The periodic table of tastes, and how to cook with them

One of the more confusing bits of childhood science education is learning that there are only four or five tastes (textbooks have been slow to add the fifth taste, commonly called umami or savouriness, even thought it was discovered over a hundred years ago).* How can all the flavours, from chocolate to broccoli, be broken down into just five simple components – sweet, salty, sour, bitter and savoury?

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Recipe: Fig chutney

Cheese and fig chutney, yum

It’s been a while since I put a recipe up here, but this is something easy and (just about) seasonal. We’re at the end of the season for fresh figs, so supermarkets are selling off their slightly-squishy figs pretty cheap. This recipe turns those over-ripe figs into a sweet jam, halfway between Branston pickle and mango chutney, and should keep for ages.

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Chai masala recipe

It’s November, which means several things. First of all, it means everything has suddenly got very cold and the evenings have got very dark. Second of all, it means it’s NaNoWriMo time again and we need writing fuel. Finally, the shops are all selling mulled wine spices. And that means… CHAI MASALA.

I recently got a spice grinder (well, a coffee grinder, but it’s not like you can’t put spices in it) and to try it out I’ve been making chai masala every night, trying to fine-tune the recipe to my taste. This is what I have. Just to stress, this is based solely on my tastes, so it’s pepperier and anisier than a Starbucks chai latte. However, I think it’s too good not to share, so here it is. This makes a potful, or about three mugsworth.

  • 1 star anise
  • 6 cloves
  • 8 green cardamom pods
  • Half a stick of cinnamon
  • A teaspoon of aniseed
  • A bit of a nutmeg (about 10 seconds of grating)
  • 6 peppercorns
  • A smallish (say, 1 cm x 1 cm x 2cm) of fresh root ginger
  • About 5 teaspoons of sugar (to taste)
  • 700 ml water
  • 400 ml milk

Now, you can replace these spices with their powdered equivalent – you don’t have to be a pretentious nob like me! The only thing is that if you use powder, you can’t strain it out and your tea gets a bit gritty. The spice grinder makes the spices a bit rougher, so a decent tea strainer or fine sieve can catch them.

1 star anise, 8 cardamom pods, 6 peppercorns, half a cinnamon stick, a teaspoon of aniseed and six cloves in a spice grinder

The basic spice mix. You can scale this up to make a jar of masala that you can use any time

Grind together all the spices except the fresh ginger until you have something with roughly the appearance of ground coffee. Everything should be finely chopped, but don’t worry about the fibrous cardamom pods. The finished product should look a little bit like…

A fine reddish-brown powder, with some pale brown strands from the cardamoms

The masala!

Put the masala in a fine tea strainer (ideally, one that you can close) together with the finely chopped ginger (you don’t want to add the ginger before cooking because a) it’s a fresh vegetable, and will go off if you try to store it, and b) it makes the masala moist and clogs up your grinder). In a saucepan, mix the milk and water, add the spices in their strainer, and then heat on a very low temperature. The ideal temperature would be one that simmers the milk/water without quite boiling it, but my electric hob doesn’t give me that much control. A bit of a burnt milk taste is actually quite nice, but as the milk cooks, it gets stickier, and that can clog the strainer. (You can add the spices loose, and strain them at the end, but I find that most of the spices get stuck in the froth of the milk and you don’t get the flavour out)

Let it cook for about 15 minutes, and then add sugar. Keep tasting until the sweetness and the bitterness balance nicely. If it’s spicy enough, plonk in a teabag (Yorkshire Tea works well) and simmer for about 2 minutes. Because the milk has probably thickened a bit, you might need to squeeze the teabag to get the tea out. Taste it, and if all is well then take out the teabag and the tea strainer and pour into a pot.

A mug of chai


And that’s my chai.


Five curry recipes

Thanks to a series of other things, I only just got round to having my birthday party, and you know what that means: curry buffet!

Wow, don’t sound too excited.

But anyway, a couple of people have asked me for the recipes, so here they are. They’re adapted because a) it turned out that the party-day was the hottest day in the history of the state, so I tried to make the recipes as light as possible (no thick sauces, small juicy vegetables) and b) the gamut of guests’ tastes ran from “Even a homeopathic chilli pill would set my mouth on fire” to “I want experience true pain”, so the spiciness of these varies quite a bit. Enjoy!

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Google Search Q&A 2

A few months ago, Dove wrote a post for one poor hapless soul who ended up on our blog after searching for “is sparrow and dove same thing?” Since then, we’ve had people find our site using “is a sparrow an a dove the same” “difference between a sparrow and a dove” “are doves and sparrows compatible” “is dove sparrow” and “sparrows+doves+same+thing“. Clearly, we’ve struck a nerve, and found a whole tranche of people who until now were fruitlessly searching the internet in the vain hope that they could one day learn if sparrow and dove is indeed same thing. We’re providing a public service!

