Xanthan-Free Zone

Real food, incidentally gluten-free.

Archive for July, 2009

Quick Halloumi Curry with Tomatoes and Spring Onions

Halloumi is one of the great cheese of the world, and when I found a cheap, bulk source of it, I couldn’t wait to make Indian paneer curries with halloumi. Paneer is a cottage cheese which you can make by boiling milk and then adding acid (lemon or vinegar), draining and compressing it. My local supermarket stocks paneer but it’s very expensive and also I find it quite dry and chalky. What I usually do is buy ricotta, cut it into small pieces, coat it in a small amount of oil and bake in a moderate oven about half an hour.

But halloumi is much nicer – chewy, salty, flavoursome. Mine was a little too salty, but I just took it out of its brine and soaked it in plain water in the fridge for a few hours and that leached enough salt out. It can also leach out in the curry if it’s cooked for a bit, so it’s good to remember not to add salt.

This is another one adapted from Raghavan Iyer’s book. It makes use of a homemade spice mix which might seem troublesome but is really what makes it a cut above the rest. It’s the only part that’s not so quick, but once you’ve made it you can keep it and use it for other recipes.

Serves about four.

250g halloumi (pre-soak your halloumi in plain water for a few hours or overnight if very salty)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp cummin seeds
250g finely chopped spring onions, including green tops (about 1 bunch)
250g nice ripe tomatoes
2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
1/4 tsp ground tumeric
2 fresh chillies
1 tsp Balti masala 

Balti masala spice mix:
2 tsp fennel seeds
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp cardamon seeds
1/2 tsp nigella/kalonji seeds
3 bay leaves
2 cinnamon sticks
2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

Heat a frying pan over medium-high heat and fry the spices for 1-2 minutes. Pay a lot of attention and be very careful not to burn them. The mustard seeds should start popping, the fennel should get brown-tinged and the coriander and cumin should get even browner. They should also smell overwhelmingly fantastic. I fried mine one at a time, so I could grind them separately in a mortar and pestle, which is easier because of the different sizes and hardnesses of the spices. Toasted spices, I found, are much easier to grind, and grinding the toasted cinnamon sticks and bay leaves is pretty fun. If you have a spice grinder or appropriate blender/food processor, you can use that. In any case, Raghavan recommends letting the spices cool before you grind them.

Making the curry

Slice the halloumi and fry in a little oil on medium-high heat until browned on both sides. Or you can cook it under the griller. Then slice into bite-sized pieces.

Combine all ingredients except oil and cumin in a bowl. Then heat oil in a wok or large frying pan, and fry the cumin seeds for 10 seconds, before chucking in everything else. Stir fry over a moderate heat until the spring onion greens have all collapsed and everything is well-combined. Then serve!




Cashew Curry

Who would have thought you could make a curry from cashews? It’s indulgent and delicious. This ridiculously easy recipe is from 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer.

Serves six to eight, probably best served as part of a meal with a vegetable curry or something because it’s quite rich.

2 cups raw unsalted cashews
400g tin coconut milk (or slightly smaller tin coconut cream)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp tumeric
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
12 curry leaves
6 cardamon pods
6 cloves
1 cinnamon stick

Bring cashews to the boil in a saucepan of hot water, then take the pan off the stove and leave to soak for two or more hours.

Drain the cashews then combine all ingredients in the saucepan. Bring the the boil and cook on a medium heat for 30-40 minutes.

Vegetarian Chilli with Secret Ingredients


I have a general preference for not telling people what I’m making for dinner, and not telling them what all the ingredients are before they’ve eaten it and told me it was delicious. Then I feel clever when I explain that cocoa, millet and buckwheat groats are what makes it so good.

This recipe satisfies my penchant for Americana food. It’s adapted from “Pierce St Vegetarian Chili” from Heidi Swanson’s blog 101 Cookbooks, but of course my version is gluten-free, and has some other variations which are mostly the result of the ingredients I had on hand.

This recipe makes great leftovers. It’s carby enough to be eaten on it’s own, but not so carby that you can’t eat it wrapped up in some corn tortillas baked with cheese on top. Yum.

There’s so many elements to this recipe it’s hard for me to say what’s essential to its success. There’s certainly lots of room for experimentation, but I would suggest using only grains and pulses that are likely to hold their shape. If you’re concerned they might go mushy, you can toast them or lightly fry in oil before you add them to the pot and this is supposed to keep them whole.

Serves at least six.

