Maille Culinary Challenge: Harissa and Lemon Mustard Chicken

Harissa and Lemon Mustard Chicken with Date and Almnd Cous Cous

Harissa and Lemon Mustard Chicken with Date and Almnd Cous Cous

If you were to take a look in my perpetually overloaded fridge, you may worry that I have something of a mustard obsession.  At the very minimum I will keep four types in the fridge:  good old English mustard for ham sandwiches, wholegrain for salad dressings, Dijon for sauces and a bright yellow tube of French’s American mustard for squeezing over burgers or zig-zagging over hotdogs.  As well as this, I have a tin of mustard powder in the cupboard, which often makes its way into shortcrust pastry and my favourite cheese, chive and mustard scones, and a stash of both horseradish and wasabi.  I love the kind of heat that you get from those ingredients, the kind that, unlike the heat from chillies, blasts you in the nose and sends a pulse of fire through your sinuses.  I love it to the point of addiction, so was very happy to be approached by Maille to take part in their culinary challenge.

Maille is a brand of mustards, sauces and oils from France that started in the eighteenth century.  Despite the fact that they have, in recent years, branched out into other ingredients, it is mainly for their mustard that they are known.  Their boutique in the Piccadilly Arcade is like a mecca for condiment lovers – I never thought I would covet a £29, 125g pot of mustard with chablis and black truffles, but somehow I managed.

From the list of products they sent me, the one that caught my eye was a mustard with white wine, lemon and harissa.  The prospect of the dry heat of mustard combined with the chilli pepper punch of harissa presented the opportunity for some exciting flavours.  This recipe is for a a simple chicken in mustard sauce with the middle eastern influences of harissa, mint, lemon and oregano. It is a quick and simple dish that can be made in under half an hour, so is perfect for a weeknight meal.  The tomato and harissa cut through the cream and mustard and the nuggets of pomegranate seeds and the dates in the cous cous provide a sweetness that matches the flavours surprisingly well.  The dish would work perfectly well without the additional teaspoon of harissa but, if you live with a chilli fiend, as I do, it adds just that little extra punch.

As if the condiment shelf in my fridge wasn’t full enough, it seems I may have to make room for another.

In the bowl

Harissa and Lemon Mustard Chicken with Date and Almond Cous Cous

For the chicken:

  • 6 boneless chicken thighs, cut into strips
  • 3 tbsp Maille Mustard with White Wine, Lemon and Harissa Spices
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • ½ tsp dried mint
  • ½ tsp dried oregano
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • 3 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 tsp harissa
  • 180ml hot water
  • Sea salt and ground black pepper
  • 3 tbsp double cream
  • 1 tsp fresh mint, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp pomegranate seeds

For the cous cous:

  • 125g cous cous
  • 10 dates, roughly chopped
  • Handful of almonds, roughly chopped
  • Sea salt and black pepper

Place the chicken thighs in a large shallow dish.  Spoon over the mustard and mix to coat the chicken thoroughly.  Cover with clingfilm and leave to marinate in the fridge for a minimum of two hours, but preferably overnight.

In a large saucepan over a medium heat, gently fry the onion in the olive oil until translucent, 5-10 minutes, be careful not to let it brown.  Once cooked, stir in the dried mint, dried oregano, tomato puree and harissa.  Pour over the hot water and stir until smooth.  Season with the salt and pepper and cook for 15-20 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.

Whilst the chicken is cooking, make the cous cous by placing it in a bowl and then covering it with just enough boiling water so that it is submerged.  Cover with clingfilm and leave for ten minutes or so, until the water is absorbed.  Fluff the cous cous with a fork and stir in the dates and almonds.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.

Once the chicken is cooked through, lower the heat and stir in the double cream.  Check the seasoning.  Remove from the heat and sprinkle over the fresh mint and pomegranate seeds to garnish. Serve with the cous cous.

Serves 2-3 as a main dish.

