Saturday, 28 May 2011

Braised Peas with Lettuce and Fresh Onions

I know it may be a pain to some, but to me, there's something so relaxing about shelling peas-- just sitting there in front of my laptop , watching useless youtube videos and mindlessly popping peas from their pods while the sun slowly sets behind me. No, I wasn't putting off schoolwork, I just had to shell them then. Priorities. With fresh peas, you have to use them up as soon as possible, because their flavour deteriorates so quickly (so if you can't get them REALLY fresh i.e. direct from the farmers or better still, from your garden, then go for those that are frozen straight).

As usual, I got a whole load of spring vegetables at the farmers' market. And because my fridge was running out of space, I decided to use up three of these in one dish for dinner right away, in my take on the French classic braised peas. Braising is a really popular technique in Chinese cooking too, but usually with meat, so I was curious to see how it'd work out for vegetables.

Braised Peas with Lettuce and Fresh Onions
Ingredients (serves 2-3 as a side)
about 1 cup of shelled peas (about a brown bag worth of peas in pod)
handful of roughly shredded lollo rosso lettuce leaves (it's usually romaine or little gem lettuce but that was what I got that day. anyway I like the deep purple colour for some contrast)

1 onion (I decided to give fresh onions a try. Sliced it all up, green stalks too)
generous knob of butter (Peas love butter! So do I.) + 1 tsp evoo
about 1/4 cup of homemade chicken stock
sea salt, white pepper
juice of half lemon
a bit of dill (mint is a classic combination, but I had dill at hand and thought the freshness of the dill would work well too)

1. Melt butter with evoo over medium heat in a pan.
2. Add the sliced onions (white part) and cook till soft and translucent, before adding the peas, stir to combine, about 1-2 min.
3. Add the lettuce and sliced onions (green part), stir to combine.
4. Then in with the stock and seasoning, bring to a simmer and then cover and cook for 2-3 min.
5. Uncover, let simmer to reduce for just a while, before removing from the heat and adding the fresh dill and lemon juice.

The peas were just bursting with natural sweetness, really quite different from their frozen brothers and sisters! Oh and the fresh onions I was so intrigued with were great-- really powerful sweetness but with less of a bite (think the best of both regular onions and spring onions). As much as I love peas simply cooked in butter, braising them with onions and lettuce will now be a new favourite (:

Friday, 27 May 2011

Soaked Grains Ebook!

A while ago, I submitted my recipe for sourdough dumplings/gyozas/potstickers for Kitchen Stewardship's Soaked Grains ebook. Now that Katie has finished compiling this brilliant document, here's the book for you to look, share, and get inspired! I didn't want to make it a conditional thing, so all are free to access it, though it'd be nice if you followed my blog or check in with some comments once in a while!

Besides being a great resource for learning why and how to soak your grains, the reason why I love this is that it is a combination of effort from the real food blogger community out there, people who are also just as in love with food and obsessed with health as me (:

Is Your Flour Wet eBook

Some of my soaked grains/sourdough recipes you may want to check out:

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Top-to-Toe Radish Stirfry

Green tops and pink bottoms! Such a beautiful combination.
No I don't mean clothes (my fashion-savvy sister will probably axe me). I mean radishes.
I got a bunch of them while working at Pimlico farmers' market on saturday, purely because they looked too pink and pretty to miss. It's not a ditzy girly thing. Just look! They are pretty.

I like radishes raw and sliced thinly to add a little kick to salads, or in tzatziki style dips. But I don't think many people know that radishes are absolutely delicious cooked too! Also, did you know that the radish leaves can be eaten too, much like beetroot? The leaves look a little like pea shoots, but have a slight radish-y sharpness. Here's a super fast stirfry with some sesame oil, garlic and spring onions (also bang in season) to celebrate the whole radish, from top to toe!

