Search This Blog

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tandoori Chicken

Characterised by its fiery red colour and explosive hit of spices, Tandoori style food has etched itself onto the must-have dishes when dining at an Indian restaurant.  The name Tandoori derives from the clay oven that the food is cooked in, known as the tandoor.  The use of these ovens, that can reach extremely high temperatures, is widespread across the Indian sub-continent and also in the Middle East.  The cylindrical ovens are lit with a wood fire, usually at the base, and then allowed to heat up to such intensity that meat can cook within minutes when skewered and placed inside.  Tandoors are also used in producing Naan bread, and you will know when they are cooked this traditional way, as the Naans will be soft on the inside and have a crispy, charred and flavoursome exterior.  The principals of tandoori cooking are very much in line with that of convection ovens – to some degree.  In restaurants the meat or vegetables are marinated and then threaded onto metal skewers and then plunged into the furnace where they cook to smoky perfection.  The smokiness of the end result comes from the dripping juices from the food evaporating and infusing the food, as they splash onto the hot wood fire. 
I have dined on Tandoori at restaurants across India during my brief travels there and savoured every piece of chicken and lamb tikka kebab.  Here in Melbourne there are some good places that put a on a fairly comparable Tandoori chicken dish and some even keep the tandoors within view of the diners to heighten the excitement of the dining experience.  Like with most restaurant food I eat I like to emulate it in the home kitchen in the hope that it tastes somewhat similar and worthy.  Unfortunately I do not own a tandoor oven although, they are available to purchase - so I am taking donations….anyone!!! 
For a while I have tried making Tandoori Chicken in the kitchen oven, on the bbq and even on a grill plate.  While the marinade has been good and followed to the letter from Indian recipes – the end result falters in the taste department and I had almost given up.  That was until our backyard acquired a new resident – the Weber Kettle BBQ.  This spherical oven produces some very flavoursome roasts cooked above hot coals in what’s called the indirect method of barbequing.  This is when the coals are positioned around the meat and not directly below it, as a griller would have it.  It was this that inspired me to try cooking Tandoori chicken in this manner.  Combining whole chickens with a perfect blend of spices and an admittedly “cheats” ingredient, I had finally come up with restaurant worthy Tandoori Chicken that I have served up to my guests, and gotten major compliments for.  
The process is not exceptionally hard to do and the reward is remarkable.  This recipe yields about three whole Tandoori chickens and I keep at least one as a left over and freeze it to use later in a mouth-watering Butter Chicken recipe.  If you do not have a Weber at home, then the conventional oven will do – you just will not have the smoky flavour that’s all but the chicken will still be tasty – trust me!  Use the red food colour to give it that exotic look and you can’t go wrong.  In our family we actually consider Tandoori as a shade of red – like Scarlett and Magenta.  “Fake tanned bodies will get called Tandoori colour”.  Marinate this dish a day ahead for maximum taste.

3 x Chickens, kept whole with skin removed
250g x Yoghurt
3tsp x Cumin, powder
3tsp x Coriander, powder
2tsp x Garam Masala
1tsp x Turmeric
3 tsp x Ginger, freshly grated
6 x Cloves of Garlic, crushed  
2 x tbsp Tandoori Paste (This is my biggest cheat, as no matter how hard I have tried I have not gotten a better taste without the paste)
Chilli powder (As much or as little as you like)
Salt to taste
Red Food Colouring (after all if it ain’t red it ain’t Tandoori)
3 x Lemons, medium size

In a large non-metallic bowl combine yoghurt with ginger, garlic and dry spices
Add the Tandoori Paste and mix well.
Adjust salt to taste then add the food colour.
Prepare the chickens by scoring the thighs, legs and breast sections with ½ cm cuts
Rub the marinade over the chicken and inside the cavity before placing a lemon in each cavity.
Allow to marinate overnight in the fridge.

DAY TWO (I will give instructions on how to cook the chicken in a conventional oven, however I did use my kettle BBQ in an indirect method which takes about 1½ hour until the meat is cooked through)
Preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius
Place the chickens onto a wire grill above a roasting dish to catch the drippings
Bake for 20 minutes on the high heat then turn oven down to 175 degrees Celsius and cook for a further 45 minutes.

Chicken is done when the juices run clear
Allow to rest for 15 minutes before carving it up
Serve with leafy greens, lemon wedges and a minted yoghurt for dipping

Monday, September 19, 2011

Greek Food Weekend...Opa!

