Sunday, 8 March 2015

'Agak Agak' Glass Noodle Salad with Roast Pork Belly

Sorry for the silence, the past month has been a mad non-stop string of projects and flights. I was in Singapore the past couple of weeks for Chinese New Year and a much-needed breather. As with all my visits home, I was treated like a little princess and fed like a rather large king. The attention from my parents have been almost embarrassing, but I can't deny I haven't enjoyed every moment of it. I wake up to the smell of mum frying vermicelli with garlic chives and last night's leftover braised pork, and go to sleep happy with slow-brewed tonic soup in my tummy.

In a bid to be less of a pig, I've been trying to learn more recipes from Mum, but eventually, I gave up trying to get cooking times and quantities from her. Instead I just watched. And smelt. And tasted.

At the heart of all Asian home-cooking, is a spirit of 'agak agak' (estimation). A recipe from my aunt might look something like this: Chicken – depends how much you want to eat; shallots– 10 to 20, depending how much chicken; chillies – to your tolerance level; sugar – if you like it sweet, add more.I used to fuss a lot about getting every part of a dish perfect, but now, I've found myself cooking more and more like the older women in my family– relying less and less on tablespoons and timers.

Cooking is a lot more fun and creative when you aren't restricted to a set ingredients list and method. Some of my best meals have been made from the sorry bits I discover in a late night fridge forage. A recent NY Times article on reducing food waste also made a pretty good point: A lot of kitchen waste comes from people blindly cooking from a recipe– so learning to cook intuitively also works out to be more sustainable and friendly on the pocket. As much as I love flicking through cookbooks and poring over recipes on the internet, I think every home cook should learn about techniques, flavours and ingredients, and aim to get to the point where they are comfortable enough to cook intuitively from what they have.

And with that said, here is an 'agak agak' recipe for a Thai-style glass noodle salad yum soon sen – this one, a glorious mess of leftover roast pork belly, shredded rainbow carrots, cucumbers, and fresh herbs. 


2 bundles of dried glass noodles 

large handful of crunchy vegetables
  rainbow carrots, julienned
  cucumber, julienned
small handful of fresh herbs
  Thai basil leaves 
crunchy stuff 
  roasted peanuts
  leftover crispy roast pork belly
  fried shallots

  1-2 tbsp fish sauce
  lime juice (about 2 limes)
  urefined palm or light brown sugar
  small handful dried shrimp
  thinly sliced shallots
  chopped bird's eye chillies, to tolerance level

1. Pour boiling water over glass noodles, cover, and let soak till the noodles are pliable and turn translucent. You can pinch a bit off to test the texture- it should be soft but slightly chewy. Drain and refresh in cold water.
2. Stir together the fish sauce and lime juice. You might need more or less fish sauce depending on the brand and age of your bottle and how juicy your limes are. Taste, then add the sugar. It should lead with sour, followed by salty, and should not taste sweet at all; the sugar is only there to round out the flavours and take away some of the heat from the chillies. Add the dried shrimps and chillies, crushing them lightly with a pestle or something heavy. Taste and adjust again as the dried shrimp can be quite salty. Finally, add the shallots; the acidic dressing will take away some of the raw sharpness.
3. Combine the glass noodles, vegetables and herbs pour the dressing over. Toss well and let stand for at least 15 minutes for the noodles to absorb the flavours before serving. Mix in the crunchy stuff just before serving, so they stay crunchy. Crush/ sprinkle with extra peanuts and herbs. 

You can definitely play around with the ingredients – look into your pantry, fridge and/ or garden. What you're creating is your own perfect balance of flavours (sour and refreshing lime, salty pungent fish sauce, and just enough chilli heat to wake you up) and textures (slippery noodles, crisp vegetables and fragrant crunchy things). 


On my trip back to Singapore, I also visited Super Farmers, an old friend Cynthea's urban farming and cooking startup. We made a very similar noodle salad, but played around with local greens, pickled some foraged sour fruit, and infused the sauce with crushed herbal flowers. She wrote a little blog post about that if you're curious.

For my ultimate crispy roast pork belly recipe, get on the mailing list!

Related reads
Super Farmers Blog: Foraging with Shu
NY Times: Starve a Landfill (Efficiency in the kitchen to reduce food waste)

Other simple agak agak recipes
Wild Green Pancakes and Any Flower Syrup
Kohlrabi Som Tum
Bittergourd Fish Noodle Soup, and what I learnt about 'perfect' soups in Hanoi
Chinese steamed eggs

Friday, 30 January 2015

'Vegan, Gluten-free' Kale Fried Hor Fun, and my 2 cents on diets

I planned this to go out at the start of January, when words like 'detox', 'diet' and '(insert latest criminal ingredient)-free' are flying around. Work caught up with me though, so here I am posting this at the end of the month, hopefully when people are starting to falter a little bit on that perfect New Year New You diet.

