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You can go to the supermarket and buy plastic-wrapped plastic-tasting tomatoes from a country where the head of Tomato Marketing admitted on TV that flavour was number 15 down his list of desirable properties. You can go to a certain out-of-town fruit shop which sells limp watercress and dill so dry its leaves are dropping off. Or you can go to Elder Stubbs and buy vegetables picked five minutes before you buy them and lettuce pampered until its leaves are as thick as cabbage. When I'm in the Elder Stubbs shop, we always seem to end up talking about food, so I was asked to put together some recipes for the Festival. Some I've adapted from Greek and Portuguese cooking, where many people are lucky enough to have markets supplied directly by the farmer and it still makes sense to cook vegetables lightly, enhancing the taste rather than hiding it. Others I've invented, taken from other countries, or from friends; and there are a few that don't use Elder Stubbs ingredients but are interesting anyway. So wander down the Cowley Road, stop for an early morning coffee at the Excelsior, stock up with fresh dill and coriander at the Continental, sample the many other goodies on offer; and then come and try produce of a quality you won't find anywhere else in Oxford.
I assume you know the basics of cooking, for example how to poach an egg or make vinaigrette dressing. Feel free to experiment with quantities and ingredients. Especially with the more unusual recipes, these will be a matter of taste: not everyone has the same tolerance for chilis, or the same liking for olive oil, tahini, pomegranate syrup, or spinach. Likewise, I've tended not to specify exact quantities for ingredients, unless crucial to the success of the recipe.
This is the fourth edition, for the 2006 Festival.
I'd still like improvements and additions:
please send to firstname.lastname@example.org. The collection can
be found on the Web at
Coarse-ground black pepper
Slowly dry-roast the chickpeas in a frying pan so that they dry and become crunchy without burning. Season with salt and pepper to taste. This recipe is from Kyril Drezov Haramiev of Bulgaria, where it's eaten as a snack.
Dried thyme or mint
Dry roast 125g sesame seeds until browned. Roast 75g hazelnuts for 5 minutes. Remove the skins. Roast 50g coriander and 25g cumin seeds until they darken. Then pound everything together to a coarse powder in a mortar and pestle, adding a teaspoon of salt, half a teaspoon of black peppercorns, and 1 teaspoon of dried thyme or mint. To eat, dip toast in olive oil and then cover with dukka.
I discovered dukka at Oxford's annual Russian Orthodox Bazaar. Most recipes claim it's Egyptian; this one comes from www.jaymis.com's "Confessions of a Dukka Addict" Web page. Others suggest roasted chickpeas instead of hazelnuts. Not dissimilar to dukka is zatar, a spice mix made with sumac. In Oxford, you can buy this from Zenobia in St Clements. They have two kinds: the green goes best with cooked meats, while zatar extra can be eaten like dukka, on toast with olive oil. Try it! Incidentally, Zenobia sell excellent sandwiches.
Sadly, the Bazaar no longer sells dukka. Many other good and unusual things are on offer though - piroshki or Russian pasties, borsch, Serbian biscuits, Greek baklava, as well as books, music, icons and cards - so make a visit this year. It's usually in the Wesley Memorial Chapel, New Inn Hall Street, on the first or second Saturday in the month. And if you miss it, London has a bigger version at the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in 67 Ennismore Gardens.
Fresh red chilis or chili powder
Mix the hummus thoroughly with well-crushed and chopped fresh chilis to taste, plus a little cumin. Use the cumin sparingly, otherwise it will overwhelm the taste. You can replace the fresh chili by chili powder; this is easier to mix, but doesn't taste so good. The mixing is easiest if you empty the hummus onto a large plate.
This works well with ready-made hummus and is a quick way of making something unusual. Hummus made entirely with olive oil is best, for example that from LB's Lebanese takeaway in Summertown. This recipe was given me by an assistant at the Summertown Delicatessen, who used to work as a chef in the Middle East.
Mash five or six cloves of garlic to a paste with half a cup of olive oil, and a little salt if desired. Add 150 g of mashed potatoes and mash them together. Slowly add one to two teaspoons of vinegar, mixing constantly.
Skordalia is served in almost every Greek restaurant; it goes well, for example, as a dip for fried courgettes. Potatoes can be replaced by bread soaked in water and squeezed, for example a ciabatta, as for the Portuguese garlic soup recipe below. Vinegar can be replaced by lemon juice.
Remove most of the seeds from the chilis, and liquidise or pound well in a mortar. Grind the sunflower seeds. Mix well, in proportion 50% chili, 20% olive oil, and 30% sunflower seeds and mixed spices. The best spices for this are the "Mediterranean mix", sold in small plastic bags in the back room of the Chatar Boucherie at the Plain end of Cowley Road.
Harissa is a Middle Eastern recipe. Several Oxford shops sell it as a red pepper-and-chili paste, but I find that version to be hot but otherwise almost flavourless (the Chatar's is an exception). This one is much tastier, and an excellent flavouring for lettuce and other salad vegetables. Be careful if you're not accustomed to chilis, and take the usual precautions about not touching your eyes. Ground walnuts would work in place of sunflower seeds. Experiment with different spices. There are numerous suggestions on the Web, including cumin, coriander seeds, oregano, caraway, and crushed garlic. I highly recommend fresh coriander.
I encountered this kind of harissa in Jordan Valley Wholefoods in Edinburgh (8 Nicolson Street), well-worth visiting for a huge and unusual range of Middle Eastern foods. Khalil, a food salesman from Iraq, gave me the recipe and recommended the spice mix.
Dark cabbage or kale
Chouriço (smoked sausage)
Chop the cabbage or kale as finely as possible - for cabbage, roll the leaves tightly and then slice. Boil the potatoes until soft, mash, and put back in the pan, making a light broth. Add the chopped cabbage - enough to give body to the soup - and a little olive oil, about a tablespoon per person. Boil for five more minutes. The complete recipe calls for a slice or two of chouriço - smoked sausage - to be added at this point. However, this is for flavouring rather than food, and vegetarians will find the soup satisfying without it. If you do add it, it's worth saying that one Portuguese Web site recommends boiling it for a few minutes first, to leach out the somewhat carcinogenic chemicals used to smoke it.
There are other versions of the recipe - for example, cook the potatoes with onion or chouriç first - but this is the simplest.
Caldo verde is served in every bar and café in the Minho, the rainy and fertile north-west province of Portugal. The writer Miguel Torga who came from a neighbouring province and didn't like the Minho, tells how he used to tramp through the region muttering "O caldo é verde, o vinho é verde" - "the soup is green, the wine is green" - in disgust at the unending greenery and bucolic fertility. So complete the Minho experience with a few glasses of vinho verde, young red or white wine that's a speciality of the region, served under a year old. Most off-licences sell it, though it tends to be sweeter than what the Portuguese drink.
