Crispy Bacon Craving Cure

Newly converted vegetarians and vegans, I am told, sometimes fall (figuratively) down at the wafting smell of cooking bacon. Obviously, this doesn’t taste exactly like crispy bacon, but it’s good enough to stave off a craving – it’s also a cheap alternative to nuts for a party.

Sunflower seeds, (shelled)
A few drops of soy sauce

In a dry frying pan, over a medium heat, stir to toast your sunflower seeds – (don’t overcrowd them in the pan – it’s better to do them in smaller batches) until piping hot and golden brown. Transfer immediately to a bowl and sprinkle or spritz on a few drops of soy sauce, stirring or tossing to lightly coat them. The heat dries the sauce into a fine glaze on the seeds. Don’t be too heavy handed with the sauce – less is definitely more…too much overpowers the nuttiness.

Great as a snack/nibble as they are, or lightly crush them and thickly sprinkle between two slices of bread and scrape for your imagined crispy bacon butty;-)


Red Onion Jam – twisted No.4

Sometimes I just griddle a few fat slices of onion for a fry up, but there was a glass of red wine left in the bottle, so this seemed like the sensible, grown up thing to do with it.


2 small onions – white or red (red will give you a deeper coloured jam, but white will do fine)

1 glass of red table wine – nothing too oaky

2 tablespoons sugar


Cut the onions into fine rings. Place in a non reactive pan – (enamel), with the wine.  Simmer until onions soften and begin to collapse. Add sugar and continue to cook until syrupy. Stores well in the fridge.

Also great with bangers and mash or as a cheap alternative to mostarda or membrillo with cheese.

هريسة – Hurray for Harissa!

It’s Sunday, so I’m making sauces and condiments again – probably because I get all ‘in the kitchen mood’ whenever I listen to the ‘Food Programme’ on BBC Radio 4.

I got this recipe from my friend’s mum in Tunisia. Um Habib is possibly the hardest working woman I have ever met. She not only cares for a severally disabled daughter, cooks, cleans, washes laundry by hand etc etc for a family of six, she makes everything from scratch: her own rose water, orange flower water, jasmine water, even her own couscous from flour and semolina. This, she does two or three times a week. It’s a very smoothing process to watch, but it takes a lot of care and patience. She’s an absolutely amazing cook, making pot after pot of delicious food, the key ingredient being love.

Anyway, as with so many things, there are lots of different recipes for harissa, but two main styles; one using fresh peppers, both chilli and sweet, which is commonly known as Harissa Nablia, from Nabeul in Tunisia, and this one, based on dry chillies. As well as being an ingredient in other recipes, in Tunisia it is often served on a plate with extra olive oil, that you dip bread into, sometimes accompanied with olives and a salad, at the beginning of a meal – as a way to both get your gastric juices going, and fill you up before the more expensive main course.

100g dried chillies
4 cloves of garlic (use less if you like, I just love garlic, and the more you use, the more sauce-like it becomes)
½ tablespoon caraway seeds
½ tablespoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
½ tablespoon dried mint – if I’ve run out of home dried mint, I’ve been known to use the contents of a peppermint tea tea bag
½ teaspoon salt
50ml olive oil

Break off any chilli stalks, and twizzle between your fingers to remove most of the chilli seeds – this sauce is quite fiery enough. As with the chilli bean paste recipe, you may want to wear gloves for this bit.
Cover in boiling water and leave to soak for 30 mintutes. Meanwhile, dry fry the spice seeds until fragrant – if you’re using a small pan, stir, so they heat evenly. In a coffee grinder or a pestle and mortar, coarsely grind the spices.
Strain the chillies, and roughly chop (I use scissors to snip them) and ditto the garlic. Add all the solid ingredients and ¼ of the oil in a whizzy machine and blitz on a pulse, adding the rest of the oil in splurts as it comes together.
To store, make sure it is always covered with a layer of oil.

It will probably not surprise you to hear that Um Habib does all this by hand.

I have heard lots of people,(including Nigella) state knowledgably that Harissa is a tomato and chilli paste, but I’ve never seen or tasted such a mix….it may well be nice, just not harissa. I have read such recipes, but usually on websites that use canned chickpeas for hummous and falafel. Miao. Zorry, zorry, zorry…I am such a foodsnob.

