food for thought

by michelle

spicy prawns + vegetables in coconut

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These two dishes use Belacan, a shrimp paste pressed into a block and sun-dried. It’s an essential ingredient in Malaysian cooking which adds a unique depth of flavour. Pre-roasting, a necessary step, reduces it’s very strong smell and flavour. Wrap a piece in foil and roast it over an open flame or in the oven until it has a pleasant roasted aroma. Now you can add it to your rempah, a paste which functions like a wet curry paste to begin your dish.

For the spicy prawns make a rempah of 1 onion, 6 dried chillies, 2 fresh chillies, 2 large cloves of garlic, 1 teaspoon of laos (galangal) powder, 1 teaspoon of belacan and 1 teaspoon of ground turmeric. You can make this into a paste with a mortar and pestle, a small food processor or blender – add a little water if necessary. Heat 2 tablespoons of peanut oil in a large pan or wok and fry the rempah until it’s fragrant then add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 2 teaspoons of sugar and ¾ of a teaspoon of salt. Add 450g (1lb) of whole, unpeeled prawns, cover and simmer for 5 minutes or so until the prawns are just cooked. Garnish with fresh coriander (cilantro).

Vegetables in coconut are a sweet and mild foil for the spicy prawns. Make a rempah of 1 onion, 1 clove of garlic, 1 or 2 fresh green chillies, ½ a teaspoon of belacan and ½ a teaspoon of ground turmeric. Fry the rempah in a little oil then add 1½ cups of coconut milk, 2 strips of lemon rind and ¾ of a teaspoon of salt. Bring to a simmer then add 3 or 4 cups of thinly sliced vegetables (I used cabbage, carrots and bok choy) and cook until tender. Remove from the heat and add lemon juice to taste.

*Adapted from recipes in The Curry Cookbook by Charmaine and Reuben Solomon.

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Written by michelle picker

May 16, 2018 at 12:12 am

pandan chiffon cake

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Here’s a wonderful Asian treat.

This amazingly green and fantastically light sponge cake is popular throughout South-East Asia. Pandan leaf is often used to flavour desserts and, as in this cake, is often paired with coconut. I’ve bought excellent versions of this cake at Asian grocery stores but for a while there was a shortage and, in desperation, I bought a packet mix. I do like to make everything myself but I cheated with this one and the result was excellent! Maybe I’ll try a recipe next time…..

Written by michelle picker

May 9, 2018 at 12:33 am

stuffed mushrooms

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Whoever said life was too short to stuff a mushroom was wrong. I love mushrooms and this recipe uses 3 types of mushrooms to make a most delicious and satisfying vegetarian meal.

For this recipe use portobello mushrooms (these are large, mature button mushrooms) with a good edge to hold the filling. For the filling finely dice some brown shallots, the stems of the portobello mushrooms and some Swiss Brown mushrooms (these are more flavoursome than button mushrooms – they look similar with a darker and slightly mottled cap). Heat some oil in a pan and fry the shallots until just wilting. Add the mushrooms and some fresh thyme leaves as well as some porcini mushroom powder for extra mushroom flavour. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook until the mushrooms are softening then remove them to a bowl to cool. Add 1 egg and a generous amount of soft goat’s cheese to the mushrooms. When you’re happy with the flavour spoon the mixture into the mushrooms and place them into an oiled baking dish. Top with some finely grated parmesan or pecorino and drizzle with a little olive oil. Bake in a moderate oven (along with some roasted vegetables for accompaniment) until nicely browned and well cooked.

Written by michelle picker

May 2, 2018 at 12:17 am

rack of lamb + peas with feta and mint + roasted red peppers

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Rack of lamb coated with mustard, garlic and rosemary and blushing inside – classic but still fabulous.

Season each rack generously with salt and allow it to permeate for at least an hour. Meanwhile, crush some garlic with a mortar and pestle or a mini food processor and add plenty of fresh rosemary, some mustard of your choice, freshly ground black pepper and a little oil to make a paste. When you’re ready to cook, preheat your oven to 180º (350ºF). On the stovetop heat a large cast iron or heavy skillet, add some oil and brown the racks fat-side down for 5-10 minutes. Remove the racks to an oven tray with the browned surface facing up and coat all the meat with the mustard mixture. Roast for 15-20 minutes or, if you have a thermometer, until the temperature in the middle of the meat reaches 50ºC (120ºF). Remove the lamb from the oven, cover with foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes. During this time the temperature should continue to rise to a perfect medium-rare 55ºC (130ºF). Cut and serve either single or double chops.

As a side dish try these peas with feta and mint. Cook the peas in salted water until just cooked. Drain, place them in a bowl and add crumbled feta, plenty of fresh mint, freshly ground black pepper and a drizzle of good quality olive oil;

And these roasted red peppers. Simply slice into long strips, toss with salt, pepper and olive oil and roast in a hot oven until slightly charred.

