Vietnamese Prawn, Mango, Lemongrass and Coconut Curry

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Don’t ever throw away coriander stalks as they are bursting with flavour and are perfect for making a delicious paste to go in all manner of curries. Today I wanted to show you one of my Vietnamese inspired prawn curries that combine lemongrass, ginger, garlic, chilli, coriander stalks, jaggery (palm sugar – or you can just use caster sugar), fresh mangoes and coconut milk.  To say it’s sublime would be an understatement. It is so downright delicious that you’ll be wanting to make it on repeat.

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I always seem to have frozen prawns in my freezer as, once thawed, they are hugely versatile to make all manner of curries or prawn cakes and generally speaking I find that most people like prawns. I had some fresh mangoes and lemongrass that were needing to be eaten so I thought that I would work the recipe around my three main ingredients – prawns, mangoes and lemongrass.

My hand blender is back in action (rejoice – how I missed it) so it took no time to whizz up a paste that tasted of the exotic Far East. By adding a little coconut milk allowed the paste to become smooth, whilst retaining its thickness.

My mother-in-law modelled the mangoes and I bought king prawns that had already been deveined and peeled to save time. So all in all from start to finish this is definitely a 15 minutes tops kind of meal, unless you are slow at peeling and cutting up your mangoes, which in that case might add on another 5 minutes or so.

If you love prawns you might also like Bengali Chingri Maach or perhaps Keralan Prawn and Kokum or my Prawn and Tamarind Curry or if you buy prawns with shells on don’t forget to keep the shells and heads so that you can make a heavenly Prawn Bisque

Happy Easter All.

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Vietnamese Prawn, Mango, Lemongrass and Coconut Curry

paste

40g coriander stalks

2 lemongrass stalks, outer layers removed and finely chopped

1 red chilli

1 tsp ginger paste

1 tsp garlic paste

1 tsp jaggery/palm sugar or caster sugar

a little coconut milk from a 400ml tin

*****

2 tbsp vegetable/coconut oil

15g shallots, finely sliced

1 tsp salt

700g king prawns, deveined and peeled

2 mangoes, cut into bite sized pieces

the remaining coconut mil from the 400ml tin

  1. Place all the paste ingredients into a hand blender and whizz them up to form a smooth paste. Adding a little of the coconut milk will loosen up the ingredients and help the paste to become smooth.
  2. In a deep pan or karahi add the oil and when it is hot add the shallots and salt. Move them around the pan for a couple of minutes, being careful not to let them burn.
  3. Now add the paste and simmer gently for 3-5 minutes before adding the rest of the coconut milk. Let the coconut milk heat up before adding the prawns.
  4. Move the prawns around the pan until they become pink. This will take no more than a few minutes. Simmer for an extra couple of minutes before adding the mango.

Serve with rice with some fresh lime on the side and a sprinkle of fresh coriander on the top.

If you like this recipe I am sure you will love my Butternut Squash, Lemongrass, Coconut and Coriander Curry


Keralan Prawn and Kokum Curry – Chemmeen Olarthiathu

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Hidden away in the calm and tranquil backwaters of Kerala you will find a homestay called ‘Philipkutty’s Farm’ that sits on 35 acres of a small island, which totals 750 acres. The island was reclaimed from the backwaters of Lake Vembanad in the 1950’s by the present inhabitant’s late husband’s grandfather.

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Today the farm is run by Anu (pictured above) and her mother-in-law, known as Aniamma, but it was Anu who warmly greeted us as we made our way from the opposite shore in a wooden canoe known locally as a ‘vallam’ (country boat), powered by a local using a wooden punt. After sipping on homemade cool ginger lemonade we were shown our cottage where we would be spending the next couple of nights.

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To say that it was charming was a massive understatement. I read in the visitors book that one lady had stayed for 5 weeks and had returned numerous times. I could see the attraction. It was without doubt the perfect place to unwind, write a book perhaps or simply just relax.

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Without modern day distractions such as television (there was only wifi in the main house) you felt positively cut off from the outside world. Bliss. It enabled you to sit and admire the views and watch the passing traffic, aka houseboats, drift by. My daughter’s fished with Anu’s daughter and managed to collect a number of fish, before always returning them to the waters. Mr B bravely swam in the backwaters themselves, much to all our amusement.