Leftovers Love

I woke up this morning and almost turned off my alarm, believing I had another day off.  The cruelty of it all.  Judging by the expressions on the faces of my fellow commuters on the Peckham Rye – Victoria this morning, you would think the world, not the bank holiday weekend, had ended.

Much like, I expect, everybody else, I spent most of the weekend overindulging on food and drink.  One of the highlights was the great Ox Roast at The Ship who, in conjunction with Flat Iron, had procured a 250kg longhorn steer, fed it on a diet of London stout and roasted it on a spit for us all to enjoy.  For the bargain price of £12, diners were each given a plate of the ox meat, along with a baked potato and some salad, and a pint of the very stout the beer had been fed on.  My bovine pile of joy came from, as far as I could tell, different parts of the ox and had the wonderful combination of being quite rare in some places and rather well-cooked in others.  The flavour was phenomenal, with a deep beefy flavour and a massive whack of smoke.  Even eating it standing up in a slightly windy pub garden was a joy.

My plate from The Ship / Flat Iron Ox Roast

My plate from The Ship / Flat Iron Ox Roast

 As well as this, I was quite busy in the kitchen.  Especially on Sunday when we slow-roasted a whole lamb shoulder for lunch with my parents and dug out our Ottolenghi cookbooks to make a range of salads to accompany it:  cous cous with tomato and onion, spinach with dates and almonds and, my favourite of all, squash with burnt aubergine and pomegranate molasses.

As with many of Ottolenghi’s recipes, the title doesn’t tend to give much away about the structure of the dish.  ‘Squash with burnt aubergine and pomegranate molasses’, taken from his first and eponymous cookbook, is actually a plate of roasted squash, scattered with a medley of seeds and accompanied by possibly the best sauce ever:  one made of burnt aubergines and pomegranate molasses.  It is fairly similar to a baba ghanoush in the sense that it contains aubergines charred over an open flame (to give them a smoky flavour when you aren’t in possession of a smoker), lemon juice, olive oil and garlic.  The omission of tahini and addition of pomegranate molasses is where the difference lies, making it less nutty and far sweeter than the traditional middle-eastern dip.

On Easter Sunday, drizzled over the seed-encrusted squash, this sauce was excellent, but what really impressed me was its ability to bring the leftovers to life.  Pulling all of the clingfilmed bowls and tupperware from the fridge to cobble together a meal of leftovers can often be a bit uninspiring, but the addition of something fresh can perk it up a bit (my personal lifesaving ingredients are hot sauce, fresh bread or a poached egg) and a bowl of the burnt aubergine with pomegranate molasses did just that.  On Monday I found myself with some cold lamb shoulder, a few spoonfuls of cous cous and some squash wedges which, with a bag of salad leaves and the seeds of half a pomegranate, made a fairly respectable lunch.  What made it brilliant was covering it with huge blobs of the burnt aubergine sauce, dropped from a height with a spoon.

Leftover roast lamb with burnt aubergine and pomegranate molasses, pomegranate seeds, squash, cous cous and salad.

Leftover roast lamb with burnt aubergine and pomegranate molasses, pomegranate seeds, squash, cous cous and salad.

 I think there are few that would not agree with Ottolenghi’s ability to combine some of the most beautiful middle-eastern flavours to create dishes that home cooks can replicate.  Food from this region has been growing in popularity for some time and ingredients are becoming more widely available.  I am lucky to have the excellent Persepolis in my neighbourhood, which sells a huge range of gems from the middle east, but I am also reliably informed that you can pick up items such as pomegranate molasses in Sainsbury’s and Waitrose.  Lamb with aubergine is not a new partnership, but it is a good one, and one that I keep coming back to in a multitude of ways.  Previously, any lamb that didn’t make its way on to the Sunday lunch plates would find itself in a shepherd’s pie; I think now it will find itself covered in a slater of this smoky, sweet, garlicky aubergine sauce.

Burnt Aubergine and Pomegranate Molasses

  • 1 medium aubergine
  • 150g natural yoghurt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1½ tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp flat-leaft parsley, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper

Roast the aubergine over an open flame on the hob for around 10-15 minutes until the it softens and the skin becomes black and charred.  I usually place the aubergine directly on the flame and then use tongs to turn it every couple of minutes.   Once cooked, set aside to cool for a couple of minutes.

