Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Dinner for Jo (Part 1): Grilled Mackerel with Thai Super Food Salad

Before I get to the all important food part, let me explain who Jo is and why I am cooking for her. If you are going to read one blog this week, I recommend you read that by Jo Bryant, Tales from the Heart. She is a 29 year old British woman currently battling the rarest form of cancer out there, Cardiac Sarcoma. Although the doctors have, as she puts it, given up on her she is sticking to one unwavering mantra: Never, never, never give up. She isn’t taking no for an answer.

Why do I encourage you to read Jo’s blog? Because I struggle to think of anything that you could find more inspirational than her courage, dignity and wit in the face of adversity. And to raise awareness of this little-known disease. And because she’s a great writer. And because she has a growing team of celebrities all rooting for her with "Go JB!" messages, including some very dashing sporting heroes of both sexes!

Let me explain what all this has to do with an Asian Fusion food blog. Jo is on a special diet which rules out a lot of the thing she’d normally like to eat. As a food obsessive, I know that not being able to eat nice food can put you in a really foul mood. So I am coming up with a couple of special dishes that taste great but don’t break her diet rules. Here’s the brief she gave me:

Off the menu: Yeast (which includes soy sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce), lactose, red meat, sugars (all forms), acidic foods, cheeses and dairy, MSG, coconut milk/water is ok but a bit of a compromise. On the menu: Vegetables, nuts and nut oils, herbs, spices and chillies, lemon juice. Jo is only recently begun finding her way around the kitchen so I am adding step by step pics to help a novice cook along.

This first dish for Jo is possibly the healthiest I’ve ever cooked. Each ingredient has been chosen because of its nutritional or medicinal properties. Here in Thailand people are big believers in the power of herbs not only to flavour but to heal. I did my research and have detailed below all the good stuff that this dish can do for the body. The salad is packed with flavour from all those herbs and spices (important because Jo tells me that chemo dulls the taste buds) and it’s full of crunch from the nuts and raw veg. It really doesn’t feel like health food.

Oh and as for the fish, yes, the mackerel in this photo is huuuuge. That’s Thailand for you – tiny limes, whopping great fish. I’m not sure British mackerel grow this big but it doesn’t matter, you can use smaller fillets. And just one last thing before we get cooking – a message for Jo with love from Mango Ginger:

Time: 40 mins
Rating: Easy, just a bit of patience needed for the chopping
Serves: 2


2-4 mackerel fillets (depending on their size)
1 lemongrass stalk
20g mint leaves (a large handful)
20g coriander leaves (a large handful)
20g roasted almonds (salted, roasted, skin still on)
40g green beans
40g sugar snap peas
1 courgette
1 yellow pepper
Handful lettuce leaves

For the dressing/marinade:
2cm knob ginger
Juice 1 ½ limes (replace with 1 lemon juice if you prefer)
1 red chilli
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tbsp olive oil (or an alternative unrefined vegetable oil)
½ tsp honey
Generous pinch salt and course black pepper


1. First prepare the dressing/marinade. Chop or mince the ginger and chilli as finely as possible. I didn’t deseed the chilli but made sure the seeds were very finely chopped. If you don’t want too much fire, discard the seeds. Combine with the other dressing ingredients and mix well.

Your prepped ingredients ready to go into the dressing

2. Then prepare the mackerel: make a few shallow diagonal slits on the skin side. This will allow the fish to absorb the flavour of the marinade and stop it from curling during cooking. Lay the fish in a small dish and cover with 2 tbsp of the marinade, coating all over. Cover and leave in the fish for about half an hour – you have a lot of chopping to do in the meantime

Your scored fish marinating

3. While the fish is marinating prepare your salad ingredients. Slice the lemongrass stick horizontally as thinly as possible – take your time, large chunks won’t be pleasant. Cut the green beans and sugar snap peas horizontally about 5mm in thickness. Cut the courgette into quarters lengthways and slice as thinly as possible horizontally. Finely dice the yellow pepper. Coarsely chop the almonds. Coarsely chop or tear the mint and coriander leaves.

    Your chopped veg and  nuts

4. Combine all of these ingredients in a bowl and pour the remaining dressing over the top. Mix well.
5. When the mackerel fillets have marinated, brush a baking tray with a little olive oil and place the fillets on top, skin-sides facing upwards. Place under a hot grill and cook for 4-5 minutes, or until the skin is browned and the flesh is cooked through.
6. Lay some lettuce leaves out on a plate. Spoon the salad on top and then carefully place the mackerel fillets on top.
7. Sit back, eat, and feel smug for producing such a beautiful, colourful, tasty and healthy plate of food.

Why these foods are so super

S       Mackerel: This is the super fish! Packed with Omega 3 and 6 fish oils, lots of protein and an array of vitamins which are good for the heart.
S       Lemongrass: Therapeutic properties are as a diuretic, antiflu and antimicrobial agent – generally know for its anti oxidant and heeling properties.
S       Mint: Volatile oil contents give the plant several therapeutic uses, including carminative, mild antiseptic, local anaesthetic, and digestant properties.
S       Coriander: commonly used to treat digestive disorders.
S       Ginger: It helps break down proteins to rid the stomach and intestines of gas. It also aids in the digestion of fatty foods and is used to treat nausea.
S       Chillies: There have been claims that red chillies contain cancer-fighting properties. Even if that bold claim isn’t true, they are packed with vitamin C.
S        Lime juice: full of vitamin C which helps boost your immune system.
S       Green beans and sugar snap peas: full of dietary fibre to which help to protect the inside of the colon. Also high in vitamins A, B-1, C and iron
S       Yellow pepper: Plenty of vitamin C and dietary fibre to aid digestion.
S       Almonds: They are packed with protein, vitamin E, magnesium, dietary fibre, and are low in cholesterol – all good news for the heart.
S       Courgette: Lots of Vitamin A, Iron, zinc and potassium, all good for the heart.
S       Sesame oil: Full of fatty acids which can reduce bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol in the blood.

1 comment:

  1. I think we should all be ashamed of ourselves. Tremendous effort Vanessa. Apart from making chips with walnut oil, I would be struggling to come up with ideas. Let alone poor Jo being ill at the same time.

    God bless you both.