Monday, 31 January 2011

Gamjatang (Korean Pork Bone Soup)

I thought it was almost spring season (well, at least according to the high street shops), but no, winter refuses to budge and it got really cold in London last weekend. What better than a warming bowl of slow-cooked broth, with that bit of spice and asian flavour to remind me of home? Gamjatang is a Korean spicy (adjustable) pork bone soup with fermented soybean paste, hot pepper flakes and lots of vegetables-- a one-pot meal, though Koreans will still have it with rice.

I adapted the recipe from Maangchi (the cutest cook on Youtube), because I'm guilty of seeking shortcuts (like not removing the chilli pepper and soaking the bones), and because I didn't have some of the ingredients. If you have, please use! Everyone on Maangchi's forums seem to love the flavour that perilla leaves added (like Japanese shiso but "better"), and perilla seeds (I used some sesame seeds because I just thought it would be nice, but it's not a replacement). I don't know if I'm missing out a lot, but even without those ingredients, the soup was sooo good and it made me feel warm and happy and Korean.

Gamjatang (Korean Pork Bone Soup)
serves 2-3
For soup base
1kg of pork (spine) bones
1 large onion, sliced
1" ginger, sliced into pieces
2 tbs soybean paste doenjang (like miso, but a stronger flavour, kind of like Chinese taucheo)
1 dried red chilli, seeds removed
3 dried shitake mushrooms
10 cups water
a bit more than 2l of water

For sauce
6 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp of hot pepper flakes
1 tbsp Korean red chilli pepper powder (to replace the hot pepper paste)
3 tbsp Chinese cooking wine (shaoxing/huadiao)
3 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp of white sesame paste (to "replace" the 3tbsp of perilla seeds powder)

3 stalks of spring onions
1/4 Napa cabbage, chopped into bite-sized pieces.
1 big handful of beansprouts
3 small potatoes, peeled and halved

To serve
chopped spring onions
white pepper
(pretty black earthenware bowl if you have, which I don't)

1. Blanch the pork bones in boiling water for 10 min, with half the ginger added. Drain and rinse the scum off.
2. Bring the pork bones and all the ingredients for the soup base to the boil in a large pot filled with about 2l water, then let it continue to simmer for 1.5h over medium high heat.
3. Add the sauce and vegetables to the pot and continue to cook for half an hour more.
4. Serve piping hot (á la all the Korean dramas hehe) with chopped spring onions and a dash of white pepper.

I love soups, and this one's just rich with flavour (and nutrients). As with all good bone broths, it gels the next day when cooled:

This is fun, I think I should start doing this "gelatin" test for all the bone broths I cook.

This is part of Pennywise Platter Thursday at the Nourishing Gourmet.
This is part of Fightback Fridays by Food Renegade.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Baked Apples with Cinnamon Nuts and Raisins

I don't often do desserts because it's hard to avoid all the sugar. When I do make desserts though, I try to make sure the sweetness comes naturally from fruits. This is a very very easy pudding, and one that satisfies both your sweet tooth and conscience!

Baked Apples with Cinnamon Nuts and Raisins
serves 2
2 Bramley apples (both a good eating and cooking apple and will end up sweet, light and fluffy inside)
a handful of chopped almonds, walnuts and pumpkin seeds (soaked and dried please! use any you fancy. pecans would be nice.)
1 tsp of raisins (if you want to jazz it up a bit, soak your raisins in rum or brandy for a couple of hours before)
1-2 tsp of brown sugar (I used raw cane sugar Rapadura)
a generous pinch of cinnamon
few dabs of butter

To serve
Plain Greek yogurt (or some raw cream or homemade custard)

1. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees celsius.
2. Remove the core of the apples. I did it by cutting a square around the core of the apples, but stabbing my knife in at an angle, but if you have a fancy apple corer use that!
3. Mix the nuts, raisins, sugar and cinnamon together, before stuffing the mixture into the apple holes, and adding a happy dab of butter over.
4. Place the stuffed apples into an ovenproof dish, and pour some water around the apples so they don't dry out.
5. Bake for about 45 min until the apples are soft and oozing, but not collapsing. Serve with a dollop of yogurt and the apple juices spooned over.

