April 6, 2010

Salt and Pepper Squid

This is a great little Vietnamese dish which I learned to cook in the UK after hitting the best of what Old Street has to offer with my good friend Ruth. If you live in London or are up visiting and love Vietnamese, then do head down that way as there are plenty of good, cheap places at the start of the Kingsland Road (Shoreditch end).

One of our faves is Tay Do. It gets busy quickly, but the atmosphere is always good and you can take your own bottle. Don't expect high quality service or a top end restaurant, but the food is spot on.

Serves 4 as a starter

10 squid (Waitrose deli do some gooduns)
Cornflour – 6-8 heaped tblsp
Rock salt – small handful
Szechuan peppercorns – small handful (use regular peppercorns if unavailable)
Red chilli – chopped small to make up roughly ¾ tspn (optional - for those who like a bit of spice)
Vegetable/Sunflour oil

To serve:

1 spring onion – chopped finely lengthways
Soy sauce / sweet chilli sauce – for dipping
Lemon – chopped into wedges

Heat a saucepan or wok until very hot. Add salt and pepper, occasionally moving the wok about to avoid burning and until you smell the hot Szechuan peppercorns. Remove from pan and use a pestle and mortar to crush roughly (I find the end of a rolling pin and solid bowl does the trick if you’re down a pestle and mortar…).

Remove to a bowl, add the cornflour and mix well, leaving to one side.

Pull out the squid tails from their hoods and discard. Using a sharp knife, open up the hoods down one side and score either side using criss-cross motions (lightly, to avoid piercing the skin), then cut into strips, about one inch wide.

Cover the squid strips in the cornflour mix and leave to rest on a plate. Have another empty plate ready with a piece of kitchen paper resting on the top. Heat the pan again, and when hot add between 1-2 tablespoons of oil (make sure the wok is very hot before adding the oil, otherwise you risk ruining the squid). When you see the oil begin to sizzle slightly, add the strips of squid. I advise using tongs to turn the strips.

You will notice the squid start to curl as it cooks – when it begins to brown turn the strips over. You may need to add more oil as the cornflour absorbs what is in the pan, but add a little at a time - otherwise the squid will end up soggy. For those who wish to add a little spice to their dish, now is the time to add the chopped chilli.

Keep turning the squid until both sides are browned (should take between 2-4 minutes) and remove to some kitchen paper to absorb the excess oil for a couple of minutes.

Place the squid on a serving dish or plate and scatter the spring onion over the top. Serve straight away with a small dish of soy or sweet chilli dipping sauce and some lemon wedges as you prefer. As I can't show you something I've prepared, I've borrowed this wee photo off the internet to give you an idea of what it should look like. Sourced from taste.com.au. I will get round to making this shortly so will get some pics up pronto!

March 30, 2010

Chicken Gyoza's (pot stickers)

I have to say that out of all of the dim sum I've gotten into cooking, these seem to be the most popular among family and friends. Actually a Japanese dish, they are a really nice alternative to the normal prawn crackers or ribs that you may usually indulge in, and very versatile. You can substitute the chicken for tofu (vegetarians/vegans) or perhaps use prawn or beef instead.

While commonly known as 'gyoza', you may have heard them under their pseudonym 'pot stickers'. This is because they are fried on one side and then turned over and cooked in a small amount of water, creating the crispy/sticky skins.

The gyoza skins can be found in most Asian food shops, even the smaller ones. Usually kept frozen:

Makes 8 dumplings
(serve 2 pp)

1 tbspn vegetable oil, for cooking

2 dried mushrooms, pre-soaked (available in the supermarket, look for shiitake)
75g minced chicken
1 spring onion
1 garlic clove
1 tspn grated ginger
1 tspn toasted sesame oil
salt to taste

To serve:

Use a dipping sauce such as sweet chilli or scroll to the bottom for a special Gyoza dipping sauce.

Begin by chopping up all over the ingredients really small, including the ginger garlic, spring onion, mushrooms and chicken.

