bottled dressing: Verlaque Sweet Basil, Sundried Tomato and Olive Oil Spash.

I seldom buy bottled dressings (they are always too salty and creamy and they taste so... well... so bottled. And, besides, it's so easy to make your own dressings).  My attitude has changed, though, since I asked my friend, Adrienne Verlaque, to bring me a few bottles from her Verlaque range.

I'd admired Adrienne's beautifully labelled bottles of balsamic reductions, infused olive oils and salad 'splashes' in my local Woolworths, but had thriftily (and rather snobbily, I'm afraid) passed them over.

After eagerly tasting my way through several bottles, I have learned the error of my ways (that is, don't judge a dressing because it's bottled). Adrienne is a wizardess in the flavour department, and has incorporated into her dressings a range of  wonderful exotic ingredients  that I don't have a chance of procuring locally:  Persian pomegranates, Turkish figs, cranberries, white truffles and porcini mushrooms among them.

 Exotic ingredients aside, it's Adrienne's clever use of distinctive South African flavours that really appeals to me:  these include Cape gooseberries, Cape rough-skin lemons, guavas, passion fruit, mangos, marula, wild garlic, fynbos honey and Rooibos tea.

These ingredients are not merely waved over the dressings, either: using her particular magic, Adrienne has managed to distill the essence of each flavour, giving each product in the range a distinctive and authentic South African punch. Click here to find out where to buy Verlaque dressings.

This recipe serves four as a starter but is easily doubled.

Seared Peppered Tuna with Fresh Oregano, Radishes and Verlaque Dressing

one 400 g loin of fresh tuna
a little olive oil
2 tsp (10 ml) coarsely ground black peppercorns
8 little radishes
1 small red chilli [optional]
a few young sprigs of fresh oreganum, thyme and basil, or any combination of Mediterranean herbs
a pinch of flaky sea salt

For the dressing:
Verlaque dressing of your choice (see notes, above)
4 T (60 ml) fruity olive oil
4 tsp (20 ml) good vinegar, or fresh lemon juice

Heat a non-stick frying pan until it is blazing hot.  Trim the tuna loin of all raggedy bits and coat generously on all sides with olive oil. Strew the crushed black peppercorns on a chopping board, and roll the tuna loin firmly over the pepper, pressing so that it is well coated on all sides. Open the windows in your kitchen - there will be some smoking.  Place the tuna in the ferociously hot pan, press down hard with a spatula, and cook for 45 seconds on one side, or until about 1 mm of flesh on the cooking side turns opaque.  Flip over, then cook the remaining three sides for 45 seconds each. The fish should be remain a rosy, raw pink in the middle, with a thin outer crust.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool for a minute.

Cut the tuna into thin slices using a very sharp knife (this is easiest if you squeeze the loin tightly to compress the flesh).  Arrange the slices on a platter. Top and tail the radishes and cut them into paper-thin slices using a mandolin or sharp knife. Cut the red chilli in half horizontally, scrape out the seeds and cut into a very fine dice. Strip the baby herb leaves from their stalks. Scatter the radish slices, chilli and baby herb leaves on top of the tuna.  Sprinkle the dressing over the tuna slices, and scatter over the flaky salt.  Allow to stand at room temperature for 15 minutes, then serve.

Serves 4 as a starter. 

PS: Have you noticed how foodie photographs of seared tuna show perfectly round or - ludicrous! - square slices of tuna? Cheffy cooks achieve this by wrapping the raw tuna in clingfilm - in a tight salami-like sausage for round slices, or pressed into a rectangular mould for square ones - and then refrigerating the fish until it holds its shape. I sincerely hope you won't be tempted to do this. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly