Simple pleasures


Fennel bhajis with a green chilli and coriander chutney

I had just locked the garage door when I noticed the coriander had bolted. And what with the rather sad looking fennel in the fridge I realised I needed to turn my neglect into something positive.


The crisp crunch of anything deep-fried is a textural pleasure and as naughty as it feels, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s unhealthy. Unless of course we are talking Mars Bars or perhaps a saveloy, made from who knows what. Vegetable tempura, crisp on the outside and delicate within, salt and pepper prawns, elderflowers, even. If you keep it hot and quick and don’t do it every day, things will be ok.

So to rescue the fennel I used it in place of onions in a bhaji. And I plucked what coriander leaves and stems I could save and blitzed them with green chillies and garlic to make a fiery green chutney to dip the zesty, spiced fennel into.

These are also good with a herby yoghurt dip if there are children or chilli scaredy-cats lurking around the place. If you don’t have some of the spices, which I admit can be a little tricky to get hold of (unless you live near Tooting) feel free to leave them out. For an even speedier version, just make a batter with garam masala or curry powder, it will still be delicious.

For the batter:
5 cloves
1tsp fennel seeds
1tsp coriander seeds
1tsp black mustard seeds
1tsp amchoor (mango) powder
1/2tsp nigella seeds
1/2tsp tukmuria (basil) seeds
1tsp cumin seeds
1/2tsp cardamon seeds
1tsp turmeric powder
Salt and pepper to season
100g Chickpea flour (gram flour)
Enough water to make a batter as thick as double cream.
1 fennel bulb, sliced
For the chutney:
A large handful of coriander leaves and stems
A few green chillies
A clove of garlic
A splash of cider vinegar
A pinch of salt

Grind the spices to a powder and mix with the chickpea flour. Stir in the water to make a batter.
Meanwhile, blitz the chutney ingredients together in a blender and set aside.
Heat two litres of rapeseed oil in a deep-fat fryer to 180c or half fill a heavy-based saucepan with the oil and heat. It’s ready when you drop a little batter in it and it immediately sizzles and starts to colour.
Dip the fennel in the batter and fry in small batches. Drain on kitchen paper and serve hot with the chutney.

This week
Birdman with Michael Keaton. Excellently acted and directed, I really felt we were part of the theatre. A few bits of it left me a little cold and annoyed, although perhaps that’s because we were watching it outside as part of the Crystal Palace festival
Moses Boyd, Time and Space, and Absolute Zero. Two contemporary Jazz albums from a young man born in Catford. Very, very good.
Some poems by John Hegley and a few more by Joe Duggan, two of the performers we saw at the Antenna Studios spoken word event as part of the  C.P. festival again. Both as enjoyable as ever. John Hegley is a master. And very grumpy too. And Joe’s soft Irish delivery and witty lyricism can be both warm and poignant at once.

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