Monday, July 29, 2013

Creamy feta fish cakes on buttered cabbage

These pilchard fish cakes were the surprise hit of the Freshly Blogged competition so far with my family. A surprise because I’d never served them pilchards before and never would have thought the kids would eat them. I think the image problem is to do with the name – ‘pilchard’ just doesn’t sound very appetising – it’s not until you realise that they are actually just big sardines that you can start to get enthusiastic about them. Or maybe that’s just me?!

I’d been thinking about making fishcakes recently anyway, but hadn’t got around to it, so this was a great opportunity to experiment. They worked out so beautifully that they are going to be on the family recipe list from now on – a brilliant way of making a meal that tastes luxurious, rich and creamy, but is actually very cheap to make... and it can be one of those emergency store-cupboard meals for those times when you haven’t been shopping for a week and feel like something more than just pasta again.

And cabbage is another humdrum vegetable that too often gets a bad name served boiled into oblivion. Here it is gently braised with butter until soft and sweet with plenty of black pepper as a foil, and it is a whole other food stuff that you might even persuade kids to like!

The challenge ingredients this week were: Lucky Star pilchards, cabbage, brown rice, green beans, feta: They are all quite humble ingredients that conjure up 50s Britain for me, a culinary desert according to many, but also a time of traditional nursery comfort food, which when done well is delicious. Done badly and featuring as school dinners... well that’s another story! Luckily these turned out unlike any school meals that I can remember.
We could add two fresh ingredients (I went for lemon and parsley) and any spices.

Please go and see and vote for my recipe here on the Freshly Blogged site. Voting is open until 11am Monday 5th August.

The recipe and inspiration as posted for the competition follow:

Creamy feta fish cakes on buttered cabbage

Pilchards may be a store-cupboard staple, but too often they sit on the back of the shelf, ignored and waiting in vain for a chance to shine. These fish cakes are that chance, giving them a starring role that will certainly have me buying them regularly now, in fact my husband liked them so much that he insists on it!

The fish cakes are inspired by the best of British comfort food; think of all those once exclusively nursery dishes that have been re-invented as gastro-pub favourites. These are made with rice rather than the more usual mashed potato and flavoured simply with parsley and lemon zest, to complement the richness of the oily fish, a surprise creaminess added by melting feta. Cabbage braised in butter (and oh so sweet) seems to go down well even with kids who don’t usually touch the stuff, and then there is the fresh lemony crispness of a green bean salad to round everything off.

This is an incredibly economical and delicious meal that you could serve up to royalty and make them very happy!

Fish cakes
1 cup PnP brown rice
2 ½ cups vegetable stock
1 tin Lucky Star pilchards in tomato sauce
Zest of 1 large lemon
6 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
100g PnP feta cheese
1 egg, beaten
3 tablespoons flour and more to coat
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil for frying

Green bean salad
500 g green beans topped, tailed and halved
2-3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
50g PnP feta cheese

Buttered cabbage
1 medium  cabbage
30g butter
3 tablespoons water
Salt and pepper

Fish cakes
Cook the rice in the stock in a covered pan, until all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender but still retains a slight bite. Spread on a plate to cool.
Break the pilchards into fairly small pieces, removing any spine cartilage as you go. Put aside the excess sauce from the tin.
Break the feta into small pieces.
Once the rice is fairly cool, mix in the lemon zest, parsley, feta and pilchards. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.
Add the beaten egg and 3 tablespoons of flour and mix gently. Form the mixture into patties and dip into the extra flour to coat them on both sides. At this stage the patties fall apart very easily so handle them carefully. Makes about  10.
Put the fish cakes in the fridge to firm up until everything else is ready.

Heat enough oil to cover the base of a frying pan. Gently slide in as many cakes as will fit without crowding. Leave to cook for 2-3 minutes until a crust has formed underneath. Turn very carefully and cook on the other side for another 2-3 minutes. Remove onto a warm plate covered with kitchen paper, while you cook the next batch. Serve hot.

