Week 5 – 15 February 2015 – Vietnam
In Asia, I feel a little spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing a country to cook. With a few immediate options available leaving Malaysia, I decided to stay in familiar territory and find something new to cook from a country I’ve visited a couple of times.
Skipping the bordering country (for the time being), Vietnam was my week’s destination and I chose a recipe I’ve been wanting to have a go at for a while – Banh Xeo. These are Vietnamese pancakes stuffed with all sorts of goodies. While I loved eating them in Vietnam, for some reason I’ve failed to try and recreate them until now (put it down to forgetfulness). Luckily for me, I came across a recipe in Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi. Deliciousness ensued.
Consisting of rice flour, coconut milk, egg, salt and turmeric, these aren’t your usual pancakes. They’re bright yellow and super flavoursome all on their own (even without toppings galore). I find that whenever I try to make folding “pancake” recipes (crepes, dosas, etc.) I have a lot of trial and error before I come up with something “plate-able”. The problem – for the most part, I think – is that the batter isn’t thin enough. In this recipe, I used the right measurements, but it was far too thick to get the right cooked product. A couple of crumbled attempts later, I’d adjusted the amount of milk to get it right. It needed to really run off the spoon.
In terms of what was folded into the middle, I started with Ottolenghi’s advice, but did it my own way. I sliced carrot, spring onions and grabbed loads of enoki mushrooms and cooked them slightly (if anything to take off the raw oniony edge). I then used bean sprouts, basil, Vietnamese mint and loads of coriander to further bulk out the Banh Xeo.
Finally, the dressing! What I love so much about Vietnamese food is the collision of flavours and so many of the sauces and dressings they use adopt a similar idea: incorporate sweet, sour, salty and spice – confuse and delight! The dressing included lime, rice wine vinegar, kecap manis (that’s the delicious sweet and sticky soy), brown sugar, garlic, CHILLI and oil. And it rocked the socks!
Week 6 – 22 February 2015 – Thailand
Thailand! Awesome! I love cooking Thai food (not as much as I love eating it) so this week felt like a bit of a cheat. But I’m not complaining… There’s a Thai dish I often fanaticise about, but have never gotten around to trying – so this was the time for it. Kao Soi – aka Chiang Mai Noodles – are a dish I’ve only had in their Northern Thai home and it’s been a while. What I remember most is how much I ate, not the defining touches, so I can’t even really say if I nailed this one (but I was happy with it).
Kao Soi is a Thai curry over thick noodles. The technique and time needed is easy done, but its long list of ingredients adds up for a wonderful complexity of flavours that is far from simple.
First, the curry paste. My curry paste was based on a Panang Curry paste in a homemade cookbook I was given in Thailand. It contained all the staples a good Thai curry needs – galangal, coriander root, lemongrass, cumin, shrimp paste, shallots, garlic… The list goes on. With this as my base, I also found a couple of nice techniques online to play with the ingredients, including roasting the shrimp paste (wrapped in tin foil on the stove), as well as oven roasting the garlic and shallots (so they’re paste like to begin with). Loud noise followed as I made my paste with the mortar and pestle.
The paste, along with a load more garlic, were first in the pan, followed by the chicken. Coconut milk, stock and the extra flavours followed – sugar, salt, soy, turmeric and the vital lime juice. This all came together quickly, ready to pour over the noodles and top with chopped coriander, spring onion and dried shallots.
There was plenty left over after we’d eaten, so I took it to work the next day. Interestingly, the time overnight not only thickened it up, but strengthened the flavours – it tasted great to begin with but amazing the next day!
I grabbed the base recipe and altered it to my tastes from: http://www.food.com/recipe/chiang-mai-curry-noodles-kao-soi-192829
Week 7 – 1 March 2015 – Cambodia
So with Thailand and Vietnam delivered, it was time to complete this particular South East Asian sandwich* with cosy neighbour Cambodia. Despite having spent a couple of weeks in the country, I struggled to remember anything in particular I wanted to create. I was worried about this at first, then remembered prior illness was the reason for us eating so un-adventurously when there. That was fine, though, as it was about time I got used to searching blindly for new recipes; after all, there are waaay more countries I’ll have no clue about than those I will throughout the year.
My search ended when I came across a recipe for Cambodian Amok Trey (steamed curried fish), not so much for any ingredients this week, but rather for the method. I had never cooked with banana leaves before, nor had I used a bamboo steamer, so this looked like a lot of fun.
The recipe called to make a paste from kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, galangal and garlic – this was my first challenge. I settled for a coarse mix a ways from “paste”, but given the length of steaming time later on this sufficed. The next challenge came in not tearing the banana leaves. While this shouldn’t be an issue with future use (now I know what I’m doing), I wish it was spelled out how tear-able the big green leaves are once nicked in the wrong spot.
In all other respects, this was an easy recipe, albeit a lengthy one. The coconut curry was thick even before it was steamed, thanks to the skimming method; so it wasn’t too messy to wrap into the leaves. The steamer was straight forward, after a quick lesson online. It simply required being placed in a wok over simmering water (keeping the level of the food on the first level above the water line and keeping an eye on the water levels for the length of cooking).
The result, as pictured above, does not give this dish justice. In hindsight, I really should have garnished the dish before taking the photo because, well, you can see. But the texture and flavour were great. The curry took a seriously thick form, and the fish chunks a melting consistency. The flavours of the lemongrass and kaffir lime were dominant, and as mentioned the rough work on the paste didn’t matter too much as everything was softened considerably.
This recipe was from SBS Food, available at: http://www.sbs.com.au/food/recipes/steamed-curried-fish-wrapped-banana-leaves-amok-trey
*I didn’t make a sandwich
Week 8 – 8 March 2015 – South Korea
Alright, this might not exactly be a single direction – there are a lot of countries near one another in Asia – so bear with me as I play dizzy leapfrog and jump across to Korea. I think I’ve only ever eaten Korean food once; so like Cambodia last week, I was lacking any great deal of experience. Luckily, I’d been holding onto a recipe from Love to Eat for this week. Given the success of the Australian recipe from that book, I was pretty confident this one would be tasty, too.
The recipe this week was for Korean beef with quick kimchi – two parts that were very different, yet complemented one another quite well.
First, the beef. This was marinated overnight in a combination of oil, soy, sesame, mustard powder and, a new ingredient to my kitchen, mirin. Mirin is typically used in Japanese fare and is a sweet, very low alcoholic rice wine. Its flavour was subtle in the mix, but it did bring a faint sweetness to the overall taste. Grilled on skewers, the beef was simple with the sweet and sesame contrasting entirely with the kimchi.
The kimchi, second, was a cheat’s version if ever there was one. Usually, this typical Korean dish is fermented for months; but this one was magically prepared overnight! Chinese cabbage, red onion, pickled ginger, garlic and chilli met with a combination drenching of sweet and sour. Although overnight was certainly long enough to soak (the kimchi really packed a zingy punch the following night), I would be keen to know how time effects the dish and would happily try it out in the future.
Together with rice, this all came together as a simple meal that felt simultaneously true and like a little bit of cheat.