Indian Aubergine/Eggplant, Peanut and Tomato Curry

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Have you ever been a little ambivalent about aubergine/eggplant? On the one hand loving their smooth, shiny plum coloured exterior but never really in raptures about the taste. Well my other half, Mr B, tended to fall into this category, so a while ago I set out to prove him wrong.

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After mutterings of ‘you know aubergine is my least favourite vegetable, I prefer greens’, he tasted one mouthful and that completely shut him up. Murmurs of approval were given between mouthfuls and a 9/10 score (yes we regularly mark our food – is that unusual?). RESULT. Surprisingly my eldest child also adored it, surprising as it does have a fair amount of chilli in it! If you don’t like chilli, but like spice, just reduce or take out the chilli in the recipe below.

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The combination of aubergine, peanuts and sesame seeds works ridiculously well together so much so that you will have to restrain yourself from wanting to guzzle up the whole dish. Combine that with a spiced onion and tomato sauce and you have yourself a winning dish.  So put your assumptions to one side for a moment and give this recipe a whirl and I can assure you you will be more than pleasantly surprised.  I couldn’t resist the bijou aubergines on sale at my local market but a regular sized aubergine will work equally well. Just slice the aubergine into chunky chip sized pieces, keeping the skin on of course.

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Indian Aubergine/Eggplant, Peanut and Tomato Curry

Adapted from Sanjay Thumma’s Eggplant Tomato Curry

450g baby aubergine/eggplant (normal size is fine too), sliced lengthways or chunky chip sized if using a regular aubergine

cooking oil, enough to deep fry the aubergine

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp black mustard seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

2 dried red chillies

1 small green chilli, finely chopped (optional)

5 curry leaves (fresh or dried)

1 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp of garlic paste

1 tsp ginger paste

1 white onion, finely chopped

200g chopped fresh tomatoes

1 tsp coriander powder

1 tsp cumin powder

1/2 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder

2 tbsp salted peanuts

1 tbsp sesame seeds

150ml water

1 tsp salt (to taste)

1. If using baby aubergine/eggplant slice lengthways removing the stalk. If using a regular sized aubergine slice into chunky chip sized, again removing the stalk. Once sliced, immediately place in a pan of boiling oil to sizzle away and bronze. This should take no longer than ten minutes.

2. Remove the aubergine with a straining spoon and place on some kitchen roll whilst you prepare the next steps.

3. In a new large pan add the olive oil and when hot add the mustard and cumin seeds. They will begin to pop immediately so move them gently around the pan for 15 seconds before adding the dried red chilli, fresh small green chilli (optional), curry leaves (fresh or dried), turmeric, garlic, ginger paste and onion. Continue to cook on a medium heat for around 7 minutes by which time the onion should have nicely softened, but not bronzed.

4. Add the chopped tomatoes, coriander, cumin and Kashmiri chilli powder and simmer for a further 5 minutes, by which time the tomatoes will have totally softened and blended into the sauce. Return the aubergines to the pan and fold gently into the sauce.

5. In a small pan dry roast the peanuts and sesame seeds for a couple of minutes, making sure to constantly move them around the pan so that the heat is evenly distributed and they do not burn. They will begin to bronze at which point you need to remove them from the pan.

6. Using a spice grinder (definitely one of my most useful items I own in my kitchen) – this is the one I use – see here – grind the peanuts and sesame seeds together to form a paste.

7. Add the peanut sesame paste to the pan and stir into the curry, adding more water if necessary. As I used salted peanuts I only needed to add a little more salt. Simmer for a few minutes and serve. If cooking ahead and leaving to rest you will have to add a little more water when heating up.

Serve with rice or Indian bread and you have yourself a vegetarian – in fact vegan – treat. Try it and leave a comment below.

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Cha Ca La Vong – Vietnamese Fish with Turmeric, Ginger and Dill

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The melodic sounding ‘Cha Ca La Vong’ is one of Hanoi’s famous dishes consisting of white fish (often Vietnamese Snakehead fish) along with fresh turmeric, galangal, ginger, the pungent smelling Vietnamese shrimp paste, spring onions, rice noodles and a generous helping of fresh dill, coriander and mint and a scattering of peanuts.

My version is all of the above except no galangal (unless I happen to chance upon it), turmeric powder instead of fresh turmeric and no Vietnamese shrimp paste. I also find cod or tilapia work best for me, but basically you can use any thick white fish that has been filleted and does not have a propensity to fall apart.

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The flavour combinations work so well and I find it refreshing to give dill centre stage once in a while as I tend to find that it only ever gets partnered with salmon, trout and creme fraiche. The textures also really compliment each other, from the soft and yet delicately fried fish, to the crunchy nuts, the fresh flavoursome herbs and the filling noodles.  I like to accompany the dish with my sweet and sour nuoc cham dipping sauce – see here (at the bottom of the post).

