Saturday, 31 July 2010

Litchis cinnamon fairy cakes

Several weeks ago I wrote an article dedicated to litchis.

It started when friend of mine came over with a basket of pretty in pink sweet litchis. I have always been quite indifferent about them but their eye ball- like texture and sweet rosiness gave me inspiration. I decided to take the challenge, and go where no litchi has taken me before. I had to stock up and my first stop was at the farmers market, where, laid on the table was a stack of litchis still holding on to the branches as if their lives depended on it. They were big and plump and when I popped one in my mouth I experiences an explosion of taste. I took a batch with me but they were so good none were left. Once again I headed to the market and bought even more litchis. Once I was properly stocked it was time for work.

The result, as is often the case, took over my fridge, keeping a steady level of my daily litchi intake for a good few days.

This recipe did not make it into the article but instead I made these cakes of gooey goodness when I opened the refrigerator door only to find lots more litchis that needed using up.

Crumbly and moist, these sweet cakes are small yet lethal. Blind folded, you could be standing in the middle of a rose garden, eating a sticky toffee pudding.

Litchis cinnamon fairy cakes

Fairy cakes recipe adapted from here

Makes 12 small cakes or 6 large ones.


85g unsalted butter, softened

¾ cup golden caster sugar

1 medium egg

140g self-raising flour, sifted

¼ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp cinnamon

1 Tbs honey or maple syrup

100 ml milk, to mix (you might not need it all)

6 raw litchis, peeled with the stoned removed and chopped

Line a fairy cake or muffin tin with cases, and heat the oven to 180C.

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.

While continuing to mix, drizzle the egg in gradually, adding a tablespoon of flour if the mixture looks like it's about to curdle.

Combine the flour and baking powder, and then gently fold into the mixture. Add just enough milk to bring the batter to a dropping consistency.

Gently fold the honey and chopped litchis.

Divide the mixture between the cases: if you prefer flat-topped cakes, then just cover the bottom of the cases, if not, you can half-fill them.

Bake for 20 minutes, and then turn out on to a rack to cool.

Top with Caramelized litchis, see recipe below.

Alternatively mix icing sugar with enough boiling water to make a thick paste, then smooth over the cooled cakes, and add decorations before it sets.

Eat quickly or freeze, tightly wrapped.

Caramelized litchi candy


1 cup unrefined cane sugar

1 cup water

15 fresh litchis, peeled, stone removed and halved

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Place the sugar and water in a saucepan.

Add 4-5 litchis, stir and bring to a boil.

At this stage you can also add cinnamon and/ or chopped red chilli pepper, if you like.

Reduce the heat and cook over a gentle simmer for about 30 minutes, until the syrup has thickened.

Place the raw litchi halves in a roasting tray and pour the sugar syrup over them.

Bake for 1 hour, then reduce the oven temperature to 160°C.

Bake for a further 2-3 hours, brushing the sugar syrup over the litchis, and gently stirring them so that they all caramelize evenly, every 30 minutes or so.

Allow to cool.

The caramelized litchis and syrup can be used as an ice cream topping, served over cake or with an aged cheese.

They may also be added to a fairy cake batter.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Summer Salmorejo

The heat and humidity capture the essence of what July means. It is the downside to ripe red tomatoes, sweet grapes, and quivering lychees. Cool and refreshing, summer has pushed me into a raw food eating corner.

I was first introduced to Salmorejo on the eve of the Eurovision contest finale last year. We had a gathered for a viewing and each came bearing a national symbol, for an international buffet. The UK was cucumber sandwiches, Japan- sushi, the US - chocolate chip cookies, boiled peanuts and an OTT whipped cream layer cake. Elisa brought the Salmorejo; a cold tomato soup, it is related to Gaspacho, but is thicker, and made using only tomatoes and commonly served with chopped up hard-boiled egg and jamon Serrano sprinkled on top.

I am preparing the soup on a hot day, standing in the kitchen and sweating as my thoughts drift to quantum physics and I cannot help but ponder where is my life heading, what the future holds and is it all coming together or falling apart. This is all about the tomatoes. No mediators, no obstructions or distractions of any kind. Only fragrant ripe sweet tomatoes with a hint of garlic and the juiciness of cold pressed olive oil.

