While we were researching Veggiestan, we thought a lot about street culture, from vending (as above) to eating. And one thing led to another. And I ended up writing another book. Not just about street food, but all sorts of other less formal consumption: meze, comfort food, snacks. You can probably guess what it is called…. Yup, Snackistan. A sibling for Veggiestan. It has got meat and fish in it…but there are an awful lot of new veggie dishes too. I do hope that you’ll like it…
It is out on September 26th (ish), although you can already reserve your copy here.
In the meantime, full credit to photographer zbigphotography for his stunning photo of a Riyadh street vendor.
Turkmenistan. What do you know about Turkmenistan? Well, we can tell you that it’s quite rich, very flat, and is famous for its melons. It is also home to this pretty lady, Myahri. The ditty sounds as if a nineties club track gobbled a Eurovision entry, but don’t let this stop you enjoying it. It is catchy and had us dancing round the kitchen at Veggiestan Towers. Tans Etmeli means ‘dance right now’…so off you go then
Nearly forgot to tell you…. We’re having another pop-up Veggiestan event, this time at No.67, the lovely cafe next to the South London Gallery. Expect you’d like to see the menu, no?
We will start with warm bread, cheese and herbs, which is the basis of any Iranian spread. This will be accompanied by a trio of dips: white bean and olive, red pepper houmous, and yoghurt with spiced aubergine.
Next up comes: hand-rolled vine leaves, our signature pumpkin kibbeh, spinach fatayer and halloumi stacks.
The ‘main’ course will be a mushroom khoresht (stew to you), Yemeni style spiced red lentils, Lebanese artichoke bake and fragrant saffron rice.
Afters will comprise a mixture of Iranian pastries, Moroccan style orange salad and paklava.
There will be tea or coffee to wash it all down, and No. 67 is fully licensed. The price is £35.00 per head, there is still a little room left, and you can book by calling No 67 direct on 020 7252 7649.
It’s Spring! No, really. The Spring equinox was at 11:01:53 on Wednesday 20th March 2013. Which happens to coincide with the Persian New Year (Nowrooz). So we wish you all a happy and prosperous 1392.
Iranian celebrations to welcome in the new year/spring go back millennia, to ancient Zoroastrian times and beyond, and there is a lot of symbolism attached. Every house lays out a ‘sofreh’ like the one in the picture: on it they will place candles and a mirror for light, goldfish for prosperity, and seven things beginning with the letter ‘s’ (in Farsi of course), which are known as the haftsin. This comprises sabzeh (wheatgrass) and samenou (wheatgrass mousse) and sombol (hyacinth) and sumak and sekeh (coins) and sib (apple) and senjed (wild Russian olives) and serkeh (vinegar), and esphand (wild rue). Oh, and lots of sweets: you are meant to start the new year as you mean to go on, and sweetness is a must. The white stag and Hiawatha seemed to have strayed into the picture from a different celebration (i.e. I’ve no idea what they’re doing there).
The food eaten at this time is also very traditional, involving lots of herbs and plenty of spring garlic. Sabzi pulao is one such dish (recipe coincidentally in Veggiestan…): herbed garlicky rice served with meat or vegetable stock (or smoked fish). The recipe below is kind of a cross between sabzi pulao and potatoes Lyonnaise; the result a slightly-naughty-but-intriguing side dish or snack.
Ingredients (as a side for 4-5):
600g waxy potatoes (desiree work well here, or a salad pot like Maris Peer), peeled (or at least scrubbed)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, finely sliced
1/4 teaspoon ground saffron, steeped in boiling water
2-3 bunches spring garlic, finely chopped
big handful fresh coriander, chopped
big handful fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon dill weed (or fresh chopped dill)
sea salt and coarse ground black pepper
Cut the pots into thickish slices, blanch them in boiling water for around three minutes and then drain them. Next heat the oil in a frying pan and add the butter. Fry the onions until they are starting to brown before adding the saffron water and spring garlic. Cook for a couple of minutes more before taking off the heat. Layer one third of the potatoes in a greased over tray, cover with half of the onion mix and sprinkle with half of the chopped herbs and a little salt and pepper. Repeat with the second third of the spuds and the remainder of the onions and herbs. Top with the rest of the potatoes and bake at gas mark 6 (200C) for around forty minutes or until the potatoes are crispy golden. Enjoy.
Got to love pine nuts. Their slight crunch, the creaminess, the, well, nuttiness. Such versatile little chaps: they mingle with salads, play nicely with in sweets, flirt with the bread department and excel in sandwiches. And they are such a typical Veggiestani ingredient. BUT they can also destroy your sense of taste at thirty paces.
Not a lot of people know this, but Chinese pine nuts (specifically those of the genus P.Armandii) can trigger something which has become known as Pine Mouth (sounds unfortunately like a bovine ailment, no?) or PNS (Pine Nut Syndrome). And PNS, albeit really quite harmless, is utterly disgusting. It hits 2-3 days after consuming the little buggers, and (in my case) came on very suddenly. I was halfway through eating a kookoo (made by my mother-in-law) when my mouth just filled with bitter-than-bitter-aloes bitterness: I did fleetingly wonder if she was trying to poison me, but as we get on famously this thought was rapidly replaced with panic. Washing the food down with water made things worse, as did a spoonful of honey and an orange. Everything I ate tasted fine at first, but within seconds my tastebuds rebelled and produced this awful awful taste.