Hot on the heels of a very successful French Food Weekend, and one from which we are still enjoying the spoils, mainly being Duck Confit and Duck Rillettes, it was time to head further down the Mediterranean Sea, to Greece, for some more culinary inspiration.  Was this destined to be another weekend of foodie joy hailing from the land of the gods Zeus and Apollo? Well I decided not to make it too labour intensive as there was a few other happenings around the kitchen this weekend being the one in September when our family celebrates three separate birthdays.  The first birthday to be celebrated is my sister’s and it was her idea for me to cook up a Greek storm to honour her 27th annual celebration.
Happy Birthday to my sister Ro - She requested this Greek Feast so here goes!  
What to serve for the feast that was to be had for Sunday lunch? Since the weather is warming up a little it seemed like a good idea to keep it really informal and simple but tasty.  What could be more Greek than Souvlaki or Gyros (depending where you are from).  I decided on a chunky leg of lamb to marinate and cook to a juicy souvlaki filling and since we were expecting a small crowd, I put up a chicken dish on the menu too.  Paired up with a selection of fresh spring veggies and beautifully dressed Greek Salad, these “souvas” were going to be memorable.  For starters, Greek dips definitely had to be on the menu and some warm pita bread to carry them on.  No Greek meal for me would be complete without the sweet hit of flaky, syrupy Baklava to finish which also masks the relatively prominent taste of garlic that you are left with because you just had to ask for “Extra Garlic Sauce thanks!”

The menu looks like this (click on the items to take you to the dish)

Baklava – A spiced nutty mixture encased in layers of buttered filo pastry and soaked in a wickedly sweet sugar and honey syrup
By the way this cake was not made or decorated by me it was done by the Mrs. so I thought it only fair to show it off on this blog.

Lamb Souvlaki - Food of the gods

Charcoal grilled lamb has a beautiful aroma that you can smell a mile away and although this recipe does not use the charcoal grill it still has the potential to fill the kitchen with a very welcoming aroma.  Grilling meat to be eaten in unleavened bread dates back many years and the Ancient Greeks seemed to have a good knack of it and have passed these traditions down the generations.  Today you don’t need to be in Athens to enjoy a Souvlaki – why just the other day I was making a right mess of a souvlaki on Brunswick Street right here in Melbourne.  The humble “souva” is the go-to fast food, that Saturday night out-on-the-towners, who need a huge hit of sustenance in the early hours of the morning, after a big night, turn to almost religiously.  I must admit that it is one of my guilty pleasures on such nights that I surely regret the next morning - but will gladly do again next time.
Nevertheless, souvlaki can be enjoyed in the home and if you get the marinade right, turn up the music and eat this at odd hours, it is almost like a night on the town.  Or you could just have it for a late lunch as we did - and boy was it was good!  Start the day before with the meat marinating and 24 hours later you are bound for a treat as you dish up some home-made goodness.  I use a nice leg of lamb trimmed of any excess fat and opened up with the bone still intact.  If you do not like the idea of wielding a knife and carving into the meat then ask your butcher to do it.  The idea is to open the meat so that you can season the inside with marinade and then roll it back up as it was to roast like a big joint of meat.  It is advisable to use cooking twine to truss the meat on leg so that I stays intact through the cooking process.   

2.5kg Lamb, leg joint
½ cup x Lemon Juice
¼ cup x Olive Oil
4-5 cloves Garlic, crushed
2 Tbsp x Dried Oregano leaves
5 sprigs x Thyme, leaves picked
Store bought pita bread loaves

Prepare the leg joint by cutting 1 cm deep gashes along the outer side
Cutting the leg open along the bone and turn it out so that the meat which was once rolled is now flat
Keep the bone intact as this will add to the flavour and assist in cooking.
Combine all marinade ingredients in a cup, stir well to mix
Massage the marinade into the inside of the lamb, apply a thick amount of the herb mixture
Roll the meat back around the bone as it was and tie with the twine to secure
Now work marinade onto the outside of the lamb especially in the gashes
Place the remaining marinade and any drippings into a plastic bag along with the lamb
Secure tightly and leave in the fridge for at least 12 hours
Preheat oven to 220 degrees
Place lamb in a roasting dish with the marinade
Bake in the oven for 20 minutes on the high heat
Turn the leg over and turn heat down to 175 degrees
Cook for another 40 minutes and turn leg again
After another 15-20 minutes check the internal temperature with a thermometer
A temperature of 77 degrees (170 degrees Fahrenheit) is ideal
Remove from the oven and rest the lamb for at least 30 minutes before carving

Make up the souvlaki by taking a store bought pita bread loaf and filling with a generous serve of lettuce, tomato, onion and then topping this with chunks of lamb.  Squeeze on some fresh lemon juice and garlic sauce (Yoghurt infused with garlic).  

Roll the pita up as best as you can and then chomp into it – there is no other way.  Keep napkins at arm’s reach because it is sure to get messy – but oh so good!    

