Mashed potato adds to flour power!

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Russian potato bread: one-third mash but you’d never know

WELL. who would have guessed we have so many secret home bakers in Sheffield, judging by the way all the flour has disappeared off the shelves in the Coronavirus panic buying sprees?

Those of us who bake bread regularly and who obeyed the government’s pleas not to raid the supermarkets are now having to rethink. It’s not staying on the shelves¬† that long.

You can’t do without flour but there are ways to eke out your supplies of strong white.

For a start, plain or self-raising can help but you wouldn’t want to use more than, say, four ounces to every pound of bread flour. Portuguese breads get their distinctive yellow colour from maize, polenta or semolina which you can use in a 2:1 ratio in favour of bread flour.

If you have rye, add a little of that, or whiz your porridge oats in a blender to make flour.

And then there are spuds.

Russian potato bread uses mashed potato and I have just baked a very successful loaaf, weighing just under two pounds, using eight ounces of mashed to one pound of bread flours (12oz white, 4oz wholemeal), a ratio of 2:1 which is a significant saving.

You couldn’t tell the difference unless you knew. This makes a very pleasant moist bread which toasts well and has good keeping qualities.

You can find plenty of recipes on the web but mine came, adapted, from the book Bread by Christine Ingram and Jennie Shapter {Hermes House).

It assumes you start from scratch, cooking your potatoes then reserving some of the water to knead. I already had the cooked potatoes so simply warmed them in milk (the equivalent of the reserved water), mashed them and carried on from there.

A couple of points. I needed more liquid than suggested but do be careful not to add too much. It felt heavier to handle and did not rise much while proving but came out fine. I made it on a baking tray rather than in a tin.

This is what you do. Peel and dice 8oz (225g) of spuds in unsalted water until soft. Drain and reserve a quarter pint (150ml) of the cooking water and mash the potatoes.

Put 12oz (350g) of strong white and 4oz (115g) of wholemeal in a bowl, adding 7g (quarter ounce) easy bake yeast and two tsps of salt.

It called for an ounce (25g) f butter to be rubbed in but I used olive oil. You can also add caraway seeds if you like.

Now add mash and potato water (probably best reunited beforehand) and work to a soft dough. This is the bit you adjust as you go but keep kneading before you add any more liquid.

As I said, it is not so light a dough to handle and less responsive in rising.

It was baked for just over 30 mins in a fan oven at 200C and is pretty good.

It doesn’t have to be potato. In Madeira they have the a griddle bread made with flour and sweet potato, baked as a flatbread on a hotplate. When the taters run out I’ll give that a spin.

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It’s got a lovely, moist crumb

 

 

Ready to order your ethnic authentic? It’ll take 30 years

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Lamb on the bone

FOREIGN restaurants go through a period of evolution when they arrive in this country. The first Indians, Chinese or Greeks might want to give their English customers a taste of what they eat back home but they soon realise it doesn’t pay to be that authentic.

Indian restaurants, in reality Pakistani or Bangladeshi, for long had dishes that wouldn’t be recognised in their own countries. Many still do. Chicken tikka masala? Pull the other poppadom!

I still remember Sompranee Low, who opened the city’s first Thai restaurant, the Bahn Nah, back in the Nineties (Sheffield has always been late for dinner compared to the rest of the country) telling me that she ” dialled down the chilli heat” for customers.

It wasn’t good business for a pallid Englishman, more used to the tranquil flavours of cottage pie or bangers and mash, to be left reeling by an authentic but fiery chilli.

So what we got was a pale shadow of a native cuisine, filtered through several layers of difficulty. The first restaurateurs may not have been natural cooks (many, particularly, Italian and Indian, were redundant steelworkers), the ingredients, herbs and spices were often not available, and Mr and Mrs English knew no better.

If they thought spaghetti carbonara came with cream and complained when it didn’t, unaware that the creaminess came from the emulsion of egg, water and cheese, they got cream.

Then things happened. The first was foreign travel. Holidaymakers in Italy realised that pasta didn’t grow on trees or come out of a tin. The sharper ones, who didn’t high tail it down to the English pubs on the Costa Brava, realised there was a difference.

Secondly came the wider availability of exotic ingredients. Avocados and aubergines started appearing on menus, and much else.

And, thirdly, there are now other customers to please besides Mr and Mrs English: Their own countrymen and women.

Earlier on, immigrants were too poor, too busy or just not in the habit of going out to eat so there was then no need to cater for them. And they would probably have something sharp to say if they did.

When, say, the Pakistani, Chinese or Italian diasporas in Sheffield got to a certain size and had the habit of eating out and money to spend, they could support their own authentic restaurants. This is not true yet of all communities. A Thai woman told me recently: “Why should I eat out when I can cook it myself?”

So we have seen little Pakistani and Kashmiri restaurants spring up in the city, unconcerned about Anglo trade, and just think what has happened to the Chinese restaurant business with the influx of students from Mainland China. Suddenly restaurants other than Cantonese have appeared, along with noodle bars and hot pot eateries. Some have not even bothered to have menus in English.

Not too long ago my wife walked into a place full of Chinese. We were the only Europeans and the waiter confidently expected us to take one look at the menu, which contained not a word of English and leave, so he didn’t bother to come across and ask our order. We stood (or sat) our ground until he did.

I don’t suppose that would happen now as there is a band of ultra foodies who delight in finding the most obscure ethnic places and reporting their finds enthusiastically on social media and blogs. (I have followed up some rave reports with less than euphoric results.)

So where is this leading? These thoughts were triggered by a visit recently to one of those little ethic restaurants, Apna Lahore, on Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, with fellow foodie and blogger Craig Harris. Now Craig majors in Italian cuisine but is currently studying for a critical Dip Ed in Pakistani food and this is one of his regular haunts. He’s written about it here

Its sit down custom is almost exclusively Asian, although this place started life as a takeaway. I’m scanning the menu and see among the specials is maghaz, which means brains.

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Samosa and pakora starters

I have eaten brains and trotters, also on offer, before, although in very upmarket restaurants, so miss these and take Craig’s advice to order lamb on the bone. It is a robust, earthy, fiery curry with plenty of chopped bone but I am a natural gnawer so that no problem. And it’s the bone which gives it a deeper flavour.

He has ordered chicken daal, not on the menu, but basically chicken in a sauce of large, soft lentils still holding their shape.

Gutsy is the word I would use to describe both dishes, good nourishing stuff without any hairs and graces.

The decor is bright and basic and very blue. There is music but not too loud. It is of course, alcohol free. You get a bottle of water and glasses when you sit down. Most customers eat with rotis, just workaday bread in my opinion, although cutlery is available.

Pickles and fajitas are very good. Meat samosas come man-sized with proper crisp pastry not filo. The chicken pakoras aren’t bad either.

Two courses, with rice, comes to ¬£26. It’s a bargain. Probably not a first date night place but one to put on your list.

We finish with unspiced Pakistani tea with condensed milk. And a plate of ginger biscuits. Dunking away, we are both impressed by these. Did they make them themselves?

“We get them from Lidl,” said Ali, our server.

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Chicken daal

Apna Lahore is 342 Abbeydale Road, S7 1FN Sheffield.
Tel: 0114 258 8821