Slightly stale white bread
Poach an egg in half a litre of boiling water; remove the egg, but keep the water gently boiling. Mash several sprigs of coriander (or pennyroyal if available), two to four cloves of garlic, and half a teaspoon of sea salt into a paste with a pestle and mortar. Pour the paste into a large bowl; add a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the egg-poaching water. Stir with a thick slice of bread, and use this to taste the soup. Break about 100 grams of stale bread (the inside of a day-old ciabatta is about right) and add this to the broth, stirring gently to mix it. Chop in a generous amount of fresh coriander, and float the poached egg on top of the soup. Eat while hot.
This is açorda pretty much as I've eaten it in workmens' cafés in the Algarve, where it can be filling enough to make a main meal. That's on the outskirts of town; go further in, and the restaurants will charge you three times as much, if they serve something so basic at all. What they will serve, however, is açorda de bacalhau (cod) or açorda de mariscos (shellfish), where fish is mixed into the soup and so is the egg, rather than being laid on top. I've not tried making these; one recipe recommends simmering prawns in water with garlic and coriander, pouring this over bread, and then stirring an egg into the soup until it has cooked.
In these recipes, the word "açorda" means a dry soup, as compared to "caldo" or broth. The word apparently derives from the Arabic "shorba", reflecting the Arab invasion of Portugal.
Chop 1 large onion and 3 or 4 large tomatoes (beef tomatoes would do, if well-flavoured), and fry in olive oil until the onions turn yellow. Put into boiling water, and add the leaves from five sprigs or so of fresh mint, and two bunches of fresh coriander, both roughly chopped. This is a lot by English standards, but apparently one really should use that much. Simmer for five minutes. Two minutes before taking off the heat, add 50 to 100 gm of vermicelli noodles and stir till al dente. Serve.
So from Portuguese açorda to Maghreb chorba. This is a vegetarian version - in this recipe, you would normally fry meat with the onions and tomatoes. You can experiment by poaching an egg in the soup as for açorda, or adding a boiled egg, chilis (the Tunisian restaurants I've visited in Paris do both, which I like), or beans.
This recipe was given me by the Chatar Boucherie, from where you can buy the noodles as well as year-round fresh mint and coriander. In previous versions of this book, I wrote that they also sell the best olive oil in Oxford: a brand also named Chatar, dark green, rich, full and unctuous to the touch, not afraid to reveal the complete, slightly rank taste of the olive. Unfortunately, this is no longer (August 2006) made. It was, Chatar told me, too good for its price. I don't know any other olive oil to match it, but the Chatar's El Ouazzini isn't bad.
Winter vegetables (parsnips, carrots, etc.)
Chop the onions and slice the winter vegetables finely, and chop the beetroot. Fry onions and winter vegetables in olive oil until the onions turn yellow. At the same time, boil the beetroot. The water in which it boils will form the soup. When the onions are ready, add them and the vegetables to the beetroot. The soup should be dense, so that "a spoon can stand upright in it". Add a few black peppercorns and simmer for five minutes. Add a squeeze of lemon juice to the soup, serve, and top with sour cream and finely chopped fresh dill.
Borsch is an excellent way to use up beetroot and winter vegetables, and has been tested by the Elder Stubbs kitchen. The recipe was contributed by the Oxford Russian Orthodox Church, and may be tasted at their refreshments counter during the Russian Orthodox Bazaar (already mentioned in the recipe for Dukka). Incidentally, do not waste the beetroot leaves. As said under the recipe below for Beetroot Leaves with Cheddar, these are perfectly edible.
Cube the potatoes, boil for at most 5 minutes, and mash to form a broth. Grate and fry the carrot. Fry the onion separately. Add to the broth. Add finely chopped sorrel, boil for two minutes, with a bay leaf in.
This is a traditional Russian summer soup, made in much the same way as caldo verde but using sorrel rather than cabbage. The recipe is from Raissa from the Russkaya Skazka Russian Delicatessen on Cowley Road.
Melt 50 g butter, but don't heat so much that it colours. Add 60 g flour and stir with a wooden spoon. Keep the resulting roux on a low heat for ten minutes. Prepare a liter of stock (some recipes suggest chicken stock, others vegetable), add to the roux, stir until clear, and boil for ten minutes, stirring continuously. Sieve the soup, add two tablespoons of French mustard, and serve. Variations include frying onions in the butter, and adding smoked bacon, cheese or egg.
I've not yet made this, though I've had some very good mustard soups cooked for me in cafés in Groningen. Elder Stubbs sometimes sells mustard leaves, and it would be interesting to see how close one could get with these.
Gram (soya) flour
Root ginger, cinnamon, pomegranate seeds, cardamoms, turmeric, chili powder, garam masala, and other spices as wanted.
Hard vegetables: carrots, beetroot, broccoli stalks, ...
Soft vegetables or fruit: tomatoes, plums, apricots, banana, spinach, chard, ...
This recipe was given to me by Nisa of the Mirch Masala, which used to serve it as a warming snack drink on depressing cold Cowley Road days. M.K Foods in Summertown also gave me some hints, but I've not seen it served anywhere other than the Mirch, and I don't know whether the name has any connection with "curry".
The crucial part of the recipe is the gram-and-yoghurt "stock", which needs as much care in preparation as mayonnaise. For one person, start with about two tablespoons of yoghurt - Yeo Valley is good. Now you need to add gram flour very slowly. If you're new to this, add at most a quarter of a teaspoon of flour at a time, then mix slowly and evenly with a fork. Watch for lumps, and mix them out well if they start to form. Yoghurt will absorb a surprisingly large amount of gram flour: try to keep going until you've added about two tablespoons.
Now bring enough water for one person almost to the boil, and add to the stock. At first, add only a teaspoon or so at a time and stir well; then increase the amount you add each time. After about 100 ml, you should be able to mix all at once with the rest of the water. During this stage, taste the stock-and-water mixtures to see whether they are too floury or not floury enough, in case you want to adjust the proportions next time round.
Transfer the soup to a saucepan if necessary, and start bringing to the boil. Roast about half a tablespoon of mustard seeds in a frying pan, heating until they just start to pop, then pour onto the soup and stir in. Add sliced carrots and other hard vegetables as desired. Add root ginger, garlic, cinnamon, pomegranate seeds, cardamoms, turmeric, chili powder, other spices, and chilis to taste. I usually use three chilis, but not everyone will want that many. The objective is not to load the soup so heavily with spices that you can't taste anything else, nor to beat the Oxford 2005 chili-eating record, but to concoct a combination of spices which blends well with the vegetables. You'll need a few trials before you get this right - it's a very individual choice. Having added your spices, boil the soup for five minutes.
Incidentally, it will be cheaper to buy spices not from a supermarket but from somewhere like the Continental Stores on Cowley Road, where you can also get advice on how to use them. The chili powder isn't essential if you use fresh chilis, but together with turmeric, it does give the soup an attractive yellow-red tinge.