Chicken Souvlaki - Greek inspired of course

If you venture in to your local souvlaki joint you will see right next to the lamb, almost every time, is its best friend - Chicken. Merrily rotating over the grill, caramelising on the surface and just beckoning to be part of your souvlaki experience.  Chicken was a great addition to my Greek feast menu as sometimes just lamb won’t do.  After all, a culinary delight at souva joints, like those in Brunswick Street is the “Mixed Souva”.  Yes lamb and chicken married in a flavour bomb of garlic, herbs and fresh salad.  So if you want to make a mixed number then you had better get this chicken dish on your menu.  It also goes well on its own as a humble Chicken Souvlaki.
I use boneless Maryland pieces (drumsticks and thighs) for this dish as they are a good cut made for slow roasting and are easy to carve without bony bits.  The chicken is roasted in the oven until practically cooked and then it is finished on the grill so that it gets it a nice caramel crisp surface that resembles the rotisserie over charcoal, in the shops.  The marinade here is very similar to Lamb Souvlaki but as a special touch I have tried to incorporate what I call "chicken friendly" herbs like rosemary and sage - this is purely for a contrast you are most welcome to use the classic oregano and thyme if you feel that way inclined.  Keep in mind for best results it is recommended that you marinate the chicken the day before - for the total flavour infusion.


6 x Chicken Maryland fillets, skin removed
1 cup x Natural Yoghurt
2 Tbsp x Lemon Juice
¼ cup x Olive Oil
4-5 cloves Garlic, crushed
 ¼ cup x Sage leaves, freshly picked
6 sprigs x Rosemary, leaves picked
1 - 2 tsp x Salt
Store bought pita bread loaves 

Prepare the chicken by scoring 1 cm deep gashes along the outer side
Season lightly with 1 tsp salt
Combine all marinade ingredients in a bowl, stir well to mix
Place marinade into a deep non-metallic dish
Add the chicken to the dish in one layer
Cover securely with cling wrap and leave in the fridge for at least 12 hours
Preheat oven to 175 degrees
Place chicken on a wire rack above a roasting dish 
Baste the chicken with any remaining marinade
Bake in the oven for 30 minutes on one side
Turn the chicken over and bake for a further 30 minutes
On the stove heat a grill pan or flat heavy bottomed pan
Grill the chicken pieces on high heat for about a minute on each side
Remove from the grill and allow to rest for 5 minutes uncovered
Carve the chicken pieces into chunky slices

And as with the Lamb Souvlaki, build it up by taking a store bought pita bread loaf and filling with a generous serve of lettuce, tomato, onion and then topping with chunks of grilled chicken.  Squeeze on some fresh lemon juice and garlic sauce (Yoghurt infused with garlic).  Roll the pita up as best as you can and then chomp into it – there is no other way.  Keep napkins at arm’s reach because it is sure to get messy – but oh so good - guaranteed or your money back (just kidding I don't offer warranties!)   

Greek Salad

It seems a little pointless to do a blog piece about a salad, but I must indulge in this one as it really hit a high note in the flavour stakes.  Along with the cuboids of the usual suspects that appear in a Greek salad line up is the dressing that just brings the whole thing together.  Many a time have I been quite unimpressed by the offerings at restaurants that are played up as Greek Salads.  While the vegetables and the feta are perfectly good, what is most lacking is the punchline delivered by the dressing.
I am making a point of the dressing as this time around I have really outdone myself even and stumbled upon a dressing that was simply delicious.  So good that I grabbed a plain pita loaf and mopped up the dressing leftovers from the bottom of the salad bowl.  The secret to a good Greek Salad dressing is really really good Olive Oil.  You want a nice fruity, green, probably expensive bottle that you keep under lock and key.  In my case I was fortunate to have such a bottle supplied to me from the grower himself.  You see, I work with an olive providore that grows and presses his own olive oil.  Each year the bountiful harvest of 10,000 plus olive trees are used to create olive products and this was my first real use of the good stuff.  The result is a deliciously green and fragrant oil, that once added to my salad dressing, there was no turning back.  Here's to Mr NC and his awesome olive grove.

For the dressing
¼ cup x Olive Oil (the very best you can find)
2 Tbsp x Red Wine Vinegar
1 tsp x Dried Oregano
Salt and Pepper to season

For the salad
2 x Cucumbers, 1 cm cubes
2 x Tomatoes, 1 cm cubes
1 x Red Onion, cut into rings
200g x Kalamata Olives
200g x Greek Feta, cut into cubes

5-6 x Mint leaves x finely cut
3-4 sprigs x Fresh Oregano, leaves picked

Combine the dressing ingredients and stir to combine
Place all vegetables and feta into a large salad bowl
Drizzle the dressing over the salad 
Using your hands work the dressing over the salad
Garnish with the mint and oregano 
Place in the fridge until time to serve

Make sure you mop up the bottom of the bowl as the stuff there is pure gold...I tell ya!


