To marrow and to marrow and to marrow

It’s that time of year when everyone who grows courgettes and every friend of everyone who grows courgettes and a fair few friends of every friend of everyone who grows courgettes is sick of the sight of bloody courgettes… only to be faced with marrows. Whether by planning or by being missed for a few days, courgettes will happily take the chance to expand in size and become a glut in their own individual right rather than just as part of a courgette collective.

This year, we haven’t received many courgettes; restrictions on visiting / hosting have curtailed our usual supply routes. So we were delighted to be given a marrow by our friends Cath and Justin when we went to their allotment for a Sunday afternoon of barbecued freshly-picked veg. (Also – what a lovely allotment! Good food, good company, great way to spend a warm early autumn afternoon.)

Marrow divides people. Some see it as a waste of a good courgette, or as the enemy’s heavy artillery in the war on the courgette glut; others see it as a wonderful near-blank canvas for spicing, stuffing, and gratination. I’m in the latter camp (except where marrow and ginger jam is concerned – I can’t get the hang of it for some reason).

The marrow we brought home weighed in at 2.3kg – that’s 5lbs in imperial measurement – which I think is sort of medium-large (unless you are entering a competition to grow giant veg, then it’s a cue to be laughed out of the village fête).

I found a number of marrow recipes online, with many just directing you to use “1 marrow”. The internet is vague on the subject of how heavy the average marrow is; even I, lax as I tend to be on the subject of weights and measures, can see that recipes designed to counter the main ingredient’s inherent blandness might suffer when said ingredient’s weight can vary by a factor of two or three. (Also unhelpfully, the internet advised me that the typical weight of bone marrow in a 65kg human is 2.6kg. Searching for marrow facts and recipes requires a fair bit of picking through information about its skeletal namesake.)

I made a start on a marrow tikka at lunchtime, leaving it to marinate while I worked in the afternoon.

Marrow tikka

For the marinade:

  • 1 tablespoon cumin seed
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seed
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Kashmiri chilli powder (a milder chilli powder – use an equal mix of chilli powder and paprika as an alternative)
  • 1 teaspoon asafoetida
  • 2 teaspoons ground methi
  • 2 teaspoons amchoor
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • A squirt of tomato puree
  • 50g ginger (about 2 heaped tablespoons chopped ginger)
  • 1 smallish head garlic
  • 1 tablespoon yoghurt
  • 2 tablespoons oil

In a dry pan, lightly toast the cumin and fennel seed. Tip them into a pestle and mortar and grind them with the salt and sugar. Mix the resulting powder with the other dry spices.

Chop the ginger, and grind it with the garlic in the pestle and mortar to a paste. Mix this and the yoghurt and oil with the dry spice mix.

I used two-thirds of the marrow we’d been given – 1.5kg (about 3lbs). I split it into quartets lengthways and cut the spongey, seeded innards out, leaving me with 1.25kg.

I split the quarters down the middle, then chopped across them at roughly 2.5cm (1 inch) intervals. The pieces were mixed with the marinade and left to stand. At first the marinade was too dry to easily coat the marrow. As the salt drew water out of the marrow flesh it loosened up – when I returned to it after four hours the extra liquid made it easy to get a more even coating. I left it for another two hours before roasting it, because we needed to go to the supermarket. I think ideally the marinade would be drier than it ended up, in fact – so perhaps just two or three hours in total would have been enough time. (Had I been doing proper tikka, in a tandoor, the marinade would definitely need to have been drier. But until I have a tandoor, that’s not a big consideration. One day…)

Heat the oven to 200°C (ours is a fan oven, so I guess 220°C if yours isn’t). Line a large roasting tin with greaseproof paper. Put the marrow pieces in the tin in a single layer, keeping as much marinade on the marrow rather than the paper as possible. Blob the marinade that is left in the bowl onto the marrow pieces. Put in the oven to roast for around 45 minutes, until you can stick a fork into the marrow with just a bit of resistance. The marinade will be fairly dry on the top of the marrow, and moister around the bottom.

This will serve three or four people as a main dish. It’s got a nice heat, so consider serving it with yoghurt to provide a cool and tangy contrast.

Dumplings

Yesterday we made a feast of dumplings. These were Chinese (approximately – more on this below): wontons, potstickers, and a style called shu mai (I searched “aubergine dumplings” and found this recipe, though the filling I made was different). There was a coleslaw and a smashing smashed cucumber salad. Dipping sauces rounded proceedings off nicely.

Here and there on this blog I’ve written about the tricky, slippery notion of “authenticity”. My cooking is firmly in the ‘inspired by’ camp. While I do know that the dumpling styles we cooked are Chinese in origin, I don’t have any in-depth knowledge about whether the fillings are typically combinations you might find in China. With somewhere around 1.5 billion people in the country, I’m sure somebody somewhere has cooked something similar at some point, but I wouldn’t have any sense of where in the vast nation this is most likely to be: is there a region that is more likely to use ground peanuts as a filling? Is there a pocket of vegetarians who always eschew pork, shrimp and other animal flesh when they stuff dumpling wrappers?

