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When time allows I enjoy getting my weekly fruit and veg from my local market. Thankfully I live a short hop, skip and jump away from a seriously good one in West London, where the stalls are bursting with colourful produce and the stallholders have an infectious energy and enthusiasm for their produce. Bowls of fruit and veg go for £1 and when you buy herbs it’s two large bunches for a £1 - to ask for one just won’t do – so I invariably  end up with rather a huge amount of coriander, mint, parsley and dill.

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Dill, mint and coriander remind me of fond times in Vietnam – the food is so fragrant, largely due to mint and dill being in so many dishes, Cha Ca La Vong being a perfect example – you can see the recipe here. As I ended up with two huge bundles of cos lettuce, I decided to create a Vietnamese inspired chicken salad for our Saturday lunch. Something that could be thrown together quickly and that would appeal to the whole family.

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It was a success and we polished it all off in one sitting. Since then I have cooked it again (I still have lots of herbs to get through) and photographed it for you so that you too can prepare it at home. The dressing I use for the salad is the typical Vietnamese dressing of nuoc cham, which adds zing and sweetness, the perfect combo.

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Vietnamese Chicken Herbed Salad

Serves 4

450g chicken breasts

1 tbsp olive oil

black pepper

large cos/romaine lettuce, 6 leaves

handful of fresh coriander

handful of fresh mint leaves

handful of fresh dill

1 red chilli, finely sliced

2 spring onions, cut on the diagonal

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Nuoc Cham Sauce

1 tbsp fish sauce

1 tbsp rice vinegar

1 lime, juice only

1 garlic, finely chopped

3 tbsp water

1.5 tbsp white sugar

1. Cover the chicken breasts in the olive oil and season with a little black pepper. Meanwhile heat a griddle/cast iron pan and when it is hot place the breasts into the pan and bronze on each side for just under 2 minutes a side. Place on a baking tray in a preheated oven 180 degrees for 20 minutes.

2. Break off the lettuce leaves and cut into mouth size chunks and place in a large mixing bowl. Add the dill, mint and coriander leaves along with the finely sliced red onion, spring onions. If serving to children as well slice the red chilli and place in a separate side dish. Mix together gently using your hands.

3. Prepare the nuoc cham sauce by mixing all the ingredients together. If it needs to be a little sweeter add some more sugar, if you prefer it more sour add more lime.

4. Pour half the dressing over the salad and gently toss. Pour the remaining dressing in a small jug so that you can add more dressing over the individual salad portions as needed.

Spiced Pilau Rice

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As winter is officially here and the nights are drawing in so our diet begins to crave more hearty filling food. Stew and warming curries get given centre stage during the winter months, well at least they do in my household. I realise that I have never posted a pilau rice dish, which would be a great accompaniment with a wide range of curries. Plain basmati rice is all very well but if you delicately spice it and accompany it with some nuts or fruit, it just adds a lovely new fragrant dimension to the meal and really only takes a couple of extra minutes to prepare.

I find my spiced pilau rice is really versatile as it works equally well with Middle Eastern dishes as well as Indian curries.

 

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The three C’s are wonderful spices: cardamom, cloves and cinnamon stick and give a warming aroma to any dish. I also have a particular weakness for cardamom in sweet dishes, but that’s for another post. Star anise not only looks inviting but also has a delicate aniseed smell and taste and is used a lot in Vietnamese and Chinese dishes. The queen of spices is saffron – one of the most expensive so it is used sparingly, hence only a pinch used in this dish. If you do not have saffron you could use a generous pinch of ground turmeric instead, which will give a yellow hue.

 

 

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I used blanched almonds this time, but depending on what is in my cupboard I may use cashew nuts or even unsalted peanuts. If you are serving a more Middle Eastern dish then pistachio nuts would also work really well.

Let me know how you get on. Send me a photo of your dish and accompanying curry to my twitter account and I will retweet it to all my followers. Is there any particular pilau rice that you make at home? How does if differ to my spiced pilau?

