Red Thai Tofu, Aubergine and Egg Curry

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Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been cooking loads of Indian food – recipe testing mainly. I  had been sent a fabulous hamper from Natco foods as part of the Curry4Change competition that I’m taking part in –  details on this will follow in June as YOU too can get involved.

I am now craving food from a different region and a rather delicious vegetarian Thai dish caught my attention recently, cooked by John Torode as part of one of the invention tests in the 2014 Masterchef series. I find the series completely addictive and a pleasure to watch. The invention test in particular is always rather exciting as it really demonstrates how much flair and knowledge of cooking the contestant really has. Basically the contestants get two boxes to chose from, one savoury and the other sweet – no prizes for guessing which I would always choose! After electing a box they have to create a dish using some of the ingredients within the box as well as a few staple ingredients that they are all given. Before the contestants dive in John has a go at choosing one of the boxes (away from the contestants), typically he too always chooses the savoury box. This time he created a red Thai aubergine, tofu, egg curry, which I thought looked delicious, spicy and relatively light – a dish that was beckoning me to cook.

Here is my version of the dish inspired from the John Tororde’s creation. I have a feeling that John may have included red peppers in his paste but I opted to not put them in – I leave it to you to decide.

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Red Thai Tofu, Aubergine and Egg Curry

The proportions below will allow you to cook this dish a few times – freeze the paste left over.

To make the paste

5cm fresh galangal

5cm fresh ginger

3 cloves of garlic

13 small shallots (half that if they are larger in size)

3 small piece kaffir lime peel

4 large dried red chilli, soak for 10 mins in warm water to soften

2 fresh small red chillies

2 lemongrass sticks

1 tsp shrimp paste

1. If you have a gas hob, simply place all the ingredients, aside for the shrimp paste, on a rack and place over the flame so that the ingredients char slightly. This will give the paste a lovely smokey flavour. I did exactly the same thing when I was in Vietnam and made Pho – see here.

2. If you do not have a gas hob, simply place them into a pan (do not add oil) and let them heat and char this way.

3. Once the ingredients have charred and cooled, place into a blender and add the shrimp paste. Blend until you can get it as smooth as you can.

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To make the curry itself

Serves 4

5 tbsp vegetable oil

800g firm tofu, cut into 3 cm cubes

4 tsp homemade curry paste

300g aubergine – if using baby aubergines cut into quarters, otherwise cut into 7x2cm matchsticks

400ml creamy coconut milk (1 tin)

4 eggs

1 tbsp caster sugar

1 tsp salt

3 pak choi

100ml water

1/2 lime, juice only

1. Firstly make sure the tofu is completely dry as it will then fry a lot better. I usually take the tofu out its packet a couple of hours before using and then place on kitchen roll so that it soaks up all the excess water.

2. Using a non-stick pan place a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil into the pan and when it is hot carefully add the tofu cubes. Fry on a low heat so that the tofu bronzes delicately. This should not take much more than 10 minutes.

3. Meanwhile on a low heat, in a wok or karahi, add a couple more tablespoons of vegetable oil and add the thai paste. Stir around in the oil and add the aubergine and coat in the paste. You may find you need to add another tablespoon of oil at this stage as the aubergines do need quite a bit to cook.

4. As the aubergines begin to soften add the creamy coconut milk and the eggs in their shells. They will become hard boiled from cooking gently in the coconut milk.

5. Add the caste sugar and salt to taste.

6. Add the lime juice and then five minutes before serving add the pak choi and a little extra water. Remove the shells from the eggs and cut in half.

7. Serve in a bowl with a small bowl of rice on the side. John added roasted sesame seeds in his, which is a nice touch.

NB: My local Thai grocers said that they do not use fresh chillies in their red thai paste, but I decided to add a couple of help with the heat and colour.

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PS: I realise I’ve been cooking rather a lot of  dishes that include aubergine/eggplant lately. I do apologise if you can’t stand the vegetable. I don’t actively come up with recipes that include it but realise this is the third recipe that includes aubergines that I’ve cooked in the last month or so.  I promise there will be no aubergines for a while as you are probably being polite and are actually really sick of them ;o).


