Curry is a fact of life in this household, but I’m always looking for new ideas i can make in a relatively authentic way. I recently had the opportunity to try out a restaurant in Leeds that I’d never been to before: Shabab, situated under the city train station. Paneer to die for, and that was just the starter.
So this week I found my local supermarket actually sells paneer now, and had a go making a curry from scratch. Went well. A day later, there’s one smallish meal left over. Now, don’t get me wrong, that’s great! Curry tastes even better the next day! But to cheer it up, I made a small batch of these onion bhajis, and ate so many of them while I was cooking that I couldn’t finish my meal in one go. *Shakes head in shame.
So, onion bhajis. We’re aiming for a crispy terracotta on the outside, soft and oniony in the middle, and everything cooked properly (harder to achieve with deep fat frying than you might think).
Haggis. Much maligned by those who don’t eat it, this offally delicious treat is only for those with discerning tastes. Because, quite frankly, if you’re not going to enjoy it, we’re glad it won’t be wasted on you. But, if you have great taste and you live on your own, or the rest of your family is veggie, you’ll probably find, like me, that one haggis could feed a small family, which means there’s enough left after one portion to stuff a wicker man.
But that’s a good thing.
A quick skim through the internet reveals there are at least 25 recipes out there for using up haggis, and most of them seem to abandon its Scottish roots and make for the sun, with such tasty suggestions as haggis lasagne, haggis samosas, and haggis pakoras.
But haggis has a very distinct flavour, reminiscent of mutton, and even when it’s peppery, it isn’t spiced beyond standard pre-chicken tikka British tastes. To me, tipping it into a lasagne, flavoured with tomato and basil, or deep frying it in a warm jacket of gram batter and curry umami, is disrespectful of the mighty haggis. Its delicate flavour lost, I see no point in it, and adding all that gunge in a lasagne will surely make the “mouthfeel” weird.
So: haggis arancini was my catch of the day, and a good ‘un it was too. Okay, it’s still Italianesque, but no Italian ‘erbs will touch this baby.
Haggis Arancini Recipe
Leftover mashed potato – about two handfuls
Leftover haggis – about two-thirds of the haggis, but see how much you can get into the potato without it falling apart.
1 egg – beaten
Dried breadcrumbs or rice crumbs
250ml sunflower or coconut oil
Loosen up the mash with your fingers in a medium-sized bowl, and add about half the haggis.
Mush everything together until evenly mixed. Check you can make balls out of the mix. If so, add a little more haggis, mix, and recheck.
Keep adding more haggis for as long as a) you have some left and b) the mix still clags together. The aim is to have balls that taste like haggis, not mashed potato.
Once you have a satisfyingly haggisy mixture, create balls about 1-2 inches in diameter. The larger they are, the longer they will take to cook, but don’t make them too small or they may dry out and become hard.
I got 9 balls out of my mixture.
Beat your egg in a bowl, and pour out some breadcrumbs on a plate.
Roll the haggis balls in the egg, let it drain in your fingers, and then roll it around the breadcrumbs plate till covered.
I did this process twice, to ensure a good coat, but I doubt that’s really necessary (my egg was huge, so I used it up this way). Lay the arancini on a plate as you work.
Pour about 5mm oil in the bottom of a frying pan, and heat till just under smoking point.
Add about 4-5 arancini to the hot oil, and roll those babies around for about 5-7 minutes. We’re going for golden brown, not blackened. When you get to the colour of builders’ tea, that’s it!
Test one, by cutting it in half. It should be steaming on the inside, nice and hot throughout. If it isn’t, back into the pan it goes! (I re-batttered the cut halves on my tester).
Serve alone, or with a tiny side of veg (I used up the cachumber from yesterday’s curry), and a large portion of homemade tomato ketchup.
There’s a lot of joy to be had in frying food in the depths of glistening, bubbling oil. I’ve heard that organic, extra virgin coconut oil is the height of hedonist happiness, but my mum’s always said that coconut oil is more criminal than beef and I just can’t do it to myself. Suicide by organic oil. Sunflower is my effort to find a ‘healthy’ alternative – at least it’s low in chloresterol – though there’s little that’s healthy about deep fat frying.
But… If we can have everything in moderation, then we can still revel in the pleasure of deep frying. And to respect it as an act of cooking, it should be something worth eating. Not just leaden, breadcrumbed lumps of hybrid meat (some of them are mixed with fish) from a freezer bag, or frozen chips or scampi.
The orangey-yellow of aubergine halfmoons as they sizzle in spicy batter (curry powder, gram flour, water, salt); their warm flavour as they hit your mouth, slightly salted and too hot for your tongue; these joys are at the heart of deep fat frying.
Onion bhajis are also easy to make and have a strength of flavour and texture that you don’t get in commercial products. They are so pretty, spiky balls of dark terracotta contrasted with the white kitchen roll.
Falafels are pretty close to being healthy. Unlike battered foods, the oil doesn’t penetrate the whole piece and the chickpeas inside are cooked by heat. Freshly made falafels, still sizzling in the air can be greedily consumed with burned fingers and hot spices popping in your mouth. It doesn’t have to be as urgent, but it’s all about appreciation. And they are so full of fibre and protein that it doesn’t take many to fill you.
We’re so lucky in the U.K. Most of us don’t have to worry about whether or not we will eat. The least we can do is eat food worthy of the name and enjoy it.
250g dried chickpeas. Soak for at least 8 hours.
Take 1 tsp coriander seeds, 4 tsps cumin seeds, 2 tsps salt, a large handful of parsley, 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1 small egg and mix with the uncooked, soaked chickpeas in a food processor until it resembles fine gravel.
Clag the gravel together in your fingers to shape an uneven croquet. If it doesn’t stay stuck together, add another egg and process the mix again to combine.
Heat the chosen oil in a large pan until it reaches the temperature that would brown a cube of bread on entry to the bubbling mass. Or guess. There’s nothing wrong with trial and error.
Form a series of croqettes, dropping them into the hot oil one at a time. It’s easier if you fish them out in batches but safer if they go in one at a time.