The original recipe did not ask for it but I peeled the tomatoes before I added them, which resulted in a bonus by-product; crisp tomato skins.

Update: just cooked a wad of oven dried, then lightly fried okra in the Salmorejo and served it on a bowl of fluffy white rice. A drizzle of whole sesame tahini on top and every day can transform to a holy day.


This recipe was adapted from Casa Moro, the second cookbook.

(Serves 4)

2 garlic cloves

1 kg sweet ripe tomatoes, peeled (instructions below) and halved

100g white bread, crust removed, roughly crumbled

10 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

2 Tbs good quality sweet red wine or balsamic vinegar

Smoked paprika, hot or sweet, to taste

Sea salt, to taste

Freshly ground whit pepper, to taste

To serve:

2 eggs

finely chopped Jamon Serrano (optional)

To peel the tomatoes:

Using a sharp knife, lightly score the base of the tomatoes with a small "X" shaped cut.

Plunge the tomatoes in a pan of boiled water for no longer the 10-15 seconds. Use a slotted spoon to remove the tomatoes from the water and carefully peel away the skins with your fingers. Keep the skins in a small bowl and set aside for the crisps (recipe below).

Crush the garlic in a mortar and pestle with a god pinch of salt until you have a smooth paste.

Using an emulsifier of a food processor puree the tomato halves and bread until completely smooth.

With the machine still running add the garlic and slowly pour in the olive oil. When the oil has combined, transfer the mixture to a large bowl and add the vinegar, smoked paprika, salt and pepper to taste.

The consistency of the soup should be like that of an apple puree. Add some water if necessary.

Place the bowl in the fridge for 2 hours to chill.

To make the hard boiled eggs place them in a saucepan and add enough cold water to cover them by about 1cm. Bring the water up to simmering point, and put the timer on for 7 minutes.

Cool the eggs rapidly under cold running water; let the cold tap run over them for about 1 minute, then leave them in cold water till they're cool enough to handle.

Set aside.

Before serving peel the eggs and chop finely.

Just before serving check the seasoning once more, then ladle the soup into 4 bowls and sprinkle with chopped egg on top.

You can also use this soup as a sauce for grilled aubergines or as a pizza base.


Piquant tomato skin crisps

These are great as a light snack or sprinkled above salads or rice.

Left over tomatoes skins

Extra virgin olive oil

Smoked paprika, hot or sweet, to taste

Sea salt, to taste

Freshly ground whit pepper, to taste

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 100°C.

Spread the tomato skin on the parchment, arranged in a single layer.

Drizzle a little olive oil and sprinkle the sea salt, ground pepper and smoked paprika.

Bake for 1 - 1½ hours and allow to cool completely.

The crisps will keep in an airtight container for several days.

Note: You can also play around with the seasoning. Try using balsamic vinegar or soy sauce.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Cinnamon, Plum and Almond Brunsviger

I’m hot. It’s all I can think about. It’s all that I feel. I’m so hot the thought of espresso in the morning makes my stomach turn. I skip it and so I get to walk around with a headache all day. It’s a lose-lose situation on top of a scorching heat and a chocking humidity. This leaves me chasing the cool blessed air of the environmentally damaging, resource abusive, financially burdening air-con system. From my flat to the café, directly to the bus, in the car or at the shops. This is no way to live. Going out in midday is a close as it gets to the scene in “Total Recall”, when the governor of California commands to “give these people air”.

But enough about the weather. Except, its too hot to be cooking. The only think I can conceive to cook are raw salads, fruit salads, cold noodle salads, and cold soup. At one point in the past few weeks my freezer was a vessel for 3 types of ice cream and 2 varieties of granita.

