Thursday, 27 September 2012

The Dried Pulse Conspiracy

Manufacturers and marketeers of dried pulses, beans, peas and other desiccated legumes have been having us consumers over the barrel for years. These high-fibre, natural, healthy goods, which are normally purchased after a pique of soul searching, mirror staring and finger prodding, play an integral part in the ‘whole food’ machine. And whilst on the outside they seem to offer a route to a new lifestyle, new diet, new you; on the inside, dried pulses are inherently deceptive and evil. And why? Well it comes down to the simple fact that according to instructions on the packet, you have to ‘soak’ the bloody things.
This is my theory.

Some days you can find yourself in a supermarket, wandering around, feeling lethargic, turgid and morose and you happen to chance upon the whole food section. Beaming out towards you is a myriad of bags and sacks containing fanciful, colourful, strangely shaped nuggets of life-affirming joy; life-affirming because all the shelves and labelling is in green and there are pictures of wheat and corn and Gethin Jones everywhere. As the smarmy twat stares back at you, all fresh faced and vigorous, you think to yourself, ‘My God, this is just what I need, this will make me feel better.’ And so you scoop up an armful of mung beans, lentils and chickpeas and skip merrily to the checkout.

However, when you get home, full of ideas to whack on a casserole of hip thrusting goodness or to make a curry of fist pumping, hot, crazy, spunkiness, you read the back of the pack and crestfallen, you discover that soaking ‘for 8-12 hours or overnight’ is required. So everything gets packed onto the top shelf of the cupboard and whilst leaning against the side, you ruminate that you will cook up something simply gorgeous next week instead. And then you open the fridge to tuck into a pork pie.

Time goes by but every now and then, the inspiration returns. “It’s a cold day; let’s get the muthafrickin pearl barley out! You know, I feel all Spanishy today, fetch me the butter beans! We are poor and have no money till pay day; the kids are starving, what the frack is left in the cupboard? Dried kidney beans!!”

And yet bang, time after time, you get hit by the ‘soaking rule’ and with sad faces all round you say,“Sorry children, no kidney beans tonight, we'll have to do with some manky onions and an egg instead”. And back into the cupboard it goes, to accumulate dust and melancholy.

The real kick in the nuts comes when you actually remember to take the damned pulses out of the cupboard the night before and after gleefully snipping the plastic, pouring the contents into a bowl and some on the floor, you suddenly spot it:

Best Before: Jan 1997

And this is my point. They know this. Holland and Barrett et al, will happily continue to pimp their bags of dry, musty seed, knowing that we, the people, frail and susceptible, will always buy their horrible, flatulent inducing beans, go to use and cook, get scuppered by the 'soaking' rule; and then forget about them. And then go out to buy some more. Go to use and cook. Get scuppered by the 'soaking' rule. And then forget about them. And then go out to buy some more. Go to use and cook. Get scuppered by the 'soaking' rule. And then forget about them. Ad infinitum.

We are talking about food waste on a grotesque, criminal scale here. And somewhere, in some anonymous warehouse, sitting on a mountain of puy, is this Mr Burns figure. And he is laughing, throwing lentils into the air, imagining each tiny green speck as a shiny gold coin. 
And this is all down to the ‘soaking’ rule.

It makes me feel sick.

But, after some investigation yesterday, I took the plunge on the advice from some more enlightened individuals and this is what I have learned.


In fact, all you need to do, is to give whatever dried pulses you have to hand a bloody good boiling for a few minutes, wash off the scum and then soak for just a couple of hours more before cooking. Which is much more amenable. If you have a pressure cooker, you don’t even have to soak at all, which is even better. I don't have a pressure cooker, yet.

I did not know this and I don’t think many others know this either. So I want to spread the word and smash the system; smash it till this ‘overnight soaking’ message is gone, smashed out of existence. In its place I just want smashed chickpeas, unadulterated and pure. 

Because I am quite fond of hummous.

What say ye? Are you with me? Can we do without soaking our pulses people? 

Or am I wrong, Mr Burns?

From to this
To this
 To this
To finally this, without having to soak overnight.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Ooh You Are Offal (But I Like You)

Once upon a time, two guys, bespectacled and besmirched with balding bonces, sat in a pub and over a pint or two (or was it five?) scribbled down a menu on the back of a beer mat. This menu was to be an unusual one, an impassioned ode to the pluck, the innards and the gizzards of beasts, birds and swine. Or in other words, a menu based around offal.

