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

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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.


Tamarind Noodles with Five Spice Tofu

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This past week I have been avoiding the kitchen. Don’t worry I am not on some crazy January diet that involves me starving myself or anything, goodness no. For those of you who read my last post you’ll know that my boiler died a death over a week ago, which has resulted in my house becoming rather Baltic. The kitchen is the coldest room in the house so instead of pottering in there as I normally would, when the heating works, I have been hibernating in one of the smallest rooms in the house – the study, with an electric heater going at full blast. It’s fairly roasty toasty so I try to avoid leaving it for long periods of time.

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However, when my mother in-law (aka my culinary spy) recently came back from a trip to Sri Lanka, she handed me a piece of paper with a very short ingredients list for a tamarind noodles dish that she has eaten and adored by a chef called Anura. If you are out there Anura and are reading this then this dish is in honour of you.

The recipe was for the sauce itself and I just got creative in turning it into a dish that my whole family will adore. If you don’t love tofu then you could always replace it with chicken or pork by following the same steps, but crispy five spice tofu – what’s not to like folks!

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Take a look at those crispy tofu bites, with sweet red peppers, soya beans and tamarind noodles, which have been coated in yet more tamarind sauce.

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Tamarind Noodles with Five Spice Tofu

Serves 4

tamarind sauce

3 tbsp tamarind paste

4 tbsp jaggery (palm sugar)

3 tbsp coconut milk

2 tbsp caster sugar

75ml chicken stock

2 lemongrass, chopped very finely

*****

350g firm tofu, bite sized cubes

2 tsp Chinese five spice

2 tbsp cornflour

2 tbsp sesame oil

2 sweet red pepper, cut julienne

200g frozen soya beans

4 nests of medium egg noodles

1. First cut the tofu into bite sized cubes. Place the cornflour and Chinese five spice into a shallow bowl and then add the tofu so that the cubes are all coated in the flour.

2. Heat a pan with the oil and when it is hot add the tofu in batches, turning at intervals so that it browns and crisps slightly. Place on kitchen roll to soak up the oil whilst you are frying the next batch.

3. Boil all the ingredients of the tamarind sauce until the sauce is smooth. Transfer to a pouring jug.

4. Using the same pan as the tamarind sauce, gently fry the sweet red peppers so that they soften. This will only take a couple of minutes.

5. In another pan boil some water and add the soya beans. After 3 minutes add the noodles and cook according to packet (usually a couple of minutes). Strain and place in a mixing bowl along with the sweet red peppers and 2 tbsp tamarind sauce. Mix together well.

6. Place the noodles into bowls and add the five spice tofu on top along with a little more tamarind sauce.

Serve and eat whilst hot. Enjoy.

Any leftover tamarind sauce can be stored in the fridge for up to a week. 


Pork Larb – the national dish of Lao

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

Pork Larb 

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

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

2 banana shallots, finely sliced

1 tsp grated ginger

1 tsp grated garlic

1 tsp lemongrass paste

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

1 kg pork mince

2 limes, juice only

5 tbsp fish sauce

1 tbsp light soy sauce

2 tbsp caster

1/2 tsp red chilli flakes

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30g shelled and oven roasted unsalted peanuts, roughly chopped

5 little gem lettuces or similar lettuce

handful of fresh thai basil

handful of fresh mint leaves

handful of coriander leaves

limes wedges to serve

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

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

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

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

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

It can be eaten at room temperature or slightly warm.

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

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


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).


Chicken, Ginger and Spring Onion Gyoza/Jiaozi/Pop Sticker

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Mention the worked ‘gyoza’ in my household and you will hear yelps of delight – and that’s not just from the children. These moreish savoury dumplings are incredibly addictive and are a great little starter or snack, although you can off course have them as a main meal along with some steamed greens with soy and garlic perhaps.

Japan and China both have their version of the dumpling, although these dumplings first originated from China and were then adopted by the Japanese. The Chinese dumplings are known as jiaozi if they are boiled or steamed and guo tie if they are fried, in Japan – gyoza and the US – pot sticker.

The Chinese variety have slightly thicker wrappers and have a far wider combination of fillings than their Japanese counterparts. They are often steamed, whereas the Japanese gyoza are fried for a few minutes and then steamed for a further few minutes. The fillings I typically use for the vegetarian are tofu and shiitake mushrooms, or the meat variety filled with pork, chicken or duck or the seafood version, which tends to be prawn. Whatever takes your fancy these little dainties will be forever cherished by those who sample them.

