Ken Simons: The Recipes

2010-03-13

Cucidati

(Sicilian fig biscuits)

This is a traditional Sicilian Christmas recipe, which I tried for the first time the day before Simone was born. Maggie and her mum and I ate them in the hospital (and for days afterwards -- it's a big recipe) to keep up our strength. I also made a batch of them for Simone's baptism.

Pastry:

  • 500g flour
  • 140g sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 185g margarine
  • 2-4 tb soymilk

Filling:

  • 300g dried figs
  • 55g sliced almonds
  • 35g pine nuts
  • 1tsp instant coffee (or 1 measure espresso)
  • 75g sultanas
  • 75g dark raisins
  • 55g candied orange peel, diced
  • 3tb apricot jam
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 55g dark chocolate, broken

Preheat oven to 180C/350F

Combine flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder in a large mixing bowl and mix thoroughly with your hands. Rub in the margarine until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Fold soymilk into flour mixture and stir to form a dough. Knead briefly on a lightly floured surface, then chill in fridge.

Pull stems off the figs. Place in a bowl, cover with boiling water and leave to steep for 10min. Lightly toast the almonds and pine nuts. Add coffee (dissolving instant in 1-2tb water, if using). Combine nuts and coffee in a medium mixing bowl with raisings, orange, apricot, rum, and spices. Drain figs, quarter, and blend to a puree. Add to ingredients already in bowl, stir thoroughly to mix.

Roll out chilled dough, divide into 9-12 pieces. Put most in fridge while working with 2-3 pieces. Roll each into a snake shape about 25-30cm long. Then flatten this into a long rectangle, about 6-7cm wide. Trim rectangle so it is perfectly straight. Place a line of filling onto the centre of the dough and gently fold sides over this filling so that it forms a tube. Roll over so that seam is on the bottom, then cut into sections of about 8-10cm each. Form these into horseshoe shapes. Using a sharp knife, score the top with a lines of small slashes, then tug the biscuits to open these cuts up. Place on a greased baking sheet and bake for about 20min or until pale golden. Cool on a rack.


Locro

(squash and corn stew)

This is a good dish for October in the northern countries, or for harvest season in Latin America. It is quite adaptable -- the basic rule should be to keep the three sisters (maize, squash, and beans) as the most important elements of the dish.

  • 500g pumpkin or other winter squash
  • 250g sweetcorn (best cut fresh from the cob, but frozen will do)
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 Roma tomatoes (the Italian ones -- can be canned)
  • Cooked beans (100g dry weight or 500g cooked weight) -- pinto beans are most authentic, fresh romano beans are great, but any haricot bean will do.
  • 2tsp oregano or marjoram
  • 1tsp paprika
  • salt to taste

Cut squash in 2cm cubes and boil in about 1l water for about 15 min. In another pan, fry onion in a small quantity of oil until soft. Add tomatoes and half the sweetcorn and cook for about 5min.

Drain the cooking water off the squash, and blend with the other half of the sweetcorn until you have a smooth liquid. Add this to all the other ingredients, and simmer for another 10min. Serve in bowls with cornbread.

A non-authentic variation is to use 250g of fresh or 150g drained frozen tofu in place of the beans. The frozen tofu is excellent at absorbing flavour, while fresh tofu gives an interesting texture variation.

Other vegetables which can be added to the stew are red or green peppers, sweet potato, summer squash (such as courgette), string beans.

For a serving variation, drain off most of the stock and put the vegetables in an oven-proof dish. Pour a cornbread mixture (100g medium maizemeal sifted with 1tsp baking powder, mixed lightly with 1/2l of dairy or soymilk, with an optional egg) over the vegetable mixture. Bake for 15 min at 200C/400F/gas mark 5.


Potato and lime balls *

Peel, cook, and drain 1kg white potatoes. Mash well (using a hand masher or fork) while still warm, and add 50ml olive oil, the juice of two limes, and a good handful of finely chopped parsley (either type of true parsley is fine; coriander leaf is okay, but gives a quite different end result).

Allow the mixture to cool for about 30 min, then form into small balls. Serve on a plate garnished with more parsley and a dribble of olive oil.


