I have a couple of lime trees in my garden and they’re groaning with fruit. Yesterday I took a bag and picked 8.5 kilos of the suckers up off the ground and the trees are still chockers. I’ve been forcing them on everyone who walks through my door, squeezing them into cooking instead of lemon juice, and stripping the enamel off my teeth as I ram about 60mls of the straight juice into my gin and tonic. But they’re still piling up.
This is nuts
I’m a bit of a nut freak and I really like roasting and flavouring my own. I’ve dicked around with all kinds of additions – various spices, sauces, etcetera – but have hit on the ultimate formula Continue reading “This is nuts”
What the fudge?
When it comes to sweets, the raw vegan business leaves me cold. You can keep your bliss balls and your carob cups and pass the cheesecake made with actual cheese please. But then something weird happened. Continue reading “What the fudge?”
Spare me the banalities
A few weeks ago the latest book by chef Luke Mangan landed on my doorstep and I was pretty excited. I like Luke’s cooking and admire his firm grasp of cuisines worldwide. Alas I also hoped he’d lifted his writing game. Continue reading “Spare me the banalities”
Duck braised with ginger and mushrooms
One of the things I love about Malaysian food is its patchwork of influences from migrants and neighbours. This recipe, with its soy sauce and mushrooms, flags the strong Chinese hand played in the food here, particularly on the west side of the peninsula. Get your butcher to chop the duck into small or ‘curry’ pieces. It’s an easy wintery dinner but one I’d eat all year round.
1 duck (about 1.8k) cut into about 24 pieces
40ml light soy sauce
40ml dark soy sauce
12 dried shitake mushrooms, soaked in warm water for minimum 30 mins
75g ginger, peeled and thinly sliced (about 0.3cm)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 green onions (scallions), cut into 4cm lengths
30g soy bean sauce (tow cheong)
4 cups water
10g sesame oil
black pepper to taste
10g tapioca flour blended with 20ml water
20ml rice wine
Place duck pieces in a large bowl and toss with 20mls of each soy sauce, reserving the rest for seasoning later.
Cut the mushroom stems out with a small knife and cut the caps into bite sized pieces. Small ones can be left whole. Slice the ginger into 0.3cm slices, chop the garlic finely and cut the green onions into 4cm lengths.
Now make the braising liquid: add the salt, sugar, sesame oil, pepper and remaining soy sauces to the water and stir well.
Heat the cooking oil in a wok and fry the duck pieces in small batches until brown. It’s vital not to overcrowd the wok because everything will just steam and you’ll never get the colour you’re after. Discard any remaining oil which will be pretty murky and rinse the wok.
Heat another tablespoon of oil in the wok and cook the garlic and ginger til golden then stir the soy bean paste through, frying that for a minute. Add the duck, mushrooms and braising liquid. Cover the wok and simmer for 30 minutes to an hour until the duck is tender.
If there’s still lots of liquid by the time the duck is cooked, boil quickly to reduce. When you’re happy with the sauce quantity, thicken it with the tapioca flour and water mixture. Ensure you keep stirring as you add the slurry to keep the sauce smooth and cook for about a minute until you can no longer taste the flour. Check for seasoning, adding a splash more light soy if necessary then finally add the rice wine and the green onions.
Winging it with Portuguese peas
Any recipe that has the grace to accommodate my often loose approach to throwing a dish together is a friend for life. This one I’ve been cooking forever and I never look at the original recipe by Hilaire Walden anymore. Apparently it’s from the Algarve and she calls it Peas with Chouriço and Eggs. I made it for lunch today but it’s also an easy dinner or a side to roast chicken if you omit the egg. Continue reading “Winging it with Portuguese peas”
Nyonya fish curry, and why I love Poh
Last week I went to a class at the Sydney Fish Markets put on for the media by SunRice. Our teacher for the morning was the delightful Poh Ling Yeow, the company’s ‘brand ambassador’ among other, greater claims to fame. Let me say up front, I love Poh. After years of writing Kitchen Spy for the Sydney Morning Herald, interviewing celebrity chefs and lesser mortals, Poh remains a favourite. She’s smart, talented, funny, self effacing and, most endearingly, real. She’s the full package.
