A Good Vegetarian Curry

Lentil, pea and potato curry

Lentil, pea and potato curry

I first made this lentil, pea and potato curry about ten years ago when I was trying to teach myself to cook vegetarian meals beyond my usual repertoire of Quorn spaghetti bolognaise (from a jar) and pasta with roasted pepper (from a jar).  You can see a theme appearing here.  I have not always cooked, you see.

Since then, however, I have probably made this curry a hundred times.  For me, it seems to be the answer to so many cooking conundrums:

Pressed for time?  Make the curry.
Skint?  Make the curry.
Under the weather? Make the curry.

As life in our glorious capital imposes one or more of these upon us frequently through our long working hours, extortionate rents and close proximities to our fellow commuters, you will not be surprised by the frequency at which it appears on my table.  This curry takes no more than 40 minutes from chopping the onion to putting the mango chutney on the side of your plate and ripping yourself a slice of naan bread, and there are no complicated processes to it whatsoever.  Many of the ingredients can be taken from the storecupboard, so, providing you have built up a fairly decent collection of spices, it will cost you very little to make.  I very often have red lentils and chopped tomatoes in the cupboard, an onion and a potato in the larder and some peas in the freezer, leaving me very little to buy.

By far, though, the best feature of this curry is that it heats up beautifully.  My husband has been home early from work almost every night this week, but usually he arrives home barely an hour before I have to go to bed.  I’d almost forgotten how nice it is to have him around in the evenings.  One of the challenges of being on different schedules is finding meals that can be eaten at two different points throughout the evening.  It’s not really practical for me to eat so late, so I have to cook something that can either be assembled and cooked quickly when he comes in (for who wants to cook after working that late?) or that can be heated up.  Not having a microwave is an additional challenge.  This curry heats up well in a pan, and even benefits from sitting around for a couple of hours to let the flavours develop.  With a bit of freshly-cooked rice and a naan, it is a stress-free late night dinner.

As far as failsafe dishes go, this curry is definitely one of mine.  Best eaten in winter.  This curry is both vegetarian and vegan.

Lentil, Pea and Potato Curry

Olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp chilli powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 2cm cubes
100g red lentils
400g tin chopped tomatoes
250ml coconut milk
250ml vegetable stock
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp salt
1 tsp brown sugar
150g frozen green peas
2 tbsp chopped coriander
1 tbsp lemon juice

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and gently cook the onion over a medium heat until soft and translucent – approximately 10 minutes.  Stir in the garlic, ginger, ground coriander, ground cumin, ground turmeric, chilli powder and ground cinnamon and cook for another couple of minutes.

Add the potato and red lentils and stir to coat.  Turn up the heat a little and add the chopped tomatoes, coconut milk, vegetable stock, garam masala, salt and brown sugar.  Stir well and bring to the boil, before lowering the heat and simmering for about 20 minutes, until the potato is tender.  Add the peas and cook for a further five minutes.

Remove from the heat and stir in the coriander and lemon juice.  Serve with rice and naan.

Adapted from a recipe by Meditterasian.

One Year Ago:  Fig, Ginger and Spelt Cake

Lamb Rogan Josh

Lamb rogan josh

Lamb rogan josh

Things have improved vastly in the past few days, so much so that I am writing this post from the number 12 bus on my way into the office.  My shoulder has almost completely recovered and the sun is shining in through the window.

Now I am no longer injured, I will be able to go ahead with my plan to go indoor climbing on Friday evening.  Wednesday was Ollie’s and my nine-year anniversary.  We decided a while ago to scrap this one as we now have a wedding anniversary to celebrate each June, but shortly after reconsidered and decided instead to use it as an opportunity to do something in London that we have never done before, something perhaps a bit crazy and off-the-wall.  So Friday you will find me scrambling up a wall in a disused biscuit factory in Bermondsey.  How I love making new traditions.

As well as this, I followed an old tradition of asking Ollie what he would like for dinner that evening.  Asking that of somebody who loves food so much often gets an unpredictable answer, but this time he said exactly what I expected him to say:  he wanted a curry.

Curries are so perfect for this time of year, not only because they are warming, but because autumn produce lends itself so well to being cooked in this way.  Take a little look at the Eat the Seasons blog and you’ll see listed there a number of vegetables, meats and fish just dying to be cooked up in spices.  I decided to make a lamb curry, as we had eaten two chicken dishes earlier in the week, and to make the most well-known lamb curry of all: the rogan josh.

