guacamole

It’s not particularly French, but I did make this for the first time on holiday. So it joins the French-in-English-kitchen revival, even if it is slightly out of place! Guacamole is an incredibly refreshing dip – it’s a perfect accompaniment to salsa and tortilla chips for a snack, or with spiced fish or burritos for a meal. It doesn’t keep for very long, but it’s so tasty that it’ll probably be gone before it even begins to brown…

Ingredients

  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 1 large tomato
  • 1 medium sized lime
  • 1 green chili, finely sliced
  • A handful of chopped coriander
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Method  

  1. On a chopping board, dice the tomato. Then, using the side of a large knife, crush the tomato cubes until they are pulverised. Push the crushed tomato into the serving bowl, and set aside.
  2. Slice the guacamole around the middle stone – start at one end and slice vertically until the knife meets its starting point. Take the two sides of the guacamole and twist to separate them. If not serving the guacamole straight away, reserve the stone.
  3. Use a spoon to scrape the flesh of the avocado into the serving bowl alongside the tomato. Season, and use a fork to mash the ingredients together.
  4. Add the thinly sliced chili and coriander and stir in. Slice the lime in half and squeeze in the juice of one of the halves. Stir and taste – if necessary, add the juice of the remaining slice.
  5. Serve with a slice of lime for garnish, seasoning again before serving. Enjoy!
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lamb with cous-cous

Cous-cous is a really handy thing to have in your cupboard. Considered ‘the‘ traditional dish of North Africa, its wide geographical spread across the continent (especially to Morocco and Algeria, where it is known as a national culinary staple) has contributed to its popularity in the West; a result of both cultural assimilation and the increase in travel abroad. Its arrival in the West ought to be celebrated perhaps far more than it is, taking advantage of its versatility as an ingredient without the labour intensity undertaken by traditional producers of cous-cous. In its North African home, cous-cous is made by rolling semolina with water to form the fine, recognisable grains of cous-cous before steaming; whilst most of this is now done by machinery, the previous production by hand conjures amazing images of individuals sitting around for days rolling the semolina in huge batches. Our ability to buy a strand of cous-cous that is ready in a matter of minutes with the addition of only boiling water provides us with a speedier, and healthier, alternative to other carbohydrates such as pasta and rice. And for those reasons we definitely ought to use it more than we do!

It is the cooking process of cous-cous that provides us with a frame for flavour that pasta and rice either do not, or cannot, to the same extent. Whereas a pasta and rice accompaniment will give a plain component to the meal that is complementary whilst ensuring the main focus of the dish remains on the spaghetti, or curry, for example, cous-cous is cooked by, as afore mentioned, the absorption of water. This means that although plain water can be used and the cous-cous serves as a speedier alternative, stock from the dish can too be utilised, manipulating the cous-cous to serve as a tastier alternative as it too shares the flavours of the main dish. In this recipe, the cous-cous absorbs the reduced stock (which has simmered with lamb, garlic, onion and the seasonings), topped up with boiling water and finished with both lemon juice and zest. Fluffing the grains through with all of these fantastic flavours leaves only one question – who is the star of this dish? Arguably, it is the cous-cous.

Ingredients (serves two) 

  • 4 lamb chops
  • Smoked paprika
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely sliced
  • ½ bell pepper, cut into squares
  • ½ red onion, sliced
  • Zest and juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 cup of cous-cous to 1.5 cups of liquid
  • 250ml vegetable stock
  • Fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

Method

  1. Lightly pierce the skin of the lamb chops, and season with some smoked paprika and some salt. Heat a small amount of oil in a large frying pan, and sautee the chops until beginning to brown on both sides. Add the onion and garlic, until soft and golden.
  2. Stir in the pepper squares, and fry for a further few minutes until soft.
  3. Add a further sprinkling paprika, and season with black pepper. Pour over the vegetable stock, and add a lid. Turn the heat down to low, and simmer for fifteen minutes until it has reduced.
  4. Lift the lamb chops out of the pan once the sauce has reduced, and keep warm on a plate.
  5. Take the pan off the heat, and add the cous-cous. Top up the simmered stock with boiling water if necessary, and add a good squeeze of lemon juice. Replace the lid on the pan.
  6. Allow the cous-cous to absorb the water, and then add some butter and stir through to ensure the grains don’t stick together!
  7. Fluff through chopped parsley after the butter, and some lemon zest.
  8. Nestle the lamb chops against the cous-cous once served, and squeeze over some more lemon juice and sprinkled parsley.