Chickpea, Tomato, Spinach and Feta Soup

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With a guest over recently, I found myself improvising with some ingredients to bulk up lunch. It was an unplanned creation and hence the results were all the more exciting and satisfying.  I literally threw together some ingredients I already had in the house to make a very comforting and warming soup/vegetarian stew. It took under fifteen minutes from fridge to stove to table and the silence as everyone delved into their bowl with concentration, was deeply reassuring. As they came up for air, the verbal endorsements confirmed this.

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It’s important to be able to whip up a meal in a matter of minutes. We all need an arsenal of these for when we have little energy or inclination to cook but want to be nourished by good home-cooked food. You can’t beat home-made soups – not only do they taste better, but you can also monitor exactly what goes into them.

I always have a range of tinned lentils on standby to use for soups, stews and salads, so for this soup I used a tin of trusty chickpeas. Everything else I had in my pantry (aka pull out cupboard…buy hey we can dream!) or in the fridge. I always have a pack or two of feta in my fridge as it can last unopened for around three months.

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Chickpea, Tomato, Spinach and Feta Soup

2 tbsp olive oil

3 garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

1 banana shallot (or small white onion), peeled and roughly chopped

2 large red chillies/chilli peppers (not the hot variety), chopped into inch pieces

4 fresh tomatoes, diced

1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

1 x 400g tin of chickpeas

1 tsp of sweet paprika

1 tsp vegetable bouillon

200ml boiling water

1 tsp rock salt

pinch of black pepper

200g fresh spinach

100g feta, crumbled

1. Heat the olive oil in a large pan and when it is hot, but on a medium/low heat, add the shallot and garlic and gently fry.

2. After a couple of minutes add the chilli/chilli pepper and continue to stir for a further couple of minutes.

3. Add the fresh tomatoes and continue to cook on a medium/low heat until they begin to soften. Add the tinned tomatoes to the pan and stir into the other ingredients.

4. Now add the drained chickpeas, the sweet paprika, vegetable bouillon, salt and the boiling water. Give a good stir and let simmer for a couple of minutes.

5. Finally add the fresh spinach and place a lid on the pan. After a minute give a good stir and add a little more boiling water if necessary. Taste and season.

6. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with a liberal amount of feta.

All these steps will not take more than 15 minutes max to prepare and cook.

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Turkey Revisited and Moule Mariniere

