The 5k* Picnic

(*Before you all faint, that’s Nigerian Naira rather than GBP so actually £15)

At Gastrotastic we love a challenge, so when a close friend threw down the gauntlet that a two course seafood themed meal using fresh ingredients couldn’t be created for under £15 (or NGN5000 for my Nigerian readers), I was more than happy to accept. The stage was set in sunny Brighton, so this is a bit of a throwback, but the lesson was a universal one; does budget really affect flavour? Not only was the budget met, but also the cooking utensils (a disposable barbeque tray) and seating (a very handy mini picnic blanket) were also achieved in the sum above!

The key element was deciding on flavours that worked for BOTH courses, but didn’t result in similarly tasting dishes. This is especially important when you are working a budget. I decided to stay in the Mediterranean in terms of flavour and use only seasonal ingredients. Many health practitioners vouch for eating seasonally, research suggests it is what our body naturally wants to do anyway, but eating seasonally also means you avoid expensive items which may have to be imported from other parts of the world. As I went to the fishmongers, my first point of call, I opted for fish from the British Isles. As I was on the coast, I lucked out on some Black Bream; think the English Channel’s very own Sea Bass, well, sort of. Samphire was picked from the sea and Squid had been fished off the Cornish Coast. By having a fish and a mollusc I had avoided flavour and texture similarities with one deft stroke.

I opted for vegetables that were all grown in sunny East or West Sussex; which meant the longest they had travelled from soil to my plate would have been 50 miles, making them super fresh. The biggest spend was a truly tiny bottle of serious Olive Oil which took up a third of the budget but was essential as this brought all the flavours together, and hey, what is Mediterranean cuisine  without Olive oil?

Starter

Chilli, Garlic and Lemon Barbequed Squid with a Tomato and Onion Salad

Difficulty rating: Super Simple

Ingredients:

2 Squid

2 Beef Tomatoes

3 Cloves of Garlic

1 Red Chilli

Juice of Half a Lemon

1 Red Onion

3 Table Spoons of Olive Oil

Black Pepper (to taste)

Salt (to taste)

Method

The simplicity of this dish stems from the cooking method, our one stop disposable barbeque tray, removing all the fussing and fiddling of conventional cooking. As Squid can easily go from fabulous to tyre texture, brevity on the barbeque is key, but the magic as ever, happens in the marinade.

Clean the squid fully, making sure you remove the ink filled beak. If you are a little squeamish, a good fishmonger will happily do this for you. Next cut into rings but do not cut the tentacles as they will create a different texture. Chop the garlic  finely and the chili and add one table spoon of olive oil to the mixture and leave to marinade for several hours if you are super organised or at least 20 minutes if you are not.

This is how it should look like

This is how it should look like

Cut the beef tomatoes horizontally, so you get the widest surface area of the tomato. Beef tomatoes happened to be in season, but any other tomato can work, although you might have to increase quantities as beef tomatoes are particularly large.

Next Chop your red onion finely and add the remaining olive oil to them. Also stir in the juice of the lemon and a touch of salt and black pepper to taste. Put aside for later.

Light the disposable barbeque as per the instructions that are on the packaging. They are fairly quick to light and get hot but once the coals have started to colour  whitish it is ready to use. Put the Squid on the barbeque and cook for no more than 90 seconds to two minutes to avoid the aforementioned tyre situation.

2 minutes on the barbeque and no more!

2 minutes on the barbeque and no more!

To assemble this dish, put your tomatoes on the plate first and then heap the squid on top, pour over the dressing and enjoy!

The plated dish

The plated dish

Main Course

Black Bream with Yellow Courgettes, Samphire, Tomatoes and Basil

Difficulty Rating: Super Simple

Ingredients:

2 Black Bream,

1 Beef Tomato

2 Yellow Courgettes

2 Cloves of Garlic

Juice of Half a Lemon

200 grams of Samphire

50 grams of Basil

4 Table Spoons of Olive Oil

Salt (to taste)

Chili Pepper (optional)

Method:

As with the squid, Sea Bream does not need a great deal to showcase its distinct flavour. Often forsaken in place of its more glamourous cousin, Sea Bass, this is a delicious firm fish, that works beautifully with most cuisines. If you are getting it from the fishmongers you can ask him to gut the fish for you and clean the cavity, but don’t fillet it for barbeque as it will dry out.

Chop the garlic finely and place in the cavity and around the Bream. Coat the fish with 2 table spoons of olive oil, half of the juice of the lemon and some salt and leave to marinade for 30 minutes minimum or longer if you have more time. I added some chilli pepper because I had some spare but this is not essential.

