from Nigella Lawson’s new book Cook, Eat, Repeat
Nigella’s recipe for Fish Stick Bhorta, inspired by controversial British journalist and political activist Ash Sarkar’s Fish Finger Bhorta, is sure to dust up some controversy of its own in the media, but no matter. Nigella has this uncanny way with words that turn her books and recipes into a page turners! Her inquisitive enthusiasm for food and cookery is nothing short of compelling for anyone who loves to cook and eat.
I am sure you are asking yourself, as did I, what is a Bhorta anyway? The short answer is a Pakistani, Bangladeshi, or Indian highly seasoned mashed up of vegetables stir-fried together in mustard oil. That description is most likely not going to convince you to give this recipe a try, but I was won over on the first go around.
Cook, Eat, Repeat was written during the pandemic and focuses on inventive home coked meals for one or two people, with ample leftovers, made with what is on hand. Cooking your way through a year of relative isolation has had its challenges as well as its rewards for all of us. But having had the time to experiment, savor, and reflect on how and what we eat and how we prepare our food enriched our daily lives during a year of uncertainty.
Fish Stick Bhorta
Serves 2 with some leftovers
For the pickled onions, make in advance
- ½ red onion
- red wine vinegar or lime juice
Make your pink-pickled onions as far in advance as you can: at least 2 hours and up to 24. Cut your red onion in half- or use a whole onion if you prefer, as you will easily find yourself adding them to much else- into fine half moons. Put these in a jar with a lid, or simply into a bowl that you can cover. Pour over red wine vinegar (or lime juice) pressing down the onions until they are all just immured. Put the lid on the jar or cover the bowl and leave the onions to steep.
For the Bhorta
- 2 regular onions (approx. 10 ounces)
- 2 small red (birds eye) chiles
- 2 fat cloves of garlic
- 1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
- 12 fish sticks
- 3 tablespoons cold pressed vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons English mustard ( Colman’s) from a jar
- 2 teaspoons flaky sea salt or kosher salt (or 1 teaspoon fine sea salt)
- 4 oz young spinach
- 1 lime
- 2 tablespoons roughly chipped cilantro, plus more to serve
preheat the oven to 425 f
Peel and slice your 2 regular onions into fine half moons, seed the chiles (or not if you prefer) and slice them thinly, and peel the garlic. Peel the ginger and grate it finely to give 1 tablespoonful.
When the oven is hot, and your ingredients are assembled and ready, put the fish sticks on a baking sheet and cook for approx. 20 to 25 minutes, which may be slightly longer than the package directs, but will ensure the bread crumb coating is really crisp.
Meanwhile warm the oil in a large skillet or wok, and cook the onions over medium low for 20 minutes stirring regularly, by witch time they will be pale gold and soft.
Add the sliced chiles and cook, string all the while, for 3 minutes, then stir in the grated ginger, minced or grated garlic, and cook, still stirring, for another 2 minutes. Spoon in the mustard and salt, stirring to combine, then add the spinach leaves and let them wilt in the pan for 2- 3 minutes, stirring regularly, then squeeze in the juice of the lime.
Take the pan off the heat while you get the fish sticks. Break them up a bit with a spatula then add them to the frying pan or wok. Toss everything together, breaking up them up further and mashing them into the frying pan, then sprinkle in the cilantro.
Serve topped with the pink-pickled onions, adding extra chopped cilantro if wished.
My first encounter with gomasio was in the mid 60’s when a macrobiotic diet, popularized by Micho Kushi in the mid 1950’s, was embraced by those seeking an alternative lifestyle in the “ Age of Aquarius” and the Woodstock generation that followed. I again dabbled with macrobiotic cooking with my neighbors while living in the Netherlands and have included some aspects of macrobiotic ideas into my cookery ever since those colorfully spirited halcyon days of youth, discovery, and change.
Gomashiro / gomasio dates back centuries in Japan. The recipe is quite simple. All that is required is toasted sesame seeds, sea salt, a traditional ceramic suribachi, a wooden pestle, and some elbow grease.
There are times when only a hand tool will do to achieve the desired results you strive for. Guacamole comes to mind using a traditional wooden Mexican bean masher or making making Gomasio using a traditional Japanese suribachi.
