The Indian Slow cooker: Cooking Dals in a crockpot/slow cooker/schongarer – a revelation

I’ve long been a fan of crockpots/slow cookers, especially for those dishes such as soups and stews which come out wonderfully. They are very common in the USA and in the UK, considerably less so in Germany and Switzerland. They are perfectly safe to leave unattended, since they never attain boiling temperatures. There’s been another winning use case that has been staring me in the eyes all along, and that’s making dals!

For those not in the know, dals are the staple food in India and one of the best protein sources for vegetarians. Dal is a generic name for legumes, or pulses, and a typical dish will always include at least one pulse (up to three) and a tarka, a seasoning made with oil, aromatics such as garlic and ginger, and spices. Dals are very nutritious and an incredible source of protein – in the case of urad dal, it contains more protein, weight-for-weight, than steak!

So I can heartily recommend this book, which I have already spontaneously sent to two friends:

The Indian Slow Cooker: 50 Healthy, Easy, Authentic Recipes

This book was the game-changer. Good, authentic recipes, with real ingredients, and the cooking process well explained. Super. A word of warning, though, the conversions to the metric system are completely wrong, you’ll need to stick to the american volume settings (i.e. you really need to have a set of measuring spoons and measuring cups)

Chef Aid Measuring Cups/ Spoons X8

The beauty of the slow cooker method is that you put all the ingredients, including the dry beans/lentils (which usually need to soak overnight), put it on – and that’s it. Depending on the recipe you’re looking at cooking times of five to fourteen hours.

Some tips:
– I would recommend doing a big buy in your local indian market. Stock up on spices and lentils so you don’t need to go to the indian shop again because you’ve forgotten to buy split urad dal.
– The spices often include grated ginger, onions or garlic. My local indian shop sells these pre-pasted in a jar, they’re not too expensive and it really reduces the effort to next to nothing.

Crockpots:
Dirk, a friend of mine, was enquiring about crockpots. There are basically two sizes, 3.5L and 6.5L. The book’s recipes are for the 6.5L version, which I find the most practical for dals because you make 3 full meals for 3-4 persons with it, so you end up freezing two meals, which is a huge time-saver.

Morphy Richards Slow Cooker 6,5l Edelstahl

Russell Hobbs Cook@Home 19790-56 Schongarer silber / schwarz

To tell you the truth, though, the technology is so basic that all of them are going to be good. The only decision you need to make is the size. I have both sizes.

Freeze chopped chillies bought from the Asia store

Your local Asia shop might seem intimidating, but there are many bargains to be found. Certain articles are of much higher quality and much lower price than our western supermarkets. Off the top of my head these are:

  • Rice
  • Soy Sauces
  • Noodles

The only issue is that sometimes the quantities are geared for ‘we cook this every day’ rather than the ‘I fancy something Thai tonight’. In particular, I only ever need one or two teaspoons of fresh chilies at any one time, and the smallest quantity you can buy is something like a handful.

So here’s the secret: Wash your chilies, deseed them and chop them into small cubes, fill in ice cube holder. Tip: I use latex gloves because that chilli oil stays a long time on fingers, even after washing with soap, and I always end up rubbing my eyes…

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After that you have some perfectly portioned chilli-cubes

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I lucked out with the ice-cube holder, it makes small cubes and it’s about a single chilli per portion…

Elderflower syrup

A family favourite, and very easy to make

Elderflower syrup

  • Servings: 1.5 liters
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

15 elderflower ‘flowers’
1 kg sugar
20 grams citric acid
1 liter

put the flowers in the water and let seep for 24 hours.

strain the mixture carefully. Add the sugar and the citric acid.

Bring to the boil and let simmer for 5 minutes. This improves the dissolution of the sugar in the water.

Tip: Buy a whole pack of food-grade citric acid. It’s a wonderful descaler (use a 5% solution, i.e. 50 grams in one liter)

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Don’t put your eggs in the fridge

Have you noticed that the eggs in markets are not refrigerated? Freshly laid eggs will keep up to three weeks out of a fridge and still be completely fresh.

If you put them in the fridge, the three weeks get extended to five weeks, but since we have a regular consumption, our eggs are never more than two weeks old.