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Now the question is to lovingly prepare your own wrappers or to buy some from your local Asian grocers or online. Basically it will come down to time on your part. Making your own takes a little time, but its the perfect activity to do with a mate who comes over for coffee – just rope them in they’ll love the experience or even with the kids. Shop bought is pretty cheap, as you can see for the price sticker I left on above, and are likely to be more uniform in thickness, but I’ll leave it to you to decide which suits your lifestyle.

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For those who wish to make their own it is SO simple. Seriously you only need a couple of ingredients and then a bit of kneading.

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Homemade Gyoza Wrappers

Makes around 20

210g plain flour, seived

125ml warm water

 pinch of salt

1. Stir the salt into the warm water until it completely dissolves.

2. Place the sieved flour into a large bowl and add the warm water. Using a wooden spoon mix the flour and water together and then use your hands to create a ball.

3. Kneed the dough on a cold surface for around 10 minutes, when it will be soft and springy to touch. Sprinkle more flour onto the dough if it is getting too sticky.

4. Wrap in cling film and place in the fridge for 30 mins.

5. Take small balls of the dough – about the size of apricot – and flatten it with your hand. Gently roll the dough into a round shape, turning it after every roll. Using a round cookie cutter (or the bottom of a saucer) cut out a round circle and cover gently with flour and place in a pile.

6. Continue until the dough has been used up. You should make around 20 dough wrappers with the proportions above. Whilst you prepare the filling place a damp cloth over the wrappers so they do not dry out.

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So now you have the wrappers ready to go you need to prepare the filling. Whether you want to use chicken, pork mince, prawn, duck or shiitake mushrooms and tofu the rest of the ingredients remain the same.

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Whilst using Chinese cabbage is the most authentic, use whatever green cabbage you have in your fridge. Place two large leaves in a pan of boiling water for 1 minute and then drain and pat completely dry with kitchen paper. You then want to slice and cut them up as small as you can. You can blitz everything in a blender but I tend to often take the slightly slower version of cutting by hand. Today I used chicken and as I tend to find minced chicken hard to source so I bought boneless chicken thighs and cut up them up into small pieces. I also added spring onions, chopped garlic, finely grated ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, salt and pepper and hey presto you have your filling. You can get creative and add any other ingredient you think might work – how about carrot, fresh chilli, five spice.

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Wrapping the dumplings is rather satisfying and you will begin to get into a rhyme with them. Don’t overfill the gyoza, instead putting a teaspoonful in the centre and then, using your finger tip, wet the low half rim of the circle. You then want to fold over the gyoza in half and then begin to pleat from left to right, making sure the filling is securely inside the parcel. It is definitely a case of the more you do the better you become. My 8 year old is a complete natural and can do multiple pleats across the top. You only pleat one side of the gyoza s0 do not turn over and attempt to do more on the other side.

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The above photo shows half of the gyoza pleated. I finished doing this row, but did not turn it over to attempt to do the other side. To pleat you simply use your thumb and forefinger to make small pleats going over the last. Make sure you press the top together so that it is firmly stuck together – you don’t want them opening up in the pan.

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So you can see some are neater than others above. They will still taste delicious even if you haven’t got the perfect symmetrical pleating!

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Dumpling Filling

to fill around 20 dumplings

2 large leaves from a green cabbage/Chinese leaf cabbage

2 garlic cloves, finely sliced

20g ginger, peeled and finely grated

3 spring onions, finely sliced into small pieces

1 tsp sesame oil

1 tsp soy sauce

1 tsp mirin rice wine

275g boneless chicken thighs/or chicken mince (or duck, pork mince, tofu and shiitake mushrooms)

100 ml water

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Dumpling Dipping Sauce

3 tsp rice vinegar

6 tsp soy sauce

1 tsp chilli oil (optional)

1 tsp sesame seeds

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1. Finely chop all of the ingredients and then bind together using your hands.

2. Place a heaped teaspoon of the ingredients onto one of the wrappers in the centre.

3. Wet the rim of the lower half of the wrapper using your finger.

4. Fold the wrapper in two and then pleat from left to right across the top, making sure to firmly seal the top of the wrappers.

5. Bend the wrapper slightly so that it is in a crescent moon shape and so it can stand up unaided. Place to one side whilst you prepare the rest.