Put all of the ingredients into a bowl and mix together well. Only a pinch of salt is needed for those who so wish.

Now pour some water into a cup and keep it to one side. Take one of the gyoza skins, laying it out flat. Place around a teaspoon full of mixture (heaped) onto one of the skins. You will be folding the skin over in the middle so put it towards the top rather than in the middle.

Now, using your finger, dip it into the cup of water and gently wet the top half of the skin around the outside:

Now pick up the bottom half of the skin and press it flat against the top half, using your fingers to press down where the water is, holding it in place. Feel free to pick it up and do this as the skins are not very delicate, and sometimes it's easier to squash them together!

Now for the fancy bit we have to try and make it look like some kind of Asian mini Cornish pasty. Using your nimble thimbles, bunch the skin up together slightly at one end (see pic) and press down flat, creating a kind of layover.

Do this 4 or 5 times around the outside of the skin, and you will see your Asian pasty come into shape. Don't worry if it doesn't stay completely flat, sometimes it's just trial and error.

Now, heat a large frying pan over a medium heat and once hot, add the oil. You don't want to put in too much as you'll also be adding some water and as we all know, hot oil + water creates the big orange hot thing also known as fire, so err on the side of caution with this one.

Once the oil is hot, add the gyoza's side down into the pan and cook for 3-5 minutes or until a golden brown colour and slightly crispy. Once you've achieved this, turn the gyoza's over (tongs work best) and cook the other side for around 3 minutes.

To create the sticky side, you now need to add in some water. You can use up to a 1/4 of a glass, but do it a little at a time, otherwise you'll end up with no eyebrows. Once the water is in, whip on the lid (or use a big plate) and steam until the water has all been absorbed (takes less than a minute).

Serve immediately with some dipping sauce (see below).

NB I suggest if you're only serving gyoza's as an appetiser or starter you may want to make 3-4 per person so adjust the ingredients accordingly.

Gyoza Dipping Sauce

Serves 4

1 tspn rice vinegar (use sherry as an alternative)
1 tspn dark soy sauce
2 drops sesame oil

Combine the mixture and stir. Serve straight away.

March 29, 2010

King Prawn Toasts

These little numbers are not like what you get down the local takeaway, but are a really delicious and easy version of the popular dish. Great served as an appetiser or a selection of dim sum.

Makes 8-10 toasts

8 uncooked prawns (grey)
1 tbspn spring onion
1 tbspn coriander
1/2 tbspn ginger
1 tspn shao hsing wine/dry sherry
1/2 tspn light soy sauce
1/2 egg white
salt to taste

For the toasts

2 slices wholemeal bread (you can use granary/white if preferred)
sesame seeds (packet)
vegetable oil

To serve:

For dipping sauces use sweet chili sauce, soy or a favourite of your own.

Peel and de-vein the prawns (unless already done for you). This is a little bit fiddly as the veins run down both the front and back of the prawn. Lightly insert a small knife and cut down the sides, then remove the blue vein. The smaller the knife the better as it is just easier to work with.

Next, chop up all the ingredients finely including the spring onion, coriander, ginger and prawns. Put these into a bowl and add the soy sauce, egg white, shao hsing wine and salt (just a pinch to taste). Mix well.

Now remove and discard the crusts from the bread and cut each slice into 4 triangles (if using large slices, you could make slightly smaller toasts and cut into 8 instead).

Place a spoonful of mixture onto one side of the triangle shaped bread, and press down lightly to cover well.

Once you've covered each piece, pour out the sesame seeds onto a plate (worth using less rather than more as I always end up wasting some) and press the toasts prawn side down onto the sesame seeds. Turn over and make sure they are covered well.

Now heat a wok or frying pan until hot and add the oil. When you see it start to shimmer slightly, add the toasts - prawn side down - and cook on a medium heat for one minute.