The problem with making curry on a weeknight is that you need one that can be cooked in a relatively short time.  Unless you want to eat at 11pm, slow cooking or lengthy marinading is out – best to leave those for the weekend.  This recipe, based on one by Anjum Anand, manages to get a deep rich flavour without either of these processes.  Lamb leg meat is the best for this type of curry, but it can be pricey, so use neck fillet instead if you are watching the pennies.  The lamb is cooked first in the spices, and then cooked down in water several times to create a deep rich sauce.  The whole cooking time is no more than an hour and can easily be reheated.  Best eaten with a cold bottle of Brewdog‘s Punk IPA.

Lamb Rogan Josh

Vegetable oil
10 black peppercorns
10 cardamom pods
4 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 onion, finely chopped
500g lamb neck fillet
6 garlic cloves
1inch piece of ginger, peeled and quartered
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp ground fennel seeds
1½ tsp garam masala
Salt
2 tomatoes, pureed
3 tbsp natural yoghurt
Bunch fresh coriander, leaves only, chopped

Heat the vegetable oil in a very large saucepan and fry the peppercorns, cardamom pods, cloves and cinnamon for a couple of minutes until fragrant.  Add the onion and cook on a medium heat until translucent and starting to brown, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.

Add the lamb and cook for about five minutes until browned all over.

Puree the garlic cloves and ginger together in a food processor with a tablespoon of water until they come together in a rough paste.  Add to the lamb, stirring to coat, and cook for a further five minutes.

Stir in the ground coriander, ground cumin, cayenne pepper, ground fennel seeds, garam masala, salt, pureed tomatoes and yoghurt.  Reduce the heat to low and cover with a lid, cooking for 10 minutes.

Add 2-3 tablespoons of water to the mixture and cook on a medium heat for a further 8-10 minutes, stirring continually, until the sauce has thickened.  Add a little more water if the sauce begins to dry out.

Pour in enough boiling water to cover the lamb and bring to the boil.  Simmer for 10-15 minutes until the sauce is thick and the lamb is cooked and tender.

Serve with rice, naan, chutney and raita.

Serves 2-3.  Adapted from a recipe by Anjum Anand.

On Using Up What You Have

My, aren’t we a busy bee this week?  Seriously though, I have had so much to do I have barely had time to sit down, let alone write.  Mostly this has been to do with my job at a certain public service broadcaster, it’s awards season, don’t you know (dahling) and I have been super busy.  It’s not been all bad, though, at the weekend our dear friends Simon and Natalie came to visit us from Bristol and we had a weekend of mostly eating and drinking.  Saturday night was a Peckham extravaganza of pizza and wine at The Gowlett (Gowlettini, in case you’re interested), eye-poppingly strong pisco sours and keeping it real at Peckham Springs and then some gimlets and martinis at the Peckham Refreshment Rooms.  We would have gone on to Blow Up at The Bussey Building, had we not been too pissed.

On Sunday we took our tired selves up the East London Line to Hoxton for a hangover-busting lunch at MEATMission.  After talking the boys out of the Triple Chilli Challenge for the second time, we ordered (deep breath) Dead Hippie burgers, bingo wings, chilli cheese fries, currywurst, deep-fried pickles and a greek salad.  More on this later, but needless to say, I wondered if I would ever eat again.

Just one half of our feast at MEATMission

Just one half of our feast at MEATMission

In the interests of pacifying my bank balance and my waistline after such an indulgent weekend, I have been on a bit of a mission to make meals primarily out of what I have in the cupboards, fridge and freezer and buying just a few items to supplement this rather than a great big shop.  One of my new years’ resolutions (God, doesn’t that seem like a million years ago?!) was to reduce the amount of food waste in our household.  As the issue of food waste was given more coverage in the media, I began to notice that we did tend to throw a bit of food away.  Not huge amounts but often a wilted half-head of celery, a few slice of mouldy bread or some manky herbs would end up in the bin.  The main reason for this was that we would do a ‘weekly shop’ at the beginning of the week, allowing for meals for each lunchtime and evening, and would then end up going out for lunch or dinner on a whim, wasting some of the meals.  So since January, the big trips to the supermarket have ceased and I buy food only when I need it.  Saves money too.