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Having been impressed by all that Turkey had to offer last year we decided to return for our summer foray this year, which is a little out of character as we tend to try somewhere new for summer travels. To be fair though, we were exploring  a new area – this time the Bozburun peninsula.
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I favour peace, tranquility and being away from the crowds of mass tourism, so nestling for a couple of weeks in the quiet village of Sogut at the very tip of the peninsula was absolutely the perfect base from which to explore the local area and enjoy the warm waters of the Aegean. It has been described as going back in time, not dissimilar to the south of Spain or France 40 years ago.
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The village itself is small and meanders down the hill towards the sea, offering breathtaking vistas of the nearby islands. The road came to an end at a picturesque harbour where a handful of wooden fishing boats bobbed gently up and down. Along the harbour were a few tavernas offering the freshest fish caught that very day. As the fish were bought in on the fishing boats the women would crouch over the rocks at the water’s edge gutting and cleaning the fish.
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Over the two weeks we alternated between these quaint little eateries (there were four in all) for our evening meal, sitting on the harbour wall, watching the sun gradually dip over the brow of the far away islands.
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Their menus were all fairly similar, but each had their own interpretation of the mezzes. We were somewhat surprised to see that samphire was offered every evening, cooked in garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. 2013 can definitely be remembered as the summer of samphire!
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It tasted less salty than the samphire found in the British Isles and when I asked where it grew, they pointed in-land as opposed to  seawards,  which might explain its less salty taste.
Octopus grilled with garlic, herbs, pink peppercorns and olive oil was another daily staple to the point that I fear that Mr B will start to have cold sweats if he doesn’t have it back at home now and again.  Needless to say a number of the mezzes consisted of aubergine and tomato fusions with the ubiquitous garlic and olive oil, as well as a broad bean based humous and another including beetroot.
We discovered a new soup that really appealed to us. Known as ‘tarhana’ it has been cited as the first ‘instant soup’ invented by Central Asian Turks. The dough that goes into making up the soup takes 5-6 days to ferment, so it really is a labour of love to make and as such I felt it probably wouldn’t get much of a following if I posted it as a blog post in its own right. If I am wrong then let me know and I may well do a post on it in the future.
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Apparently 100 years ago locals would eat a bowl of it for breakfast each morning before embarking on their day’s work. It is truly delicious, and eating it accompanied with a fresh tomato and pickled red cabbage salad and a round or two of gozleme filled with local cheese and cabbage definitely hit the spot.
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The Bozburun peninsular, or to be precise the village of Osmaniye, is one of the most prolific producers of pine honey in the world. We journeyed into the hills to visit the Honey House where we were taken on an informative tour of how honey is produced in the region. All those in the vicinity of the village earn their living from bee keeping and scattered all across the hillside you can see little blue and white boxes housing the bees.  True to its name, the honey itself has a distinctly pine taste to it and I was fascinated to learn that the bees collect a saliva off the pines that has been excreted onto the pine leaves by a totally different insect and it is this liquid that gives the honey its distinctive aroma and taste. You can find out more about the process here.
Other than eating we enjoyed seeing the local area and in particular the local ruins of Phoenix and Amos. The former was scattered all over the surrounding  countryside of Sogut and at a nearby beach – Phoenix Beach – which wins awards in my book as the most off-piste beach to reach, an adventure in itself – you can snorkel and see pots dating back thousands of years.
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I learnt that whilst it has not been thoroughly excavated, archeologists decided that concreting the pots and treasure of the past to the sea bed would be the best course of action to deter would-be-treasure hunters. Maybe this is common practice but I felt this was a rather unusual choice of action.
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We explored the ruins of Amos in 40 degree heat, which was not really the best time to explore the ruins thoroughly, but getting to the ruins took some time to reach as we meandered over the mountains and hairpin bends that make up the Bozoburun peninsular. After exploring the ruins of Patara, Tlos and Letoon last year the ruins of Amos and Phoenix were slightly disappointing, but nonetheless, I do still enjoy a good amble around an ancient ruin.
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As always the locals were friendly and welcoming and made our visit to their region a happy and enjoyable one. I was most impressed with Osman’s gold teeth (see above) – what a legend!
To continue with my seafood diet of the last two weeks I wanted to bring to you my version of the ubiquitous Moule Mariniere, which is long overdue.
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A foolproof recipe that is very quick to prepare and cook, economical and a family crowd pleaser. Enjoy. I hope you all had a wonderful summer holiday wherever that may have been. Leave a comment to fill me in.
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Moules Mariniere
Serves 4
2kg mussels, cleaned
2 tbsp butter
4 shallots, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves finely chopped
3 bay leaves
200ml single cream
200ml dry white wine
1 tsp salt (optional/to taste)
handful of fresh parsley to serve
crusty bread  to serve
1. Thoroughly clean the mussels under cold running water. Close the open ones with your hands or by tapping them gently and discard the ones that remain open or are broken. Remove any barnacles from the shell and pull away the beards. It’s easiest to pull the beards  back and forth and then they will release from the shell with a little tug.
2. In a pan that is large enough to comfortably fit all the mussels at once with extra room to move them around (if need be cook in two pans and then merge together at the end) melt the butter and then add the garlic, shallots and bay leaves. Once softened add the mussels and stir for a few seconds before placing the lid on top. Leave the mussels to cook in their own steam for 2-3 minutes.
3. Add the cream and white wine and give a good stir and leave for another minute or so.
4. Serve immediately in bowls topped with a scattering of fresh parsley. Serve with a crusty baguette to soak up the juices. Discard mussels that remain closed or are barely open.
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Vietnamese Chicken Rissoles with Shallots, Lemongrass and Garlic

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Vietnamese chicken rissoles, or patties if you prefer, are the perfect simple lunch/supper to prepare for all the family. Little Z, who is four, is always a bit unsure about eating chicken, however, disguising chicken as rissoles seems to really work as they are softer and therefore easier to eat than regular chicken pieces. Other than the dipping sauce, there is no chilli in the rissoles, so they really are family friendly.

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When preparing the rissoles you really want to make sure that the lemongrass and garlic is well chopped up. I chopped them with a knife to begin with before putting them into my spice grinder for a finer texture. The chicken and the shallots also need to be chopped up before whizzing them in a food processor.

