Tuesday 23 October 2018

I like to attack dinner

As the wife of one of the world's best chefs, Nadine Levy Redzepi is not intimidated by cooking for fussy children. Her philosophy is about respecting ingredients, as she tells our reporter

Family focus: Nadine Levy Redzepi loves cooking for her three daughters. Photo: Ditte Isager
Family focus: Nadine Levy Redzepi loves cooking for her three daughters. Photo: Ditte Isager
Middle Eastern Beef with lentils from Downtime: Deliciousness at Home by Nadine Levy Redzepi. (Ebury Press, £27) Photography by Ditte Isager
Nadine's book - Downtime: Deliciousness at Home

Katy McGuinness

You might think that Nadine Levy Redzepi - the wife of Rene Redzepi, the two-Michelin-star chef at Noma, the Norway restaurant that held the Number One spot on the list of the World's Best Restaurants in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014 - might cook at home in accordance with the principles of the 'Nordic Manifesto'.

The manifesto dates from 2004, and kick-started a food revolution based on the use of hyper-local and seasonal ingredients.

As the bellwether of New Nordic Cuisine, Noma adheres strictly to the principles of the Nordic Manifesto.

This means that the kitchen eschews the use of non-native ingredients. (In an Irish context, that would mean no lemon or olive oil, but plenty of sea buckthorn and sloes).

This notion of a philosophy of food that looks to tradition and heritage rather than imported ingredients to hone a distinctive terroir-based food culture has spread throughout the world in the years since it was launched.

Happily for readers of Nadine's first cookbook, Downtime, who are looking to elevate their home cooking without having to spend their days foraging for wild and native ingredients, Nadine Levy Redzepi says that the rules of the manifesto do not apply at home - that they are best suited to restaurants.

It's a relief to hear that she does not restrict her shopping in any way as she cycles around Copenhagen picking up ingredients from her local stores and the Torvehallerne market.

"There are no rules or restrictions at home," she says. "I like fresh produce, and I buy as close to raw as possible, with very few processed foods. I always buy full-fat milk and butter, and I would never buy any 'light' products."

While her husband is in charge of the food at Noma (currently on hiatus until construction of its new home at an urban farm in Copenhagen is complete next January), at home it is Nadine who decides what the family will eat.

"Rene doesn't cook at home," says Nadine, who also lives with their three young daughters and her own mother, Bente. "It's not that he can't, but I like cooking for him and I take joy and pride in cooking for him and our daughters."

In Downtime, Nadine writes of starting to collect recipes for the book when she was pregnant with her first child, back in 2007.

"I thought long and hard about what kind of mother I wanted to be," she writes. "One of the most important things, I thought to myself, was that I needed to cook for her all the time. I wanted to be the mum who made the best cookies and birthday cakes in the class. But why stop there? I thought.

"I started writing down all of my favourite recipes in a notebook. Before I even had our first daughter, I resolved to start developing a family cookbook, something that could be passed on from generation to generation. I wanted to introduce a new tradition to both sides of the family."

So rather than being a dumbed-down version of Noma for the domestic cook, Downtime is a collection of the recipes that Nadine cooks at home for her family and friends, and which she says that she is happy to share "beyond [her own] well-fed family".

Refreshingly, she prefers not to distinguish between the two, and says that she feeds her family the same dishes as she does her friends, and vice versa.

Downtime makes the idea of recipes geared towards 'entertaining' sound distinctly un-cool.

"I like to attack dinner," she says. "I don't think just about what the kids would like to eat, I think about what I want to eat too.

"Picky children? I always make sure that they are hungry when they sit down. Sometimes I think that because ours are so exposed to different ingredients, they feel more pressure to like things that are different. We do try and keep calm about food, we don't make a big deal about whether they finish what's on their plate.

"They do have some friends who are super-picky - not that I want to judge other people's parenting! I do make a conscious effort not to make anything too 'weird' on the days that those friends are coming over. And if they don't eat, I'll give them a rye bread sandwich and tell the parents that they didn't want to eat what we were having."

The Redzepis have many well-known friends from the international food world, but Nadine says that she doesn't get intimidated by the prospect of cooking for the likes of Jay Rayner, Nigella Lawson and David Chang of Momofuko, who has been one of her husband's best friends for more than a decade.