When they are a nice golden brown, flip the toasts over and cook for a further minute (NB prawn cooks very quickly so be careful to avoid burning).

Remove from wok using a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper for a couple of minutes before serving.

February 9, 2010

Dim Sum: The 5 Tastes

Dim Sum is a great way to sample a few dishes if you're someone like me who can never decide what to have on the menu. A lot of Dim Sum is also very healthy as many of the dishes come steamed (for example dumplings), but of course for those who prefer food to watching waistlines you can be as naughty as you like.

I learnt how to cook some great dishes courtesy of the Angela Malik cookery school, with favourites including King Prawn Toasts, Spring Rolls and Stuffed Gyoza Dumplings, so all credit for my Dim Sum posts must go to Angela who was an excellent teacher and I would highly recommend (classes available in Cambridge and London).

Before I get started on the dishes, I want to share with you a few useful taste tips that I picked up.

The 5 Tastes

Different foods produce different flavours, and all of these can be defined in five tastes:
  • Hot
  • Salty
  • Sweet
  • Sour
  • Bitter (Umami - comes from Japan)

These five elements may not always be exactly what you expect. For example, coriander is considered a 'hot' taste. Try chewing a leaf; the flavour is distinctive as coriander, but the feeling in your mouth produces a hot sensation. This goes for other herbs and leaves, for example rocket and watercress.

When deciding what flavours to put together in your recipes, there are different combinations of the five tastes that really work well together:

Hot + Sweet

Bitter + Sweet

Salt + Sour

Sweet + sour

The great thing about these combinations is that you can work them into any recipe whether Dim Sum, Indian (e.g. curry + chutney), British (roast beef + horseradish) or any cuisine you fancy - and even drinks (e.g. Margaritas with salt). If like me you are sometimes unsure of what flavours will work well together these are some great simple rules to adhere to.

Here are a few ideas of how to define certain foods, and I'm sure you will begin to understand these tastes as you go along.

  • Herbs and leaves (rocket, coriander, watercress, mustard leaves)
  • Spices (cayenne peper, paprike, red chilli, green chilli, pepper, coriander seeds)
  • Condiments (mustards, horseradish, wasabi, ginger, galangal)

  • Salted fish (anchovies, cod, dried squid, dried prawns)
  • Smoked fish (smoked salmon, smoked tuna, smoked mackerel)
  • Smoked meats (smoked ham, smoked beef, smoked pork)
  • Cured meats (prosciutto, salami, chorizo)
  • Natural and smoked cheeses (pecorino, feta, haloumi, parmesan)

  • Bitter leaves / salad leaves (dandelion, chicory, frisee lettuce, spinach)
  • Berries (blackcurrants)
  • Game birds and meats (venison, wild board, pigeon, wild duck)
  • Condiments (soya sauce, miso, dark chocolate, red wine, vinegars)
  • Umami flavours (Bovril, Marmite, MSG)

  • Roasted veg and nuts (beetroot, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, almonds, peanuts)
  • Green veg (peas, broad beans, asparagus, cucumber)
  • Ripe fruits and their juices (mangoes, bananas, nectarines, grapes, figs)
  • Dried fruit (dates, apricots, sultanas, raisins)
  • Seafood (clams, mussels, crab, lobster)
  • Firm white-fleshed fish (monkfish, halibut, turbot, sea bream)
  • Oily fish (fresh tuna, swordfish, salmon)
  • Dairy products (cream cheese, mascapone, coconut milk)
  • Sweeteners (honey, palm sugar, maple syrup)
  • Herbs and spices (basil, cinnamon, allspice, saffron, nutmeg)