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It’s one of those dishes which is perfect for guests to get stuck in and help themselves.  Part of the fun of it is to create the dish yourself, choosing the amounts of herbs that suit your requirements. I also find that when guests help themselves there is far less wastage as people, on the whole, tend to take what they are going to eat.  Both my daughters adore the dish and for my youngest I tend to make up a separate nuoc cham dipping sauce without fresh chilli.

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Cha Ca La Vong – Vietnamese Fish with Turmeric, Ginger and Dill

Serves 4

600g cod or tilapia, cut into 2 inch chunks

1 tbsp fresh ginger, finely grated (equally you could use ginger paste)

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped (or as above)

1 tbsp fish sauce

1 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp sugar

1 tbsp plain flour

3/4 tbsp of vegetable oil

6 spring onions, thinly cut on the diagonal

bunch of fresh dill

bunch of fresh coriander

bunch of fresh mint

1 generous handful of unsalted peanuts, slightly crushed

300g rice noodles

1. Place the fish chunks, turmeric, ginger, garlic, flour, sugar and fish sauce in a bowl and gently mix in together so that the fish is completely coated in the turmeric. Cover and leave to marinade in the fridge for a few hours or overnight.

2. Cook the rice noodles according to the packet (normally I boil them for 4 mins) and drain. Run cold water through them and place to one side. When ready to serve pour boiling water through it once, drain and place in a serving bowl.

4. In a different bowl place the fresh coriander and mint and in another place the peanuts.

5. Prepare the nuoc cham dipping sauce. For four people you will need to make two batches of this – see here.

6. In a frying pan add the oil and when it is hot add the fish in batches along with any remaining ginger and garlic from the marinade. Leave for a 2-3 minutes so they begin to crisp before turning over for another couple of minutes. Place the fish on kitchen roll whilst you are cooking the remaining fish chunks.

7. Once the fish has crisped up sufficiently add the dill and the spring onions for up to a minute before placing in a large serving bowl.

8. Allow guests to serve themselves, showing them how to layer up the dish by first placing the noodles in a bowl, followed by the fish, spring onions and dill, mint and coriander, peanuts and then a little nuoc cham dipping sauce over the top.


Macha Soul tea with Janice Leung and Satay Prawns with Garlic, Lemongrass and Spring Onions

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This blog post has been a long time coming and for that I apologise to you all. I initially wrote the post on the plane coming back from Hong Kong and was rather chuffed with myself as I had, for once, hours to compose and fine tune it.  I was really satisfied with the end result, but then tragedy stuck as I accidently deleted it upon my return owing to the fact that I wasn’t very familiar with my new computer. So this post is very much an abridged version of the original, which in hindsight was probably far too long and rambling anyway.

During my recent visit to Hong Kong I was fortunate enough to meet up with one of Hong Kong’s most dynamic food bloggers, Janice Leung, over a delicious cup of creamy ‘matcha soul’ tea, at a charming little tea house called Sinmei in Sheung Wan. Like many of Hong Kong’s gem eateries and cafes it was hidden on the 5th floor of a commercial building away from the hustle and bustle at street level. It was an oasis of calm and serenity with its mix of vintage Chinese and European furniture giving it a somewhat boho shabby chic vibe.

