Sweet and Sour Tempura Chicken

This is my first attempt at tempura. I have to say, I always thought it would be this extremely complicated procedure but, as it often happens, I was completely wrong. Deep frying the chicken pieces in a tempura batter keeps the moisture inside the chicken and, what with the batter itself not being extremely thick but, rather, crisp and light, the overall dish gains a completely new dimension. I have to admit I kept on eating the chicken pieces while I was waiting for the noodles to cook because they are just too good. If you’re a beginner with tempura like I was, please don’t panic. It’s easier than it looks and once you drop the chicken nugget in the scorching hot oil, nature will follow its course.

Rather than the more conventional rice, I decided to serve the chicken on a bed of noodles. The main reason being this week we already had quite a lot of rice, but in fact it also provides a much welcome alternative to the traditional recipe. The contrast between the crispy vegetables and chicken and the soft yet not mushy noodles is just phenomenal. I also like the fact the whole dish has very warm colours, what with the red and the orange provided for by the carrots and peppers. Needless to say, you can always substitute the vegetables with some which might suit your taste better (pak choi might be good). Last, but not least, do not freak out if the chicken cools down too much by the time your vegetables and/or noodles are ready. Once assembled, the sauce and side will slightly warm the chicken pieces up, bring the whole dish together.

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Ingredients (for the sauce)

  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 3 tbsp sherry
  • 1 tbsp light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cornflour
  • 50ml water

Ingredients (for the tempura)

  • 85g plain flour
  • 1 tbsp cornflour
  • 1/2 table salt
  • 200ml fridge-cold sparkling water
  • a few ice cubes

Ingredients (for the stir fry)

  • 2-3 skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1L groundnut oil, for frying
  • 2 red peppers, finely sliced
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and finely sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
  • 1 thumb-sized ginger piece, finely sliced
  • noodles or rice, to serve

Method

  1. Start by cutting the chicken breasts in bite-size pieces, then add them to a shallow dish and pour in the soy sauce and sesame oil. Set aside for later. Line a large plate with chicken paper.
  2. Combine all of the sauce ingredients in a small bowl, then set aside.
  3. Heat the groundnut oil in a deep fryer or a deep saucepan until it reaches 180C. To make sure, drop a cube of bread in the hot oil. If it browns quite quickly, then the oil is ready.
  4. Prepare the tempura batter only just before you are going to use it. Whisk the batter ingredients in a bowl and add the ice cubes. Quickly dip the chicken pieces in the batter, then drop them in the hot oil. Don’t overcrowd the pan and fry in batches if necessary. The chicken is ready when it is a deep golden brown all over. Feel free to test one by cutting it open with a knife. Once each cube has been fried, set aside on the kitchen paper to drain.
  5. Heat a wok to hot, then drizzle some groundnut oil and stir-fry the vegetables with the garlic and ginger for about 3 minutes. Pour in the sauce, then let it bubble down to a thick and glossy sauce.
  6. In the meantime, cook the noodles in plenty of water. When ready, drain them and toss them briefly with the vegetables and sauce, then arrange on a plate and top with the chicken pieces. Enjoy.

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Keralan Fish Curry

I am by no means an expert when it comes to curries or Indian cuisine in general. I have a favourite Indian restaurants here in Leeds which serves beautiful food and we visit the place regularly. When it comes to recreating that vibrancy of flavours at home, however, I am a big fan of following recipes and not coming up with my own. I love coconut milk and its creamy sweetness, much as I adore it paired up with the spicy kick coming from chillies and the fiery warmth of ginger. Needless to say, when I saw an old episode of  Nigella’s Forever Summer where she prepared this delicacy, I could not but try it at home. This curry is, in her words, not an original one. If that is what you’re after, then this recipe will clearly satisfy your crave.

Kerala is a state in the South of India, home to many coconut trees, which feature predominantly in the local cuisine. This recipe uses turmeric to tinge the pale white of the milk a deep golden yellow and plunges a good dollop of tamarind paste to provide a much welcome sour counterpart to the sweetness of coconut. White fish works well with this. Please feel free to steer away from the usual choices (cod and haddock) and try something new. I used pouting, a white-flesh belonging to the cod family, which is much cheaper than its biological father and massively underused. It is widely available in supermarkets (if I found it, you can too) and fishmongers across the country.