So we all piled into the demo kitchen where Poh conjured a particularly fragrant Hainan Chicken Rice then moved into the real kitchen, formed teams of four and made Fish Pineapple Curry. I know there’ll be readers shuddering at the pineapple idea but don’t. We’re not talking canned Golden Circle in syrup. We are talking fresh, firm and tangy, the perfect foil for the rich coconut cream base.
Poh credits a Malaysian aunty with this recipe which is an absolute cracker. It’s everything I love about Nyonya cooking. Hot, sour, salty, sweet yes but it’s also complex, gutsy and smells better than Chanel No 5.
Fish Pineapple Curry
800g blue-eye trevalla fillets
500g fresh pineapple, cut into 6mm triangles
2 pieces dried ‘tamarind’ [see my notes below]
5 kaffir lime leaves
350ml coconut milk
3 tsp salt
3 Tbsp caster sugar
lime juice to taste
2 cups jasmine rice
2 pandan leaves, torn into strips an knotted together
1 cup water
2 cups coconut milk
1/2 tsp salt
15-20 dried long red chilies, deseeded, soaked in boiling water til soft, drained and chopped
2.5 tsp roasted belacan
3cm fresh galangal, peeled, sliced finely
4 stalks lemongrass [white part only] finely sliced
300g red eschallots, peeled and quartered
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and halved
5 candlenuts or macadamias
100ml canola or peanut oil
1 continental cucumber, diced
To make the curry, blitz all spice paste ingredients except the oil in a blender until smooth. Heat the oil in a large, heavy based saucepan or wok over medium heat and cook paste for until it’s caramelised and fragrant. This could take more than 10 minutes. You’ll know it’s ready when it stops smelling raw, thickens, deepens in colour and the oil floats on top.
Add the pineapple, water, tamarind slices, kaffir lime leaves and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to simmer for another 10 minutes. Add coconut milk, salt and sugar and return to the boil, then add fish at the very end to cook for 5-10 mins until cooked through. Taste just before serving. More salt, sugar or lime may be required to balance the flavours.
To make the rice, combine it with the pandan leaf, water and coconut milk in a medium non-stick or well seasoned saucepan. Bring to the boil then cover and reduce the heat. Simmer for another 10 mins, then remove from heat and allow to rest another 15 mins before fluffing up with a fork.
You can find pandan leaves fresh or in the freezer in most Asian grocers. The fresh are better. The dried ‘tamarind’ slices are not related to tamarind, by the way. They’re the dried fruit of the gelugor tree, and may be labelled ‘asam gelugor’ which means sour slices. If you can’t get them use tamarind!
Miso roasted everything
Further to my little rave about Peter Gordon’s Savour cookbook, I thought I’d share with you his miso roasted eggplant / aubergine recipe. Although he makes it as part of an elaborate salad with Medjool dates, feta and crisp buckwheat I like it enough to make it as a simple side dish. And the really good thing about it is it’s ridiculously easy and works just as well on other vegetables. I roasted thick sweet potato slices with the same coating to serve with roast chicken the other night and it was the bomb – even the leftovers, cold from the fridge, were fab. So here you go miso lovers, get onto this.
3 tablesp white miso
3 tablesp mirin
2 tablesp light olive or other bland oil
2 tablesp sesame oil
2 eggplants / aubergines, stems trimmed, each cut lengthways into six wedges OR
700g sweet potatoes thickly sliced or cut into 3cm chunks
Preheat the oven to 180 C. Mix the miso paste with the mirin to loosen it, then stir in the oils. Brush the mixture on the cut surfaces of the chosen vegetable and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 20-30 minutes. The eggplant is cooked when you can squeeze it with little resistance. If you’re using sweet potatoes, poke with a skewer to check for tenderness.
I reckon this coating would be great on ordinary potatoes, pumpkin or even asparagus. Let me know if you try it or think there’s anything else that might happily roast in it.
Salads as art
I’ve been reviewing salad cookbooks for The Real Review and Savour, Salads for all Seasons from chef, Peter Gordon has me entranced.
Let’s get one thing straight: these are no ordinary salads. They’re imaginative with a keen eye on texture and punchy flavours but, hey, Yotam Ottolenghi and Karen Martini have been flying those flags for years. These ones are different.
Gordon’s efforts at first, and even subsequent, glances might seem like a bit of a palaver. Only the first chapter, Simple Salads, actually is. And although these ones are straightforward, they’re never boring. Here he does a red salad with grilled red capsicum, radicchio, tomatoes, beetroot and pomegranate and sesame seeds all dressed with a tangy, chili-spiked vinaigrette. That pushes all kinds of buttons, right there.