Falafel

This is the recipe which was used for the monthly Peace News packing sessions in London, 1990-1995. It makes 30-40 falafel, enough for 6-10 people.

  • Soak 200g chickpeas for 24hr in about 1l. water. Drain and grind well in a food processor or hand grinder. The next day...
  • Soak 50g fine bulgar in 150ml boiling water and set aside for at least 10min to absorb.
  • Chop finely (or puree in a blender) 1 medium onion and 2-5 cloves garlic. You will probably need to add about 200-300ml of water to the blender to puree them.
  • Combine onion/garlic mixture, the soaked bulgar, and ground chickpeas. Add 1tsp paprika and/or 1tsp ground cumin and 0-1tsp salt. Mix well.
  • Form into 2-3cm balls or egg-shapes. If the mixture seems too moist or unsticky, add a bit more fine bulgar and let sit for about 20min. Alternately, add finely ground breadcrumbs. Do not add flour, as this gives a nasty texture.
  • Fry in hot vegetable oil (sunflower or canola are best) for 2-4 minutes, until browned on outside and cooked through.

Serve on their own, or stuffed in a pita, with salad and tahini, tomato, or hot sauce.

Note that the chickpeas in this recipe are raw prior to being deepfried. Don't try this recipe with any other bean; haricot beans, in particular, cannot be safely eaten this way.

Some shortcuts if you are cooking on less than 24hr notice:
-- Pour 1l. boiling water over dry chickpeas and leave overnight. Grind etc as above.
-- use tinned, cooked chickpeas, adding extra soaked bulgar to make a firm mixture.
Beware: falafel made with cooked chickpeas are more likely to fall apart in the deep fat. You may want to shallow-fry them instead.
-- try a mixture of tinned chickpeas and commercial falafel mix...


Tuoni e lampo

(chickpeas and pasta)

Means “thunder and lightning” in Italian. Refers to the contrast of textures, not to any after-effects (chickpeas are relatively non-gas-producing).

  • 200-250g dry pasta (traditionally, a mixture of bag-ends and other leftovers; if using a single type of pasta, medium sized shells are best).
  • 300g cooked chick peas

Boil about 2l of water, add pasta. If you are using cold or tinned chickpeas, add these to the boiling pasta after about 5-7 min. Drain and season with any combination of the following:

  • olive oil
  • black pepper
  • salt
  • fresh herbs (or dried) fresh grated parmesan or other hard cheese such as pecorino

Lightly cooked red pepper can also be added to give a further texture (and colour) variation.


Fresh tofu spread

  • 2 pieces (300g) soft tofu
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • about 50ml olive oil
  • 1 handful fresh herbs (basil, parsley, or marjoram) or 1 tsp dried herbs

Soften onion and garlic in some of the oil.
Boil 1l water; carefully lower tofu into the pot and boil gently for 2 min. Remove with a slotted spoon and place in blender. Add softened onion and garlic, and chopped herbs. Blend together until well mixed, then add rest of olive oil, and blend for about 10 sec more.
Let cool, and serve with fresh bread or reheated pita bread.

Summer 1998 refinement: Add a lot of fresh basil; the resulting dip can be used as a cross between pesto and a thick dressing for a pasta or potato salad (you might even try spreading it on a pizza base in place of tomato pureé).


Potato, tofu and olive sauté *

This is inspired by, though not based on, the Peruvian dish papas arequipa (potatoes and boiled eggs covered with a rich peanut and white cheese sauce).

You can serve this cold as well -- it develops flavours very well.

  • 750g potatoes
  • 2 pieces (300g) soft tofu
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 50g /12 medium sliced green olives
  • 20-30ml olive oil
  • marjoram, salt, paprika

Boil the potatoes for about 10-15min, drain and set aside. Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil; add cooked potatoes, marjoram, paprika, and salt and stir gently until potatoes are well coated with oil and seasonings. Add soft tofu and olives, put a lid on the pot, and allow to cook about 3-5min more on low heat. Stir gently and serve.