  • Citrus (lemon juice, lemon zest, kaffir lime leaves and juice, lemongrass)
  • Other fruits (tamarind, apples, gooseberries, rhubarb, pineapple)
  • Dried fruits (cranberries, sour cherries)
  • Unripe fruit and veg (green tomatoes, green olives, green mangoes)
  • Herbs (tarragon, dill, fennel, mustard leaves, coriander)
  • Dairy products (creme fraiche, sour cream, yoghurt)
  • Vinegars (malt, sherry, red wine, white wine, cider, raspberry, balsamic)
  • Pickles (chutneys, relishes, gherkins, pickled ginger, olives)
  • Spices and seeds (fennel seeds, stair anise, juniper berries)
  • Fermented spirits (Pernod, campari, gin)

January 6, 2010

Stir Fried Chicken and Cashew Nuts

This one is a great little recipe for those of you who don't have easy access to an Asian food market or shop as the ingredients are readily accessible down your local Tesco's or similar. It's also a really tasty number that is easy to prepare and cook, and takes no time at all.

Serves 2

6-7 garlic cloves (small, or around 4 large)
4-5 baby corns
1/2 small onion
2 round pieces of chopped carrot (about 1/2 cm thick)
Rat ear mushroom (not available in Europe, alternative is Enochi mushroom)
1 cup fresh cashew nuts (unsalted)
1 large dried red chilli
2 spring onion (stalks)
100g chicken (chopped into thin, one inch lengths (roughly))

For the seasoning

2 tbsp cooking oil (vegetable oil, not olive or sesame etc)
1 tsp sugar (caster is fine)
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp oyster sauce

To serve

Bowl of rice for 2 people

First things first, you need to prepare the vegetables. The baby corn needs to be chopped into small round pieces and set on a plate. Next, chop 1/2 a small onion in half again, and separate the layers using your fingers and put on the plate. The mushroom should be chopped roughly into medium sized pieces, and the carrot sliced into thin pieces.

Next the spring onion; you only need to use the stalk here, not the bulb, so cut that off first. Now chop the stalk in half, and half again, until you have pieces about 1 inch long. Finally for this part, the garlic; an easy way of chopping garlic is to use the side of your knife and bash the garlic against the chopping board - this will split the seams of the skin, and make it easy to peel. Chop up into nice small pieces and put all the ingredients on the plate.

If your chilli is not dried, the best thing to do is leave it in the sun for a few hours. Do not try and dry it out in the oven - trust me, the neighbours will not appreciate it! Once dry, chop diagonally into pieces of equal size (about a cm in length) and put in a bowl along with the cashew nuts.

Now for the cooking bit. Place your wok over a high heat and add the vegetable oil, along with the cashew nuts and dried red chilli. Cook until the cashew nuts turn a light brown (keep stirring to avoid burning) and the chilli starts to give off some flavour.

Once cooked (only takes a couple of minutes), remove the cashews and chilli carefully to a bowl, leaving the oil in the wok; this is to retain the flavours of the ingredients for the recipe.

Next, add the garlic and chicken and cook for one minute, until the chicken turns white.

Now add all the vegetables except for the spring onion (carrot, onion, baby corn, mushrooms). Finally, add all the seasoning (sugar, fish sauce, oyster sauce) and turn up the heat, cooking for one more minute and stirring continuously. Turn the heat off, add the spring onion, cashew nuts and chilli, stirring one final time.

Remove to plate along with portion of rice, et voila!

Mango and Sticky Rice

Ok, so when it comes to desserts, you probably don't have rice up there, unless you love rice pudding, which I have to admit is way down at the bottom of the list along with the rest of my boarding school dining experiences.

Mango with sticky rice, however, is a definite turn out for the books. Although it takes a little while to prepare, it's well worth it. Sticky rice itself is different to basmati or white rice for example, and to get the texture right, it needs to be pre-soaked in water for at least 6 hours (or overnight), with the water level just above the rice, before cooking.

Other names for packet sticky rice you may see include glutinous rice or sweet rice.

Serves 4
2-3 cups of sticky rice
1 cup of thick coconut cream
2 tbspn palm sugar (maple syrup is an alternative)
2 pinches salt
2 mangoes

After having left the rice to soak for a few hours, drain using cold water. Place in a steamer over a medium heat for around 20 minutes, until it turns almost translucent, then remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, on a medium heat pour the coconut cream into a saucepan, and when hot, add the sugar and salt.

