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Greece – Gyros and Tzatziki

Football:

There is a saying that goes along the lines of ‘the whole is greater than the sum of all the parts’. For me this summed up Greece in the Euro 2004 championships. A rank outsider, Greece went on to do what some considered impossible at the time – they won the competition. Having got through the group stage they then went on to beat France, the Czech Republic and then a hotly fancied Portugal in the final. I currently live in Melbourne which has the biggest Greek population for a city outside of Athens (in 2006 Greece played a friendly with Australia in Melbourne and over 95,000 fans attended). The celebrating here was incredible, partly under a cloud of disbelief, but mainly with praise and adulation for a team that on paper was going to struggle to qualify. The owner of my local deli here still has the ‘Greece Euro Champions 2004’ stuck to the wall, ten years later.

This time round Greece has qualified by the skin of its teeth for the second round. Needing to beat Côte d’Ivoire it was level at 1-1 when in the dying seconds of injury time Greece were awarded a penalty. Can you imagine the pressure on Samaris, the Greek player who was taking the penalty? Not only was the weight of hope of a whole nation on his shoulders, but there was the little consideration of a global audience of a couple of billion people. Coolly he stepped up and scored and in the same breath took Greece in to the second round of a World Cup for the first time in its history.

Next it faces Costa Rica, another unfancied team that has blown its group away. On paper the Central Americans should get through, but with 2004 as inspiration who would bet against Greece doing it again.

 

Dish:

When it is Greek New Year our neighbour usually has a whole lamb on a spit, and the smell is just amazing – and for me that sums up Greek food; it’s real comfort food that celebrates Greek ingredients. I love dolmades for their vine leaves, spanakopita for its harmony of spinach and feta in crunchy filo, lamb slowly cooked in olive oil, crunchy and salty whitebait, pickled octopus and one of my all-time favourites, a bowl of warm chilli marinated Kalamata olives.

Today, I have attempted a classic Greek dish that really should only belong in a place that has a rotisserie and time to produce the succulent and fatty meat that the dish is synonymous with. But alas, I am sucker for that tasty marinated meat with garlicky tzatziki in a warm dough flat bread wrap and so I have attempted to recreate at home, the gyros. I admit that it is not like the real gyros, but it is still a beautiful version of it.

There is also somewhat of a sentimental reason in making it. My first memorable trip to London was during my very early teenage years and it was during this visit my flavour sensors were awoken with something very close to gyros; a Turkish kebab. Being from Yorkshire I was brought up on homely and traditional food, so I had never tasted anything so exotic before; slow grilled meat, sauce with a punchy garlic kick all set off with zingy lemony tomato. To me it was an awakening and I fell in love with those flavours, and this gyros captures those flavours.

 

Serves: 4 |   Preparation: 20 minutes + 2 hours marinating   |   Cooking Time: 20 minutes

 

Ingredients:

For the meat:
1kg Boneless pork loin |
2 tsp. Sweet paprika |
1½ tsp. Sea salt |
1 tsp. Dried oregano |
2-3 tbsp. White wine vinegar|

For the tzatziki sauce:
1 Lebanese cucumber | Deseeded and diced. Lebanese cucumbers are smaller than continental cucumbers.
1 large Garlic clove | Chopped.
½ lemon Lemon juice |
1 tbsp. Fresh dill |
200g Greek yoghurt |
Pinch Sea salt |
Grapeseed oil for frying

To serve Warm doughy flat bread |
To serve Thick slices of ripened tomato |
To serve Red onion | sliced (optional)

 

How to:

For the meat: create the marinade by grinding together the sweet paprika, sea salt and oregano. Slice the pork in to thin strips. Now using a rolling pin or meat mallet bash each strip so it’s about ½cm thick. In a large flat bottomed dish put a layer of the flattened pork. Now sprinkle over some of the marinade and a little drizzle of white wine vinegar. Repeat the process for the rest of the pork and marinade building up the layers of meat. Cover the dish and leave in the fridge for at least 2 hours to marinate.