Pickled green chillies for noodle soup

In Malaysia, these chillies are served everywhere with noodle soup – even thinking about them takes me back to early morning breakfasts on Jalan Alor in KL…large sigh with tummy rumbles.
I got shown how to make them in Penang in the little kopishop that I took the ‘do not spit on the floor’ photo in – they are lovely people and I think they thought I was funny turning up at the crack of sparrowfart everyday for my fix- I can’t remember the name of the cafe, but it’s on Jalan Macallister (I think – it’s the street just off from Komtar that has all the undertakers and things for Chinese funerals on – yes, a whole street)

The green version of the long red chillies in the last post seem to be harder to find in the UK, but you do need a green slightly fleshy but still hot chilli for this – I have made it with red, but it’s not quite the same…I guess you’d only notice if you’d had the green ones first, though.

For me, there’s no point in making a big batch, because while they keep for ages, they lose their quintessential juicy crunch after a bit…you can scale up the recipe if you’re feeding a football team.


3-4 long green chillies, sliced into 3-4 mm rounds
Boiling water
100ml white rice vinegar
2 teaspoons of sugar – my man in Penang used grated palm sugar – but ordinary sugar will do
1/4-1/2 tsp salt – to taste

Mix vinegar, salt and sugar in a bowl until they dissolve. Taste.
Put chillies in a bowl or a cup and pour boiling water over them. Let it stand for 30-45 seconds, and then drain. Pour on the vinegar solution. The chillies need to be completely immersed, so top up with a little more vinegar if necessary.
Place in the fridge for a couple of hours, and the chillies will turn a khaki green…and they are ready.

Phew – that’s the last recipe from my sunday afternoon making sauces…they were much quicker to make than to write about.

Chilli-ginger Sauce

This is the traditional sauce served with Hainanese Chicken Rice, at least in Malaysia – but I like it miles too much just to make it once a year….it’s one of those ‘if you’re going to have the chicken, you’ve GOT to have this, but if you’re going to have this, why restrict yourself’ things. 🙂

I like it with plain things like steamed tofu or steamed Chinese cabbage – it also makes an instant sambal mixed with grated carrot, daikon or sour fruit like pineapple or unripe mango – you know when you get a piece of fruit home and it’s not sweet when you cut it open, but you’ve cut it and you don’t know what to do with it? Now you do.  Keeps well in the fridge too.


6 red chillies (the kind that are about 15cm long and 1.5 cm wide, slightly fleshy)

5cm piece of ginger peeled

3 cloves of garlic

Salt to taste

Dash of white rice vinegar, to taste


Chop the chillies, ginger and garlic – I de-seed my chillies, not because I’m a wimp, but because I like the texture better that way. Then, in a mortar and pestle or in a whizzy machine, reduce to a rough paste. Add salt and vinegar – you can just bung everything (already roughly chopped) in together if you’re using a machine, but then blitz it in bursts….it should have a little texture.

Crispy fried shallots, garlic or onions – how to!

I didn’t make any of the above on my mega condiment marathon, in fact I always buy my crispy fried shallots but seeing as the last post was all about alliums, I thought I’d put this up as an addendum – ‘cos you can’t buy them everywhere, and you have to make your own fried onions for biryanis. There are a few tips to getting them crispy without burning them. The shallots used in Asia are the little pink ones you can buy in Vietnamese or African shops, and they and garlic get cut lengthways – onions for biryani generally get across into rings.

Whichever way you cut, they should be fine, 1-2 mm for shallots and garlic, 2-3mm for onions and uniformly sliced – otherwise, some will be in danger of burning and some will remain decidedly uncrisp.

After they’re cut, spread them out and leave them to dry for several hours – all alliums have quite a lot of juice and contain a high level of plant sugars, which contributes to them burning if you don’t do this. In winter, when it’s cold and damp, I put mine on a tray and set it on the radiator.

When you’re ready to cook them, heat a small amount of vegetable oil in a pan or a wok until it is hot, drop in the slivers, turn the heat down to low and watch closely. You want them to be golden brown, but they will continue to cook even after you take them out of the pan. Drain on kitchen towel.

If you’ve made a big batch, they can be stored in a screw top jar after they are cool, but don’t add any salt ‘cos they’ll go soft and leathery. Salt just before serving, if at all.

