GASTROTASTIC LOVES EU FOOD – A MEGA POST FOR A BIG DAY

The day has arrived and the UK will decide its fate in a few short hours of whether it remains part of the European Union or shuffles off into the sunset solo. I thought it would be improper if Gastrotastic didn’t wade into the debate. Before, anyone decries me for having no business in the matter, having married and decamped to leafy and very far away from Blighty Lagos, I have strong credentials to get involved: firstly, I was born in the UK, Kent no less, the child of, whisper it, migrants, although back in the day the term was ‘political refugee’!

Some of the most vivid memories I have are not just of the trips to Brixton Market to get the ingredients to chow down on all things UG, but of trips to the delicatessen to discover the wonders of Europe via their amazing food. My mother, who as a young woman had travelled across much of Europe was always keen to instill with us a spirit of culinary adventure. And so our first trips to the various delicatessens dotted across London were all about discovering the textures and flavours of our new home. Add to this our family’s love of a slap up meal and dining out was added to the mix of foodie forays.

In case you hadn’t guessed I am completely #TeamRemain, but if you are still unconvinced by the food benefits our continental cousins have brought to your table, check out my food favourites from Europe, whittled down from an epic long list! And a little love letter to my UK favourites too!

Austria,

SACHERTORTE

Wow, those Hapsburgs were not playing when it came to cakes and puddings! If you can tear yourself away from snapping everything in 1st District in Vienna (old-school architecture porn if there ever was), then get yourself to a proper old school coffee house and order slice of Sachertorte. Chocolate cakes have been done in many a variation…and oftentimes the magic comes in the additions but apricot jam with another layer of dark chocolate on top is my official version of choco-heaven. The tart apricot brings the surprise to proceedings, and the dark chocolate icing is so gloriously luxe and decadent. This is grown up pudding eating. Fine, you can have some whipped cream on the side, but absolutely no sugary additions, dare to submit to death by chocolate. The best one I have had EVER was, obvs in Vienna in the Café Gloriette, overlooking the summer palace, as you do.

sachertorte

Belgium,

ARDENNES PÂTÉ

Okay, I know everyone would have assumed that I would opt for their biggest luxury food export which is chocolate, but Austria got their first with the choco=accolades. For me, the best thing food wise from Belgium is not moules-frites (although they are fan-f’ing-tastic), or beer (I am overall not a fan of the hops) but it is their pâté. And in particular Ardennes Pate. Consisting of an unholy trinity of pork fillet, pork liver and pork belly, this is the one pâté I defy anyone not to enjoy eating. Best with super thin cut baguette, lightly toasted and if you are really making things festive Gastrotastic style with a couple of cornichons on top.

ardennes pate

 

 

 

France,

Tarte aux Citron, Steak Tartare, Vacherin, Champagne, Bouillabaisse,

This whole post could be about French food, and I am not just referring to the spectacular-spectacular that is the cuisine in its fine-dining format. Let’s be honest here, even a ham sandwich is taken to the next level by our Gallic cousins! But if I am forced to distil it to my five greatest hits; for pudding I would say Tarte au Citron because NO ONE does patisserie like the French, and the sharp demi-sweet filling with the shortest of pastries is heaven.

tarte au citron

Next on this list is steak tartare; the genius lies in the elevation of raw ingredients into something magical (beef, egg, chopped onions and capers) could only ever be French.

steak tartare

For cheese it is all about baked Vacherin, although an honorable mention to the wonders of ripe Brie both chomped with the perfect baguette, although purists might beg to differ.

vacherin

To drink, my happy=place will always include a glass of chilled champagne; as Winston Churchill quipped; ‘in victory I deserve it, in defeat I need it’; but let all the pretenders (I am talking to you Cava, Prosecco and Sekt), bow down and concede that no one does fizz quite like the French do! Last, and definitely not least is Bouillabaisse. This is NOT a fish soup. This is an ode to the sea and all her edible treasures. You really cannot go wrong if you team robust familiar friends from the ocean such as turbot, monkfish and mullet with inexpensive and undesirable cousins such as rockfish and sea robin. Shellfish are a must from mussels to crab and if one is blowing the budget a langoustine artfully placed atop makes this last supper of one’s life worthy.

