Monday, September 28, 2009

Latino Taverna: Zorba in Windsor

I have promised to myself umpteen times to shun tourist restaurants like plague. See, unlike neighbourhood restaurants, these do not have faithful clientèle. There is no incentive for them to try to lure punters into coming again. They just churn out generic victuals just good enough not to have people complain.

But, as I haul my butt around this planet quite extensively, it can be hard to totally avoid such establishments. This time we went to Liz's for tea to Windsor. Unfortunately, she did not show up although we did see the royal standard billowing on top of the keep. Once we were done with sightseeing at the castle, we went to town to refill. Windsor is a pretty town and, blessed with royal-obsessed visitors, boasts quite a choice of places to eat. All of them, naturally, catering to mostly tourists. Such was our luck that we happened upon such. Latino Taverna, despite its name, is a Greek eatery. It is set in a picturesque location, on the cobbled slope of a curvy lane.



We went for a lunch choice of half meze, which at 11.95 a head included
  • a wee bowl of taramasalata;
  • a wee bowl of tzatziki;
  • a wee bowl of potato salad;
  • a wee bowl with a few olives;
  • a wee bowl of melitzanosalata;
  • a wee bowl of bean salad;
  • a wee bowl of tabuleh.
Those were closely followed by
  • four deep-fried calamari rings;
  • a wee sauce with mussels;
  • a bowl of Greek salad;
  • a grill platter: 2 loukanika pork sausages, 2 keftedes (spicy meat balls), 2 chicken breast skewers, two slices of haloumi cheese.
By the way, "a lot of fresh Greek bread" advertised in the menu stands for a tiny sliced pita re-warmed in the grill. For each additional tiny pita you will be charged 2.20.

Lemon squash and soda was very nice: obviously home-made, it tasted like old-fashioned lemonade, refreshingly non-sweet.

Pro's: Great location basking in the sunshine around lunchtime.

Con's: Brisk service.

In a nutshell: Alright for a quick refuel in Windsor, if you don't mind your lunch taste like an in-flight meal.

Latino Taverna
3 Church Lane
Windsor SL4 1PA

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Lunch at Horniman's

I really like the business model British museums have adopted. They do not charge entrance fee. Surprisingly, they reporetedly make three times as much money as when they did. Some dosh comes from donations but the majority of the proceeds appears to come from giftshop and cafeteria trade.

Conceded, the fare they churn out is more reliable classics than top-notch culinary finesse but who would expect the latter from a museum?

Horniman Museum, despite its name, is a family kind of place. Situated on a hill in Dulwich in South London, it hosts a huge collection of stuffed animals and musical instruments displayed in mostly dark and dusty rooms. It smells like it has deposits of dust undisturbed since WWII but it is surely is a good educational value for kids.

Next to it stands a Victorian orangery, except instead of potted orchids and pineapples there are wrought iron tables where the food from the cafeteria is consumed by hordes of shrieking children and their desperate parents.

By half past two, we had to put up with what was left in the kitchen:
  • peppers stuffed with rice, feta cheese, tomatoes and herbs - tasted home-made;
  • beef stew with a side of brown rice - the beef was soft and flavourful.
Thirteen pounds for the whole bill, not bad at all for London.

Pro's: Well-cooked classics from organic ingredients.

Con's: On a good busy day food runs out quickly.

In a nutshell: No need to bring your lunch box here: the food is cheap and good.

HornimanMuseum
100 London Road
Forest Hill SE23 3PQ
London




Saturday, September 26, 2009

Ganache - the Lebanese house of fear and cakes

I was eyeing this cafe for a long time as it lies on my Asian groceries route on Brewer Street in Soho. The tantalising display of honey-drenched Middle Eastern sweets and the promise of a cup of Lebanese coffee - what else a caffeine-addicted sweet-tooth like me needs? Finally I have found a good company to go, my Italian friend Monica. This fine lady is running a language training company in London and, a highly sophisticated Italian urbanite that she is, is probably the best company for coffee and cake sampling.