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Once the all the ingredients have been combined place some oil into the palms of your hands which will allow you to easily shape your rissoles without them sticking to your hands. Roll them into a ball before flattening them slightly to give a pattie appearance. Cooking time is really short. After heating oil in a pan place five patties in your frying pan and leave them for 3 to 4 minutes before turning them over for a further 3 to 4 minutes. Make sure that the heat is consistent and they do not burn.

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I like to eat them with a fresh salad of tomatoes, red onions and coriander with splashes of nuoc cham sauce over the top, although my daughters prefer theirs with white rice noodles and splashes of light soy sauce. Any leftovers can be stored easily in the fridge and then enjoyed the following day in a baguette with shredded carrots, cucumber and fresh cucumber – similar to the Vietnamese sandwich – Bahn Mi. More on these glorious sandwiches another time.

Chicken Rissoles with Shallots, Lemongrass and Garlic

Makes 15 rissoles (yes myself and a little someone ate two before the photos above)

adapted from the recipe I learnt earlier this year from Van at her fabulous Green Bamboo Cooking School in Hoi An

500g boneless chicken breasts, chopped and then blended

4 lemongrass sticks, finely chopped/blended

4 garlic cloves, chopped/blended

3 banana shallots (if you only have regular shallots that is also fine)

2 eggs

pinch of five spice powder

pince of cayenne powder

2 tbsp plain flour

1 tbsp caster sugar

salt and pepper

oil for frying

1. Finely chop the lemongrass and garlic, initially by hand and then in a spice grinder/blender./mortar and pestle. You want the lemongrass especially to be as fine as possible.

2. After roughly chopping the chicken and shallots place them in a blender until a chicken paste forms. Add the finely chopped lemongrass and garlic and pulse once again. Transfer to a large bowl.

3. Add the eggs, flour, spices and all the other ingredients. Mix well with your hands.

4. Place a little oil in the palm of your hands and then roll some of the chicken paste into your hands to create a ball and then gently press down to create the flattened rissole.

5. Heat a large frying pan with oil and when it is hot gently lower the rissoles into the pan. I usually do mine in batches of 5. Leave the rissoles to cook well on one side (3 to 4 minutes should be sufficient) before turning over and cooking for a further 3 to 4 minutes.

6. When they have browned, place the rissoles onto some kitchen paper to cool.

7. Serve with nuoc cham dipping sauce and a fresh salad

Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce

juice of 1 lime

2 tbsp sugar

3 tbsp fish sauce

1 tbsp garlic, finely chopped

fresh chilli, finely chopped (optional/to taste)

1. Initially mix the lime juice with the sugar thoroughly before adding the rest of the ingredients. Continue to mix together. This sauce can be made ahead of time and can store easily.


Vietnamese Pho Bo – Beef Noodle Soup and finding the perfect cooking course in Hoi An

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Vietnamese cuisine is to put it simply, ‘heavenly’. After my first bite of a Banh Mi, from Banh Min 11, back in London, not that long ago, I knew that it was going to be a culinary love affair. Since arriving in the motherland it has not disappointed. Each meal we have eaten has been a multitude of delicate, fragrant flavours – spices that sing to you and dance on your tongue.

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Herbs feature heavily in most dishes and add real fragrant lift. I was sufficiently enthused that I am going to attempt to grow some of them back in London – for example Vietnamese mint (which I should have no problems growing!), Vietnamese basil, saw tooth coriander, Vietnamese lemon balm, garlic chives. There is a great explanation of Vietnamese herbs here.

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I was keen to attend a cooking course in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hoi An and so set about researching a course that best suited my needs. I was given a few recommendations, however, I decided that a course run by the very affable Van, who runs ‘Green Bamboo Cooking School’ suited my needs perfectly.

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The course run by Van offered a detailed tour of the fresh food markets, where we picked up our ingredients; convivial fellow pupils; personal touches by Van who runs the course in her own home; unhurried tutoring over seven hours; a generous range of recipes manifesting itself in a memorable group lunch and a souvenir goodie bag to take home. Throw in door to door service as Van kindly ferried us to and from our hotels, and it is no surprise that Trip Advisor has over 210 positive comments for this class with no dissenters.

