More martini snacks and canapes

I’m just going to leave this here…

  

What could be easier than olives and cheese-stuffed peppers that you picked up at the shops on the way home? I particularly like the colour contrast of these two. Oh and the taste.

You can’t go wrong with the lemony-buttery taste of Nocellara olive flesh, while the soft creamy cheese paired very indulgently with the sweet piccante crunch of the pepper.

  
This one was also a little bit last minute. I threw together some Bombay mix, prosciutto and olives when a friend popped round unexpectedly. The Bombay mix didn’t really go with the other two, but it’s definitely very nice on its own.

  

Here are some nuts, arranged mindlessly while I stared into space sipping my first drink of the night. Salted pistachio nuts are my favourite, although some nice big fat macadamia nuts would go well with a martini too.

  
Simple, easy, light, savoury, Twiglets are an underrated canapé snack. They are the flavour and texture opposite of the martini. Where a martini is cold, smooth, heady, citrusy and ever so slightly sweet, these are light, crunchy, salty and savoury. They don’t look particularly elegant but the flavour contrast really works. They’re a guaranteed winner for marmite fans.

  
This one is a bit more fancy. Asparagus skewers, blini with taramasalata, maki rolls, sigeumchi-namul, crisps, a martini and candles…

  
A simple but slightly more edgy snack, here are some wasabi peas with a simple classic.

  
Extremely simple, but very tasty, here is some lightly pickled baby beetroot. I’m sure we could create some kind of pink-coloured beetroot Gibson Martini, perhaps similar to the Beet Up Vesper Martini at the Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town bar in central London. 


Sea Aster is a seasonal coastal plant that flowers in the summer but is edible in the spring. Wash and eat raw or lightly boil for a minute or two. I got mine at a fish monger’s in Borough Market.


Mum bought these langoustines from Tobermory Main Street while I picked up the samphire on Oban pier on a trip back from London.


There’s a whole world of tapas-style ingredients and food types you could use. Above you can see chorizo, cold roast pork slices, feta cheese, olives, bread, houmous, oil  and duqqah.


You can turn the nibbles into your whole meal and really take your time with the martini. Above you can see crab open sandwiches, nuts, wood ear mushrooms, Korean-style spinach, roasted vegetables, seaweed, manchego cheese, Bombay mix, olives, bread, oil and houmous all to be slowly munched while you sip your cold gin.


Houmous is a relaxed martini accompaniment to have at home with informal company over a drink.


Here it is served with sliced pitta bread and a variety of mostly Mediterranean snacks.


My kind neighbour made me some lovely Middle Eastern sweets which I included in the meal.

The Arabic element of the food was especially good at soaking up some of the alcohol!


Dim sum was a surprisingly good – if slightly unconventional accompaniment.


Oysters are my favourite.


I also love creamy manchego cheese.


Finally though, the most classical martini snack will always remain the pitted green olive. If it’s all you have, you’ll be fine. And you won’t spoil your appetite for dinner.

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A Martini with Homemade Roasted Seaweed


I’ve previously mentioned my liking for seaweed so I thought I would make my own to go with a martini.


After a fairly long walk on the Isle of Mull, I was looking around the beach for something edible to forage.


The tide was fairly high but there were several rockpools containing thick gutweed, as above.


This dark-green, grass-like seaweed lives in upper tidal areas, sometimes in pools, sometimes where streams meet the sea.


I harvested a small amount by hand, being careful not to take too much from the same pool. I squeezed them of liquid then put them in a plastic bag and walked home with them. I then rinsed them thoroughly in clean water.


I patted it dry, then added about a tablespoon of oil and around a teaspoon of sea salt and mixed it in thoroughly.


I roasted it on a high heat for about 30 minutes, stirring it once to prevent it from burning on the top level.


I then served it as a messy but tasty and savoury nibble to accompany the evening’s martinis. It tasted like the deep fried seaweed you often get in Chinese restaurants, except that it was actually made from seaweed and was roasted rather than fried.


It also makes a good salty-umami condiment for things like mashed potato or other seafood dishes.