 

 

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Spiced Pilau Rice

serves 4

1/2 tbsp ghee/butter

7cm cinnamon stick, broken in two

2 star anise

4 cardamom pods, slightly opened

3 cloves

190g basmati rice (Approx one handful per person)

350ml cold water

1 tsp salt

2 tbsp hot milk

1 large pinch of saffron (or ground turmeric)

1 tsbp rose water

2 tbsp blanched almonds or cashew nuts

1. First rinse the rice a couple of times with cold water so that the water runs clear and not cloudy. Drain and set aside. If you have time then soak the rice in cold water for 10 minutes then drain.

2. Heat the milk and then place the saffron in the milk. Give a good stir. Leave to soak whilst you prepare the rice.

3. In a pan heat the ghee or butter and when it is melted add the star anise, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon stick. Let them sizzle away for half a minute, before adding the drained rice and salt and stirring together. Add the cold water. As a rule I always make sure that the water is about 1/3 of your smallest finger above the rice. Stir and then let the rice come to the boil which will take a couple of minutes.

4. Once it has come to the boil, turn the heat down and place the lid on the pan. Let the rice gently cook and steam away for 8 minutes. By this time small holes will have appeared in the top of the rice. Turn the heat off and leave the lid on the rice so that it can steam for a further 10 minutes.

5. In a small frying pan dry roast the blanched almonds or cashew nuts for a couple of minutes so that they begin to bronze.

6. Place the saffron milk and rose water over the rice and then gently fluff it up with a fork.

7. Scatter over a platter with the nuts over the top.

Serve with any Indian dal, vegetable, meat or fish curry. It also works really well with Middle Eastern meat or fish dishes.

 

 

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Larb originates from Lao but is also eaten in North Eastern Thailand where many of the Thai people are of Laotian decent. It is, put simply, a meat mince salad (pork, chicken, turkey or duck) that is placed in a lettuce ‘cup’ and then eaten in a couple of delicious bites. They have a similar lettuce wrap recipe in Korea known as ‘Ssambap’ – ssam meaning ‘wrap’ and bap meaning ‘rice’.

 

 

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My version has replaced the rice, (which is traditionally toasted then roughly ground (Khao Khua) and sprinkled on the top of the mince when serving to help soak up any of the juices) with roughly ground shelled and oven roasted unsalted peanuts. I like the crunch and taste of the nut combining with the minced meat and fresh herbs. If you want to stay true to the original recipe then just add ground toasted rice in place of peanuts. Try both and see which works for you.

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The combination of fresh crunchy salad leaves, fragrantly spiced mince meat and fresh mint and thai basil (or coriander, but I had run out otherwise I would have thrown that in too) is satisfyingly tasty that one, or three in fact, is never quite enough. It is perfect as a canapé, or as a starter whereby guests can put together their own wraps before popping them in their mouths. Personally I love eating with my hands so any excuse to get everyone to throw themselves into this enjoyable pursuit gets the thumbs up in my books.

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If you tone done on the chilli this dish is also a hit with kids (although my 8 yr old has it as is) as it is a little bit different, packed full of flavours and quite simply good fun to eat, which bottom line is what food and eating should all be about. My dish is more Laotian in style and substance, minus the rice sprinkle. The north east Thailand variety varies again omitting fish sauce and lime juice and instead uses a wide range of spices including cinnamon, star anise, long pepper, cumin, cloves amongst others. I’ll post this version in the future.

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Throw yourself into it, try something different. I can assure you that you one wrap is never enough. This will become a firm family favourite I can guarantee.

Pork Larb 

Serves 15 as a canapé or 6-8 as a starter

2 tbsp sunflower oil (or peanut oil if you have it)

2 banana shallots, finely sliced

1 tsp grated ginger

1 tsp grated garlic

1 tsp lemongrass paste

2 small red chillies, finely chopped (take the seeds out if you like it less hot)

1 kg pork mince

2 limes, juice only

5 tbsp fish sauce

1 tbsp light soy sauce

2 tbsp caster

1/2 tsp red chilli flakes

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30g shelled and oven roasted unsalted peanuts, roughly chopped

5 little gem lettuces or similar lettuce

handful of fresh thai basil

handful of fresh mint leaves

handful of coriander leaves

limes wedges to serve

1. In a large pan heat the oil on a medium heat and then add the shallots and fry gently. (Equally 1 large red onion also works well if you cannot get hold of shallots).

