Readers’ Recipes #1: Bitter Gourd/Karela

I always meant for this to be an interactive website – and I would love more of you to send in your (vaguely Middle Eastern, vegetarian) recipes. So I was delighted to receive this e-mail from a nice lady called Alia the other day. I replicate it in full below because a) she says nice things, and b) I am very lazy and it is all too easy to copy and paste.

The picture is patently not of a nice lady called Alia, but rather of our very nice greengrocer Mr. Imtiaz holding a pair of karelas by way of illustration.


I picked up both Veggistan and Snackistan in Singapore a few months ago. Great recipes and I like your style of writing and the fact that your recipes assume the reader knows how to cook. Not lowest common denominator cooking.

Anyway, in one of your books, you say how you hate bitter melon. Me, I loved it the first time I had it, which was in Lahore, Pakistan. And my favourite way of cooking it is the way my friend’s mother made it that time.

First off, there are 2 kinds of bitter melon: the Indo-Paki type (small with sharper wrinkles and pointy ends) and the Chinese kind (yellower green, larger, smoother, rounded ends.) I prefer the Chinese type.

Peel the outside brusquely with a veggie peeler, not because the skin isn’t edible, but because that will reduce some bitterness. Then cut in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and white pith. (The seeds when fully ripe are scarlet red, so don’t freak out if you get one of those, but it makes no nevermind as far as eating goes.) Then slice up these bitter melon canoes into half-arcs about 1/3″ thick. Throw them into a bowl of salt water and let them sit around for 30-60 minutes. This bath is also said to reduce the bitterness.

Meanwhile, fry up an equal amount of sliced onions in veggie oil (in batches) until they are reddish brown crispy. Remove them to a paper towel.

Now, drain the saltwater and rinse the bitter melon slices well. Into the onion oil toss the bitter melon and saute for awhile. Sprinkle with some turmeric, get everything nicely coloured. Clear a space and fry some whole cumin seeds in there and then mix them all in, and add the fried onions. Add chilli pepper to your desired heat level. You can either stand there and saute, or you can cover and add a splash of water now and then.

When it is done, it will be mainly dry. Garnish with chopped cilantro. It is great eaten with chapatis and plain yogurt. You can also add sprouted lentils when you cook it to ramp up the protein. Don’t forget to check the salt. The combo of brown fried onions and bitter melon is super.

Give it a try. If you don’t like it…

Oh well, more for me!!

Thanks for writing such good cookbooks!


You’re welcome Alia 🙂 Thank you for sending me a nice e-mail.

Now – who else is going to send in some recipes?

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Veggiestan Rose Drizzle Cake. For you. For Valentines Day.

Now I’m a self-confessed rubbish baker. The antithesis of a domestic goddess (although I do have a penchant for house-work, so I do get some redeeming Brownie points). But you know? You can’t actually mess up a drizzle cake. Whisk-whisk-cook-drizzle-scoff. It is really simple.

Now of course the drizzle of choice is lemon. And there is something to be said about the sharpness of citrus to contrast with the sweetness of the rest of it. So this combo sees lime paired with cardamom and rose. If any of you real Suzie Homemakers out there can improve this, please ‘fess up: I’m always willing to listen to suggestions, especially when it comes to fiddly faffy things like cake-making.

Ingredients: (for 6-7 slices)

  • 2 large eggs
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 150g soft butter (or marg) – I use salted, but if you use unsalted, add a pinch of salt to your cake mix
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • grated zest of 1 lime
  • 175g self-raising flour
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 3 tablespoons rose water

For the syrup and the glaze:

  • juice of 1 lime (like the 1 you zested above)
  • 4 tablespoons rose cordial
  • 200g icing sugar

To serve:

  • creme fraiche
  • nibbed pistachios
  • rose petals

You’ll also need a greased 23cm x 17cm x 7.5cm (i.e. bog standard) loaf tin lined with greased parchment paper.