Once cooked it also keeps for a few days but you might want to dry it out thoroughly to make sure it doesn’t become soggy. 

I will definitely be making this again but remember to forage responsibly. Don’t take so much that you harm the ecosystem. Try to stick to clean coastal waters as well and be sure to rinse the seaweed thoroughly before cooking.

A Martini with Nori Seaweed

  

Our family is probably not alone in this matter: we adore crisps but recognise that they are evil.

  
To my American readers – I’m referring to what you call ‘chips’ or ‘potato chips’.  I could make some cliche comment about how you have abused our language but your people did invent the martini so I have to pay at least some deference to your culture. Nonetheless, I will continue to refer to these things as crisps in my blog and you cannot stop me.

  
Crunchy, tasty, yet body-bendingly unhealthy, these snacks pose a real threat to your life. They are so convenient to pick up at the shops. They can sit in a cupboard, just waiting for their moment to strike. An impromptu visit from a friend, a much-needed drink at the end of a long day, you find them welcomingly waiting to be tipped into a bowl and devoured. And with all their salt, flavouring and fat, they can taste amazing.

  
But they are so unhealthy. It’s almost always a case of “a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.” They’re not exactly the sort of thing you would chuck in a smoothie.

So I’ve been looking for things to replace crisps as a martini accompaniment. Martinis themselves aren’t exactly an elixir of healthy living either but at least by cutting out the crisps you can minimise the comprehensive damage you could otherwise be doing to your body.

  
My brother, who is a body-builder and very good at nutrition (most of the time), brought back these snacks from the mainland.

Actually made in South Korea, they are originally a Japanese style of snack made from Nori seaweed.

  
Nori is specifically a type of algae, harvested, shredded, flattened and dried in a preparation technique reminiscent of papyrus but more closely based on Japanese paper production.

It is familiar to most people who have eaten sushi as it is used to wrap maki rolls among other things. It is also similar to a well-known (and highly tasty) dish in Wales – laver.

  
Indeed while seaweed today is usually regarded as a health food from Asia, it actually formed a very traditional part of coastal British diets for centuries. The Welsh have defended its value as a tasty source of nutrition over the years. I am writing this at home in the Hebrides where seaweed was once seen as a staple, especially during times of hardship and poor harvest on the land. As a crop, it is available all year round – so long as you are able to withstand the temperature of the sea.

Luckily it is making a bit of a comeback. Hebrideans are once again turning to our rich, clean waters for sustenance. It still isn’t common but it’s not unknown. 

Please excuse me while I shed a tear of pure joy.

Returning specifically to the history of Nori, I was struck by a fascinating story, involving a remarkable and surprising northern English lady who defied sexism in science and cross-cultural barriers to change the Japanese seaweed industry and our understanding of the food today.

  

Seaweed yields were falling in post-war Japan when Lancashire scientist Kathleen Mary Drew-Baker stepped in to provide her research on the lifecycle of algae. Armed with this knowledge, Japanese harvesters optimised their techniques to maximise the production process and the industry flourished. 

Every year on the 14th of April a ceremony is dedicated to Dr. Drew-Baker in Osaka. She is referred to as The Mother of the Sea in recognition of her work for the seaweed industry.

So back to martinis…

  
I served some of the nori sheets as a simple snack.

They were slightly large so I lay the slices on top of each other and used scissors to cut them into four pieces so they would fit into my mouth easily.

  
They also make an interesting, if slightly flamboyant garnish.

With salt and sesame oil they were very more-ish and made a nice accompaniment snack. Their slight fishy taste might not appeal to everyone but I am a committed fan of seafood and think it compliments a martini very well.

However, these nori sheets in particular have quite a high fat content so they might not be a million miles better than crisps after all. It might be worth using ordinary sushi nori sheets instead. Cut one or two into bite sized pieces before serving.

Nonetheless, I like these little bites and will be nibbling on them again.

A Martini made with Absinthe

“Oh god… is my face melting?”

 

I didn’t invent this one. Some other crazy person did.