There are two tables outside on the sidewalk but we went inside to escape the noise of the passing cars that would have completely drowned the conversation. The curly and burly Lebanese proprietor's thin veneer of friendliness barely seemed to contain a deep annoyance with life. Unfortunately for us, we did inadvertently burst that veneer by asking the Arab names for the sweets that we ordered. Three times. Finally,with exasperated sighs, he caved in and, very reluctantly, barked out quick explanations.

As it was late in the afternoon we had to go for some decaf , no time for proper coffee this time. The cold Turkish pomegranate tea turned out to be a rather ghastly canned instant variety with loads of sugar at the bottom of the glass. My African Temptation tea appeared rooibos with masala-esque spices, Durban-inspired, if I had to put my finger on it. Fir that price, I'd expect a more imaginative concoction than a mere teabag in hot water but never mind that!

The rich, sweet cakes were, as it goes, made of filo dough filled with various crushed nuts and soaked in generous quanitities of honey or, perhaps, treacle, we did not dare to ask. Handsome chunks, each enough for two, really, they definitely did not deserve to be served on stirofoam trays. I hate physical violence so I decided to go local and swallow my objections.

Truth be told, Middle Eastern sweets do not seem to be the main business for Ganache. I should have guessed it by the name (ganache is a French chocolate bonbon filling), these people appear to make more money from luxury chocolate sales.

After a long pleasant chat we headed out. As we were leaving, the curly ogre was busy angrily telling off a delivery boy who happened to deliver some boxes inside the shop instead of leaving them on the sidewalk. As we walked away, the sound of his voice faded into the street hubbub. Hopefully, I won't have to hear it again.

Pro's: Handy location. Nice sweets.
Con's: Scary service. Rather pricey. Stirofoam trays in lieu of crockery.
In a nutshell: The pro's don't outweigh the con's.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Šprotes to shproty: how politics meddle with gastronomy (шпроты)

When I was growing up, Latvian smoked sprats were a special treat. Tinned in aromatic amber-coloured oil, their lovely smokey taste will forever invoke in me the memories of New Year's celebrations. They were traditionally made in Latvia and sold throughout the whole 11-time-zone expanse of the Soviet Union. Every one from the snowfields of Siberia to the desert sands of Central Asia knew what Rīgas Šprotes stood for.

A couple of years ago, however, Russian oligarch-led government tried to punish Latvia for not conceding to sell oil port terminals: they banished Latvian imports, including sprats. In the wake of an anti-Latvian media campaign, Russians have switched to produce from Kaliningrad, a sizeable Russian enclave wedged between Lithuania and Poland. Articles describing discrimination against Russian speakers in Latvia fuelled the patriotic sentiment to the point where even after the oil port facilities were finally sold to an oligarch-owned corporation, the sales of Latvian sprats never picked up back again. Weeny smoked fishes became the symbol of economic patriotism.

Politics aside, sprats taste better unadulterated on rye bread with some finely sliced red onions. I also use them instead of anchovies in the Caesar salad dressing for the extra smokey kick. Although the label says "smoked in a wood furnace", I think they use a ready-made smoke concentrate.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A dash of chlorophyll: spinach stir-fry with oyster sauce

We all need some chlorophyll, the energy-absorbing pigment responsible for the green colour of leaves, to keep us running. Even British scientists, who are mostly busy with using grants on utterly useless projects, concur that regular consumption of green veggies is beneficial to human health. It won't help us with photosynthesis though.

