Spicy Cucumber Salad

We recently celebrated Mother’s Day in England and for my mother I cooked a Chinese inspired meal with lots of different dishes. Some I’ve cooked before, like Stir Fried Beef with Ginger. Alongside the meat and fish dishes, I made a fresh and crunchy salad, inspired by one in my Gok Wan Cooks book. Sadly, there were very few leftovers the next day, and none at all of the salad!

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Ingredients to serve 4-6

  • 1 cucumber, partly peeled
  • ½ fresh chilli, finely sliced
  • 3 spring onions, finely sliced
  • A few handfuls of bean sprouts
  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon caster sugar
  • A pinch of salt

Slice off the ends of the cucumber then slice it in half lengthways. Scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon and then cut the cucumber into chunks about .5cm wide.

Mix the cucumber with the chilli, beansprouts and spring onions. Mix the rest of the ingredients together to make the dressing and pour over the salad a couple of minutes before serving.

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Vaguely Vietnamese Summer Rolls

I know, I know…late for the train again. I seem to be a few steps behind at the moment when it comes to food fashion, but I get there in the end. And then, like the woman who still thinks shoulder pads should come with t-shirts (what…me with the sloping shoulders?!) I’ll keep trotting out my “new food discovery” for years to come!

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Summer, even in England this year, makes us want lighter more refreshing foods and a trip round the local Caribbean/Asian store rummaging for new foodstuffs resulted in the purchase of some rice paper wrappers. Summer Rolls – enjoyed from time to time in restaurants but never made – it seemed like an obvious choice.

When I decide to make something, I behave in the same way as I do if I have made the purchase of a new gadget or a pair of shoes. I have to use/wear them straight away. All the recipes for Vietnamese Summer rolls seemed to call for minced pork or prawns. Which would have been lovely if I’d had them, but I had avocado so I went for an (almost) vegetarian/vegan version. They would have been properly veggie/vegan if I’d left out the fish sauce.

Most of the recipes did seem to agree that you can pretty much do what you like and were rather loose on quantities. I just boiled up some fine rice noodles, finely sliced an avocado and made up a batch of finely sliced vegetables then kept rolling until I ran out – 9 rolls later.

Ingredients

  • Rice paper wrappers
  • Finely sliced vegetables (I used a piece of red pepper, half a large carrot, one spring onion, 2 leaves of Chinese cabbage and about a third of a courgette) mixed with some finely chopped mint, coriander and basil and a splash of fish sauce and the juice of half a lime
  • Rice noodles soaked in hot water until soft (I used one block which gave me about a cup and a half)

For the peanut dipping sauce

  • 2 heaped teaspoons of smooth peanut butter
  • 2 teaspoons of warm water
  • 1 teaspoon of soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of fish sauce
  • The juice of half a lime
  • A pinch of sugar

Get a little production line ready with a bowl of warm water big enough to hold your rice wrappers, a plate with a folded tea towel on top, your various filling ingredients, a clean plate to put the finished rolls onto and a few pieces of wet kitchen paper (or a damp cloth) to cover the rolls with to stop them drying out.

Dip a wrapper in the water and gently rub until it is transparent and soft (mine took less than 30 seconds). They are fragile but not overly so. Lay the wrapper on the plate with the clean tea towel.

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Place your various fillings in the centre of the wrapper, piled on top of each other) then roll the top of the wrapper over the fillings, fold in the sides to seal and then roll the bottom half of the wrapper up. As the wrapper is still wet it will seal and keep the filling in. Place the completed roll on the serving plate and cover with a damp cloth or kitchen paper.

To make the dipping sauce, simply mix all the ingredients together. I also served the rolls with some sweet chilli dipping sauce.

Fiddly, but not too challenging, and fun to make. Healthy, delicious and surprisingly filling. Result all round!