I am a big health freak, though many of the green-juicing, bike-cycling ashtanga yogis out there would probably raise an eyebrow at the way I eat. (No offence, I do all of the above too.) We can generally agree that those who survive mainly on fast food, takeaways, and microwaveable meals could improve their eating habits. But beyond that, things get confusing. I don't think I've admitted it on this blog yet, but like many health-obsessed teenage girls out there, I've yo yo-ed through a few of these diets myself. There was a period in my life when I was experimenting with the 'healthiest' way to eat and I have done them all– from paleo to raw vegan–and only ended up unhappy, unhealthy, and hungry for whatever it was I was cutting out. It took me a while to end up back at square one, eating the food that I grew up with. I eat everything now and most of all, I love what I eat.

It's because I love food so much that I insist it should come from a real source, made or grown by people who actually care about it; and if it does come off a shelf (still need my fish sauce and rice noodles #asian), to have real ingredients and as little ingredients as possible. Beyond that, there are no hard rules. I've rambled more about how I aim to eat most of the time when I first started the blog (and when I was more anal) on the How to Eat and Golden Rules page, if you can stomach it. But there are days when I just need a fat slice of chocolate cake and that's fine; because stressing out about unhealthy food is more unhealthy than just eating it.

Before I go on, I would like to say I'm not pushing for an ideal way of eating. I have plenty of friends who don't eat meat, friends who don't eat carbs, and friends who don't eat beyond 500 calories two days of the week– and I've eaten some great food prepared by them. I think there are lots of great takeaways from all diets, but I don't subscribe to the idea of restricting calories and/or any food groups. I do think everybody's body is different and it's up to you to work out what makes you feel best.

This fried hor fun recipe was something I made for an Indian friend who's grown up vegetarian due to religion. It was through her that I learnt a lot about natural sources of plant protein from vegetables like kale and sprouted/ fermented beans (during my vegan phase). It is gluten-free and vegan but I would rather not think of it as such. It was delicious. And that was it.

with chill and fermented bean curd 
Serves 2
250g fresh hor fun (fresh flat rice noodles)
1 bunch of kale
2 handfuls of beansprouts
1 tbsp chilli garlic paste (see below)
1 tbsp white miso 
1 tbsp good, naturally fermented soy sauce
1 tbsp kecap manis*
3 tbsp groundnut oil
4 shallots, minced

1.  Rinse the hor fun and drain well. Rinse the beansprouts and if you can be bothered, trim them.
2. Combine the miso, chilli garlic paste, light soy sauce and kecap manis.
3. Heat the oil in a wok until smoking hot then add the shallots to fry, stirring quickly to prevent them from burning. Once fragrant, add the hor fun and kale and stir-fry for a few minutes, till the kale just begins to wilt. Pour in the seasoning mixture and stir well to make sure everything is well-coated with the sauces. Continue stir-frying for 4-5 minutes till the noodles are lightly charred.
4. Add the beansprouts and give everything a few final tosses to combine. Cook for another minute or so; the beansprouts should still be crunchy. Serve immediately.

*This is sweet dark soy sauce. The range available here is very limited and most of them have nasty additives. I cracked it by combining equal quantities of good soy sauce and molasses. 


This is a good one for the pantry. I make loads and use for cooking/ dipping.

makes about 1/2 cup
150g red Serrano chillies
4 cloves garlic
1 1/2 tbsp white rice vinegar
big pinches of salt
2 tbsp unrefined brown sugar

Place all the ingredients in the food processor and pulse till you get a coarse texture. Smell it right now- it should make you cry. Bring everything to a boil in a pot, then lower the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for about 5 minutes or until it no longer smells raw. Season with salt and sugar, adjusting quantities to taste. Let cool, then pour into jar or squeezy bottles. Keeps for a month in the fridge.

There is a version of this in every Asian country– fresh rice noodles, tossed into a wok with aromatics and a blend of salty, sweet and sometimes sour and spicy sauces. Instead of using tamarind/ fish sauce (a la pad thai), or oyster sauce (ala the Cantonese), I've gone for a combination of fermented soy sauces/ paste.

This recipe is incredibly versatile, what I like to think of as a 'base recipe'. Come summer I'll probably swop the kale for sweet sugar snap peas and beans. You can also change things up by using sambal tumis belachan instead of chilli garlic paste. On days when I feel like some meat, I'll add thin slices of pork shoulder or beef to the dish, marinated first in the seasoning mixture with a little dash of rice wine. I might even fry this with a healthy dose of lard. And it will be no less 'healthy' or delicious. 