2. When the shallots have softened add the garlic, ginger, lemongrass and fresh red chilli and stir together gently.

3. Add the pork mince and move around the pan until all the pink meat has become brown. This will take around 8-10 minutes.

4. Add the fish sauce, light soy sauce, lime juice, caster sugar and red chilli flakes and stir into the mince. Leave to cook on a low heat for a further 5 minutes. Just before serving throw in a few fresh herbs and give a good stir.

5. To serve place a tablespoonful of the mince onto the lettuce cup followed by a couple of mint, Thai basil and coriander leaves and a sprinkling of peanuts (or rice if you want to stay totally traditional). Add a splash of lime juice as required.

It can be eaten at room temperature or slightly warm.

* If your mince has juice, cook it for a little longer with the lid off the pan. That should do the trick. If there continues to be some juice, it is best to strain the mince as it is easier to eat on the lettuce cups if there is no juice. 

you can replace the pork mince, with chicken, turkey, duck or I reckon even tofu would work well.

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I have a new favourite hot beverage – milky chai masala –  which I urge you all to try when it starts getting really cold, wet and windy.  It may not win prizes for appearance, but what it lacks in looks it makes up for in taste.  It’s the perfect drink when you’ve been out in the cold and need warming up on the inside. It requires a spice or coffee grinder – I use this one and really recommend it – maybe something for your Christmas list if you don’t have one.

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I was recently given this recipe from a friend who in turn received it from her Indian neighbour. Like Chinese whispers I have altered  it slightly to suit my tastes but the finished result is equally pleasing. Wafts of black pepper, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg come together to form a warming and comforting hot beverage that is guaranteed to please. Give it a try and let me know what you think by commenting below. I look forward to hearing from you.

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Chai Masala

milk

1 tsp sugar (or to taste)

1/2 tsp of chai masala spice mix (see above)

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Spice mix

4 inch long cinnamon stick

1 tbsp black pepper

2 tbsp of seeds from green cardamom

1 tsp cloves

1 level tsp ginger powder

1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

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1. Grind the cinnamon stick and black pepper in your spice grinder and then add the green cardamom seeds but not the husks, cloves, ginger powder and freshly grated nutmeg. Blend until all the parts have taken on a powder appearance.

2.  Store in an airtight container.

3. Gently heat the milk until it is boiling hot in a saucepan. When it is hot add half a teaspoon of chai masala spice mix and sugar to taste and continue to heat for another couple of minutes so that the spices infuse. If you think it needs a little more spice then add a little more of the spice mix.

4. Strain into cups immediately. The milky spice taste is so comforting that you won’t be able to resist another cupful.

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There is nothing more sublime than a spicy hot tomato soup to warm you up and give you that inner glow. If you are feeling under the weather with a cold or fever, which invariably many of us do at this time of year, this is a great way to blast your system with goodness and help pull you through. Rasam, as it is known in South India, translates to ‘juice’ or in Sanskrit rasa means ‘taste’. I think ‘tasty juice’ is the perfect way to describe this warming, fragrant and flavoursome soup. Traditionally it is made with tomatoes or tamarind with a host of spices and fresh curry leaves giving it a comforting aroma and taste.  Being totally addicted to tomatoes I tend to make my rasam with tomatoes as the base note.

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Traditionally it is eaten in India at the end of a meal, but I tend to serve it the opposite way round and kick a meal off with a warming cup of this thin spiced tomato soup to whet the taste buds. It is often served in a mug or cup or can be poured over a bowl of hot steaming basmati rice. It’s also the perfect drink after a long, cold and invariably wet winter walk. With a roaring fire going and a cup of rasam you will feel a state of happiness surround you. Seriously try it and you’ll know what I mean.