Green bean salad
Bring a pot of salted water to the boil. Add the prepared green beans. Cook until al dente, tender enough to bite through but still crisp. Drain and cool under cold tap for a few seconds. Put them in a bowl and sprinkle with lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Just before serving add crumbled feta cheese and finely chopped parsley.

Buttered cabbage
Shred the cabbage into fine strips. Put it into a heavy based pot with a lid. Add the water and butter. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer. Cover and cook for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally. During the last five minutes, remove the lid so that the last of the water boils away. The cabbage should be tender and buttery, with no excess liquid.

If you like the sound of this recipe you can vote for it on the Freshly Blogged site until Monday 5th August...thanks so much for your support! xx

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Fruity Mieliepap Muffins for Freshly Blogged

I was really excited to see waterblommetjies on the ingredients list for Week 3s challenge; slightly more intimidated by the mielie meal (corn meal). Waterblommetjies are a winter delicacy local to the Western Cape. Usually served as part of a lamb stew they are strange looking flower buds from a pond growing plant. In taste they are somewhere between a green bean and an artichoke, best with plenty of lemon  and not cooked to a mush!

Mielie pap (a thick cornmeal porridge) is such a traditional staple in South Africa that I’m slightly ashamed that I’d never even eaten it before, let alone cooked it! It’s served with stews, braais and simply with tomato sauces and relishes. A bit like Italian polenta, except white rather than golden, it can also be cooked, cooled and then sliced and fried. Seeing as my family hasn’t grown up eating pap, I thought I’d try to make it more interesting by turning it into filled savoury muffins to go with the braai.

Our ingredients list was: Drostdy-Hof Pinotage, ostrich sausage, mealie meal, waterblommetjies, PnP chutney, mixed dried fruit.  We were allowed to add three fresh ingredients and three spices and part of the dish had to be cooked on a fire.

Waterblommetjies, raw and steamed

I hit a major stumbling block when my local PicknPay had neither the ostrich nor the waterblommetjies. The nearest alternative PicknPay was 50km away, and my first solution, to source them elsewhere in town, wasn’t allowed – for the competition all the ingredients have to come from PnP.  Some major tweeting went on, quite a bit of tearing out of hair at the last minute. Eventually I adapted my original ideas, omitted the sausage altogether, substituted the waterblommetjies with green beans (one substitution is allowed if ingredients are unavailable) and made my dish an accompaniment to a braai rather than a complete meal. Though of course it is substantial enough  to make a full meal if, for example, you have vegetarians coming to your braai!

Another hitch was that my experienced braai-master husband was sick in bed, so I had to rely on our son to look after the fire while I ran back and forwards between mielie pap muffins in the oven and the bredie on the coals. He was also cooking the sausage, sourced elsewhere, even though that wouldn’t make it into the competition recipe.

The green bean bredie (stew) was very tasty and would have been even better with the waterblommetjies and their slightly deeper flavour. The mielie pap muffins were a hit with a few of the family and a miss with others. I liked the contrast of the rich spicy fruit filling with the light starchiness of the pap, and the golden crust from the baking added to the appeal.

My recipe on the Freshly Blogged site is here – please go and vote if you’d like to! I’m hoping to keep my place respectably in the middle of the list! The recipe as posted for the competition is below.

Fruity Mieliepap Muffins and Green Bean Bredie

The Drostdy Hof claret is one we regularly use  for mulled wine, spicing it with cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg for our winter festivals. The dried fruit on the list inspired me to combine the aromas of spiced wine with the fruit as a sweet/savoury relish. Turning my mind to the mealie meal I wondered if I could jazz it up a little. The result was these fruity mieliepap muffins, with a wine spiced fruit centre. I made half the muffins with the fruit filling and the other half filled with chutney, so that each person gets one of each. Served as an accompaniment to a braai, alongside a tasty green bean bredie, they add plenty of interest to rich meats and soak up the braai juices beautifully. Waterblommetjies would work equally well in the bredie if you can get them.