6. Dig your spoon into it and have all the warm sweet apple juices flow out, mixed with that buttery toffee-ishness, and the crunch of the toasted caramelised nuts, and then on top of that, you have your creamy tangy yogurt. And then on top of all that, you have the reassuring knowledge that it's not loaded with the things that make a dessert sinful (:

This is part of Tasty Tuesdays.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Chorizo and Chickpeas in Paprika-Tomato Sauce

I love food-- cooking, eating or even looking at it. I like going to Borough Market even if I know I can't afford the gourmet ingredients or delicacies there. But on a recent trip, I don't know what came over me and I got half a chorizo sausage. I think it was the recent Nigel Slater chorizo and chickpea stew video that I was watching on BBC iplayer, plus the smell of the sizzling chorizos outside Brindisa, that convinced the poor miser side of my brain to get it.

Then I realised I got the wrong chorizo, you want the soft semi-cured chorizo for cooking. The fully cured one, which I got, is much harder and can be sliced thinly and eaten 'raw' as tapas or over crusty bread, kind of like Italian salami or Chinese lap cheong. And is more expensive. Boo. It isn't that bad though, because in a cured sausage, the meat develops so much flavour over time that you need less to flavour the food it goes into, also it's like meat compressed, so there's more than you see. It was about 2.50 pounds for that and I think i can squeeze 4 servings from that, especially beefed up with legumes and vegetables.

I decided to make the most out of my mistake, and converted the Plan A paprika-tomato stew gravy into a paprika-tomato sauce to go over the seared chorizo and cooked chickpeas. And was very happy that I made a "mistake" (:

Chorizo and Chickpeas in Paprika-Tomato Sauce
Serves 2
About 1/2 of half a cured chorizo horseshoe-shaped sausage, sliced into 1-cm thick coins (I'm sorry I really don't know how much that is in grams. but you don't have to be too accurate!)
1 cup of (soaked, then) cooked chickpeas (reserve about 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid)
1 large onion, sliced thinly
1 large tomato, diced (or you can use about 1/4 cup of canned tomatoes)
1 tsp of paprika
1 tsp of chilli powder (or more or less depending on how manly you are ;)
1 sprig of fresh thyme (or you can use dried!)
splash of balsamic vinegar
1/2 tbsp of evoo (don't need a lot because of the fat in the chorizo)

To serve
about 2 tbsp of chopped fresh parsley
zest of half a lemon

1. Over medium high heat, sear the chorizo slices in the olive oil on both sides. It should ooze out some wonderful paprika-infused oil of its own.
2. Add the onions and saute till they turn translucent.
3. Add the herbs and spices, diced tomato and splash of balsamic vinegar, and continue cooking till the tomato fully cooks down.
4. Add the cooked chickpeas plus a bit of the cooking liquid and then simmer until all the juices and liquid evaporates and the sauce thickens and becomes quite sticky.

5. Serve with the chopped fresh parsley and lemon zest tossed through to brighten everything up!

If you love sizzling sausages or salami and smoky sweet spicy sour sticky sauces (I'm getting really good at alliteration huh), you'll love this!

Monday, 24 January 2011

Carrot, Cardamom and Coconut Soup

More carrot soup!

After trying the classic combination of flavours, I wanted to try something new. I've got a half-used packet of coconut milk in the fridge so I thought of carrot and coconut, then I wanted something zesty to make the soup more refreshing, so I thought of cardamom! It's really because of the 'c' alliteration, to be honest. Also important are some ginger (not in the name because it starts with a 'g'. heh.) and A BLENDER (finally!).

Carrot, Cardamom and Coconut Soup
serves 2-4
3 large carrots (about 450g), peeled and chopped
1 large onion, chopped finely
1" ginger, chopped finely
3 cardamom pods
1/4 cup (60 ml) of thick coconut milk + 1/4 cup water (or just use 1/2 cup coconut milk)
sea salt, pepper
1 tbsp butter

To serve
(opt) a bit more thick coconut milk/coconut cream

1. Melt 1 tbsp butter over medium high heat in a big pot, then add the onions and ginger and cook till onions become translucent, then add the carrots and cook a further 3 min or so till onions just start to brown.
2. Crush the cardamom pods and add (esp the seeds!), cooking about 1 more min.
3. Add the water, and let it cook for 20-25 min until the carrots are tender. Remove the cardamom pod shells.
4. Add the coconut milk and blend the mixture until you get a smooth puree. (Ah I've waited so long for this moment! Why did I scrimp on this for the longest time?)
5. To serve, swirl in a bit more of the thick coconut milk/cream.

