Happy New Year everyone! I hope your celebrations were hearty and happy, and I would love to wish you all the very best for 2018.
No doubt many of you are embarking on the classic resolution-based diet that collapses suddenly on a miserable wet Sunday somewhere near the end of the month with a box of Celebrations and a large G&T.
For the rest of us, it’s business as usual, perhaps with a little less booze than normal. But on a serious note, I think we should be thinking of our day-to-day eating habits instead of crashing into the latest fad diet.
Sudden withdrawal of any food, be it fat, protein or carbohydrate, can be dangerous for the body chemistry, so it’s best just to eat everything, but less of it, and perhaps get out for more exercise than you’d choose to.
That being said, this week’s recipe is hardly in the temperance category – we’re making a classic Greek dessert, Loukoumades.
Greece isn’t really famous for its desserts, and many of the recipes, though delicious, stay within its borders. Imported recipes such as tiramisu and baklava seem to be popular, certainly in the tourist areas, but there’s a good tradition of solid, tasty recipes lurking in the kitchens of any Greek home.
They often involve honey and lemon, as you’d imagine, and often nuts, displaying the Middle Eastern influences that have drifted across the Aegean over the centuries. Loukoumades are one such recipe, originating in Persia, where deep-fried dough balls are soaked in thick, sweet syrup, rum baba-style.
Travelling east to India they evolved into gulab jamun, and west to Turkey where they are known as lokma. Most countries around the far end of the Mediterranean have their own versions.
This one, though, is my personal little spin on the Greek version, stopping short of soaking the little doughnuts in syrup, but instead lightening the whole dish with a drizzle of honey, a sprinkle of lemon juice and the refreshing tartness of a blob of Greek yoghurt.
It turns the recipe into a wonderfully contrasting dish, full of textures, temperatures and flavours.
The hot, doughy fritters alongside the cold yoghurt, the sharpness of fresh lemon with the intense sweetness of honey. As a final twist we add flavourful toasted walnuts and a sprinkle of cassia. I discovered only recently that some supermarkets now sell ground cassia bark as ‘sweet cinnamon’, and it really is delicious. Proper cinnamon, cinnamomum verum, or Sri Lankan cinnamon is the regular sticks we know and love, but cassia is a sweeter Chinese variety, and this is used mainly in desserts and confectionery.
It is the classic cinnamon gobstopper taste, or the sprinkle on top of your coffee.
Where regular cinnamon is good for curries, stews and savoury uses, it’s nice to be able to use ground cassia for cakes and pastry work. Worth having a jar of each in the spice rack, especially if you’re a cinnamon nut like me.
Do make sure you invest in a good honey for this dish, as it requires a dominant flavour. A strong, dark, runny honey, like those from Spain and Greece, is ideal here.
The doughnuts are simplicity itself to prepare, and the whole dish is a lovely sunny pudding to light the dark corners of early January and get one thinking of those summer holidays.
For the dough:
225g plain flour
7g active dry yeast
1 tbsp unrefined golden caster sugar
120ml lukewarm water
120ml lukewarm milk
2 tbsps olive oil
½ tsp Maldon salt
Sunflower oil for frying
For the garnish:
1 small jar top-quality honey
1 small jar ground sweet cinnamon (cassia)
170g tub of Greek yoghurt
The juice of 2 lemons
Mint, for garnish
First, roughly chop the walnuts and toast until deeply golden in the oven or under a hot grill, tossing frequently to avoid them catching.
Now make the loukoumades dough; stir the yeast, salt, olive oil and sugar into the lukewarm liquids, mix well, and leave in a warm place for 10 minutes, to allow the yeast to activate and inflate.
Sift the flour into the bowl of a mixer and fit the dough hook attachment (you can mix and knead by hand, of course), then set on medium speed and pour in the yeast mixture.
Knead for 5 minutes. It will come together to a sloppy, stretchy dough.
Remove the dough hook, cover the bowl with clingfilm, and leave for an hour or so in a nice warm spot, until risen and bubbly.
Heat a suitable-size pan of oil to 180ºC. Dip a couple of tablespoons into a jug of boiling water and carefully spoon out about a teaspoonful of the dough into the hot oil in a neat dollop – you’ll get the technique after a few goes.
Cook about 5-6 loukoumades at a time, to avoid cooling the oil too much, and flipping when golden on one side.
Drain the cooked loukoumades and keep warm as you cook the entire bowlful of batter, dipping the spoons in water if they become too sticky.
To serve, gently warm the honey and the walnuts. Spread or spoon a good blob of Greek yoghurt on each dessert plate, and top with three or four loukoumades.
Sprinkle with the walnuts and drizzle with honey and a splash of lemon juice.
Finally, sprinkle over a dusting of ground cassia and garnish with mint if you like.