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Spicy Indian potatoes and spinach – pommes de terre aux épinards à l’indienne


Spicy potatoes

Spicy potatoes

One French Word: épinards, a recipe for Spicy Indian potatoes and spinach

Spicy potatoes - main ingredients

Spicy potatoes – main ingredients

You either love or hate spinach. Most children won’t even come to table if there is spinach on the menu, but it’s a favourite vegetable of one of my little grandsons. Baby spinach leaves are preferable to larger, more mature ones, but the latter have more flavour. In India, spinach is used in an enormous number of recipes. Just wilted, it keeps its colour and a lot of its nutrients. I add a handful to all sorts of things – last night I had baked eggs with spinach, the day before the recipe I am about to share. I eat baby leaves in salad, wilted by pouring crispy bacon bits and their fat over them.

The French language bit:

épinards (masculine plural noun) (theoretically it has a singular but this is never used) = spinach (never pronounce the ‘s’ at the end of the word).

We saw last year that the circumflex (^^) often denotes a missing s in English, that is, if you put an ‘s’ in the place of the circumflex, you will sometimes be able to guess what the word means. It is often the same with an initial é. Replace it with an s and you will have, sometimes exactly, sometimes near enough, the English word. So épinards = spinach; épice = spice, I can’t think of any more right now.

Just one expression with épinardsmettre du beurre dans les épinards = to ameliorate something, to allow a little luxury (literally to add butter to your spinach), for instance a second salary will make everything easier = un deuxième salaire mettra du beurre dans les épinards.

And so to the recipe.

Ingredients for 1 person as a main meal, 2 people as a vegetable dish accompanying meat :

  • 1 very large potato
  • 2 large handfuls of baby spinach leaves
  • 4tbs corn or peanut oil
  • 1 piece of fresh ginger, about 2cm square, peeled and chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 shallot, finely sliced (the slices going from top to bottom and not across)
  • 1 smoked cardamom (they are large and black), opened up, the seeds only to be used (if you can’t find this, try green ones, or leave it out altogether)
  • 1tsp cumin seeds
  • 1tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tbs turmeric (curcuma)
  • 1/2 tsp curry powder
  • 1tbs mustard seed
  • a little salt
  • 1 tsp nigella seeds

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Preparation:

  • Cut the washed potato into 6 pieces (you do not need to peel it), place in cold salted water, bring to the boil and simmer for 15mns.
  • Wash and drain the spinach (you don’t need to pat it dry, just get rid of as much water as possible)
  • Drain the potatoes and cut into smaller pieces.
  • Heat the oil in a large frying pan, add the spices and the garlic, the ginger and the shallot to the hot oil and fry for a minute or two, stirring.
  • Add the potatoes to the pan and stir to coat with the spices. Don’t be gentle with the potato, it is better if it crumbles a bit, it will go crispier later. Fry for 10 minutes on a medium heat, stirring and turning the potato pieces so that they brown on all sides. It doesn’t matter if the shallot colours and crisps up.
  • When the potato is quite browned, add the spinach to the pan, stir to wilt thoroughly, salt with great parcimony, as the spices have probably given enough flavour. You can always salt later if you find there is not enough.

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  • Sprinkle with a tsp of nigella seeds before bringing to the table.

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This is an excellent vegetarian dish, very satisfying. But if you feel you need meat, it can accompany any meat dish. Of course I cannot pretend to have invented this, but let us just say that I used no recipe to concoct it! I just pulled spices out of the cupboard and thought very hard of a dish I tasted in India.

CIMG6153

Bon appétit!

One French Word: concentré, a French recipe: sauce tomate maison


There is always a glut of tomatoes at the end of summer. They can be bought cheaply at the farmer’s market and it is an economical and satisfying way of making tomato sauce or concentrate for the freezer. Try to find old variety tomatoes, which are very dense inside, lots of meat and not too many seeds. They are often huge and misshapen. There is frankly little point in doing this recipe with tasteless, waterlogged supermarket tomatoes.

The French language bit:

concentré (masculine noun), le concentré, un concentré, les concentrés (you don’t hear the s) = concentrate as in  tomato concentrate (concentré de tomates), 

but it can also be an adjective: concentré (m), concentrée (f), concentrés (m pl), concentrées (f pl) = concentrated as in du lait concentré (condensed milk) or du jus d’orange concentré (concentrated orange juice), 

and a verb : concentrer = to concentrate (something) or se concentrer (to concentrate oneself on something) as in je me concentre sur mon travail (I am concentrating on my work). 

