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.
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.
“Sheet-pan” meals seem to be trending on the internet the last few weeks and for good reason. This is a sensible and easy way to turn out hearty nutritious midweek meals without spending a lot time or fuss. I’ve been doing this for years. Basically you toss a bunch of vegetables into a sheet or roasting pan, add some herbs, drizzle with olive oil, and pop them in the oven to roast them for the better part of an hour. Voila! You have a splendid meal to put on the table as well as enough makings for a couple of reincarnations as well.
This time around I’ve used late summer vegetables, with a nod towards some Indian seasonings, which are roasted and served atop garlic naan bread which I buy from a favorite local Indian restaurant. The next day I tossed the vegetables with pasta, and on the following day a hearty vegetable soup using homemade stock.
The possibilities are endless here with the added benefits of vegetable based meals that are both healthy and robust enough to even satisfy reluctant carnivores.
Sheet-pan Roasted Vegetables with Garlic Naan and Coriander Chutney
- 6 garlic naan or other flat bread of choice
- 4 medium size gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
- 12 oz baby carrots, trimmed
- 1 head cauliflower, separated into florets
- ½ cup olive oil
- 2 large yellow onions, quartered and thinly sliced
- 4 bell peppers of various colors, seeded and sliced into thin strips
- 3 jalapeno peppers, seeded and cut into thin strips
- 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 6 oz small shiitake mushrooms, halved
- 1 tablespoon finely sliced fresh sage leaves
- 1 tablespoon sliced fresh marjoram leaves
- 1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon toasted coriander seeds, coarsely ground ¼
- teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 cup small cherry tomatoes
- 2 teaspoons sea salt + to taste
Place the cut potatoes in a sauce pan and cover with water. Bring the water to a boil, add a pinch of salt and parboil for about 12 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool.
Place the carrots and cauliflower in a steamer basket placed over simmering water and steam about 5 minutes. Set the basket of vegetables aside to cool.
Preheat the oven to 400 f/200 c rack set mid-level in the oven
Set a large skillet on the stove top over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to the skillet and heat until the oil is nearly smoking.
Add the onions and saute about 4 minutes until wilted. Add the bell peppers, jalapenos, garlic, and shiitake mushrooms and toss to combine. Turn up the heat to medium high and cook until the peppers have softened, about 3 minutes.
Add the sage, marjoram, cumin, coriander, turmeric, and 2 teaspoons salt. Toss until the ingredients are well combined. Then transfer the contents of the skillet into a sheet-pan or roasting pan along with the reserved potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, and the cherry tomatoes.
Add the remaining olive oil and toss all the ingredients until well combined. Place in the preheated oven and roast for about 1 hour, turning the vegetables over in the pan at 15 minute intervals.
While the vegetables are roasting you can make the Coriander chutney.
Coriander chutney is a standard condiment served in most Indian restaurants. The title Chutney may be a bit misleading as this chutney is more of a sauce rather than a mango or lime chutney you may be more familiar with. The coriander chutney adds a fresh aromatic and spicy note when splashed over the roasted vegetables.
Coriander chutney makes nearly a cup
- 1 ¼ cups fresh coriander leaves
- 2 two inch fresh green chilies, flame roasted, skin removed, seeded, and chopped
- 1 ½ teaspoon freshly grated young ginger root
- ½ teaspoon toasted cumin seeds, finely ground
- 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice
- 4 tablespoons cold water
- ¾ teaspoon sea salt
- a pinch of sugar
- 1 teaspoon neutral tasting vegetable oil
Place the coriander leaves, green chilies, ginger, cumin, and lime juice in a blender jar or mini food processor. Pulse until the coriander is pulverized, scraping down the sides of the blender or processor frequently.
Then add the water, sea salt and sugar and blend for several minutes, again scraping down the sides of the blender or processor as needed, until the sauce is very smooth. Then with the machine running add the oil in a slow steady stream.
Transfer the chutney to a jar with lid and refrigerate until needed.
Serving: The roasted vegetables are a perfect starter for a meal, as pictured.
Warm the garlic naan, or flat bread of choice, and generously mound the warm roasted vegetable on top. Spoon the Coriander chutney over the vegetables and serve.
The roasted vegetables can also be served as a side with a main course, or even better, as a main course with a side of couscous, rice, Bulgar, or quinoa.
I resently found myself reading an article in the Bangkok Post entitled “Yes, adults can have chocolate for breakfast” by my favorite NY Times food columnist Melissa Clark. Well, yes indeed…why not? I was in the kitchen early the following morning cooking up Melissa’s recipe which turned out exactly as described and, as always, was absolutely delicious.
In the article Melissa cuts right to the chase. “…there will always be something grey and Dickensian about a bowl of morning porridge. ” Who hasn’t had those very same thoughts while stirring and peering into the saucepan of simmering opaque pasty grey oatmeal. “Unless that is you add chocolate.” There is the game changer!
The idea of mixing grain with chocolate has been around since the Maya and Aztecs’ invented atole. Atole is a warm gruel made with corn based masa harina (corn meal/ flour) flavored with chocolate, panela (unrefined cane sugar), and canella (cinnamon). That said, a chocolate oatmeal is still a bit of a revelation that turns oatmeal into a much more enticing prospect for breakfast along with some added health benefits a well. Unsweetened cocoa powder is naturally fat free and loaded with antioxidants. Just try to keep the sweetener of choice to a minimum. Bitter sweet is better than too sweet!
Before continuing, a quick rundown on oats available for making oatmeal. There are steel cut oats, rolled oats, and instant oats. Steel cut means the whole oat groat is cut into smaller pieces. It resembles rice and will have a pronounced bite when cooked.For rolled oats, the whole oat groats are steamed and then rolled to flatten them. Rolled oats will cook faster while still retaining a bite. Quick, or instant, oats are precooked groats that are dried, and rolled. They cook faster, but most of the texture is lost in the process.The cooked quick oatmeal tends to be mushy.
Melisssa’s recipe calls for steel cut oats, but rolled oats are more readily available and work just fine with a slightly shortened cooking time.
To read Melissa Clark’s article and recipe (click here)
Brown Butter Chocolate Oatmeal (Recipe; Melissa Clark, NY Times) makes 4 servings
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 ½ cups steel-cut oats
- 3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-process
- ¼ tsp fine sea salt
- 4 1/2 cups water, or 2 1/4 cups water and 2 1/4 cups milk
- Raw sugar, honey or maple syrup to taste
Cream, milk or coconut milk
- Flaky sea salt
- Sliced bananas
- Shredded coconut
- Sliced dates
- Sliced avocado
1 In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Let cook, swirling occasionally, until it turns a deep golden brown and smells nutty, 2 to 4 minutes. You’ll know it’s close when the bubbling quiets down as the moisture cooks off. Add oats and saute until they turn golden at the edges, 2 to 4 minutes. Scrape the sauted buttered oats into a bowl and reserve.
2 To the same pot (no need to rinse it out first) add 4 ½ cups water (or half water and half milk) and bring to a boil. Add the cocoa powder and whisk well to dissolve lumps. Whisk in buttered oats and salt.
3 Lower to a gentle simmer. Let cook stirring occasionally until the oatmeal begins to thicken, Then stir more frequently until done to taste, 20 to 30 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let sit for 5 minutes. Check the thickness, thin with boiling water if needed. Stir in sweetener to taste and serve with toppings of your choice.