There’s no big trip on the cards this year, so instead I’m going to cook my way around the world!
Starting in the first week of 2015, I’ve decided to pick a direction and head to a new country each week, travelling right around the globe to discover new tastes, ingredients, techniques and all the random stuff that goes along with the world of cuisines! My aim is to “visit” as many countries as I can in 12 months and hopefully average one per week until the year is out. I’ll post my recipes in blocks on the blog, rather than one at a time, and where possible I’ll include the recipes I’ve used (and abused) or at least reference the book/source.
Week 1 – 4 January 2015 – Australia
When I was in Italy, I remember my host families asking me “What is Australian food like?” Coming from Melbourne, that is a very difficult question. “What do you cook at home?” was a common follow up. Um, a lot of Asian, Mediterranean, I guess English food, too. I never consider anything I make uniquely Australian.
Good choice to start in my own backyard then… Australia was either going to be the first or last stop on this crazy task I set myself and I figured I may as well give it a go given the whole point is to try and find some new foods. If I considered an “Aussie” meal uncommon in my kitchen, now was the time to remedy that.
Luckily for me, week one was made a little easier thanks to a cookbook Christmas present, Love to Eat by Valli Little, which covers a number of cuisine groups from around the world: one of which is Australian food. The recipe I chose was seared kangaroo steaks with parsnip gratin and cherry chutney. Sold. Having never had kangaroo before, this was an excellent opportunity; and I didn’t need to think twice about a cherry chutney.
The recipe was super easy to follow and relatively quick to prepare. The gratin came out nice and creamy with a crunchy top, the steak was cooked carefully and came out tender and rare with a fiery pepper punch (roo toughens up quickly if overdone), and the cherry chutney was sweet, sticky and spiced nicely (cooking it, it reminded me of gluhwein…).
On the plate, I wasn’t entirely convinced about its “Aussie-ness” as a collective, but chowing down on one half of our national emblem sure felt true blue to me. Coupling it with a Mountain Goat Rare Breed certainly helped out the level of patriotism, too.
Now the question: which direction to head?
Week 2 – 11 January 2015 – Indonesia
From Australia, it’s quite a way north before you hit the next destination… However, hopping over to Asia means that there won’t be another significant jump over distance for a while. My second country was Indonesia and the plethora of recipes on offer was great news! My aim was to find something I hadn’t made before, but keep things relatively easy. I happened upon Soto Ayam, which is quite simply Indonesian chicken soup.
Unassuming, yes, but super flavoursome! This recipe drew my interest because it effectively instructed me on making my own stock and paste (unlike the abundance of those calling for a pack or this or a jar or that). And while I’m used to making laksas with similar flavours going on, this one gets strained clean of any bits and sediment, so it’s a lot less messy a process once it gets to the bowl.
The broth, made with lemongrass and kaffir lime, mixed with the course paste of ginger, shallots, garlic and spices worked deliciously together to make the yellow soup (thanks, turmeric), complementing the noodles and poached chicken. I love a good egg addition, too (good old Asian cuisine adding a boiled egg to any dish that’ll take it)!
The recipe is available online at: http://www.taste.com.au/recipes/29605/soto+ayam+indonesian+chicken+noodle+soup
I changed things a little from what was provided on the link above. Given I was only cooking for two, I used chicken breasts instead of a whole chook. This was obviously a lot easier, although I feel it did compromise the flavours in the stock. It was also clear to me that, should you want to bulk this out at all, the soup would not be offended by the addition of any number of veges.
Week 3 – 18 January 2015 – Singapore
Singapore is a country that thrives on food – it’s a passion, obsession, talking point and part of the country’s national identity. But Singaporean cuisine is difficult to define. It draws on the influences of its nearby neighbours and cultural influences – Indonesia, Malaysia, India and China – and creates varied, recognisably Singaporean food with a bevy of familiar aspects.
Hoping across the water from the week before, I stuck with noodles for another taste of Asia. I chose to make a dish I love to order out, Char Kway Teow. After having a look around online I determined the dish didn’t really have a strict owner (Malaysia or Singapore), but was certainly a dish loved and very widely consumed in my week’s country of choice and by me.
Wide noodles, chicken, prawns, a few veges – all bathed in soy sauce and flavoured with oyster, garlic and shrimp paste. This dish was easy to make, and it packs a salty sea punch with seafood and shrimp paste in the mix. The fried chicken strips (coated in cornflour and oyster sauce) worked beautifully to kick things off, but like my previous recipe, this one was vegetable lacking, so I threw in a few more to bulk it out.
The recipe is available online at: http://www.taste.com.au/recipes/3217/char+kway+teow
I didn’t stray far from the recipe’s method, although I took some liberties with the amounts of ingredients, trying to get a sauce level more catered to our palate. I think in the end I got the levels almost right, although my warning would be to try quite conservative amounts of shrimp paste until you know how it tastes (I decided last minute to cut a quarter from the initial steps and I’m glad I did). Also, the large quantity of soy isn’t going to please everyone, so remember you can just add a little at time until it tastes right.
Week 4 – 8 February 2015 – Malaysia
Okay, so I lost a couple of weeks there – turns out getting married creates a pretty busy time! While it took me a while to get to this week’s cook, it wouldn’t take so long to get to the country from the last. Neighbour to the north, Malaysia, presented another smorgasbord of suggestions and because Tessie (Mrs Tessie now) wasn’t keen on me trying to create a Nasi Lemak recipe (what a wowser!) it was to the internet once again!
My memories of Malaysian cuisine are wildly varied. The crossover culture in KL and Melaka presented me with some delicious dishes with their roots firmly dug into Indian and Chinese cuisine, while Penang made you wish there was less to choose from if only so you could make a decision quicker. I remembered strong flavours, too. In Georgetown I got my hands on an Asam Laksa, which I had wanted to try for a long time – it was so sour and ridiculously fishy. I wasn’t exactly convinced, but I’m glad I got to try that fishy punch in the face.
And then there is roti. Malaysia is the king of roti. Enough said.
I came across a recipe for a Malaysian fish curry, which is available here: http://www.taste.com.au/recipes/14816/malaysian+fish+curry
I was keen to give this a try for several reasons; notably, it reminded me of the style I loved in Malaysia, it was relatively simple to get together (like I said, it’s a busy time at the moment) and it incorporated tamarind and fresh curry leaves, two ingredients I haven’t cooked with before. My plan included an accompanying roti canai, which was again super easy to pull together.
I was more than pleased with how the taste of this curry came out, albeit disappointed I didn’t use more fish or prawns for a more meaty outcome. The curry was thick, creamy (I used a full can of coconut milk), bright orangey yellow and had a lovely sourness to it. I used Barramundi fillets (skinned and diced before being thrown in) and these cooked deliciously soft as always. The roti was decent in the end, although it’s a long road to the street roti in KL, and I quickly figured out that it needs to be stretched and stretched for best results.