Now add sliced soft vegetables or fruit - tomatoes, apricots, onions and so on - and simmer for another five minutes. One combination I like is carrots with a fair amount of ginger and pomegranate seed, then apricots or damsons for the soft fruit. After simmering, take the soup off the heat, top with plenty of chopped fresh coriander, and serve.
I once overheard somebody walking though Gloucester Green tell his friend "coffee is the Englishman's substitute for sunshine". So could kurrhi soup be. And if you use plenty of chilis and eat it for breakfast, it will wake you up just as well as any Excelsior coffee.
Rice (the kind used to make rice puddings)
Boil pudding rice, add yoghurt, and mix well while hot. Then add salt, mix in well-chopped dill, and serve.
This recipe was given me by the staff of the Anadolu kebab shop in Mertengaße, Düsseldorf. The soup does indeed taste like savoury, slightly salty and rather thin rice pudding. Another version, from the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism Web site, goes: boil 2 cups of rice with 6 cups of water until the rice is very tender and the water has thickened. Beat 2 cups of yoghurt in a bowl until smooth and add it gradually, with stirring, to the boiled rice. Melt one tablespoon of butter in a separate pan and add a teaspoon of paprika, When it bubbles, pour over the soup, and add two teaspoos of very finely chopped mint.
Red kidney beans
Golden (pickled) peppers or similar pickles
Sambalilya (Iranian herbs)
Kashk (thick whey)
Walking back to Paddington Station and Oxford, I passed through Bouverie Place, and noticed the Cheminee Persian Restaurant at No. 17. What attracted me was a sign announcing their parsley soup. So I went in and ordered a portion, plus a glass of red wine, and I can tell you that it's an excellent little place to eat on the way to or from the station. It has a family Mediterranean feel that I miss when not in Greece.
I haven't tried making the soup yet, because it needs two ingredients for which I probably need to go to London. One is "sambalilya" (if I have the spelling right): dried Iranian herbs used to flavour the soup. The other is "kashk". Cheminee explained this to me as a mixture of water and zero-fat dry yoghurt. (There may be a connection with the Romanian cheese named kashkaval.) A Web search found many sites that interpret kashk as thick whey. Cheminee say that it and sambalilya are available from the Iranian shops in High Street Kensington.
Having got your kashk, which will be sold as a liquid in tins, use it as the soup liquor. Heat the vegetables, pickles, and sambalilya in it. But, as Cheminee told me: "Treat them gently. You hardly cook them". The resulting soup has a rich taste with cheesy overtones from the kashk.
Spring or everlasting onions
Brown malt vinegar
Remove the roots from the onions, but keep the leaves, trimming off any yellowing parts. Make a little pile of salt on a plate and moisten with the malt vinegar. Dip the onion bulbs into the moistened salt and eat whole; the vinegar just takes the edge off the onions. Alternate with pieces of cheddar and, if wanted, brown bread.
The best onions for this are everlasting onions: a variety that appears from late May to July, slightly later than spring onions, with small round bulbs covered with a light reddish membrane, and long green leaves, not broad like those of spring onions. They're sweeter than spring onions. The recipe was given me by Tony from Marston, who grows and sells these onions, and who used to eat them this way as a child. Indeed, my mother remembers eating lettuce leaves with salt. You wouldn't do that with supermarket vegetables; but then, those aren't what these recipes are about.
An excellent cheese to go with the onions is the Somerset mature Cheddar from Alcocks organic butcher in Summertown. Their Ribblesdale sheeps cheese is also good. For bread, I recommend the eight-grain sold by the Queens Bakery in Summertown, Cowley Centre or Headington.
Roughly chop the two onions and wash the radishes. Put the radishes into a small pot, and the cream cheese into another. Eat with the bread and onion pieces.
This recipe is served in the Marionettentheater van Toone in Brussels. It's a typical inn, with red Spanish bricks, blackened beams and a tiled floor, and also a puppet theatre, with wooden benches, pillows with colorful scallops nailed into the rough wooden boards, portraits of manky-looking and bespectacled Belgian kings who used to watch the shows, and a puppet pig hanging from the ceiling. A lovely place to drink in the centre of Brussels. Belgium is famous for trappist monastery beers: try Maredsous, which has a delicate aroma of almonds, or Karmeliet Trippel. But be warned - they're strong. Do not drink so much that you can't find your way back to the Eurostar. It might be safer to remain here and try the excellent selection of bottled beers that Tony Flatman sells at the Wharf pub off Speedwell Street - the cheapest in Oxford, and accompanied by a good range of guest British beers.
Simply slice the cucumber and tomato into small pieces, and finely grate the sheeps cheese over them.
This is a Bulgarian recipe; it relies not on complexity but on the quality of its ingredients. They certainly do serve the recipe this simply, but for an alternative, try this: Roast and peel red peppers. Remove the seeds and chop up the peppers into small pieces. Add cubed tomatoes, cucumbers and onions. Mix. Flavour with olive oil and salt to taste. Grate the cheese onto the salad and sprinkle over the finely cut parsley.
The word "Shopska" comes from "Shop": not a place where you buy things, but the region around Sofia. Traditionally, Bulgarians see them as having a reputation for stupid cunning, as this joke tells: There are two Shop policemen on duty in Sofia, when they're approached by a tourist. He asks a question in English, obviously looking for help. They don't understand him, so he tries again in French. Still no better. He tries once more in German, and, getting no response, finally gives up and goes away. "I think we should learn a foreign language, don't you?", says one policeman. "It might be useful". "I don't see why", says the other. "That tourist knew several, and it didn't help him".
Sweet onions or shallots
Finely chop the dill and mix into olive oil. Boil the potatoes until ready to eat, drain and cut into thin slices, and while still hot, drown in the olive oil and dill so they take up the flavour. Add roughly chopped onion or shallot, juicy black olives (Kalamata are good), and sea salt if wanted.
This recipe comes from Barbayannis Taverna, Exarcheia, where I used to eat when living in Athens. Don't undercook the potatoes. Once, when I was dining with my friend Petros, I choked on a lump of insufficiently-softened potato, and spent the next five minutes bent over the pavement outside being bashed frantically on the back while diners stared through the window. Ny friend's worry was not so much that I'd choke to death, as that if I didn't, I'd end up in a Greek hospital.
Athens is a wonderful town to practice the recipe; many suburbs have a weekly market, fruit and vegetables laid out on tables along the street. You can select your dill by wandering along the tables just sniffing the aroma the different varieties give off and stopping by the strongest. In Oxford, the Continental Stores sell fresh dill (and coriander and fenugreek) all year round. The onions should be sweet: red onions are good, as are shallots this year because of the dry weather.
Chop the vegetables, drown in olive oil, garnish with olives (preferably black) and add a slab of feta, plus lots of oregano. Eat with white Greek or Turkish bread. Finish by using the bread to soak up any remaining olive oil. Reinforce the Greek experience by serving yourself a half-liter of retsina with the meal and a glass or two of ouzo beforehand.
