Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Vietnamese Salad with Tiger Prawns

Not only is this is a truly delicious dish but the story behind it is one that fills me with joy every time I think about it. I have a very dear friend who lives in Hong Kong with her husband and two kids. They are lovely and she’s very happy. But no matter how loving your husband and how cute your kids there are those moments when you find yourself deprived of personal space and time, screaming in your head, “I have got to get away from this oaf and these feral brats for five minutes!”. As a newly wed, I think recognising these moments and acting upon them are probably key to making a marriage work…and to generally maintaining an acceptable level of mental health.

So confronted with one of those moments, that’s just what my friend did. I received a text from her saying, “I have taken myself off for lunch on my own. Vietnamese salad with prawns. This is bliss. I just had to tell you”. To which I replied, “Talk me through it”. Which she graciously did – she identified each delectable ingredient for me. Lunch finished, she returned to her family once again full of love, patience and contentment. And I dashed out to buy the ingredients to recreate the dish in Bangkok.

That night, I ate the exact same meal and it was almost as though we’d eaten it together. It was a great reminder of the power of food, which can allow you to leap across continents and time zones, reunite you with friends and utterly change your mood in an instant.

Time: 35 mins
Rating: Beautifully easy
Serves: 4 people as a starter, 2 as a light main

8 tiger prawns peeled and de-veined
1 bunch fresh mint leaves
1 bunch fresh coriander leaves
200g cucumber
2 shallots
100g bean sprouts
40g cashew nuts
150g pomello (or grapefruit)

For the dressing:
2 tbsp sugar
4 tbsp fish sauce
4 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp rice vinegar
2 cloves garlic
1 small red chilli (e.g. birdseye)


  1. First make the dressing because you’ll use this to marinate your prawns too. Start by very finely chopping or mincing the garlic and the chilli (seeds and all). Place these in an empty jar and then add all the other dressing ingredients. Shake well until the sugar dissolves. Taste – you can adjust the level of spice, saltiness, sweetness our sourness according to your tastes.
  2. Next prepare your prawns. Peel them, leaving a little bit of the tail on. De-vein the prawn by cutting a slit along the back of the prawn and removing the black vein. This also opens the flesh up and allows more flavour in. Place the prawns in a dish and pour over a little of the dressing, just enough to coat. Refrigerate while you prepare the other ingredients.
  3. Then prepare your vegetables. Deseed and cut the cucumber into fine matchsticks and place in a bowl. Next finely slice the shallots and add these. Then prepare your pomello/grapefruit – remove the skin around each segment so you only have the juicy centre. Then break these up into chunks. Add to the bowl along with the mint, coriander and bean sprouts.
  4. Finally prepare your cashews. Spread them out on a baking sheet and bake in a hot oven for about 5 mins until they are golden, shaking half way through. Once they have cooled coarsely chop them and add them to the salad.
  5. Next cook your prawns. Heat a griddle pan on a high flame with a little olive oil. Once the oil is hot place your prawns in the pan. Cook until the prawns are pink and firm but they should not become tough – about 2 mins each side should be enough. Take the prawns off the heat and allow to rest while you dress and plate the salad.
  6. Dress the salad and divide evenly onto four small plates for a starter or two for a main. Place the prawns on top (2 for a starter, 4 for a main) and enjoy!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Thai Mackerel Lettuce Wraps (Miang Pla Too – little mackerel bites)

Two weeks ago I got married on a beautiful beach in Railay, in southern Thailand (hence the lack of blog activity of late). Behind every happy bride is a dedicated bridesmaid and I was fortunate enough to have four. One of them was Jane, a very dear Thai friend has stoked and indulged my growing obsession with Thai food. Every time I am in Railay, she introduces me to a new dish or snack, each one better than the last.

In the days running up to the wedding, Jane saw me gradually transform from beach bum to Bridezilla as I worried, fussed and organised. She pulled me aside, reminded me I needed to eat and told me that however busy I was, she just had to introduce me to Miang Pla Too. This is  a snack which you eat like a small fajita:  you take a piece of lettuce, fill it with rice noodles, fresh coriander and mint, and fried mackerel, drizzled with a tangy spicy sauce and wrap it into a little  parcel. As I popped the little flavour bomb into my mouth, all the knots in my tummy unwound and my inner foodie who had been woefully neglected over the last week, did a little skip. It was simply delicious.

