Today is the last ‘lesson’ of the semester and next week is a six hour skills revision, aka an assessment followed by a six week break!
This week the dishes are; Spicy Sweet Potato Pakoras with Coriander Raita, Spinach & Ricotta Triangles, Lemongrass Pork Rolls, Club Sandwich & Orange Granita with Orange, Date & Mint Salad. After the trays were set up, and the usual photo of Ronald was snapped, we all worked quietly at our station. Chef commented several times that the class was vey quiet. It seems that now we all just get on with preparing our mis en place without a step by step instruction…quite a change from the start of the semester. To do this you must read all the recipes and have an idea of what needs to prepared ahead of time. Up front chef asked for a volunteer to make the granita…I held back for a minute in case someone else wanted to do it, but when no one stepped forward I offered and will talk about this below as well as provide the recipe.
The first dish today was the spicy Pakoras (recipe below). Pakoras are known by a few other names, probably the most common other being bhajji, and are a popular snack across the Indian subcontinent. Being spicy the yoghurt and coriander raita is a great accompaniment. They could be served as appetisers at a cocktail party or as an entree (starter) before the main meal and provide a good vegetarian option. The Sweet and Desiree Potatoes were provided to us already steamed (by chef before we arrived) for our pealing and dicing. In a hot frypan the spices were cooked off before adding the spring onion (scallion), garlic & diced potato. I also added some sliced green stem for colour. The potato mixture will leave a cooked crust on the pan which is not to be wasted (it’s flavour), so simply add some of the water to the pan & loosen the residue. The chickpea flour (besan flour) imparts a lovely flavour which complements the spice. Add the water (including what you added to the pan) a little at a time to ensure the mixture is not too wet. You will know when it’s ready as the mixture will slip off the spoon in a clump. Leave to rest for at least 30 minutes before deep frying. When deep frying, dip your spoon into the oil and then take a desert spoonful – gently dropping the batter in the hot oil. Oiling the spoon will help the batter slip off easily. Cook until golden (a matter of minutes). You can also shallow fry if you don’t have a deep fryer. Service with the raita.
To make the Spinach and Ricotta triangles, first make the filling. Sweat the onion and garlic for a few minutes (don’t colour) and then add the spinach ….cook until all moisture is gone. Add the cheeses (ricotta & parmesan), the nutmeg and the seasoning. It’s important to taste all through the process so as you can adjust the seasoning as you go. Never follow a recipe blindly without tasting – we all have different palates, so taste, taste, taste! The first time I had these was with my maternal Greek grandmother… it was probably the only Greek I ever knew (along with knife and fork… can you see how food has always been a focus for me?). ‘Spanokopita’ has ever since been a favourite of mine, and along with Greek baked fish, has always reminded me of TJ (my Nanna). The ones she gave me where made with feta and included egg….. they were delicious. When using filo you need to be gentle and work quickly – it’s paper thin, tears and will dry out quickly. I use a wet tea towel to cover the sheets waiting to be rolled, but don’t let the pastry get wet – wrap it over the pastry but don’t make contact with it. Have the melted butter ready and brush between folds of the pastry. Place a spoonful in one corner and fold to make a triangle & fold again. I’ll post the recipe in a blog in the semester break. And oh yes…knife and fork in Greek is machairi kai pirouni…is it no wonder I was a chubby child!
The Club Sandwich apparently originated in New York – although there are conflicting stories of where and who brought it to life…was it the Union Club of New York City or the gambling club in New York called Saratoga Springs? Either way it’s tasty and dates back to late 19th Century (1899). At this stage of the lesson I was rushing and fear I was not giving this sandwich icon the respect and time it deserved…as you can see by the mess on the plate which was my club sandwich! More time will be required next week for the assessment so as to improve the finished plate…mind you it tasted ok! What’s not to like with a toasted 3 layered sandwich of; toasted white bread spread with mayo, topped with lettuce, tomato & bacon, topped with toasted brown bread (spread with mayo), and covered in lettuce & roasted chicken, topped with a second slice of toasted white bread (spread with mayo). Cut and secured with a skewer.
But wait….there’s more! As one of my lovely readers said, she has to ensure she has eaten before she sits down to read my blog. Let me tell you, I have to show such restraint in these classes as it would be too easy to eat far too much! So onto the Vietnamese style Lemongrass Pork rolls….yeah ….more crabs! Chef marinated the pork in a marinade of lemongrass, lime juice, fish sauce and garlic cloves. The aroma in the kitchen whilst this was cooking in the oven was amazing. Once cooked and cooled the pork was thinly sliced and we assembled the rolls adding the pickled vegetables, coriander and Vietnamese mint to mayo spread baguette. I love the flavour of Vietnamese mint – it is potent though and a little goes a long way!
The last dish of the day was the Orange Granita with Orange, Date and Mint Salad. Where as this is a very refreshing dish, and would be a nice palate cleanser between a rich dish and a cheese course, it is quite sweet. I am a poor judge though as I don’t have a ‘sweet tooth’…. thank goodness as I seem to have ‘a tooth’ for everything else! All the other students and chef seemed to really like it…so don’t take my word for it. Making the granita is a breeze. Because I used ready made juice it didn’t need straining, however I imagine this would be much nicer with freshly squeezed juice, which would need to be strained. The recipe below really covers this and it was done in a jiffy!
Finally, the kitchen next door is a bakery class and the students are lovely. Between us is a washroom where several hard working ladies take our rinsed pots, pans, dishes, etc and wash them properly. Often when I am putting something in the washing area I poke my head into the bakery class and today when I did just that one of the students handed me a delicious, custard filled, toffee based profiterole. Thank goodness I have six weeks off soon, I need to stop eating! What became clear later was the class was making Croquembouche (crunch in the mouth), the classic French cake served at weddings and other celebrations. When I married my children’s father we had a beautiful Croquembouche. As it’s a celebration cake it seemed fitting that chef swapped his club sandwiches for this little jewel to celebrate our last lesson with him ….. somehow I think Chef (and the class) were the winners here….
Spicy Sweet Potato Pakoras with Coriander Raita (serves 2)
Ingredients for Pakoras: 200g potato, 125g sweet potato, 110g Besan (chickpea flour), 1g Bi carb Soda, 90ml water. 20ml peanut oil, 1 chopped garlic clove, 1g ground turmeric, 5g ground cumin, 5g curry powder, 2g dried chilli, 1 small spring onion – whites and green stem.
Ingredients for Raita: 140g Greek yoghurt, 80g fresh chopped coriander leaves & 1 pinch of dried cumin
Method for the Pakoras: Boil or steam potatoes until tender, cool and dice into 1cm cubes. Heat peanut oil in frypan, add spices and cook until fragrant (1 min), add garlic, spring onion and potatoes – cook through moving the ingredients in the pan. Remove from heat and place in bowl. Add mix of chickpea flour & bi carb soda and combine. Add some water to the frypan to loosen the residue and add to the mixture – continue to add water to the potato mix until the consistency is such that it drops from the spoon. Heat the oil to 180C and add tablespoons to the hot oil, frying until brown and crispy. Drain on absorbent paper and serve with the raita.
Method for the raita: Chop the coriander and add to the yoghurt. Add the cumin and a pinch of salt.
Orange Granita (serves 2)
Ingredients: 225ml orange juice, 2ml orange flower water, 55g caster sugar, pinch of ground cardamon.
Method: Combine the ingredients and heat on stove until sugar is dissolved. If using fresh juice or juice with pulp, strain mixture into a container and freeze for 4 hours – stirring with a fork every 30 mins.
Serve with Orange segments mixed with chopped mint and dates