Hong Kong style: Hong Kongese spicy fried noodles

Hong Kong is another ‘is it really a country?’ country. Wikipedia tells us that it’s an autonomous territory, just like Macau, which essentially means it’s part of China whilst also standing on its own. This was exemplified perfectly when Miranda asked a Hong Kongese student whether there were any dishes specific to Hong Kong. With an expression that was a mix of bewilderment and panic, he said, ‘Um… they just have Chinese restaurants.’

That avenue well and truly exhausted, our next step was to turn to Google for a Hong Kongese dish, but the World Wide Web pretty much gave us the same answer: Hong Kong cuisine is mainly influenced by Cantonese cuisine, and there really isn’t much to distinguish between the two. The only food we could associate with Hong Kong was the luminescent deep fried balls of unidentifiable meat you get from the takeaway, and we didn’t want that. We could have made fish balls, which seem to be a popular Hong Kong street food, but pounding white fish into a paste didn’t especially appeal to us, so in the end we settled for spicy fried noodles as inspired by Cookpad (we played with the quantities a bit). Honestly, we really couldn’t tell you whether this is even close to ‘authentic’ Hong Kongese, but there were very few options and it seemed along the right lines… Continue reading

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No chilli phobias al-Lao-ed: Dtom jeaw pla, ping gai and larb het

We’re back! It’s been a few weeks since we cooked anything exotic, our excuse for last week being that we spent four glorious days in France, drinking champagne and eating fantastic food. In fact, this time last week we were basking in the sunshine, eating a freshly-procured picnic of bread, farmhouse pate, goat cheese, heirloom tomato and red wine drunk out of plastic glasses, with a raspberry tart and rhubarb flan waiting for us to be ready for dessert. Today, we’re inside looking out at the grey sky and wet pavements. C’est la vie.

But back to the mission and country at hand: a dish from Laos. We’ve recently had the pleasure of reconnecting with Wendy, a school friend of Miranda’s who has been brave/crazy enough to join the throngs of people battling rush hour on the London Underground for the past two years. Last night, she joined us for a farewell dinner before returning to the Land Down Under, and that meant we could inflict more Lao-style chillies on her than she was probably expecting!

When researching Lao food, we discovered that the national dish is larb, a salad of minced meat (or vegetarian alternative), flavoured with a variety of herbs and spices and, crucially, toasted ground rice. We also learnt that the Lao eat more sticky rice than any other people in the world, and will often refer to themselves as ‘luk khao niaow’ which, roughly translated, means ‘children or descendants of sticky rice’. Larb and sticky rice needed to feature, then, but salad and rice doesn’t exactly scream ‘dinner party menu’. A bit more reading around eventually led us to create the following menu:
– Dtom jeaw pla (fish soup)
– Ping gai (marinated grilled chicken)
– Larb het (spicy mushroom salad)
– Sticky rice
– For dessert, Gordon Ramsay’s pineapple and mango crumble, which isn’t Lao, but seemed to fit Continue reading

Happy Easter: Burmese duck egg curry and feisty cabbage salad

We’ve mentioned before that by total fluke, during this challenge we’ve cooked Welsh food on St David’s Day, Irish for St Patrick’s Day and Chinese just in time for Chinese New Year. Well, for this Easter weekend, we’ve ended up ‘in’ Myanmar. ‘What does that have to do with anything?’ you may ask, which would be a fair question, but hopefully the answer will become clear when we tell you that the key ingredient of our Burmese dish was eggs, which seemed very fitting for the occasion.

When we first researched Burmese food, we found that the national dish was some sort of catfish stew, which, honestly, didn’t excite us. Nor did the fact that it involved ingredients we weren’t sure we’d be able to find: not just catfish, but also banana trunk – we’re not even sure exactly what that is, let along where to get it. Fortunately, we were able to turn to our trusty Bought, Borrowed & Stolen by Allegra McEvedy, where we found not only a recipe for Duck Egg Curry, but also Tin-Baw-Thee Thoat (feisty pickled cabbage salad). We’ve never made a bad recipe from this book, so knew we were in safe hands. Continue reading

North Indian feast: Punjabi lamb, cauliflower tandoori, tadka dal, aloo paratha and carrot halva

Spending all day cooking a curry is not a new experience for us. Generally speaking, our default position for a celebration is ‘Let’s have a feast.’ Not always a curry, but plenty of food of some kind is our favourite way of commemorating a special event, and lately we seem to cook that food ourselves more than go out. With Valentine’s Day approaching, we’re already thinking about what next weekend’s festive feast will be.

The last time we did a curry ‘feast’ was the day our house purchase completed. We had an unusual situation in that we bought the house we were already renting, so rather than a ceremonious handing over of the keys, we simply had a phone call to say, ‘Congratulations, the house is yours.’ That call came when Miranda was cooking an experimental carrot halva, a dessert which, we discovered that day, is very uniquely enjoyable. We were happy to have an excuse to make it again this week for our North Indian banquet.