Top-to-Toe Radish Stirfry
1 bunch of radishes, washed
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 spring onion (white and green parts), chopped
1 tsp fish sauce (or you can use naturally fermented soy sauce)
dash of white pepper
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1. Separate the leaves from the radish roots. Quarter the roots.
2. Heat pan over medium-high heat, and add the evoo. Add the white parts of the spring onion, garlic and sesame oil and toss for 1-2 min.
3. Add the radish roots and stir-fry for 3-4 min till their insides turn from an opaque white

to a glossy translucence.

4. Add the radish leaves and the seasoning, and stir-fry for 1 more min until the radish leaves are wilted. Scatter the chopped green parts of the spring onion over to serve.

I really like my radish cooked for a change. The sharpness of the radish mellows, and it takes on a mild daikon radish/ turnip-like sweetness. The leaves add a nice contrast of texture (a bit like pea shoots), and of course, you can never go wrong with sesame oil and toasted garlic!

Oh and if you're wondering why you only see pink bottoms but no green tops in the plastic bags of radishes from Tesco's, and you feel unfairly shortchanged, it's time to make a trip down to the farmer's market ;)

This is part of Hearth and Soul Blog Hop.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

To market, to market, to buy...

Strawberries! I love berries, can't wait for the rest of the berries to appear.

FRESH onions, not spring onions. Tender onions without the papery skins. I'm intrigued.

Spring means lots of salad greens, including special ones like tatsoi.
I, as an Asian, am ashamed to say I have no idea what it is.

Fresh peas! In a completely different league from frozen peas.

Beautiful pillowy heads of lettuce

Radishes blushing pink and prettily

Free range eggs. My kitchen staple.

And some other photos of beautiful food:

Artichokes. I heard they're a pain to prepare, but oh they are gorgeous.

Spider crab. Ugliest creature I've ever seen but I heard it's delicious.

The skinny new carrots of spring

Goat's cheese. Don't ask me why there's an orange one.

Saag Aloo Pie. I got some tips on how to make it (: Time to get creative with my saag aloo?

Enough said.

I love working at Pimlico farmer's market. And gosh, I love spring.

This is part of Simple Lives Thursday.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Sambal Chilli Asparagus and Gruyere Crustless Quiche

Asparagus. The coveted spears of spring. I can't remember where I heard that phrase before but it's been stuck in my head ever since. I love asparagus, and to me, the flavour of fresh British asparagus really can't be beat. The best way to enjoy them is simply steamed, with a knob of butter melted over (try flavoured butters like chilli coriander and lime zest butter).

But asparagus is so terribly expensive though. I actually googled it before - "why is asparagus so expensive". Yes I am that geeky. (What will we do without google??) Anyway. Apart from that fantastic flavour, it's also because asparagus take 2 years to harvest and bring returns and of course, because they only appear for such a short period of time i.e. spring. I figured it would be a shame to let spring slip by without an asparagus dish, so I got some at Pimlico farmer's market and stretched them further in a quiche-- one of my favourite ways to throw in any vegetables and experiment with lots of flavour combinations (even yes, sambal chilli).

Basic Crustless Quiche
I love quiche. It was my staple buy every time we passed a bakery in Paris last summer with my sister. And I will share a proper quiche recipe sometime in the future, I used to be scared of shortcrust pastry but it really isn't that difficult after all! But when you just want an easy lazy Sunday brunch, you can't be bothered with all that mixing and rolling. Without a crust as a base, the ratios are adjusted such that the quiche is less decadently custardy, but it is not a frittata. It's confusing seeing people call their frittatas quiches, because frittatas don't have all that luscious cream (or milk) added; for quiche, think: more cream less eggs.
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup cream (preferably grassfed)
1/2 cup whole milk (preferably grassfed)
3/4 cup grated Gruyere cheese (or Emmental or even Cheddar)
a handful of grated Parmiggiano (optional)

Sambal Chilli Asparagus and Gruyere Crustless Quiche
7-8 stalks of asaparagus
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tbsp sambal belachan (replace with chilli paste if not available)
1 tsp chilli flakes (or to taste)
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup cream (preferably grassfed)
1/2 cup whole milk (preferably grassfed)
3/4 cup grated Gruyere cheese
pinch of sea salt
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1. Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees celsius.
2. Prepare the asparagus by snapping off the woody bottom part of the stalk. Cut the remaining stalks into halves, leave the top half whole, but further chop up the bottom half into bite sized pieces.
3. Over medium high heat, add the oil to the hot pan, and then add the onions to sweat.
4. Once onions are translucent, add the sambal belachan and the top half of the asparagus, saute for a couple of min, before adding the bite-sized asparagus pieces, and cook for 3 min more till almost tender but not soft.