It’s not all bad. I’m enjoying the best lychees I’ve had in years, candy sweet mangoes, concentrated Muscat grapes, plums, peaches and nectarines. I recently made a cinnamon plum confiture, but it was standing idly on the fridge shelf with no real purpose to fulfil. Until I found good use for it in the shape of a light sweet yeast summer pastry. I prepared the Brunsviger dough and used it as a neutral base. This was topped with the reduced plums, their bloody juices, cinnamon, sugar and sliced almonds. This is a cross between a brioche and a focaccia; mildly sweet, fluffy, dough I could almost lay my head on, topped with sweet and sour caramelized plums. That’s summer right there, baked and compressed into an intense edible rectangle.

Its worth the sweat.

Cinnamon Plums and Almonds Brunsviger

(This is no longer a Brunsviger as such, but until I come up with a better name, it’ll do).

8- 10 slices


1 ¾ cup unbleached all purpose flour

¼ cup Durum wheat semolina

2 Tbs Sugar

A pinch of salt

75 grams cold, good-quality butter

140 ml lukewarm milk

25 grams fresh yeast


¾ plum compote

Alternatively, you could use freshly sliced plums

4 Tbs granulated sugar

½ Tbs Cinnamon

1/3 cup almond slices

In a bowl, mix the flour, semolina, sugar and salt.

Cut the butter into small squares, add to the flour mixture and work it with your hands until the dough reaches the consistency of sawdust. Add the yeast into the lukewarm milk, stir it and pour into the dough.

Knead the dough well and add a little flour if it is too sticky to handle.

Cover the dough with a cloth and place in a warm place to proof for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200°C and line a brownie tray with a baking sheet.

Roll the dough out onto the tray and stretch it into place with your fingers. Dimple the dough and pour the cooked plums and their cooking juices.

Sprinkle the sugar, then the cinnamon and lastly, the almond slices.

Bake for 25 minutes. You will know its ready when the crust is golden and you wont be able to ignore the sweet smell of baked yeast.

Remove the bake from the tray and allow cooling before serving.

Slice and serve fresh with coffee.

The Brunsviger can be pre-sliced, tightly wrapped and kept in the freezer. before serving, defrost in the oven.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Food, power & meaning

Cilantro. You either hate it or love it. Alongside Marmite, the Mediterranean culinary herb is as famously celebrated as it is detested, regardless of age, gender, class or race. Recently, however, it made the headlines in connection with a different kind of controversy. It had been on a list of banned foodstuffs, part of the ongoing sanctions on the Gaza strip, for quite a while. It is still a mystery as to why decision makers declared the dominant herb as warfare: was it a security threat? Perhaps a luxury product? A personal vendetta against the herb itself?

Either way, the ban on both cilantro and coriander seeds has now been lifted, and regional dishes may once again retain their true flavours.Being deprived of cilantro as part of the conflict could have been the perfect metaphor had it not been a local reality, highlighting the relevancy for a discussion on and through food. Against this backdrop, of an on going Israeli Palestinian conflict and banned herbs an international conference titled “Food, power & meaning in the middle east and the Mediterranean” took place at the university of Beer- Sheva last month. The conference was organized by the department of Anthropology and provided the rare opportunity to research, explore and discuss local matters from a food perspective. Invited speakers, guests and listeners arrived from all corners of the globe, sharing a passion for food, speaking a culinary dialect, and hungry for its meaning; anthropologists, geographers, researchers, students, lawyers, therapists, gastronomes and chefs were all present.

Beer Sheba in itself made for an interesting choice of venue with regards to food, power & meaning. It is the largest city in an arid stretch of land known as the Negev, an area settled by the Israelites back in biblical times. Today the population is made up largely of a Jewish immigrant community from both Ethiopia and the former USSR, as well as the Bedouin population, or, as is often referred to, the ‘The Bedouin problem’. Bedouin tribes that previously inhabited the open desert, given herding rights by both the Ottomans and British rule were gradually forced by the Israeli rule to give up their nomadic lifestyle and settle down. This, in turn, has had an effect on the collective Bedouin identity, nomads, roamers and shepherds at the core of their existence. This has led to a rise in the level of crime and violence, the cause for which often ignored.

Walking through the narrow passages of the local central market, passing through vegetable stalls, butcheries, desert fishmongers, ethnic spice shops and dry goods stores revealed the full complexity of the local social structure and internal social hierarchies.

