Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Oven baked marinated sardines with chermoula sauce

I’ve said it so many times before on this blog; I love eating fish. I could probably eat fresh fish every day if I could.

I particularly enjoy oily fish like mackerel, herring and sardines because of their strong, almost meaty flavor and the fact that they can stand up to bold flavors. They’re not easily overpowered by spicy and piquant ingredients like chilli or garlic —two ingredients that are always present in my kitchen and seem to find their way in many of my dishes— but rather shine even more because of them.

I used to prepare sardines on the grill or the barbecue, very simply, the classic Greek way with olive oil, lemon juice and fresh or dried herbs, but then I realized there’s so much more I can do with them. A shining example is this dish in which the sardines are marinated in half of a chermoula sauce, are then baked in the oven and served with more of the raw chermoula on top.

Chermoula is a Moroccan - North-African spicy, but not too spicy, herb sauce that is traditionally paired with fish. It’s a fresh and pungent sauce that can be used to marinate proteins but can also be served raw as a condiment on top of fish, meat or vegetables, or even as a dressing for salads.

The basic ingredients of chermoula are fresh parsley and coriander, cumin, paprika, ground chillies, lemon, olive oil and garlic, and there are chunky and smooth like paste versions of it. This one is a chunky one and works best with small fish like sardines. I always prefer the small ones, those we get in Greece that are two-bite-sized, and not the large ones that you need to debone in order to eat. The small ones are so much more flavorful and easy to enjoy. You just remove the head and tail and eat the whole thing.

The resulting dish is really special. You get the true, fresh flavor of the sardine with kicks of chilli and garlic, with the aroma of cumin and parsley wafting through your nostrils, tantalizing you, while the zing of the lemon lifts and brightens up the flavors. The lusciousness of the olive oil meets the healthy fat of the plump, glistening sardines with their soft and juicy flesh, and topped with some more fresh chermoula to accentuate the existing flavors, this becomes a heady, verging on addictive dish.

Oven baked marinated sardines with chermoula sauce
Adapted from Diana Henry

Even though traditionally chermoula includes fresh coriander, I have strong feelings against it, so I use only parsley. If you don’t have the same aversion to fresh coriander (you may know it as cilantro) as me, you may add a handful of it and halve the amount of parsley.

As I already said, I prefer eating small sardines as I find them more flavorful and easy to eat, but larger ones can certainly be used in this dish. They’ll just a take a little more time to cook.

Pair the fish with couscous, quinoa, bulgur or rice. Alternatively, serve with a big salad and fresh crusty bread to sop up all the delicious juices.

Yield: 4 servings (or 2 if you eat them just with salad)


for the chermoula
90 ml (6 Tbsp) olive oil (I use extra virgin in all my cooking)
½ tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp sweet paprika (not smoked)
½ tsp dried red chilli flakes (I use Greek boukovo)
2 garlic cloves, mashed
Juice and grated zest of 1 lemon
Large handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper (5-6 turns of the mill)

500 g whole, small sardines (about 28), scaled, gutted, rinsed and dried
30 ml (2 Tbsp) olive oil

Special equipment: large baking dish (large enough to fit the sardines in one layer), plastic wrap


make the chermoula
In a small bowl, add all the ingredients for the chermoula and mix well with a spoon.

Add the sardines to a large baking dish and top them with half of the chermoula sauce. Gently mix them with your hands so they all get coated with the sauce. Arrange them in the baking dish in one layer, wrap the dish with plastic wrap and place in the fridge to marinate for 1-4 hours.

Preheat your oven to 200°C.

Half an hour before you bake the sardines, remove them from the fridge to come to room temperature. Drizzle them with 2 Tbsp (30 ml) of olive oil, sprinkle them with a little salt and place them on the middle rack of the preheated oven. Bake the sardines for 12-13 minutes.

Note: If you are using large sardines (500g = about 8 large sardines), you will need to cook them for 15-20 minutes.

Remove them from the oven and serve topped with the rest of the chermoula.

The way to eat fresh small sardines: Cut off the head and tail and eat whole. I never take out the backbone because it’s soft, but you can remove it if you wish before eating.


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Saturday, September 19, 2015

Fig and Muscat wine ice cream with salted pistachio praline

Ice cream again? Yes, again. Because I made this the other day and I had to share it with you before fig season is officially over.