This recipe is as you would find it in Thailand. All I’ve done is tweak the presentation. The fish is usually deep-fried whole and you’d pick a piece off the bone, whereas I have filleted it first and then pan-fried it. It’s up to you whether you want to divide the ingredients up onto individual plates, or let people help themselves from a large plate on the table, which is more Thai style. We ate ours right on a step, no fuss.

This is a quick, simple, starter bursting with flavour – enjoy!

Time: 30 mins
Rating: So easy
Serves: 4 people


4 small mackerel fillets (about 125g per person)
200 grams rice noodles (Straight to wok) 75g dried
Handful coriander leaves (with stalks still intact but roots removed)
Handful fresh mint leaves

For the sauce:
3 tbsp lime juice
3 small red chillis (a spicy variety like birdseye)
3 cloves garlic
2 tbsp brown sugar
3 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp water


  1. Start by making the sauce. Finely hop the chilli, keeping the seeds in. Then finely chop the garlic. If you have a mortar and pestle, pound them, otherwise keep chopping as finely as you can with a knife.
  2. Transfer to a small dish along with all the other sauce ingredients, but keep some of the chilli aside. You can add more later once you have tasted. Mix well and taste. If it is too spicy for your taste add more sugar, water or lime juice. If you want it spicier, add the remaining chilli.
  3. If your mackerel isn’t filleted already, fillet it. This is an easy fish to fillet because the bones are large and firm. Season the fillets on both sides. Heat a little olive oil in a pan and fry your fillets til they are gently browned on both sides, about 3-4 mins on each side, skin side first. When cooked, transfer to a small plate. It’s up to you whether you leave the fillets whole and let your guests break pieces off, or cut them into small pieces yourself.
  4. If your rice noodles are dried, cook according to packet instructions. If they are fresh, remove from the packet and separate any that have stuck together. Set aside. The noodles should be no warmer than lukewarm – you don’t want them burning your fingers or wilting the leaves.
  5. When your fish is done, lay out all the components on a large plate or board.  Give each guest a small plate and let them make their own wraps, starting with a lettuce leaf, then a small pile of noodles, then a piece of fish, a coriander sprig, a couple of mint leaves and finishing off with a drizzle of the sauce.

Monday, February 13, 2012

February’s Cocktail: Spiced-Up Passion

I am getting married tomorrow and I really need a drink! And what the devil am I doing blogging the day before my wedding day when I have 70 guests from all over the world to entertain and a million things to do? Good question -  probably one which my soon-to-be husband would ask if he caught me hiding in this quiet corner of Thailand where I have found wi-fi access. For obvious reasons I’ve not had much time to cook of late. So thank god for Buk, the wonderful Mixologist from Bangkok’s Seven Spoons restaurant for providing me with this truly fantastic cocktail recipe. As soon as I am done here I’m marching into the nearest bar and demanding (with the full rage of Bridezilla) that they mix one up for me.

And since I’m here, just one more thing. I’m just going to come out and say it. I LOVE Valentine’s Day. I know it’s not cool. We’re supposed to find it contrived and another ploy by the capitalist machine to get us to spend money on things we don’t need. But the way I see it we have a choice – we either turn our nose up at everything from Christmas presents, to Easter eggs and Valentines cards and sit around feeling smug and liberated. Or we enjoy these moments for the opportunity they give us to celebrate important things in life. Tomorrow, when I get hitched on Valentine’s day, my celebrant Kate will remind people that this is not just a day for romantic love but for the love of friends (and I’m pretty in love with mine right now who have flown around the globe to be here with me). So this Valentine’s Day, why not embrace that sentiment. Don’t blow money on a bunch of roses for your partner but go shopping and cook something awesome and serve it with this delicious cocktail and do it for anyone you love, especially your friends.