"I am quite confident in the way that I cook, so I am excited rather than intimidated. In general, when I am thinking about what to cook for others, I start by thinking of what I would like to cook for myself."

Meals with friends usually start off at the island which Nadine says is at the heart of their kitchen at home, and she waits until her guests arrive to start cooking, delegating small tasks of peeling and chopping so that everyone gets involved.

Rather than serving a plated starter, the meal starts off with finger food - warm homemade potato crisps with a savoury dip such as anchovy hummus, or cups of perfectly poached eggs with spears of asparagus to poke into the yolks.

By way of main course, Nadine often takes what she calls a 'high-low' approach, encapsulated by dishes such as porchetta pork belly with truffles, in which a humble fatty cut of meat is combined with upscale - but affordable - preserved truffles. Or she might serve beef-glazed celeriac with a buttermilk sauce that she says has as much presence on the plate as a slice of roast beef.

"This is a very Noma thing," she says, "taking something very humble or cheap and treating it as if it is something precious, according it the same kind of respect as you would an expensive ingredient."

And while Nadine says that her husband doesn't have much of a sweet tooth, the book does include recipes for some killer desserts such as her take on cheesecake and tiramisu, and Rene's favourite walnut squares.

At a time when there is so much emphasis on the importance of family meals, it can be hard for the families of chefs to find the time to eat together.

"Rene is home for dinner on Sunday and Monday nights, so those are very important days for us," says Nadine. "Right now, though [because of the hiatus], he's home every day for dinner, which is lovely. We live quite close to where the old Noma was and where the new Noma will be, so when he is working he comes home to put the girls to bed and read a story, so he does see them."

The couple met when Nadine went to work at Noma at the age of 19, when they flouted the strict Noma rule of no dating other staff members. She cooked for him (noodles with sautéed chicken livers in a tomato and chilli sauce, which reminded him of a dish that his mother used to make him when he was a child), he cooked for her (seal-the-deal pasta, with peeled plum tomatoes in a beurre blanc sauce) and the rest is history; the couple has worked together ever since.

"I will be involved in the new restaurant," says Nadine, "although I'm not sure yet in what role. While I was working on the book I really enjoyed not having a strict work schedule, having to go to the restaurant every day, but it helps our relationship if I am involved so I know what's going on and Rene doesn't have to explain everything to me before we can talk about it at home."

Nadine grew up in Portugal, France and Britain, the child of itinerant musicians, with one older brother. There was a lot of moving around, and her parents split up when she was young, so she spent significant time on her own when her mother moved to Denmark and took up a full-time job.

In Downtime, she describes how she taught herself to cook from the age of four, starting out with porridge, graduating to omelettes and scrambled eggs, and eventually mastering roast chicken, which she says is probably still her favourite thing to eat and the meal that she makes for the family whenever they come home from a trip.

In an effort to re-invigorate Noma and to stop it becoming stale, Rene Redzepi has taken the restaurant and all its staff on tour several times over the past few years. So far Noma has popped up in Tokyo, Sydney and Tulum in Mexico, each for a few months at a time. Nadine and Rene bring their daughters with them, and she says that she finds the trips inspiring and fun, rather than disruptive.

"It's incredible," she says. "There is no nicer thing than being able to take the family away for a few months. After all the blood, sweat and tears that goes into Noma, it owes us - it's something that Noma can give back to us. The girls go to school wherever we go and they get to experience a different culture.

"In Tulum, where there are lots of people from different countries, there were 32 children in a tiny international school. The girls thought it was fun, they had a pig and they worked on projects, learning in a different way to the one they are used to. I can't wait for the next one. I don't mind where it is - just somewhere different. I love challenging myself with all the different ingredients when we go somewhere new."

MY MOTHER'S CHICKEN CURRY

I've always liked spicy food, and even when I didn't like it I wanted to. My brother was always daring me to try fiery dishes, and I would eat them, pretending to enjoy it while my mouth was on fire. Eventually, though, I came to crave the burn, which is probably why I am so fond of curries and chilli blends. This is a relatively simple, light curry. Once you've made the curry blend, it's really just a simple stew that cooks without supervision, filling the house with amazing smells. Cooking the chicken pieces whole gives the curry lots of flavour, but I shred the meat and discard the skin and bones before serving to make it easier to eat. I finish this with a blend of chamomile and salt. It's not traditional, but the dried flowers have an earthiness similar to coriander seeds.