More health reads
How to Eat (listen to your mummy)
My Golden Rules (how I aim to eat mostly)
Detoxing is a myth (via Guardian)
Saturated fat is healthy (via Independent)

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Brussels Sprouts in Oyster Sauce, Gula Granola, and yes it's Christmas

I am writing this before I get onto a plane headed for L.A., where I'm spending Christmas with the Boy's family. I promise to keep the gloating about Californian sunshine and kale to a minimum while I'm there, but WHEE.

This is likely the last post for the year of 2014, a ridiculous whirlwind of a year that has been nothing short of wonderful. I’ve spent a good part of this year visiting some parts of the world I’ve always wanted to visit; bummed around in Singapore a lot– held some popups and a kimchi workshop on a rooftop farm but mostly just tailed Mum in the kitchen; done a handful of art direction, food styling and illustration projects I’m really proud of; come back to London as a creative director for an organic company I like the values of; gone foraging and cooked up a storm for 50 with a dog and her chilli-crazed dad and done the same-ish in New York; and I still have a few things up my sleeves I can’t yet share but are pretty damn exciting.

Amidst all that, it has been crazy keeping up with the blog, so I’m very happily surprised to have people still check back. I’m definitely still blabbing on on this lil’ ol’ page. I know no one reads blogs anymore; there are too many words to scroll through and it is much more fun scrolling and salivating through food photos on instagram, but it is nice to be able to sit down and let your photos stretch beyond a square and your thoughts ramble beyond a tiny textbox.

Today’s rectangular photos and rambling thoughts are decidedly Christmassy.

There are two vegetables that almost have to be on the Christmas table: (roast) potatoes and Brussels sprouts. One is a universal favourite, while the other is a little tricky to swallow for some people. It’s the one with the bad reputation I have a recipe and a tip for today.

Scientists have found it is actually genetic, which must be a relief for Brussels sprout haters subjected to years of “ah you’ve just not had it the right way, let me introduce you to my recipe which I swear everyone loves”. I personally love the things and can pop them, simply steamed, into my mouth like popcorn, but I understand how annoying it must be; I feel the same every time I admit I hate macaroons, though it is probably not genetic in this case. (“Oh but have you tried the one at the original Pierre Herme store in Paris?” Yes I have.)

That said, I have a recipe here today for sprouts. I figured it would be a timely one, and it is quite likely the sprout-haters might need to serve the terrible things to others as part of festive tradition. For those who want to give them a go, here’s my top tip: Brussel sprouts need fat. Roast them in olive oil, slice them thinly and saute with butter, or fry them in chicken fat– any of this will help tame the acrid musky taste of these little brassicas.

Greens stir-fried with garlic and oyster sauce is a very common dish found both in homes and on the streets of Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, and any Southeast Asian country with a Chinese community. I figured why not do the same with these little buggers.

Serves 2-4
250g Brussels sprouts
salt, for blanching
2 tbsp groundnut oil
8 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp good, traditionally fermented oyster sauce
1 tsp good fish sauce
1 tsp of unrefined light palm sugar or light brown sugar
60ml water

1. Wash and trim the Brussels sprouts. Halve any large ones. Blanch them in a pot of boiling salted water till they turn bright green, about 20 seconds, then drain and set aside to air dry.
2. Smash the garlic with the flat side of your knife but leave them whole in their skins. Heat oil in a wok or a large pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and stir-fry until aromatic and golden.
3. Turn the heat up and add the Brussels sprouts. Stir-fry on high heat until just tender, about 2 minutes. Add the oyster sauce, fish sauce, and sugar and continue stir-frying for 30 seconds. Add the water, bring to a boil and cook until the liquid has reduced slightly, about 2 minutes. 

Serve hot, usually with rice of course but it could maybe go with potatoes and turkey too, just this once.

It's hard for vegetables not to taste good when tossed in a hot wok till smoky, savoury, salty, sweet and garlicky. I like to leave the garlic whole in their skins so that they don’t burn as easily; plus, I get the bonus of roasted garlic cloves. For those still not convinced, you could try using sprout tops which are more tender and akin to spring greens. This recipe is a versatile one not just for Brussels sprouts but most vegetables really, or even a mix of vegetables; just blanch the hardier ones first before tossing them into the wok.


More Christmas ideas:

Edible gift ideas:
Nyonya achar (spicy Peranakan vegetable pickle)

The best sort of presents are edible ;) This is a batch of organic granola I made with gula melaka, coconut oil and cinnamon last night. Gula melaka, for the uninitiated, is an unrefined dark coconut palm sugar that tastes like burnt toffee. Ho ho ho.