Hence the rather unsatisfactory ‘Asian’ tag that I use for many posts in this blog. A vast sweep of the arm across a map encompassing more than half of the earth’s inhabitants. It only (and barely even) makes sense from a Western perspective; it ignores even the crude subdivisions of southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and similar. It risks suggesting a certain homogeneity when it’s the sheer variety that makes ‘Asian’ food so exciting.

Still, those dumplings were tasty.

Pretty typically for me, I didn’t write down what I was doing as I cooked. (Our recipe book has deep-fried wontons, but with a mushroom filling; a different take on potstickers; and the plum sauce.) Everything was vegan except the wontons (the wrappers contained egg) and the egg yolk sauce. The list below is partly an IOU to Cath’s sister-in-law Liv who wants the recipes to take with her when she moves back to Australia (I’ll try to get these done before February, Liv x); and partly in the hope that they are of inspiration to readers. Your take won’t be authentically the same as what we cooked, but as you can probably guess, that’s fine with me.

  • Deep-fried chilli peanut wontons. Peanut butter mixed with Gochujang (Korean chilli paste), dried and fresh chilli, minced ginger and spring onion.
  • Mushroom and kimchi potstickers. Finely diced and fried king oyster mushrooms, minced home-made kimchi, sichuan pepper, spring onion.
  • Aubergine shu mai. Fried minced aubergine, garlic, soy sauce, sesame seed, toasted sesame oil, cumin, fennel seed, white pepper.
  • Coleslaw. Cabbage (salted and left to soften for a couple of hours), carrot, red onion, pickled ginger and its vinegar, glass noodles, soy sauce, sesame seeds.
  • Smashed cucumbers. Cucumber dressed with rice vinegar, fresh chilli, lao gan ma (crispy chilli in oil).
  • Kombu broth. A delicate broth with a hint of carrot, spring onion, soy sauce, garlic and star anise.
  • Dips. Plum with five spice. Sweet chilli. Salted duck egg yolk, loosened with a spoonful of the kombu broth. Mushroom soy sauce and black vinegar. Sriracha.

Tomatoes, or, More thoughts on favourite foods

The idea of having one favourite food is, for me, slightly problematic. Surely it’s the variety that makes food so good? True, there are contenders for the top spot, but I’d say it’s a team effort rather than an individual race. Cheese is up there. ‘Curry’ (which I’ve written about too many times to be able to choose just one link to add) may be my go-to for favourite cuisine, though in part precisely because of the incredible variety that fits into the heading. And in the summer months, tomatoes take their place on the shared podium.

In particular, it’s raw tomatoes that I start craving from around the middle of May. Simply served – sometimes just sliced, more often sliced and lightly seasoned with salt, occasionally dressed with a little oil and/or vinegar – there is a four-month run through to whenever the weather starts to turn autumnal in September when almost all the tomato that passes my lips is in salad form, or stuffed between two slices of bread.

I feel I should offer a recipe here, but “tomatoes, probably salt, maybe oil and/or vinegar” is as good as it gets… Perhaps a light curried dish which I sometimes make a version of if I’ve been extra-enthusiastic in my tomato shopping.

Chick pea and tomato curry/salad

  • 5 fat cloves of garlic
  • A piece of fresh ginger, about the size of your thumb once peeled
  • 1 red chilli
  • A heaped dessertspoon of ghee, or a couple of dessertspoons of oil to keep it vegan
  • 1 dessertspoon cumin seed
  • A 400g tin of chick peas in salted water (unsalted simply won’t have chance to absorb seasoning in the brief cooking time)
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 4 or 5 medium-sized tomatoes (or around 15 cherry tomatoes) – make sure they’re ripe
  • A small bunch of fresh coriander

Thinly slice the garlic. Cut the ginger into thin matchsticks, across the grain so you don’t get long fibres. Deseed and thinly slice the chilli.

Heat the ghee or oil in a pan over a medium flame. Add the cumin seed and allow them to sizzle for a few seconds. Add the garlic, ginger and chilli, and turn the heat down to low. Gently fry for three or so minutes until the garlic and ginger are starting to colour, but not burn.

Meanwhile, drain the chick peas but don’t rinse them. Keep the drained water.

When the garlic and ginger is cooked, add the turmeric and stir in for a couple of seconds, then add the chick peas and stir. Turn the heat back up to medium, and heat for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Add splashes of the drained chick pea water as needed to stop things burning, but avoid swamping things.

Cut the tomatoes into rough chunks. Add to the chick peas once they’ve cooked for a few minutes. Stir everything together for a couple more minutes until the tomatoes are warmed and some of their juice has come out, but not so cooked that they are collapsing. Check if it needs a pinch more salt.

Chop the coriander. Stir most of it into the chick peas, and serve with the remaining coriander on top.

This is a very adaptable dish. For example, you could omit the ginger and turmeric and have something more Mediterranean – perhaps swapping some or all of the cumin for fennel seed and using parsley instead of coriander.