Growing up, Sunday evenings were our family’s designated night for dessert. Apple pies, fruit cobblers and all sorts were produced but the one I really treasured and dreamed about all week was the banana splits. Scoops of ice-cream, thick hot fudge sauce, chopped nuts, whipped cream and a maraschino cherry were sinfully devoured fast-as-lightning so the ice-cream didn’t melt. Continue Reading »
The only thought that comes to mind when you bite into these Vietnamese crystal spring rolls is utter refreshment. No deep fat fryers are required, but I won’t lie and tell you that they are a doddle. A deft hand is needed for rice paper wrappers, which can be slippery nightmares. But even when less-than-perfect looking, they still taste amazing. Nigella Lawson demonstrated them on her Forever Summer program and I can’t say they were very beautiful. If hers aren’t, then you’re certainly allowed a few wonky ones. I have been making them for years and the trick is not to hurry and keep them skinny. Too much filling makes them rip and then you can start to get edgy. Get everything chopped, ready and then get a feel for the technique. Continue Reading »
The first sound I heard when we arrived at our hotel in the old quarter of Hanoi, was a rooster crowing across the street. Clearly, fresh food was close by. The sun-kissed ingredients of Vietnam were tasty indeed and the chicken and pork tasted like the old days, before battery farming drummed out all the fun. Little food stalls with mini stools (best suited for people under 4 feet tall) line the streets everywhere, each with their specialty: pho, fried spring rolls, bun cha (noodles with pork) or banh mi (grilled pork sandwiches). Pho, the National dish of Vietnam, is noodle soup with beef, chicken or pork and garnished with chilis, herbs and fish sauce. Its eaten primarily for breakfast but you see people slurping it up all day. Your stomach will be full for about an hour and then you need to eat again. Hence all the abundance of street food. One of my older posts has a recipe for chicken if you fancy making some. (see tab for recipes)
Fruit is practically super-sonic there. Menus have laundry lists of choices; watermelon, lychee, mango, pineapple and all sorts. Curries and spring rolls also incorporate it, making the sweet/sour tastes come alive. We simply did not have a bad meal, not one gripe to speak of. As we moved from Hanoi to Hoi An, a city further South, it just kept getting better. The best bit was that it was cheap as chips. Even at a sit-down restaurant you weren’t set back more £15.00
The lack of bad smells really surprised me. That whiff of fermenting fish that pervades most Asian markets was non-existent. It’s surprisingly clean for such a gritty urban city. If you had to choose a downside to Hanoi it would be the millions of motorbikes that swarm through the streets like a pack of bumblebees. You need a neck like an owl to spot which direction they are zooming from. Little grannies wander into thunderous intersections, whilst balancing heavy goods on shoulder poles, without even a glance. Miraculously, the bikes swerve around them as if some guardian angel was hovering over them. One little granny was walking with boiling oil on one of her two balanced trays, frying tofu. Safety shmafty!
So over the next couple of posts I want to share a few of the dishes I experienced. This prawn cake recipe is typical of the street food eaten there. When the prawns are roughly pureed in the food processor, the sticky flesh bonds together so there is no need for egg. The sweet chili dipping sauce that accompanies it can be used for all sorts. Grilled salmon, chicken or anything fried is divine with it and it keeps in the fridge for ages.
prawn cakes with sticky chili sauce
Makes 8 cakes, serves 4 as a starter
500g raw peeled prawns, 400g
3 shallots, thinly sliced
3cm chucnk ginger
1 lime, zested
1 handful coriander chopped
half red chili, thumb sized seeded and diced
1 tbsp fish sauce
250ml rice vinegar
175g castor sugar
1 red chili sliced
In a small saucepan, boil the sugar and vinegar with a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes until syrupy. Remove from heat and let cool completely.
Place the ginger, coriander, 2 of the shallots, and half the chili in the food processor and blend until fine. Add the prawns, lime rind, and fish sauce and pulse until chunky. Grind plenty of black pepper over. Form into 8 flat cakes. Preheat oven grill. Brush both sides of the cakes with a tiny bit of vegetable oil and place on a baking tray fitted with a rack. Cook for 2 minutes one side and turn over. Cook another 2-3 minutes or until opaque. Add the chili and remaining shallot to the vinegar syrup and mix. Serve the warm cakes with the sauce.
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Home-made pasta was a regular event in our house growing up. My Italian mother Louise would make all types and for special occasions she would painstakingly create potato gnocchi. It was a BIG deal. Our long family table (which sat all 11 of us) would be piled high with flour and we would all help with ricing the boiled potatoes and then cutting and rolling. Served up with a rich tomato ragu, they were divine and one plate was never enough. But they did have a sinister side to them though. My sisters and I called them potato bombs; hours after eating they would start expanding in your already ‘full’ stomach. Track suit bottoms or elasticated waistbands were the clothing of choice when indulging in this delicious but pasta.
Last year I wanted to create a gnocchi recipe for my book, but not with potatoes. It was through sheer laziness that I settled on the ricotta variety. These can be made start to finish in less than one hour, don’t require as much messing around and are guaranteed not to cause any stomach gripe. Good quality ricotta and ’00’ flour (Italian finely ground flour) are the key to their light fluffy texture and you can buy both at most supermarkets. A little bit of garlic and lemon round out the flavour for a superb pillow-like pasta.
Pommodoro is my favorite sauce to serve with them but try others like; butter and fried sage, pan-fried cherry tomatoes and mozzarella, or broccoli and Italian sausage. Luca, my Venetian friend, taught me this recipe and its quick and delicious. The secret is using good ruby-red tinned tomatoes. Buy ‘whole peeled plum’ instead of passata or chopped. In the Naples area, where most of them are produced, the best tomatoes are chosen for whole peeled plum, and the lesser are pureed. My family and I make this at least once a week with spaghetti and other dishes. Not a bad idea to buy the cans by the case.
lemon gnocchi with pommodoro sauce
prep time 35 minutes cook time 15 minutes
500 g/1 lb good-quality full-fat ricotta
2 egg yolks
half garlic clove, finely chopped
35g/1/4 cup finely grated parmesan
1 tsp finely grated lemon rind
1 tsp sea salt
200g/7oz ‘00’ flour, plus extra for dusting
semolina flour, for dusting
2 x 400g/14oz tins peeled plum tomatoes
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic finely chopped
pinch of crushed dried chili
1 tsp salt
small handful of torn basil leaves
Place the ricotta in a fine sieve for 5 minutes to drain off as much liquid as you can. Scrape into a large bowl, add the egg yolks, garlic, parmesan, lemon rind and salt and mix well. Add the ‘00’ flour and mix. It should come together to form a light and sticky dough. Dust a work surface with a bit more ‘00’ flour and place dough on top. Gently roll dough in the flour and mix in so it’s not too sticky. Knead for a few minutes, then cut into 4 pieces. Roll each piece on the counter with the palms of your hands to form a long 21/2 cm (11/4 inch) thick cylinder. Cut into 2 cm (3/4 inch) lengths with a knife and place on a tray lined with baking paper and dusted with semolina flour. Repeat with remaining pieces. If you aren’t using it until later and want to refrigerate it, then cover with another sheet of baking paper and then plastic wrap. This will keep dry for up to 12 hours.
To make the sauce, heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute or until slightly golden. Add the tomatoes and salt and cook on medium-high heat for 10-15 minutes until thick and no watery liquid is left. Use a splatter screen to keep it from spraying your kitchen. While its cooking, use a flat wooden spoon to break up the tomatoes. Remove from heat and set aside until using. This can be reheated at anytime.
Bring a very large stockpot of salted water to the boil. Drop in the gnocchi and once they float to the top, cook for another minute, then use a small sieve or slotted spoon to scoop them out of the water and place in the warm tomato sauce. Gently toss the gnocchi through and mix in the torn basil leaves. Serve with grated parmesan.
Very little has come out of this sausage machine in the last couple of weeks. My excuse is ironclad though. The untimely Iceland volcano that caused global chaos, trapped my family and I in Kuala Lumper for over 8 days. We were connecting from a dreamy trip to Vietnam and then got stuck. Don’t even get me started on the extra expense and frustration but I’m officially back in action this week.
After eating strictly Asian food for 3 weeks I was surprised how little I tired of it. Admittedly, I did get one or two days of carb pangs for pizza or pasta, but was happy to carry on. Normally I am a slave to my ever-changing cravings and cook what I’m in the mood for. It can be Indian one day or Italian the next. I shop for ingredients daily because I never know what I might be hankering for. The Asian diet of meat, rice, vegetables and fruit, and little dairy and wheat, is so earnest and pure. You can pig out without a shred of guilt.
