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Italian food expert K came to stay last weekend and he arrived with a plan: he’d been reading about the spicy Calabrian sausage nduja in last week’s Telegraph and thought we should try it out. (I should stop here and and remind readers that K just moved to the UK and possibly didn’t realise the implications of buying the Torygraph. Also he was seduced by a freebie that came with the weekend paper. Let’s not judge, we’ve all done that.) Anyway, by good fortune, I went to the Brighton Fiery Food Festival right after we spoke and came across a Calabrian food stall hawking several different kinds of nduja. Either this was the universe telling me to buy nduja or the Calabrian food lobby has a seriously good PR department.

The nice man from BreadTree told me that Calabrians think it is high time people got over their love of chorizo and recognised nduja as the best spiced pork sausage in Europe. To prove his case, he offered two main types of nduja: Nduja di Spilinga and Nero di Calabria. The first was a satisfyingly deep red colour (on the left below) and clearly rich with oil and dried peperoncino chillies. I liked the look of it immediately. Slightly more expensive was Nero di Calabria (on the right), which is organic and made from the famous Calabrian black pigs. I bought some of each for taste test purposes. Read the rest of this entry »

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Last weekend was Brighton’s Fiery Foods Festival, an event that you can imagine is close to my heart. I’m not really invested in the boy-boy machismo of chilli eating competitions and I could do without the live music component of the day, but I am unreasonably excited about wandering from stall to stall, buying jars of this and that spicy condiment, and grazing on hot foods from around the world.

I have to say that this year’s festival was noticably weaker on the street food front. Whereas last year I ate amazing som tam (pounded for me while I watched, with levels of each ingredient open to debate), delicious Nigerian spinach and egusi (not spicy but there was hot sauce available) and more, this year the hot food was a bit insipid. There were stalls of the kind you see at every street event – burgers, sausages and so on – that have nothing to do with fiery foods, and then horrible corporate versions of Mexican food. We did eat some lovely Thai BBQ but I worry that the economic situation is driving out the small businesses that are a huge part of this kind of event.

On the positive side, the stalls selling artisanal ingredients and condiments were a joy. It’s always lovely to meet the people who make foods and in most cases at the festival, that’s exactly who I was talking to. Enthusiastic about their products and happy to talk about suppliers, recipes and more, the makers of these products made for a food blogger’s dream day out. And, of course, these delicious products are all available to buy online. Here are my top five: Read the rest of this entry »

This week I’m excited to have posts from two guest bloggers, both of whom are not only great cooks but also share my love of learning about new culinary cultures.  First up is Chris, who usually blogs about cinema but has a secret life as a brilliant vegetarian cook. I more or less beg him to make me his Southern biscuits with mushroom gravy every time I see him. Since I know I have some (long-suffering) vegetarian readers, I’ve persuaded him to share his south Indian-inspired vadai curry. Over to Chris…

Like many vegetarians, I have long privileged Indian food in my diet. In fact, certain Indian dishes are comfort food for me, and I’m not of South Asian descent.  However, the dishes I crave most are not necessarily the Moghul standards that Indian restaurants specialize in here in the US but rather the homier dishes that I have learned from friends, cookbooks, and the occasional restaurant serving more regional food. Vadai (or vadi, plural of vada, sometimes transliterated wada or bada) are just the sort of thing I don’t often see on restaurant menus. Basically they’re lentil fritters, typically served as a snack with coconut chutney, and you could do the same or even treat them as an appetizer. But I find them a bit more trouble than I want for anything other than a main dish. So I make a curry with them, inspired by the vadai curry I first had at the excellent Madras Cafe, tucked into a stretch of strip-mall hell in Atlanta.  Read the rest of this entry »

To go with the feijoada I posted about last, I wanted a light(ish) and more refined starter. Most of the food I cook is very far from refined, let’s face it, and the Afro-Brazilian dishes I enjoy the most tend to be hearty and robust. But I thought moqueca, the Bahian coconut-based fish and seafood stew, might be open to a bit of refinement.

I know there are many different variants of moqueca in Brazil but the kind I’m most familiar with is from Bahia in the North and mixes indigenous with African flavours. I had it when I was in Brazil – although I was in Rio de Janeiro, so I’m sure my Bahian friends will scoff at its authenticity – and it was a truly enormous pan heaped with all manner of seafood, swimming in a spicy lake of coconut broth and with orange dendê oil lapping around the edges. It was a bowl to be reckoned with and as I recall two hungry people could hardly make a dent in it.

But the essence of the dish is, like many a seafood soup, good stock and fresh fish. So I decided to make mini moquecas with a vibrant sauce replacing the traditional soupy stew, and the seafood cooked separately. If I wanted a full-on Bahian experience this might not be the way to go but as the opener to a Brazilian meal, it turned out pretty flavoursome and, crucially, not destructively heavy. We served the moqueca with homemade pão de queijo. Read the rest of this entry »

I love making feijoada, the Brazilian national dish. It looks like a decadent feast of many components, but it’s easy to achieve and you get to watch the magic of black beans slowly becoming silky and thickened. It’s also fairly healthy for such a heavy dish – the central beans, meat and rice are joined with sliced orange, toasted manioc meal, and kale for a colourful and fully rounded meal. It was the perfect relaxed meal to share with our friend K, who had been working very hard and arrived in the middle of an apocalyptic storm. We passed around the pão de queijo and pretended we were in Rio…

The origins of feijoada are somewhat murky. Mr Lemur, who was born in Brazil, always told me that it was a government invention, designed with the optimal nutrition of a poor population in mind. I haven’t been able to find any sources for this story, so I suspect it’s an oddly socialist urban myth. Many people believe it to have originated in the slave quarters of early colonial Brazil, but this one is a bit of a myth too. These days, it is accepted that the dish has a largely European origin, with the Portuguese bean and pork stews similar to French cassoulet adapted for the black beans of Brazil. There are some native elements, such as the use of black beans rather than white, and the farofa sprinked on top of the beans. And it’s certainly true that African bean and leafy green stews, and indigenous bean and manioc dishes are crucial to Brazilian cuisine in general. But while Brazilians would prefer to view their national dish as emerging from native and African roots, this particular ‘national dish’ seems more likely to have developed in the grand homes of the colonists. No matter who invented it, though, feijoada today does represent elements of each of Brazil’s major historical influences: African, indigenous, and European. Even if, like most traditions, this one turns out to be a nineteenth-century invention, it’s a pretty good one. Read the rest of this entry »

No, I didn’t accidentally type the word ‘orange’ twice: I really did make an orange orange curry. The thing is this: when reading about Thai curries, I’ve often come across recipes for orange curry or even sour orange curry. Perhaps because of my familiarity with Latin American cooking, the first time I read this, I thought it was a curry made with sour oranges. Makes sense, right? But of course, it’s not. Orange curry is orange the way red curry is red and green curry is green. It’s not connected to fruit at all. But that first misreading stuck in my head and when I was shopping in a fairly crappy supermarket the other day and had few options for fresh ingredients, I thought hey, why not make a Thai fish curry with actual oranges? Thus was born the idea for the orange orange curry. Read the rest of this entry »

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