Saturday, 30 May 2009

Ambala Samosas

Ahhhh, samosas- food of the gods. Deep-fried pastry stuffed with a spicy vegetable mix. An ideal quick snack. How can you go wrong? And yet so often they have gone wrong, very wrong.
I remember my mum making samosas every now and again when I was younger. They definitely were an occasional treat, as they were pretty time consuming to prepare. She'd make the filling with potatoes and peas, cooked with a few spices such as whole cumin seeds, chilli and some fresh coriander. Once this had cooled she'd make the dough for the pastry casing, roll it out into small sections, and then form these into sort of upside down pyramids which would be filled with the vegetable mix. Once sealed these would then be fried in batches in hot oil. Eaten hot these samosas (or shingaras in Bengali) would have a light, crispy outer skin, filled with a soft, spicy vegetable mix inside.
Unfortunately, most ready-made, supermarket-bought samosas seem to have mutated into a totally different creation. These flat, distant relatives of a proper Indian samosa are usually wrapped in a weird, stretchy, filo-ish type pastry (which still manages to be completely non-crispy on heating), and filled with a sort of bland, vegetable mush. Ugghh.
Luckily, there is an amazing alternative to samosas made by an Indian mother, and those are the samosas made by Ambala. I might even go so far as to say that I prefer the Ambala samosa (controversial I know!). Ambala has a number of outlets across London and other locations with big Asian populations, and sells a range of sweets and savouries (which I might review at a later date), but one of their best products is their samosas. The pastry is flakey, and quite dense but without being heavy. Inside is a mix of crushed potato with sweetcorn, peas, carrots and spices. I don't know exactly which spices they use but I can see (and taste) whole cumin, mustard seeds and ground chilli. Each samosa is generous in size, never excessively oily and the only issue I ever have with them is restraining myself from scoffing half a dozen in one go.

Cost: Hmmm- can't quite remember this, but something like £0.70 each.
I rate them 9.5/10.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Tesco Finest Sunblush Cherry Tomato and Buffalo Mozzarella Margherita Pizza

Back in the day (around twenty years ago-eeek), every few weeks or so my mum would announce that our traditional rice and dhal would be replaced and that we'd be eating 'English' food for dinner. This meal would often consist of oven chips, peas and 'pizza'. The 'pizza' was a round, six inch disc of frozen brilliant white, spongy dough covered with an orange gloop and flecks of cheese. On cooking, the 'cheese' would form a crispy, dry, brown crust that could be lifted off in one go to reveal the gloop-covered base below. Unsurprisingly, my first ever teenage visit to Pizza Hut was a revelation. The thick bread base was dense and rich, the tomato sauce tasted as if it might actually have been in contact with some real tomatoes at some point, and the cheese was delightfully soft and stringy when melted. I decided then that I might like pizza after all.
Well, things have moved on even more since then, and Pizza Hut with it's fare of oily stodge, has been left behind in favour of the thin, crispy bases and authentic Mediterranean toppings of Pizza Express. As a dining experience it's hard to go wrong with anything from the Pizza Express menu, but what about those nights when you can't be bothered to leave the house and chuck twenty quid at a pizza, salad and drinks? Well, a good alternative is the Tesco Finest sunblush cherry tomato and buffalo mozzarella margherita pizza. When cooked directly on the oven shelf, this pizza has a thin, light crust with just enough cheese to provide a contrast to the sweet tomato sauce. I'm very keen on adding my own toppings to a basic shop-bought margherita, so the pic below shows the pizza augmented with red onion, chestnut mushrooms and asparagus.

Instead of following the instructions I put my pizza on the middle shelf of the oven for longer than the six minutes advised, in order for the vegetables to have time to cook through without the crust burning. A little drizzle of olive oil is also beneficial. Oddly enough the one thing that I'm not that keen on is the sunblush tomatoes. Halfway towards being a full-on sundried tomatoes, I find these chewy morsels just a little too sharp, although some may like their tartness.
So it may not be straight from a wood-fired oven or have a hand-pulled dough base, but it's certainly good value for money, as the large (12 inch-ish) version should feed two with a side salad.

Cost: £3.49 for the larger version (full price but often on special offer)
I rate it 7.5/10.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Alphonso mangoes

Ok, so mangoes don't exactly fall into the ready-made food category but they are certainly pretty instant in eating terms. There's only really one type of mango that I eat, and that is the Indian alphonso mango. Once you've tried this fragrant, golden mango, with it's soft, sweet, creamy flesh there is no going back to the horrible, hard, green things that lurk on supermarket shelves.

Alphonso mangoes are in season now, and should be available in any Indian grocery shop (although probably more commonplace in bigger stores in areas with large Asian populations).

Cost: Can vary; box of 12 in Greater London approximately £8.00
I rate them 9/10.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Mangal Chana Masala Spice Mix

Chana Masala....yummmmm. This is basically a chick pea stew, made (depending on Indian region and Indian mother concerned) with a variety of spices and a base that involves a combination of ginger, onion, garlic and tomato. This is something I occasionally make from scratch but somehow my spice combinations never quite pack the punch of the ready made commercial mixes- admittedly an unusual situation for me (as I come from an Indian family, I tend to avoid these often generic blends). However, the Mangal chana masala mix is actually made in India and therefore Indian housewife approved. And despite cooking quite a lot of Indian food, spices such as amchoor (mango powder) and anardana (pomegranate powder) are still relatively hard to get hold of, and as they're not used in that many other dishes a ready made mix containing them is very convenient.
The Mangal mix also contains another dozen or so spices including star anise, cumin, cloves and fennel, together with a big kick of ground chili. The instructions only say to add the mix to base of fried onions, but I also add my own fresh ginger and garlic too to increase the depth of flavour. I also add tomato puree but this is definitely optional. You can use the mix with tinned chickpeas, which obviously won't need as long to cook as their dried counterparts (around 20mins of simmering), but still absorb a lot of flavour. The finished chana masala has a lot of umami-savouriness with a hint of sweetness, and is very dark and rich without being heavy. These flavours are well balanced with the heat of the chili, which although strong is not over-powering. I'd recommend eating this with a cooling salad or yoghurt raita, and some rice, naan, parathas, or luuchi/poori to soak up all the spiciness.

Cost: around £1.35 depending on outlet (cheaper in India!)
I rate it 8.5/10

Indomie Mi Goreng Instant Noodles

So let's start by saying that I find most types of 'Western' instant noodles pretty unpalatable. I have tried Pot Noodle, and found it pretty yuck, not for reasons of snobbishness, but just because it tasted so unpleasant- a strange powdery non-flavour, combined with slimey noodles with the odd pea tucked into the mix. I'll admit that this experience was probably over a decade ago now, and I'll retract the above if it turns out that there has been a breakthrough in Pot Noodle edibility since then, but somehow I doubt it. I've also been rather put off by the Super Noodles that I've tried recently, which was quite suprising as I remember them being perfectly adequate.
However, the above shouldn't detract from the fact that for a speedy hot snack, or something to bulk out a simple meal, instant noodles are pretty handy. Indonesian brand Indomie Mi Goreng instant noodles are definitely my favourite in this field.

Along with the usual block of thin noodles, comes sachets of seasoning powder, chili powder, seasoning oil with garlic and onions and thick soy sauce. Even without any further embellishment this makes a perfectly tasty bowl of food, and with a few vegetables or some eggs it's an entire meal.

Price: around 29p
I rate them 8/10