Recipe for those on the mailing list, get on it.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Turkey beyond drunken kebabs, and a Smoky Aubergine Dip

It's been a whirlwind past month. I'm sorry I haven't blogged in a while, but I promise it is for good, delicious distractions. I spent the past week stuffing my face with aubergines– roasted, pureed, stewed, braised and topped with lamb... you name it, I've probably had it.  I've also scored a stack of gorgeous handmade pottery to add to my already groaning shelf of plates and bowls. (I wish I collected more portable things but there you go. Silly food stylists.)

Turkey has always been one of those countries I really wanted to visit, and when my sister got sent on an exchange program to one of the universities in Istanbul, I jumped at the chance of free lodging (and of course the chance to see one of my favourite people from home). And the place did not disappoint. I knew Turkey was a food mecca, but my perception of Turkish food hardly ventured beyond the gloriously greasy doner kebabs of drunken late nights.

What I've had these past few days instead, were wonderful things like lamb-stuffed quince and perfectly spiced lentil soup from a humble homestyle restaurant with daily-changing menus; fragrant sesame-studded simits (Turkish 'bagels'), freshly baked from an 80 year-old wood-fired oven in a quaint little cafe; and up in the snowy hills of Cappadocia, gozlemes– flaky hand-rolled dough filled with spinach then grilled till crisp and fragrant with the smell of charcoal. The food was always simple but delicious, and served with a generous smile and eyes that lit up when I utter the only Turkish word I know, tesekkuler (which I pronounce wrong).

In my last days, we made friends with one hell of a character. Yilmaz drove us into forbidden valleys, changing gears while guzzling beer and smoking cigarettes, all single-handedly (quite literally, he broke one arm in a fight). We almost died a few times over trying to keep up with him as he happily climbed up slippery muddy slopes in the pouring rain, but the view was so breathtaking that it made it all worthwhile. On learning that we love menemen, a Turkish dish of eggs lightly scrambled with tomatoes and peppers,  he invited us to his place for dinner– where he cheekily watched and directed us from the couch while we cooked. He then pulled out a couple of aubergines from the fireplace, and gleefully instructed us to scoop the smoky flesh out from underneath the blackened and blistered skins while gently mocking my sister that she probably would never be able to find a Turkish husband with her skills. 

Like I said, one hell of a character you cannot help but love.

Yilmaz' aubergine dip was ridiculously simple– charred aubergines, butter and salt. This is a version I really like from a Turkish friend that's slightly fancier, but in no way fussy. You might not be able to find locally-grown aubergines as easily now that it's November, but this is a keeper for the summer months or for those living in perpetually sunny lands (Singapore!).


2 medium aubergines
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp ground coriander
lemon juice, to taste
sea salt, to taste
1 handful coriander leaves (optional but I couldn't help it, #asian)

1. Lay the aubergines directly across an open fire. The barbecue would be great but it is not exactly summer here, so you can do so across lit gas rings. Once they have blackened on one side, about 30 seconds, use a pair of tongs to turn them, until they are charred and black all over. You can also cook the aubergines in a very hot oven for 20 minutes, turning to the grill function for the last 5 minutes and flipping often.
2. Once cooked, place the aubergines in a bowl, cover, and leave to steam. When cool enough to handle, peel away the skin and scoop the soft flesh into a sieve to drain for 20 minutes.
3. Chop the flesh up roughly and mash with a fork, mixing in the garlic, olive oil, coriander, lemon juice and season with salt. You can puree this in a blender if you want a smoother dip. Stir in the chopped coriander leaves to finish and enjoy with warm grilled pita or whatever you fancy dipping.

I'll be back. (For more plates. And those beautiful Turkish carpets, when I one day have my own home.)

Ama's Cafe- near the bus station in Cappadocia. A really sweet husband and wife team serving up homecooked food and those gozlemes.

For an exclusive menemen recipe by Yilmaz the man himself, join the mailing list :)

Monday, 13 October 2014

Kohlrabi Som Tum and a rant on 'Authenticity'

Last Saturday was the day of the The Last BBQ.

The day started the way you would expect a British barbecue to– with grey skies, wind and rain. Thankfully, the skies cleared a couple of hours before the event and we were kept more than warm indoors chopping and frying by the busy stoves. I had not drunk a single drop of alcohol the night before (even though it was a Friday night and my birthday- how's that for self control), so we set about slicing and shredding and chopping kilos of fruit and vegetables right after a few gulps of coffee/ tea. Funnily Sean had about every single wok, pot, pan, and obscure ingredient you could think of in his kitchen– but no food processor. So it was back to a mortar and pestle and a sharp knife, good ol' Asian chef way. Miraculously we got everything done bang on time, and even got the dreaded coconut custard (for 50 people!) to set. 