For the tzatziki: add the cucumber, garlic, lemon juice and dill to a food processor and blend to a puree. Mix the puree and sea salt in to the Greek yoghurt and leave in the fridge until ready to use.

Once marinated cut the pork in to 1cm wide strips. To cook the meat put a large non-stick frying pan over high heat. When really hot add a teaspoon of cooking oil and a handful of the pork strips. Cook the pork until it goes a golden and deep brown allowing some of the edges to crisp a little. Put the meat in bowl and keep warm whilst you cook the rest, using a little cooking oil each time.

To serve, warm your bread and spread over a generous spoon or two of the tzatziki sauce. Lay down some slices of ripe tomato and a good serving of that beautiful pork. Spoon over some more tzatziki sauce, fold over the bread and eat hot.

Teriyaki Pork Belly

Introduction:

Teriyaki has a little place in the corner of my soul. When I was a backpacker I descended upon Melbourne only as a pit stop in the adventure of a global trip. Fourteen years later and I am still in Melbourne, and in part I blame teriyaki.

I arrived in St Kilda, Melbourne in the March of 2000 to attend my first ever Grand Prix. Four days of testosterone for viewers and participants alike. It was during these four days, but not at the Grand Prix itself, that I set my eyes upon a young Australian lass, and those looks were reciprocated. But it wasn’t to be anything more than that because I had my sights set on continuing my global travels. We did decide to meet up, and I remember meeting her off the tram and then heading for a cheap eat – I was a backpacker after all. And that is when for the first time in my life I discovered teriyaki chicken. I was swept away in the euphoria of attraction both for that young lass and the sweet and salty glaze on that chicken. As hours turned in to days, and days into weeks the bond became unbreakable, which is why today I sit here writing this little story with that same young Australian lass across the dinner table, and teriyaki looking longingly in to my eyes.

This recipe is for belly pork, but the sauce also goes wonderfully with chicken, of course!

 

Serves: 4   |   Preparation: 25 minutes   |   Cooking: 2 hours

 

Ingredients:

For the Pork Belly:
1kg Pork belly deboned | A butcher can do this if you’re not game.
~2 litres Water | This amount will vary depending on pan size.
1½ tsp. Sea salt |
1 Cinnamon stick |
1 Star anise pod |
6 Black peppercorns | Whole.
2 Cloves Garlic | Halved.
1 Brown onion | Roughly chopped.

For the Teriyaki Sauce:
1 Stalk Lemongrass | White part only.
15g Fresh root ginger | No need to peel it – just make sure it is clean.
200ml Chicken stock | See here for a great chicken stock recipe.
200ml Light soy sauce |
300g Castor sugar | It seems a lot but teriyaki is sweet by nature.
200g Runny honey |

 

 

How To:

Firstly, put the pork belly in to a large pan so that it lays flat. Add the water so that the pork is well covered (more than 2 litres of water if required). Now add the salt, cinnamon, star anise, black peppercorns, halved garlic cloves and chopped onion. Bring the water to a simmer and then cook the pork, covered, for 1½ hours, topping up with hot water if required. Gently, remove the pork from the water and allow it to cool on a chopping board. Preheat an oven to 180 deg. C (350 deg. F).

Now make the teriyaki sauce. Bash the ginger and lemongrass stalk with the end of a rolling pin or some other blunt instrument (preferably not the head). To a medium saucepan add the chicken stock, soy sauce, sugar, honey, ginger and lemongrass. Heat over a medium heat and bring to the boil whilst stirring to dissolve the sugar. Continue to boil for 15 minutes and then strain the sauce through a fine meshed sieve. The teriyaki sauce is ready.

Now the pork has cooled, cut it in to 2cm strips and place it in single layer in a roasting tin. Pour over the teriyaki sauce ensuring that all the pork belly is coated. Roast the pork in the oven for 30 minutes, frequently basting it with the teriyaki and roasting juices.