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The highlight of staying at Philipkutty’s Farm, however, is the food. Aniamma, Anu and their team of helpers prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner for guests, which all congregate in a thatched pavilion close to the main house. As there are only a handful of cottages there tend to be no more than 12 or so guests. We all sat on one large table, swapped storied and filled our bellies with dish after memorable dish of food.  The cuisine was predominately Syrian Christian with a strong backwater influence. The vegetables and spices were grown on the farm and these were accompanied by a wide range of fish and meats. I was in heaven.

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I have a feeling that if I stayed for 5 weeks, like one guest, there would be a high chance that I would return home a little more ‘wholesome’ than when I arrived!

IMG_2912Each evening Anu and Aniamma would do a cookery demonstration of a couple of the dishes we were to eat that evening. So it was during these informal demonstrations that I learned a host of new recipes.

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This prawn and kokum curry – known as chemmeen (prawn) olarthiathu, was interesting as it included an ingredient I had not come across before. Kokum is a fruit bearing tree that is native to Western coastal regions of India and has many health benefits. The outer skin of the fruit is halved and dried, which in turn curls and becomes a dark purple black colour – apparently the darker the colour the better the kokum.
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Whilst they undoubtedly add a sweet and sour element to a dish (similar to tamarind) they also add a smokiness that is unlike anything that I have tried before. They never drown out the main taste of a dish, instead complementing it with their gentle souring notes.  As such they are used in a host of fish and prawn curries as well as dals and vegetable dishes. I realise that a trip to Kerala to source kokum maybe a little tricky for my readers so instead you can easily buy them online here or here. It stores easily for a year, I am told, in a sealed jar.

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I used prawns with tails on but you can use whatever prawns you wish.

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You’ll need red onion, shallots, ginger, garlic and fresh curry leaves. You can pick up fresh curry leaves from most Asian grocers. I tend to freeze mine and then dig them out of the freezer as and when I need to use them, which is most days.
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Above shows Aniamma adding the cherished kokum to her curry.

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I served mine with my Indian toor dal, which you can find here and some basmati rice.

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Kerala Prawn and Kokum Curry (Chemmeen Olarthiathu)

Serves 4-6

1-2 tbsp coconut oil

1 large or two small red onions, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

2 inch fresh ginger, roughly chopped

3 shallots, finely chopped

10 curry leaves

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp turmeric

1 tsp chilli powder

2 medium sized tomatoes, roughly chopped

500g prawns

4 pieces of kokum, pre soaked in 150ml boiling water for 20 minutes

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

  1. Heat the coconut oil and then add the garlic, shallots, ginger and curry leaves.
  2. After a minute add the red onion, salt and chilli powder (if using).
  3. On a medium to low heat, add the turmeric and allow the ingredients to soften, which will take around 5-7 minutes.
  4. Add the fresh tomatoes and stir into the other ingredients and allow to soften.
  5. Add the prawns and move around the pan so that they are coated in all the ingredients.
  6. After 3 minutes add the kokum and gently cook for a further 5 minutes.
  7. Add the fresh black pepper powder just before serving.

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Each morning at Philipkutty’s Farm the urns would have different arrangements of fresh flowers floating in them. So pretty and symmetrical.

 

Please note the comments below where one reader kindly informed me that the ‘kokum’ is in fact a close relative known as ‘kodampuli’ and the fruit show in my photos are in fact kodampuli.  Thank you so much indusinternationalkitchen.com  for highlighting this to me. You can read more about this fruit here

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Dreaming of Kerala – Squid Coconut Fry

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Kerala, often called ‘God’s own country’, is the perfect destination for the avid traveller who seeks adventure, beauty and tasty food. It encompasses so many different experiences and terrain in this sunshine state that no day is ever quite the same. Over the course of the last few weeks my family and I (and not other animals) spent time in Cochin, exploring their diverse places of worship as well admiring their famous Chinese fishing nets.

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The Western ghats, which provide the state, and much of the wider world, with tea, cardamom and coffee.

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The calming, slower pace of life in the emerald backwaters,

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and of course the palm fringed beaches of the coast and the gloriously warm Arabian sea.

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Along the way I met some wonderful people, both locals and fellow travellers, who all made our experience of Kerala very memorable. It was tough to say goodbye to the warm rays and friendly smiles and head back to a much colder London, which is now firming in the throes of winter.

