Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Anchor Biryani

Mariquita is at anchor. For the next few weeks. Now this has its pros and its cons. And anyone who is reading this who works and lives on a boat full time will tell you that I just fibbed. There are no pros.

I suppose, swimming freely off the boat at any time after work or before breakfast could sound like it’s a pro. It would be the only one. Oh and I guess because of an offshore steady breeze, we have a lack of mosquitoes. So, not all is lost.

What we don’t have is easy access to land. A tender ride ashore and back can be a wet and salty affair as well as infrequent. We have to combine trips to save fuel and no one wants to be the taxi driver either. We don’t have internet and making a quick, simple daily trip to the shops is as you can guess, awkward. I can deal with awkward for a few days but for a few weeks I have to say, I’m really not looking forward to it. You could compare it to being a teenager living at home in the country side before you learnt to drive, relying on your parents to drive you to accepted events so that you can maintain some sort of a social life. On the bright side I don’t have acne.

So as you can probably glean from my (I like to think) un-usually negative tone of typing, being at anchor for any significant length of time is not my most favourite of maritime past-times.

I’m sure it will be fine. I’m sure I will discover that there is much to rejoice in when you are temporarily situated at a distance from crowds, traffic and pollution and all that other land-stuff that can be sometimes…annoying at best but hey! I bet this is good for me in many ways. I’ve just got to keep an open mind. Like at lunch yesterday when I had to cook for everyone. First day back from my holiday and there were no onions or actually much of anything fresh and definitely no time to get in the tender to then get in the car to go find a shop somewhere for fresh food, the sort you can cook nice healthy meals with, for a crew of 12.

Indian. When there is a lack of fresh food, I turn to my spice cupboard and dry stores. I did have a bag of brown basmati rice and I did also have a bag of green lentils. I had 8 potatoes, garlic, root ginger, a gazillion different herbs and spices and frozen peas. Who doesn’t have frozen peas in their freezer? I love frozen peas. So you see, once you have got going with an idea, it is amazing what you can come up with.

I made a sort of Biryani which was, if I do say so myself, pretty good. A great vegetarian meal full of protein. A combination of pulses, beans and rice will always give you a complete protein (all the amino acids of a meat product), full of protein and great for the veges and vegans out there. And it’s healthy of course having none of the saturated fats of meat and a whole lot of fibre. Most certainly a hearty meal.

I did a green salad with lots of fresh mint and sesame seeds with a lime and chilli dressing to excite the taste buds and give texture to the meal. So despite the lack of grub and no access to shops I think I did alright.  I’ll give you the recipe so that if you are ever stuck on a boat far from land with nothing in the fridge, you’ll know that not all is lost. Even if you have no onions.

You will need;

300g basmati brown rice
200g Green lentils
4-5 cloves of garlic
Good fat inch piece of fresh root ginger
1 green pepper, chopped
8 potatoes cut into bite sized pieces
2 onions finely chopped (assuming you have some)
1 fresh chilli finely chopped or 4 small dried chillies or chilli powder to your taste.
1 pint of vegetable stock (roughly)
1 cup of frozen peas
Bunch of fresh mint
Bunch of fresh coriander
10 dried apricots
Desiccated coconut
Ground almonds
2 cinnamon sticks or ½ tsp ground cinnamon    
1 tbsp Garam Massala (a spice cupboard must have)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp turmeric
Or if you have a good tandoori paste then that would work very well too.


  • Heat a large non-stick pan with some sunflower oil. If you’re lucky enough to have onions then start by gently sautéing those with some salt and a tsp sugar. After 5 minutes add the potatoes, garlic, and ginger and continue to sauté fairly gently for another 5 minutes making sure the garlic doesn’t catch and burn.

  • Add the green pepper and your spices and chilli. My spice list above is merely a guide and what I had in the cupboard. If you have other Indian spices or just one curry spice then great, use a good tbsp of that and you’ll be sweet. But if you are unsure about spices then I suggest that the ones I have suggested are definitely ones to get as permanent fixtures in your spice collection.

  • It is always great to fry the spices a bit before adding any liquid when making a curry or similar dish. The burst of heat really brings the flavours out of the spices. So give everything in the pan a really great sizzle and stir. Then add the rice and lentils. Stir to mix still on a high heat and then add the hot vegetable stock. I poured mine into the rice and lentils so that every thing was almost covered in liquid but not quite. Probably about 600 ml.

  • Plonk in the cinnamon sticks, a handful of ground almonds and a handful of desiccated coconut. Stir well, season with salt and lots of black pepper and then pop on a well fitted lid. Turn the heat to low and leave for a good ten minutes to do its thing.

  • In the meantime you can be getting on with making a big bowl of natural yogurt with mint, lemon juice and finely chopped cucumber, scattering whole cumin seeds over a load of flat breads (Fajitas, chapattis, whatever you can find) and putting those into a warm oven wrapped in damp baking paper or foil. Find your mango chutney and lime pickle and make a salad. Easy.
Top Tip. The best yogurt with mint is made with either dried mint or mint sauce. Fresh mint can go funny when mixed with lemon juice.

  • After the ten minutes is up, have a little sneaky peak at your biriyani. If most of the liquid has been absorbed and it looks like it’s gasping for breath then add some more hot water to it; about a cupful. Replace the lid and give it another 10 minutes before repeating the process. The rice, lentils and potatoes will be absorbing all that liquid as it cooks so you will need to add more as it dries up.

  • When you think that the potatoes and rice have almost finished cooking about after 30-40 minutes then add the chopped apricots, frozen peas and any other green vegetable you can add (I found some broccoli) and half the mint and coriander to the pan. Stir to mix well, replace the lid and give it another 5 minutes to finish cooking. Don’t let it go for too long or the finished dish might be a bit stodgy. You can always add more hot stock to loosen if this happens though so don’t panic too much.
  •  When it is cooked the most important thing to do is to taste it! Potatoes and rice need good seasoning so you may want to add more salt if it tastes bland and maybe a bit of sugar, lemon juice or more chilli if it is not spicy enough for you.

  • Remove the cinnamon sticks (which you can wash and dry and use again), garnish with the remaining mint and coriander and serve with lots of side dishes and warm flat breads.

Just before I send this off to you I would like to say that despite my initial feelings of anchor dread, I had a great day today. My fridge was loaded with fresh food. I defrosted the ice maker and cleaned and sorted cupboards and there was a lovely breeze, good music on deck and, well, it was just a good day. I made a very refreshing salad for lunch and which I will write up and send to you very soon and an experimental moussaka for dinner which is still in the oven.

Best of all, I have found a nice little bar to send blogs from. They have very comfortable, big wicker chairs and very nice house red wine served from proper red wine glasses whilst you sit and ‘wifi’. (Pronounced ‘whiffy’ in France)

So I think I’ll survive. Don’t go worrying about me now. Thanks for reading and tune in again very soon for a very fresh and delicious salad recipe.