Bite Street Food at Chrisp Street Market, Poplar

Street food has been around in London for longer than you think.  Long before the Thames ceased to be a working river, oysters were sold on the banks for hungry dockers.  During the 18th and 19th centuries, baked potatoes were sold from shop fronts and house windows in some of the more notorious London slums as a form of cheap sustenance.  And we all remember the ubiquitous kebab vans outside of late night bars and gig venues in the more recent past.

In recent years, however, street food has taken on a new form offering affordable gourmet food to Londoners.  Whether on their lunch hour or lazily meandering around markets at the weekend, the street food van is never far away.  Once, Borough Market was the only real option for street food, but more recently markets have begun to pop up across the capital, some in rather unexpected places.

Poplar, in East London, is not the first place you think of as a gastronomic destination; but the new Bite Street Food collective are seeking to rejuvenate the culinary reputation of the area right at its centre:  Chrisp Street Market.  With traders hailing from the local area, and across London, and entertainment from local performers, a charmingly frayed town square is transformed into a market to rival any lunchtime markets across London.  I was invited to come down and check it out.  And told to come hungry.

We Walk the Line Coffee.

We Walk the Line Coffee.

My first stop, as always, was for coffee.  On the far side of the market, I found a man making coffee seemingly whilst cycling.  We Walk the Line is a social initiative to encourage disadvantaged young people and ex-offenders become entrepreneurs through selling coffee.  The bike powers the grinder, which grinds up the Nude Espresso beans for the coffee.  A very good cup indeed.

An humitas empanada: corn and chilli.

An humitas empanada: corn and chilli.

After this, I popped to Boca Empanadas, which sell those little Argentine pastries I love so much.  My favourite is the humitas, which contains corn and chilli.  These were perfect – crispy pastry and both sweet and spicy in the middle.  Limiting myself to one was very difficult.

Jerk chicken. Bargain.

Jerk chicken. Bargain.

My plan was to try a number of small items, so that I could sample as much as possible.  On the hunt for my next snack, I came across the bargain of the century:  three jerk wings for ONE POUND.  My weakness for good jerk is well documented and I couldn’t resist.  These were really good.  Spicy with the unmistakable hit of scotch bonnets, with an underlying kick of lime and allspice.

Vegan burger from Ruperts Street.

Vegan burger from Ruperts Street.

Vegan street food has been growing in popularity in recent years, so I was not surprised to see a vegan vendor on the site, Ruperts Street.  I managed to snag the very last item of the day: a vegan burger.  A sweet potato and lentil patty with a smear of relish on a wholemeal seeded bun.  It came with a delicious kale salad, for extra health points.

The lovely Cat and her cake creations.

The lovely Cat and her cake creations.

Never one to end a meal without having dessert, I popped over to Cat Food Cakes, to see the lovely Cat and her crazy creations.  The market took place on Hallowe’en, so there were some beautiful cupcakes and brownies with spiderwebs, pumpkins and ghosts.  Spying a chocolate cupcake decorated with candy corns, I quickly nabbed it.  A candy corn in the UK is a difficult thing to find.  Sadly Cat did not have a supplier: her boyfriend brought them back from a trip to the states.

Bite will be taking place on the last Friday of every month at Chrisp Street Market in Poplar.  If you should find yourself free on a Friday lunchtime, it is definitely worth a trip over to check it out.  The vendors are not those that you will find at the bigger street food markets, such as KERB, Brockley or Broadway; but they are an excellent representation of cooking in the diverse east end.  I also spied a Ghanian lady selling jollof rice, and a young man making Louisiana gumbo, but could not manage all of these in the same afternoon.  It seems another visit is in order.

Also: Canary Wharf office workers, take note.

For transparency, I was invited to visit Bite Street Food.

Adventures in Miso

Miso aubergines and brown rice. Chopsticks from my trip to Tokyo

Miso aubergines and brown rice. Chopsticks from my trip to Tokyo

Relax, I won’t be posting yet another recipe for pumpkin-shaped biscuits or ‘spooky’ cupcakes.

I have had quite a few conversations about Hallowe’en this week, mainly asking me what I am doing.  Well, actually… absolutely nothing.  Being a 30-year-old childless woman with a flat quite inaccessible from the street, it seems that Hallowe’en is not meant for me.  That being said, I do rather like seeing all of the neighbourhood kids walking about all dressed up with their little bags of swag.  When we were children, we loved Hallowe’en, despite the fact that we were forbidden by our parents from going trick or treating.  We had a party at school with fancy dress, apple bobbing and ghost stories.  My mum would dress me up as a witch and my brother as a devil.  I think she may have been trying to tell us something.

