Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Winter Sunday In South Africa

This is something I never expected to see in South Africa - a local hunt in full regalia - 'pink' coats and all. The baying of the hounds, the toot of the horn, as they set off in full pursuit of the scent... (no, not a fox, not even a wild dog, jackal or mountain lion, but a bundle of rags, freshly drenched in something revolting that I didn't enquire too closely into, that is dragged after the lead riders, who lay a trail for the hounds to follow)... was something out of a classic English country scene of fifty years ago, something I never once saw in thirty-five years of living in England and had to come all the way here to witness!

We took our girls and their friends, who are all pony crazy, to watch the hunt arrive at the mid-morning halt. We've been here 9 years without realising that we had a local hunt, only just down the road, hounds and all. The girls all fell in love with this Appaloosa. Then we went our separate ways: the Appaloosa cantering decorously off with the hunt and the girls leaping into their friends' car, abandoning me to return home to the boys alone.

So I took my camera outside to drink in the details of the day. The crazily warm and dry July we've had this year, has convinced all the trees and flowers that spring has sprung. My mulberry tree is bursting forth into leaf, pouring its energy into berry-making, heedless of the fact that we are only a month past the winter solstice.

The almond tree too is celebrating spring. it usually is the first to unfurl blossom, but I'm sure it's a good two weeks early this year. White daisies that usually show their faces in the first week in August have been partying  in the grass already. We've even had to water this last week, it's been so dry. Unheard of in the middle of a Cape winter. Praying for rain soon...

The wind is blowing fiercely from the south-east, bringing a chill despite the blue skies, and baking is the only answer, warming the house and stocking up with essential goodies.

Rusks being the ultimate in South African essentials to keep on hand. Essential to dunk in tea or coffee, or to stow in a bag for mornings spent hunt-watching in chill winds. Here's the rusk recipe I use, just in case you're inspired to stock up yourself.

What did you do this Sunday?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Meatballs Are Meatballs

Sometimes the meatballs just want to be alone... especially on my son's plate...what's this green stuff doing here?!

Meatballs are meatballs, right? Well I’ve just discovered that all meatballs are not equal. Not when you borrow a fine recipe from Scrumptious South Africa and re-model the Moroccan inspired mini-meatloaves into maxi meatballs, anyway.

Last minute supper plans yesterday had friends coming to us and bringing their trademark delicious vegetarian lasagne along to cook in our oven.  So I was racking my brains, to think of something that could go with it, something that our son would eat (vegetarian lasagne ticks all his boxes when it comes to reasons to dislike a dish – vegetables, sauce and all mixed up and unable to be separated into its few edible parts, the pasta itself being the only qualifying one).

Eventually I remembered Nina’s post on mince recipes, that led me on to Juno’s mini-meatloaf recipe. It sounded delicious and I loved her idea of wrapping each mince parcel with bacon for extra tastiness and tenderness. Unfortunately I forgot to buy bacon. So the mini meatloaves transformed into maxi meatballs and ended up working beautifully, baking alongside the lasagne in the oven. They also did go very well together on the plate, for those of us who would eat both. It actually turned out to be the perfect combination for a table made up of a couple of vegetarians and a dedicated vegetable-hater, as well as the omnivores in between: taking the meat out of the lasagne and serving it separately was how one of our friends put it!

The meatballs were soft and tender, with a wonderful mix of Moroccan-inspired spices adding interest to the potentially bland meat: scents of coriander and cinnamon create a warm complexity with the cumin and I will definitely be adding this one to the family repertoire.

I’m not going to re-produce the recipe here, as I followed Juno’s recipe almost exactly, except for the modelling of the mince patties and you can get all the details from her.

All I did differently was to make the mince into about 16 large balls instead of the 8 tennis ball size that  she suggests, then I baked them in a roasting tin together, just about touching, but not squashed, so that they kept their shape but didn’t dry out. I also left out the peppers and used carrots instead of celery, just because I was aiming for my son to eat them and not pick all the bits out! I left out most of the optional hot spices – Tabasco and cayenne - just using a pinch  of each for interest, and ended up with perfectly child-friendly mega meatballs that went down a storm with all but the vegetarians!