The ridged ceramic suribachi dates back to the 6th century in Japan and, sure enough, a mostly unchanged traditional design is available on Amazon at a very reasonable price. I urge you to purchase one. The ritual of hand grinding various seeds and spices preserves the flavor and texture that an electric spice grinder would quickly over process and scorch the flavor in the process. You also have the satisfaction of being an integral part of the process as well as having one of those Zen moments that makes cooking ever so fulfilling!
Gomasio is used to season almost anything you would normally season with salt. The nutty saltiness brightens up a salad, vegetables, omelets, soups, meats, fish, rice, grains, stir-fry, sushi, and on and on.
No exact recipe required and let your creativity reign free!
Pictured is a gomasio made with toasted sesame seeds ( click here for recipe), flaked sea salt, and toasted nori seaweed which is optional.
Grind the sesame seeds to break them down and then add the salt and grind until combined.
If using toasted seaweed, crumble before adding to the gomasio and then grind to incorporate.
I used to make some stellar Thai basil pesto variations when I was living in in Thailand. But Thai basil is hard to find here in the US unless you’re lucky enough to have an Asian grocery store near by.
By all means use Thai basil if it is available for the recipe that follows. There are two varieties to look for. Thai sweet basil has pointed bright green aromatic leaves with a hint of anise and an after note e of cinnamon. Thai holly basil leaves are a deep green or sometimes reddish purple leaves with an earthy peppery flavor. Both variegates are distinctly more assertive in flavor than broad leaf Italian basil.
If Thai basil is not available, just adapt and diversify, which is how this recipe evolved. The secret to Thai food’s popularity is a cleaver one. Most Thai dishes include all five elements of taste, those being salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami (savory) flavors in one dish which is pure genius. It’s no wonder why Thai food is so loved. With that concept in mind I used readily available broad leaf Italian basil along with some hot jalapenos from south of the border, some Thai fish sauce, lime juice, cashews (abundant in Thailand) and you end up with a Thai- americano pesto!
This is a pesto you will want to add to your repertoire. A dollop added to almost any savory dish will have it bursting with all the flavors of a Thai- americano mash up.
Pictured is Thai..americano Peato served on toasted bread strips atop a salad of baby arugula, pickled beets and hard cooked eggs, and shaved aged provolone cheese.
Thai…americano Pesto Makes about 1 ½ cups
- 3 cups fresh torn broad leaf Italian basil leaves, or Thai basil if available
- 2 tablespoon minced garlic
- 3 to 4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1 or 2 jalapeno chiles, seeded and diced
- ½ cup chopped cashews
- ¾ teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce +more to taste
- ¼ teaspoon sugar
- ¼ cup olive oil
- cold water as needed for thinning
Place the basil leaves, garlic, 3 tablespoons lime juice, jalapeno chiles, cashews, ¾ teaspoon of salt, fish sauce, and sugar in the work bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the ingredients are broken down into a coarse paste.
Scrape down the sides of the work bowl. Turn the machine on and pour the olive oil into the feed tube and continue to run the machine until all the oil is incorporated.
Stop the machine and taste the pesto and add additional salt and fish sauce to taste. If the pesto needs thinning, turn the machine on and add 1 tablespoon of cold water at a time until you reach the desired consistency.
Transfer the pesto to a nonreactive container, cover, and refrigerate.
The pesto can be served chilled or at room temperature with endless applications.
Listed are additional pesto recipes that I have posted over the years to to expand your pesto repertoire for freezing for later use during the winter months.
Fresh Sweet Italian Basil Pesto (see here)
Pesto alla Siciliana & Pesto Trapanese (see here)
Spinach Pesto with Pancetta (see here)
Pomegranate Glazed Pork Loin with Pistachio Pesto (see here)
Pesto Diverso (see here)
Pesto making season has arrived!
Fresh basil varieties are abundant this time of year and what we cooks have been waiting for with unapologetic anticipation. Being able to stow away the essence of summer’s flavors into jars or bundled into the deep freeze is a task relished. Bringing some of the bright tastes of summer back to life at the table during the long winter months is always warmly savored by one and all.
With that in mind I came home from the market with a bundle of Italian basil and, to my surprise, a bundle of Shiso . My immediate thought was a Shiso pesto!
Most of you are probably familiar with the delicate green shiso leaves garnishing sushi in Japanese restaurants. Shiso has a fresh light mint like flavor with just a hint of citrus and cinnamon. It is indeed the perfect compliment for sushi.