Spinach is said to contain tons of chlorophyll, well at least about 300-600 mg per ounce. Besides, it tastes fab when cooked according to my favourite recipe.
  1. As the actual cooking time is very short and not overcooking is essential, first of all do what the Japanese call shita-goshirae: base preparations. Peel and chop or finely slice a few garlic cloves. Wash and cut a tomato. Wash well and shake dry abig bunch of fresh spinach leaves. Optional: de-seed and chop a chilli pepper.
  2. Heat a little odourless sunflower oil in a wok or pan on high fire.
  3. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and chilli, fry until the garlic is golden brown.
  4. Add the tomato and then shortly after that the spinach. Stir well.
  5. Reduce heat and add fish sauce and oyster sauce to taste. Remove from fire when the spinach is slightly crunchy.
Serve as a side dish or as main dish with steamed rice.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Satay Bar & Restaurant: hip dining Brixton style

When I tell people I live in Brixton, more often than not I get some brow play and disparaging grunts. It seems like the riots of the 80s have left an indelible scar on Londoners' psyche. I guess I am lucky enough to have never witnessed Brixton in its bad days. I moved here as wealth trickling south of the river had triggered inevitable gentrification of this neighbourhood with huge swathes of middle class houses, a cosmopolitan food market and a Zone 2 station on London's fastest Tube line.

This combination of unabated multiculturalism, ease of access and newfangled affluence has sprouted a mighty string of trendy eateries and night entertainment venues. Satay Far East Bar and Restaurant located a short walk from the station on Coldharbour Lane is a good ambassador of this new Brixton. Through its wall-size windows you can see a United Colours of Benetton mix of hip people chatting over neat bowls of exotic food or nursing fancy-looking cocktails to the beat of cool lounge music. No hoodies or baseball caps allowed inside but there is no fuddy-duddy dress code as in "trying to be posh" joints either: it is a picture perfect of the 21st century London's with-itness, urban, wordly and comfortable in its own skin.


Now down to the grub.

Saigon Samosas (
£3.90) - three triangular prawn spring rolls spruced up with fresh coriander and holy basil. Perhaps the best of the deep-fried variety that I have tasted in London.

Prawn Spring Rolls (
£3.50) - deep-fried food is not my favourite as it seems to absorb all the burnt oil but the prawn inside was nicely marinated and juicy. Wouldn't fall over myself for the crust though.

Jungle Curry (
£4.80) - rather expertly cooked Thai Northeast's own gaeng paa. The flavour was just right, although I suspect derived from packaged curry paste. Thumbs up: spicy as it should be. Thumbs down: broccoli and carrots.

Seafood Combo (
£5.50) - herby and fiery with nice chunks of fresh tasting seafood. Although just a generic stir-fry, well done anyway!

Prawn Samba Sambal (
£5.50) - I love Indonesian sambals but this one was bland, salty and watery, although smelling vaguely of the correct ingredients. Was the cook broken-hearted and weeped over my plate?

Wings of Fire (
£5.50) -Brixton's take on Louisiana Spicy Hot Wings just as they should be: burning hot and crunchy on the outside, sweet and juicy inside. The volume was enough to share some between our whole party but chilli sauce was really superfluous.

Fiery Fries (£3.00) - these awesome buggers deserve a special mention. Normally, I would be the last person to be seen eating French fries but I make an exception for Satay's creation. Thick, grease-free and dusted in chilli powder, they are as close to the Ultimate Potato Dish as can be! Who needs ketchup with that?


Although the prices are rather low - even more so during lunch and happy hours - there is a catch. You have to order sides separately:
£1.80 for plain rice, £2.20 for coconut. Lunch specials include rice and are a great value.

I had to laugh reading a review of this place by a lady who had to get sloshed to work up enough courage to come to Brixton and have a meal of which she does not seem to have remembered much. I pray that she will muster enough guts to come again and
revel in the hipness of the latter-day Brixton.

Pro's: Hip relaxed ambiance. Food covering the entire scope of my academic research: from Japan to Indonesia.

Con's: Portions summat on the smaller side.

In a nutshell: The essence of Brixton: multi-culti dining with a multi-culti crowd.

