February 19, 2009

Filed under: Far East, White fish, Malay/Indonesian — ros @ 2:44 pm

This all began with a curry. A curry that was neither heavily spiced nor very hot. A curry that didn’t come from India or Thailand and that contained neither huge amounts of cumin nor coriander nor curry leaves. This curry made me look at it and say out loud, “What the hell makes this a curry?”

Malaysian Fish Curry

Goon, who as usual wasn’t interested in probing the definitions of various food types, looked at me suspiciously and said “Well, you make curry at least once a fortnight. You should know!”

But in spite of being brought up on curry, I didn’t know. This bothered me. After a short spree of looking through various dictionary definions, the vast majority of which were about grooming horses, I found the origins of the word curry. It is the Dravidian (that’s classical Tamil) word for ‘vegetable in sauce’. 

I think of all the curries I’ve made, possibly only a quarter involve vegetables in sauce. Have I been a terrible curry cook all this time?

I like to think not. I imagine what happened was that European settlers in India, who probably weren’t too keen on the whole veggie lifestyle, took the word they thought meant ‘generic vegetable stew’, turned it into the word that meant ‘generic stew with anything’ and expanded it  to mean ‘generic anything with spice that has an origins in Asia’**.

It’s an exceptionally wide definition and as I looked through the list of curries I’ve made in my short cooking life, I can see that even they are remarkably varied. There’s everything from the hot and pungent vindaloo to the delicate monkfish curry I made last night.

This dish was so delicate that it needed an accompaniment with kick so I made a sambal to go with it. A sambal is another thing that is hard to define. In short it is a side dish made with chilli or a hot pepper. In Sri Lanka the most popular ones seemed to be seeni sambal, (sweet onions with chilli) or pol sambal which is a bright orange dish made with dessicated coconut and chilli. The sambal I opted for was of Malaysian origin (to match the fish dish) and was made of pineapple and thinly sliced cucumber in a dressing of lime, shrimp paste and pounded red chilli. 

Sambal Nanas

 

Malaysian Fish Curry with Sambal Nanas (for two generous portions)

  • 400g monkfish fillet (or other firm white fish), cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1 small onion, peeled and roughly chopped 
  • 2 inch piece of ginger, roughly chopped
  • 3 fat garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 2 red and two green chillies, deseeded and chopped
  • A level tablespoon of flaked almonds, roughly crushed
  • 2 lemongras staks, outer leaves removed, trimmed
  • 3 heaped tablespooons dessicated coconut
  • a pinch of turmeric
  • 400g can coconut milk
  • 100ml unherbed fish stock
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • chives or spring onion to garnish
  • Plain boiled basmati rice to serve

For the Sambal

  • 4 pineapple rings, chopped into small pieces.
  • 1 quarter cucumber, sliced into short thin strips
  • 1  teaspoon shrimp paste
  • 20g dried shrimp
  • 1 large red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
  • brown sugar to taste

 

To make the sambal, use a food processor to blitz the dried shrimp, chilli, lime juice and shrimp paste. to pound the chilli and dried shrimp. REmove the mixture from the processor and mix well with the pineapple and cucumber slices. Add sugar and more lime juice to taste. Set aside while you prepare the curry.

  1. Brush a medium saucepan with vegetable oil. Stir fry the dessicated coconut gently until it is a uniform golden brown. Scrape into a food processor and process to a smooth oily paste. I needed a touch of the coconut milk to help it alon.
  2. Scrape the processed coconut into a bowl and rinse out the food processer.
  3. Chop the lower halves of the lemon grass stalks roughly. Place the chopped lemongrass in the food processor with the onion, garlic, ginger, almond and three quarters of the chilli. Blitz to a smooth paste.
  4. Brown the monkfish pieces briefly, remove from the saucepan .
  5. Add the garlic paste to the pan and cook for afew minutes. Don’t let it brown. Then add the turmeric, coconut milk, remaining lemongrass and stock. Allow to reduce by half but don’t turn the heat up too high because coconut milk may curdle.
  6. Return the fish to the pan with the dessicated coconut paste. Stir well and allow the fish to cook through (this should take about 5 minutes over a low/medium heat).
  7. Taste, adjust seasoning and transfer to a serving bowl. Garnish with the remaining chillies and the chives. Serve with plain boiled rice.

