Coconut Oat Chilli Crisp

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We all have our little fallback phrases to mutter like a protective mantra, for me: “just gotta get through this week” is a phrase—if not a mood—that I return to frequently, and in February it’s gone into overdrive, no sooner have I said it, but it’s time to say it again. A month absolutely redolent of thwart but not in a cool way, more in a stupid, losing-things, splitting-my-favourite-trousers, leaving-everything-to-the-last-minute kind of way. And then I turn on the news and it’s like, okay, the week that I just gotta get through is pretty modest compared to the other options out there. But still, the sentiment stands: just gotta get through this week.

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This is my slapdash way of explaining why I haven’t blogged since the start of the month, and why I return with a recipe that I was missing key ingredients for and then managed to burn parts of. I figured if I said “just gotta get through this week” too many times I might psychologically yeet myself straight into March without realising it, or indeed, achieving anything, so I cut my losses, took some photos, and here we are. Even despite all these setbacks, this Coconut Oat Chilli Crisp is wonderfully delicious, and I can only but imagine, greedily, how good it will taste when I make it again at peak mental and organisational acuity, whenever that happy day might be. The recipe comes from Hetty McKinnon’s fantastic To Asia: With Love cookbook, the sort of collection of recipes that makes you slap the nearest firm surface and bellow “YES” as you read through them. Towards the end is this recipe, as part of a salad, I chose to make it stand-alone (and added the word “coconut” to the title just to emphasise what we’re in for) and despite over-frazzling my onions and not having the right ginger, I couldn’t be happier with the results.

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I’m a relative newcomer to chilli oil—in fact, truth be told, I’m a relative newcomer to chilli. As far as I can remember there was only cayenne pepper for dusting redly across devilled eggs, and then sometime in the late 90s sweet chilli sauce became A Thing (mostly poured, stickily, over upended tubs of cream cheese, to be gouged at with crackers), and as such I simply assumed my taste buds would be terrified of any real chilli experience and more or less avoided it for years. It turns out that I actually love chilli, and have a decent capacity for it—but it also seems that the only way to get your tastebuds used to chilli is to simply eat chilli. They’re not going to randomly do it of their own accord. A brief scan of my recent recipes will show my great latecomer’s enthusiasm for homemade chilli oil (the chilli oil beans; the bucatini with chilli oil pumpkin seeds; the sushi rice with chilli oil nuts, etc) and this recipe of Hetty McKinnon’s is my new favourite thing.

@hungryandfrozen

Hetty McKinnon’s oat chilli crisp is SO GOOD slightly adapted recipe at hungryandfrozen.com #cooking #chillicrisp #chillioil #vegan #recipes #fyp #nz

♬ Breathe Again – Toni Braxton

What really caught me was the clever use of oats as a crisp element in this oil, and their unobtrusive and nutty flavour and wafer-y fried crunch give marvellous texture and surprising richness, especially when paired with the waxy, sweet coconut. I added chopped roasted peanuts for extra crunch, and—I admit—to dilute the taste of the burnt green bits of onion. I was fully prepared for this recipe to be a wasteful disaster, fortunately, it still tasted excellent. This makes a large quantity of gloriously magma-coloured—although, not magma-hot—chilli oil, and with its versatility and long shelf-life, it would make an ideal gift.

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If you already like chilli oil, or have a jar of Lao Gan Ma chilli crisp perpetually near-empty, you won’t need me to tell you what to do with this, but the thing is, it really is versatile: it’s not so much a case of what it goes with, it’s more trying to find literally anything that can’t be improved by a glossy red spoonful of it. Rice and noodles, obviously, cold, sliced and bashed up cucumber, a ripe avocado, all friends to chilli oil; pouring this over savoury oats would be deliciously symbiotic, and, I suspect, symbiotically delicious. Or there’s always my number one summer meal, the meal that I would’ve been lost without this year, through humidity and record-high heatwaves and summer cyclones: a wobbly and pale slab of fridge-cold silken tofu, with chilli oil spooned over it. Perfection, and the kind of dish that makes you happy that you’re here, right now, and not barrelling towards next week.

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Coconut Oat Chilli Crisp

Coconut flakes and rolled oats give texture and richness to this delicious and versatile chilli oil. This is a very slight adaptation of a Hetty McKinnon recipe from her beautiful book To Asia, With Love, and the first of many, many recipes I’ll be cooking from it. The only real changes I made were to increase the oil a little, to add chopped roasted peanuts for even more crunch, and to specifically use gochugaru, the Korean red chilli powder, because I love it (and I also have a giant bag of it).

  • 3 shallots or spring onions, finely sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
  • 2.5cm piece of ginger, peeled and finely sliced (see notes)
  • 1 cup (100g) old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup (30g) coconut flakes (also called coconut chips)
  • 3 tablespoons gochugaru
  • 3 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 and 3/4 cups neutral oil, such as rice bran
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 3 tablespoons chopped roasted peanuts
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt, to taste (or about a teaspoon of pouring/table salt)

1: If using spring onions, set aside the green parts (otherwise, you will end up with what I had: burnt bits of onion.) Place the three finely sliced shallots or the white parts of your spring onions, the two finely sliced garlic cloves, the finely chopped ginger, the cup of rolled oats, the half cup of coconut flakes, the three tablespoons of gochugaru, the three tablespoons of sesame seeds, and the cinnamon stick in a saucepan. Pour over the 1 and 3/4 cups neutral oil, and the two tablespoons of sesame oil.

2: Bring the pan to a simmer, stirring occasionally, and then set the heat to medium-low and cook for a good 25-30 minutes, until all the bits and pieces are crispy. It really will take that about that long, and you’ll start to feel—and hear—when the crispening is happening. If you’ve used spring onions, add the green parts in towards the end of this time, so they can get crisp without overcooking.

3: Pour (or ladle, which felt a bit safer to me) the contents of the pan into a bowl with a wide sieve sitting in it, so the oil can fall through to the bowl below and all the crispy bits are caught in the sieve. Let this sit until it’s cooled, which will allow the oats to get even crisper. At this point you can either mix it all together again, along with the three tablespoons of chopped roasted peanuts and the salt, and then pour that into a jar, or you can do as I did—which felt a bit more manageable—and stir the salt and peanuts into the bits and pieces in the sieve, spoon all that into your jar, and then pour the oil over the top. Whichever way you choose: make sure your jar is clean and sterilised first.

Makes around 450-500ml. The recipe book says that this can be stored at room temperature for several months. I am very slovenly about some things and nervous about others; garlic in oil is one of the latter, so I might be inclined to keep mine in the fridge—and in this current heat everything benefits from refrigeration.

Notes:

  • I hate to confess it but: I didn’t have any proper ginger and had my heart set on making this so used crushed ginger from a jar, obviously it’s not nearly as good and you should definitely make the effort to buy the real thing (and so will I, next time I make this)
  • The gochugaru brand I have is Wang. The bag will give you considerably more than you need for this recipe, which is obviously in its favour since I hoon through these mild and sweet chilli flakes pretty quickly.

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music lately:

What’ll I Do, by Janet Jackson. Obviously the entire album is a classic but I love how this song comes in halfway through to jolt you with that sixties-via-the-nineties sound, and highly intoxicating it is, too.

Ambition by Subway Sect, the kind of helter-skelter energy that I cannot get enough of (the opening riff sounds a bit like The Clean’s Tally Ho if it were run backwards) and whoever’s decision it was to have that faint bloopy bubble-pop sound in the background…thank you.

You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me by Tammy Grimes, from the 1980 original Broadway production of 42nd Street. This show is a great comfort to me—the music just is comforting, in that baked-in way very old songs can be, but also because it was the first ever musical that I saw at a very young age, and subsequently the cassette of the cast recording was played until its magnetic tape gave up. Tammy Grimes’ breathy voice is very particular, but I love it, and I’m not sure she’s ever sounded better – or more comforting – than on this album.

