Stoved Salsify

Salsify is essentially a new vegetable to me 1. So I was excited when my colleague Kate brought round some Salsify from her veg box on our last team work day. (She always brings a nice vegetable for us to add to lunch). I don’t know if they’re always like this but these were particularly muddy specimens.

Raw muddy salsify

I thought I could scrub them clean so I didn’t peel them away to nothing, but they’re soft so the scrubby left marks which the dirt got into, and it took forever, so I peeled the rest.

I cooked them following a braising recipe from The Cranks Bible, it is a formula Nadine Abensur uses on various root vegetables, called Stoved roots (potatoes, turnips, Jerusalem artichokes etc). For salsify Nadine suggests using: a pinch of Marigold (veggie) stock powder, a pinch of saffron, a little olive oil and a big squeeze of lemon juice and enough water to cover. After bringing to the boil I turned it down and simmered for about 20 min until tender (the liquid is mostly evaporated). Then I added a sprinkling of parsley to serve.

Cooked salsify

I like how the saffron made them turn a nice yellow colour. They tasted lovely, though the flavour is very subtle, so the lemony-saffron sauce helps. They taste a bit like artichoke, but really, it is hard to compare them to anything.

I read that they’re a good crop to grow for eating this time of year when you might not have much (read: anything!) coming off the allotment, so I’ve bought some seeds to grow for next winter.


1. I remember we occasionally served some bland looking white spears as a vegetable at a private club I waitressed at in Montreal but I don’t remember the taste. I have a feeling they could have been prepared with a little more love.)

First summer vegetable pickings

Although there is still a lot of work to do (largely because it is my first year), the early/middle summer time is rewarding because we’re starting to harvest the vegetables I’ve grown.

Here’s my first potato!

Freshly dug potato with plant still attached

Not that it is hard to grow potatoes: I found one plant growing in a bag of stones I’d cleared away when digging.

Potato plant growing in a bag of stones

We were already eating our potatoes but the most exciting moment came when we pulled up and cooked the beetroot. They’re an interesting tubular shape instead of the typical round ones.

DSC 0090

One of our favourite dinners, which Han originally drew my attention to in The Cranks Bible, is grilled beetroot and halloumi with steamed green beans. This every day dinner became quite the celebration the day we made it with our own beets. The dressing is balsamic vinegar, olive oil, roasted cumin seeds and a drop of tabasco, in case you want to try it yourself.

Our own green beans weren’t ready yet (a long way off) so these were shop bought, along with the halloumi (goat rearing and cheese making are even further away!).

Plate of beetroot, green beans and grilled cheese on a table

The next thing we harvested, and which kept on coming until December, was Swiss and Rainbow chard. I first discovered this vegetable thanks to the Hackney Growing Community‘s veg box we used to get. Here are my first pickings of leaves lying on the netting which is suspended over the plants to protect them from birds.

Rainbow chard leaves lying on green netting

One of the dishes I love to make with chard is this tart, from a recipe on Helen Graves’ food blog. That delicious looking crust is made from carrots and oats (see my comment for the amendment I make to use olive oil instead of butter).

Close up photo of a crusty tart

Fiddlehead Ferns

I was very excited to find these unusual vegetables on sale when we were in Vancouver in May. I first discovered Fiddleheads when I lived in Montreal. They are a traditional dish in Quebec and the Martimes, as well New England in the States.

Fiddleheads packaged for a grocery store

Fiddlehead ferns are the unfurled fronds of ferns, but you can’t just pick any old fern, like these freshly furled ones we saw on our hike up High Creek Falls. I’m guessing we don’t have the right type of fern growing in the UK to harvest Fiddleheads since we don’t get them there (though we have plenty of bracken). Or could it be simply that no one knows which or when to harvest them?

Ferns out in the wild

Fiddleheads aren’t cultivated here so you only get them in season and they aren’t cheap, but they are well worth spending money on. Their taste is somewhere between asparagus and artichokes, and like those, they are delicious served with lemon and butter.