I don’t seem to be able to find any expressions using the word. If you find any, let me know!

Main ingredients

Main ingredients

Ingredients:

For every 1kg500 of tomatoes (see conversion tables)

  • 350gr onion
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • fresh thyme or basil, 
  • 2tbs olive oil
  • salt
  • peppercorns
  • celery leaves (optional)
Cored tomatoes

Cored tomatoes

Preparation:

  • Peel and roughly chop the onion and the garlic
  • Fry gently in olive oil until translucent
  • Wash, core and roughly chop the tomatoes, removing any woody bits of core that remain
  • Add the tomatoes to the translucent onions with seasonings (a sprig or two of fresh thyme, some basil, a little salt and some peppercorns – you can adjust the seasoning later)
  • Chopped celery leaves, if you have some to hand, add greatly to the flavour of the finished product. Add them now.
  • DON’T ADD ANY LIQUID!
  • Stir the mixture well and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down immediately, cover and simmer gently, stirring frequently, for an hour.  Allow to cool.
  • Now for a tip from my Bordeaux grandmother, passed down to me via my (now 96 year old) mother: their advice is to place a piece of muslin on top of the sauce, lying across it, so that the tomato “water” seeps up through the muslin and can easily be removed with a ladle each time you pass by the pot (without removing any tomato at the same time because it is trapped under the muslin). I leave the muslin bit out (too lazy to wash it out afterwards), but I rest a ladle on top of the tomato mixture. I leave it like that and go away and do something else for ten minutes. When I come back, the ladle should be full. The water rises to the top of the tomato mixture and fills it, again and again, until you have the consistency you are looking for. Save the tomato water to make tomato or vegetable soup. Or add it to the juice of a stew.
  • How you proceed from here depends on the result you are aiming at. If you want chunky tomato sauce with all the bits in it (I would remove the sprigs of thyme), wait until it is quite cold and bag it in portions of a suitable size for a meal for your family. Put it in the fridge, and freeze later (do label it, one doesn’t always automatically remember what’s in those bags…). If you like smooth tomato purée, put it in the blender before freezing. If you want real concentré de tomate, purée it and either go through the ladle procedure again, or hang it up on a kitchen tap in a muslin cloth or an ancient tea towel over a bowl to catch the precious juice. It can then be frozen in large ice cube trays, and transferred to bags thereafter, each cube being just the dose needed when real concentré de tomates is called for.

Tomato sauce

I like it thick and chunky as you can see from the photograph of my finished product.

Chunky pasta sauce

Chunky pasta sauce

The amount you will make will vary greatly depending on the variety of tomato that you use. You will usually lose about a third of the starting weight in water, but it can be as much as a half. With my 1kg500 of tomatoes, for instance, I managed four freezer bags each with enough pasta sauce for two people, about 850gr in total.

Ready to freeze

Ready to freeze

It is not a tricky procedure. It can be done while seeing to something else (cooking another dish, knitting, writing) as long as you remember to stir from time to time.

When in winter you go to the freezer and pull out a pack of home-made sauce for pasta or poulet basquaise, you will smile and think that all this really was worth the effort.

Bon appétit!

Two PSs: 1) I have just topped the 20,000 views! Thank you to all my readers. And 2) WordPress seems to be changing the size of the font in my posts at random, without giving me any choice in the matter. Sorry about this.

One French word: pignon, a French recipe: Tatin d’aubergine


 

Tatin d'aubergine

 

Several people have asked me for this recipe, which I regularly do for vegetarian guests, and was my a contribution to a birthday party a week or so ago. I used to do classy bed and breakfast in the Loire Valley, providing the evening meal for tired and hungry travellers. It was then that I built up a store of really good vegetarian recipes that made those who did not want to eat meat still feel part of the celebration. That is, not as is typical in France, or has been until recently, just taking the meat off the plate and leaving three green beans and some salad!

The recipe is not complicated, in the sense of difficult, but does have a number of steps.

The grammar of it:

pignon (masculine noun), un pignon, le pignon, des pignons = a pine nut    

Have you ever tried cracking the very tough shells that fall with pine cones from parasol pines and extracting the little nuts? My daughter, whose patience is unlimited, used to spend hours as a child cracking them with a stone on the steps under our parasol pine. One year, during a particularly rainy September, a few germinated and I now have the children of that parasol pine, to which I was so attached, growing in pots on my terrace here in Brittany. I think that enormous tree, which my Father planted from seed,  was one of the hardest things to leave behind when I moved here.