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis. There’s no better time than right now – your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

Ottolenghi’s White Bean Mash with Garlic Aioli or, Cannellini Beans Three Ways [vegan]

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Food blogging is an endurance sport at the most air-conditioned of times, but in the middle of summer, you really feel like an Olympic marathon runner accessing their deepest well of psychological stamina, with all the bargaining and motivational platitudes one can muster. Or at least, that’s how I felt while simmering a large pan of beans for reasons increasingly lost to me with each passing minute, unable to tell whether I or the beans were currently experiencing more discomfort. My concentration wavered at various stages including one point where I thought I would actually never be finished with making this, and it would just be me and the beans, forevermore.

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With all that in mind, why would I then pass this recipe on to you to toil over? Well, presumably you don’t all live in the same violently prickly microclimate as me (by which I mean, the house that I live in is, by some cruel trick of nature, more humid and swampy than anywhere else in the same area code) and if you have your wits about you, this dish is incredibly rewarding and delicious. And even I, with my wits absolutely not about me, still managed to make it and found it to be both these things.

In this recipe, cannellini beans are sent off in three directions and then brought back together in a fantastic crescendo; mashed, blitzed into a garlic-heavy aioli, and dressed with infused oil. It’s a recipe from Ottolenghi Flavour, written by Ottolenghi himself and Ixta Belfrage, and I am quite sure that given a more temperate climate, the hardest part would be remembering to soak the beans overnight beforehand.

@hungryandfrozen

white bean mash with garlic aioli from @Ottolenghi Flavour 🧄 full recipe at hungryandfrozen dot com #veganrecipes #aioli #foodblogger #beans #tapas

♬ The Big E – A Certain Ratio

What all this effort gets you—and it’s really more time-consuming than effortful, there is a significant difference, as Nigella taught me—is a side dish or snack of self-possessed simplicity, as ivory-neutral and elegant as Shiv Roy’s high-waisted slacks. And I think, very subconsciously, this simile may have drawn me to the recipe in the first place. Alongside the beans is a garlic-infused olive oil which informs all three components, and the result is rich, mellow, heady with garlic but not the slightest bit acrid. I was a bit nervous for some reason about presenting this to my family (once again, I blame the heat), like, it’s just a big plate of beans on beans on beans, and I know beans are the best but how do I explain what I’ve got myself into, but everyone not only got what I was going for, they all ate it enthusiastically. Anything less than enthusiasm probably would’ve been the undoing of me at that point but I trust my own tastebuds and they say: this is good stuff.

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Ottolenghi’s White Bean Mash with Garlic Aioli (or, Cannellini Beans Three Ways)

Very minimally adapted from Ottolenghi Flavour, this takes a bag of dried legumes and turns it into mash, aioli, and, of course, actual beans, all infused one way or another with slow-simmered garlic oil, chilli and herbs. It’s somehow very low-effort and quite strenuous all at once but very worth it, and it makes an excellent side dish for almost anything, or an elegant snack for swiping at with bread and crackers alongside other dips and bits. I freely admit that my alterations mostly came from a place of being flustered and overheated rather than thinking I could do better than the original.

  • 350g dried cannellini beans
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 spring onion (or use a regular onion)
  • 10 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 sprigs of rosemary
  • 3 sprigs of thyme
  • 1 red chilli, stem and seeds removed
  • 200ml olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons Chinkiang vinegar (black vinegar)
  • Juice of one lime
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • extra thyme and rosemary, to serve

1: The day before you intend to make this, soak the beans in a bowl with plenty of cold water and the teaspoon of baking soda. I kept mine in the fridge since it’s so hot at the moment but if your kitchen is cool they should be safe, covered, on the bench. Either way, check once or twice to see if the water levels need topping up.

2: Drain the beans and place them in a large saucepan with the trimmed spring onion, (or the peeled and quartered onion as the original recipe suggests), and cover with plenty of water. Bring to the boil—I placed a lid half-on to hasten the water along—and then lower the heat and simmer for around fifty minutes or until the beans are completely tender. Top up with extra water at any stage if needed, and once cooked, drain the beans well under cool water and set aside. At this point you can store them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three days.

3: While the beans are cooking, make the infused oil. Place the 10 garlic cloves, two sprigs of rosemary, three sprigs of thyme, and the red chilli (which I sliced up but you don’t actually need to) into a saucepan that you have a lid for. Pour the olive oil into the pan and place it on a medium low heat, covered, till the garlic cloves are lightly golden and soft to the prod of a wooden spoon. I kept the heat very low – a tiny bit of bubbling is fine, I think, but you don’t want the herbs deep frying in there. This is more of a slowwww warm bath. Once the garlic is soft and golden, remove the pan from the heat and let it sit for ten minutes, although longer is fine. At this point you can transfer it to an airtight container and keep it in the fridge for up to three days. If you’re using it right away, discard the herbs and set aside the chilli, garlic cloves and the oil.

4: Now that the beans are cooked and the oil is infused, we can actually make the three components of the finished dish. First: the dressed beans. Stir 150g of the cooked beans in a bowl with the teaspoon of apple cider vinegar, 3 tablespoons of your garlic-infused oil, and plenty of salt and pepper. Set aside.

5: Secondly, the aioli. Place all the garlic cloves into a food processor along with 100g of the cooked beans, the tablespoon of dijon mustard, the juice of half the lime, 75ml of the oil (that’s 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon), a splash of water, and plenty of salt and pepper. Blitz thoroughly till it’s thick and creamy as aioli should be. Spatula this delicious mixture out to a bowl or container.

6: Then, the final component, the mashed beans. Without washing out the processor, tip in the remaining cooked beans, along with the two teaspoons of Chinkiang vinegar, the juice of the remaining half of the lime, plenty of salt and pepper, and—if you used a whole onion—throw that in, too, and process to a creamy thick mash. I somehow completely missed the onion-adding step, and also didn’t have an onion anyway, just a spring onion which was entirely too limp after cooking the beans to be of any use, but it still ended up tasting fantastic.

7: Finally-finally, the assembly: Spatula the mashed beans onto a wide plate or large, shallow bowl, and spread it around thickly. Spoon the aioli on top, and then tumble over your cooked, dressed beans. Let any remaining infused oil fall from its container onto this pale plate, and then sprinkle over more fresh rosemary and thyme leaves. If you have Alleppo chilli flakes, this is what is recommended by Ottolenghi to serve, and I would certainly back up this recommendation, but I don’t have any. In lieu, the herbs are quite fine. And if you want to scatter over the chopped red chilli from the oil, now would be the time.

Serves 4 as a side, maybe 6-8 as part of a larger table of snacks or mezze.

Notes:

  • I found dried cannellini beans at my nearest Asian supermarket, and nowhere else, and they were labelled “white kidney beans”. Since that supermarket is by far my preferred outlet this was not a problem, but consider this a heads up in case you were looking for the beans in a nationwide franchise-type supermarket.
  • As well as blanking on the onion in the mash I also forgot completely to account for the dill that Ottolenghi instructs you to add to the dressed beans, and the anchovies that he uses in the aioli—not that I’d be eating anchovies, but I didn’t replace them with anything. Nonetheless, this still tasted so good.
  • As I didn’t have the lemon juice the original required I used apple cider vinegar, lime juice, and black vinegar, but if you have actual lemons (probably a higher likelihood than having all three of the former ingredients) he specifies one and a half tablespoons juice in the dressed beans, 2 tablespoon in the aioli, 2 and a half tablespoons of juice in the mashed beans.

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music lately:

I Guess The Lord Must Be In New York City by Harry Nilsson, simply one of the most lovely songs ever written. When the verse goes—up? Like that? That’s the ticket! I am also partial to Sherie Rene Scott’s version from her Broadway show Everyday Rapture, the minimal production and her mellow voice suit the melody beautifully.

Love You Down by Ready for the World, but also INOJ’s version with its jittery little drum machine, you know I cannot choose between them! They’re both perfect.

The Big E, by A Certain Ratio, surely one of the most comforting and reassuring songs from the post-punk scene with its insistence of “I won’t stop loving you, I still believe in you”.