The word "horiatiki" means "country" or "village"; this salad originated as a mixture of all the vegetables available during a given season. So other garnishings - grated carrot, hard-boiled egg, radishes, anchovies - are quite permissable. The peppers are normally the long pointy light-green ones sold in one or two of the Cowley Road groceries, rather than the dark green cannonball kind. Don't mix vinegar or lemon with the olive oil. As the Greek Food and Drink Book (by Tom Stone, Lycebettus Press, very useful if you're staying in Greece) says, Greeks consider such additions an abomination, because they interfere with the taste of the oil. However, plenty of oregano is definitely allowed.
Feta, incidentally, goes well with broccoli. Boil the florets until just soft - don't let them go soggy - and immerse in feta mixed into olive oil. Because of their large surface area, the florets will take up a huge amount of flavour from the oil.
Other salad vegetables
Stir a few drops of pomegranate syrup into two tablespoons of olive oil. Slice in four or five spring onions - everything, leaves as well as bulbs - and a small head or two of lettuce. Add other vegetables to taste, or cashews or walnuts (these work better than hard nuts such as hazels). Lightly stir-fried courgettes, especially the yellow ones, also work, and will become succulent and juicy as they take up the dressing.
Pomegranate syrup is not well-known in this country, but occurs in Middle Eastern recipes. Many Cowley Road shops sell it, including the Chatar Boucherie and Meli's, the Greek delicatessen (who "eat it in salads with almost every vegetable there is"). You can also buy it from Zenobia in St Clements. The syrup is too strong to drink undiluted, but makes a good fruit drink when added to water. It is excellent in salad dressings, giving them a lovely piquant sour-sweet flavour and counteracting bitterness in the vegetables. I find it complements fresh blackcurrants very well. On the cheddar/pineapple-chunk principle, it would probably go well with some cheeses. Finally, Khalil from Iraq, who supplied the harissa recipe, recommends it to flavour Greek dolmades, or rice in vine leaves. Simmer these with pomegranate juice made from the syrup: 400 g dolmades to 100 ml juice.
Other salad vegetables
Quarter ten cherry tomatoes into a bowl and add two tablespoons of olive oil. Slice in four or five spring onions and stir. Add salt, adjusting the proportions of this and the oil and tomato juice to taste. Add several basil leaves, and when the dressing is right, add lettuce and other vegetables as desired.
The key to this one is to be lavish with the tomatoes, letting their juice form part of the dressing. This only works if they actually taste of something, which Elder Stubbs cherry tomatoes most certainly do. Don't stint the basil. Picked straight from the soil, it has a much better taste than when sealed in those plastic supermarket packs: there are only a few weeks when it's available like this, so you might as well make the most of it.
Mixed salads can be varied in many ways, of course. One which I like is to add carrot slices marinaded for two or three days in vinegar and olive oil (idea taken from Johann's antipasti at Mamma Mia in Summertown); another is to leave out the basil and add a small amount of English mustard to the dressing, together with chunks of Havarti cheese.
Co-op natural goat's cheese, manchego, or other hard cheese
One of the glories of Elder Stubbs is the strong scents that July brings, of freshly picked lettuce and the basils, green and purple both. The purple variety has smaller leaves than the green, with liquorice overtones to its aroma. Experimenting, I found that it blends well with sauerkraut.
Chop the heart of a medium lettuce with about two tablespoons of sauerkraut and the leaves from four or five stems of purple basil. Dress with a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and slivers of a hard sheep's or goat's cheese. Co-op natural goat's cheese was the first one I tried, and it worked well. Manchego probably would too; softer English cheeses like Cheshire and Caerphilly don't, at least not for me.
Cracked or Bulghur wheat
Soak half a cup of cracked wheat for an hour, squeeze dry, and place in a bowl. Chop a large bunch of parsley very finely, and add to the wheat. Do the same with a few leaves of mint. Chop a tomato and add. Dress with a mixture of 3 parts lemon juice to one part olive oil: don't add a lot of the dressing, but just enough to taste. This recipe was contributed by LB's Lebanese takeaway in Summertown.
Slice fresh leeks into very small pieces, and season with salt and pepper. Make a batter of flour, water and salt. Roll it out. Put the leek inside and fold over into triangle or square shapes. Fry in hot oil till these become brown. Eat with yoghurt, preferably while drinking Chai Sabz (Afghan green tea - no sugar). A simple recipe, but delicious.
This recipe was contributed by my friend Andrew Watson and his colleagues at Kabul University.
Make a dressing by mixing 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of honey, about half a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, and a pinch of mustard. Grill the goats cheese until just melting. Stir-fry the gooseberries in olive oil for at most 30 seconds; add these and the dressing to the cheese. Eat while the gooseberries are still hot.
Here, I was trying to use gooseberries while cooking them as little as possible, rather than heating for a long time to make jam or pudding. The honey and cheese offset their tartness; the stir-frying is meant to be just enough to soften up their skins. For the cheese, my favourites are the crumbly, slightly moist artesanal cheeses from the south of Portugal. These are hard to get in England, but if you're interested, the Lisboa Delicatessen in Golbourne Road, London (centre of the Portuguese community, and home of two Portuguese pastelarias or cake shops) sells them, as well as other Portuguese foods such as presunto (ham), chouriço (smoked sausage), olive oil (Gallo Extra Virgin is the best), piri-piri (a tobasco-like sauce), and wine. In Oxford, Crottin de Chavignol from the Covered Market cheese shop is good.
Grind three or four small sorrel leaves, including stalks, with a tablespoon or two of olive oil using a mortar and pestle. Boil radish leaves until just tender. Top with grated Parmesan and coarse-ground black pepper. Pour the sorrel dressing over this topping.
Radish leaves, though prickly when raw, are quite edible when lightly cooked. They taste rather like spinach; in this recipe, I wanted a contrast between them and the light lemony taste of the sorrel. A similar idea works for mashed potatoes - mash to your favourite recipe, top with Parmesan, then pour the sorrel dressing over. I suspect one could also make an interesting soup with sorrel and celeriac, contrasting the "dark" taste of celeriac with the sorrel, but I've not had both in season at the same time to try this.
Peanut butter or peanuts
Dark soy sauce
I discovered this dish while in Cambridge after a conference, when I spotted Cold Noodles Taiwan Style advertised on the menu of the the Dragon Chinese fast food restaurant at 60 Mill Road. I thought I might learn something interesting by ordering this, and I was right. It's an egg, noodle and vegetable salad in peanut and sesame sauce: unusual to English tastes, but a satisfying meal, nicely balanced in flavours. Thanks are due to the Dragon for telling me how to make it.
