an adventure into my cookbook collection: soul-searching, doing things differently & the truths I learn along the way...

deseeding pomegranates is feminine & erotic, unless you hit them with a wooden spoon...


Thursday, 29 November 2012

Celeriac Sofrito

I first tasted this dish a few weeks ago when I volunteered, together with Moishe House and Brondesbury Park Synagogue at Rumi’s Kitchen, in Cricklewood Mosque. About once a month, a group of people come together and cook for the homeless. What’s wonderful about it, is that it isn’t so much about the food, but about creating a sense of community. Much love to Becky for introducing them to me. See below* for details about Rumi’s Cave.

I had never worked in an industrial-sized kitchen before, and absolutely loved it. The pot I was stirring was so big that it went over four rings on the hob, and the heat was so intense that two of us were stirring together to keep the celeriac from sticking. The original recipe was chosen by someone from the synagogue, it is an Ottolenghi dish, served with oniony meatballs. This recipe here is my adaptation.

In Jerusalem, Ottolenghi/ Tamimi explain that a sofrtio has its origins in Sephardic Jewish cooking, and refers a cooking method. Originating from the Spanish verb sofreir (to fry lightly). It involves slowly cooking meat in a pot on the stovetop with only oil and very little liquid. The result is a very tender texture and rich, comforting flavour. Turmeric, garlic and lemon are traditional flavours for this. Although traditionally associated with meat, it works incredibly well here with just veggies.

Celeriac is a pretty new ingredient for me. I have never been the biggest fan of root vegetables, but celeriac is brilliant. Every day on Masterchef Professionals someone seems to be making celeriac puree, so it can’t just be me. I have made this recipe a few times now, and I really love it. It’s sunshine-yellow and lemony, and the spices add an incredible warmth. I’ve added a few potatoes for a little variety in texture – the celeriac becomes really soft and almost creamy.

Makes enough for 4-6 as a side dish.

2 tbsp olive oil
1 celeriac, peeled and cut into approx 5cm x 1.5cm batons. I intentionally cut some a little small and some a little big, for different textures.
About 8 small waxy potatoes (I use charlottes) cut into quarters
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp each cumin and coriander
1 tsp fennel seeds, lightly crushed
¾ tsp smoked paprika
1 mug-full of chicken or vegetable stock (1 cube) – you may need a little extra liquid
Juice from half a lemon – more of less depending on your preferences
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

The potatoes take a little longer to cook, so start them off cooking before you peel and chop the celeriac. Heat the oil in a large saucepan/or deep frying pan and add the potatoes, stirring quite frequently on a medium heat. Add the celeriac when it is ready, along with the turmeric, fennel seeds and other spices. Fry these all together for 5-10 minutes, until the spices start smelling fragrant and the veggies look cooked at the edges. Add the garlic and fry for another 5 minutes, stirring all the time to prevent it from burning. Then add the mug of stock, and simmer for at least 20 minutes. As there isn’t that much liquid, you will need to stir quite regularly to prevent it from sticking to the bottom (you may need to add a little more liquid, but don’t add too much).  When the potato quarters have cooked through and the smaller wedges of celeriac have started to disintegrate and thicken the sauce, season with the lemon, salt and pepper. Goes very well with thick Greek yogurt or Labneh.

8 celeriacs cooking in the giant pot at Rumi's Kitchen
Another volunteer and I stirring the giant pot. I love my apron 
my normal-sized version - slightly too orange as my hand slipped with the paprika - tasted nice though

Served with herby labneh and pomegranate seeds

*Rumi’s Cave is a community space located in the heart of Kilburn in London. It is run by charity, Ulfa Aid as a way of engaging and reaching out to the community. At Rumi’s Cave, we aim to create an environment of spirituality, creativity and learning for everyone, despite race or religion. Their mission is: Spirituality, Creativity, Education, Community, Charity.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Dark chocolate peanut butter cups

I think I could probably write an entire cookbook based on recipes using peanut butter – seeing how much I get through, maybe Skippy will sponsor one. My love for peanut butter cups, and probably peanut as ‘sweet’ comes from my first trip to New York as a conscious foodie aged 14 (all I remember from my trip at the age of 4 is getting soaked by my cousin Josh at a water fountain outside the Smithsonian). Reese’s Peanut Butter cups completely changed my world. Coming home from that trip my suitcase basically consisted of peanut butter cups, some variations on the theme including cookie and grape jelly, and a pair of Steve Madden platforms. Well I guess that’s what happens when a 14 year old is in the US without parental supervision. Speaking of foodie consciousness by the way, this trip was also the first time that I tried, and fell in love with, both sushi and aubergines (I had been afraid of them previously). It also put an end of my refusal to eat red meat. Much much love to all my American family for contributing to this enlightenment.