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I am pleased to say that course surpassed even my high expectations. Van was charming, spoke excellent English and a was a natural teacher. She also converted me to Vietnamese coffee – the condensed milk being the key.

My fellow students were a really lovely bunch of enthusiastic foodies – three Australians, two Norwegians and two Swiss and all of us had huge grins on our faces all day, clearly revelling in the fact that we had chosen such a perfect course. Here are few photos of the day. Scroll down.

I elected to cook the unofficial national dish of Vietnam – pho bo, beef noodle soup (pronounced ‘fur’). You can find pho stalls on most streets in Vietnam, but to cook it well is the tricky part. I was keen to understand how to cook it from scratch and to make that perfect pho broth. First stop was the market to buy the beef, which was as fresh as it gets as the cow had been slaughtered that very morning. We bought the beef fillet and 1kg of beef bones. Normally Van would have bought the spine, but there had been a run on spine bones that morning from a hotel restaurant, which had bought the lot. So instead we had a range of other beef bones and some shin to add to the flavour.

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Back at Van’s house the first trick I learnt was to gently char the skin of some ginger, shallots and garlic over a flame as this would give the broth a deep smokey flavour.

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It takes no more than a couple of minutes on each side.

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I then removed most of the skin of the ginger, using that back of a teaspoon and also the skin from the shallots and garlic, which is very easy at this stage as they virtually pop out.

After properly cleaning the beef bones, place them in a large pan of boiling water so as to get rid of any scum from the bones before cooking. Submerge them in boiling water for under a minute and then place them into a second large saucepan, which has also has boiling water in it. Discard the water from the first saucepan. You then need to add the charred ginger, garlic and shallots

Continue to add the following ingredients to the pan: 2 chillies, stick of cinnamon, 1 large white onion, 5 star anise, 5 Chinese apples. I had not come across Chinese apples before, but they tasted delicious. As they may be difficult to source for some people, dates work equally well. Add some sugar and salt and if you fancy, some beef stock as well (I decided to omit the beef stock, to see how it would taste in its natural state).

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Place a lid on the top and leave to boil away gently for a further 2 to 3 hours. Add more seasoning to taste and beef stock if necessary.

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Meanwhile, very finely slice the beef fillet and leave in the fridge until ready to use.

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Before serving have individual bowls of bean sprouts and fresh pho noodles/rice noodles, (the noodles you have submerged into boiling water for 30 seconds and drained) at the ready. In a large ladle add a little of the raw beef and submerge it into the pho broth so that the broth fills the ladle. Using a fork or chop sticks, move the beef around in the boiling stock in your ladle for 30 seconds (that magic number) so that it cooks through and ladle it over one of the bowls of noodles that you have prepared.

Add a generous amount of fresh herbs, including Asian basil, coriander, spring onions along with a quarter of a lime and chilli sauce to taste. You can also have a small bowl of soy sauce on the side, should you wish to add a little, as well as some sliced green papaya and fresh sliced chilli.

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I was delighted by the results and despite having eaten a ridiculous amount of the tastiest Vietnamese food, cooked by my fellow foodies, I managed to see off a bowl of my pho bo.

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Eight happy and well fed people were then deposited back to their hotels, along with a goodie bag provided by Van.

I hope that you too will try this tasty version of pho. Watch this space for more Vietnamese recipes over the coming months.

Pho Bo (Beef Noodle Soup)

Adapted from Van’s recipe, who runs Green Bamboo Cooking School

Serves at least 8

500g fresh pho noodles/rice noodles

300g beef fillet

1 kg beef bones – ideally spine bones or shin

5 litres boiling water

1 tbsp beef stock

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5 star anise

1 large stick of cinnamon

1 roasted fresh ginger

5 roasted shallots

1 large roasted bulb of garlic

5 dried Chinese apples/dates

1 whole white onion, peeled

2 red chillies, left whole or chopped in two

2 tsp salt and pepper

1 tbsp raw sugar

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50g fresh bean sprouts

50g fresh Asian basil

50g fresh coriander

50g spring onion, finely sliced

2 limes, cut into quarters

green papaya, finely sliced

chilli paste to taste

soy sauce, to taste (optional)

2 fresh chillies, sliced (optional)

1. Wash the beef bones under a tap and then place to one side. Meanwhile bring two large pans of water to the boil. In the first add the beef bones and submerge them for just under a minute and then transfer them to the second saucepan. Discard the water from the first saucepan.

