Monday 31 January 2011

Pollock Yassa – A Blast of West African Sunshine in Icy Gothenburg

Pollock Yassa-2

The weather in Sweden right now is about as grizzly as a vagabond bear. The snow has temporarily melted leaving behind a palimpsest of grit, dark ice and illicit glimpses of pavement. In many ways I prefer Gothenburg when it’s properly cold rather than just in this manky in-between phase. Bleak conditions whip up cravings for warm memories.

One dish that never ceases to bring me comfort is Poulet Yassa, which I first had on a scorching hot day in a ramshackle restaurant in Accra. The memory of the sticky-sweet-sour, onion, lemon and mustard sauce that coated the charred chicken flesh makes my stomach smile just thinking about it. It’s the polar opposite to the taste of Gothenburg’s wintry blues.

Poulet Yassa apparently originates from the Portuguese region of Senegal, Casamance, and can be found on menus and plates across Africa from The Republic of Congo to the Gold Coast. It supposedly hails form either Portuguese or French colonialists who used the acidic lemon juice to tenderize the tough local chicken flesh and the Dijon mustard to counteract the sharpness. It offers a welcome sweet and sour tang in contrast to some of the more savoury dishes you encounter West Africa.

I decided to experiment with pollock rather than chicken and was very pleased with the results. The flavour of the sauce is gargantuan, so pollock comes into its own. And rather than rice, I thought some bulgur wheat would give the dish a more Swedish feel. The recipe below is adapted from the Congo Cookbook which is without question one of my favourite recipe websites. If you have a moment, I encourage you to lose yourself in the astounding collection of stories and recipes. But don't blame me if you stumble across some dishes requiring hippo or elephant meat.


1 piece of pollock
2 onions roughly chopped
Juice of 3 lemons
2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard
1 dessert spoon of honey
1 dessert spoon of fish stock
2 cloves of garlic
Splash of cider vinegar
Red chilli minced
Bulgur wheat
Sunflower or groundnut oil


Sauté the onions slowly until they softened. Add the minced garlic and chilli once the onions have turned translucent. Sweat for a bit and then add the mustard, fish stock and juice of 3 lemons.

Heat and stir until it thickens and resembles a sauce. Add the honey, salt and cider vinegar to taste. You are looking for a sweet, sour, spicy amalgam that makes your mouth come alive.

Boil the bulgur wheat and take the sauce off the heat. Season the fish skin and sear flesh side up in a very hot pan. Once the skin has crisped up turn the heat down and add the sauce to the pan. Cook the fish in the yassa sauce until the fish is on the verge of being done. Then slosh it all on a plate and tuck in with a bottle of Star Lager. Bliss.

Pollock Yassa-1

All it was missing was a side order of chilli fried plantain otherwise known as kelly welly. You can also add olives and switch the fish for either chicken thighs or some fatty pork.

Sunday 23 January 2011

Nordic Beetroot Burgers with Goats’ Cheese and Walnut Salad

Nordic Diet-9

I’ve developed a bit of a beetroot fetish since moving to Sweden. I find it’s always on my shopping list and seems to leave its scarlet mark on almost every dish I cook. I love the muddy flavour and mellow sweetness and would be very sad if there was ever a world shortage of beetroot. One of the reasons I like it so much now is that I used to hate it when I was younger. I’ve got bitter-sweet memories of hating the overly pickled taste of my grandmother’s beetroot but loved the fact that it came, covered in sandy soil, from their kitchen garden. Now, whenever I eat beetroot I remember my grandparents and their staggering vegetable patch and hanker after having one of my own one day.

Veggie burgers have a very bad press. They normally fall apart and taste more of old oil than of anything pleasant. It strikes me as a shame to mush up lots of lovely vegetables and then muddy the fresh flavours in search of the juicy glory of a really meaty burger. But the beauty of beetroot burgers is that they are singularly focused on one vegetable that responds very well to being “burgered up”. I guess it’s a combination of their vivid flavour and colour, but also the fact that beetroot’s starches caramelise nicely when seared, much like meat does.