I love love love this soup. It's got the sweetness of the carrot, the richness of the coconut milk, balanced by that hint of sharp ginger and the wonderful fragrance of cardamom. I've actually made this more than a few times since I first randomly decided to reach into my inner poetic self for inspiration and discovered this combination, and found I like it more with extra cardamom, so add an extra pod if you like!

This is an entry for The Christmas Carrot Competition organised by the brilliant people at lovethegarden!

Carrot, Lentil and Coriander Soup

I figured it was time to throw the spotlight back onto a vegetable that most people find hard to fault-- the humble carrot. I think it's one of the few vegetables I actually liked as a child, maybe because it's in a happy orange colour.

Carrot and coriander make up one of the most classic flavour combinations. I was inspired by the coriander to include something that's often combined with coriander and other similar spices: lentils! The lentils help thicken the soup out without the need for cream or whatever. This makes the soup a lot heartier too, and very savoury and more-ish. Because I couldn't decide whether to leave it smooth or chunky, I decided to make it both, which turned out really nice because you get bits of chunky carrot or lentils in an otherwise thick and creamy soup!

Carrot, Lentil and Coriander soup
serves 4
3 large carrots (about 450g), peeled and chopped
1 large onion, chopped finely
3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1/2 cup red lentils, soaked in advance
1 heaped tsp ground coriander
about 3 tbsp coriander leaves, chopped finely
about 1 litre of homemade vegetable or chicken stock
sea salt, black pepper
2 tbsp butter

1. Melt 1 tbsp butter over medium high heat in a big pot, then add the onions, carrots garlic and cook for a further 5 min until the onions become translucent.
2. Add the ground coriander, stir about 1 min more till onions are just starting to brown, then add the soaked lentils and stock, and cook for about 20-25 min till the carrots are really tender and the lentils are melting.
3. Add seasoning and mash with a potato masher. (I didn't have a blender then. The next time I did this, I pureed half of it.) Add a bit more stock/water to thin it out if you want.

4. Stir in the other tbsp of butter and the chopped coriander leaves. Garnish with a pretty coriander leaf (:

Sunday, 23 January 2011


I still don't want to splash out on a food processor, but...

The Philips hr1363 hand blender with beaker and chopper accessory!

Garlic Roasted Brussel Sprouts

Of all vegetables, this has got to be the one with the worst rep. People turn up their noses whenever they hear its name, but I'm nuts, I absolutely love brussel sprouts. I like cabbage (ok that just totally confirms my position as a nut) and brussel sprouts are like mini-cabbages that I can pop into my mouth like grapes.

The important thing is not to overcook them, and they're actually really sweet and not pungent at all. I enjoy them very simply steamed with melted butter over. But for those who are not that easily won over, here's a recipe for roasted brussel sprouts that may convert you:

Garlic Roasted Brussel Sprouts
serves 2-3, or 1 veggie lovers
1/2 bag (250g) brussel sprouts
2 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
sea salt, black pepper (to taste, but be generous)

1. Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees celsius.
2. Wash and trim brussel sprouts and cut into halves (leave the tiny ones whole). Smash the garlic, with their skins on. Toss all with the salt, pepper and olive oil. I like to rub the garlic into the sprouts a bit also.

3. Spread on a baking tray (cut side up, don't overlap) and roast for 35 to 45 min, shaking every 10 min or so ensure they brown evenly and don't burn. When done, they're brown and crispy outside and tender and savoury inside!

Yum yum yum.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Steamed Herbal Chicken Parcels 纸包鸡

I love Chinese herbal chicken soup, like Ginseng Chicken soup. This is a variation of herbal chicken soup-- the chicken thigh is marinated and then steamed with the sweet Chinese herbs, giving tender meat and juices infused with that wonderful herbal smell (that some people hate but I totally love). This recipe is adapted fromNoobcook's foil-wrapped herbal chicken.

