December 30, 2009

Thai Hot Pot

Fondue may seemed to have died a 70s death, but I'm all for spreading the word about this version. You'll hear me rave about Thai food over and over, but this one really is for the masses. Such an easy concept, but so nice for a few people to share the experience of cooking/burning/pushing themselves to their spicy limits along with a nice Singha beer.

At this particular restaurant (you'll find them dotted around Thailand), you paid 109 Baht (the equivalent being just over 2 quid) for the tastiest 'All You Can Eat' buffet. Food included salad (which you could make yourself), vegetables, fish, meat - all marinaded in different sauces - for example beef and sesame, prawns and garlic, sweet and sour chicken, beef and oyster sauce. There was of course dessert for those who could fit it in...

Creating a fresh papaya salad

The idea is you stack your plate up with different food, marinades, sauces etc, then take them back to your table to do all the cooking yourselves. As you can imagine, fresh fish on an island in Thailand is not to be scoffed at!

It really is the ultimate pick and mix....

As you can see, fat is put on the central point to create oil for the meat to cook in. The vegetables and other ingredients (i.e. prawns, chilli, herbs etc) are then added into the boiling water which is poured around the side, creating a delicious soup.

Put another shrimp on the.... ok enough with the cliche's, you get the idea.

So there you have it. I myself am keen to get hold of one of these cooking devices if I can back home, if not maybe from Bangkok. Such a great idea for a social dinner party, let's all get stuck in...

Thai BBQ V: Some Added Extras (and a lot of garlic!)

There are of course many different foods which are great for barbecuing, and these are just a few more that we decided to add. When in Rome and all that!

Beef Fillet Steak

Garlic Pepper

Olive Oil
Beef Stock (OXO cube or similar)
Crushed garlic

Cut the beef into wide chunks, about one inch think. Next, crush the garlic using a pestle and mortar, add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, one cube of beef stock and a couple of pinches of salt and pepper. Mix the ingredients well, and rub into the beef (if the beef is cold from the fridge, allow it to come to room temperature before marinading).

Once the BBQ is ready, place the strips evenly over the flames, turning every minute or two. Beef is really a personal taste, and some may prefer it well done, others on the rarer side, so it's really up to you how long you cook them for.

King Prawns

Lemon Juice

Mmmm! I love these! And over here they are just so big!

A really simply idea for uncooked prawns is to chop up some garlic and mix with some melted butter and a couple of squirts of lemon juice (fresh is best). Drizzle over the prawns and then simply stick them on the barbie, turning occasionally. You can tell when they are cooked as they will turn from grey to pink (this only takes a very short time).


Last but definitely not least - for those who like to venture away from meat and garlic bread, BBQ'd veggies can be really delicious - I particularly love roasted peppers and jacket potatoes. I won't go so far as to tell you how or what to cook, as veg is so easy to do, and you can really use whatever you want. This is what we got up to:


Aubergines and peppers

A variety of mushrooms

Thai BBQ III: Rack of Ribs

A favourite for many I know, and these will definitely please those who consider themselves rib enthusiasts! I've never cooked ribs myself but these came out absolutement perfectos! (Yeah, I've got lingo too y'know).

So, to the point...

Serves 5-6 as an appetiser

Rack of ribs (see photo reference below)
Small bowlful of garlic cloves (around 2-3 whole garlic bulbs)
Garlic pepper
Coriander root

To cook:

BBQ sauce (either home-made or shop bought).

Firstly, you need to get those peelers going and peel all the garlic cloves. If you don't like the smell of garlic on your fingers, perhaps find a willing assistant. Secondly, roughly chop up a good handful of coriander root - not too much - just enough to bring out the flavour and so you can say 'Abra Cadabra' when throwing them into the broth (No? Just me? ok...)

Next, pull out your trusty wok, and fill with cold water - enough to comfortably cover the ribs when they are in said pan. Now add your peeled garlic cloves (whole), along with the coriander root and a good few sprinkles of some garlic pepper (alternatively, you can just use black wholegrain pepper).

Now simply turn on the heat and bring to a simmering boil. The ribs need to become very tenderised before going onto the BBQ, so leave them to simmer for up to 30 minutes - enough so that nearly all the water has been soaked up or evaporated.

Remove the ribs and place on a draining rack or similar to remove any excess water.

