Review – Indian YMCA

Indian YMCA is a new meatball and salted cod favourite find. Situated in the slightly unlikely neighbourhood of Fitzrovia, it is super-cheap, friendly and very unpretentious. The atmosphere is nice, especially if you like talkative neighbours. It’s a bit like a school canteen – if only canteen food had ever been delicious and the food ladies were nice old Indian chefs instead of intimidating force feeders.

On the day we went, we had a good meaty mutton curry (long cooking made it taste very rich and full of lamb, but given the price one shouldn’t expect too much from the meat), a tarka dhal which was smoky and delicious, and a tangy and spicy Goan fish masala, which made the Salted Cod recollect Portuguese fish stew (stemming from historical links between Goa and Portugal). To this we had rice, chapatis and popadoms, which were fine, really tangy mango pickle, cooling yoghurt (needed for the fish!), wonderful herby raita, and onion bhajis which were nice but not freshly made (the only thing that suffered for not coming straight from the fry).

We had lots to eat, beside which there is also a chicken curry, vegetable lentils, chickpea curry, mango chutney, mixed salad and mango lassi to choose from.

If you go two of you, pick random curries and condiments and make your own little thali at the table. But if you are on your own you are still in good company: there are lots of lone-eaters here  and going on your own would not feel awkward. There is probably higher likelihood someone tries to start conversation with you, though. The chefs behind the food counter are helpful, and you just pick and mix whatever dishes you like (they are already dished up in small bowls, but it’s all newly made and given the lively queue it is doubtful much of it stands for long). Water is free and already placed at the table. We paid 11.50 for both of us, were very satisfied and absolutely stuffed leaving the place. In fact, we couldn’t finish it all.

Given the home-cooked flavours and the friendly atmosphere coupled with the incredibly good-values price, we award it 8 meatballs out of 10. As usual, you can find this place through the Meatball and Salted cod map of London here.

(photo borrowed from Indian YMCA’s Website)

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Lunchbox extravaganza pt. 4: Wasabi and crabstick wrap

Crabstick is one of those ingredients I’ve always been a bit sceptical to, but still eaten in great amounts. I don’t really want to think much about what goes in them, so I won’t elaborate more on it here. What is clear is that they are a cheap, easy and tasty way of getting a bit of omega 3 in your diet, and I quite like their sweet, mild flavour. Since they are cooked they are also safe for sandwiches. What’s more, when they are mixed into a wrap together with a dollop of creme fraiche, some wasabi, peanuts, avocado, coriander and cucumber, topped off with crispy lettuce, they become like a hybrid sushi/Skagen sandwich, and are delicious. Also very healthy. So for my latest lunchbox revelation, you’ll need:

  • Crabstick (around 8 should suffice)
  • 1 dollop Creme fraiche
  • Fresh, chopped coriander
  • Cucumber, cut into long strips
  • Lettuce
  • Avocado, sliced
  • Wasabi paste (to taste)
  • Lemon or lime juice
  • Salt and pepper
  • Wraps
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Start by cutting the crabstick into thin slices. This is easily done by pressing each stick between your fingers, and then pulling them apart one by one. Put into a bowl, and mix together with the avocado, creme fraiche, wasabi (but be careful and don’t add too much!), lemon juice and cucumber. When mixed, put a large tablespoon onto a wrap, top off with crushed peanuts, some lettuce and cucumber, a bit of salt and pepper, and an extra squirt lime/lemon juice. Fold tightly together like an envelope roll, and place in a well-sealed food container which will hold it in place until you need to eat it. If it is hot and your avocado is on the brink of over-maturing, don’t let the wrap sit in your bag and wait all day, for it can become a bit funny in the sun. Else you will have a filling and tasty treat waiting for you.
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Of football and salted cod – Bacalhau gratinado com espinafres

Two days ago I stopped all my revision plans to go and watch the Portugal-Denmark game. As a good expat (I have lived most of my life outside Portugal) I had to go watch the game in a proper Portuguese café in the local Portuguese neighbourhood. Here in London that’s Stockwell. I watched Portugal win (despite some very dubious moments courtesy of our dear Cristiano Ronaldo) drinking Sagres, eating tremoços and swearing in my mother tongue in the very friendly Bar Estrela.

The well-deserved win after a very stressful game definitely called for celebration and in my book that means food! On the way home I decided to buy some Portuguese ingredients in order to finally present you with a Portuguese dish and recipe, of salted cod no less. So get yourself to Stockwell, stock on some salted cod and enjoy this beauty.

For 4-person dish of salted cod and spinach gratin you will need:

  • A 400 gm box of salted cod, already flaked (see photo above)
  • 4-5 medium sized potatoes, peeled and cut in thin slices
  • 2 medium onions, sliced finely.
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped finely.
  • 500 gms of fresh spinach
  • Milk, butter and flour to make bechamel
  • Salt and Pepper

1. Start by de-salting the salted cod by putting it in a bowl and covering it with water for a few hours. You should change the water every two hours, or just leave it to de-salt for a whole day. Reserve some of the water for later, if needed for the sauce.