The breadth and scope of the topics discussed throughout the conference included food & power in the media and arts, historical perspectives, civil society, food regulation, a national culinary identity, religion and class, to name but a few.

In recent times the controversial Hummus has also come to headline the issue of food, meaning and power in the region. With a Hummus front line between Israel and Lebanon showing no signs of slowing down, the coronation of the dense paste as the ‘National dish’ was discussed in depth.

In addition to lectures, panels and discussions the conference included several ‘food themed’ tours. One of which was a visit to the small town of Dimona, 22 miles south of Beer Sheba, to an eco- commune equipped with environmental preachers, a sustainable gospel and a vegan restaurant.

Home to the African Hebrew Israelite community, we arrived there for a vegan cooking workshop, dinner and a lecture hosted and presented by Sar Elyakim Ben Yehuda, a “Minister of the people and redemptive scholar” as printed on his business card. The Hebrew Israelites believe they are the decedents of the ten lost tribes that ended up in Africa, and later sold to slavery and shipped to America. They arrived in Israel from the US, after a ‘cleansing’ sojourn in Liberia in 1969, a year after Martin Luther King’s famous “I see the promised land” speech, making a clear reference to the biblical story of the Israelites exodus from Egypt. Upon arrival, 40 years ago, the state ruled them out as Jews, thus they were denied citizenship and consequently any social services. It was only last year that the first member of the community awarded an Israeli citizenship. Their unique lifestyle is an amalgam of their interpretation to biblical texts (not recognizing interpretations by rabbinical Jewish texts) and the African American civil rights movement. Food is very much at the heart of the community, reflecting their heritage and beliefs.

As we sat in a fluorescent lit dining hall, and enjoyed a vegan tofu curry, fried seitan and green leaves, Ben Yehuda told us of the community’s vegan diet and their ecological lifestyle, the collection of local heirloom seeds gathered for the past 40 years and their religious dietary practices. These include a fast on the seventh day of the week, and a regime of raw food for weeks each year. They utilize the scorching heat of the desert sun to sundry their food and even invented a solar cooker.

Food, power & meaning are all interlinked. One cannot discuss the subject of food in the Middle East without discussing power and meaning. Yet it is precisely the lack of discussion that is missing, the results of which are echoed in local reality. The conference, like a shared meal, created an atmosphere of commensality, and a platform for the exchange of thoughts and ideas on different aspects of food in the region. Being the storyteller, mirror and communicator that it is, food proved its ability to do so in a relevant, accurate and distilled form. A powerful tool that can help better understand many of the hows and the whys.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Where to eat in London

Several weeks ago I was in London for my traditional annual visit. I have too much history with the city marking different periods in my life, for me to turn my back to her (yes, ‘her’). Every year I head out with a list, notions and ideas of where I want to go, and what I cannot miss. Sometimes I cross through everything, on other occasions I give things a miss. With every year that passes I grow older, I change as does London, as does my list. It used to be all about galleries, and buildings, architecture and art. The past few years markets, specialty shops and restaurants have replaces these, along with the transitions I went through. No need for cynicism on mentioning London with food. This is a serious metropolis and it has a lot, of everything, for everyone, all the time. As a food lover, my experience has taught me there is good food everywhere, you just need to look. This post should also be of assistance if you’re lost, hungry and in Londonium.

Having spent between a ¼ to a 1/5 of my life in London, I have several things to show for it. A rather convincing accent for a start. Several academic titles and many good, affordable places to eat all sorts of cuisines, suitable for all sorts of occasions.

I finally decided to sit down and write some of them down. Behold, my complete and unabridged London culinary list.

Dim sum

On a dessert island I will be just fine with me a steaming cart of dim sum. An endless variety of bite sized bundles of joy is perfect for a life of sun, sea and sand.

Yauatcha do good dim sum, and the good thing is they serve it for dinner. If you want to spend less and eat dim sum at the traditional hours, I always end up at “harbour city” in china town.

