Mock Doner Kebab

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Doner Kebab is a dish, originally from Turkey, made with spiced meat roasted on a vertical  spit roast. The best Kebab I’ve ever eaten was in Berlin, as the city hosts the largest Turkish community outside of Turkey and it’s very easy to find places that serve great kebabs. The situation is London is not as good, as the quality of the meats (you will mainly find lamb, which seems to be heavily processed, and chicken, but not particularly tasty) is not great, plus they serve it on pitta bread, which makes it very difficult to eat. Furthermore, nowadays kebabs often draw public attention for the wrong reasons, mainly for being very high in fat and calories,being made with meats whose origin is unclear (to say the least). As I live in London, for the above reasons I hardly ever have a kebab, which is a shame, because a consider a a good kebab a real treat,
so I was very happy when I found , almost by accident, a way to make something similar to the real thing, although with a completely different process (I doubt that most people have a vertical spit roast at home anyway :))

I am a massive smoked Paprika aficionado and I make my own smoked Paprika-based spice mixtures. The latest one I have come up with is made with dried thyme and oregano, dried Cayenne pepper (I use Italian peperoncino), all reduced to a fine powder using a mortar and pestle and, of course, smoked Paprika.
The result is an intense, fresh, smoky and lightly pungent flavour that works beautifully with chicken and pork.
Once I was eating some chicken that I had made with that mix, and the flavours reminded me of my favourite kebab place in Berlin (Berlin, due to its large Turkish community, is probably the European capital of kebab), so I decided that i would come up with a process to make it look and taste (almost) like a real doner.

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INGREDIENTS:
For the spices mix: dried thyme, dried oregano, smoked garlic, smoked paprika and dried chilli

Good quality bread rolls,
Chicken thighs, boned (allow 150-200g per person)
White onion, roughly chopped (depending on taste, or about 50g per person)

For the sauce: half mayonnaise and half Greek Yogurt and (optional), 1 clove of garlic, better if blanched

Vegetables (quantities here are difficult to define because each Doner will require fairly small amounts of each):
Tomato, finely sliced
Cucumber, finely sliced on the diagonal
Lettuce, finely sliced
Red cabbage, finely sliced

Olive or canola oil, for shallow frying

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First, lets make the spice mix: put the chilli, dried oregano and dried thyme in a mortar and reduce to a fine powder, then add the smoked garlic and smoked paprika. Regarding the quantities, spice mixes depend on taste, so each one can find his way around. As a guideline I can say that the thyme and oregano should make up roughly half of the total quantity, smoked garlic one fifth and the remainder will be smoked paprika. Chilli should just give a hint of piquancy but this is not meant to be a hot dish.

Regarding the meat, I suggest chicken thighs, because they are more tender and juicy than breast; you will find thigh fillets in most supermarkets nowadays; unfortunately, they are boned and skinned, whilst you want to keep the skin on for this preparation as it will add a nice touch of crispness, so it’s better if you bone them yourself or ask your butcher to do it for you.

Once you’ve got your skin-on thigh fillet, proceed as follows:

NOTE: a lightly toasted bread will provide an even better result, so I suggest that you turn the oven on at this point and toast the bread

  • Lay them on a chipping board and flatten using a meat pounder until they have a uniform thickness of 1 cm or less. Pounding the meat will make it thinner, so it will cook more quickly, and will also make the thickness uniform, so the cooking will be more uniform
Pound the meat

Pound the meat

Difference in size between two fillets, the one on the left has been pounded

Difference in size between two fillets, the one on the left has been pounded

Difference in thickness between the two filets, the one on the left has been pounded

Difference in thickness between the two filets, the one on the left has been pounded

  •  Coat with flour
  • In a skillet, heat the oil and shallow fry the fillets on both sides until golden and crispy
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  •  Take the fillets off the pan and shallow fry the onions on medium heat
  • In the meantime, finely slice the cooked thigh fillets. There are several methods to do it, but, since they are very hot, I find that holding them with tongues and cutting with scissors is particularly effective:
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  •  As the onions are cooked through and start browning, return the meat to the pan, liberally add the spice mix, stir well and turn off the heat
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Now all you have to do is to assemble your sandwich. Spread the garlic sauce and add the meat and veggies to the toasted roll, and enjoy!