 

*The corruption of words reminds me of ‘fish bisteck’. This is a Sri Lankan recipe my Dad used to try to impress me with when I was a teenager. The story goes that this was inspired by beef steak made by European settlers. Meat went off quickly in the hot weather, so beef steak was heavily spiced to disguise any gamey flavours. The locals picked up the idea and used the heavy spicing as a coating for fish  (Buddhists aren’t big on eating beef). Beef steak –> bisteck–> fish bisteck 

From the one or two encounters I had with fish bisteck I can promise that it was grim.  

 

 

February 8, 2009

Filed under: Far East, Japanese, Reared red meat, Malay/Indonesian — ros @ 4:39 pm

Well, maybe not, but this is as close as I’m likely to get.

So here we have some beef fillet steak, seared until just cooked on the outside as an attempt at beef sashimi, a hot peanut dipping sauce, tangy mango and papaya salad with lots of lime and a soothing contrast of coconut rice.

beef sashimi, coconut rice, peanut sauce mango and papaya salad

Many of the best meals I have made have come from absolute necessity. The realisation that you have a couple of pounds left in your bank account and only a few storecupboard staples can work wonders for your cooking inspiration. It was a similar mindset I had when creating the meal above.

No, I’m not for a second pretending that anything in the meal pictured above is a budget item but, at the end of a particularly long and tiring week, they were almost all sitting in my fridge and the fillet steak in particular needed to be used fast.

So how did I come to have some ’spare’ fillet steak sitting in my fridge. Exhaustion, that’s how.

Parents’ evenings are always tiring. The parents’ evening of the upper sixth year is the last one before the kids sit their A2 exams that determine which university, if any, they can attend. When you teach BOTH bottom sets in a subject like mathematics, you know you’re in for a long evening that will involve dealing with some emotionally fruaght parents.

In a school like mine, you can be sure that not even the bottom set kids are going to fail their A2 maths. However they are mostly B and C grade candidates trying to get into some very good universities to read subjects like medicine and engineering. They REALLY need As  and Bs. Their parents by this point are getting more than a little anxious about their child’s future and in particular their apparently incurable inability to do any work. 

I actually had one parent, scratching his head and looking perplexed saying, “Well he’s never done any work. He’s not going to start now but he needs an A in maths. So how do we make sure he gets it?

Ummm…… tricky one…… getting me to dress like a boy and sit his exam might work but unfortunately that’s called fraud.

Anyway, after three and a half hours of trying to console around 20 pairs of very worried parents,  I left, just caught Sainsbury before it shut and grabbed some fillet steak. Then I got home and passed out on my sofa before I even thought about what I was going to do with it.

A few days later, the steak needed to be used. Fortunately I had a little more time on my hands so I made up a dish inspired by a salad I’d had at my favourite local Thai restaurant which conveniently used up some of the exotic fruit my parents sporadically give me.

 Beef ‘Sashimi’ with Mango and Papaya Salad, Coconut Rice and Peanut Dipping Sauce

Quantities for One Person

For the Beef

  • 150-200g filet steak in one piece
  • A little vegetable oil or groundnut oil
  • Salt and pepper

Rub the steak with the oil so it is is just coated. Season with salt and pepper and sear over a high heat for 45s per side or until it is just cooked on the outside. Wrap in foil and leave to rest.

