Manjula is a North Indian vegetarian living in America who welcomes you into her kitchen on one of the more interesting corners of the internet. I was looking for a recipe for the brilliant pea-and-potato samosas that I used to scoff in Leeds on my way to university. They were sold (I’m sure they still are) in every second newsagent’s and the dusty, spicy grocer’s shops in Hyde Park, the shopkeeper’s wife or mum having knocked up a dozen that morning. There is a much less significant Pakistani community in Liverpool and I never found anything to compete when I came home – less still in the south of France... I have had regular pangs ever since, but I am easily distracted, and it took cooking for a big bunch of Frenchies to prang me from my indolence.
I needed a cheap starter to counteract a slightly overgenerous main course for November’s food and wine tasting soirée in our local cave. I cook what I fancy and Thomas Le Caviste uses his astonishing, and frankly intimidating, knowledge to select some interesting and complementary pinard. I cook, he pours, and we sit with our lucky guests around a big table and sup and chew and chat la merde. Vive La France! What I want generally entails good old-fashioned British Fayre, which seems to be an interesting change for the French, so samosas fit the bill nicely! The spotted/potted wonders that are Google and Youtube came up trumps and now Manjula is in my life!!
Manjula single-handedly provided me with one starter: Samosas with Tamarind* and Coriander Chutneys; good old Fergus Henderson with another: Red Winter Salad with crèmefraiche**, chervil and a caper or three; and Malika, a girl I worked with, with the third: Harira Soup.
The samosas are a bit fiddly, but fun to make. Chop up a boiled spud and fry it with some cumin and coriander-scented onions, a few frozen peas and a tickle of fresh ginger and green chilli. Bung in a handful of coriander leaves, season with salt, garam masala and lemon juice and the filling is done. The pastry is a very simple one of flour, salt, oil and water (plus an optional spoonful of semolina for improved texture), rolled into saucer-sized circles which will each make 2 little ice cream cones to be stuffed with spicy spud. Crimp the edges with a fork, apparently a more Pakistani touch, and they get deep fried quite slowly till golden and crispy and scented and nice! Try not to eat them when still mouth-searingly hot, as the flavour is much enhanced when they are just warm. A dunk of the sweet, citrusy tamarind, and a dribble of coriander chutney and your tootle is tinkled! You could be late for an 18th Century French Literature seminar***...
I’m afraid that after the samosas, I realised that I had to get my finger out if the guests were to be fed, and so photography had to be abandoned. The red salad is rather a delicious one made with raw shredded beetroot and red cabbage mixed with thinly sliced red onion and dressed with some nice olive oil and a splash of my rather posh vinegar (yum!). A gesture of capers and chervil, with a splodge of crème fraiche, and a very pretty salad is ready to be messed up.
My Moroccan soup, harira, was based on some unwanted lamb stock from work that I bolstered with a beef rib and some lentils and chick peas. It had a spot of chilli, cumin seeds and fresh herbs and some lovely yellow turnips added at the end so that they retained a bit of bite. The beef rib (not the kind you find on a generous foodie-type’s Sunday table, but the cheapest beef cut, like a pork rib – only off a cow) somehow makes the whole thing splendidly sweet, which combined well with the earthy pulses and spices and the freshness from the herbs and the stingiest squeeze of a lemon.
For mains we had a thick slice of veal shin braised in bière blonde with a very lot of very caramelised onions and fat pieces of fatty bacon. Served with rather a baddass mashed potato and buttery spinach. It’s all about the marrow in the middle. And the melting, gelatinous meat, of course. And the rich, sweet gravy. And the very bad-for-you mash! Mmmmm, it was good... I do like this kind of winter food – very satisfying, and copious to the point of fuddlement. The guy next to me had a second helping of mash – I was very impressed: that boy was a joy to feed!
*Tamarind is another amazing recent discovery for me. I’m sure I’ll get round to raving about it here at some point. In the meantime, check out the link for this lovely, simple recipe – a top alternative to Mango Chutney. Manjula likes it with chips!
**PLEASE click this link for the whole thing! It is good.
*** For which you haven’t read the book.