Week 9 – 15 March 2015 – Japan
From my destination last week, it was directly east across the Sea of Japan to, you guessed it, Japan. This week could have gone in any of many directions, as I love to eat all kinds of Japanese food, yet never attempt to make any myself. The obvious choice seemed to be sushi, which looked like a lot of fun with new ingredients to boot! Hand rolls ahoy!
First, I had to find everything I needed and luckily, it all seemed to be available at the supermarket: hooray for Melbourne! Yaki nori (seaweed casing) and sushi rice were added to the pantry, alongside the mirin I had already grabbed for Korean the week prior.
The process was enjoyable and straightforward and by the end I couldn’t believe I haven’t been making sushi for myself all the time. You don’t need a recipe for sushi – in my case I just followed the packet instructions for the rice, chose fillings from my own preferences, and took advice on things here and there (e.g. like adding wasabi prior to ingredients). The rice needed little supervision short of adjusting the heat once, the yaki nori was straight out of the pack and onto the bench and the toppings were simple (they can be as easy or convoluted as you make them).
For me, I had three fillings: smoked salmon with avocado and cucumber (only cutting prep required); chilli prawns (cooked lightly in oil); and soy chicken (strips coated in corn flour and soy, then fried in oil at a high heat). The prep from there was just assembly: nori yaki, layer of rice, smear of wasabi, line of toppings – then just roll, stick (you leave a centimetre of nori yaki without rice on top, dab it with water and stick down once rolled), slice and eat!
Now that I’ve made this and know how easy it is, I might just make it all the time… Depending on the toppings it would keep really well in the fridge for lunch the next day, so that’s great too. Next time I might lean away from the obvious fillings, though. Why not experiment? I’m thinking maybe roasted sweet potato strips, or a thick line of basil, mint and coriander.
Week 10 – 22 March 2015 – China
Before I start on this week’s destination, I’ll admit defeat in the face of the country I attempted. I was fooled by those tricky Americans, who decided an “exotic sound” excused them naming a dish served in American Chinese restaurants after the northern Asian country Mongolia. I made it, too – “Mongolian beef” – here is a photo:
It actually tasted very good – simple, easy and sweet. But it is not a Mongolian dish at all. In fact, after a little more research (perhaps I should have done that little extra first), I discovered Mongolian food was nothing like this in reality and it really wasn’t going to work for me… Deep fried mutton lard, anyone? So, there was my mistake. But it didn’t matter, as I was happy to continue on to China as planned.
Like Japan’s dish before it, this week’s meal was one I eat out a lot but have never attempted to put together myself. Straightforward on all fronts, my dish was Chinese dumplings. The beauty in choosing this was there is no set filling for Chinese dumplings and I was open to fill the fellas with whatever pleased me. But first, the dough.
Dumpling dough, as taught on this here wikihow, is basically flour, water and a bit of salt. But it’s sticky and messy and consequently quite time consuming. In hindsight, given the ingredients my dumplings would have lost little had I just bought “wrappers” from the supermarket. Still, I wanted to give it a go. And failing is fun, right?
Ok, maybe failure is a little unfair on myself; but the dumpling dough sure wasn’t in proportion to the filling. Given a surplus of time, I’d probably have mastered my own technique, slowing down with each piece, making sure it was nice and thin; but as it turned out, they ended up quite doughy on the ends, which was a little ways from delightful.
I was quite happy with the filling, however. I simply made it up with Chinese flavours as my inspiration – chopped prawns, cabbage, endive, spring onions, chilli, garlic and a little soy.
The cooking part was fun and new to me, as I tried both techniques. Boiling involved throwing some dumplings into a boiling pot, waiting for it to come back to the boil, adding two cups of water and waiting for it to come back again (repeated three times, so make sure you have a big pot). Frying involved using a little bit of oil in a sauté pan, popping in the dumplings, covering for three minutes, then adding half a cup of water to the pan, covering it again and waiting for that to evaporate.
My dipping sauce was simply soy sauce with chopped fresh chilli.
With my remaining dough, I decided dessert was a good idea… Pretty soon I had created milk and white chocolate, picnic, and maltezer dumplings. And of course, being dumplings they needed to be dipped. Hello sprinkles.
Week 11 – 29 March 2015 – Burma
South from China landed me in Burma, which after a bit of research I realised shared many similarities with its bordering neighbour, Thailand. This was good news for me and I quickly came across a recipe for Nga Phe Thoke, a fish cake salad. I had wanted to have a go at fish cakes when in Thailand but passed in favour of a noodle favourite – so I took this opportunity instead.