During our travels I learned to cook a wealth of Keralan recipes from chefs and home cooks who welcomed us into their homes and kitchens. Meet some of them below. From left ‘Mummy’ from Philip Kutty’s Farm,  Sreeja  from Marari Beach Hotel and Moly from Cochin, who allowed me to shadow her for the day.

Prior to visiting the state I had a preconceived notion that a lot of the cuisine would be vegetarian, however this is not the case. In Kerala, Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Jews (there are only 6 now left in Cochin) live harmoniously and respectfully amongst one another. As such we feasted on chicken, lamb, pork and beef as well as delicious fresh and seawater fish, shellfish and a host of vegetarian dishes. Coconut oil and coconut in many forms, is the heart of many Keralan dishes along with the irresistibly sour tamarind and kokum, the latter being new to me. “Kera” in Malayalam (the language of Kerala) means coconut. As Kerala is abundant with coconut plants, it naturally got the name Kerala. Yes, many of the dishes in Kerala have heat, but with the cooling qualities of  coconut, many had their chilli bite tempered.

Over the coming months I will intersperse my blog posts with temptingly delicious Keralan dishes that will hopefully encourage you to try cooking them at home.

First up is ‘Squid Coconut Fry’, which in all honesty takes 10 minutes and that includes the prepping and cooking. So look no excuses not to give this a whirl. It is so good you’ll be cooking it time and time again. IMG_2160

 Squid Coconut Fry

Serves 2 (or 4 if serving with other dishes)

2 tbsp coconut oil

1/2 tsp mustard seeds

2 dried red Kashmiri chillies, halved and seeds removed if you like it less hot

10 pieces of thinly sliced fresh coconut or dried coconut slices

3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 tsp ginger paste

1 fresh green chilli (2 if you like it hot)

10 curry leaves

1 small red onion, finely chopped

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp chilli powder

1/2 tsp coriander powder

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

300g squid tubes, chopped into thin rings

1/4 juice of a lemon

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

1/4 garam masala

  1. First get all the ingredients ready as the dish takes no time to cook and you will want to eat it immediately. This dish is not good to be reheated.
  2. Heat the coconut oil in a pan. When it is hot add the mustard seeds and red chillies followed by the thin coconut slices. Keep the heat on a medium to low heat.
  3. After 20 seconds add the garlic, ginger, fresh green chilli and curry leaves.
  4. Move around the pan for a minute before adding the red onion and salt.
  5. Now add the chilli powder, coriander powder, turmeric powder and allow the flavours to come together in the pan. Allow the onion to soften for 3-5 minutes
  6. Add the squid and move around the pan. Cook for a further 3 minutes.
  7. Add the lemon, pepper and garam masala. Move the ingredients around the pan.

Serve immediately. All the wonderful flavours will have wrapped themselves around the squid culminating in the most appetising of dishes.

Quick and easy. I would serve with rice, a vegetable curry and a dal (see my recipe library).

 


Prawn Bisque

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For those of you who read my last post on ‘tamarind prawn curry‘ I mentioned not to throw away the discarded prawn heads and shells. By cooking a simple stock with the prawn heads and shells will create the most amazing tasting broth. Seriously it requires very little effort and you have yourself yet another culinary feast. It freezes well if you want to eat it at a future date.

The photo above sadly does not do justice to the delicious tasting bisque. Next time I use shelled prawns I will reshoot and hopefully have a more temptingly attractive photograph of the bisque. Just trust me when I say that it tastes darn good. Happy eating.