I’ve also recently been thinking that our obsession with following recipes is partly to blame.  We not only have more access to recipes than ever before with an unprecedented number of cookbooks being released each year, a boom in food blogging and a number of recipe databases, such as those created by BBC Food and UKTV Food, we also have access to a wider range of recipes with our interest in global cuisine reaching further and further.  Wanting to follow recipes all of the time means that we end up buying more and more from the ingredients list to make specific dishes rather than focusing on what we have.  It was difficult to shift my focus, but I now look in the cupboards and think “what can I make with this” rather than look in a recipe book thinking “what do I need to make this.”  The results are sometimes experimental, but on the whole they are good.  At first I was apprehensive about using a mix of single cream and creme fraiche in my second batch of naan bread, rather than the specified yoghurt, but it all turned out OK.

Another wonderful outcome of this approach is that I rely less and less on the big supermarkets.  Let’s face it, nobody wants to trek to the Sainsbury’s Superstore to pick up a tin of lentils and a couple of red peppers, so I have been embracing local shopping a little bit more.  I am lucky enough to live in a part of London where the ethnic diversity is reflected in the type of shops we have available to us.  In Peckham there are Indian shops selling enormous bags of cheap spices, far better value than the little jars you get in supermarkets, a brilliant Persian shop, Persepolis, that sells anything and everything from the middle-east and two Chinese supermarkets.  There are also a number of vegetable stands where you can pick up a range of veg for next to nothing (I like the one right outside the entrance to Rye Lane station).  In East Dulwich there is the ‘triangle of love’ in the form of William Rose butchers, Moxons fishmongers and Le Cave de Bruno wine shop, destination of choice for a dinner party or lazy weekend dinner.  Brockley Market is a 20-minute bike ride away each Saturday and there is a new farmers market up in the Horniman Gardens in Forest Hill.  Of course, I still have to make the dash to the John Lewis food hall from time to time, if only to pretend that I’m one of those rich people that actually lives in central London. (OK, it’s a bit poncey, but it’s right next to my office).

Spinach and chickpea curry

Spinach and chickpea curry

This dish, otherwise known as ‘last night’s supper’ is an example of how to use up what you already have.  This is a spinach and chickpea curry made completely with items lurking in the flat.  There is a little exception here, as the spinach I had planned to use was ruined due to the fridge being up too high, so I had to make an emergency dash to Rye Lane for some fresh stuff.  The aforementioned grocer outside the station sells three bunches for a quid which, when you consider how much you pay in the supermarket, is a bargain.  Despite being a fridge-raid meal (or ‘storecupboard meal’, as my mum would say), it’s still a pretty decent little vegetarian curry in its own right.  If you do decide to make it, it’s best not to take the ingredients list too seriously.  Mix stuff up here and there, add things, subtract things, or use a different flavour paste.  Be a rebel.

Spinach and Chickpea Curry

  • 2 tbsp any old curry paste you have lurking about (I used Bhuna paste)
  • 1 onion, or a couple of shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tins chickpeas
  • 250g spinach (or two bunches from the man in Peckham)
  • Few drops lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper

In a large frying pan over a medium-high heat, fry the curry paste for a few minutes until it starts to separate.  Add the onions and reduce the heat, cooking them until soft and translucent – about another 5-10 minutes.  Increase the heat again and add the chopped tomatoes, cook for about five minutes, stirring regularly,  until the sauce has thickened slightly.

Add the chickpeas and cook for a couple more minutes.  Season and turn the heat down to low before adding the spinach, stirring until the leaves have wilted.  Stir in the lemon juice and serve with whatever you have in the kitchen (fortunately, I had a load of basmati rice in the cupboard and two peshwari naans in the freezer – win).

Adapted from a recipe by BBC Good Food.  Serves Four.

Peshwari Naan

Peshwari naan

Peshwari naan

I am not, nor will I ever be, one of those wondrous people who get up early on a Saturday and go running in the park.  I sometimes see them, heading down towards Peckham Rye in their lycra whilst I am walking, bleary-eyed, to the local cafe for coffee and bread (which will be taken straight back to bed) and wonder whether I should make my weekends more energetic.  This weekend, my main energies were focused upon drinking martinis in the wonderful Peckham Refreshment Rooms on Friday evening, then sitting outside the French Cafe in East Dulwich on Saturday afternoon with the Grand National on Radio 5 Live, shrieking as my 18-1 horse was first, and then second. Fortunately I had the good sense to bet each way.