Hence, my recipe of choice this week is Asian. I featured this in my book, ‘Meals in heels’ and it’s one of my favorites. Based on a Chinese cooking technique called ‘red cooked’ or braising, the chicken is poached in a soy, spice and rice wine stock. Sometimes this method can be too salty, but this recipe is sweet and mellow with hints of ginger, orange and star anise. After the chicken is simmered, it’s roasted to crisp the skin and the stock is used to cook the lentils. Yes, lentils are not Asian, but they work here so, who cares. They soak up all the gorgeous poaching liquid and the only not so healthy bit is a dollop of creme fraiche (optional) which bridges the spicy chilis and soy-rich stock.
soy chicken and ginger lentils
prep time 15 minutes, cooking time 1 hour 15 minutes
750 ml/3 cups shaoxing (Chinese) rice wine
125 ml/1/2 cup dark soy sauce
125 g/2/3 cup lightly packed soft brown sugar
1 large strip of orange peel
4 cinnamon sticks
4 star anise
3 garlic cloves
9 cm/3 inch knob of ginger, peeled and sliced
6 chicken legs
1 tbsp olive oil
3 carrots, diced
1 onion, diced
500 g/1 lb 2 oz puy lentils, rinsed
crème fraîche, thinly sliced spring onion (scallion) and long red chilli, and coriander (cilantro) leaves, for garnish
Preheat oven to 200ºC/400ºF
Place the rice wine, soy sauce, sugar, orange peel, cinnamon, star anise, garlic and ginger in a large heavy-based saucepan with 1.25 litres/5 cups water and bring to the boil. Add the chicken, reduce heat to low-medium and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the chicken, place on a wire rack placed in a roasting tray and roast for 35 minutes or until skin is crispy.
Strain and pour the stock into another container and rinse out the pan. Heat the oil in the clean pan over medium-high heat, add the carrot and onion, season with a bit of salt and pepper and cook for 3–4 minutes or until softened, Add the lentils and reserved stock, reduce heat to low-medium and simmer for 30 minutes or until lentils are cooked but still have some bite. There should be about 150 ml (5 fl oz) of the liquid left in the pan. Spoon lentils and liquid onto plates, top with chicken and garnish with a dollop of crème fraîche, spring onion, chilli and coriander.
True to my reputation of being a cookbook ‘neek’ (my son’s term of endearment for me-nerd and geek) I had the Momofuku cookbook on Amazon pre-order months before it was published. David Chang, the author, and owner/chef of this cult New York restaurant is a bit of renegade. The name means ‘lucky peach’ but also does sound a lot like motherfucker. Think Anthony Bourdain, but picture chubby and Korean. People queue up all day for his signature dishes; fried chicken with ginger, roasted pork belly, home-made noodles, steamed buns and pickles of every sort. When the book arrived I read it cover to cover over a weekend. His irreverent voice makes you laugh out loud and mouth-watering recipes make you want to get on the next plane to New York. (I went at Christmas and never got in-two hour wait in freezing cold)
Of course, the first two recipes I did were the easiest-the pickles and the ginger scallion noodles. Some of them take days to make but I reckon you could add some shortcuts. There is even a blog where (a bit like Julia and Julia) someone is cooking their way through the book.
http://momofukufor2.com/It’s actually quite good and gives you confidence to have a go yourself.
My mother used to make refrigerator pickles from the abundant kirby cucumbers in my father’s garden. I have tried to re-create them many times in my life but never to great success. One of the biggest problems is getting the right cucumbers. Britain’s crop is horrible; big, tasteless, poly tunnel giants, full of water and no flavor. Luckily though, Persian or Lebanese cucumbers are sold here in green grocers and Middle Eastern shops. Refreshingly sweet with firm flesh- you won’t need to peel or seed. It’s what a cucumber should taste like and they make great pickles as well. These keep for about 1 week refrigerated but I doubt they will stick around that long. I serve them as a snack alongside sushi or laced in a turkey sandwich with mayo and mustard. If you’re feeling ambitious try Chang’s slow roast pork belly and steamed buns to go with them.
Momofuku cucumber pickles
prep time 15 minutes
makes 4 cups of pickles
8 Lebanese/Persian cucumbers
500ml/16 fl oz/2 cups very hot water
250ml/8 fl oz/1 cup rice wine vinegar
12 tbsps castor sugar
4 1/2 tsps sea or kosher salt
Trim the ends off the cucumbers and slice into .5cm or 1/4 inch thick pieces. Mix the remaining ingredients in medium bowl until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Add the cucumbers, cover and refrigerate for up to a week. They are very tasty even after one hour, so feel free to eat quickly thereafter.