5. To a inch pie dish greased with some butter or oil, spread the onions and asparagus pieces over the base of the dish.
6. Beat the eggs with the cream and milk, season with the salt and chilli flakes, and pour over. Arrange the asparagus tips on top in a starburst pattern (mine shifted when I moved it into the oven ): )

7. Bake for 30-40 min until set with slightly browned edges but centre looks a little jiggly still, as it will continue to cook out of the oven. Leave to cool before cutting into it.

The chilli adds some kick to a classic quiche, and the belachan (fermented fish paste) in the sambal chilli adds a very special salty savoury depth to the asaparagus, the same way the british use bacon to add an extra something. This quiche is rich with flavour and requires hardly any effort, and I can have it for breakfast, for lunch, as a teatime treat maybe, and then for dinner and then supper after so it's a real time-saver. No I was kidding. Actually, no I wasn't.

This is part of Full Plate Thursday.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Spinach Curry with Jersey Royal Potatoes (Saag Aloo)

I used to think potatoes were just potatoes. Actually, back in Singapore where potatoes aren't the staple starch, we only distinguish potatoes into 2 categories: the mushy kind and the waxy kind (i.e. kan-dang). Then I came to London and met King Edward (the potato), Maris Piper, Desiree, Charlotte and too many other members of the potato family.

Now that it's spring, the salad new potatoes are at their prime season, the most coveted of them all being the Jersey Royals. The name speaks for itself. It's a kind of new potato grown only on the rich fertile island of Jersey, and hence, is rich and full of flavour. I think the simplest way to enjoy them is just to wash them, don't peel them because the flavour's (and nutrients') in the skins, boil/steam them, and then just eat them as they are with a dollop of butter.

But just to spice things up a bit, I also made Saag Aloo with the Jersey Royals that I got.

Saag Aloo
Make Saag Recipe Number 1, but add 300g steamed/boiled and drained new potatoes (whole or halved, unpeeled) at step 5 and fry the potatoes with the spices for a few minutes before adding the spinach and cream.

The savoury spinach curry goes really well with the creaminess of the Jersey Royals with that background of spices. Both vegetables are in their prime right now, so I think I'll be making a lot more of this (:

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Super Saag! (A Multi-Purpose Indian Spinach Curry)

Spinach is in season and I love it so much, I think I kind of went overboard with the number of bunches I happily put into my grocery bag. To save my bursting little fridge some space, I thought it'd be a good idea to cook them in some sort of pureed soup because spinach cooks down beautifully, but then I suddenly thought of one of my favourite Indian dishes, Palak Paneer!

Saag (or Palak) refers to a pureed spinach curry and it's super handy because you can make proud claims to a list of at least six Indian dishes with just one recipe. Just pour the spinach gravy over ____________(fill in the blank), usually marinated in Indian spices and panfried/roasted a la tandoori, and you get:
1. Paneer --the ever-favourite Palak Paneer.
2. Chicken-- Palak (or Saag) Murgh
3. Mutton-- Saag Gosht
4. Prawns-- Jhinga Saag
5. Chickpeas-- Chana Saag
6. Potatoes-- Saag Aloo

There are two recipes which I've tried and love. One uses tomatoes and cream and tastes just divine, while the other uses yogurt and nothing red and is also delicious (and a brilliant shade of green).