What’s the point? The main point is that there are many occasions where you need room-temperature eggs, particularly if you are making emulsions such as mayonnaise and sauce hollandaise, where the egg temperature is critical to the success of the recipe. Plus it frees space in the fridge.

And those horrible egg-holder-plastic thingies just annoy me.

Homemade pesto is really easy and tastes a bazillion times better than the commercial stuff

There are some commercial products that are excellent and that I wouldn’t hesitate using (say, puff pastry or dried spaghetti). But those little bottles of expensive pesto just don’t cut it. The real stuff tastes a million brazilion times better, and it’s really easy if you have a food processor.

The real stuff has a lot more garlic-punch than the commercial stuff so you’ll need to restrict for days where you are not meeting anybody the next day. You have been warned!

So here is the recipe:

Spaghetti with Pesto

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

600 grams spaghetti

2 bunch basil (40 to 50 grams)
50 grams parmesan (freshly grated)
2 tablespoons pine nuts
3 garlic cloves
125 milliliters olive oil

50 grams parmesan (for serving at the table)

Cook the spaghetti according to the package instructions. It generally will be more water and salt than you’re used to but that just tastes better. 100 grams spaghetti = 1 liter water = 10 grams salt.

put all the sauce ingredients in a food processor and whizz.

Tip: For the cost-conscious, you can substitute grana padano for the parmesan and ground almonds for the pine nuts.

Alternative: Bärlauchpesto (wild garlic pesto)

Use wild garlic instead of the basil and garlic.

Use the younger leaves – the bigger ones don’t provide a good consistency.

Wash the leaves then dry thouroughly in a salad dryer.

Since the garlicness of the wild garlic varies, you’ll have to go by taste. Add some more parmesan, some more oil, even add a garlic clove.

Both pestos freeze really, really well.

Prik glua

One of the many gastronomic delights of Thailand are the fruit stalls. They are ubiquitous and cheap. The vendors sell a wide variety of fruit, usually pineapple, melons, mangos (which tend to be too unripe for our western tastes), and coconut.

The fruit are peeled, chopped into bite-sizes, and served in a clear plastic bag with a wooden skewer. Occasionally the vendor would also automatically include a small raisin-sized bag of a mysterious powder, which turned out to be prik glua, a fruit dip of salt, sugar and chili flakes. I must admit to developing a taste for it and it seriously increases your falang street credibility if you ask for it at the stall.

tajska-kuchnia-emerytura-w-tajlandii-wakacje-w-tajlandii-wyjazd-do-tajlandii-tajskie-potrawy-2

The recipe is very simple, equal volume parts of salt, sugar, and chili flakes. It might be a bit too hot for western tastes but the proportions correspond to what I tasted in Thailand.

Prik glua

  • Servings: 2-3
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp ground red chili flakes


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I find it goes particularly well with pineapple.

Annoy your spanish friends by pressure-cooking paella in seven minutes

I’m a huge fan of modernist cuisine, and can heartily recommend their book Modernist Cuisine at Home, which introduces loads of funky geeky concepts with delicious, reproducible results.

MCAH-Book-alone1

Modernist Cuisine at Home

They love using pressure cookers, mostly because one has a controlled environment in terms of temperature and air humidity (the latter affects cooking times, believe it or not).

One of the eye-openers is that the ‘risotto’ or ‘paella’ effect can also be done in a pressure cooker: creamy yet al dente inside.

You’ll need to shop at a spanish speciality shop for the ingredients.

Here is the recipe, reproduced with kind permission from Modernist Cuisine:

Modernist Cuisine pressure-cooked paella

  • Servings: 2-3
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

40g olive oil
50g piquillo peppers
25g minced fennel
25g minced onion
20g minced carrot
7.5g minced garlic

Sweat the vegetables in oil in the base of a pressure cooker over medium heat until tender and translucent, about 3 minutes

150g bomba rice (or other short-grained paella rice)

Stir rice into the vegetable mixture and cook until the rice turns shiny and translucent, about 2 minutes

300g chicken stock
70g dry sherry

Stir into the rice mixture
Pressure-cook at a gauge pressure of 1bar for 7 minutes. Start timing when full pressure is reached.
Depressurize the pressure cooker
Check the rice for tenderness. It should be al dente. If necessary, simmer uncovered for a minute or two longer.