6. Using a large nonstick pan add a tablespoon of sesame oil and when hot add the dumplings so that they are standing up and not sticking to one another. Fry them for 3 minutes, by which time they will have bronzed underneath. If they have not bronzed sufficiently leave them to fry for a little longer.

7. Add 100ml of water to the pan and place a lid on the top. Leave to steam for a further 3-4 minutes so that the water has completely dissolved.

8. Mix the ingredients of the dipping sauce together and then place to one side in a little bowl.

9. Serve immediately with the dipping sauce.

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Vegetarian Ma Po Tofu


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In my first months of blogging, way back in the middle of 2011, I posted one of my absolute favourite recipes, Ma Po Tofu, which is a Sichuan classic and is seriously addictive – if you like chilli that is. It is incredibly easy to cook and after a manic day it is the perfect pick-me-up-food that takes no time to prepare. Over the years however, I have found that I am increasingly making it without the pork mince element and keeping it to a more vegetarian dish by including simply tofu and fresh (or sometimes frozen) spinach.

Recently in Hong Kong I began to judge eating establishments on how well they could cook Ma Po Tofu and Dan Dan Noodles as I had a acquired a taste for both dishes.

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Tofu I know divides opinion, but I am definitely in the camp of someone who loves it. It wasn’t an immediate love affair, but one that has grown over time to the extent that I always have tofu in the house, ready and waiting for me to make a last minute Ma Po Tofu dish or my other favourite tofu dishes, roasted harlequin squash with tofu, kale and coriander in a miso curry paste, black pepper tofu and soba noodles with tofu, aubergine and mango. Seriously give them all a try – I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

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Tofu, or bean curd as it is also known, is hugely nutritious, versatile and a great vehicle for flavour. It’s rich in protein and low in fat, especially saturated fat. Yes, eaten on its own it is rather plain, but the point of tofu is to incorporate it with other flavours which it will help to enhance and lift. There are a myriad of different types of tofu, but the one I tend to use the most is ‘firm, silken tofu’ . I am going to be cooking some more tofu dishes over the course of this year, hoping that I may convert a few followers to the joys of tofu eating.

So here is what you need for the vegetarian version of the dish.

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Vegetarian Ma Po Tofu

Serves 2/3

349g silken tofu (or a similar amount)

2 large handfuls of fresh spinach

1 tbsp vegetable oil

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped

2 spring onions, chopped

2 tbsp of chilli bean sauce (Lee Kum Kee’s I find works really well)

125ml of vegetable stock (fresh or a cube)

1 tsp shaoxing wine

1 tsp of soy sauce (light or dark)

2 tsp of sugar

1/4 tsp of sea salt

a good pinch of crushed Sichuan peppercorns

1/2 tsp of sesame oil

1. Cut the tofu into small (2cm) cubes and place to one side.

2. In a shallow pan heat the vegetable oil and then add the garlic and spring onions, stirring for around 30 seconds. Then add the chilli bean paste and mix into the garlic and spring onions.

3. After a minute add the chicken stock, shaoxing wine, soy sauce, sugar and salt and bring to the boil.

4. Add the spinach to the pan and gently fold into the hot sauce.

5. Once the spinach has begun to wither add the tofu and carefully spoon the sauce over the tofu, making sure not to break up the cubes. Leave to gently simmer for a couple of minutes.

6. Serve into a large bowl and sprinkle the Sichuan peppercorns and sesame oil and gently mix together.

Serve alongside small bowls of rice and hot cups of piping Jasmine/Chinese tea.

Perfect for this cold snowy weather.


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.


Soba Noodles with Tofu, Aubergine and Mango – it’s totally addictive BEWARE!

It’s always a joy cooking for a foodie friend who eats everything and shares a similar enthusiasm for exciting flavours, textures and foods. Said friend is off to pastures new in California so I wanted to prepare a simple and yet interesting lunch that he may not have tried before, but that he was hopefully going to remember fondly.

In the last couple of years my love for tofu has grown exponentially, on average I would say I eat it once a week as a main meal. One of my all time favourite recipes – Ma Po Tofu – I  sometimes cook without the pork mince and add loads of spinach to compliment the tofu instead. I would really recommend you give this dish a go if you haven’t already, it’s absolutely superb.

