Have you ever had an idea that pesters you until you make it a reality? You go about your daily tasks, head down in work, or beetling about ferrying kids hither and yonder, but still the thought doesn’t leave you. It drifts into your mind as you fall into a deep slumber. And then you wake to it, this chirpy, invisible bird sitting on your shoulder. Such ideas are not infrequent with me. Not always good ideas, I should add (the less said about my “brilliant” idea for a gridded floor with interchangeable floor tiles the better). Unsurprisingly they are mostly concerning food and, as I am that old, experience lets me know whether they are worth pursuing.
But I really wasn’t sure about this one. I’m not indulging in false modesty either. I genuinely wasn’t sure.When Waitrose asked me to come onboard to get the word out about their latest campaign, my mind immediately began sifting through all of the ideas filed away in my brain. I also checked my phone’s memo pad, as that is where I most often jot down ideas churned up during the small hours. Most I discounted as not seasonal, but one straightforward idea – for a baked onion bhaji – tugged away at me. How to make this more Scottish?
Why Scottish, you may wonder? Well, Waitrose asked me to come up with a regional #AutumnWarmers recipe and I was having a struggle, to be honest. As much as I love the honesty of Scottish food, and I love the wholesome ingredients, trying to do a food to glow version of some of the most iconic and recognised dishes was going to be a task too far.
But then I remembered how much the cuisines of the former British colonial Indian subcontinent have contributed to the food we enjoy today in Scotland. Depending on what poll you read, “Indian food” (although mostly I suspect it is Bangladeshi and Pakistani) is the top choice for take away, eating out and having a go at oneself. What Scottish family that actually cooks doesn’t have a go-to recipe for a curry? Sure, it might get some help from a jar (despite a masala paste being one of the easiest things ever to knock up), but everyone seems to love the wide range of flavours that are represented in this deliriously delicious area of the world.
The onion bhaji is probably one of the more recognised curry house food items, appearing in various forms on almost any menu – whether as a takeaway or fine dining-style. It is an everyman recipe to go with any dish. But it is deep fried so not really a food to attempt at home without the right equipment, and not a little bravery.
As for the potato scone, like the onion bhaji it is also an everyman food here in Scotland. Here the humble mashed potato pancake (!!) is served alongside creamiest scrambled eggs and folds of pink and succulent Scottish smoked salmon at fancy hotels. It is also an omnipresent addition to the full Scottish breakfast offered by any cafe, “greasy spoon” and B&B across Scotland. These savoury little cakes are also a plastic-wrapped staple item in the bakery section of supermarkets too, despite being very easy to make. I confess to buying them occasionally – perfect with eggs, sliced avocado and a tangle of sautéed kale.
But combining these two iconic recipes? Am I mad? Well, I may be mad, but this really does work. Combining smooth potato mash with a mulched-down dollop of spicy, buttery onion is not a bad idea at all.
And baked not fried is the way to go. I made a couple of batches fried in an iron skillet, but preferred the lightness of the baked version: verging-on-crispy outside with a pillowy centre. I enjoyed these little golden cakes most as a leftover brunch dish the next day with some ma ki dal I found in the freezer (heated of course), a runny steam-fried egg and some mango chutney. I audibly gasped when I tasted it. Truly. But these scones are perfect with any Indian meal of course, or even as appetisers with a selection of chutneys (raita, lime pickle and carrot pickle are my preference).
This post is in support of the Waitrose #AutumnWarmers campaign, inviting everyone in the UK to make, snap and share their apple crumbles, warming soups, root vegetable gratins, sizzling seasonal stir-fries – all fall-inspired goodies really – to have a chance of winning some great prizes. Using the #AutumnWarmers hashtag and @Waitrose, UK readers of food to glow why not start thinking up some delicious dishes on the themes of Sunday Roast (it can be veggie), Comfort Food, Autumn Baking and Halloween? You may also snap and share what others have made for you, so if you can’t cook you can still have a chance of winning. The campaign is going on all of October, starting today.
This promises to be a fabulous campaign. I should know as I was one of the lucky, random, winners of a Waitrose #TasteofSummer event. I won a demonstration afternoon and bespoke BBQ and cocktail event with multi-Michelin star super-chef, Heston Blumenthal, and his incredibly skilled and kind team (Otto is a honey). I flew with my food-mad friend, the award-winning homewares and textile designer Niki, down to Bray, and we had the most amazing day meeting other winners and enjoying superb (as you would expect) hospitality. Unforgettable. So, I can tell you it is very worth getting out your phone and start making, snapping and sharing. Do it!