Beef Massaman Curry

When I was in England last time I was able to stock up on some ingredients which are harder for me to find in Spain.  I took them back to make sure I was able to cook up a curry when the urge struck. It tends to strike quite often but sometimes I just can’t do anything about satisfying it if I don’t have the ingredients to hand.  This means that curry pastes are the best way for me to sort out the curry craving as the spices often linger unloved in the cupboard. Yes, I admit it.

Beef Curry (4)

The Caribbean Food store in Bexhill is run by a jolly character who sells a range of curry pastes (and I really should have taken note of the brand name) which contain no artificial nasties – perfect for someone who loves to cook but feels a little guilty that she is not blending her own spice mixes. I was not familiar with Massaman Curry – a Thai curry which gives a gentle heat, sweet, sour, spicy and is utterly delicious.

Beef Curry (1)

The recipe comes from the BBC Good Food site with just a few little tweaks, but I have given details here too. I omitted the peanuts because I didn’t have any, but I expect they add a delicious crunch to the finished dish.

Ingredients to serve 4

  • 85g unsalted peanuts
  • 400ml can coconut cream
  • 4 tbsp massaman curry paste
  • 600g stewing beef steak, cut into bite sized chunks
  • 450g waxy potatoes, cut into 2½ cm chunks
  • 1 onion, cut into thin wedges
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tbsp tamarind paste
  • 1 tbsp palm or soft light brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 red chilli, deseeded and finely sliced, and chopped fresh coriander to serve

Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6, then roast the peanuts on a baking tray for 5 mins until golden brown. When cool enough to handle, roughly chop. Reduce oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4.

Heat 2 tbsp coconut cream in a large casserole dish with a lid. Add the curry paste and fry for 1 min, then stir in the beef and fry until well coated and sealed. Stir in the rest of the coconut with half a can of water, the potatoes, onion, lime leaves, cinnamon, tamarind, sugar, fish sauce and most of the peanuts. Bring to a simmer, then cover and cook for 2 hours in the oven until the beef is tender.

Sprinkle with sliced chilli and the remaining peanuts, then serve straight from the dish with rice.

If you are a curry fan too, how about this one? Or this vegetarian curry? Or nip on over to Soup Guru’s great blog and check out this gorgeous Indian Minced Beef Curry….

Twice Cooked Melting Pork

Regular readers of this blog will know that last year I discovered the cookbook by Gok Wan and was converted to cooking simple Chinese dishes at home through his wonderful recipes. For new readers – welcome! – do check out this book if you get a chance. I know he’s …er…”famous” for fashion advice and you may be dubious (I certainly was) but take my word for it, it’s a great book.

Twice Cooked Melting Pork (8)

This one was recommended to me by best pal Maria and I’m so glad I took her advice. The original recipe calls for Belly of Pork, I used a boned shoulder joint. Just as tasty, perhaps a little less moist than the belly (less fat) but perfect nonetheless. It take a little while to prepare as there are two stages, but it’s not complicated and is a great dish to part prepare ahead, then finish off in the oven when you are ready to eat.

In the book it is called “Poppa Wan’s Show Stopping Twice Cooked Melting Pork” – it’s a recipe of his father’s. So cheers Mr Wan, we loved it!

Ingredients to serve 4 generously

  • 500ml rice wine or dry sherry (I used about 250ml of dry sherry and 4 tablespoons of white wine vinegar as I didn’t have rice wine) plus water
  • 2 star anise
  • A 5cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and bruised
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and bruised
  • 3 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons of light soy sauce
  • 1.25kg pork belly (rind left on but unscored) I used 1kg boned pork shoulder joint

For the glaze – 4 tablespoons of runny honey mixed with 2 tablespoons of light soy sauce

Place all the ingredients except those for the glaze into a deep pan and add enough extra water to cover the meat generously. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer for about 1 ½ hours (until the meat is very tender and cool enough to handle.

Twice Cooked Melting Pork (5)

Preheat oven to 200 C/400 F/Gas 6. Remove the pork from the liquid and place onto a board. Remove the top layer of skin and place onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper.

Pour the marinade over (it will be runny) and cook for 20-30 minutes, basting frequently.