One can understand, with all the work involved, why pine nuts are so expensive. But they add a nutty crunch to salads and roasted vegetables that is hard to beat.

A pine cone is une pomme de pin literally a “pine apple”. We called them tisty tosties when we were children, can’t think why, though it might be the noise they make when they hit the ground?

Un pignon is also the gable end of a house.

So my recipe for today is my (famous!) tatin d’aubergine. I have already explained tatin in an earlier post and the fact that any upside down tart now qualifies as a tatin.

Main ingredients

Main ingredients

Ingredients for a 27cm-29cm tart (enough for 4 people as a main course, 6 for a starter)

  • A handful of pine nuts – pignons
  • 2 or 3 aubergines, fat ones that are not too long
  • A little olive oil
  • A few handfuls of sea salt
  • 3 heaped tbs sugar
  • A jar of sundried tomatoes (taste them to make sure they are not too salty)
  • A tsp or two of dried Italian herbs
  • A roll of good quality puff pastry, circular if possible (32cm diameter)

Preparation:

  • Wash the aubergines and trim the ends. Cut into half centimetre slices, discarding the outer slices which are just skin. Lay them out on a clean draining board or a large chopping board, a layer at a time, covering each layer with a sprinkling of sea salt before adding another layer on top. Continue in this fashion until all the aubergine has been sliced, stacked and salted. Leave for half an hour. This procedure removes the bitterness and a lot of the water so that, later in the cooking process, the moisture is not released and makes everything soggy. This is called “faire dégorger” in French,  to draw out the liquid.
  • Rinse the slices under lots of running cold water to remove not only the salt, but the saltiness. Squeeze each slice as if you were wringing out a dishcloth, rinse again, squeeze again and set aside.
  • Grease a 27-29cm tart dish with olive oil.
  • Make a small quantity of caramel in a saucepan with three heaped tbs sugar and a dash (just a dash) of water. Cook until it starts to colour (shake do NOT stir, unlike 007’s martinis…), it needs to be caramelly but not burnt. The line is fine, practice makes perfect. Pour quickly into the tart dish and using both hands, tip the dish to spread the caramel as far as possible over the bottom. It will set very rapidly, it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t spread too far.
  • In a heavy bottomed frying pan, roast the pine nuts dry (no oil) until they start to colour. Don’t take your eyes off them, they burn really quickly and taste awful. And as soon as they are done, get them out of the pan, which will be very hot and will continue cooking them.
  • Spread the pignons evenly over the bottom of the tart dish on top of the caramel.
  • Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (see conversion table page).
  • Place a large dried tomato upside down in the middle of the tart dish and eight more around the edge. This is the side that is going to show when you turn the tart out, so make it pretty.
  • Pour a tbs olive oil into the same pan as you used for the pignons, heat well and fry the aubergine a few slices at a time until it colours well (burns slightly). (This can be done without oil if you wish.) This is the longest part of the recipe. Turn the slices, and when they are done, place them in the tart dish with the wider part of the slice towards the outside, and the thinner end overlapping in the centre (you can even trim off the middle bits if they overlap too much). Cover the whole dish, using any little irregular bits of aubergine to fill up the holes.
  • Place more pieces of dried tomato half way down the aubergine slices (that is, between the edge tomatoes underneath and the centre one underneath, so that each mouthful will have a taste of dried tomato). Sprinkle with italian herbs and finish with another layer of aubergine slices. This uses quite a lot of aubergine, so I always prepare three aubergines in slices, and if there are any left over, I use them the following day in a moussaka or something like that.
  • DO NOT add salt or pepper.
  • Cover the dish with the puff pastry, tucking the edges in roughly. They mustn’t hang over the edge of the dish.
  • Bake in the oven for about half an hour, until the puff pastry is risen and golden brown. Sometimes a bit less, it depends on your oven. Keep watching it for the “just right” moment.
  • Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the dish. The tart should be served warm, not hot, and can even be served cold. It can be reheated if you have prepared it  slightly in advance. BUT it should NOT be turned out until just before eating, or the pastry will soak up all the juice and go soggy. This is really important.
  • When you do decide to turn it out, run a knife around the inner edge of the tart dish to loosen the pastry, place a larger dish upturned over the pastry, protect your wrists in case any hot juice leaks out, give the dish a quick shake or two to loosen everything and flip it over quickly. Give another couple of shakes and presto! Your tart should be pastry side down and very decorative dried tomato and pignon side up! (If any bits stick just rearrange the presentation when no one is looking.)
  • Serve with a green salad.
Stacked, salted aubergine slices

Stacked, salted aubergine slices

Toasted pignons and caramel

Toasted pignons and caramel

To show how hard I wring out the aubergine slices!

