Harira is to me what chicken soup is to many people. What do I mean with that? As grown-ups, when we need comforting, we make a subconscious connection to the food our mothers made for us. Harira is one of those dishes I turn to when I want comfort food.
There’s no single recipe for harira, just like there is not just one recipe for chicken soup. Recipes are often passed down from generation to generation and everyone claims to have the most authentic harira recipe. I like to believe there is not just one authentic recipe; every family has their own recipe that they turn to in need of comforting.
Some harira recipes add lots of spices, others are very simple. You can add beef, lamb or chicken to flavor the stock. You can aslo easily omit the meat stock and add vegetable stock for a vegetarian version. Growing up we would often eat harira during Ramadan with dates, or home-made stuffed bread (see below picture) or sweets. I know it may sound weird to eat something sweet with a soup, but somehow it works. Or, it may just be that I got accustomed to eating my harira with dates or other sweets because I was brought up with this combination. You know what: you try it, and let me know which one of the two it is.
I used to make harira a lot with my mum when I still lived at home. I would always ask her how many teaspoons of spices or herbs I had to use. She would laugh and tell me to just taste and add more if it needed it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t instilled with her instinct for balancing flavors back then. Of course I knew when something was too salty or too sour, but I wasn’t able to fix it yet.
I would always try to get it right and then let her do the final taste test. On rare occasions I would get it right. On most occasions however she would add more spices or a little bit of water (when I used too much seasoning). It made it impossible for me to write down a recipe. I always tried to use the same ‘recipe’ when I made it, but it would never taste the same.
To this day I haven’t been able to replicate my mum’s version of harira in my own kitchen. Maybe she added a secret ingredient she didn’t tell me about, maybe it’s the fact that it’s my mum’s recipe and therefore sacred………..who knows. I finally gave up trying and kept to my own version which was delicious too, it just wasn’t my mum’s.
Then one day I had a bowl of harira at my brothers’ place made by my sister-in-law Tima. It tasted very much like the one I was brought up with. It still didn’t taste exactly the same but somehow it came closer than my own version. Tima used ox tail for the stock where my mum uses other cuts of meat. Tima blitzed up the fresh herbs with the onions and tomatoes so her version was much smoother than my mum’s, who sautéed the diced onions and did not blitz them. Small differences but the taste was there.
My youngest sister Diza had watched Tima making the harira and wrote down the recipe. I asked her to send it to me so I could try it myself and see if I can replicate it in my own kitchen. Lo and behold (maybe ‘taste and behold’ is a better expression here): it tasted the same as the bowl of harira I ate at my brother’s house.
So that’s the recipe I share with you today. Unfortunately I can’t share my mum’s harira, but certainly a tried and favourite family recipe. I love it that by posting this recipe, I make sure my kids will always be able to make the harira recipe they were brought up with.
I hope you enjoy it as much as we did. If you try it, please let me know! Leave a comment, telling me what you think of it. You can also tag your photo on Instagram with @culyzaar or post it on my Facebook page so I can see it. I love seeing your takes on the recipes on my blog!
- 2 red onion (sliced in 6 wedges or so, about 150gr)
- 25 gr parsley
- 25 gr fresh coriander
- 400 gr canned tomatoes
- 1 tbs olive oil
- 1 oxtail (as I usually keeping it veggie I often omit this)
- 500 ml vegetable stock
- 2 tsp Raz el Hanout (Moroccan spice mix)
- 2 tsp cumin
- 2 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- pinch saffron
- 500 ml water (see instructions)
- 300 gr canned chickpeas
- 100 gr green lentils
- 100 gr vermicelli
- 2 tsp (corn)flour
- 1 lemon, cut in wedges for serving
Put the onion (sliced), coriander, parsley, tomatoes in a blender or food processor and blitz it up. Throw in the stems of the fresh herbs as well. They are going to be blitzed up anyway and the stems have so much flavor!
Put the olive oil in a pan, add the above mixture and let it simmer for 2 minutes. Then you add the meat (if you use any), the stock and all the other spices and let it simmer for another 10 minutes.
Then you add the water. I don’t measure the water, I do it by sight, add as much as you like. Let it simmer for 2-1/2 to 3 hours. You can check if it’s done by looking at the ox tail. The meat should be falling off the bone. If you don’t use the meat, then half an hour of simmering is enough.
When the meat is done you add the chickpeas and lentils, they only need 20 minutes to cook.
After 20 minutes add the vermicelli and cook it for another 8 minutes to cook the vermicelli.
Mix the flour or cornflour in a bowl with some cold water en stir well so there are no lumps in the mixture. If you are not sure all the lumps are gone, pass it through a sieve. Then you bring the soup to a full simmer and slowly- and in a thin stream – pour in the flour mixture. Stir constantly and keep the soup simmering so the flour doesn’t stick to the bottom. You will notice the soup beginning to thicken when you've used approximately half the flour mixture. The thickness of harira is up to you. Some like to thicken the broth so that it achieves a cream-like consistency. Make sure to let it simmer for at least 2/3 minutes to cook the flour otherwise your soup will taste like raw flour.
Taste and add salt and pepper when it needs it. If you have used salted stock, you don’t need to add (a lot of) salt.
Serve with a lemon wedge on the side to be drizzled on top when desired.
Please find below my recipe for the pumpkin gnocchi bake with sage. Sorry that it took me a while to post, but work is taking up a lot of time at the moment. By the way, this dish is not just any recipe, it has to do with my New Year’s resolution for 2020.
Every year, millions of people all over the world make New Year’s resolutions, hoping to continue a good practice, change an undesired behaviour, accomplish a personal goal, or in any other way improve their life. As you can probably guess losing weight is one of the most common New Year’s resolutions. It’s widely known that more gym memberships are purchased in January than any other month in the year. That reminds me of a joke I read somewhere: I’m opening a gym called ‘resolutions’. It will have exercise equipment for the first month of the year. Then it will turn into a bar for the remaining eleven months.