So, I’ve looked through our site stats and found a few more searches that led people to our site, but which we were so far unequipped to answer. Let’s get started with this one from the mailbag.

spugogi food in germony

This is a tricky one to answer, because 50% of the words in that search do not exist! In fact, until I click publish on this post, no-one on the entire internet has ever posted the letter combination “spugogi”. So, what can it be?

Google corrects this search to “bulgogi food in Germany“. That’s a pretty reasonable search, and as it happens, I know a couple of good Korean places in Germany (if by Germany you mean Frankfurt) that do a great bulgogi! If you’re in the town centre, there’s Coco on Große Eschenheimer Straße (the road between Hauptwache and Eschenheimer Turm), which is modern and a bit cramped, but does good food and has excellent service, or, if you feel like a bit of a walk, there’s Mr. Lee at 153 Gutleutstraße (just south of Hauptbahnhof), which is more traditional but no less delicious, and has a wider range of dishes.

But! If you search “spugogi” on its own, Google corrects it to “spuggy”, which as we all know, is North-Eastish for sparrow. So, perhaps they want to know where to get sparrow food in Germany?

Seeds are fairly widely available at health shops, although they’ll cost you a lot. Most DIY shops and garden centres will sell proper bird food though. To be honest though, if Frankfurt’s greedy, fearless sparrows are anything to go by, German sparrows really don’t need more food – they’ll already happily land on your table at restaurants and pinch your bread.

But… perhaps by “sparrow food”, they meant sparrows you can eat! (IT’S A COOKBOOK) Well, I can’t help you with that I’m afraid, but I did find this useful book of German old wives tales, which says

“If a pregnant woman eats sparrow meat and drinks wine, her child will be unchaste and shameless.”

Learn something new every day.

Intoducing the new country........... GERMONY

Finally, perhaps spugogi isn’t a typo at all! Perhaps this person really did want to find spugogi in Germony.

Well, the name suggests sparrow bulgogi, which isn’t as bad an idea as it may sound. Sparrow meat is very dry, and apparently tastes best heavily spiced, so marinading and quickly grilling it is probably a good way to serve it! Sadly, no-one on the internet has (yet) had the idea of making bulgogi with sparrows, but here’s a recipe with chicken, which is as close as I could find on the web. Good luck finding sparrow meat though…

Alternatively, perhaps it’s spaghetti bulgogi? That’s an interesting idea – Bulgogi can already be served with noodles, so spaghetti isn’t a million miles away. Something along the lines of spaghetti with steak strips? This calls for some experimenting…

Check back soon to find out if spaghetti bulgogi is delicious or awful!


Another day, another soup – Cream of Pepper

So apparently all the recipes I post are for soups? Well, whatever, soups are delicious and this is the perfect time of the year for them (incidentally, our max/min thermometer claims it’s been down as low as -16°C at night and it’s not been above freezing for a fortnight. Yay Frankfurt).

This is cream of pepper soup – delicious, spicy, adaptable and easy to make. In other words, pretty much the perfect soup.

Cream of Pepper soup (Paprikasuppe)

Serves 2-3 (Für 2-3 Portionen)


  • 2 to 4 peppers. Any colours in any combination works – I’ve tried the soup with red peppers, orange peppers and green peppers, and they’re all great. (2 bis 4 Paprikaschoten, alle Farben)
  • 1.3 litre of chicken or vegetable stock (1.3 l Hühner- oder Gemüsebrühe)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (1 mittelgroße Zwiebel, gehackte)
  • 150 ml single cream (150 ml 30% Sahne)
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper (2 TL schwarze Pfeffer)
  • Paprika or cayenne pepper (Paprika oder Cayennepfeffer)
  • 1 tablespoon of butter (1 EL Butter)

Melt the butter in a large pan, add the onions and soften for 5 minutes. (Die Butter in einem großen Topf schmelzen, die Zwiebel hinzugeben und 5 Minuten erweichen.)

Chop and deseed the peppers. (Die Paprikaschoten hacken und entkernen.) Some recipes suggest peeling the peppers, but if you have a blender then this is a load of faff with no real point. Add the pot and fry for a couple of minutes. (Die Paprikaschoten in den Topf fügen, und 2 Minuten braten).

Add the stock and black pepper and simmer for about half an hour. (Die Brühe und den schwarzen Pfeffer dazugeben, und 30 Minuten leicht köcheln lassen.)

Add the half the cream and blend with a hand mixer. (Der Hälfte der Sahne geben und mit dem Stabmixer pürieren) Garnish with the rest of the cream and the paprika or cayenne pepper. (Mit dem Rest der Sahne und Paprika oder Cayennepfeffer garnieren.)



