Sunday 31 August 2014

Low-Carb Mediterranean 'Pasta' Salad, but with Calamari

A bright mixture of tender calamari rings, olives, tomatoes, capers, feta, baby marrows and frizzled chorizo bits, in a punchy garlic & lemon dressing. I've invented this recipe to quell my longings for my favourite pasta salad, because after almost a year on a punishing low-carb regime, I still find myself battling cravings for carbohydrates.

Low-Carb Mediterranean 'Pasta' Salad, but with calamari
Wine recommendation from Michael OliverHe says: "Môreson Mercator Premium Chardonnay 2014"
Go to the end of the page for more detail about this wine pairing.

I dream about buttery mashed potatoes, and would love to plunge my face into a bowl of fresh pasta ribbons cloaked in a creamy sauce. But, as a diabetic, I can't eat any of these things without my blood sugar having hysterics, so I've had to find smart ways of going without them.

Calamari, if it's of great quality, and cooked in a flash (see my recipe below), has a mouth-feel not unlike that of al dente pasta. I admit this is an expensive salad, because it's not worth making unless you can lay your hands on beautifully tender calamari tubes.

An easy, nourishing salad, but frying the calamari to tender
perfection takes care and attention. 
Please don't use calamari 'steaks' or strips, which are either unpleasantly spongy or toughen to leather in the pan, even if they've been 'tenderised' (that is, pierced multiple times by being rolled through, I imagine, some fearsome machine with many sharp blades).

The best little calamari tubes and tentacles come from Patagonia, and you can buy these frozen (and occasionally fresh) from good fishmongers and supermarkets.  If you can't find them, ask your fishmonger to order them for you - it really is well worth the wait.

This marinated salad improves upon standing, and keeps well in the fridge for up to 24 hours. However, please add the crisp chorizo bits to the salad just before you serve it.

Serve on a bed of crisp lettuce leaves or - if you're not on a low-carb regime - with plenty of crusty bread to soak up the juices.

If your calamari tubes are small and delicate, there's no need to slice them into rings. You can fry them whole, but please do so for 30-45 seconds longer than I've recommended below. I always laboriously slice them, though, because I like the pasta-like look of rings. The choice is yours.

Low-Carb Mediterranean Calamari Salad 

1 kg small, tender Patagonian calamari tubes and tentacles, thawed overnight in the fridge if you've bought them frozen
3 Tbsp (30 ml) olive oil, for frying
1 x 200 g chorizo sausage, cut into a fine dice
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely grated or crushed
5 Tbsp (75 ml) dry white wine
10 baby marrows, very finely sliced
1 punnet  (about 350 g) ripe cherry tomatoes
4 Tbsp (60 ml) baby capers
16 black olives
16 green pimento-stuffed olives
a small bunch of chives, finely sliced
a small bunch of parsley, finely chopped
2 x feta cheese 'wheels' (about 140 g), crumbled
1 Tbsp (15 ml) dried chilli flakes
milled black pepper, to taste

For the dressing: 

1 fat clove garlic, peeled (or more, to taste)
a pinch of salt
finely grated zest of 1 small lemon
¼ cup (60 ml) fresh lemon juice
½ cup (125 ml) olive oil
2 tsp (10 ml) Kikkoman soy sauce
2 tsp (10 ml) Dijon mustard

First make the dressing. Using a mortar and pestle, pound together the garlic clove, salt and lemon zest to make a paste. Stir in the lemon juice and, when the salt has dissolved, whisk in the remaining dressing ingredients to form a smooth emulsion.  (Or, if you have a jug attachment for your stick blender, whizz everything together.)  Set aside.

Trim the tubes and cut them into rings, or leave them
whole if they are tiny.
Rinse the thawed calamari under a cold running tap for 1 minute, tip into a colander, shake well and drain for 5 minutes. Separate the tentacles from the tubes, and place on two different plates.

Prepare the calamari tubes as follows:  using a sharp knife, cut away about 2 mm of the ragged opening at the thicker end of each tube, at the same time dragging the knife blade to one side to pull out any membrane.  Trim away the pointy end of each tube. Now neatly slice the tubes into 5-mm rings, and set aside.

Dry the tentacles and rings by dabbing them firmly with plenty of kitchen paper.

Heat 1 Tbsp (15 ml) of the olive oil over a high heat in a large shallow pan, until the oil is shimmering. Fry the tentacles first, in three batches, for about 90 seconds each, or until they are slightly stiffened and golden, but still tender. Remove from the pan and set aside in a large mixing bowl.