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis. There’s no better time than right now – your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

The Annual HungryandFrozen Edible Gift Recipe Round-Up 

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To egregiously paraphrase Dickens, though I’m sure he’s quite used to it by this point: you there! What day is it? Why it’s my annual edible gift recipe round up! 

In case this doesn’t make any sense, let me explain: each December I gather a list of recipes from my prior blog posts here on hungryandfrozen.com which I believe would make ideal edible gifts, in case you want some kind of prompting in that direction, despite having the entire internet already at your disposal. It’s a self-serving action, yes, but hopefully helpful in some way – and all I ever really want is to be useful, but to also draw attention to myself in the process. I’ve kept a lot of the text in this post the same as last year’s as there’s only so many ways you can launch into this thing, and appreciate your understanding.

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This time last year I was naively hopeful that once 2021 drew to a close COVID-19 would be behind us but instead, it’s managed to get on top of us in new and innovatively terrifying ways. Just last week, after a quarter of the year spent in lockdown, I was (somewhat dramatically) not sure if Christmas would be happening at all, even now it feels like a bit of a mirage and I’m somehow overthinking it yet entirely unprepared at the same time. All of this is no reason not to cook though, if that’s what you like doing. If you’re confined to a relatively small circle of people, there are still neighbours, the postal service, any number of people nearby who might be cheered by a small jar or box of something in their letterbox, or on their doorstep (perhaps also with a note reassuring of your vaccination status if they’re a stranger that you’re giving something to). But even just you, alone, are reason enough to bake a cake.

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As for the financial pressure of this time of year – I won’t lie, between the ingredients, time, electricity, storage and wrapping, homemade edible gifts aren’t necessarily that cheap, and there’s no moral superiority in making your own jam. It is undeniably delightful to receive something homemade – but if this is too strenuous, stick with the food concept and do your Christmas shopping at the supermarket. Chocolates, candy, olive oil, fancy salt, spices, peanut butter, curry pastes, hot sauce, olives, a complicated shape of pasta – even just food you know someone eats a lot of. They love beans? Get them beans! I guarantee they’ll be pleased. Basically, we cannot escape capitalism but giving an edible gift of any kind has so many upsides: it’s delicious, it has immediate application, it will eventually cease taking up space in the receiver’s house, it makes you look like a really great person.

I realise to heaps of people Christmas is – quite reasonably – just another day of the week! But generally, there will be some point in your life where giving a gift is required, and almost all the recipes listed below work beautifully year-round (though I personally can’t eat candy canes out of season.)

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Anyway, let’s get to the list. I’ve grouped the recipes into three categories, and have also included some of the recipes I wrote for Tenderly over the years.

Two caveats: some of these recipes are from absolute years ago, as will happen when you have a fourteen-year-old food blog, but while details and contexts and locations and motivations have changed, the deliciousness remains constant. Also, I feel like it’s worth pointing out that anything involving an ingredient that either could melt or has been melted, should be stored in the fridge rather than under the tree.

Also – all these recipes are vegan.

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The Annual HungryandFrozen Edible Gift Recipe Round-Up 

Category One: Things In Jars

No matter how uncertain the world we live in, you can still count on Things In Jars. From relish to pickles to the unsinkable salted caramel sauce, it’s always well-received, looks like you’ve gone to arduous levels of effort, and makes an ideal gift for everyone from your most marginally tolerable of coworkers to the most highly specific love of your life. For added personal flair – although this could just be my neurological predisposition for over-explaining – I suggest including a gift tag with recommendations on ways to use the contents of the jar.

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Savoury:

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Sweet

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Category Two: Baked Goods

They’re baked! They’re good! While biscuits and cookies are more commonly gifted, don’t rule out a loaf, perhaps wrapped in baking paper and then brown paper – the banana bread and ginger molasses loaf below keep well (especially the latter) and would make a charmingly convivial offering. At this busy time of year, having something to slice and eat with a cup of tea or a snifter of whatever weird liqueur you can find in the back of the cupboard is nothing if not a stroke of good fortune. I’ve made the first three (four, technically, since the Christmas Stars and Hundreds and Thousands Biscuits are basically the same) cookie recipes in this list a LOT this year and recommend them the most enthusiastically out of the biscuits on offer.

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Category Three: Novelty, No-Bake Sweets, and General Sugary Chaos

The best category, let’s be frank. Whether it’s dissolving candy canes in bottom-shelf vodka or adding pink food colouring to white chocolate for the aesthetic, sugar is the true reason for the season. And since dentists wildly overcharge us for their service, you might as well make them really earn it. Note: unless you can find overproof vodka, the passionfruit and mandarin liqueurs won’t be ready in time for Christmas; either give the intended receiver an IOU, or save it for their birthday – or next Christmas.

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music lately:

Turkey Lurkey Time from the 1969 Tony Awards performance of the musical Promises, Promises. If you’ve been here a while you’ll know that I have a small tradition where I wait till December and then watch this extremely grainy video of a very goofy song being performed and CRY. (Here I need to really emphasise that this is absolutely not a song you’re supposed to cry at.) It’s Donna McKechnie’s rubber spine, it’s the diagonal thing they do at the end, it’s the anticipation, it’s Christmas, it’s everything.

Fun Lovin’ Criminals, by The Fun Lovin’ Criminals. Why am I consistently drawn to rap rock? Because it’s fun and great, that’s why!! (When does rap rock become nu metal? Not here, but I’m very happy on either side of course.)

The Only Heartbreaker, by Mitski. Anxious and beautiful and synthy! I don’t know what it is about synths, specifically, that makes me all “this song sounds like it has already existed. How can this be a new song” and here I am again saying that this song sounds like you already know it. I don’t mean that it sounds derivative of anything – I mean that it sounds like it was your favourite song from a long time ago and you’ve only just heard it again for the first time in forever. I guess the obvious answer is that synths sound like they’re from the eighties and it tricks my brain into thinking I’ve already heard it but I think it’s something more in the neon yearning quality of synths themselves? Anyway, I love it!

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis. There’s no better time than right now – your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

Vegan Gochujang Bokkeum

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I’ve been vegan for about three years now, and comfortably so, but I’m only human and despite my claims, it is not just white chocolate that makes me occasionally question my every last firmly-held conviction. It’s Folu’s Unsnackable newsletter, it’s the memory of a filet o’fish – not that I think it would be hard to make a vegan dupe but a recipe for those pillow-tender steamed buns as yet eludes me – and it’s all the Korean food creators that I follow on TikTok. This recipe for gochujang bokkeum – a fried gochujang sauce with onions and beef – by Johnny Kyung-Hwo Sheldrick algorithmed its way onto my phone, and it looked so delicious, and I was sure I could make it vegan easily enough without squandering the vibe of the original recipe. (More so than the person who commented “is it vegan” to which Johnny gamely and politely replied, “without the beef it is”, such is the state of critical thinking these days.)

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Far be it from me to suggest that the food of a cuisine that isn’t mine needs me to meddle in it but as it stands, I don’t eat beef but I wanted to eat this. I’m delighted with my variation and I’m delighted that I found the original recipes that inspired it; I wouldn’t have come up with this without them. Rather than use a fake meat as a replacement I decided a rubbly mixture of blended up peanuts and sun-dried tomatoes would be ideal, and they were – the peanuts give texture, protein and nutty mildness; the sun-dried tomatoes add concentrated, near-meaty dark red savoury flavour and stickiness.

So far this gochujang bokkeum has been delicious on cold noodles, on hot noodles, and mixed into stir-fried vegetables with fake chicken; I know in my near future there’ll be a big spoonful of this on a bowl of rice with fried mushrooms, and I feel like it would work beautifully with a creamy texture as well – like these coconut chilli tofu noodles.

