Vietnamese crab with tamarind sauce

I love reading cookery books, mainly to inspire rather than follow slavishly. Except when it’s a style of cooking that’s new to me or a cake recipe which generally needs the proportions of ingredients to be reproduced in balance with each other to achieve a good rise.

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I’ve had time recently to catch up on some tv watching and have been enjoying a series from about 2009, Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey. Coincidentally, I was also given a copy of the book which a pal passed on to me. Serendipity or what? I was particularly interested in the first two chapters, Cambodia and Vietnam. They are not countries I’ve ever visited, and apart from an amazing vegetarian Vietnamese meal many years ago eaten with some friends on a trip to Melbourne,  I don’t know very much at all about the food.

I was surprised by the simplicity of some of the recipes,  using few spices or flavourings, but all looking like they would really pack a punch in terms of flavour.  My mum and I decided to cook together and after buying a huge cooked crab from the local fishmonger, we made this beautiful crab with tamarind sauce. When I make it again (and it won’t be long) I’ll use 2 or 3 large crab claws per person rather than whole crab as the type we get here was perhaps not the best suited to this dish. Much as I love eating with my hands and slurping, a lot of the meat in the body cavity was lost in the sauce during the brief cooking and the spindly legs were fun but don’t have a lot of meat. The flavour however was incredible and I’d imagine it would be great too made with large prawns or even scallops.

Ingredients (serves 2 generously)

  • 1kg raw or cooked whole crab, broken up into pieces
  • Vegetable oil for shallow frying
  • 1 tbsp tamarind concentrate
  • 2 tbsp Chinese rice wine
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped finely
  • 1 hot red chilli, finely chopped (or to taste)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of jaggery  (use soft brown sugar if you can’t get hold of it)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of fish sauce
  • Some crushed or ground white pepper
  • About three spring onions cut into 2.5cm lengths

If your crab is raw you’ll need to shallow or deep fry it for a minute or so until the flesh changes colour. Drain on kitchen towel.

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We’re still picking the last few runner beans from our little garden

Mix the tamarind, rice wine and about 6 tablespoons of water together and set aside.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a wok or large pan. Add the chili and garlic and9 stir fry for about 30 seconds then add the crab, the tamarind mixture, the sugar, the fish sauce and the white pepper. Stir well,  cover and simmer for about 4 or 5 minutes.  Add the spring onions, cover and cook gently for another minute then put it all onto a large serving platter (we served straight from the wok garnished with more spring onion) and get ready to get messy and enjoy!

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Monkfish and mussels with a tomato and lemon sauce

January was a month for trying to eat a little healthier and lighter. Less meat, some fish and more veggies and pulses. This didn’t mean boring meals though and we finished off the month with a little luxury, treating ourselves to some monkfish. It is an expensive fish compared to others, but a little goes quite a long way and portions of about 150g per person  (even us who are greedy guts!) is about fine. Especially if you add a  handful of prawns or mussels and serve with rice or potatoes and the last of your summer runner beans from the freezer.

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Ingredients (to serve 4)

  • 4 fillets or steaks of monkfish
  • About 200g fresh mussels, cleaned
  • About 400ml of homemade tomato sauce or make up a simple sauce by sautéing one finely chopped onion in a little olive oil until transparent, then add 2 finely chopped cloves of garlic. Fry gently for a few minutes then add a tin of chopped tomatoes, 2 tbsp tomato purée, a good slosh of red wine, seasoning and a sprig of basil. Cover and simmer gently for about 30 minutes, removing the basil before using.
  • Some seasoned plain flour for dusting the fish
  • The grated zest of an unwaxed lemon
  • Some finely chopped flat leaf parsley and lemon wedges to serve

Start by coating the fish in seasoned flour and shallow fry on both sides until lightly browned. Remove from the pan to a plate and cover with foil.

Warm the tomato sauce and add the lemon zest and fish to it,  cooking gently for about 2 or 3 minutes. Carefully turn the fish over, add the mussels to the pan and cover with a lid. Cook for a further couple of minutes by which time the fish will be cooked through and the mussels will have opened. Discard any which refuse to open, sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with the lemon wedges.

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We enjoyed a lovely bottle of sauvignon blanc bought on our recent jaunt to Le Touquet..a perfect end to the month!

If you enjoy monkfish, you might like this beautiful, delicate, monkfish curry.