For the Rice

  • 2 handfuls of basmati rice
  • half a can of coconut milk (keep the rest handy in case you need some extra
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Rinse the rice thoroughly in cold water. Bring the coconut milk to a boil, stir through the rice  with a teaspoon of salt and bring back to a gentle bubble. Stir frequently until the rice is cooked (about 8 minutes) - test a grain to see if it is cooked. Drain off any excess coconut milk and add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

For the Peanut Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted peanut butter
  • 1 chopped red chilli, deseeded
  • a quarter can of coconut milk
  • half a tablespoon chopped coriander leaf
  • fish sauce- just a little

Combine the ingredients in a small saucepan and heat through for a few minutes until the peanut butter thickens the sauce. Taste and season.

For the Salad

  • half a ripe mango, peeled and thinly sliced
  • half an under-ripe (green) papaya, peeled, deseeded and thinly sliced
  • juice of 1 lime
  • a few drops of fish sauce
  • half a teaspoon of sugar
  • 1 small clove garlic, pasted
  • 1 small green chilli, deeeded and finely chopped
  • finely diced red onion- mi just used a heaped tablespoonful and kept the rest to use another time.
  • a tablespoon of coriander leaves

Mix the fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, chilli and garlic paste. Toss this through the rest of the ingredients. 

Slice the beef fillet thinly and serve with the accompaniments.

August 16, 2008

Filed under: Reared Poultry, Malay/Indonesian — ros @ 6:29 pm

Finally we’re out of budget zone. It’s been a gruelling 8 months, believe me. Goon has finally found a job, meaning my salary is now just for me and, as descibed in an earlier post, I won’t be putting down my flat deposit until after I get my final pay from Highgate, meaning everything has settled down.

Last weekend, Goon came back from his cousin’s weddng looking very smug with the news that a company in Baker Street had accepted him as their desktop support man. He filled me in on the details.

“They’re giving you how much!?!!” Goon looked smug as he repeated his salary. “You’re straight out of University! You technically don’t have a degree yet!” 
“Good, isn’t it?”
“But I know people with PhDs that earn less than that!”
Goon thought for a second. “Yes!” he said. “Like you!” Goon stuck his tongue out at me.
“I don’t count!” I replied indignantly. “I’m in for love not money. Plus, given that I work 35 weeks a year, I’m still paid at a better rate.”
 ”Even including my bonuses?”
“You get a bonus?” Goon nodded and looked even more smug. “Wait. You have no degree result. Given you attended precisely 4 lectures during your 3 year course, I don’t want to see your degree result. This is your first job, and they are offering you that much money!?”
“ I have experience.”

I sat bewildered for a second.

“That tinkering you did instead of going to school counts as experience?”
 ”Yep. Enought to earn me more than you!” I shook my head in disbelief.
“No wonder the economy’s collapsing.” Goon snarled at me.
“So how much is this bonus of yours going to be?”
“Twenty percent if all goes well…. so…. ummmm…..” Goon thought hard and scratched his head. “What do you get when you divide my salary by four?

I ran his last sentence through my head again.

“Are you sure they haven’t confused you with one of the other applicants?”

At that, Goon decided he’d taken enough abuse and went downstairs to eat some celebratory cream cakes. I took a minute to get over the news that Goon was going to be better paid than me (I am clearly in the wrong business) and then started looking for places to host a celebratory dinner.

Now he has a job and can therefore stay in London, it is certain that Goon will be living on his own next year. There’s no way he wants to go back to eating tuna rice again so I have bought him a wok and a wok book.

Goon LOVES his wok. It really is the ideal cooking tool for someone like him. He probably won’t do the most exciting cooking with it but he’ll feed himself more healthily than he used to. Admittedly I bought the book primarily for its inclusion of pictures (Goon won’t use a book without pretty pictures) but, from what I’ve seen so far, the recipes are ideal for him. There’s lots of easy dishes taking less than half an hour to cook and, on the off chance he gets more adventurous, more challenging material too. Or, more likely, I’ll just use the challenging mateial when I visit. 

On Sunday he had his first lesson: chicken with satay sauce.