@hungryandfrozen

vegan gochujang bokkeum 🌶 SO DELICIOUS thanks @johnnykyunghwo for the inspiration🌶 #vegankorean #recipe #gochujang #veganrecipes #foodblogger #fyp

♬ Rumble – Link Wray & His Ray Men

All the peanuts and tomatoes spread that chilli heat out a little, but eating this is still a vigorous experience, and the gochujang, a Korean fermented chilli paste, is definitely pretty fiery. But it’s not only hot. It’s got these shadowy layers of flavour and depth and, as Nigella Lawson said in her book Kitchen, an “almost liquorice intensity”, a description that dances in my mind whenever I eat it. Besides, heat tolerance is a moving target and the only way to get used to it is to eat more. I don’t consider myself even close to being able to handle a lot of chilli heat and yet I keep sneaking spoonfuls of this; after a while your tastebuds do adjust – eventually you’ll be spooning it onto your breakfast cereal.

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Vegan Gochujang Bokkeum

This Korean fried chilli sauce is seriously delicious and versatile. I’ve replaced the usual meat with peanuts and sun-dried tomatoes, but the star ingredient is, of course, gochujang, a Korean fermented chilli paste. My vegan version is both inspired by and based on this recipe at Racheerachh Eats and this TikTok by Johnny Kyung-Hwo Sheldrick.

  • 1 onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 and 1/2 cups raw peanuts
  • 10 sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (I used rice bran)
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons mushroom soy sauce (or regular soy sauce)
  • 1/2 cup gochujang
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds

1: Finely dice the onion and roughly chop the garlic. Place the peanuts and tomatoes in a food processor and blend them into a chunky paste; the peanuts should be in small pieces but not in any danger of turning into peanut butter.

2: Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy frying pan and gently fry the onions and garlic till they’re softened. Spatula in your peanut and tomato mixture and fry for another five minutes, stirring often – don’t expect it to brown or change appearance considerably – then stir in the sugar and soy sauce and keep stirring till the sugar has melted into everything.

3: Add the gochujang to the pan and continue to fry and stir for another couple of minutes, it will be a fantastic dark red shade and quite thick. Remove from the heat, stir in the sesame oil and sesame seeds, and transfer to an airtight container or clean jar. Store in the fridge.

Makes around 2 cups.

  • Gochujang is more readily available in chain supermarkets these days but since most of my favourite ingredients come from Asian supermarkets anyway I tend to just get it there; either way, I’m afraid to say I go for the one labelled “mild”.

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music lately:

Mijn Droom [I Dreamed a Dream] by Pia Douwes from the 1991 original Dutch production of Les Miserables. I love finding the people in non-English speaking countries who are the go-to for theatre roles (like German powerhouse Willemijn Verkaik) and though I’ve heard of Pia Douwes I’ve never investigated her singing before, it was after watching a TikTok by BroadwayBob that I simply had to. She has this gutsy yet vulnerable voice that is made for the stage; I also highly recommend her Sally Bowles in the Dutch language Cabaret, it is, as you can imagine, quite powerful.

Legend of a Cowgirl by Imani Coppola, it’s the most 1997 sound imaginable and yet still so fresh and arresting and irrepressible and she should’ve been a megastar off the back of it.

It Hurts Me Too by Karen Dalton, one of those songs and voices that just makes you tearful the second you hear it. Good crying, not crying-crying, but after a while who can even tell!

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis. There’s no better time than right now – your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

Rhubarb, Raspberry, and Cardamom Jam [vegan]

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I never feel more normal than when I’m quietly, as if by automatism, trying out a recipe that appeared in my head. “Normal” has twofold meaning here, in that I feel most calmly myself when I’m dithering away in the kitchen, and also I imagine this must be what it feels like for other people when they achieve everyday tasks the moment they arise. Tasks like using the phone to make an innocuous appointment, or tidying a living space, or, more broadly, maintaining one liveable salary instead of corralling a skittish herd of seventeen different tiny one-off payments every month.

Not that any such notions troubled me when I blissfully – with head empty, no thoughts, only preserves – made this Rhubarb, Raspberry, and Cardamom Jam on Saturday morning five minutes after the idea appeared to me. It was only once the jar lids popped under the pressure of the heat rising from the boiled fruit that things got existential, and it hasn’t quite left me, but at least I have delicious jam to eat.

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If you don’t regard yourself as the jam-making type, this could be the recipe for you. It’s small-batch, meaning you don’t have the stress of committing to vats and vats of jam; (although this was purely informed by the amount of rhubarb in the garden and raspberries in the freezer; had I more fruit, I would’ve made more jam.) It’s soft-set – almost like a compote, as much ready to be spooned over ice cream or yoghurt as it is gunning for your next piece of toast – so you don’t have to concern yourself with whether it’s gelling adequately. And it’s a startling and glamorous shade of hot pink which surely is a point in its favour – when it comes down to it, I myself am barely the jam-making type but I remain easily swayed by aesthetics, if anything I’m constantly on the eager look-out for an aesthetic to be swayed by.

This is probably important too: the jam is sweet, but balanced stridently by the sour wince of rhubarb. The raspberries also pack significant tang for their buck, and there’s a further squeeze of lemon juice, partly for added pectin, partly to make the sugar really earn its place. Cardamom has a lemony, gingery, musky flavour and even in its small quantity, it makes these qualities felt and lends an air of elegance to the otherwise fairly brassy jam. I mean brassy as in vibe, not flavour, in case you were suddenly worried about encountering ‘notes of door handle’ or something. This recipe makes enough for two medium jars with a little leftover to be spread immediately on toast – what is that, if not an achievement of the highest order?

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Rhubarb, Raspberry, and Cardamom Jam

This soft-set small-batch jam is easy to make, delicious, and a charming shade of bright pink. Makes around 400-500ml – I filled two medium-sized jars and ate the rest spread on toast. Recipe by myself.

  • 400g rhubarb (trimmed weight) cleaned and trimmed
  • 125g raspberries (roughly one cup – I used frozen)
  • 1 lemon
  • 200g sugar
  • 2 cardamom pods
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1: Cut the rhubarb into 1-inch pieces and place them in a bowl with the raspberries. Use a vegetable peeler to remove as many viable strips of peel as you can from the lemon, and add this to the bowl, then cut the lemon in half and squeeze its juice into the bowl.

2: Tip the sugar into the bowl and stir it into the fruit. Press against the two cardamom pods with the flat side of a knife or the base of a jar until they’ve just split, and add them to the bowl too. Cover the bowl and leave it to sit on the bench for about an hour, by which point some of the sugar should have dissolved and drawn out the juice from the fruit.

3: While this is happening, why take the opportunity to sterilise your jars? Place the lids in a small bowl and cover them with boiling water, and place your clean jars into a cold oven, turn it to 100C/200F, and heat them for about fifteen minutes. The jars need to be hot when the jam goes in, so leave this step till towards the end of the steeping time.

4: Scrape every last bit of fruit and sugar and newly-formed syrup from the bowl into a saucepan.  Bring to the boil, stirring regularly, and then lower the heat slightly and let it simmer briskly – still stirring frequently, as keeping it moving will stop it sticking to the pan and burning – for another seven to ten minutes until the fruit has completely collapsed and the mixture has thickened and reduced. Remove the cardamom pods and lemon peel with a pair of tongs, or live dangerously and leave them in (I forgot about them until they were already in the jar but it’s all in how you frame it.)

5: Either using a jam funnel or a spoon and a careful hand, transfer the jam into the hot, sterilised jars (I don’t know if you need me to tell you this, but if you place the hot jars on a wooden board they’re much less likely to break than if you place them on a cold bench) and place the lids on right away, fishing them out of their bowl of water with a pair of tongs and protecting your hands with an oven mitt or tea towel (again, I don’t know if you need me to tell you this, but I know the one time I relax and let the information remain implicit, someone will get hurt and I will feel responsible!)

Keep the jam in the fridge once opened.

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music lately:

Map Ref. 41°N 93°W by Wire. If a title is going to be that annoying to type out it better be a good song; fortunately this very much is.

