European, Tasting

Split pea and smoked hock soup

This soup is the definition of simplicity. Apart from sautéing the carrots, celery and onion, you throw everything else in. And then all you do at the end is remove the ham hocks, blend the soup and throw the meat back in ‘sans’ bones.

It’s hearty, tasty and filling. It easily passes as a main course, especially when you serve it with some nice crusty bread. And it’s (relatively) healthy too. It will keep you regular, if you know what I mean.

It also passed the kid taste test (no screwed up faces and they finished it, with a bit of cajoling of course). Enjoy.

The ingredients (serves 4) – downloaded from taste.com.au

  • 290g (1 1/3 cups) green split peas
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 2 carrots, peeled, chopped
  • 2 sticks celery, trimmed, chopped
  • 1 brown onion, halved, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 x ham hocks
  • 2L (8 cups) cold water
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper

Method

  1. Rinse split peas under cold running water until water runs clear. Drain.
  2. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add carrot, celery, onion and garlic, and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until the onion softens.
  3. Add split peas, ham hocks and water. Bring to the boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, for 2 – 2 1/2 hours or until ham hocks are tender and the meat is falling away from the bones. Set aside for 5 minutes to cool slightly. Remove ham hocks from pan. Remove the meat from bones. Coarsely chop meat and set aside.
  4. Place one-quarter of the pea mixture in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Repeat with remaining pea mixture. Return to pan with ham. Alternatively, hand blend the soup while it is still in the saucepan (as I did). Taste and season with salt and pepper. Stir over medium-high heat for 5 minutes or until hot.
  5. Ladle soup into bowls.
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European, Tasting

A winter BBQ for Braveheart and Time Lords

It’s still winter here in Sydney and the weather has been relatively mild (until today, which is bloomin’ ‘orrible). So, when the weather is unseasonably warm, what do poms (English people) living in Australia do? Have a bbq of course. In winter. Wearing short sleeves, eating outside.

I invited friends over from my cycle club.

My cycling club has a funny relationship with weather. When it is even hinting at rain, we pull out of an early morning ride at the drop of the hat. Even the sun temporarily hiding behind one solitary wispy cloud is enough for us to call the ride off. One Shoe will not brave below 12 degrees centigrade, full stop. So we don’t see him too often in the winter, or autumn, or spring for that matter.

A bbq, on the other hand, is a completely different matter. If free food is on offer, the normal fair weather riders turn into Braveheart, willing to huddle together, clan-like, eating cold food and beer in sleet, hail and 120km/h winds.

And team members, normally tardy, suddenly turn into time lords.

Mr Pants (who lives closest to the park where we meet for a cycle) is always late.

Yet at a bbq, he teleports out of nowhere with a half drank bottle of beer wedged between his lips before anyone has arrived. Before I’ve even been born. No words, just a slight nod of the head and a raise of eyebrows to acknowledge he’s here.

The menu included:

  • Grilled chicken marinated in lime, orange juice, garlic, chillies, sherry vinegar and coriander seeds served with Salbitxada sauce (tomato and almond salsa) – courtesy of Bill Granger
  • Butterflied leg of lamb marinated in garlic, rosemary, balsamic vinegar, chilli and a splash of Shaoxing wine

  • Roast potatoes with rosemary and garlic
  • Cabbage and fennel slaw, dressed with sour cream, parmesan and sherry vinegar

  • Rocket, mizuna, spinach and watercress salad (from the garden) with fresh soft boiled eggs (from our chucks) and parmesan (from the supermarket)

  • Fresh sourdough
  • Finished with Chocolate and blueberry cheesecake, courtesy of fellow blogger expat chef.

For this post, I’ll concentrate on the chicken and sauce. If you want to know any other recipes, let me know.

Ingredients

For the chicken

  • 1 X 1.5 kg chicken
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled, chopped
  • 1 red chilli, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 125 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp sherry vinegar
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
  • 2 tbsp orange juice

For the salbitxada sauce

  • 3 tomatoes, peeled, seeds removed, finely chopped
  • 1 roasted red pepper, peeled, diced
  • 30 g blanched almonds, , toasted, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 tsp dried red chilli flakes
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled, crushed
  • 1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh flatleaf parsley
  • 1 tbsp sherry vinegar
  • 125 ml extra virgin olive oil

1. For the chicken: remove the backbone from the chicken by cutting either side of the bone. Flatten out with the palm of your hand, then slash the chicken breast in a few places on each side with a sharp knife. Place the chicken into a dish, cover and set aside in the fridge.

2. Pound the garlic, chilli, coriander seeds and salt to a paste together in a mortar. Transfer the paste to a bowl. Heat the olive oil in a pan until shimmering, then carefully pour the oil over the paste. Add the sherry vinegar, lime juice and orange juice and mix well to combine. Season with freshly ground black pepper, then pour half of the mixture over the chicken and leave to marinate in the fridge for one hour.