Serve the pork with spoonfuls of the sauce. Here I served it with greens cooked in soy sauce, and sticky rice.

Nuoc Cham – Dipping Fish Sauce

Introduction:

Lime is the hardest, sharpest and most acidic member of the citrus family. Soy sauce is that rich, savoury, salty seasoning. And sugar is the pure sensation, crystallised pleasure which all people seem to have an innate desire for. The amalgamation of these three taste sensations, which tickles four of the five known receptor types in our mouths (sweet, sour, salt and umami), is the base for the classic Vietnamese dipping sauce and dressing nước chấm. In addition, a blast of chilli and hint of garlic adds heat and flavour to an already outstanding combination. The real secret, however, is to blend such ingredients in the most accurate of proportions, the accuracy of which is determined by your palette…

This version is what sends my palette in to sensory overdrive; it sucks me up in to a whirlwind of oral pleasure, dunks me in to a lagoon of citrus delight and then transports me to a corner of Hanoi whilst punching me with savoury heat, satisfying saltiness and garlicky tartness. Enjoy.

 

Serves: Used as a dip or a dressing for 4 people.   |   Preparation:  5 minutes   |   Cooking: 30 minutes resting

 

Ingredients:

30ml Fish sauce | Ensure that this is real fish sauce and not synthesised. Check the label on the bottle. If it has ‘flavours’ then it is synthesised.
20ml Lime juice | Yield from one medium lime.
25ml Rice wine vinegar |
1 clove Garlic | Crushed.
½ with seeds Bird’s eye chilli | This can be varied depending on your heat desire. ½ bird’s eye chilli adds a lovely warming tingle.
35g White caster sugar |

 

 

How To:

Add the fish sauce, lime juice, rice wine vinegar, garlic, chilli and sugar to a non-reactive* bowl. Stir until all the sugar has dissolved. Leave to stand for at least half an hour before using; this lets the ingredients become well acquainted.

*A non-reactive bowl is one such as ceramic, glass or stainless steel. Reactive bowls include those made from aluminium, copper and cast iron. When using acidic ingredients, in this case vinegar and lime, the acid in these ingredients can react with untreated surfaces (reactive bowls) and dissolve some of the metal causing the food to take on a metallic taste.

 

Notes:

–        This will keep in the fridge for about 5 days if covered.

–        For a bigger batch just increase the proportions relative to each other. I tend to make less but more often as the freshness of the lime can deteriorate over time.

 

Garlicky Tomato and Fennel Gratin

Introduction:

Did you know that the term gratin originally referred to the crust that adhered to the cooking receptacle and was scraped off? Its derivation is from the French word gratté which means scraped or scratched.

Now a gratin is more commonly referred to when describing the  golden crust that forms on the surface of a dish when it is browned in the oven or put under a grill. A gratin is also associated with toppings of cheese, breadcrumbs or egg and breadcrumbs. As a method it’s a great way to protect the food underneath the crust from overcooking or drying out, whilst creating an intense flavour, and sometimes crunchy texture, on top.

This gratin is a French classic (although it wouldn’t look out of place in Italy) using the combination of ripened tomatoes, the wonderfully aniseed-like fennel and of course being of Gallic origin, garlic. It is topped off with a crunchy and cheesy topping which wowed my other half and two ankle biters.

 

Serves: 4 as a side or 2 as a main.   |   Preparation:  20 minutes   |   Cooking: 35 minutes

 

Ingredients:

For the filling:    
1kg Fennel bulbs | Note that the total yield of fennel will be less once the core, stems and outer layer have been removed.
1 Large Red onion | Thinly sliced.
½kg Ripened tomatoes | Use nice ripe tomatoes such as a Roma or a  beefsteak tomato. No need to use heirloom or anything similarly luxuriant.
2 cloves Garlic | Crushed.
4 tbsp.  Olive oil |

For the topping:    
60g Coarse bread crumbs | I make my own. For this recipe I used multigrain bread blitzed in a food processor until the breadcrumbs were coarse. White bread can be used.
70g Grana Padano cheese | This cheese is not as strong as Reggiano Parmesan, but still adds a strong bitey edge to the topping. Ensure that it is made in Italy if you want great flavour.
1 small lemon Lemon zest | Grated.
1 clove Garlic | Crushed.