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Matcha soul tea at Sinmei
Prior to setting up her blog: e-ting food, Janice worked as Assistant Editor at Luxe City Guides, so knows her way around Hong Kong (and a number of other cities in fact) better than most. Most recently however Janice, along with her business partner Vincent Poon, have set up Island East Markets which is Hong Kong’s answer to an organic farmers market.
Janice’s motivation for setting up such an enterprise was down to the fact that she found it increasingly difficult to source good organic produce in Hong Kong; the nearest place for her was in Tao Po, over an hours journey from her house, or the  few stalls on Central Pier 7. Typically the fresh fruit and vegetables you see being sold in the various street markets in Hong Kong comes from mainland China where little or no knowledge is known about where or how it was grown and whether pesticides or fertilizers were used.
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A typical Hong Kong fresh vegetable stall
There was definitely a gap in the market to launch such an enterprise and having spent time traveling the globe as well as living and studying in Melbourne Australia, Janice had seen the positive effect that having a local farmers market had on the community and the farmers alike. She was keen to create an environment where people would want to spend time getting to know the vendors, trying the different foods on offer and a place that families could wile away a few pleasant hours on a Sunday.  As well as edibles and fresh produce, there is handcrafted goods made by local artisans, face painting for the kids and talented local bands. I also particularly like the idea that she has organised for local chefs to come and do food demonstrations using the local food on offer at the market to create delicious dishes that people can replicate at home.
There were a couple of key factors, however, that were paramount to the markets success; firstly she needed the support from the local organic farmers in Hong Kong – namely in the New Territories and secondly she needed a site. For the former she was directed to a body of around 70 farmers who were members of the Organic Farmers Association in Hong Kong, which is similar to the Soil Association in the UK. Using this list as a starting point she introduced the idea to the farmers who responded positively. The second factor could have proved tricky had the Real Estate company Swire Properties not offered them a site in Quarry Bay every Sunday. It was an incredible stroke of good luck that allowed the market to breath life. On Sunday’s the road is closed off to traffic and stalls are set up and a relaxed vibe is allowed to resonate.
So far the market has received a positive reception by vendors and customers alike and although it was closed over the Christmas period it opens up again from Sunday 27th January so if you are living or visiting Hong Kong in the future make sure you take some time out on a Sunday to visit Island East Markets on Tong Chong Street and see for yourself Hong Kong’s answer to an Organic Farmers Market, I know for sure that I will be paying it a visit upon my return in April, in fact I can’t wait!
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The recipe for you today was inspired by a visit to a restaurant called ‘The Chairman’ on Kau U Fong in Central. Similar to Janice’s way of thinking the restaurant is also pro ‘local’ and sourcing premium produce from the New Territories, as well as placing emphasis on home-made as opposed to ready-made. Additives and MSG have no place in their kitchen and whilst the menu may not have as widest selection of dishes compared to some restaurants, the dishes that are on offer hit the mark.
The dish below was inspired by one such dish that I sampled in the restaurant. I hope that I’ve done credit to the original.  After a few false starts on the home-made satay sauce, I think I have found one that hit’s the high note. I hope you ‘ll agree.
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Satay Prawns with Garlic, Lemongrass and Spring Onions with Rice Noodles
Inspired by a similar claypot dish at The Chairman Restaurant in Hong Kong
Serves 4-6 (depending if you are serving other dishes as well)
320g fresh King Prawns (heads removed, shell on or just tails on – up to you)
2 tbsp of ground nut oil
7 garlic cloves, peeled (I like my garlic)
3 spring onions, chopped into 2 inch pieces
2 lemongrass, chopped into 2 inch pieces and halved (white part only)
250g rice flat noodles
Peanut Satay
250g dry roasted peanuts, unsalted
1 tbsp Kecap Manis (sweet soy sauce)
1 and a half tbsp palm sugar (or regular if you don’t have this)
1 tbsp of tamarind concentrate (or pulp soaked in 25ml of warm water – you’ll need to squeeze it through a sieve if you do it this way)
pinch of salt
50 ml ground nut oil
200 ml water
for the spice paste you will need:
4 small dried red chillies, deseeded (or more if you want more of a kick)
3 shallots
2 lemongrass (remove the green part)
3 garlic cloves
1 inch fresh galangal (or ginger if you cannot source it)
1. First make the peanut satay sauce. Coarsely grind the peanuts in a blender or food processor (or pestle and mortar) and remove and place to one side.
2. Next place the spice paste ingredients in the food processor and whizz until they are form a smooth as possible paste.
3. If you are using tamarind pulp soak in warm water for 10 minutes and then press through a sieve.
4. Place the oil in a pan and add the spice paste ingredients and let simmer gently for a couple of minutes before adding the crushed peanuts and stirring together.
5. Add half the water, tamarind concentrate (or pulp), kecap manis, palm sugar, salt. Stir in throughly.
6. Place the remaining water, and add even more if necessary, and let similar for a few minutes. Taste test to see if the salt/sugar elements have the right balance. Let cool and place to one side.
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7. Heat a pan with groundnut oil and when the oil begins to bubble add the garlic and lemongrass and let it gently sizzle for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally.
8. Add two tablespoons of homemade satay sauce to the pan and stir into the garlic and lemongrass.
9. Place the prawns into the pan and cover throughly with the peanut satay. Add another one or two tablespoons as required. After a couple of minutes add the spring onions and after a minute take off the heat.
10. In a separate saucepan boil the rice noodles for the time specified on the packet – will not be longer than 5 minutes. Drain the noodles and add a further tablespoon of satay sauce so that the noodles are also coated in the satay.
11. Transfer the noodles to a large main dish and place the prawns, garlic, lemongrass and spring onions on top and then let guests/family serve themselves.
Please note homemade satay sauce can be stored in the fridge for a couple of weeks and in the freezer thereafter.
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Cold Rice Noodles with Peanut-Lime Chicken

The past week or so has been very memorable here in the UK. The Olympics kicked off to an outstanding opening ceremony last friday, which made me laugh and marvel in equal measure. Ok, I’m biased, but I thought that it’s quirky, eccentric nature pretty much summed up us Brits. No amount of money spent on an opening ceremony, past or future, can trump the fact that Her Majesty gamely played herself with Mr Bond as part of the ceremony itself. How cool and even the non royalists out there must have had a sneeky smile on their faces. As for Mr Bean – what a great touch to include him as part of the ceremony; he was definitely one of the highlights.  It was fun, original and gamely humorous and had all of us glued to the TV screen for over three hours, wondering what Danny Boyle was going to bring out of the hat next. I think it is safe to say he is a ‘slam dunk’ for a knighthood in the coming months.