Cornish style giant pasties

This variation on an old vegetarian standby (stuff wrapped up in pastry) comes from St Agnes, one of the Isles of Scilly. When I visited there in 1990, there was a woman who made incredible and very satisfying pasties for the local pub (where they sold for £1 each). The three elements I borrowed for my recipe were: the jumbo size; the way the vegetables are grated rather than diced; and the simple black pepper seasoning.

Pastry: use this quantity for each pasty you intend to make

  • 100g flour -- any combination of white and wholemeal
  • 15ml vegetable oil
  • pinch of salt
  • water to make a stiff dough

Rub oil and flour together; add salt and slowly add water until dough is workable. Roll into a round approx 15-20cm across.

Filling: use this quantity for each pasty you intend to make

  • one medium potato
  • one large carrot
  • one-half medium onion
  • salt
  • freshly-ground black pepper
  • (optional protein sources) 50g sunflower seeds, ground; or 50g firm tofu, grated; or 25g TVP mince, soaked

Grate the vegetables, either by hand or with a food processor shredder attachment. Season with salt and pepper; mix in seeds or tofu or TVP. The filling should weigh about 500g, or fill 2 measuring cups, when ready.
Mound the mix into the centre of the pastry round, spreading it out so it tapers towards each end of a median line. Fold up the sides of the pastry, so that they meet to form a ridge. Twist the ridge every 2-3cm so as to form a characteristic squiggle seam. Seal up any parts of the seam which pop open. Put in a 180C/350F oven for 30-45 min, or until slightly browned on top.

Variations: the pasty I made while writing up this recipe used courgette/zucchini instead of potato. I added a handful of breadcrumbs to compensate for the higher moisture content. You can use any grateable vegetable, in fact. Some, like rutabagas or parsnips, need a bit of advance cooking.


Tavce

(Macedonian baked beans)

On the east bank of the river Vardar, a grid of narrow streets is all that remains of the old centre of Skopje, largely destroyed in an earthquake in 1963. Some rough one-storey wood buildings serve as cafés and small restaurants. Almost all of them display small pottery dishes, about 12 or 15cm across and filled with tavce, in their windows. This is pretty authentic tavce, though I suppose the version eaten at home is even more genuine.

White beans are the basis of this dish. Standard haricot beans are fine, but Great Northern or white kidney beans are bigger and more tasty.


  • 250g white beans, soaked overnight in water
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • Olive oil
  • 1 handful chopped parsley
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • Water or vegetable stock

Sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil. Put half the raw soaked beans in the bottom of a pan (either the cast-iron frying pan you just cooked the onion and garlic in, or else a clay or pyrex bowl). Add half the parsley, salt, and paprika, then the cooked onion and garlic. Then put on another layer of beans, followed by the rest of the parsley and seasoning. Add water or stock to cover. Bake in a moderate (180C) oven for about 90 minutes, adding water as necessary.

Variations: sliced leek instead of onion; other vegetables, such as courgette/zucchini; other herbs, such as fresh thyme or rosemary. You can simmer the tavce on the stovetop instead of baking, though this is not very authentic.


Soymilk aïoli *

A happy discovery -- a thick, rich aïoli without any egg. In fact, it doesn't need any vinegar or lemon either, as the garlic provides the acid necessary for thickening.

  • 125ml soymilk (if homemade, make sure it is good and thick)
  • 125ml olive oil
  • one clove of garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp of minced fresh or 1/2 tsp of dried basil
  • Salt to taste
  • Up to 250ml sunflower, canola, or soya oil

Put the first four ingredients in a blender and blend until the garlic and basil are fully distributed. Add the salt. Start blending on low speed, then trickle in the sunflower, canola, or soya oil. Stop when the mixture is nicely thickened.

Serve with anything that can handle the strong flavour of fresh garlic -- raw vegetables, boiled potatoes, tofu burgers...

This recipe is based on the Balham Food and Book Co-operative's vegan mayonnaise, which came originally from a recipe book but which was endlessly modified. The original recipe called for equal parts of soymilk and olive oil, lemon juice, and no seasoning, but it rarely managed to set without the addition of more oil.

The Balham Food and Book Co-operative is, alas, long gone. It operated out of Balham Station Road and then 92 Balham High Road, London SE12 from 1979 to 1986. I worked there from 1983 to 1985, mostly in the kitchen.