Firstly heat your oven to gas mark 4 (180C).
Pinnies on? Whisk the eggs and beat in the sugar and butter: stir until the whole thing begins to pale in colour. Add the spices and zest, and then sieve the flour and fold it into the mixture as well. Finally stir in the milk and the rose water. Spoon the mixture into the prepared oven tin, and bake for around 40 minutes, or until the cake passes the old skewer test (i.e. you stick a metal skewer into the thickest part of the cake and it comes out clean).
While the cake is baking, warm the lime juice in a saucepan along with 2 tablespoons of the cordial and 150g of the icing sugar.
Once the cake is cooked, removed it from the oven, prick a dozen or so holes in it with a knife, and trickle this syrup over the cake. Allow the thing to cool and then remove from the tin.
Make the glaze by mixing the rest of the icing sugar and the cordial together: loosen with a little water if necessary and drizzle over the cake. Cut into slices, add a dollop of creme fraiche, and scatter with nibbed pistachio/rose petals.
Serve as a special pudding for that special someone: a glass of kir royale or some strong dark coffee would make a fitting accompaniment.
Happy Valentines Day!

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Veggiestan’s Greatest Hits #18: Georgia

Now here’s fabulous little narrative. Swords. Ninjas. Dancing girls. All in one three-or-so minute video. It’s kind of Never Ending Story meets Highlander with a bit of Crouching Tiger thrown in. Only problem is… it’s all in Georgian. And we don’t understand a word of it. We can’t even tell you who the artist is. Hey ho. In the meantime, grab your partner around the waist and have a little twirl around the kitchen. Twirling’s a dying art you know…

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Dukkah’ed Sprouts

Because sprouts are for life and not just for Christmas. And because we now have our own house blend of dukkah. And because we are now selling fresh veg.

We have recently started stocking bio-dynamic produce in the shop, and this has opened up a whole new veggie vista for us. Bio-dynamic? It’s kind of like organic but with a sprinkling of pixie dust. The term is used for lands which are farmed totally in tune with the seasons and with the utmost respect for the soil. Our supplier, A G Brockman, is only a clod of mud’s throw down the road near Canterbury: we are keeping it as local as possible.

Anyway, as per our handy hint in the last post, we bring you our top veggie snack of the hour. Be warned: we are nothing if not fickle, and so this will surely have changed by next week.

Ingredients (as a Winter starter or side dish for 4):

  • 250g Brussels sprouts, washed, tailed and sliced
  • 100g kale, washed and chopped
  • 3-4 tablespoons of your favourite posh oil: we use a mix of olive and argan
  • 2 tablespoons dukkah*
  • 150g halloumi, diced (optional)

Simply rub the prepared vegetables with the oil and then coat with the dukkah. Bake covered on around gas mark 6 (200C) for 7-8 minutes, and then uncover, add the halloumi if using, and pop back in the oven for another 5-6 minutes or until the kale is crispy and the sprouts cooked.

In the meantime, do not throw your sprout stalks away, but rather trim them, as per Mr. Shopkeeper’s example on the left, and then either eat them with salt, or slice them into salads or stir-fries. Waste not, want not and all that.

*Bonus Veggiestani dukkah recipe: Before Marmite was invented people were possibly more creative with their bread consumption: dukkah is a spice mix which was used in conjunction with olive oil to spice up the daily loaf. If you can’t wait to get your hands on our new house mix, you can make it your own at home. Toast equal quantities of raw hazelnuts (although we use almonds because hazelnuts make Mrs. S’mouth go funny) and sesame seeds with half that amount of cumin and coriander seeds. Grind roughly with some salt and black pepper, and Rameses is your uncle.

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Happy Christmas 2013

Just a wee postlet to wish y’all a very Merry Yuletide and a Happy 2014. We will be back with a whole lot more posts in the New Year – together with news of some Veggiestan cookery classes and more pop-up events.

In the meantime, Veggiestan is currently being reprinted so if you are trying to get hold of a copy, sit tight (ETA February 2014).

Have a good one!
Photo, and indeed painting, by Jessie Chapman via the Flickr Commercial Commons Licence. Fancy Veggiestani sprouts? Toss them with dukka, olive oil and sea salt and roast them.

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Veggiestan News Flash

Sorry if we’ve been a bit quiet: it’s mostly been the fault of the little number on the right – which is due out at the end of September. There’s plenty of veggie stuff in it: we do hope you approve. You should totally all come to the launch party: as and when we fix a date we’ll let you know. Anyway, you can read more about Snackistan here…

In the meantime, we are taking you on another voyage to Veggiestan: on September 10th we are doing a pop-up Persepolis (with added belly dancer) at Frank’s Cafe, which is probably THE trendiest bar in the universe at the moment. Does that make us trendy? Hell no. But we do like a challenge – and this will be heaps of fun. If you want to come, though, you’d better get booking…

Be seeing you.