3. For the salbitxada sauce: place all the  ingredients, except for the olive oil, into a bowl. Heat the olive oil in a pan until shimmering, then carefully pour over the tomato mixture. Pulse to a chunky puree in a food processor.

4. Heat your barbecue to a high heat. Place the chicken cut-side down on the rack, close the lid and cook for 30 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked. (If not using a barbecue, preheat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7 and cook for 30 minutes, or until cooked through.)

5. To serve, carve the chicken into thick slices and divide between the plates, then serve the salbitxada sauce alongside.

Enjoy!

 

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Asian, Tasting

Kaleem (Pakistani slow-cooked lamb and lentil dhal)

This, my fine fettled friends, is the best darned dhal recipe ever. Yes, I know, that is a big claim. But this is very tasty. Slow cooking with the lamb adds a tasty dimension. Some of the pulses hold their shape, unlike the many times I’ve made dhal, which normally ends up being 100% thick mush. Tasty mush you could build a house with.

Kaleem isn’t like that. It’s a thick sauce, yes. What dhal wouldn’t be like that? But it has distinguishable pulses dotted throughout and melt-your-mouth lamb. It’s not too heavy either, although I don’t think it’s a summer dish for you lot in the northern hemisphere.

I hope you give it a go.

Check out the recipe here.

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Middle eastern, Tasting

A dish I’d turn vegetarian for…

Er, well, maybe not. That’s a big call. I don’t think I could go without a juicy steak and chips on a Saturday night, or a bacon and egg sarnie after my weekend cycle.

But there are some dishes that when I eat I say “Oooh, this is so good I could become a vegetarian”. One is Masala Dosa, a south Indian crispy pancake filled with a spiced potato curry and served with a number of condiments. It was recently featured on Bam’s Kitchen blog, so check it out. It is yum.

And this pumpkin and chickpea soup is another one of those dishes.

It’s hearty, filling and very tasty. It is the complex, yet subtle spice and textures that make this dish a real stunner. Turns a simple soup into something quite sophisticated.

And it can easily pass as a main meal. This is a Jamie Oliver recipe that was featured in a 2008 Delicious magazine.

Ingredients (serves 4-6)

  • 1 butternut pumpkin, peeled, diced (about 2cm), seeds rinsed and reserved
  • 1 tbs cumin seeds
  • 1 dried red chilli
  • 2 celery stalks, trimmed, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • A few sprigs of flat-leaf parsely, leaves chopped, stalks finely chopped
  • 2 small red onions, finely chopped (although I used white onions)
  • 1.5L chicken stock
  • 2x 400g can chickpeas, drained (I used 400g dried chickpeas, soaked overnight. But this was way too much, so I made hummus with the leftover. I reckon 200g would be more than enough).
  • 2 tsp each fennel seeds, sesame seeds and poppyseeds
  • 2/3 cup (50g) almond flakes
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • A few springs of fresh mint, leaves chopped
  • Harissa paste (either make your own or shop bought would be fine)
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Method

Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees C.

Spread pumpkin on a baking tray. Sprinkle cumin and dried chilli over the pumpkin. Drizzle with olive oil, mix together and roast for 45 minutes or until cooked through.

Heat a large saucepan over medium-low heat and pour in a splash of olive oil. Add the celery, garlic, parsley stalks and 2/3 of the onion. Cook gently with a lid on until softened. Drop in the pumpkin and sweat for a few minutes, then pour in the stock. If you are using dried chickpeas, add them now.

Bring to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. If you are using tinned chickpeas, Add them now and simmer for 15 minutes more.

Meanwhile, dry roast the reserved pumpkin seeds, fennel seeds, sesame, poppy seeds and almonds until coloured all over and you can smell the release of the natural oils of the spices.

Season soup well with sea salt and pepper, then using a stick blender, whiz for a few seconds so it thickens, but there are still some chunky bits. Keep warm while you mix together the lemon zest, parsley and mint leaves. Chop the remaining onion finely, then mix it into the zesty herb mixture.

To serve, put 1/2 tsp harissa paste into each bowl, then ladle over the pumpkin and chickpea soup. Stir each bowl once, then sprinkle with the toasted nuts and seeds, followed by the zesty herb mixture. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil.

Enjoy!

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European, Tasting

Osso Bucco

I didn’t follow a recipe. I applied the same principles from my slow cooked lamb shanks and liberated myself from the shackles of a recipe book.  It was an enlightening experience. I also didn’t put any wine in so the kids could eat it. Even so, the results were mighty fine.