bouillabaisse

Ireland,

COLCANNON

Say Irish cuisine and the first thing that normally people reply is Guinness or whiskey if they are the sort to have a liquid supper and if not then potatoes. But for me, it is the wonder that is Colcannon that everyone who visits Ireland should have at least ONCE in their life. Before the likes of Gwyneth and Beyonce got Kale into the public consciousness and firmly aligned with the clean eating movement, there was Colcannon. An incredibly delicious combination of potatoes, kale (or cabbage if you prefer), butter, cream and black pepper. You see, definitely BEFORE the clean eating movement, but ambrosial in flavour and texture and the ultimate winter warmer dish. Some accompany this with some sort of meat, but I have been known to eat whole bowls of the stuff all by itself.

colcannon

Italy,

PARMA HAM, MOZZARELLA, SPAGHETTI VONGOLE, RISOTTO, PORCINI, PARMAGIANA

Trying to write about Italian food like French is a complete stresser, because so much of it has punctuated my every-day, that it is hard to keep things brief. A month without pasta is like some sort of purgatory. Parma Ham, to me the king of all cured meats when on an antipasti plate that must include buffalo Mozzarella, grilled artichokes and vine ripened tomatoes drizzled with olive oil is a human rights issue.

antipasti

Risotto teamed with porcini mushrooms are an earthy delight and if we are pimping our ride, shaved truffles on most things is the equivalent of hiring a string quartet to play Vivaldi whilst you dine at your kitchen table. Parmagiana eaten on its own, shaved on dishes, dipped in balsamic is waxy, creamy, wonderful. Dishes wise I am back in planet Pasta, this time Spaghetti Vongole: whether you do it Bianco with garlic, parsley, and olive oil or Rosso with the addition of tomatoes and basil, the clams, the stars of the dish, must be cooked quickly to avoid being a chewy mess and served hot.

vongole

United Kingdom

SUNDAY ROASTS AND A FULL-ENGLISH

The era of being sniffy about British cuisine is over. About British chefs even less so. Many would argue that London long took over as the world’s food capital in terms of variety, excellent execution and cutting edge conceptual cooking. But let’s take a step back, keep things confined in these fair isles and distil to the essentials. For me typing this thousands of miles away in Lagos there are two meals with metronome regularity that I crave for that are from Blighty: a full-English Breakfast and a traditional Sunday Roast. A breakfast of champions, the sort that makes the rest of the day’s successes and failures secondary consists of two eggs (fried or poached but the yolk must run, run , run!) and nestled to the side are sausages. This is where I do sound a little bit little Englander, no one, but no one comes near the British sausage, Brautwurst whatever, Toulouse, too bad, God bless the British Sausage!! Lincolnshire and Cumberland please and make that two because I am greedy. Bacon cannot be forgotten and for me streaky rather than back is the way to go, and it must be cooked a little bit on the crisp side so that there is a contrast with the sausage. A grilled tomato is a must as are baked beans and a mountain of hot buttered toast and a bottomless cup of tea! Do this once at one of London’s Grand Hotels – Claridges, The Ritz, The Savoy all completely represent or equally nice in a different kind of way an old-school greasy spoon in a gritty neighbourhood.

