Archive | November, 2010

On the pulse, part one

23 Nov

Here begins the first in an irregular series of posts in which I aim to promote the joys of the humble lentil and its brethren, through recipes which I eat regularly and with pleasure.

For the benefit of new readers or doubters, I’d like to state before going any further that I am not a vegetarian and cannot stand dull-tasting food. I just reckon that if you’re eating on a budget and are not doing fun things with pulses, then you are missing out.

Chickpea curry (Sindhi style)

The basis of this comes from Camellia Panjabi‘s ace 50 Great Curries of India. It’s got amazing depth of flavour due in part to the spice blend, and in part due to using onions cooked three different ways.

I can happily live on it for a week – this’ll serve three if you’re as greedy as me, up to six if less so. If you need to source ingredients then check my last post.

You will need:

  • 2 cans chickpeas
  • 3 onions
  • A thumb-sized piece of ginger
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 250g tomatoes, chopped
  • 4 green cardamoms, cracked
  • 8 cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 15 peppercorns
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • salt
  • A pinch asafoetida
  • 4 tbsp oil
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 3/4 tsp mango powder (amchoor)
  • About 200g baby spinach
  • Chopped coriander, to serve

Ingredients get busy in the wok


To prepare:

  1. Chop two of your onions, grate or process the third along with your ginger and garlic.
  2. Drain the stock from your chickpea cans into a pan and add one chopped onion, cardamom, cloves, bay leaves, peppercorns, cumin seeds, a tsp of salt and the asafoetida. Bring to the boil and leave to simmer gently with a lid on.
  3. Meanwhile heat your oil in a big heavy wok or similar. Fry the remaining onion until brown, then reduce heat slightly and add your pureed onion, ginger and garlic followed by chickpeas. Saute for 10 mins.
  4. Add turmeric, garam masala and coriander powders, pepper and mango powder and stir for one minute before adding chopped tomatoes. Leave to cook for a few minutes before straining in the remaining liquid from the other pan, which will now be rich and spicy.
  5. Now put in your spinach leaves and leave to cook down for 10 minutes or so, while you make ready some rice or flatbreads to serve with the curry. Season if necessary and top with chopped coriander.

The finished article

Shopping around City Road

22 Nov

Two of the things I like about Cardiff:

  1. The city has a sense of wholeness when compared to most big provincial English cities I’ve spent time in. Many of the inner suburbs feel intact and have distinct characters to them. It’s good that there are still loads of fully-functional high streets containing things like actual local shops, and banks you can go into rather than Link machines taxing you £1.50 to use them.
  2. As a result, despite a near-total Tescopoly (and yes, I do darken their doors too), there are plenty of alternatives where you can pick up exciting things to cook with.

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While looking for somewhere to live back in August, I was drawn straight away to the bustle of City Road (not to mention the fact that the street contains around 6000 grill houses, but more on these in a later post). Since moving here, my ability to cook interesting stuff without spending big has been boosted by the number of Asian and Middle Eastern grocers there. Here are my favourite three:

  • ShopRight: down at the Newport Road end, this my nearest port of call for spices, chillies and vegetables such as yams and okra.
  • City Bakery: just past the junction with Arran Street, here you can find really good fresh herbs, more types of olives and flatbreads than you could shake a sizeable stick at, and a large counter of tasty Middle Eastern pastries.
  • Masala Bazaar: ok, it’s just off City Road, but almost within actual spitting distance of it so it goes in. Mint & Mustard head honcho Anand George apparently swears by the place, which carries a head-spinning array of fresh and frozen veg (including four different types of aubergine when I went in last Monday), as well as huge freezers of Bangladeshi freshwater fish.
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Tribe Tribe, Canton

14 Nov

Night on Cowbridge Road East

I’ve been super-lucky in the last two cities where I’ve lived: each of them has contained an amazing African restaurant.

One of the saddest things about leaving Sheffield this September was the fact that the Ethio-Cubano Restaurant closed its doors just weeks before my departure, preventing me from having my farewell do there. Tucked away on one of the grimiest shopping parades in the city centre, Ethio boasted massively friendly owner Dawit, and some of the cheapest, tastiest food I have eaten (though taking down too much injera bread and being unable to walk out the door was frequently a problem).

Fortunately, soon after moving here I found Tribe Tribe over in Canton. This is a part of town that I could do with visiting more often: there are loads of welcoming-looking local boozers, and in order to get my media-sector image nice and polished, I really ought to be putting in the hours at Chapter Arts, frowning over a Macbook while supping a few cappuccinos.

Anyway, I digress. It would be lazy of me to compare Tribe Tribe with Ethio, given that the West African food it serves bears only a cursory resemblance to that from the other side of the continent. However, what it has in common is the comfort factor of the eating – fiery goat or fish pepper soups, delicious Jollof Rice dishes, and rich, spicy stews served with Eba or Pounded Yam.

Goat pepper soup

These are heavy, sticky carbohydrate pastes (kind of somewhere between porridge and dumpling) which you roll into balls between your finger and thumb, then use to scoop up your meal. You then sit quite quietly in a contented haze for a while – particularly good if it’s wintry and you’re hung over, both boxes which were ticked when I visited this weekend.

Oh yeah, and the other similar thing is the loveliness of the staff, owners Charlie and Foluso and their chefs, who I met when I did a write-up for the alt:Cardiff online mag last month. With most mains clocking in at around the £8 mark, you can add a bottle of Gulder beer onto the tab and still only just breach your tenner. I’ll stop gushing now, but you get my drift I’m sure.

LCD Soundsystem (a brief musical diversion)

13 Nov
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The ever-potent combo of iPhone camera and tipsy photographer

I ventured out to Cardiff International Arena last night to catch LCD Soundsystem and Hot Chip. Now you may well wonder what I’m doing posting on this, which is on the face of it neither cheap, food-related nor off the beaten track. But I’m going to shoe-horn it in anyway, for the following tenuous reasons:

  • It was the first time I’d been to an arena show, so bit of an unknown quantity for me. Once I got over the general leisure-centre vibe, I was actually pretty impressed with the place.
  • What did strike me as weird (getting onto edibles), however, was the fact that hot-dogs and other such snacks were on sale within the main room of the venue. Maybe this is common practice at such large-scale events, but to me, unless you’re outside at a festival, the scent of pigs cooking isn’t really conducive to getting your “night out” head on.
  • James Murphy looked as if he’d been attacking said food products with missionary zeal, over a long period. However, despite his increasingly cuddly dimensions, the man knows exactly how to rock the house, no matter how meaty it may smell. Perhaps he’s been paying attention to the sound advice offered by the Harmony Central Singer’s Forum on eating before a gig. Or perhaps not.

I, on the other hand, managed to resist the overpriced porky lures on offer, so we’ll leave the matter there shall we?