Dreamy Bream

Dreamy Bream

The barbeque will still be hot from the squid so place your bream and allow to cook for a minimum of 20 minutes. If you have slightly larger fish it will take longer. You can check if the fish is cooked by running a fork in the cavity, if fish flesh flakes off easily, the fish is done, if not leave for longer. Wrap the fish in foil when cooked so that they retain heat and moisture.

The bream doing its thing

The bream doing its thing

The courgettes are simply sliced, seasoned with salt and a dash of olive oil and put on the barbeque. Because courgettes have a high water content, they won’t take more than a few minutes so can be placed on the barbeque once the fish is cooked.

Keen readers will notice my slight obsession with Samphire, but in this instance it is really the best vegetable to accompany the dish. Normally it is sautéed in butter or olive oil and some restaurants offer deep fried renditions. If you ever do see it on a menu or in the supermarket, give it a try – it truly is a magical vegetable.

One of my favourite things

One of my favourite things

For this barbeque menu and so as not to overcook it is best wrapped in foil with two or three table spoons of water and placed on the barbeque for 6 minutes or so. You will know it is cooked because the Samphire takes on a shiny appearance.

The Bream and Samphire doing its thing

The Bream and Samphire doing its thing

To plate, put some samphire on the base of the plate and then the fish, slice the tomatoes horizontally and scatter with the yellow courgettes and basil around too, with a few samphire fronds strategically on top. As this is a picnic and essentially a relaxed cooking experience, it doesn’t have to be too tidy, but seeing a fish whole, always adds a sense of occasion. For the dressing, mix the remaining olive oil, lemon juice black pepper together and spoon over the dish and serve.

A feast by the sea

A feast by the sea

As I had done so well on the challenge, the drink accompaniments were very much in the blow the budget category: champagne followed by a light, distinct and super perfect with fish Gruner Vetiliner. Much noise is made about White Burgundy for all things piscatorial, but this gem from the Alsace is definitely worth it!

One had to blow the budget somewhere!

One had to blow the budget somewhere!

The Way to a man’s heart…

When we first started dating my now husband had no idea that I was a foodie. I suppose he suspected I ran on the twin fuels of mineral water and champagne as this was all that was in my fridge in sunny Lekki at the time. However, the cat was let out of the bag some months later in New York although long enough for me to know that it wasn’t my culinary skills that did it! Since moving back to Lagos I have been keen to widen my repertoire and where better place to start than his favourite soup?

Gastrotastic Recipe:

Okro Soup and Eba

Difficulty Rating: Easy Enough but wow, very time consuming

Ingredients

600grams of assorted meat

400 grams Okra

1 Fish Head* (today’s random but magic ingredient)

3 red onions

50 grams of cray fish

50 grams of Uziza Leaves

3 Scotch Bonnet Peppers

3 tablespoons of Palm Oil

1 stock cube

Salt (to taste)

For The Eba

250 grams of Cassava Flour

500mls (approx.) of Hot Water

Method:

Okro Soup, is not really a soup, it is more like a stew or casserole in look and consistency. Like many of the dishes in Nigeria, it is quite flexible in terms of what protein you use. Beyond the principal ingredient of Okra, you can put whatever meat you wish in the stew. What was also an eye opener was the freestyle mixing of meats; think surf and turf, the extreme edition. But if you don’t come to the dish with a blinkered view that it ‘won’t work’ you can be surprised by the merging of flavours, and Okra, being a very robust vegetable can more than handle it all.

As with all good stews which essentially is what Nigerian soups are, one needs quite a bit of time and patience to make the perfect Okro. This is definitely not a whip up after one has sat in traffic forever and a day. It is probably best to make it on the weekend and freeze for a midweek feast. First prep all of your elements so that they are ready to be added in the pot as required. Chop the onions finely as the aim is from them to completely break down in the dish as they cooked.  How you cut the okra is entirely down to preference and there are variations within Nigeria, with some areas favouring cutting the okra in thin sized circular slices and others chopping the okra in circular slices and then again vertically. Cutting the okra severally will ensure that the fleshy membrane is released, and it is the slimy to the eye flesh that gives Okra its distinct elasticity when it is spooned, and gives its local name of ‘Draw Stew’ as it draws up from a plate.

Preparation is key

Preparation is key

Next prepare your meat, cleaning it and cutting it into medium sized pieces. As it is mixed meat, try and make the pieces of similar size so when served a delicious combination will find itself onto everyone’s plate. For the stew I made I used beef and snail. I know, edgy, but not too far conceptually from an old English favourite of beef and oyster. Once you have cut the meat put in a pot with one sliced onion cover with water and sprinkle in your stock cube and boil for an hour and a half minimum, you may have to replenish the pot with water so that it does not dry out.