It’s not your mainstream ice cream, this is different. It is a fig and Muscat wine ice cream with a salted pistachio praline and is not custard-based but it’s made by pureeing the whole figs, skins and all, together with demerara sugar and a little lemon juice, and then the wine and cream are mixed in before you churn it.

There’s sweetness in the ice cream which comes on several different levels— the figs, the wine, the raw sugar— and it has a deeply intense fig flavor, which of course hugely depends on the ripeness and quality of the precious figs.

There is a hit of Muscat wine flavor that is subtle rather than overwhelming, with its sweet and floral aroma tingling your taste buds. I used Greek, sweet, white Moschato (Muscat) wine from the island of Samos, which is one of the best in my opinion. I may of course be biased being Greek and all but I find that compared to the Italian or French Muscat wines, the Greek Moschato is livelier with a fuller and more vibrant grape flavor.

The ice cream doesn’t have a terribly complex flavor, containing just a few ingredients that allow the figs to shine in all their freshness and seasonality. The earthy, sweet and salty pistachio praline that’s served alongside it, is a great addition not only in terms of flavor but also in terms of texture as its strong crunch complements the creaminess of the ice cream.
With its charming shade of pink, little specks of tiny yellow fig seeds and flecks of purple fig skin decorating it throughout, it’s a beautiful ice cream to look at and eat.

If you need some more ways to use the last figs of the season:
Fig jam
Fig and mascarpone bruschetta with ham and honey
Tagliatelle with fresh figs, goat's cheese and prosciutto
And one with dried figs:
Savory muffins with Gruyère cheese, dried figs and fresh herbs

Fig and Muscat wine ice cream with salted pistachio praline
Ice cream recipe adapted from Nigella Lawson via Real Food by Nigel Slater

Salted pistachios tend to be too salty, that’s why I prefer to add the salt separately. In this way I can manage the level of saltiness in the praline.

I have made this ice cream in the past without churning it and the result was equally good which is good news for those of you without an ice cream machine.

Yield: about 1 kg


for the ice cream
530-550 g sweet, ripe, fresh, purple figs (about 7 large figs)
120 g Demerara sugar (raw cane sugar)
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
120 ml white, sweet, Muscat wine (preferably Greek Moschato from the island of Samos)
130 ml cream, full-fat (35%)

for the salted pistachio praline
100 g shelled, unsalted pistachios
130 g white, granulated sugar
50 ml water
¼ tsp sea salt flakes (I used Maldon)

Special equipment: large food processor, ice cream machine (optional yet preferable), heatproof spatula, candy thermometer (optional), silicone sheet or baking paper


for the ice cream
Rinse the figs under cold running water and cut off the stalks. Cut them in quarters, keeping their skin on, and add them to the food processor together with the sugar and lemon juice. Process them and add the wine. Process again and add the cream. Process thoroughly until you have a puree with small bits of fig skin still visible.

Empty into a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes before churning it in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Due to the large amount of alcohol in there, it doesn’t create ice crystals so it stays creamy but it needs to stay out of the fridge for half an hour to be scoopable.

Alternatively, if you don’t have an ice cream machine, empty it into a freezer-friendly container and place it in the freezer. You don’t need to stir it at all.

You can keep the ice cream in your freezer for a week.

for the salted pistachio praline
In a small skillet add the pistachios and place over a medium heat. Toast them, stirring often so they don’t get burned, until they become fragrant and brown lightly. Transfer them to a small bowl.

Lay a big sheet of baking paper or a silicone sheet over your work surface.

In a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the sugar and water and place over a medium heat. Stir with a heatproof spatula until the sugar dissolves in the water, turn heat up to medium-high and then allow the magic to happen. The sugar will start to boil, do not stir at all because it will crystallize and it will be ruined, but stay close and keep an eye on it because you don’t want your caramel to burn. It will take 6-7 minutes for the sugar to turn into a dark golden caramel. The subtle smell of burnt sugar is an indication that it’s ready. Be careful not to burn it though. If you have a candy thermometer it should read 185°C.

Take the pan off the heat immediately and add the salt and toasted pistachios to the pan. Stir briefly with a heatproof spatula to coat them with the caramel and empty onto the baking paper/silicone sheet, spreading it quickly with the help of the spatula. Allow to cool completely. It will take 25-30 minutes.