And everything went wonderfully. 'Wonderful' included the biting chill outside, the grill that wouldn't heat up, the policemen who came because of noise complaints (but who went off happily gnawing on sticky charred ribs), and the homemade bench that collapsed on one end. It was weird but I didn't feel frazzled at all. The pace was quick, no doubt– one moment I could be flipping corn and brushing them with Thai basil butter, and the next crushing peanuts over platters of kohlrabi som tum– but I remember feeling a sense of thrill rather than nervousness. We were feeding people out of a makeshift back alley kitchen and they were digging in messily with their hands, and for a moment it felt like I was back on the streets of Bangkok again, but this time as a hawker.

I didn't get the chance to grab photos once the doors opened to let the hungry crowd in.
From the menu-testing night: friends enjoying food and getting their hands dirty.

That's the main reason I loved the night. I loved that there was nothing pretentious about it– no fancy plates, nor, on the other hand, claims of "100% authentic" fare. The goal was to put together food that people would enjoy eating, and that we would enjoy cooking. We pulled together flavours from home, and just had fun matching them with ingredients we could get here.

A lot of times 'authenticity' becomes a sort of benchmark or judgment criteria for ethnic food, so I sometimes get flak for using British produce when I'm doing something Singaporean. People seem to seek out that exact same dish they had in their hometown/ on their holiday to Asia. If I mess around with a recipe it seems I'm trying too hard or just am not very good. Just to clear things up, I'm never of the romantic notion that my food will be fully local (I will die without fish sauce), nor am I hoping to go down the route of the modern fusion chef. But it does makes a lot more sense to cook with what's fresh and available here rather than something flown all the way from another continent at thrice the price and a fraction the quality. I don’t know if this makes the dish unauthentic, but to me, there is nothing more real and Asian than making do with the best ingredients you can get hold of near you. Plus– loosen up!– cooking should be fun.
And with that rant bit out of the way, here's the recipe for the kohlrabi som tum. Som tum is a signature Thai salad, normally made with shredded green papaya. 

serves 2-4
2 medium kohlrabis
2 cloves garlic
4-6 red bird's eye chillies 
2 tbsp dried shrimps
8 sweet ripe cherry tomatoes, halved
3 tbsp fish sauce
3 tbsp unrefined light palm sugar (or unrefined light brown cane sugar)
1 to 2 limes
handful of coriander, roughly torn
handful toasted peanuts

Note all measurements are largely guesstimations. Your fish sauce could be saltier, and your limes juicier. Taste and adjust along the way like a good Asian cook.

You can also add chopped green beans to the mix, as is traditional. We just missed summer i.e. fresh bean season. 

1. Peel and shred the kohlrabi into long fine shreds on a mandolin.
2. Add the garlic to a mortar and smash with the pestle. Follow with the chillies, and dried shrimps, crushing them to release their flavours. Add half the cherry tomatoes, and pound lightly so they release their juices.
3. Add the seasonings- the fish sauce, palm sugar, lime juice. Sort of grind it against the sides of the bowl. Keep tasting and adjust. You can do this in advance, but don't make the actual salad until you are ready to serve, or the vegetables and nuts will go soggy.
4. Finally, toss the shredded kohlrabi, rest of the tomatoes, coriander and toasted peanuts in the dressing. You can add this straight to the mortar but if it's not big enough (especially in the case for 50 people), you can combine them separately in a large bowl. Finish by crushing some peanuts over to serve.

If making this without a mortar and pestle, you can make the dressing by finely chopping the garlic and chillies, lightly bruising the dried shrimp, and squeezing the tomatoes, before combining all with the lime juice, fish sauce and sugar. 

Kohlrabi is a fantastic local substitute for green papaya. It's crisp when raw, with a clean mild sweetness that's very refreshing with the dressing– a powerful combination of sweet, sour, salty, spicy and pungent. Finished off with coriander for floral freshness, and crushed roasted peanuts for a fragrant crunch, this salad is pretty much a perfect balance of flavours and textures.


Essential Southeast Asian herbs and things

Before I end off, multiple high-fives to: my ace co-chef Sean; our front-of-house, the ever-professional restaurant manager Tulisa; and the banging tunes from Ed and his band). 

And a big thank you to Wholegood for supplying the fruit and vegetables. They've been working with organic producers for years, supplying many top restaurants and retailers, and have only recently launched into veg boxes. A lot of the produce going into these boxes are the same one going out to the shops- top stuff. I'm really happy to be working with them.