Ingredients for Spiced-Up Passion

4 lime wedges
- 2 tsp sugarcane
- 2 fresh passion fruit
- 50ml fresh lime juice
- 110ml spiced rum / or Sangsom if you are in Thailand

1. Put the lime wedges and sugarcane into the boston glass
2. Pour in the fresh lime juice
3. Cut the passion fruit and put the flesh into another glass
4. Slice up some passion fruit peel for decoration (optional)
5. Pour the rum into the second glass and stir the rum and passion fruit seeds together
6. Put some ice cube into the boston glass
7. Strain the rum and passion fruit into the boston glass
8. Shake well
9. Garnish with a slice of lime and passion fruit peel
On that note, I have a wedding to get to…

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Bangladeshi Flatbread and Hummus

I just spent two weeks working in Bangladesh. The capital city, Dhaka is one of the most crowded, congested, polluted cities I have ever been to, but once you get out of the city and head to the south coast it’s a different story. I was in Khulna which is really beautiful and full of very friendly and welcoming people:

A village on the edge of the paddy fields

And of course there’s the food. I ate a lot of pretty spectacular curries and also manage to taste some new foods which is always an adventure. Syruppy, milky, gently spiced Bangladeshi sweets with enough sugar to have you bouncing off the walls for the rest the day. But my favorite food I encountered over breakfast which was surprising for me because unless it’s late enough to become brunch, I’m not usually very interested in breakfast. But this flatbread – paratha – was the heavenly.

Paratha is a warm flakey bread, pan-fried and mercifully simple to make. These lads were making and cooking the dough fresh in front of a busy roadside stop where there was a constant stream of people arriving for breakfast:

They were super friendly and talked me through the process, which I have converted into this recipe. I was tempted to have a go but their production line was so efficient that I was worried about disrupting their slick machine – and I had no desire to come between the hungry customers and their daily bread!

Parathas are often served with channa masala, a chickpea curry, so the pairing with a Bangladeshi version of hummus feels quite natural. I served this to some friends as they arrived home after a day of sightseeing in Bangkok. It took no more than three minutes for them to devour every last scrap.

Time: 45 mins - 1 hour (depending on whether you use a food processor or mortar and pestle)
Rating: much easier than you would expect!
Serves: 4-6 as a starter/snack


For the parathas/flat breads:

100g plain flour + 2-3 tbsp extra for dusting your surface
100g whole wheat flour
½ tsp salt
Water to make the dough
A few tbsp vegetable oil

For the hummus:

1 tin chickpeas, drained
40g sesame seeds
2 cloves garlic
1 inch ginger finely grated
1 fresh green chilli (seeds and all)
10g fresh coriander leaves
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp garam masala
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp salt
Juice of 1 lime
5-6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Small handful of pistachio nuts and a drizzle of olive oil to garnish

    1. First make your hummus. Toast the sesame seeds in a pan on low heat until they brown lightly. Then grind them either in a food process or pound them with a mortar and pestle until they make a fine powder.
    2. Put the ground sesame in a food processor/blender with the chickpeas. Finely chop the coriander leaves and add these.
    3. Very finely chop the garlic, chilli and ginger, or pound with a mortar and pestle. Add these to the chickpeas along with all the remaining hummus ingredients.
    4. Blend in a blender/food processor until smooth. Taste and add more spices, salt, oil, lime juice if you want to adjust the flavour or texture. Transfer to a plate or small bowl to serve.
    5. Toast some shelled pistachios on a baking sheet for 5-6 minutes, shaking about half way through. Allow to cool and coarsely chop and set aside.
    6. Next make your flatbreads. Combine the two flours and salt in a bowl. Add water a little at a time, kneading with your hands until you have a firm dough. It should be soft enough that it’s easy to manipulate but not so sticky that it sticks to your hands.
    7. Continue to kneed well for 5-6 minutes
    8. Divide the dough into 6 equal portions and roll them into small balls about the size of a ping pong ball. Allow to rest for 10-15 mins.
    9. Dust the surface you will use for rolling with some plain flour. Roll one of the balls out slightly so it’s about the size of a lemon. Pinch it in the middle so it looks like a figure of 8. Dab some vegetable oil in the centre of both circles and fold the dough over so you have a single ball again.
    10. Smooth the dough back into a neat circle and roll out evenly to a thickness of about 2-3mm and a diameter of about 10-12cm.
    11. Heat a heavy bottomed pan. When it is really hot lift the rolled-out dough onto the pan. Brush one side with a little vegetable oil. Using a spatula, turn it over and brush the other side too. If you don’t have a brush, use the back of a tablespoon. Cook on each side for about 1-2 minutes until the parathas start to turn brown on both sides and go crispy.
    12. While one paratha is cooking you should be rolling out the next one. As one comes of the heat, you should be ready to put the next one on. Repeat until all six parathas are made.
    13. Sprinkle the pistachios on top of the hummus and drizzle with olive oil when you are ready to serve.
    Cooking ahead? The hummus can be made several hours in advance and kept in the fridge. Though the parathas are best served fresh, you can make them in advance, wrap them in tin foil and reheat in a microwave or oven when you are ready to serve.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Pineapple and Almond Crumble Served With Ginger Cream