What’s more, it’s evidently been ordered and drunk often enough to have earned itself a name: the Mystic Martini.

  
Absinthe is typically 45-74% ABV and therefore highly potent.

Invented in Switzerland, its alleged psychoactive properties led to its prohibition in many countries for decades, before decriminalisation led to a comeback in the 1990s.

Flavoured with botanicals including sweet fennel and wormwood, the drink is anise-flavoured and usually green or colourless. It turns milky/cloudy when mixed with water.

  
The drink was traditionally served via ‘the French method’ whereby a slotted spoon holding a sugar cube was placed over a glass containing a measure of absinthe. Cold water was then poured over the sugar cube, running into the absinthe, turning it cloudy and bringing out its complex flavours.

  

Social folklore and urban legend, now largely disproved, claimed that the effects of absinthe on the drinker were different to that of other types of alcohol, such as hallucinations and temporary insanity.

The ‘absinthe fairy’ is also associated with a wide variety of artists, writers and other cultural figures, earning the drink a reputation for bohemian creativity – as well as danger.

  
So back to the cocktail. The Mystic Martini is basically a classic martini with approximately one teaspoon of absinthe added to the mix.

Some bartenders rinse the glass with the absinthe before pouring the martini, others stir the absinthe into the martini after it has been prepared. I prefer the latter method, so you can watch the absinthe swirl into the already hypnotic drink. To evoke ‘the French method’ you could serve a classic martini with a measure of absinthe separately in a silver spoon, so the drinker can add it themselves and watch it ooze into the mixture.

Traditionally you are supposed to garnish this martini with a single green olive (largely for appearance purposes) but I actually think a wrinkled black olive goes better with the anise flavouring. I made the above drink with lemon peel which doesn’t compliment the anise flavour quite so well. If you really want to appreciate the complex botanicals of the absinthe you might also want to prepare this drink using vodka instead of gin – sacre bleu!

Personally anise is not my favourite flavour so this isn’t a drink I will be revisiting, but if it’s your thing, give it a go. Just make sure you’ve got life insurance first. 

Asparagus skewers to accompany a martini

  
This is dead easy.

  
Asparagus is tasty and a bit of a luxury so it naturally pairs well with a martini. I love its distinctive flavour, visual appeal and most of all, its satisfying fresh and crunchy texture.

  
My brother and I were having a martini before dinner, but after we had drunk the first one we really just wanted to have another one and postpone the food. Not to miss out on our nutrition (you can’t live on gin and olives…) I decided to take the vegetables we were going to eat and martini-fy them.

  

Inspired by this Izakaya-style spring onion recipe I cut each asparagus spear into three pieces and threaded them onto some bamboo skewers.

   
I added them to boiling water and cooked them for 4.5 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt a knob of butter in a frying pan with about half a tablespoon of soy sauce, half a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and a pinch of pepper. You could also add a splash of mirin or sweet vermouth. 

  
I then removed the skewers from the water and shook them to discard any excess. I added them to the frying pan with the sauce and simmered them for about 30 seconds, tossing the skewers to coat them in the sauce.

  
Serve and pour over the excess sauce.

  
Reward yourself with another martini, which you can make while the asparagus is boiling and the butter is melting.

The French call the asparagus tips “points d’amour”. Apparently Madame de Pompadour was a fan.

 

She’s also at the top of my list of people I’d like to have a martini with so I hope she would approve of the recipe.
  
Humans have been consuming asparagus for thousands of years. 

Harvesting the plant has been depicted in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.

The Romans even had a phrase “quicker than you can prepare asparagus” which serves as a reminder of how rapidly you can create this dish.

  
It’s also been described as an aphrodisiac in the past.

I’m not sure about the science behind that one so I’d recommend sticking to oysters.

  
But let’s be honest, if you’re sharing a martini with your amour you might not need an aphrodisiac at all.

Korean spinach – Sigeumchi-namul

Annyeonghaseyo.

