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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Ciao ciao

I’ve not written for a while, it’s been hard to find the words, so I’ll keep it simple and short. My very beloved dad, Papà to me, died on 24th February while on holiday with my mum in Spain. Born in Italy,  lived in England,  and died in Spain. A true European if ever there was one.

He was a wonderful man, a loving husband to my mum for over 53 years, a fantastic dad and a great son-in-law to my grandparents who shared a home with my parents for most of my parents’ married life. We had a service and a celebration of his life in Bexhill and shared laughter and memories with so many friends and family whose lives he had touched.  A wonderful tribute to him.

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FRANCO RUSSO

1935 –  2017

Now it’s time to think about the future, not with regret or fear but with some sadness, of course, a smile and many thanks for the person he was and the person he helped me to become.

I’ll be back soon…

 

 

 

 

 

Best friends, cookbooks and curry

Best friends who know too many secrets about you are worth holding on to. If they share a history with you going back to school days, consider yourself very lucky indeed. Especially if they also believe that you can never own too many recipe books. My best pal, Ria, does a grand job each year of fuelling my obsession with  cookbooks and Christmas or Birthday (and sometimes both…I’m not complaining) a new book will find its way to me and I’ll enjoy months and then years of experimenting with new recipes.

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We talk most days on the phone, which Big Man finds both incredible and hilarious (“what on earth were you talking about for the last half an hour?”…”oh, nothing much, this and that”). Our conversations invariably end with “so, what’s for dinner tonight?” and we’ll happily chat for a further 10 minutes about what we’re cooking, planning to cook, wishing we had the energy to cook, or what we took out of the freezer put by from when we were more organised with our cooking a couple of weeks back.

Lately, I’ve been cooking up a good few curries from my birthday present cookbook. Curries from all over the place and this chicken curry from Pakistan really was fantastic. Definitely dinner party quality, but also simple enough for a family meal. The description of the recipe explains that it was a Special curry because in the fifties and sixties,  if you were invited to dinner and served this, you would know the hosts had spared no expense in your honour because chickens were hard to obtain and expensive.  Luckily for most of us, this is no longer the case, but if your purse runs to it, buy the best you can.

Desi Murgh Curry – Special Chicken Curry (serves 4)

  • 4 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 2 large onions, finely sliced
  • 2 tsp each of garlic and ginger paste
  • 4 tomatoes, skinned and finely chopped (or use tinned, as I did)
  • 50g plain Greek style yogurt
  • 1 ½ tsp hot chilli powder (or more or less, to taste)
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 3 large cardamom pods (the recipe calls for black ones but I used green)
  • 6 cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 chicken approx 1.2kg, skinned and jointed (I used 8 skinned chicken thighs, bone in)
  • Chopped coriander to garnish

Heat the oil and fry the onions until golden brown, take your time doing this, it’s worth it. Remove the onions and when they have cooled slightly, grind them to a paste. I did this using my stick blender with a splash of water added to the mix.

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Add the ginger and garlic pastes to the oil and fry gently for a few minutes then add the tomatoes and next the yogurt. Cook for about 5 minutes then add the onion paste, the spices the bay leaf and a little salt.  Continue to cook gently until the oil separates out.

Put the chicken pieces into the pan, spoon the sauce over and add about 500ml of water. Cover the pan and cook slowly for about 50 minutes until the meat is cooked through and tender. You may need to add a splash more water so keep an eye on it.

Remove the lid, check for seasoning (adjust the salt if necessary) and continue to cook for a few more minutes without the lid until the oil separates out again.  Garnish with coriander, and serve. Don’t forget to call your best friend to tell her how good it was and you’re sorry there’s not a portion waiting for her in your freezer as you ate the lot…oops!

Mung Bean Dhal (9)

If a veggie curry is more your thing, hop over to take a look at my Mung Bean Curry.

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.

Where did January go?!

Normally a quiet month, a little flat after the excesses of Christmas. Not so here, it seems to have been busy and bright….and I’m not complaining.

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We have been pretty good about eating lighter, and eating less meat, but I have turned to an old standby favourite this month. Tray baked chicken  (although I used an oven dish!).

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It’s a quick dish to throw together using whatever is nestled in the fridge and although I mostly use skinned, bone-in chicken joints, it’s great with fish fillets or just veggies.

Peel and chop potatoes into large pieces, add vegetables like peppers, courgettes, tomatoes, carrots and a full head of garlic. I haven’t given quantities as this dish is great for one, two or a dozen people. Just judge how much your crowd will eat, add a little extra as they will always want to go back for more, and find an oven dish or tray to fit the quantity.  Put all the ingredients into the dish, preheat the oven to about 180 degrees.  Pour over some olive oil, season with coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper then customise any other seasoning to whatever takes your fancy. This time I used some dried oregano from our garden in Spain, a little smoked pimentón and half a finely chopped lemon.

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Mix together well, hands work best for this to ensure everything is well coated, and add a good slug of white wine,  stock or water.  Cover tightly with foil bake for about an hour then remove the foil and bake for about 20 minutes more until everything is starting to brown nicely. If you want to add some tender vegetables (I used some chopped kale) stir into the dish about 10 minutes before you’re finished. Then it’s  straight to the table, perfect one pot cooking!

We’ve been enjoying the winter sunshine and taking walks along Bexhill beach.  Then a quick trip across the channel to stock up on wine (stocks were dangerously low) and a lovely night in Le Touqet were enjoyed last weekend.

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And little Alfi,  one of our pups, has started on a course of hydrotherapy to build up his leg muscles after an operation on his hind leg in November to repair a damaged cruciate ligament.

