Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Art of Chapattis

Chapatti on the grill

I’ve been making chapatti for a while now, but with only average results. My chapatti are often too dry, without that nice foldable quality you get in restaurant chapatti. They also seem to acquire a shell of “flour”, inherited from the rolling process, making them almost stale by design. But today I had a major chapatti breakthrough that I wanted to share.

These chapatti were a total case of “who you know”: they wouldn’t have come together if it weren’t for input from a few key players.

At the top level there was The Essential Madhur Jaffrey cookbook, whose chapatti recipe I used for the basic ingredient proportions, kneading and cooking techniques. But as all bread bakers know, even the best recipes are hard pressed to convey the subtleties of the cooking process. This is where I’m grateful for the experience of a few baker friends I know.

First, Toddy Peters told me a thing or two about chapatti flour and how to work with it. First of all, not all chapatti flour (aka “atta”) is made equal. There are whiter varieties, and “cheaper versions that are more wholemeal and therefore going to produce a coarser, thicker bread”. I’ve been using straight up Shipton Mill wholemeal flour, the same I usually use for wholemeal bread, which is indeed rather coarse. So today I decided to lighten it up a bit by sifting the wholemeal flour, and adding the same amount of white spelt flour.

Chapatti dough ready for a good rest

Toddy also told me: “when rolling out, I have a small plate or thali of flour and I never flour the rolling surface, and I dip the ball in the plate of flour, but also shake off excess.” Now I see why my chapatti of yore were always so floury – I went waaay overboard on flouring my work surface. Toddy’s tip basically solved that problem.

Once rolled, there was the question of cooking chapatti. Ms. Jaffrey recommends a tava, which I totally don’t have. And further, I don’t really trust my electric hob to do the job. Fortunately, Trevor from Hobbs House Bakery offered a hefty tip at last week’s Foodie Bugle Lectures: Use the grill. For home bakers, the grill is really the only way to get a high enough heat for successful chapatti, pittas and flatbread. And happily, it’s spring and perfect weather for cooking outdoors.

One last thing: I also added a few ajwain seeds to the dough, courtesy of The Botanical Baker, Urvashi Roe, who gave me some during our epic foodie weekend to add to my chickpea pancakes. Don’t know why but I felt compelled to try them in chapatti – loved it!

So here’s how it went down:

  • 60g white spelt flour (Dove’s Farm)
  • 60g wholemeal flour, sifted (Shipton Mill)
  • 90g water (from the tap)
  • small pinch of ajwan seeds (thanks Urvashi)

I started with the 90g water and 90g flour, adding more flour until I had a soft, kneadable dough (so, just beyond the realm of “sticky”). I kneaded the dough for five(ish) minutes then let it rest for an hour or so while I attempted to be productive.

I then divided the dough into 8 little balls (using my hands to pull the dough apart and then shape them into cute little compact balls).

I dipped each dough ball in flour and then rolled them out into a thin round (I had to add a bit of flour as I went to prevent sticking).

I heated up the outdoor gas grill on high. My gas grill has two sides – one open to the flame, the other not (you can sort of see this in the picture up top).

To make the chapatti, I first put the chapatti on the non-flame side and cooked for about a minute on each side, so that little brown spots started to form. Then I moved the chapatti to the flame side for about 30 seconds, where they really began to puff (I got this no flame / flame idea from the Madhur Jaffrey cookbook – though I reckon you’d do just fine with or without the flame, or even in the grill of an electric oven).

The chapatti made for a seriously happy-making lunch of yellow pea dahl and spinach with pickles and chutney.

Very much a happy making lunch: @vegcs yellow pea dal and a big stack of fresh chapatti.

I’m sure I have more to learn about chapatti and I’m open to any ideas or suggestions from you chapatti experts out there. I’ll probably experiment with other flour types and combinations in the future. But today’s effort made me really happy. They were soft, pliable, and extremely tasty! I loved the occasional hit of ajwain seed. And they are happily foldable, so don’t be surprised to find them doubling as tortillas in my breakfast tacos and fajitas.

Related reading: Mark Bittman’s Recipe and Video for Grilled Chapattis in The New York Times.

Building a Successful Foodie Business

Lunch at The Foodie Bugle Lectures

Pardon me while I take a break from the usual food porn to talk about business.

Last Friday I went to The Foodie Bugle Lectures at Thyme at Southrop. I loathe to call it a “networking event”, because that phrase is horrible and would make it sound like an opportunist suit-and-tie shmooze fest. Instead, the lectures felt more like a casual hang-out with foodie friends to swap stories, inspire, eat and take in some serious Cotswolds countryside eye candy.

The lectures were hosted by Silvana de Soissons, creator of The Foodie Bugle, and Thyme at Southrop, a barn conversion of epic proportions that now hosts cookery classes, private cottages and events.