Satay Bar & Restaurant
447 Coldharbour Lane
SW9 8LP London

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Simplicity revisited: grilled portobello mushrooms with crème fraîche and oyster sauce on a bed of caramelised onions

ive me simplicity any time. Even more so when it comes to food. This is one of my fave lunch sandwiches: portobello mushrooms grilled with crème fraîche and oyster sauce served on a bed of caramelised onions and ciabatta. Haha, I gotcha there! Well, in fact, it is way easier than it sounds, does not cost much and is a cinch to prepare.

Here how it goes:
  1. Slice finely two onions. Fry slowly with some olive oil, coarsely ground black pepper, sea salt and dry herbs of your choice until golden brown. This process caramelises the natural sugars in onions bringing out their natural sweetness. If you have fish sauce, use it instead of salt.
  2. Mix well crème fraîche with a hearty glug of dry white wine and, how can you do without it, coarsely ground black pepper. Season with fish sauce.
  3. Remove the stems from portobello mushrooms, put the caps upside down and fill them with the crème fraîche mix. Put them on an well oiled oven tray.

  • Bake the mushrooms in the oven at 180 degrees until the crème fraîche looks nice and brown (about 12-15 min).
  • Cut a ciabatta or a baguette in two, top it with the fried onions, grilled portobellos and chopped parsley or ruccola.

  • This recipe was inspired by the traditional Russian way of stir-frying wild mushrooms with onions and serving them with sour cream. Fish sauce is a harkback to my Asian days and ciabatta is a tribute to my love affair with all things Mediterranean.

    Sunday, September 13, 2009

    Miền Tây: the Mekong Delta's bounty in Shoreditch

    Vietnam has a special place in my heart because it is where earlier this century I broke my vegan regimen for the first time. Having saved over the course of many meatless years quite a herd of animals, fowl and fish from a terrible fate, I finally caved in to the temptations of Vietnamese cuisine. It was a cinch. One sunny evening, I just told my guilt to sock it and tucked in a bowl of freshly cooked seafood somewhere on an island amongst the otherwordly beauty of the Halong Bay. A chewy squid circle. A juicy pink shrimp. An octopus tentacle deep-fried to delightful crunchiness. I never looked back to soya burgers again.

    I don't know where the Vietcong escapees prefer to live in this city, but for me London's Vietnam Town is where a whole assortment of 15 Vietnamese eateries are huddled on a short stretch of Kingsway Road
    in Shoreditch. The majority sport a spartan café-like ambience with a couple boasting a more elaborate interior. The one wе finally decided to enter, Miền Tây, inside looked wholly laminated with paper table cloths and white-washed walls plastered with black Vietnamese lacquer panneaux. However, as it goes with Asian restaurants, there is no direct sure-fire correlation between the visual attractiveness of the establishment and the quality of food. This rule of thumb worked this time too. True to its name, which means the Mekong Delta, it serves dishes from the South of the country. Here's the breakdown of our feast.

    Gỏi cuốn thịt - fresh prawn rolls win me over the more common deep-fried variety every time. Peeled shrimp, fresh coriander and glass noodles are wrapped in rice paper and served with a tangy home-made peanut dip. Vietnamese cuisine at its best: fresh, with a delicate balance of the main tastes.


    Gỏi đu đủ tôm - prawn and shredded unripe papaya salad – very much Thai somtam but with a gentler, finer dressing. Served with rice crackers instead of steamed sticky rice, more common in Thailand.


    Canh hải sản chua cay - spicy and sour seafood soup - is a veritable potion of life, that gave me a much needed spicey kick gently enwrapped in pineapple's sweetness and lime's refreshing sourness. That's what I call comfort food, not sugar packed calorie busters. Generously packed with both seafood and vegetables, enough for two, really.


    Dê nướng - grilled goat – crunchy and juicy strips of goat’s meat, smoky from charcoals. Very moreish, even more so in the light of a very economical volume. I really wonder why: goat's meat may be a novelty item but it defo does not cost much.


    Bún Bò Xào Xả Ớt - beef stir-fried with onions, chillis and lemon grass - turned out the least looker of all we ordered. Really heavy on shredded lemon grass, it proved not such a lucky choice tastewise too.

