Category: Eating


My mother is the queen of transforming leftovers into new wonders, and she comes into her own on Boxing Day, the biggest leftovers challenge of the year.

Christmas, after all, is a game of two halves. The first is Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (which I covered in last week’s Food Special), when there are plenty of fresh ingredients, bright-eyed cooks and extravagant feasts. Then, on Boxing Day and beyond, the kitchen turns into a battleground of odds and ends: pyramids of roast parsnips and spuds, Tupperware as far as the eye can see, when all you want is something that will virtually cook itself.

For my mother, using up leftovers was an obsession born of necessity, and she never threw out anything unless it was growing legs and about to walk out by itself. Now, spinning meals out of lonely and lost ingredients is her own one-woman game show, one that gives great joy as another piece of broccoli is saved from the bin. Her past Boxing Day triumphs include: roast potatoes hard fried with tinned chickpeas and lots of chilli and lemon; sprout and spud curry; pav bhaji, a sort of Indian bubble and squeak, piled high into yorkshire puddings; sweet and crunchy carrot and cabbage pakoras with a fiery cranberry chutney.

Today’s recipe is a homage to one of Mum’s Boxing Day curries. It’s Thai, not Indian, and not dissimilar to a red curry; but it features more aromatics such as Thai basil, kaffir lime leaves and galangal, and it comes together very simply via a blender and a pan. The result is at once soothing and enlivening, a meal that even the most tired cook can muster up without too much effort.

Christmas veg Penang curry
A perfect home for leftover roast veg, but salt judiciously, because they’ll have been seasoned already. (If you’d like to roast veg specially to make this, you’ll need about 1.4kg mixed potatoes, parsnips, carrots and sprouts, peeled and roasted in a little oil.) It’s worth hunting down fresh Thai basil, because it has a special aniseed flavour that really pulls the dish together. Serves four.

For the Penang curry paste
2 tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
3 tbsp rapeseed oil
2 birds’ eye chillies, chopped
6 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 banana shallot, peeled and chopped
2 sticks lemongrass, tough outer leaves removed, chopped
6 kaffir lime leaves
1 tbsp galangal paste (I use Bart’s)
1 handful roasted unsalted peanuts
1 ½ tbsp tomato puree

For the curry
1.2kg leftover roast vegetables
400ml tin coconut milk
1 ¼ tsp salt
1 ½ tsp caster sugar
Thai basil, to serve

In a large frying pan, toast the coriander and cumin seeds until golden, then leave to cool. Put the spices in a blender with all the other curry paste ingredients, and blitz to a smooth paste, adding up to four or five tablespoons of cold water to help it along.

Put a large pan on a low heat, then add the curry paste, salt and sugar (if your cooked vegetables are pre-seasoned, just season to taste at the end) and cook out the paste, stirring, for about eight minutes, stirring constantly.

Stir the coconut milk into the paste mix bit by bit, and once the can is empty, fill it a third-full with cold water and add that, too. Leave the sauce to come up to a simmer, then stir in the leftover roast vegetables and leave to simmer and heat through for a few minutes. (If you’ve made the veg from scratch, they’ll still be hot, so stir them in at the last moment.)

Scatter over a handful of Thai basil leaves, check and amend the seasoning to taste, and serve hot with plain rice.

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A deeply satisfying soup that is good as a light main dish. The pomegranate lifts and brightens the deep, smoky flavours going into the bowl.

soup

Serves 4
olive oil 3 tbsp
chicken wings 12
smoked garlic 6 cloves
rosemary sprigs 4
bay leaves 3
thyme sprigs 12
water 2 litres
freekeh 100g
small carrots and parsnips 250g
pomegranate 1
chopped parsley a handful

Pour the oil into a deep casserole over a moderate heat and brown the chicken wings on both sides. Peel and crush then flatten the garlic cloves, then add them to the chicken together with the whole rosemary sprigs, bay, thyme and the water. Bring to the boil, lower the heat and simmer gently for an hour.

Rinse the freekeh then tip it into the chicken stock and continue simmering for 20 minutes. Halve the carrots and parsnips and add them to the pan, then leave to cook for 20 minutes till tender. Cut the pomegranate in half and take out the seeds. Remove the sprigs of herbs from the soup, they have done their work. Ladle into bowls, then spoon the chopped parsley and pomegranate seeds on top.

