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Highland bhaji; A PLEASANT CLASH OF FLAVOURS MAKES THIS VERSION OF AN INDIAN CLASSIC A LITTLE DIFFERENT.

Byline: stephen jackson

CHEF AND CO-OWNER, T&CAKE CAFE, ALMONDBURY WHEN it comes to multiculturalism, I am all for it, and cannot for the life of me understand those who say that cultural mingling somehow diminishes their own identity.

It's a muddleheaded opinion that stands in the way of so much joy and friendship, in my opinion. I embrace all cultures equally and truly enjoy the benefits they bring, without once ever feeling that my own identity was somehow threatened or being watered down. Quite the opposite, in fact; I'm delighted and thankful to have grown up in a West Yorkshire where the influences of Europe, the Middle East, the subcontinent and the Far East have intertwined with our own traditions and values, and, by and large, melded satisfyingly. Culinarily, too, I am grateful that, on my doorstep, I have the world's great cuisines at hand. The country would seem very monochromatic without the sizzle and snap of all those recipes from around the world; the big, boisterous flavours of the USA, the summery colours of Spain and Italy, and the complexity of French haute cuisine.

Where would we be without the deep umami of Chinese cooking, or the seductive spices from India, Pakistan or Thailand? And more recently, the restrained perfection of Nordic cuisine has added more colours to our palette with ever more countries chiming in to add their own flavours to the global melting pot. Add all these influences to our own cooking; those big hearty roasts, steaming puddings and jam-packed pies, with a love of the land and all its bounty, and even the staunchest patriot would surely admit that we're in a pretty good place right now, when it comes to food. I love it when these cuisines bump up against each other, too, and we've done a couple of recipes in this vein recently, to great effect - a tikka lasagne and a spectacular spicy shepherd's pie. One of my favourite clashes is to use these rich melanges of spices endemic to India and Pakistan, and throw them straight into a European recipe. It opens up a whole world of flavour.

Try sprinkling a little masala powder over a tray of roasting cauliflower florets, or a little garam masala in a dumpling dough. A big Yorkshire pudding will fill with lamb rogan josh and a splash of yoghurt with stellar results. You just have to be prepared to make that leap into the unknown. This week, we take a staple of Indian cooking, the bhaji (also known as the pakora in various districts) and add a distinctly Scottish twist, to make a crispy, spicy treat with a subtle additional smokiness.

Fish lends itself to the pakora quite well, and I find that smoked haddock adds an additional layer of loveliness, along with that slightly chewy texture that works brilliantly here with the soft onions and crisp coating.

A simple dip is required here, and many would work, from a good lime pickle to the fruitiness of mango chutney.

I liked the idea of a cool, yoghurty dip here, so I have added my own version of a cucumber raita; slightly sweet, spicy and minty, and with plenty of crunchy cucumber, it really does the trick.

Smoked haddock bhajis with mint raita (makes 8) For the bhajis: 2 large onions 1 fillet smoked haddock, skinned and finely cut into slivers or small dice 100g gram flour 1 tbsp butter, melted Juice of 1/2 lemon 1 teaspoon cumin seeds 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric 1/4 tsp fennel seeds 1 or 2 hot chilis, finely minced (to taste) A couple of centimetres of fresh ginger, minced 3 cloves of garlic, minced A few stalks of fresh coriander, finely chopped 2 curry leaves, finely chopped Vegetable oil, for deep-frying For the raita: 1 x 500g tub Greek style yoghurt 1 heaped teaspoon cumin seeds 1/2 tsp ground coriander 1 cucumber A few stalks of fresh mint A little Maldon salt A little unrefined golden caster sugar, to taste Method: For the raita, cut the cucumber in half lengthwise, and remove the central seeds carefully with a teaspoon. Grate the flesh on the larger setting on a box grater. Place the grated cucumber in a sieve and add a good sprinkle of salt, tossing around to mix. Leave for half an hour, tossing occasionally, then squeeze dry in a teatowel.

Toast the cumin seeds and coriander in a dry pan until fragrant and grind to a fine powder in a pestle and mortar or spice grinder. Add to the yoghurt, along with the cucumber, and add a little sugar to taste, if required. Chop the mint finely, and stir into the yoghurt.

Cover and chill until required, and set forth with the bhajis.

Peel and halve the onions, and remove any green core. Slice very thinly with a sharp knife, and separate the strands. Sift the gram flour into a mixing bowl, then stir in the melted butter and lemon juice and just enough cold water to bring it to the consistency of thick double cream.

In a dry pan, lightly toast the cumin, turmeric and fennel, then add the chili, garlic and ginger. Quickly stir around to mix, then add to the batter, along with the coriander and curry leaf. Finally, stir in the onion and haddock pieces, and mix well to coat thoroughly. Check seasoning and refrigerate for about half an hour. Heat the oil in a deep-fat fryer or deep pan to 180oC, and set up your frying station - this will avoid any mishaps and/or tears. Have a wide bowl filled with cold water to one side of the fryer or pan, and a tray lined with plenty of kitchen paper on the other side. Warm a suitable tray for the bhajis in an oven set to 180oC / Gas 4. Once the oil is up to temperature, wet your hands and shape roughly tablespoon-sized amounts of the mixture into loose balls.

Drop carefully into the oil, a few at a time, so as not to lower the temperature too dramatically. Let them sit for a few seconds, then stir them about to loosen if they're stuck, and flip them to set their shape and start them cooking evenly.

Cook each small batch for about 6-8 minutes, until crisp and deeply golden, then drain on the kitchen paper for a few seconds while you set the next batch afloat.

Put the drained bhajis in the oven to keep warm while you cook the next batch. Proceed in this manner until all the batter is used up.

Serve the bhajis hot, with plenty of cool raita.
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Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Feb 16, 2018
Words:1111
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