Once cool enough to handle, scoop out the cooked flesh of the aubergine and roughly chop it. Leave to drain in a colander for a few minutes and then transfer to a medium bowl.

Mix the aubergine with the other ingredients and serve.

From Ottolenghi’s ‘Ottolenghi’.

Yalla Yalla, Fitzrovia

Yalla Yalla

Yalla Yalla

There’s an exchange that happens in my office at least once a week:

Me:  “What’s on the lunch menu for today?”
Colleague:  *Downloads canteen lunch menu*, *reels of a list of boring dishes*
Me:  “Sod it, I’m going to Yalla Yalla.”
Colleague:  *Without looking up* “Can you bring me back a halloumi wrap?”

Yalla Yalla is always the kryptonite that breaks those weeks when I am trying to eat healthily or not spend too much money on buying lunch.  With a wedding looming, and a very unforgiving wedding dress to squeeze into, those weeks are becoming more and more frequent.  However, the healthy options from nearby boring salad bars and the cheapo options from the staff canteen can never compare to the sheer middle eastern delights on offer just a mere hop, skip and a jump away on Winsley Street.  And I KNOW that I should be making my own lunch at home and bringing it in and all that, but I am disorganised.  Also, somewhere in our building is a person who likes to pinch other people’s lunch.  My friend had some sushi nicked the other day and she was very annoyed about it.

Anyway, Yalla Yalla has a little takeaway counter that sells a range of different wraps, as well as coffee and those little sticky pieces of baklava that I just love.  I have tried most of the wraps now, and my favourite is the lamb shawarma, something I feared I would forever have to trek to the Edgware Road for, and the simple falafel wrap (not quite as good as Mr Falafel in Shepherd’s Bush but, in my mind, nothing is).  The wraps are priced anywhere between £4 and £5 and are well-made and delicious.  You have to wait a little while, especially during the busy lunchtimes, but it is worth it.

Takeout halloumi wrap

Takeout halloumi wrap

Despite being a frequent visitor to the counter, until Wednesday I had only ever eaten in at Yalla Yalla once before; at their beautiful little original site at Green’s Court.  On Wednesday, Claire and I met there for a very speedy lunch to share news on weddings and house renovations over some baba ghanoush.  There are two ways that you can eat in at Yalla Yalla:  you can order one of the mezzes as a starter and then move on to their menu of middle-eastern main dishes, such as a moussaka, mixed grill or grilled seabass; or you can order a range of the mezzes and share.  Being always keen to try as many dishes as possible in one sitting, I have yet to opt for the former, although I have cast many a desirous eye over the Lahem Meshoue.

During my two visits to Yalla Yalla, plus many jaunts to the takeaway counter, I have worked my way through a large number of the mezzes on offer and have found myself to be impressed with most of them.  The houmous, the stalwart of any middle-eastern restaurant, demanding the most perfection, is beautifully smooth and not overloaded with either lemon or garlic, which many restaurants have a tendency to do.  One of my favourite dishes is the houmous shawarma, a small bowl of houmous topped with a hefty portion of grilled lamb spiced with, among other things, cumin and cinnamon.  The baba ghanoush is equally as fine, with the smokiness not overpowering the aubergine flavour and a slightly loose texture.  The addition of pomegranate seeds on the top makes it a little more special.  Both of these come with a basket of flatbreads which, although delicious, with only three small ones between two, never seems like quite enough.

Houmous shawarma

Houmous shawarma

Baba ghanoush

Baba ghanoush

Always wanting to include a little greenery into my lunch, I will often order the tabbouleh or the fattoush, either as a side to the wrap or as part of the mezze.  The tabbouleh is very similar to those I have eaten in the middle east, very heavy with parsley and mint and, unlike the more westernised versions, with the cracked wheat taking more of a backseat.  The fattoush is also delicious, but I’ve always hoped that it would be a bit sharper with vinegar, but that may just be my personal taste.