Dried fruit wine relish
250g PnP dried fruit
1 cup Drostdy Hof claret
2 sticks cinnamon
5 cloves
10 coriander seeds
10 whole peppercorns

Mieliepap muffins
1 litre water
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups mealie meal
½ cup flour
1 egg
25g butter
1 teaspoon ground coriander
Salt and pepper
PnP Chutney
Dried fruit relish

Green bean bredie
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, sliced
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground coriander
3 tomatoes, diced
3 potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 cup stock
Salt and pepper
500g green beans, topped and tailed

Dried fruit relish
Put the dried fruit in a small pan with the wine and spices. Bring to a gentle simmer. Cook gently for 20-30 minutes until the fruit is tender. Remove from heat and leave to cool.
Once cool remove whole spices. Take the fruit out of the liquid. Chop into small pieces and keep covered until ready to use.

Mieliepap muffins
Bring the water to a gentle simmer. Add salt.
Pour the mealie meal into the boiling water in a thin, steady  trickle, stirring all the time.
Keep stirring over the heat until the pap is thick and coming away from the sides of the pan. Remove from heat. Cover and leave to steam for 5 minutes.
Allow to cool for half an hour or so.
Preheat the oven to 190C.
Line a 12 muffin tin with squares of greaseproof paper or muffin cases.
Stir in the flour, butter, beaten egg, salt pepper and coriander. Mix to a soft dough.
Fill each case to halfway mark with mixture. Press in gently, leaving a hollow for the filling.
Put a generous heaped  teaspoon of fruit relish in half of the bases and the same quantity of chutney in the others.

Dollop the rest of the mixture onto the tops of the muffins, pressing carefully around the edges to seal in the fillings.
Bake for 40-45 minutes until the tops are almost golden.  Allow to stand for at least 10 minutes before serving.
Serve warm.

Green bean bredie
Put olive oil into a potjie pot or cast iron casserole over glowing braai coals. Add the onions and cook stirring often until they are softening. Add sugar and spice and cook until the onions are starting to caramelise slightly. Add tomatoes and cook for another 5-10 minutes. Add potatoes and stock. Cover and cook until the potatoes are still firm but tender. Add the beans. Continue cooking covered until l the beans are tender but still retain some bite.
Serve to accompany boerewors, ostrich sausage or chops, or as a vegetarian braai dish.

Serves 6 as an accompaniment to a braai
Prep time 25 minutes
Total time 1hr15min

Voting on this challenge is open until Monday 29th at 11 am. The recipe with the most votes wins a  Salton hamper but the judges decide who goes through to the next round based on the first three challenges.

Vote for this recipe and there is a Drostdy Hof hamper for one lucky voter.

My phyllo spring rolls for week 1.
My aromatic beef pie for week 2..

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Potato salad with creamy avo-nnaise dressing

It’s only in the last few years that I’ve really started liking potato salad. Up till then I was always put off by the vats of bought mayonnaise too often slicked over it. When I eventually started making my own, I would make the dressing with half and half mayonnaise with yoghurt, and add a good dollop of wholegrain mustard, which to me gave the perfect balance of tanginess.

For ZZ2’s Afrikado "More than just guacamole!" Blogger Challenge, I thought I’d try making a dressing for potato salad that didn’t have any mayonnaise at all. I had a feeling that the avo would provide all the creamy texture needed and the mustard would supply the tang.

I finally tried it today and it worked perfectly. My only worry had been whether the green of the avo would make the salad a bit too, well green. But actually it looked great and tasted even better. My family tell me I can do this one again any time I like!

And the best thing that this is an incredibly healthy dressing for potato salad – no oil, no mayo and, if you want, you can make it dairy-free by leaving out the yoghurt – it still tastes fantastic.

There’s no problem either with the dressing turning colour before you serve it. The lemon juice keeps it fresh for a good few hours, and in fact the small bowl of leftovers is still looking fine this evening!.

Recipe for potato salad with avo-nnaise

For the avo-nnaise
1 ripe avocado
2 teaspoons wholegrain mustard
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons plain yoghurt
2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs – mint , parsley and either fennel or dill
Salt and pepper

Blend together the avo, mustard and lemon juice. Stir in the yoghurt and the fresh herbs. Season with salt and pepper. If you prefer to make this dairy free you can leave out the yoghurt and just use 2 tablespoons of water to let down the dressing to the right consistency.