It’s also no surprise that number two on the resolutions list falls within the ‘eating healthy’ category. My New Year’s resolution kind of falls into this last category. It’s not that my eating habits are bad, on the contrary. I would however love to try to reduce the meat consumption of my family. I’m not ready to go vegan and I don’t know if that time will ever come, but we will cross that bridge when we get there. My love for yoghurt, cheese and eggs is so big that I can’t imagine going without these ingredients. Reducing the amount of meat I eat however should be doable. I found that January is a great month to start because more and more people are dipping their toes into Veganuary and are sharing their experiences on social media. I think a resolution shared is a resolution halved in this case.
Trying to keep my New Year’s resolution I found out this month that changing an ingrained habit is not an easy task. It’s unbelievable how many times I picked up a piece of meat or fish while shopping and then realizing I need to come up with another recipe if I want to keep my New Year’s resolution.
I also found out that it’s very important when you want to change a particular behaviour to take a step back and get ready before diving into it head-first. In my case that meant I needed to spend some time on the couch with my cookbooks to make a list of recipes that I can cook so I can easily choose one when shopping for dinner. I also browsed the internet for inspiration and found lots and lots of recipes without meat that looked amazing.
I’m aware of the fact that 80 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail by the second week of February. While that number may seem discouraging, I’m sure I will be able to keep my resolution for longer than that. That’s also one of the reasons why I didn’t decide to stop eating meat. I decided to reduce my meat intake, so that means I can still have meat, but not on a regular basis.
That’s how I found myself on a Saturday afternoon ready to go shopping for dinner and thinking about what to cook. I asked the kids what they wanted for dinner and they said the would love some gnocchi with a ‘white sauce’. I checked my vegetables and found a delicious pumpkin. There was also some stilton cheese and mozzarella in the fridge. I then bought some double cream and made this pumpkin gnocchi bake with sage. When I posted it on Instagram some people asked for the recipe so I promised them to post it on my blog. So here it is………………
By the way…………if your New Year’s resolution is to lose weight, you might want to skip this one. Losing weight is not my goal with this recipe 😊.
I hope you enjoy this Pumpkin gnocchi bake with sage as much as we did. If you try it, please let me know! Leave a comment, telling me what you think of it. You can also tag your photo on Instagram with @culyzaar or post it on my Facebook page so I can see it. I love seeing your takes on the recipes on my blog!
One last thing about New Year’s resolutions:
New Year’s resolutions are a bit like babies. They are fun to make, but extremely difficult to maintain. Please remember though that a setback does not mean you need to give up on your goal! Keep pushing through and stay focused on how much better your life will be when you stick to your resolution, whatever it is. Good luck!
- 750 g store-bought gnocchi
- 4 tbs olive oil
- 16-20 sage leaves for frying
- 10 gram of sage finely chopped
- 1 small pumpkin (about 750 gram cleaned), cut into 2cm cubes
- 400 ml double cream
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 tsp finely grated nutmeg
- 125 gram mozzarella
- 150 gram Stilton blue cheese, crumbled
- 50 gram walnuts, to serve
Preheat oven to 220°C.
Toss the pumpkin with 1 tablespoon of the oil on an oven tray; season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast for about 30 minutes or until tender and golden brown.
In the meanwhile cook the gnocchi according to packet instructions minus one minute (it will cook further in the oven), then drain and rinse under cold water. Don’t skip the rinsing or you will end up with one big clump of gnocchi.
Heat the remaining three tablespoons of oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the 16-20 leaves of sage and cook for 1 minute or until crisp. Remove using a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel. Reserve the oil for later.
Combine the gnocchi with the egg yolks, cream, nutmeg, half the mozzarella and 10 grams of sage. Spoon into prepared dish and top with the pumpkin, the remaining half of the mozzarella and half of the blue cheese.
Bake for 25 minutes on 200°C, top with walnuts, fried sage leaves and remaining blue cheese.
Drizzle with the reserved sage oil and serve immediately.
I can safely say that the recipe for hot charred cherry tomatoes with cold yoghurt must be the most popular recipe from Ottolenghi’s new cookbook ‘Simple‘. Everyone who makes it can’t stop raving about it and soon makes it again and again and again also because it’s super simple. Just like the cookbook promises.
The amazingness of this recipe lies in the contrast between the hot, juicy tomatoes and the fridge-cold yoghurt which definitely tickles the senses. Why? Because different temperatures, just like textures and flavours, build variety and depth into a dish. That is why Ottolenghi urges you to make sure the tomatoes are straight out of the oven and the yoghurt is straight out of the fridge. When I saw this recipe for the first time I had my doubts about this combination. That’s why I know you probably will too, but I can promise you it works like a charm and is utterly delicious.
Contrast in temperature is not something new. I’m sure you know the sensation in your mouth when eating an ice-cream sundae with hot chocolate sauce. Or maybe when you drink a cup of hot cocoa topped with cold whipped cream. A more adventurous example is maybe baked Alaska. In this dish meringue acts as insulation which protects cold ice cream from the heat of the oven.
The craziest example I ever heard (but unfortunately have not experienced yet) is Heston Blumenthal’s ‘hot and iced tea’. In this crazy Alice-in-Wonderland drink, Heston serves a cup that contains hot tea in one half and ice tea in the other, divided vertically with no visible divider in the cup. When they assemble this drink they put a divider down the middle of a glass and fill one side with the hot tea and the other with cold. When you lift up the divider you have what looks like a glass filled with a single liquid. Only it isn’t a liquid, it’s two fluid gels that will keep separate long enough for you to feel the difference. Pure magic made possible with chemistry.
