Saturday, October 11, 2008

Semolina Helva (Irmik Helvasi)

This delectable dessert is a traditional Turkish sweet, and probably every Turkish household has its own version. I first had it at a restaurant called Venge in Istanbul's Levant quarter, but I must admit that the result of my recipe, and all other ones I have tried, is very different from the Venge version. At Venge the semolina was fairly coarse, comparable to fine bulgur, and it was loose, meaning not firm and sticky which is the only result I have been able to get, and the way it was served was a delight. They lined a deep plate with hot helva, left room in the centre for a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream, then turned it onto a flat plate so you only discovered the cool creamy centre when putting your spoon into it to take the first bite. Most recipes I have seen online, including the one at Binnur's Turkish Cookbook, serves the helva in one big piece, sometimes even with a sauce. I like to serve it as a kind of finger food, and I don't think it needs any accompanying sauce.

Ingredients (ca. 6 servings):
  • 3 1/2 dl full fat milk
  • 2 dl water
  • 1 1/2 dl sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 10 cardamon pods


  • 1 1/2 dl peeled almonds
  • 75-100 g butter
  • 3 dl semolina (medium grain)
  • 1 dl sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon powder
  • small oven tray, ca. 20x20 cm.

How to:

  1. Put all ingredients for the syrup in a saucepan, place on a medium heat. When it reaches boiling point, reduce heat to very low, letting the sugar dissolve and the spices infuse the milk. This should take ca. 15 minutes.
  2. While the syrup is infusing, chop the almonds very, very finely. Try to resist the temptation of doing this in the food processor, since you will end up with almond meal instead of little crunchy bits. Keep 1/2 dl of chopped almonds aside.
  3. Mix the additional 1 dl sugar with the cinnamon powder in a small bowl.
  4. Line the oven tray with baking paper.
  5. In a second saucepan (larger than the one for the syrup), melt the butter and fry the 1 dl of chopped almonds in the butter for ca. 5 minutes until they turn golden, then add the semolina, and fry for another 5 minutes. Keep stirring to avoid the semolina from burning.
  6. Now add the syrup to the semolina-almond mixture. Be careful of spluttering! Stir vigorously to prevent lumping. When the mixture has the texture of a light porridge, stir in the sugar-cinnamon mixture, and keep stirring until all the syrup has been absorbed. This probably only takes 20-30 seconds! The mixture should now be so firm and doughy that it is almost impossible to stir it any longer.
  7. Remove from heat and scoop into the oven tray. Smoothen the top of the helva with a wet spoon.
  8. Sprinkle a little water on the surface of the helva, then sprinkle the 1/2 dl almonds on top, press them slightly into the helva. Finally sprinkle a bit of cinnamon powder on top as well.
  9. Before serving, remove the helva from the tray and cut it into cubes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tip: Instead of almonds you can use other nuts, like pine nuts, pistachios or walnuts.


Friday, July 25, 2008

Coconut Creme Caramel

Recently, I was on a trip to East Timor, where I had some really nice food. I particularly enjoyed a Coconut creme caramel, very rich but very soft and fresh, with a light coconut taste. I was trying out since I came and this is the recipe that worked better so far.

You will need (for 6 people):

  • 400ml coconut milk
  • 3 large or 4 medium eggs
  • 50 gr sugar (plus 175g sugar for the caramel)
  • pudding pan 16cm/18cm diameter (with a lid)
  1. Prepare the caramel and coat a pudding pan . For the caramel, I usually follow Delia's recipe.
  2. Mix the coconut milk with the eggs and the sugar.
  3. Pour the liquid into the pudding pan. Now you have two options for cooking the creme caramel. The fast option (it was the one I used) is to use a pressure pan. For this you really need that the pudding pan has a lid. You just cover the pan, put it inside the pressure pan, add 3-4 cups water and cook it for 15min (under pressure). The other option is to cook it in the oven. Pre heat the oven to 160degrees. Place the pudding pan (without lid) in a roasting tin, and pour hot water into it to surround the pudding pan up to 2/3 in depth. Transfer it to the oven and bake for one hour or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  4. Cool and chill the creme caramel. Remove from the fridge one hour before serving. Just free the edges with a knife and invert it to a serving plate.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Banana Bread

The first time I had banana bread was at Tamarama Beach, just around the corner from Bondi Beach in Sydney, and I think I will always associate the blue water, the white sand and the bright morning sun with this fruit bread. It took me 4 years to try and make my own, and I haven't yet managed to produce a loaf with the flavour and texture I remember from the Tamarama beach bar, but I think what I have is pretty good.
The recipe takes ca. 300 grams of flour, and using plain flour yields a lovely moist spongy loaf. I have given an alternative mix that provides a wholesome, nutty bread with a light crunch. I suggest you experiment with finding the right balance between plain, whole wheat flour etc. to suit your own taste. You can of course also choose your own mix of nuts, but I find the crushed hazelnuts go really well with the banana, and especially in the plain flour version they also give the bread a nice texture.