black bean chili with chocolate and lime

Yesterday it poured with rain, and today it is brilliantly sunny. The weather really influences the food I desire – when it is cold and miserable outside, I want something in the evening to make me feel like being cooped up inside isn’t so bad after all. So yesterday, this Black Bean Chili was a fine example of the type of warming hearty dish you’d long for when you’re in need of comfort, because it’s just not that nice outside.

I’ve wanted to try to make a Black Bean Chili for ages. Although it’s not particularly any different to a normal chili con carne in terms of flavour, I wanted to see the textural differences between beans and the usual mince component. After the success (and personal enjoyment) of the spaghetti bolognese using lentils and beans last term, I thought this would be similarly tasty! The black beans are soft to bite, which means as a comfort meal, it has an element of indulgence, as essentially it doesn’t require much strength to chew! Moreover, the beans soak up the flavours of the spices – the chili powder and the smoky paprika make an excellent combination, that is flavoursome throughout the dish in comparison to a usual chili, where the flavours only usually reside in the sauce.

The thing that sets this aside from a meat chili con carne for me, however, is the addition of cocoa powder and the topping with lime juice. Hearing about both of these accompaniments to chili con carne, I couldn’t wait to try them out. Whilst I was initially sceptical about using chocolate in a spicy dish, I was brought round to the idea by seeing the popularity of items such as chili chocolate – if chili/chocolate is a combination that can be enjoyed where chocolate is the main staple, chili/chocolate must surely work where there is a hint of chocolate amongst a wealth of warming spice. In actual
fact, the use of cocoa powder gives a depth and a richness that I haven’t really tasted elsewhere! It doesn’t taste at all sweet, but the sauce takes on a new consistency, appearing more like velvet; something I am sure must come from the chocolate. The lime squeezed on the chili before serving gives a refreshing zesty tang to the beginning of the dish. As it is not stirred throughout, its citrus tones are not lost in the dish; it stays as an accompaniment that is authentic, as limes are used frequently in Mexican dishes, such as guacamole. Together, they give an excellent spin on the usual chili con carne that I was previously unaware of, but from now on, will be using with regularity. So for those, like me, experiencing strange day-on-day-off weather, combat the rainy blues with a helping of this comforting chili.

Ingredients

  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • Button mushrooms, halved
  • Half an orange pepper, chopped
  • Half a yellow pepper, chopped
  • 400g tin of black beans, drained and thoroughly rinsed
  • Small tin of kidney beans
  • 400g tinned tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp of tomato puree
  • 4 tsps chili powder
  • 2 tsps smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder
  • Juice of a lime to taste, squeezed before serving

Method

  1. Place a saucepan over a medium heat, and add a drizzle of oil. Fry the chopped onion until it begins to soften, and then add the crushed garlic cloves. When the garlic becomes fragrant in the pan, add the peppers and mushrooms and fry until the peppers begin to soften.
  2. Sprinkle in the chili powder and the paprika, and stir to coat all the ingredients in the spices. Allow to fry for a few moments further, before adding the drained and rinsed beans and the tomatoes.
  3. Stir in the tomato paste, and the tin of kidney beans. Bring to the boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Add the cocoa powder, and stir well.
  4. Place a lid on the saucepan, and heat through for thirty minutes until the sauce has thickened and reduced.
  5. Accompany with rice, and a fresh salad for garnish. Before serving, squeeze the lime juice over the dish, to add zesty freshness! If desired, top with grated cheese.