Lucky for us the hot charred cherry tomatoes with cold yoghurt is not as complicated as Heston’s drink. On the contrary, this is as simple as ABC, as simple as Do Re Mi, as simple as 1 2 3. I could go on for a while but I think you get the picture. It’s simply combining the ingredients and putting them into a baking tray and then in the oven. After you take them out you add them to the yoghurt which is mixed with some salt and lemon zest.
The only problem with these hot charred cherry tomatoes with cold yoghurt is that my kids don’t like tomatoes. I can’t for the life of me get them to eat tomatoes other than in a tomato sauce. I know that it can take exposing your child to vegetables 10 times before they will learn to like them. But with tomatoes that number might as well be a million. I keep asking them to taste them and they keep shaking their head after trying.
They just can’t get used to these delicious juicy red orbs.
I don’t blame them as I wasn’t a fan either when I was younger. When you bite into a tomato your mouth is flooded with gooey, sorta-sweet liquid, squishy pulp and seeds. That doesn’t sound like a yummy experience, does it? But somehow I learned to love them. Maybe they will too. We will see………………or it will remain one of life’s little mysteries………….
I hope you enjoy this hot charred cherry tomatoes with cold yoghurt recipe as much as we did. If you try it, please let me know! Leave a comment, telling me what you think of it. You can also tag your photo on Instagram with @culyzaar or post it on my Facebook page so I can see it. I love seeing your takes on the recipes on my blog!
Source: ‘Simple‘ – Yotam Ottolenghi
- 500 g cherry tomatoes
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- ½ tsp light brown sugar
- 5 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
- 5 sprigs thyme
- 8 g fresh oregano, 4 sprigs left whole, the rest picked and roughly chopped, to serve
- 2 lemons – zest of one shaved off in wide strips, the other one grated
- Flaked sea salt and black pepper
- 350 g fridge-cold extra-thick Greek-style yoghurt (at least 5%)
- 1 tsp urfa chilli flakes (or ½ tsp regular chilli flakes)
Heat the oven to 200C.
Put the tomatoes in a baking dish that’s just large enough to accommodate them all in one layer. Add the oil, cumin, sugar, garlic, thyme, oregano sprigs, lemon strips, half a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper. Roast for 20 minutes, until the tomatoes are beginning to blister and the liquid is bubbling, then turn the oven to the grill setting and grill for six to eight minutes, until the tomatoes start to blacken on top. Or use a blowtorch like I sometimes do. Because how often do you get the chance to use a blowtorch? If you don’t own one go and buy one because according to Julia Child every woman should have a blowtorch.
While the tomatoes are roasting, mix the yoghurt with the grated lemon zest and a quarter-teaspoon of salt, then return to the fridge.
Once the tomatoes are ready, spread out the chilled yoghurt on a platter or wide shallow bowl, and make a few dips in it here and there with the back of a spoon. Spoon the hot tomatoes on top, as well as the pan juices, lemon peel, garlic and herbs, and finish with the remaining oregano and chilli. Serve at once with some good crusty bread.
Last few months I was all over Ottolenghi’s new book ‘Simple’. Have you seen it? Maybe you have even cooked from it too? It’s such a great book with lots of simple recipes that I can cook during the week. Who would have thought that it was possible to cook Ottolenghi’s recipes on working days? I promise I will post a ‘Simple’ recipe soon, but today I wanted to share this spicy chicken and split-pea tray bake from his weekly Guardian column.
We love chicken in tray bakes……..heck we love chicken! Period! I realize that the punctuation in that last sentence is very important because one might think we love ‘chicken period’. Honestly, I don’t even want to know what that is. I love chicken so much that one of the members in our Facebook group once said: ‘every time I cook chicken I think of Zahra’. There are so many chicken recipes we like that I hardly ever make the same one twice a year. Bonkers, right?
Why you should make this oven-roasted spicy chicken and split-pea tray bake? For one it’s easy to prep and cook for a quick but yummy supper. I have two very active kids who are always hungry the minute they come home. Especially when they go through a growth spurt and grow several centimetres in only a month or two. At these times they are likely to need a lot of energy, hence fooooooooooood.
Often my son is more affected by this than my daughter. He sometimes has seconds and maybe even thirds and still feels hungry. I just let them because I know children are very energetic and can burn off calories faster than most adults. Sometimes I can be very envious of their metabolism. I remember those times in my childhood when I could eat as much as they do and never gain any weight.
Another reason why you should make this spicy chicken and split-pea tray bake is that you can make the whole dish in one pan. I have a big deep roasting tray I use for my tray bakes that I can use on the stove for a quick sear before I put it in the oven. One pan cooking has some great advantages. The obvious one being: there is only one pan to wash up after dinner. In addition, you can pop it in the oven and go and do other things while the oven does the hard work.
The original recipe doesn’t use bell peppers, but I wanted to add some extra veggies and colour to the dish. I also used chicken thighs for extra flavour. You might want to use other parts of the chicken if you are watching your diet. Omit the jalapeño and substitute smoked paprika for the chipotle if you can’t find it or want to make this more child-friendly.
Don’t be tempted to use less liquid as the split-peas will soak up all the sticky pan juices until they are al dente. Don’t worry if they turn mushy. The dish will still taste amazing. I also used more split peas because I wanted to finish the package I bought. Besides the famous Dutch split pea soup I don’t use split peas very often in recipes. That’s why I added that little bit extra. Please, don’t skip the split peas, they are really scrumptious in this dish. All I’m saying is: give peas a chance…………..
If only all recipes were as simple as this one, right? Mister Ottolenghi should definitely include this recipe in his sequel ‘More Simple’ or is it going to be ‘Simple More’?