7g Pimenton dulce
2g thyme leaves

Stir into the rice, and let rest for 1 minute.

200g fried shrimp, or cooked chicken, or braised snails

Fold into the paella, and serve it immediately.

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Mise en place

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Sweating the vegetables

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Pressure cook for 7 minutes

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The finishing touches

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And voilà!

Eat more salad : Stock up on homemade vinaigrette!

This is a trick I learned from my cousin Sophie. Make a batch of salad sauce in advance. It reduces the effort to spontaneously eat salad, it’s cheap, and, as long as you don’t use perishable stuff like herbs and onions, it stays fresh indefinitely. Plus, you know what’s inside.

Here is my recipe:

0.5L Vinaigrette

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

300 grams Olive Oil
150 grams Red Wine Vinegar
40 grams Dijon Mustard
.75 teaspoon salt

blend using an immersion blender.

Tips:
Pour the salad sauce in the bowl, then add the salad on top, and then toss (don’t pour the salad sauce on the salad). The sauce distribution is a lot better.
You might have noticed that I have used mass instead of volume for the ingredients. It’s my favourite way of measuring; volume is inconsistent because of wildly differing densities, plus it’s easy with a digital scale: put a jug up, press the tare button, pour in olive oil, press again the tare button. You’re quicker than with measuring jugs and not making anything dirty.

No evidence that organic food is more nutritious

Nutritional quality of organic foods: a systematic review 1,2,3,4

Alan D Dangour, Sakhi K Dodhia, Arabella Hayter, Elizabeth Allen, Karen Lock and Ricardo Uauy
1 From the Nutrition and Public Health Intervention Research Unit (ADD, SKD, AH, and RU) and the Medical Statistics Unit (EA), Department of Epidemiology and Population Health, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, United Kingdom, and the Health Services Research Unit, Department of Public Health and Policy, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, UK (KL).

2 The funding organization had no role in the study design, data collection, analysis, interpretation, or writing of the report. The review team held 6 progress meetings with the funding organization.

3 Supported by the UK Food Standards Agency (PAU221).

4 Address correspondence to AD Dangour, Nutrition and Public Health Intervention Research Unit, Department of Epidemiology and Population Health, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Keppel Street, London WC1E 7HT, United Kingdom. E-mail: alan.dangour@lshtm.ac.uk.

ABSTRACT

Background: Despite growing consumer demand for organically produced foods, information based on a systematic review of their nutritional quality is lacking.

Objective: We sought to quantitatively assess the differences in reported nutrient content between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs.

Design: We systematically searched PubMed, Web of Science, and CAB Abstracts for a period of 50 y from 1 January 1958 to 29 February 2008, contacted subject experts, and hand-searched bibliographies. We included peer-reviewed articles with English abstracts in the analysis if they reported nutrient content comparisons between organic and conventional foodstuffs. Two reviewers extracted study characteristics, quality, and data. The analyses were restricted to the most commonly reported nutrients.

Results: From a total of 52,471 articles, we identified 162 studies (137 crops and 25 livestock products); 55 were of satisfactory quality. In an analysis that included only satisfactory quality studies, conventionally produced crops had a significantly higher content of nitrogen, and organically produced crops had a significantly higher content of phosphorus and higher titratable acidity. No evidence of a difference was detected for the remaining 8 of 11 crop nutrient categories analyzed. Analysis of the more limited database on livestock products found no evidence of a difference in nutrient content between organically and conventionally produced livestock products.

Conclusions: On the basis of a systematic review of studies of satisfactory quality, there is no evidence of a difference in nutrient quality between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs. The small differences in nutrient content detected are biologically plausible and mostly relate to differences in production methods.

Checklist: self catering

It always happens. You’ve booked some self-catering accomodation and you open the cupboards and notice there are some essentials you’ve forgotten. Cue a trip to the local convenience store, to buy high-priced basics which you find at home.

Here is my personal list:

Kitchen

  • Tea towels
  • Bin bags
  • cleaning liquid
  • sponge
  • good knife
  • loo paper

Food

  • salt and pepper shakers
  • sugar
  • oil
  • salt (for spaghetti)
  • tea
  • marmite
  • instant coffee
  • UHT milk
  • spaghetti
  • pot of spaghetti sauce
  • block of cheese