Ultimate Barn Conversion

The premise of The Foodie Bugle Lectures was this: people with food businesses get together to talk about how they’ve succeeded, their biggest challenges, and the things they would have done differently if they could go back in time. The line-up of speakers included some of my own food heroes, particularly Trevor Herbert of Hobbs House Bakery, Chantal Coady of Roccoco Chocolate, food writer Thane Prince and Monika Linton of Brindisa. In the audience were people like me: people trying to make a business based around food.

The day was endlessly inspiring and massively interesting. I noticed a few common themes throughout the talks:

“The art of delegation”, Trevor Herbert’s phrase for enabling people in your company to make decisions. How do you do this? Through solid training and well-established processes that people can take charge of. Even I, with my minute business and just a few helpers, am quickly learning that there’s no point having employees if you don’t give them the training and confidence to do the work without constantly having to ask me for guidance. You hire people to save time, and they can only do that if they’re empowered to make good decisions.

Marketing is critical. Sounds obvious, but it’s the kind of thing that can go to the wayside when you’re dealing with day to day operations and trying to develop a product or brand. But just because you create something great doesn’t mean that people will come. It might be tempting to lay off marketing if money’s tight, but in fact, those are exactly the times when you should ramp up your marketing effort. I also like how Jane Cumberbatch put it: “you need to get your name about”.

Ask and ye shall receive. Seriously. Your business will not survive if you don’t talk to people and are bold in asking for support. I loved Monika Linton’s story about asking her milkman if she could borrow his refrigerators to store her cheeses in when she was just getting started. Just about ever speaker mentioned the help they received from other people in getting their business off the ground.

“I wish I had been a technical genius.” Most speakers mentioned the importance of technology and the internet in establishing and maintaining their business. The usefulness of Twitter was bandied about and it all ties back with what Pascal said: “you’ve got to get your name out there”. As someone trying to build a business helping foodies use the internet, it was pretty swell to hear that this was high on people’s minds.

Lunch: Wild Garlic Frittata with Fennel & Raddichio Salad

One of the reasons I love about working with foodies is that events like these almost always involve really amazing food. At Thyme, we got that and some fantastically amazing scenery to go with it (it helped that the sun was shining and it was warm enough to lunch al fresco). Wild garlic frittata, sourdough bread, Tunworth cheese, and some sweet pickled plums that I can’t wait to try making myself when Mirabelle plums are in season again.

Pickled Plums

So why am I writing all this down?

The Foodie Bugle Lectures gave me pause to think about my own “food business”, something I should really write about more often because it underlies some of the things I try to do with this blog.

A little background: I studied mathematics, but somewhere along the way I discovered good food, and now I’m trying to figure out a way to make a business that involves food but still takes advantage of my training and inherent geekiness. So for the past year I’ve been building a business helping foodies rock the internet.

My business is at a critical point. I’m pretty saturated with work, and that’s awesome, but I would like to make more money. No, I’m not greedy, I’m just a self-employed person who would really like to buy a house someday and have a nice enough cash cushion to not have to think (worry) about money as much as I do.

But to get there, I need to grow my business. And to grow my business, I need to take some risks. And so that delegation thing really rang true. I need to offload some of my work to other people, and that means (a) finding good people and (b) training them well. I need to accept that it’s going to take time to do this well, and I need to be disciplined enough to take that time.

Of course, beyond delegation there’s the actual challenge of GETTING more business. And so I’m reminded, both through the stories told in the lectures and through the event itself, of the importance of talking to people. It’s a tough one for me. I mean, one of the reasons I love the internet is that it means I can communicate with people without having to meet them in person. It would have been so easy to just NOT go to The Foodie Bugle lectures, and so I must thank Rachel Demuth for inviting me along and encouraging me to go, because it would have been stupid not to. These are exactly the kinds of events I need to attend if I want to grow my business. I need to stop being so damn socially lazy. Because these people are friends as much as they are colleagues, and dammit, they’ve got great taste in food.

Lunch at The Foodie Bugle Lectures

Hmm, there is a personal lesson in this: if there’s one thing that will help me overcome any personal obstacle it’s good food!

How does all this tie back to the blog? Well, if I had my way, my dream job would be this: to take pictures and write about food. But right now that’s just a hobby, and a very pleasant side effect of working with food people. In my dream future, my business would run itself (or I’d be independently wealthy), freeing up my time to do all the creating writing and picture-taking stuff that I want to do.

On that note, thanks to everyone at the Foodie Bugle Lectures for helping me, and everyone in the audience, keep the dream alive. See you at the next one.


