Friday, 23 August 2013

Steamed Seabass, Crispy Sea Purslane, and Mad people

There are two kinds of cooks I think. One thinks of a dish and then sets out with her list to get all the ingredients for that dish. The other just walks around aimlessly getting her ingredients (often too much) and then thinks of a dish after. I'm the second one, unfortunately. I wish I were more organised. I probably would save a lot more money and time. I see what I like, I bring it home, and then somehow, one way or another, it all works out on the dinner plate. 

You see, I think the cooking bit just happens naturally with great produce. I stroke and gush about the fuzzy skin on peaches, I stick my nose into bushes of herbs and I nibble at unidentified flowers. I wake up at 5am on a Saturday morning to work (i.e. stroke and sniff and nibble) at the farmer's market. I know it all sounds more than slightly mad now so I will stop.

Anyway, I am not the only mental one. It's always nice to find people who are a little mad, mad in the same way and about the same things.  That's the people at Natoora. Franco has gone to great lengths to hunt down the best of every single thing they sell, be it the sweetest nectarine ever or the most carefully grown potato. I see you rolling your eyes now and saying 'Oh, sell-out!" but I would just like to say that I would never ever write about anything I don't truly like or believe in. I don't put up ads on my blog because I hate how ugly they look; I don't blog about the latest restaurant and hope to get invited to their next opening. I'm a rubbish blogger I know – I probably am just as poor as I am when I first started blogging. But I'm writing about these people now, because I know and love that these people truly take pride in what they do. 

This is a dish made using sea purslane from Natoora. Sea purslane is a plant that grows along the Essex coast in summer and its tiny leaves reatain all that lovely natural saltiness from the sea. Because it's so naturally salty, everyone I asked couldn't suggest more than using it sparingly in raw salads; the most exciting suggestion I had was to pickle it. I've gone to make this (read title). I don't even want to say it again because it sounds so horribly pretentious. But everything about this is simple. It took me a total of 10 minutes to make this, and a total of four things went into it (a far cry from my previous post on sayur lodeh). This is using a very classic Chinese technique of steaming fish in a little rice wine and then pouring hot oil over. I've just added the sea purslane garlic and chopped chillies to this hot oil so you  also get a wonderful heat and fragrance and a bonus of salty sea purslane crisps.

Serves 1
1 seabass fillet 
1 handful of sea purslane leaves
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 red chilli, chopped
1 tbsp shaoxing rice wine
pinch of unrefined sea salt
1 tbsp of groundnut oil

1. Wash and pat fish dry, then place on a plate and rub evenly with the shaoxing wine and salt.
2. Set up a steamer by putting a rack over a wok/ pot of boiling water; no need for fancy bamboo steamers. Place the plate of fish on the rack and steam until just cooked; it took me less than 2 minutes.
3. Remove the fish and set aside. Empty the wok of water and fill with oil. When sizzling hot, add the garlic, chilli and sea purslane leaves and fry till fragrant and crispy.
4. Immediately pour the hot oil over the fish and spoon the crispy sea purslane, garlic, and chilli over. 
* You can also fry more and use that completely addictive topping over noodles or shove straight into your mouth.

So that's it really, 10 minutes and 4 ingredients, but using the best of what some mad people and the British waters have to offer.

On another note,

I will be cooking at Street Feast London tomorrow from noon to midnight. On the menu will be pork belly/ Cornish summer lamb satays, complete with steamed rice cakes and homemade peanut sauce and all that shizzle. Oh and achar, a nonya pickle made using this season's vegetables.  Again, just good food made with the best of British produce. There's gonna be some massive vibes going on down there – see you there yo!