This is just a little video that I didn't know was being taken, but is a nice change of pace to photos I guess!

Now mix in the rice, keeping the stirring going at a nice gentle pace to avoid burning. When mixed nicely, remove from the heat and put into a heat-proof dish, leaving to stand for around half and hour.

Serve with a mango, sliced into a chunks (1/2 per person). For a nicely little extra, sprinkle a few sesame seeds on top of the rice.

January 5, 2010

Green Curry with Chicken/Beef

Green curry paste is made very similarly to Red curry paste, the only difference being small green chillies are used instead of large red ones...

So for the curry paste:

Lemongrass stem
Kaffir lime skin
Galangal (1 slice)
Turmeric (3 round slices - similar to carrot thickness)
Dried large red chilli (chopped)
Coriander seed (tspn)
Garlic (3 cloves)
Shallots (2)
Small green chillies (small bowlful)

Firstly, you need to chop up all those ingredients really nice and small (lemongrass, gingseng, kaffir lime skin, galangal, turmeric, garlic) as you'll be the one pounding it into a smooth paste. (Ignore the red chillies in this pic, you will be using the green ones obviously!).

Add to the mortar along with the chopped chilli and coriander seeds, and get cracking!

This definitely takes a bit of leg work so if you have a willing assistant then it's definitely worth sharing the load. Otherwise, maybe whip out the blender for a nice smooth paste.

You'll need about 1 teaspoon of paste per person for an averagely spicy curry (obviously you can add more or less as you prefer).

Ingredients for Green curry (serves 2)

2 tsp Green curry paste
100 g chopped chicken/beef (small)
1 bowl coconut milk
2 kaffir lime leaves - thinly sliced
1 large red chilli - thinly sliced
Sweet basil leaf - torn from the stem
1-2 eggplants (aubergines will also work) - chopped into quarters (bite size pieces)
1 tsp palm sugar (maple syrup is an alternative)
2 tsp fish sauce

Ok, so to start with make sure you have your ingredients to hand. We were told to keep them on a plate in the order you'll be needing them - just makes it that much easier.

Start by bringing 2 cooking spoons worth of the coconut milk to the boil over a low heat, until oil begins to appear on the surface.

Add the curry paste and stir for one minute or until fragrant.

Add the chicken and cook until it turns white, followed by the rest of the coconut milk and bring the the boil.

Add all the vegetables, palm sugar (or maple syrup) and fish sauce and remove from the heat. Continue to stir until the palm sugar has dissolved.

Serve with plain rice.

Panang Curry

If you've had a look at the Thai Curry Paste post, you'll see that Panang curry is actually just Red curry with peanuts, so really you can kill 2 birds with 1 stone here. Easy peasy.

The ingredients here for the paste is enough to make a few separate curri
es, as you only use a small amount of paste as the curry base (for those who like it averagely spicy, 1 large teaspoon per person is enough). The great thing about these curry pastes is they can be sealed and kept refrigerated for up to a month without losing any flavour.

Ingredients for curry paste

Lemongrass stem
Kaffir lime skin
Galangal (1 slice)
Turmeric (3 round slices - similar to carrot thickness)
Dried large red chilli (chopped)
Coriander seed (tspn)
Garlic (3 cloves)
Shallots (2)

This is the base for Red curry. For a tasty Panang curry, add a small cup of peanuts. Comes highly recommended :)

First things first, as you can see from this absolutely rubbish photo, you need to chop up all those ingredients really nice and small (lemongrass, gingseng, kaffir lime skin, galangal, turmeric, garlic) as you'll be the one pounding it into a smooth paste.

Add to the mortar along with the chopped chilli and coriander seeds, and get cracking! Once it starts to smoothen a bit, add in the cup of peanuts and pound until the texture is smooth.