Yauatcha, 15-17 Broadwick Street. Soho, London, W1F 0DL

Harbour city, 46 Gerrard Street, London, W1D 5QH

A proper curry

I used to go to “Bangla town” on Brick Lane, for its large mural of Princess Diana. Recently I visited Khan's , which was also good.

Pastry, coffee, colourful fresh food

Ottolenghi, Ottolenghi, Ottolenghi.

‘nough said.

If you need more said, here is a good overview.

Melrose & Morgan

A lovely grocery shop and kitchen specializing in local and seasonal produce and dishes. Everything here is good.

Afternoon tea

Quintessential, an absolute must do on any list, I have failed to achieve this feat myself. But its on the list, and has been for quite a while.



Borough market

It is quite embarrassing, but I discovered this market on my last day, after 6 years living in London. It has been a regular stop on consequent visits. The market is open Thursday to Saturday, the latter being the busiest. It has stalls offering local and global goods, from traditional pork pies to Lavender from Provence, Italian olive oil, Spanish chorizo and Dutch cheeses. look out for the white strawberries and be sure to queue for a fried chorizo sarnie.

Marylebone farmers market

In an area behind Marylebone road, that serves as a parking lot throughout the week, this Sunday only market is a hidden gem. There is fresh local produce as well as mouth watering food stands. It may be a Sunday morning, but the large casseroles of chicken in bubbling sauce are cooking away and fresh fish, seafood and shellfish are waiting abd ready to be fried to order.

Broadway market

I usually try to hit markets early in the morning. The produce is fresh, the aisles are empty and I have all the time in the world to stroll, sense and sample the goods. At the early hours the market is dominated by the vendors, before the customers have arrived, and the atmosphere is different. Private.

Broadway market’s location requires intention and careful attention otherwise you’ll never make it here. It is a sharp contrast to the hecticness of Borough market, but it could be that I arrived here earlier then most…

Columbia road flower market

This tiny street in the back of Brick lane is east London at its best; tiny Victorian terrace houses set the scene on Sunday, when, instead of cars flowers, herbs, pots and plants take over. Its busy and you cant move, but everything is in bloom and full colour. Dont miss Lee's seafood (no. 134) world-famous fried tiger prawns and calamari which have been a market staple every Sunday for over 15 years. More info on their website.

Specialty food shops

Selfridges food hall

If I had a church, this would be the London branch. There are a number of food halls in London, and this may not be the largest, richest or best, but it is my favourite. The abundant choice of chocolate, confectionary and pastries, hundreds. The Salt beef bar is a good place to stop for a light lunch in between shopping. You want to order a salt beef on rye bread with mustard and a gherkin. When you are done walk towards the Krispy Kreme stand and order a doughnut or two. Then, slowly turn and away, and whatever you do don’t look back. You want to leave room for dinner, this is only a light lunch.

Japan centre

I love this place. It’s the second best thing until my non-existent fantasy trip to Japan pans out. The front of the shop is a restaurant serving freshly prepared food, cold and warm. Walk through to the back in you are in Japan. They even have an online shop.

Fast food


I connect with food that’s honest, made from the best ingredients and that has the added value of an experience, as well as a nutritious meal. So a Mexican lunch in a wrap fit the bill.

Their website tells it all. Its fresh, its huge, its colourfull and happy and I couldn’t eat for another day.

Busaba Eathai

Communal tables, woody design, inexpensive and tasty. Its like a good Thai version of Wagamama...

I even love the fact there is no dessert (I do!), only Lemongrass tea with honey.

Busaba Eathai


Yes, cheese.

A good place to start is Neals yard dairy. They specialize in British cheeses and have shops in covent garden and Borough market as well as stalls in several markets, so there is really no excuse not to pop in and try a good cheddar. Their online shop also provides a good resource on cheese varieties.

La fromagerie is another specialty cheese shop, with a large variety of cheeses from the UK and Europe. The cheese room is part of a food shop and a café for full immersion.

This is it so far. I’ve kept a few secrets venues to myself, as I cannot give everything away, but this should be enough to make for a scrumptious food trip.

If you have any tips and recommendations I am always on the lookout for more new treasures.