Easy Chicken in Satay Sauce (adapted from The Essential Wok Cookbook, Murdoch Press, various authors- serves 2)

Chicken in satay sauce

  • 400g chicken breast, cut into thin slices
  • 2 limes
  • salt and pepper
  • peanut oil or vegetable oil for frying 
  • 4 spring onions
  • 1 heaped tablespoon red curry paste (from a jar if you’re like Goon, made from scratch if you’re like me)
  • 2 heaped tablespoonfuls peanut butter
  • 200ml coconut milk 
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • Steamed rice to serve and perhaps some vegetables stir fried with ginger, garlic and soy
  • Chopped coriander to garnish (optional)
  1. Toss the chicken strips with the juice of one lime and some salt and pepper. Leave to stand for ten minutes.
  2.  Slice the spring onions into 1cm lengths on the diagonal.
  3. Put a teaspoon of oil in the wok, swirl to coat and get the wok hot. Stir fry the onion until starting to soften. REmove from the pan and set aside
  4. Shaking off any excess lime juice, add half the chicken to the wok and stir fry until they are golden brown in patches. Remove from wok and set aside, repeat with the rest of the chicken.
  5. Add the curry paste, coconut milk and peanut butter to the wok, stir to combine well.
  6. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved.
  7. Adjust the heat so the sauce is bubbling gently. Let it reduce until it coatss your spoon thickly.
  8. Retuen the chicken and spring onion to the wok and cook for 2-3 minutes until the choicken is hot all the way through.
  9. Just before serving, stir in the juice of half the remaining lime
  10. Serve with steamed rice, a vegetable side dish, garnished with the remaining lime cut into wedges and chopped coriander.

Recipe Notes: I think marinading the chicken in a full on lime juice, lime zest, peanut oil, ground cumin and ground coriander marinade would make this better. But Goon is unlikely to have those ingredients next year, so we kept it simple.

*************

Goon has learnt several lessons from this.

  1. It takes ages to season a wok.
  2. Stirring too vigorously makes satay sauce fly across the room. If another person is in the room with you, it may land in her hair and then she may start hitting you with a frying pan.
  3. Woks heat up quickly and thick sauces can cling to the edges and burn if the heat is too high. You must keep the temperature moderate and scrape down any sauce that is clinging to the sides of the wok.
  4. Always read a recipe through from beginning to end before starting. Otherwise you will realise half way through that you actually need a side plate and someone to make some rice very quickly.

I also learned something: It is harder to cook a simple side dish and steam some rice while supervising a Goon than it is to prepare a 3 course meal for four people. Still the result was good, especially given the short list of ingredients and the relatively short cooking time.   The only problem was that the chicken itself lacked flavour despite being decent free range meat. A marinade in spices as suggested in the note may help this. The book didn’t even call for a lime juice, salt and pepper mix.

Goon will have another turn at cooking on Monday. Perhaps something with beef this time and I may get him to do ALL the cooking, including side dishes.

April 3, 2008

Filed under: Far East, Shellfish and cephelapod, Malay/Indonesian — ros @ 9:15 pm

prawn and quail egg curry 

This holiday it struck me how many bargain cookery books I have. There are more than two shelves full of those £3 Borders reduced paperbacks which specialise in cuisine from a certain country or continent. They look cheap, they feel cheap, heck, they ARE cheap, but I find these little books very useful.

I’d love to be able to go out and spend £25 each time I fancied trying out something new but sadly, if I did that, I probaby couldn’t afford the ingredients I needed to make good use of the books I bought.  Still, a book entitled “The Best Ever Curry Cookbook” isn’t likely to fill you with confidence about its contents but, rather suprisingly, it turned out to be quite informative and inspiring. Most of the book focuses on cuisine from the Indian subcontinent but around a third of it is devoted to curries from Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, the Phillipines and Indonesia. There are several very unusual recipes in this section of the book which I’m determined to try. The first on my list was the prawn and quail egg curry.