Next it's time to slather on some BBQ sauce. Unfortunately, because we were eating at our friends house who had only moved in 2 days previously, ingredients were limited so I have to admit, we got out the shop bought BBQ sauce. I know I know, I can hear the tuts from here, but rather than admit complete defeat, I've looked around on the internet and found you a really nice alternative if you want to make your own:

Rib Eye Express BBQ Tag Team Sauce

So all that's left to do, is marinade the ribs in the sauce. Do all the preparation for the ribs prior to lighting the BBQ, as you can then let them marinade nicely in the sauce before loading them onto the barbie. When ready, cut the ribs into smaller portions (either individually for appetiser size, or larger for a main meal) and add to the BBQ for around 10 - 15 minutes.

Et voila!

NB Please remember pork needs to be thoroughly cooked through, and BBQ food is notorious for food poisoning - just remember if it looks done on the outside, it probably is - but always check the meat in the middle just in case....

December 29, 2009

Thai BBQ II: Thai Style Tuna + Chinese Alternative

This barbecued tuna is an easy alternative to just chucking it on the barbie, and once you've got all the ingredients together takes no time at all. For a Chinese alternative scroll to the bottom...

Serves 4:

4 tuna steaks (preferably fresh tuna)
Fresh lemon grass
Ginger (Thai use an ingredient called 'gananga' but if unavailable ginger is a good alternative)
Basil leaves
Salt and Pepper
Olive oil
1 small chilli
Garlic pepper
Soy sauce

To cook:

Silver foil

Our resident Thai chef says that you can just throw in any herbs, but these are a good starting point.

Firstly chop the lemon grass into 2 inch lengths (quite thin) to create a small handful and put into a mixing bowl, along with the chopped small chilli. Grate around 1-2 tablespoons of ginger and add, along with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, a pinch of salt and pepper, a pinch of garlic pepper and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce. Chop a handful of basil to release the flavour and add all the ingredients into the bowl and mix well.

Once mixed, place aside and cut a cross into both sides of each tuna steak, about one inch deep. Salt both sides of the tuna by rubbing it in with your fingers:

This will help to draw in the marinade flavours. Next, butter 4 square cuts of foil, big enough to wrap the tuna in so it is tightly wrapped and air tight. Place a healthy spoonful of the herb mixture on top of each steak, and wrap up tight:

Leave the herb and mixture to marinade for about 20 minutes, before placing on the pre-heated BBQ. The steaks should take around 15 minutes to cook, but keep checking as like beef, tuna doesn't have to be cooked all the way through before serving, so depending on individual tastes you might want to use less or more time.

Chinese Alternative

4 tuna steaks
Shitake mushrooms/ Rat Ear mushrooms
Ginger (about 2 tspns)
Soy sauce
Oyster sauce

To cook:

4 square cuts of silver foil

As with the Thai style tuna, you need to mix all the ingredients in a bowl before marinading. Firstly chop the ginger into strips (see picture below), followed by a chopped handful of mushrooms (chopped quite large) and add to the bowl. In Thailand they use mushrooms called 'Rat Ear' - as you can see from the shape that is exactly what they look like:

For an alternative, you can use shitake mushrooms which are available in most supermarkets. Next, peel a small handful of garlic (4-5 cloves) and rather than chopping it into small pieces, use the flat blade of a large kitchen knife to crush the garlic (do this on a hard chopping board or kitchen surface). Finally, add a good glug of oyster sauce and a pinch of pepper to the bowl and mix well.

Next, cut a one inch deep cross into each side of the fish steak (as above), salt both sides of the tuna by rubbing it in with your fingers, and place the fish onto the buttered foil. You do not need to butter the whole piece, just enough for the tuna to sit on. Add a good heaped tablespoon or two of the mixture onto the top of the fish and wrap up so the foil is air tight.

Place the fish on the pre-heated BBQ for 15 minutes or so, or until cooked as desired.

Thai BBQ I: Shopping Trip

Luckily for me, we arrived in Phuket on the 5 December, and spent a few days staying with a friend from college, whose girlfriend happens to be a trained Thai chef. Unfortunately for her, this meant being bombarded with questions and a camera for the majority of our meals (thanks Thippsy!)....