For the potato salad
1 kg potatoes, boiled in their skins then peeled
4-6 small gherkins chopped
4-6 tablespoons finely chopped fresh herbs as above
Salt and pepper
Serves 6

This is my second entry for the challenge, my first being a delicious chocolate avo parfait, which we finished off today after our braai, alongside some wonderful guava parfait. All in all a wonderful Sunday lunch on a beautiful winter’s day, sitting around the braai while the old man snoozed in the sun and the youngster played in the grasses.

Disclosure: I developed this recipe to enter into the Afrikado challenge. There is a prize for the winning recipe which will be decided by a panel of judges. I received no remuneration for writing this post and bought all the ingredients myself.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Aromatic Beef Pie Recipe

Week 2's Freshly Blogged challenge had many of us in a twitter . Of a generation that has never cooked with suet and grew up to regard any saturated animal fat with deep suspicion, it was a mystery. Even though my classic English cookery books have whole sections on suet puddings, I’ve never been tempted to try them out and had no idea where even to buy suet in South Africa.

In England I know you can buy packets of ready shredded, more anonymous suet, that doesn’t look like what it is – great lumps of fat taken from around the kidneys of the cow. After a long phone conversation with the friendly butcher at our local PicknPay, I managed to establish that we were talking about the same thing (his English and my non-existent Afrikaans didn’t quite stretch to the right vocab for suet) and I went in to collect it, great curvy lumps of white fat encased in a membrane. It was incredibly cheap, so not hard to see why it was a staple of those frugal English cooks of yesteryear.

Grating suet
The rest of the ingredients for the challenge were: a Knorr beef stockpot, 500g beef shin, a PnP soup pack of vegetables, star anise and white wine vinegar. We could add two fresh and one grocery ingredient and omit one ingredient from the list. I don’t know what you would have made, but I went straight for the perhaps rather obvious but delicious traditional beef stew with a lovely thick and light suet crust. The twist being the star anise.

I had no idea how the star anise flavour would work with the stew but hoped for the best. I added onions and bay leaves as my fresh and red wine as my grocery ingredient and left out the vinegar. And it worked amazingly well giving a rich and aromatic stew that the whole family ate and would happily eat again. Star anise is my new essential spice!

If you feel inspired to vote in the challenge here is my recipe on the Freshly Blogged site. And the recipe as posted follows here:

Aromatic Beef Pie Recipe
I’ve never cooked with suet before, but the English culinary and literary heritage is full of old-fashioned recipes that use suet: dumplings, steak and kidney pudding, jam roly poly pudding and of course Christmas pudding. It took no time to decide on a rich and aromatic beef stew turned into a  pie with a golden suet pastry crust. It would work equally well as individual pot pies or as one big family pie. Star anise isn’t a traditional English stew spice but it adds a mysterious extra aromatic that lifts the beef out of the ordinary without overwhelming the rest of the flavours. I complemented it with bay leaves to give some subtler undertones, and a good slug of red wine for richness.

For beef stew
600g beef shin
4 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 onions
1 PnP soup pack: 2 carrots, 1 stick celery, 1 small leek, 1 large tomato, 1 potato
1 tablespoon celery leaves chopped
1 Knorr beef stock pot
½ cup red wine
1 star anise
3 bay leaves
Salt and pepper

For suet crust
350g self-raising flour
175g shredded suet
Salt and pepper
Approx 1 ½ cups cold water to mix
1 egg, beaten

For beef stew
Slice the onions. Peel and chop all the vegetables into bite-sized pieces.
Sift the flour onto a plate and season generously with salt and pepper. Turn the beef pieces in it until lightly coated.
Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and brown the beef in batches until browned on all sides. Remove into a casserole.
Put the chopped onions into the same frying pan and cook until starting to soften. Add the rest of the vegetables and continue cooking for 2 minutes. Add the vegetables to the casserole.
Pour the wine into the frying pan and scrape up any residue. Allow to bubble briefly and then add to the casserole. Add the beef stock pot, star anise, bay leaves and a good seasoning of salt and pepper to the casserole, then add warm water to just cover the meat. Bring to a simmer, cover with the lid and leave simmering very gently for about 3 hours, until the meat is tender and falling off the bones. Stir once or twice during that time to make sure it isn’t sticking or burning.