I keep meaning to write up my several visits to the Peckham Refreshment Rooms, but I have left most of them in a bit of a gin-soaked haze, so have not yet got around to it.  It is quickly becoming one of my favourite places to go in the East Dulwich/Peckham/Camberwell locale.  Yes, the seating arrangements are not the most comfortable, especially if you have little legs like me (the stools are very high and very hard), but it really is a small price to pay.  The wine list is excellent and very reasonably priced, they have a small but perfectly formed cocktail menu, including a rather good martini, and the food is great.  Several trips to San Sebastian has made me fall in love with the Basque way of casual eating: lots of small plates ordered as-and-when you want them, rather than a whole meal.  With little morsels of speck with celeriac remoulade and plates of chunky toast ready to be spread with nduja, the Peckham Refreshment Rooms accommodates this beautifully.

Sunday was a day of writing and television catch-up, made all the better when I realised that there was a portion of Ollie’s slow cooked lamb shoulder curry in the freezer.  A quick defrost turned this into a majestic dinner indeed, needing an accompaniment a little more special than a supermarket microwave poppadom, so I decided to make some naan.  It would be lazy of me to say that naan bread is quick to make, as no breadstuff ever is, but once you have endured the kneading and proving process, they needs another ten minutes tops as they are simply cooked in a hot frying pan until they bubble and char.  The real beauty of naan bread is that it can be made in advance and then revived in the oven for a few minutes with a little brushing of ghee or sprinkling of water.  They also freeze well, so a batch can be slipped into a ziplock freezer bag and simply defrosted when needed.  Batch-baking at its very best (and quick, in a sense).

I have a very sweet tooth, so almost always opt for the peshwari naan.  I am partial to a hot curry and I find the sweetness of the coconut and almond inside the bread adds a different dimension that none of the other sides can.  The Indian restaurant that we usually order from sends pillowy naans that, when ripped open, spill out a huge amount of filling, which I later scoop up and sprinkle across the top of my curry.  This is the kind I want to make at home.

This recipe for peshwari naan is an amalgamation of two recipes.  The dough is Dan Lepard‘s Frying Pan Naan recipe from the brilliant Short and Sweet cookbook.  I have used this naan recipe several times before and it makes a really nice, sticky dough and, like everything I have made from that particular book, never fails.  The filling is taken from the British Indian Restaurant-style Peshwari Naan recipe by The Curry Guy.  If you haven’t visited his website before, it is an excellent resource for Indian cooking. 

The filling of coconut, almonds, sultanas and sugar is made into a stiff paste with a little single cream that can easily be rolled into a ball.  Once the dough has risen and has been separated into smaller pieces, it is wrapped around the balls of filling and then rolled flat with a rolling pin.  This creates a ‘pocket’ of filling within the bread and distributes it equally throughout.  The naans are then cooked in a frying pan over a hot heat until they bubble up, just a few minutes on each side.  They turn out so well, it is unlikely that I will be buying pre-packed naans for my home curries any longer.

Peshwari Naan

For the dough:

  • 100ml cold milk
  • 125g low-fat plain yoghurt
  • 50ml boiling water
  • 1 tsp fast action yeast
  • 300g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 50g wholemeal flour
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar

For the filling:

  • 2 tbsp desiccated coconut
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 175g flaked almonds
  • 4 tbsp sultanas
  • 45ml single cream

Start by making the dough.  In a large bowl stir together the milk, yoghurt and boiling water until smooth before stirring in the yeast.  Add the flours, bicarbonate of soda, salt and sugar and mix until a sticky dough forms.  Cover the bowl and leave for half an hour.

Flour a work surface and lightly knead the dough before returning to the bowl, covering and leaving to prove for one hour.

In the meantime, make the filling by combining all of the ingredients in a food processor and processing until a smooth paste forms, this may take a couple of minutes.  Press the paste into a ball (it should be the texture of a firm putty) wrap in clingfilm and set aside.  If you cannot get the texture right, you can adjust the ingredients, adding more almonds if the mixture is too wet, or more cream if it is too dry and does not come together.

Lightly flour the work surface and pat the dough into an oval, using your fingers to knock out any air bubbles that may have formed during proving.  Cut the dough into six equal pieces, these will be roughly the size of tennis balls.