 

Written by michelle picker

April 25, 2018 at 12:10 am

two desserts in one

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Lovingly prepared by Cindy after a Moroccan meal, this dessert combines Baclava-style nuts with a simple strawberry yoghurt. Morocco has it’s version of Baclava and strawberries and yoghurt are a no-brainer as Morocco is the 5th-largest exporter of strawberries in the world.

For the nuts, combine 2 cups of roughly chopped almonds, walnuts, pistachios and macadamia nuts (or just one or two types if you prefer) and toast them a little in a dry pan or in the oven. Place them in a bowl with some cinnamon to taste. Now make a honey syrup with ½ a cup of sugar, ½ a cup of honey, ½ a cup of water and 1½ tablespoons of lemon juice. Heat until boiling and then simmer for 5 minutes or so until thickening. Add the syrup to the nuts and stir to combine. Allow to cool. For the yoghurt, slice 1-2 cups of fresh strawberries and sprinkle them with a little sugar. Let them macerate for a while then add them to thick Greek-style yoghurt. Flavour the yoghurt with the seeds from a vanilla pod or 1 teaspoon of orange blossom water if you prefer. Serve together garnished with fresh mint.

Written by michelle picker

April 18, 2018 at 12:08 am

shiitake mushrooms

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Shiitake mushrooms are used widely in Asian cuisines and considered to have many health benefits. They are widely available in their dried form but are a little harder to find fresh, although Asian stores are a good place to try. We decided to attempt to grow them. This a lengthy procedure with some inherent difficulties for those of us living in urban areas. The first problem was finding living branches from a suitable tree. This took some time but we finally found some fairly large oak branches without any signs of fungus or mould. Shiitake are grown by drilling holes into the branches and hammering in dowels impregnated with the mushroom spores – we ordered these online. The holes are covered with beeswax and the logs then need to be kept damp and in a nice semi-dark place, similar to a forest floor. We waited approximately 18 months before we induced the first crop by soaking the logs for a day and then dropping them to shock them into fruiting. This can be done in Spring, Summer or Autumn. Hopefully they will now fruit twice a year. Although our first crop wasn’t very large it was exciting to finally see the mushrooms growing and they tasted amazing!

This recipe for a Chinese-style omelette is perfect for featuring shiitake mushrooms. Begin by slicing some medium to firm tofu and fry it in a little vegetable oil. Season with soy sauce and honey and set aside. Remove the stems from the mushrooms (Shiitake stems don’t soften when you cook them) and slice the mushrooms. Heat a pan and add some finely shredded ginger into the dry pan until it is fragrant. Add some sesame oil and the mushrooms, season with a minimal amount of salt and cook them until they are just softening. Add the tofu to reheat it along with some spring onions. Keep this mixture warm while you make the omelette. Whisk 3-4 eggs with a little water and a drop of sesame oil, and season them with soy sauce and white pepper. Heat a generous amount of vegetable oil in a wide frypan, add  the eggs and allow them to cook, without turning, until almost firm. Place the mushroom and tofu mix onto one half of the omelette and, using a wide turner, flip the other half over the top. When the omelette is cooked carefully slide it onto a serving plate and garnish with spring onions and toasted sesame seeds.

Written by michelle picker

April 11, 2018 at 12:33 am

miso chicken with grapes and walnuts

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Another unexpected and delicious combination of flavours in this recipe from (of course) Yotam Ottolenghi.

In a large bowl combine 80g (2¾oz) of white miso paste, 40g (1½oz) of finely grated ginger, 4 tablespoons of mirin (sweet cooking sake) and 4 tablespoons of cider vinegar. To this add 8 bone-in pieces of chicken and mix well. Cover and allow to marinate for a few hours or, ideally overnight in the fridge. Before cooking the chicken peel 12 small shallots, place them in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and cook fo 5 minutes before straining, cooling and cutting them in half lengthways. Place the chicken pieces on a baking tray, skin-side up, with all the marinade and place under a hot grill for 10 minutes. Meanwhile heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large pan and add the shallots, frying them on medium heat until golden brown. Add 2 tablespoons of cider vinegar, briefly cook to reduce then pour in 200ml (7fl oz) of white wine, 6 tablespoons of water, ½ teaspoon of salt and some white pepper and continue to cook for about 6 minutes. Add the chicken and all its cooking juices and stir gently. Bring to a low simmer, cover and cook until the chicken is just cooked through. Remove the chicken pieces to a serving dish and keep them warm. To the remaining liquid add 125g (4½oz) of walnut pieces, 80g (2¾oz) of unsalted butter, 1½ tablespoons of maple syrup and 250g (9oz) of small seedless red grapes. Continue to cook and stir for a few minutes until the butter emulsifies. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve.

Written by michelle picker

April 4, 2018 at 12:10 am