 

 

How To:

Preheat your oven to 200 deg. C (400 deg. F). Put the kettle on to boil. Take a 21 cm square gratin dish and grease it with butter or olive oil.

To prepare the fennel remove the stems, fronds and any tired looking outer layers. Remove any tough core at the bottom of the fennel bulb. Cut the fennel length ways and then thinly slice.

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over a low to medium heat. Add the onion and soften for about 4 or 5 minutes. It’s important not to brown the onion as browning will impart a deep caramelised flavour that doesn’t work with this dish. Now add the garlic and cook for a further 2 minutes. Add the fennel and cook this until it has softened and has taken on a golden hue. This should take about 7 to 10 minutes.

The kettle should have boiled by now. Take the tomatoes and carefully score the bases with a cross. I do this with a small sharp paring knife. Put the tomatoes in a bowl and pour over the hot water from the kettle. Leave for about 25 seconds and then remove the tomatoes carefully and plunge them into a bowl of cold water (with ice). If the tomatoes were ripe the skins will be gagging to be removed. Peel the tomatoes, roughly chop them and add them to the fennel and onion. Cook for another 5-7 minutes, until the tomatoes are soft. Season and taste; as French chefs will tell you “taste, taste, taste!”

For the topping add the breadcrumbs, grated cheese, lemon zest and crushed garlic to a bowl. Mix with that fine tool they call the hand.

Line the gratin dish with the cooked vegetables and evenly sprinkle the gratin topping over them. Put the gratin in the oven for about 15 minutes or until the topping looks golden brown (easier to see with white breadcrumbs) and has a crispy texture. Serve immediately. Bon appétit!

 

Notes:

–        I served this with a pan fried pork loin chops (these have the characteristic T-bone shape).

Hot Chilli Garlic Sauce

Introduction:

Why do we love chilli?

Why are some of us addicted to the sensation that traverses the plain of delight to pain? Studies conducted at Reading university suggests that the answer to this is because when hot chilli hits the tongue, pulses are sent to the brain which trigger both the ‘happy’ part and the part that detects pain. It seems that the happiness brought on by consuming the fiery molecules of capsaicin (the actively ‘hot’ component of chilli peppers) is enough to counteract the obvious pain that can result, especially from those chillies that register high on the Scoville scale (the scale that measures the pungency, or spicy heat, of chillies). And, as we like to do things that make us happy – we eat chilli.

Personally, I love hot seedy chilli sauce (that’s with seeds and not the delight of eating chilli in some sordid back alley) with garlic; something that was in every local street stall in Hanoi when I visited recently. However, my affinity for this delectable sauce goes back to my time in London, the memory of which came to me the other day as I smelt the chilli garlic sauce I was cooking.

I remember arriving in London as a wet-behind-the-ears young man, looking for adventure and to study. Money was too tight to mention and on arrival in England’s capital managed, by a bit of luck and a fair wind, to score a fantastic flat in Tooting thanks to a wonderful Singaporean lady. She was the landlady and lived in neighbouring Streatham. I remember going over to her place one Sunday afternoon, rocking up to a shop front from which emanated the smells of an oriental feast of herbs and spices. After being invited in for afternoon tea, and subsequently eating an array of amazing Chinese/ Singaporean home-made snacks, I was presented with a jar; a jar that can only be described as gold, frankincense, and myrrh rolled in to one – chilli garlic sauce. I had never tasted anything like this before, and the memory of the amazing peppery and garlic flavour and intense tingling sensation from the heat that bolted and somersaulted around my mouth has never left me. I later learned that this lady was a magnificent chef and had even been commissioned to provide a banquet for the Prince of Wales (Charlie to his mates) during her career.