Saag/Palak Recipe No. 1 (adapted from vahchef, I love this enthusiastic Indian chef)
makes about 1 1/2 cup
4 large bunches of spinach leaves
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tbsp minced ginger
1 tomato, chopped
whole garam masala (1 cinnamon stick, 3 cloves, 3 cardamom pods)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tbsp chilli powder (or to taste)
1 tbsp fenugreek leaves (I don't have this so I left it out)
2 green chillies, chopped
1-2 tbsp cream
sea salt
1 tbsp ghee

1. Blanch spinach in boiling water for 1 min, uncovered (vahchef says the whole process should be uncovered to keep the bright green of the spinach). Drain. Refresh. Puree.
Watch this mountain of spinach that's too huge to fit into the photo,

wilt into 1 cup of cooked spinach (spinach being refreshed under cold running water)

2. Over medium high heat, add the ghee. Toast the whole garam masala for a while.
3. Add the onions, with a pinch of salt (this helps it to 'melt' faster). Saute until translucent.
4. Add the ginger, followed by the garlic, turmeric, and finally the chopped tomatoes. Saute until tomatoes turn to mush.
5. Add the ground spices and green chillies, saute for couple more min.
6. Add the spinach puree, season, and cook till the oil separates. Stir in the cream, plus drizzle more to finish!

Saag/Palak Recipe No. 2 (inspired by sanjeev kapoor)
4 large bunches of spinach
1 handful fresh coriander i.e. cilantro (secret ingredient!)
8 cloves of garlic, minced (he loves garlic and so do I)
1 onion, sliced thinly (I chopped instead)
2 green chillies, chopped
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 cup yogurt
sea salt
squeeze of lemon
1 tbsp of ghee

1. Blanch spinach in boiling water for 1 min, uncovered (vahchef says the whole process should be uncovered to keep the bright green of the spinach). Drain. Refresh. Puree with the fresh coriander.

2. Over medium high heat, add the ghee. Toast the cumin seeds.
3. Add the onions (plus pinch of salt), garlic and green chillies, and saute till the onions turn translucent, but aren't browned.
4. Add the ground spices to toast for a while. (He says to add the yogurt before the spices but I tried it and the sauce split after being boiled.)
5. Add the pureed spinach, season bring to boil, before adding the yogurt and simmering gently for 2 more min.

6. Finish off with a squeeze of lemon (His granny says that helps in the digestion of greens, and granny/mummy's always right;) ) and a drizzle of yogurt.

I love both recipes and switch them around depending on the __________ and my mood. This is my favourite way to get spinach into my diet. I'd find it difficult to munch through 4 large bunches of raw spinach, but I can easily finish a bowl of saag. Cooking spinach also reduces the oxalic acids in the fresh greens, making it healthier and more digestible. All that aside, the best thing about saag or palak is, simply, that it's really yum !(:

Monday, 9 May 2011

Simplified Nonya Achar (Peranakan Spicy Pickled Vegetables)

Having the cucumber and shallot pickled salad and the sambal chilli together made me think of a spicy cucumber pickle that is one of my absolute favourite accompaniment to most things coconut. It's the Nonya achar!

The Peranakan culture is unique to Singapore and Malaysia, a result of the marriage between the Straits Chinese and indigenous Malays, and the best part about this (to me) is the Nonya cuisine that develops, a mix of chinese cooking techniques and ingredients with malay spices-- the best of both worlds! The Nonya achar is quite different from your usual pickled gherkin, nor the Indian achar. It's more like a super aromatic and spicy piccalilli, and besides cucumber, can have cauliflower, long beans, carrots, and cabbage.

I used the vegetables that I had at hand/were on offer, and replaced a lot of the more exotic ingredients with the ones that I could find readily, so I guess it's not as authentic or mind-blowing as it could be, but it's still very good.