One of the best meals we had was a BBQ prepared by Thipps and some willing UK kitchen hands who were only to happy to share in the results! First off we hit the markets for the food, which wherever you go in Asia are always so colourful and exciting, but also so unbelievably cheap. While restaurant food in SE Asia is obviously cheaper than being in the UK, the food from the market is mere pennies in your pocket. We all chipped and came up with this lot....

Everything seems to come in super size in Thailand. This is basically the Thai version of runner beans.

Some chillies to get those taste buds going!


King prawns - incredible size!

We ended up buying 5 fish for 180 baht - that's about 3 quid.

Mammoth squids!

More chilli to get those taste buds going...

Check out Thai BBQ II for some recipe tips...

December 19, 2009

Vietnam: In Conclusion

I'm sorry it's been a while since I've posted on here, both myself and the better half spent the majority of November being ill, and then it seems I got lazy somewhere around flying back into Thailand and hanging around on beaches in December...

Anyway, I just want to leave you with some thoughts on Vietnam. Firstly if you've decided that it's worth a visit (and it definitely is), I advise working your way from north to south - i.e. flying into Hanoi and out of Ho Chi Minh (Saigon). Three reasons; firstly, the weather inevitably gets warmer (although watch out for the storms!), the places become more relaxed and beautiful and the food - most importantly - really warrants your attention.

We took the usual sleeper bus option from Hanoi down to HCM having already visited Sapa (definitely worth a look) and Ha Long Bay while we were teaching in Hanoi. Our stops went as thus:
  • Hanoi
  • Nimh Binh
  • Hue
  • Hoi An
  • Nha Trang
  • Mui Ne
  • Hoi Chi Minh
Hue and Hoi An really wet our appetites while we were travelling through. Unfortunately for us, food in the north was quite a disappointment for what we had come to expect - perhaps because we were living in student accommodation - I'm sure other visitors have better views of Vietnamese cuisine. For that reason Hue was the first place that we felt really paid attention to food, and there was a good variety throughout the former capital of Vietnam.

However, we were only there for 24 hours, so I'd really like to draw your attention to Hoi An. Famed for its own style of cuisine, the food was cheap and excellent. The best place we ate at regularly was called 'Mr Hung's', - a small street vendor restaurant down on the river next to Hoi An Market. Here you can taste all the delicacies of the region, including White Rose, Cao Lau and Won Tons. The first is similar to dim sum, and is basically made up as shrimp dumplings. The secret is very dear to the locals however, so good luck getting the recipe!

Cao Lau was a kind of a soup, but utilised only a small amount of water - the rest being made up of vegetables, noodles, dry pancakes and fish or meat. The noodles are made from a local sticky rice soaked in wells from the area to produce a very specialised flavour, which creates a very satisfying meal (or starter if you're feeling really hungry!)

Image sourced: Noodlepie

The won tons were different to any Chinese type won tons you may have come across before. Rather than being wrapped up into twisted parcels containing delicacies of meat or vegetables inside, the won tons in Hoi An were similar to crispy poppadoms that had been deep fried, cut into slices and then scattered with vegetables and other toppings, including the mild chili sauce which they put on everything in Hoi An!

Delicious and tasty - you can't miss out! Source: Wikitravel

Anyway, I just wanted to leave you with a taste of what we came across in Vietnam, and I hope from previous posts that you are at least becoming intrigued by the prospect of SE Asian food, especially if it isn't something you have tried particularly before. Check out previous recipes for ideas...

November 4, 2009

Essential Ingredients

While recipes will vary between cooks, there are some essential ingredients that I have become accustomed to using regularly when cooking Asian dishes, such as Thai or Vietnamese. If you want to start working with these sorts of recipes there are definitely a few items that are good to keep in stock. These are my recommendations:

  • dark soy sauce (used mostly for cooking)
  • light soy sauce (used mostly as a condiment)
  • ginger (fresh)
  • garlic (fresh)
  • lime
  • red chilli (chilli flakes can be useful as a reserve)
  • lemongrass
  • palm sugar
  • stock cubes
  • fish sauce
  • oyster sauce
  • salt + pepper
  • sesame oil
  • sunflower/vegetable oil
  • star anise
  • rice vinegar/white wine

If you are unsure of what these products are or look like, check out Thai Food Online, which has a comprehensive guide to ingredients that you can also by, or, which does good recipes as well as being an online supermarket.

Don't forget you will also need a good wok, and a lot of chopsticks!

