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Nuts


While spending a couple of days recently in The Hunter Valley, one of Australia’s wine regions, I couldn’t help but wonder why on earth Dukka was served everywhere.  Each restaurant seemed to offer a starter of sourdough and dukka (or dukkah)…and always at a price too. It’s not something you come across in Paris ever really and so I was intrigued as ever on the look out for an alternate apero.

Of Egyptian origin, Dukka is usually a spice and nut blend with hazelnuts, chickpeas and thyme as a base but combinations vary wildly and some dukkas boast macadamia nuts as their dominant flavour while with others it’s sesame that takes the lead.  It’s like the crumbly love child of zaatar and gomasio with a twist of roasted nuts. Fabulously fragrant, it’s very easy and another way to spice up an evening glass of wine. With a little scrutiny and some internet research, the contents of a dukka bowl are not hard to figure out. Invent a blend that suits you.

The ingredients, for the most part, are likely to be sitting around many a kitchen. Dukka could also be used to season meats or as a sprinkling for salads, soups, roasted vegetables….

Serve with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping with some warm flatbreads.

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Ingredients (this is a list of options that can be played around with; leave out what you don’t like or add things like dessicated coconut)

2 tablespoons whole hazelnuts
1 1/2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/4 cup Macadamia or Brazil nuts
2 tablespoons sunflower or pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup coriander seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 pinch cayenne pepper

Making

Roast the hazelnuts until the skins can be rubbed off. Then toast the other seeds and nuts. Toast  them on a dry hot pan for very little time; just until they start to dance around a little. Using a pestle and mortar roughly grind them until the nuts and seeds are broken up but not too finely otherwise the nuts will become too oily. This is a dry crumbly nut mix.

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Book of the day – Mangoes & Curry Leaves: Culinary Travels Through the Great Subcontinent by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid.

mangoes&curryleaves This is a beautiful book – I felt bad exposing it to the chaos of the kitchen as I worked through a couple of their recipes but despite the pretty pages and coffee-table decoration appearance,  this book has some very solid content. Rich in stories, advice, methods and a love for the sub-continent, this book will give you itchy feet that at least can be appeased by getting your teeth into some of the recipes. Discover Pakistani Pulao (a curried rice dish) and North Indian dhal – travel through Nepal before deciding whether it’s Bengali fish or Sri Lankan spices that will take your fancy.

That is, if the Goan sunsets and other fabulous images don’t have you booking a one way ticket…

Having recently picked up some atta flour I wanted to try their chapati recipe. It’s always satisfying to tackle and somehow succeed in making some kind of bread, flat or otherwise.  Atta flour is a strong durum wheat flour used for making many Indian flat breads, it’s got a rich brown colour and flavour and is very strong. You can replace it with regular whole wheat flour if needs be but I was surprised at the difference the atta flour made. The chapatis turned out to be quite easy to make if you don’t mind getting a little hot and flustered in the kitchen. Also, best not to have any feeling in your finger tips. Tossing them about the pan as they bubble and bake requires a willingness to get a little burned! They’re best served warm but they keep their crunchiness as they cool and are great for scooping up curries and sauces. The fresh peanut and coriander “chutney” (see below) is a pretty good smeared on top of a warm chapati and served with drinks as an alternative canapé.


Chapati - atta flour

Ingredients
250gr atta flour (or whole wheat)
1 cup warm water
1 teaspoon salt

Making

In a bowl, add the salt to the flour and then slowly add the water to form a dough. Knead well on a floured surface until you have a smooth tacky dough as you would for any bread. Then cover (wrap in cling film) and leave to rest for at least two hours. If you put it in the fridge take it out a half hour before you intend to use it.  Divide into small pieces – you’ll get about 15 or 16 from this amount of dough and shape into small balls before flattening and rolling them into thin “pancakes” using plenty of flour to keep the dough from sticking. Heat some ghee, butter or a little oil in a flat pan or skillet before cooking each one.  Cook for only about 30 seconds on each side – until they start to brown and bubble. Quickly keep flipping them before moving onto the next one.  This is where the numb finger tips help. They take no time at all and resist leaving them too long on the heat as they become tough.

Keep warm until serving time.

Fresh peanut and coriander “chutney”

Wandering through the recipes earmarking this and that, the peanut and coriander recipe caught my attention seeming  like an Indian pesto requiring  minimum work and ideally a food processor.  To be served with fresh fish or chicken as a simple sauce, it’s also a good alternative dip for chips or veggies.

Peanut coriander crush

After roasting fresh raw peanuts (about 2 tablespoons – no more, otherwise it will be too dry and powdery), let them cool, then blitz them in a food processor until they’re crumbly. Then add a few handfuls of fresh coriander leaves. Pulverize the lot. Remove from the food processor and blend in the juice of a lemon, diced hot chili pepper and a tablespoon of brown sugar. Serve almost as soon as made.  The flavours need to be enjoyed fresh.

Note - use more coriander and juice then peanuts for a moister dip – too many peanuts makes it dry. Also, add the juice of a lime too for more flavour.

Chapati

Raw, unshelled and a bit too expensive for my liking the pistachio is something I have loved in food since spending time in Sicily. Pistachios form the basis, the topping and the backbone of many dishes in Sicily both sweet and savoury serving to remind how, in many ways, Sicily is really a place apart, particularly in a culinary sense, and often leaves the Italian mainland in the dust when it comes to eating. The pistachio element is just scratching the surface. Having been part of the Byzantine empire, Sicily has a legacy that encompasses most of the Mediterranean heritage and then some not to mention Arab merchant influence, the Greeks and the Phoenicians all of which remains evident in the architecture and the language as well as the cuisine. Pistachios in ice cream, pistachios in spaghetti dishes, pistachios with aubergine, pistachio pesto…..
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…and then I went to Syria. A major producer of pistachio nuts and a major consumer of them too primarily in sweet sticky desserts such as halwa and baklava and as a topping for their almost chewy creamy ice cream. Rumour has it this has something to do with cornstarch..anyone familiar with Bakdash in the Souk El-Hamidiyeh in Damscus confirm? Or perhaps the answer lies here?

This trip was good.

Indeed, it was wonderful. Here I would just like to spend a minute doing the job the so-called Ministry for Tourism in Syria has evidently been having a difficult time doing.As in, promoting a great holiday destination: this is a wonderful country with wonderful people and great, great food. So, GO! All of you. In droves. Bring your family. And your appetite.

But I digress, back to the pistachios….

Pistachio sauce.

This recipe comes from the first Moro cookbook, The Moro Cookbook. A book evoking flavours and ingredients from other eras and lifetimes, where liver finds it’s way back onto our plates and you genuinely feel like you’ve learned something after reading it. The authors were inspired by and fell in love with Spain and the Muslim Mediterranean and what they call the ‘saffron-cinnamon link’ which brings us back to the beginning of the post because, in many ways, Sicily and Spain were the main points of communication between east and west for centuries…

This sauce is fast, fresh and is excellent with grilled chicken, lamb or fish.

Ingredients

150gr shelled unsalted pistachios
grated zest and juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon of orange blossom water
1 garlic clove crushed with a little salt
1 small bunch fresh parsley
some fresh mint leaves
1 tablespoon water
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and black pepper

Making

In a mortar and pestle, roughly crush the nuts. (Or chop them by hand) Transfer to a bowl and add the remaining ingredients checking for seasoning as you go.

(Recipe taken from The Moro Cookbook by Sam and Sam Clark, Ebury Press, 2001)DSC_1051