Monday, March 12, 2007

An alternative houmous, and some ranting.

I’ve a love-hate relationship with Houmous. I love eating it, dipping crusty bread, pitta, vegetables or even fingers into a bowlful. Though I prefer to make my own, which is a pretty straightforward task, I’ll even admit to occasionally buying a plastic pot from the supermarket and munching the whole lot in one go.

The supermarket stuff, or at least the more upmarket products, can be a reasonable approximation of the real deal – quite unlike their cousin on the dip shelves, the so called ‘taramasalata’. Supermarket ‘taramasalata’ comes nowhere near the strong flavour and grainy texture of the real thing. The only satisfaction I can imagine one could possibly gain from a tub of this muck would have to involve catapulting it at the windscreen of one of those black tinted Range Rover-type vehicles which seem to be de rigeur with the bottom feeding Thatcherite pigs that live in my particular part of England. Thwack-splat, and a satisfying pink smear. Its hard to pull off the minor celebrity / drug dealer look with fishy pink jizz clogging up the wipers.

The ‘hate’ side of my relationship with houmous largely stems from its ubiquity in gatherings of young middle-class types. I don’t know how many times I’ve been given a plastic pot of houmous, with a few bits of carrot, as a starter when at social functions. I’ve no problem with eating shop-bought desserts (in fact bring on the Viennetta and tinned peaches), or eating houmous in a sort of pre-dinner ‘nibbles’ capacity, but plonking down a tub of houmous as a part of your meal? What can we expect next, fish fingers and oven chips? McCain’s Pizza in the shape of dinosaur feet?

I know of one person who thinks that serving a tub of houmous, and maybe some ‘sour cream and chives’ (what the feck sort of baby food is that exactly?) actually constitutes a meal worth inviting people round for. I have promised myself that if this person ever comes to dinner at my place I will insist on starting with chilli roasted pig trotters or something equally glorious. Then I’ll fire up the taramasalata cannon and we can go and have some fun in Tesco’s car park.

Anyhow, where was I? Yes, houmous – easy to make at home. I had a tin of butter beans that needed seeing off in the cupboard, so I thought I’d knock out an alternative non-chickpea houmous. Something a bit special to dip your finger in when you find yourself on a midnight fridge-raid.

Mint, Lime and Butterbean Houmous.

1 tin of butterbeans
1 Lime
Extra virgin olive oil
Small handful of fresh mint leaves
1 large tablespoonful of tahini
Big juicy clove of garlic, or two.
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt to taste.

Rinse the butterbeans and place in a blender. Add the garlic, tahini, cayenne pepper and mint. Squeeze in the lime and add enough olive oil to provide enough lubrication for the mixture to blend steadily. Pulse the blender until you have the desired consistency (I prefer mine quite coarse), adding more oil if the mixture needs it. Add salt to taste, but I doubt it will need any.

This tastes great straight away, but will benefit from a few hours, or overnight, covered tightly, in the fridge. It should last up to two days in the fridge.

Serve with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and some warm pitta bread – or whatever nibbles you prefer.

Far Eastern Curry

A quickie curry/soup thing.

(zen quantities, this will make about two bowls of curry)
Two chicken breasts (I used some port escalopes in mine, for something a bit different), cut into strips.
Egg noodles
200-300ml of coconut milk.
About two large ladles of chicken stock
Nam Pla
Groundnut oil
Tsp of sugar
A couple of cherry toms, halved and some mange-tout
Maybe some spinach leaves if you fancy

For the curry paste:
A couple of small red chillis
Two blades of lemongrass
Large pinch of Cumin
A large shallot
Two cloves garlic
Two limes
Tsp of paprika
Handful of fresh coriander leaves.

To make the curry paste, chop and deseed the chilli and place in a blender, add the spices, coriander leaves, garlic and the chopped shallot. Peel off the hard outer layer of bark from the lemongrass, and cut off the thinner part of the stem (this can sit in your curry, for extra flavour while it cooks), add to the blender. Grate the rind of one of the limes into the blender, then add the juice from both limes. Blitz into a coarse-ish paste and set aside.

Heat the groundnut oil in a pan and add the chicken/pork. Stir-fry for half a minute and then add the curry paste and the toms and mange-tout. Stir quickly to heat through and release some of the lovely fresh aromas. Then add the coconut milk, chicken stock, a healthy slosh of nam pla, and a pinch of sugar. Let this chunter away for about 10 minutes, being careful not to let it boil too vigorously, as this can cause the coconut milk to separate. Add the spinach if you like, and cook for another 2 minutes.

While the curry is cooking away, cook the egg noodles according to the packet. Drain and drop the noodles into the bottom of some bowls. To serve, pour the curry over the noodles and add a leaves of coriander to garnish.


I enjoyed some cookery chat with friends at a recent meal at the Mogul in Hemel. It transpired that folks are fans of mayonnaise, but are buying the stuff in a jar. Its OK for convenience I guess, and sometimes can taste pretty good, but take a look at all the weird stuff on the label… what the hell(mans) is all that about? Can I use it to clean the oven?

Making mayonnaise is easy once you’ve done it once. You can make interesting garlicy varieties, and its much more satisfying to sit down to a salad, or smoked salmon, or a sandwich made from bits picked off Sunday’s chicken, when it comes with lashings of your own homemade aioli.
Jiffler Senior’s recipe

This is a rough approximation of my Dad’s recipe. He is a mayonnaise demon and won’t touch the stuff in a jar. All the ingredients should be at room temperature, otherwise you will have all manner of splitting and fiddling.

1 egg yolk
Groundnut or olive oil (or a combination) about 150-200ml
About a tablespoon of white wine vinegar
Half a teaspoon of Colman’s mustard powder
A healthy pinch each of salt and pepper

Beat the yolk with the salt and pepper in a a round bottomed bowl, add a drop of the oil and whisk it in, keep doing this, drop by drop, slowly whisking, building up to a steady trickle of oil – keep whisking throughout (its good to have a bit of help with this). Once the mixture is of a thick, wobbly consistency, whisk in the mustard and the vinegar (which should lighten the colour).

A garlicy alternative

Beat in some crushed garlic before the oil goes in. You could substitute the vinegar for lemon juice here.

If it all goes wrong, and the mayonnaise splits, don’t panic. Start again by adding another egg yolk to a clean bowl, and slowly add your previous mix, with addition oil if necessary.


I know, I know, I've been slacking again... Thanks for the comments and emails so far folks. Its a real pleasure to see that people are trying out and - hopefully - enjoying some of the recipes on jifflings. Feedback and recipe ideas are always welcome.

3s – you were right about the Roquefort and crackers. Like Stilton and many other blue cheeses it is best enjoyed with a sweeter digestive style of biscuit. My personal preference would be with McVities digestives, but the Hovis brand, and M&S digestives are good as well.