Prawn Bisque

serves 4 

All the prawn shells and heads from the prawns you used in the above curry

cover the prawns completely with boiling water

1 red onion,  chopped

1 garlic, chopped

4 bay leaves

5 black peppercorns

1 tsp salt

1 tbsp butter

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

juice of quarter of a lemon

1 tbsp tomato puree

1.2 tsp sugar

salt to taste

1 tsp cornflour – 3 tsp cold water

  1. Place the prawns shell and heads in a deep pan and cover completely with boiling water.
  2. Add the bay leaves, peppercorns, salt, red onion and garlic to the pan and simmer for 30 minutes.
  3. Using a hand blender blend the contents of the pan. This might sound unusual to blend the shells and heads, but trust me the flavour that comes from them is incredible.
  4. Place the contents of the pan through a fine sieve. Use the back of a spoon to push all the goodness through. What comes through should be a completely fine liquid. Discard the remaining shells that have not gone through the sieve. Overall it will make around 800g of liquid.
  5. In the same pan add the butter and when it is melted add the tomato puree, smoked paprika, lemon juice and sugar. Add the prawn broth liquid and stir gently. Simmer for a couple of minutes.
  6. In a small bowl add the cornflour and cold water to make a smooth paste and then add the broth to thicken slightly. Simmer gently for a further few minutes.
  7. Season further to taste and then serve. You could also easily freeze this once it has cooled ready to use on a separate occasion.

Prawn and Tamarind Curry

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Prawn curries are one of my favourite. Earlier this year another of my prawn recipes made its way into Delicious Magazine – see here – have you tried it yet? Decadent and spoiling, prawns are incredibly tasty, especially if they are of the king prawn variety. I am also a huge fan of tamarind, which has a very sweet and sour taste to it. So married together prawns and tamarind create a very satisfying meal.

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These beauties start off grey, but rest assured as soon as they are cooked in the oil they turn pink almost immediately. I leave the tails on, more for cosmetic reasons than for any other. The rest of the shell is removed, but not discarded (next week I will show you what to do with all those discarded shells and heads), and the black vein that runs along the prawns back is discarded completely.

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Other than peeling and deveining the prawns, this dish is incredibly quick to make and totally doable on a busy work week. Taking time to eat a delicious, comforting meal in the evening I think is so important. If you invest a little bit of time in preparation you really are rewarded with a memorable feast.

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Prawn and Tamarind Curry

serves 4

600g king prawns, peeled but keep the tails on, devein

1 tsp salt

1 tbsp tamarind paste

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground cumin

1/s tsp Kashmiri chilli powder

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

2 tbsp vegetable oil

5 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tsp grated fresh ginger

1 tsp salt

150 ml of boiling water

fresh coriander leaves to scatter when serving

  1. Peel, devein (make an incision down the back of the prawn to reveal a black vein, remove with a sharp knife and discard) and keep the tails on, scatter with the salt and then place to one side. Don’t forget to keep those shells and heads and I will show you how to make a magnificent prawn broth which turns into a prawn bisque next week!
  2. In a small bowl add the tamarind pulp, ground cumin and coriander, chilli powder and turmeric. Stir to form a smooth paste.
  3. Heat the oil in a pan on a medium low heat and then add the garlic and ginger. After a minute add the prawns and stir for a further minute so that they become a lovely pink colour.
  4. Add the tamarind paste and coat the prawns. Immediately add the boiling water and stir. Simmer gently for a further 5 minutes.
  5. Serve immediately with either rice, puri or other Indian flat bread.

So simple and yet utterly delicious

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Vietnamese Summer Rolls – healthy and utterly delicious

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Vietnamese summer rolls, also known as Gỏi cuốn in Vietnam, are THE perfect lunch time meal, starter or snack when the sun is shining and you want something light, tasty and flavoursome. They are great fun to make and you can get creative on what to fill them with. The original Vietnamese ones often have pork loin and prawn wrapped inside them, however, I have always omitted the pork and simply added prawns, but its up to you. If you do include pork loin boil it in water for around 20 minutes and then thinly slice the pork loin when it has cooled.

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Fresh herbs are key and you ideally need: coriander, garden mint and Thai basil, although regular basil will suffice if you can’t lay your hands on the former. If you happen to live near or pass by an Asian grocers pick up some perilla/shiso leaves to add a more authentic flavour. A little lettuce – cos works well – is also good to include (I didn’t have any in my fridge so for the ones above I have not included this). Rice noodles, carrot and cucumber batons are also needed.

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So to wrap you need to follow the photos above:

  1. Pour tap water into a tray and then dip the rice paper in it. Literally quickly submerge and take out straight away or else it will become too wet and sticky.
  2. Place a small amount of herbs, noodles, carrot and cucumber buttons and lettuce if using, at the central bottom of the circular rice paper.
  3. Roll it once and then bring in each side. Now place the prawns (if they are large slice them in two) and a couple of garlic chives/thin slices of  green spring onions with the ends poking out and roll again.
  4. Continue to roll tightly until the rice paper is firmly wrapped around the filling. Place to one side.