2. Now you need to cook the potatoes. Typically this would involve some deep-frying but my student house is not equipped with a deep fat fryer (YET….) so I simply coated the sliced potatoes in olive oil and baked them in the oven on a single layer – it worked out fine.

3. Now heat up a big pan with a generous glug of olive oil and throw in the onions and the garlic. Fry for a little bit on medium heat and then add the salted cod, completely drained. Leave to cook for a bit on low heat.

4. While this is cooking prepare the bechamel. Very simple: all you have to do is make a roux (butter and flour) and then slowly add the milk on a very low heat. Make sure there is enough bechamel for the spinach, salted cod mixture, and the top. I usually use half a pint of milk, but you can make the sauce as you go.

5. In a pan combine 1/4 of the bechamel with the spinach, just enough to coat it well. Add another 2/4 of the sauce to the pan with the salted cod, adding a bit of salted water if the mixture is too thick.

6. Now start layering an oven-proof dish: first a layer of spinach, then a layer of salted cod, then a layer of potatoes. Repeat until the mixture is finished and top with the remaining bechamel sauce, breadcrumbs and cheese (if using). You can also skip the breadcrumbs and cheese if you prefer.

7. Now put it in the oven under the grill for a few minutes until it is bubbling and becomes golden at the top.

Enjoy!


Hot smoked salmon salad with apple and dill

Here comes another post about Swedish food, as I’ve been stuffing myself with it for the last month. Seafood is central in Nordic cuisine, and one of my favourite everyday fishes, described as “salmon candy” by the people at The Local, is hot smoked salmon (varmrökt lax). It is supposedly the inferior, cheaper version to what is known as smoked salmon (or gravadlax if you’re eating somewhere pretentious where they a) can’t spell to gravlax and b) are trying to overcharge you for something that tastes and looks just like smoked salmon). But despite its pitiful wikipedia entry, hot smoked salmon is in fact WAY better than cold smoked salmon. It is less greasy, less oddly textured, less likely to leave an unpleasant smell on your fingers. And it is more fully flavoured, richer, warmer in its toners and just generally more moreish. Incidentally, it also goes incredibly well with tangy apples and buttery King Edward potatoes in a creamy dill and dijon dressing. So here is the best salad I’ve tried for at least a year.
You need:
  • 500 g hot smoked salmon
  • 5 king Edward potatoes (or some other soft kind, this is important as it draws up the dressing)
  • 3 large green apples
  • 1 lemon squeeze (for the water you put your apples in if they’re waiting around to be mixed in the salad)
For the dressing
  • 5 tbsp rapeseed oil (as mentioned in previous posts, olive oil is not at home with Swedish flavours)
  • 2 tbsp white vine vinegar
  • 1/2 tbsp dijon mustard
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  • 1 large bunch fresh dill, finely chopped
  • 1 pack of chives, finely chopped

Start by peeling and cutting your potatoes into the salad size you prefer, then boil under a careful eye as they really shouldn’t be overcooked – King Edward is a sensitive sort for this. In the meantime peel, core and and thinly slice your apple slices, and put them in a bowl of water with little lemon juice in it to keep them from browning. Make your dressing by mixing everything but the finely cut herbs in a jar, and give it a good shake. Then add the herbs, and put to one side. If the potatoes are done at this point, you may want to mix them with your drained apples and softly mix in the dressing (be careful not to crush the potatoes whilst doing this). If you want the salad to look pretty, cut out a beautiful part of the salmon and place on top of your potatoes and apples, with some dill decorating it. However, it tastes better if you – again, carefully – mix it all together as the round smokiness of the salmon then infuses with the apple.

Serve with some rye bread and blonde beer. Enjoy.

Just look at that beauty.


The Salted Cod Makes Sushi

If you know me, you’ll know that I have a love/addiction relationship with sushi. I am not really sure when this started, but for a few years now I have been completely in love with Japan’s most famous export. While there are many good places for sushi in London, Birmingham, where I lived for three years, was a bit of a no-sushi-land. Since I couldn’t really afford (or justify) coming to London every weekend to get my sushi fix, I had to learn how to make it at home.