In the first version of this dish there was no crumble – just glazed pineapple with ginger cream. But by the time I’d griddled the fruit in all that butter and sugar and then covered it in a huge dollop of cream, I figured that this had ceased to be a light healthy dessert and I may as well go the whole hog and turn it into a decadent crumble. I’ll start that diet tomorrow…

I have made my feelings on baking clear in previous blogs: I don’t much like it, and it doesn’t much like me. There’s something about the precision that it demands with which I am yet to come to terms. But a crumble is different. It can’t sink, it can’t turn to concrete when it cools, it’s easy to tell if either the crumble or fruit aren’t cooked enough …in other words, it’s pretty hard to screw up.

To me, there is something wonderfully comforting and nostalgic about a crumble as it is the taste of my childhood.  The contrast of hot and cold with the whipped cream is heavenly. Crumbles, at least in the UK are usually made with apple or rhubarb. The substitution with tropical pineapple and the ginger kick lift the dish and make it bright and cheerful and a great ending to an Asian Fusion meal.

I have a confession to make about the pineapple I used. Here in Bangkok we are fortunate to have mobile fruit stands on every street corner. You can pick up ready peeled, beautifully cut, chilled fruit for just a few baht:

So I did. But I have adjusted the timing in recognition of the fact that some of you will have to wrestle with all the prickles.  

Time: 1hr 20 mins (35-40 mins cooking time)
Rating: Easy as pie (or crumble)
Serves: 5-6


For the ginger cream:
Juice from 2 inches finely grated fresh ginger (1-2 tbsp)
250ml whipping cream
1 tsp caster sugar
1 tsp ground ginger
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the filling:
700g fresh pineapple (weight when peeled – about 1 medium pineapple)
2 tbsp orange juice (fresh if possible)
2 tsp ground ginger
50g brown sugar

For the topping:
100g whole almonds (skin still on)
75g butter
200g plain flour
100g brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon


  1. Preheat your oven to 180°C.
  2. Start by making the cream so it has plenty of time to refrigerate. Grate the ginger and squeeze the juice from the grated ginger into a large bowl. Discard the pulp. Add the whipping cream, and other cream ingredients. Whip with an electric or hand whisk until soft peaks form. Refrigerate until you are ready to serve.
  3. Peel and quarter your pineapple. Remove any ‘eyes’ and also the tough core. Chop into chunks about an inch in size and set aside.
  4. Spread the almonds onto a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 3-4 minutes, taking out to shake about half way through. They should be very slightly toasted – not too much because they’ll continue to toast when you cook the crumble later. Allow to cool and chop the almonds fairly finely either by hand with a good knife or in a food processor. Don’t worry if you have a few bigger pieces left in there, it gives a rustic crunch.
  5. Combine the butter and flour with your hands until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
  6. Add the brown sugar and the toasted almonds and combine, again using your fingers.
  7. Place the pineapple chunks into a medium sized baking dish (about 25cm) and pour over the orange juice, ginger and sugar. Combine to make sure the pineapple is evenly coated.
  8. Sprinkle the topping over the fruit evenly.
  9. Put in the oven and bake for 35-40 mins until it is nicely golden on top and the juice below has thickened and is bubbling. Take out of the oven and allow to rest for about 10-15 minutes. Letting it cool gives the sugar time to harden a little and ever so slightly caremalise the crumble and the nuts.
  10. Serve warm with plenty of the ginger cream.