I hope you enjoy this chicken and split-pea tray bake recipe as much as we did. If you try it, please let me know! Leave a comment, telling me what you think of it. You can also tag your photo on Instagram with @culyzaar or post it on my Facebook page so I can see it. I love seeing your takes on the recipes on my blog!
Source: 'The Guardian' - Yotam Ottolenghi
- 6 skin-on bone-in chicken thighs (1.1kg)
- 1 orange, quartered
- 2 jalapeño chilli, cut in half lengthways
- 1 garlic bulb, cut in half widthways
- 6 (banana) shallots, peeled and quartered lengthways
- 2 red bell peppers
- 1 tsp chipotle chilli flakes (or smoked paprika)
- 2 tsp coriander seeds
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- 60 ml olive oil
- 30 ml maple syrup
- 150 ml water
- 500 ml chicken stock
- 300 g dried green split peas, rinsed
- 1 tbsp lime juice
- 1-2 tbsp coriander leaves, roughly chopped
Heat the oven to 200C (180C fan). Put the first nine ingredients in a large bowl with 50ml of the oil, 20ml of the maple syrup and a teaspoon and a half of salt, then toss with your hands until the chicken is well coated.
Take only the chicken out of the bowl and give it a quick sear skin side down in a baking dish that you can use on the stove for a few minutes, just until the skin browns. Then take the chicken out of the baking dish and set aside.
In a separate bowl, combine the stock, 150ml water, the split peas and half a teaspoon of salt (omit the salt if your stock is salted).
Pour the peas and stock into the baking dish, then top with the chicken and its marinade, arranging the thighs so they are skin side up and spaced apart. I started out with a smaller baking dish and changed to a bigger one later because I was afraid the chicken wouldn’t brown in the small one (too much liquid).
Bake it for 50 min, then take it out of the oven. Turn the oven up to 220C, brush the chicken with the remaining oil and maple syrup, and sprinkle with an eighth of a teaspoon of salt. Return to the oven for an extra 10 minutes, or until the skin is golden brown and crisp and the peas are cooked through but still retain a little bite. Don’t worry though if they turn mushy, they will still be delicious. Take the baking dish out of the oven. When cool enough to handle, squeeze the garlic cloves out of their papery skins and stir into the peas.
Pour the lime juice evenly over the top and finish the dish with a scattering of coriander.
Don’t you just love making soup when it’s cold outside? Try this prawn soup with orzo next time you want to make a hot delicious soup to warm the soul after you come home freezing cold. I expected some serious cold in November here in the Netherlands but mother nature clearly had other plans. November was a nice and warm month with no cold, no snow and even more important: no ice.
I live in the Netherlands and us Dutch people are known for our love of ice skating. I actually know a lot of people who get really excited when the temperature drops below zero for more than a day. The mere prospect of maybe skating on natural ice can get the whole nation into a frenzy. There are a lot of Dutch people that are genuinely awesome at ice skating and we have a lot of ice skate champions here.
Having said that………………does anyone remember the famous scene in Bambi when he got onto the ice for the very first time? His legs all spread out under him and he can’t get up no matter how hard he tries? That’s more or less how I feel on the ice. To be honest it’s not that bad, but next to others on the ice here I feel like Bambi. That’s why I decided to get some ice skating lessons this year. I convinced my 8-year-old son to join me in the lessons and we both bought ice skates. We had our first lesson in November while it was still 15 degrees (Celsius) outside. That did not stop me from making a big pan of this prawn soup with orzo when we got home though. The prawns are my favourite part of this soup. Don’t you just love prawn?
I remember never eating prawn growing up because of my mum’s dislike of seafood and fish in general. I still don’t understand how one cannot like all fish and all seafood. There are so many different fish and seafood that taste so different that I can’t understand how you can exclude such a big food group from your diet. Surely there must have been certain types of fish or seafood that my mum would have liked. Unfortunately, she was not prepared to try it. That’s why I did not eat a lot of prawns when I was young, but I certainly made up for that as an adult.
I’m a sucker for prawns and have them whenever I can. That’s why I love this prawn soup with orzo. An added bonus is that the kids call this “the best soup ever”. Also, this prawn soup with orzo is easy to make and the ingredients can be found in almost every supermarket. So there is no need for a trip to any speciality stores.
I tried this hearty comfort food soup with both fresh and frozen prawn and both worked just fine. Serve it with a crusty baguette and some garlic butter to coat the bread with. One last thing! Be sure to divide the prawn equally over the bowls, because they are the best part. Taking more prawn than you’re entitled to would be shellfish……………
I hope you enjoy this prawn soup recipe as much as we did. If you try it, please let me know! Leave a comment, telling me what you think of it. You can also tag your photo on Instagram with @culyzaar or post it on my Facebook page so I can see it. I love seeing your takes on the recipes on my blog!
- 500 gr peeled prawns (frozen or fresh)
- 3 small red onions
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled, minced
- 3 bell peppers (preferably red or yellow)
- 3 large tomatoes, diced
- 4 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 tbsp fresh oregano
- 1 litre of vegetable stock
- 200 gr orzo pasta
- 10 gr chopped fresh parsley
- 1 tbs lemon juice
- chili flakes, to serve
In a large pan sauté the onion on medium heat in oil until they start to colour. I used a Dutch oven with a heat diffuser underneath. Add the garlic and fry for 1 minute longer. Don’t let the garlic get too dark or it will become bitter. Then add the tomatoes, the bell pepper and cook and stir for 8 minutes.
After 8 minutes you add the tomato paste. Fry this until it starts to caramelize. The caramelization is the secret to the umami taste you are looking for. If you don’t do this you will get sort of a sour raw tomato flavour. Fry it until it goes dark and starts to stick a little to the pan, but don’t let it burn.
Then use the stock to deglaze the pan while you make sure you scrape up all the bits that got stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add the frozen prawn and bring it all to a boil (if you are using fresh prawn then add them about two minutes before the orzo is cooked). Then add the orzo pasta, cover and simmer for 8 minutes or until the orzo is cooked. Check the instruction on the package of the orzo you’re using as this may vary.
When the orzo is cooked take the soup off the heat and add the parsley and lemon juice. My kids prefer it without the lemon juice so I serve it on the side for us adults. Serve the soup immediately and sprinkle it with chilli flakes over it. Serve it with a crusty baguette and some garlic butter.
Today is day 6 and the final day of my internship at NOPI. We had dinner last night at Scully’ s and it was incredible. I decided yesterday that Scully’s is my favourite of all the restaurants I have ever been in London. The flavours are out of this world if you can handle the richness. If you haven’t been yet, please go. You will not be disappointed. We did not see Scully as he had the day off yesterday. Chef Tonto was at the pass. We had the table until 21:00 so luckily this time I came home earlier than yesterday and the day before.
Fortunately, I slept like a baby and got up the next morning for my final day at NOPI. I start my day with chef Jhumar (the clown in the back of the team picture), chef Dennis and chef Frances. My day starts again with cleaning, cutting, labelling and storing everything that got delivered today. I don’t have to cook breakfast today because chef Tim made a cake yesterday for the staff and we kept it for breakfast. All we needed to do was adding a fruit salad with yoghurt and that would be breakfast.
When chef Quyen comes in I ask her if I can help her on the larder section. My chef for today is not here yet. So I peel and cut cucumbers and peel pomegranates for the aubergine salad. Chef Quyen She asks me to slice spring onions into really thin long strips and I tell her I can do that, but it will take me all day. She starts laughing and tells me to go get the recipe bible and make some zhoug. She cuts the onions and it only takes her like 10 minutes. Although my knife skills improved like 400% this week I know there is still much more room for improvement. I just need more practice.
I make the zhoug in the Thermomix and put it away until we want to use it on the Romano pepper salad. Then I start on the beetroot salad. The beetroots have been roasted and puréed yesterday and have been straining overnight. I put the beetroot purée into a large container and add all the seasoning (chilli, vinegar, za’atar, Greek yoghurt, date molasses and olive oil) and also put this away until we want to plate the salad.
Then Xristos comes in and he tells me we are going to be on the fish section today, the only section I haven’t done yet. The fish came in whole and needed to be filleted. I have never done that before and don’t want to try it here, because I don’t want to mess up such beautiful fish. Xristos starts filleting the fish while I start on all the other things that go with this section.
I start with cutting corn from the cob for the miso glazed hake. Then I cut some grapes by putting them between 2 plates for the pan-fried seabream. A nice trick Xristos showed me that works really well. You can cut like 10 grapes in half at the same time. When the grapes are done I start on the dressing that goes on the salad of the mackerel dish. I make 1 litre of dressing and put it in the fridge for later use. My next job is the miso glaze, I add all ingredients, mix well and this also goes in the fridge. Xristos needs lemon and lime for the seabass so I slice them and put them in containers. I do that in the back of the kitchen because they need the island in the middle for prepping other dishes.
In the back chef Jhumar is cooking the sauce for the shakshuka, 10 litres of it. Chef Jhumar is from Maracay, Venezuela. I ask him how long he has been working for NOPI and he tells me that he’s been working at NOPI for one year now. His wife also works for Ottolenghi but in another restaurant. She has been working for the company for 4 years.
I ask him if he likes cooking and he tells me that cooking is like an addiction to him and sometimes he gets so sick of it that he wants to try something else. But then he asks himself what his favourite thing to do is in the whole wide world. The answer is cooking !!!! That’s when he decides to keep working as a chef. He has been working as a chef since he was 17 (I think he is in his fifties now).
He asks me if I like London and I answer that it’s fine for a week or so but I would never want to live here. It’s too busy and too many tourists in my opinion. I can’t believe the tube is so full at 06:00 that I can’t even sit down. He says that he always thought that he didn’t like big cities either, but actually he loves it. When he goes back to Maracay now it’s too quiet and too slow.
I ask him if there is a recipe for the shakshuka he is making. He says yes, but the recipe for his ‘baby’ is in here and he points at his head. I laugh and tell him that that’s too bad for me because I love NOPI’s shakshuka. He tells me he will teach me if I keep it a secret, but I tell him it’s my last day today so that will be difficult. Then he says to come and find him when I’m ready and he will tell me and I can write it down. Yeah!!!!
He’s also stirring a big pot of something else and I ask him what it is. He says it’s his famous lasagne sauce and chef Tim confirms that it’s the best lasagne in the world. Chef Jhumar tells me I will be the first intern to taste his lasagne, but then I tell him that I’m not staying for staff dinner because I’m meeting friends for dinner. Too bad though I did not get to taste the best lasagne in the world.
When Dennis sees me cutting limes he asks me with a big smile on his face to also do it for his dish. Of course I can’t say no to him and keep on cutting until he also has a container of cut limes and is a happy chappy. I then look at the clock and see it’s already past 15:00. I tell Xristos I’m stopping and he thanks me for all my help. Chef Carlos comes to thank me and I thank him for having me and giving me the opportunity to come and cook and learn here.
I say bye to everyone but not before I get a piece of paper to write down the shakshuka recipe. Some of the chefs ask me for my Instagram account name so they can keep following my cooking. Chef Frances gives me a hug and says to contact him if I have any cooking or other questions. What a great bunch of people have I met this week.
Now I need to hurry back to my hotel, take a shower and change so I can meet 3 friends at Honey&Smoke. Tomorrow I’m going back home and back to my desk job to give my feet a well-deserved rest.
ROVI last night was splendid. We loved almost everything we ordered and had a great time. Of course I went to bed way too late again, but luckily I was not too tired the next day. It’s just that my feet are killing me and I need a foot massage really bad. But my hubby O is not here so that’s not going to happen.
For the staff breakfast I decide to try and recreate the scrambled eggs Andrea made earlier this week. I honestly was too tired to come up with something else. Scrambled eggs are best when you cook and eat them immediately so I did not start with the prep for breakfast today.
I started to sort, clean and store everything that came in today. When Chef Quyen comes in I start helping her with her prep for the larder section. I peel 7 kohlrabies, deseed 4 pomegranates, grate 6 cucumbers and slice 6 grapefruits into segments. Again, the quantities are crazy. All the while we talk about food, dinner parties and her idea to take a course in making Thai food. Then she says she might try to get an internship at a Thai restaurant as I did at NOPI. Why pay for an expensive course when you can do it with an internship.
When I’m finished peeling, deseeding, grating and slicing I make the scrambled eggs for breakfast. Unfortunately, I put enough salt in the eggs so it doesn’t need the Parmesan anymore: if I add the Parmesan it would become too salty. So it’s not exactly the same as Andrea’s version, but it was nice anyway. This was my first time cooking scrambled eggs with 32 eggs.
Then Quyen asks me to make a dip with fresh herbs called Green Goddess, but chef Xristos just came in and he’s actually the one I will be assisting today. I clean my work area at the larder section and go to Xristos to see what I can do. Chef Xristos is from Greece and a very sweet guy. He’s constantly calling me beautiful. Hey beautiful, thank you beautiful, can you pass me that beautiful, can you please go get some coriander beautiful…………..If you ever need an ego boost, just spend a day with Xristos.
Xristos is on the meat section today and it’s his first time on this section. Nevertheless, somehow he knows exactly what he’s doing and while he’s working on the pass I do some of the prepping for him. Then chef Frances comes to me and asks me if I’m doing something important because he wants me to help him. I tell him that I don’t know if it’s important. I’m doing the prep for Xristos He tells me to stop and follow him because we are out of dried tomatoes. While he’s cutting up 3 big boxes of tomatoes he gives me the recipe for the ginger and garlic paste that goes on the tomatoes. I search for all the ingredients and make the paste in the Thermomix. We then mix it in with the tomatoes and put them on baking trays and in the oven to dry.
Then we realize we don’t have enough pork neck skewers for tonight’s service so we start skewering 30 of them together. We start talking and he says he had a day off yesterday and he did a catering job (so basically he didn’t have a day off). He tells me he has a good story on catering jobs. He has a brother who is a member of the Rotary club and he asked Frances to cater a party there. Frances asks him for how many and his brother says 30. Later his brother called him and said it might become 40 and he says ok. When he arrives for the job he heard that there would be 60 people, mind you he was doing this alone. When he entered the kitchen a lady walks up to him and asks him where the rest of the kitchen crew is. She couldn’t believe he came alone to cook for 86 people……….. He slightly changed the menu he was planning to make, did some more shopping and pulled it off. Unbelievable!! Of course he had a good talk with his brother afterwards.
Chef Frances is my favourite to be honest, but don’t tell the other chefs, ok? He has been working for Ottolenghi for almost 16 years now. Chef Frances tells me he always said he didn’t want his own restaurant, but he recently changed his mind. He is thinking about opening his own restaurant in his home country Brazil. I think he will be missed at NOPI when he takes the plunge.
After we finish the tomatoes and the pork neck skewers I go back to prepping for Xristos We pick the leaves from 5 bunches of coriander and 5 bunches of mint. This is the base of all the green salads. Xristos and I talk about Greece and London and Holland. He complains about the weather in London and he tells me he prefers nature and quietness over busy London. Maybe that’s because he is from a small village in Greece. He says he wouldn’t go to Amsterdam if he was on holiday in the Netherlands, he would prefer the countryside. I tell him he may want to reconsider the Netherlands altogether because the weather is nothing better than in London.
While we are leaf picking chef Calvin comes in. He comes up to me to ask what I thought of ROVI. I tell him we loved it and that there was only one dish none of us really liked. It was a white polenta with charred grilled peppers. He tells me again that if I ever want to come to ROVI for an internship, I can contact him directly via email. I can’t believe how kind everyone is here.
Xristos and I finish the leaf picking and chef Frances comes up to me and asks me if I want to make the marinade for the pork skewers. I look at the clock and it’s 15:30 (I get off at 15:00). I tell him I would love to, but I’m meeting friends for dinner and I need to go now. He says we can do it tomorrow in that case. I walk up to Chef Carlos and ask him if it’s ok to take a picture with the whole kitchen crew. I’m afraid if I wait until my last day it will be too busy to arrange it. He calls for everyone to come and we take a group photo in the kitchen.
I then change into my normal clothes and head off to my hotel to get some rest before I meet the ladies for dinner at Scully’s tonight. I also need to call my kids and hubby for the daily update. Tomorrow is my last day at NOPI. I can’t believe it. It went by so fast………….
On day 4 of my internship at NOPI, I had a hard time waking up because I went to bed later than my first 3 days. The reason was I had dinner at NOPI with friends yesterday. Two friends from the Netherlands, two from Belgium and 2 from London came to NOPI to have dinner with me. It was great, but because of that, I got home later than the first two days. I did not get to bed until 23:30. Tonight a few of us are going to ROVI for dinner, so tomorrow morning will probably be even harder. So far as getting myself into a schedule.
When I arrive at NOPI I immediately start prepping for the staff lunch. The idea is to make a tortilla today, not a classic Spanish tortilla but one with a Moroccan twist (all Spanish people please look away). When I tell the head chef I’m making tortilla Zahra style and he starts smiling. I peel some potatoes, garlic and red onion and cook them on the stove until the potatoes are almost done. Then I add smoked paprika, ground cumin and ground coriander. The idea was to use raz el hanout, but unfortunately they did not have that so I had to improvise. I mix this with the eggs and a lot of parsley and bake it last minute in the oven.
Then I start prepping the vegetables again while I wait for my chef to arrive for today. I start helping chef Anderson from Brazil cutting the onion squash for the salads and learn how to cut the squash so it will stand right up when you serve it. Why didn’t I think of this, it looks way prettier on the serving dishes this way. I also learn that I have always been using the best squash to make this salad: onion squash. The NOPI cookbook says to use butternut, but I never do that because I find butternut a bit bland. I have a great time with chef Anderson, he has a great sense of humour and tells me he loves my Dutch accent. Little does he know that his own accent is way funnier than mine. He tells me to bring him an Ajax t-shirt next time I come over. He is a big soccer fan.
Then my chef for today comes in; chef Antonio from Italy. He’s one of the sous chefs and takes his work very seriously. But he’s also in for a laugh. Chef Antonio and I will be on the meat section today and that means Antonio will be behind the grill, so again no plating for me today: there is no room at the pass. Antonio starts cutting the bavette and shows me how while I pick the leaves of the mint and coriander to make a remoulade sauce. After I finish doing that we start skewering the pork neck. That’s a dish that has only been on the menu for a few days and is becoming very popular. The only problem is that the skewering is taking the staff too much time. Luckily they have an intern that can help.
Then chef Calvin comes in – the one who made up the recipe for the pork neck – and starts helping me with the skewering. He tells me about the marinade and how the sticky rice with fermented shrimp that goes with this dish is made. I can’t believe how complex the process is. He then asks me how my internship is going. I tell him that it’s hard work but I’m absolutely loving it. He asks me what I thought of the food yesterday in the restaurant and says he wants my honest opinion. I tell him we basically loved everything, but there was only one dish that needed more seasoning in my opinion: the beetroot salad.
He asks me what my favourite dish was and I tell him that I loved the mackerel with pistachio sambal and the miso glazed hake. He then asks me about my favourite Ottolenghi restaurant and of course I say NOPI, but tell him that can change tonight because we are going to ROVI. He’s a big fan of ROVI and tells me if I want, I can do an internship at ROVI next year. He talks about ROVIs food style with Asian influences and I can’t wait to taste it all. While we chat we manage to skewer enough pork neck for service tonight. I go on with the prep for the other meat dishes and start shredding the mutton for the Herdwick mutton shawarma.
When I’m done with the mutton Antonio asks me if there is a recipe I would like to make. Any recipe from the menu. I tell him I’m really curious about the chickpea pancake and would really want to know how to make that. He gives me the recipe from the recipe bible and says to go and make it. If I have questions I can ask him, but he tells me it’s very straightforward. It will only be the prep though because it needs to ferment overnight, but I at least will know how to make it.
I get chickpea flour, sparkling water, good olive oil and salt and mix it all together. Then I strain it into containers and let it ferment for tomorrow’s service. It’s easy peasy lemon squeezy……. The rest of the recipe is to fry some red onion, add garam masala, put this mixture in with the batter and cook the pancakes.
While I make the pancake batter I start to chat with chef Andrea, the pastry chef I worked with on Tuesday. He is leaving and it’s his last working day today. He is off to Asia for a month and after that, he has a visa for Australia for a year. He’s planning to travel and hopefully start a food stand in Australia. The food stand he wants to start will be close to the beach so he can take a swim in the sea during his break. He will be selling up class street food where the meat will be prepared sous vide and everything. I’m sure he will succeed in this as he is only in his twenties and already so knowledgeable. He is a great teacher with a lot of patience and very professional. I ask him if we can take a picture together before he leaves. I tell him I want to be able to say I knew him before he got famous. We ask Chef Stamos to take the picture.
I look at the clock and see it’s after 15:00 already. I need to go to my hotel and rest before I leave for ROVI with my friends. They are probably out shopping now for all kinds of foodie stuff like rose harissa and good quality tahini.
On day 3 of my internship at NOPI, I woke up at 05:35, my body is actually getting used to the early schedule. That’s quicker than I thought. I walk to Liverpool station in one go today. Yesterday I still had some problems finding my way through the streets of London.
I arrive in time with only 2 chefs in the kitchen. I start with what I know and that’s unpacking vegetables, washing and labelling them and putting them in the fridge. About half an hour later the head-chef arrives and I ask him what I can do. He tells me he is going to give me a prep list with things I need to do all by myself. The chef I assist today is coming in later. He gives me my prep list and I start working.
Then he calls me again and says he has a very nice job for me and if I do it right today I will be responsible for it all week. Oh oh…… my heart starts pounding and I ask him what it is. He tells me to come up with a quick egg-based recipe and cook it for the staff breakfast. The staff??? You mean everyone here who knows how to cook and is used to a very high standard of cooking????
He asks me ‘are you up for it’ with a smile on his face….. ‘You can use whatever ingredients you want as long as it’s quick and egg based.’ I tell him yes and I go back to my station and start cutting leeks and start thinking what to make. I decide to make a frittata with leeks, bell peppers, tomatoes, garlic, spring onions and some za’atar and fresh coriander. It’s going to be a big frittata which will feed 15-20 people. I fry the vegetables, break the eggs and mix them together. I add salt, pepper, coriander and za’atar and cook it in the oven. When it’s done I cut it up and put it on the table where the staff always eats breakfast. Everyone who tries my frittata tells me they like it and that means I will be cooking breakfast for the rest of the week.
Then the chef who I will assist for today walks in. His name is Dennis and he is from South Korea. A few colleagues call him ‘Spicy Dennis’ because he likes to make everything spicy. He’s on the warm side dishes today so that means we are prepping for the famous baked Valdeón blue cheesecake and the polenta chips. We also make aioli and potato cake. This time I’m not plating because the station chef Dennis uses to plate is too crowded for one more chef.
I fill up the pans with the base for the Valdeón cheesecake and add the filling, put it in the oven and then Dennis brings it to be served. He also shows me how to cut the polenta he prepped yesterday and I get to cut it. I use a ruler so all the chips are approximately the same size. After I finish the polenta chips we make 3 portions (4 litres each) of aioli to go with the polenta chips. The quantities we make here are incredible, but of course the aioli will be used for several days.
While I’m preparing the aioli chef Tim comes to me and says he is going to finish the ice cream I started yesterday with chef Andrea and he would like me to help. He takes out the container Andrea and I made yesterday and we strain it. While he warms up this mixture he takes some egg yolks, adds malt honey, sugar and glucose and mixes everything together. When the malt mixture is warm enough he adds some of it to the egg mixture. I start to stir so we don’t get any lumps and then he tips the egg mixture back into the pan. This mixture needs to be stirred until it’s 82 degrees. He starts mixing and I go back to help Spicy Dennis.
Service just started so I try to help everywhere I can. The larder section needs more kohlrabi and apple salad so I start making some. Then the meat section who is doing a meat on a skewer dish needs help putting the meat on the skewers so I help there until Dennis tells me to come and help prep for the potato cake for dinner tonight. The potatoes that I peeled this morning (10 kilos) are cooked and need to be passed through a sieve. After passing it through a sieve we add turmeric and black mustard seeds. I mix everything wearing gloves because of the turmeric, but also because the potatoes are still very hot. I finish mixing it, bag it and put it in the fridge for tonight’s service.
Half an hour to go before I finish and chef Frances says we need more roasted aubergine. The trays are almost empty so he asks me to cut a lot of aubergines and prepare them for roasting. I get 5 cases of aubergine and start cleaning and cutting them. I now realize I cut my aubergine at home way too thin. Here they cut them around 3-4cm while I cut them into 2cm slices. When I’m done cleaning and cutting the aubergine I realize it’s already 15:40 and my shift ended at 15:00. I clean my workstation and leave the oiling and roasting to someone else. My friends are waiting for me back at the hotel.
Today a few Dutch, Belgian and U.K. friends arrive in London for dinner at NOPI. Tomorrow we will go to ROVI and Friday we dine at Scully’s. I hope I have enough energy to join for all dinners. On Saturday I will have dinner with 3 other friends from London at Honey and Smoke.
On day two of my internship at NOPI I meet sous-chef Paula and she assigns me to the pastry chef, an Italian guy from Bologna named Andrea. At 8:00 we start with the breakfast service and he shows me how to make and plate the black rice dish with mango and banana. After he showed me I did the rest of the orders for this dish. While we wait for the orders he is churning ice cream that we need for lunch and dinner service today. We also prep for the baked chocolate ganache with orange oil and crème fraiche. We mix and bake the ganache together and I make the orange oil alone. Then we prepare a crème that we serve with the pineapple sorbet ice cream which we then put into piping bags and store it for later. I start to understand that kitchen prep also known as ‘mis en place’ is the lifeblood of restaurant dishes. It allows you to cook and serve any meal “a la minute”.
We then mix the batter for the roasted corncake and pickled strawberries. The burned butter we use in the batter smells amazing. We also put this batter in piping bags and in the fridge for later use. We then have breakfast which Andrea prepared while I was plating the black rice orders. He made scrambled eggs for the staff and they taste absolutely fantastic. I have seen him make it so I know it must be this good because of the amounts of butter, cream cheese and parmesan cheese that went into it.
After breakfast we go back to our section and then all of a sudden Yotam Ottolenghi walks in and comes into the kitchen to say hi. He walks up to me and says ‘So, now you’re not only cooking Ottolenghi at your own house, but also here…..?’ As he follows me on Instagram, he knows I’m a big fan of his recipes. I tell him I’m doing an internship at NOPI for 6 days. He talks to some of the chefs and then he comes back to ask chef Andrea to make him something nice he can taste. Andrea makes him a pineapple sorbet with tamarind, and Pampero rum infused with banana leaves, and powdered sugar infused with kaffir lime. Yotam is clearly impressed with the dish. Hole in one for chef Andrea. Before Yotam leaves I ask him to sign a copy of Simple for me which he does and he tells me to put it away before someone else takes it.
After he left chef Andrea and I start roasting barley to make malt ice cream for tomorrow. We warm up milk, cream, malt and the roasted barley until it starts to simmer. Then we put it in a container to cool down and get infused with the barley overnight. Tomorrow chef Tim is going to show me the rest of the process of making the ice cream. Chef Andrea tells me it takes a total of 3 days to make this ice cream.
At 15:00 chef Paula shouts the last order into the kitchen and we plate the last baked ganache and some ice cream. After that order we are done in the pastry section. I then ask the larder section if they need help. They need a lot of garlic and shallots cut on a mandolin so I help them with that. Luckily all goes well on the mandolin, even though I don’t have my mandolin glove with me which I always use at home. Before I realize it, it’s already 15:30 and my shift is over. During the staff lunch I pass around some Dutch goodies (stroopwafels, pepernoten and kruidnoten) which I brought from home. I get a lot of positive reactions on the treats and the stroopwafels are everyone’s favourite. Then it’s time to go back to my hotel. My feet are killing me, but who cares. I had a fabulous day…….