October 31, 2009

Sweet Potato with Ginger Soup

Contrary to what the ingredients might suggest, this is served as a pudding in Vietnam, especially in the winter. The ginger supposedly helps you to sleep, and is also good for stomach aches.

Serves 4

20g ginger, chopped into long, thin strips
50g sweet potato, skinless, diced small
2 small bowls of water – I have used this image so you can see the size of the bowls for reference only. Ignore the ingredients!

3 tbspn palm sugar

To serve:

4 small bowls

Boil the ginger, sweet potato, water and 1 tablespoon of palm sugar in a frying pan, with the lid off. Once brought to the boil, leave for 10 minutes (until the potato has become soft, but not mushy).

When the mixture has started to reduce (after about 10 minutes), add the 2 remaining tablespoons of sugar and stir. Mix 2 tablespoons of cornflour in water to form a paste (quite runny). Add 1 tablespoon of this mixture to the soup.

After about 5 minutes it will begin to look slightly gelatinous (15 minutes cooking time total). At this point, remove from the heat and serve a small amount into the bowls.

Serve hot (and apologies for the clarity of this pic!):


Steamed Catfish in Lotus Leaf with Tamarind Sauce

This is a really succulent dish, and because the fish is steamed, it retains all the moisture. While we used catfish for this recipe, you can alternate it for any white fish.

If you are good with a filleting knife then you may want to start from scratch, but if (like me!) you’re more likely to end up shredding rather than filleting, then I suggest buying a large fillet that has been de-skinned and de-boned for you. Any local supermarket fish deli will provide this service for you.

As this is more of a main meal, I suggest serving it with a helping of rice for each person.

Serves 4

Large fillet of catfish (2 if smaller) or alternative white fish
1-2 large lotus leaves or banana leaves as available
2 tspn salt
2 tspn ground white pepper
4 tspn Aloma rice wine/regular white wine
Lime juice/rice vinegar for washing

To serve

Cooked rice (enough for 4 people), served hot
Tamarind and chilli sauce (see below)
Spring onion garnish (2-3 spring onions, sliced into long thin strips)

Firstly, wash the fish in either lime juice or rice vinegar. This will get rid of the fishy smell, and leave you with a really fresh smelling fish. Cut the fish into long, thick strips, around one inch wide:

Place the fish into a mixing bowl, and add the salt, Aloma or White wine and pepper to the fish. Mix well, being careful to avoid breaking up the fish. We used chopsticks for this process, but I think using your fingers to rub the ingredients over the fish would be easier.

Lay out the large banana or lotus leaves on the table and place the chunks of fish onto the leaves. Fold the leaves inwards to create a parcel with the fish inside.

Steam the fish for 15 minutes in a steamer, making sure the opening to the leaves is on the underside, helping to keep it closed.

While the fish is cooking, create the tamarind and chilli sauce using either pre-made tamarind paste (recommended) or tamarind solid. If using solid, slice off an appropriate amount and place in a bowl. Boil some water and pour it over the tamarind solid (not too much, the paste should be of a decent thickness) and leave for 20 minutes. Finally, to remove the remaining solids, sieve the tamarind mixture over a separate bowl. Add a tablespoon of mild chilli sauce and stir. The consistency should be similar to a sweet and sour or Hoisin sauce.

Serve hot with the rice and drizzle some of the tamarind and chilli sauce over the fish. Place the remaining sauce in a bowl as a condiment for the meal, and sliced spring onion garnish over the fish.

Chicken and Lemon Leaf Skewers

These chicken kebabs were unbelievably good, and the lemon leaf had the most incredible flavor. We grilled these using a standard kitchen grill, but I’m sure they would taste just as great, if not better, thrown on the old barbie.

I have given the amount as serving four people on small skewers; however it is a very light dish, so you could use more chicken to bulk it up.

Serves 4

2 large skinless chicken breasts (3 if smaller)
2 tspn palm sugar
4 Tbspn chopped lemon leaf
2 tspn 5 Spice Powder
4 tspn clear honey
2 tspn ground white pepper
2 tspn fresh chicken stock (in paste form if possible)

To serve:

Small wooden skewers (about 6 inches long), pre-soaked in water for at least 15 minutes (avoids burning).