Steamed Herbal Chicken Parcels 纸包鸡
serves 1 (makes 1 parcel)
1 chicken thigh+drum
1 ginseng
3 red dates, pitted and halved
3 slices dang gui (chinese angelica root)
1 piece dang shen (condonopsis root)
1 tsp wolfberry
1 clove garlic, minced,

1" grated ginger
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp Chinese shaoxing rice wine (I used 花雕酒)
pinch of brown sugar (I used unrefined Rapadura)
pinch of white pepper

1. Combine the chicken thigh with the marinade ingredients and leave overnight in the fridge, or at least 2h.
2. Place the chicken thigh on a sheet of parchment paper (I prefer this to aluminium foil, less.. toxic?) with the rest of the ingredients and pour the marinade over. Tie the parchment paper up so you get a cute little parcel.
3. Steam for about 35 min, then open the parcel and flip the chicken over for another 10 minutes. If you use chicken breast, just 20 min+10 min is enough!

I love unwrapping parcels, especially if my parcels contain food ;)

Ginseng Chicken Soup

In Chinese cooking and TCM, herbs are the superfoods. Chinese herbs are very different from Western herbs. Chinese herbs can be really rare, made from the weirdest of ingredients like for e.g. cordyceps are made from caterpillar fungus, and the flavour they impart is often pungent and medicinal. But they really are medicinal in nature, and when combined right, are very healing (yet easy on the palate, unlike horrible pink cough syrups).

My mum is always sending me herbs (they always come dried), often pre-packed in lovely ziplocked bags with all the herbs in the right quantities, so I only need to throw them in with some meat on bone into the slow cooker and I come home to find dinner ready (made with mummy's love haha). I'm trying to learn about herbs, but it's not easy, because there are so many. This is the most popular soup of all, and there's even a very similar Korean version of it called Samgyetang. Ginseng is very prized, it's considered a cure-all for most ailments, and even for the healthy, are rejuvenating.

Ginseng Chicken Soup
serves 2 (you can easily double the recipe with an entire chicken to make a herbal chicken bone broth)
2 chicken thighs and drums (bone-on!)
2 pieces of dried Korean ginseng, with their "beards"
5 red jujube dates, pitted
2 tbsp of wolfberries

In TCM, they usually measure ingredients by weight, but this soup isn't exactly a medicine, so pardon my lack of specific grams.

1. Bring all ingredients to a boil and let simmer on a very low heat for 3h, or put into a slow-cooker on low, for 6h or more.

It's winter now (very yin) hence you should use Korean or Chinese ginseng, because they're much stronger and very warming (yang). In summer, substitute with American ginseng. So you can have this the whole year round(: This is a really simple and clean soup so it really showcases the ginseng flavour. There are many other more complicated Chinese herbal soups like Eight Treasures Soup 八珍 or 六味汤, but my mum packs them for me ;)

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Pan-fried Liver with Caramelised Onions and Garlic Mustard-Mashed Cauliflower

This is a classic liver-and-onion recipe, but--slight twist-- with a bit of a balsamic vinegar sharpness, and a much lighter cauliflower mash instead of potato, to balance out the richness of the dish.

The most important thing to remember when cooking liver is: DO NOT OVERCOOK. You either quickly sear it on high heat, or slowly braise it over low heat. For this recipe, I'm quickly frying the slices of liver, then topping it off with sweet caramelised onions.

Pan-fried Liver with Caramelised Onions
serves 2
100g lamb's liver (big slices about 1-2 cm thick, trimmed of the membrane, or a friendly butcher should do it for you)
a little bit of plain flour (just to coat, 1/2 a tbsp should be enough)
sea salt, black pepper (to taste)
1 tbsp of olive oil + 1 tsp butter

For the caramelised onions
1 large onion, sliced
1 tbsp of olive oil/ butter
1 tsp dijon mustard
splash of balsamic vinegar
black pepper (I like to be generous with this)

1. Heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat, add the onions to the pan (hot enough such that they sizzle but don't sputter), season with black pepper, then cook until the onions are golden-brown, stirring quite often. Add the mustard and balsamic vinegar, and let it reduce till almost dry. Whole process should take around 20 min.
2. While the onions cook, prep the liver! Season the flour lightly with the salt and pepper. Season the liver too, then coat with the flour.
3. Heat olive oil over high heat in a pan. Add the liver slices and fry till browned and cooked, about 1 min on both sides (but it really depends on thickness and pan etc. just make sure the inside is still slightly pink and the outside is nicely seared). Add that little dab of butter to help caramelise and add flavour.
4. Place liver slices on a plate and scoop the onions and any residual gravy over. Enjoy with cauliflower mash (and deep fried sage leaves if you can)!