2. Over a gas flame place the garlic, shallots and ginger on a metal grill directly above the flame, allowing them to char/roast. After a couple of minutes turn them over so that both sides are equally charred. Using the back of a teaspoon, peel off a little of the skin of the ginger.

3. Add them to the bones and boiling water, along with the onion, chillies, dried Chinese apples/dates, cinnamon stick and star anise. Add the salt, sugar, pepper and beef stock it you wish and place a lid on the pan and let  it boil gently for 2-3 hours.

4. Meanwhile, very finely slice the beef fillet and return it to the fridge.

5. Before serving, warm the noodles by placing them on a slotted spoon and submerging them in boling water for 30 seconds. Drain and place in individual bowls. Add the bean sprouts to each of the bowls.

6. In a large ladle add a little of the thinly sliced beef fillet and submerge into the pho broth so that the ladle is completely full and the beef is submerged. With a fork or chop sticks move the beef around in the ladle so that it ‘cooks’ through properly.  Pour over the noodles. Please note the pho broth needs to be boiling/bubbling away at this stage so that the beef fillet is cooked properly. 

7. Add the fresh herbs, lime, spring onions, green papaya and chilli paste/soy sauce/fresh chillies to taste.

8. Serve immediately and enjoy piping hot.


Black Pepper Tofu

For those of you who are unaccustomed to eating tofu, I really urge you to give it try. Some people simply right it off as being rather bland tasting, but the fact is tofu has a fabulous melt in the mouth texture and absorbs some of the other flavours that you cook it with. Its a great vegetarian option to meat and is hugely versatile. This is my third recipe using tofu on my blog – the other two, Ma Po Tofu and Soba Noodles with Tofu I incorporate fairly regularly in our diet. This recipe is also heavenly and reminds me in fact of one of my favourite dishes of all time – black peppercorn crab – that I ate in Singapore last year at Red House  on Robertson Quay. This recipe is sourced from the Yotam Ottolenghi’s  book ‘Plenty,’ which focuses exclusively on vegetarian recipes.

The recipe itself is fairly straight forward, however, as there is a fair amount of chopping, slicing, crushing it does take a little bit of time on the preparation part. The finished dish though is totally worth the effort you put in to the preparation. I have made a number of alterations to the original as I found that when I followed his quantities exactly the pepper was too overpowering and I did not need quite as many chillies or spring onions. So it is a little toned down but see how you get on and if you prefer it with more pepper just add an extra 2 tablespoons to the 3 that I suggest below and throw in a few extra chillies.

Black Pepper Tofu

A Yotam Ottolenghi recipe adapted from his book Plenty (p44-45)

Serves 4

700g firm tofu

vegetable oil

cornflour to dust the tofu

100g butter

10 small shallots, thinly sliced

4 fresh red chillies (fairly mild ones), thinly sliced (seeds removed)

10 garlic cloves, finely grated/chopped

3 tbsp fresh root ginger, finely grated

3 tbsp sweet soy sauce (kecap manis)

3 tbsp light soy sauce

4 tsp dark soy sauce

2 tbsp caster sugar

3 tbsp coarsely crushed black peppercorns

5 small and thin spring onions, cut into 3cm segments

1. Carefully remove the tofu from its pack and cut it into large cubes, around 3 x 2cm, being careful not to break it.

2. Sieve a little cornflower over the tofu so that it delicately coats the cubes.

3. Heat  a little oil in a deep frying pan and add the tofu in small batches so that the tofu is evenly golden. Place on kitchen roll whilst you prepare the next batch.

4. Clean the pan thoroughly before adding the butter. Once it is melted add the shallots, chillies, garlic and ginger and saute on a low heat for 15 minutes so that the ingredients have softened and darkened slightly. Stir occasionally.

5. Add the soy sauces, sugar and crushed peppercorns and mix into the other ingredients.

6. Place the tofu in the pan and coat in the sauce, being careful not to break up the tofu cubes. After a minute or so add the spring onions and stir into the ingredients.

7. Serve immediately with steamed or boiled rice.

Do you have any wonderful tofu recipes that you would like to share with me? Leave a message below and let me know.