My perfect Sunday involves Church followed by a traditional Sunday Lunch with all of the Sunday Papers strewn in front of me and nothing too taxing planned for Monday morning! Yes, roast lamb, pork and chicken are perfectly nice but for me it is all about Roast Beef, ideally Scottish and I am cool with topside or rib, it just must be beef and ideally still rosy pink in the middle. Horseradish sauce is the only condiment that will do. Potatoes MUST be roasted and done so in goose or duck fat. We can talk about cardiac issues in another post. Vegetables, be they leafy, like chard, cabbage, kale and spinach or floret in form such as broccoli and cauliflower, all are welcome, just NEVER overcooked. Gravy not from a packet but from a long suffering stock is an essential and Yorkshire pudding is a do or die affair. So many places try and perfect this but there are only two places to enjoy a traditional roast, either at someone’s house, as the carb coma that follows is no joke and you might need to recline, or in a pub where leisurely drinking can continue until you can move again.

roast dinner

So there we have it, my European Food greatest hits! A shout out to Spain for Manchego, Serrano, Paella and Quince. Thank you Sweden for the wonder that is Gravlax. Portugal small yet mighty and home to Port and Natas. Greece, things might have been a ‘mare of late but summer is not summer without vine leaves, Tzatziki and Taramasalata.

If this delicious food odyssey hasn’t persuaded you to vote #remain and continue being part of the glorious European food family, nothing will!

Gastrotastic Food Heroes: The Bakery Babe

It was the smell that hit me first. In the midst of the crowds that had gathered to dance and make merry in Freedom Park, Lagos for http://www.afropolitanvibes.com/ concert  I decided to walk around the park with bae and had become convinced that someone, somewhere was cooking something amazing. My olfactory sense did not let me down as soon we found a small cabin where a young woman was diligently icing cupcakes. Mystery solved.

temi cooking

Once inside, I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting to the lady behind http://www.kiniyidun.com, owner and baker Temi Igbinovia, as well as sampling treats and ordering some of the most delicious baked goods I have had the pleasure of eating. This written by a woman who has walked the streets of Paris in search of the perfect Tarte au Citron (La Patisserie Cyril Lignac, since you ask) and makes an annual pilgrimage to the West Country of England for true scones with the obligatory clotted cream and jam (No, I am not telling!). The birthday cake, cookies and cupcakes I have since ordered from Kiniyidun did not disappoint, so it felt only right and proper to return to Freedom Park for an interview, and some more delicious cake.

thursday cakeBorn in Camden London,  Temi returned to Lagos as a child and remained there until  her first degree in Communications Design in KNUST, Ghana. It was whilst at KNUST that her food calling initially manifested, and she started a baking business with a friend that before long made them the toast of Kumasi and beyond. However, with graduation, the business came to a natural end and Temi travelled to London for her Masters in Character Animation at the prestigious Central Saint Martin’s.

“I decided to set myself the challenge of baking my way through the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook and blogging about it.” Temi says “My blog Sweet Art By Temi http://www.sweetartbytemi.com was really an online journal for me but also an introduction for readers to baking and I quickly gained a wide readership with comments coming in from Nigeria, the UK and America”

biscuit

I asked her whether the baking interrupted with her studies, and apart from a season where her finals loomed, it was an opportunity to marry her love of food with her innate artistry. Although keen to return home after graduation, London with its multifarious food culture influenced her; concepts such as seasonal  consumption, additive free eating, as well as the importance of aesthetics would later inform the unique Kiniyidun offering.

“I knew I would never stay in London beyond my studies. It was too cold and grey. Having said that one of my big discoveries was Patisserie Valerie, obviously the Hummingbird Bakery and Busaba, which had the most incredible Asian cuisine. My academic mentor had an office in Soho, so this gave me the opportunity to be exposed to a variety of cuisines.”