Serves 8

Ingredients

Red curry paste:

Fresh red chillies 3, depending on your taste for spice

Shallot 1 small

Fresh ginger 14cm (1 ½ inch) piece

Garlic cloves 5

Cumin seeds 2 teaspoons

Fennel seeds 2 teaspoons

Dried chamomile flowers 2 tablespoons (from loose tea or tea bags)

Sweet paprika 2 teaspoons

Rapeseed oil 90ml (3fl oz), as needed

Chicken 1.4-1.8kg (3-4lb) legs, thighs, breasts and wings

Salted butter 30g (1oz)

Onions 4 medium

Ripe plum (Roma) tomatoes 900g (2lb)

Tart green apples 4

Sultanas 200g (7oz)

Fine sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Raita:

Cucumber 1

Fine sea salt, ½ teaspoon

Plain Greek yoghurt 450g (1 ¼ lb)

Fresh mint 20 sprigs

Basmati rice 600g (1lb)

Fresh coriander sprigs 40

Method

1. Make the curry paste: Halve the chillies and remove the ribs and seeds. Chop the chillies finely. Peel and coarsely chop the shallot and ginger. Crush the garlic cloves under the flat blade of a knife, then peel and coarsely chop. Crush the cumin and fennel seeds with a pestle and mortar. Add the chopped chillies, shallot, ginger, garlic and the crushed cumin and fennel seeds to a blender or food processor. Add the chamomile, paprika and 3 tablespoons of oil. Process until smooth, adding more oil if needed to make a smooth paste. If you don't have a pestle and mortar, you can crush the spices on a chopping board under a heavy saucepan.

2. Heat a very large casserole dish over medium-high heat. Add the remaining oil and heat it.

3. In batches, add the chicken and cook, turning once, until golden brown on both sides, about 6 minutes. Transfer the pieces to a platter as they are browned.

4. Add the butter to the casserole dish and let it melt. Chop the onions, adding them to the pan as you go, and cook without stirring until they are browned on the bottom, about 5 minutes. Stir well. Stir in the curry paste and let it cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to stick to the bottom of the pan a bit, 1 to 2 minutes. Return the chicken and any juices on the platter to the pan. Add 720 ml (1 ª pint) of water. Reduce the heat to low. Don't fill the pot with water! The tomatoes in the next step will release plenty of juice.

5. To core the tomatoes easily, slice downwards next to but not through the stem. Make two angled cuts into the larger half to release the core and discard. Squeeze the tomatoes a little to get out most of the seeds and chop the tomatoes into 12 mm (ƒ inch) pieces. Stir them into the pan. Peel, core and cut the apples into 2.5 cm (1 inch) chunks. Stir the apples and sultanas into the pan. Add a little more water, if needed, to barely cover the ingredients. Raise the heat to high and bring the curry to a boil. Season well with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan tightly and simmer the curry for about 2 hours, until the chicken is almost falling off the bones. Stir the curry every now and then to keep the chicken and other ingredients from sticking.

6. While the curry cooks, make the raita: Peel the cucumber and cut it in half lengthwise. Use a spoon to scrape out the seeds. Cut the cucumber lengthwise into strips about 6mm (ª inch) thick. Now cut them crosswise into 6mm (ª inch) pieces. Toss with the ƒ teaspoon of salt in a colander. Let drain for 30 minutes. Rinse well and pat dry with a tea towel. Stir the cucumber, yoghurt and mint in a medium serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate until serving.

7. About 30 minutes before you plan to serve, make the rice: Combine the rice and

1 litre (2 & a half pints) of water in a medium-large saucepan. Stir, then bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover the saucepan and cook without disturbing until little air pockets appear on the top of the rice, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let it stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Don't stir the rice once it is simmering, or it will become sticky and gluey.

