CHOP IT UP!

This week, Pa­trick Skin­ner doesn’t mince words

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE - FOOD, DRINK and OTHER MAT­TERS with Pa­trick Skin­ner

If some­one says the word “Mince” to me, dozens of im­ages ap­pear in my mind, mostly re­lated to food. Some of the very worst food I have ever had to eat was based on meat that had been put through an elec­tric or man­ual min­cer. It was bad be­cause the cook had used old, pre-cooked or tired, fatty or gristly old cuts of some poor an­i­mal, think­ing that by chop­ping it fine it would mirac­u­lously be­come tasty and ed­i­ble. Much in­sti­tu­tion­alised cook­ing – in hos­pi­tals, the armed forces, prison, to name a few – was, and in some places still is, aw­ful. I re­mem­ber an R.A.F. Camp in which I was once in­car­cer­ated, where the smell of the “mince” in­vaded an area a hun­dred me­tres or more away from the “cook house”. No won­der I was slim in those days.

Ever since hu­mans have cooked, it has been cus­tom­ary to use up all parts of the an­i­mal and the best way of deal­ing with tougher, or old, parts is to chop or cut them into very small pieces, which are likely to be less dif­fi­cult to mas­ti­cate.

Meat is “minced” by turn­ing it through a ma­chine that cuts (and/or tears) it into tiny bits. And the most pop­u­lar meal in the world is pro­duced from such bits. I re­fer, of course, to the Ham­burger, which has noth­ing to do with the pig, but ac­cord­ing to leg­end, started life in that Ger­man sea­port.

Un­til re­cently, in the Mediter­ranean and Mid­dle Eastern re­gions, finely chopped meat sim­ply meant lamb or goat. It was finely chopped for good rea­son. The an­i­mals had to for­age dry arid land and stony hill­sides for their food. Most males went to the pot young, leav­ing flocks of fe­males to pro­vide daily milk and fair amount of ed­i­ble flesh, fat and mus­cle at the end of their lives. There be­ing no cold stor­age or re­frig­er­a­tion, beasts were slaugh­tered when the need arose – ei­ther for sale, barter or fam­ily con­sump­tion. And then, be­cause of the cli­mate, apart from some­times in win­ter, the car­cass didn’t hang about, ma­tur­ing and be­com­ing re­laxed and less tough. So, if the meat was bar­be­cued, very sharp knives were used to cut off the thinnest sliv­ers.

But for many dishes, it was chunks cooked long in a pot (a favourite of Cypri­ots, of course, our de­li­cious “Kleft­iko”). The al­ter­na­tive, pieces cut very, very finely into “mince”, seems to have been more to the lik­ing of Turk­ish and Arab cooks. Here I use the word “cut”, be­cause there are chefs who be­lieve that a minc­ing ma­chine tears the fi­bres of the meat, so they use a fine knife to cut, cut and cut again into a fine tex­ture. I have to say that since re­tir­ing I have had the time to do this and I think the end re­sult is bet­ter. 1-2 gar­lic cloves, peeled and chopped 1/2 tsp ground cumin, a pinch or two of ground cin­na­mon, and a pinch of chilli pep­per. You may use these spices in quan­ti­ties to please your taste.

Salt and pep­per

1. Put all the in­gre­di­ents into a large bowl and mix well (hands are best for this). 2. Cover and re­frig­er­ate for one hour. 3. Make 12 slightly elon­gated balls from the mix­ture. 4. If bar­be­cu­ing or grilling you may thread two or three balls on to skew­ers (if us­ing wooden ones, soak them in water or lemon juice for 30 min­utes first). 5. Cook quickly, turn­ing reg­u­larly. 6. Or, heat a lit­tle olive oil in a heavy non-stick fry­ing pan, flat­ten the balls into pat­ties and fry them quickly for 2 – 3 min­utes each side.

7. Serve with grid­dled pitta bread and strained yo­gurt. Tahin­isalata matches the ke­babs well. It’s a nice dish for roast pota­toes too! As for sal­ads, a Le­banese Fat­toush wants a lot of beat­ing, and I have the recipe for that. You may, if you pre­fer, delete the Hal­loumi – but I think it adds an­other lovely flavour layer.

300g / 11 oz diced toma­toes (I like to re­move the skins and seeds)

300g / 11 oz diced cu­cum­ber (these may be diced with the skins on but wash well first)

1 good hearty let­tuce, outer green leaves re­moved and chopped, or sev­eral small “Ro­maine” let­tuce

1 des-sp each of chopped pars­ley, fresh mint and fresh co­rian­der A hand­ful of rocket leaves Salt-Pep­per to taste 12 5mm / 1/4” slices of Hal­loumi 2 pieces of thin Pitta bread (or Ara­bic bread) 1. Shake any mois­ture from the let­tuce, rocket and herbs and pat dry. 2. In a Large bowl com­bine the let­tuce, cu­cum­ber, toma­toes, pars­ley, mint, co­rian­der and the rocket. 3. Toss to­gether well. 4. Cut the bread into thin sliv­ers about 2.5 cms / 1 inch long and stir fry in 2 tbsp of hot olive oil un­til golden and crispy. Re­move from the oil and set aside.

5. Make the dress­ing: mix 3 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp lemon juice, salt and pep­per and a pinch of Sumac. 6. Driz­zle the dress­ing over the salad and gen­tle toss well. 7. In a hot fry­ing pan put 1 tbsp of olive oil, slice the Hal­loumi quite thin and fry quickly un­til siz­zlingly golden on both sides.

8. Sprin­kle the sliv­ers of crispy bread over the salad, gen­tly turn in, ar­range the fried Hal­loumi on top, add a cou­ple of sprigs of pars­ley and serve.

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