How to cook the perfect kleftiko

One of the undisputed classics of Greek cuisine, kleftiko is a special-occasion dish which showcases Hellenic cooking at its simple best. It demands no fancy ingredients or tricky techniques, just good raw materials … and a good deal of patience. Said to be named after sheep-rustling bandits known as the klephts, who would cook their ill-gotten gains in underground pits to avoid detection, the success of the dish depends on long, slow roasting until the meat fairly falls off the bone. That’s handy, no doubt, when your knives were all engaged in more nefarious activity.

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Though it’s no doubt at its best at a whitewashed island taverna, it’s also perfect for feeding a crowd when the circus of fire and knives that is our traditional Sunday roast feels like too much effort. Like many of the best summer dishes, kleftiko is happy to do its own thing while you get on with more important stuff – such as sunbathing and drinking ouzo.

The cut of lamb

Most recipes I try call for leg. Rick Stein uses a whole one, while Sebastian’s Taverna in Corfu and Eli K Giannopoulos of the website My Greek Dish plump for pieces. The testing panel, however, is largely with Georgina Hayden, author of Stirring Slowly, who describes kleftiko as her “achilles heel”… but calls for shoulder, as does Tonia Buxton’s recipe.

Though leg looks impressive, and one tester prefers its relative leanness, everyone else feels like it’s a cut better suited to cooking fast and serving pink; the tougher, fattier shoulder, meanwhile, really benefits from slow cooking, becoming wonderfully juicy and rich. It’s also cheaper, which is always a pleasing bonus.

Those short of time might prefer to use Buxton’s leg pieces on the bone, which only need cooking for a couple of hours, though I’m slightly of the opinion that this is a dish that deserves a bit of love, and you’re probably better off making something else.

The cooking

While we’re on the subject of time, Giannopoulos marinates his leg steaks for 24 hours before cooking, which gives them a wonderfully deep flavour. If you don’t have that luxury, however, rest assured that it will still be delicious.

Sebastian’s Taverna is the only recipe to braise the kleftiko on the hob, rather than baking it in the oven. There’s no doubt that this keeps the meat beautifully juicy, but it doesn’t have the same intensity of flavour as the others, especially since the pieces are submerged in water. Adding less liquid, as Stein and Hayden recommend, gently steams the meat, so it’s moist, but still retains its distinctive flavour – rely on its own juices, as Buxton does, and you get a great-tasting kleftiko that’s just a touch dry.

Stein and Giannopoulos both bake their dishes at a high heat: 190C and 180C respectively, but for shoulder, I think Buxton and Hayden’s gentler 160C gives better, more tender results. Equally importantly, make sure it’s in a tightly sealed package, either in a heavy casserole dish, sealed with foil, as Stein recommends, or in a completely closed parcel of greaseproof paper sprinkled with water as in Hayden’s recipe, so no moisture can escape.

Though I suspect this is unorthodox, Giannopoulos’s final blast of heat, with the meat uncovered, does help boost the flavour, just as a melt-in-the-mouth sous-vide steak is made infinitely tastier by a brief dance on a hot grill.

Vegetables

The simplest recipe, from Sebastian’s Taverna, calls for nothing more than onions and garlic, and Hayden, though she uses more spice, sticks with garlic alone. But, as you’ve got the oven on anyway, it makes sense to cook a few vegetables at the same time. Stein, Buxton and Giannopoulos bulk the dish out with potatoes, which are gorgeously rich and soft after a few hours with a joint of lamb (and even better crisped up while the meat is resting as Giannopoulos suggests) – make sure you get the waxy kind, or you’ll be left with mush. Everyone peels them, but I think they’re even more delicious left whole, whatever Greek grannies might think.

Stein and Giannopoulos both also add peppers, and, like Buxton chuck a few tomatoes in there for good measure, which not only look colourful, but, as with anything given such a treatment, taste great too. They’re not absolutely necessary, but they do help make this dish into a one-pot treasure trove.

Garlic, however, is very much necessary – and the sharp flavour of the crushed kind is so different from the mellow sweetness of the roasted variety that I’m going to use it as both seasoning and vegetable. The sugary heat of Giannopoulos’s red onion works similarly brilliantly with the savoury lamb.

Stein adds crumbled feta to his kleftiko, inspired by the one served at a restaurant in Symi, and Giannopoulos goes for kefalotyri, a very versatile hard yellow cheese that, to my surprise, I find in the supermarket, though I’ve never noticed it before. Both have a tendency, however, to dissolve into the vegetables, prompting one tester to discreetly remove several blobs of what she believed to be lamb fat before I set her right. Cheese and lamb are not, to my mind, a marriage made in heaven, but if you fancy adding some, do so right before serving.