The Beef and Snail Medley

The Beef and Snail Medley

Whilst the meat is doing its thing, using a giant mortar and pestle grind the scotch bonnet and dried crayfish. One could of course use a blender, but there is something very ‘ye olde village’ about doing this by hand, plus think of it as a fantastic arm work-out.

Old school grind

Old school grind

Once they have become a paste add to the pot. At this point I also added my bonus ingredient, which was looking lonely in our fridge, a giant dried fish head. Again, this is to add another layer of flavour to the stew once it is cooked.  Finally add the Palm Oil to the dish. Palm Oil can be a tricky one, with some people addicted to the red oil, but it can take over a dish when added in excess. It is also no friend of one’s heart, arteries or dress size, when consumed in large quantities. So, in this instance I added 3 table spoons to the pot only and stirred in. Allow the stew to simmer for a further 30 minutes or until you can see it has taken on a deep red rich colour.

The Magic Happens

The Magic Happens

Next add the okra, stir it in thoroughly, so that all the stew will have the ‘draw’ quality and simmer for a further 20 minutes.

The Star of the Show

The Star of the Show

The last element you add are your washed and chopped Uziza leaves. Local to Nigeria, the Uziza leaves seem to sit somewhere between a spinach leaf and a chard leaf in terms of consistency, although as they derive from a pepper plant, have a spicy herby quality to them, so do not need long to cook. I simply stirred them in right at the end of the dish, so that they wouldn’t have lost their vibrant green quality entirely. Your soup is now ready and can be left in the pot whilst one prepares the Eba.

Swallow for Beginners

Most Nigerian soups as the stews are known have a starchy accompaniment to go with them.  The starchy accompaniments are often known as ‘swallow’ as when eating with one’s hand, you roll them up in a mouthful size ball and dip into your soup and eat. Everyone has a preferred ‘Swallow’, from Pounded Yam, to Fufu to Semo. My favourite for eating with Okro Soup is Eba, a swallow made with cassava flour and probably the easiest to make as no heavy duty pounding is required.

First, put the Cassava flour in a large mixing bowl. Next add boiling water slowly into the cassava flour. To ensure your Eba is not lumpy, distribute the water evenly in a circular motion, it should cover the flour by an inch or so. Now, like couscous cover the mixing bowl with a damp tea towel and allow the water to be absorbed by the flour. To test that you have the right consistency, your Eba should be robust to the touch and not have a granular quality to the taste. Next, scoop up your Eba into the portion size of your choice and wrap in cling film. If one goes to a lot of Nigerian events one will notice that the Swallow is often wrapped in cling film, and apart from creating a uniform shape, it allows moisture and heat to be retained.

It's an Eba Wrap!

It’s an Eba Wrap!

Your meal is now ready to be served. Double wrapper wearing and praise singing before dinner are an optional extra!

A Star for Effort and Taste!

The Finished Dish!

My first effort was rated well, but I have already warned my best-beloved that as I learn the Nigerian classics, I am definitely going to riff on them, and there might be some deconstruction in the mix. Watch this page, for the re-interpretations.

The Super Chilled Dinner Party

An invitation to a dinner party can often be met with trepidation.  Whilst it is always lovely to be invited, unlike a restaurant, there is no real way to check ahead for what to expect, unless your host has thrown so many that they merit their own page on Tripadvisor.

Lightening the load with my friendly kitchen assistant

Lightening the load with my friendly kitchen assistant

A dear friend recently threw a dinner party that featured some old-school Gastrotastic recipes. This is perhaps the number one element of ensuring your dinner party remains a chilled affair and delicious experience for all: tried and tested recipes that you know work. I have witnessed hosts work themselves up to the point of nervous collapse, trying to master a new recipe or follow a recipe book, whilst guests arrive, try to engage them in conversation and finally begin to hover as they can  telepathically feel the meltdown going on in the kitchen. If you are doing the cooking by yourself, then prep as much as you can earlier. And if you are catering for more than four, try and get another pair of hands involved. Trust me, it will make all the difference. The other consideration is the table itself. Dress it up! This is the time to bring out the charger plates, the good crystal and the candelabra and make the table and your guests feel special. The simplest dishes immediately look luxe with good cutlery and linen helping them along the way.  And your guests will feel all the more special for it:  A case of moderate effort for a massive return.

