Killer Tomato + Cheeseburger Tacos = the ultimate hybrid of the greatest foods on earth…

Tacos.

Like the final of Bake Off, my desert island food list and learning the words to the entire ‘La La Land’ soundtrack, this is something I take very seriously.

When they’re bad, I’m not happy and my less-than-perfect poker face will do the honours and let you know. Cheap meat cooked badly and stuffed begrudgingly into heavy, lumpy tortillas does not a good Mexican time make but when they’re good? Oh man, they totally transport me back to downtown LA, to dives where I’ve feasted like a fricking queen, to beach-side shacks where the juices have dribbled down my hands and onto the sand beneath my feet, to meals I’ll never forget and have tried to replicate & recreate in every other part of the world I’ve visited since.

FYI, we all realise I’m talking about soft corn tortillas that fit perfectly in your hand here and not the splintery shells that wage a personal war on your poor innocent gums, yes? Ok good, just checking.

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This adoration of the taco makes its’ current resurgence in London something I’m damn happy about and when a work colleague – who you better believe I’ll be shaking the hand, patting the back and kissing the cheek of tomorrow morning – told me about a little spot on Goldhawk Road that served up awesome reincarnations of these moreish beauties, I’d been waiting for the right time to go west (and let’s just pause for a second to remind ourselves of how many great songs those kings of the ’80’s had) and get stuck in. Well, thanks to a Saturday date night with J, Sean Lock and a few thousand stand up comedy fans in Hammersmith, that time arrived this weekend.

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Brilliant alfresco dining at Pop Brixton…

If you live in South London, you need to pay Pop Brixton a visit.

If you live in any other part of London…you need to pay Pop Brixton a visit.

Fun, lively & vibrant, this spot is a brilliant example of local businesses & entrepreneurs working together to deliver a cracking experience for the people of the community and beyond.

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There are over 50 different companies working out of shipping containers in a previously unused space a few minutes’ walk from Brixton tube, including a community garden, start up architects & restoration enterprises, second hand vinyl & African street-wear shops plus, most importantly to me and anyone else who is generally led at all times by their stomachs, twenty varied food & drink destinations.

Supporting local creatives by offering a safe space in which to flourish? Win. Creating the most delicious pit-stop that’s incredibly easy to get to and enjoy from 9am-11pm every day? Win.

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Pizza, burgers, donuts, jerk chicken, curry, Mexican, Ghanaian, Japanese…you can – and will want to – literally walk around the world here and my advice would be to get here early evening, find a spot at which to plant your proverbial feasting flag & set up camp for the night then get exploring. Take a group of friends and try a little bit of everything or go with one similarly greedy pal and devour dish after dish after dish.

Light & fragrant gyozas from Koi Ramen are elegant and simple finger food at its finest while Baba G’s Bhangra Burgers introduced me (god bless them) to ‘pachos’, an overflowing portion of poppadum nachos that come loaded with salsa, raita, mango, chilli pickle and if you want it – and trust me you do – paneer cheese.

Lighter & crispier than tortilla chips and slick with a kaleidoscope of colours from the varying toppings, these are absolutely awesome and a great, innovative way of putting a modern twist from one side of the planet onto a classic dish from another…

…while steamed bao buns from Viet Box are sweet little pillows of fluffy dough stuffed with gloriously flavoured chicken satay, goats cheese or lemongrass pork.

It gets busy here so don’t rock up at 9pm and expect to find an expanse of space in which to start feasting; vendors are loud and proud of their wares, happy to chat and keen to introduce people to new things. As an FYI, a couple of the stands didn’t do takeaway food when we visited so if you want to try lots of little things, pick a seat in the central areas that you can return to with your wares as opposed to sitting in one place and eating only that.

You might wonder if this is just Shoreditch’s Boxpark copied and transplanted south but it’s got a hugely different vibe and I’d highly recommend you take the time to explore both; you might live on the other side of the river but you can totally dine like a queen on both.

 

Comfort food at its finest with Nigella’s Gochujang Beef & Rice Bowls…

When I’m cold, I want comfort food. I want thick, stodgy and satisfying and I wanna be warmed up from the inside out. I don’t know about where you are right now – and honestly, I’ll be delighted and only marginally excessively jealous if you’re somewhere that isn’t making you toy with the idea of smuggling a hot water bottle down your jumper – but it’s absolutely freezing here in London at the moment and I am having to resist the urge to go out in my fricking duvet.

It. Is. Bitter.

Those baby blue skies have seduced me into thinking it’s a lovely mild autumnal day. Well it’s not. I’m cold and I want my comfort food.

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Many pretenders to the Queen-of-the-Kitchen crown have appeared over the past few years but my heart still lies with Nigella. I reckon if I turned up on her doorstep wrapped in my 10.5 tog comfort blanket, she’d have me in some cashmere lounge wear sipping boozy hot chocolate in front of her fire in her fairylight lit kitchen faster than you can say ‘can I have some Bailey’s in that please?’ Until that day arrives, I’ll have to make do with this dish of praise-be-to-the-heavens simplicity from ‘Simply Nigella’ and if you need something to get your inner central heating going, this slow cooked rice & beef gochujang bowl will do just that. Nigella bills this as a dish to make in your slow cooker but if you don’t have one, as indeed I do not, then the oven made version she gives is just as lazily fabulous.

As well as being ridiculously easy – I almost feel bad for actually numbering the steps below – the filling and comforting textures are a perfect vehicle for soaking up the gorgeous ripe tomato & gochujang flavours. Gochujang is a spicy Korean bean paste that might sound a bit scary but hey, you can buy it in Waitrose which means it’s thoroughly middle class and mainstream now I’m happy to tell you/afraid to say. It won’t blow your head off but it will lend everything a gorgeous rich colour and warm full flavour.

I love the added crunch of the bean sprouts and am always looking for something to throw a poached egg or grated cheese on top of which is why my version of this comes with both those very things; I promise you when that egg breaks and golden silky yolk spills onto everything else, you’ll understand. Chuck it in the oven, put your pyjamas on, watch something cosy – I won’t even hold it against you if the title contains the word ‘santa’ – and get ready for some serious comforting.

SLOW COOKED KOREAN BEEF & RICE BOWL (serves 6 small portions or 3 greedy people)

INGREDIENTS

  • 500g beef mince
  • 200g short grain brown rice
  • 1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes (or plum tomatoes broken up)
  • 4 tbsp. gochujang paste
  • 4 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 300g beansprouts

Optional topping: grated cheddar cheese, poached free range egg

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METHOD

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.
  2. In a heavy based pot with a lid – a ceramic casserole dish is perfect – mix together your beef mince, brown rice, tin of choppd (or broken plum) tomatoes, gochujang paste, soy sauce and 125 ml of warm water; try not too mash everything together – you want to keep those textures nice and separate.
  3. With the lid on, cook your dish for roughly 2-2.5 hours; your rice should be tender but still possess a little bite and the water will have fully absorbed though you can top your liquid up slightly if you feel there’s a risk it will cook away to nothing while the rice still needs a bit more time.
  4. Turn your oven off and plunge your beansprouts into boiling water for a minute before draining and mixing then to the pot.
  5. Keeping the lid on your pot, poach your eggs and grate your cheese if using.
  6. Spoon the rice-mince mixture into serving bowls, top with the eggs & cheese and serve immediately.