Add the diced chorizo to the pan, and fry over a high heat until the pieces are toasty and just crisp. Don't overcook them!  Remove from the pan, drain on a sheet of kitchen paper and set aside.

Fry the calamari rings (or tubes; please see my note above) in three or four batches for 45-90 seconds, stirring often. It's crucial not to overcook the rings!  If the pan seems a little dry, add more olive oil. Remove the rings from the pan and set aside in the same bowl as the tentacles.

Turn down the heat a little. To the frying pan, add the garlic and fry gently for about 45 seconds, just to take the sting off, and without allowing the garlic to brown.  Turn up the heat again and deglaze the pan with the white wine, stirring and scraping to dislodge any golden brown sticky bits.   Bubble briskly for 1 minute, or until the liquid in the pan has reduced by half.

Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool for two minutes. Now whisk in all the dressing ingredients, tilting the pan to one side if necessary.   Pour this mixture over over the calamari rings and tentacles.

Add all the remaining salad ingredients and toss so everything is well coated.

Tip the salad onto a platter and top with the crisped chorizo.

Serves 6 as a main course (alongside a big bowl of green salad), and 8 as a starter. 

Wine pairing by Michael Olivier

Môreson Mercator Premium Chardonnay 2014

It looks like: Pale gold straw in the bottle.  In the glass there are some lime green flashes around the edges.

It smells like: Soft dried apricots, crème brulée, hazelnuts and vanilla

It tastes like: Rich windfall citrus, lime squirt acidity.  Undertow of oak and vanilla.  Full broad palate and long aftertaste.

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Saturday 23 August 2014

Low-Carb Swedish-Style Meatballs in a Creamy Lemon Sauce

Low-Carb Swedish-Style Meatballs in a Creamy
Lemon Sauce, with Cauliflower Mash.
These juicy meatballs are mouthwateringly good, and I hope you'll give my new recipe a try.  I adore meatballs, and in this recipe I've eliminated all starch to make this recipe suitable for diabetics and anyone else on a low-carb, #LCHF or Banting regime.

The lemony cream sauce cloaking these meatballs is inspired by similar Scandinavian recipes, but I've added my own twists.

This dish is easy to make, but it does require a large shallow pan, because the sauce - containing not a speck of flour - relies for its thickening on fast reduction. The bigger and shallower your pan, the sooner the sauce will thicken. If you don't have such a pan, use two big frying pans to make the dish, dividing the meatballs and sauce ingredients between them.

Most meatball recipes contain bread crumbs or bread soaked in milk, which help to lighten the mixture and produce soft-textured balls.

Because my recipe contains no carbs, the meatballs are pleasantly springy, but they will not turn into tough bullets if you carefully follow my cooking instructions. The yoghurt helps to create a tender mixture, so don't leave it out.

Wine recommendation from Michael OliverHe says: "Boschendal S&M, Shiraz Mourvèdre 2012."
Go to the end of the page for more detail about this wine pairing.

There is quite a lot of cream in the sauce, and I make no apologies for that, because fat is not a pressing issue when you're following a low-carb regime. However, if you'd like to lighten up the sauce, use half the quantity of cream, and carefully stir in half a cup of thick natural Greek yoghurt at the end.  (Here are my tips for cooking with yoghurt.)

Not a speck of starch in this recipe
This recipe also asks that you add and remove the meatballs from the pan several times, and I'm sorry to ask you to do this, but I've formulated the recipe in this way so that the sauce is lovely and thick, and the meatballs still tender.

You may raise an eyebrow at the quantity of nutmeg, allspice and pepper in the meatball mixture, but please trust me on this. This amount of meat needs robust seasoning, and when it's finished cooking the spicing is subtle, though distinct.

I recommend that you test the seasoning by frying a dab of the mixture before you roll it into balls - please see my instructions, below.  Also please note that allspice (comprising powdered pimento berries) is not the same as mixed spice.

If I were cooking for myself, I'd add some finely chopped capers, dill and anchovies to these meatballs. My kids and husband don't like these ingredients, however, so I've reluctantly left them out (although I did shower snipped dill over the top of the meatballs when I snapped these pictures).

I almost always use a combination of beef and pork mince when making meatballs because pork adds extra juiciness, but you can make these with beef alone, or with minced chicken.

Serve this with cauliflower mash or - if you're not on a low-carb regime - with creamy mashed potatoes or buttery champ.