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I like to use my nuoc cham dipping sauce – recipe here. Equally they are also tasty if you dip them into a combined sauce of crunchy peanut butter with hoisin sauce.

 

Vietnamese Summer Rolls

makes around 16

A packet of Vietnamese rice paper – size 22cm

300g prawns (if you do not eat prawns you could add tofu)

packet of thin rice noodles

2 large carrots, sliced into thin batons

half a cucumber, slice into thin batons

cos lettuce

large handful of fresh coriander

large handful of fresh garden mint

large handful of thai basil (or regular basil if cannot find thai)

large handful of perilla/shiso leaves – optional

  1. Soak the rice noodles in a bowl of boiling water for around 7 minutes with a plate covering the bowl to keep in the heat. Check to taste they are cooked and then drain under cold water. Place to one side.
  2. Prepare all the ingredients and place them on a plate ready to use. If you are using giant chunky prawns it is best to slice them in two.
  3. Pour tap water into a tray and then dip the rice paper in it. Literally quickly submerge and take out straight away or else it will become too wet and sticky.
  4. Place a small amount of herbs, noodles, carrot and cucumber buttons and lettuce if using, at the central bottom of the circular rice paper.
  5. Roll it once and then bring in each side. Now place the prawns and a couple of garlic chives/thin slices of  green spring onions with the ends poking out and roll again.
  6. Continue to tightly roll until the rice paper is firmly wrapped around the filling. Place to once side and repeat.

They can be made ahead of time and then covered and placed in the fridge until ready to use. Bring out of the fridge 30 minutes before eating.

I often use my nuoc cham dipping sauce which you can see here. If you like this recipe you might also like some of my other Vietnamese ones such as:

Vietnamese pancakes – bahn xeo

Vietnamese chicken herb salad

Vietnamese fish with turmeric, ginger and dill

Vietnamese chicken rissoles with shallots, lemongrass and garlic

Vietnamese inspired salmon, cucumber, red onion and grapefruit salad

Bun cha

Vietnamese Pho Bo – Beef Noodle Soup

Vietnamese iced coffee


South Indian Sardine Curry

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Don’t you just love those recipes that require minimal effort to achieve a very satisfying and tasty result? This south Indian sardine curry is one of those dishes.

Sardines are great fish to have in your diet as they are packed with essential nutrients, including omega 3 fats, vitamin B12 and vitamin D. They are also very reasonable to buy and therefore are within everyones budget. The bones too are so small that you can easily eat them along with the flesh, providing you with calcium.

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I sometimes like to keep the sardines whole and at others times have them filleted. This recipe works equally well, whichever way you like to prepare them.  If you are going to get them filleted your fishmonger can easily do this for you to save time.

You could also add tamarind paste (no more than a teaspoonful) to this dish to give it a different twist. If you do decide to do this add the tamarind at the same time that you add the tomatoes.

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South Indian Sardine Curry

1 tbsp coconut oil

1 tsp mustard seeds

10 fresh curry leaves

1 banana shallot, finely sliced

1 tsp salt

5 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 heaped tsp of ginger paste

2 fresh chilli, sliced lengthways

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp coriander powder

200g fresh tomatoes, quartered

200ml water

450g sardines, cleaned and filleted

1. Heat the coconut oil and then add the mustard seeds moving them around the pan for 15 seconds before adding the curry leaves. After a further 10 seconds add the shallots and salt.

2. Allow the shallots to soften slightly on a medium low heat for 4-5 minutes before adding the garlic, ginger and chilli, followed by the turmeric and coriander powder. Cook for a further couple of minutes.

3. Add the tomatoes and stir into the other ingredients. Place a lid on the pan and cook for around 5 minutes to allow the tomatoes to soften.

4. Add some of the water and stir into the ingredients to create a sauce and then add the sardines and cook on a low heat for around 5-7 minutes with the lid on the pan. Do add more water if you require more of a sauce.