Feeling Fishy…

Regardless of where we are, Up the Mountain or Down by the Sea, we have access to fantastic seafood. Like many other folk we want to take a few weeks of eating menus that are a little lighter, and going down the fish and vegetable route works for us. We already enjoy pulses, so many meals are meat free, like our much loved lentils (minus the chorizo, or maybe just a little as we’re not being super strict, just making an effort!).

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New Year’s Eve was a very luxurious lobster and prawn platter with bubbles. Grapes and cava, Spanish style at 11pm to ring in the Spanish midnight and champagne and fireworks from London’s South Bank at midnight.

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Skate with prawns, capers and lemons featured another night (we just combined two favourite ways of cooking it…skate with capers and skate with prawns). Absolutely delicious and so quick and easy.

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Tonight was a version of a Spanish dish of prawns with mushrooms with plenty of garlic. Gambas y setas con ajos (setas are oyster mushrooms, but I used chestnut mushrooms this time). Chop your favourite mushrooms into bite sized pieces and stir fry quickly in some olive oil (I cooked in my wok) when they are just turning brown add some peeled, sliced garlic and a little chopped fresh parsley.  When the garlic starts to take on some colour, add some raw, peeled prawns. As soon as they have turned pink, season with coarse sea salt and a little pimentón and add a splash of white wine. Another 30 seconds in the hot pan and you are ready to dish up. Sprinkle with more parsley and serve with some lovely crusty bread to mop up the delicious juices.

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Whatever your plans for this month are, be happy! Don’t be hard on yourself if you break those resolutions made in a moment of madness, better still…throw them out the window and celebrate the fact that we’ve made it into another year…and let’s see what it brings. Happy New Year to you all.

When life gives you lemons…

Well…you just have to go ahead and pick them. Then you share the lemon love with friends and neighbours and make delicious dishes like Lemon Rice, Chicken with Za’atar and Lemon or even Lemon and Chili Mussels.

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We planted our little tree just over 7 years ago, not long after moving into our Cortijo, or home in the country.  Initially we despaired of ever getting a single lemon from it as, despite the fairly temperate climate all year round, we often get strong winds. Our tiny tree grew but the winds stripped the flowers (which were to be our lemons) and even the leaves from it. Getting 2 puppies a year later who loved to dig also added to the stress for our little tree.

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But, all good things come to those who wait. Just look at it now! We’ve been away for 2 months, and at the end of October it was bare of lemons as we’d given some away and picked the rest to take back to England. It seems our “Limonero Lunero” (a lemon tree which flowers every new moon so that you have lemons all year round) thrives on neglect. It’s been a very dry year, we haven’t been around much, and now it’s groaning with lemons.

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There are still plenty to be picked, but I made a start. Maybe we’ll have Lemon Ravioli this week…

There’s (almost) no such thing as a free lunch….

So, here we are, back in Spain. The sun is shining, the horrible hot wind we get in southern Spain (El Terral) has finally died down and we’ve caught our breath from the long drive.  We’re very lucky to have two lovely homes, but when you get back to a house that has been shut up for a few months, you find that the dust monsters have been to visit. We managed avoidance tactics for a few days with a combination of going out to catch up with people, and staying in feeling grumpy and full of cold (me)/Man Flu (Big Man) germs.

Finally the day came when we couldn’t ignore The Big Clean Up any more and today we made a start. Mrs and Mrs Mop began a vaguely systematic attack on the house and garden and, while there is still plenty more to be done, we felt satisfied that we deserved a nice lunch in the garden. Spring and autumn are perfect for outdoor lunchtime dining. Sometimes you get a lovely warm day in winter or a cool summer day which also permit al fresco lunches…but you definitely make the most of those perfect days.

In Spanish terms, it was almost dangerously vegetarian (well, apart from the seafood and salami). We didn’t worry, the village fiesta is upon us and we know we’ll be eating our own body weight in grilled meat and pinchitos (little kebabs) over the next few days. What did make us smile was the fact that pretty much everything we were eating had been gifted to us by kindly friends and family, or recycled from another meal. It’s good to be a frugal houseperson when the food is this good!

Lunch included:

Salmorejo (my very favourite cold soup) made from stale bread and tomatoes given to us by kindly brother-in-law. These are the ripe and ugly tomatoes which are used for soups and sauces

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Garnished with hard boiled eggs from kindly neighbour who adopted our chickens and jamon (bought from local butcher)

Salad made with leftover prawns and squid which had been barbecued the night before and avocados from kindly neighbour who also keeps us supplied with oranges later in the year to make marmalade.

