Category Archives: Asian cookery

Thai turkey and shiitake meatballs with spinach and coconut

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Finding the oomph to create new and inspiring recipes when life conspires against you is hard. The last couple of years have been something of a roller-coaster, one where I’ve barely recovered from one crisis before the next comes along. We all have periods like this in our life; times when we feel things will never calm down and our creative or vibrant spark proves elusive. I guess its like a form of writers block, or a creative grey patch where new ideas are impossible to muster. Instead of creating I find myself rushing through family dinner preparation, or shoving something together quickly while the hungry boys clamor to be fed. It’s a place where cooking is less, leisurely relaxing pursuit and more race against time. Does this all sound familiar?

Happily I am beginning to return to the old me and have started to experience the odd brain wave moment. Give me some random ingredients and a bit of head space and I’m in my element and now that work is winding down for the winter I’m returning to my roots. Experimental cooking, writing, photography (and possibly even a supper club!).

For added incentive I’m on a self enforced weight loss programme. I’m trying to ditch the carbs and refined sugars in a bid to drop a dress size. Now I’m not generally prone to following fad diets, but despite making excuses for my weight gain (contentment, new relationship, etc) I have to admit that its most likely down to menopause (a bastard to women in their forties) and despite being pretty fit all my life I’m no longer able to rely on my metabolism and exercise. Its crap. But I’m looking for ways to eat well without piling on the pounds.

I’ve ditched potatoes, pasta, rice and bread. I’m limiting sweet things and trying to stick to fruit and nuts as snacks. It’s hard to come up with interesting things when my partner is picky as hell, but at least my fourteen year old eats anything put in front of him (an understatement…the boy never stops eating. He can clear a fruit bowl in one sitting..oh, except if its mash potato apparently; because mashed potatoes taste different to boiled ones. Yes that one confused me too..go figure).

Anyway, with this new and rather limited remit I set off on an experimental journey. What I came up with ticked everyone’s boxes: A cheaper and lighter meat, my favourite Thai ingredients, mushrooms to keep the other half happy (they are his favourite food in all the world) and just lots of it (for the teen). The boys ate their meatballs with rice and I made myself some courgette noodles with my spiralizer.

For the meat balls:

500g turkey mince

Half a medium onion finely chopped (save the other half for the sauce)

2 cloves garlic finely chopped

4 shiitake mushrooms finely chopped (from a 125g punnet)

an inch of fresh ginger finely chopped

1 teaspoon fish sauce

1 teaspoon Thai curry paste

1 egg

Groundnut oil

For the sauce:

1 small red bell pepper thinly sliced

the other half of the onion

the rest of the shiitake mushrooms

a handful of shredded spinach or chard

2 cloves of garlic

tin of coconut milk

Thai curry paste (enough for your own taste) I used a teaspoon because I can’t tolerate too much chilli

Juice of one lime

Chopped coriander to finish

For the meatballs: Either in a food processor, or by hand, pulse the onion, mushrooms, ginger and garlic until finely chopped. Add the turkey mince, fish sauce, curry paste and egg and pulse again until combined. Form into small balls the size of golf balls.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a pan and fry the balls in batches until browned all over. Put to one side in a bowl while you make the sauce.

Add the remaining onion, red pepper, garlic and stir fry for one minute. Add the remaining shiitake mushrooms and the Thai curry paste and stir fry for another minute. Add the coconut milk and lime juice and return the meatballs to the pan. Simmer until the sauce has reduced and meatballs are cooked. Stir in the spinach or chard right at the end and allow to wilt into the sauce. Finish with a good sprinkling of coriander.

 

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Burmese spiced fish, Conwy Feast and writers block

Writers block is a terrible thing. I want to write. I have lots to say and many stories to write-up of events I’ve attended and people I’ve spoken to in recent weeks. But as soon as it comes to sitting down and transferring my thoughts to paper its like the shutters come down in my head and the words wont flow. This is the reason for my recent silence. Writing, even food writing, needs a bit of mental space and freedom so my thoughts can roam and explore ideas. If I feel stressed, upset, preoccupied with problems or constrained my thoughts are otherwise engaged….no mental space, no writing. Its frustrating. So rather than spend weeks on a full essay, here are some pictures from my Conwy Feast demo and the recipe for the Burmese inspired spiced fish I cooked at the Feast.

Bear with me…I will be back with a vengeance soon….once some of the chaos going on in my life has subsided.

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Burmese spiced fish with coconut milk (to serve 2 people): Takes 20 mins to cook

The prominent flavours that you find in Burmese dishes are heavily influenced by the countries that border it. With Thailand on one side and Bangladesh on the other, both Asian and Indian flavours fuse to create a distinctive and colourful cuisine. This is a favourite dish that I’ve cooked for years and although of course I’ve added to or tinkered with the original ingredients it remains true to the original recipe I found in an old cookbook. These days I often use Thai / sweet basil to enhance the Asian flavours, while of course the vivid yellow colouring created by the turmeric is specifically Indian in origin.