Foodie Day Out in London with Jes Gearing of Eating Appalachia

Three Foodie Amigos

I’ve been reading Jes Gearing’s blog, Eating Appalachia, for a few years now, and I’ve always found in Jes a kindred spirit, a person living a life extraordinarily (at times eerily) similar to mine.

Jes’s blog first caught my eye because we both share a similar interest and approach to vegetarian and vegan cooking. But the more I got to know Jes through reading her stories, the more I noticed other remarkable parallels:

  • We’ve both felt the call to go live in the country
  • We both used to be vegetarian, and now we’re not (I now eat fish, and Jes now eats everything), with sustainability and locality at the heart of our decision-making
  • We’re both seeking ways to make food a central part of our careers
  • We both like to ride bikes, hike, camp and play outdoors
  • We are both kale addicts

Jes on Millenium Bridge

Jes emailed me a couple months ago to say that she was going to be in London for a couple days with her boyfriend, George, and would I like to meet up for a foodie day out? Uh, hell yeah. After a couple emails and chats back and forth we’d set a date and made lunch and dinner bookings at Moro and Nopi, two London restaurants that have been on both of our “hit lists”.

After I meeting Jes in person, I discovered a few more interesting parallels:

  • We both have the same camera
  • With both carry around a moleskin notebook
  • We both have tattoos
  • We are both slow eaters
  • We both plan vacations around food and where we’re going to eat at
  • We have similar tastes in music (with Jess and George being quite a bit more pro-active in their musical pursuits – they’re trip was planned around the ATP music festival in Minehead last weekend)
  • We both have a strong streak of computer nerdiness (George, too)

As I sorta suspected, meeting up with Jes and George were like meeting up with old friends, people I felt comfortable with almost immediately. Which was good because we had a long day ahead of us.

Lunch at Moro


It’s always nice to go out to lunch with a fellow food photographer, if only for the mutual support of not being the only nerd pointing a big giant camera at everything. But what was extra nice was that Jes and George, like me, are fans of sharing and eat their food at a snail’s pace.

These are all good things at a restaurant like Moro, a well-known (and very trendy) Spanish restaurant in the heart of hipsterville’s Exmouth Market. Moro’s food more than justified our lingering over a 3-hour lunch and a bottle of red (La Multa Old Vine Garnacha 2009 to be precise).


  • Charcoal grilled sardine fillets with gum mastic, harissa and fried artichokes


  • Charcoal grilled sea bass with six grains, sweet herbs and turnip salad
  • Mixed vegetable mezze
  • Some kind of lamb thing for Jes and George (no, I wasn’t curious about this, at all)

We ordered the sardines because Jes had never had this fish before and I wanted to see what sardines were like when cooked well (I haven’t been very impressed with my own efforts lately). Moro’s sardines were good – very moist, perhaps marinated either before or after cooking, and the harissa made them sparkle. But like my sardines at home, these were very bony and I’m not sure Jes was a fan. I’m also left questioning – what on earth is gum mastic and where did it factor in the dish?

Charcoal grilled sardine fillets with gum mastic, harissa and fried artichokes

After the humble sardines, the rest of the meal seemed out of control by comparison: heaping plates of huge flavours, bright colours and lots of potency from hefty use of lemon, vinegar and fresh herbs. The plates were so full that the various dishes seemed to seep into each other’s spaces – it was hard to tell where one flavour end and another began. Not always a bad thing. I liked how the grilled sea bass picked up some of the vinegar dressing on the radish salad. And like a good mezze, everything in the veggie plate worked well together, thanks largely to the grilled flatbread. George said the lamb was some of the best he’s ever had.

Charcoal grilled sea bass with six grains, sweet herbs and turnip salad

Mixed vegetable mezze

One very simple dish that caught our attention was the hummus – it had a very distinctive flavour, almost floral. We asked the waitress what this was, but she insisted that the hummus was your usual blend of chickpeas, tahini, garlic, and olive oil – she even brought over the Moro cookbook to prove it, and a small plate of hummus to taste on its own. But no, the flavour was still there, and then it dawned on all of us (waitress included): olive oil! She brought out their big ol’ jug of Spanish olive oil, the source of all things fruity, smoky and good. I’m pretty sure this has set the stage for my becoming a total olive oil snob. Wallet, please forgive me.

Oh. That's why Moro's hummus is so good. #oliveoil

I like Moro because it’s fairly unpretentious and the staff are great, volunteering information and clearly very proud of the food they serve and the ingredients they use. It’s nice eating in a restaurant that doesn’t make a big fuss over presentation, but just presents the food as it is (it works because the food itself is actually very good).

We also really liked that their wine list had a rating system (6. Soft, fruity, 7. Medium weight, etc) – very useful if you’re like me and know very little about wine beyond the types of flavours you like when you drink it. I will definitely be returning to Moro, though perhaps erring against a starter as the main dishes are so ample.

