Hi everyone! Hope all is well and that you got a chance to enjoy the amazing weather we enjoyed during the week. Not so nice for the weekend it’s true, always the way! So welcome to the fourth and final visit to Spice Mountain’s Summer Larder, this time we’re having a look around the wide world of mince. It’s one of those things we tend to keep in the fridge for a quick supper, or to knock something up for the kids, but there are many delicious ways to use this versatile product and our feature explores these with a handy A-Z guide. I hope it gives you some ideas!
Just a word on the Spice Mountain situation now the lockdown is easing off; we’re still closed at Westfield Stratford, but open Mon-Sat at Borough. If you want to come and see us rest assured full social distancing measures, hand sanitisers etc are in place both in our store and in the market generally. I’m still really busy online, so again apologies for the fact that orders are still taking a little longer to arrive than they should, but this situation is improving as the weeks pass. Thanks very much for shopping with Spice Mountain!
Until next time, stay safe!
Spice of the Week
Despite the fact that it is as easy to find a terrible chilli con carne as it is to find a good one (think that dish of vaguely spicy mince swimming in tinned tomatoes that’s been cooked for half an hour, as a guide!), when done properly this dish really is a prince amongst men. The secrets are correct spicing, which can be done by using this specially prepared blend, and most of all, patience. A proper chilli takes at least three hours to cook, ideally more. And as it seems to work better cooked in larger quantities, have some freezer containers ready and you’ll have a few suppers handy for those ‘can’t be bothered to cook’ evenings. This blend is also perfect for making a veggie chilli, and for a cheeky kick, a teaspoonful in your beans will make your toast sing.
This Week's Recipes
Always our choice for the starter should we go for a sit-down kebab, lahmajun is often called Turkish pizza. But there’s no cheese involved, and the bread base is a much thinner affair. If you make your own pizza dough you can of course use it for lahmajun – just stretch it out a bit thinner than you normally would. In London (and anywhere with a good Turkish shop handy) you can buy the large, round pitta breads which the kebab shops use. Sorry, but the regular oval pittas just won’t cut it here. Serve the lahmajun with yoghurt and garlic sauce, and also a nice hot chilli sauce on the side.
A very popular snack food in India is a paper plate of Keema (curried minced lamb) with Paratha bread. The curry often includes potato and peas, but sometimes is actually more gravy than anything else. This version is a bit more substantial with the two veg included, but the ideal accompaniment is still paratha or roti. It is quite a hot curry, so just reduce the amount of chilli to make it a bit milder.
Before we start, a disclaimer – someone somewhere (probably an Italian) will dispute that this ragu is actually a true Bolognese, and I dare say they’d be correct, technically. Oh mamma mia, mushrooms??? Whatever, but this is the way I learned it from my Mama (who was from Newcastle rather than Napoli) and it’s worked for me for 40 years. If it ain’t broke, as they say..
Anyway, however you like it Bolognese is among the most elemental of comfort foods, especially when smothering a big pile of butter coated spaghetti, and crowned with a healthy shake of Parmesan. Make extra and you will have left over the base for a lasagne, a moussaka, a chilli or even a (slightly flash) Shepherd’s pie. Apart from the ingredients, the secret is in the cooking time – this should not be cooked for a second less than three hours, and four is better. Also, go easy on the liquid as you can always add a little more should it be needed.
The Mince Alphabet - a Journey From A-Z
There are few styles of cooking which do not use mince in one form or another. It tends to be reasonably priced, it is versatile and it takes on flavours so well. This is true whether we’re talking beef, lamb or pork, and veggies aren’t left out here either – there are myriad veggie and vegan mince products available nowadays, not just soya. Mince also tends to go a long way, so it is a great choice for families. And of course from our point of view, mince and spice tend to get on so well. It is one of the easiest items in the larder to give the Spice Mountain touch to, and it is done all over the world. This feature takes us on a journey through the mince alphabet, finding out what happens to mince from A-Z, looking at some of our favourite recipes and also some fascinating facts.
Anyway, let’s get on, we don’t want to mince our words (sorry, had to get the bad joke in somewhere!)