Fiddleheads prepared

To prepare, brush off any loose brown leaves and give them a good wash. Then trim the woody or brown ends off the stalks. To cook them I would recommend steaming them until tender. Then serve tossed with a dob of butter, a good squeeze of lemon juice and seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Fiddleheads served

Fusion stir fry with tofu and brussel sprouts

I love brussel sprouts but when they’re not being served with a turkey (i.e. when they’re being served in my house, as I leave the turkey cooking to the experts) and I’ve already sautéd them up with chestnuts and bacon a few times, I’m looking for something else to do with them. Enter (yet another) Yotam Ottolenghi recipe.

Ingredients part 2

This recipe demonstrates why Ottolenghi is such a king of Fusion cuisine. A spicy chinese stir-fry with brussel sprouts. And it has maple syrup in it too. Brilliant. The tofu is marianted in the maple syrup along with chilli sauce (I used chilli bean sauce as that’s all I had, seemed to do the trick), soy sauce, sesame oil and rice vinegar. If you can get the firm tofu from a chinese supermarket which comes in water (like I did), you need to drain and press this first so that it will suck up the marinade.

Ingredients part 1

I even treated myself to including the fresh shitake’s as suggested in the recipe. A treat because I had to go to Fresh and Wild Wholefoods to find them (and so it goes without saying: paid silly money for them). I think you can find them in Sainsbury’s sometimes but that was not an option for me this time.

Middle of stir fry

I used little over half the amount of brussel sprouts recommended as that was all I got in my veg bag (once I’d peeled off the outside leaves which were looking a little worse for wear after waiting a week to be eaten!). I think these proportions were just fine.

End of stir fry

Looks alright doesn’t it?  Tasted absolutely fabulous. We had it with plain white rice.

A Sichuan dish: Pork in hot and sour sauce

Here is my favourite Sichuan dish posted now in response to a call from the London food blogger, Helen Graves, of the Food Stories blog.  Helen has just started on a Sichuan food kick and recently shared her first adventures in Sichuan cooking in which she tried out the brilliantly titled “Pock marked woman” Bean-curd dish (I’ve made a variation of this which I wrote about here) and a rather enticing sounding Rabbit in peanuts with hot bean sauce which I must try.

I’m afraid this blog post isn’t strictly a food pictorial like this one (the inspiration for which I explain here), because I didn’t document every single step. I only decided to make the dish at the last minute, I didn’t have all the ingredients, and I was hungry! But since Helen has asked for other things to try, and I need to respond to this while she still has the wok on the hob, this will just have to suffice!

This recipe is from my Chinese Regional Cooking book by Deh-Ta Hsiung which I talked about more here. This dish actually comes from the Hunan province which borders Sichuan to the south-east, but their cuisine is closely affiliated, since they share a passion for hot chilli. The photo above is of the illustration for the recipe from Deh-Ta’s book.

You can see right away, it is one of those seventies cookbooks. Sexy food photography had not yet been born. But it is also one of those recipes that doesn’t match the illustration. Green pepper isn’t mentioned in the recipe (though I’m pretty sure it’s in that photo unless he had access to mega sized chillis!) but I think it looks better like that and tastes right too. In fact it is usually having got a green pepper-or a leek-in my veg bag that inspires me to make this recipe.


  • 300g pork fillet (you don’t really get pork labelled ‘fillet’ in the shops here so I tend to use pork chops)
  • 3-4 chinese dried mushrooms, soaked
  • 1 tbsp chinese pickled cabbage (look for a little packet, may be labelled ‘preserved vegetables’)
  • 2 tbsp bamboo shoots (you can freeze the rest of the tin for next time)
  • 50g hot green chillis (no idea how many that is, I use 2 long thin green ones which-coupled with the HOT chilli paste-seems enough heat for us)
  • 1 leek
  • 1 green pepper (this wasn’t in the recipe, but is in the photo, and I think goes very nicely!)
For the pork coating:
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
For the sauce:
  • 2 tbsp chilli paste (see notes, below)
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame seed oil

One detail of this recipe I haven’t quite got yet – though it doesn’t seem to hurt, is that Deh-Ta says you should “cut the pork into thick slices [and] score the surface with a criss-cross pattern” before cutting it into small squares and marinating in salt, egg and cornflour.  The idea here being, that when you deep fry the pork “each piece opens up like a flower”. This never happens for me. However, I still score the meat each time like a good student. I guess I feel that at least it gives more surface for the egg to cling onto, and more places for the sauce to get a grip. I suppose I should try not doing this one time to see what the difference is.  (I’ll add the results to the comments if/when I do this!)