Garlic and Mustard- Mashed Cauliflower
serves 2-3
1 medium head cauliflower, chopped into small florets
3 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
2 tsp dijon mustard
3 tbsp unsalted butter
sea salt (to taste), (generous) pinch of black pepper

1. Fry the chopped garlic till lightly browned. (browning the garlic first makes all the difference!)
2. Add the cauliflower florets and enough water to cover the base of the sauce pan, then cover and cook for about 10 min till soft and till water is gone.
3. Remove from heat, but do not let the cauliflower cool! While it's still warm, mash the cauliflower and garlic till smooth.
4. Add the mustard, butter, salt and black pepper and combine well.

I sometimes add homemade cream cheese/parmesan instead of mustard, or chopped chives/spring onion/any other herbs. It's very flexible! This is a great alternative to mashed potatoes if you feel like having something lighter.

Anyway, here are some closing tips for anyone still scared of trying offal because of "that smell":
1. You can soak your liver in a bowl of milk in the fridge until you're ready to cook, then remove and pat dry.
2. Get fresh liver, from the butcher or farmer. Those in the supermarket are usually old, and I admit, does stink.

For people new to liver, these are the main types of liver:
Chicken liver - small, tender, quick-cooking, least strong flavour
Lamb's liver - tender, quick-cooking, mild flavour
Calves' liver - tender, quick-coking, good flavour (I've not tried this, but my butcher tells me it's got fantastic flavour. He also very kindly told me it's quite a bit more expensive than lamb.)
Pig's liver - slower cooking, good strong flavour
Goose liver - for the lucky 5% of the population who can afford it.

Why we need to learn to eat the "icky" meat

While we're talking about superfoods like kale, I'll take the chance to introduce a superfood that's less widely known/accepted by many people-- organ meats, or offal!

Vegetables and fruits are full of vitamins and minerals and antioxidants, but their micronutrient content pales in comparison to organ meats. Generally, organ meats have 10-100 times more nutrients than muscle meats, and you'll see that traditionally, organ meats were consumed and prized. In TCM for instance, there's a belief that eating the liver is beneficial for your liver, the kidney for your kidney etc. I used to think it's bollocks, but now western medicine is catching up (yes, heh) and scientific research backs up that belief-- the animal's body tends to direct the right nutrients to each organ, so, for e.g. lamb's livers will contain many of the essential nutrients for your liver. 1 serving of liver has well over 100% of the RDA of vitamins B12, A, B2, copper, folate and (easily absorbable) iron.

It's kinder to the earth too, because if you kill an animal, you should make sure you appreciate the sacrifice the animal's made, and make use of the whole animal, not just the nicer/prettier parts.

Note: It's very important to get organ meats from animals that have been pasture-raised and fed naturally, especially because animals tend to store toxins in their fat and liver. Although, frankly, whatever meat you get should ideally be from animals that are raised properly. It really doesn't cost you more (believe me, I'm a stingy student surviving on a budget), as long as you you avoid the usual popular cuts and go for unpopular (but a lot more exciting and flavoursome) cuts or... offal!

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Two-Kale Stir-fry

This is less of a recipe writeup, and more of a showcase of these two beautiful vegetables which are in season right now, but unfortunately, you don't get to see in the supermarket:

Tuscan Kale/ Dinosaur Kale/ Black Cabbage/ Cavolo Nero (posh)

Purple Curly Kale

Doesn't it sound like I plucked them from some secret mythical garden?

Two-Kale Stir-fry
serves 4 normal people or 1 veggie-lover
1 large bunch tuscan kale, washed and dried and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 large bunch purple curly kale, washed and dried and cut into bite-sized pieces
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tsp of extra virgin olive oil (+ 1 more tsp)
1 tsp of butter
sea salt, pepper (to taste)
pinch of nutmeg (opt)
squeeze of half a lemon (opt)

1. Melt butter with the 1 tsp of evoo over medium-high heat, in a large frying pan. (else the kale will not be stir-fried properly)
2. Fry the garlic and onion till golden/translucent, not browned.
3. Add the kale, turn up the heat, then add a splash of water (which quickly turns to steam). When I have some homemade stock at hand, I use stock; it makes all the difference!
4. After the kale has wilted and all the liquid is absorbed, remove from heat, add the extra tsp of evoo, sea salt, nutmeg and lemon juice. Mix well and serve!