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He’s not a water loving dog so is highly unimpressed with being put into a warm pool then shampooed and blow dried afterwards. I’d be delighted at the opportunity of such pampering but there’s just no pleasing some pups….!

I’ve been cooking and have some recipes to share with you soon, but in the meantime, enjoy the last few days of the month.

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 pomegranates…

Big Man was born in the beautiful province of Granada. In Spanish, the word Granada means “pomegranate”. The capital city is decorated with many pomegranate symbols from stone bollards to metal work and even man hole covers. Just over the border where our little home is, in the province of Málaga we get to enjoy the real thing in the shape of fruit. The pomegranate plant (which grows into a sizeable tree) produces stunning red flowers, similar to a hibiscus, which then become the beautiful and delicious fruit.

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We’re pretty spoiled as when it’s pomegranate season many neighbours gift them to us. Huge,  beautiful, deep red on the outside, sweet, juicy and ruby coloured jewels on the inside. In England we have to buy them. Sometimes we get lucky and one or two of the little fruits will be sweet, but they’re never quite the same…or as big! You never know what a pomegranate is going to taste like until you get to taste it. And as for peeling a pomegranate…I’ve tried every new way.

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To make the most of a less than sweet fruit, I came across a wonderfully simple recipe using chicken and ras-el-hanout. The slightly acid taste works well with the warm, rose-scented spice. And I’m sharing with you another way to peel a pomegranate. Cutting it in half and bashing it has never worked for me. Usually I end up with a worktop covered in juice and the little pips of fruit stubbornly refusing to drop out. This method still involves a little work separating the pips but it does seem to make the whole job a little easier and much less messy.

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Ingredients (to serve 4 as a main course)

  • 8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs,  diced into bite sized pieces
  • 1 onion (red, if you have it) peeled and finely chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic peeled and sliced
  • 2 rounded tablespoons of ras-el-hanout
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 500ml chicken stock
  • 350g bulghar wheat
  • The fruit of a small pomegranate
  • About 2 tablespoons of finely chopped mint, to serve
  • Olive oil for frying

Toss the chicken in half the spice mix and fry in a little olive oil until beginning to brown. Add the onion and garlic to the pan and continue to fry gently until the onion becomes transparent. Add the remaining spice mix and season lightly. Fry for a minute then pour in the stock.

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Bring to a simmer and cook for about 25 minutes. Add the bulghar, stir, turn the heat off and cover the pan. Leave to stand for about 15 minutes when the stock will have been absorbed. Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary. Stir through the pomegranate and garnish with the fresh mint.

An easy dish with just a few ingredients. Unless you’re still doing battle with your pomegranate…

If you enjoy the challenge  of pomegranate peeling, take a look at this lovely recipe using lamb and quince. Note the difference in colour of the fruit in this recipe which was made with a pomegranate bought back from Spain compared to the one in the photos above!

Fresh Spanish Chorizo

Big Man was lucky to have been given a mincer/sausage maker at Christmas.  Ideal for producing sausages for the family and we hoped that it would give us the chance to make fresh chorizo to eat while in England. Occasionally we come across a very authentic version (in Lidl of all places) otherwise those produced by our local butcher are good but  just not quite the same.

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When you buy fresh chorizo in Andalucía  (typically from the butcher) you’ll be offered freshly made ones which are designed for frying, cooking on the plancha or barbecue and are for immediate consumption. You will also be asked if you want some for drying.  These will have been made a few days previously and you take them home, hang them up somewhere cool and dry and leave them to dry out to the texture of what we know as salami. Depending on the weather and time of year this can take anything from a few days to a couple of weeks.

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Asking our friends and family (including a pal who is a butcher) what spices we needed, everyone looked at us as if we were mad foreigners and said “you buy a packet of Chorizol and follow the instructions”! Hmph.

So, on our last trip this is what we did, but this packet mix contains preservatives which we’re not keen on using or consuming.  As an aside, this word in Spanish is “conservativo” as a “preservativo” is a condom….. definitely NOT what you will be using for your sausage making! I digress. I’ll give the instructions for making up an equivalent spice mix per kilo of meat but feel free to play around until you get your perfect flavour combination.

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Ingredients per kilo of meat

  • 1kg of pork which should be about 30% fat to meat. We used pork shoulder meat and pork belly strips.  The meat should be coarsely minced.
  • 60g of spice mix per kilo of meat. To make this you need about 35g sweet pimentón, 15g  smoked pimentón, 5g salt (add more salt to the meat mix at the end for taste if you prefer) 5g garlic powder.  You can also add a little grated nutmeg (a pinch) and a pinch of finely ground dried oregano.
  • A splash of wine (red or white)
  • Sausage casings

Add your spice mix to the ground/minced meat, together with a splash of wine. Mix thoroughly with your hands (I recommend wearing gloves or you will have very stained hands from the pimentón for a few days ). Add a splash more wine if necessary to make a slightly moist mix.

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The meat should already start to smell like the chorizo we know and love but to be sure, break off a small piece and dry fry it for a minute or two on each side. Taste and add any further seasoning. We added about a teaspoon of hot chili powder to ours which gave a little heat.

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Cook and taste a little again if necessary and then move on to the highly entertaining part of filling your sausage casings. This is most definitely a job for two people! Ours were not uniform in thickness or length and we found it easier to make long sausages then tie them into shorter lengths when  we were done.

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Hang your sausages up in a cool dry place (if this is practical for you) for 24 hours. This allows the skins to dry out a little and helps them not to burst when cooking. Now you can cook, freeze, dry, share enjoy your chorizo….happy chorizo making!

If you are looking good for something to make with your chorizo, why not try this simple but delicious tapa? !

Chorizo con Cebolla (5)