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The only tricky (ish) ingredient to source is fresh curry leaves. If you go to your local Asian grocer they are likely to have some, or at least will be able to point you in the right direction. So what are you waiting for – give it a go and leave and comment below to let me know how you get on.

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Indian Rasam – Spiced Tomato Soup

Serves 4

2 tbsp sunflower oil

1 heaped tsp of garlic paste/fresh garlic grated

1 heaped tsp of ginger paste/fresh ginger grated

2 large dried red chillies (1 if you prefer it with less of a kick)

12 fresh curry leaves

1/2 tsp of crushed black pepper

1 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

700g fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped

350ml water

a couple of sprigs of fresh coriander to garnish

black pepper to garnish

1. Warm the oil in a deep non-stick pan and when it is hot add the garlic, ginger, dried red chillies, fresh curry leaves and crushed black pepper and gently move around the pan so that the chillies darken and the ginger and garlic begin to bronze. Keep on a medium heat for a few minutes before adding the tomatoes, salt and sugar.

2. Move around the pan so that the tomatoes begin to soften and are completely covered in all of the ingredients. Then add the water and let it boil for a couple of minutes before lowering the heat and cover for 30 mins.

3. Using a hand blender blend the soup so that it is smooth and then pass through a sieve so that there are no pips or tomato skin and what remains is brilliant red, smooth thin rasam. Heat up the smooth rasam gently in the pan before serving.

4. Pour into cups and garnish with some fresh coriander and black pepper.

 

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It is bucketing down outside this afternoon and I am feeling rather cosy inside out of the rain. After taking the photos for this blog post I had a bowl full of this hot, delicately spiced warming soup. Seriously delicious and quite filling, owing to the yogurt, potatoes and mooli.  Now that Autumn is well and truly here this soup comes into its own and I urge you to try making yourself some.

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It was Durga Puja last weekend – you can read up what goes on exactly at this Indian celebration in my posts from last year and the year before  see here and here. During the festivities at the Hindu temple prasad is often taken. Prasad is literally a religious offering or gift that comes in the form of a meal. Always vegetarian and gently spiced it allows families and friends to come together to share a meal that is blessed during this auspicious occasion. One of the curries we were served was this Gujarati Kadhi. I adored the delicately spiced yogurt soup so much so I was allowed to venture into the kitchens to see how it was being prepared. Huge caldrons of the soup were being constantly stirred over hot stoves before being taken out to hungry worshippers.

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I’ve made my own additions and twists but the taste is pretty similar to the one that I had last weekend. It is so different from any soup or dal I have tried before that it immediately appealed. All the ingredients are pretty easy to pick up at your local supermarket. I have seen gram flour in the big supermarkets here in the UK and I noticed that Waitrose was even selling fresh curry leaves the other day. Times are changing!  Mooli is harder to track down if you don’t live near an Asian grocers so just omit that part if you can’t find it. As with most of my recipes it is quick and easy so if you are feeling adventurous then give this fabulous dish a try.

 

 

Gujarati Kadhi

Serves 4-6

500g natural yogurt

2 tbsp gram flour (chickpea flour)

1/2 tsp green chilli paste

1/2 tsp ginger paste

700ml water

1 tsp salt

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1 tbsp ghee/butter

1/2 tsp black mustard seeds

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

3 cloves

2 small cinnamon sticks

2 dried red chillies, broken into pieces

10 fresh curry leaves

pinch of asafoetida

75g mooli (also known as daikon or white radish)/, cut into thin matchsticks

1 small potato, cut into thin matchsticks

1 tsp jaggery/sugar

1. In a large bowl mix the yogurt, gram flour, green chilli and ginger paste, salt and water using a hand whisk.

2. In a deep saucepan add the ghee and when it is melted add the mustard and cumin seeds and after 30 seconds add the cloves, cinnamon sticks, dried red chillies, fresh curry leaves and asafoetida. This is known as tempering.

3. Add the mooli and potato matchsticks and stir into the spices for one minute.

4. Gently pour in the yogurt/gram flour mixture over the potato, mooli and tempering spices and stir continuously to prevent the yogurt from separating.