As a reminder, here are my principles for slow cooking:

  • right cut of meat: in this case veal shin, which after slow cooking falls off the bone
  • inject flavour into the sauce: I browned fatty bacon, used a decent beef stock and put in a bouquet garni freshly cut from the garden
  • don’t rush it: friends came over and I left it cooking on the stove top on a low heat for about four hours.

Ingredients

  1. 4 x veal shin (osso bucco)
  2. olive oil
  3. seasoned flour to dust the veal
  4. 1 x carrot, 1 x white onion, 2 sticks of celery, finely chopped
  5. 1 x garlic clove, finely chopped
  6. two rashers of fatty bacon, chopped
  7. 400ml tin of tomatoes
  8. good teaspoon of tomato paste
  9. beef stock (amount depends on the casserole dish you use, but rule of thumb is that the stock should just cover the meat after all the ingredients have been included)
  10. bouquet garni tied with kitchen twine (I used bay, parsley and rosemary)
  11. chopped parsley

Method

  • heat oil in a casserole dish (make sure it has a tightly fitting top)
  • dust the veal with the seasoned flour
  • brown the veal
  • brown the bacon until crispy
  • add the onion, celery and carrot and cook on a lowish heat until softened.
  • add the garlic
  • if there is any flour left over, add it now, and stir to mix with the vegetables
  • add the meat and bacon back into the casserole dish
  • add the tomatoes, tomato paste, beef stock and tuck the bouquet garni down the side of the meat
  • bring up to a simmer, lower the heat. Add the lid and leave for a few hours
  • when the meat is tender and falling off the bone, remove the lid and let the sauce thicken a little
  • remove the bouquet garni
  • add chopped parsley
  • I served with pasta, but steamed vegetables and creamy mash would be lovely
  • enjoy with a nice glass of red wine.

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Asian, Tasting

Five spice pork belly with steamed eggplant and garlic

I first moved to Hong Kong in 1995, when I was 24. I went on a whim. As a Brit before 1997, you didn’t need a visa to work.

I was very wet behind the ears. Frankly I didn’t know where Hong Kong was, let alone what the food and cultural values would be like.

My experience of Chinese food to that point was based on local takeaways. A typical dish was sweet and sour pork. Cubes of grey overcooked pork in soggy batter with sweet (no sour or spice) glump. Lumps of tinned pineapple swam in a fluorescent orange glue-like sauce.

Living in Hong Kong opened my eyes to a whole new culture, values and culinary tastes that simply blew me away. Everything was so different. Chinese food was so varied. And so was South East Asian.

So I adore Asian cuisine. I know that sounds very general, but that’s what I love. The variety. The spiciness of Sichuan, the comfort of Beijing dumplings, the straightforwardness and sophistication of Shanghai food, the freshness of Vietnamese, the complexity of Thai and everything else in between. It’s so exotic.

So this weekend, as a nod to the past and a wink to my love of Asian cuisine, I cooked a modern, sophisticated version of sweet and sour pork. It’s a recipe from Christine Manfield’s Fire and is vastly different from Chinglish version of sweet and sour. In fact, if Christine knew I was comparing the two, I think I’d receive a lifetime ban from her restaurant. So let’s call the link tenuous at best.

Fire is an eclectic mix of recipes from around the world. I don’t cook too much out of it, because the recipes tend to be involved, with lots of mini recipes within recipes. There are a few simple dishes though, such as Firecracker Chicken,  straightforward, hot and numbing .

Today’s recipe is Five Spice Pork Belly with Steamed Garlic and Eggplant. The eggplant is finished in a spicy and slightly (but not overly) sweet sauce. It’s involved, but there are also opportunities for shortcuts.

For example, the recipe calls for grinding your own five spice, making your own chilli oil and chilli jam.  If you buy good quality versions, I don’t think it would be a problem. I did everything apart from the chilli jam, because you have to make so much of it. I didn’t see the point, so I bought some.

The recipe also calls for suckling pig. Now, in Hong Kong, suckling pig is just that, young and small. However, laws in Australia prohibit selling of pigs so young. So a suckling pig in Australia is more like a teenager. Too much for a family of four and too big for my oven (as well as a little controversial). So I plumped for pork belly. The recipe in the book is for 12, but below are the correct proportions for four people.

The end result was lovely. Enjoy.