Not until today have I tried to replicate that magical chilli sauce. So fanfares please, as I present my version of chilli garlic sauce – pleasure and eye-watering pain.

 

Serves: A few months’ supply   |   Preparation:  10 minutes   |   Cooking: 30 minutes + 1 week resting

 

Ingredients:

900g Birds eye chilli | Tops removed. I bought these at our local Vietnamese grocers; they were just known as Vietnamese chillies, which I know to be birds eye chillies. They are nice and hot.
18 cloves Garlic | Peeled.
2 tbsp.  Peanut oil |
1½ tbsp. White sugar |
1½ tbsp. Sea salt  
100ml Rice wine vinegar | This sauce is not as acidic as some bought ones – it’s more rounded in flavour. You can add more vinegar if you like.

 

 

How To:

In a food processor blitz the chillies, garlic and peanut oil until a smooth paste is formed. I process them for about 3-4 minutes.

Add the chilli paste to a pan, and then stir in the salt, sugar and rice wine vinegar and bring to a simmer over a low to medium heat. Simmer for about 20-30 minutes. Pour the resulting thick sauce in to *sterilised jars, seal them and then allow the sauce to cool to room temperature, at which point they should be refrigerated. I recommend leaving this chilli sauce for at least a week to mature. It should keep for a few months, refrigerated. With the birds eye chilli this sauce is nice and hot so use with abandon…I mean care.

*To sterilise a jar wash with warm soapy water, and then rinse well. Dry with a clean tea-towel and then put it in a preheated oven at 120 deg C (250 deg F) for 5 minutes (ensure your jar is heat proof). Remove the jar carefully from the oven and allow to cool, ensuring you don’t touch the inside of the jar.

Notes:

  • Did you know that the main heat from chilli comes from the pith and not from the seeds?

Portarlington Mussels in Garlicky Tomato Sauce

Introduction:

This recipe post was going to be based on an amazing and stupendous array of fish from Port Philip Bay in Melbourne. You see, everything was set…two dads with a couple of days off from their respective family, glorious late Autumn weather, a ‘hot’ fishing spot on Portarlington pier, an esky (that’s a mammoth Australian beer cooler) full of ice, Tiger beer and a cracking golden ale called ‘Minimum Chips’, fishing licenses up to date, 2 rods each with up to the minute line, tackle, squidgees and jigs, and the will and confidence of two fine fisherman. Everything went according to plan apart from, well…the fish. They were there, but just not interested in whatever a Dutchman and Englishman could throw their way.

An elderly couple next to us, whose level of conversation extended to a smile and a nod, decided to show us how to fish (and show us up at the same time). They were pulling out salmon, trevally, barracuda, marlin, Bluefin tuna, blue whale, ready-made meals for two…you name it they were catching it. I do think that they were a little more focussed than us because we were more interested in consuming ale and yapping with the passers-by: a Yorkshireman who claimed to be Aussie after being in Australia for 40 years but still called me ‘arkid’; a Vietnam veteran and his wife from Brisbane who were about to embark on world travels, some local geezer with 4 missing front teeth that created a kind of vortex when he spoke (kept talking about artificial reefs, balloons and Christmas trees for some reason), families, old codgers, dogs, cats and whoever would converse with us – any language accepted.

It was a great weekend, and although we were given one salmon by another fisherman who had ‘caught too much’ (rub it in why don’t you), caught two Banjo sharks (not as courageous a feat as it sounds) and a squid we thought that we better take something a bit more substantial back to Melbourne with us. And being in Portarlington there was only one thing; mussels. Portarlington is genuinely famous for its mussels, supplying many restaurants in Melbourne and far and wide. They have a wonderful taste, are a good size, and have a magical juicy plumpness to them.