A – is for Adana Kebab. One of our go-to’s on those evenings where a sit-down kebab is preferable to wandering off down the road dripping garlic sauce over one’s favourite Stussy! The Adana is a sloppy affair to be sure; made up of lamb kofte kebabs served with two sauces, a spicy tomato sauce bursting with Aleppo chilli and oregano, and a yoghurt sauce featuring garlic and mint. The kofte tends to be fairly highly seasoned too, and our Lebanese Kofte blend works perfectly with its mix of classic Middle Eastern flavours, nutty, herby and exotic.
B – is for Burger. Surely the most popular mince-based food, the burger is a genuine global staple, available more or less anywhere. Usually made with beef, the burger is a pattie of seasoned ground meat, grilled or fried and served in a bun. Burgers usually take on influences from the country it is enjoyed in – for example, a certain large chain in Singapore for a while offered a rendang burger, livened up with the spices used in a rendang curry. The same chain in India does not serve beef, instead offering lamb and chicken burgers. Ultimately there are few things more satisfying than making your own burgers to slap on the barbecue, and here’s how to make the Spice Mountain Ultimate Burger.
C – is for Chilli con Carne. Up there with burgers and bolognese at the top of the mince charts, chilli con carne is another dish popular around the world. The version of chilli made with mince is not strictly speaking a Mexican dish, it is more from the parts of the US that used to be in Mexico; Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and southern California. But the spices used to make a ‘proper’ chilli are definitely Mexican – cumin, chilli powder, coriander and oregano among others. They all feature in our Chilli con Carne blend, and should you like a hot chilli you can add whichever your favourite is. Another of our blends which will only improve your chilli is Mexican Holy Trinity, which combines three popular chillies (Ancho, Pasilla and Guajillo) along with other spices. And our recently introduced Chilli pastes (Ancho, Guajillo, Habanero, Jalapeno) will all be handy for chilli fans.
D – is for Dan Dan Noodles. This dish uses minced beef or pork and hails from central and northern China, where it is a popular street food. Dan Dan’ refers to the name of the pole hawkers would carry around, the cooking equipment on one end, the ingredients on the other. The spicing in Dan Dan noodles comes from the classic Szechuan pairing of Szechuan Peppercorn and Facing Heaven chilli, so the dish has that lovely slightly numbing tingle on the palate, and it can be made with our Szechuan Stirfry blend.
E – is for Empanadas. The Latino version of a pasty, empanadas are little semi-circles of heaven. Common in Spain, Portugal and all over South America they are smaller than a British pasty, and are very good friends with spice. They are available in myriad forms, of course, but spiced beef, lamb or chicken are often used. If we make them at home, we spice up the pastry with a pinch of annatto powder (which also gives the pastry a lovely colour) and then use our Peruvian Spice rub to perk up the filling, giving it the lovely flavour of Peruvian Amarillo chilli.
F – is for Fish, which is often used minced, as is other seafood. This is especially true in the Far East, where minced fish is used to make fishballs which are either fried or end up in a good noodle soup. Thai cooking is famous for its crab cakes, minced crab meat spiced up with Thai Birdseye chilli and lemon grass. And we can include European style fish cakes here too, although strictly speaking the fish is flaked in those. They can be great made Spanish style, with our Patatas Bravas blend as a seasoning, or more traditionally with dill and lemon salt. Actually the fishcake is somewhere you can really use your imagination.
G – is for Greece, home to one of our favourite mince treats of all! Moussaka is one of those dishes which can be as terrible as it can be good, but when done properly it is a delight. Traditionally made with minced lamb, but nowadays just as often done with beef, it is a great way to use up any leftover Bolognese from last night’s spaghetti. Authentically the spicing is different, using the traditional Greek favourites including oregano, cloves and cinnamon to give the mince a more aromatic and exotic flavour. Despite what anyone tells you, a true Greek moussaka will always include a base layer of potato beneath the aubergine, and in our view is much better for it.
H – is for Hachis Parmentier. A French take on Shepherd’s Pie, this is a wonderful bistro dish. Made with minced beef which is seasoned with herbs rather than spice (our Herbes de Provence blend is perfect), it is finished with pommes puree so the top is a lot less solid than in the classic English version. The pommes puree should be seasoned with plenty of black pepper and nutmeg, and a nice touch is to add some of our Smoked Garlic granules to the puree too. And having a thin layer of finely grated Gruyere cheese bubbling away on the top will do this no harm at all.