Deliriously happy with themselves, they then set upon testing some of these ideas. One glorious fun filled Sunday in particular comes to mind. Liver was thinly sliced and delicately wrapped with sage and streaky bacon around wooden skewers and then flash fried. The crispy outer skin combined with yielding, tender liver inside and a smidgen of melodious salvia was an instant hit; around 20 liver lollipops were tested and consumed that afternoon.

The innovation of a meat pie based solely around organs was more of a roller-coaster affair. Expectations of a heart, liver and kidney combo were high and the first emanating smells from the oven certainly had promise. But after a tasting, the textures weren't quite right; these organs, organs that once upon a time, worked in perfect symphony didn't quite work together in the afterlife. So the said gentlemen retreated to the garden to sit, pause and think, with bits of puff pastry stuck to their faces. Children were around also that day and a peculiar game of 'throw pastry around the kitchen' evolved out of nowhere. 

Suddenly, the taller, skinnier baldy of the two, had a Eureka moment.

"Let's just pimp up the classic steak and kidney," he exclaimed. "Let's get some onglet which has a great offal flavour. And some shin and some kidney and create a tongue-in-cheek homage to magnificent Pukka Pie! But ours will be much, much better."

"Yes," replied the shorter, wider but curiously more handsome baldy. "Or even better than that, let's get some Fray Bentos pies and cook the pies in the empty tins. That would be a sweet touch, ironic even. I bet you if I get in touch with their PR and ask for them to send us a load of their pies, we can just ditch the shit stuff and put our delicious stuff in instead!”

“Are you going to explain this to the PR?”

“Er, yes?”

“Let’s just go with my Pukka Pie idea.”

More testing and conversation has taken place since that fateful day and after one last, shexy* Skyping session last night, these two epicurean adventurers nailed down the final elements of what will be a truly fantastic supper club night. Which will take place in just under a fortnight on Saturday 29th September, at Food Urchin mansions in Upminster.

I am of course the shorter, wider baldy from the tale; the taller, skinnier one, is none other than the mighty Paul Hart, who writes the no-nonsense How Not To Do A Food Blog blog.

And here is our menu:

Liver Lollipops and Crispy Skin Snacks

Lamb Tongue Terrine with Green Sauce

The Fabulous Furchsense Offal Pie with Champ and Selected Allotment Veg

Pear Sorbet

Spotted Dick and Custard

All this for the very reasonable donation of 25 English Pounds (including the ubiquitous home-made bread and free tap water)

Unfortunately, we cannot cater for vegetarians on this evening. Unless you would like us to serve up a plate of artichoke hearts!

There are currently 10 spaces left so if you would like to reserve a place please contact me at

*Shexy because Paul and I always Skype in just our pants.
Early Liver Lollipop prototype
Paul sports a syrup fig fashioned from puff pastry (made the kids laugh).

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Humongous Courgettes and Tiny Spiders

Marrows, no courgettes, no wait, marrows

The arcane beauty of a spider web never ceases to amaze me. At the risk of sounding like a hoary but not so hairy old hippie, the intricate, fractal designs that these creatures spin, suggests to me that arachnids possess a deeper knowledge, that they are the guardians of a unknown truth and could, quite possibly, have the answers to the meaning of life, hidden within their webs. And at this time of year, as we enter this orange hued season of death and decay, if you consider just how busy the spiders are at the moment, it sort of makes sense. Walk into your garden, look in the corners of your living room; peep over the lip of your bathtub, the evidence will be there. On the cusp of their own extinction, the spiders are trying to tell us something, they are trying to open our eyes.


Unfortunately, our distant, pagan relationship with nature has dissipated over the millennia and mankind has become blind and ineffectual. We are oblivious to the message of the spiders and sadly, their efforts are ultimately in vain.

I do have another theory though. Given that spiders in autumn are close to their own oblivion, they probably sense this and perhaps, are just thinking about going in for that last big kill. This is why they will busy themselves all night long, casting thread upon thread of silk, back and forth across my doorway. So that when I leave the house to go to work first thing in the morning, the spiders hope that I will walk out and become ensnared and entangled and fall to the ground prone, thus providing a massive banquet before the final, bitter end. Again, these efforts are also in vain. I may well cough and splutter as their thin ropes brush against my face but all it takes is one wipe and then I am on my way. As I make my way down the path, I do often wonder if a gang of multiple eyes, peering from underneath stones, are fixed upon my back and are simply thinking, ‘Bugger.’