2 thick white fish fillets (monkfish, cod or haddock)

Sunflower oil

1 small onion

1 clove of garlic

Half a thumb sized piece of ginger

Teaspoon turmeric

A small red chilli (home-grown)

Salt to taste

Half a can coconut milk

A small handful of Thai sweet basil (home-grown)

1 juicy lime

Finely chop the onion. Mince garlic, ginger and chilli (seeds removed).

Heat 2 tablespoons sunflower oil in a pan until hot. Add onions and fry quickly over the heat moving continuously for about 5 to 10 minutes, it doesn’t matter if they brown a little. Add garlic, ginger, chilli and turmeric and stir for one minute. Move the onion and garlic mixture to the side of the pan and add the fish fillets skin side down. Fry for 5 minutes or so until the skin starts to turn a golden crispy brown. While its cooking coat the top of the fish with the onion and garlic mixture.  Turn the fish briefly and add the coconut milk and salt to taste. Allow to bubble for about 10 to 15 minutes without covering. Check seasoning and then finish with the juice of a lime and a sprinkling of Thai basi. Serve with plain white rice and perhaps a minty cucumber and tomato salad.

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This fragrant plateful was divided up and between all the avid tasters at the demo!

Photographs courtesy of Kate Withstandley …photographer and art blogger at Exploring Art in the City

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Japanese fish two ways: sticky sesame and deep fried with panko

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I love fish, but I don’t eat enough of it for my liking. The main reason being that the teen hates it (in the same way she hates most things that are good for her; with a passion) and so I always end up cooking family friendly meals that everyone will eat and enjoy (while saving myself extra work cooking several different things). Fish is, as you can imagine, generally off the menu!

This weekend was different. No teen. Lots of fish.

I made both of these dishes to go with the noodles in smoky broth I made a few weeks ago (see post here). The first was inspired by a group of Korean families I met crabbing at the beach. They’d travelled over from Birmingham for the day bringing calor gas stoves, pots pans and lots of ingredients, hoards of kids and crab catching apparatus made from bread baskets and old kitchen sink drainers. Our kids looked on fascinated, not quite believing they were going to cook up shore crabs to eat! My kids friend, who knows stuff about the seashore because her parents are ecologists, stated categorically and rather disparagingly that “you can only eat EDIBLE crabs you know” . She had to eat her words later.

As the family cooked up the spoils of their fishing trip they tucked in to kimchi, rice and tiny sweet, salty and slightly sticky fried whitebait. They invited us to join them and taste the crab stock with noodles giving us handfuls of these tiny fish while we waited. The kid (who likes fish) couldn’t get enough of them, and I also found the sweet-salty sesame flavour totally addictive, and so decided to recreate them.

I had a little search around and found a recipe that looked promising on Meemalee’s Burmese food blog. She used scallops and something called Shichimi togarashi. Off I went in search of said Japanese spice in my local Asian supermarket. I wandered aimlessly looking at incomprehensible letters, pots and jars. I found the Japanese section but nothing labelled Shichimi, eventually I gave up and asked the shop keeper. He wasn’t sure either so searched on his computer. Together we discovered it has several names, but is commonly known as Japanese seven spice.

For my fish dish I used Cornish Sardines which I meticulously filleted with a very sharp knife leaving small thin pieces and not whitebait which is currently off the sustainable list. Sardines are a good alternative as are anchovies, herrings or sprats.

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Sticky sesame Sardines:

250g small fish, either eaten whole or filleted to make small strips

A knob of butter

dessertspoonful  of sunflower oil

a handful of black sesame seeds

a sprinkle of Japanese seven spice

a drop of soy sauce

a teaspoon sugar

Heat the butter, oil and soy sauce in a large non-stick pan. When hot and bubbling add the fish giving the pan a good shake after a couple of minutes. Be careful not to break the fish when turning and moving about. Add the sesame seeds, seven spice and sugar and keep moving about the pan until cooked, slightly crispy and a lovely brown colour.

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My other dish was an immediate kid favourite. Monkfish tail (another sustainable option), dipped in Japanese seven spice seasoned flour, beaten egg and panko  breadcrumbs, then deep-fried in sunflower oil until golden and crispy. What could be simpler?

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Smoke me a kipper!…..(and some cheese, butter, salt, and even WATER…) plus a recipe for smoky Udon noodle soup

Smoking has slowly taken over from traditional barbecuing is now something of a trend. This is back to basics barbecuing but brought thoroughly up to date. Forget the charcoal briquettes; were talking oak, maple, or cedar chippings, hickory, tea, rice or anything really that will produce an interesting taste and aroma. Things have clearly moved on from a good old-fashioned camp fire although that too has seen a recent resurgence; probably dictated by our modern desire to get back to basics ( its no surprise that foraging and wild cooking are very popular now..food for free that evokes childhood memories of camping in the woods is always good).