So Little Time by Micki Grant, from the 1972 musical revue Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope – the first Broadway show directed by a Black woman (Vinnette Caroll) and to have its music and lyrics written by a Black woman (Grant.) This song has such a warm, poignant vibe – like it could be the theme tune to a TV show that you’d watch when you were sick and didn’t go into school and got to doze on the couch all day.

Ruby by Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté from their 2010 album Ali and Toumani, but I’ve linked the whole thing so you can just swim right into its beauty – if you want music that’ll make you feel safe, yet important, yet inspired, yet also like you’re drifting gently to sleep under a weighted blanket, then, by all means, click through.

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis. There’s no better time than right now – your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

Oat Butter, Two Ways: Homemade Vegan Oat Butter + Pecan Cookie Granola Butter

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Sometimes inspiration – not so much for recipes, but for the hunger that eventually drives their creation – comes from relatively ambient sources. And with COVID-19 things are getting more ambient and less direct every day. By which I mean, I saw someone tweet the words “oat butter” – I don’t even remember who it was or when, but as I was scrolling that pair of nouns really made themselves at home in the tastebuds of my mind and I knew, whatever oat butter was, I wanted it. I looked it up on google, and found two completely different culinary directions – first, a traditional table spread, based on actual butter, but made of oats, and second, a blended-to-smithereens peanut butter riff which promised to taste like cookies. I couldn’t decide which avenue sounded more appealing so – why not both? Two recipes it is.

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I’ve made several homemade butters before, with one based on ground almonds and one based on aquafaba and honestly? I love them all! Couldn’t choose between them. But there’s something about the rustic simplicity of the oats in this latest recipe, not to mention the recency bias, which appeals to me, and the resulting butter is stunning – rich, creamy, spreadable, light, delicious. Plus if you’re spreading it on wholegrain bread with oats in it, there’s the added deliciousness of synergy! It melts ably into a sauce to give added body (no surprise, with all that oil) and is equally at home under savoury or sweet toppings. I haven’t tried baking anything with it, mostly because it disappears so quickly. I wouldn’t rule out its working in this capacity, but homemade butters can behave differently to manufactured spreads so if you’re wanting to do this, I’d test it on something smallish and forgiving, as opposed to, say, your firstborn’s wedding cake for a union brought about to settle a generations-old blood feud.

If that weren’t enough synergy for you, there’s also the Pecan Cookie Granola Butter. It really does live up to its slightly overstuffed name, but I call it thusly for a reason: it simultaneously tastes like cookies AND granola, and pecans are expensive so I want anyone eating it to be super-aware of their presence. It’s made from a pulverised mixture of pecans, seeds, coconut and toasted oats, and you’ll curse my name as the food processor enters its fifteenth minute of noisy whirring with nothing to show for its efforts but pricey dust, but it does eventually come together, and upon tasting the finished product, you will forget the effort. It’s absolutely lush, nutty and oaty and dense and cinnamon-warm and delicious, and I’m so glad I found this recipe, as well as the other oat butter recipe, because my life has been genuinely improved by its existence. It’s one of those very America creations that I certainly wouldn’t have come up with it on my own (I mean I might have eventually, in a thousand-monkeys-thousand-typewriters way) and which sounds like there’s too much going on to process, but it makes perfect sense when you eat it.

Make one or both of these oat butters and – as well as the sheer thrill of experiencing synergy – your toast, instantly, will become a whole lot more exciting (which I say as someone quite easily diverted by toast, so hold onto your hats, I guess.)

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Oat Butter

A rich, buttery spread for your toast, sandwiches, and sauces, and it’s pretty much entirely made of oats? Amazing. This recipe comes from tastecelebration.com, I have made some slight adaptations, but otherwise it’s all theirs.

  • 500ml/2 cups water
  • 3/4 cup rolled oats
  • 2 tablespoons rice bran oil or other neutral oil (eg sunflower)
  • a pinch of salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 cup refined coconut oil, melted but not hot
  • 1/2 cup rice bran or other neutral oil, extra
  • 1 heaped teaspoon white miso paste
  • Scant 1/4 teaspoon sugar (optional – I think it improves the flavour but up to you)
  • a pinch of turmeric, for colour

1: Bring the 500ml water to the boil in a small saucepan. Stir in the oats, remove from the heat, and leave to sit for half an hour.

2: Pour the oats and liquid into a high-speed blender with the 2 tablespoons oil and a pinch of salt, and blitz until very smooth, pale, and creamy. Now, you CAN strain this through a cloth or a nut milk bag or whatever but I literally just used a regular kitchen sieve and I was pleased with the results so don’t feel you have to rush out and buy equipment. Whatever you end up using, strain this liquid into a container – there shouldn’t be much ‘grit’ left behind, but this step will make it especially smooth. You only need half a cup of this oat cream to make the butter – store the rest in the fridge and add it to sauces, soups, or anything you want to make more rich and creamy.

3: All you have to do now is blend 1/2 a cup (125ml) of the above oat cream, along with the second measure of rice bran oil, the melted coconut oil, the miso paste, a tiny pinch of sugar, and salt to taste, until it’s smooth and thick. No need to wash the blender!

4: Taste to see if it needs a little more salt and then spatula it into a clean jar or airtight container and chill in the fridge until firm.

Makes around 325ml. Consume within a week.

Notes:

  • Refined coconut oil is important here so the butter doesn’t taste overwhelmingly coconutty – that being said I’m sure it’ll still taste good so if you don’t mind the coconut vibe and all you have is unrefined coconut oil, go ahead.
  • If you don’t have a high speed blender, a stick/immersion blender will do the trick. You could try using a regular food processor, you just might need to blend the oats and water together for a bit longer. I’m afraid it’ll be very difficult without some kind of equipment, as is the case for most vegan recipes it seems!

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Pecan Cookie Granola Butter

This is SO GOOD and worth the hectic endless blending – instead of a spreadable butter, this is in the peanut butter family of spreads, blitzing toasted oats, nuts and seeds into an incredibly delicious spread which tastes like melted cookies, if that were a thing. Recipe adapted a little (and gratefully) from this one at foodfaithfitness.com.

  • 1 and 1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup pecans
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup coconut chips/flakes
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil (either refined or unrefined is fine here)
  • 4 tablespoons golden syrup or maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • pinch salt

1: Place the oats in a large frying pan and stir them over a low heat for about five minutes to lightly toast them – you don’t want them scorched, but a little golden and browned in places is good. As soon as they hit this stage, and you can smell their fragrance wafting up to you, remove the pan from the heat and transfer the oats into the bowl of a food processor.

2: Place the pan back on a low heat and tip in the pecans, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds, stirring over a low heat for a couple of minutes until they are fragrant and warmed through. Transfer them to the food processor with the oats, and finally, toast the coconut chips for a minute or so until lightly browned in places – this won’t take long at all. If you’re feeling reckless/impatient you can toast the whole lot at once, oats and nuts and everything, bearing in mind that the coconut will toast quicker than anything else.

3: Blend these ingredients on high for about fifteen minutes, stopping every now and then to scrape down the sides with a spatula and to give your processor’s motor a break. Nothing will happen for ages – it’ll just look like rubble – but eventually, if you keep blending for ages and ages and ages – the nuts, seeds and coconut will release their oils and it’ll suddenly start to look more promising and like a potential spread. But you really just have to keep blending and blending and blending, much longer than feels right, and I’m sorry in advance!

4: Once it gets to this point, add the remaining ingredients and continue blending for another five to ten minutes until it’s a thick paste that vaguely resembles almond butter. Taste to see if it needs more salt, sugar, or cinnamon (I usually end up adding more of each for what it’s worth) and then spatula it into a jar and store in the pantry.

Makes around 250-300ml (It really feels like it should make more, but all that blending really minimises and compacts the structure of its ingredients.) (Sorry.)