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Ingredients

  • 1.25kg of firm white fish (cod, haddock, pouting, monkfish, etc.)
  • 2 tbsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 3 medium onions, halved and sliced in fine half moons
  • 2 long red chillies, sliced (seeds in)
  • 4cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced in small batons
  • 1 x 400ml coconut milk tin
  • 2 tbsp tamarind paste
  • 1 fish stock cube
  • olive oil

Method

  1. Cut the fish in bite-size chunks, then put it in a big bowl and dust with half the turmeric. Season with coarse salt, then use your hands to combine the ingredients and leave on the side.
  2. In a large saucepan, gently fry the onions in a drizzle of olive oil until slightly golden and translucent, then add the sliced ginger and chillies and cook for a further minutes.
  3. Add the rest of the turmeric and the ground cumin to the saucepan, then stir over medium heat until the vegetables are evenly coated and fragrant.
  4. In the meantime, pour the coconut milk into a jug, add the fish stock cube and pour in enough boiling water to bring it to 1 L. Add the tamarind paste and stir to combine.
  5. Add to the vegetables, then bring to the boil. The sauce is now ready and, once added to the saucepan, the fish only takes about 5 minutes to cook. Therefore, make sure you add it right before eating. The sauce can be re-heated before cooking the fish.
  6. Season with salt before serving, add more tamarind if you feel it needs it, then pour in dishes with some plain basmati rice and scatter with coriander. Enjoy!

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Chicken Tagine with Prunes and Apricots

For my leaving do (yes, I changed jobs) my work colleagues got me something I was dying to get my hands on – a tagine. This clay pot is a lovely blue addition to my kitchen and, I hope, will allow me to make more and more of these fragrant and aromatic Moroccan stews. I will spare you the history of the tagine itself, let it be sufficient to say that it comes from North Africa and it comprises two parts: a base unit, which is flat and circular and looks like a big bowl, and a lid, usually of a conical shape and with a hole at the top, which sits on top of the base during cooking.

The shape of the tagine means the steam only has the small hole at the top to escape, thus stewing the meat even further and making it extremely tender and succulent. If you have never tried a tagine dish before, then maybe you should. The flavour and the smell of the ingredients are concentrated inside the base, so that when the conical lid is removed, you are hit with a wall of aroma unique in its kind.

The recipe below comes from one of the episodes of the Hairy Bikers – Mama knows best TV series, although the person who provided the recipe is actually a woman by the name of Nassira Jmil. I have, as usual, slightly adapted it, mostly to conform it to my taste, but all of the credit goes to her for a truly vibrant and fruity dish.

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Ingredients

  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • few sprigs of coriander, finely chopped
  • small bunch of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 5 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • pinch of saffron
  • 8 x corn fed chicken thighs, skin removed but bone on
  • 1 chicken stock cube
  • 300g dried prunes
  • 300g dried apricots
  • 6 tbsp golden caster sugar
  • handful of almonds, roughly chopped
  • salt & pepper
  • olive oil

Method

  1. Start by marinating the meat. This could be done for as little as two hours or, even better, overnight. Put half of the chopped onions and garlic in a bowl, then add a good glug of olive oil, half of the coriander and half of the parsley. Top with the lemon juice, 1 tsp each of ground ginger and cinnamon, the turmeric and salt and pepper. Put the chicken thighs in the bowl and rub the marinade on them. Cover with clingfilm and leave until needed.
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
  3. Heat some olive oil in a large frying pan, then fry the chicken thighs until golden on both sides. Set aside.
  4. Put some olive oil and the leftover onion, garlic and ginger in the tagine dish, then top with the chicken thighs. Season with some black pepper and the rest of the cinnamon, then add a splash of water. Crumble the stock cubes on top, add the saffron, then top the tagine with its lid and put in the oven for at least one hour or until tender. Check your meat after one hour as you don’t want it to dry out.
  5. In the meantime, prepare your fruit. In two separate saucepans, tumble the apricots and the prunes, then fill with water and sprinkle half of the sugar into each. Simmer over a low heat until very tender, then drain and set aside.
  6. Once the meat in the tagine is ready, remove from the oven and add the soft apricots and prunes. Sprinkle with the chopped almonds and some parsley or coriander.

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Mushroom, Ginger and Blueberry Stir-fry

The other day I was scouring the Internet on the lookout for new flavour combinations and I came across this recipe. Needless t0 say, my first reaction was probably the same as everyone else: disgust. I am not a big fan of mixing sweet and savoury. I don’t like salted caramel (in fact, I think it’s an abomination) and therefore using fruit in a stir fry was something I would have never even thought of. Until now.

I am not claiming this is the best combination ever. It probably is an acquired taste or rather something you either love or hate at first sigh (taste, more like it). However, as we did enjoy the stir fry, here is our little adaptation of the recipe. It is a simple stir fry, after all, so just use what you have!

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Ingredients

  • 180g soba noodles (which equals two nests)
  • 70g sugar snaps
  • 250g button mushrooms, roughly sliced
  • 3 spring onions, sliced
  • 140g can of water chestnuts, drained and roughly sliced
  • 150g fresh blueberries
  • 1 thumb-size piece of ginger, grated
  • soy sauce
  • toasted sesame oil

Method

  1. Start by drizzling some sesame oil in a wok or big frying pan and put on a medium to high heat.
  2. Add the spring onions and the ginger and stir frequently until fragrant and the onions are beginning to turn golden. Stir in the water chestnuts, mushrooms and sugar snaps and drizzle some soy sauce on top.
  3. Meanwhile, bring a pan of salted water to the boil and add the soba noodles. Cook according to packet instructions, then drain and tumble in with the rest of the ingredients.
  4. Add some more soy sauce and stir frequently, then tumble in the fresh blueberries and stir for another 3 minutes.
  5. Serve and enjoy.