This was a really delicious meal. The flavour of the curry is delicate but earthy, dominated by garlic, ginger and turmeric with subtle heat (which could be increased if desired) and the lemongrass coming through right at the end. The sauce is thin, almost like a broth, which made it a nuisance to carry to the table but was wonderful mixed up with the rice. It pays to go easy on the fish sauce as its pungent flavour could easily overpower the other ingredients.

A note on the use of stock here: As far as I’m aware most ‘wet’ curries don’t traditionally call for stock and instead get their flavour from the meat being braised slowly. For this reason I assume the use of chicken stock in this meal is not authentic. However, I find the right stock can be really useful in making ‘quick cook’ curries like this one. I’d use a light fresh stock that isn’t flavoured with herbs. I always make stocks like these from the carcasses from my roast dinners because they are so wonderfully versatile. 

I have come around to the idea of egg in curry. As a child, there was nothing more I hated than finding half an egg in an overpoweringly hot and salty Sri Lankan dish but the quail eggs suit the delicacy of flavours here. This is definitely a meal I will make again, especially since it is quick enough for a schoolnight dinner!

Indonesian Style Prawn and Quail Egg Curry

(Adapted from “The Best Ever Curry Cookbook” by Mridula Baljekar, published by Hermes House)

curry 2

Ingredients (for two people with big appetites) 

  • 400-450g shelled  and cleaned king prawns
  • 9 quail eggs, hard boiled, peeled and halved
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 3 fat cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3 cubic inches of ginger, chopped finely and crushed
  • 2 red chillies, finely chopped
  • half a level tablespoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (I assume palm sugar is authentic- I had to use demerera)
  • one half inch cube of shrimp paste or up to 1 tablespoon fish sauce  
  • 1 small stalk lemongrass, tough outer layer removed, trimmed and shredded.
  • 300ml thin coconut milk (pass 350ml normal coconut milk through a sieve)
  • 200ml unherbed chicken stock
  • 110g pak choi, or similar leaf, roughly shredded
  • shredded spring onion green part only) to garnish
  • plain boiled basmati rice to serve

Method

  1. Sweat the onions, garlic and ginger together gently until the onions are soft but not coloured.
  2. Add the chilies, shrimp paste/fish sauce and lemongrass. Fry for a minute so they release their favours.
  3. Add the strained coconut milk, stock and sugar and stir well. Bring the mixture to a gentle bubble. Let the mixture reduce by about 40%.
  4. Stir in the prawns and leaves and turn the heat down so the curry is at a simmer. 
  5. Stir gently until the prawns have just turned pink all the way through. This should ony take a few minutes and the leaves should also wilt in this time.
  6. Taste the sauce and adjust seasoning
  7. Stir in the quail eggs. Turn the curry out into a serving bowl and sprinkle over the shredded spring onion.
  8. Serve immediately with plain boiled basmati rice. 

June 20, 2006

Remember those fresh greens I was talking about a couple of weeks ago? I had a feeling they might make good crispy seaweed. I was right!

I made seaweed once before using recipe from a chinese cookery book. It suggested using the green bits of pak choi leaves. The result was good but, since you can’t really use the white fleshy bits of the leaves, you have to use a lot of pak choi. This makes the seaweed a bit expensive.

The fresh greens were much better in this respect. They are quite big and the leaf stalks are small. 1 fresh green will make enough seaweed to accompany two meals. Don’t use the yellow bits! They don’t look very good.

 

I had my seaweed as an accompaniment to a beef fillet I picked up on the way home. I intended to have it in a Thai dish. In the end, after finding some peanut butter my housemate was struggling to get through, I made an Indonesian-style peanut sauce for it. I cut the steak it into thin strips, marinated them in soy and spices and flash fried them for just a few seconds. I served the beef and seaweed with some noodles and the peanut sauce.  The crispy seaweed recipe is here and the beef with peanut sauce recipe is here.