But onto the magic that is Kiniyidun. I asked her why the name? What was the ethos of the brand itself and what were her long term plans:

“Kiniyidun is Yoruba for ‘This is Sweet’, it was important for me that the name of the bakery was rooted in my African identity, as well as giving a clue to what I make.” I probed her and suggested that there was a certain ambiguity in ‘sweet’, it could be literally about her being the purveyor of sweet treats but it could also be used colloquially for things that are in general amazing. “I hadn’t thought of that,” Temi said laughing shyly “But we don’t just do cakes so perhaps you are right, I make gourmet sandwiches and salads and we serve artisan coffees too. But yes, it is principally about the cakes and about the name being something my customers can relate to immediately.”

close up of the shop

Talk moved onto the cakes themselves: for those who are lovers of minimalism, precision and insane flavour combinations, then Kiniyidun is the place for you. I ask her about the cakes, which also come in tall options and oftentimes are decorated with tonal almost semi sheer  effect icing, with a smattering of edible gold dusting that can make you reluctant to cut the first slice.

another cake kiniyidun

“Yes, the cakes are definitely decorated with my aesthetic language in mind. I see myself as principally an artist and that is reflected in my work. Animation and graphics are rooted in my decorating style, hence the black ink effect wording for the messages, presented on a white icing disc, and the precision in additional artwork. I even designed my logo, and the aesthetic is something customers noticed immediately, even before I moved to the Freedom Park space in August last year and I was working out of home for a year. I believe art can be appreciated by all, and should not be limited to what we see in a gallery, hence my cakes looking the way they do.”

all white cake

What of the challenges of sustaining her standards in the challenging environment of Nigeria? Had supplies and sourcing proved difficult? Temi was quick to answer:

“Many of the challenges of Nigeria would be the same with any business start-up. You have the issue of training people, the power issue is ongoing, but essentially the business has grown out of ours and our customers’ passion for our cakes.  We have worked hard to educate people away from artificial colours and flavouring in how we do what we do, and most of our ingredients are sourced in Nigeria, allowing us to create seasonal recipes too. Ideally in the future we will expand, not just across Nigeria but the rest of Africa.

temi baking some more

As our time comes to a close, I couldn’t resist asking Temi whether she had a favourite flavour of cake she made; she responded it was ‘like picking a favourite child”; I asked her of her most audacious baking plan and she replied ‘baking her own wedding cake’. I know, I too was in awe of that!

I think we can expect to hear a lot more of Kiniyidun. The quality speaks for itself, Temi’s passion oozes through all the work and her small team are as dedicated as the lady herself! Food Hero? Absolutely, especially as she is conquering Lagos one exquisite bite at a time. http://www.kiniyidun.com

rose cake kiniyidun

 

 

The Naked Cake

Nude Cakes have always been a very, very exciting concept to me. As someone who has always loved sweet treats of all kinds, and cakes in particular, the idea of a cake devoid of icing, standing on its own terms of flavour appeals to my occasionally purist nature. I must also add at this point that I am not a massive fan of icing. Yes, there are quite a few of us who diligently scrape it off for any number of reasons. Often times it is either too sweet, or too hard, or comes in colours so lurid that only the under 12’s would cheer in anticipation of consumption. My other issue with icing is when the cake to icing ratio is so out of synch that it really does become all about the icing, with cupcakes being a particular offender in this instance, with their swirly pyramids of the stuff. I witnessed the pinnacle of icing worship at a fashion party, where the cake had been dispensed with altogether and instead guests were offered icing shots all on their own!

But back to nude cakes, the little black dress of the pudding world, could they be found beyond the organic food shops, farmer’s market stalls and trendy patisseries I had left behind overseas or was I to resign myself to a cake eating hiatus as my pudding palate needs were no longer properly met? My answer came in discovering Rosalita’s , based in Yaba, Lagos, and committed to championing nude cakes in all their glory and curiously, Sangria too.

My first cake sample came at a tasting where I had the pleasure of trying the carrot and chocolate varieties. Cutting into the cake I was struck by how moist it looked, after months of seeing cakes that on sight let alone taste looked as dry as the Sahara, this was already promising. And as for taste: the plate scraped clean of crumbs was testimony to the exquisite flavours, where the carrots, nuts, dried fruit and spices shone and the good quality cocoa was not obscured by an over the top sugary coating. Being a caring, sharing sort I ordered cakes to share with colleagues, aiming to convert them too to the ways of the nude cake. This time I opted for the rum raisin and the chocolate rum raisin. The rum raisin tasted like an edible cocktail with its boozy hit and the chocolate rum raisin felt like the intense and sexy sibling to the chocolate cake I had previously tried and loved.  Again, it was a case of cleared plates and smiles all round.