Simplified Nonya Achar
makes about 2 cups (this is a small batch achar)
1 medium cucumber
1 medium carrot
small handful of stringless runner beans
1/2 cup of chopped fresh pineapple (for natural sweetness (: )
2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds (and/or chopped toasted peanuts)
3 tbsp kosher salt
2 tbsp unrefined cane sugar
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1 tbsp whey (optional)

For the spice paste (rempah)
6 shallots (or 1 red onion)
1 clove of garlic
1 cm slice of ginger
1-2 tsp ground turmeric (originally fresh turmeric)
1 tbsp hot chilli powder (originally a mix of dried red chillies, fresh red chillies, and birds' eye chilli)
1 tbsp toasted belachan (fermented shrimp paste)
2 macadamia or brazil nuts (originally candlenuts, but it's harder to find out of southeast asia)

1. Chop the cucumbers and carrots into bite sized sticks, and slice the runner beans diagonally.

2. Sprinkle 1 tbsp of sea salt over the cucumbers and leave them for 30 mins to sweat.

3. Bring the vinegar to the boil with 1/2 cup of water, 1 tsp of sea salt and 1 tsp of sugar. Blanch the carrots and the runner beans.

4. Dry your vegetables! This makes for crunchier pickles!

Drain, rinse and squeeze the cucumbers.

Lay the carrots and runner beans out on trays to dry
(In Singapore where it's 36 degrees celsius almost all the time, just leave them out in the sun. Here in london where the skies are grey, I chose to dry them out in an oven turned to a very low heat)

5. Blend all the rempah ingredients. Add oil to a hot pan and stir fry the spice paste over medium low heat till aromatic, about 15 min. Add the remaining rice vinegar, sea salt and sugar, bring to a boil and then remove from heat to let cool.

6. In a glass (or other non-reactive) bowl, mix the rempah with the vegetables pineapples and whey (if using), sprinkling the toasted sesame seeds over.

7. Resist the temptation to eat it straight away and let the vegetables sit in the marinade.

It will seem like the marinade can't really cover the vegetables, but just press them down into the jar. The next day the vegetables will release some of their own water.

Fragrant with toasted chilli and spices, and bursting with a tart sweetness, this pickle gets better after a day or two in the fridge, and can keep for about a week (I read a month somewhere. hmm oh well you will definitely finish before then). That's the key to a good pickle-- time! The flavours start to meld and become more intense.

This is a small batch achar because it's my first time making it. I looked at this, this, and this for reference. The achar turned out really good, but my aunt's achar still wins. Maybe when I go home for summer I'll grill her and try this again with the proper ingredients. For now, I'm very very happily eating my way through my simplified Nonya achar (:

This is part of Hearth and Soul Blog Hop, Simple Lives Thursday, Pennywise Platter Thursday and Malaysian Monday.
UPDATE: I've made this again with tips from my aunt and it's an even simpler recipe this time, using ingredients that are wholly british and in season, sans pineapple and belachan. Quite shit-amazing.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Coconut-crusted Coley Fillets with Cucumber Shallot Pickled Salad

I can't believe it took me so long to discover pouting. It's like cod with the price tag torn off. Another great sustainable fish is coley, also known as the "poor man's cod". Its flesh is not as pretty as cod, because it's a little grey, but it's a tasty fish with a light texture too, and is highly praised by British chefs like High Fearnley-Whittingstall.

This is a very light refreshing dish, inspired by classic southeast asian flavours like coconut, rice vinegar, shallots and pickled cucumber.

Coconut-crusted Coley Fillets
serves 2 (as a light lunch/starter)
2 coley fillets
1/2 cup of unsweetened coconut flakes (+pinch of sea salt)
1 tsp grated ginger
2 tsp fish sauce
white pepper
1 tbsp coconut oil

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius.
2. Pat dry and season the pouting fillets with the fish sauce ginger and pepper.
3. Lay fish on a baking dish greased with coconut oil, and sprinkle the coconut flakes over the top of the fish.

4. Bake uncovered for about 15 minutes (depends on thickness of the fish. You can poke gently with a fork to test for done-ness). Switch to 'broil' for the coconut flakes to toast and brown a little just before the fish is done (or dry toast on a pan and then sprinkle over, if you don't want to risk over-cooking the fish).