 

Pad Thai

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Pad Thai is probably the best-known Thai dish, and its fame is well deserved, thanks to the tangy, subtle flavour that makes this dish so unique.

Funnily enough, although regarded nowadays as the Thai national dish, originally it is not from Thailand, but it was introduced in Thailand in the 1940’s (from Southern China or Vietnam, I’ve heard different versions).

Pad Thai owes its characteristic and absolutely delicious flavour to a sauce that the Thais made mixing Tamarind (or lime juice), sugar and fish sauce (although I’ve seen recipe that use soy sauce instead).
This combination brings four tastes (acidic from the tamarind or lime, sweet from the sugar, salty and Umami from the fish sauce) to the dish. I will be giving quantities but they are just guidelines: it will be your task to get the proportions right in order to ensure the correct balance that, in turn, will result in an extremely pleasant flavour for you and your guests.
Another important thing to consider is the texture of the noodles. First, for this dish you should be using flat rice noodles, and then cook it in the right way to assure that the right texture is achieved. The tricky thing about Pad Thai is that the noodles should be chewy but not too much and making them too soft will spoil the dish, whilst keeping them too hard will make it inedible.
Obviously this comes down to the way the noodles are cooked -or, better, not cooked.
Purists suggest that, rather than being boiled, the noodles should be soaked in cold water until they’re soft enough to wind easily around your finger.
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After that, they should be cooked quickly in the pan with the other ingredients adding the sauce little by little; at the end the dish should look quite dry.

A quick note before describing the process: I have come across loads of different versions of Pad Thai, each ones using different ingredients. I have used here only the ones that are, in my opinion, the common denominator, but other things can be added (chilli, even if I don’t think this dish should be hot, ginger, but it might be overpowering, dried shrimp or shrimp paste, sweet chilli paste etc). Eggs do not appear on every single recipe you will find online but, for what I’ve seen, in Thailand they tend to use it , so I’ve added them Note: The Thais prefer duck egg, so use them if you can find them.

Also, many recipes suggest adding tofu, but since I am already using prawns and eggs, I think it is enough protein, so I have omitted it.

Lastly, normally the dish is finished with some coriander but unfortunately it is a flavour I dislike, so I have used flat leaf parsley instead.

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INGREDIENTS
200 g flat rice noodles (Sen Lek)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp.shallot, finely sliced
10 prawn tailes, deveined
200 g bean sprouts
1 duck egg, lightly beaten
Peanuts, roughly chopped
2 tbsp peanuts, roughly chopped
A handful of coriander, roughly chopped

Cooking Sauce
100 mlTamarind water or 2 tbsp. lime juice
1 tbsp/ Palm Sugar
2 tbsp. Nam Pla (Thai fish sauce)
150 ml water
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  1. First, make the sauce: for the tamarind water, mix the tamarind paste with water (the rate will depend on the paste you are using; the one I normally buy requires 100ml water for 2 tsp. paste), then add the fish sauce and palm sugar and stir until dissolved; After this, add 100 ml water
  2. On medium heat, shallow fry the shallot, and, when soft add the garliccook for 1 minute (making sure it doesn’t burn!), then add the prawn tails; when they start cjhanging color (from greyish to red), add some sauce, turn the heat on, drain the noodles and add them to the pan
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  3. Keep adding the sauce little by little, stirring the noodles
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  4. When the noodles start softening up and look translucent, add half of the chopped peanuts and the bean sprouts:
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  5. Keep stir-frying for a minute, adding liquid if it gets too dry, then push the noodles to one side, add a scant tbsp oil and  crack the eggs on to it. When the eggs have set, cut into small chunks with a wooden spoon or spatula and stir in with the noodles
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  6. To serve, decorate with lime slices, chopped coriander and sprinkle with the remaining peanuts