Hayden’s recipe has a non-traditional twist right at the end – it’s finished with a scattering of pomegranate seeds and mint tossed in a little red vine vinegar, which is a very pretty idea if you decide not to add any extra vegetables, and serve this with salads instead.

Seasonings

Oregano is an absolute must – I find the dried kind stands up better to long cooking than the fresh leaves – and a couple of bay leaves, as used by Buxton and Hayden, don’t go amiss either. A little acidity in the form of lemon juice, rather than Giannopoulos’ white wine, helps to cut through the richness of the meat and potatoes, so you can keep going back for more. Best followed by a glass of raki and a nap in the shade of a gnarly fig tree.
Perfect kleftiko

(serves 6)
1 lamb shoulder, about 2kg
Olive oil
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 heads of garlic
2 lemons
1 kg waxy potatoes
1 large red onion
1 red pepper
1 bay leaf
12 cherry tomatoes

Rub the meat with oil. Sprinkle over the cinnamon, oregano and salt, and peel and roughly crush half a head of garlic. Rub all this into the meat with your hands along with the juice of one lemon. Cover and leave for 12 hours.

Heat the oven to 160C. Cut the potatoes into wedges and use them to line the base of a large lidded casserole dish (or use a roasting tin lined with enough parchment paper to fold over the top of the joint on both sides – you’ll probably need two pieces at right angles). Cut the onion into wedges and the pepper into chunky strips, removing the seeds, then add the cherry tomatoes. Place the lamb on top. Cut the remaining garlic and lemon in half laterally, squeeze the lemon briefly over the potatoes, and tuck the shells and the garlic in around the joint along with the bay leaf. Pour 200ml water into the dish. If using a casserole dish, tuck a damp piece of greaseproof on top and cover, if using a roasting dish, sprinkle the overhanging paper with water and fold over and tuck in to form a sealed package. Bake for 4-5 hours until very tender.

Turn the oven up to 220C and roast, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes at this higher temperature, then lift the joint out and set aside. Put the vegetables back in for 15 minutes until starting to brown, then serve with the meat.

Corney & Barrow Côtes du Rhône, France 2011(£9.50, Corney & Barrow) After last week’s bargain festive bottles, I’m setting my sights a little higher, with Christmas dinner wines from around £10 right up to serious splash-out territory. At £10, posh independent merchant Corney & Barrow has a superb own-label red Côtes du Rhône 2011. Made by the Gonnet family of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, it’s perfectly pitched between ripe-fruited richness and lively freshness. Just as good with the turkey and trimmings, Tesco Finest Viña del Cura Rioja Gran Reserva 2009 (£10) has a swish of blackberry to go with its classically Rioja oaky mellowness, while Asda has a crisp but mouth-filling white burgundy in the shape of Domaine Marguerite Dupasquier Rully 2013 (£10.50).

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Meyer Pinot Noir, Okanagan, Canada 2014 (£18, Marks & Spencer) Staying with the chardonnays of Burgundy, Oddbins has the very smart, chiselled, creamy-but-racy Domaine Guerrin et Fils Saint-Véran Le Clos Vessats 2014 (£12.50, Oddbins), although fans of the style will be just as impressed by the slightly richer pair from South Africa: Iona Chardonnay 2014 and Paul Clüver Chardonnay 2014 (both £15, from M&S and Morrisons respectively; both seriously good). For reds, I was very taken by M&S’s first foray into Canada with the deliciously pure oaked raspberry of Meyer Pinot Noir, while those who prefer a little more power and density could go for the aromatic D’Arenberg Wild Pixie Shiraz, McLaren Vale, Australia 2011 (£17, Sainsbury’s).

Bodegas López de Heredia Viña Bosconia Rioja Reserva, Spain 2004 (£21.95, Waitrose) Nudging above £20 we’re into fine wine territory with the silky, savoury Viña Bosconia Reserva from López de Heredia. It’s only in six stores, so you’ll need to get your skates on and order online (waitrosecellar.com), maybe adding a similarly posh white to your order such as the nutty white burgundy Domaine Vincent Prunier Meursault Les Vireuils 2013 (£30.99, Waitrose). Meanwhile, M&S also has a fine festive pair: the magnificently supple, peppered-meaty northern Rhône syrah red of Domaine Coursodon Cuvée Olivaie St-Joseph 2007 (£35) and the soft herbal dry white Italian Pieropan Soave La Rocca 2013 (£27).