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Tomato, mint and onion salad made with “tomates para picar” (tomatoes for chopping up!), again from kindly brother-in-law and mint from our garden.

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Salads dressed with our own olive oil and juice from our lemons

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Cheese and salchichon (salami). Salchichon given to us by kindly local bar owner as a welcome home present.

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Dessert was figs from our tree and apple sorbet made with apples from kindly cousin. Inspired by Rosemary’s ice cream making, I dug out my own ice-cream maker. To serve 2 people – 500g apples (peeled and cored), cooked with 2 tablespoons of sugar, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice then blended, cooled and churned in my machine. Maybe I should make more Apple Roses – I certainly have enough fruit!

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I drank a glass (or two) of Spanish wine, but Big Man was clearly feeling a bit nostalgic for England and opened a bottle of English beer.

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I thought we’d bought those beers with us as gifts for kindly friends and family. Ooops!

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PS. You know we hate waste here….the prawn shells are now bubbling away to make stock…maybe we’ll have an “arroz caldoso” in the next few days…

Raya a la Gallega – Galician Style Skate

Anyone who has followed this blog for some time (and I thank you!) will know that I am a great admirer of the food from Northern Spain. A great favourite is Pulpo a la Gallega – Octopus Galician Style which basically means served with boiled potatoes and seasoned liberally with fruity olive oil, coarse salt and pimentón. I used this style of serving with other fish and seafood, it works fantastically with scallops.

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Time this week to turn my attention to Skate, which I generally pan fry or oven cook. Why not try it “a la Gallega” as well? Online recipes told me that the fish is indeed served like this but more traditionally it’s poached. Sorry, no poaching for me I just didn’t fancy it.  I lightly griddled it before placing it on top of cooked, diced (well…”chunked”) potatoes and then dressed it with our own olive oil, Maldon sea salt and smoked pimentón.

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Perfect, two small skate wings made a fantastic sharing dish for two hungry folk but would have been ideal as a starter for 4-6 people. Definitely a dish to be repeated and absolutely perfect with a chilled glass of Albariño.

Fideuá de Pescado y Mariscos – Fish and Seafood Noodles

If Paella and Arroz Caldoso are half sisters to the Italian Risotto, then Paella and Fideuá are first cousins. The famous Paella is known to most of us, a delicious rice and seafood (or meat) dish which comes from the Valencia region of North East Spain. Less well known, outside of Spain at least, is its cousin…the Fideuá. It´s very similar to a paella but made with Fideos (short noodles). Fideos come in different sizes in Spain from very thin (called Angel Hair pasta) for dropping into broth right through to almost the thickness of spaghetti. This dish tends to use the ones at the thicker end of the scale, as they need to stand up to a little while cooking in the delicious broth.

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Amounts used are flexible, use what you have, and play around with the ingredients. Like arroz caldoso, it’s quicker to cook than a paella and is a typical everyday lunch dish, for tucking into with a spoon (a plato de cuchara – a “spoon” dish), with lemon juice squeezed over and plenty of delicious bread. We can’t decide if we prefer arroz caldoso or fideuá caldosa – try them both and let me know what you think! I know Celia from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial enjoys making Arroz Caldoso for her family…Celia, I hope you like this version too!

Approximate Ingredients for 4 people (as a main dish)

  • 250g prawns (less if already peeled) – if they have the shells on peel them and use them to make a fish stock, if not use water or a cube
  • About 250g of mixed fish and shellfish (I used some white fish fillets but when I have mussels or clams I add them in too)
  • Half a red pepper finely chopped
  • A thin green pepper, finely chopped
  • A couple of tablespoons of peas
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 large tomato peeled and finely chopped or half a cup of tomato conserva
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato purée
  • 1 teaspoon of sweet pimentón
  • A pinch of saffron
  • Seasoning
  • Olive oil
  • Approx 400g Fideos

Start by making a sofrito or tomato sauce. Lightly fry the garlic until soft then add the peppers and peas. Add the pimentón and saffron, cover the pan and let everything sweat gently until soft then add the tomato. Simmer for another 10 minutes.

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For 4 people (and a soupy fideuá) add about 1.5 litres of stock and simmer for a further 10 minutes. If you have a paella pan, cazuela or a deep frying pan that you can use to serve, transfer the liquid to this. Now add your fideos – about 100g per person, but follow any guidelines on the packet. When they are about half cooked, add the fish (biggest chunks first) then the shellfish. Taste and season as necessary.