Linguine al Nero di Seppia

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***I was much interested, on several occasions, by watching the habits of an Octopus or cuttle-fish … they darted tail first, with the rapidity of an arrow, from one side of the pool to the other, at the same instant discolouring the water with a dark chestnut-brown ink.***
Charles Darwin

Basics needed: How to cook pasta

Cuttlefish is a mollusc (and not a fish like the English would suggest) that belongs to the class Cephalopoda, order Sepiidae (which has a common root with the Italian name, Seppia).

The class Cephalopoda includes also octopus and squid, and these molluscs all share an escape mechanism they use when they are attacked: they release a black pigment from their ink sack, which makes the water cloudy, confusing the predator and giving them enough time to jet away.

Of the three Cephalopoda I mentioned, cuttlefish is the one with the largest ink sack, and this is something with very interesting applications in cooking, as it can be used as a food colouring, like in this recipe.
Nero di Seppia, in fact, means cuttlefish ink (‘cuttlefish black’ would actually be the literal translation), and it is used as the main ingredient of a pasta sauce in coastal areas of Italy; it can also be used for Risotto, which is similar to the Spanish Arroz Negro (which means, literally, ‘Black Rice’)

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INGREDIENTS (serves four)
500 g cuttlefish (1 large or 2 small), cleaned, keeping the ink sac
1 tbsp white onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tbsp. olive oil
3 anchovy fillets

1 tbsp tomato paste
100 ml (1/2 glass) dry white wine
2 tbsp. Nam Pla (Thai fish sauce)*
1 tsp. white sugar
Cayenne pepper, to taste (optional but recommended)
Parsley, finely chopped

*: Optional (if not using, adjust the seasoning accordingly)
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  1. Clean the cuttlefish (or have the fishmonger do it for you): remove the cuttlebone, skin and internal organs, making sure you keep the ink sac (see below), then remove the eyes and mouth
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  2. Using a sharp knife score the head of the cuttlefish on the diagonal and then at 90 degrees, to create a criss-cross patter (score the inside as it is softer and easier). NOTE: this is not strictly necessary but will give a better result
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  4. Cut the cuttlefish in fairly small peaces as below:
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  5. Sweat the onion in olive oil for 5 minutes, then add the garlic and the anchovies, and the chilli if using it
  6. When the anchovies have dissolved into the oil, add the cuttlefish; it will start releasing its water: cook on a gentle heat until the water has almost completely evaporated
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  7. Mix the tomato paste, white wine, sugar and Nam Pla with 250 ml water and add to the pan
  8. Bring to the boil and add the ink sac, then simmer until it is reduced by half
  9. Cook your spaghetti till al dente (see How to cook pasta )

Skate wings alla Milanese

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Cotoletta alla Milanese, like the name suggests, is a typical dish from Milan.
Similar to Austrian Wiener Schnitzel, is a bone-in veal cutlet which is pounded to make it thinner and more tender before being coated in flour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs (in this order) and then shallow fried in butter and/or oil.

Skate (razza, for the Italian readers) is, in my opinion one of the most underrated fish of all (although I won’t complain because this keeps its price low).
The structure of the wing is a rib to which a layer of cartilaginous bones is attached, and those gelatinous bones inside the wing is something that puts many people off. In spite of the fact that when the fish is cooked the meat will come off very easily, I have to admit that I do not like eating skate with those bones either. For this reason, I started to fillet the wing, getting one fillet for each side.

However, the problem is that the two sides are not symmetrical and I ended up with a fillet which is much bigger and thicker than the other.
Therefore, I started to fillet it keeping the flesh attached to the rib (see below), and then cutting the bone with scissors.