5. Careful not to over stir as the sardines will break up.

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Crispy Skin Cod with White Beans, Padron Peppers, Spinach, Dill and Aioli

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Not so long ago I had a really memorable lunch at Vinoteca in Farringdon. It’s a really relaxed, unstuffy little restaurant with wooden floor boards, a huge (285 if you want to get precise) selection of wines to drink there or buy to take away and a very fine menu of seasonal tasty food. I had this wonderful hake and beans dish with pardon peppers, spinach and aioli and flecks of dill. It was SO good I swore I would  replicate the dish at home and share it all with you.

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For the fish connoisseurs among you you will notice that I have replaced hake with cod. My preference would have been to use hake but as I had recently bought cod to make cod fritters I decided to use that up instead. If you can find hake however I would suggest using that as it holds together far better than cod, which tends to be flakier. In fact any firm white fish would work well.

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The hardest parts of this dish are making the aioli which can be tricky. In an ideal world I would have liked mine a little less runny but the taste and creaminess were spot on. Cooking fish can also be tricky as you want it to have crispy skin and for it not to dry out. You want to make sure the fish is completely dry before cooking so place it on kitchen paper and then add a splash of oil to the skin and season with salt and pepper. Heat a non-stick pan and when it is hot place the fish skin side down for around 4 minutes and then turn over and cook for a further 3. You then should remove from the pan and let it rest whilst you plate up the rest of the dish. If it breaks up, don’t worry it will also taste great in pieces within the beans instead of on top of them.

Padron peppers are available right now in the larger super markets. They come from Southern Spain and Morocco and complement this dish really well. They take a couple of minutes to cook so are quick and easy to prepare like the spinach.

A lot of my blog followers have told me how much they love my ‘chickpea, chorizo and cod stew with fresh parsley‘ so I hope that this one will also become one of your new go-to recipes.

Crispy Skin Cod with White Beans, Padron Peppers, Spinach, Dill and Aioli 

Serves 4

Homemade Aioli

1 garlic, finely grated

1 large egg yolk

2 tsp water

1/4 tsp salt

sprinkling of freshly ground pepper

1/2 tsp Dijon mustard

4 tbsp olive oil

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1/2 lemon, juice only (or to taste)

1. In an electric blender or whisk, blend the garlic, egg yolk, salt, water and pepper together. Then add the Dijon mustard and blend again.

2. Then add the oils a teaspoon at the time, continuing to whisk as you do so. Keep doing this until the sauce has thickened and emulsified.

Taste and add more lemon or salt as you require. Place in the fridge until ready to use.

Crispy Skin Cod with White Beans, Padron Pepper, Spinach and Dill 

2 tbsp olive oil

1 shallot, finely chopped

1 tsp salt

1 carrot, finely sliced

1 garlic bulb, finely chopped

540g white beans (this will include the water that they sit in)

1 vegetable stock cube

100ml boiling water

175g fresh fish per serving (700g if feeding 4 people)

135g padron peppers

260g fresh spinach

handful of fresh dill

1 lemon, cut into 4 to serve

1. Heat a pan and add the olive oil and when it is hot add the shallots, carrots and salt on a medium heat.

2. After 5 minutes add the garlic and cook for an extra couple of minutes before adding the white beans (including the water they are in). In addition add the extra boiling water and a vegetable stock cube.

3. Simmer on a low heat for up to 10 minutes, adding more boiling water if it becomes too dry.

4. Meanwhile heat a different non stick pan. Clean each portion of fish and pat dry with kitchen paper. If it has skin place a little olive oil onto the skin along with a pinch of salt and pepper. When the pan is really hot add the fish skin side down for around 4 minutes. Do not move the pan of fish for this time as it will make the fish fall apart. After 4 minutes, gently flip the fish over and cook for a further 3 minutes. Take off the heat and leave to rest on a warm place whilst you prepare the spinach and padron peppers.

5. Using the same pan as the fish add a tablespoon of olive oil and add the pardon peppers. Move them around the pan so that they burn slightly on each side and begin to wilt and soften. This will take around 3 minutes. Place to one side on a warm plate.

6. Using the same pan as the pardon peppers add the fresh spinach and a splash of water and move around the pan for up to a minute, by which time it will have wilted.

To plate up add the beans and carrots stew then add the spinach and pardon peppers. Lay the fish on top and then pop a dollop of aioli by the fish and sprinkle some dill over the dish. Add a quartered lemon to each serving.

Serve immediately so it is nice and hot.


