I can never tell

I’m in the kitchen by myself, but there’s more than one cook here. I can never tell which one’s going to have her way.

I walked in to cook a mustardy-coconuty-chicken; I found the mustard oil, made a mustard paste, grated the coconut; I took the bird out of the fridge. Suddenly, there was a bottle of sriracha hollering from the corner, and suddenly the other cook was elbowing her way in. So, now instead of a mustardy-coconuty-chicken cooking on the fire, there’s a soy-shriracha chicken grilling in the oven.

Does that happen to you? Tell me I’m not the only one with Multiple Cook Personality Disorder. 

I made a hummus yesterday, from scratch, and not with tinned chickpeas either. But was hummus in the plans? No. The chickpeas, soaked through the day, were supposed to become a Chana Masala. But they didn’t. One of the bossy cooks in my head took out the tahini.

The hummus was good. I used this recipe from the Guardian by Felicity Cloake. Her recipe comes with an interesting hummus-debate.

While the chickpeas were soaking, I also made this. Every piece that I make now seems to be soaked syrupy with springtime and posies and happy little birdies; I think the weather’s finally starting to take the hint. (You can find the art in my Etsy Shop)

After the hummus had happened, we ate it with hunks of crusty bread. But some of it also sneaked into something that it wasn’t supposed to sneak into. There was a stew cooking on the hob, and the bowl of hummus sitting on the kitchen counter. One thing led to another, and the stew turned a corner.


A hummus-y carrot & new potato stew

(You don’t need this recipe really. You can make any old stew, throwing in your choice of bits and bobs – vegetables, chicken and what-you-will – and just follow the last leg of the recipe where I stir in the hummus.)

Ingredients

4 carrots, diced thick
5-6 new potatoes, halved or quartered
1 small white onion, sliced
8-10 slices of chorizo (skip this if you want, the vegetarian version is great too)
2 cloves garlic, minced
Olive oil
2 cups chicken stock (water or vegetable stock for the vegetarian version)
1 bayleaf
A few whole, black peppercorns
2 pinches of cumin powder
2 generous tbs hummus, freshly made or store-bought
One quarter of a lemon
A sprinkle of paprika
Salt

Into the heated olive goes the bayleaf and peppercorns, then the onion, potatoes, carrots and salt. Stir, lower the heat right down and cover. Cook till the carrots and potatoes are cooked halfway.
Pour in the chicken stock/water, add the chorizo and the cumin. Season if needed. Simmer till potatoes are cooked and carrots soft.
Take the pot off the heat. Now, stir in the hummus, the minced garlic and a squeeze of lemon.
Transfer to a serving dish and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with paprika. Serve with couscous or a rustic bread.

Leave me the leftovers

I’ve always liked leftovers. They would nudge me to be creative, to look for possibilities. To make whole old nothings. When leftover pieces of fabric are turned into a patchwork blanket, it becomes the best blanket your linen cupboard has ever seen. The blanket that you keep.

This spring, I enrolled for an art course. And it turned out to be a masterclass in leftovers. We met in a big room, next to the river, with a high ceiling that peaked in the middle. Exposed beams of old wood. A long wooden table battered by years of art. Shelves and drawers that spilled over with paints, brushes, scalpels, lethal liquids and things that you would (wrongly) assume had nothing to do with art. The room’s pièce de résistance was a large window, which let in sumptuous natural light, views of the water and of lunchtime joggers. In that room, and around that table, sat an odd assortment of twelve people, including an author of crime fiction with a deep interest in tulips. Our teacher, a lovely woman with a passion for the Incas, started the first class with a simple instruction. Don’t draw, don’t paint. Explore and research. Surely an unexpected turn for an ‘art class’? We looked at one another, each hoping the other knew what to do.

But soon we were dipping twigs, wires and feathers in ink, swirling toilet paper in PVA glue and brushing varnish on a savoy cabbage. At home, things which earlier would’ve been binned, were kept aside for the next class – leftovers from a sheet of bubble wrap, apple peel or egg shells. I looked at everything and saw TEXTURE. I would have an orange juice from the market stall, then ask for the peel and pulp.

Finally, by the end of the art course, the odd assortment of people, had created an odd assortment of beautiful things, while inspiring, and often humouring, each other.

I made ‘tea’. With bits of gauze, used teabags, red lentils and anything else within arm’s reach. Here’s my imprint of leftovers from the room by the river.

But in the kitchen, my love of unfinished bits and bobs is no secret. At the end of a meal, my mother-in-law would often watch me put away leftovers, with trepidation written large on her face. Because, leftovers from four dishes would not be stored in four separate boxes, but one.

I could literally taste what they could become when put together. Fill a frittata? Bake in béchamel? (stop with the alliteration already!) Anyway, the taste would in my head long before it was on my tongue. Soon, my mother-in-law began to enjoy the surprises that the little leftovers brought to the table. Her shoulders stopped tensing when I packed food away. She would just smile with a little shake of her head – here we go again.

Here’s one of my favourites – my ‘Everything Stew’. Perfect for the day when all you have left are leftovers, and very little time. So go on, scavenge! You’d be surprised what your fridge and wine cellar can come up with at short notice.

The Everything Stew

Ingredients

Apart from the red wine, which you do need, this list is really yours to make. It depends on the vegetables you have at home, the meat in your fridge, throw in some tofu or halloumi, or paneer if you have some. Make it vegetarian if you want. Use whatever you need to finish off, whatever is closest to their expiry date. This is what I had on hand:

6 cocktail sausages
4 chicken thighs
3 strips of bacon, sliced into smaller strips
6 brown chestnut mushrooms, halved
8 stalks of tenderstem broccoli
½ cup peas
100 gm halloumi, cut into cubes
1 onion
1 large tomato, cubed
4-5 cloves of garlic,  lightly crushed
1 bay leaf
Small bunch of parsley, chopped
1 cup dry red wine (I used a Pinot Noir)
1 cup water
1 tsp pepper, coarsely crushed
2 tbs olive oil
A pat of butter (optional)

Heat oil in a heavy wok or saucepan, which has a lid.
On medium heat, sauté the halloumi till lightly browned. Spoon out of the oil and keep aside.
Add sausages and bacon to the oil. Brown them on all sides. Spoon them out and keep aside.
In the same oil (add some more if you need) add the onion, garlic, pepper and chicken. Sauté till the chicken is lightly browned.
Add the tomatoes, the cup of water and the bayleaf.
Adjust the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for 8-10 minutes.
Add all the vegetables, Pour in the wine. And add half of the chopped parsley.
(Since I used vegetables that cooked quickly, I kept them for the end. But for something like florets of cauliflower, brown and soften them in oil earlier in the cooking process)
Gently simmer, without the lid, till all the vegetables are cooked.
Take pan off the heat. Stir in the halloumi, sausages and bacon. Add the butter if you’re using it.
Put the lid back on and let it stand for a few minutes, so that all the flavours soak into the broth. Transfer into your serving dish, garnish with the remaining parsley, and serve with pieces of crusty bread.

Serves 4