Lentil and Frankfurter soup

The secret ingredient in frankfurters/wieners (they’re more or less the same thing – the Austrians call them Frankfurter Würstel, the Germans call them Wiener Würstchen) is ridiculous amounts of nitrate salt, which means that a) they need very little cooking, and indeed grilling, frying or boiling them will make them explode and b) they impart a unique gunpowderish flavour to food. Traditionally, the sausages are eaten with lentils in Linsen mit Spätzle – this is a soupy variation which cuts out the Spätzle (chunky noodles made with savoury pancake batter) since they are revolting. This is cheap, easy, and makes about 50 tonnes of soup per serving. What more could you want?

Lentil and Frankfurter Soup (Linsen-Wiener-Würstchen-Suppe)

Serves 2-4 (Für 2-4 Portionen)

  • 1 onion, finely chopped (1 Zwiebel, feingehackte)
  • 500 g lentils (500 g Linsen)
  • 2 large carrots, finely chopped (2 gehackte Karotten)
  • 8 frankfurters/weiners, dry rather than canned if possible, chopped into ~2 cm pieces (8 Frankfurter/Wiener Würstchen in 2 cm lange Stücken schneiden)
  • Currywurst sause – something like Heinz Hot Ketchup or Hot HP Sauce is a pretty close UK equivalent (Currywurst-Soße)
  • 1 tablespoon of butter (1 EL Butter)

Melt the butter in a large pan, add the onions and carrots and soften for 5 minutes. (Die Butter in einem großen Topf schmelzen, die Karotten und die Zwiebel hinzugeben und 5 Minuten erweichen.)

Add 1.5 litre of water, then add the lentils and sausages. (1.5 l Wasser dazugeben, und dann die Linsen und die Würstchenstücken geben.)

Simmer for 30 minutes. Make sure the sausage pieces don’t burst. (30 Minuten leicht köcheln lassen. Sicherstellen, dass die Würstchenstücke nicht platzen.)

Enjoy! (Guten Appetit!)


Mushroom, tarragon and goat’s cheese soup

Another recipe! This one’s inspired by a delicious mushroom soup from Bettys in Harrogate, this is a fairly quick and easy soup which goes great with crusty bread. It has a savoury aniseed taste from the tarragon, balanced by the rich creamy cheese.

Also, to practice my German, I’ve included what I hope is a translation of the recipe, the format and vocabulary loosely based on the structure used on the site If it could be improved, please comment!

Mushroom, tarragon and goat’s cheese soup (Pilz-Estragon-Ziegenkäse-Suppe)

Serves 2-4 (Für 2-4 Portionen)

  • 4 shallots or small onions, chopped (4 Schalotten oder kleine Zwiebeln, gehackte)
  • 250 g chestnut mushrooms, chopped (250 g gehackte braune Pilze)
  • 250 g white mushrooms, chopped (250 g gehackte weiße Pilze)
  • 300 g soft goat’s cheese (300 g Frischkäse aus Ziegenmilch)
  • 2 or 3 sprigs of tarragon, finely chopped (2 oder 3 feingehackte Estragon-Zweige)
  • 1 litre of chicken or vegetable stock (1 Liter Huhnerbrühe oder Gemüsebrühe)
  • 1 tablespoon of butter (1 EL Butter)

Melt the butter in a large pan, add the mushrooms and shallots and fry for 5 minutes. (Die Butter in einem großen Topf schmelzen, die Pilze und die Schalotten hinzugeben und 5 Minuten braten.)

Add the stock and simmer for about half an hour. (Die Brühe dazugeben, und 30 Minuten leicht köcheln lassen.)

Add the goat’s cheese and tarragon, mix well, and blend with a hand mixer. (Den Frischkäse und den Estragon geben und gut unterrühren, und mit dem Stabmixer pürieren)

Enjoy! (Guten Appetit!)


Simple beef teriyaki (updated)

Might as well start this off with my most famous recipe – as seen in The Guardian! I’ve updated the recipe a little since then, as you’ll see, to boost the flavour a bit.


Serves 2 to 4

  • 1 to 3 birds eye chillies (depending on taste)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 small (approx 1cm) piece of ginger
  • 1 red onion
  • 3 medium-sized beef steaks (trimmed of fat)
  • 2tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 2tbsp honey
  • A splash of sweet wine (e.g. saké or sherry)


  • Put the steaks a mixing bowl with the soy sauce, honey, wine and some ground pepper and turn until well covered. Leave to marinade for a while.
  • Chop the chillies, ginger, garlic and onion finely, and heat in the wok until lightly browned
  • Add the steaks to the wok and cook them thoroughly.
  • Once cooked right through, remove the steaks (keeping the sauce) and chop them into long, thin strips.
  • Serve on noodles, rice or stir-fried vegetables, with the sauce drizzled over the top.

I find this goes well with a fairly sweet vegetable stir-fry – carrots, onions, babycorn, beansprouts and so on. It can produce a lot of liquid, which you might want to pour away before serving. This recipe is hard to make vegetarian, although you could do it with mushrooms instead of beef, and Quorn or similar beef-style burgers do work as a source of ersatz steak. The wine is optional, but does complement the honey quite nicely.