The other tricky thing here I suppose is the chilli paste. You may find it difficult to locate. I was lucky the first time and found this squat little jar in my local Chinese supermarket that seemed perfect. Then they stopped selling that and the next best thing I’ve found is a much taller jar, whose English language label is titled with “Black beans” but the first ingredient is actually chilli (then soybeans).  This stuff I find I need to chop or grind by hand (it appears to be predominantly black beans) to make it into a paste – the other jar was more a paste to start with. See how you do, and good luck!

Oh one more thing: can I just emphasize that the leek and preserved vegetables are crucial. Okay, so you can probably get away with out the latter-incase you struggle to find them too-but I just tried this with onion instead of leek and it was definitely missing something. So please use leek if you can.


You know what to do with the pork already (as decribed above: score/chop – add to egg, salt and cornflour). The vegetables: chop them all up finely; I find the green pepper should be roughly 1.5cm cubed, same with leek; the other can be chopped smaller, in proportion to their size. Grind the chilli paste if what you’ve found isn’t much of a paste. Get a colander/plate-with-paper-towels on it ready. Put some rice on.

Then heat a couple inches of oil up in your wok (a wooden skewer or chopstick left in the oil will indicate the appropriate temperature when it starts to fizz) and drop the pork cubes in, possibly in 2 batches so you don’t overcrowd it or cool down the oil too much.  You’ll need to give it all a good poke to stop it sticking together. I have an enormous holey spoon that helps with both this task and the fishing out of the pieces later. It doesn’t take long. If the pork pieces open up like flowers please tell me how you did it. If not just take them out before they start to brown. Drain them in a colander and/or on some paper towel. Tip the oil into a saucepan to cool (I then put in a jar for reuse another time).

Add 1-2 tbsp of the aforementioned oil to stir fry the vegetables. They only need a few minutes on a hot heat, stirring ALL THE TIME. Then add the chilli paste and pork, stir well. Then add the soy. Take off the heat, stir in the sesame oil, and serve with rice.


P.S. Deh-Ta’s recipe suggests you add some cornflour slurry at the end to ‘thicken the sauce’. I don’t find I have much of a sauce when I make this dish – just all the flavours which are clinging to the ingredients. There is no liquid left in the pan for the cornflour to thicken. However, if you would like to try making this more saucy, I guess you want to add more water (or maybe chicken stock) and then the cornflour slurry (cornflour/cornstarch mixed with equal parts water) will have something to thicken and you will have a wet sauce.  But I am pretty convinced you don’t need this.

Fragrant pork and aubergine cooking pictorial

Inspired by the Chinese Food Pictorials I mention in my previous post I have started to make my own cooking pictorials.  The following photo gallery will show you how I made the aubergine and pork stir fry recipe which I found on the BBC website.

This is a variation on a popular dish called Ma Po Tofu, where aubergine replaces the tofu. When making the Ma Po Tofu dish a couple times before, I found it was much better if you use homemade minced pork instead of shop bought ground pork.  This is a time consuming adjustment that you’ll probably choose to ignore, but I include instructions on how to mince your own pork in the hope of persuading you!

I also recommend marinading the pork as Ah Leung does here (but which I forgot to do in this pictorial) because “white pepper gives it great flavour and authentic chinese taste”. In a mixing bowl, add to the 1/2 or 3/4 lb of ground pork: 1/2 to 1 tsp of ground white pepper, 1 tsp of sesame oil, 1 tsp of corn starch, 1 tsp of light soy sauce, and 1 tsp of ShaoHsing cooking wine. (I’ve included his photo of this process in the gallery).

I only discovered after making my pictorial that you can watch a video of Ching-He Huang making the dish on the BBC website too.  I do recommend watching this for the explanations she gives about adding water to the aubergines when you fry them (you don’t need so much oil) and adding cooking wine to the meat (it gets rid of the ‘rawness’ or odour of meat/fish).