2 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
1 onion, finely slicesd
5 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tbsp grated ginger
3 dried chillies, finely chopped, with seeds
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp cocoa
1 tsp ground up cumin seeds
2/3 cup puy lentils
1/3 cup yellow split peas
1/4 cup brown rice
1/4 cup polenta (not instant)
1/4 cup buckwheat groats
1/4 cup millet
400g tin chopped tomatoes
2 nice ripe tomatoes
dessert spoon molasses 
stock or water
1 1/2 cups cooked pinto beans (or 1 tin)
salt, to taste (quite a lot)

To serve:
Any of sour cream, yoghurt, feta, labna, olive oil or other fancy oil, chopped coriander, squeeze of lime or lemon juice

Fry onions, garlic and ginger in oil in a stockpot – at least 10 minutes. You can put this on and then get all the other ingredients out of the cupboard (assuming you’re not going to be arranging a tableau for a photo). Add chilli, paprika, cocoa and cumin, and stir. You can then add the lentils and grains, or you can pre-fry them in a little oil, or in a dry pan, just for a couple of minutes beforehand. Once you’ve fully combined the lentils and grains with the onions and spices, add the tinned and fresh tomatoes, the molasses and stock or water to cover.

That’s pretty much it. Now you just cook it on a low-medium heat, essentially indefinitely, but at least for 40 minutes. Stir occasionally and add extra water if it’s getting too thick. Ten or 20 minutes before you’re ready to serve it, add the beans and begin checking for salt. Pulses and grains always require a lot of salt, so it can take quite a while to get the salt right and it’s pretty important. Pulses without enough salt = super bland. If you’ve used tinned beans or bought stock, it will probably already have salt, but you’ll still need to add more. This is also the time to raise the heat and boil off some water if you’ve added too much. It’s supposed to be wet, but not a soup.

Add whatever optional extras you have, and enjoy!

Caramel Bananas

This is an example of taking a perfectly good healthy fruit and making into a decadent treat. Or you can see it as a quick easy dessert, just add icecream, cream, custard or a fancy creamy yoghurt. It’s so basic it hardly counts as a recipe, but it’s so tasty I thought people might want to try it.

This is per person.

1-3 bananas, depending on size (ie. one cavendish but 2-3 ladyfingers depending on size). They should ideally be a touch overripe – if they are at all underripe it will be unpleasantly astringent.
2-4 tsp brown sugar (2 is what I would use, but others may want it sweeter)
squeeze lemon juice
2-4 tsp butter (depending on decadence level required)
pinch nutmeg
few drops vanilla

Slice bananas into stylish diagonal slices, sprinkle with sugar and lemon juice. Melt butter in a frypan, add banana/sugar mix, then add vanilla and nutmeg. Cook on a medium-high heat until  you get a bit of browning on the bananas, then turn down a bit and cook until the bananas are soft.


Eggplant and Split Pea Dhal

This recipe is adapted from a new cookbook I bought – 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer. I had an eggplant, I wanted to make dhal, and the index supplied me with this recipe. It is delicious.

One thing you will need is a mechanism for grinding up spices and a tablespoon of raw lentils. I use my mortar and pestle, which is a large heavy one made of what I guess is granite. If you have a good sort of blender or food processor that will probably work, or a spice grinder, but one of those small ceramic mortar and pestles will just not cut it.

1 cup and 1 tbsp yellow split peas
2 tbsp vegetable oil or ghee
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 or more dried chillis, depending on your taste
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
12 curry leaves
1 large eggplant
salt to taste

Rinse the 1 cup of split peas in cold water then bring to the boil in a medium-sized saucepan with 3 cups of water. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for half an hour.

While it’s boiling, chop dried chilli and remove the seeds unless you want it very hot. Heat oil in a small frypan or saucepan and add chillies, coriander seeds and the tbsp of split peas. Fry until the coriander seeds are browned, maybe 1-2 minutes – be careful not to burn them. Remove the stuff from the pan with a slotted spoon or (my preference) strain the oil through a metal sieve into a larger frypan (which you will use in a minute). Put the spice-pea-chilli mix aside to cool.

Chop the onion and garlic, heat the oil from before and add the mustard seeds and curry leaves. When the mustard seeds are popping, add the onion and garlic and fry on a low heat. When the onions are soft and have lost that raw smell, add cubed eggplant and fry until it collapses. You can keep it on a low heat for a while, and just add a spash of water if it catches.

While this is all cooking, grind up your spice-pea-chilli mix. This takes 5-10 minutes in a good mortar and pestle and is quite fun.It should end up a gravelly paste consistency. Add to the split peas, then combine this with the eggplant and onion. Cook another 10 minutes, boiling down to a thick consistency. Add salt to taste. If you’re not ready to eat it right away, you can keep it on a low simmer for ages. It will get even more mooshed up and soft.

Serve with basmati rice. Serves about 4.