Vietnamese Pancakes – Bahn Xeo

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Savoury food for breakfast has always been my kind of thing. Other than the pain au chocolat craving I had when I was pregnant with my first, savoury food has always been my go to breakfast choice. As such Asian food in general is my idea of heaven. Curry for breakfast, a bowl of hot steaming Vietnamese pho or Vietnamese Bahn Xeo (Vietnamese pancakes), and I am in culinary nirvana. These kind of foods I could eat all day so I am not necessarily suggesting you start cooking Vietnamese pancakes before the school/office run but having the recipe in mind when you want to try something new at any time of day.

 

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Banh Xeo (pronounced Ban say-oh – see video below if you want to sound like a pro) are thin crisp pancakes made with rice flour, coconut milk (or beer in fact), turmeric, and water. Traditionally they are filled with both pork (thinly cut pork belly strips) and prawns, but for mine I have omitted the pork and used just prawns. If you are vegetarian you could equally use some fried tofu, which would taste really good. Xeo actually means ‘sizzling’ in Vietnamese and it is this sound that you want to hear when the pancakes are crisping up. They are also known as ‘happy pancakes’ and you’ll see why after you have tasted your first mouthful.

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I pick up my rice flour from my local Asian supermarket or you can easily buy it online, it’s also only a matter of time before the bigger supermarkets will start stocking it too. I rather love the packaging of the one that I use – it’s got happy flour written all over it!

 

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The turmeric gives the lovely bright yellow hue to the pancakes and I also put in coconut milk. Some central parts of Vietnam do not use coconut milk and instead opt for beer to give the pancakes an extra crispiness, but I personally love the coconut taste to the pancakes.

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Now eating the crispy pancakes can be done in a couple of ways. You can either simply use a knife and fork and eat it like that, or in Vietnam you are often provided with a spoon and large lettuce leaves along with fresh herbs such as coriander and mint. You break off a little of the pancake …..like so

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and then place it on the lettuce leaf, along with the herbs …..

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and then roll it so you are able to pick it up and dip it in your nuoc cham dipping sauce. Easy hey. I cannot stress how delicious this is, so much so that I am craving more of these writing this post. Seriously seek out rice flour and give these a shot – I promise you you won’t regret it.

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Vietnamese Pancakes – Bahn Xeo

Serves 4

Pancake batter

175g rice flour

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

pinch of salt

250ml coconut milk

150ml cold water

*******

1 tsp coconut/groundnut oil (to go into the pan for each pancake made)

 for the filling

200g king prawns, shelled and deveined

4 spring onions, finely sliced on the diagonal

125g beansprouts

a handful (per person) of mixed herbs: coriander, mint, thai sweet basil

Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce

2 tbsp rice vinegar

5 tbsp fish sauce

2 small red chillies, finely chopped

2-3 tbsp caster sugar

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

200ml cold water

1 lime, juice only (optional)

1. First you want to make the batter. Mix all the ingredients together with a whisk so that the mixture is smooth and not too thick in consistency. You want to make it a similar consistency as if you were cooking regular European pancakes. Place to one side to rest ideally for at least 30 minutes.

2. To prepare the nuoc cham dipping sauce place the garlic and chilli in a bowl followed by the water, sugar, fish sauce, vinegar and lime (if using). Stir well so that the sugar dissolves. Place to one side.

3. Next prepare the filling. Place a small amount of coconut oil in a pan and cook the prawns on a medium low heat for 3 minutes, turning and stirring as you do so. Once they have become pinker in colour, transfer them to a plate.

4. Heat a large non stick skillet or frying pan and when it is hot add 1 tsp of coconut oil (or ground nut oil) and then ladle in one spoonful of the pancake mixture. Move it around the pan immediately so that it is completely covered. Lower the heat and let it cook for 3 minutes.

5. Place some beansprouts over one half of the pancake, along with some spring onions and place a lid on the pan for a further 2 minutes.

6. Now remove the lid and place the prawns on top of the beansprouts and spring onions. Cook for one more minute checking to see that the underside of the pancake is beginning to bronze slightly and crisp up. Place some fresh coriander, mint, Thai basil on top of the prawns and then fold one half of the pancake over the other. Leave to cook for 20 more seconds and then place on a serving plate with more fresh herbs and some lettuce.