8. Just before you serve the curry, use tongs to pick out the pieces of chicken and, when cool enough to handle, pull the meat off the bones. Return the meat to the pan, discarding the skin and bones, and use the tongs to shred the meat into the sauce. Give the curry a little stir and taste it, adjusting the seasonings. Taste again and see what you think. You might want to add even more spices. If you feel you have gone overboard with spices, add a tablespoon of yoghurt.

9. Chop the coriander leaves and put them in a small bowl. Serve the curry on bowls of rice with the raita and coriander on the side.

MIDDLE-EASTERN BEEF WITH LENTILS

2017-10-28_lif_35558094_I1.JPG
Middle Eastern Beef with lentils from Downtime: Deliciousness at Home by Nadine Levy Redzepi. (Ebury Press, £27) Photography by Ditte Isager
 

My family doesn't eat meat every day, and when we do we don't necessarily have enormous portions, so small bites of beef need to have a ton of great flavour. Marinating builds in more flavour notes, especially in meat that doesn't cook very long. I often put meat to marinate in the fridge before I leave the house in the morning; when we are ready for dinner, I cook it quickly over high heat, just long enough to fry the spices without burning them. Cooking lentils slowly as you would risotto keeps them more separate, with a toothier texture. It's another example of taking a humble ingredient and preparing it with the care you would use for a more valuable commodity.

Serves 4

Ingredients

Marinated beef:

Boneless beef sirloin steak 680g (1 ½ lb), cut 2.5 cm (1 inch) thick

Garlic cloves 6

Coriander seeds 2 teaspoons

Fennel seeds 2 teaspoons

Extra-virgin olive oil 120ml (4fl oz)

Sweet paprika 2 teaspoons

Fresh thyme sprigs 5

Lentils:

Rapeseed oil 2 teaspoons

Onion 1

Puy (green) lentils 200g (7oz)

Bay leaves 2

Dry white wine 240ml (8 ½ fl oz)

Chicken broth 1.2 litres (2 pints), as needed

Fine sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Tomatoes 3 medium

Flaky salt

Fresh coriander leaves 30

Method

1. Marinate the beef: Cut the beef into 12mm (half inch) strips. Crush the garlic cloves with the flat side of your knife and discard the papery skins. Use a pestle and mortar or a spice mill to grind the coriander and fennel seeds to a powder. Add the garlic, coriander and fennel to a large bowl. Add the oil, paprika and thyme and mix well. Add the beef and massage the marinade into the meat. Cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. If you don't have a spice mill, use a coffee grinder. Whiz a bit of rice in the grinder before and after grinding the spices to clean it.

2. To make the lentils: Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Chop the onion and add it to the saucepan. Cook without stirring until it is lightly browned on the bottom, about 2 minutes. Stir the onion and continue to cook until it is golden brown, about 3 minutes more.

3. Add the lentils and bay leaves and stir for 1 minute. Turn the heat down to low and stir in the wine. Let the wine simmer until only about 1 tablespoon remains. Stir in about 480ml (3/Qtr pint) of the broth to barely cover the lentils, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cover. Simmer the lentils, stirring every 5 to 7 minutes and adding more broth in 120ml (4fl oz) increments as needed to cover the lentils. After 15 minutes, taste a lentil, and stop adding broth when they still have a bit of snap, about 20 minutes. Season to taste with the salt and pepper.

4. To core the tomatoes easily, slice downwards next to but not through the stem. Make two angled cuts into the larger half to release the core and discard. Coarsely chop the tomatoes. Add them to the lentils, but don't stir them in. Cover the saucepan and remove from the heat.

5. Now, to cook the beef: Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. When the pan is very hot, add half of the meat in a single layer. Cook the meat without moving it for 30 seconds, then use tongs to turn each piece. Cook on the second side for about 1ƒ minutes, then turn again. Cook for a final 30 seconds and transfer to a bowl. Reheat the frying pan, and cook the remaining beef. Season the meat strips with the salt. Chop half of the coriander leaves and stir them into the beef. You will not need to add oil to the frying pan because of the beef marinade.

6. Give the lentils a quick stir to mix in the tomatoes. Spoon the lentils into bowls. Top with the beef, sprinkle with the reserved coriander, and serve.

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