Unwrap the filling and divide this also into six equal-sized spheres.  To fill the dough, flatten out a piece of dough in your hand and place a piece of filling on top.  Wrap the edges of the dough around the filling until completely enclosed.  Press any edges together to seal the filling in completely.  Carefully roll out the dough on a floured surface until it is the shape and size that you want.

Place a large frying pan over a high heat – do not add oil – then dry fry the naan bread until bubbles start to form on the surface, about 3-4 minutes.  Flip the naan bread over with a spatula and cook on the other side.  Transfer to a plate to cool.  Repeat this process with the other five pieces of dough and filling.

Fiery Mirchi Salmon Wrap

Fiery Mirchi Salmon Wrap using sauce from the Vini and Bal's range

Fiery Mirchi Salmon Wrap using sauce from the Vini and Bal’s range

This week, spring arrived in London.  Of course, none of us have yet had the courage to venture out of the house without our coats as the London weather has a tendency to surprise us with a little cold snap when least expected but, as the old wives’ tale goes, March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, so this is definitely a sign of good things to come.

Good weather and large lunches, for me, often go hand in hand.  With so many great places to eat around my office, and many with outside tables, there is no excuse for eating al desko, as I generally do throughout the whole of the winter.  Great Titchfield Street has been a hive of activity during lunch this week, with people sitting out on the street drinking coffee around the entrances of Kaffeine and Scandinavian Kitchen.  After work the crowds generally drift to the outside spaces of the nearby pubs.  This week I discovered Gitane, a lovely little middle eastern cafe that makes vibrant salads and beautiful-looking mini cakes.  I ordered the special of the day, which was a fillet of salmon marinated in harissa and yoghurt and topped with a sprinkling of black onion seeds, served with rice and green salad.  At £8.90 it was a little more than the average take-out lunch around here, but it was really delicious.

Lunch from Gitane, Great Titchfield Street:  harissa and yoghurt marinated salmon with rice and salad

Lunch from Gitane, Great Titchfield Street: harissa and yoghurt marinated salmon with rice and salad

Whilst on the subject of salmon, I wanted to share another recipe I have concocted with the Vini and Bal’s sauces.  After a large lunch, a light dinner is definitely in order especially when, like me, you will need to squeeze yourself into a wedding dress in the coming months.  I had a pot of the Vini and Bal’s Fiery Mirchi sauce in the fridge, that had always been intended for seafood of some kind, but now became destined to become part of a spicy salmon wrap, perfect for a light supper on a day you have overindulged more than is necessary. 

The Fiery Mirchi sauce is the spiciest in the Vini and Bal’s range, perfect if you live with a chilli fiend.  Although most traditional spicy curries use meat as their main ingredient, I always think that seafood lends itself well to a more intense level of heat.  In this wrap I have used a salmon fillet, cooked in the sauce until it gives it a thick coating.  By the end of the cooking, there is only a little bit of sauce left, which can be spooned over the wrap during its construction.  To add a little bit of sweetness, I have included a smear of mango chutney (a store-cupboard staple I could not live without), although you could use yoghurt or raita if you preferred.  I used wholemeal tortilla wraps for this recipe as that is what I could find at my local bakery, however an Indian flatbread, such as a chapatti would work equally well.

Fiery Mirchi Salmon Wrap
Makes two

  • ½ cup basmati rice
  • Olive oil
  • 2 salmon fillets
  • 1 pot Vini and Bal’s Fiery Mirchi sauce
  • 2 wholemeal wraps, or chapattis (see above)
  • 2 tbsp mango chutney
  • 2 large handfuls salad leaves
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
  • ½ red chilli, finely chopped

Cook the rice according to packet instructions and set aside.

Heat the olive in in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat.  Gently cook the salmon fillets, skin side down for a couple of minutes.  Add the Fiery Mirchi sauce and lower the heat to medium.  Continue to cook, spooning the sauce over the salmon fillets to coat them.  Gently turn the fillets to cook on each side, spooning the sauce over as you do so, until the salmon is fully cooked.  Be careful not to break up the fillet if possible.  This should take about 10 minutes or so and the sauce will have reduced a little.