It was easy to get a hold of all the ingredients, as I tend to grab most of them week to week anyway. For the fish, it called for a firm white variety, and I lucked out with Blue Grenadier when having a Catch of the Week delivered to my home (sure, a little more of a southern species, but it got the job done; skinless and perfect consistency).
Blended, I feared that the fish mix would be a crumbly mess as the recipe lacked any binding ingredient. However, the mix was super easy to handle, form and manoeuvre – which meant from board to blender to frying took all of five minutes! The recipe requested a deep fry, but I tend to avoid that wherever possible, so these were simply lightly pan-fried for about 3 minutes each side.
The salad was fairly basic, with loads of coriander. This dish is entirely customisable and I doubt making this again would reflect my week’s country once this goes in and that comes out. The fish cakes would simply work well with any fresh salad ingredients.
The sauce made for the fish cakes was a wonderful twist on usual salad toppers. A base of tamarind paste made for a sour, tangy flavour that really shone – a highlight of the meal for sure.
The recipe is available on SBS Food here.
Week 12 – 5 April 2015 – Nepal
Ok, so I’m taking a bit of a stretch with this whole “single direction” thing at the moment and jumping over some places I’ll likely head back to. I don’t even really know why, but this week I ended up in Nepal. I also chose three dishes, so straight to business.
The three dishes I chose to make are all good after they’ve cooled down; so it’s easy to make all three at the same time or one after the other and not worry about having everything to serve as a hot meal.
First was a Nepalese spicy potato salad (aaloo ko achar). Boiled potatoes aren’t generally my thing, but the flavours and spice in this recipe really distracted me from that. I thought this would be the “filler” of the meal, but in fact it was a surprise win for me. Recipe is here.
The second dish made up the meat component of the meal, and for the only time in this blog-set the meat wasn’t fish! The chicken barbeque (chowela) I made was light and fresh, with not a great deal going on ingredients wise but, again, benefiting from the addition of chili. Recipe is here.
The third and most exciting component was certainly the Nepalese cucumber pickle salad (kaakro ko achar). This dish consisted of cucumbers, a dressing made from yogurt, lemon and oil, a range of herbs and spices, and a heap of cooked-then-ground sesame. The flavours in this one were fantastic, contrasting and complementing and generally causing a stir in my mouth – this was certainly the newest and most exiting experience from the week’s efforts. Recipe is here.
In all of the above dishes, I also discovered the use of fenugreek seeds. Cooked in the oil and tossed on last minute in each of the dishes, their flavour was confusing (almost bitter to my tastes) and their texture surprising (they actually pack a fair crunch).
Together, this was a well-rounded meal with a large variety of textures and flavours. I can’t say that I have anything to compare it to as a Nepalese experience, but I certainly enjoyed the style and would seek out similar foods when out and about.
Week 13 – 12 April 2015 – Laos
So I’m backtracking this week, which I knew would happen (a will again, I’m sure). Nestled in between Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and China (it does actually share borders with all of those countries) I worked my way back to Laos, again re-visiting a number of flavours I adore.
I came across a recipe when looking for Nepalese food on the SBS site (I know, three weeks in a row – but I’ll avoid it next week, I promise) here. If you have a look at the recipe, you’ll see it’s for a Laotian salad that includes som moo (cured, sour pork). This simply didn’t appeal to me, nor was I confident in the preparation of the meat – so I avoided that part. What I took, however, was the recipe for rice balls, made with a red curry paste.
To accompany this, I came across a Laotian steamed fish recipe (here). Given I enjoyed the banana leaf wrap and bamboo steamer method in Cambodia, I decided that this take on steamed fish would accompany the rice to create a custom Laotian meal or sorts.
The rice balls were easy and quite quick, thanks to my super assistant 😉 Reading ahead and seeing the liquid added to the curry paste, I cheated and combined the ingredients in a blender rather than mortar (the fish sauce made everything wet enough to wiz to paste). Mix, roll, powder, egg and fry – simples! No deep frying for me, either. I just threw them in my pan and turned till all sides were crisp.
Lemongrass, chilli, shallot, dill, basil, spring onions, fish sauce and kaffir lime were all in the lineup on the fish team – if that list aint convincing then you’re mad. The recipe also included an interesting method of grinding soaked (not cooked) rice to create a glutinous paste. Steamed in banana leaves, the fish finished fresh and fragrant. Accompanied by crushed rice balls and a generous squeeze of lime, this was a rewarding week for Eat the World.