Another dish using tofu, which I discovered more recently, is the one that I want to share with you today. It’s a perfect spring/summer dish bursting with colour and if the truth be told, totally addictive. Between the two of us we almost saw off a portion which Yotam Ottolenghi says ‘serves 6’. I know, I know, it  makes us sound rather piggy. Look we were hungry and it is so delicious I bet you too would have seconds or maybe thirds ;o). I think that as a main dish it’s serving is better suited to 4 than 6, unless your guests have sparrow appetites that is!

 Don’t be shy, once you’ve cooked it do write a comment below to let me know how you got on and  that you too had seconds/thirds.

Soba Noodles with Tofu, Aubergine and Mango

Adapted  from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

Serves 4-6

120 ml rice vinegar

40g caster sugar

1/2 tsp salt

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1/2 red chilli, finely chopped

1 tsp toasted sesame oil

1 lime, zest and juice

300ml sunflower oil

2 aubergines, cut into 1cm dice

396g firm tofu, cut into small cubes (a little more or less is fine so don’t worry about getting exact amount)

250g soba noodles

2 ripe mangoes, cut into strips or dice

small handful of Thai sweet basil, chopped

handful of fresh coriander, chopped

1 small red onion, finely sliced

1. To prepare the dressing warm the vinegar, sugar and salt in a pan for a minute so that the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and add the chilli, garlic and sesame oil and leave to cool. Once it is cool add the lime juice and zest.

2. In a frying pan heat up  half the sunflower oil and gently fry the aubergine in batches. To save time I cooked the aubergine in two frying pans cooking simultaneously. When they have bronzed place on kitchen paper to cool.

3. Using the remaining sunflower oil (if necessary – you may have enough left from cooking the aubergine!) gently heat up the tofu and cook until it has a crispy light brown appearance. This should take 6-8 minutes. Similar to the aubergine place on some kitchen paper to soak up some of the oil.

4. Heat a pan of boiling salted water and cook the soba noodles for around 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain and rinse under cold water, shaking off as much excess water as possible. Place on a tea towel to dry.

5. In a mixing bowl toss the noodles with the dressing, mango, aubergine, herbs (save a few to scatter on top when serving),  red onion and tofu. Transfer to another serving plate/dish. You can eat immediately or set aside for a couple of hours.

The dressing resting whilst I prepare the rest of the ingredients (above)

The final result (below)

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Red Camargue and Wild Rice Salad with Miso Dressing

I know it’s winter and there is snow on the ground but I’ve been trying out some new exciting salad recipes recently, ones which really make you sit up and take note of what you are eating and have the definite wow factor. I like to eat salad during my weekday lunches with a bowl of piping hot soup, even in winter. I make a decent amount so I can eat it over a few days.  Dressings are certainly important and give salads a certain edge. For your average green salad I always like to make my Asian vinaigrette, it’s fail proof and  can easily store in the fridge for a number of weeks.

This red camargue and wild rice salad with a miso dressing is seriously divine and unlike any salad I have tried before, I really urge you to try it. I recently spotted it on fellow food blogger Sara Forte’s site sproutedkitchen.com. I have made a few changes, the most obvious one being that I used red camargue rice as well as wild rice so as to get that rich red colour. I’m rather partial to tofu these days, well ever since I discovered this recipe, which has become one of my favourites.

So this is what you need to make this winning salad recipe.


  Red Camargue and Wild Rice Salad with Miso Dressing

sourced from the talented Sara Forte from Sprouted Kitchen

150g rice (check packet to see cooking instructions)

400g block of firm tofu

2 tsp coconut or olive oil

2 tsp soy sauce

freshly ground pepper

2 carrots, thinly sliced

200g frozen edamame/soya beans

3 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

handful of chopped coriander/cilantro

and for the Miso Dressing you will need:

2 tbsp of white miso

2 tbsp agave nectar

1 tbsp sesame oil

2 1/2 tbsp rice vinegar

1 shallot, minced

juice of half an orange

1. Heat up a small frying pan and when it is hot add the sesame seeds and shake them in the pan for around 30 seconds. They burn really easily so as soon as they begin to turn a light brown take them off the heat and place to one side.

2. Rinse the rice and cook according to the instructions on the packet. If you are using red camargue or wild rice please note that cooking takes a lot longer than white rice. It will take up to 40 minutes before the water has been absorbed and the rice is ready.