Learning to cook Chinese food

The last couple years I have dedicated a lot of time in the kitchen to learning how to cook Chinese food. I’ve posted about this a couple times already, first here and then here.  In this post I’d like to introduce you to my inspiration and my teachers.

Ingredients for Chicken with Cashew Nuts in Bean/Hoisin Sauce
Ingredients for Chicken with Cashew Nuts in Bean/Hoisin Sauce posted by hzrt8w on EGullet

I was initially inspired by a user of the EGullet forums known as hzrt8w (aka Ah Leung) who posted a series of Chinese food pictorials. Ah Leung is a Chinese American (born in Hong Kong) living in California and as well as being a computer geek he writes these fantastic step by step guides on how to cook his favourite Chinese dishes, illustrated with photos. The photos are obviously just taken on the fly as he makes his dinner, totally anti-food-porn, but they still make me think YUM! I want to make that! So I have gradually been learning to make a handful of his dishes. Admittedly I haven’t been so adventurous as to try the more obscure (to the Western eye) dishes like Stir-Fried Lotus Roots with Dry Conpoy and Hairy Moss Fungi but I’ve tried a lot of the chicken based stir-fries. What is particularly useful about Ah Leung’s pictorials, is the photo he takes at the start of all the ingredients. Sometimes it is hard to find the ingredients you need in the Chinese shop because you don’t know what you are looking for – these photos show you what the containers look like.

Cover of Chinese Regional Cooking
Cover of Chinese Regional Cooking by Deh-Ta Hsiung

I have 2 other sources for recipes, one I already mentioned on this blog, is a book published in 1979 by Deh-Ta Hsiung called Chinese Regional Cooking.  I’m guessing this book was one of the earlier books to try to present Chinese cooking to a western audience. One thing it didn’t get quite right was that it translated the names of dishes into English, so intead of a recipe for Ma Po Tofu (funky!) that recipe is called ‘Pock marked woman’ bean-curd (yuck!). Still, I went ahead and tried making that recipe anyway (it’s one of the easier ones) and it is OK, but I prefer Ah Leung’s version.  The other shortfall of this book – not surprising for its time – is that the recipes tend to use a lot of oil – but once you learn this, it is easy to adjust.  The photography in this book is classic seventies food photography: not that appetising, but it gives you the idea!  What I like about this recipe book is that it includes an introduction to Chinese cuisine: the fundamentals (history and the elements of taste), techniques and how Chinese meals are served.  Then there is also an introductory background to each region that the book covers. A random fun fact for you which I just learnt from his website: Deh-Ta went to the Slade School of Fine Art here in London (in 1960)!

Photo of Zesty Chilli Tiger Prawns from BBC website
Photo of Zesty Chilli Tiger Prawns from Chinese Food Made Easy website

The other Chinese cook I’ve been learning a little more from is the star of the recent BBC TV series Chinese Food Made Easy, called Ching-He Huang. As Deh-Ta’s book was a reflection of his time, so Ching-He’s program is a reflection of the current fashion in cooking – beautiful looking food made by an attractive presenter that doesn’t take long to make.  Ching-He Huang’s main aim in this series was to show us, a nation consuming vast quantities of take-away Chinese every day, that you can easily make the same food at home and it will taste better and be much healthier.   I watched her series out of curiosity: comparing my experience following Ah Leung’s pictorials and Deh-Ta Hsiung recipes, to her methods.  She didn’t marinate her meat, whereas the others would always marinate for at least 20 mins  (I find this fits in while I’m preparing the other bits and it makes the meat noticeably more tender), but Ching-He Huang is much lighter in the use of oil, and finds a good way of including vegetables in her dishes.  She also demonstrated various preparation techniques – you can still watch the videos on the BBC website.