The recipe (for four people)

Sea salt

2kg pork belly

30ml vegetable oil

20ml of kecap manis (sweet soy sauce)

2 tablespoons of freshly ground Chinese five spice

  • 5 star anise, 1 tablespoon fennel seeds & Sichuan peppers, 2 teaspoons of cloves, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon.
  • Grind spices and pass through a fine sieve to remove husks

Steamed garlic eggplant

2 x 250g eggplants, deep-fried (cut into chucks and deep fry until golden brown)

2 tablespoons of fried garlic slices (deep or shallow fry until golden brown)

20ml of light soy sauce

20ml oyster sauce

60ml tomato puree

1 tablespoon of caster sugar

1 tablespoon of chilli jam

10ml of sesame oil

1 tablespoon of chilli oil (heat vegetable oil to simmering and add chilli flakes. Turn off the heat and allow to steep)

12 roasted cherry tomatoes (cut cherry tomatoes in half and put in a roasting dish. Add oil, salt, pepper and roast on 180 C for 20-25 mins)

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

2 spring onions

chopped coriander

The method

  • Rub half the salt to the skin of the pork belly and leave for 30 minutes
  • Preheat the oven to 200 C and lightly oil a roasting dish
  • Combine the oil, sweet soy sauce, five spice and the rest of the salt. Massage in to the pork

  • Lay the pork skin side up in the roasting dish. Cook for a couple of hours until the meat is succulent (skewer the meat and the juices should run clear) and the skin crispy. Let it rest for 30 minutes and cut into 2 inch squares.
  • Lay the deep-fried eggplant on a flat plate. Sprinkle with half of the fried garlic slices
  • Steam in a bamboo steamer for 10 minutes
  • Combine the soy and oyster sauces, tomato puree, sugar, chilli jam, and sesame and chilli oil in a saucepan and heat to simmering point
  • Stir in roasted tomatoes and pour over the eggplant, mixing gently. Sprinkle with white pepper and finish with spring onion, remaining garlic slices and coriander.
  • Serve the eggplant and add the pork on top.
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Asian, Tasting

Mrs Chen: old crone, pockmarked-face, tofu legend

By all accounts, Mrs Chen wasn’t blessed with good looks. She had a face so disfigured that she was thought to have leprosy. She was often described as a lady who had been stung by a plague of wasps and had an acid tongue to go with it. She was also a widow.

Mr Chen died early. On the one hand, he couldn’t live with being vilified by a society unforgiving of Mrs Chen’s looks. On the other, his brittle heart couldn’t stand the daily lashings of his wife’s stinging words. He died a broken man.

Mrs Chen, penniless, was banished to the outskirts of Chengdu city in Sichuan, to ensure she didn’t spread disease to the wider population.

But out of adversity came opportunity. Mrs Chen was banished to a busy trading post; a well-trodden road frequented by hungry workers earning their living transporting goods. With no restaurant in sight, they often brought food for Mrs Chen to cook for them. For poor weary travellers, this was mostly tofu and meat. As time went on, Mrs Chen perfected a unique way to cook tofu and her restaurant became well-known for it. Travellers came far and wide to sample her dish. Even Mrs Chen’s constant profanity weren’t enough to keep hungry travellers away.*

The dish she created became known as ‘tofu cooked by the old pock-marked woman called Chen’, or Chen ma po tofu.

We know it today as ma po tofu.

The finished dish

Ma po tofu is probably Sichuan cuisine’s most recognisable dish. Silken tofu is cooked with chilli bean paste, minced pork and Sichuan peppers to combine for a sizzling, spicy, numbing flavour. The numbing comes from the Sichuan peppercorn, which is not related to black pepper at all. The plant is part of the citrus family.

Make no bones about it, I am not a fan of tofu. On its own it’s tasteless and bland. But it’s like a sponge and carries flavour so well. In this dish it is the hero. The pork is the support act.

And until this week I had never cooked it from scratch. I have used the recipe from Neil Perry’s Balance and Harmony, probably my favourite cook book.

The ingredients

Note: the bottle of tsing tao is for oiling the chef’s wheels

  • 300g silken tofu, cut into 2cm cubes
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 200g minced pork belly (or minced pork will do it)
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 spring onions, sliced (I didn’t have any, so I garnished with coriander)
  • 2 tablespoons hot bean paste
  • 125ml fresh chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon shaoxing rice wine
  • 1 teaspoon light soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon dark soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • A good pinch of Sichuan pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

Method

  • Grind the Sichuan pepper in a pestle and mortar until fine (ground to perfection here by my handy assistant and daughter).
  • Heat a wok until smoking.
  • Add the vegetable oil and, when hot, add the minced pork and stir-fry until browned.
  • Then add the garlic, spring onions and bean paste and stir-fry until fragrant.
  • Add the stock, shaoxing, soy sauces, sugar and salt.
  • Bring to the boil, add the tofu and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, allowing the liquid to thicken slightly. Add the Sichuan pepper and sesame oil and gently mix together.
  • Serve with jasmine rice.
*Note: I have slightly stretched the original story, but I promise no wasps were harmed in the writing of this post.

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