Spring onion and ginger oil, mo hanh and some of their cousins

The first time I asked for spring onion and ginger oil in Soho, the rather snotty waiter informed me it was only meant to be served with soya chicken – what a waste! It goes really well with loads of things: stirred through plain noodles, on toast, on chilled tofu, and is a pretty instant dressing for a plain tomato or cucumber salad. It doesn’t store brilliantly well in the fridge – only a few days or maybe a week before it begins to lose its fresh zing, but it does freeze well. I suggest you either make a small amount, so it doesn’t get forgotten at the back of the fridge, or you use a tad more oil and freeze it – the oil means it never sets completely hard, and you can scoop what you need from the tub as and when you want, like a savoury Heston Blummenthal sorbet.

Cantonese style Spring Onion and Ginger oil

1 tablespoon fresh ginger , peeled and finely chopped.
4-5 spring onions, white and mid green part only (reserve darker ends of leaves for something else.
2-3 tablespoons peanut or sunflower oil – corn or canola are too yellow and flavoured. ¼ teaspoon of salt or to taste.
If you can, use young ginger – where the skin is quite thin and you can easily scrap it with a finger nail – it is less fibrous and much juicier, but it depends on the seasonability of ginger where you live. Above all, do not, please, please do not use very lazy ginger from a jar or even the little frozen cubes they now sell, because you will ruin the sauce and your dinner. If you can’t get hold of fresh ginger, make the mo hanh recipe below instead – just as delicious and even more versatile.

Prep your ginger. Remove any really old leaves/papery bits from the spring onions, and trim off the root. If you have scallion style spring onions, with a big bulb, as opposed to Japanese bunching onion, you might as well cut the bulb off and use it in cooking – it doesn’t really matter, it’s more a case of making what you’ve got go further. Cut darkest green – top 1/3 – leaves off and use to make mo hanh below. ..again, you don’t have to. Chop onion in fine rounds and combine in a pestle and mortar or a bowl with the ginger and the salt. Mash together for a minute or 2, so you work the salt in and it dissolves in the juices before you add the oil. If you haven’t got a pestle and mortar, just in a bowl with the end of a wooden spoon will do – if you’re making more to freeze, you could do this bit by blitzing it in a machine.
Add enough oil to moisten and cover your mixture, but don’t drown it.

I know some recipes say to heat the oil before adding it – I never do, but if that’s what your mum or grandma said to do, do it 😉
I aim to make mine the colour of ‘eau de nil’ green – again this is a condiment, rather than a foundation sauce.

Mo Hanh – Vietnamese Spring Onion Oil

Without the punch of the ginger, and with no salt, this is much subtler and therefore even more versatile. It sneaks into lots of things in my house, not just Vietnamese dishes.
I use just the tops of the spring onion because a) I usually have made the version above as well and b) I really like the bright emerald green…but I’ve seen recipes that use the whole onion…it’s up to you.

Ingredients – makes about 100ml
50ml peanut or sunflower oil – again canola or corn oil won’t do
Top 1/3 of 5-6 spring onions or 2-3 whole ones

Chop the onions into fine rounds (about 4mm). Heat the oil in a small pan over a medium heat. Add onions for 10-15 seconds – literally –and transfer immediately to a bowl. Place in the fridge for about 15 minutes, this helps fix a really nice vivid green.
Will store for about 2 weeks in a screw top jar in the fridge.

…and some of their cousins

Well, more like poor relations, really…I loosely follow the mo hanh recipe for the green bits on old onions/garlic that have sprouted, in fact anything from chives, garlic chives to the leathery tops of leeks, if I’m not making soup. For tender things like garlic chives, I pour hot oil over them, stir and put in the fridge, and for leeks I shred the tops finely and heat in the oil for longer – 30-40 secs…I then strain the oil and discard the shreds.

You can use the method to make garlic oil as well, replacing the sunflower oil with olive oil and cooking for a bit longer, but stopping before it turns brown– I know some recipe books on Italian food say leave garlic until it almost blackens, then discard it, but I’ve never seen anyone do this in real life, either in Italian homes or in restaurant kitchens.

In fact, you can pretty much use any of the allium family to flavour oil, as they are all edible for humans (but, weirdly, not for dogs – the onion family is toxic to canines if eaten in excess, according the marvellous Plants for a Future website, which has an amazing database of over 7000 useful plants).