It might seem complicated at first, impossible even (and you might end up eating sushi at 2AM when you started at 7PM like when I first made sushi), but with a little preparation making sushi at home is not that difficult and is definitely worth it. So prepare yourselves, and embrace the sushi chef in you*

What you will need, for two people :

For the rice (double the recipe if you want to stuff yourself with sushi like me):

  • 250 grams of sushi rice (you can find this in most supermarkets these days and in all Chinese supermarkets in Chinatown).
  • 340 ml of cold water
For the sushi vinegar (to be mixed after the rice is cooked):
  • 60 ml rice vinegar (again available at most supermarkets and at all Chinatown supermarkets).
  • 30 ml Sugar
  • 5 ml Salt
For the Tezu mixture (to be used on the rice bowl and to handle your sushi):
  • 250 ml of water
  • 30 ml of rice vinegar
  • 5 ml of salt
For the sushi:
  • Sheets of Nori (available at some supermarkets, the Japan Centre, and most supermarkets in Chinatown).
  • Sushi rolling mat (same as above).
  • Your choice of very fresh fish: I am using 200 grams of tuna and one small mackerel (the easiest one to cut and use is salmon). It is essential that the fish is fresh, otherwise you are going to get tasteless and weirdly textured sushi.
  • Your choice of vegetables/fruit: I am using avocados, but cucumber or mango are great too.
  • You choice of condiments: I am using sriracha chilli sauce and mayonnaise for the spicy tuna rolls and spring onions.
  • Wasabi (you’re not going to get the real thing outside of Japan so just buy any you can find).
  • Soy sauce
Ok. So you want to have everything ready by the time your rice is cooked. Start by washing the rice. To do this put the rice in a bowl and cover with cold water. Move the rice around with your hands. You will see that the water becomes cloudy. Drain and repeat until the water is clear. Cover the rice with cold water and rest for 20 minutes. The rice should look like this before you cook it:
While the rice is resting prepare the Tezu and the sushi vinegar. For the Tezu just mix all ingredients in a bowl and put aside. For the sushi vinegar mix all ingredients in a saucepan and heat them until the sugar is dissolved. Then transfer it to a bowl and set aside for it to cool down. Now it’s on to cooking the rice. Put the rice and the 340ml of water in a pan which has a tight lid. Bring it to a boil, turn the heat down and simmer for 10-12 minutes or until the water has evaporated. When the water has evaporated remove the pan from the heat and leave it to rest with the lid on for 10 minutes. While the rice is finishing cooking wet a wooden bowl with a bit of the Tezu. When the ten minutes have passed transfer the rice (carefully!) from the pan to the wooden bowl. Mix in the vinegar mixture little by little, until the rice cannot absorb any more liquid – you might not need the whole mixture. Now cover the rice with a tea towel and put it aside to cool down. The rice should look like this when cooked – sticky and fluffy:
While the rice is cooling down start preparing your fish. Start with the hardest ingredient to prepare so that everything keeps as fresh as possible. In this case I started with the mackerel which had to be filleted and de-boned. To do this (like for most fish) cut the fish just below the head and then slide the knife close to the spine to separate a clean filet. After this you will need to take the bones out (easy to do with tweezers) and to slide the filets off the skin (hold the filets from the tail/narrowest part of the fish and slide a sharp knife under it – it should slide down easily). If these instructions are not too clear you can find videos of this on youtube (which actually gave me the idea for our video demonstrations…), but the process goes more or less like this:      
Now to cut the fish for sashimi or nigiri. You want to use a very sharp knife and cut it against the grain of the fish.
The easiest fish to do this with the first time is salmon. All you have to do is take a corner and cut a slice diagonally against the grain. This ensures that the fish has a smooth texture, is more flavourful and is not chewy.
If you are preparing just nigiri, you can either use the same technique or you can finely chop the fish, depending on the kind of texture you are after. To make spicy tuna rolls (one of my favourites!) you will have to finely chop the tuna and mix it with some mayo and sriracha sauce. It should cover the fish completely but it should not be too gloopy – you want to taste the tuna.
Cut any other ingredients into slices so they can fit the sushi rolls. And now onto the rolling!
Start by preparing a clean surface and all your ingredients. You will also need you sushi rolling mat, and the nori sheets which you will have to cut to 3/4 of their size.
And now get ready for my incredible sushi making and Mr Salted Cod’s amazing filming skills! Here is a video tutorial of how to roll and cut  a sushi maki and how to prepare sushi nigiri.

I hope I have managed to turn everyone into sushi addicts by the end of this post! And please feel free to ask any questions – I am always happy to help a fellow sushi lover.

*I do not in any circumstance consider myself a sushi chef or a master in the art of sushi making..If you are either Japanese or a sushi chef please do not feel insulted by my attempts. It might not be the perfect recipe and might not follow every tradition you’re supposed to, but I really really like sushi and this is the way of making it at home.


Smoked salmon pie (Sveas laxpaj) with beetroot & blue cheese salad

This is perfect summery picnic food as it’s almost more delicious cold than hot. Smoked salmon pie is my farming gran Svea’s recipe, but it’s been quite changed here to adapt for what’s available in England. It is still delicious, though. Large cubes of gravad lax is too expensive in London to make pie out of – or to be eaten by students full stop – so we made it with sainsbury’s smoked salmon trimmings instead. The pie crust was the same Read the rest of this entry »