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Kushari Reaches London

One of the most popular recipes in Veggiestan is for KUSHARI – and now a chain of kushari joints is opening across the capital. I thought it worth sharing this interview with one of the chain’s founders: the article was first published in February over on Londonist.

Our friend Anissa Helou is one of the UK’s most highly respected authorities on Middle Eastern Food. Hey: if I get really stuck Anissa is the oracle I most frequently consult. The former antiques dealer is the author of six cookbooks (with another out this Summer), and finds time occasionally to give cooking classes in Shoreditch along with (oh-my-God-we-so-want-to-go-on-one-of-these) culinary tours of Turkey and the Levant. And she is helping a group of Egyptian entrepreneurs open a chain of koshari cafes: the first Koshari Street has just opened in St Martins Lane. She is also the owner of the most fabulous big hair.

We asked her about the Middle East in London, London in the Middle East, and street food, which is already one of this year’s hot food trends.

Koshari: nice word, but what is it – and do you think it will give the falafel a run for its money?
Well, it is a very different kind of street food. Falafel is a sandwich whereas koshari is a warming dish of rice, pasta and lentils topped with a spicy tomato sauce, chickpeas and caramelised onions. I have added a special touch by serving it with doqqa (a mix of dried herbs, spices and nuts) to add a little crunch. And it will definitely give falafel a run for its money.

Why do you think the interest in street food has surged in London?
It’s a fun way to eat. It’s not expensive and now that the councils have relented and are allowing more people to have pitches on the street, people can get a great lunch or supper from a street stall selling proper food rather than grabbing a sandwich!

Just curious: what made you swap antiques for a career in food?
Chance really. I wanted to write a book about collecting, then while listening to a conversation between my agent and a Lebanese friend about cookbooks, I thought I could write one on Lebanese cuisine. There weren’t any really user-friendly books on the subject, and certainly not ones that someone unfamiliar with the cuisine could cook from easily. As luck would have it, my agent knew a publisher looking to do one and the rest is history. This said, I always loved food and often cooked for my friends but one thing I didn’t realise then was what hard work it was to write about food!

Could you summarise the salient points of Middle Eastern cuisine in just one or two sentences? In the wake of the horse meat scandal do you think we can learn from Middle Eastern food buying and cooking practices?
I don’t think you can talk of a Middle Eastern cuisine. There are many shared dishes throughout the region but each country has its own way of preparing them. This said, you have common threads such as seasonality and well-sourced ingredients, which are essential to Middle Eastern cooks. Also, apart from when people are grilling, or in dishes like kibbe, meat almost always plays second fiddle to vegetables. And no Middle Eastern cook would dream of buying ready-minced meat. Instead he or she would ask the butcher for the cut of their choice to be minced there and then. I doubt we could have a horse meat scandal in the Middle East but I may be wrong.

The Middle East is enjoying great popularity in London at the moment – but what do you think the perception of London is in the Middle East?
People love London. Great city with amazing shopping, restaurants, activities for children, theatres, cinemas, opera, concert halls. Anything you want really. And many don’t seem to mind the weather. In fact, my friends from the Gulf love the cool rainy weather, while we dream of sunshine!

You travel a lot, but have chosen to make Shoreditch your home. What is it about the area that keeps you coming back?
My loft and my kitchen! I love my space and I like the atmosphere of Shoreditch, admittedly more during the day than at night. I also love the architecture but unfortunately developers are starting to change the character of the area.

What’s in your Little Black Book of London – your favourite shops and restaurants?
I love la Fromagerie and Pimlico’s farmers market. I have great restaurants near me (St John’s, Brawn, Rochelle Canteen, Dishoom, Story Pizza and I am sure I have forgotten a few) as well as the best sandwich in London (at Keu). And I love Margaret Howell’s clothes and how the special attention she pays to who sews her clothes and where she gets her fabrics.

As a chef, what is your top kitchen tip?
Be neat and well organised, and source your ingredients carefully.

We do know a fair few vegetarians who have had to cross over to the dark (doner-kebab-shaped) side to sate their late night appetite. Koshari is filling, nutritious and vegan. And when it is just £3.95 a tub, it presents a welcome alternative for post-pub, pre-club snacking. It’d be good if they could open one near in Veggiestan (aka Peckham on this occasion)…

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Photo of the Month: Street Culture. And a Little Announcement.

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.

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Veggiestan’s Greatest Hits #17: Turkmenistan

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 🙂

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Veggiestan Event News Flash

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.

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