This recipe serves 8-10, and makes about 45 meatballs, because at the moment I'm feeding many mouths. However, you can easily adapt it to serve 4-5 people by halving all the ingredients. I heartily suggest that you make the full amount of meatballs and freeze them, still raw, for future use. Or you can keep the cooked meatballs in a lidded plastic container in the fridge for up to 2 days.

Low-Carb Swedish-Style Meatballs in a Creamy Lemon Sauce

For the meatballs: 

1 kg lean beef mince [ground beef]
500 g pork mince
1 small onion, peeled
2 large free-range eggs, lightly whisked
3 Tbsp (45 ml) natural yoghurt
2-3 tsp (10 - 15 ml) salt, to taste (see recipe, below)
2 tsp (10 ml) nutmeg
2 tsp (10 ml) allspice
1 tsp (5 ml) white pepper
1 tsp (5 ml) finely milled black pepper
the finely grated zest of a large lemon
4 Tbsp (60 ml) olive oil or sunflower oil, for frying

For the sauce: 

½ cup (125 ml) white wine
2 cups light beef or chicken stock (or water to which you've added a teaspoon or two of good-quality liquid or jellied stock, such as a Nomu Fond or Knorr Stock Pot)
the juice of a large lemon
2 Tbsp (30 ml) Dijon mustard
1 cup (250 ml) sour cream or thick fresh cream

To serve:

finely chopped fresh dill, parsley, or chives

Put the beef and pork mince into a large mixing bowl, or into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a plastic paddle or a dough hook.

Grate the onion on the fine teeth of your cheese grater to create a smooth wet pulp.

Add the onion pulp to the bowl along with all the remaining meatball ingredients. Using your hands, squish and squeeze the mixture until well combined. (If you're using an electric mixer, beat the ingredients together on a low speed until well mixed, but don't over-process the mixture, or it will become sticky and too homogenous.)

Now test the seasoning. Heat a lick of oil in a frying pan. Pinch off some of the meat mixture, press it into a little patty and fry it for a minute or two minutes on each side. Taste the patty once it's cooled slightly. You might need to add more salt, or a whisper more of nutmeg, allspice and pepper, if you can't clearly taste these flavours.  Place the bowl in the fridge for 20 minutes to firm up.

Roll the meat mixture between the palms of your hands into small even-sized balls.

I always fry meatballs in a circle, and then flip them over
in the order in which I placed them in the pan. Watch them
closely, as they brown quickly. 
Heat the oil in a large, shallow non-stick pan over a medium-high heat and fry the meatballs, in batches of 10, for 1-2 minutes on one side, or until they've developed a deep-golden crust on their undersides. Now flip them over and fry them for a further minute or two. Don't over-crowd the pan, and watch them closely, as they blacken in an instant.

When them meatballs look toasty on both sides (but are still half-raw inside) remove and set aside. Tilt the pan over a bowl and spoon away any excess fat.

Put the pan back on a high heat, and tip in the wine, stirring and scraping to dislodge any sticky brown bits. Now pour in the stock and cook at a brisk bubble for 4 minutes, or until the stock has reduced by about a third. Add the lemon juice and mustard, whisk well to combine, and bubble for a further 2 minutes.

Return the meatballs to the pan. Arrange them in a single layer so the liquid comes about half-way up their middles. Cover the pan with a lid. Simmer at a gentle bubble for about 4 minutes, or until the meatballs are cooked right through, but still soft and tender.

Once again, remove the meatballs from the pan and set aside while you add the finishing touches to the sauce.

Pour the sour cream into the liquid left in the pan and whisk well to combine.  Reduce over a fairly high heat until the sauce is thickened and glossy, and a beautiful cafe-au-lait colour.   Return the meatballs, plus any juices that have accumulated underneath them, to the pan.  Heat through for one minute, season to taste with salt and black pepper.

Scatter over the fresh dill, parsley or chives and serve immediately with steamed veggies and cauliflower mash. Or proper mashed potatoes, or garlicky champ, if you're not low-carbing.

Makes about 45 meatballs, and serves 8. 

Wine pairing by Michael Olivier

Boschendal S&M, Shiraz Mourvèdre 2012

It looks like: Deep dark ruby plum at the core which pales to purple garnet at the rim.

It smells like: Toasty oak with waves of back cherry and a grind if white peppercorns.

It tastes like: Easy soft entry of sappy spiced plums and brambles on a broad palate with soft tannins. Really good mouthful with an undertow of dark chocolate, oak and its concomitant spices. Quality shows in the long full and gently waning aftertaste.

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