Can you believe it? Me neither. A full ten years ago (almost) to the day, I sat down and decided to start a food blog. The question people ask me most often about this site is, ‘why?’ To be honest, I used to struggle with the question. It was a combination of being frustrated creatively, unhappy in my job, wanting an excuse to cook more and to put my words somewhere (not that they were up to much back then). Basically, I wanted a creative, free space to say and do as I pleased, which is pretty much in line with my approach to life in general (LOLZ).
There were far fewer food blogs around back then and the Internet was a much friendlier space. For the first few years, no-one read the site of course and I cringe when I think about it – the writing but also the design which, I shit you not, I made myself in Microsoft Paint. It proudly displayed an extravagantly curly, completely unreadable font over a photo of faintly psychedelic looking mushrooms. Great idea, Helen. Reeaal smooth.
My first post is no longer here because it got lost during one of the many re-designs (I once lost the entire site for 2 weeks), which is kind of sad but also a blessed relief because I don’t have to point you towards it. What was it about? Kebabs. I lived in East Dulwich at the time in a large block of flats and I decided to BBQ some kebabs on the roof – someone dobbed me in to the council and they sent me an angry letter titled, ‘No More Kebabs On The Roof, Fire Lady’ and so that was the end of that. I wrote something lame about the ‘perfect kebab’ and it marked the start of what would eventually turn into a career.
To mark this anniversary I’ve written a kebab recipe for you – a full ten years improvement on the last one. First though, a few highlights from Food Stories over the past ten years. Indulge me…
Do you remember my obsession with jerk? It started with annual visits to the Jerk Cookout Festival (bonus vid at the end of that post with a young looking me in it) and grew until I found myself making and selling Peckham Jerk Marinade. I was really pleased with that product but sadly it got too much for me; the demand was high and it became like a full-time job. I’d love to return to it one day.
A couple of years after the blog started I moved to Peckham and became known for writing about the area, long before it was trendy. I revelled in the awesomeness of Persepolis and Khan’s (‘walk in and see the variety’). When Frank’s bar opened we thought it was the coolest thing ever. I took people on a tour of local restaurants.
I have since experienced what it’s like to see a load of younger people move into your neighbourhood because they’ve read about it in Time Out as being the new f*cking Dalston. I adored the place for so long but had to come to terms with the fact that it had changed… There are still many fantastic things about Peckham and I will always love it. I moved to Camberwell six years later.
I remember the birth of Twitter and discovering that there was a ‘food world’ out there; some of my closest friends in real life are people I met on the Internet, and we spent a very happy few years schlepping around town to visit ‘undiscovered’ restaurants, take part in blogging events like THIS HELLISH SHIT SHOW (the event was great, the result not so much) and visiting supper clubs, a movement pioneered in London by Kerstin Rodgers.
I started to pick up work, and one of my first paid gigs was making a chicken pie for Lurpak butter, which meant my pie was on billboards around London. It led to a hashtag on Twitter (#piewatch) where people would send me pics of the pie they’d spotted. That was cool.
Then came the beginning of London’s street food scene. I heard about a tiny little van called The Meatwagon, parked up in a car park in Peckham and was (I think) the first person to write about it online – obviously, I can’t take any blame for the fact that they’ve not done very well for themselves since. Then came some of the first proper tacos I ever saw in London, ‘gourmet’ hot dogs and slow cooked ribs.
There was the sandwich era, during which I couldn’t get enough bread ‘n’ filling, and I even ended up writing a book when a publisher approached me, completely out of the blue (lesson: hammer that message home, guys).
Winning a Young British Foodies Award for my writing was a massive highlight (for this post about Peckham Korean Fried Chicken). Later I’d be nominated for a Fortnum & Mason Award and end up not at all surprised when I didn’t win (*shakes fist at sky*).
We’re nearly there folks, I promise, but it would be weird to leave out all the incredible countries this blog has taken me to. I’ve travelled all over the world to places including Borneo, Vietnam, Turkey, Georgia and Ethiopia. It’s with this in mind, then, that I share this recipe. It’s basically a reflection of all the flavours I’ve loved over the years, from my obsession with the sizzling streets of Istanbul to the sour fruit sauces of Georgia. This is a kebab recipe which reflects the past ten years of Food Stories. I shared it with two of my favourite people in the world, and it seemed like a fitting tribute. Thank you to them for sharing it with me, and to all of you for reading.
Food Stories Ten Year Anniversary Kebab Recipe
For the spice mix
2-inch cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1/2 tablespoon caraway seeds
4 dried red chillies
6 cardamom pods
20 black peppercorns
1 tablespoon sea salt
Bash the cinnamon stick a bit then grind the whole lot in a spice grinder.
For the kebabs
750g minced lamb
2 red chillies, de-seeded
1 onion, finely chopped
Small handful parsley leaves, chopped
Generous handful parsley stalks, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1.5 tablespoons spice mix (above)
Mix everything together and knead it really well with your hands – about 5 minutes. This is important for the texture of the kebabs so don’t skip it. Divide into six portions (or whatever your skewers will allow) and shape into logs. Thread skewers into the logs. It’s best to use flat, wide skewers here or you risk the kebabs falling off. If yours are quite round, use two per kebab.
Leave to rest in the fridge for an hour or so. Prepare a BBQ with the coals to one side – it’s best to cook them to one side because otherwise the fat will drip and make the BBQ flare up, burning your kebabs.
Cook the kebabs on the cooler side of the BBQ, turning until cooked through – around 10-15 minutes. Towards the end of cooking time, lay the flatbreads on top of the kebabs to get some smoke flavour into them and heat them through.
Serve with lavash or other flatbread, Georgian plum sauce, labneh or yoghurt, sliced cabbage or other simple coleslaw and onions plunged into ice water then drained and mixed with salt and sumac.