Sunday, 8 July 2018

Yummy Eastern salad and dressing with nasturtium flowers


In the summer I make a big bowl of this scrumptious savoury salad with a dressing based on Thai flavours. It's a perfect balance that hits all your taste buds: the garlicky saltiness is delicious, the sesame oil adds an extra dimension, the lime juice cuts through and the chilli seeds add a little kick.

The salad ingredients below are a guide. Choose from the following. Experiment. You could add pomegranite seeds, dandelion leaves, or sliced spring onions. But don't use fennel or celery as they will clash with the flavours of the dressing.

SALAD ingredients 
Romaine lettuce leaves, torn into thirds
Green and red peppers, sliced lengthways
Handful of coriander leaves
Handful of mint leaves
1 firm mango cut into batons
1 medium red onion sliced into rings
6-8 plum or cherry tomatoes, halved lengthways
6-8 radishes, thinly sliced
2 medium carrot cut into 1/2cm batons or coarsely grated
Nasturtium leaves
To top 
Nasturtium flowers for decoration (edible and peppery)
Sunflower seeds
Sesame seeds
Torn nori seaweed

DRESSING ingredients
½ teaspoon English mustard or mustard powder
1 or 2 fat garlic cloves, crushed
1 dessertspoon olive oil
½ dessertspoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon brown sugar or honey
Juice of 3 or 4 limes
¼ cup fish sauce (very salty)
½ teaspoon low sodium salt
½ tsp crushed chilli seeds

For the dressing, mix all together. If you are using a mango, soak the mango batons in the dressing while you make the salad.

Mix the leaves and batons together in a large serving bowl. Just before serving, add the dressing (with the mango batons) and toss.

Top with the seeds, nasturtium flowers and torn nori.

Serve with some sort of protein: prawns, seafood, crispy bacon, seared salmon, tofu, falafel, cold cuts or shredded chicken and so on.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Piquant pigs trotters with star anise


If you get this dish right, you end up with a delicious savoury gelatinous sauce that makes the best comfort food on a cold winter's night. Plus it's really cheap.

 Ingredients
(These amounts give a strong flavour so go easy if you prefer a lighter hit.)
4 - 6 pig trotters cut in half lengthways.
1 tablespoon palm sugar (or demerara sugar)
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon (about 6) star anise
1 large knob of ginger — skinned and sliced
1 whole bulb garlic — crushed
1 medium red chilli pepper — thinly sliced
1 bunch spring onions — washed thoroughly, cut into 2 inch lengths
1 cup apple juice
2 tablespns groundnut oil
Dash of sesame oil




To prepare:
Like (some) humans, pigs have hairy toes which you have to remove or else lose something of the magic. Wash the trotters, then cover with boiling water for five minutes. Scrape off the hairy bits. Dry off.

To cook:
Heat the oil in a wok or large pot over a high flame. Add the trotters and brown for 2-5 minutes, then turn down to medium. Add the ginger, garlic, star anise and chilli pepper and stir (don't let the garlic burn).

Add the apple juice, soy sauce, cider vinegar, spring onions and sugar, plus a splosh of sesame oil. Turn up the heat so it's all boiling nicely then turn down to simmer for 2 hours until tender.

Serve over rice or noodles with greens.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Seasoning a wok: cooking as an extreme sport

Halfway there

Ready for its first stir fry

Today I seasoned a wok. This means preparing one of those huge Chinese carbon steel frying pans for cooking by coating the inside with oil and heating it until it turns black.

My Chinese father — a former professional chef before he became a publisher — never bothered with a wok. He did perfectly well with a large aluminium pot that lasted a lifetime.

I'd watched his Chinese friends cooking in clouds of smoking oil, clattering their large blackened round-bottomed woks with the iron "shovels" and, while entertained by the theatre of it, vowed never to put myself through the bother. There's something about the girth of a wok that can take over the average dinky kitchen. Where do you store such giants?

The chief pain that deterred me, though, was the seasoning process, described to me by my mother as some sort of trial which I was bound to fail. I'm told English people had to do this in ye olden days to seal the metal and protect it from oxidisation (rust) before the space age gave us Teflon non-stick. I once had a non-stick wok, as absurd as that seemed to a Chinese person, but was put off when the carcinogenic coating began to flake off under the pressure of high temperature stir-fries. Not healthy, plus it was a cheat.