This is my simple no-fail method for any greens (or purples or blacks heh)-- spinach, spring greens, chard whatever! So, happy substituting, just note they have different cooking times e.g. spinach takes literally seconds to wilt, while kale's a lot tougher.

Baked Purple Kale Chips

Crispy, smoky, lightly salted, with the flavour of extra virgin olive oil-- you wouldn't believe these chips are guilt-free. If you have children this is a good way to get them to swap those cancer-causing Pringles for some antioxidant-filled kale! I have purple curly kale from the farmers' market, but you can definitely just use normal kale.

Baked Kale Chips
1 large bunch of curly kale, stems removed and cut into bite-sized pieces
generous pinch of sea salt (or to taste)
glug of extra virgin olive oil

1. Wash and DRY the kale pieces.
2. Toss with the sea salt, and evoo, and spread on a baking tray in an even layer (try not to overlap!)
3. Bake at 160 degrees celsius, for 10-15 min, till they become crispy, with slightly browned edges.

You can experiment with different flavours. Try throwing in a sprig of rosemary, or some ground spices. I only thought of this after baking, but decided to toss them with some toasted garlic and chilli flakes anyway.

That's it! So easy, the only difficult part is stopping yourself from finishing all the chips. Oh wait, there's no reason to stop ;)

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Tuscan Butter Bean Soup

One of the many things I love about going to the Farmers' Market, is finding unusual vegetables you can't find in the supermarkets. I got this Cavolo Nero, a.k.a Tuscan Kale, a.k.a. Dinosaur Kale, a.k.a. Black Cabbage (I love the first name most; makes a vegetable sound posh.) With that, I decided to make a hearty bean soup for the winter nights. You can use any type of bean, or even a mix, it originally calls for canellini beans, which are the normal shaped/sized white beans you see, but I had butter beans. They're giant!

Compare: Red adzuki bean v.s. Black bean v.s. Butter bean

Tuscan bean soup is traditional Italian peasant fare, so even though I've seen many recipes adding a bit of bacon or pancetta here and there for more flavour, I've decided to keep this really cheap and simple and rustic.

Tuscan Butter Bean Soup
serves 3-4

2 large onions, chopped
2 sticks of celery, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped (original recipes call for canned but I didn't have any)
1 cup butter beans, soaked overnight and rinsed
1 large head of tuscan kale, chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 bay leaves
1 tsp of dried thyme (or 3 sprigs thyme)
1 tsp of dried oregano (or 1 sprig oregano)
2-3 tbspsextra virgin olive oil
salt, black pepper
parmesan (optional)

1. Place the beans in a pot, bring to a boil, and let it simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours till just soft, but not mushy.
2. In a large pot, over medium heat, saute the onions, carrot and celery until onions just turn translucent.
3. Add the garlic and the tomatoes, cook until tomatoes cook down.
4. Add the herbs, then the stock, then the beans and the bean cooking liquid if necessary.
5. Cook for another half an hour, before adding the kale, and cooking another 20 min or so until the beans and kale are both tender.
6. Serve with shavings of parmesan (opt) on top.

This soup keeps really well, in fact it gets better the day after. The peasants used to make enough to last 3 days, they reboil on day 2 with a bit of bread, and then on day 3, they reboil again with the stale bread which thickens the soup and gives a thick thick hearty stew called ribollita. I wish I left enough to try how that will work out.

Chinese Black Bean Soup

More pregnancy/confinement food haha. Beans this time(: They're just fantastic in soups and stews because they help thicken the soup up, and they add body and fullness. Chinese soups are not just about taste, they're more like tasty tonics.

For instance, in this soup, the black bean (a.k.a. black turtle bean. how cute is that! NOT black-eyed peas.) is known to be a rich source of protein, fibre and antioxidants, and in TCM terms, it tonifies the kidney, strengthens the yin, and nourishes the blood. The red jujube dates are very common in Chinese soups, they not only sweeten the soup (not in the sugary way), but helps to harmonize the effect of all the other ingredients or herbs in the soup to nourish the blood, spleen and stomach. And since this soup (like many Chinese soups) make use of pork bones to give it that body and flavour, is an excellent bone broth, full of calcium and more.