To show how hard I wring out the aubergine slices!

Tatin just out of the oven

Tatin just out of the oven

Tatin d'aubergine2

Did you manage all that? Not so difficult really, and the result is delicious and quite impressive. And unusual. Nice to find something unusual.

Bon appétit!

One French word: navet, one French recipe: pétales de légumes

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navet, masculine noun (un navet, le navet, des navets) = turnip (pronounced nah-vey)  .

Not most people’s favourite vegetable, but when they are young and fresh in spring their flavour is delicate and not overpowering as it often is in autumn and winter, and they can easily be eaten raw. Or used to accompany a meat dish, boiled briefly then glazed in a sugar and butter mixture.

Un navet is also currently used to denote a flop, when talking of a bad film, theatre performance or book.

My recipe today is a little different to the taste buds: pétales de légumes = vegetable petals

Main ingredients – looks a bit like a still life, doesn’t it…

For each person you will need:

  • One small raw spring turnip
  • One small raw beetroot
  • One ripe tomato (I used a beef tomato)
  • One small courgette (zuccchini)
  • and any other vegetables you may feel like that can be cut into fine slices (radishes?), or fruits (oranges, strawberries?)
  • salt
  • chili flakes
  • olive oil
  • raspberry vinegar

Preparation:

Wash and trim all the vegetables. Peel the beetroot but do not peel either the turnip or the courgette.

Slice the courgette into as many thin lengthways strips as possible, discarding the first slice, which is just skin (simply for aethetic reasons), and place around the edge of each person’s plate in wavy, curly shapes.

Peel and slice the beetroot into very fine slices and being careful not to taint the courgette with beetroot juice (again for the aesthetics), place an overlapping circle of beetroot slices inside the ring of courgettes.

Wash your hands, the knife and the chopping board. Finely slice the turnip and place another ring inside the beetroot ring. Do not season.

Core and skin the tomato (plunge it into boiling water for a minute or so, the skin will come off easily). Cut into small cubes, place in a bowl with the equivalent of one smallish dried chili (outside and seeds), flaked. Quite a lot of salt (tomatoes need salt), but you can rectify later. One tbs raspberry vinegar. 2 tbs olive oil (if you are several at table increase the oil and vinegar). Mix to a smooth paste with a soup mixer. It makes a sort of rather thick gazpacho-like mixture. Taste and rectify seasoning. It should be fairly chili hot, vinegary, with a good strong flavour of olive oil.  Place a spoonful of this mixture in a tiny bowl in the centre of your vegetable plate. Leave the rest of the tomato dressing in a larger bowl on the table, because it is more-ish and people can help themselves and drown their plates in it if they like. But it looks better to present only a small quantity.

This is an excellent starter, fresh and appetizing-looking, but you can also make a main course of it if you are feeling fragile and only want raw vegetables, maybe accompanied with crusty bread and butter, or viande des grisons (thin cured beef slices). Or parma ham.

Bon appétit!

One French word: potage, a French recipe: potage poireaux/lentilles corail au colombo


Potage, masculine noun (le potage, un potage, des potages) = thick soup (pronounced paw-ta-j)

Lots of different words for soup: la soupe, le bouillon, le potage, le consommé, crème de… (cream of… for creamy soups), le bisque, le velouté, le brouet…

Mange ta soupe, ça te fera grandir is a favourite French expression (eat your soup to grow big and strong).

La Soupe (1865) by William Adolphe Bougereau

La soupe populaire = a soup kitchen

Potage comes from potager = the vegetable garden.

It was cold this morning here, very cold, there was a ground frost during the night, so I thought I’d make soup. I have no old potatoes left, new potatoes are already on the market stalls, so I used orange lentils instead to make a potage poireaux/lentilles corail.