Start by making the sauce. Take 3 tablespoons of sesame paste and mix with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, or an equivalent amount of finely ground raw peanuts. Mix in 2 tablepoons of vinegar (I used the liquor from a jar of Elder Stubbs pickled shallots), and 1 tablespoon of sesame oil. Add about ½ teaspoon of dark soy sauce, and pinches of salt and sugar to taste. If you like spicy food, add about ½ teaspoon of chili oil. Care here: I used an oil that was only 15% chili. If yours is pure chili, you'll need less! Take care also when adding the sesame oil and vinegar: you may not like the same proportions as I found worked, so add then taste, a little at a time. The Dragon told me fresh garlic can also be added; I haven't tried that.
I experimented with these proportions until I found ones that matched what I remember of the sauce served by the Dragon. They told me that the sauce should contain less peanut than sesame: too much peanut isn't good for health. The sesame oil brings out the flavours in the sauce, and doubtless helps it coat the vegetables and noodles, with their high surface area. The dark soy sauce adds colour and monosodium glutamate. And the vinegar gives coolness, as well as counteracting the "heaviness" of the peanut and sesame.
Texture, as well as taste, is important. Sesame paste tends to separate into two layers: one thin and mobile above a much thicker. If your 3 tablespoons of sesame are all dredged out of the latter, the result will be too thick — so shake the sesame paste before using, and make sure what you use isn't too thick.
Having made the sauce, shred two carrots and about a third of a cucumber. Chop two handfuls of bean sprouts. Mix well. Make sure the sprouts are crisp and fresh when you buy them: crispness is important for the texture.
Take a handful of flat noodles (not thread noodles, which taste different). Boil until al dente, and drain well. The Dragon told me that the noodles should be the largest ingredient, which worked with the quantities given here. Fry an egg until the yolk and white are both done: you probably don't want the yolk to be runny. Transfer the sauce to the serving bowl; chop the egg and noodles; add these and the vegetables to the serving bowl; and mix well. If the day is hot, as it was in the July heatwave (and sadly isn't now) chill for an hour or two before serving.
If the salad has been left for a long time before eating, turn it over in the sauce to remix. Some sauce will probably remain after eating: it's customary to eat the rest of this with rice.
Non-vegetarians can add meat.
This recipe has a nice balance. The cucumber and vinegar give coolness. The beansprouts add crispness; they don't have much flavour, but the sauce adds that. And the egg and noodles make the meal chewy and satisfying.
I bought most of the ingredients at the Thong Heng Oriental Supermarket in Windmill Road, Headington. It may be helpful if I give the brands. Sesame paste: Woh Hup. Tahini would probably do instead of Chinese sesame paste, though the Woh Hop seemed to taste slightly stronger. Chili oil: also Woh Hup, with ingredients listed as 15% chili to 85% soybean oil. Dark soy sauce: Pearl River Bridge. Noodles: Ho Fan vermicelli.
From Thong Heng, you can also buy Seol Joong Mae plum wine. This Korean liqueur is not part of the recipe, but it's good to sip during the preparation.
If you use peanut butter rather than grinding peanuts, it should contain as little extra oil as possible. Some peanut butters have lots of palm oil added; the best I could find was at Holland and Barrett: Whole Earth crunchy peanut butter, 97% peanuts.
Now I'd better go for another run, to work off more of the calories ingested while experimenting with the sauce proportions. And the Seol Joong Mae.
Wilt beetroot leaves, including the red stalks, in a hot pan. When the stalks are just beginning to crisp, take off heat, grate mature Cheddar over, and eat.
Like radish leaves, beetroot leaves are edible (in fact young leaves can be used raw in salads). They give off a subtle raspberry aroma when heated, and I suspect you could do some interesting things by caramelising the stalks. If you want to store the leaves, remove from the beetroots first, otherwise they soon turn yellow, and the beetroots also go off more rapidly.
Cheese sauce ingredients
Make a cheese sauce to your favourite recipe. Meanwhile, cook the beetroot, leaving the rind on so it doesn't bleed. Let it cool, peel, and pour the cheese sauce over.
This recipe is from a member of CRUSE, who finds it an excellent combination; she also recommends varying it by trying a cream or sour cream sauce, or by adding horseradish. A variant, to counter the current Elder Stubbs fennel mountain, is to replace the beetroot by fennel, boiling the bulbs for twenty minutes and then pouring cheese sauce over. This was suggested by Palms Delicatessen in the Covered Market.
Slice the leeks and courgettes. Make a dressing by mixing 2 ounces of blue cheese with a teaspoon of French mustard and a tablespoon of cider vinegar until it forms a thick paste; then add three to four tablespoons of olive oil a few drops at a time, stirring slowly into the paste to keep the consistency even. Steam the courgette and leek slices for four or five minutes, or boil for a bit less, and dress while still hot.
This is from one of Sainsbury's vegetarian recipe books. The idea is to render the courgette slices juicy but still firm, and let them take up the flavour of the dressing while hot, giving a succulent salad.
Spinach or ruby chard
Chop the spinach or chard finely; and, separately, the garlic. Fry the onions in the oil until just turning yellow. Add the spinach or chard and stir-fry for a maximum of 30 seconds. Tip in the garlic and stir for at most 5 seconds. Mix in the chickpeas, take off the heat immediately, and eat as soon as possible.
I'm not quite sure about the correct name here, since "grão" just means "grain". The Portuguese eat this as an accompaniment to salt cod (bacalhau), but it's a filling vegetarian dish in its own right. The idea is to preserve the earthy, rustic, taste of the vegetables, rather than wrecking by overcooking. Similarly, the garlic only needs to be fried for just long enough to start giving off its wonderful aroma. If the vegetables are more than a few days old, you can salvage them by frying for longer (and they won't taste good unless you do), but they're better cooked fresh. This recipe was contributed by Peter Creak, Oxford. It should also work with Swiss chard, mustard leaves, and other greens. Similar recipes call for much longer cooking - some as much as ten minutes - but that does seem to be overdoing it.
Simmer Puy lentils for forty minutes. Towards the end, add spinach and chopped garlic.
This recipe is from Hubert Matthews. As with grão, one gets a good earthy flavour; the recipe would also work with chard, mustard leaves and so on. The garlic here "widens" the taste, in the same way that monosodium glutamate does.
Brown broad beans
Soak and cook 500 g brown broad beans (aka butter beans, Windsor beans, or fava beans) in the usual way (or use an equivalent quantity of pre-cooked beans), put in a large bowl, and mash lightly. The end of a bottle makes a good pestle. Mix 1 tbsp salt and 1 tsp cumin into 1/2 cup sesame oil, and stir well into the beans. Cut 50 g feta cheese into small chunks and mix them in or on top. Prepare the felafel if necessary (you can buy felafel mix, but many takeaways sell ready-made felafel), chop, and add. Eat hot or cold.