Ah, the mystery of spiders.

Another conundrum that has been plaguing me recently is the question of what the hell am I going to do with all these frigging courgettes, courgettes that have blown up to the size of marrows? As with the proliferation of spider webs, it never ceases to amaze me just how quick this squash can grow.  I visited the allotment a couple of weeks ago and had a check underneath the prickly leaves of our courgette plants and there was still a nice fruiting going on, with some baby zucchini spreading out around the base. I checked again a couple of days ago and they’ve turned into monsters. It’s bizarre and I can’t account for it. Maybe it has something to do with the spiders. So there I was, stuck with the dilemma of trying to think of what to do with the damn things. I did consider about using them all for rumming again but after a shout out on Twitter, Hazel of itsnotf**ingrocketscience put the idea of stuffing them back into my head. 

Now, I am not a stranger to stuffing marrows (steady) but in the past I have always found the end result messy, with bitty fillings over spilling. This is largely because I usually cut the marrow on the vertical, scoop out the soft middle and seeds and then pile ingredients on top, like onion, cheese, rice, chorizo etc before slamming into the oven.  Like an overzealous teenager making his own pizza. Hazel however, with this recipe, albeit with round courgettes, showed that cutting on the horizontal helps keep whatever stuffing you decide upon, neatly contained within. Quite revelatory really. So I stuffed a marrow the other day with moussaka, that indulgent combination of lamb, aubergine and béchamel sauce. Marrow (sorry, overgrown courgette) is often watery and fairly tasteless but after baking in the oven, it took on the flavour of the rich, lightly spiced mince and was quite delicious.

As for coming up with the idea of using moussaka, now that may well have also been Hazel’s suggestion, or maybe I got the inspiration from reading a spider web, I can’t remember.

Whatever, here is the recipe.

Marrow Stuffed With Moussaka – serves 4

1 large overgrown courgette/marrow
500 gms lamb mince
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 small bunch of flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 glass of white wine
1 tsp of ground cinnamon
1 tsp of dried oregano
1 bay leaf
500 gms of tomato passata
Salt and pepper, for seasoning
2 aubergines, sliced into thin rounds, not salted*
Olive oil (for frying)
50 gms butter
50 gms plain flour
300 mls whole milk, warm
Pinch of grated nutmeg


Heat some olive oil in a wide, non-stick saucepan and gently sauté the onion for 10 minutes until soft. Then add the garlic and parsley, cooking for a minute or so, then turn up heat and add the mince. Brown the lamb all over and then add the cinnamon, oregano and bay leaf and season with salt and pepper. Cook for another minute and then add white wine, leaving it to bubble and evaporate. Then add the tomato passata, bringing heat back down and leave to gently simmer on the hob for an hour or until the liquid has reduced and the mix is rich and thick.

Whilst the meat is cooking away, heat some oil in a frying pan (or a couple of pans to get job done quicker) and in small batches, fry the aubergine slices on both sides until golden. Remove and place on a plate with kitchen towel to absorb excess oil. Also switch on your oven, heating to 180c.

When the meat is ready, slice the marrow into 4 even slices and hollow out the soft centre, making an even circle and place on a baking tray. In each one, layer some aubergine slices on the bottom and then add a generous layer of meat. Repeat, depending on depth of marrow slice, leaving a gap from the top to contain the béchamel.

Now make your béchamel by heating the butter in a saucepan, when it begins to foam, add the flour and whisk in to form a roux. Turn the heat down and gently cook the roux through for 2 minutes. Bring the heat back up and then gradually add the warm milk, whisking all the while until it thickens. Stir through the pinch of nutmeg and then spoon a layer of béchamel on top of the marrow.
Place the marrow and moussaka into the oven for 30-40 mins, or until the top has brown and the marrow has softened.


*By all accounts, you do not need to salt aubergines anymore to remove bitterness, as the bitterness has apparently been ‘bred’ out of modern day eggplants. A small victory in the field of botanical eugenics you might say but seeing as Hitler was a vegetarian, this fact does unsettle me somewhat.

But then again, you might also say that I think too much.

Sweaty aubergines

Golden-ish aubergines and cinnamon scented lamb


Well tidy