    Savouring all that herby exuberance, I was thinking how good it is not to be vegetarian any more.

    Pro's: Delish food cooked to perfection. Friendly service.

    Con's: Smallish portions so comes out rather pricey. Plasticky interior.

    In a nutshell: Great place for authentic Vietnamese munches if you don't need a fancy ambience (I, for one, don't).

    Miền Tây
    122 Kingsland Road Shoreditch
    London, E2 8DP

    Saturday, September 12, 2009

    Boldo: Argentine bay leaf tea

    Boldo teaHaving started drinking coffee at the tender age of six, I am an incorrigible caffeine junky. However, a cup of Joe after 3PM will keep me buzzing with restless activity until the next morning. I, hence, have to resort to herbal teas, of which I have a formidable stock. Wherever I travel I buy local herbs and mixtures that can be brewed in some hot water.

    Argentina, having an endemic flora vastly different from the Old World, boasts a host of superb herbs unheard of on our side of the ocean. One of those is boldo. Frankly speaking, it is a bit of an acquired taste as thanks
    to ascaridole that it contains it very assertively reeks of bay leaf.

    In Argentina, boldo tea bags are as ubiquitous as peppermint or chamomile in Europe. It is alleged to be cholagogic, that is stimulating the secretion of gall.

    Friday, September 11, 2009

    Canard à l'orange: French answer to Peking Duck

    There are precious few ways to make duck's peculiar meat palatable. Off-hand, I can think only of two: Peking Duck and Canard à l'Orange. I am never up to cooking either but my Mom favours the French recipe. My parents are lucky enough to have access to all kinds of real organic produce and I must tell you there is nothing like the flavour of poultry that has happily grazed on the lush meadows of the Southern Russian countryside.

    Just like me, my Mom does not use precise measurements for cooking but the following instructions will give you a pretty good idea of how to whip up this classic French dish.
    1. Gut and clean a medium-sized (1.5-2 kg) duck, reserving the giblets. Rub the duck with oil, salt and pepper and place in a roasting pan. Bake in the hot oven for about one and half hours. Baste frequently during cooking.
    2. Meanwhile, brown the giblets in a skillet (use butter). Add two sliced onions, two sliced carrots, an unpeeled clove of garlic, a small bunch of thyme and two bay leaves. Fry gently for about 15 minutes until golden brown.
    3. Put everything into a saucepan. Add two cups of white wine and a tablespoonful of tomato paste. Bring to boil and cook for about 45 minutes. When cooked drain the resulting juices in a bowl.
    4. In a saucepan, make gastrique by gently browning half a cup of sugar and then dissolving it in half a glass of white wine vinegar. When the gastrique is ready add the duck juice from the bowl.
    5. Add the rind of 3 oranges, their juice and and a shot glass of Grand Marnier. Whisk thoroughly and keep warm.
    6. Serve the duck with the sauce, decorate with orange circles.

    Thursday, September 10, 2009

    Nasi lemak: rice for the hard to please (coconut rice recipe)

    The smell of freshly cooked rice wakes the Pavlov dog in me. I can't walk past Asian restaurants without my mouth suddenly starting watering. However, many people find plain rice boring. For those, there is coconut rice which is very easy to cook and compatible with a lot of dishes.

    For me, coconut rice forever associates with Malaysia, where by the name of nasi lemak it is a national dish. It blends perfectly well with the lush spice-heavy aromas of Malaysian cuisine. I was quite surprised to see my old favourite served in a Colombian restaurant.