Shanghai Dumplings

For those of you who don’t know it, today marks the beginning of a new year according to the Chinese calendar. The year of the dragon is over and leaves its place to the snake, who is to reign for another year of happiness, prosperity and love – or, at least, that’s what you would hope. Anyway, here is a favourite of mine. A very easy (I promise!) recipe for steamed dumplings. The idea originates from a recipe I found in an issue of the BBC Good Food Magazine. You’ll need a steamer or a Chinese bamboo steamer (with a lid) to make these, so be sure to have that ready!

Ingredients (for the dough & the dipping sauce)

  • 400g plain flour
  • 1tbsp sunflower oil (all-purpose vegetable oil is also good)
  • 2 cabbage leaves
  • 100ml black rice vinegar (I can never find this, so I use 90ml rice vinegar and 2 tbsp soy sauce instead)
  • 2 tbsp finely shredded fresh ginger
  • 2 chillies, deseeded and finely sliced

Method (to make the dough)

  1. Put 365g of the flour in a bowl, then add 60ml boiling water and slowly mix using a wooden spoon.
  2. Gradually, stir another 125ml of lukewarm water into the dough and keep on mixing with the wooden spoon until a dough starts to form.
  3. Add 60ml cold water together with the sunflower oil and get your hands in there to mix it and bring it together. If you feel the dough is too sticky, adjust it with the rest of the flour.
  4. Tip onto a floured working surface and knead by hand for about 10 minutes, then wrap in clingfilm and leave on the side to rest for about 30 minutes.

Ingredients (for the filling)

  • 450g pork mince
  • 125g raw king prawns, deveined and finely chopped
  • 3 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp grated fresh ginger

Method (continued)

To make the filling, tip all of the ingredients in a bowl and mix well using a spoon or with your hands.

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  1. Once the dough is ready, divide it in 4 equal portions and roll each one out to a log about 3cm in diameter.
  2. Cut each log in two, then each of the two sections in two again, so as to get 8 small dough balls out of each log.
  3. Keeping your working surface floured, roll out each small ball until 2mm thick to make a small circle.
  4. Place 1 tbsp of the filling in the centre of the dumpling, then bring the seams together at the top and seal by giving it a small twist.
  5. Place on a floured tray and cover with a damp towel until ready to use.

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  1. Place a pan of boiling water on medium heat and line the base of the steamer with the cabbage leaves, then place that on top of the pan.
  2. Cook the dumplings in batches of 6-7 for about 8-10 minutes, until becoming slightly translucent and the filling is thoroughly cooked.
  3. To make the dipping sauce, mix all the ingredients in a bowl.
  4. Dip the dumplings and ENJOY!

Marbled Lemon Squares

I will be honest, I made the lemon curd of the previous post because I wanted to make these. Think of them as a lemony and cheesecakey (is that even a word?) kind of brownies. The assembling bit is more or less the same of a cheesecake, and the flavour is as well. Very moreish, these will disappear in a flash! Recipe, again, from The Great British Bake Off: The Showstoppers book.

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Ingredients

  • 200g ginger biscuits
  • 50g unsalted butter, softened
  • 500g full-fat cream cheese
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 2 large free-range eggs, at room temperature
  • about 225g lemon curd (use homemade if you can)

Method

  1. Line and grease a square or rectangular brownie tin (approximately 25 x 25cm).
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius.
  3. To make the base, put the biscuits and the butter in a food processor and blitz until you get a sandy consistency. Alternatively, put the biscuits in a bag, seal it and bash them with a rolling pin (very therapeutic), then mix in the butter.
  4. Bake the base for 10 minutes, then take out of the oven and leave to cool for 15. You can leave the oven on or turn it off while you get started with the cheesecake filling.
  5. To make the cheesecake mixture, put the cream cheese, vanilla, sugar and eggs into a large bowl and beat them until creamy and combined. You can do this by hand, no need to waste electricity 🙂
  6. Once the base has cooled down, pour the cheesecake mixture over it and spread it evenly.
  7. Dollop the lemon curd on the surface – quite randomly – and then use a cocktail stick (a skewer, a knife or even a teaspoon will do) to swirl it around and obtain a marbled effect. Don’t overdo it, though, as you want to keep some of the big lumps of lemon curd.
  8. Bake for about 30 minutes, until just set. Remember to turn on the oven again if you switched it off before.
  9. Leave to cool in the tin. To extract it, run a round bladed knife all around the edges, then cut into squares.

Tips

  • The recipe says to cook it for 25 minutes, but I’ve opted for slightly more on here simply because when I checked mine after that time it was still wobbly and, I feared, uncooked. Feel free to take it out of the oven slightly before.
  • Keep this dessert in the fridge as it will melt/go weird if left outside. Needless to say, the earlier you eat it, the better.