Thursday, February 18, 2010

Turkish Turquoise .....

Greg and Lucy Malouf have written a few cookbooks, all influenced by the Middle East and North Africa. From what I’ve read Greg grew up in Australia with his Lebanese parents. His childhood exposure to the rich culinary wonders of this region explains his love affair with this part of the world and its cuisine. Greg and Lucy were at one time married, however are now divorced but continue to collaborate when it comes to authoring these wonderful books. Their titles include Saha, Arabesque and Moorish.

When flicking through their cookbooks, you get a feeling that you are actually reading their personal travel diaries, featuring intimate accounts of their adventures complimented by exquisite photography and a recipe or two! Their books provide a wonderful insight into the delights of countries that are often shrouded in mystery, intrigue and in more recent time’s political controversy. The authenticity makes for books that aren’t necessarily your 'mid-week go to' type cookbooks. However, the recipes are well put together and the recipe I’ve chosen this week is from their Turkish delight: Turquoise.

I fell in love with Turquoise as Istanbul is one of the cities on my ‘top 5 places to visit’ list, and this book has lovely section on Istanbul. On page 268 there is a recipe for Puf Borek with cheese and dill - basically crescent shaped pastries that are filled with feta, parmesan and dill.

The real genius of the recipe (in my opinion) is actually the rich Greek/Natural yoghurt pastry. The yoghurt provides a rich, substantial foundation for this flaky pastry and its sourness provides a nice contrast to the salty combination of feta and parmesan filling.

100g thick Greek/Natural yoghurt
125g melted butter (at room temperature)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 free range egg
220g self-raising flour, sifted
Pinch of sea salt
Finely grated zest of half a lemon

Combine the yoghurt and melted butter, with an electric mixer followed by the egg. Tip in the flour, salt and zest and mix for 5 minutes until silky and soft. Cover and refrigerate for an hour, allowing to firm up.
You then knead and work the dough into a ball, dividing into 2 equal sized portions that can then be further divided into numerous equal portions. I decided to make 4 large Pufs initially. I would recommend that you be the guide as to how many you want to achieve by adjusting the size of each puf. (Bigger for picnics – smaller for canap├ęs etc).

Combine 200g feta, ½ cup finely grated parmesan, 1 small onion (grated), 1/3 cup of chopped dill, 1 free range egg, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, zest of half a lemon and black pepper, until smooth.
Your aim is to finish with circles of pastry that can be filled, then folded into a half moon shape, ready for frying or baking – I baked mine on 180 degrees for about 25 minutes.
I serverd the Puf's as a light lunch with a bottle of Rose Moet & Chandon Champagne, and the end result was simply put - Superb!


Monday, February 08, 2010

Where MY heart is......

A few years ago I begged my Mum and Dad to send me a copy of Karen Martinis book ‘Where the heart is’. I somehow heard about the book and became obsessed with getting a copy. In a gesture of true parental love Mum and Dad bundled up a box full of Aussie chocolates, cotton treats (…bonds...) with a copy of this book and for a ridiculous amount of money posted it here to me in the UK.

It’s a beautiful book with many Italian inspired recipes and the kind of food photography that make you instantly hungry. Martini manages to convince the reader that she genuinely cooks from her heart and her recipes are unfussy yet deliver intense, substantial results. I chose a green bean recipe from her book and got way more than I bargained for as it delivered not only a perfect accompaniment to beef and red wine, but also a nostalgic trip down memory lane.

When I was a child my grandparents had a beach house in a tiny costal town in the North Island of New Zealand. This was where I spent my summers, indulged as the only grandchild of two people brimming with love. My cousins lived in the house next door, giving our summers a communal flavour. We spent carefree days swimming in the ocean and running up and down long stretches of sand, followed by fish and chips for lunch and nights in sleeping bags under the stars.

My Aunt Brigitte (by marriage) was English and her family well travelled. Through my 7 year old eyes they seemed to be familiar with the whole world. My cousins would tell childlike stories of exotic places they had been and I would drink them up enthusiastically propelling myself into the future when I too would get to visit those places.

Meals always featured fresh vegetables that had been procured from nearby farms or gardens. A common roadside feature along that particular stretch of New Zealand was makeshift stalls where people would sell fresh fruit and vegetables to passers-by. My favourites back then were green beans, and they are still my green vegetable of choice. I loved my grandmothers’ routine for preparation. She would sit down in front of the telly, with a bag of beans and top and tail each bean, letting the discarded tops and tails fall onto newspaper that had been carefully spread on the floor below. The pruned beans were collected in a pot that was half full of water in preparation for cooking, and every now and again I would steal small handfuls of them, as if I were stealing sweets.

I specifically remember one meal where Brigitte made a dish of green beans in delicious tomato sauce, and I remember thinking that it was one of the best things I had ever eaten. I can’t remember what we ate with it, nor can I remember anything else about that meal, yet I have thought about that dish often over the years, wondering what she put in it that made it so good. I’ve tried to recreate it a few times. Sadly, it always ended in disappointment.

However, when I tried Karen Martinis ‘Twice cooked green beans’ I was immediately propelled back in time to that wide eyed 7 year old girl, with dark brown skin and thick kiwi accent, to whom life was literally a beach holiday filled with laughter and fun with my cousins, love from my grandparents and the best green beans I had ever eaten!!

Twice Cooked Green Beans.

Cook 200g of green beans in a generous amount of hot vegetable oil for 2 minutes. Then drain on Kitchen paper.

In hot olive oil cook 1 large brown onion (chopped), 3 bay leaves, 2 cloves of garlic (crushed) and 1 chilli(chopped) for about 5 minutes. Then stir in 2 tablespoons of caster sugar, and 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar, salt and pepper (to taste), followed by a cup of tomato passata. Simmer for a further 3 minutes and then mix the green beans through the passata mixture.