    Cooking coconut rice is interpreted in a variety of ways but here's my own simple recipe that invariably yields fine results:
    1. Rinse rice seven times until water runs clean.
    2. Put the rice in a thick-bottomed pan and cover with twice as much coconut milk. I stick my finger upright for measurement: if the rice reaches the first joint, the coconut milk should come up to the second one.
    3. Add some fish sauce. I put enough to make the content just slightly salty.
    4. Put the pan on high fire until it boils, then reduce the fire to minimum.
    5. Allow to steam away about 20 min. By all means resist the temptation to peek under the lid! The fat in coconut milk will prevent the rice from burning. Instead it will start frying at the bottom. Remove the pan from the heat when you smell the characteristic fragrance.
    6. Let stay covered for a few minutes, then gently fluff the rice with a wooden spatula and allow to stay for another few minutes.
    7. Sprinkle with toasted garlic or onion or chopped coriander and serve with gado-gado or chorizo colombiano.

    Tuesday, September 8, 2009

    Stolovaya №57: souped up blast from the Soviet past (Столовая №57 в ГУМе)

    I t is, perhaps, ironic that a Communist dream had to come true in a hotbed of blatant capitalist consumerism. The Stolovaya №57, a lovingly glorified piece of Soviet obschepit (public dining industry) on the third floor of Moscow's premier luxury shopping mall, the GUM, just off the Red Square.

    This cosy cafeteria is made up as what the ideal workers' canteen would have been in the USSR, featuring such previously unavailable perks as smiling personnel, solid cutlery and fancy cakes. Catering to the recent fad for Soviet nostalgia tucked away in a corner is an old-fashioned soda water dispenser. I remember other children falling over themselves about a glass of sickly sweet fizz that used to cost the royal 3 kopecks (0.03 rouble). It never impressed me, I preferred my Grandma's raspberry mousse but the half-forgotten sight of the 70s plastic-and-nickel contraption did strike a poignant chord in me.

    This place used to be cramped in the basement, feeding the GUM's employees on Russian classics for a fraction of the ongoing price in the area. For many years it was one of my best kept secrets: the cheapest place to eat really well in the very heart of Moscow - until Bosco, the company behind the 10-Euro-coffee café on the GUM's ground floor decided to take the matter in their hands. They have moved the canteen all the way upstairs, gave it a facelift in the shape of a terrace, solid-wood furniture and marble columns and effectively banned lowly shop assistants from dining there by hiking up the prices.



    I would not say that the food quality has improved a lot - it was always quite consistent - but the presentation is much nicer these days, although the personnel's smiling faces and chirpy airs do send a couple of shivers down my spine. I still can't quite buy into the idea of Russians smiling to customers but what do I know after two decades away from the Mother Ship!

    Many expat reviews about this place that I spotted on the net revolve around the tired Western stereotypes about Russian diet: borsht, mayonnaise in the salads and beef stroganoff . It is a shame because they all overlook a pleasantly large array of other entries, which, in their entirety, are the closest approximation to your typical home-cooked fare. What we had for our traditionally extensive Russian style lunch is a good example thereof.

    Zakuski, starters, are a big deal. They can be very elaborate and filling but are actually only meant to build up some appetite before tucking in the mains.
    • tongue in aspic: aspic dishes, although very time and labour consuming, are in great favour in Russia; potent Russian mustard or grated horseradish is the ideal condiment;
    • coated herring: chopped herring covered in neat layers of finely cut beets, potatoes, carrots, apples, carrots, onions and, what would you do without it, mayonnaise; the resulting sweetish-sourish-salty creaminess is superbly palatable;
    • mushroom salad: lightly pickled champignons de Paris sprinkled with dill and chopped onions;
    • creamy mushroom casserole, for some strange reason called julienne in the menu, is a good example of hot starters that are indispensable for a proper Russian meal.


