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.
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.
Zucchini is the very essence of summer for me. The shades of deep to light greens along with tinges of yellows tease your memories of endless summer meals gone by where zucchini’s presence on the table defined the taste of unforgettable midsummer meals with family and friends.
Preparation of zucchini is a lesson in less is more. A recipe is hardy required, but keep in mind, a lightness of touch and just a scent of fresh herbs is all that is needed.
Serving this roasted zucchini with a creamy polenta is a match made in heaven! (click here for polenta)
Roasted Zucchini with a Lemon Vinaigrette serves 4
Needed: large shallow oven baking tray
Preheat oven to 375 f/ 190 c Have oven rack placed in the middle position.
- 3 or 4 plump garden fresh zucchini, ends trimmed and cut into ½ inch thick wedges
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon thyme leaves
- sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
Place the wedges of zucchini in a large bowl. Drizzle the olive oil over the zucchini and toss to coat the wedges evenly.
Add the lemon thyme leaves, season with salt and pepper and toss until well combined.
Place the zucchini wedges in the baking tray in a single layer. Transfer the tray to the oven and roast for 6 to 8 minutes. Then reverse the tray and roast another 6 to 8 minutes. The zucchini should be very lightly colored and softened, but still firm around the edges.
If you like you can place the try under the broiler for a couple of minutes for added color.
Transfer the tray from the oven to a cooling rack and cool to room temperature.
- 3 tablespoons minced shallot
- 1 garlic clove, whole, peeled and pressed
- ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- pinch of sugar (optional)
- freshly grated Parmigiano (optional)
In a non reactive bowl combine the shallots, garlic clove, lemon juice, lemon zest, white wine vinegar, salt, and pepper. Whisk until all the ingredients are combined.
Combine both oils in a pitcher. While whisking slowly begin adding the olive oils in a thin slow and steady stream while continuing to whisk vigorously. Once all the oil has been added and the vinaigrette has emulsified, taste the vinaigrette and add additional salt as needed. Adding just a pinch of sugar is optional. Cover and refrigerate the vinaigrette until you are ready to serve.
Place the roasted zucchini in a bowl and lightly drizzle the lemon vinaigrette over the zucchini, toss, and serve.
As suggested above, serve roasted zucchini along with creamy polenta is a perfect summer meal in itself.
Dusting with Zucchini and polenta with Parmigiano is optional, but a nice compliment.
When the hot season, April- June, arrives in Thailand the last thing you want to do is spend much time in the kitchen. With temperatures tipping 40 c/ 104 f daily it is really HOT!
Being a hot country year round Thai cuisine has a unique hot weather appropriateness. Flash cooking fresh ingredients tossed together with assertive flavors and fiery spicy heat is what makes Thai cuisine so universally popular. The capsacin from fiery hot chiles stimulates the release of endorphins in the brain that instantly produces a sense of euphoria, while breaking into a sweat from the heat of chiles has a pleasant cooling effect as well. No wonder everyone loves Thai food!
The recipe that follows is a reinterpretation of a popular Thai stir fry dish; Kra Pao Moo (click here for recipe) . I have upped the ante in this recipe using a Thai rum marinated pork loin and included chayote to the stir fry that adds a fresh crisp element to the final dish.
Chayote originates from Central Mexico and widely used throughout Central and south America. Chayote was introduced to the old world during the Columbian exchange. From there it was transported through trade routes throughout Asia. Chayote is a member of the gourd family, and favored for its crisp texture and plentiful nutrients. The entire plant is eatable and often included in stir fried dishes throughout Asia. Seek it out! Widely available in Latin and Asian markets in North America as well.
Thai Stir Fry with Rum Marinated Pork Loin and Chayote serves 4
To avoid the heat of the day during the hot season I like to marinate the pork in the morning and refrigerate it for the rest of the day. Prep all the other ingredients in the morning as well and refrigerate. That way the stir frying can be done very quickly in the evening without breaking a sweat!
- 1 inch knob fresh ginger, peeled, thinly sliced, and diced
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled, thinly sliced and diced
- 3 tablespoons minced shallots
- 3 kaffir/ makrut lime leaves
- 3 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 1/3 cup Thai Sang Som rum (or other dark rum)
- 2 teaspoons fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon palm sugar (or light brown sugar)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 pound pork loin, silvery membrane removed and cut into 3 pieces
- cold water to cover
Select a non reactive bowl just large enough to hold the pork loin and other ingredients. Place all the ingredients except the pork and water into the bowl and stir to combine. Then add the pork loin and, using your hands, massage the pork with the mixture until covered. Then add just enough water to cover all. Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate for 8 hours.
- marinated pork tenderloin, thinly sliced into medallions across the grain
- 2-4 teaspoons oil
1 onion, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 red bell pepper, quartered, seeds and membrane removed, thinly sliced and halved
- 2 chayote, peeled, halved, pit removed, sliced lengthwise and cut into bite size pieces
- 1 or 2 jalapeno chiles, quartered, seeds and membrane removed, cut into thin strips and diced
- 1-3 Thai red chiles, sliced in half lengthwise, seeds removed and very thinly sliced and then diced
- reserved marinade
- ½ cup fresh Thai sweet basil leaves
- 1-2 tablespoons oyster sauce or to taste
- stock or water
- additional fish sauce to taste
- fresh lime wedges
A steel Chinese wok is ideal for stir frying food very quickly over intense heat. For more information on cooking with a wok (click here)
Heat your wok over a gas burner or charcoal fire and add the oil. Swirl the pan to coat the surface and promptly add the pork medallions and stack them all the way up the sides of the wok. Sear briefly and then turn the pork and continue searing. Once lightly browned promptly remove the pork from the wok and set aside. Total cooking time 2 to 3 minutes max. Reserve the marinade to use later.
Add a little more oil to the wok and add the onions, garlic, and red bell peppers. Toss and stir fry until softened and lightly colored. Then add the chayote and toss to combine. Stir fry for a couple of minutes and then add the jalapenos and Thai red chiles and toss until combined. Then add the reserved marinade and cook for a couple minutes. Taste the chayote. Ideally you want the chayote to retain a refreshing crispness that will compliment the otherwise deeply flavorful stir fry.
Add the basil leaves and toss to combine. Taste the broth and add additional oyster sauce and fish sauce to taste. If the broth has reduced quite a bit you can add a little stock or water.
Finally add the reserved pork and toss until just heated.
Just before serving squeeze some lime juice into the stir fry, toss, and you are ready to serve.
Serve with Thai Jasmine rice or, my favorite, Thai Jasmine brown rice. Have a bowl of lime wedges set out on the table as well.