Archive for the ‘Starches’ Category


On the first and third Monday of the month, Younger’s Traditional Fish and Chips in Cardiff hosts a gluten-free night. Admittedly, I’m not a connoisseur of take-aways, indeed the biggest benefit of the family food allergies is how much we are forced to cook at home, from scratch. So bear in mind when reading onward that (a) I only ate once, (b) I haven’t compared widely, and (c) as a rarely-treated and deeply-appreciative audience, I am pre-disposed to be delighted.

That said, I thought it was quite good. The batter on the fish was crisp, much more so then the typically-floured fish I’ve eaten here. The chips were good chips. It was all less greasy than most deep-fried meals I’ve had here, take-away or in the pub. Whether that was due to gluten-free batter or fresh oil in the vat, I cannot say, but I was pleased. And the Real Live Englishman who dined with us was also pleased. He’s a Friday-night patron of this particular chippy, indeed walks past neighbouring chippies for this one, and, being English, he has greater scope to compare. Then again, mad dogs and Englishmen, be always skeptical of their judgment…

Happy Guy Fawkes Night from the United Kingdom! Here’s wishing good governance to parliamentary democracies everywhere in the coming year. And for what transpired yesterday in the American Republic, may we all be truly thankful.

Younger’s Traditional Fish & Chips
73 Caerphilly Road
Birchgrove, Cardiff
CF14 4AE
029 2062 0678

Gluten-free the first and third Monday of the month.


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Traditional Belarusian cookery makes much of buckwheat, a plant that grows better than wheat (no relation) under Belarus’ climatic and soil conditions. This example of a buckwheat pilaf is made with hulled wholegrain buckwheat seeds, whole seeds not yet cracked into the groats used for kasha. The seasonings are classic Belarus: bay leaf and black pepper to “beef-up” the vegetable stock (or enhance a meat stock), and finely-diced mushroom for an earthy flavour top complement the nuttiness of buckwheat. In Belarus a buckwheat pilaf might be eaten on its own, or with a sour cream garnish, or placed inside a roasting dusk or goose, a coincidentally gluten-free stuffing for your Holidays. Without the bird, this moist and flavourful pilaf would be a great substitute for holiday stuffing, served as a garnish beside your goose or turkey but without all the saturated fat. Serve or stuff, it’s up to you.

The single most important thing when making this pilaf is to purchase hulled wholegrain buckwheat seeds in their curvy-pyramidal entirety, not the cracked or ground version of same. The wholegrain seed will hold its shape better while remaining more distinct in the pilaf; cracked kasha, which is the Slavic term for porridge, tends to become just that. The instructions on my bag of grains, plain-old Tesco house brand, read to boil for half an hour, a cooking time that presumably would have given me porridge. Pilaf tenderness was arrived at in ten minutes. Many buckwheat pilaf recipes toast egg-smeared groats or seeds in order to keep them distinct, but this is not strictly necessary with uncracked seeds. Whole hulled grains that are well-toasted alone, simmered gently and not overcooked hold their shape well. It is important that the pilaf be reasonably dry at the end if it is to be fluffy, so it’s a good idea to knock it around a little on a large plate to let it steam-off. The onion and mushrooms are chopped very finely for uniformity, and the mushrooms are added late so that they retain their moisture. The amount made here should stuff a chicken easily, but to stuff a big turkey (or an astoundingly hollow goose) you would obviously need to make more. At worst, have some left over for a healthy side, or to use in the next day’s soup.

hotm150.jpgBy reading Dianne’s and Ilva’s blogs, I learned about the Heart of the Matter (HotM) Event Number 9: Holiday Food, which draws attention to heart-healthy eating and is coordinated this month by The Accidental Scientist. In my home I cook for multiple food allergies, some transient and some permanent, and I have a great deal of sympathy for anyone struggling to accomodate yet one more dietary need. So, in my first-ever entry into anything of the kind, I’m submitting this post to the HotM9 Event, as a gluten-free heart-healthy holiday food. In particular, I would like to dedicate this recipe to Dianne’s husband, and wish him a steady recovery from heart attack.

By my back-of-the-napkin calculations, I believe that each serving of pilaf (made with a low sodium vegetable broth, knowing nothing of that roast, and with no additional salt) contains: 275 kcal; 5g total fat; 1g saturated fat; 0g trans fat; 0mg cholesterol; 75mg sodium; 50g total carbohydrate; 3g fibre; 5g sugar; 9g protien. Pardon my sig digs.

Belarusian Buckwheat Mushroom Pilaf (or Stuffing)

Twenty minutes; serves four

2 cups vegetable broth (may substitute chicken or beef broth)
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
1 cup wholegrain hulled buckwheat
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely diced almost as small as the dry buckwheat
4 oz mushrooms, finely diced almost as small as the dry buckwheat
cracked black pepper
salt, as you wish

1. In a medium saucepan heat the broth to a boil with the bay leaf and black pepper.
2. In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet dry-toast the buckwheat over medium-low heat. Keep stirring and shaking and moving them around for a few minutes as they lose their green tint and turn a nut-brown.
3. Add the buckwheat to the broth, cover, and keep over the lowest heat until just tender, about ten minutes.
4. Heat the olive oil in the skillet and sautee the onion until golden, about eight minutes. Add the mushrooms and stir them around to heat and coat. In about a minute when they will start to lose their moisture take them off heat. Season with black pepper.
5. When the buckwheat is tender, turn it onto a large plate and gently fluff the grains with a fork to separate them and remove some excess moisture. Fold in the mushroom and onion, and season with salt to taste.