Fuul, also spelt foul, fool, etc. is eaten in many parts of Africa and the Middle East. The idea is to complement the strong meaty flavour of the beans with the spices and - in this version - the feta. Add some fresh vegetables, and you have a pretty hefty main course; or you can use as a dip. Possible additions include tomatoes, onion, green pepper, dates, lemon juice, fried egg, or chili - the Web has many suggestions. This version was given me by the Nile Valley Restaurant in Edinburgh (6 Chapel Street) - worth visiting for a range of African meals, including some delicious lunches.
Chop fresh spinach, mint and garlic, cover thickly with a layer of nutmeg, and simmer for two and a half hours.
This recipe was given to me by Joe Ryan, landlord of the Half Moon in St Clements. I've not yet tried it, but am told it gives off a wonderful aroma while cooking. The dish is one thing not on offer in the Half Moon, but other good things are: go there on Thursday nights, and enjoy the performances - Mauro's Galician music, Irish folksongs, and some very peculiar poetry, not to forget Sparky's "I Slipped Through a Rip in the Fabric of Time".
Instead of spinach, this should work well with nettle shoots. The young shoots that sprout in the Spring are edible (later in the year they become tough), and taste not unlike spinach when boiled. Wear gloves!
Salt and black pepper
Halve 1½ cherry tomatoes into a small roasting tin. Slice two cloves of garlic and add. Drain the capers and stir in with 1 teaspoon of castor sugar. Season well with salt and black pepper, and pour in 4 fluid ounces of olive oil. Cook on gas mark 6 (that's moderate heat) for 10 minutes. Pop a ciabatta into the tomatoes for a few minutes so it absorbs some of the juices. Then remove them from the oven, stir in chopped fresh basil and a few drops of balsamic vinegar. Top with Parmesan if desired, and serve with the hot bread. This recipe was given to me by Sue from the Bodleian when she saw me retrieve my bag of Elder Stubbs tomatoes, veggies and herbs from the Bodleian foyer - you're not allowed to take greenery inside in case bugs eat the books.
There was one occasion this year when Elder Stubbs was selling courgette flowers, so I asked around for recipes. The simplest is to heat olive oil in a pan or wok, and dip the flowers in briefly. Once fried, they're surprisingly succulent for something so delicate. Next most complex: mix flour with water and a little salt to make a creamy paste. Coat the flowers with it, and dip into hot oil as before. So as not to waste flowers, practice on some inexpensive leaves first. Finally, you can stuff the flowers - feta and walnuts are good, like the "strofilia" salad served by the Queens Lane Coffee House, which is roasted mild chili peppers stuffed with feta and walnuts - coat with flour, and flash in the oil.
The flash-frying brings to mind advice I once read on how to fry bacon - in the nude: you'll work more delicately. At any rate, use tongs or be extremely careful with the oil. The recipes are Iraqi, from the husband of Maria at the Bodleian.
Rice and other dolmades ingredients
Another hint Maria gave me on seeing my bag of vegetables is to use spinach-beet leaves in place of vine leaves for making dolmades. Blanch the leaves, otherwise they won't stay in place once you fold them. This is another Iraqi recipe. You might try adding mint. I've not had that in dolmades made in the UK, or indeed in Greece. However, that's what they do in De Schutter bar, Voetboogstraat, Amsterdam, and it makes a big difference, counteracting the heaviness one sometimes finds. Romanians and Moldovans, incidentally, make something very similar to dolmades, but wrapping in cabbage leaves rather than vine leaves. This is "sarmale", which is sometimes said to be tha national dish of Romania: there are many recipes on the Web.
Chop the chilis and garlic, and the pak choi flowers and shoots. Heat the oil. Fry the chilis and garlic for about a minute - not to brown them, just so their flavour mixes well throughout the oil. I use two garlic cloves and three chilis, enough so the oil leaves a moderate heat in the mouth and raises a slight sweat. Mix in the chopped pack choi and stir fry. Thirty seconds should be enough unless the shoots are particularly tough.
I adapted this recipe from one given me by Mario of Mario's Trattoria on the Cowley Road. The original is from Capri, and used young rape shoots, a good way to make these palatable in the times just after World War II when no-one could afford to waste food. Chicory and many other vegetables can be cooked in the same way.
Oil or fat
Heat oil or fat until it's just smoking. Tip in the califlower florets, making sure they're completely covered by the liquid. Fry for at most 30 seconds. The result should be brown and crispy on the outside, but still tender, green, and "cauliflowery" inside. This recipe was contributed by Robbie from the Wharf.
Eggs and other omelette ingredients
Fry elderflowers lightly. Then use in an omelette (or scrambled eggs) to your favourite recipe.
Did you know elderflowers were edible? Neither did I. The recipe was given me by Eva from Unicorn Clothes, and comes from Slovenia; I've also heard of it being eaten in Germany.
Leave the butter at room temperature so it spreads well. Put enough water into a saucepan just to cover the asparagus shoots. Use as much of the shoot as you can, right up to where it becomes woody; just to eat the tips is a waste. Bring the water to the boil, then put the asparagus in and leave for a minute, no longer. Eat with the bread and butter, or, to fully appreciate the taste of the asparagus, try some on their own.
This is from Tony Flatman, landlord of the Wharf. It's about the simplest way you can cook asparagus, but eat with anything more elaborate - mayonnaise, cream, sauce Bťarnaise - and you overpower the flavour. I like the organic butter from Alcocks organic butchers in Summertown.
Fresh rosemary and chives
Tie a few asparagus shoots together with a sprig of rosemary. Flash in olive oil, turn and flash twice more, and remove. Top with fresh chives and grated Parmesan. Add pepper to taste. This recipe, from Dave Hitchcock, adds a bit more than the previous one, but still takes care not to add so much, or heat so much, that the asparagus flavour is lost.
Samphire is a succulent coastal plant that looks like little long cactus stems. Both Argyles fishmongers in Summertown, and the fishmongers in the Covered Market sell it when in season during the summer. Wash well and remove stray grass shoots, then either eat raw or boil for at most two minutes and eat with brown bread and butter. The plant grows wild in Britain - my mother ate it when living in Norfolk - though at least some of what's on sale here comes from Brittany.
Layer white cabbage leaves in a baking dish, covering each layer with a mixture of olive oil, Parmesan (or grated Cheshire, which is cheaper and works well) and coarse-ground black pepper. If desired, add walnuts or peanuts. Bake on moderate heat for twenty minutes.
I adapted this from a Sainsbury's recipe for baked Brussels sprouts. The combination of succulent cabbage leaves and cheese is very good. The original sprouts recipe parboiled the sprouts before baking.
Parmesan, Cheddar, or Cheshire
Flash the mushrooms in olive oil. Fill the cavities with chopped Parma ham, onion and tomato. Vegetarians can omit the ham: it's still a good recipe. Sprinkle on some paprika, and cover with grated Parmesan, Cheddar, or Cheshire. Grill until the cheese melts into the other ingredients. This recipe is from Dave Hitchcock.