Cooking ahead? The crumble can be made several hours in advanced and stored in the fridge, as can the ginger cream.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Chicken Salad with Ginger Citrus Dressing and Sesame Croutons

I was going to cook duck tonight. I had it all planned out. The skin was going to be crispy, the sauce sweet, there would be noodles…but it didn’t quite work out like that. Before I went food shopping I went to see the dress-maker who is making some final alterations to my wedding dress -  I am getting married in less than two weeks. As I tried the dress on one of the seamstresses said something to the effect of, “Isn’t that funny, you’ve put on weight. Most brides lose weight before their wedding”.  “Hilarious” I replied, through gritted teeth.

I left defiant. I wanted to behave like a bride who knows that there more important things in life than being thin, even…no, especially on her wedding day. So I marched into the supermarket looking for duck. But they were sold out. The way I saw it, this was either just turning out to be a really bad day, or my dress-maker was an evil genius who had called ahead and arranged this. But my Thai friends who are more superstitious than I would see it as a sign. They would conclude that it is not auspicious for me to gorge myself on pan-fried duck days before my wedding. Maybe they have a point. So I caved and decided to make a chicken salad.

It actually worked out very well. The dressing is delicious - the ginger-citrus combination is really light and refreshing. Between the interesting selection of vegetables and the tasty croutons, I didn’t at all feel that I was eating health food. Don’t worry, my duck will have its day. But in the meantime, a very enjoyable meal which brings me a little closer to doing up the zip!

Time: 40 mins
Rating: Easy. You could do it with your eyes shut.
Serves: 2 (generous portions)


For the chicken:
2 large chicken breasts
1 tsp Chinese five spice powder
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp olive oil

For the salad:
Large handful of mixed salad leaves
2-3 spring onions (about 25g) – white part only
100g trimmed sugar snap peas
100g asparagus (trimmed – the woody part removed)
About 1/3 cucumber (160g) peeled and deseeded
125g cherry tomatoes
Leaves from a small bunch of coriander (about 10g)

For the dressing:
1tsp finely grated/minced ginger
1½ tbsp olive oil
½ tsp sesame oil
Juice of 1 orange (about 5 or 6 tbsp)
Juice of 1 lime (about 2 tbsp)
½ tsp caster sugar
Salt and pepper

For the croutons:
1 slice good quality bread
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tbsp sesame seeds


  1. Start by combining in a small bowl your marinade ingredients and mix well. Score the underside of the chicken breasts with criss-cross incisions. Place the breasts in a dish and pour over the marinade. Leave in the fridge for as long as possible, at least half an hour.
  2. Once your chicken has marinated, pre-heat the oven to about 180°C (for the croutons) and put a small pan of water on to boil (for some of the veg).
  3. Next cook the marinated chicken. I like to cook the breasts in a griddle pan but you could equally oven bake, pan-fry, or grill them. If using a griddle, place them top side down onto the hot griddle and cook for about 4 minutes. Turn them over and cook the other side for the same amount of time. Turn them over once more to give the first side another minute or so. They’ll take about 10 mins in total to cook. The meat should be white (not pink) all the way through but not dried out. The sweetness in the marinade will give the chicken a lovely colour and slightly sticky coating.
  4. When the meat is done, take it off the heat and let it rest. This lets the juices run before you serve it. After about ten minutes (once you’ve started on the next steps) slice the chicken into fairly thin slices and leave to cool.
  5. Next make the dressing. Combine all of the ingredients in a jar and give them a good shake.
  6. Then make the croutons.  Remove the crusts from the bread and cut the remainder of the slice into small squares. On a small plate combine the two oils, and on another place spread out the sesame seeds. Brush each square of bread on both sides with the oil and then dip in the sesame seeds so they stick. Place the squares on a baking sheet and then in the oven for about five minutes until they are hard and just a little golden. Take out of the oven and allow to cool.
  7. Then prepare your veg. Trim the sugar snap peas and cut the asparagus into pieces about an inch long. Blanch them in the boiling water for about 3 minutes. They should soften but still have a crunch to them. Drain and run them under cold water to stop them cooking any further.
  8. Then prepare the other veg. Cut the tomatoes in half. Slice the cucumbers into thin matchsticks. Slice the spring onion diagonally into thin slices. Finely chop the coriander. Place all of the salad ingredients together in a bowl, combine, pour over the dressing and toss.
  9. Serve up the salad and place the croutons on top of the salad and the chicken around the edge. Enjoy!