To Serve:

Serve immediately when it is hot. Cut a bit sized portion off the pancake and place on a lettuce leaf. Add a few more herbs and then roll so that you can pick it up and dip it into the nuoc cham dipping sauce.

The video below shows you how to eat it.


Fragrant Lemongrass and Ginger Salmon Broth – full of goodness

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I have a weakness for broths, pho and laksa. Seriously I dream about eating hot, steaming broths in road side cafes in some Asian country that has been lovingly created by the mama or papa of the household. My favourite eating experiences have been these low key affairs that are often quite unexpected. It’s the balance of sweet, sour, spicy and saltiness that gets me every time.

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I regularly try to replicate them here at home in London. The flavours, smells and textures take me to those foreign lands without the need for stepping foot on a plane. I guess that generally is the way I like to cook – foods from foreign lands that excite the taste buds and give you a warm inner happy glow. It sounds cheesy but it is so true. One of my mini me’s is a bit under the weather but has not lost her appetite so I said I would cook her a feast for lunch that would perk her up. Ok, it was kind of an excuse for me to have another broth pick-me-up too in all honesty.

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I decided to work with some big bold flavours such as the lemongrass, garlic and ginger and give them the centre stage in this dish. The sour came from the lime and kaffir lime leaves, the saltiness from the fish sauce and salmon, the sweetness from the tomatoes and a sprinkling of caster sugar and the spiciness (for me only) with the red chilli. I then added layers of crunch and flavour with the spring onions, fresh coriander and fried shallots. Instead of adding fish stock I added chicken stock which I think works far better for this type of dish.

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Crispy shallots are seriously addictive and add a wonderful crunch and flavour to the meal. I chose to add rice noodles that partly filled the bottom of my bowl and then added the broth on top. It wants to be 3/4 broth 1/4 noodles.

 

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Take a look at that close up. It’s making me hungry again just looking at. I adore fresh coriander and mouthfuls of that with the broth, sweet tomatoes, chilli, shallots and spring onions is absolutely sublime. Seriously you have to try it.  You heard it hear first. Give it a go and let me know. My kids LOVE it so don’t presume that because it’s a little ‘exotic’ they won’t. I just leave out the chillies of course!

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Fragrant Lemongrass and Ginger Salmon Broth

serves 4

1 banana shallot, finely sliced

vegetable oil to fry the shallot

2 lemongrass, roughly sliced

4cm fresh ginger, peeled and roughly sliced

5 garlic cloves

1 tbsp groundnut/olive oil

2 kaffir lime leaves

1 litre boiling water (or 500ml if using fresh chicken stock)

1 chicken stock cube/500ml of  fresh chicken stock

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 tsp caster sugar

10 small tomatoes, halved

60g sugar snaps

4 handfuls of fresh spinach

juice of 1/2 a lime

200g fresh salmon, thinly sliced

150g rice noodles

To Serve

fried shallot (from above)

handful of fresh coriander

2 spring onions, sliced at an angle

2 red chillies, finely sliced (optional)

 

1. First warm a small pan with vegetable oil and heat. Add a small slither of shallot and if it fizzles it is ready to add the whole sliced shallot. Keep it at a high heat, but not so hot that they burn, and stir at intervals. After around 6 minutes the shallots will bronze and crisp up. At this stage remove them with a slotted spoon and place on a plate with kitchen paper to soak up the oil.

2. Place the ginger, garlic and lemongrass in a small blender and blend. Add 1 tablespoon of water and 1 tsp of oil and blend into a smooth (as possible) paste.

3. In a large, deep pan add some oil on a medium heat and then add the lemongrass paste and kaffir lime leaves and move around the pan for 2 minutes. Add the chicken stock, boiling water, fish sauce, lime juice and caster sugar and simmer for 10 minutes.

4. Cook the rice noodles according to the packet and place to one side.

5. A couple of minutes before serving add the fresh tomatoes, sugar snaps and spinach.

6. A minute before serving add the salmon so that it just cooks through completely but still holds together well.

7. To serve place the noodles in a bowl followed by the broth, vegetables and salmon and then place the spring onion, fresh coriander, fried shallots and red chillies (if you need some extra heat) on top. Serve immediately with chopsticks and a spoon.

Slurping encouraged.

 

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