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Last night's dinner

A fairly experimental set of recipes last night, with friends M and E coming over for dinner, and my mother-in-law staying, so it was cooking for five.

Starter: Asparagus Soup (Georgia - from The Georgian Feast)

500 g asparagus, cut into 2cm pieces
1.2l boiling water
2 onions, finely chopped
30g butter
salt
pepper
2 eggs, beaten together
bunch of chopped herbs (recipe says parsley, coriander and dill; I used basil and tarragon instead)

Simmer the asparagus in the water for 5-8 minutes.
Meanwhile, sauté the chopped onions in the butter.
When the asparagus is done, stir in the onions, salt and pepper.
Stir a bit of the broth into the eggs, then whisk the eggs into the soup (they should cook slightly)
Stir in the herbs and then simmer for a few more minutes before serving.

Total time: about 20 mins, starting with cutting up the asparagus.

Comment: Tasty, though I should have put in more salt and pepper (fortunately you can add that after it is served).

Main course: Bobatee (South Africa - from The New Internationalist Food Book)

500g minced beef (or lamb)
1 slice bread
400ml milk
15 ml oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, sliced
½ teaspoon chili powder
seeds from 2 cardamom pods
1-2 teaspoons crushed coriander seed
2 bay leaves
1 clove
60g almonds
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 egg
1 teaspoon mustard
½ teaspoon grated lemon peel
1 small apple, grated
50g dried apricots
50g raisins
2 tablespoons /30 ml red wine vinegar (for beef) or lemon juice (for lamb)
2 tablespoons /30 ml dry white wine or orange juice
salt

Heat oven to 160°C/325°F
Put the bread soaking in the milk in a medium-sized bowl for half an hour
Heat the oil and soften the onion and garlic. Then add the chili powder, cardamom, coriander, bay leaves, clove and almonds. Cook for 5-10 mins, stirring to prevent sticking. Then remove from the heat.
Remove the bread from the milk and squeeze it, keeping the milk in the bowl. Add the turmeric, the egg and a little salt; beat until the mixture is an even light yellow colour.
Get a large bowl and put in the bread, the meat, the mustard, the lemon peel, the grated apple, the dried apricots, the raisins, the vinegar/lemon juice, the wine/orange juice, the onion and spice mixture, and half of the yellow milky stuff. Mix it well by hand to the point where it is even and smooth.
Put it into a deep greased oven dish and smooth the top. Pour on the rest of the yellow milky stuff, add a few dots of butter and then bake in the oven for an hour or until the top is golden brown.
The book says serve with chutney, bananas, shredded coconut and tomatoes, but I chose a different route (see below).

Total time: 45 mins preparing, then an hour in the oven. (You could probably skimp a bit on the amount of time the bread spends soaking.)

Comment: I saw this ages ago in the recipe book and was really intrigued by it, because I had no idea what it would come out like. It ends up a bit like shepherd's pie, but the meat bit is smoother and the topping is a savoury custard rather than potato. It tasted really nice. Rather than serve it with the recommended savouries I did two cold salads as described below (but did also offer tomatoes).
My mother-in-law speculates that a vegetarian version with nuts and/or lentils might be worth exploring; I look forward to hearing her reports.

Side salad 1: Cucumber and Sesame Seeds (Cambodia - from The New Internationalist Food Book)

1 large cucumber
120 ml vinegar (white wine or cider)
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
2 tablespoons /30ml sesame oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons sugar
salt

Peel the cucumber; cut into 5 cm pieces; cut these again into lengthwise sticks. Put them in a pan with the vinegar and salt; add a little water to cover; heat and simmer for a few mins until the cucumber is tender and transparent. Drain, keeping the liquid, and put both liquid and cucumber aside to cool separately.
Toast the sesame seeds in a pan with a little oil until they begin to jump and turn golden. Then set them aside. (Comment: this needs very little oil indeed. It doesn't take long at all to get to the required stage - the seeds are almost like popcorn.)
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil and cook the onion and garlic until they are golden. Remove from the pan.
Pour into the same pan the other tablespoon of oil, the turmeric, the sugar, and a judicious amount of the vinegar liquid (the recipe says half but that seems to me way too much). Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved. Add the onion and garlic and let them heat through.
Mix in the cucumber pieces and arrange in a bowl. Decorate with the sesame seeds. Serve (it says here) warm or cold.

Total time: 20 mins, if you are fairly hasty with your interpretation of letting the cucumber and the vinegar mixture cool.

Comment: This had a lovely exotic taste to it. Certainly had a sense of south-east Asia; whether Cambodia in particular I cannot judge.

Side salad 2: Green beans (Georgia - - from The Georgian Feast)

500g young beans
1 garlic clove, crushed
½ cup chopped fresh herbs (it says coriander but I used tarragon)
3 tablespoons /50 ml olive oil
2 tablespoons /30 ml red wine vinegar

Trim the beans; cook them for about 8 minutes; drain thoroughly and mix with the other ingredients; chill.

Total time: 15 mins. (Plus of course a couple of hours cooling in the fridge.)

Comment: Again, yummy, and very straightforward. Perhaps one could go easy on the vinegar, esp since the cucumber recipe uses it too.

Dessert: Rhubarb Crumble (from The Doctor Who Cookbook, contributed by Maureen 'Vicki' O'Brien)

500g rhubarb
150g sugar
75g butter
150g flour
50g chopped nuts
Grated peel of ½ a lemon

Set the oven for 220°C/425°F
Chop the rhubarb into 2 cm sections, and put into a greased oven dish.
Scatter 100g of the sugar on top.
Mix all the rest together, and sprinkle it on top too.
Bake in the oven for 40 mins.
Serve with custard or cream.

Total time: 20 mins (plus the baking).

Comment: As recipes go, this is absurdly easy. It still ended up a bit overdone; I am not sure if this is because our oven is hotter than it claims to be, or perhaps I used too much sugar. I will certainly try again.

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