Slice the chicken into thin, similar sized strips:
Place in a mixing bowl with all the ingredients and stir for a couple of minutes (see photo for visual reference of chopped lemon leaf):

Leave to marinade for 10 minutes. Once marinated, thread the chicken onto the skewers lengthways, stretching the chicken flat.

Grill on a medium heat for 10 minutes, turning every minute or two. Serve either as a starter by itself, or with rice or pitta bread for more of a main meal.


If this one isn't quite up your street, or you fancy a change, why not try a marinade of soy sauce, honey and fresh chopped chilli. Simply mix the ingredients and pour of the chicken, leaving to marinade in the fridge for a minimum of half an hour.

When ready, thread the chicken pieces onto some skewers and grill on a medium heat for around 10 minutes (make sure the chicken is cooked white all the way through), turning regularly.

Fresh Spring Rolls / Summer Rolls

The best thing about spring rolls is that you can pretty much add whatever you like to the roll. Fresh spring rolls are very light and healthy, and are great as an appetiser or snack. There are two differences to take into account between deep-fried spring rolls and fresh spring rolls when cooking.

Fresh spring rolls (also known as Summer Rolls): Use square rice paper

All ingredients must be cooked prior to wrapping as necessary (for example pork).

Fried spring rolls: Use round rice paper

Ingredients do not have to be cooked prior to frying.

During the class I took, we used lettuce, pork and prawns to fill our rolls. This is a great, light dish where you can utilise any leftover cooked meat you may have (for example Sunday roast pork/chicken). Just make sure that the meat is sliced small and thin prior to wrapping.

While you could use sweet chilli sauce or soy for dipping, I recommend the ‘Spring Roll Sauce’ which you can find below. It is very quick and easy to prepare, and ingredients readily available.

NB Don't be put off by the 'plasticky' texture of the rice paper, it's very edible!

Serves 4

Square rice paper (at least 12 sheets)
Prawns; tails removed, cooked, sliced in half
Pork; cooked, sliced into very thin 1 inch strips
Round lettuce; chopped fine and long

To serve:

Spring roll sauce (see below)

Spring roll sauce:

2 tbsp Rice Vinegar
tbsp Fish Sauce
tbsp chopped peanuts
tbsp mixed chopped red chilli and garlic – diced very small
2 level
tbsp palm sugar
tbsp water
tbsp lime juice

Add all ingredients except the peanuts into a small bowl and stir for around 30 seconds. Add chopped peanuts (without stirring).

Take a piece of rice paper, and at the bottom end, add a good amount of lettuce across the width of the paper. Top with a sprinkling of pork, and roll up to the halfway point.

Add two halves of prawn laying side-by-side, and continue to wrap.

Holding the paper together with your fingers, dip into the spring roll sauce to taste.

Hanoi Food Market

I have been around a couple of food markets in Hanoi, but none were as extensive as the one we were taken to during my cooking course courtesy of Old Hanoi restaurant. There was definitely an ‘eclectic’ mix of spices, meats, vegetables and a few things in between…

Chicken plucked and ready to go. Vietnamese eat all parts of the bird, including the head and feet.

Vietnamese and Western bananas – slight size difference!

Pig trotters; a staple of any Vietnamese pregnant woman – apparently they help to produce good quality breast milk.

A bit of beef filleting going on – it is very common to see meat left out in the open air throughout the markets. I asked Anh, our chef, why it wasn’t refridgerated and she told me that every morning it was brought from locals who had dissected the meat earlier that morning, and therefore it didn’t need to be put on ice or refridgerated.

Huge beef loin!

Pig intestines.

Pig hearts and a few livers in the top left corner.

Caged birds, not sure what sort, but I got the impression it wasn't for pets.

A huge selection of different types of rice, beans and lentils.

Massive bucket of snails, not something I'll be dipping into!

Close up.

Selection of fresh fish Catfish – this is the same fish we used for our Steamed Catfish in Lotus Leaf and Tamarind Sauce recipe.

Not sure of name of these fish, however I thought it was a shame they did not have room to swim about, even if they weren’t going to be around much longer!

Chickens to be sold as pets for laying eggs.

So as you can see, the food of Hanoi reaches far and wide, and these were just a few selection shots from our tour. I noticed that duck eggs were as common as chicken eggs, and also bird eggs (quite small) were available easily. If only I had a kitchen and a Vietnamese translator!