For crust
If using butchers suet, remove the thin membrane and grate the suet finely.
Sift the flour into a bowl. Add the grated suet and a seasoning of salt and pepper.
Mix well.
Add water a little at a time, until the dough comes together. It should have the consistency of a scone dough, quite soft but holding well together.
Roll out the suet dough on a lightly floured surface until it is about 1 cm thick and about 1 cm wider all round than the pie dish you will be using.
Note: Make the dough just before you are ready to bake the pie. It shouldn’t wait around long or the raising agent will not work so well.

Assemble the Pie
Remove the bones from the stew and break up the meat into bite-sized pieces. Put all the meat and vegetables into a 1.5 litre pie dish with a rim. The remaining liquid should already be quite thick and rich but if it is too thin you can reduce it now by boiling for a few minutes. Pour the gravy over the meat and vegetables to come just below the rim of the pie dish.
Cut the pie crust to fit the dish. Wet the rim of the dish with water and use the leftover 1 cm edges to make a raised edge around the rim. Carefully lift the rest of the crust onto the top and press down all around the edges to seal. Make a small hole in the top to allow the steam to escape.
Brush the top with beaten egg.
Bake at 190C for 25-30 minutes until the crust is golden and well risen.

Voters in the Freshly Blogged challenge get prizes too. Check out what the voters' prize is this week and then vote for my recipe if you would be so kind. Thanks!

Previous Week's challenge : My phyllo spring rolls recipe

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Chocolate Avocado Parfait Recipe

I’ve always loved avocados. I remember as a teenager growing up in England the occasional visit to a smart restaurant, where I would always order an avocado cocktail as my starter (this was the early Eighties and at the time it seemed the height of sophistication!). Now many years and half a world away, the South African winter is a time of avocado plenty – they are luscious, ripe and affordable – no longer a special treat but an everyday pleasure.

So, when invited to take part in ZZ2’s Afrikado "More than just guacamole!" Blogger Challenge, I was full of ideas for recipes using avocados, anything but guacamole was the brief. Apparently the average South African only eats two avocados a year – how can that be possible?! And ZZ2 are asking bloggers to come up with exciting and inventive ways to use avos in a bid to encourage people to eat more of these delicious and healthy, super-nutritious fruit.

The first idea I was keen to try was to use avocado in a dessert. I’d tasted a wonderful chocolate avo mousse made by a friend and wanted to expand on that to create something along the lines of a chocolate ice cream. The following recipe is what I came up with: a decadently rich chocolate parfait with a hint of orange and coconut, so velvety smooth that you would think it was full of cream, when in fact there is no dairy whatsoever!

Chocolate avocado parfait recipe – dairy-free and healthy!
1 large ripe avocado
4 tablespoons good cocoa powder
1 tablespoon melted coconut oil
5 tablespoons syrup (I used golden syrup)
3-4 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice

Put all the ingredients into a bowl and blend with a stick blender until smooth.
Taste and adjust for sweetness.
Spoon into a bowl, cover and chill in the freezer for 6 hours until set but still soft enough to scoop easily.

This parfait is so rich that you only need a few spoonfuls each, so this amount would easily do four people, served with a scoop of fresh orange sorbet to cut the richness.

Alternatively use immediately without chilling, as a thick sauce to drizzle over vanilla ice cream.
If you leave overnight in the freezer it will set harder than is ideal for a parfait, so allow to soften slightly in the fridge for an hour before serving.

Notes: I used golden syrup as a sweetener, as that is what I had available, but for a healthier alternative use a good maple syrup or agave.
The quantities of syrup and cocoa needed will vary according to the size of your avocado, so taste, adjust and taste again!