I – is for Ikea, which makes it into the list as it is a place where many come across mince – where? Yes in those meatballs for which it is nearly as well known as furniture! Ikea is from Sweden of course and meatballs are a very popular dish there. Traditionally they are made with a combination of beef and pork, then seasoned with nutmeg and cardamom, and the Ikea version is served with a rich roux-based beef stock and cream gravy, with plenty of dill in the mix.
J – is for Jalapeno, a chilli which seems to match particularly well with mince. Obviously the chilli con carne is one example, where the fresh, grassy flavour of the jalapeno contrasts and balances with the more toasty, smoky chillis also used. A nice twist is to make a chilli verde (green chilli) with minced pork, using our Smoked Green Jalapeno flakes and Green Jalapeno powder for a winning combination of fire and fresh flavour. Minced chicken quickly cooked with Jalapeno and a sprinkle of our Mexican Chilli Lime seasoning makes a great filling for tacos, burritos and empanadas.
K – is for Keema, which is the word for mince in various languages – Greek and Hindi being two examples. The Indians make a wonderful curry with keema (in India this will usually be lamb, but it works just as well with beef mince), cooking it up with potatoes, peas and a full-flavoured spice blend such as our Karachi curry. This dish is very popular in roadside cafes, served very soupy with roti bread to mop up the gravy, and it tends to be pretty hot and spicy with plenty of Kashmiri chilli for colour and flavour.
L – is for Lahmajun, another long-time favourite from the kebab shop. It is made with a thin flatbread, spread with minced lamb, garlic, onions, tomato, Aleppo pepper and parsley and then baked, either in an oven or more traditionally on a flat-top or tava. It is enjoyed as a starter in the kebab shop, with garlic and chilli sauces to dip it in, and it can also be used as a wrap, around roast vegetables or, should you be an (occasional) glutton like this writer, as the wrapping for a mixed doner. This should not be tried at home!
M – is for Murtaba. Could this be the ultimate mince treat? We think so. From Malaysia and Singapore the Murtaba is basically a much nicer, much bigger Findus crispy pancake! Thin layered roti combined with omelette, stuffed with spicy minced mutton or chicken (use our Rendang curry blend for an authentic Straits flavour) and with some crunchy salad and a highly-spiced lentil gravy on the side, this should only be ordered by seriously hungry people. A Murtaba is always one of the first on our bucket list when we visit the area, and quite often last too!
N – is for Nachos. While it is true that there is nothing wrong with a plate of nachos topped with the classic salsa, sour cream and guacamole, it can’t be denied that carnivores will tend to lean towards the version topped with a steaming mound of fiery hot chilli, perked up with jalapenos and then covered in melted cheese. There is something about the texture – melty cheese, slightly chewy mince and the crisp tortilla chip, together it all just works. A lovely, if rather messy, treat to enjoy in front of the telly!
O – is for Onion, perhaps mince’s perfect partner. Thinking about it, there are few mince recipes (whatever the kind of mince is) that don’t feature onions. A Bolognese, a chilli con carne, the mince for a Shepherd’s Pie, the filling for a lamb samosa, all include plenty of the popular allium. One of our favourite British recipes is a mince and onion pie, and you can really boost the flavour of the gravy in this with a handful of Crispy Fried Onions. A good shake of Worcestershire sauce is the other top tip for a proper pie filling. Our Red Onion Flakes and Powder are both useful for mince dishes too.
P – is for Patties. Our love for a good Jamaican patty is well known, and living in South London there is usually one nearby! The pastry on a patty is unique, flaky and crisp, brightly coloured with annatto. And the highly spiced filling is always a delight. Minced lamb or beef seasoned with curry (our Poudre de Colombo ideally), thyme and the punch of Scotch Bonnet chilli. Or minced chicken lifted up with Jerk spices, deeper and smokier. Like the similar empanadas, patties are usually fairly small, meaning they’re great for those times when you’re hungry but not starving, a deeply satisfying three or four bites.