These peanut butter cups were another one of the chocolates made with T.O.M on our chocolate day a few weeks ago. The original recipe comes from Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess, which I think I count as my favourite book just because of the title. See evidence of me getting carried away with being a ‘domestic goddess’ here. T.O.M and I have made this before in its original state, the peanut butter square, but this time on our chocolate day we were feeling a little more ambitious.

When I told a colleague that I was planning on making peanut butter cups, her response was ‘you know that you can get them in the shops right’? Obviously it takes a little more time to paint the cupcake cases with melted chocolate, but it really is worth it. The dark chocolate gives them a bitterness that is a perfect foil for the sweetness of the peanut filling, and makes them feel a little more grown-up, and different from Reese’s. See my post on honeycomb-peanut chocolate bites (also Nigella) for some thoughts on why salty peanut goes so well with chocolate.

Makes about 15 cups, more or less depending on how big you make them, obviously. T.O.M and I made a double batch, from which we made about 18 cups and a big rectangle of chocolate peanut butter squares.

Big thanks again to Steven for the tremendous photos


       50g muscovado sugar
       200g icing sugar
       50g unsalted butter or vegan margarine - softened
       200g peanut butter – crunchy or smooth depending on preference
       Make sure that you have about 400g of dark chocolate, although you probably wont need all of it.
       Cupcake cases

First make the chocolate cases. Melting chocolate can be very temperamental, so I tend not to melt more than 50-100g at a time. Either use the microwave or a bowl suspended over a pan of simmering water making sure that no steam or condensation makes its way into the chocolate, or it will seize. Using a teaspoon (or a clean paintbrush) coat the base of the cupcake case with melted chocolate, carefully working the chocolate up the sides to about a third of the way up. Set the cases aside to firm up.

In a large bowl, mix together the sugars, butter and peanut butter together. I know it seems like a scary list of ingredients, but trust me it works – the muscavado sugar gives a brilliant sandy texture. Use a food processor for this if you want, it is not the easiest thing to mix by hand.

When the chocolate cases are hardened, take a small handfuls of the peanut mixture, roll it into flat-ish circles using your hands, and press them into the cases. Make sure that the peanut doesn’t come up higher than the edge of the chocolate, otherwise there will be gaps and cracks in the finished cups.

When this is done, melt a little more chocolate to cover over the tops. Make sure that the chocolate is completely hardened before turning them out of the paper cases – but don’t put them in the fridge.

Monday, 5 November 2012

White Chocolate Mendiants with Fennel Leaf and Pink Peppercorns

These are I think the most beautiful things I have ever made, and would make an excellent gift for Christmas or Chanukah. Apart from my love of Hundertwasser (backgrounds here and on Twitter), my favourite form of visual art is Japanese landscapes paintings, especially Edo Period. I actually own an original Hiroshige print, probably my most prized possession. I can (and do) stare at it for hours feeling all happy and serene. These little chocolates look just like Japanese Cherry Blossom paintings, and as soon as I saw a photo of them I completely fell in love – the way you would if you saw your favourite kind of art reproduced in chocolate (unless you are a big fan of Damien Hirst, or potentially any of the YBAs actually).

Every so often, although not often enough, T.O.M and I get together and have a chocolate baking day. And we are getting pretty good at it. We always buy twice as much chocolate as we need, but nowadays we don’t seize any, we just eat all the leftovers. For the past few months I had been incubating in my brain some sort of thing involving pink peppercorns and white chocolate. I couldn’t quite work it out, but I knew that it had to be something spectacular. Conveniently I had given T.O.M a bag of pink peppercorns recently and so everything just fell into place. I found this recipe via Google, and as soon as I saw this one, I knew I had to make it. It is an El Bulli recipe, and I found it here.

Mendiants isn’t exactly the right kind of name for these, but I needed to find something better to call them other than ‘thingies’. (From Wikipedia) A Mendiant is a traditional French confection composed of a chocolate disk studded with nuts and dried fruits, representing the four monastic orders of Dominicans (raisins), Augustinians (hazelnut), Franciscans (fig) and Carmelites (almonds). Not really the most interesting thing I have ever written on here – but I’m sure it will come up in a pub quiz or on University Challenge or something. Answers on a postcard, or comment below, about what Saint, or saintly figure these could represent.


You will need some fennel fronds from the top of a fennel bulb. We had to go through an entire box of them in Sainsburys to find one which hadn’t been completely trimmed, and then ended up cheekily picking leaves off other ones and putting them in the same bag.

With the peppercorns, they need to be lose and not in a grinder – you only want the pink outer layer – the centre is black and not as pretty.

With regards to the white chocolate, the Green and Blacks one is very good as it has tiny flecks of black vanilla running all the way through it. It is pretty pricey though – we used a third Green and Blacks and two thirds Sainsburys own brand, and it seemed to work very well.

