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

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Foraged Wild Green Pancakes, and Any Flower Syrup

I've forgotten how good it feels to be able to cook in my own kitchen, with ingredients gotten fresh from people who grow them. It's my second blog post since I returned to London, but only the first one about the sort of food I cook.

I've had people ask about the way I cook, and I go 'as local and organic as I can, with Asian influences, and usually very simple'. Then they roll their eyes. ‘Oh, pretentious.’ The whole seasonal, local, organic, sustainable thing is very trendy nowadays, and I almost wish it isn’t, because now it’s become an overused chefy/ hippie/ marketing concept.  (The whole Asian-influenced bit I get away with because my skin is yellow.) Believe it or not, I cook the way I do because it's 1. much fresher (hence healthier) 2. cheaper and most importantly, 3. it tastes better.

It is spring/ summer now in London and prime season for all kinds of wild plants. This also means it is prime season for foraging, in other words pinching unloved weeds off the land for your kitchen. Yes another pretentious trend, but only if you are foraging for the sake of hashtagging it and not actually eating it. 

Just within London, there are lots of spots where you can find edible plants off nature, and these plants are unfortunately going to waste because not many people recognise them as food. I last went foraging at Hampstead Heath, one (very) early morning. I’m not the greatest at recognising the edible ones from the ones that will kill you (lesson 1: my mum has taught me never to trust strangers, and certainly not to put them into my mouth), but I was lucky enough to have a friend who does know his shit with me. We were after the elderflowers– he for a posh crowd he was cooking for, and I for making syrup– but we came across alexanders, burdock, borage flowers, nettles, and a whole patch of wild garlic. We picked just enough for what we wanted (lesson 2: forage responsibly; if you're harvesting huge commercial amounts there will be no more fun for others!) and then hurried home before work began. 

Sean heading for elderflowers; Atiqa amidst nettles

The last two plants I identify easily even without Sean's advice. Yes I got stung by the nettles (lesson 3: wear long socks that don't slip). As for the wild garlic, a gentle rub of its lush green leaves releases the unmistakeable heavenly scent of garlic. It's coming to the end of the season now but the flowers are amazing too. Instead of a single recipe-focused blog post, I thought I'll share a couple of things I did with my foraged treasures. 

The first (very pretentious, local, seasonal, Asian-influenced) recipe is one for crepes made with wild garlic and rice flour, with a sweet-sour chilli dressing. It's inspired by the Vietnamese sizzling rice flour crepes banh xeo, but more tender and almost pancake-like because of the eggs.

serves 2
1 handful wild garlic leaves and flowers*
2 large organic free-range eggs
½ cup rice flour
2 tbsp tapioca flour
pinch of ground turmeric
water, to loosen
1 tsp fish sauce
sea salt and white pepper, to taste
groundnut oil, for frying

sweet-sour chilli dressing
½  cup apple cider vinegar
½ cup unrefined cane sugar
¼ cup fish sauce
1-2 Thai bird’s eye chillies, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1. Whisk the eggs and flours together, adding water to loosen till you get a thin crepe-like batter. Use a bit of bicep work to make sure there are no lumps. Season with fish sauce, salt and pepper.
2. Heat an 8-inch frying pan till medium hot, and then add a little oil. When the oil is hot, pour just enough of the batter to get a thin layer covering the pan, swirling to distribute it evenly. 
3. Once the batter has started to set, add some of the wild garlic on top, then cover the pan for a minute until the pancake is fully cooked.  Remove the cover, and then flip the pancake over to fry on the other side, till both sides are golden brown.
4. Repeat till you finish the batter. 
5. Whisk all the ingredients for the dressing together until the sugar has dissolved. Pour over the warm pancakes to serve.

*You can replace this with your choice of fragrant greens/ herbs. 


The second is for a flower syrup. You can use any flower, but obviously it has to be edible and it has to taste of something or it's just sugar-water. I used elderflowers in this one. Another nice one would be wild rose. You can pimp up your cocktails with this, pour it over cake, stir into fruits, whip through yogurt and top over granola, the possibilities are endless and you can have fun with it over the next 2-3 weeks.

1 cup water
3 cups unrefined sugar*
1 cup fresh edible flowers

1. Tap the flowers and leave for a while for any insects to crawl off. You can rinse lightly but say with elderflowers, you do want the pollen bit.
2. Boil everything together for 10 min or until the mixture thickens into a syrup.
2. Strain through a muslin cloth into a glass jar and seal. Yeah, that's it.

*You can change up the taste by using different kinds of sugar– cane sugar, coconut sugar, palm sugar etc; or even try adding honey. 


These are very versatile recipes so you can play around with whatever wild greens and flowers you get your hands on; or if you really don't like getting your hands dirty or your ankles stung, the pancakes would work with spring onions or any pungent herb, while the syrup would work with any edible flower you can get your hands on. Don't be a sissy though, because foraging is fun, and knowing that your 'organic seasonal local sustainable' food didn't cost you a thing, makes it somehow more delicious.

Oh last lesson: Try to pick where the dogs haven't been or you're going to get pee-tainted food.

More wild food adventures:
Wild garlic foraging and fried beehoon (Video!)
Steamed sea bass with crispy sea purslane
Free blackberry pie
Stinging nettle saag aloo

Thanks Sean @eatmygarden for the best outdoor lesson one can get.

Photos and tips of more of these wild plants on my newsletter. Do sign up– I only send good stuff.