However, this Christmas, I bought one for a friend who'd been jonesing after one, attracted by the romance and exoticism of cooking as an extreme sport. Rejecting the slinky black non-stick wok sets purveyed by Chinese TV chefs, I selected the most basic and authentic one I could find at the north London Wing Yip, made by Hancock. Lovely! Carbon steel with a wooden handle — no hanging loop, no second handle for the limp-wristed — this was a sturdy workaday kitchen implement I expect to last forever.

The instructions told us (once we'd scrubbed off the anti-rust layer with cream cleanser, rinsed and dried) to pour a tiny bit of vegetable oil in the wok and wipe it round with a kitchen towel to coat the inside thoroughly. Then you place it over a low heat until it darkens. Fifteen minutes they said, presumably not wishing to scare off novices. Fifteen minutes was enough to blacken the bottom (I bought a flat-bottomed one, otherwise you need a support ring — yet more equipment!) but nowhere near enough to affect the curved upper part.

After half an hour of this, he'd had enough and abandoned it to cool on the hob for another go later. (See first pic above)

While he was sulking, I cut to the chase, poured in more oil, slooshed it around (no namby-pamby kitchen roll for me) and emptied the excess down the sink. After shutting all doors and opening windows and back door, I then whacked up the flames on the biggest gas ring as far as they'd go until the oil was smoking: only then did the magic happen. You have to move it around and hold it at angles to make sure the sides get done, but it happens in front of your eyes so it's only a bit like watching paint dry.

To be totally safe (fire, flammable oil, soft human flesh, home) have a large metal lid and a damp tea-towel to hand, just in case. But you should be okay if you don't have more than a coating of oil.

It is now cooling down on the hob, ready for use. Every time you use it it will only get better.


Friday, 25 November 2011

Ladudu in West Hampstead: restaurant review


Ooh, Ladudu is a welcome addition to West Hampstead's cluster of great restaurants.

Situated at the junction of Iverson Road and West End Lane, this Vietnamese eatery looks out at our swanky new Thameslink station and is perfectly placed for passing traffic and commuters seeking sustenance at the end of a busy day. Its elegant dark wood shared tables echo the canteen style of the popular Banana Tree up the road but manages to establish its own character with warm lighting and stylish decor. Having wifi and a comfy sofa zone, it invites you to hang about doing a bit of work or meeting friends.

Last night's meal was lovely and beautifully presented.

The prawns in the green papaya salad were a bit ordinary but the delicate flavours and crunchy texture in the salad were divine and have me salivating thinking about it even now. My Lovely Companion's char-grilled baby calimari stuffed with minced pork and prawns (four on a skewer) with little nibbly bits of rice noodles and salady stuff were "a top starter".

I had the pork chops (two) with a fried egg — lovely broken into the rice. It also came with the most delicious fish cakes that could be a starter on their own (I hope the owners add this to the starter menu). The pork chops were tender and lightly spiced but not as tasty as the marinated pork at the Banana Tree which we usually have as a shared starter. Lovely companion's marinaded pork skewers on noodles were nicely spicy.

He enjoyed his caramelised pear cake (a spongy upside-down cake) with lychee ice-cream. I often skip dessert but I'm glad I had the crepes (two) stuffed with actual coconut meat, not the desiccated packet stuff you make cakes with. My roasted sesame seed ice-cream could have done with a bit more flavour whereas the lychee had a nice subtle fruity kick.

Lovely Companion says beer drinkers should note that the flavour of the Hanoi is better than the Saigon.

Too often, restaurants which focus on the visual presentation of their food assume you only want dinky ornamental amounts. Ladudu's portions are generous and don't leave you starving at the end of the meal. Bill came to £45 including two beers and an Aspall's cider.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Coriander and tomatoes in the garden

coriander and basil
I don't grow much foodstuff in the garden, a situation I must rectify. In the meantime, here are photos of coriander, basil and tomatoes coming along nicely.

home-grwon tomatoes on the vine

wild strawberry
And a lone wild strawberry that survived the wood pigeons. They have such a great flavour, a bit like the impossible sweets from childhood. The strawberries, that is, not the pigeons.