Place onto a serving dish and cut into slices or chunks. I served ours with mushroom and ginger rice and steamed pak choi. Wonderful and enough left over for sandwiches the next day…but more of them another time!

Seared Scallops with Spinach in Black Bean Sauce

Quick doesn’t have to be boring – especially when it comes to food. Top quality ingredients will give you amazing tasting food, and you don’t always have to spend hours preparing it with a long list of ingredients. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy making complex meals too, but here’s a fast food experience that will be ready in less time than it takes to wait for a food delivery.

Scallops with Spinach & Blackbean Sauce (2)

Ingredients per person

  • 4-6 fresh scallops
  • 2 cups of washed spinach (roughly chopped)
  • About 6 mushrooms, sliced not too thinly
  • 1 large clove of garlic, crushed
  • A little oil for frying
  • 1 tablespoon of black bean sauce
  • Soy sauce
  • Lemon or lime juice

Start by gently frying the mushrooms in a little oil and when they start to soften, add the garlic and spinach and cook until the spinach wilts.

On a hot griddle or under a hot grill, quickly cook the scallops on both sides (this can take less than a minute per side).

Stir the black bean sauce and about a teaspoon of soy sauce into the spinach and mushrooms. Serve the scallops on top of the vegetables with a little squeeze of lemon or lime juice.

Orange and Chili Duck with Stir Fried Vegetables and Noodles

I keep seeing gorgeous duck recipes over at Mad Dog’s blog, and then Rosemary taunted me with this. Then Chgo John started talking about fish talking to him at the fishmonger’s and before I knew it I was having a good chat to a pair of duck legs in the local butcher’s shop. “Go on Chica”, they said “you know it’s been ages since you cooked duck, and now that you have a decent oven and a great extractor fan in your kitchen, there’s no need to fear us”. So of course, they came home with me. I carried them though, I didn’t make them walk.  Well, it was pouring with rain.

Citrus & Chili Duck (1)

I had a bowl full of oranges and some lovely little red chilies at home, so I veered off in a slightly Asian direction with this dish. It was simple to pull together and the flavours really complimented the duck. I served them with noodles which I stir fried (after boiling) with garlic, ginger, mushrooms and pak choi with a final splash of soy sauce, a spoonful of hoi sin sauce and a squeeze of orange juice. I think the noodles like this would also make a great soup with some chicken or vegetable broth.

Ingredients (to serve 2)

  • 2 duck legs and thighs
  • 2 small red chilies, finely chopped (deseeded if you prefer)
  • The grated zest of one orange
  • A crushed clove of garlic
  • Coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Rub all the ingredients into the duck legs and roast in a medium oven for about an hour until the skin is crispy and the juices in the thigh run clear. Serve with rice or noodles and sprinkle some chopped spring onion over.

That’s it. How easy was that?

Tamarind Spiced Aubergines and Spinach

The Veggie Garden, although planted sparsely and late this year, continues to reward us with a bounty of aubergines. Always on the lookout for new ways to prepare old favourites, and in the midst of spring autumn cleaning, I came across a packet of tamarind paste from one of my UK trips. Perfect!

Tamarind Spiced Abergine (9)

Internet searches came up with curry recipes, so thinking of a curry type base as inspiration, I made it up as a I went along, and oh my goodness…what beautiful flavours emerged from a few very simple ingredients.

Ingredients (to serve two as a main course with rice or four as a side dish)

  • 1 large aubergine cut into small dice
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • About 1 heaped tablespoon of fresh garlic and ginger paste (make this by finely chopping or mincing equal quantities of garlic and ginger, it can be stored in the freezer, and you can scrape off what you need)
  • About 2 cups of chopped fresh spinach
  • 2 teaspoons of tamarind paste soaked in a little hot water
  • 1 teaspoon of brown sugar
  • Salt to season
  • Water or vegetable stock
  • Half a teaspoon of hot chili powder (or to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon of garam masala
  • Oil for shallow frying

Fry the aubergines until lightly browned and remove from pan. You can omit this step if you like but will need to cook the dish when all the ingredients have been added for about 10 minutes longer. Both methods are good.  Add a little more oil if necessary and fry the garlic and ginger paste and onions until the onions are soft but not browned.