You will need for 4 people:

  • One really large leek plus the tops off some smaller ones, or one large and one medium leek
  • 1tbs butter to sweat the leeks
  • 100gr orange lentils
  • 2 bouillon cubes and a litre of water, or a litre of home made stock if you have it
  • 1 scant level tsp of colombo powder or curry powder (colombo is a Jamaican mix of ground herbs and spices: chili pepper, mustard seeds, sweet chili,  coriander, garlic and curcuma. It is quite powerful but more aromatic than bought curry powder. Do not be tempted to put more. Its purpose is just to give a hint of “something else”, not be overpowering.

Preparation:

  1. Wash and chop the leeks and sweat gently in the butter.
  2. Add the rinsed lentils and stir until the leeks have softened.
  3. Add the colombo powder, the bouillon cubes and the water (or home made stock) and simmer for 20 minutes.
  4. Whizz to a smooth consistency.
  5. Serve with a dash of cream and a little chopped parsley or any other herb of your choice (in other words, whatever you have on hand – I used pourpier = purslane).

Soups are simple, quick to prepare and endlessly wholesome and comforting.

Bon appétit!

Guest appearance: Italian Food Forever (www.italianfoodforever.com)


Can I introduce you to one of my favourite food sites? Italian Food Forever (www.italianfoodforever.com) features real Italian food, robust and tasty, not usually frantically difficult, very satisfying. And beautiful photos:

Crispy potato ring, photo taken from http://www.italianfoodforever.com

The latest post is for crispy roasted potatoes for Easter:

http://www.italianfoodforever.com/2012/04/crispy-roasted-potato-spiral/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=crispy-roasted-potato-spiral

Try them and let me know what you think!

Buon appetito!

One French word: pois cassé, a French recipe: saucisse de Morteau aux pois cassés


Pois cassé, masculine noun (le pois cassé, des pois cassés) = a split pea (pronounced pwah cassay)

un pois (les pois, des pois) = pea; cassé = broken (from the verb casser, to break)

Un petit pois = a green pea, un pois chiche = a chick pea, un pois gourmand, or un pois mange-tout = a sugar snap pea, un pois de senteur = a sweetpea.

The ultimate comfort food (at least I think so), split peas as a vegetable or in soup, are useful pulses and a source of easily  digestible dietary fibre. They are also rich in protein, minerals and slow release sugars. They are cheap, and do not need soaking, so you don’t have to start to think about them a day ahead of time. They will cook in half an hour or so. As with other pulses, they should only be salted at the end of the cooking time or they will become tough.

Used in soup, they can be cooked alone or with onion,maybe using ham stock, and served either just like that, or with a topping made of fried crispy bacon bits and garlic.

My recipe, saucisse de Morteau aux pois cassés, uses them as a purée, a sort of a purée, in fact they are left just as they are when they are sufficiently cooked. Not to be confused with English “mushy peas”, not the same thing at all.

A word about saucisse de Morteau: this is a chunky, smoked, regional French pork sausage from the town of Morteau in the Doubs region, eastern France. It is usually boiled whole and served with sauerkraut, or mashed potato. I doubt that outside France you will find one. For French readers, Leclerc’s range “Nos Régions ont du Talent” do an excellent one, photographed here. A good Polish smoked sausage will do the trick as a substitute elsewhere.

Instead of boiling the sausage, I have cut thick slices and fried them, using no extra grease whatsoever in the pan. The sausage is rather fatty, and this method of frying creates crispy slices and you will be surprised at the amount of grease it releases in the pan (rather than going into your stomach).

For two to three people you will need:

  • one Saucisse de Morteau, or smoked Polish sausage (about 4 cm across, 20cm long)
  • 300gr of split peas
  • salt, pepper

Preparation:

  1. Wash and pick over the split peas to ensure there are no little stones left in them.
  2. Place them in a large saucepan with four times their volume of water.
  3. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat (they boil over easily and make a terrible mess) and simmer for about half an hour, testing regularly to see whether they are soft.
  4. When soft, add a little salt, stir and cook for a further two minutes.
  5. Do not drain, serve directly from the saucepan with a holey spoon. Any remaining peas and water can be used for soup the next day.
  6. In the meantime (ten minutes before the peas are ready), cut the sausage into slices 1 to 1½cm thick and fry briskly in a non stick pan until browned and crispy.
  7. Serve the slices of fried sausage with a generous helping of split peas.
  8. Adjust the seasoning and add a little freshly ground pepper.

Bon appétit!

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