Milk and butter
Colcannon is an old Irish recipe, a way to make a filling meal with extremely cheap ingredients. This version was given to me by my mother.
Boil the potatoes. Cook the cabbage separately. You can use the stalks as well as leaves, provided they're not stringy. Separately again, lightly cook the spring onions, leaves as well as bulbs. They only need to be cooked enough so that they can be mashed in with the potato, giving it a subtle flavour. Steaming or microwaving will work as well as boiling.
Mash the boiled potato, preferably with a little milk and butter, and season with salt and pepper. Mash the spring onions in with it. Fresh garlic and other herbs can be added, but not so much that they overpower the spring onions. Then mash in the cooked cabbage.
Grease a Pyrex dish with olive oil. Transfer the mashed potato, cabbage and onion to it, and top with grated cheese. This isn't, apparently, part of the original recipe, but does add to the taste. Bake in an oven under medium heat: this helps blend the flavours, as well as melting the cheese.
Griddle the apples for four minutes, and the nectarines for two, burning stripes into the surface of each. Add yoghurt and sugar, and eat.
This recipe was given to me by Hubert Matthews. The idea is, simply, that the griddling caramelises the fruit.
Take 0.45 liter milk and mix as much as necessary through 500 g flour, binding the flour into a dough while making sure it doesn't go lumpy. Mix one egg, 10 g salt and 35 g soft butter into the dough. Heat the rest of the milk until barely warm. Mix 30 g yeast and 30 g sugar into this milk, then mix with the dough. Wash 100 g raisins; core and finely grate two apple; and mix into the dough. Let the dough sit covered for one hour in a warm place, giving it time to rise well. Meanwhile, heat vegetable oil in a large pan. Roll the dough into little balls and drop into the oil, immersing completely. Leave for 5-7 minutes until the outside turns golden. The oil needs to be hot; the heat expands the carbon dioxide given off by the yeast, leaving the balls light inside but crisp on the outside. Don't drop all the balls into the oil together: make them in batches. Eat covered with powdered sugar, preferably while still warm.
In the way they form their words, the Dutch are not a poetic race: oliebollen simply means "oil balls". (I was charmed however, reading an oliebol recipe, to discover that the Dutch for apple core is "clock house".) But despite the unpromising translation, oliebollen are delicious, and oliebollen vans are as common in the Netherlands as kebab vans in Oxford. The basic recipe omits the fruit; other variations add custard, cream, or fruit jam. This version was sent to me by Hans van Oostrom of Gainsville some years ago, when I needed oliebollen for a party; I've adapted it to use the apples which are sure to be around in the autumn.
Plums or apricots
Boil and mash the potatoes. Mix with white flour and add egg to form a dough. Roll this out flat and cut into circles with a biscuit cutter or the top of a cup or glass. Place the chopped fruit on it, sprinkle on cinnamon, and fold to make dumplings. Place in boiling water for ten minutes. Sugar can be added to taste, either to the fruit before folding, or covering them with powdered sugar after boiling.
This recipe was contributed by Eva from Unicorn Clothes; similar desserts are eaten in other parts of Eastern Europe. Plums and apricots are usually used; raspberries and other soft fruit would probably go unpleasantly mushy.
Strawberries or rasperries
Mash the fruit, but coarsely enough to leave some chunks. Add jam sugar to the fruit, 50:50 by weight. No extra water is needed. Boil for 20 minutes. To find out when the jam is ready to set, do the "wrinkle test": take a plate that's been cooled in the fridge, put a dollop of jam onto it, wait until it has cooled, then prod it with a spoon. If it's ready to set, it will wrinkle when pushed. Turn the heat off while doing this, otherwise you may find the jam, which gets stiff very rapidly, turns into a jelly.
This recipe was contributed by Hubert Matthews. I don't often cook fruit, preferring to eat it fresh, but this one is a good way to preserve soft fruits that you have too much of.
Jam sugar is sugar with pectin added to help the jam set; Tate and Lyle sell it. Most people know about pectin for jam making. But why does it work, and what other ways are there to make fruit set? To answer such questions, get hold of "On Food And Cooking" and "The Curious Cook" by Harold McGee. These explain why cookery works. Why do onions make you cry? Should you clean mushrooms with a moist cloth or rinse them? Why do chefs beat egg whites in a copper bowl? If you know the reasons, cookery stops being just a collection of steps to learn by heart, and becomes something you can improvise.
Honeycomb or soft honey
Blackcurrants, Worcester berries, raspberries, or other soft fruit
Dribble the honey into the yoghurt and top with fruit. Eat.
Honey with yoghurt is a traditional Greek breakfast - it is lovely to sit outside a little cafe on Odos Dorou near Omonia eating this in the strong Athenian sunshine whilst drinking strong black Greek coffee. The Greeks don't usually serve with fruit, but doing so is an excellent way to eat it fresh, giving honey-sweetness to sour fruits such as blackcurrants. Yoghurt should be thick and creamy. I haven't found anything here to match traditional Greek sheeps' yoghurt - so thick it has a skin and lies in sheets and folds on the plate - but Yeo Valley is not bad. The Greek shop Meli on the Cowley Road would be worth trying for yoghurt, and has a nice range of honeys. Local Oxford honeycomb can be bought from Alcock's organic butchers in Summertown. This recipe was suggested by Tony Flatman of the Wharf public house.
Whisky, good quality single malt
Rasperries or other soft fruit
Whip ½ pint double cream until stiff, and fold in 1 tbsp whisky and 1 tbsp soft honey. Toast 3 oz pinhead oats until just lightly smoking, and fold them in on top. To toast, you can heat them under a grill, or in a heavy pan, shaking lightly to ensure the heat is evenly distributed. Top with raspberries or other fruit if desired, and serve as a dessert - many recipes recommend serving in a tall glass.
Flapjacks, oat cakes, haggis, crowdie, porridge: Scottish cuisine is based on oats. Cranachan is a delightful, easy-to-make and unusual dessert which combines the bite of a good malt whisky, the sweetness of honey, and the dark smokiness of lightly-toasted oats. I feel that the fruit detracts from these flavours, but many recipes do recommend it (although the Scotsman who introduced me to it did not). If I were adding fruit, I would use just a few blackcurrants.
For mechanical reasons, the proportions are important: if you overload the whipped cream with hot oats or whisky, it will collapse into a kind of sweet whisky porridge. (And if you whip for too long, it will curdle.) The amounts of whisky and honey here should be safe; with care, you may be able to increase them. Cooling the whipped cream probably helps it retain its structure, and so would adding sugar before whipping. For an explanation of how whipping works, see http://www.baking911.com/pantry_dairy.htm . I was introduced to cranachan by Duncan Spiers of St Peter's.
Carob syrup or date syrup
Stir one part carob syrup into three parts tahini, and eat with a spoon. This makes an unusual but tasty breakfast. The mixture is called "dosa", and is eaten in various forms throughout the Middle East - this is a Lebanese version. For an Iraqi variant, replace carob syrup by date syrup and mix fifty-fifty.