For a thick, dryer dish (more the consistency of a paella) you may need to use less liquid or just cook this way and spoon out some of the liquid at the end (save it for a light soup with some thin fideos thrown in!). Equally, if it looks a little dry as you are cooking it, just add a ladleful or two of hot stock.

Serve like paella with lemon juice, crusty bread and wine. A spoonful of alioli is also great with this dish.

Like a paella, you can vary the ingredients to make your fideuá according to what you have available. Make it veggie, or use meat instead of fish. It may not be absolutely authentic, but the influence will be there and the taste will be just as good!

Lemon and Chilli Mussels with Langoustines

Oh it’s so easy to slip comfortably back into our Spanish life. Friends and family keep asking us “which is better, Spain or England?”. We answer, absolutely sincerely, “we love them both, they’re different, you can’t compare, we make the most of each country and enjoy all the good things they each have to offer”.

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Fish Man seems to have disappeared from our route, but the supermarkets here have an amazing choice at good prices. Mostly fresh and local (or at least, from Spain) too. The other day I bought a kilo of mussels which came from near Pontevedra in the North of Spain. It’s famous for the mussel beds and we ate plenty on our trip there a few years back.

We ate SO many...the trays full of steamed mussels just kept coming!
We ate SO many…the trays full of steamed mussels just kept coming!

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I also bought some fresh langoustines but forgot to ask where they came from. Peppers, tomatoes and onions grown down on the coast and a rosé wine from Rueda were pretty much all the ingredients I needed to make this simple but delicious lunch dish. Oh yes, a lemon from our tree…

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Ingredients (for 2 people)

  • 1kg cleaned mussels
  • 8 langoustines
  • Half a small red and green pepper, finely diced
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped into small pieces
  • 1 medium tomato, finely chopped
  • A small glass of wine (whatever colour you like!)
  • Half a lemon cut into small chunks (and I also added half a teaspoon of my lemon myrtle)
  • Half a teaspoon of hot pimentón or chilli powder (or to taste)
  • Olive oil

I used a lidded cazuela to make this dish but a deep frying pan with a lid or a saucepan would also work.

On a low heat, warm the olive oil and add the garlic and peppers. Cover and sweat until soft. Add the tomato, wine and spices and cook for a few minutes. You can now turn this off if you’re not ready to eat and then just warm the sauce up a few minutes beforehand to finish the dish off, or continue to the last stage.

Add the mussels, prawns and fresh lemon, stir and cover. Cook for a few minutes until all the mussels are open. Don’t eat any that won’t open!

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Garnish with some freshly chopped parsley. Unless of course, Big Man has been gardening all morning and cleared all your herbs thinking they were weeds. Oh my, kitchen unexpectedness, I laugh in your face. Pour a glass of wine, and enjoy your lovely lunch with plenty of bread to mop up the juices and perhaps (as we did) a salad of tomatoes, olives, garlic and onion. No herbs though, obviously.

Crispy Prawns with Lemon Myrtle – Long Distance Herby Loveliness

I think many of us, regardless of whether we’ve been blogging for months or years, will understand the friendships that can grow up through the connections we’ve made via our blogs. People leave lovely comments, ideas, share in the ups and downs of whatever we choose to discuss on our blogs. Some very kind folk go as far as sharing gifts and giveaways, allowing us the opportunity to try something from their country which we otherwise would never have come across.

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Recently the lovely Margot over at Gather and Graze hosted a giveaway of some herbs from her home country of Australia, Lemon Myrtle and Wattleseed. Have you heard of them? I certainly hadn’t. Lemon Myrtle is (and I’m quoting from the packet here) “a fragrant Australian native plant which bears leaves with an intense lemon fragrance”. The packet of ground lemon myrtle really does explode with a beautiful refreshing lemony aroma.

The Wattleseed (which is roasted and ground) comes from the seeds of a species of Australian native acacia which have a roasted coffee-like aroma. It works beautifully with chocolate, and I’ll soon be sharing a recipe with you.

If you can’t get hold of Ground Lemon Myrtle (and I’m guessing a lot of you can’t), I’d suggest substituting the same quantity of finely grated lemon zest. I know it won’t be quite the same, but perhaps a good approximation.

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The recipe comes from the packet sent to me (thanks again Margot!) and I served it with a salad and a lemon vinaigrette as a starter. I did change the quantities from the original recipe as I scaled the recipe down a little.