After 2 days I broke my self-imposed medical-Google embargo and searched for other bitter mouth sufferers. And it seems that there are thousands of us out there. THIS WEBSITE was the most helpful, and it does scientific stuff too (which is way more helpful than my hand-flappy-oh-my-God kind of approach). The gist of it is that these rogue pine nuts strike at random in the stealth of night, can affect absolutely anyone (and yet if you prove susceptible once it does not mean that the PNS will recur if you eat them again), and that symptoms can last from a few days to a couple of months. Pine nuts from Russia/Korea etc seem completely blameless – it is uniquely the genus above which causes the condition.
I have posted this not to put you off pine nuts, or Chinese products, but to make you aware of the condition, so that if you are unlucky enough to experience it you will not panic or have to wade through the terrifying morass of looking for health symptoms on-line. Also, it may come up in the pub quiz one day…
Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pretty Peppers. Actually, no, I did on this occasion. Snapped this on a cheap package beano to Icmeler in Southern-ish Turkey a year or so ago. Peppers are sooo good for you. All peppers: long ones, fat ones, sweet ones, hot ones. And versatile: stuff them, pickle them, puree them, chop ‘em. And they have the habit of appearing in conveniently price-reduced batches if you shop judiciously (that means corner-shops and markets).
This recipe uses those long thin peppers: they are perfect for stuffing with cheese or other rich food. Red or green are fine – or use banana peppers (which are, astonishingly enough, kind of banana colour).
Cheesy Stuffed Peppers
6 peppers, washed
200g feta cheese or labneh balls
2 tablespoons olive oil (1 if you’re using labneh)
1 level teaspoon black pepper
big handful fresh parsley, chopped
handful of chives (or spring onion tops), chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
squeeze of lemon juice (ie a couple of teaspoons-worth)
Carefully remove the calyces of the peppers and scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon. Next blend the cheese with the remaining ingredients and use a long teaspoon to ram it down inside the peppers. Place the peppers in a small oven dish, propping the heads against the rim of the dish so that the cheese doesn’t melt and run everywhere.
Heat the oven to gas mark mark 5 (190C) and bake the peppers for about twenty minutes or until the flesh softens and starts to darken. Serve as part of a meze spread – or a self-indulgent Winter lunch. Mind you don’t burn your mouth on that hot cheese though…
Like any other nation, Afghanistan is about a whole lot more than you read in the papers. Traditional music features a fast and frenetic beat and is infectiously cheerful. But we couldn’t resist bringing you this little rap number. Boy-oh-boy do Veggiestanis love their rap. This is from someone called DJ Besho. Veggiestanis also love the concept of the ‘DJ’. Enjoy.
Apologies for the slight hiatus in posting. But it was all in a good cause…of which more soon. In the meantime, here’s a lovely little Winter slaw recipe to perk up your January lunchboxes/dire supermarket pizzas/buffet spreads. It is a great way of using up forgotten bits of veg and fruit.
Ingredients (to make a party bowlful – it will keep for 4-5 days):
1/4 small red cabbage, finely sliced
1/4 small white cabbage, finely sliced
2 medium carrots, peeled and grated
2 sticks celery, washed and chopped
2 unloved, shrivelled apples, peeled, cored and chunked
1 red onion, finely chopped
100g raw cashews, chopped
75g raisins, soaked and drained
for the dressing:
2 teaspoons harissa
3 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 tablespoons lime juice (or lemon)
2 tablespoons crunchy peanut butter
2 teaspoons orange blossom water
1 teaspoon ground cumin
salt to taste
Mix all the slaw ingredients together. Then beat all the dressing ingredients together. Then introduce the two to each other and watch the magic happen….
The patience of the vegetable vendor. As a shopkeeper, I empathise. This iconic shot was taken in Cairo Bazaar by Ed Yourdon. Do send us any Veggiestan related shots that you’d like to share, whether it’s travel or food related….
So the quince season is here once again. Huzzah! is all we can say. There is nothing quite like it for fragrance, natural pinkness and beguiling flavour. Although they are ugly brutes.
They are not very good raw, but poached simply with honey, ginger, cardamom and cinnamon sticks they form possibly the world’s best ‘compote’ (to use the ‘Iranian’ vernacular). To stew them thus remove the skin and cut into segments, BUT LEAVE THE PIPS IN as that is where all the pinkness and goodness lies. Quince pips are astonishingly good for the chest/chesty coughs. Mother Nature certainly knew what she was doing by making quince a Winter fruit, as it is the perfect remedy for so many seasonal ills.
You can also stuff them with a sweet or savoury filling (recipe quince-identally in Veggiestan), or add them to a soup (recipe in Persia in Peckham) or casserole (recipe below)…
Ingredients (to feed four):
150g lapeh or split peas (aka chana dal – harder than English split peas)
1 large onion, peeled + chopped
3-4 sticks of celery, cleaned and chunked
oil for frying (sunflower is good here)
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons lime powder (or use 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice when you add the water)
1 dessertspoon tomato paste
2 large quinces
1/2 bunch fresh coriander, washed and chopped
1 bunch fresh spinach, washed and shredded
sugar, salt and black pepper to taste
Soak the split peas in water for around half an hour. When you are ready to cook fry the onion and celery in some oil in a saucepan; when they have softened add the turmeric, lime powder and (drained) split peas. Fry for a few minutes, stirring well, and then add the tomato paste and water. Bring to the boil and simmer for ten minutes.
So to the quinces: peel and core them (Iranian housewives would retain the pips to use as a decoction for coughs) and cut them into thick slices. After ten minutes add the quince to the khoresht along with the coriander. Cook for around twenty minutes, or until the quince is just cooked and the split peas are soft, and then add the spinach and season to taste. I like sharp things, but you may well find the addition of sugar necessary. Bubble for a few minutes more and then serve with steamed basmati rice and some nice thick yoghurt.