Notes:

  • You can muck around with proportions and ingredients here – pecans have a specific flavour which seems to evoke cookies, so I wouldn’t want to make it without them, but I’m sure walnuts would have their own charm instead.
  • You can toast the nuts and seeds etc in the oven, which will result in more even toasting, but I prefer the speed and ease of the stovetop method. Either way, keep a close eye on them.
  • The original recipe asks you to blend the nuts and seeds first before adding the coconut and oats and I probably should have done that too, but I read the recipe in a heedless fashion and just blended everything together all at once. As you can see, it worked out fine, but I still feel like I should tell you and you can definitely choose this option instead! Probably to your benefit!

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music lately:

A Man Without Love by Robert Goulet. That chorus! So boisterously mournful! I listened to this forty times in a row on loop on Friday and look, I turned out fine!

You’re No Good by ESG, minimalist yet stroppy with a delightfully cunning bassline.

A Love From Outer Space, by A.R Kane. Yes, them again, I just love them!

Lonely Room from the soundtrack to The Apartment by composer Adolph Deutsch. I’ve been listening to a LOT of old film scores lately which is, if you’re similarly inclined, an excellent way to make one’s COVID-restricted life feel slightly more glamorous. The Apartment is one of my very favourite films and its score is just heavenly – as demonstrated in this track which is somehow sorrowful yet immensely comforting at the same time.

Next time: I feel like I haven’t done anything savoury in ages BUT I also made an incredible passionfruit panna cotta, so! The sugar rush continues.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

Roasted Plum Harissa [Vegan]

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We’re still squarely in Plumtown. Last time it was the Five-Spice Plum Ice Cream, this time it’s Roasted Plum Harissa, an idea inspired by Nigella Lawson’s apricot harissa from her latest book, Cook, Eat, Repeat, which I joyfully received for Christmas. This book is exactly what I needed – not a cookbook as you’d expect it, but just an unhurried and welcome tidal wave of Nigella meditating with gentle persistence on food and its place in our lives. It’s honestly near-hypnotic.

Cook, Eat, Repeat, is the first post-COVID cookbook I’ve read – more specifically, it’s clear that the pandemic affected the course of the book, as Nigella talks about changing a chapter on dinner parties and offers several means of reducing recipes down to a single serve. It’s not as simple as merely, breezily, omitting content however. When she says, in the Christmas chapter – a time of year she has made very much her province in all its elaborateness – that as long as she had her children around the table that year she could “eat gruel and be happy” – when she says “we shall not be eating in isolation forever,” – well! Let’s just say the cookbook got stained with tears before it did with cooking ingredients. (I mean, it took me precisely one recipe to stain the book with ingredients, and as you can probably guess the contents of this harissa are also living on, pagebound.) I sometimes feel weird and ungracious barrelling on with blogging as though everyone reading this is in the same, relatively calm position I’m in – I also can’t rule out New Zealand unexpectedly entering another lockdown at any minute. Nigella, as per usual, is excellent at articulating not just the food, but every emotion and motivation and expectation and context around the food – and there is just so much to articulate!

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Anyway, the harissa. Nigella acknowledges that apricots aren’t traditionally used in this Tunisian chilli paste, and as for plums, well, they’re really not supposed to be there. But I couldn’t stop thinking about them together with the chillies and spices – possibly from the power of suggestion as opposed to culinary genius as we just had so many plums around – but either way, this harissa is lush, and for that, at least, I comfortably give myself credit. That plummy taste – you know, garnets soaked in pinot noir, something like that – plus their sourness, softened by the heat of the grill, is tremendous with the blistered chillis and all those whole spices – licorice-y caraway, smoky paprika, earthy cumin, and ginger-lemony cardamom and coriander. The combination of heat and spice, plus the sweetness, saltiness, and the richness of the olive oil, is incredibly compelling – you’ll taste it to see if it’s balanced and find your spoon returning again and again to the bowl without even realising it.

This harissa is immensely versatile – first of all, you can just use it wherever you might otherwise have applied some kind of chilli. It’s wonderful alongside tomato – the acid of the plums and the depth of the spices making the blandest, cheapest canned tomatoes come alive – and I’ve used it already in a tomato-based pasta sauce and a sort of patatas bravas-type dish with great results. It also works to punch up more mellow foods – for example, it would be delicious alongside or inside hummus, and in Cook, Eat, Repeat, Nigella uses her apricot harissa in a roasted cauliflower recipe – I’m sure I’ll be following her lead before long. For all of harissa’s versatility, we’re likely to move through most of it just from me swiping spoonfuls from the jar every time I pass through the kitchen, in fact, I’ve half a mind to spread it on my toast.

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Roasted Plum Harissa

Spicy, sour-sweet, extremely compelling. Recipe based closely on the Apricot Harissa from Nigella Lawson’s wonderful book, Cook, Eat, Repeat.

  • 6 ripe, firm plums
  • 3 large red chillis
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • seeds from 4 cardamom pods
  • one teaspoon ground turmeric (or 15g fresh, peeled and roughly chopped)
  • 25g fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt flakes, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon coconut sugar (or regular sugar)
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil, extra
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1: Turn your oven to the grill (broil) function at 220C/425F. Slice the plums in half, discarding the stones, and place the fruit cut side up along with the chillis in a small shallow roasting dish. Pour over the two tablespoons of olive oil, turning the plums and chilli over and back again with your hands to make sure they’re all oil-slicked. Grill for about ten minutes, or until the chillis are wrinkled and darkened in places. The plums should still be holding their shape but look a little collapsed.

2: Remove everything from the oven. Place the chillis in a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap or something airtight and more environmentally friendly should you have it, and set aside for a few minutes. This will make it very easy to peel the skin from the chillis – which is the next step – although it doesn’t matter if some skin remains. Discard the green stems from the chilli, and if you want a more mellow harissa you can pull/prise open the chillis and remove the seeds at this point, too. Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly afterwards and avoid touching your eye area, as any chilli remaining on your fingertips will hurt like hell.

3: Place the deseeded, skinned chilli back in the small bowl along with the plums and any oil from the roasting dish (a spatula is useful here.) Place the caraway, coriander, cumin and cardamom seeds in a small pan and toast them over a low heat for just a minute or two, shaking the pan and stirring them to ensure they don’t burn. Their fragrance should, as Nigella says, waft up to you as they cook – this will let you know it’s time to remove them from the heat. Tip these spices into the bowl of chillis and plums.

4: Add the remaining ingredients to this bowl, and using a stick blender, blitz it to a bright-red, smooth-ish paste. Taste to see if it needs more salt, or maybe a dash more vinegar or sugar – you may also want to add more olive oil. You’ll know when you have the harissa you want.

5: Transfer this mixture to a clean jar, and store in the fridge. It may solidify or separate slightly after a while in the fridge, but a brisk stir will set it right again. I don’t know how long it keeps, to be honest, but I imagine pretty indefinitely.

Makes 250ml/1 cup.

Notes:

  • You can of course use Nigella’s originally stipulated dried apricots (six thereof) instead of plums. She also used 20g large dried chillis, reconstituted in boiling water, and the only reason I didn’t use them was because I absolutely couldn’t find any at my local supermarket. The sugar is also my addition, to balance the sourness of the plums – dried apricots wouldn’t need such sweetening.
  • If you use five or seven plums and four chillis or whatever I doubt it’ll hurt the recipe – you’ll just end up with slightly more or slightly less harissa.
  • If you don’t have sea salt, I would just add whatever salt you have a little at a time until the salinity suits your taste buds.
  • If you don’t have a stick blender, then a regular smallish food processor should do the trick, but maybe bash the spices in a pestle and mortar first or put them through a spice grinder (although if you have such fancy equipment as this you probably have a stick blender.) You could also surely make this whole thing in the pestle and mortar if you’re so inclined.
  • You might notice that the plums are actually grilled, not roasted, but I thought the word roasted sounded better, and then also it cuts out the potential cross-translation into the American word “broil”, which I just think sounds kind of terrible, comparatively. So, roasted it is.