Recipes and related reads:
Announcement for The Last BBQ – menu and a little peek into our menu testing fun
Foraging at Hampstead Heath with Sean and recipes for Foraged wild green pancakes and Any flower syrup
Ayam pang gang – Nyonya grilled chicken, marinated with coconut and spices (recipe for The Sunday Times)
Sweet and spicy tamarind dressing – tossed this time with celeriac, apple and mint
DIY flavoured/ herb butters- great melted over bbq corn, a steak, sourdough toast, or anything roasted toasted or grilled really

Join the mailing list for some exclusive recipes like the dill-spiked nam pal prik, and roast fennel crab and pickled dandelion bud salad.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

New York Kitchen Adventures, and announcing...The Last BBQ!

Leftover beef rendang on flat sopes with pickled cucumbers and chillies for brunch the next day

I owe you all an update.

Red Hot Chilli Padi went amazingly. We went all out for it– cycling all around the city to gather ingredients, both for our tests and the actual dinner. My thighs hated the trips over the bridges (oh with such passion I tell you), and I'm still not sure I was fully appeased even after cups of fresh apple cider at the Greenmarket. This farmers' market at Union Square was ridiculous– so huge and with such a massive variety compared to the little one I used to manage here (I still love my little Pimlico market though). Spoilt with choice,  I did what any sane person with limited time to shop for a dinner party of 24 would do– buy and eat 6 different kinds of chillies to test the best for sauce; make tater tots with heritage purple potatoes just to see if it's better to stick to the original plan of sweet potater tots; and test out different batters for courgette fries at midnight.

We even took an hour's ferry ride out to see if we could nick some ingredients from The Homestead at Seven Arrows, a farm run by Mike's friend, Meg Paska. Meg was a Brooklyn homesteader (she's amazing, she has a book and you should buy) who decided 2 years back she wanted to leave the city behind to grow vegetables and raise turkeys, chickens, goats, bees, and rabbits. It is currently a one-woman job, which is completely crazy. That day, we helped her prepare new beds for planting, harvest beans and tomatoes, and can peaches, and in return I had one of the best lunches on the trip– homegrown chard, homemade cheese from her goats, golden eggs from the chickens running around my feet, and the best peach pie ever, straight from the oven. It was simple food but the flavours were stunning, a result of the love I could see her pouring into her (not so) little 20 acre plot of land.

Thursday was madness. In addition to my signature shit-hot sambal, we did a green version of a sweet chilli sauce using green jalapeƱos and mint from Meg, and also some homemade mayonnaise with sriracha stirred in. I'd already knocked his flatmate out with a teaspoon of the chilli sauces, which was a good sign. The rendang had been simmering for 8 hours from the night before, with some fantastic grassfed short ribs from The Meat Hook. Mike had built a castle of 70 or so sweetcorn and bacon mancakes and was now on to building (yes from scratch) the extra table. Killer Kaya cocktails downed, we were ready to go.

And it was brilliant. The place was just swinging! I love the sounds of a busy kitchen– plates clattering, oil sizzling– mixed with the comforting sounds of people laughing and munching. To top it all off, we had (the first ever?) Red Hot Chilli Peppers jazz covers from Kyle and his wonderful jazz band. I met people who had come because they read this lil old blog of mine and it made me swell up with pride and amazement that people from across the world read my ramblings. The night ended with giant coconut icecream & peach waffle sandwiches – in other words, in the best way possible.

And so, I thought I'd do something crazy like this all over again back in London.

I've teamed up with the pair from Barry's Hug to host The Last BBQ before the sun says goodbye. One half is Sean, the forager/ gardener that took me on a wild weed adventure at Hampstead Heath. 3/4 of the year, he also works as a chef (currently at 8 Hoxton Square, and he oversees the grill section so you can rest assured that he knows his barbecues). The remaining 1/4 of the year, he spends all the money he's saved in the first 3/4 eating and gallivanting around Southeast Asia. The other half is Ed– or perhaps if I say Ed Laurie and Straw Dog I might get a few more hits from rock fans on this post. After a pretty intense night of menu testing, we've come up with this:

It's going to be a really fun night: a smokin' hot menu (literally) and rockin' music. There will be no fancy dinner napkins and lots of finger licking. See you there, I hope!


Related recipes
Mint sweet chilli sauce (variation using green jalapeƱo chillies)
Shit-hot sambal tumis belachan
Ox cheek and venison rendang (variation with simply beef shin)
Kohl-slaw with sweet tamarind mint dressing

Related reads
Red Hot Chilli Padi menu (we changed it a bit to suit the produce)
Meg, her farm, her book 

Join the mailing list for exclusive recipes like Manly Mike's corn and bacon mancakes :p

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Hello New York I'm cooking! And a mayo-free tamarind kohlslaw!