Chinese shop called Great Wall in Lower Clapton taken by Dave Hill
Chinese shop called Great Wall in Lower Clapton taken by Dave Hill

Finally, I was also inspired by the fact that a Chinese shop called Great Wall opened at the end of my road – this was perfectly timed with my discovery of EGullet and my new recipe book.  I find Chinese grocery shops fascinating (well to be honest I find most grocery stores fascinating, especially those selling ‘ethnic’ ingredients) and I can never go in to pick up some noodles/tofu/dried mushrooms without spending some time browsing the peculiar cans, jars, packets, vegetables and live animals they stock their shelves with.  It was also just super handy to have this shop so close (107 Lower Clapton Road, Hackney), and open ’til late (10pm) – so I could not even think about dinner until 7pm and still end up making something new and exciting!  I say this in the past tense because I’ve now moved 1 mile away (towards Upper Clapton) so I have to get on my bike to go to this shop, but its still better than having to go all the way down to Mare Street or worse still, to Chinatown in central London!

What and where to eat in Montreal

A friend of mine is going to be visiting Montreal on her honeymoon soon, so I thought it was a good excuse to get my recommendations for where to eat there out in the open. Though I moved back to the UK in 2003 so I’m afraid they might not all still be there, but from what I’ve seen online, they mostly seem to still be going. (Please add comments with any corrections or further recommendations you have!)

There are many wonderful things about Montreal, that would require several posts here, but what I tend to focus on most is the food. Eating out in Montreal is cheap, easy and absolutely delicious. I think it is quite impressive that I only went up one clothes size in the 3 years I lived there, because the food is irresistable!

On “the Main” or St. Laurent, just south of Duluth is Schwartz‘s Smoked Meat Deli. I’m afraid my friend’s vegetarian husband is going to have to close his eyes and nose while she indulges in this most delightful sandwich. Mounds of steaming tender smoked beef quivering between two slices of sour dough bread. STUNNING.

Just next door, at Mondo Fritz, is something for meat eaters and veggies alike. If you like chips and gravy, you will just adore this Quebec speciality, Poutine. Poutine from Mondo Fritz Poutine is chips served with gravy and melted cheese curds, which are like lumps of cheese. You get this dish at all fast food joints in francophone Canada but Mondo Fritz has a gourmet version which I’d say is unbeatable. You might want to go for the Gardinier version which has some green vegetables like peas or brocolli in it. Their gravy is vegetarian, but they also do Poutine au Steak and other meaty delights. Or you can just go for their chips straight up with a choice of about 6 different mayos. All this washed down with a nice big pitcher of beer! YUM!

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Jerusalem artichoke and celeriac winter salad, with braised mushroom

Photo of winter salad
Blanched jerusalem artichoke and celeriac with toasted sour dough bread and pomegranate seeds, in a tahini and lemon juice dressing. So GOOD! Antother one of Yotam Ottonlenghi’s fantastic recipes in his The New Vegetarian column for the Guardian, which you can read following this link below.

I’ve been cooking big field mushrooms like this for a long time now, since finding the recipe in Robert Carrier’s Great Dishes of the World cookbook. Its really easy: just saute the mushroom in a little olive oil with some chopped garlic and a sprinkling of marigold powder (veg stock). Then add a good glug of red wine and let that simmer down to a syrupy jus. To serve, add a squeeze of lemon juice, chopped chives and some freshly ground pepper.

The Best Bagels from the Hot Bread Shop

Hummus and Feta bagel with fried onions

I just have to sing the praises of this fantastic north London family bakers, Grodzinski. For a year I lived a short walk from this wonderful bakery’s Stamford Hill branch and I’m not sure I appreciated just how good it was, but now I’m a little further away in Lower Clapton I’ve started to make a point of cycling up there once a week.

My usual shop includes sesame seed bagels, a handful of doughnut balls and a big loaf of granary bread. I only just noticed that it has Hot Bread Shop written on the sign – I’m not quite sure if that is some confused translation of baking or what it means exactly, but it does add to the charm!

Fresh or toasted bagels are probably the best lunch ever, in my mind, and there are just so many different things to do with them. One of the more elaborate ways I like to eat them is toasted, spread with hummus, thin slices of feta cheese, lots of crispy fried onions and a good sprinkling of parsley. You might also throw a slice of tomato into the mix but this idea was quashed when we made them at home this week.
Find your nearest J Grodzinski and Daughters store!