  

This is a really tasty, easy and even healthy vegetarian dish that you can serve as a vegetable side, a starter or, most importantly of all, as an appetiser to accompany a martini (obviously).

I first ate this delicious dish in Koreatown, Manhattan. Of all the wondrous and unusual dishes I gluttonously consumed that night (my favourite being a gigantic simmered squid, still sizzling in savoury sauce with brown sugar lightly caramelising on top) this spinach starter is the easiest to put together, but with all things simple, it’s often easy to get it wrong.

I have made the following recipe to my own personal taste preferences so you might want to alter it to add more or less garlic, chilli, soy sauce or oil depending on what you like, but you don’t want to drown it, you don’t want it too oily and you don’t want the garlic overpowering the earthy taste of the spinach either. 

Also if a Korean ajumma tells you to make the recipe a different way, just do what she says.

Otherwise, you will need the following ingredients per person:

  • 200g fresh spinach leaves (around 7oz)
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp sesame seeds
  • A clove of garlic

(Simply multiply the above for the number of people you are preparing for).

  
Prepare the garlic first by peeling the number of cloves you want to use.

Here’s a tip: take the cloves you need and put them in the microwave on full heat for 2 seconds. No more! 

 

You’re not cooking the garlic in the microwave, you’re simply loosening the hard peel from the flesh. If you slice off the end now, you will find it much easier to peel.
Thinly slice then chop the garlic into fine pieces.


Here’s another tip: to wash off the garlic smell simply hang your hand loosely under a running tap of cold water so that the water runs down your fingertips and off the ends. Hold it there for about 20 seconds or so. This seems to wash off the garlic. It’s particularly effective if you have a stainless steel sink that you can rub your fingers on as well. 

Bring water to the boil in a large pan. Add the spinach and blanch for about 20-30 seconds.

It should turn a bright green. The volume of the spinach will also reduce significantly. If you are making this for a lot of people you might need to cook the spinach in batches.

When cooked, transfer immediately to a sieve and run under cold water to cool it thoroughly.

Leave it to drain.  

While the spinach is draining, mix the sauce by combining the garlic, soy sauce and sesame oil. 
Gently squeeze the spinach to remove excess water then transfer it to a chopping board and cut it up.
Transfer it to a large bowl (or you could reuse the pot that you cooked the spinach in if you’ve wiped it dry).

  
Add the sauce and mix it into the spinach (you can do this by hand but I used a teaspoon).

You can either serve it immediately or put it in the fridge to serve chilled later.

When serving, sprinkle sesame seeds on top. It is also common to add sliced spring onion as a garnish on top as well.

If you want to bulk it up with some nutritious umami I sometimes put a handful of dried wakame seaweed into a glass of water to soak for 5-10 minutes while making this dish. When you are about to chop up the spinach drain the seaweed and squeeze out the excess moisture and add it to the spinach to be chopped up with it.

If you want to be über nutritious lightly grind the sesame seeds in a mortar and pestle before sprinkling them over. If they are slightly broken it makes them more digestible and allows your body to absorb more of their nutrients.


Obviously don’t forget to pour yourself a martini (or some soju) when you serve this. Make sure you pour a large measure for any long suffering ajummas in your company as well. They deserve it!

 환호!

Martini with a sprig of thyme

  

This is a very simple variation on the classic martini.

Thyme is one of my favourite herbs. The mouth-watering smell evokes summertime, or some of the delicious za’tar manouche (savoury thyme-flavoured Lebanese wraps) I’ve eaten in Beirut, London and Dubai.

 
Take a sprig of fresh thyme (I’ve been growing some on the balcony), wash and dry it, then rub it around a chilled martini glass to transfer its flavour.

I also rubbed some lemon peel around the glass as well. The lemon and thyme combination might be especially good before a roast chicken dinner.
 Discard the lemon peel, pour the martini using the classic recipe and use the thyme as a garnish.

It adds a nice hint of aromatic flavour to the drink while providing a delicate and colourful garnish that looks so good in the spring as everything starts to turn green.

I think I might try infusing some into a batch of gin. Watch this space…