Disclosure: I developed this recipe to enter into the Afrikado challenge. There is a prize for the winning recipe which will be decided by a panel of judges. I received no remuneration for writing this post and bought all the ingredients myself.

For more Afrikado avo inspiration read Colleen's Green Juice Recipe

Monday, July 08, 2013

Phyllo Spring Rolls Recipe

This has been a year full of food blogging challenges for me – first the Robertsons Spicemaster cook-off and now Freshly Blogged from PicknPay, where 50 or so bloggers are given a mystery list of ingredients and have to come up with an original recipe. It’s online, it’s over 11 weeks and the last three in compete in a cook-off at Taste of Joburg in September. You get to vote for your favourite recipes at the Freshly Blogged website and there are weekly prizes up for grabs, both for voters and bloggers, but three foodie judges decide who goes through and who is for the chop!

The first challenge had us all madly tweeting over the weekend as we trawled Cape Town’s PicknPay stores for the elusive garlic, ginger and dhania paste. I tracked mine down without too much stress along with the Findus Thai Wok frozen veg, the PnP phyllo pastry, orange and pineapple. We were allowed to omit one ingredient and I dumped the two-minute noodles, which I am deeply suspicious of as a form of nutrition, and added as my one extra ingredient peanuts. These easy phylllo spring rolls were what I came up with.

If you like the sound of them please vote for my recipe on the Freshly Blogged site! The recipe and inspiration as posted for the competition follow:


A palm shaded warung on a family holiday in Bali, serving crisp spring rolls with peanut sauce to dip into. My kids eagerly tucked into what were essentially parcels of exotic vegetables that they’d never even consider eating in any other format. It’s the delicate crispness of the roll that lures them to overlook all that vegetable goodness within.
 So when Thai vegetables and phyllo pastry were the main ingredients of the first Freshly Blogged challenge, it was spring rolls that immediately ‘sprung’ to mind: oven baked in phylllo pastry for easy cooking and with a pineapple and peanut dipping sauce inspired part by sweet/savoury fresh Indian fruit chutneys and part by the more traditional peanut sambals of Indonesia. These spring rolls are a creative (if not very  authentic) interpretation of a holiday memory of those Balinese spring rolls, possibly the only way of convincing my kids to munch through any amount of shredded vegetables. I hope your kids, and adults, will enjoy them too!

Recipe for Phyllo Spring Rolls with Pineapple and PeanutSauce


250g (half pack) of PnP phyllo pastry

For spring rolls
500g Findus Thai Wok frozen vegetables
2-3 teaspoons PnP crushed garlic, ginger and dhania
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
Salt and pepper

For sauce
1 cup chopped fresh pineapple
1/3 cup salted peanuts
1 teaspoon PnP crushed garlic, ginger and dhania
1 ½  teaspoons dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
Salt and pepper

Makes 12-16 rolls

The night before you plan to cook these, put the frozen phyllo pastry in the fridge to defrost. Take the packet out of the fridge the next morning two hours before you plan to use it to bring to room temperature, otherwise the sheets will stick together..

Make the sauce by putting all the ingredients into a mug and processing with a stick blender until smooth. Check seasoning and adjust to taste.

Heat your wok until piping hot, add the 2 tablespoons oil, it should be just starting to smoke. Put in the garlic, ginger and dhania paste, immediately followed by the frozen vegetables and stir quickly together. Add a squeeze of orange juice and  stir-fry for 5-7 minutes until the vegetables are starting to become tender but still retain some crunch. If there is too much liquid in the bottom of the wok, drain it off. Leave the vegetables to cool before making the spring rolls. Refresh them just before using with another squeeze of orange juice.

Pre-heat the oven to 190C.

Take one roll of pastry from the packet. Unroll it carefully and cut it into three strips of approximately 12 cm wide. Take one piece of pastry and cover the rest. Put a spoonful of cooked vegetables at the narrow end nearest to you. Fold the sides in over the filling by 1 cm and roll up around the filling. Brush with oil to seal at the end and brush the whole roll with a light coating of oil. Place on a baking tray and continue to make the rest of the rolls. If you prefer thicker, more sturdy rolls use two sheets at a time.
Bake for 15 minutes until the edges are golden and the rolls are crisp.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving with the pineapple and peanut sauce to dip.