It’s been a while! The past few weeks have been madness! There’s been lots going on– a lot of exciting things that I cannot yet share (but I will once I get the ok), and some bothersome things that you would rather not hear­. Of course, these are all excuses and the main reason is that the sun’s been too glorious and I’ve been spending my time lazing on the grass sipping Pimm’s.

There is one thing that I can share though: I am off to New York in a couple of weeks’ time for a well-needed break (Pimm’s breaks do not count). And I'm doing a little event in our loft with dinner and grooves! (Yes Asians don’t actually know how to take a break.)

I’m hosting it with The Boy, and we thought we would do a twist on American classics with Singaporean flavours. The menu is unauthentic but unabashedly so. It will be a very fun night, with live jazz and a crazy cocktail bar (Killer Kaya rum cocktails anyone?) manned by a sexy tall blonde bartender (i.e. our flatmate). Somewhere in my food/beach-crammed itinerary, I’ll be exploring a friend’s farm and the Union Square farmer’s market, so the produce we use will be seasonal, local and organic (yes duh and don’t judge).

I’m sharing the recipe for the coleslaw today. This is the menu item that I’m really excited about. (No not the mancakes* and not the sliders*.)

Well, I say coleslaw but this is definitely not one’s typical idea of coleslaw i.e. cabbage smothered in sugary mayo (and often accompanied by fried chicken). By definition, coleslaw is simply a salad made up of shredded raw cabbage that’s dressed in vinaigrette, or a sauce that already has vinaigrette (like mayo). The sweet tanginess of the salad is what makes it special in my opinion.

The one I’ve got here is a decidedly summery one. I’ve mimicked the sweet tanginess using tamarind instead, and because it is August and not at all cabbage weather, I’ve gone for kohlrabi and fennel. These two vegetables have a wonderful crunch just like cabbage, but also have a mild vegetal sweetness and herby fragrance. Unlike old-school coleslaw, it is not at all heavy and is bursting with flavours– sweet, sour, spicy, minty, and nutty all at once.

serves 3-4 as a side
1 medium kohlrabi
1 small fennel bulb
handful fresh mint leaves
handful cashews, dry-roasted

sweet tamarind mint dressing
30g (1 heaped tbsp) tamarind pulp
2 tbsp runny honey
1 tbsp naturally fermented soy sauce
3 birds' eye chillies, chopped
squeeze of lime
small handful fresh mint leaves, chopped

1. Soak the tamarind pulp in 2-3 tbsp hot water for a few minutes, mashing up slightly, to make about 5 tbsp of tamarind paste. Mix the ingredients for the dressing, together, adjusting to taste. 
2. Finely shred the kohlrabi and fennel. Julienne practice! 
3. Toss the shredded vegetables, remaining mint, and roasted cashews in the dressing, mixing well till everything is well coated. Done.

The hot weather means I’ve been less inclined to switch on the stove, and god-forbid the oven, so my meals nowadays comprise largely of things you can throw together with minimal effort and heat. Any effort required often only involves the knife, which translates to lots of salads and pickles. Salads don’t have to be boring and this one is proof of that. The tamarind mint dressing is pretty versatile, so you can play around with the type of vegetables you use. Cucumbers are good.  Cabbage for a winter slaw. Roast peanuts if you don’t like cashews. No chillies if you can’t take spicy. Et cetera.

I’ve got a handful more quick fun ideas for those who have trouble thinking beyond a Caesar salad on the newsletter. If you like you can sign up– I have no time to spam and I only send good stuff.

And I don’t know if any New Yorkers read my blog, but if you do, I hope to see you on the 28th! Tickets and more details here.


*Idea of mancakes inspired by Chef John. Completely different pancake recipe though– The Boy is in charge of this because he is American.

My favourite salads/ pickles from the blog:
Nyonya achar (the vegetables are all in season now!)
How to sweet-Asian-pickle anything
Smashed cucumbers and marinated aubergines
YUM woon sen (Thai glass noodle salad)

Friday, 27 June 2014

Pho, with Thai basil, mint and coriander fishcakes

There is a huge backlog of recipes I plan to blog about, but haven't. A lot of times I start up the blogger page, stare at the white space and draw a blank. It's not a lack of cooking in my life– I am in the kitchen almost every day. It's not a lack of photos– I am one of those annoying people who disallow her friends from eating until she has taken a good 50 shots.

I start writing and I wonder, why would anyone read this? The recipes seem too short and too easy; you are only required to 1. not be afraid of fire and 2. be able to use a knife. A lot of them are also just variations of older recipes, swopping one ingredient out for one or two others– maybe fennel instead of cumin seeds, basil instead of mint, chard in summer instead of cabbage etc. But today I feel like writing anyway.