    There are hardly any Russians who go through a day without a bowl of soup. In fact, it is the soup that is deemed the main course, while what is the main in the West is called vtoroye, "the second".
    • solyanka soup is made with smoked meat, pearl barley, potatoes and pickled cucumbers; it is sourish and, by Russian standards, spicy, often eaten with a dollop of crème fraîche and a wedge of lemon, olives being a rather recent addition;
    • svekolnik soup is a cold summer vegetable soup based on beet juice and adorned with crème fraîche and a boiled egg; it is made slightly sour with a bit of lemon juice;
    • succulent Pozharskaya kotleta (breaded chicken burger) + boiled potatoes with dill; for the lack of a better equivalent, chicken burger is very misleading as the combination of moist creaminess and the flavourful crunchiness of the this Russian classic is head and shoulders above its Western fast food namesake;
    • fried chicken suprème + cauliflower in rich sour cream sauce; this is rather generic international and nothing typical Russian except for the sauce;
    • chocolate cake with layers spliced alternatively with crushed roasted peanuts and poppy seeds;
    • cherry kompot - stewed cherries drink;
    • cloudberry mors - basically cold water with crushed berries and a tad of sugar.


    All that culinary exuberance set us back to the tune of 960 roubles (about EUR22) and now you know why I was so unhappy about my grim sandwich-and-coffee lunches back in my office-rat days in Amsterdam and London! Russia is still very much a slow food country and there is a lot to enjoy despite what people brought up on fish and chips or Salisbury steaks like to think.

    Pro's: Still very affordable considered the location.

    Con's: Can't think of any.

    In a nutshell: Unadulterated Russian classics for a little dosh.

    Stolovaya №57
    Gum Department Store,
    3rd floor, 3rd Line,
    Red Square
    Moscow

    As I walked away from my lunch, contentedly burping with chocolate cake that, to nip the glycemic dip in the bud, I polished off with a cup of very decent double capuccino, I beheld a marvellous sight. Three floors of Russians leisurely dining in style on the best of world's dainties. Communist bosses would have eaten their hearts out.

    Friday, September 4, 2009

    Rustic sophistication: French onion soup (soup des oignions)

    his is the ultimate peasant soup: it requires no meat and onions are about the cheapest vegetable to come by. It also thrives in the Russian countryside: my Mom cooks it for Dad at least once a month. The rich and gentle flavour of caramelised onions blends perfectly with grilled cheese and bread.

    Thursday, September 3, 2009

    Indian tandoori marinade recipe

    hey say tandoori chicken was invented by a shrewd Indian restaurateur who couldn't see tandoors (bread ovens) stay idle when there was no naan to bake. Knowing Indian business acumen, it sounds a plausible theory.

    But back to gastronomy. Here is my recipe for the incomparable tandoori marinade for barbeque.
    1. Peel one onion, half a head of garlic and about 6 cm of ginger. Put them in a kitchen processor and reduce them into homogeneous pulp. Add some water if necessary.
    2. Chop finely one or two seeded chilli peppers.
    3. Put about 150 g of natural yoghurt (the fatter the better, never skimmed one!) into a big bowl.
    4. Add 1, 2, Tandoori Spice Mix, palm sugar and fish sauce.
    5. Stir well until everything dissolves. It should taste pleasantly pungent with a nice balance of sweet, sour, salty and spicy.
    6. Chop chicken, fish or what have you into bite-size chunks and mix well with 5.
    7. Cover with cling film and let stay overnight in the fridge. Stir every 6-8 hours.
    8. Remove from the fridge a couple of hours before cooking. It helps to have your barbecue evenly cooked when the raw mix is of room temperature.

    Tuesday, September 1, 2009

    Yokan: Japanese bean jelly

    Japanese sweets, wagashi, are an exquisite affair little known abroad. Yokan, or youkan, is a paste of very fine bean flour, custard sugar and agar-agar.

    What seems a simple mixture of basic ingredients, in fact, is a fine art. In Japan there are still a lot of artisan shop specialising in hand-made yokan that fetches very high prices among connoisseurs.

    Strangely enough, the word yokan means "sheep broth". Originally, leftovers of slaughtered sheep, like bones, joints and ties, were boiled in water to produce gelatine to give yokan its jelly-like texture. That was the deal in China, where it was invented. However, in Buddhist Japan consumption of animal products (except fish and seafood) was banned for many centuries, so here agar-agar was used instead but the old name has stuck.