Q – is for Quesadillas. The Mexican version of the cheese toastie, made with grilled tortillas rather than bread. Quesadillas are also enjoyed in the US, and here they are often made with minced beef. The mince is quickly sauteed with spices (we use red bell pepper powder, cumin, smoked green jalapeno and smoked paprika), then used to stuff the quesadilla along with the essential melted cheese. Quesadillas can also be a good way to use up leftover chilli con carne, so it’s never a bad idea to have some of our corn tortillas in the freezer for that rainy day!
R – is for Ragu. And when we say ragu, we’re very specifically talking about meat ragu (or Bolognese). A Spag Bol is possibly our ultimate comfort food, and it seems the same is true for millions of other people. Along with chilli and burgers, Bolognese makes up the top three uses for mince, and everyone has their favourite way of doing it. Often a combination of beef and pork mince is used, but whichever method you follow the secret is long, slow cooking – at least three hours, and go easy on the water. We can be of help here as well; our Smoky Ragu blend is absolutely ideal for making the perfect spaghetti sauce.
S – is for Samosa. Available on street corners throughout Asia, the samosa is one of the most commonly enjoyed streetfoods of all. They vary slightly depending on which country they’re from, and when it comes to mince our favourites are the Pakistani style ones. Small and always deep fried, with crispy pastry and a juicy filling of minced lamb spiced with garam masala and a touch of mint, eaten in one bite for a marvellous collision of flavour and texture. A healthy addition of mint and coriander chutney is highly recommended.
T – is for Tofu, which we mention due to its role in one of our favourite Chinese recipes, Ma Po’s Beancurd. This is a Szechuan dish of beancurd cooked with minced pork, very highly spiced with the classic Szechuan triumvirate of Szechuan Pepper, Facing Heaven chilli and garlic. The creaminess of the beancurd marries so well with the texture of the mince, and also eases the fire of the chilli a little – although it should still get you sweating a little! This is a very good recipe to do with veggie mince, incidentally.
U – is for Unusual, which one of South Africa’s favourite dishes is; Bobotie is a fusion of lasagne, curry and fruit salad! The minced beef is cooked with Cape Malay curry powder, allspice berries, mango or peach chutney and sultanas, among other ingredients, then baked in the oven with a creamy, eggy topping. It sounds mad, but it is very popular and thought of with longing by Saffa expatriates.
V – is for Veggie. There is such a wide range of vegetarian and vegan mince products out there nowadays, and they are probably the most versatile of all. Whether you prefer soya, quorn or one of the other options available, they can be used instead of meat in the vast majority of ideas in this feature. Usually they will be faster to cook too, so they can be a convenient option as well as a healthy one. If made well, a dish such as Moussaka will be just as delicious when made with veggie mince, and the same is true of chilli con carne.
W – is for Wimpy. Yes, that one. For people of a certain age, a Wimpy will have been their first encounter with mince in a burger form. Britain’s first burger chain, before those pesky Americans came and taught us how to do it properly, was a unique experience. Ketchup in big red plastic tomatoes, the burger quaintly served with a knife and fork, often with a fried egg on top. We don’t remember if the burgers tasted any good, but we’ll never forget the journey!
X – is for Xiu Mai, the Vietnamese spelling for the dim sum dumplings more commonly spelled siumai. (You can tell, dear reader, that coming up with an ‘x’ in this list took some doing!) They are usually stuffed with minced pork seasoned with 5 spice, but can sometimes be found stuffed with minced prawns or mushrooms and these are equally delicious.
Y – is for Yoghurt. The cultured dairy product and mince get on very, very well, as can be proved by the yoghurt and garlic sauce available in every kebab shop. On a more sophisticated culinary level, meatballs cooked in yoghurt are delicious. Season the meatballs with Lebanese Kofte blend, and the yoghurt you cook them in with Lebanese 7 Spice, and when they’re ready give them a good sprinkle of both Sumac and Aleppo pepper. You have just made one of the nicest things you’ll ever eat!
Z – is for Zatar, the Lebanese national spice blend which is an important ingredient in a couple of the area’s mince dishes. First is the Lebanese Kofte, little sausage shaped kebabs of minced lamb which are grilled over charcoal, and second Kibbeh which are similar to falafel but feature minced lamb mixed up with bulgur wheat, often including dried fruits such as apricot. The woody, sharp and nutty flavour of zatar really helps balance the flavour in both of these dishes.