Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The strangest fruit

These are dank days; the skies are grey and no wind stirs. We are not in the dramatic and icy grip of winter, just a leaden silence with no birds’ song. Until the new rhubarb comes out from its candlelit caves there is nothing exotic on the shelves, because we don’t count strawberries from Peru and blueberries from Chile.

But hey, look, it’s a pomegranate! OK, not local, unless you live in Tehran, but seasonal as you like. And so exotic. They were definitely the strangest fruits when I was a child. We dug out the rubies within with bodkins, or tapestry needles. In Greek mythology the pomegranate represents life and regeneration, so it is a timely addition to the table in these deep dark days. The rich colour says sweet, but the taste of the arils is astringent. Evidence shows it to be effective against prostate cancer and cardiovascular disease, and the juice is loaded with vitamin C. Personally I find it a bit cheek-tightening to drink on its own, but there is a wonderful Iranian dish called Fesenjan that uses pomegranate molasses, a reduction of the fruit now easily available in bottles from the supermarket. It has a rich sweet/sour flavour and the walnuts give the dish a surprising texture.

You can use chicken or duck or lamb, and I used guinea fowl.


Duck, chicken, lamb or guinea fowl, cut into serving pieces
2 oz butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 tsp. black pepper
4 oz finely chopped walnuts
4 tbsp. pomegranate molasses
hot water or stock
1 medium aubergine
salt (for aubergine)
cooking oil
2 tsp. cardamom (powdered)


In a large pot, melt butter and brown the onions and pepper. Remove with slotted spoon and brown the meat with the walnuts. Return onions to pan, add pomegranate molasses and enough water or stock to barely cover the meat. Cover and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel and cube the aubergine. Put into a colander, sprinkle with salt, shake and leave for 20 mins to get rid of some of the moisture (otherwise it uses up all your oil!). Rinse, pat dry. Brown in oil in another pan and add to stew. Add cardamom and simmer for another 30 mins until tender. Allow sauce to reduce towards the end of the cooking time. Taste for seasoning.

Serve with rice.

Sunday, January 28, 2007


Spelt. It’s an old word, clearly, and I’ve never quite had a visual picture of it in my mind. An ancient form of grain, a close cousin to wheat, but we don’t use it very much any more. Now why would that be? The Romans made bread from it, it was a staple for a few hundred years and then it sort of passed out of fashion.

A couple of years ago I had some friends who were very rock ‘n’ roll and made a habit of having their colons cleansed. They had spelt loaves. These were little tiny bricks of tasty but rather dense carbohydrate. Not big enough to make even one sandwich and lost in the recesses of the toaster. I liked the taste but couldn’t really see the point.

Time passed. Spelt loaves are now on sale in the deli, doing well but still rather tiny to my mind. I bought some flour and read up on the contents. Spelt contains more protein, fat and fibre than wheat. It also contains special carbohydrates called mucopolysaccharides, which play a decisive role in stimulating the body’s immune system. Its cultivation was widespread until the industrial revolution, when new technology led to a preference for the easier to thresh common wheat. Its gluten composition is different to that of ordinary wheat and apparently it has an intense flavour. But most importantly, and I’m very glad I read this, it rises fast, and you particularly have to watch the second proving.

The flour I bought said wholemeal on the packet. Thinking ‘brick’ I decided to sieve out some of the bran. I only got about a dessertspoonful and I wouldn’t bother another time. I made up the dough with:

500g wholemeal spelt flour
10g fresh yeast
Two tsp sea salt
1 tbsp grapeseed oil
Warm water

I rub the yeast into the meal and salt, and add the grapeseed oil and enough warm water to make a soft dough. It comes together noticeably easily into a dough, with a lovely rosy terracotta hue. Already I am thinking of Hadrian’s Wall and the legions. Put to rise in a warm place it had doubled in size in an hour, with pinprick holes appearing on the surface. Preheat the oven to 180º now. The dough went into the warm 2 lb tin to prove for what I thought would be half an hour, but in fifteen minutes it was up to the top. Blimey!

I was surprised at the oven temperature – bread is usually cooked at a higher temperature – but that’s what the flour bag said, 180º. I used a baking stone under the tin and the bread cooked for 35 – 40 minutes.

I did manage to wait until it was completely cool to try it, and I was amazed. Wholemeal anything is asking for trouble. This had nothing added to it to detract from its wholemealness and it is light and delicious, with a warm nutty flavour, a good close texture and the most beautiful colour. You could toast it, make brilliant sandwiches, and I think it would be quite delicious with the addition of walnuts too.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Back of the packet

A query has arrived from Lindy; she says:

“I have enjoyed various rolls and breads in England called "granary", and seen "granary" flour for sale there, but not here (USA). It seems to be a proprietary brand name, and I'm having a hard time finding out what's in it, beyond malted wheat flakes. Do you know if there is any other essential ingredient? I've found the wheat flakes at Baker's Catalog (King Arthur Flour's online sales outlet) and I'm going to put some in my next loaf, but I've been wondering. As I recall, the flour was brown, but not really a whole wheat?”

The great thing (perhaps the only good thing) about the arrival of bread making machines is that the supermarkets now have lots of interesting flours for home breadmakers. Granary flour has been available for a good while and it is sold by a number of the good flour brands. Wiktionary defines granary bread as “bread made from white or brown flour that contains some wheatgerm and whole grains”.

I would say that it usually has a soft texture, it isn't wholemeal, but it has some malted grains in the mix that seem to add a definite sweetness and malty flavour.

According to the back of the packet the only extra ingredients are malted wheat flakes, which have the characteristic soft nutty flavour, but you could add some extra wheatgerm too. The same company – Hovis – that markets the flour also makes a granary loaf, but the contents are considerably more varied than the flour!

Malting is the controlled germination of cereals which allows the grain to partially germinate. The germination process is then stopped by the application of heat. It is a process mainly associated with brewing and distilling and bread made with added malted grains will have a hint of a familiar beery back flavour. For much more about malting go to http://www.howtobrew.com/section2/chapter12.html

Angela at A Spoonful of Sugar has a really good post on granary breadmaking and I can’t do better than point you in her direction. Her loaf looks really excellent.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

This is not just porridge…

Something extraordinary has happened to the oatmeal shelves. This time last year I’m sure there was just plain porridge oats and some sort of hot oaty cereal with a couple of flavours. Take a look at the supermarket shelves now…they’re groaning with oats of every description. And upmarket too. One of the packs costs in the region of £5.00. That’s really a lot when you can buy a kilo of porridge oats for about 50p.

So, in the interests of research, I spent not quite that amount but getting near it on a nicely packaged ‘delicious blend of oat flakes and oatmeal’. The oats are organic and certified so by the Soil Association. I made the porridge in my usual way, ½ cup of meal to about 1 ¼ cups of water, microwave for 2 mins. And even though I grew up in Scotland I still prefer a spoonful of honey with my porridge to the purist’s salt.

So what did I think? Well, it was pretty good actually; the pleasure was in the texture, both rough and smooth together, and I really think I could have got that without paying quite as much.

But anyway I took the Goldilocks option and ate it all up, every last lipsmacking mouthful!

PS A very timely comment from Pille at Nami-Nami tells us about takeaway porridge stands in Edinburgh, my alma mater and source of all good things.

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