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Sag Aloo – My Indian Cooking Quest

Now that Lamb dopiaza (made with beef!) and Aloo gobi have made it into my repertoire of regular family recipes, I’m on the lookout for more easy and tasty Indian recipes. I’ve set myself an ambitious target. My husband’s 50th is fast approaching. The usually suspects are invited for supper, then to be inveigled into boogying on down to some classic 70s and 80s music. He is really enjoying the spices that are finding their way into ordinary weekday suppers, now that the kids are developing slightly more adventurous palates. So it’s going to be an Indian supper for about 24, half adults, half kids. My idea is to have lots of different dishes, buffet style and I’ll need to cook most of them in the morning to be warmed up later, so they need to re-heat well.

We’ve got so much lovely fresh spinach growing in the garden that it was a no-brainer to add Sag Aloo to the list. We arrived back rather late in the afternoon from the children’s various activities yesterday (one girl off on pony camp yesterday, the other with her friend to a course at the Aquarium, son reduced to his computer, book and table tennis with Dad, as his cricket course is only next week). The sun was setting, so there was a flurry of getting in washing before it got damp again, before settling down to chopping onions for the lamb dopiaza. A desultory exploration of Google came up with Sag Aloo recipes that didn’t really inspire – none of them expected fresh spinach to be used and the spices didn’t quite ring true. And then I returned to my Madhur Jaffrey book, finding the authentic original Sag Aloo recipe there after all, listed simply as spinach and potatoes.

It seemed that most of the recipes I’d found via Google had started off from her recipe, but cut things down or out. The biggest difference is in the amount of oil she stipulates – 6 tablespoons to cook one chopped onion in. No wonder the low fat brigade left out most of it. But going back to the original recipe gives you a chance to try it as it is meant to be. All that oil disappeared as soon as the chopped wilted spinach was added, allowing the mellowed onion flavour to be absorbed into the otherwise rather bland spinach leaves. It was delicious just as she describes. Its child-friendly score in our family was only 1/3, but my husband loved it and so did I.

So without more ado, here is Madhur Jaffrey’s original recipe, oil and all.

Sag Aloo Recipe
About 900g 2lb potatoes (waxy if you have them)
450g / 1lb fresh spinach or 1 pack frozen leaf spinach
6 tablespoons vegetable oil or ghee
½  teaspoon whole black mustard seeds
1 large onion chopped quite fine
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
1 teaspoon garam masala
Pinch cayenne pepper (optional)

Bring a medium pot of water to the boil. Peel the potatoes and dice them into cubes of about 2cm/ ¾ inch. When the water is boiling add the potatoes and 1 tablespoon of salt. Return to the boil, cover the pot and lower heat so that they simmer gently until just tender – about 6 minutes or so. Drain the potatoes carefully and allow  them to cool and dry. Be careful not to overcook them as they can fall apart to a mush.

Wash the spinach well (if fresh) and drop it into a large pan of boiling water. Leave it in just long enough for it to wilt, then drain it. Squeeze out as much water as you can and chop it fairly finely.
Heat all the oil in a large heavy based frying pan over a medium high heat. When it is really hot test it by dropping in a mustard seed. If it pops almost immediately it is ready. Add the rest of the mustard seeds and then as soon as they are popping add the chopped onion and garlic. Reduce heart slightly to medium and fry, stirring now and then, until the onions are just starting to turn a light brown at the edges. Don’t let them get dark brown or burn or the flavour will permeate everything.

Add the spinach and stir in well, cooking and stirring often for another 10 minutes.
Now add the cooked potatoes with the garam masala, a teaspoon of salt and the pinch of cayenne. Stir everything together gently until the potatoes have warmed through.

Now I’m on the hunt for a good Naan bread recipe – one that isn’t going to cause too much last minute stress. But I guess I’ll try out Madhur Jaffrey’s recipe before i look any further, unless any of you have a great recipe I should try?