So my week has actually been rather normal.  No quest for orange food colouring (completely unobtainable in the second half of October) or joining the everlasting queue outside the Angels fancy dress shop on Shaftesbury Avenue.  During this very normal week, however, an unexpected parcel arrived at my desk:  a jar of Yutaka miso paste.  Something I had actually been meaning to buy for some time, but had not got around to.

Sure, something that has been made by fermenting soya beans with salt and fungus doesn’t sound appetising, but it is one of my favourite flavours.  I first fell in love with it when I travelled in Japan, and this intensified when I went on a Japanese food-binge on my return to London.  In the west, we most commonly encounter it in miso soup, but is used in a range of other Japanese and fusion dishes.  It’s umami flavour with a slight hum of fermentation, lends itself well to a range of fish, beans and vegetables.

Aubergine works especially well with miso as it soaks up flavour when cooked.  Some recipes advocate grilling or roasting the aubergines with a miso glaze, and others recommend marinating the aubergines in the miso sauce to maximise the flavour.  The recipe I have been working on is far quicker, and therefore very suitable for a speedy weeknight supper.  The aubergines are fried; first in sesame oil and then in a miso sauce that also combines rice wine, mirin, sugar and vinegar to provide a balance of flavours.  A few dried red chillies provide just enough heat without overwhelming the other flavours.  I served mine with brown rice and sugar snap peas for a healthy vegan supper.

Miso Aubergines

2 large, or 3 medium, aubergines
5 tbsp sesame oil
2 dried red chillies
4 tbsp Shaoshing rice wine
4 tbsp mirin
4 tbsp caster sugar
3 tbsp rice vinegar
4½ tbsp red miso (I used Yutaka)

Cut the aubergines into bite-sized pieces and lay out on a tray.  Sprinkle with salt to draw out some of their liquid and leave for ten minutes.  Wipe away any moisture with kitchen paper.

Heat the sesame oil in a wok and, once hot, crumble in the red chillies and add the aubergine.  Stir fry for about eight minutes until the aubergine is tender and starting to brown.  Turn the pieces occasionally with tongs.

Meanwhile, combine the rice wine, mirin, caster sugar, rice vinegar and miso in a bowl and whisk together to a smooth sauce.  Lower the heat under the wok and add this sauce.  Cook over a medium heat for a further eight minutes.  In this time, the sauce will reduce and thicken and form a glaze for the aubergine pieces.  Serve right away.

One Year Ago:  Gingerbread Cake

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

Butternut Squash, Curry and Cider Soup

Butternut squash, curry and cider soup

Butternut squash, curry and cider soup

This weekend, I was back in Southampton and went to the excellent 7Bone Burger Co. for dinner.  I’ve written a bit about this place before.  If very, very good burgers are your thing you should definitely go.  This visit was the best yet and I have written about it on my other blog, 607 Square Miles, here.

One major downside to eating a double cheeseburger of that size and a side of chilli cheese fries and a scoop of coffee ice cream from Sprinkles on the way home, is that you enter the following day not being able to face eating anything.  Being off my food is something of a rarity for me, and I am seldom ever completely full, but in this case it was 7pm the following day before I could even think about a meal.  I subsisted the entire day on coffee.

Such an indulgent feast requires something healthy and restorative to follow it.  I decided to make myself some soup.  Autumn really is the best season for soup, and not only because it is getting cooler; the crop of beautiful root vegetables make it so delicious and comforting.  Walking home from the market with arms full of big amber pumpkins and gnarly parsnips, I cannot help but think soup.  Especially good if you have some freshly baked bread in the house and a good blanket.

This particular soup is autumn itself: butternut squash, apples and onions, given warmth with a few spices and then cooked in cider.  The smell alone will be enough to rid you of any chills.  You can use other types of squash, or even pumpkin, if you prefer.  I used Gala apples as they have a good flavour, but any would work really.  Eating in front of a good movie or your favourite box set is essential.

Butternut Squash, Curry and Cider Soup

50ml olive oil
1kg butternut squash, peeled, cored and cut into 1 inch pieces
2 apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped
1 tsp curry powder
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp ground cardamom
275ml dry cider (I used Weston’s Stowford Press)
1l chicken or vegetable stock
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp ground white pepper

Heat the oil in a very large saucepan and add the butternut squash, apples and onion.  Stir to coat in the oil and cook for 10-12 minutes until the onion is translucent.  Add the spices and cook for a further five minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the cider and bring to the boil.  Cook for three minutes before pouring in the vegetable stock.  Simmer for 20-25 minutes until the squash is tender.

Remove from the heat and blend using a hand-blender (if you do not have one, you can use a regular blender, but you will probably need to do it in batches).  Once smooth, return to the heat, stir in the seasoning and cook gently for a further five minutes.

Ladle into individual bowls, top with a swirl of cream and a few pumpkin seeds.

Serves six.  Adapted from a recipe by Orangette.

One Year Ago:  Band of Bakers Short and Sweet Event