If I had to live anywhere other than Kent, the chances are that it would be Scotland. I lived there for a year back in the nineties, and came close to moving there 5 years ago. There’s something about the landscape that draws me in – from the Gothic grey of urban buildings to the rich green and purple hues and spectacular vistas of the countryside.
And then, of course, there’s the food. Scotland plays to my weaknesses for big flavours and hearty sustenance. I have fond memories of – to name only a few – mutton pies, Fife haddock, Caboc cheese, and all manner of sweet baked treats. None of it was good for the waistline, but it was mighty good for the soul.
At this time of year, of course, it’s all about Burns, haggis, neeps, and tatties – and the obligatory whisky. It’s not for the faint hearted, but then why would it be? As Burns himself said, the Scots aren’t the type for lily-livered food. Instead, “Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care, and dish them out their bill o’ fare, Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware that jaups in luggies: but, if ye wish her grateful prayer, gie her a Haggis!”
I may be Kentish, but I commend that spirit.
But just in case you can’t eat a whole one, or you’re not mad on the texture of haggis, here’s a variation on the theme. I’ve used turnips for ‘neeps’. I know there’s an ongoing debate about whether neeps comprise swede or turnips, and I confess that I typically eat the former with haggis – but here, turnips work far better. The idea is that they make a dip along the lines of the Greek skordalia. If you want more punch to it, leave the garlic raw.
‘Haggis and neeps’ (for 2)
1 small haggis, cooked as per instructions, and left to cool
A bowl of 2 beaten eggs
A bowl of plain flour, seasoned
A bowl of white breadcrumbs
Vegetable oil , enough for deep frying
4 turnips, peeled, boiled, and left to steam and cool, then mashed
8 peeled garlic cloves, poached for 5 minutes in milk, then mashed
Olive or rapeseed oil
Lemon juice, a squeeze
Salt and black pepper
Get the turnips ready first. Using a mortar and pestle, pound the turnips, garlic, and ground almonds together. Add the ground almonds to your taste and texture preference – you will probably need up to 50g or so. Then add a little olive oil to loosen. Finally, add a pinch of salt and a generous twist of black pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice. Taste, and adjust the flavours as necessary. Don’t stint on the pepper – turnips love it!
For the haggis, heat a deep pan, wok, or fryer filled with vegetable oil – it’s ready when a small piece of bread turns golden brown in a matter of seconds.
Using your hands, scoop up some of the cooled haggis, and roll it into a ball – aim for golf ball size. If it’s too wet, and keeps breaking up, add some breadcrumbs, and use an egg yolk to bind the mixture. Repeat until you’ve got as many balls as you want to eat.
Lower the balls into the hot oil – don’t overcrowd the pan, so fry in batches if necessary. They should turn golden within a minute or so. Remove from the pan, and drain onto kitchen towel.
Eat and enjoy while crisp and hot, with the neeps dip. Wash down with a wee dram of whisky.