This recipe for the burgers is from Trina Hahnemann, but without any ghastly rapeseed oil and rather than a barley salad is paired with a goats’ cheese and walnut salad instead. My only question is what are the mystery seeds in the photo from the book at the top of this post because they don’t appear in the recipe?


For the beetroot burgers:

500g red beetroot, grated
100ml porridge oats
3 eggs
1 shallot, very finely chopped
4 tbsp finely chopped dill
2 tbsp finely chopped thyme
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tbsp vegetable oil, for frying
Crème fraiche and dill dollop

For the salad:

Mixed leaf salad including beetroot tops
Goats’ cheese
Toasted walnuts
Honey, mustard, olive oil and balsamic vinegar to dress


Peel the beetroot and then finely grate. If you have a Magimix I’d suggest you use it as it saves a lot of time.

Mix the grated beetroot with the eggs, porridge oats, herbs, seasoning and shallots. Get your hands dirty and work it all together. Then chill in the fridge for an hour or so. This is important as it allows the mixture to mingle and means that the burgers have more structural integrity.

Grated beetroot

Form the burgers into patties and fry until they are crisp on the outside and then finish in the oven for 20 minutes.

Frying burger

Assemble the salad, and whisk up the dressing whilst the burgers are cooking through and serve with a dollop of dill crème fraiche.

Beetroot burgers with salad

I’ve got a feeling they would also work well as “beet-balls” but I’m not sure yet what sauce to slosh on top of them. If you’ve got any ideas, let me know.

Delicious. Healthy. And different. Well done, again, to The Nordic Diet.

This post is part of little series dedicated to The Nordic Diet cookbook which was sent to me by Quadrille.

Sunday 9 January 2011

Chicken with Baked Rhubarb and Cucumber and Radish Salad

Chicken with rhubarb

I love the way rhubarb unfurls out of the spring soil to display a Mateus flushed shard of swollen stem and tough, poisonous leaves. I love the ritual of forcing rhubarb in darkened conditions to beat your neighbours to serving the first rhubarb of the season. I think back longingly of my grandmother’s hit or miss rhubarb fool that was always delicious, if a little stringy. And will almost always order a rhubarb dessert if I see it on the menu. Unfortunately, we don’t eat much rhubarb as a family because the acid gives us all joint ache. But it’s worth the discomfort.

Up until now I’d not thought too much about rhubarb (shocking I know). But the more I read, the more interesting it becomes. For starters who knew that rhubarb is actually a vegetable and is in the Rheum family and is therefore closely related to sorrel? Or that in America it is legally a fruit because a judge said so in 1947? Or that it originated in Asia and has only been cultivated in the western world for the last two or three hundred years? Or that the roots can be dried and used as a tonic to cure constipation and circulatory issues? Or, more importantly, that this enigmatic stem is amazing with chicken?

Trina Hahnemann’s recipe for “chicken with baked rhubarb and cucumber -radish salad” immediately stood out from her Nordic Diet cookbook, partly because of the stunning photograph but more significantly because of its weirdness.

Nordic Diet-4

But when you think about it, the idea makes a lot of sense. Chicken is great with lemon and other acid driven accompaniments, so long as it is balanced by something sweet to take the tartness away.


Chicken legs
2 stalks of rhubarb
A few spoons of honey (she uses raw sugar – but I prefer honey)
1 Cucumber
10 Radishes
Yoghurt (preferably goats’)
1 clove of garlic
Chopped mint


Season the chicken legs and roast for 30 minutes. Meanwhile chop the rhubarb into 2 inch long batons and lightly coat in honey. After 30 minutes add the rhubarb and cook for a further 15 minutes.

To make the salad finely slice the radishes and de-seed, then finely slice the cucumber. Mix with just enough yoghurt, a finely minced clove of garlic and the chopped mint. Season.

Serve the chicken with the salad and garnish with a sprig of mint. It’s a great way to use up a glut of rhubarb in late spring or as a way of causing a bit of Steingarten-esque debate about the differences between fruit and vegetables. I think it is a fantastic idea and am looking forward to experimenting further. I wonder what a rhubarb-ified version of honey lemon chicken would be like?