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Thayir sadam, or (yogurt) curd rice, is a delicious chilled rice dish common throughout southern India, and it is a great strategy for preserving leftover rice for the next meal. Thayir sadam can be made quite thick and chunky, as I have here, or mashed to the pudding stage, or thinned with milk through to a near-liquid stage resembling the yogurt drink, lassi. Moreover, thayir sadam can be flavoured any way you might like it, with whatever whole spices and powders are to hand. It is highly adaptable, a make-ahead dish that can last days in the fridge, and is easy to pull out as the starch of a main meal or as a snack. I’ve been enjoying it this week for breakfast, although I admit the heat of the chilies is not a great partner for coffee.

The success of thayir sadam owes a lot to the food chemistry involved. The first imperative is to work with hot rice (this is where the ‘keep warm’ function on your rice cooker earns its keep). The straight-chain starches of long-grain rice set very hard if they do not have sufficent water molecules among them as they cool; you’ve noticed this with leftovers, I know. Coating rice in a wet sauce (milk, then yogurt) before it cools will ensure that there is ample water present to run interference between the amylose starch molecules and keep the grains reasonably soft. This recipe is for long-grain rice, but shorter-grained rices (like sushi rice) respond even better to cooling or indeed even freezing. My second suggestion is to choose a fuller-fat yogurt, such as a “greek-style,” which is still mostly water but does come with some fat (typically about 10% by weight). The spices involved in this salad, especially the chilies, can curdle dairy product just like heat can, but incorporating fat in the mix will offer some protection, this time by interfering with proteins rather than starches. If all you have in your fridge is skinny yogurt, then I suggest mixing a little ghee or melted butter (maybe a tablespoon’s-worth) into the rice after adding the yogurt (not before, or you’ll coat the grains and prevent the water from softening the cooling rice). So much science in a little bowl of rice…

This salad is best a little warmer than refrigerator-temperature, but a little chiller than room-. In other words, pretend it’s a blush. Come to think of it, a rose d’anjou wouldn’t be a bad wine match. Serve as a starch with an Indian meal, where this cooler temperature will be a contrast and a surprise. Or have it for breakfast with orange juice, if you like a little spice in your morning.

Tamil Rice and Yogurt Salad (Thayir Sadam)

10 minutes from cooked rice; serves four

2 cups hot cooked long-grain white rice, such as basmati
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup fuller-fat yogurt (Greek-style)
1/2 tsp salt
2 fresh green chilies
1″ peeled fresh ginger
1 Tbsp sunflower or canola oil
1 tsp brown mustard seeds
1/4 tsp gluten-free asafoetida powder
small handful of dried curry leaves (about a dozen)

1. Mix the milk with the rice, then the yogurt, then the salt. Consider if you might like it wetter, with more milk, bearing in mind that it will set somewhat as it cools.
2. Mince the chilies with their seeds. Finely grate the ginger, keeping the juice. Mix all of this into the rice.
3. Heat the oil in a small heavy frying pan over medium flame. Add the mustard seeds and when they stat to pop add the asafoetida and the curry leaves. Off-heat roll them around for a few seconds more and stir them into the rice.
4. Refrigerate. To serve, let warm just a little and taste for salt.

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eba.jpgNative to tropical South America, cassava grows well in similar climates elsewhere, and it is eaten as a staple starch throughout west Africa. In Nigeria, shredded cassava is fermented, dessicated and roasted to produce a coarse-grain flour called gari (or garri). This process has two aims: to produce a starch that is light-weight, flavourful, and can be stored for long periods, and to rid the raw cassava of its toxic cyanogenic glucosides, lest diners risk cyanide poisoning. Dried gari is reconstitued with hot water and worked into a thick smooth sourdough called eba. The eba are presented rolled into balls that can be depressed with the thumb to produce a kind of edible spoon for hot soup or stew. Dried cassava is not itself very strongly flavoured (think of tapioca), but the fermentation and roasting of the gari provides a surprising complexity in the eba that complements the very hot chilies found in Nigerian cooking. During reconstitution the vineagry character of the eba is quite pronounced, as the hot water wakes-up the fermented starch and water vapour carries the odor upwards, but at room temperature this inherent sourness is much more subtle. West-African grocers usually stock gari in small bags along with their other flours.

The recipe could not be simpler. Use eba to accompany a west-African soup.

Nigerian Cassava Dumplings (Eba)

Five minutes; serves four

1 cup gari
2 cups boiling water

In a large bowl stir the boiled water into the gari with a wooden spoon. It will initially be soupy, but within seconds start to thicken significantly. Keep stirring/beating it until it is a smooth opaque dough, the constistency of play-dough. Form into eight golf-sized balls with your hands.

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