3. Drain the tofu, being careful not to break the block. Pat it dry with a kitchen towel and then cut into even bite sized cubes. In a cast iron pan, if you have one, or a normal frying pan if you don’t, gently heat up the coconut oil; I didn’t manage to find any so used olive oil. When the pan is sufficiently hot add the tofu and saute for around five minutes, being careful not to burn the tofu. Next add the soy sauce and a few grinds of black pepper and continue to saute for a few more minutes, turning the tofu so that it is evenly cooked on all sides. Once it is cooked turn off the heat and place to one side.

4. In a mixing bowl add all the miso dressing ingredients together.

5. In a separate bowl combine the rice, tofu, sliced carrots and edamame.

6. Combine the salad with the dressing and add the toasted sesame seeds and coriander/cilantro. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

 


Ma Po Tofu – a Sichuan classic


A couple of years ago I stumbled across the most exquisite looking cookery book. Its cover drew me in and before I knew it I was leafing through the pages drooling over the divine recipes. Some of the ingredients I was unaccustomed to, and I think it was this that really attracted me to buy the book. Who wants to remain in their culinary comfort zone, not me, so with a youthful enthusiasm I purchased it. Since it has been in my possession I have lovingly poured over it, and if the truth be told I have even been known to take it to bed to read and study the recipes on numerous occasions. The book in question is called ‘Balance & Harmony, Asian Food’, by the Australian chef Neil Perry, who I had previously never heard of before. I personally find it rare to come across a cookery book where I actually want to cook more than a dozen dishes from it, but with Neil’s book I really want to try them all.

Its beautifully set out into chapters focusing on basic techniques and recipes then moving onto advanced recipes and banquet menus. The dishes are beautifully photographed and styled, interspersed with stunning old prints of Chinese women in traditional dress. If there are prizes for stunning cookery books this would surely win the top prize. Oh, and for the sceptical amongst you, although I am sure there are none, I am not being paid to say any of these kind words about Neil Perry’s book.

A wonderful recipe from his book to share with you, dear reader, is Ma Po Tofu, or as it is also affectionately known, Pockmarked-Face Lady’s Tofu. Put off?  Don’t be, as you are in for a treat and you’ll be doing cartwheels of delight after your first mouthful. Mark my words.

To read the full story of where this recipe derives its name click here. The dish is a Sichuan classic, and is cooked with pork or beef mince with tofu, in a spicy chilli bean sauce. Not the type of chilli that has you gasping for milk, but one that urges you to have more mouthfuls, so please do not be put off by thinking it will be too hot. Sure it’s feisty, but it has a wonderful balance of sweetness and spiciness, which prevents it being too overpowering. If you are a vegetarian you can also enjoy the dish, by simply omitting the pork or beef. Tofu is easy to find and tastes delicious in this dish. It lasts for ages in the fridge so I usually keep a stock of it ready for when I feel the urge to cook and eat Ma Po Tofu.

Its one of my  favourite things to eat at the moment and is absolutely guaranteed to bring a smile to the face of anyone who eats it.  I’ll introduce you to other recipes from Neil’s book soon, but try this one first and let me know how you get on.

Ma Po Tofu

Serves 2 hungry people

300g of silken tofu, cut into 2cm cubes (I use slightly more, see packet above!)

2 tbsp of vegetable oil

500g minced pork (Neil uses 200g)

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

2 spring onions (scallions), sliced

2 tbsp hot bean paste (I use Lee Kum Kee’s Chilli Bean)

125 ml (4 fl oz/1/2 cup) fresh chicken stock (if you have it, otherwise I tend to use Kallo organic chicken stock cube – sorry Neil)

1 tsp of shaoxing

1 tsp of light soy sauce

1/2 tsp dark soy sauce

2 tsp sugar

1/4 tsp sea salt

a good pinch of Sichuan pepper

1/2 tsp sesame oil

1. Cube the tofu into 2cm/3/4 inch cubes and set aside.

2. Heat the wok/pan until it is smoking and then add the vegetable oil. When the oil is hot add the minced pork and stir-fry until browned. This won’t take longer than 5 minutes.

3. Then add the garlic, spring onion and bean paste and stir into the pork.

4. After a couple of minutes add the stock, shaoxing, soy sauces, sugar and salt and bring to the boil.

5. Gently add the tofu, being careful not to break the cubes, and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Allow the liquid to thicken slightly.

6. Add the Sichuan pepper and sesame oil and gently mix together.

Serve with a bowl of steamed rice.