Tahini, for those who don't know it, is pulped sesame seeds, and is available from LB's in Summertown and many shops down the Cowley Road.
Carob syrup is made from carob beans and has a wonderful choclatey flavour. In earlier editions of this book, I noted that it could be bought from the Chatar Boucherie. However, I don't think they sell it any more. This is a great shame: apart from its use in dosa, it's an excellent flavouring for foods such as porridge, cold cereals, and yoghurt, and would surely appeal to any child.
These recipes were contributed by LB's and by Khalil from Iraq.
A lady serving at the Elder Stubbs 2004 Festival gave me this recipe: I think it's Caribbean. Simply steep four or five stems of fresh basil leaves - that now on sale at Elder Stubbs is much more pungent than what the shops are selling - in hot water for five minutes, then drink.
Fresh ginger, cinnamon, pomegranate seeds, cardamoms, and other spices as wanted
I'll admit that I didn't like the basil tea, but have left the recipe because others may. However, I do like this one, which I devised as a way of making a spice tea with more flavour than the anaemic offerings on sale at the health-food shops, and much more cheaply than Starbucks, which charges £2.70 for this under the name "chai". Just chop the spices, add to hot water in whatever proportions you like, and boil for five minutes. Then add tea leaves or tea bags and make tea in the normal way.
This is an Eastern European equivalent to sloe or damson gin, made by steeping sour cherries in vodka. Find a large jar. Proper pickling jars are hard to buy, so it's easiest to reuse one that held pickled onions or similar. Remove the stones from the cherries - they make the drink bitter if left in - breaking up the cherries slightly at the same time. Put the cherries into the jar and cover with vodka. The proportions should be such that once the cherries have settled, the volume of vodka above the cherries is the same as that of the cherries. Leave in a cool place for two months. This recipe doesn't call for sugar, but some do: about 2/3 as much sugar by weight as the cherries, in layers alternating with the cherries, a layer of sugar on top. I prefer mine without.
The Russian name for this drink is vishnevka; the recipe was given to me by Raissa from the Russkaya Skazka Russian Delicatessen (now Baltic Foods) on Cowley Road. In his book "Borders Up", the Russian writer Vitaly Vitaliev explores the history of booze all the way from the Great British Beer Festival in London to an alcoholism clinic in Moscow. He explains how vodka originated as a medicine, something you downed in one to make you feel good, without taking any notice of the taste. Vishnevka, however, you should drink slowly.
The first time I came across the drink was in Ploieşti, Romania, where my friend Răzvan Diaconescu's family make it at home. Here, it's called vişinată. Here is Răzvan's recipe: Place 400 g sugar on top of 1kg cherries in a jar. Stopper the jar and leave in sunlight for a few days, until the cherries have given off some juice and the sugar has dissolved. Shake the jar from time to time to resettle the cherries. Then add 90 degree proof alcohol, totally covering the cherries. Restopper the jar and leave in the sun for another two weeks. The flavour is improved if [contrary to the Russian recipe] you add some crushed cherry stones.
It is very pleasant to sit in the garden in Ploieşti drinking vişinată amongst the cicadas chirping in the dusk. After a few glasses, you don't hear the cicadas. After a few more, you don't see the garden.
For the third edition of this book, I'll add that once you've drunk the vodka, don't throw away the vodka-soaked cherries. They're entirely edible, and make good party snacks with which you can confuse the uninitiated, because they look like black olives. You might also try them in chocolates, as I've seen suggested for the damsons in damson gin: chop them, add to melted chocolate, then pour into moulds or ice cube trays and put into the fridge.
I haven't tried making damson gin myself yet, but I mention it because of its similarity to vişinată and because it's a good way to use up the damsons which are plentiful now. I first heard of it from a contributor to Radio 4's Veg Talk, and then looked up recipes on the Web. Combining their advice, I'd suggest: use the same proportions of fruit and alcohol as above, and store for the same amount of time; use cane sugar, but not too much (you can always add more, but can't take it out); try adding the sugar by making a thick cane-sugar syrup and stirring it into the gin, so it's easy to get the correct sweetness as you start; and pierce the skin of the damsons - this is important.
Pair ladies' nylon stockings
Slice the top off the marrow and scoop out the seeds, but leave as much of the flesh as possible, and don't puncture the skin. The seeds are attached to the inside of the marrow with little strings: one way to detach obstinate seeds is to fill the marrow with water and shake well. Fit a stocking onto the marrow, and pack the marrow tightly with Demerara sugar. Stand upright in a large vase or similar and leave for a day. Osmosis will draw fluid from the marrow into the sugar, dissolving some and leaving a gap below the end of the marrow. Add a teaspoon of ginger (finely chopped fresh ginger root if available, otherwise dried ginger) and pack more sugar on top. Replace the marrow upright in the pot, and cover to ensure nothing can fall into the pot or the end of the marrow. Pulling the second stocking down over the top of the marrow and pot is a good way to do this. Leave in a cool dark place for at least two weeks, and if possible, four. Inspect at intervals.
The idea is that the sugar ferments, generating an alcoholic liquor which gradually eats its way through the bottom of the marrow and collects in the pot. It takes three or four weeks to reach full strength, during which time the marrow becomes very floppy. The stocking filters the liquor and also provides much-needed surgical support. I have tried this recipe three times, twice with marrows and once with a Turk's Head Turban gourd, also from Elder Stubbs. One week's fermentation gives a liquor which has a pleasant taste but is not very strong - after three weeks, it has a noticeable punch. The ginger adds pungency to counteract the blandness of the marrow, giving the rum a pleasant warmth.
Male readers may like to know that ladies' stockings can be bought
from Fred's Discount Store on the Cowley Road:
-- Do you sell stockings?
-- What size do you want?
-- To fit this marrow. I don't know its size.
-- We have some knee-high.
-- I don't know whether the marrow is knee-high.
[Measure it against my leg: yes, it just comes up to my knee.]
May I try it on?
Fred's don't have fitting rooms for marrows, so we remove one of the stockings from its cardboard pack and pull it up around the marrow.
-- Fine, I'll take that. How much?
-- You have to buy the pair.
-- I don't need the pair, I only have one marrow.
But I had to buy the pair.
This recipe was inspired by Ron at the Kidlington and Gosford gym, with suggestions by Kostas from the Excelsior.
Many bottles of wine
Wait until Autumn. Layer the wood carefully to form a bonfire. Ignite. Insert the chestnuts (sweet, not horse) around the edges of the fire and leave until baked. Meanwhile, set out bottles of wine. Good, and good value from most supermarkets, are Baga, a slightly spicy red wine with an intense blackcurrent aroma; and Ramada, red, fruity and full-flavoured. Eat the chestnuts, alternating with good wine and conversation. Continue from mid-afternoon until dusk.