Add the tomatoes and cook until softened then add the chili powder and garam masala. After a further minute, add the aubergines, sugar and tamarind, season and pour over enough water or stock to cover the vegetables.

Tamarind Spiced Abergine (4)

Simmer gently until the aubergines are completely tender (about 15 minutes) and just before serving add the spinach and cook until wilted.

Serve with a little chopped coriander and some plain boiled rice. Observant readers will note, however, that in the first photo I picked parsley by mistake!

Stir Fried Beef with Ginger

A recent discovery is that our local “Big” supermarket sells packs of thin beef steaks. Ok, it may not be a patch on what we can get in England, but for dishes that require quick cooking, it’s tender and surprisingly tasty.

You may recall I recently made the “acquaintance” of Mr Gok Wan and his cooking and his book travelled back with me to Spain. Sudden temperature highs of around 30 degrees mean it’s time for food that is quickly prepared and cooked.

Stir Fried Beef with Gnger (3)

I served this beautifully fragrant beef dish with pak choi (or bok choy), but more of that another day. If you invest a few minutes (or ten) in getting everything ready, the cooking is quick and ready to serve in just a few minutes. I had to make some adaptations, as ever, and Big Man asked if this was “Cocina Ibero-Chino” (Spanish-Chinese Cooking). I am sure that if had used sesame oil and carrot (which were the things I had to substitute) it would have been even more delicious, but as we didn’t have a scrap left over, I think it was a success!

To serve 2

  • About 4 tablespoons of cornflour
  • Salt and pepper (the recipe calls for white, I used black
  • About 300g steak (the recipe calls for sirloin, I think mine is called “flash fry)
  • Oil for frying (original recipe says groundnut, I used olive oil)
  • 4cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 3 spring onions, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot peeled and cut into matchsticks (I used a small courgette)
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil (I used olive oil)
  • 1-2 teaspoons rice or cider vinegar

Coat the meat strips in the cornflour and seasoning and fry in a hot wok or frying pan until browned. I did this in batches. Remove and place on kitchen paper.

Wipe the pan and add a little more oil then add the ginger, garlic, spring onions and carrot. Fry on high for a minute or two until the edges of the onions start to brown a little. Add the soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, vinegar, a pinch of pepper and about 3 tablespoons of water and cook until the sugar has dissolved. Taste and adjust the flavours to your liking (I added a little more vinegar as I found it quite sweet).

Add the beef into the pan and gently mix into the sauce. Remove from the heat and (optional) garnish with chili flakes.

A beautiful dish, aromatic and quick to prepare.

For another beautiful Chinese Beef dish, check out Mandy’s Shanghai Steak over at The Complete Cookbook.

Crispy Pork Belly with Stir Fried Cabbage and Mushrooms

Another easy recipe from my Gok Wan Cookbook. You do need to plan ahead, just to make sure the pork is good and dry before cooking, but other than that, it’s a doddle.

Crispy Pork with Chinese Spiced Cabbage (1)

Ingredients

  • 1 pork belly (or piece, mine weighed about .75kg)
  • 1 Tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 heaped teaspoon Chinese Five Spice Powder
  • 1 teaspoon of ground white pepper
  • Sea (kosher) salt

For the vegetables (a Chica recipe!)

  • About half a savoy cabbage, shredded
  • 6-8 mushrooms, finely sliced
  • Soy Sauce
  • A teaspoon of fresh grated ginger
  • 2 cloves of crushed garlic
  • Light soy sauce

Dry the pork belly well with kitchen paper, prick the skin all over with a fork and score the meat and skin with cuts about 5cm apart.

Rub the skin with the vinegar and lemon juice and rub the neat with the Chinese Five Spice powder, the pepper and some salt. Rub the skin with salt and leave overnight (uncovered) on a grill tray with an oven tray underneath in the fridge or a cool place.

Return the pork to room temperature before cooking (about 2 hours in the kitchen). Heat the oven to 170 degrees C/325 F/Gas 3 and cook for about 40 minutes on its rack. Turn the oven up to high and cook for a further 25 minutes until the skin is crispy. Leave to rest for about 15 minutes before slicing. As you can see, mine didn’t crisp all over and I recommend popping it under a hot grill to sort this out. Or just eat and enjoy!

For the veggies, heat a little oil in a wok (I used a mixture of sesame and sunflower) and put the garlic, ginger, cabbage and mushrooms in and stir fry over a high heat until the cabbage starts to wilt.  If you like the cabbage softer, add a tablespoon or two of water and cover and cook gently for a few minutes.  Add a few dashes of soy sauce to taste and serve.

Chinese Leftovers Soup (1)

Leftover veggies can be added to stock, throw in a handful of noodles (I used angel hair vermicelli), spice it up with chili sauce and serve as a delicious next day leftovers soup. Add any leftover pork if you have it and don’t want a vegetarian soup, your choice.  Two meals for the price of one!

Chinese Spiced Aubergines & Cast Iron Excitement

Don’t you just love it when something you want falls into your lap? Well, sort of. Best buddy Ria had been raving about a book she had recently bought by Gok Wan. It seems he makes programmes about making women look and feel good about themselves but as I had not been in the UK (previously at least) and seen his programmes, he was unknown to me. Then, it seems, he bought out a cookbook. As you do. I was very doubtful about the whole thing but got to look at her book which he had written based on his experiences as a young man working in his father’s Chinese Take Away Restaurant. Home cooking made speedy, and Ria had successfully cooked and  thoroughly enjoyed several recipes so I threw away my scepticism.

5 Spice Aubergines MAin

A few days later I was wandering round a Car Boot Sale, a particularly British institution I think, and someone was selling a brand new copy of the book for a couple of pounds. Cleary a sceptic like me (but unconverted) so I snapped it up. Well…I’ve already cooked several recipes from this book and every one has been tasty and easy. Even Big Man, who is not a particular fan of Chinese Food, has commented on the wonderful flavours each dish has. A result!

Here’s a vegetable dish that I made (inspired by a recipe for Braised Aubergine with Pork from the book) and served with noodles, no meat needed, the texture of the aubergines is wonderful and filling too.

Ingredients (per person as a main course or for two as a side dish)

  • 1 aubergine cut into cubes
  • Half a pepper, cut into slices
  • Half an onion sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons of light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of dark soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of Chinese Five Spice
  • Water (about 200ml)
  • Sesame or vegetable oil for frying
  • Fresh chili (optional) I used dried as that’s what I had available
  • Finely sliced spring onion to garnish

Add a little oil to a wok or large frying pan and fry the onions on a medium heat until softened then add the aubergine, peppers and garlic. Turn up the heat and cook until the aubergines start to char at the edges.  Add the 5 spice, soy sauces (and chili if using) and then pour over water until the vegetables are about half covered. Stir gently, turn the heat down, cover with a lid or foil and simmer until the aubergines start to turn pulpy and the peppers are soft. Stir once or twice during cooking (about 10 minutes). Most of the liquid will evaporate and the sauce will be slightly sticky.

Sprinkle the spring onion over the aubergines to serve.  Wonderful with rice or noodles. Who needs a book to tell you how to dress to feel good about yourself when you can eat food like this and feel amazing?!

If you’re still craving Asian aubergine dishes, take a look at Rosemary’s beautiful Spicy Aubergine with Beef.

And before I wish you all a beautiful rest of the weekend, what do you think of the fabulous cast iron fire surround some pals gave to us? They of the lace and fabric are now giving us an amazing Victorian original which came out of their home during a refurb. Love that we’re using so much beautiful “preloved” stuff in our Down By The Sea Home.

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Finally, a gratuitous pup shot. Well…it is the weekend.

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