Bloke in the Kitchen. Tropical chicken stew

kitchen

Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

It is very easy to get into a rut with our cooking, churning out the same old stuff week after week because we know how to do it and we know people like it, but it can get predictable.

One way to freshen things up without overtaxing the brain is to do similar things with different ingredients.

For instance, chuck a bit of meat in a casserole dish with some carrots and potatoes, add a stock cube and some water and you’re making a stew.

But if you use chicken and some less common vegetables, it’s just as easy but tastes completely different. Tropical vegetables are easy to find in most places these days, and people don’t use them because they don’t know what to do with them.

Today we’re going to make a tropical chicken stew with aubergines, okra and plantain.

Tropical veg
Fresh from my garden in the tropics? No, but photographed there

Aubergines, the smooth, shiny purple things also known as eggplant, are a doddle. Cut off the green bit where the stalk is, cut them up and they’re ready to go. We used to be told to lay salt on them to remove the bitterness, but I don’t find them bitter at all. They’re not fantastically flavourful, in fact, but they add texture.

The same is true of okra, which some may find a bit slimy when you have them as a bindi bhaji. In a stew, though, they make it succulent.

Plantains, the macho big brother of the banana, can be cooked when they are still green (we did that months ago as the Venezuelan dish tostones). As they ripen they get sweeter and when they’re very ripe and you fry them they are very much like bananas, funnily enough. For this recipe we’re going to use them in a medium state, on the verge of turning yellow but nowhere near the black state (at which they are still perfectly edible, by the way).

INGREDIENTS

Chicken thighs or drumsticks

One large aubergine, sliced crossways into half-inch rounds

Half a dozen okra, chopped into half-inch pieces

One large or several small plantains cut in half lengthways and into chunks

One green pepper, chopped

Onions, sliced

Root ginger, not grated but chopped into small cubes

Chicken stock

Soy sauce

Chilli powder

METHOD

Marinate the chicken in soy sauce and garlic for at least one hour.

Fry the chicken quickly just to seal it, and sprinkle a little chilli powder on it.

In the same pan, put the plantain in first and give it a minute or two on its own, then do the remaining ingredients – you will probably have to do them one at a time.

Put all the vegetables and the chicken into a casserole dish and add half a pint of chicken stock plus a splash of red wine and a sprinkling of celery salt (not too much).

Cook in a medium hot oven for two hours, checking occasionally. If it is drying out, add more stock and wine. When it’s ready, squeeze some lime or lemon juice over it

Trop stew
And as the tropical shadows fall across the dining table, dinner is served. I used boneless pieces of chicken this time

VARIATIONS

The plantain provides the carbohydrates, but by all means use potatoes or sweet potatoes for bulk – or mash and serve separately. You could also use yam, dasheen, cassava or one of the other tropical root vegetables, peeled and chopped.

Spice it up with some sort of hot sauce if you like. Chefs in the Caribbean often use white vinegar to liven up this sort of thing. Try a dash and see if you like it.

 

Bloke in the Kitchen. Moussaka

kitchen

Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

What is moussaka doing in the ultra-basic world of Bloke in the Kitchen? Aren’t the recipes here supposed to be easy?

moussaka
See? It even looks like shepherd’s pie

Well, yes. But if you think moussaka is difficult just because it comes from Greece and it sounds exotic, that’s like believing the Greeks are better at football and cricket than the English are, just because they’re foreign.

Put it this way: are you proud of your ability to make mashed potatoes or do you think anyone can do it? I assure you there are millions of people outside the UK who have never done it and would think you were very clever if you did it for them.

So, what is moussaka and why is it here?

It’s quick (30 minutes to one hour), easy and tasty.

It’s a way of using minced lamb or beef, just like Shepherds pie is (and you will need the same sort of baking dish), but instead of the mashed potato, it features aubergines. Again, the modest British cook goes “Ooooh!” in a mocking way, because aubergine isn’t one of our common vegetables and we don’t know what to do with it. In this case it is in the dish to provide some built-in vegetable, that’s all.

The aubergine (also called eggplant) is an unusual one to look at, being smooth and shiny, and when you pick one up it’s light and spongy.

Fear not, gentlemen: just as some dark-eyed local maiden in Corfu can be bowled over by your natural charm and masculinity, so this slinky foreign food will co-operate if you do it right. And unlike your new female friend, you don’t even need to peel it.

aubergines
Aubergines. What’s an exotic girl like you doing in a place like this?

And then there’s Bechamel sauce, which sounds fancy but is no more difficult than gravy. Butter, flour and milk plus maybe some extra flavor – that’s all there is to it.

So, are you ready to tackle this strange new task? Do you believe you can master it?

Have a large swig of that Chilean Merlot and let’s go.

INGREDIENTS (for two people)

Minced lamb

A can of tomatoes

Onion

Garlic

One or two aubergines (depending on size)

Cinnamon powder

Rosemary

Parmesan cheese

METHOD

THE MEAT

Chop and fry the onion and garlic, just until the onion is translucent.

Add the mince and cook until it changes colour

Stir in a little cinnamon, rosemary, salt and pepper

Add the tomatoes. Half a six-inch can should be enough. You don’t want it too wet.

Add a splash of red wine, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, some celery salt or whatever your trademark is and simmer for a minute or two.

That’s your meat done. Take it off the stove and put it to one side.

THE AUBERGINES

Slice them lengthways, about a quarter of an inch thick. They don’t have much flavor but are very absorbent, so be careful with the oil. And don’t worry about the purple satin finish – it’s thin and edible – you won’t even notice it’s there.

Lightly oil a griddle pan or frying pan and get it hot. Quickly cook the aubergine slices on both sides until they have that chargrilled, slightly burnt look. Set them aside while you get on with the sauce.

THE SAUCE

Melt some butter in a saucepan and stir in a couple of tablespoons of plain flour. Stir it well until it’s smooth, then add a splash of milk. Keep it on a low heat and stir with a wooden spoon, adding more milk if it’s too thick, until you have enough creamy sauce to coat the size of your baking dish.

INTO THE OVEN

Put the oven on a high heat. Place the aubergines in the baking dish and cover them with the mince and tomato mixture. Sprinkle on some Parmesan to give it a bit of bite.

Top it with the béchamel sauce and put it into the oven. It’s already pretty much cooked, so you can give it half an hour and get the top looking singed and inviting or just get it hot and then serve.

EASY, PEASY, LEMON, SQUEEZY.

If you like, knock up a quick salad of fresh tomatoes and cucumber, both cut into chunks, and drizzle on some olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

That’s it. You’re a cook who can do fancy foreign stuff.