Shiso is the Japanese name for what we might otherwise know as perilla in the West. It is from the mint family and originates from the mountainous regions of China and India, but now cultivate worldwide. Perilla is used throughout Asia. The Japanese use shiso for pickling and coloring umeboshi plums and fermented eggplant.
There are many varieties of shiso with leaf colors ranging from pale green, a purplish red, or leaves that are green on top and red on the underside which is what I found here in North Carolina. I do love the subtle flavor of the tender young green shiso leaves so I just had to get a large bundle of these green and red shiso leaves and see what I could do with them.
Making a Shiso pesto defers to the more subtle flavor notes of the shiso itself. What evolved was a deep purplish red pesto with notes of citrus, ginger, and mint to serve along with Japanese soba noodles. You can serve the soba noodles warm or cold along with some sauteed mushrooms. This is an ideal pairing for various mushrooms harvested during the fall months ahead.
For you pesto lovers I will be posting a zesty Thai-Amereicano Pesto in my next post along with links to other pesto recipes I have posted over the years.
Shiso Pesto with Soba noodles and Sauteed Mushrooms
Serves 3 or 4
The sauteed mushrooms can be made in advance. See the recipe below.
- 2 cups fully packed fresh shiso leaves, either green, reddish purple, or reddish purple & green
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
- 1 tablespoon white miso
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated (micro planed) ginger root
- ½ cup walnut pieces
- 2 to 3 tablespoons freshly squeezes lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons neutral vegetable or light olive oil
- 2 to 3 tablespoons cold water
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- pinch of white pepper
- a bundle or two of Japanese soba noodles
- toasted sesame seeds for garnish (recipe here)
If your shiso leaves are mature remove the central spine of the leaves and tear the leaves before proceeding.
Place the torn shiso leaves, garlic, miso, grated ginger, the walnuts, and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice in the work bowl of a food processor. Pulse until all the ingredients are broken down. Stop the motor and scrape down the sides of the work bowl.
With the motor running ad the oil in a slow steady stream through the feed tube until the ingredients form a thick paste like mixture.
Then begin adding one tablespoon of cold water at a time until the mixture is thinned out a bit and smoother. You will have to be the judge of how much water to add, but keep in mind the texture will firm up a bit when refrigerated.
Stop the motor and add the salt and pepper and pulse until incorporated. Stop the machine and taste the pesto. At this point adding the remaining lemon juice and seasoning with more salt and pepper to taste. Then pulsing several times.
Transfer the pesto to a non reactive bowl, cover with cling film, and refrigerate while you prepare the soba noodles and the mushrooms.
Bring a generous pot of water to a boil. Do not salt the water.
While the water is coming to a boil, fill a bowl with very cold water and set aside.
Once the water is boiling add the soba noodles and, using tongs, continuously stir the noodles for about 6 minutes. You want the noodles to be al dente!
Promptly transfer the noodles to a colander and drain . Then tip the noodles into the bowl of cold water. Using your hands give the noodles a gentle wash. This washing will remove most residual starch so the noodles will not stick together.
Tip the noodles into a colander and drain well. The soba noodles are now ready for serving at room temperature.
If you want to serve the noodles warm, place them in a strainer and immerse them into a simmering pot of water until warm. Then toss the noodles in the strainer and transfer the noodles to a serving bowl or individual serving bowls.
Spoon some shiso pesto on top of the noodles and garnish with toasted sesame seeds.
Serve the remaining pesto in a small bowl along with the sauteed mushrooms and light soy sauce or ponzu sauce on the table.
- 1 pint of seasonal mushrooms; cremini, shiitake, or forest mushrooms
- 1 plump shallot, peeled and finely diced
- 1 tablespoon light olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 3 tablespoons sake or white wine
- sea salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
Brush the mushrooms well to remove any soil. Snap off the stems and reserve for another use.
Slice the mushrooms thinly and set aside.
Place a saute pan on the stove over medium heat. When the pan is hot add the oil and then the shallots and saute for several minutes until they are translucent.
Add the sliced mushrooms and toss with the mushrooms. Continue doing this until the mushrooms start to release their juices. Then add the butter and continue sauteing until the juices are mostly evaporated. Add the sake and saute until the sake is mostly evaporated. Season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside to use later.