Chinese Black Bean Soup
serves 2-3
200g pork with bones (my mum prefers pork ribs. I just use any meaty bones that my butcher gives for free)
2/3 cup black beans, soaked and rinsed
6 red jujube dates, pitted
3-4 dried scallops
2l water

1. Blanch pork bones in boiling water (you'll see some disgusting scum floating in the water). Drain and discard the water.
2. Combine all ingredients and bring to a boil for 5 min, then simmer for at least 2h. Or transfer to a slowcooker like I did, on low for 6h, or on high for 3h.

UPDATE: I left it on high for 6h by accident, and ended up getting a super flavourful and thick soup, and the..white bones? tendon? (someone enlighten me what this part is) became soft enough you could slurp it out. Usually my slow cooking already results in them being soft enough to chew on, but this was like..
I like (:

Monday, 10 January 2011

Stewed Pork Trotters in Sweet Vinegar (猪脚醋)

I was just speaking of TCM in my previous post, and pork trotters in the post before that, so, voila! I thought of this Chinese pork trotter stew. It's favoured by all Chinese mothers during the confinement period because it's incredibly nourishing, and soooo yummy. I love this so much I once famously said "I don't mind being pregnant just to eat all these (confinement) food." Hey, but, it's really a great stew for the winter, not just post-pregnancy. And there are hardly any ingredients, and even fewer steps.

Stewed Pork Trotters in Sweet Black Vinegar (猪脚醋)
2 pork trotters (ask the butcher to chop them up)
1 large (about 500g) ginger (old ginger preferably), smashed
5 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 bottle Chinese black vinegar (yes the entire bottle, or at least 3/4 the whole bottle)
3/4 cup brown sugar (I use unrefined cane sugar. Oh, use less if you use a sweetened black vinegar)
some water
a few hard boiled eggs

1. Boil the pork trotters vigorously for 15 min, and discard the water with all the scum. Rinse.
2. Fry the pork trotters with the ginger and sesame oil till fragrant.
3. Add the black vinegar, brown sugar, and enough water to cover the pork trotters.
4. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 2 hours. (Or you can transfer to a slow cooker like I do, and then simmer on low for 4 hours. The best pot to use is the type that my mum uses-- big black clay pots, over a charcoal fire.)
5. Add the hard boiled eggs to the stew after the trotters are done.

You can eat immediately if you can't wait. But the stew is actually much better the next day. And much much better the day after. And the day after. The most amazing thing about this stew is that you don't have to refrigerate it, the ingredients used act as a form of preservative, I guess it works somewhat like a pickle? (and we know how healthy preserved/fermented foods are for our gut) Just bring it to the boil before eating. In fact, Chinese families will make a huge pot and eat throughout the week.

Here are the healing properties of the components according to TCM:
Black vinegar purifies blood and cleanses the arteries.
Old ginger gets rid of wind in the body, which invades the body especially after pregnancy.
Brown sugar gets rid of dampness in the body.
Sesame oil promotes blood circulation.
Pork trotters have plenty of collagen to strengthen the joints and ligaments, and the bones in them also provide calcium.
Eggs are seen as a complete source of nourishment.

The trotters are so melting soft, and the gravy/broth is sweet sour and savoury all at once, and thick and gelatinous. It makes you lick your sticky lips with satisfaction after that, and your tummy will feel nice and warm and happy. Proof of a powerful broth: look at how it gels after it has cooled!

This is an entry for Muhibbah Monday, and The Best Thing I Ever Ate hosted by more than burnt toast, because it simply is!

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Working at a farmer's market!

I've been looking for a part-time job for the longest time, and I've mainly applied as a waiting staff at all the famous restaurants, so that I can learn more about good food, and of course, there's always staff perks ;) I haven't been very successful though, it just isn't that easy to find a job in London. Then recently I got a reply from London Farmers' Market, about a job as market manager! Oh it's the best job ever, I never even thought I would get this job out of all the jobs I applied for.