Once cooled, break the praline with your hands into pieces. You can grind them in your food processor and sprinkle over your ice cream (like in this ice cream) or keep them in shards and serve alongside the ice cream.

Keep the praline in a sealed glass jar for 1 week.

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Sunday, September 13, 2015

Buckwheat & hazelnut granola w/ millet, dried currants & seeds (vegan / gluten free / refined sugar free)

When it comes to breakfast, I’m not adventurous, at all. I eat the same thing, day in day out.

What I eat in the morning is granola or muesli with milk. That’s it. Nothing more. No coffee, no juice, nothing. Except on weekends when sometimes I have a savory breakfast of eggs, tomatoes and cheese, or a sweet one of croissants, bread with jam or honey, or waffles (yay waffles!). But then I can’t wait for Monday to come so that I can eat my regular breakfast again.

You could say I’m pretty boring; I would say, that’s just me and we all have our preferences.

I never used to make granola, I preferred buying it ready made, up until a few months ago when I did start making my own. I’ve discovered that it’s so easy to make and so versatile —adding the ingredients you like or those you have on hand— that I don’t really have an excuse not to. If you haven’t tried making your own granola, you’re missing out.

One of the very first recipes I tried was this one from the Violet Bakery Cookbook. I made some changes to suit my personal taste and the outcome was fantastic. I keep coming back to this granola over and over.

I prefer chunky granola with clusters that hold together when soaked in milk and don’t disintegrate into nothing or become soggy, but I also don’t want the clusters to be too hard. I don’t want to give my jaw a workout first thing in the morning. I managed to achieve the right texture and I was so happy with the result.

Apart from the texture which is bang on, the flavors are incredibly good as well. Earthy, nutty, aromatic, sweet, but not overly so, as the recipe doesn’t contain any refined sugar but only agave syrup. It is also gluten free since the main ingredient is buckwheat flakes. I love the flavor of buckwheat with its slight bitterness that is balanced by the hazelnuts, dried currants and seeds. It’s a hearty granola that fills you up for hours without having to eat too much of it. And that’s what you want from your breakfast, right?

Buckwheat and hazelnut granola with millet, dried currants and seeds (vegan / gluten free / refined sugar free)
Slightly adapted from The Violet Bakery Cookbook by Claire Ptak

Use ground flax seeds instead of whole seeds in order for your body to be able to absorb all the nutrients like Omega-3 fatty acids, protein, vitamins and fiber.

Yield: about 1,300 g

500 g buckwheat flakes
125 blanched hazelnuts
50 g ground flax seeds
50 g sesame seeds
50 g pumpkin seeds
50 g millet
200 ml agave syrup/nectar
50 ml extra virgin olive oil
100 g extra virgin coconut oil
100 ml water
1½ tsp pure vanilla extract
½ tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
150 g dried unsweetened currants

Special equipment: a large, rimmed baking sheet (or two smaller ones), baking paper

Preheat your oven to 150°C.
Line a large baking sheet (or two small ones like I do) with baking paper.

In a large bowl, add the buckwheat flakes, hazelnuts, all the seeds and millet. Mix well with a wooden spoon to combine. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, add the agave syrup, olive oil, coconut oil and the water. Set the pan over a medium heat and melt, whisking continuously. Remove the syrup mixture from the heat, add the vanilla, cinnamon and salt, and stir well to combine.
Pour the syrup over the dry mixture and stir well to coat completely.

Spread the granola mixture evenly onto the prepared baking sheet(s) and place on the middle rack of the preheated oven. (If you’re using two small baking sheets like me, place one on the lower rack and the other one on the middle rack. Halfway through the baking time switch them). Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the baking sheet(s) from the oven and toss the granola well with a metal spatula, breaking it into large chunks. Return baking sheet(s) to the oven, turn down the temperature to 140°C and bake for a further 30 minutes, tossing the granola every 10 minutes, until It has taken on a golden color.

Once ready, remove the baking sheet(s) from the oven and place on a wire rack so the granola cools completely. Then add the dried currants and toss well.

Serve with milk or yoghurt.

Store in airtight containers. It keeps for 1 month in a dark and dry place.

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