The result is a ‘bone-in skate steak’.
At this point it can be cooked like Cotoletta alla Milanese; the only difference is that, unlike a veal cutlet, skate cannot be pounded (but it’s extremely tender and juicy anyway, so it won’t need it) before cooking.
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INGREDIENTS:
1 large skate wing (about 400-450 g), cut in half
1 tbsp. flour
1 egg, beaten

3 tbsp. breadcrumbs
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. anchovy paste
2 tsp. finely chopped parsley
Salt (to taste)
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  1. First, fillet the skate: using a very sharp knife, separate the flesh from the cartilaginous bones, on both sides, making sure you don’t cut it on the rib side
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  2. Using scissors, cut off the bones, as below
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  3. Mix the breadcrumbs with all the other igredients listed
  4. Now that you’ve got your skate steak, coat it in flour and then pass it in the beaten egg
  5. Shake off the excess egg and coat with the aromatic breadcrumbs
  6. Heat the oil on medium heat, with the butter.
  7. The butter will start foaming;
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    when it stops, add the skate and cook for 4-5 minutes on each side.
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    Here is worth noting two things

    • I don’t usually cook with butter, but here I find it very useful because, when it stops foaming (which means that all the water it contains has evaporated), it will be at the right temperature. This is very important to make the outside crispy and golden. It is virtually impossible to understand the temperature of the oil when shallow frying (unlike deep-frying, where a thermometer can be used), and this it crucial because if the fat is too hot it will burn the batter, if it’s not hot enough it will make it soggy
    • The fish is ready when the inside is white
  8. Serve it with a squeeze of lemon

Shirataki & prawns stir fry

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This is a very simple way to make noodles; in this recipe I use Shirataki for a low-calorie, low-carb dish, but it will work perfectly with other types of noodles, as long as you follow the proper cooking instructions.

I love stir-frying, I’ve always been fascinated by this technique; in my area there is an Oriental restaurant with an open plan kitchen, and when I go there I enjoy watching the cooks using their woks to produce excellent dishes at an incredible speed.
If you are not able to do the proper stir fry (it requires some skill), you can simply stir the ingredients using a spoon. There are only two tips that I would like to give you:
First, the sides of the wok will get hotter than the bottom, so try to make the food slide on the sides as well to cook it more quickly and enhance the flavours
Second: when you stir fry you will need to add some liquid. When you do it, add it little by little, not all at once. This is a fried dish, you don’t want boiled vegetables!

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INGREDIENTS (serves 4)
600 g shirataki noodles
100 g baby corn
100 g mange-tout
1/2 medium red onion
1 carrot
200 g bean sprouts
16 prawn tails, deveined
Rapeseed oil

For the sauce:
1 tbsp. Nam Pla (Thai fish sauce)
1 tbsp. Dark soy sauce
2 tsp. white sugar
2 tsp. tomato paste
150 ml vegetable stock (or slightly salted hot water if good quality stock is not available)
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  1. Cut the vegetables:
    Cut the mange-tout in half, lengthwise
    Quarter the baby corn lengthwise
    Cut the carrot a julienne
    Finely slice the onion
    The bean sprouts do not need any cutting
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  2. Heat the oil in the wok on high heat and, when hot, add the veggies
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  3. Stir-fry for 2-3 minutes on high heat, adding the liquid little by little as indicate above
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  4. As the veggies start softening up, add the shirataki and the prawns and cook for 3 minutes, still adding the liquid a little at a time
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Obviously, you can use any type of noodles for this recipe, just follow the instructions on the packaging

Taramasalata

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Taramasalata is a thick, creamy dip, popular in Greek cuisine, made with salted fish roe and oil, usually served as a meze dish or as a starter.