I firmly believe the secret behind great food lies in the care and ingredients that go into the food. I love spending that extra time and effort on real food, I love picking out fresh, local produce and daydreaming about the food I'll make with them. Now I get to take it one step further and get to know the farmers and producers even better. I had a lovely chat with the milk lady who told me how cute buffalos actually are, and the apple guy about how lousy my shoes are, and the pork man about cheap trotters. Makes waking up at 5am on a cold blustery rainy Saturday worth it (:

Also makes me more determined to get my shopping done at the Farmers' Market instead. It's so much better knowing where your food comes from. Would you rather go for conventional, local, seasonal produce from a producer you know, or organic, imported producer you hear about on the label? I used to fall in the latter group. I think I'm a convert. No more oven-dried cherry tomatoes in winter.. but it doesn't mean I can't enjoy them still, it's just that I'm going to put more emphasis on what nature has offered us this season.

Anyway, it's not only about eating real foods, but food that's right for you as an individual, and that changes according to the season too. (I've been reading up a bit about Traditional Chinese Medicine, it's worth looking into for anyone interested in how our food relates to our body, because TCM believes in nutrition as the first line of rescue/defence, not medicine. How true is that!) So, while we're still in the midst of winter, I'm going to prepare more warming stews and leave the cold salads for summer!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Braised Red Cabbage with Apples

With cabbage, the general rule is not to overcook, else it gives off a very strong sulfurous smell that puts people off. But with red cabbage, this long-cooking slow-braising method with the sweet apple and spices bring out the flavours better! There are many variations, I tweaked a few versions I came across, combining this that based on what I liked, and er, what I had in the kitchen.

Braised Red Cabbage with Apples
1 medium red cabbage, sliced thinly
1 large onion, peeled and sliced
1 large eating apple, chopped (I don't find cooking apples very justified. They give a tartness, but you need to add extra sugar to balance out its lack of sweetness. I find a normal apple sweet and although not that sour, hey there's vinegar added! But maybe I'm being simplistic.)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar (I've seen recipes with white/red wine vinegar instead, but I like the idea of using apple cider vinegar in a dish with apples. )
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (oomph up the sweetness!)
2 whole cloves
2 bay leaves
pinch of nutmeg, cinammon (if you've got whole ones, use those!)
knob of butter

1. Melt butter in a large pot. Add the whole spices first.
2. Add the onions, and let it cook until golden.
3. Add the apples and the ground spices, and cook for 2 min or so.
4. Add in all the cabbage, plus the vinegar.
5. Put the lid on and let it slowly cook for about 1 h., stirring once in a while.

You get a great chuntey-style sweet cabbage dish, very good with pork of course,and supposedly game meat and goose too, though I haven't tried that out before. This dish keeps well, the flavours actually intensify after they spend some time together in the fridge. (oh then it becomes really sort of like a pickle/chutney huh)

I've seen recipes calling for added red wine/cider, you can try that too.
I've also seen a Jamie Oliver recipe with bacon and fennel, which is worth a try too.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Homemade Kimchi

Kimchi!! Sour, salty, sweet, spicy-- all in one! There's no doubt as to why it's such an important part of Korea's rich food culture. It makes the perfect side dish to rice dishes, to grilled meats, it's great in stews and in pancakes/omelettes, and it's also great for your health.

Methods for making kimchi vary, and in Korea they even have nationwide kimchi competitions! (I was watching some food documentary on my plane ride to Singapore last summer after I got bored of the movies.) Do check out Maangchi's kimchi recipe! Hers will probably taste better, because she takes the extra effort to make a kimchi "spice porridge" first before coating the cabbage. And she has add-ons like oysters. But oh well, my fuss-free method tastes not half bad too!

Homemade Kimchi
2 heads Chinese leaf lettuce/Napa cabbage, chopped into big pieces (or you can leave whole)
1/2 cup kosher salt
2" piece of ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 onion, minced
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp sugar
5 tbsp Korean red chilli powder (it's more earthy and less spicy than normal chilli powder so you can add a lot to get that depth and nice red colour without burning your tongue)
1 tbsp hot pepper flakes (optional)

Choose your own "add-ons"
Spring onions, Leeks, Carrots, Radishes etc.

1. Sprinkle the cabbage with the sea salt, and set aside for 2-4h, turning once in a while to salt evenly.
2. Rinse the lettuce 3 times. Drain.
3. Rub and evenly coat the cabbage with the rest of the ingredients.
4. Transfer to a tight sealed container, and leave it at room temperature for 2-4 days. You'll see bubbles!
5. Transfer to the fridge, for up to a month. It will get more sour and develop a stronger flavour. If you can wait, don't enjoy immediately. But I've left mine much longer, and Koreans prized long-fermented kimchi.