Tabbouleh (right)

Tabbouleh (right)

Fattoush

Fattoush

Other favourites include the chicken rakakat, little chicken-filled pastries that have the appearance of spring rolls but the flavour of a kebab, complete with a huge kick of harissa, and the halloumi meshoue , which feels like a little bit of Greece with its olive oil, black olive and fresh mint dressing.

Chicken rakakat

Chicken rakakat

Halloumi meshoue

Halloumi meshoue

In addition to this, they have some delicious Lebanese reds and whites, something that popped on to my wine radar a few years ago when out with a friend whose approach is far more sophisticated than mine (if they’re French, they probably know what they’re talking about), and those little cups of strong, sediment-filled Turkish coffee that will safely pull you out of your food coma just in time for an afternoon back at the office.

Whilst not entirely perfect, it is one of the best examples of middle eastern food in London, and keeps me coming back for more.  They do get very busy around lunch and dinner and don’t take reservations (who does these days?!)  If you’re an expert on this kind of food, you may find that it is a little too wide-reaching, as it does encompass food from many regions and there are more country-specific places out there, however it is a great introduction.  For only £35 for lunch for two (with wine), it is also very kind to the wallet.

Yalla Yalla, 12 Winsley Street, London W1W 8HQ.  There is also a restaurant at Greens Court, Soho and a pop-up on Shoreditch High Street.

Yalla Yalla Beirut Street Food on Urbanspoon

Leftover Roast Chicken

Roast Chicken and Bread Salad with Harissa, Pine Nuts and Pomegranate Seeds

Roast Chicken and Bread Salad with Harissa, Pine Nuts and Pomegranate Seeds

This time yesterday I was seeing off the end of a particularly vicious birthday hangover.  To celebrate turning 30, I drank for a sustained period of time from champagne with Thursday breakfast, to afternoon G&Ts, to quinine sours with dinner at Gymkhana, to more champagne with Friday breakfast, to afternoon G&Ts, to copious amounts of gin, vodka and Jager at my Friday night birthday drinks.  After seeing sense and taking myself off to bed at 4am, I was hit with a hangover so debilitating that the only food I could manage was either that I could order to my door or that I could make in a toaster.  Hence having not posted anything here for almost a week.  Birthdays are very distracting, especially when you have friends that are generous at the bar.

By Sunday evening I began to feel well enough to venture back into the kitchen, put all of the empty bottles into the recycling and make something that would vaguely resemble dinner.  Shame prevented me from ordering yet more take out and, sadly, none of the restaurants locally have a dress code that includes ‘snowman pyjamas’, so I was left with little choice. Ollie kindly ventured out to the local supermarket and came back with the ingredients to make the mother of all comfort food:  a roast chicken dinner.  And it was beautiful: roast chicken, gravy, perfect roast potatoes, roasted carrots and green beans.  My contribution to the meal was actually very little – I peeled the carrots – but I had successfully broken out of the slob-zone and was back to real food.

As there is only two of us, we always have a lot of chicken left over from a roast – even from relatively small birds.  My favourite thing to do is to sit down after the meal and strip the last of the chicken from the carcass, putting it on a plate for another purpose later on.  The beauty about cold roast chicken is that it can be used for so many things.  My mother always served us up chicken pie on Mondays to use up the leftover roast.  My particular favourite is an enormous sandwich of roast chicken, a crushed roast potato, a smear of leftover gravy, mayonnaise and rocket on some very thick brown bread – the ultimate sandwich of shame.  This particular bird yielded rather a lot of chicken, so instead I went looking for something a little more substantial, but not a million miles away: a bread salad.