Warm Bean Dip - Greek inspired

This bean dip is quite possibly not Greek at all.  In fact when I did a Google search while writing this, there was not a notable bean dip recipe that was inherently Greek.  So I shall proceed by calling this a Greek inspired dish – since I was cooking up a Greek feast anyway and the flavours are all in there.  You will need to do some mashing work with this dish or simply whack it all in a blender once cooked and serve warm

1 can x Butter Beans, drained and rinsed  (any large white beans will do)
2 Tbsp x olive Oil
1 x Onion, finely diced
2 cloves x Garlic, crushed
Chilli Flakes  
2 Tbsp x Yoghurt (or large dollop of Tzatziki)
Salt and Pepper

Heat the oil in a deep pan with the onions and garlic
When onions are softened add the chilli flakes – as much or as little as you like
Tip in the beans and stir to combine all ingredients
Now add in the yoghurt or Tzatziki if using
Season well with pepper and salt to taste
Mash the ingredients with a potato masher or pop in a blender
Serve warm with a few beans to decorate and a sprinkle of chilli flakes

Best eaten with warmed pita breads torn into pieces 

Tzatziki - Cucumber Dip

A starter is a great place to start and Tzatziki, for me is synonymous with Greek food .  I love pronouncing the foods the way they would in their land of origin and Tzatziki sounds so undoubtedly Greek, especially when you emphasise the "I".  Now being a foodie type, I am very reluctant these days to buy dips from the supermarket.  Delicatessens at markets are sometimes likely to get my business for dips – although I would much rather purchase cured meats and cheeses from them since I do not make these at home.  When it comes to Tzatziki there is definitely no two ways about it: home-made all the way.  This dip infused with cucumber is best made in advance so that the delicate flavour of the cucumber becomes more pronounced alongside the powerful garlic.  For this recipe I use a combination of garlic three ways – Roasted, Fresh and Powdered.  Each type provides a different element to the dish and enormous flavour to boot.


1 x Cucumber, medium sized, grated with the skin on
1 cup x Greek Yoghurt (what else!)
8 cloves x Garlic, 4 roasted, 4 crushed to a paste
1 tsp x Garlic Powder
2 Tbsp x Lemon juice
1 tbsp, Dried Mint
Pinch of salt

To roast the garlic I recommend roasting a whole head of peeled garlic in a small ramekin covered in Olive Oil for about 30-45 minutes in a low oven.  The roasting takes away the sharpness and replaces it with a mellow taste.  You can use the flavoured oil in other cooking and the extra cloves have a number of uses where garlic is called for.  
Mash up the roasted garlic cloves and add it with all the ingredients to the yoghurt and stir to combine.  You can use a blender if you wish to have a more smoother dip, but I think the flecks of cucumber and mint make this dip ever better.  Adjust the seasoning by adding more salt if required and place into a serving bowl and chill for a few hours before serving.  Serve with some crispy pita bread fresh out of the oven. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sweet Potato & Swede Soup

Well Winter is officially over and we here in Melbourne are in for a hot hot Summer.  Before we get to the warmer months though, Spring is upon us, supposedly bringing sunnier days and cherry blossoms.  However, in  our neck of the woods it seems that the days are Spring(y) but the nights are still quite Winter(y).  So the need for cooking hearty soups and stews is still about fulfilling the desires to warm the cockles of our wintery hearts that long for the barmy nights by the beach. 

Rummaging through the vegetable drawer of the fridge can sometimes be quite a task of finding your way through mould ridden pumpkin, beans that have lost their bounce and salad leaves that have seen better days.  Sometimes however you find yourself with gems of vegetables that have withstood their cold imprisonment and still have enough life in them to warrant substantial ingredients for a decent meal.  The suspects in question this time around are a couple of sweet potatoes and swedes that were forgotten in the line-up for last Wednesday’s Hearty Beef Stew and have found themselves unwanted.  That is until this creamy and delicately sweet soup number.  Get this in a bowl before the weather gets too hot.


1 x Red Onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 x Garlic cloves, peeled and bruised
1tbsp x Olive Oil
2tsp x Sweet Paprika, extra for sprinkling
1tsp x Coriander
½ tsp Fennel Powder
2 x Sweet Potatoes, medium size peeled and cut into chunks
2 x Swedes, medium size peeled and cut into chunks
1Ltr x Chicken Stock
¼ cup x Sour Cream, extra to drizzle
Pepitas to garnish


Start by placing a heavy pot on medium heat with the oil
Stir in the onion and garlic and cook  gently for a minute to soften, do not allow to burn
Add the spices and toast gently for another minute
Now add the vegetables and chicken stock
Cover and simmer on low heat for 20 minutes, or until vegetables soften
Remove from the heat add in the sour cream
Using a stick blender whisk up the soup to a thick consistency
Serve hot with a sprinkle of paprika and pepitas