Here’s some of my fellow blogger’s recipes, more information about the campaign and, crucially, where everything you hashtag #AutumnWarmers and @Waitrose will be shared.
This is my kind of #AutumnWarmers food. Now, what’s yours?
Onion Bhaji Potato Scones (Mashed Potato Pancakes)
I made this side dish-style, “quick bread” recipe as a nod both to Scotland and to the Indian subcontinent, the latter of which has had a huge influence on food in the UK over the past 60 or so years.
If you want to make this with sweet potato I would recommend baking the potato rather than boiling. But potatoes are nutritious in their own right so don’t discount them on purely nutritional grounds. As for the spices and flavours, finely ground is key so pre-ground is perfect here. You can get the amchoor powder – made from lovely sour mangos – at any store that stocks a wide range of Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi grocery items.
Oh, I’ve tried both frying and baking these (admittedly on a butter-slicked tray), and much prefer the baked version – crisper on the outside and still fluffy inside. Result! This batch makes probably more than you will eat unless you have a sizeable family, but they reheat brilliantly.
450-500g (1 lb) main crop (baking type) potatoes, peel on and whole
1 small onion or 2 shallots, peeled and very finely chopped or grated (about 75g)
30g (2 tbsp) butter or ghee + 2 tbsp for the baking tray
1 tsp cold-pressed rapeseed oil or oil suitable for sautéing
½ tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp ground fennel
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp garlic powder
1 ½ tsp amchoor powder (mango powder) OR 2 tsp lemon juice (if using lemon juice you will need to add more flour to offset the added moisture to the dough – about 2 tbsp)
160g plain, unbleached flour, plus extra for patting out the dough
What you need: a sturdy baking tray or two; small sauté pan, wok or karahi/kadhi; parchment paper
1. First of all, sort the potatoes. I boiled mine but baking would be a good, if time-sucking, alternative. Cover the potatoes with cold water, bring to the boil, cover and simmer until a knife tip goes in easily. Drain and allow to steam dry just enough to remove the peel and roughly cut up. If you wish to include the peel, use a pestle and mortar or similar to mash it.
2. While the potatoes are cooking, sauté the onions. Heat 2 tbsp of butter plus the oil in a sauté pan, karahi or wok. It seems a lot for so little onion but this will be the spiced, buttered onions to mix into the potatoes – not diet food for sure! Add the onions and a pinch of salt to the pan and stir constantly over a low-ish heat until the onion moisture evaporates and the onion loses its rawness – about eight minutes. Tip in the spices and stir for another few minutes to heat the spices. You should end up with a small pile of spicy, buttery onion mash. Keep this warm and mash into the hot potatoes when they are done.
3. Now, to make the dough. Yep, a dough. Add the flour to the spiced onion butter mash and beat in with a wooden spoon. You should get a soft but not sticky dough. If sticky then add a little more flour. Taste the dough and see if the seasoning is okay for you, adding a little more salt if you like. Be light with the salt as most of you will be eating these alongside already-salty dishes.
4. Preheat your oven to 200C/400F; add about half of the butter to each tray. Pop the tray into the oven to melt the butter. Make sure it doesn’t burn!
5. While the oven is heating, scoop large tablespoons of dough – enough for 12-14 scones/pancakes. Dust a long piece of parchment with flour and drop the dollops of dough onto the flour and roll them gently into balls so that they are lightly coated in flour. Press each ball into a pancake about the size of dollar pancakes/Scotch pancakes – no need to roll. You want them about 3mm/1/8” thick or thereabouts.
6. Remove the tray from the oven, brush the butter around (use a silicone brush if possible) and use a thin spatula to carefully transfer as many scones as will fit onto the tray. Brush a little of the “tray butter” onto each scone. Return the tray to the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Flip the scones and bake for a further five minutes, or until crispy on both sides. Carry on with the remaining scones, re-buttering the tray as needed.
7. Serve immediately as part of an Indian meal (especially one with lentils), or even a more Western meal of perhaps roasted vegetables and crumbles of a soft cheese; with Scottish lentil soup too! I enjoyed this immensely as leftovers the next day with the mah ki dal, mango chutney and runny egg as shown in the lead image. These also make great appetizers with a selection of chutneys. Refrigerate and use within three days. If refrigerated, rewarm in oven, pan or microwave. If freezing, interleave with pieces of baking parchment and heat from frozen in a hot oven.
Note: If you are using frozen or leftover mash you will need to up the flour until the dough is soft but not sticky. Just add a bit at a time and mix. And the mixture doesn’t work so well from the refrigerator so do cook up the whole batch and read the advice in step 7. But I swear it is an easy recipe.