Adding bread to a salad is a great way to bulk out a meal and an alternative to the more traditional carbohydrates of rice and pasta.  It is also a great way to use up stale bread as older bread tends to be more robust when combined with wetter ingredients – fresh bread has a tendency to disintegrate.  Probably the most famous example of this kind of meal is the panzanella – an Italian salad of tomatoes, stale bread, olive oil and vinegar – but recently cooks are experimenting with a larger range of ingredients. This dish combines traditional salad stalwarts – chicken, rocket, tomatoes and olive oil – but is given a middle eastern twist with grilled aubergines, pine nuts, Harissa and pomegranate seeds. For the bread, it is best to use a good middle eastern flatbread, such as levash, but pitta bread will do if you cannot find it. Frying it in a little olive oil until crisp will give the salad an interesting texture.

Roast Chicken and Bread Salad with Harissa, Pine Nuts

  • 500g leftover roast chicken
  • 2 large flatbreads (see above)
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 aubergine, cut into 1cm dice
  • 250g cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1½ tbsp harissa
  • 2 large handfuls rocket
  • Seeds of half a pomegranate
  • 2 tbsp pine nuts
  • Sea salt and black pepper

If the chicken has been stored in the fridge, leave it on the side until it reaches room temperature.  Heat 1 tbsp of the olive oil in a frying pan, tear up the flatbreads roughly with your hands and fry in the oil until crisp.  You will need pieces of roughly 1-2″ squared.  Put the chicken and flatbreads pieces in a large bowl.  In the same frying pan, heat 2 tbsp of the remaining olive oil and fry the aubergine until browned and tender.  Add this to the bowl along with the cherry tomatoes.

In a small bowl, combine the Harissa and the remaining 1 tbsp of olive oil.  Pour over the chicken, bread and vegetable mix and toss until well coated.  Season well and toss through the rocket leaves and scatter the pine nuts and pomegranate seeds over the top.  Serve at room temperature.

Adapted from a recipe by BBC Good Food, serves four as a main course.

Mr Falafel, Shepherd’s Bush

Falafel Wraps at Mr Falafel

Falafel Wraps at Mr Falafel

“Is Mr Falafel an actual person?”  

“How convenient would it be if your surname was ‘Falafel’ and you grew up to be somebody who makes falafel?”

“I’ve been to Mr Falafel so many times, I am practically Mrs Falafel.”

Obviously, the conversations that take place between my colleagues on the 15-minute walk from our office to Mr Falafel in Shepherd’s Bush Market are not of the intellectual variety, but they are always animated.  A morning email suggesting a trip to Mr Falafel at lunchtime is always met with great excitement in all corners of the office – firstly, because the falafel is excellent, secondly, because we work in White City: Gastronomic Wasteland of London.  It is always a shame when you work in one of the rare corners of London that has no decent lunch options – in my current office, and in my previous office in pre-Dirty Burger Vauxhall, I alternated between sandwich chains, ‘Express’ chains of local supermarkets and terrible cafes:  all disappointing.  When we discovered Mr Falafel in the summer of last year, it was like a light had shone on our lunch break.

Mr Falafel is housed in a unit situated just inside the entrance of Shepherd’s Bush Market, where they have been since 1999, however they have been at the market on various stalls “for a few years before that”.  They are well-known among the locals and it is rare to turn up after 1pm and not find a queue.  Once inside, you are given the choice of 12 falafel wraps, all of which come in the modest ‘medium’ or the gut-busting ‘extra-large’.  The falafel is scooped and cooked fresh to order, then lightly smashed on to a flatbread containing an array of other ingredients.  My favourite is the Supreme Falafel Wrap which contains hummus, tomatoes, aubergines, feta, olives, avocado and pomegranate syrup.  They also make a Supreme Plus wrap which substitutes the feta for halloumi but, be warned: they don’t grill it.  An essential addition to the wrap is a generous slick of their hot chilli sauce, which he (the famous Mr Falafel – who knows?) will add to the mixture with a glint in his eye.  There is also a mild chilli sauce for those with a lower heat tolerance.  The falafel itself is soft and perfectly spiced and the ingredients fresh and it makes for rather a delicious, if large, lunch (I have still yet to manage an XL).  If you find yourself in Shepherd’s Bush one day, be sure to check it out.