You will need lots of greaseproof or baking paper, a chopping board or other flat thing, and a flat bottomed glass.

In order to make these beauties, first carefully clean and check the fennel fronds – be careful as they are really delicate. Carefully remove any squashed leaves, dirt and caterpillars. Once dry, pick off miniature tree-shaped fronds and arrange them on a sheet of greaseproof paper that has been wrapped around a chopping board or something. Leave quite a lot of space between them. This is a fiddly job, but the whole point of these is how they look, so do take the time to do it carefully. Its pretty therapeutic actually.

Once the fennel leaves are in place, arrange a few flakes of pink peppercorn over each one, trying if possible to get them in the ‘branches’.

Carefully melt the chocolate using a bain-marie or microwave of you are feeling confident, and using a spoon put a blob over each fennel leaf-peppercorn arrangement. Take care when doing this, and don’t do it from a height – you need to make sure that the arrangement doesn’t get distorted or crushed by the chocolate.

Once this is done, place a second sheet of paper over the chocolates, and use the glass to gently press each one into a flat circular disk, encasing the fennel-leaf and pepper flakes into the chocolate ‘like a fossil’. Leave to set, using the fridge only if you have to.

And there you have it. So easy and so beautiful. I’m thinking of other variations of this – potentially with tarragon. Or maybe in keeping with the colour theme, some flakes of pink Himalayan salt.

With much love and thanks to T.O.M, and to Steven for being completely lovely whilst being thrown out of his own kitchen, and taking these incredible photos.

this photo taken by Claudie

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Cold Soba Noodles with Chilli and Peaches

Adapted from Plenty. This salad is one of the nicest things I have made in a while. It is sweet, refreshing, sharp and spicy. Multi-coloured, and pretty easy to put together too.

One of the things I love about my community is the pot-lucks.  When I first moved in just over two years ago, the concept terrified me. As some of you may know, sometimes, I can be a little tightly-wound – the thought of coming together for a meal comprising of unknown food was too much to cope with. What if the balance of carb/ veg/ protein was off? What if there was too much humous? What if there was Indian and Chinese food? But of course, I was wrong.

The unknown is the best part. Debbie D says this much better than me:

[Communities] such as Wandering Jews, Carlebach Minyan and Grassroots Jews are fuelled by vast pot-luck dinners. Alongside shop-bought goods, guests can showcase their signature dishes to a chorus of ‘Mmm, who made this?’ The quality and quantity of food may vary, but the symbolism of each guest contributing to a communal meal is not lost on the convenors of these transient communities.” (

At this year’s Grassroots Jews New Year, I was privileged to be part of a pot-luck with about 200 amazing people. ‘Mmm, who made this’ went round a lot. This dish came to me through a rumour – someone said, I can’t remember who, that there was a noodle salad with mangoes and aubergine that I just had to try. When I saw it I recognised it immediately as being from the vegetarian cookbook Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi. And it was delicious. I’m still not sure who made it, but they kindly left the recipe, which is now taped to the fridge in the Moishe House.

Cold noodles is one of my favourite things to eat, and so a week ago I decided to try out this recipe for myself. When I got to the supermarket though, the new-in-season peaches looked so fantastic that I knew I needed to use them. I had also just spent what felt a week of my life grilling aubergines and didn’t really want to cook with them either (you can have too much of a good thing). So here is my variation of the soba noodles in Plenty, with peaches and a few other tweaks.

Serves 3-5, as a salad.


100ml rice vinegar
1-2 tsp honey* (more or less, depending on your tastes)
2 tsp soy sauce (likewise)
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 medium sized fresh red chilli, deseeded and finely sliced
1-2 tsp toasted sesame oil
grated zest and juice of 1 lime

250g soba (buckwheat) noodles
2 ripe peaches, stoned and sliced (I like to leave the skin on for the colour, it also prevents the fruit from disintegrating into the salad)
1 large handful beansprouts
Toasted broken-up cashews, about ½ a cup
2 spring onions, whites and greens sliced on the diagonal
½ a bunch of fresh coriander, roughly chopped

To make the dressing, warm the rice vinegar with the honey – I used a microwave. When the honey has melted in and everything is warm, remove from the heat and add the garlic, chilli, sesame oil and soy sauce.

Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions (my packet said to cook for 4-6 minutes and I boiled them for 4, but in hindsight I should have taken them out at 3). Drain them and rinse them under cold water to halt the cooking process. Shake off the excess water and leave them to dry a little on a tea towel.

In a large bowl mix the noodles with the dressing and the rest of the ingredients. If not serving immediately, leave out the coriander until you are ready to serve, otherwise it will wilt.

*I have labelled this vegan despite the honey, so feel free to use some sugar or agave syrup if you would like to