Place the wholemeal wraps on to a plate.  Spread the mango chutney over the centre of the wrap and place the salad leaves and rice on top.  Gently place the salmon fillets on top of the salad leaves, in the centre of the wrap, and spoon over the remaining sauce from the frying pan.  Sprinkle over the chopped coriander and chilli and contruct the wrap by folding the bottom up over the filling and then folding over the sides.  The top should stay open.

More abut Vini and Bal’s here

Two Weekend Lunches: Ganapati and Cafe East

Whilst working from home on Friday, head in my hands and surrounded by piles of paper, Ollie suggested that I take a break and join him for lunch.  I was about to say that I didn’t have time when he suggested Ganapati, so I closed my laptop and off we went.  There is no shortage of Indian restaurants in our little part of south east London, however Ganapati sits head and shoulders above the myriad of curry houses on Lordship Lane and the Old Kent Road and is a real local favourite.  Ganapati has recently set up a take-away kitchen around the corner from its main site just off the Bellenden Road, which has caused a great deal of excitement in many a delivery postcode.  They also have an extremely good value lunch deal.

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We started by sharing the vegetarian street snacks:  a plate containing two mysore bonda, potato and cashew dumplings fried in chickpea batter; and two vadai, ground chana dal with curry leaf and green chilli, shaped into patties and fried.  Both were perfectly hot and crispy without the greasiness that often accompanies fried starters.  We both agreed that we could not choose between them but, in hindsight, would have ordered a plate each.

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The vegetarian thali main came on a large metal tray separated into sections.  The tomato-based vegetable and lentil curry had a huge kick of spices and curry leaves and was far hotter than I expected – so much so that Ollie the chilli fiend kept trying to sneak forkfuls when I wasn’t looking.  The accompaniements were great, by far my favourite part of the dish was a sweet and slightly spiced beetroot pickle that complemented the heat of the curry perfectly.  Ollie ordered the kingfish curry, which has perfectly cooked soft pieces of fish in a coconut and tamarind sauce. 

Most of the main courses on the Ganapti lunch menu are under £6, which makes it an excellent value lunch, especially as the prices are considerably higher in the evening.

Ganapati, 38 Holly Grove, Peckham, London SE15 5DF

Having a rare day off together on Sunday, we went over to the Museum of London Docklands for the afternoon, where I have not been since my first year at Goldsmiths.  London’s history is so fascinating, especially that of the communities that lived and worked by the river.  I found this amusing piece of information about the women that worked at the fish market.

“Fish, espeically herring, was the staple food of the London poor.  In the 18th century, boats brought their catch bacl from fishing grounds off the coast of Norway, the Baltic and north of the Shetlands.  Women working at the fish market had a reputation for toughness and sharp language.  Some even earned additional income as bare-knuckle fighters.”  – The Museum of London Docklands

The museum is rather enormous, so by the time we got to the bit about rebuilding the docklands we had worked up quite an appetite, so headed over to Cafe East in Surrey Quays for a late Vietnamese lunch.  When you first get off the Overground, this seems like the last place you are going to find one of south-east London’s gems.  To get to it, you have to walk past all of the usual horrors you would expect to find in a retail park:  Frankie & Benny’s, Pizza Hut, generic-American grill restaurants et cetera.  However, when you get right to the back, there is a little unassuming brick hut that makes some of the best Vietnamese food south of the river – obviously the Kingsland Road is the go-to destination for pho but sometimes you just don’t want to go to Shoreditch…

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After the customary chuckle at the “We do not serve tap water” sign at the entrance, we took up a table and ordered some Vietnamese iced coffee.  It’s always a bit of a shame that they don’t offer hot coffee with condensed milk as other restaurants do, as I prefer this to the iced stuff.

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We started with an order of banh cuon, steamed rolls filled with minced pork and chinese mushrooms and topped with meatloaf and some delicious fried shallots; and the goi cuon, known to the rest of us as ‘summer rolls’, filled with pork and prawn.  Both were generous in size and very fresh.  The summer rolls were not overloaded with fresh mint, which many often are, so the other flavours were able to come through.  They came with a peanut sauce and a ferociously spicy chilli dipping sauce.