When looking for recipes for a traditional dish that I have never made, I normally check different versions and compare them, and then I make my own version based on a comparison of what I’ve found, adding my twist if I believe that improvements can be made.
For tamarasalata, as usual, I have found some elements that pretty much all recipes have in common (fish roe, olive oil and some bread for the texture), and others that were used only in certain versions (some use garlic, others onion or shallot, others milk or cream).
Since I actually believe that all of this ingredients can give something to this dish, as long as they are treated in the right way and used in the right proportion, I have decided to include all of them, but with some changes:
Garlic: all the recipes I’ve found call for raw garlic; since raw garlic can be overpowering, a technique that can be used to make it milder is blanching: simply put the garlic cloves in a pot with cold water and bring it to the boil. As soon as it starts boiling, transfer the garlic in a bowl of cold (or even iced) water. This operation should be repeated three times.
Milk: for this recipe, however, I have boiled the garlic in water twice; the third time I have boiled it in milk and cooked it until the milk was reduced by half; this leaves soft garlic cloves that have lost all of their aggressive (so to speak) character, and a nicely scented garlic-infused milk
Onion: all the recipes that I’ve seen used raw onion or shallot. Raw onion, a bit like garlic, has got a very strong flavour and is not everyone’s cup of tea (and definitely not mine). The only type of onion that I eat raw in salads is red onion; furthermore, taramasalata should have a nice pinkish colour, and red onion contributes to this as well.

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INGREDIENTS:

200g salted cod roe
50g stale white bread, crusts removed
50ml extra virgin olive oil
100 ml semi skimmed milk*
4 garlic cloves
1 tsp. red onion, finely chopped
1 pinch of parsley, finely chopped
2 tbsp. lemon juice

*: NOTE: that is the initial quantity, but it should be reduced by half when you use it
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The process is quite simple:

  • Soak the roe in cold water for about an hour
  • In the meantime, blanche the garlic as described above and let the milk cool down
  • Soak the bread in the milk
  • Rinse and drain the roe thoroughly, cut in half lengthways, then, with the skin side down on a board, scrape the roe off the skin with a knife
  • Places the roe, garlic, onion and bread in a food processor and blend
  • Add the lemon juice and the oil in a thin stream and keep blending until the desired texture has been reached
  • Taste to adjust the seasoning if it’s the case

You can serve it with toasted pitta bread and/or crudités

Shirataki (Zero calorie noodles)

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Shirataki is the name of a type of noodles, originally from Japan, that have a very interesting characteristic: they contain virtually no calories and, for this reason, they are very suitable for whoever needs to control his/her weight.

These noodles are made from the flour obtained from the root of a plant called konjac; they are made out of water for the 97% and also contain Glucomannan, a dietary fibre believed to help in weight loss.
The name means ‘white waterfall’, a reference to their translucent appearance; they have little flavour of their own and a gelatinous, pleasantly chewy texture, and can be used as a low-carb (or rather no-carb) replacement for pasta (mainly spaghetti) or other types of noodles.

I came across this ingredient reading a Dukan book.

I am not a big fan of the Dukan diet as such, but it contains a few principles that I like and, although I have never embraced the method, I have to say that reading the introduction of his book changed, to the better, the way I look at food and eat (after all, Pierre Dukan is a nutritionist, therefore he’s got a very deep knowledge of the matter). Although the conclusions he draws are  too extreme in my opinion, the idea of selecting the food you eat so that you can keep the calories low whilst not feeling hungry (which is the very foundation of the Dukan method) is a good way to lose weight healthily and maintain the results.

Shirataki noodles do exactly this, as they will fill you up with virtually no calories, and can be used, for example, for having a light dinner without going to bed hungry. The typical scenario I have in mind is someone with a sedentary job, coming back home after a day at work where all the physical activity was those 2 flights of stairs to reach the office.
We will still need food, but not so much as we would like to eat, because our body hasn’t used a lot of energy: something like shirataki is perfect in this kind of situation, and that’s when I eat them (for example a Shirataki stir fry with some veggies and meat or seafood), whilst I tend to have something more substantial when I exercise.

I will post more detailed recipes; for now, bear in mind that:

  • They can replace other types of noodles or even spaghetti (although the difference in texture is huge)
  • If you buy the wet ones, which come in water inside a sealed package, rinse them before cooking
  • ,They can be boiled or stir-fried and the cooking time is quite short (about 3 minutes)