I’m busy creating a recipe for the second Freshly Blogged challenge already, which I’ll post here next week, then I hope to stay in for at least a few more rounds (or even right to the end!) as I’m enjoying the stimulus of coming up with new things every week!

Please vote for this recipe here - I'd very much appreciate it and will love you for ever!

NB for my non-South African readers: dhania is coriander/cilantro.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Mildly Spiced ‘Persian’ Bean Soup Recipe

At the end of last term, our girls were performing a Persian play at school. Parents were asked to provide food with a Persian flavour; it being the middle of winter, soups and breads were suggested.  Now Persian suggests to me richly woven carpets, rosewater and perhaps jewel-like pomegranate seeds, sorbets, sherbets and such-like delicacies. I’ve obviously been reading too many fairy-tales!

For a more down to earth perspective and less daunting challenge, I turned to my trusty Madhur Jaffrey book, which includes recipes from the Middle East, Iran, Turkey and Japan, as well as India. I found several recipes that sounded good, featuring mild spices and many pulses, poor man’s Persia perhaps. In the end I created a soup inspired by elements from several recipes and added my newly favourite spice combo – garam masala. I’ve recently fallen in love with its aromatic and gentle spiciness having ignored it on the shelf for years, so it deserved a starring role for once.

Here is my final recipe, first tested at the girls’ play, then at our Midwinter Festival, at both of which events it disappeared very quickly. It finally managed to get photographed today after being served up for Middle Daughter’s 13th birthday lunch. Perhaps it doesn’t sound very birthday-ish, but she has planned  a birthday tea with chocolate cake and cheese biscuits, shortly to be followed by a braai fire with boerewors, stick bread and marshmallows, so a lunchtime healthy soup sounded like a good foundation for the feasting to follow!

It’s simple to make, filling and warming and goes down well with all but the most ardent vegetable refuseniks.

Recipe for Persian-Inspired Bean Soup
500g dried haricot or other small white beans
2 onions
1 clove garlic
2 tomatoes
2 potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½  teaspoons cumin
1 ½ teaspoons garam masala
½ teaspoon turmeric
Salt and pepper
2-3 teaspoons lemon juice

Soak the beans overnight in plenty of water. Rinse and then put into a pot with enough water to cover the beans by 2 cm or so. Bring to the boil and simmer for an hour.

Chop the onions and garlic quite small. Chop tomatoes and potatoes into small cubes.
Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the onions and garlic. Cook until starting to soften. Add the spices and cook stirring for a minute. Add the tomatoes and then the potatoes, stirring well to coat everything.

Check the water level in the beans. It should just cover them. If there is too much water, remove the excess. Now add the contents of the frying pan to the beans, season with salt and pepper and cook for another hour, until the beans and potatoes are very tender. Check for seasoning. At this stage it can be left and reheated later.

Just before serving, add the lemon juice to taste. Don’t be tempted to leave this out, as it really lifts all the flavours to a new dimension and adds a lively touch.


I’m taking part in the PicknPay Freshly Blogged SA bloggers competition, which started last Friday and will be carrying on for 11 weeks, with 5 people being eliminated each week and a grand finale cook-off for the last three in September. It’s a Masterchef mystery box style challenge where we are given set ingredients and have to come up with a recipe. I’ll be publishing my first recipe here very soon, which I’ve submitted to their site today. The deadline for our submissions is tomorrow and the Freshly Blogged site goes live on Monday, when you’ll be able to vote for your favourite recipe. (Hint - mine is delicious!)  It’s  been great fun, stimulating creative food thinking, so I hope to stay in for as many rounds as possible, and there’s plenty of worthy competition among all my fellow SA food bloggers!

Our list included Thai frozen vegetables, phyllo pastry, garlic, ginger and dhania paste, 2-minute noodles, a pineapple and an orange... we were allowed to omit one ingredient and add one ingredient of our choice... what would you have made?