The pimped table setting

The pimped table setting

Because of my new Lagos location, there was an element of improvisation and a theme. The theme was Voyages of Discovery, with flavours and inspiration taken from around the world, but fish and seafood being the protein of the day. Improvisation was necessary in terms of ingredients, but this in itself created for exciting new flavour combinations. Coconut Red Lentils, that I have previously made as a vegetarian main course, were accompanied with baked Croaker a fish local to the area and with the pre-starter of sesame coated prawns, another throwback Gastrotastic recipe, green beans replaced sugar snap peas.  As with the best dinner parties; the aim was for food that looked great but that wasn’t too fussy or difficult to prepare, allowing everyone, chef in the kitchen included to fully participate in the merriment at the table.

Croaker and Lentils, every bit as delish as it looks

Croaker and Lentils, every bit as delish as it looks

Gastrotastic  Recipe: An Extra Course In No Time

On the day of the dinner party I was fortunate to get hold of some squid, about a kilo in total. I wanted to include the squid as a new course, still make it festive, and be quick to make.

Baked Peppers with Seared Squid and Courgette

Difficulty Rating: Super Simple

Ingredients

6 Bell Peppers

2 Courgettes

1 Kilo of Squid

2 Cloves of Garlic

2 Fresh Green Chilli Peppers

Olive Oil

Juice of a Lemon

Salt (to taste)

Black Pepper (to taste)

3 Tablespoons of Flat leaf Parsley

Method:

Cut the top of the Large Red Bell Peppers and remove the seeds inside. Coat the cavity and the outside of the bell pepper with Olive oil and a pinch of salt and put in a pre-heated oven at 200degrees Centigrade for approximately 30 minutes. If you are in a real hurry, and have the equipment, you can blow torch the outside of the bell peppers only for a similar result.

About half way through your bell pepper cooking process, assuming one is using an oven, heat a searing pan or a griddle to a high temperature . Sear your courgettes, which you would have sliced for 30 seconds on each side. The key is for them to still have bite and for their centres not to have completely collapsed. Put aside on a plate and dress with a teaspoon of oil and a sprinkle of black pepper.

Next sear the squid. If you have bought whole squid from a fishmonger you can ask for it to be cleaned and the beak, which contains the squid’s ink to be removed. The main body of the squid is then cut horizontally, creating rings and the remaining tentacles are best not cut as in the cooking process they will curl and can make for attractive shapes. When searing the squid, take care not to overcook and turn the flesh into a rubbery confection. As a rule of thumb no more than one minute on each side. If you are using a searing pan, you will get the striped charring marks, which look particularly ‘cheffy’. Put aside in a bowl.

In a separate bowl press your garlic and add pulsed green peppers which can be pounded in a mortar and pestle or in a blender.  A two table spoons of Olive oil and the juice of the lemon and pour over the Squid.

By this point, the peppers should almost be ready, and when they are put an individual pepper with its respective lid on a plate. Fill the cavity of the pepper with the squid and courgettes and put the lid on top.  Sprinkle fresh leaf parsley and serve. Your guests will think they are getting a roasted bell pepper but when they open the lid they will discover a lovely Mediterranean flavoured piscine surprise.

The finished Bonus Course!

The finished Bonus Course!

For pudding I did a riff on Eton Mess, renamed Adesoye Mess, in honour of the hostess’ alma mater, substituting strawberries for apple bananas and incorporating minced ginger and melted chocolate. Sadly there are no snaps of pudding as it was gone too quickly, even for a camera phone!  Suffice to say, many cups of speciality tea later, we called it a night, happily full and content, chilled and ready for the next chow down.

The Lagos Kitchen

Gastrotastic is back and the kitchen has moved  locations from leafy west London to super sunny Lagos. Excitement as a word doesn’t even cover it. Lagos is home to at least 17 million souls so one can only imagine the range of delish meals being rustled up.

We have used the change of location to mix things up a bit. Whilst before we shared recipes, vlogs and the occasional review, we are now adding cunning food hacks, a what’s in season fruit and vegetable wise and championing local food heroes whenever we find them. The recipes will still be there, but expect to see re-imaginings of dishes that are local to Nigeria and other parts of Africa.

super close up bananas

So what have I found out so far in Naija? First, the fresh produce is incredible. Fruit looks photo=shopped and is super sweet and vegetables are so flavoursome that sometimes it seems impolite to add anything more than the tiniest bit of salt. Meat is most definitely an adventure, chicken gizzards, giant snails, slow cooked cow skin have all been on the menu, and being on the Atlantic Ocean, fish and seafood is a veritable festival.

nigerian produce gastrotastic

My current foodie BFF is a stallholder in GRA Ikeja who stocks the best apple bananas I have eaten outside of Kampala and dwarf aubergines that are best simply griddled, with a splash of olive oil, or better yet as a healthy accompaniment to a slightly naughty portion of Suya.

at the market gastrotastic