Since the Games begun I have been glued to the TV watching the swimming in particular. Mike Phelps gaining his 19th Olympic medal making him the greatest winner the Olympics has ever seen -truly remarkable. Also the spectacular performance of China’s Ye Shiwen, who, at 16 years of age, wins gold in the women’s individual medley.  It’s addictive viewing watching the world’s best athletes compete in such a wide variety of sports.  I’m going to see the men’s beach volleyball soon, which should be fun and a little surreal to watch in central London.

We’ve had some good sunny days recently, which always inspire me to cook fragrant Asian dishes that are not too heavy. This recipe I stumbled across really recently and it caught my attention as it was served cold and could almost be classed as an Asian noodle salad, of sorts. I’ve cooked it a few times already and I have to admit it’s really good. My number one fan (Big A – who is 6) gave it a definite 10/10.  It was originally posted in the New York Times, however, I found it on the hugely popular food bloggers site ‘Smitten Kitchen‘. As with all great recipes, Deb Perelman – from Smitten Kitchen, adapted hers from the original and I changed hers a little bit further. For example,  I omitted chilli, as I was feeding it to Big A, Little Z and my father who all don’t eat chilli. That said if I were feeding it to just adults (or chilli loving adults) I would definitely add the chilli (hence it has remained on the list of ingredients), I added only one large cucumber, added baby sweetcorn, slightly more rice noodles.

For the really observant amongst you, you will have noticed that I completely forgot to scatter the crushed roasted peanuts over the dish for all the photos. When I sat down and started eating the meal I remembered but clearly too late for the shots for this blog post !

Cold Rice Noodles with Peanut-Lime Chicken

Sourced from Smitten Kitchen, original recipe from David Tanis whose recipe appeared in The New York Times

Serves 6

Dipping Sauce

6 tbsp Asian fish sauce

6 tbsp brown sugar

12 tbsp lime juice

2 garlic cloves, crushed

small thai red or green chilli,  to taste but optional

Peanut Dressing

3 tbsp Asian fish sauce

3 tbsp rice vinegar

9 tbsp lime juice

3 tbsp of light soy sauce

1 1/2 (one and a half) inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced

6 tbsp natual unsalted peanut butter (if you can’t find this just use regular)

1 tbsp toasted sesame oil

pinch of cayenne

Chicken and Noodle Salad

3 tbsp toasted sesame oil

500g boneless skinless chicken thighs

250g dried rice noodles

1 large cucmber, cut in 1/4 inch half moons

2 carrots, cut in thin julienne

handful of baby sweetcorn, halved

handful of fresh mint and coriander (you could also add Thai basil)

4 spring onions, thinly sliced

handful of roasted peanuts, crushed

lime wedges to serve

1. Begin by making the ‘dipping sauce’. On a low heat, place all the ingredients into a pan and gently stir until the sugar has been properly dissolved – this will only take a few minutes. Place in a small serving bowl and allow to cool.

2. Next you need to make the ‘peanut dressing’. Place all the ingredients into a small food processor and puree all the ingredients so that you are left with a thick creamy sauce. Pour into a serving bowl.

3. In separate large bowl pour approximately half of the dipping sauce and a third of the peanut dressing and stir together. Add the chicken to the mixture and coat thoroughly using your hands. Leave to marinate for at least 15 minutes.

4. Once the chicken is marinated gently heat up a griddle pan and add a little toasted sesame oil and brown the chicken thoroughly on both sides, which will take a few minutes per side. I cook my in batches so that I can be sure that the chicken in properly cooked through. As an alternative you could grill the chicken for 20-25 minutes.

5. When the chicken is cooked, chop into bite sized pieces.

6. To serve there are a few alternatives that you can do –

option 1: Place everything on a large serving platter with the noodles, chicken, vegetables, dressing and marianade all separated out and then your guests/family can help themselves.

or

option 2: Divide the cooked noodles into individual bowls or plates. In a small bowl toss the vegetables with 1 tablespoon of dipping sauce. Place the vegetables and chicken onto each bowl/plate. Place a further 2 teaspoons of dipping sauce and dressing to each helping. Add the herbs, peanuts and spring onions to each bowl and serve.

Note: As an alternative to baby sweetcorn you could add fresh peppers which work equally well.