Dinner at Nopi

Nopi's Kitchen

We passed the time between lunch and dinner with coffee and a long walk via St. Paul’s Cathedral, Millennium Bridge and the Tate Modern, finally working up an appetite for dinner, and somewhat grateful that Nopi is known for its small portion sizes.

Nopi is Yotam Ottolenghi’s buzzy new restaurant (or maybe I only think it’s buzzy because I hang around the type of people who, like me, think Ottolenghi’s way with vegetables is pretty damn special). The food is a mix of Middle Eastern and Asian. I’ve heard mixed reviews of the place, from both veggies and omnivores, so went in with an open mind, very eager to decide for myself whether Nopi lived up to the standards I’ve set for Mr. O.

We sat in the basement at the communal tables next to the kitchen, in a sort-of pantry, with shelf-lined walls stocked with ingredients (including a large tub of Philadelphia cream cheese which I hope was only meant for storage of quinoa or farro or some other Ottolenghi-style ingredient).

The dishes at Ottolenghi are meant for sharing (perfect for us) and so we ordered:

  • Roasted aubergine, black garlic, harissa, pine nuts
  • French beans, smoked wheat, tahini lemon dressing
  • Courgette and manouri fritters, lime yoghurt
  • Five spice tofu, tomato and cardamom passata, braised aubergine
  • Seared organic prawns, sumac feta, fennel, Pernod
  • Seared scallops, pig’s ears, black bean and ginger sauce

Followed by dessert:

  • Chocolate hazelnut slice, mahlab, cherries

Where to begin? Everything was so dramatically different, and generally very very good. I’m always partial to foods that I can imagine myself trying to cook at home, or that open my eyes to a new way of cooking my favourite vegetables. For both of these reasons, I loved the agadashi-style tofu, with aubergine serving as a rich sauce. In fact, aubergine seems to be Nopi’s strong point, because the roasted aubergine was another favourite, served with crispy fried broad beans – again, a way to add texture to an otherwise mushy dish, something I’d never thought of before.

Roasted aubergine, black garlic, harissa, pine nuts

Five spice tofu, tomato and cardamom passata, braised aubergine

George’s standout favourite was the courgette fritters. Jess put the green beans towards the top of her list – “a hint of spring in my mouth” – which was totally true: everything but the green beans was very rich and full flavoured. We needed the beans to lighten the load.

Courgette and manouri fritters, lime yoghurt

French beans, smoked wheat, tahini lemon dressing

The veg dishes caught our fancy more than the fish dishes. Don’t get me wrong, the scallops were perfectly cooked, and the prawns where lovely, but I think the veggie dishes were most outstanding, perhaps because they were most creative.

Seared scallops, pig's ears, black bean and ginger sauce

The verdict: I do like Nopi, though I can’t say I like the name – something about it grates on my ears, and I feel like it’s a name that’s designed to be “hip” – what does the name mean, anyway? But that’s just me being cranky about London’s hipster scene. The food is really good. I’ve been eating veggie for a long time and it’s refreshing when someone is able to surprise me with a style of cooking veg. I mean, I don’t want to be all Ottolenghi fan-girl about Nopi, but the food IS really good. A little pricy, maybe, but that’s London for you. And to that event, I the next time I go to Nopi, I may be hitting up their Pre-Theatre meal deal – £25.50 for three courses. I can go for that.


One of the things I love about where I live is that I have easy access to London, one of the best cities in the world for food as far as I’m concerned. I don’t take advantage of this as much as I should and it was fantastic to have the chance to sample some of its food with people who have such similar tastes and attitudes to my own.

I finished the day with a very happy feeling, a sort of fullness, not only in my stomach, but an all-over satisfaction after having a great day out with some very like-minded people who I feel like I’ve known for years.

As I told Jes and George over dinner, it’s really nice hanging out with Americans. Nothing against my fellow British citizens, there’s just something different about being with people from the home country, something a bit more intrinsically shared. I know Britain isn’t a drastically different culture from America, but still, I often find myself not knowing how to “act” around British people. I know it’s silly and totally unnecessary and I should just be myself but I’m only human, and I think it’s only natural to feel a little out-of-place in any country that’s different from your own.

Jes and George are off to Paris tomorrow. I’m not sure when we’ll meet again but I’m sure when we do it will be awesome. Definitely check out Jes’s blog, Eating Appalachia – her writing is lovely and her posts are full of amazing stories about food, recipes, life and travel in Virginia and beyond. Highly recommended, both the person and the blog.

You can see more pics from our day out on Flickr.

UPDATE: Read Jes’ account of of the day on her blog: Foodie Adventure Day (FAD) in London