Fishcakes have probably appeared somewhere on the blog before, but not with these same herbs and not on top of a bowl of noodles. There is something particularly wonderful about the combination of fragrant Thai basil, mint and coriander; and crisp flaky fishcakes against slippery soft noodles. 

These fishcakes are made using fresh wild salmon instead of canned and aren't bulked up with 95% potato, so you really get the flavour of salmon and a lovely light texture that crumbles in the mouth. 
I have all the herbs growing in my basement flat (surviving thanks to the relatively sunny long days), so it's one of those recipes I can handle (and have handled repeatedly) for a lazy lunch. The three herbs are favourites in Southeast Asian cooking, and I actually first made these in Singapore a few months back. The boy I was seeing gave me a bouquet of chillies and herbs because he knew I liked my 'flowers' edible. I very unromantically made fishcakes out of them the next day. (Shush! He ate them too.) 

serves 2-4

for the fishcakes
400g fresh wild salmon, skin-on fillets
stock (see below for pho)
1 free-range egg,
3-4 tbsp cornflour (starch)
1" piece of ginger
1-4 bird's eye chillies (to own discretion)
sea salt, to taste
zest of 1 lime
1 handful of thai basil
1 handful mint
1 handful coriander
groundnut oil

for the pho
(I'm not referring to the more iconic beef pho. This soup is a light chicken broth that's spiked with fish sauce and lime.)
300g fresh or 100g dried pho noodles (1/4" wide flat rice noodles)
1l basic Asian chicken stock*
1 tsp rock sugar, or to taste
6 tbsp fish sauce, or to taste

to serve
1 lime, cut into wedges
more bird's eye chillies, chopped
more thai basil, mint, and coriander, roughly torn

*Made from simmering the carcass of a happy chicken with a lot of smashed ginger for 3 hours. More tips on getting a clear broth and general stock-making help here.

1. Place salmon skin-side down in a deep pan. Pour enough stock to cover the fillets, and bring it up to a boil. Once it starts to simmer, turn off the heat, cover and allow the salmon to poach for about 5 minutes. Do not overcook, and err on the side of undercooking, as you will fry the fishcakes further later. Once cooked, remove the salmon very gently from the pan, reserving the salmon-flavoured stock for later.  Remove skin (I eat this, yum #asian), then flake the salmon with a fork.
2. Combine salmon with the beaten egg and enough cornflour for the mixture to come together. Season generously, adding the minced ginger, chillies and lime zest at the same time. Finely chop the herbs and mix in gently. Refrigerate the mixture for a bit while you prepare the noodle soup.
3. If you're living in Asia, you can get access to fresh rice noodles from the market, they are amazing. If not, cook dried noodles in plenty of boiling water till just cooked, then drain, refresh and let sit in cool water- this prevents sticky noodles!
4. Add the salmon-flavoured stock to the rest of the stock, and bring to a boil. Add fish sauce and rock sugar to taste.
5. Back to fishcakes. You can shape them into patties (see photo above) but I have since improved my method to suit the lazy. I drop in about 2 heaped tbsp of the thick batter into medium-hot oil and then sort of shape the edges a bit, flattening with my spatula. Fry, flipping once, till golden on both sides. Repeat till you finish the batter, being careful not to overcrowd the pan.
6. To serve, drain noodles well and divide into bowls. Pour hot stock over. Place fishcakes on top.  Make sure the person eating squeezes lime over and stirs in the herbs and chillies into the hot broth to flavour it just before digging in.*

*That said, you can add as much as you like. Read my little rant about how everyone has the right to decide how they like their soup.

And that's it. It's pretty simple especially if you already have homemade stock in the fridge. The broth is easily flavoured with fish sauce, lime, herbs and the salmon you were poaching. The fishcakes themselves require as much effort as mixing a pancake batter takes and that even 6 year olds could do. If you want to change things around a bit, feel free to. Maybe a white fish, maybe dill, maybe vermicelli noodles instead. I guess that's what I really love about cooking– being spontaneous with the ingredients and having fun with the process.

p.s.  Coley and dill fishcakes, with vermicelli noodle soup may just be up on the blog in future; sod it with the 'not good enough'!

p.p.s. I am Asian so I eat a lot of noodles (on the days when I'm not eating rice, you know?) Get on the mailing list for recipes too short to blog about: roast fennel and miso somen soup; sugar snap peas and chilli shrimp oil vermicelli; marinated soy egg-n-cress noodle soup.


More Asian soups
The 'right' way to make stock
'Old-fire' watercress soup
Marrow goji berry stew

More noodle soup
Bittergourd fish soup, and what I learnt about perfect noodle soups in Hanoi
XO fish head noodle soup
Mee hoon kueh (torn handmade noodle soup)
How to make bouncy 100%-fishballs 
How to make Asian egg (alkaline) noodles