It's all about the cake

It’s all about the cake!

I am delighted to type that there is still more to try on the menu: the banana seeming too tantalising to resist. Not only that, but visiting the website and having downloaded the app (yes, it really is that delish), I couldn’t help notice that the menu read like my ultimate pudding playlist: Crumbles, Cheesecakes and Scones all present and correct. At some point I may have to get disciplined, but right now, let the feasting begin!

Gastrotastic Food Heroes:  The Juice Queen

Lagos, like every other global mega-city, has a food scene that is evolving at a rapid rate. Gone are the days when the only options out there were traditional Nigerian cuisine and that other go-to favourite, Chinese. Amidst the fast-food chains and quick fix hits you can pick up from a road side vendor, people are seeking cleaner, healthier options, and I for one was missing my morning treat in London of a green juice picked up on my way to work.

Call it a Back To School thing where the inner nerd inevitably pops out, or just us always seeking out as many of the culinary goings on as we can, but Gastrotastic is pleased to present a series on local food heroes who are setting the culinary agenda in Nigeria. Today, we open with The Nuli Juice Company in a special two-part article.

FINAL Nuli lineup (2)

Nuli is an organic juice company that was founded by Ada Osakwe, who is passionate about promoting healthy lifestyle products without compromising a jot on flavour. Nuli is using the ultra on-trend and best in terms of nutrients extraction, cold pressed method for creating the juices and here’s the extra exciting bit, all of the ingredients are grown and sourced locally in Nigeria. So far, so virtuous, but do the juices taste any good? Luckily dear readers, I had the task of sampling some of the range and my thoughts on which flavours were particularly off the scale delish; although to be fair they were all fab (this barely felt like work), in our next post. But first more from our Food Hero and founder of the Nuli Juice Company, Ada Osakwe:

What made you decide to found Nuli? 

For the last three years, I worked with the Nigerian government as the Senior Investment Adviser to Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, Nigeria’s Former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. In this role, I was intensely exposed to the Nigerian food and agriculture sectors and got to appreciate how Nigeria is the largest producer in Africa of most horticulture crops and a diverse range of fruits and vegetables grow abundantly across the country. For example, did you know that we’re the largest producer of pineapples in Africa? And the 2nd largest producer of Citrus fruits in the world?!

However, I was alarmed that due to the lack of storage, processing facilities, and suitable immediate markets for farmers, up to 60% of these fruits rot away and are wasted.

fruits galore

So I got thinking about how these locally grown fruits and vegetables could be used to create value-added products that can create the demand for farmers’ hard-earned produce, while addressing unmet needs from Nigeria’s rising population of consumers.

I started my own juice company with a laser focus on directly sourcing these fruits and vegetables from Nigerian farmers across the country and adding-value to them through Nuli cold-pressed Juices. At The Nuli Juice Company, we aim to inspire a healthier and happier generation in Africa by making fruits and vegetables the cornerstone of every consumer’s diet with a product that is a convenient way for customers to live a healthier lifestyle.  Through our company, we are also helping create a steady and sustainable means of livelihood for hundreds of farming families across Nigeria.

What have been the challenges of production in Nigeria? 

These have mainly been operational. I’m totally dedicated to sourcing 100% of all our raw materials locally. Our fruits and vegetables are grown here, our bottles are produced by a local manufacturer, our box packaging is made by a local printer, as are our bottle labels, and even our stylish freezer bags are made by a great company out in Surulere, Lagos. Managing this has been challenging especially since I tend to push the local artisans to produce at the highest level. I’m very protective of the Nuli brand and only want the best and more, so when I get sub-standard quality, I freak out. We have had times when our stock levels have been very low on certain items and just when I am happy that deliveries will be made, they come and the printing is wrong, rendering them useless. So my blood pressure rises and I get stressed out!!