5. If you find the mixture too thick simply add a little more water.

6. Add the jaggery or sugar if you don’t have any jaggery to hand. Stir into the soup. Simmer for  around 15 minutes or until the potato and mooli matchsticks are softened.

Serve with basmati rice or simply on its own in a bowl.

 

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I’ve been rather intrigued to make kimchi for quite sometime now so when my brother’s ladylove suggested a trip to Korea Foods in New Malden I jumped at the chance to visit this destination supermarket, as well as stock up on supplies to make my very own kimchi.  For those who are unfamiliar with kimchi, it’s basically a Korean fermented cabbage side dish that is as ubiquitous in Korea as miso soup is in Japan. It has a fiery kick, a crunch and is terribly moreish.

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Korea Foods is a delight for anyone interested in food and especially Asian food. I could easily pass a couple of hours there given the opportunity. We gathered the necessary ingredients to make kimchi as well as the perfect pyrex container to store it in – see photos (very important as you do not want the smell to perfume your whole house or for the juices to escape). We could not resist buying a few more Asian supplies as well as some savoury snacks for lunch, which included a pot of their homemade kimchi as we felt it would be good to compare ours with those of the pros.

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We received a few gasps of astonishment when we mentioned we were making our own kimchi. It made me wonder what we were letting ourselves in for. Was it really that hard to ferment cabbage? Anyway with the necessary ingredients in our shopping trolleys, we headed home to conquer some kimchi making.

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 The initial slicing, dicing and mixing together is very straightforward. It then requires daily squelching to release the gases and submerge the cabbage. You need to store is in a cool place, out of direct sunlight, for up to 5 days before putting it in the fridge.

The whole resting and fermenting period takes around 2 weeks. You can try a little as the days roll by to see how it tastes. I have been having a little bit most days, with my lunch or on the side with my supper. I fed some to a friend who had lived for years in Japan – ok I know it is not Korea – but she gave it the definite thumbs up and reminisced how she would regularly eat it in Japan with a bowl of rice.

It’s certainly a labour of love, but one that motivated me to visit Korea Foods and explore the ingredients of Korea. Now I know the route to get there there will be no stopping me to return very soon.

You may also be interested to read a short article I wrote for Country and Town House Magazine online about the rise of Korean Food in London – read here.

For those brave enough to make their very own kimchi do let me know how you get on.

 

Cabbage Kimchi

adapted from Emily Ho’s recipe on The Kitchn

1 napa cabbage, halved lengthways and then quartered  (core removed)

70g sea salt

water for soaking

1 tsp of fresh ginger, grated

5 cloves of fresh garlic, grated

1 tsp sugar

1 tbsp fish sauce

1 tbsp salted shrimp (see 2nd photo from the top)

3 tbsp Korean red pepper flakes known as gochugaru

250g daikon, cut into 1 inch match sticks

5 spring onions cut into 1 inch matchsticks

1. First quarter the cabbage lengthways and then cut into 2 inch strips and place in a large bowl with the salt. Work the salt into the cabbage for a minute so that it softens and then add enough water so that it covers the cabbage. Cover the cabbage with a plate and press down using a heavy object. Leave to stand for 1 hour.

2. Drain the cabbage thoroughly under cold water a few times so the salt has been washed away. Leave to drain thoroughly.

3. Meanwhile prepare the paste by mixing the ginger, garlic, sugar, fish sauce and salted shrimp together, followed by the Korean red pepper flakes. Using your hands (I used washing up gloves) gently massage the paste into the daikon, spring onions and the now fully drained cabbage so that they are fully covered.

4. Transfer the kimchi into your pyrex jar and press down firmly so that the cabbage and vegetables are packed tightly.

5. Leave to stand out of direct sunlight for up to 5 days. Each day you need to complete the ritual of pressing down firmly so that the vegetables are submerged under the brine. Very pungent odours are released during this period of fermentation. Do not be put off as the end result will taste great. After the 5 days transfer to the fridge. If you leave it for another week or two in the fridge it will taste even better, but equally you can try some after the first 5 days.

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