Muhammara: Roasted red pepper and walnut dip

Muhammara: roasted red pepper and walnut dip

One of the most enjoyable aspects of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food are the mezzes, small dishes that range from dips to crudites and salads to meatballs. The word mezze (or meze) comes from Persian via Turkish and alternatively means ‘taste’, ‘flavor’ or ‘snack’. But it is the derived Hindi word ‘maza‘, meaning ‘fun’ or ‘enjoyment’, that I think truly describes the appeal of mezzes – something the restaurant world has picked up on with its current ‘small plate format’ mania. The recipe today, adapted from a cute little book by Ghillie Basan titled Mezze, is for a classic red pepper dip called muhammara popular in Turkey and the Middle East. If you’re not familiar with muhammara, think of it as the Middle Eastern version of that famous Spanish red pepper dip, salsa romesco, but with almonds (or hazelnuts) and sherry vinegar replaced by walnuts and pomegranate molasses, respectively. And just as much maza!

Zucchini, dark chocolate and olive oil cake

Zucchini, dark chocolate and olive oil cake

When you cook 7 days a week, having a regular rotation of dishes you can make on autopilot is key. But it is just as important to make a new dish every few days to keep things fresh and interesting. Luckily, I probably read more about food than any other topic and whenever I come across an interesting recipe, technique or ingredient I add it to an ever-growing wish-list of dishes to make. While it may take me a few months to get around to making it, at least I’m never short of ideas. Every once in a while, though, I come across something that I want to make right away. Like today’s recipe for zucchini (courgette) cake. Now cakes are not especially high on my list of culinary priorities. But the idea of zucchini in a cake was so intriguing that I simply had to try it. And so brilliantly did it turn out that I made it twice that week!

Japanese-style grilled leek pickle with shichimi tougarashi (焼きねぎの七味吸酢漬け)

Japanese-style grilled leek pickle

I thought the restaurant world had gone a bit mad when a few years ago some establishments started offering a “bread course”. Not to put down bakers or doubt the excellence of the bread but it seemed like yet another way to part fools, er, “foodies”, from their money. It obviously worked because there’s an even sillier trend doing the round: the “pickle plate”. That’s right. What used to be a condiment and long taken for granted in many cuisines has now been promoted to instagram-worthy status. Again, I’m sure they are very good and creative pickles. But having grown up in achaar-obsessed India where pickles are an indispensable part of any meal this seems a step too far. What next? A “water course”? (Now that someone is selling seawater to home cooks that’s not as far-fetched as you might think!)

Dubu kimchi: Korean-style tofu with kimchi and pork belly

Photo by D B

D B uploaded this image to ‘drama/2012/Full House 2/fh2_09’. See the album on Photobucket.

If you’ve watched Korean television dramas or movies you’ll be familiar with the obligatory scene where the protagonist sits in an outdoor tented food stall late at night downing shots of soju and slurping jjigae after being jilted by a lover–or whatever reason the usually convoluted plot calls for. I’ve always wanted to experience eating at one of those places and on my first few visits to Seoul searched in vain. I later discovered that such tented stalls, which are called pojangmacha, have all but disappeared, driven into extinction by urbanization, changing tastes and government policy to gentrify Seoul. Not that food stalls don’t exist in Seoul. Just not the kind you see on TV. But pojangmacha have been resurrected in recent years as posher, more permanent establishments that are not so different from restaurants but retain the vibe of a traditional pojangmacha with a menu to match. Which is where I first encountered today’s dish when my friend Dohee Kim took me to Samgeori Potcha (삼거리포차) in the hip Hongdae area of Seoul. If you’re ever visiting that city I highly recommend you seek this place out. It is one of the best!

Basque-style octopus

Basque-sty;e pctp[is

For a nominally business newspaper, the Financial Times publishes some excellent food writing. A case in point was a piece on Barcelona’s Boqueria (markets) that I mentioned in a post almost exactly a year ago. More timely is a story last weekend on Galicia’s most famous delicacy: pulpo (octopus). Apparently, such is its importance to locals that octopus was used as currency in the 6th century and there’s even a word for an octopus cook: pulpeiras. While no longer legal tender (the decidedly less tasty Euro having taken over), octopus continues to be revered with a two week-long fiesta devoted to it every August, the Festa do Pulpo in Carballiño, culminating this year on the 14th with an entire day of gorging on pulpo!