Further reading

Other rhubarb chicken recipes on Rhubarb Compendium including roast chicken stuffed with rhubarb and the psychopathically named chicken smothered in rhubarb

Rhubarb as an accompaniment to fish in the Independent

Mackerel with roasted rhubarb from Nigel Slater

Savoury recipes for rhubarb on Chowhound

Jeffrey Steingarten’s Man Who Ate Everything (including a spellbinding chapter called Ripeness is All about the differences between fruit and vegetables)

Trina Hahnemann’s – The Nordic Diet on Amazon

The science of rhubarb poisoning

This post is part of little series dedicated to The Nordic Diet cookbook which was sent to me by Quadrille.

Tuesday 4 January 2011

Super Healthy Fish Cakes

Fish Cakes-4

If meatballs are the indulgent Yin then fish cakes must be the healthy Yang in Scandinavian culture. In Sweden, fish cakes are called “fiskbulle”, which literally translates as “fish patty”, which is a rather unpleasant sounding expression that doesn’t do them justice. They are so ubiquitous that you can buy them in tins and there are as many fish cake recipes over here as there are for sausages back in Blighty.

In my experience fish cakes are normally heavy on the stodgy potato and light on the fish which yields one of the most bland mouthfuls you will ever come across. They’re a great way of padding out a pub menu and making a few quid out of some iffy leftovers. But these prejudices were shattered when I tried Trina Hahnemann’s recipe for fish cakes in The Nordic Diet cookbook.

Nordic Diet-8

She switches mashed potato for porridge oats, grated courgette and carrot which lightens the texture and adds colour and moisture. I took the recipe a bit further by trying Niamh’s trick or coating the patties in breadcrumbs which created a crisp coating if you are feeling a bit more indulgent. And I can’t stand rapeseed oil so used sunflower oil instead. The book suggests pairing the fish cakes with potatoes and asparagus which would have been great but all I had was some barley and kale which was a shame.

Ingredients – makes 6 fishcakes

500g of minced fish – a mixture of salmon and white fish such as pollack, coley or ling
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp porridge oats
2 egg whites
2 finely grated carrots
1 grated courgette
Pinch of thyme
Sunflower oil for frying
Knob of butter
Japanese panko breadcrumbs


Choose your fish judiciously and have it minced. You don’t want anything too classy or endangered like cod or haddock. But try to include some salmon as much for colour as flavour. In Sweden they are very happy to mince your chosen fish in front of you in the fishmongers and very often have it pre-minced in pre-weighed bags. But in the UK you may want to finely mince the fish with a sharp knife or give it a very brief pulse in a food processor.

Add a generous pinch of salt and a grind of pepper. Then add the egg whites, porridge oats and grated veg and mix thoroughly. It should all come together and not fall apart. If it’s too dry add egg white. If it’s too wet add oats. Leave it to chill in the fridge for an hour or so.

When you are ready for dinner remove the mixture from the fridge and form into patties. If you are feeling indulgent pour breadcrumbs on a chopping board and press the patties into them so they stick. Then fry until golden.

Fish Cakes-2

Fish Cakes-10

Fish Cakes-9

The fish cakes were moist, lightly textured and full of fishy flavour. Not cloying at all and far lighter than their cousins from across the North Sea. The substitution of potato for carrot and courgette makes them far better for you as well according to the principles of The Nordic Diet. I had them with a minty yoghurt sauce and nutritious but very dull barley and kale splodge which is all I had in the fridge.

The yoghurt was a good match but the greens and grain were anything but. A fennel and caper salad would have been a much better platefellow. You could also experiment with adding ginger, chilli and lemongrass to the mix to give them an oriental aspect and pair them with some steamed Chinese cabbage and stir fried vegetables. But whatever you do, don’t think you can substitute fresh fish for tinned mussels and smoked mackerel, courgettes for Swede or consider using rapeseed oil because I’ve tried it and it tastes pretty gross!

Fish cakes

This post is part of little series dedicated to The Nordic Diet cookbook which was sent to me by Quadrille.


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