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I ordered the lemongrass pork chop, a sweet, slightly spicy, sticky sliced pork served over boiled rice, which was just the right combination of moistness and chewiness.  Despite being well-coated in the sauce, the flavour of the pork still came through well.  I thought a splash of the summer rolls’ dipping sauce might ruin it, but the pork actually benefitted well from the extra spice.  On the side were some innocuous looking pickles – shredded carrot and daikon – that were so perfect I wished there was more than the little pinch put on the side of the plate.  Ollie ordered the Pho Bo Hue – a slightly spicy variation of the traditional beef pho.  The beef brisket, cooked in the heat of the soup, were sliced perfectly thin and the slippery noodles and crisp vegetables made it a very substantial dish.  The little bowl of red chillies accompanying the soup were for the very brave only – even Ollie, who has the highest heat tolerance of anybody I know, only added three-quarters. 

I didn’t eat for the rest of the day after that.

Cafe East, Surrey Quays Leisure Park, 100 Redriff Road, London SE16 7LH.

Ganapati on Urbanspoon

Cafe East on Urbanspoon

Shahi Paneer Parcels

Shahi paneer parcels with mint-chilli chutney

Shahi paneer parcels with mint-chilli chutney

Once, when I was a vegetarian, my parents invited all of their friends over for a drink and we ended up ordering a Chinese takeaway. Not able to partake in the shared dishes, I ordered my own portion of salt and pepper tofu, stir fried vegetables and boiled rice.  45 minutes later, the food arrived.  Delayed to the table by a phone call, I realised, to my utter despair, that they had absent-mindedly put my boiled rice on their plates, leaving me with the three portions of special fried rice, studded with the little bits of chicken and prawn that I could not eat.  I ended up having a very carb-light, and disappointing, dinner.  The moral of the story: when people are hungry, and a little drunk, they don’t always think.

For this very reason, I often hide a portion of the vegetarian snacks when hosting parties.  There is nothing worse than having a vegetarian friend arrive at your house a little late only to find that the meat eaters have scarfed all of the goats cheese puffs and olive gougeres, leaving nothing for your meat-free guest to eat but a sad bag of kettle chips.  Of course, being a buffet nazi and screeching “leave them for the vegetarians!” is enough to kill any party atmosphere, so hoarding is actually a much better option.

Speaking of which, I have been working on a vegetarian party snack using paneer and one of the new Vini and Bal sauces.  Paneer is a bit of a divisive foodstuff: genius Asian vegetarian ingredient to some, tasteless rubber to others.  Of course, on its own it is a pretty unremarkable cheese, but it is a cheese that can go into a curry, which makes it a winner for me.  These paneer parcels are similar to a samosa and use the Shahi sauce from the Vini and Bal range, a tomato and cream based sauce, to create a slightly spiced cheese filling.  The addition of some black onion seeds, a chopped green chilli and some fresh coriander give it a kick and the paneer some much-needed flavour.  To accompany these parcels is a simple mint-chilli chutney that has a freshness to cut through the rich pastry and filling.

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The recipe below makes 15 parcels.  Double the recipe if you have a larger group of veggies in attendance.

Shahi Paneer Parcels

  • Olive oil
  • 225g paneer, cut into 1cm cubes
  • 1 tsp black onion seeds
  • 1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
  • Vini and Bal’s Shahi sauce
  • Small handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped
  • 10 sheets filo pastry

Mint-Chilli Chutney

  • 3 tbsp finely chopped mint
  • 3 tbsp finely chopped coriander
  • 3 tbsp natural yoghurt
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat.  Gently fry the paneer for a few minutes until lightly coloured, then stir in the black onion seeds and chilli and cook for a few minutes more.  Pour over the Vini and Bal’s Shahi sauce and stir to combine.  Continue to cook over a medium heat for approximately 20 minutes – the sauce should thicken and reduce by about a third in this time.    Turn off the heat.

Lay one sheet of filo pastry on a clean work surface, brush with olive oil and lay another sheet on top.  With the pastry in ‘portrait’ (short edge facing you), slice in three lengthways, giving you three long strips.  Spoon a couple of teaspoons of the Shahi mixture on to the top of each strip, before folding over to enclose in a triangle, brush with olive oil and fold over again.  Keep repeating this process, folding in a triangle formation, until all of the pastry has been used up and the parcel resembles a triangular samosa.  Brush with olive oil and place on a baking sheet.  Repeat this until all of the filo and Shahi mixture has been used up.

Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is golden and flaky.  To make the chutney, pulse all of the ingredients together in a food processor and spoon into ramekins.

More abut Vini and Bal’s here