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music lately:

Joy by Apollo 100. You may sneer, but five seconds of listening to this sheer exuberance will have you dancing an eightsome reel before your mind has even had time to process what your body is doing. The hymn Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring, upon which this is based, is one I sang with negligible success in my school choir – and which I erroneously believed, until this year, was also sung by Dame Kiri Te Kanawa at the wedding of Princess Diana. The choir teacher told us this, possibly to motivate us to be less visibly tormented by that laborious time signature. The whole time, Dame Kiri actually sang Let The Bright Seraphim. This is exactly like the time I realised, after telling so many people that Rita Moreno was the first person to get an EGOT, that Rita Moreno was not the first person to get an EGOT.

A Depression Glass, by Spahn Ranch. Holds onto some of their earlier “chainsaw being thrown at your head” vibe while sounding extremely 1997 – in fact it sounds like it could have been in the party scene in the film Nowhere by Gregg Araki, which is one of the higher honours I could bestow a song.

Ridin’ For A Fall from the 1943 film Thank Your Lucky Stars, performed by Dennis Morgan and Joan Leslie (although, actually dubbed by voice-for-hire Sally Sweetland.) That “gal with the big blue eyes” line is astonishingly catchy, and although it’s not her singing voice, Ms Leslie’s charisma and good humour is so evident in every frame, I just love it. If I’m honest, I think they could’ve chosen a more relaxed vocal for this number – Ms Sweetland’s soprano is beautiful, but it sounds a little overcooked in this cutesy song. Someone with a more conversational tone, like say, Annette Warren (who provided the singing voices for Ava Gardner and Lucille Ball among others) might’ve been better. Even so, Joan Leslie sells it 100%.

Next time: I’m making cupcakes for my dad and brother’s birthday, I’m assuming they’re going to be delicious and so will share the recipe here.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

The Annual HungryandFrozen Edible Gift Recipe Round-Up

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Once more Christmas lurches purposefully towards us, engorged with expectation, and emotion, and the hopes and fears of all the years, and capitalism. Which means one thing, round these parts: it’s time again for my annual list of edible gift idea recipes, gathered from my prior blog posts over the past thirteen years. It’s a self-serving action, yes, but also hopefully helpful in some way – and all I ever really want is to be useful, but to also draw attention to myself in the process.

Time is forever a strange and fluctuating thing – and never in such a collectively experienced manner as this year with COVID-19. We all felt how it was March for six months, now next March is inexplicably three months away – and I know for many, this Christmas is not going to take its usual form. If you’re confined to a relatively small circle of people, there are still neighbours, the postal service, any number of people nearby who might be cheered by a small jar or box of something in their letterbox, or on their doorstep. Even just you, alone, are reason enough to bake a cake. I also realise to heaps of people Christmas is quite reasonably another day of the week! But generally there will be some point in your life where giving a gift is required, and almost all the recipes listed below work beautifully year-round (though I personally can’t eat candy canes out of season.)

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As for the financial pressure of this time of year – I won’t lie, between the ingredients, time, electricity, storage and wrapping, homemade edible gifts aren’t necessarily that cheap, and there’s no moral superiority in making your own jam. It is undeniably delightful to receive something homemade – but if this is too strenuous, stick with the food concept and do your Christmas shopping at the supermarket. Chocolates, candy, olive oil, fancy salt, peanut butter, curry pastes, hot sauce, olives, a complicated shape of pasta – even just food you know someone eats a lot of. They love noodles? Get them noodles! I guarantee they’ll be pleased. Basically, we cannot escape capitalism but giving an edible gift of any kind has so many upsides: it’s delicious, it has immediate application, it will eventually cease taking up space in the receiver’s house, it makes you look like a really great person.

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To the list! I’ve grouped the recipes into three categories, and have also included some of the recipes I wrote for Tenderly over the last year.

Two caveats: some of these recipes are from years ago, but while details and contexts and locations and motivations have changed, the deliciousness remains constant. Also I feel like it’s worth pointing out that anything involving an ingredient which either could melt or has been melted, should be stored in the fridge rather than under the tree.

Also – all these recipes are vegan.

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Category One: Things In Jars

No matter how uncertain the world we live in, you can still count on Things In Jars. From relish to pickles to the unsinkable salted caramel sauce, it’s always well-received, it always looks like you’ve gone to arduous levels of effort, and it’s an ideal gift for everyone from your most marginally tolerable of coworkers to the most highly specific love of your life. For added personal flair – although this could just be my neurological predisposition for over-explaining – I suggest including a gift tag with recommendations on ways to use the contents of the jar.

Savoury:

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Sweet

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Category Two: Baked Goods

They’re baked! They’re good! While biscuits and cookies are more commonly gifted, don’t rule out a loaf, perhaps wrapped in baking paper and then brown paper – the banana bread and ginger molasses loaf below keep well (especially the latter) and would make a charmingly convivial offering. At this busy time of year, having something to slice and eat with a cup of tea or a snifter of whatever weird liqueur you can find in the back of the cupboard is nothing if not a stroke of good fortune.

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Category Three: Novelty, No-Bake Sweets, and General Sugary Chaos

The best category, let’s be frank. Whether it’s dissolving candy canes in bottom-shelf vodka or adding pink food colouring to white chocolate for the aesthetic, sugar is the true reason for the season. And since dentists wildly overcharge us for their service, you might as well make them really earn it.

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music lately:

Supervixens by AR-Kane, I love this song so much, the way the woozy vocals slide over the melody, the way the melody slides over the beat, in fact this whole album (“i”) is exhilaratingly glorious.

Brooklyn Blues, by Clifford Gibson. Okay so I love early blues, but if I’m honest, I only initially got into Gibson because I found him on Wikipedia under the list of people who have the same birthday as me (April 17.) Fortunately this rather vain curiosity was highly rewarding because he was a wonderful musician (of course!)

Irma La Douce, by Shirley MacLaine from her fantastic Live at the Palace album. This is the English version of the title number of the French stage show on which the film of the same name was based, in which Shirley MacLaine played the title character – Irma La Douce – very straightforward. It’s one of my very favourite films and I love her performance of this song, from its wistful, introspective beginning to its unhinged, full-throated conclusion.

Also – I was genuinely heartbroken to learn of the passing of Broadway legend, icon, star, Ann Reinking. I could say SO MUCH about her, and Fosse’s choreography, and Gwen Verdon, and the way they all worked together – but instead I’ll just link to this clip of her dancing in a dream sequence in All That Jazz – a film I could watch every day and never tire of. It’s a deceptively simple number, but her precision and ownership of the movements is astonishing. Everything she does – even just lowering her eyelids in a blink at 46 seconds in – is a dance movement, on a level the rest of us can only dream of.

PS: if you enjoy my writing and would like to support me directly, you can do so by joining my Patreon. It’s like a cordoned-off VIP area, where you can access content written just for you: recipes, updates, poems, short stories, all for just $2 a month.

roasted chickpea butter

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It’s always been like this, but now I’m vegan it’s more sharpened with the contrast turned up; a certain curtain-twitching nosiness regarding le dernier cri, the recipes which are trending across other people’s blogs, and how to make them my business.

The most recent for whom my curtains twitch is something called chickpea butter, which sounds like it’s going to be hummus but is actually more of a peanut butter dupe. I’ve been metaphorically burned by chickpeas before, although my suspicion really lies within, and not directed towards those blameless legumes – I’ll promise myself the moon and still be extremely surprised when a mere can of boiled beans doesn’t have what it takes to deliver this.

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Admittedly, when I first tasted this stuff – roasted chickpeas pulverised in a blender with salt and oil – I thought I’d made another classic chickpea failure. But then I just, like…could not stop eating it. It’s really good. It definitely tastes of roasted chickpeas, which are delicious, so that’s cool. It’s also astonishingly buttery, with this nutty, toasty backdrop of flavour, richer than peanut butter but less likely to superglue to the roof of your mouth. I love it, and as long as you are clear-eyed about what you’re getting into, I think you will too.