Related recipes:
Sizzling Steamed Whole Flounder
Herrings, roasted with hot stuff (Kaffir lime leaf crisps are amazing)

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Sayur Lodeh – A veg curry, but better

I'm back, brown and bruised from my adventures in Switzerland. I'm surprised we made it back alive; but yes we found our way through the forests, slipped and climbed our way up the rocky mountains, and did a bit of dangerous flying (with a hot paragliding instructor, of course). There wasn't much eating worth talking about to be honest (which is a first for me), but we managed to find wild berries (so good) and stinging nettle (not good), and an old cheesemaker in the mountains of Rigi Kulm, so there was a bit of lovely cheese and foraged nibbles amidst the bread/chocolate/overpriced food.

It's nice to be back. I've missed rice (#asian) and my messy bed (#notsoasian). And after all that crazy heat, (I can't believe I'm saying this) it's nice to be back in a grey chilly London where the sun has had enough of its summer fun and gone back into hiding. I've always loved this awkward period in between the end of summer and early fall, when the weather starts turning chilly, just enough for you to maybe throw on a cardigan, but still warm enough for you to prance around in shorts if you like. On the food-front, it's probably the best time ever – there is still enough sun for a Sunday barbecue, but you can also get away with a weeknight curry; you've still got the delicate green leaves going, but also all the vibrant late-summer reds yellows and purples, and a little bit of the earthy young sweet roots and cabbages.

So I made sayur lodeh.

I guess you could call sayur lodeh a mixed vegetable curry, but it is so much more than that. For one, this is not a random combination of the sorry bits of vegetables sitting in your fridge; it may seem random but each element is there for a reason – like a Kandinsky (sort of, maybe. I know it's a bad analogy shut up). The cabbage and carrots sweeten the broth, the green beans give bite and texture, the aubergines act as a sponge for soaking up all the lovely gravy (which then gets squirted all over the insides of your mouth later). It's so weird and amazing that all these vegetables for a traditional curry from home are in season right now. The rest of the ingredients are typical Southeast Asian kitchen staples; don't be put off by the long list, this is freaking easy to make and when made, gives you at least a couple of Curry Nights in.

Serves 4 to 6

For the rempah
10 dried chilies
100g shallots
3 candlenuts
3 cloves of garlic
1" knob of ginger
1" knob of galangal
1 cm piece of belacan
1 tbsp of dried shrimps
1 tbsp turmeric
2 stalks of lemongrass
2 tbsp groundnut/coconut oil

For the curry
250 ml coconut milk
water/ stock
2 kaffir lime leaves
salt and sugar, to taste

The vegetables
2 large handfuls green beans
4 new carrots
quarter of a white cabbage
1 Asian eggplant

Optional, to finish (If you're Malay don't kill me)       
tofu puffs
pressed rice cakes (lontong)
shit-hot sambal
coriander leaves

1. Prepare the vegetables, rinsing and chopping them. There is no need for geometric accuracy, but the beans should be about finger-length, and the rest, roughly similar chunks, so that they cook in about the same time.
2. For the rempah, first open your windows. Toast the belacan until dry and powdery and (arguably) aromatic. Soak the dried chilies and dried shrimp in warm water for 10 min, then drain, reserving the shrimp-soaking liquid.  Pound/ blend all the ingredients till you get a fine paste. Fry the rempah till the oil separates.
3. Add the coconut milk and kaffir lime leaves, and enough stock/water (including the shrimp-soaking liquid) to cover. Bring everything to a boil, add the vegetables and let simmer till cooked and very tender, but not mushy. Add more stock/water if necessary to get your desired consistency; I like mine slightly thicker. Taste and check for seasoning.
4. Add the tofu puffs and lontong, if you’re using, and the sambal, if you’re a spice fiend. Finish with chopped coriander leaves for some greenery.

For those used to the fiery pungent spices of your local Indian, the gentle mild flavours of this dish might seem kind of wimpish for a curry. I like to think of it instead as a rich vegetable stew, simmered with fragrant herbs and spices and laced with sweet, creamy coconut milk. This – with a big big bowl of rice (oh yes I've missed you) – and a brainless chick flick was the perfect night in before all the grown-up (ah, work) craziness starts again.

Note: though CHOCKED full of vegetables, this is not a vegetarian curry- there's shrimp and shrimp paste, hence why so delicious.