It seems that nothing is immune from the smoke treatment; and really, I mean nothing.

There are two ways to smoke food; hot and cold. Hot is by far the quickest and simplest. Cold smoking is a complicated process and generally requires time and proper equipment. I say this but my other half attempted to build a cold smoker out of an old metal ballot box once. It kind of worked, but the fish ended up a little too smoky. I guess it just takes a bit of practise and experimentation and if you don’t mind some wastage (in my other half’s case he’d been out fishing and caught 70 mackerel…this is before they were OFF the sustainable list you understand…and they wouldn’t all fit in the freezer, so he had a go at smoking them).

I’ve hot smoked a fair bit using a small Cameron’s stove top smoker, mostly chicken, wild salmon, mackerel, trout, a variety of vegetables, garlic and mussels. They are also incredibly easy to rig up using a wok with a rack in it. Basically you line a wok with foil, put in your smoking ingredients (chippings, tea or other flavourings), then use a wire rack or tray that fits neatly inside the wok but doesn’t touch the base. Cover with a tight lid or foil to cover the top. Fish usually takes about 20 mins to cook through, chicken longer. Basically its an experiment.

Anyway, these days smoking has moved way beyond bacon, mackerel and haddock (although these are good). I’ve also tried smoked salt, cheese, butter, paprika, mushrooms and duck. Now I hear smoked beer and smoked vodka are on the market, while cookery programme contestants are coming up with smoked yogurt and chocolate! What next I hear you say?….well what next is SMOKED WATER.

The product, hailed as THE culinary sensation of the year since Heston jumped on the smoked water bandwagon, but I’ve been aware of it since its launched last year at the Abergavenny food festival. This unlikely product, made by none other than our very own Halen Mon salt who are just a few miles up the road from me, has taken off and orders are pouring in, but its taken me this long to get round to trying it..

This week I nipped over to visit them and picked up a few sachets while I was there.  I was a wee bit nervous and sceptical at first. Some smoked products are quite overpowering and at first sniff the smoky aroma seemed quite intense. The instructions on the packet suggest that it is best used in stocks, for marinading, in risotto and Heston uses it to give seafood and potatoes a smoky taste, but it doesn’t suggest the amount to use so I proceeded cautiously. I first tried it out by adding it to a pan of hot water to blanch asparagus. I only used a third of a sachet, just to see how intense the flavour would be, but the outcome was pleasing. The very mild smoky hint  didn’t overwhelm the flavour of the young fresh asparagus and turned out just right.

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I got a bit braver so I decided to try it in a traditional udon noodle dish, using Schichimi Togarashi ( or Japanese seven spice), lemongrass, ginger, garlic, fish sauce, chilli and coriander. Again I used about a third of a sachet to see if it tasted stronger in a soup base. It did, but still not overpowering. The combination of spice, smoke and fish was delicious and proclaimed a winner…although not by the teen who said it was too fishy.

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Udon noodles with a smoky spicy broth (enough for 3 to 4):

1 stick lemon grass finely chopped

2 cloves garlic finely chopped

a thumb of ginger peeled and grated

half to one teaspoon schichimi spice

a quarter of a sachet of Halen Mon smoked water

1 dessertspoonful of vegetable oil

a quarter of a teaspoon shrimp paste (optional…it has a very intensely fishy taste and aroma)

1 teaspoon fish sauce (the pale coloured Blue Dragon brand is best)

1 litre and a half of good vegetable stock

2 to 3 small packs of Udon noodles

1 medium or 2 small pak choy finely shredded

2 handfuls of bean sprouts

half a small tin of bamboo shoots (optional)

half a small leek finely shredded

4 medium spring onions finely chopped

1 red chilli finely chopped

a good handful of chopped coriander

a squeeze of lime juice to finish

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Heat the oil in a wok and add the ginger, garlic, lemongrass and stir fry for no more than 30 seconds. Add the schichimi spice, smoked water and stock and bring slowly to the boil. Reduce the heat and leave to simmer.

Dd the noodles to the broth and cook according the instructions on the packet (probably 3 to 4 minutes if they are fresh noodles).

In a bowl put a smile pile of bean sprouts, pak choy, leek and bamboo shoots (as in he picture below)

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Once cooked and piping hot, pile the noodles on top of the vegetables and then pour over the stock. Finish with a good sprinkle of spring onion, chilli and coriander and serve with some crispy sesame fish (recipe to follow) although it works just as well with some cooked chicken, or as a healthy fresh tasting bowl of noodles.

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