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I’m kind of fighting off a cold at the moment, which feels unfair when I lead such a healthy existence – I mean, I make smoothies with parsley in them! It does at least feel as though I’m as healthy as I could possibly be in these trying circumstances and it’s passing me by fairly quickly; nevertheless I acknowledge that I’m a trifle lacklustre today. If you haven’t already looked at it I recommend reading my previous blog post about Penne Alla Vodka where I was positively effervescent with lustre.

Roasted Chickpea Butter

A recipe I adapted from this one at The Kitchn.

  • 1 x 400g tin chickpeas
  • 1/3 cup rice bran oil or similar plain, but good oil
  • pinch salt
  • 1 tablespoon water

1: Drain (but don’t rinse) the chickpeas, and spread them out on a baking tray. Bake at 180C/350F for about 20 minutes, shuffling them around halfway through.

2: Allow the chickpeas to cool to something around room temperature, then tip them into a high-speed blender. Blitz several times until they’re broken down into dust.

3: Add the oil, salt, and water, and blend until it forms a thick paste.

4: Taste for salt and then spatula into a clean jar. Keep refrigerated. Makes around 170g.

music lately:

Marry Me A Little by Rosalie Craig from the 2018 West End revival of Company, one of my very, very favourite musicals, and surely one of the most-revived. But every time they revive it, I just want to listen to the original again. This is the first to gender flip the main role to a woman, which I have my feelings about, but I do like this rendition of the Act 1 closer, a fluttering, soaring song that’s heartfelt and cynical at the same time, its title a shorthand for the main character’s whole deal, and beautifully rendered in Craig’s voice.

We’re Still Friends, Donny Hathaway, gentle but heartbreaking. His voice could not have been smoother had it been put through a vegan’s high-speed blender.

Octopus, Syd Barret. This tune from the erstwhile Pink Floyd co-founder has that classic, roll-up-roll-up Sergeant Pepper Englishness to it, so English you half expect Dame Maggie Smith to appear from behind an ornamental shrub delivering a bon mot, but nonetheless there’s a slight frantic note to it, like a ferris wheel going too fast.

Next time: I still haven’t tried making my own seitan!

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swing from high to deep, extremes of sweet and sour

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While food blogging is mostly just quietly writing recipes and then being largely ignored but feeling a modest sense of peace at your own unswerving constancy and excellence; now and then a recipe comes along that makes you quite sure everything is going to change as a result of it. You’ll one day tell your grandchildren, or someone else’s grandchildren, or your small dog, that this was your origin story, the recipe equivalent of being discovered loitering in a shopping mall by a roving talent scout. I had that feeling with the caramelised tomato spaghetti and the vegan carne adovada this year, I had that feeling in 2013 when I’m quite sure I personally invented halloumi fries, and I’ve got it now with this vegan lemon curd recipe. To be fair, my instincts have never served me particularly well – my mind tells me “all who shall eat this will surely fall in love with me” like I’m some kind of fairy godmother hovering with purposeful menace at Sleeping Beauty’s christening; in reality it’s more like, literally nothing happens and life goes on, and perhaps the feeling of certainty that a recipe is truly next-level amazing is its own reward. (But you know what’s even more of a reward? Actual rewards!)

All delusional entitlement aside, let’s talk about this recipe. Lemon curd is immensely scientific for something one artlessly spreads on toast – the precise meeting point of liquefying solids and solidifying liquids. So how do you achieve this without the usual eggs and butter? In this recipe I’ve employed cornflour and coconut oil for thickening and enriching, but that’s not the part that excited me most. The real key ingredient here, the maverick game-changer, is…

Pineapple juice.

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I’ve long thought pineapple evoked a buttery vibe, without knowing quite how or why – something in the way its flavour fills the mouth – and had planned to eventually do something with this idea. While researching a piece about cocktails with pineapple juice in them for Tenderly, I asked Facebook why the juice goes frothy when shaken up (short answer: it just does, that’s why!) and a bartender friend informed me that both butter and pineapple contain butyric acid, and like Homer Simpson with the ideas of “dental plan” and “Lisa needs braces” swirling around in his head waiting to connect to each other, I suddenly saw before me what might be possible, and this lemon curd recipe jumped into my brain, fully-formed. And I could not possibly be happier with it.

Vegan Lemon Curd

A recipe by myself

  • 1 cup/250ml pineapple juice
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • Juice and zest of two lemons (roughly 1/3 cup juice)
  • 4 teaspoons cornflour
  • 1 tablespoon soy milk
  • 4 tablespoons refined coconut oil
  • 2 drops food grade lemon oil (optional, but good)

Note: the pineapple juice can come from a bottle, but make sure it’s more or less 100% pineapple juice, without any added sugar or cut with apple juice. Refined coconut oil means that it’s flavourless. If you can only get unrefined it will still work, but there will be a slight coconutty flavour to contend with. The lemon oil is optional but really boosts the fragrant lemon flavour, obviously. The finished product sets to a soft, spoonable lemon curd, if you want it thicker add another teaspoon of cornflour.

1: Bring the pineapple juice and sugar to the boil in a small saucepan, and let it bubble away for two minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat.

2: Mix the cornflour, lemon juice, and soy milk together – this helps prevent the cornflour forming lumps – then tip this into the pineapple mixture along with the lemon zest. Return the saucepan to a low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens – it will still be liquidy but should have some gelatinous body to it.

3: Remove the pan from the heat and thoroughly stir in the coconut oil, and the lemon oil if you’re using it. I found a small whisk ideal for this part as it can take a minute to incorporate the solid coconut oil into the liquid.

Allow to cool slightly then pour into a hot, sterile jar. Refrigerate for at least four hours, or overnight – it will thicken as it cools and the texture will appear more creamy and opaque. Makes one jar, around 300ml.

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The pineapple juice gives you heft, as in, provides the bulk of the volume, and its acidic juiciness dovetails perfectly with the sourness of the lemon without distracting – the lemon is still absolutely the star. The coconut oil with the cornflour-thickened juice gives a rich, satiny texture, but somehow combined with the pineapple juice, and its intense sunshine lusciousness, the whole thing genuinely tastes like lemon curd, and I can’t stop eating it from the jar with a spoon in wonderment at just how tart and sweet and velvety and decadent and completely lemon-curd-like it is. Perhaps even better? Honestly, I think this is one of the most delicious things I’ve ever made in my twelve years of food blogging, and I have nothing else to say about it because that’s all there is to it, really.

title from: Sit Down by James, this song is just so jangly and bittersweet and nice, isn’t it!

music lately:

Destroy The Heart by House of Love. I do enjoy an upbeat song paired with a gloomy vocal, it’s the real sound of the summer. There is this amazing guitar riff that sluices through the melody halfway through, never to reappear: I salute its mysteriousness.

I Wanna Sleep In Your Arms, by The Modern Lovers. I think if I could only listen to one band for eternity these guys would be the main contenders for the role. I love the grubby urgency of this song’s guitar riff and the sheer endearing-ness of the lyrics and Johnathan Richmond’s slightly congested singing voice, with its ad-libs and occasional charming slide into speak-singing.

As If We Never Said Goodbye, Diahann Carroll, from the musical Sunset Boulevard (based on the incredible film.) This is such a perfect musical theatre song, full of resolute controlled triumph, it’s simple, yet completely out of reach for most vocalists. The “I’ve come home at last” line at 3:20 absolutely kneecaps me, such a masterstroke of putting one note in front of the other – part of me wishes that the whole song was just that refrain. The late Diahann Carroll performs it beautifully with richness and vibrato, but I absolutely urge you to also watch Broadway legend Betty Buckley’s exquisite performance – if you jump to 8:04, I got full body chills at the effortless way she held the note on “home” so long that the audience spontaneously started applauding mid-song.

Next time: Now that I’ve tackled lemon curd I think I’d like to try making vegan fudge.

PS: if you enjoy my writing and would like to support me directly, you can do so by joining my Patreon. It’s like a cordoned-off VIP area where you can access content written just for you: recipes, updates, the opening sentences of the novel I wrote.