Ingredients (to serve 4 as a starter)

  • 16 large peeled and deveined langoustines
  • ½ cup of rice flour (use plain flour otherwise, but the rice flour does give a wonderful crunch)
  • ¾ tablespoon of ground lemon myrtle
  • ¾ teaspoon of smoked paprika (I used pimentón)
  • A pinch of chilli powder
  • Salt
  • ½ cup of cooking oil (I used olive oil)
  • 2 fresh chillies finely chopped

Mix the flour with the spices and toss the prawns in the mixture. Heat the oil over a high heat and cook the prawns quickly (they probably only need a minute or so on each side) until they have turned pink and crispy.

Drain on kitchen paper, sprinkle with salt and add the fresh chilli. Enjoy!

To see how Margot used her Lemon Myrtle, hop on over and check out her delicious Australian Apple Crumble recipe!

Arroz Caldoso con Cangrejo – or Holidays, Romance and Crabs

Any of you who have followed my blog since way back when may recall a trip we made a few years back to the north of Spain. To Galicia and Asturias more precisely. An insanely beautiful part of the country, lush and green. Lush and green because, like in Scotland or the English Lake District, it rains a lot. And rain (and rain) it did. Which left us plenty of time for eating and drinking. Always look on the bright side, I say.

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I don’t know why it surprised us that it rained, even though it was only the tail end of summer, as holidays and special occasions are generally a complete disaster for Big Man and me.

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Our anniversary falls on 11th November so aside from the fact a lot of folk are quite rightly marking a very solemn memorial to all those who lost their lives in conflict, it’s a dreadful time of year for good weather in the Northern Hemisphere. Christmas and Birthdays generally involve some sort of disaster or a member of the extended family falling ill so we’ve now accepted that we’ll not get ourselves too worked up over celebrations and holidays and just enjoy the everyday joys.

There is a point to all this reminiscing. Today I bought two cooked and dressed crabs at the local fishmonger intending to boil some potatoes, make a salad and call it lunch. Big Man began to talk about an amazing meal we’d had on our trip to the north of Spain. The rain poured down, the wind howled and the first hotel we stayed in was nice but miles out of town. After a long, long drive we decided to do something we rarely do and EAT IN THE HOTEL RESTAURANT. What a good decision that was. The food was incredible and we made the most of it, ordering their speciality of Arroz Caldoso con Bogavante (which translates as brothy rice with lobster) for our last night there. Why didn’t I make “brothy” rice with crab he asked? Why not indeed, so I did, and absolutely wonderful it was too.

If you have an earthenware cazuela to make and serve this in, use it (Celia, I’m talking about you!). It really makes a difference to the flavour and is more authentic.

Ingredients (to serve 4)

  • The meat from 2 cooked crabs (white and brown) which will weigh about 260g – although you can use raw too but will need to cook them first
  • About 1.2l of fish stock made from the crab shells and any other bits of fish you can beg from your fishmonger and with a few strands of saffron added
  • 400g paella rice
  • 1 small onion finely chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 200g chopped, peeled tomatoes (if using tinned, and why wouldn’t you, make sure to drain them first)
  • A splash of brandy
  • Salt & Pepper
  • A lemon, quartered
  • Some finely chopped parsley to serve
  • Olive oil

Gently fry the onion in a little olive oil until it is softened but not browned then add the garlic and cook for a minute. Add the tomatoes and cook gently for about 10 minutes and add the splash of brandy. Next add the rice and stock.

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(A little reminder, if you’re making paella you’ll need 100g of rice per person approximately and for every 100g of rice you need about 210ml of liquid. For brothy rice you need the same amount of rice but 3 times the amount of liquid, so approx 300ml to every 100g of rice.)

Cook gently, half covered until the rice is almost done, add more stock if it’s drying out too much, then add the cooked crab meat, stir and taste and add seasoning if necessary at this point. Turn the heat off, cover the pan and let the rice rest for at least 5 minutes and to let the rice finish cooking. Serve with a little parsley sprinkled over and wedges of lemon to squeeze over the food.

This is a dish made with a few ingredients but which lets them shine, it tastes luxurious and decadent. Which made me think it would be good for a Valentines meal – very romantic. Unless you happen to be us and also have Valentine’s Disasters…but more of that in a few days.

If you want to see more of the North of Spain, do check out the links at the start of the post, which I hope you’ll enjoy.