Cucumber and Shallot Pickled Salad
serves 2
1/2 cucumber
1 shallot (I used banana shallot, which is milder and sweeter)
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 tsp unrefined cane sugar
1/2 tsp fish sauce
pinch of chilli powder

1. Halve the cucumber so you can lay it flat, then slice thinly into little semicircles. Same goes for the shallot.
2. Combine all ingredients and toss well, let sit for at least a couple of hours, preferably longer. This only gets better.

Finish with fresh coriander. It might be a good idea to serve the salad beside, not below the fish instead, makes eating easier.. That said, the sharp pickled cucumbers and shallots really bring out the fragrant aroma of toasted coconut and coley. I also had it with sambal tumis (I will share the recipe soon) and I would say the sambal chilli is also a must, but maybe that's just me hehe.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Spice-crumbed Pouting Fillets with Cumin Minted Peas

I was watching Jamie's Fish Supper (part of Channel 4's The Big Fish Fight) on youtube, and he was introducing new fishes in the British waters that are less popular and known than our usual salmon and cod. I've always supported getting these 'unwanted' fishes, not just because they are a much more sustainable option that's better for the environment, but because they are a lot cheaper, and also because they do taste fantastic. I've tried mackerel and sardines, but there are some fishes that I've never heard of until this show, one of which is the pouting.

Pouting fillets (skin side down, skin side up)

"Pouting is a totally underrated fish. It's way up there quality-wise and is buttery, flaky juicy and delicious, not to mention a wonderful carrier of flavours. It's from the same family as cod so makes a great alternative to its overfished cousin." Jamie believes that if more people start asking for this at the supermarkets' fish counters, these big supermarket giants will start to see a demand for these 'lesser fishes' and start stocking them, reducing the pressure on the overfished favourites. And I think it's working. Because, guess what I saw when I went to Tesco's? (:

Like Jamie, I breadcrumbed my pouting fillets, but tossed in some chilli and spices too, and also made cumin minted peas and baked spicy sweet potato chips (not pictured, because my timing was off, so they weren't ready by the time the fish was done). This is (sustainable) fish and chips with an Indian twist!

Spice-crumbed Pouting with Cumin Minted Peas
serves 2
For the fish
2 pouting fillets
2-3 tbsp plain flour
1 egg, beaten
about 3/4 cup breadcrumbs (I used stale sourdough bread, dried in the oven, then crushed in a ziplock bag)
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
pinch of turmeric
sea salt, white pepper
2-3 tbsp ghee/coconut oil (for frying)

For the peas
1 cup frozen peas (I tried this with fresh peas again. AMAZING.)
2 heaped tbsp butter (yes. that's the key to yummy peas, according to marco pierre white)
1/2 tsp cumin
handful of chopped mint leaves
sea salt, black pepper

For the sweet potato chips

1. Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees celsius.
2. Mix the breadcrumbs with the chilli, cumin, garlic, and turmeric.
3. Prep your fish fillets in this order: season, then coat with flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs.

I originally wanted to bake them

4. Over medium high heat, add the oil, and when it's hot, add the fish fillets. Don't be nosy and poke around! Just leave it there till the bottom gets golden and crisp about 5-6 min, before flipping carefully to cook for another 2 min, lowering the heat. Set aside, tented with foil.
5. Add some water to the pan, and throw in the butter to create an emulsion.

I love watching butter foam.

6. Add the peas with the seasoning, cook for 3-4 min, before adding in the mint. Drain, serve.

Start to finish took only about 15-20 min!

The chips though, take about 45 min... so yes, learn from my mistake ): either start them early, or well, deep fry them (in loads of healthy saturated fat, like coconut oil or ghee or lard).

I had my modified fish and chips with malt vinegar sprinkled over of course, and some Indian mint raita instead of tartare sauce.

Verdict: Moist flaky flesh, definitely comparable to cod! I really liked the texture of the fish, and although not exactly full of flavour, the fish carried the flavours of the spices well. Yum. As for the peas, do try adding the cumin and mint, they really bring out the sweetness of the peas, and of course, you must add the butter, butter makes everything better (: