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…….
I was kind of nervous as I left my hotel for day one of my internship at NOPI. The head chef had given me a choice between the morning and evening shift. Because I wanted to have dinner with friends in the evening I chose the morning shift. That meant I had to get up at 05:45, leave my hotel at 06:15 to get at NOPI at 07:00. I had expected to get into a nearly empty tube at this time. Unfortunately the tube was completely stuffed with people going to work. I left my hotel a bit earlier on my first day because I did not want to be late. I’m glad I did because I arrived exactly on time.
I went through the front door and down the stairs into the kitchen. Carlos the head chef was there and we shook hands and went to the office. We took care of some official business, mainly contract related and he showed me where I could find the chefs whites, trousers and aprons. I got changed in a tiny locker room, took off my wedding ring and watch and went to the kitchen.
There I met the rest of the chefs who had just come in. Carlos told me I was assisting Quyen today. She was the chef that was responsible for the larder section today. This meant we were making mainly cold side dishes and salads. I was busy all day cleaning vegetables, cutting them, putting them into boxes and labelling them with content and date. As it was early we were mainly prepping for lunch. I washed and cut lettuce, carrots, three colours of beets, cucumbers and spring onions. I also peeled pomegranates and crumbled some goat cheese for the beetroot salad.
While I was prepping the vegetables I see Sami Tamimi coming down the stairs. Sami is the co-author of many of the Ottolenghi books. He comes into the kitchen to say hi and to wish me luck for the coming week. It’s always great to see Sami as he is so nice and always takes the time to talk to you. When we finish chopping, boxing and labelling all vegetables that came in that day chef Quyen asks me to make the sauce for the squash salad with ginger tomatoes. I tell her that I love that salad so much that I have already made it like 20 times at home. The chefs had a good laugh about that.
In the afternoon I got to plate a few of those big bold salads you always see at the takeaway section. I plated an aubergine salad with yoghurt, Aleppo chili, dill, pomegranate, deep fried mint leaves and toasted shaved almonds. The yoghurt sauce is put in on a serrated spoon that you tap hard on your hand so it creates a small but consistent splatter on top of the aubergine. A nice technique I will definitely use when making these kinds of salads at home. The second salad I plated was one of my favourite salads in the NOPI book: the squash salad with ginger tomatoes and fried shallots. The third salad we made was a beetroot salad with strained yoghurt, yellow beets, thinly sliced spring onion, goat cheese and hazelnuts. The fourth salad in the picture is the one with romano peppers dressed with zhoug, tahini, manouri and pine nuts.
The atmosphere in the kitchen is very dynamic and the kitchen is quite small for the number of people in it. Everyone has their own little corner where they work and you are supposed to not take up too much space. When I finished the salads, it was already past 15:00 and my shift was done. I clean my workstation and go back to the changing room to change into my normal clothes. Before I leave I sit down with a few people from the staff to eat something and I suddenly realize that I forgot to eat and drink all day. I promise myself to do that differently tomorrow, otherwise my body will not be happy after a few days. After eating with the staff I head back to my hotel.
In the tube I’m thinking about what to do or go see in London after I take a shower at the hotel. That was totally unnecessary because I’m so tired that when I get to my hotel I don’t want to leave anymore. Maybe tomorrow…………….
It is unbelievably hot this summer in the Netherlands and I wouldn’t be surprised if these scorching temperatures reach record-breaking heights. However, considering the summer can be quite rubbish in The Netherlands I’m glad that it’s finally hot enough to complain about how hot it is :-). These kinds of temperatures certainly can take a toll on our bodies and when the mercury rises this high, there are few people who are willing to get in the kitchen and cook dinner over a hot stove. So we tend to go for dishes that don’t need cooking at all like fresh cold salads.
But………………If you read my blog post about ‘garlic soup with harissa’ you know that I’m a big soup fan. I’m that crazy girl that can eat hot soup even in summer for the reason that hot food actually cools me down on a warm day. This heat however, is even too much for me. This is no reason though to ditch soup as a whole. I just turn to cold soups instead and gazpacho is probably what first comes to mind when you think of chilled soup. There is nothing quite like a delicious gazpacho on a warm summer day.
So, what is this green gazpacho that looks too healthy to be any good? Are you sure this is gazpacho? Isn’t gazpacho supposed to be red? That’s the typical reaction I get from people to whom I served this dish. Why? Because the main ingredient in traditional gazpacho is tomatoes. One could think I made this gazpacho with green tomatoes, but they couldn’t be further from the truth. Ottolenghi manages to make a gazpacho with zero tomatoes in it, but I can promise you that you won’t miss them eating this green gold. Its full of green veggies blended into a silky creamy chilled soup with Greek yoghurt, basil, walnuts and parsley.
This gazpacho is the perfect dish to take to a picnic or maybe to take to work and eat at your desk. Although, why would you eat at your desk if you can eat outside in the sun? I prefer going into the scorching heat to eat my gazpacho lunch to avoid frostbite from our office air conditioning. There is a chance that this portion of blended veggies is not hearty enough for you and that’s where the croutons come in. If you don’t like croutons (who doesn’t like croutons??) you can always serve the gazpacho with a large chunk of fresh bread or add garnishes like spring onions or walnuts or…..……….anything you fancy.
If you want a more posh way to serve it during a dinner party, pour it into cute tall shot glasses and serve it as a refreshing little appetizer. This flavourful soup requires no cooking and can easily be made the day before and stored in the fridge until ready to serve.
The temperature is 37C as I’m writing this blog post. I think I will go and sip some more gazpacho…………….try to stay cool in this weather and promise me you will try this soon.
I hope you enjoy this green gazpacho 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: 'Plenty' - Yotam Ottolenghi
- 2 celery sticks
- 2 small green bell peppers, deseeded
- 1 cucumber (350g in total)
- 3 slices stale bread (120g in total)
- 1 jalapeno pepper
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 tsp sugar
- 150 g walnuts, lightly toasted
- 200 g spinach
- 45 g basil leaves (reserve a few leaves for garnish)
- 10 g parsley
- 4 tbs sherry vinegar
- 50 ml olive oil
- 40 g Greek yoghurt
- about 450ml water
- 250 g ice cubes
- 2 tsp salt
- white pepper
- 2 thick slices sourdough bread (150g in total)
- 2 tbs olive oil
This recipe is so easy that it’s the croutons will take the most time, so start with the croutons.
Preheat the oven to 190C. Cut the bread into 1cm cubes and toss them with the oil and a bit of salt. Spread on a baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes, or until the croutons turn golden and crisp. Remove from the oven and allow to cool down.
Roughly chop up the celery, peppers, cucumbers, bread, chilli, and garlic. Place in a blender and add half the water, cover and puree until smooth. You should now have room to add the rest of the ingredients to your blender. Add the sugar, walnuts, spinach, basil, parsley, vinegar, oil, yoghurt, the other half of the water, half the ice cubes, the salt and some white pepper. Make sure it can fit in your blender, otherwise do this in batches. If you don’t have a standing blender you can always use an immersion blender.
Blitz the soup until smooth. Add more water when needed to get your preferred consistency. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning. Put it in the fridge to chill it. I like to make it the day before so it’s really cold when we eat it.
Just before serving the gazpacho you add the remaining ice and pulse a few times, just to crush it a little.
Serve the gazpacho at once, with the croutons and a drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil. I like to add a few leaves of basil on top.
Over time I changed a few little things in this recipe. I use a normal (unpeeled) cucumber instead of mini cucumbers because the mini ones are not always easily available. I throw in the whole bread, including the crust. I only use 2 garlic cloves (instead of 4) because I don’t like a lot of raw garlic. I know I’m crazy like that. I use regular spinach instead of baby spinach and I use more basil than the original recipe calls for. Furthermore, I only add 50ml of olive oil instead of the 225ml to the gazpacho and use 2 (instead of 4) tbs of olive oil to coat the croutons. It’s a lot of small changes, but I adjusted the gazpacho to my taste.
Ma’amoul cookies are famous middle eastern shortbread pastries filled with dates and walnuts. You will find variations that use pistachios or almonds instead. The dates are sometimes replaced by figs or raisins, but I prefer the traditional date and walnut combination. They can be in the shape of balls, domes or flattened cookies. Traditionally ma’amoul cookies are decorated by hand with something that looks like icing crimpers or shaped in special wooden moulds.
I can imagine that the idea of making ma’amoul cookies can be a bit intimidating. First of all, they look very fiddly to put together. How do you put the filling in the cookies? Also, how do you decorate the cookies? You can find some impressive decorations online when searching for ma’amoul cookies.
Well, I’m here to reassure you it’s actually not that complicated. The most important thing is to get the dough to the right consistency. If you manage to do that then the rest is as simple as you want it to be. That is because you can make the decorations as complicated as you want, even not decorating is an option. Just sprinkle them with powdered sugar after baking and they will be pretty enough. What I can do is give you a recipe that will produce a perfect dough. I will even give you my secret decorating tip to make them the prettiest cookies you have ever seen with little effort. Trust me…………
Filling the ma’amoul is not that difficult either. Take a piece of dough and place it in the palm of your hand, flatten it with your thumb and place the fillings in the middle of the dough. Then you close the dough by folding the edges over the fillings and you make sure the filling is not visible after closing. After that you have a few choices:
- You leave it in the shape of a ball or press it down with your palm or with a fork if you want a pattern; that’s the easiest choice.
- You shape it into a cigar like I did once when I didn’t have moulds yet.
- You use a traditional wooden mould (see below picture). Place the ball inside the wooden mould. Press it gently inside the mould and then slam it against a cutting board until the dough falls out the of the mould, nicely shaped.
- Use pincers or icing crimpers to form patterns of your choice.
- Use any small mould you have. I have used an ice cube holder in the past which had the shape of a flower.
- My secret method: use a mooncake mould (see picture below) to shape the ma’amoul cookies. This is my go-to method nowadays and the one I will use in below recipe. the combination of ma’amoul and mooncakes is kind off east meets middle-east.
To this already delicious Ottolenghi recipe, I added ½ tsp of mahlab. Mahlab is a spice that is made of ground cherry pits. It smells like a combination of almonds and cherries, with a hint of anise. If you can’t find this spice it’s ok to omit it, because the original recipe is amazing as is. The mahlab just adds a little more oomph. I also used more dates than in the original recipe, because I like a lot of filling.
I hope you enjoy this ma’amoul cookie 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: ‘Jerusalem’ – Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
- 350 g semolina (very fine)
- 40 g plain flour
- 40 g caster sugar
- 1/2 tsp ground mahlab (can be omitted)
- pinch of salt
- 180 g unsalted butter, cut into 1cm cubes
- 2 tbsp orange blossom water
- 1 tbsp rose water
- 225 g walnuts
- 100 g Medjool dates, roughly chopped
- 45 g caster sugar
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp rose water
- 1 tbsp orange blossom water
Mix the fine semolina and the flour, along with the sugar, salt and mahlab in a big bowl.
Rub the cubed butter in until completely blended. Mix the rose water and the orange blossom water into the dough. Add the ½ tbsp of water and knead the dough by hand until you can form a ball. Resist the urge to over-work the dough. Work it just enough to get it to come together (max 5 minutes). After that, you need to let it rest for 30 minutes under a damp cloth.
While the dough is resting we can make the filling. In a food processor grind the walnuts until small and a bit chunky (not too fine). Ideally, they should have a texture of coarse sand, with some little bits of nut still visible. Cut the dates with a knife into small pieces and add them to the food processor. Add the sugar, cinnamon, rose water, orange blossom water and a teaspoon of regular water. Pulse a few times. If it doesn’t come together into a paste add another teaspoon of water and pulse again. It should easily come together when you squeeze it. Be careful with the amount of water you use as too much will make the filling too mushy and difficult to work with.
Preheat the oven to 190C (170C fan).
Now for the 'finicky' part. Pinch off 15 gr balls from the semolina dough. First time I made them I weighed every single ball, but now I just weigh one then go by the look of the first one. Then I do the same with the filling, but for the filling I use 9gr.
Place one of the semolina dough balls in the palm of your hand and flatten it to a disk large enough to cover the filling. Place the fillings into its centre then close the dough over the filling making sure the seams are closed. Roll it around on your palm and set to the side. Cover them as you go, otherwise the dough will dry out. Dip your fingers into a bowl of water every once in a while to keep the dough soft. Keep going until all the cookies are filled.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set it out on the counter. Choose the pattern you want to use for your ma’amoul and add it to your mooncake mould. Put one of the filled dough balls in front of you and place the mooncake mould over it. Press the mould down ever so gently and lift your mooncake mould as you carefully let the ma’amoul cookie fall out of the mould into your palm. Place your pretty ma’amoul cookies on the baking sheet and repeat with the rest.
Bake the ma'amoul cookies for 12-15 minutes and turn the tray after about 8 minutes. Do not overbake the ma’amoul, they might look pale and underbaked after 15 minutes, but that’s how they are supposed to look. Let them cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Make sure your cookies are completely cooled before storing them. If you store them before they are completely cooled, condensation will cause the cookies to become soggy.
Now the ma’amoul cookies are ready to be devoured. They should be of a consistency that melts in your mouth yet holds its shape without crumbling. Serve them with a cup of mint tea and enjoy your easy made ma’amoul cookies which will look like they were made by a famous pastry chef.
See, that wasn't that difficult right?
These cod cakes in tomato sauce from the Ottolenghi cookbook ‘Jerusalem’are one of the many recipes I cooked to convince some of my hardcore carnivore friends that a meal with fish can be as delicious and sometimes even more delicious than the red meat option. I have some friends who believe that a dinner is not complete without a piece of red meat. I’m not a vegetarian but I don’t like to eat meat every day. My husband is a meat lover too, but I like to think I convinced him with my cooking that it’s not necessarily the meat that makes a meal complete. Nowadays I can even get away with serving him a vegetarian meal twice a week. Getting away sounds like he doesn’t like it, but he assured me that he loves the vegetarian dishes I cook for our family. He sometimes even makes vegetarian requests now.
I have made these cod cakes in tomato sauce many times for dinner and they surely are a huge hit with everyone who eats them. People always ask me for the recipe afterwards. Calling these gems cakes though doesn’t do them justice in my opinion. Fishcakes are defined in the Oxford Dictionary of Food and Nutrition by chopped or minced fish. The fish is then mixed with potato, egg, and flour. The seasonings consist of onions, peppers and sometimes herbs and spices. The potato and flour are the main reason why I’m not really fond of the traditional fishcakes. They tend to make them dense and dry, while these cod cakes in tomato sauce are moist and succulent.
For this recipe, you can pretty much use any fish you like, but I would recommend a nice flaky white fish. I have made it with fresh cod or tilapia but I have also made it with cod from the frozen section. Though the fresh fish is better the frozen option is pretty decent if you need to watch your budget and can’t afford to buy fresh fish. Another great tip I learned from someone is before you shape and refrigerate the cakes, fry off a small piece of the mixture. Taste it, add seasoning if needed and add a little bit of panko/ breadcrumbs when it’s too sloppy.
By the way, these cod cakes in tomato sauce are perfect for freezing to save for a rainy day. When freezing them separately (without the sauce) be sure to put some greaseproof paper separating the patties. When freezing them with the tomato sauce make sure you defrost overnight and heat them up very gently. Be careful as this is one of those dishes that you will eat too much of and regret it later…………and then end up having one more…………
I always serve them with a simple couscous seasoned with salt, pepper, some extra virgin olive oil, some parsley (or coriander) and some slivered almonds for the crunch. The children always ask me to make broccoli to go with this dish. It’s their favourite combination.
Do you want to hear a lame joke about fishcakes?
A man walks into a fish shop with a fish under his arm and says “Do you have fish cakes?”.
The fishmonger says, sorry, we have no fish cakes today!
The man says: that’s a pity, ……… it’s his birthday today!
Thank cod 🙂 I’m better at cooking than at telling jokes, right?
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!
Source: ‘Jerusalem’ – Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
- 600 g cod (or any other white flaky white fish) skinless and boneless
- 60 g Japanese panko crumbs (or 3 slices white bread, crusts removed)
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 150g in total)
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 30 g flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
- 30 g coriander, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp ground cumin
- 1½ tsp salt
- 2 large free-range eggs, beaten
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 2½ tbsp olive oil
- 1½ tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp sweet paprika
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 125 ml water
- 700 g the best passata you can get
- 1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 tsp caster sugar
- 2 tbsp mint leaves, roughly chopped
- salt and black pepper
Start with the fish cakes so they can firm up prior to frying. Chop up the fish very finely and place in a bowl with all the other ingredients except for the olive oil. When using bread instead of panko you need to blitz the bread in a food processor to form breadcrumbs. Mix well and then, using your hands, shape the mixture into compact cakes, about 2cm thick and 8cm wide. The mixture should make 8-12 cakes, depending on how big you want them. I always refrigerate the cakes for at least 30 minutes to firm up, but when you have time one hour is even better.
While the cakes are firming up in the refrigerator you can start on the tomato sauce. Heat up the olive oil in a very large frying pan for which you have a lid. Add the onion and cook for 5-8 minutes until soft and translucent. Then add the spices and fry for another minute. Add the water and keep simmering for another 3 minutes. Add the passata, chili, garlic, sugar, ½ tsp of salt and some black pepper. Simmer on low heat for about one hour and taste to adjust the seasoning when needed.
While the sauce is cooking add the remaining oil to a frying pan and fry the cakes for about 3 minutes on each side until nicely browned. Place the seared cakes gently, side by side, in the tomato sauce. Carefully add enough water to partially cover the cakes, about 200ml. Cover the pan with the lid and simmer on a very low heat for 15-20 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the cakes to settle, uncovered, for at least 10 minutes before serving warm or at room temperature, sprinkled with mint.
Sometimes I get the question if I have a good recipe for Moroccan tagine. But what do we mean by tagine, the pot or the dish? I usually use the word when I talk about the pot. Nowadays the word tagine is used for both the terracotta conical pot as well as the food that’s served in it. Historically the nomads in North Africa used the tagine pot as a “portable cooking vessel”, allowing them to prepare food on a charcoal fire while moving around.
The traditional tagine consists of two parts: a round bottom unit that is flat with low sides and a cone- or dome-shaped top that serves as a lid during cooking. The lid is designed to return all condensation to the dish. That way less liquid is needed and food cooks slowly until completely tender. Tagine is traditionally cooked over hot large bricks of charcoal. More convenient methods of cooking with a tagine nowadays are in an oven or on a gas or electric stove top. Make sure you use the lowest setting when using the stove, just enough to keep it simmering gently. Resist the urge to increase the heat or you may damage your tagine or scorch the food. I always cook my tagine on my gas stove and use a heat diffuser to evenly distribute the heat. A heat diffuser is a round utensil placed between the tagine and the flame.
Be careful as many ceramic tagines are purely meant as decorative serving dishes. You will need to make sure you can also use yours for cooking. Also, there are people who advise you to soak your it overnight before using it. The soaking is supposed to make it less susceptible to thermal shock. I never soak my tagine before using it simply because I was never taught to do so. My tagines are glazed so I think water would not penetrate the terra cotta anyway. One thing I do know is that you always hand wash your tagine and never put it in the dishwasher.
So, if I had to choose a favourite tagine recipe, it would most definitely be my mums Moroccan chicken tagine with dried prunes. Believe me………..nothing beats homecooked Berber tagine. My mum used to make us all kinds of tagine dishes (lamb, beef, kofta, vegetables), but her Moroccan chicken tagine with dried prunes was our favourite.
I remember we would gather around the dining table with my parents and my siblings with one tagine in the middle. Everyone got a piece of khobz (Moroccan bread) to eat the tagine, no cutlery needed. We used the bread for scooping out bites using just our fingers. The trick is to only use your first three fingers cupped together. Use these fingers in a scooping up motion, helping to get the food onto the bread. Then you can use your thumb for putting the food into your mouth and to avoid licking your fingers.
Licking your fingers is very impolite because everybody is eating from the same serving dish (the tagine). Another no go is to reach for a bite on the other side of the tagine, you only eat from the part closest to you (the Berber word for that part is ‘lili’). If you want the last prune and it’s not in your ‘lili’ you can always ask the ‘owner’, but you never reach for it yourself. As long as we are talking rules, don’t use your left hand when eating tagine as that is the hand you (should) use in the bathroom for wiping certain body parts.
Maybe you want to stop reading after the previous paragraph: there are many people who can’t imagine themselves eating with their hands. Don’t worry, you can always use cutlery if you are not comfortable eating with your hands. I remember people coming over to our house and my mum would just fix them a plate and give them a fork and a knife if they did not want to eat with their hands. I also remember that lots of those people eventually wanted to try to use the bread instead of the fork and knife, just because they were curious if they could manage.
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 tbsp olive oil
- 6 chicken thighs
- 1 large red onions, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp tomato puree
- ½ tsp salt, or more to taste
- ½ tsp ground pepper
- 1 tsp raz-el-hanout
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 300 ml water (approximately)
- 250 gr little potatoes
- 1 small carrot, sliced in circles
- 150 gr dried prunes
- 1 red bell pepper, cut in stripes
- 1 large tomato, sliced in rings
- 1 large red onion, sliced in rings
- One hand full of peas (fresh or frozen)
- Chopped coriander for garnish
Put the tagine on the stove on medium heat. I like to use a diffuser to evenly distribute the heat over the bottom of the tagine. A diffuser is a round utensil placed between the tagine and the flame (see above). Coat the bottom of the tagine with the 2 tbsp of olive oil. Add the finely chopped onion to the tagine and fry until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Arrange the chicken in the tagine and cook it for 8 minutes turning the meat occasionally to lightly brown it.
Add the spices, salt, and tomato puree and keep turning the meat until it’s completely coated. Arrange the chicken flat on the bottom of the tagine, leaving the rim free. Add enough of the water so it doesn’t overflow and keep the rest for later. Let the water come to a simmer and reduce the heat to low. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning with salt if necessary. If at any point throughout cooking it looks like there is not enough liquid in the saucepan, add in a few tablespoons of water.
Now you add the vegetables carefully on top of the meat, fully concealing the meat. I always use the same order. First I add the potatoes and the carrots as close to the liquid as possible. Then I put the dried prunes in between the potatoes. The stripes of bell peppers go on top of them and then you carefully add the tomato rings and onion rings. It will look like a lot of vegetables, but it will be fine. The peas go last and they go everywhere they want to go. There is no way of orchestrating them. I finish with a sprinkling of salt and pepper because the vegetables are not touching the water enough to be seasoned by it.
Cover with the tagine lid and leave the heat low. Leave to simmer gently for 2 hours. Try not to disturb the tagine other than checking the level of the liquids occasionally and adding a little water when necessary.
After 2 hours take the tagine of the heat and let it cool down for 10 minutes. When you are ready to serve, remove the lid and garnish with cilantro (or parsley if you prefer) and serve with bread.
If you don’t have a tagine you can also make this recipe in a large deep-sided pan with a lid.