We began the meal by munching on some chaat (savoury snacks) in the form of spicy peas and Balti Mix (both store-bought), accompanied by a Cobra (Ash) and an Indian Sauvignon Blanc (Miranda). For our main course, we chose Punjabi lamb, tadka dal (mostly because of all the yellow split peas we had left over from last week) and tandoori cauliflower, because tandoori is a very typical Punjabi style of preparation. Our other accompaniment was aloo paratha, because one of Miranda’s Indian students had recommended it, but unfortunately it was similarly disastrous to last week’s dosa. Then there was the carrot halva to finish it all off. So, yes- with all of that (plus a couple of chutneys and pickles that we also made for the fun of it), it did take the best part of a day to put it all together. It’s a good thing we like cooking!

Indian wine Continue reading

Killer curry: South Indian sambar, cooked rice dosa and spiced tomato and coconut soup

Before Saturday, if you had asked me (Miranda) to describe the most painful experience of my life, I’m actually not sure what I would have said. I’ve been pretty lucky, injury-wise: I’ve never broken a bone, I’ve never been kicked in the testicles (for obvious reasons) and I’ve never experienced the legendary agony of childbirth. The best I could offer would have been a sprained ankle or a headache or a papercut or something.

Then sambar happened.

Anyone who’s eaten sambar before is probably wondering what I’m on about. After all, it’s a fairly mild vegetable curry, and shouldn’t cause pain of any kind. The killer element, though, is the collection of whole dried red chillies that flavour the curry as it cooks. Now, most normal people probably do the sensible thing with these chillies and discard them before serving. And I did actually do that, for the most part, although I did accidentally put one on Ash’s plate. He tasted a bit of it (with the rest of his meal) and said it wasn’t that pleasant, ‘a bit leathery’ being the phrase with which he described the experience. So when I was portioning out the leftovers and found a behemoth of a chilli, I thought I might as well taste it. It wasn’t that hot, so I ate all of it.

Then the capsaicin kicked in, and I finally understood what ‘my mouth was on fire’ actually means. That metaphor has not been cultivated just for the fun of it. I honestly cannot remember experiencing such pain in my whole life. Temporary sweet relief was brought about with each mouthful of milk I swilled around, but that still wasn’t enough to relieve it all together. I did fleetingly think that I might die, whilst also considering the fact that if anyone ever wanted to torture me for information, this would be the way to do it (with sleep deprivation definitely following close behind). Fortunately, the pain eventually subsided, but not before I swore to never do anything so recklessly ridiculous again.

Chilli trauma aside, we did have fun dedicating nearly a whole day to our South Indian extravaganza (which it nearly was by the time we’d chosen recipes, bought ingredients – including three different types of dal – and spent a few hours putting all the dishes together… then washing up).

A mere fraction of the dishes and utensils we actually got through...

A mere fraction of the dishes and utensils we actually got through…

Continue reading

A green and pleasant lunch: Sabich

A memorable dining experience of ours was at a restaurant called Four Tables, in Grantham, Lincolnshire. Not because the food was particularly outstanding (though it was very good) or particularly terrible (it wasn’t), but simply because of the unmatched quirky nature of the place. Having had some nibbles, breads and dips before taking our seats, we were greeted with an enormous salad entrée (in addition to our starters). As for the menu of main dishes, it looked fairly standard until you gazed up at the ‘exotic’ meats offering on the specials blackboard: think animals like crocodile, camel and zebra. Portion sizes were huge, and that was before the totally eclectic mix of side dishes made their appearances. Roast potatoes, roasted baby aubergines and giant onion rings were just the beginning! Neither of us is accustomed to leaving food on the plate, but even we couldn’t make it through this marathon.

Our visit was in honour of Miranda’s birthday which meant that we were also offered another treat: a complimentary signed copy of the proprietor’s cookbook, Elaborate Cooking Uncovered. It is full of recipes from all around the world, but it is primarily our go-to book when we want to make hummus. As hummus is an element of today’s dish, and so are aubergines, we couldn’t help reminiscing about that dinner nearly 5 years ago, which is why we’ve described our visit as a precursor to our Israeli recipe.

This week, we’ve opted for a lunch dish instead of a dinner one. Apparently there is no real ‘national dish’ of Israel, as its cuisine is so influenced by neighbouring countries and Jewish immigrants, but the sandwich known as sabich seems to be accepted as unquestionably Israeli. This is no ordinary sandwich though: this is a substantial meal and shouldn’t be attempted if you’re also planning a large dinner! The recipes for most elements of the dish come from I Will Not Eat Oysters, with the exception of the hummus, which is courtesy of Four Tables’ Ali Javaheri as mentioned above. Apparently a key feature of the sabich is amba, a pickled mango sauce, but despite an hour or so spent traipsing around our local ethnic food shops, we couldn’t find any, so we substituted it with mango chutney… which seemed to work! Continue reading

Budget Bulgarian: Mish Mash

When we saw that there was a Bulgarian dish called ‘Mish Mash’, our first thought was, ‘A dish with ‘mash’ in the title! WE MUST MAKE THIS.’

Our second thought, upon reading the recipe, was that we couldn’t quite figure out how this ‘Bulgarian omelette’ designed to feed four could only have three eggs, yet also contain three peppers, three tomatoes and nearly a whole packet of feta cheese. This was like no omelette we’d ever made before, and we weren’t sure whether to assume it would actually feed two, rather than four (partly because of there only being three eggs, and partly because we’re a bit piggish), or whether we should halve the recipe to make it a ‘Serves 2’. In the end, we went for the former: partly because three eggs is too difficult to halve, and partly because we’re a bit piggish. Continue reading