This recipe is based on a simple garlicky tomato sauce which really works terrifically well with the mussels. Although simple I have worked on this version for a while. For example, it’s the subtlety of seasoning the sauce with the salty mussel liquor that really lifts this dish to another level.

 

Serves: 4   |   Preparation: 2 hours   |   Cooking: 50 minutes

 

Ingredients:

2 kg with shells Mussels | Any mussels will do, but as the title suggests I use Portarlington mussels here in Australia. Just make sure they are fresh.
4 cloves Garlic | Finely chopped – 3 for the tomato sauce and 1 for steaming the mussels.
1 medium Red onion | Finely chopped.
3 tbsp.  Olive oil |
250 ml White wine | I use a Chardonnay. Not too expensive as it really is a waste to cook with great wine!
2 tsp. Tomato puree | Look for 100% tomato with no added salt.
400g tin Diced/ chopped tomatoes | Tinned tomatoes are great for sauces like this.
Enough for 4 Spaghetti or Fettuccini | Dried is perfect.
1 tbsp.  Olive oil |
To taste  Black pepper |
25g Butter |
Couple of sprigs Coriander | For garnish – the flavour also complements the dish.

 

 

How To:

Firstly, prepare the mussels by soaking them in about 5 litres of cold water for an hour. Once the hour is up remove the beards (straggling bits that protrude from the shell) and check for any mussels that are open. Some mussels will close with a sharp tap, so only discard the ones that will not close. Soak again for about another half an hour. This soaking reduces the saltiness and enhances the culinary experience.

To prepare the tomato sauce, heat the olive oil in a heavy based pan (if you have one) on a low heat and then add the garlic, onion and sea salt. Stir and then let them ‘sweeten’ for about 6 or 7 minutes until soft and translucent. There should be no browning of the onion because this is not the taste we are aiming for. Now turn up the heat to medium-high and add 150ml of the white wine. Let this gurgle and bubble and reduce until it is syrupy. Add the tomato puree, stir and cook for about 30 seconds. Now add the tinned tomatoes, stir and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat immediately to low, cover the pan with a lid and gently simmer the sauce for 25 minutes. Once the time is up you can take it off the heat and leave until ready to use.

Put 3 litres of water in a pan, add a pinch of salt and put on a high heat. When boiling add the pasta, ensuring that you agitate it for the first 30 seconds so as to prevent the strands ‘sticking’ together. Cook as per the packet instructions, drain (reserve a tbsp. of cooking water), put back in the pan, and add 1tbsp of olive oil, the reserved cooking water and the back pepper. Stir and replace the lid. Leave aside until ready.

Now for the mussels: to a large pan/ stock pot add 10g of the butter and put the pan on a medium heat. Add the remaining garlic when the butter has melted and is bubbling and then add 100 ml of white wine. Add a tbsp. of water and then add the mussels. Cover the pan and cook the mussels on medium heat for about 5 to 7 minutes until the mussels have opened. When cooked, drain the mussels through a colander and reserve the liquid. Now filter the reserved liquid (liquor) through a fine sieve. Pick the mussels from their shells and add to the tomato sauce. Reserve 12 (or whatever you heart desires) of the mussels in their shells for decorative purposes. Now gently heat the tomato sauce which now has those plump mussels in it. When simmering, add the rest of the butter (15g) and a tablespoon at a time add the reserved mussel liquor and stir. The liquor is the seasoning, so taste after every addition. When elated, serve the pasta, tomato sauce and mussels in their shells. Garnish with fresh coriander.

Notes:

  • Assuming you have bought fresh mussels and have been diligent enough at the start to throw away any open mussels, then there is no need to discard any mussels after cooking. There is widespread advice to discard closed ones, which doesn’t make sense as if they were ‘off’ or ‘dead’ they would be open before cooking and you would have therefore already discarded them. As long as you have cooked them long enough there should be no problem. I just prise the closed mussels open and have had no issues.