Nuli Grass

Where are you currently stocked? 

We started with a direct-to-customer delivery model, with a plan to get closer to the customer through partnerships with local businesses who serve as distributors. In Lagos, Nuli cold-pressed juices can be picked up at Nuts About Cakes, the stylish bakery and café on Rumens Road, Ikoyi, at Aima’s Organic Box in 1004, Victoria Island, and at Neo Café on Akin Adesola, Victoria Island and Mulliner Towers, Ikoyi. In Abuja, we continue to deliver directly to customers through phone and online orders. Our Abuja concept store, The Nuli Juice Bar, will be opening at Food City in Wuse 2 within the next few weeks, where customers will be treated to the Nuli lifestyle experience. The Lagos edition will be coming before the end of the year.

the simple life

On your website you offer juice cleanses. Have Nigerians embraced the juice fast concept? 

Yes we do offer the Nuli juice cleanse as part of our product range, and these tend to be quite popular because we pay special attention to the combination of juices in our cleanse packages to ensure optimal benefits to our clients.

But at The Nuli Juice Company, we are more focused on helping Nigerian’s realize the importance of making fruits and vegetables a cornerstone of their diet. So our Nuli Club juice box subscriptions are increasingly becoming more popular as clients prefer the idea of having a box of 6 or 12 of their favourite Nuli juices delivered to them every 2 to 3 days. This way, they can have cold-pressed juices with their meals, replacing the unnatural, highly processed, sugar-filled soda drinks like Fanta and Coke, and the packed juices like Fumman that are made from concentrate.

TropicalHeat Photo Shoot (2)

Do you have a favourite juice in your range? 

Now that’s a big NO. Actually, I do have favourites at different times: Right now I’m drinking ‘The Simple Life’, and yesterday I was in love with ‘Spice Root’. I personally came up with each recipe we have so far, and they were made with a lot of thought to taste and optimal nutrition. Most importantly, they were all crafted with love!

Nuli Juice

What our clients love about us is that we are able to give them a much wider range of cold-pressed juice combinations than any other brand in the market. We started with The Nuli Signature Collection, a delicious range of 6 premium cold-pressed juice recipes. But over the last 2 months, we have launched 3 new cold-pressed juice recipes, one of which is my current favourite – ‘Dr. Nuli’.

Would you consider yourself a food hero? 

Not at all! I would consider myself someone who has been fortunate to have a rich and diverse global career. I have had the chance to work in the private sector and at the top levels of public sector. I have travelled to over 50 countries in the world through my work. I have worked in investment banking, capital markets, private equity and infrastructure finance, mainly focused in Africa.

I’m so excited that I’ve finally found my passion in food, and all I pray and hope for is that my life is a positive example and inspiration for the many young people who work with me and who come across me.

Completely random, but we have to ask, what’s your favourite meal? 

Erm, okay. It’s so not healthy but I am a sucker for a good pasta dish. Specifically, a prawn pasta in garlic and white wine sauce. Yum!! But oh my, the calories in that one!!!! Sigh, living healthy is certainly not easy! But I keep trying! J

So whilst Ada, has very humbly stated she is not a food hero, we at Gastrotastic.com beg to differ. The Nuli Juice Company truly is transforming the food scene in Nigeria. As well as providing consumers with some of the most delicious juices I have tasted, championing healthy lifestyle choices, and creating a premium market for local farmer’s produce, she is doing it all with love.

ada laugh 1 (2)

Check out tomorrow’s post for the Gastrotastic review of the range, and if you cannot wait, go straight to www.nulijuice.com to order your own box of deliciousness!

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 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