  • 3-4 ripe bananas (425 g)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 dl sugar
  • 1/2 dl vegetable oil or melted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 2 dl (120 g) whole wheat flour
  • 1 dl (20 g) wheat bran
  • 1 dl (40 g) ground flax seed
  • 2 1/2 dl (150 g) plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 80 g crushed or chopped hazelnuts
  • 1 good handful of chopped walnuts
How to:
  1. Preheat the oven at 175 degrees Celsius.
  2. Line a bread baking tin with baking paper.
  3. Crush (or chop) the hazel nuts. I put them into a strong plastic bag and smash them with a rolling pin. This produces a good mix of fine to coarse pieces, and very fine hazel meal.
  4. Mix the flour, salt and soda in a bowl.
  5. Mash the bananas with a fork.
  6. With the electric handmixer, mix eggs and sugar till fluffy, then add oil, vanilla and mashed bananas.
  7. Add hazelnuts and walnuts, and fold in the flour mixture.
  8. Pour batter into the baking tin and bake for ca. 1 hour at 175 C. The bread is done when a skewer comes out clean.
This recipe is still quite sweet and cake-like, I have to admit. To get a less sweet, more bread-like result, reduce ingredients to 1 egg, 1/4 dl veg. oil, 2 tbsp sugar, and no vanilla.
If the batter is a bit dry, add some (butter) milk.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008


This is a very simple but delicious crepe batter. It makes an ideal brunch! These crepes are great served warm but they can also be made in advance and served cold. They keep well for one or two days in the fridge.

Ingredients (Makes 8-10)

  • 250 ml milk
  • 50g Maizena (corn flour)
  • 50g plain flour
  • 2 eggs

How to:
  1. Mix the flour and the Maizena with the milk.
  2. Add the two eggs and mix until having a smooth batter (2 min).
  3. Let the batter rest for 20min.
  4. Heat a lightly oiled non sticking frying pan over medium high heat. Pour or scoop the batter onto the pan, using approximately 3tbspoons for each crepe. Tilt the pan with a circular motion so that the batter coats the surface evenly.
  5. Cook the crepe for about 2 minutes, until the bottom is light brown. Loosen with a spatula, turn and cook the other side.
  6. They are great with chocolate or jam or cinnamon and sugar, ...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Celeriac Soup

Celeriac is one of those old-fashioned root vegetables that is rarely chosen as a favorite, and I have to admit I don't like just any celeriac preparation, but made into this silky, fragrant soup, it is perfect.

  • one celeriac
  • 5 medium sized potatoes
  • 1 onion
  • 4-5 tbl spoons olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • ca. 1 teaspoon salt
  • freshly ground (citrus) pepper
  • freshly chopped parsley
How to:
  1. Put the kettle on with plenty of water (1 liter or more).
  2. Peel and dice the potatoes.
  3. Chop the onion and garlic finely.
  4. In a big soup pan, add 3-4 tbl spoons of olive oil, and fry the potatoes and onion for 5-10 minutes on a medium high heat until slightly soft. During the last couple of minutes add the garlic. While the potatoes are frying, shave off the rough, dirty skin of the celeriac with a big sharp knife, and cut the celeriac into 1-2 cm chunks.
  5. Add the celeriac chunks, salt and cover with boiling water. Simmer under lid for ca. 30 minutes until the celeriac is soft. You should now have a wonderful smell of sweet and slightly spicy celeriac in your kitchen.
  6. Take the pan off the fire, add another tablespoon of olive oil and liquidize the soup (I use my handblender) until it is silky smooth and still quite thick.
  7. Bring the soup back onto a low fire and slowly heat it through.
  8. At serving, add freshly ground (citrus) pepper and parsley. Don't be tempted to add any cream or creme fraiche, since it will take away the flavour of the celeriac. Enjoy!

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Monday, November 26, 2007

10 Minute Red Lentil Soup

This is a light variation of Turkish red lentil soup which I learned from my friend Lily, although I have made a few adjustments of my own. Lily uses onion, tomato purée and chicken stock, I use no onion, fresh tomatoes and just salt. I like to use flat leaf parsley because of its sweetnes, but curly parsley will also be fine. The sweet chili flakes (biber) are sold in most Turkish shops, but if you cannot find them, they can be substituted with ordinary sweet chili powder or 1/2 fresh, deseeded, chopped chili pepper. The recipe should be enough for a starter for 2 or main course for 1 person.

Ingredients :
  • 2 dl (split) red lentils
  • 7 dl water
  • 3 medium size tomatos, chopped finely
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped finely
  • 1/2 - 1 tsp sweet chili flakes
  • 1 good handful of freshly chopped flat leaf parsley
  • ca. 1/2 tsp salt (or veg/chicken stock cube for 1/2 L)
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
How to:
  1. Put the lentils and water into a soup pan on a medium-high heat.
  2. While the lentils and water come to boiling, chop the other ingredients.
  3. Add to the pan tomatos, garlic, chili flakes, salt and half of the parsley.
  4. When the soup boils, reduce the heat and simmer under lid for ca. 10 minutes until the lentils are soft. If you would like a slightly creamier texture, you can use the pulse function on a handblender a few times to fluff up the soup, but make sure to keep some of the lentils' texture.
  5. Scoop the soup into a bowl, squeeze out the lemon juice on top and garnish with the rest of the parsley. Enjoy!


Thursday, November 22, 2007

Pumpkin Fritters

This a typical Christmas dessert in Portugal (in portuguese called Filhoses de Abóbora) .

  • 600g pumpkin
  • 12 tbspoons plain flour
  • 2 tbspoons sugar
  • 1 tbspoon baking powder
  • 5 eggs
  • 50ml orange juice
How to:
  1. You will have to cook the pumpkin the day before. Boil it until very soft, drain all the water very well and leave it for 8/10 hours to dry.
  2. Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl, using a blender, until the batter is very smooth.
  3. In a large frying pan heat vegetable oil (you need a large quantity, say 5-7 cm deep) and fry scoops of the batter until golden brown (2min each side).
  4. In the end, while still warm, sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon on top.