You can see the difference between the Panang (on the left) and the Red curry here - just a bit lighter in colour.

Alternatively, you can probably shop around and buy the paste pre-made, but I think this way is more fun.

Ingredients for Panang curry - serves 2

50g chopped chicken/beef (into small strips)
1 bowl coconut milk (see photo for reference)
1 tbspn Panang curry paste
1 tspn palm sugar (maple syrup can be used as an alternative but not honey)
2 tspn fish sauce

To serve

2 kaffir lime leaves
1 large red chilli or red pepper as preferred
Bowl of cooked rice

As you can see, you literally have 3 main ingredients to add in here - the paste, coconut milk and chicken. Coconut milk usually comes quite thick, and sometimes you can add half/half water:coconut milk ratio to thin it down, but for Panang curry you need to keep it more as a cream.

Add 2 big cooking spoons (about 8 tablespoons) of coconut milk to a wok over low heat, until it begins to sizzle. Add the curry paste and stir for one minute, or until it becomes fragrant.

Add the chicken and cook until it turns white, then pour in the rest of the coconut milk and bring to the boil. Add the palm sugar (or maple syrup alternative) and fish sauce, and leave it to condense until thick. Do not stir.

Remove from the heat and serve with kaffir lime leaves cut into thin strips and sprinkled over the top, along with thin strips of the red chilli or pepper as preferred. Serve with rice.

Pad Thai

I've done it! I'm very excited because I've actually cooked a great tasting pad thai, after all my 'nearly there' attempts back in the UK.

Ok ok, I had some help thanks to my cooking class with Asia Scenic, but I'm now ready to spread the word to the masses. Hopefully I can retain my pad thai masterfulness on my return to the UK, but for now I'll just put it down in writing...

Serves 1-2

4-5 garlic cloves - NB spring onions are not an alternative; they create a completely different flavour so please avoid.
1 piece of tofu
2 stalks of garlic chives
100g bean sprous
50g chopped chicken (can substitute for prawns or tofu)
200g pad thai noodles:

These are best cooked from fresh. However, mostly dried noodles are available outside of Asia - if this is the case for you, get your noodles in a bowl of hot water for 10 minutes before cooking. Pull them out when they are almost al dente. Drain under cold water and wait until most of the water has dripped off before using to cook.

1 egg
2 tbspn vegetable oil (avoid sesame, olive etc as these will alter the flavour)
1 tspn brown sugar
2 tbspn fish sauce
3 tbspn oyster sauce
1/2 cup water

To serve

Dried chilli flakes
Chopped peanuts
Lime quarters

First things first, some essentials, a chopping board and a sharp knife - in this case a meat cleaver, but it did the job really well!

As you can see, you only need a slice of tofu, but for the vegetarians out there, add another slice or two.

Right, down to the recipe. Start with the garlic chives by lining them up together. Chop in half, and then half again, until you have pieces that are about an inch long.

Next, chop the garlic. This is a great time saver - use the side of the knife to bang the garlic on the chopping board. This will crush it and cause it to burst out of the skin, making it 100 times easier to peel. Once done, chop it up nice and small. The tofu and chicken need to be cut into really thin pieces, about an inch long. Finally, take a handful of the beansprouts and stick these all on a plate in order, so you know which goes in when.

Next, put a wok over a low heat, and add the oil. After a few seconds, add a piece of garlic. When it starts to sizzle, chuck in the whole lot and keep moving around to avoid burning. After a few seconds, throw in the chicken and tofu, cooking for about a minute.

Next, using your spatula, remove the chicken mix to the side of the wok, leaving the oil at the bottom. Add the egg and the sugar, along with the fish sauce and oyster sauce. Mix together well.

Finally add the noodles and a small amount of water (1-2 tablespoons - more if needed) and keep mixing.

Serve on a plate, sprinkle the remaining uncooked beansprouts over the top and serve with the dried chilli flakes, lime and chopped peanuts: