Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Summer dishes

For a day when it's been over 34C, I've certainly done a lot of cooking! Fortunately, however, other than the bulghur for the tabbouleh, it was all chopping and mixing and stirring.

Peter was making calf's eyes at me last night, reminding me that I'd promised to make tabbouleh and guacamole for him this week. These two are some of our default Summer Foods, and we get through a lot of them over the hot months.

I stopped by the farm on the way home from Greta's daily walk and picked up another three kilos of tomatoes. They're so good, I can't get over how much flavour they have. I was speaking to the farmer's wife (and the farmer, who was boldly displaying a grey-haired torso and fuzzy belly), and she told me they have masses more tomatoes, even in the "cold room", as well as mirabelles and plums. I might have to make more jam than planned, as I have a feeling that mirabelles and honey might go very well together.

Even more so as there's a place across the road and along a few metres advertising local honey... and I should also go up the road in the other direction to the Domaine and buy some of their peaches.

But to get back to what I did with the tomatoes. After I staggered in and put Greta down, gave her plenty of water to drink, gulped a couple of pints myself, I started chopping.

First up, gazpacho, adapted from Not Derby Pie. What is Derby Pie, I wonder?

- 1 chunk, about 3 cm thick, of stale wholemeal pain de campagne
- 5 garlic cloves
- a couple of big pinches of sel de mer aux herbes de provence
- 2.5 tablespoons vinaigre de Xeres
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1.3 kilos ripe tomatoes, cored and quartered
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil (I used a really nice olive oil that Peter bought from his caviste in Gland)

I soaked the chunk of bread in water for a couple of minutes, then squeezed it dry-ish. Put that in the blender, with just over half the tomatoes (what was left was one whole tomato of about 600g!). I put the cumin seeds in my mortar and pestle, bashed at them a minute or so, then added the garlic cloves and the salt, and pounded them down together. Put that and the sugar in the blender, then turned it on. It took a bare half minute to be nice and smooth, so I then added the rest of the tomato, blended that in, then slowly poured the olive oil in through the top.

That then went into the fridge to meld and settle.

Peter and I had a bowl each for supper (well, he had two), and it was very good. Richly flavoured, punch-y with the garlic, and, as Peter put it, "It's smooth, but it has texture. It scrapes across my tongue in a good way."

I might knock up a jar (with half the garlic) for my parents some time soon, they'd like it.

I then cooked just under a mug-ful of organic bulghur. It would have been a mug-ful, but it was the end of the packet!

The trick to making a good tabbouleh, I am convinced, is to not overcook your grain. I was at a bbq last weekend where the one salad that stood practically untouched was a tabbouleh made with couscous that was so wet that the whole thing just looked like a bowl of mush. It's a good idea to actually slightly undercook the grain, as it is going to be snuggled up to tomatoes and cucumbers, as well as having olive oil and lemon juice poured over it.

Unfortunately, I had a small squally Greta clinging to my ankle at this point, demanding to be picked up before she got eaten by hyenas, so I overcooked the bulghur a bit. Annoying, but not the end of the world, as I think I got it just in time.

To the cooked bulghur, I added:
- 2 large (the size of my fist and a bit over!) tomatoes, seeded, and diced
- 2/3 of a cucumber, seeded, diced
- a handful of golden sultanas that I had left over from making chutney- normally I'd put in a couple of handfuls of raisins, although I have put in mango at times, which works well
- a chopped spring onion (it should have been two, but I only had two left, and needed the other one for guacamole)
- 2 packs (0.020 kg each) of mint, leaves sliced finely into a chiffonade
- 2 bundles of flat parsley, leaves chopped extremely roughly- sometimes I use rocket instead
- juice of two lemons
- plenty of olive oil
- salt, freshly-ground black pepper

All mixed together, and left for a couple of hours. I make this for summer parties, and it always vanishes very fast! I think the difference to how tabbouleh is usually made around here is that I stick to a more "traditional" interpretation, i.e. I make sure that there is lots and lots of green herbs, whereas when you buy it ready-made here, it's usually a lot of couscous and a few flecks of mint, so that is how most people make it.

Peter says that I did catch the bulghur in time. As he had two bowls of that as well for dinner, I suppose he's right. He did complain that I hadn't chopped the parsley small enough, though. What is left, I will split up into individual tupperwares, and stack in the fridge, as otherwise he'll eat all the rest of the bowl in one sitting. If it's divided up, he's a bit more reasonable!

Having finished making the tabbouleh, I handed Greta over to her father for long enough for me to make the guacamole, as it's a bit difficult to chop coriander with a toddler in one arm.

I also make a relatively "traditional" version of guacamole. Instead of the absolutely smooth green paste that for some reason some people seem to think is about right (I blame the back of the Old El Paso packets of spice for guacamole, which say "take two avocadoes, mush them up, add this packet, you're done"), I make quite a chunky one.

- 3-4 avocadoes, as ripe as possible before going off (and I've had some "guacamole" served to me where the avocadoes were so unripe that they were actually diced!)
- 2 spring onions, chopped (I only had one left due to using the other in the tabbouleh- often I put the white part of just one in, and the green of two)
- 2 packs (0.020 kg) of coriander, thick stems removed, chopped
- 1 medium tomato (or a handful of cherry tomatoes), seeded, diced
- lime juice (a few tablespoons)
- and... erm... the Old El Paso packet. Because I've tried making my own mix, and this is the best. But I do add chili flakes to it.

Tip the OEP packet contents into a small bowl, add the lime juice and chili flakes, stir. Leave whilst you remove the avocado flesh and put it into a bowl (I put it straight into the tupperware I'm going to keep it in). Mash, not too smoothly, but not leaving any big lumps. Add the lime juice and OEP, stir well. Don't beat any air into it, however- air is what makes the colour turn, and you don't want that! Add the onions, tomato, and chopped coriander, and a bit of salt. Mix it in, smooth the top, cover it with a layer of plastic wrap smoothed down onto the surface to keep the air out, put the lid on the tupperware, put it in the fridge for a couple of hours.

These days, I serve it with pita crisps. It used to be chili tortilla crisps, but pita crisps are a nice change. Unfortunately, we're out at the moment, so we didn't have any tonight. I shall try and pick some up tomorrow at Coop.

My jam is currently at the steeping stage in the saucepan. I'll start cooking it in about 45 minutes, now that the weather has finally cooled down enough to be bearable!

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