The rest of the book is all multi-staged extravaganzas divided into chapters including cheese, seafood, grains, poultry and meat. There are so many upsides to these though; with many of them, you probably won’t need to serve anything else, they’re very forgiving of omissions and substitutions and they teach you little tricks that you can apply to other, more simple affairs.
Last week I did a killer miso-baked aubergine salad with dates, feta and tahini yoghurt but didn’t bother with the crisp buckwheat topping because I couldn’t be bothered and it still had crunch from pine nuts. Not only did my quicker version work a treat, it introduced me to his miso-baked aubergine which I’ll do again just as a side.
The other hit was Puy lentils with quinoa, pomegranate-roasted grapes and tomatoes with chili, mint and basil. I won’t waste your time telling you how to cook lentils and quinoa because the genius of this recipe is the roasted grapes and tomatoes spooned on top of everything with their juices at the end.
Here’s how you make them:
Preheat the oven to 170 C.
Put 200g of a mixture of black and green grapes and 200g cherry tomatoes, a finely sliced eschallot, 1/2 a finely chopped red chili with seeds, 2 tablesp pomegranate molasses and 4 tablesp good olive oil in a roasting dish.
Stir to mix everything together then roast for about 30 minutes or more until caramelised, the skins have split and everything’s nicely juicy.
Utterly delicious on their own, this sweet, tangy combination that pops like bubble wrap would be great spooned over loads of things, not least, say, grilled haloumi. Or mixed through chick peas. I’d love to hear how you’d use this mix via the comments section below.
Peter Gordon is known for his mastery of ‘fusion’ cooking which can be a dangerous notion in the wrong hands. Relax, his are the right ones.
The more I cook the more I find myself chasing texture as much as flavour. The crunch of a gherkin with a rough country pate, the crispness of roast chicken skin and the gelatinous stickiness of a lamb shank. Okra, also known as lady’s fingers, is a must-have vegetable for the texture chaser. The late British cook and food writer Jane Grigson says its mucilaginous juice provides a ‘jellied smoothness’ to a sauce but the word that fits best I think is slimy.
When okra appears in recipes written by cooks not keen on the slime factor, elaborate instructions to salt the okra and leave in the sun, or rinse split pods in a solution of vinegar and water are included. These can safely be ignored. In fact it’s the slippery quality of okra that Americans in the deep south prize for its ability to thicken gumbo.
Late comedian Robin Williams loathed the stuff.
Okra is the closest thing to nylon I’ve ever eaten. It’s like they bred cotton with a green bean. Okra, tastes like snot.
Rest assured, it doesn’t. Actually it doesn’t taste of anything much which what makes it so versatile. Indians stew okra with spices and sometimes stuff the pods before crisp frying them. Greeks cook it with garlic, onion or leeks, tomatoes, lemon, parsley and olive oil which is delicious served hot or cold.
Fresh okra should be bright green with none of the brown patches that signal stock past its prime. As with many greens, smaller specimens are more tender and the best okra shouldn’t be more than about 6 cm long. It has a comparatively short shelf life so it’s best to buy only what you need no more than a day or so before cooking. A wash and trim of the conical stalk end is usually all that’s required by way of preparation. Australian cook Stephanie Alexander warns against cooking okra in an aluminium pan which she says turns the vegetable an unappetising shade of grey.
Strictly speaking it’s in season from mid Summer through to Autumn but it may make a surprise appearance in the depths of winter. So tell me, readers, where do you stand on slime?
This has been adapted from Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book
250g ham, cubed
1 large brown onion, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
1 red or green capsicum, chopped, minus seeds
1 tablesp tomato concentrate
500g tomatoes, peeled and chopped
500g okra, trimmed
cayenne or 1 dried chilli chopped
Stew the ham, onion celery and capsicum in a little oil or go trad and use lard. When they are beginning to soften, raise the heat so they colour lightly. Put in the tomato concentrate and the tomatoes. Stir until the tomatoes begin to collapse and liquify, then add the okra and seasonings. Cover and simmer slowly until cooked, checking if a little water is required but don’t drown it. The okra should be only partially covered with liquid. Taste and adjust the seasonings.