“Because cooks love the social aspect of food, cooking for one is intrinsically interesting. A good meal is like a present and it can feel goofy, at best, to give yourself a present. On the other hand, there is something life affirming in taking the trouble to feed yourself well, or even decently. Cooking for yourself allows you to be strange or decadent or both. The chances of liking what you make are high, but if it winds up disgusting you can always throw it away and order a pizza; no one else will know. In the end, the experimentation, the impulsiveness and the invention that such conditions allow for will probably make you a better cook” (Alone in the kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of cooking for one and Dining alone, Jenni Ferrari-Adler). My blog is all about flavours of the East and West and then flavours intermingled of East and West and I love being curious about varied spice mixes and blend of flavours. The gastronomy world is truly universal and when at times flavours merged fail miserably, other times, they just fuse together brilliantly because “cooking requires confident guess work and improvisation, experimentation and substitution, dealing with failure and uncertainty in a creative way” (Paul Therox). Hence, applying what I read, I experimented with Chicken Pot Pie and the Moroccan Spice Mix “Ras-el-hanout”. Before I began I decided if it fails drastically I will chuck it away and the world will never know as it will go straight into my “never try again” file, but if it didn’t I will revel in my soup bowl of triumph and joy; which ofcourse I did, as obvious.
Chicken Pot Pie needs no introduction, it is one of the most popular comfort food dishes in the English cuisine. The history of the pie is extremely fascinating though, as in the Roman Empire, the dish found it’s way from Greece, where it originated. In Greece the dish was cooked with poultry and fresh vegetables as a kind of stew to which when the Romans experienced it, added a crust and eventually turned it into a pie. The fascinating thing about the Roman Pot Pie is that it was alive in the truest sense of the word. They used to put live birds under the crust that once you cut into the crust, the birds will come bursting out flapping. I have to be honest, I think that is kind of brutal tucking a live bird under a pie crust, what if they cut the bird accidentally, that would be a No-No for me. I am glad we don’t have that version as the legendary dish has passed on. Then, meat pies found their place in the English cuisine in the 16th century when an author published an inspired Roman Pie recipe called “to make pies that the birds maybe alive and fly out when cut up”. Though, it wasn’t authentic with live birds, it became an instant love for the English people and I can understand why the immediate falling in love, this dish is an absolute delight. It is thick, creamy, flavourful and highly satisfying. Imagine, little birds swirling around in there, it will only be a sight for the eyes and not to taste.
These days, there are various versions of the dish out there with everyone who is anyone is customizing the recipe according to their desired liking and taste and let me just say, this dish just embraces change and variations whole heartedly. Me, being from an Asian background, being fond of earthy flavours and spicy blends, a little heat and a little smokyness, felt the urge to use a Moroccon spice mix called “Ras-el-hanout”. Now, over the past decade, Asian and middle eastern spices and flavours have crept their way into the simple flavours of the Western cuisine and have become favourites in many recipes.
What is Ras-el-hanout? Well, in English it means “top shelf” signifying the best and top-notch spice mix of the spices known to culinary. It is very common in Morocco and in North-African cuisine and hold the same importance as that of All-spice (Garam Masala) in our Asian cuisine. The flavour however is much milder as compared to All-spice and has a flowery essence to it due to the mix of dried rise buds in the spice mix. The Ras-el-hanout is made up of 12 spices like cardamom, nutmeg, mace, turmeric, dries ginger, star anis, fennel, fenugreek, coriander, cloves, peppercorns or in other words all the spices blended together with dried flowers or dried sweet peppers. Yes! it’s a lot of spices, but the good news is, over the past few years this particular spice has become quite popular in the Western cuisine and is very much commonly sold in Grocery Stores across Britain and just incase, you are wondering, yes all-spice is the best substitute for the Ras-el-hanout.
Coming to the soup, it is so very simple. The best aspect of soups is that they literally cook themselves and are extremely effortless and that is why they are the best of friends in winters for a lazy cosy comfort food chilly nights. The thickness of the soup is a result of a white sauce base i.e. butter, flour and milk. It is what makes it lusciously thick and gives the illusion of creaminess without having any cream in the soup. For the vegetables, I used Frozen mixed vegetables but ofcourse, fresh vegetables are always priority, I just didn’t have any at hand and I didn’t get a chance to go and shop for fresh. Nonetheless, as Jamie Oliver says there is absolutely nothing unhealthy or wrong about frozen vegetables. I trust his wisdom when it comes to food, the guy is always right.
The puff pastry I used was also store bought and already cut into circles. Actually these ones are specifically designed to be filled and turn into puff pastry filled cups. I sprinkled some parmesan cheese and a little salt and pepper on top, egg washed the sides and baked them in the oven until light golden and crisp. However, if you can’t find these particular ones, just use a normal pastry sheet and cut out circles from it, will be just the same. The crunch of the pastry with a gulp of the pot pie soup, is extremely satiating. It is a complete meal in itself.
I tell you, this Moroccon spiced twist of Chicken Pot Pie Soup is so delicious, with a little x-factor. It was a cold and dreary winter day and we haven’t had any sun for the past one week and it has rained almost everyday. I have felt so lazy and all I wanted to do was cuddle under a blanket and so, it was me, my scrumptious warm bowl of soup with its flavour glorified, tucked under my blanket, sipping away crunching on the puff pastry cheese bombs, watching F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Ah! it was a soothing hour, I tell you.
Give this a go today. You will fall in love.
1. Chicken cubes — 780g
2. Frozen mix vegetables (corn, carrots, peas, green beans)– 2 cup
3. Butter — 2 tbsp
4. Flour — 2 tbsp
5. Milk — 1 cup
6. Water — 2 cups
7. Chicken stock cube — 1
8. Tomato puree — 2 tbsp
9. Salt — 1 tsp
10. White pepper –1 tsp
11. Red chilli flakes — 1 tsp
12. Ras-al-hanout — 2 tsp
13. Nutmeg — ½ tsp
13. Fresh Parsley chopped — 1/2 cup
14. Puff Pastry cut into circles — 1 sheet
15. Parmesan cheese — 8 tbsp
1. Prepare the soup
a. In a cooking vessel, melt the butter and add the cubed chicken.
b. Fry the chicken cubes until they become white in colour and is almost cooked.
c. Add the frozen vegetable and mix.
d. Add the flour and stir to cook for about 1 minute.
e. Add the water, milk, tomato paste, chicken stock cube, salt, chili flakes, white pepper and nutmeg.
f. Let this come to a boil and simmer for about 5-6 minutes or until the sauce begins to thicken slightly. If it gets too thick add a little more milk, if it’s too runny add a little more flour dissolved in milk.
g. Add the freshly chopped parsley and ras-al-hanout spice mix.
h. Mix to combine.
2. Prepare the puff pastry
a. Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
b. Spread the puff pastry sheet on a clean floured surface and cut out small circles.
c. Beat one egg and egg wash the puff pastry.
d. Sprinkle on the parmesan cheese.
e. Bake in the oven for 12-14 minutes or until the puff pastry is golden in color.
f. Serve with the soup.