In My Kitchen, August 2016

This month, In My Kitchen takes place in a Vietnamese kitchen in Hôi An. As I mentioned in a previous post, I had arranged to do a private cooking class which took place in the back rooms of Minh Hiên Vegetarian Restaurant in Hôi An. What an amazing experience. Here is an excerpt from a future, still evolving post, highlighting some of the gems found in a Vietnamese kitchen.

Great little grater. I want one. Better than the Thai version.
Great little grater. I want one. Better than the Thai version.
Staff member using the great grater.
Staff member using the great grater.

Cooking classes not only introduce the participant to local recipes and new ingredients, but more importantly, they reinforce good technique, economy and the importance of mise en place. Vietnamese cuisine looks fast and easy to cook, but the flavour comes from careful and exacting preparation and the making of rich stocks beforehand.

The importance of Mise en place.
The importance of mise en place in Vietnamese cooking.

The tools and gadgets used on that day were perfect for each task. Long chopsticks are used for cooking, frying and stirring eggs. Turning over tofu slices with long chopsticks stops them from breaking, once you get used to handling slippery tofu in hot oil that is. Scissors are used to cut the green ends of spring onions: this part of the onion is never wasted and is also never cooked. The green part is usually cut into 2 cm pieces while the white onion end is always cooked, and is usually cut vertically.

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Mr T learns better technique.
Draining fried food without paper towels.
Draining fried food without paper towels.

Using a strainer over a bowl or saucepan is an economical and efficient way to drain fried food, and makes more sense than using paper towels. The strainer placed near the stove before any frying takes place. Above, some Banh Xeò ( crispy rice pancakes) drain before wrapping and eating. The street version of Banh Xeò includes prawn and pork in the filling. This vegetarian version substitutes hand torn oyster mushroom and thinly sliced cooked carrot. These colours resemble the colour and shapes used in the original version. The fun comes in the eating. Cut the Banh Xeò, using scissors, into two, lay it in rice paper, add lettuce, long strips of cucumber and mint, roll and dip in a special sauce made from fermented soya beans. Recipe will be coming soon.

A couple of nice blokes playing in a kitchen is a joy to behold. Here Nhien and Mr T are discussing technique. More on this amazing cooking school in a future post.

Nhien and Mr T discuss technique in a Vietnamese Kictehn
Nhien and Mr T discuss technique in a Vietnamese Kitchen.

Minh Hien Vegetarian Restaurant

50 Trần Cao Vân, tp. Hội An, Vietnam

Turning Japanese. Salmon, Mushroom and Tofu Soup.

When I’m tired, I need fish. Any sort of fish will do, I’m not too fussy. Nor am I willing to ignore farmed salmon, despite some of the bad press it receives. I like to believe that the industry is improving with regard to environmental concerns. The pristine water around the Huon River at Dover and Lake Macquarie, where Australian Tasmanian Atlantic Salmon is farmed, looks as pure as can be. I can’t paint myself into a tight little purist corner when Tasmanian Atlantic salmon is often the only fish option available. Having said that, a little salmon goes a long way.

This little Japanese bowl takes 10 minutes to prepare. The recipe makes two large bowls.

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Japanese broth, salmon, mushroom, tofu

The Marinade and Fish

  • 200 g salmon, skin on, halved lengthwise.
  • 1 tablespoon Japanese soy sauce, Teriyaki or Tamari
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • ½ teaspoon sesame seeds

Put fish fillets in a bowl and cover with the soy sauce and oil. (not the sesame seeds). Leave aside until ready to grill.

The Soup

  • ½ litre or a little more of vegetable stock (or water and 1 vegetable stock cube)
  • 1 tablespoon mirin
  • ½ tablespoon soy sauce
  • mixed mushrooms, hand separated ( enoki, cloud ear fungus, shiitake)
  • 1 tablespoon Miso paste
  • 100 g silken tofu
  • a large handful of baby spinach leaves

Putting it all together.

Turn on the grill to around 200c fan forced. Cover a baking tray with baking paper, arrange pieces of salmon on the tray and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Grill for around 5 minutes, then turn for 1 minute. Remove from grill.

Meanwhile, in a medium-sized saucepan, heat stock with mirin, soy, and miso on a gentle heat until well amalgamated for around 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms , then add the cubed tofu. Gently heat through to cook.

Flake the cooked fish and bits of juice from the tray into the base of serving bowls. Add the spinach leaves. Pour over the hot soup, sharing the mushroom and tofu pieces evenly.

If you are making this for four, count on around 100 g salmon per person and use a whole packet of silken tofu, then simply double all the other ingredients.

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Slurping goodness

Time for an ear worm or stuck song syndrome for those old enough to remember:

 

Spice and the Time Traveller

On Boxing Day, food and eating are the last things on my mind. As the excess and consumer frenzy of ChristmA$ begin to fade, the thought of an indolent summer lying about, drinking tea and reading new books on a shady verandah, becomes an appealing prospect.  Or a gin and tonic under a slow-moving fan.  And in my lazy dreaming, I am perched on a stool in an Indonesian Warung, eating gently spiced vegetables and fish, a gado gado with peanut sauce, or a grilled fish that has been massaged with a spicy sambal, soft tofu in a turmeric laced curry, or a pyramid of greens gently poached in a spicy coconut milk.

Thanks to Ailsa, from Where’s My Backpack, where spices may provide warmth to a cold Irish Christmas.

 

 

Kale, Tofu and Salmon Soup. The Cure.

I never jumped on the kale bandwagon when it became the most blogged about vegetable a year or two ago. I avoid foods that are trendy, or should I say, foods that are trending (and when did trend suddenly become a verb?) It’s not because I don’t like kale: I do grow the darker version in my garden, or rather, it grows itself annually, the tall Tuscan Prince of Winter, Cavolo Nero. Now that kale has been outstripped by the dreaded coconut in all its fatty guises, I might safely write about it.

A bouquet of kale.
A bouquet of kale.

My friend Dianne presented me with a large bouquet of beautiful purple tipped kale leaves. We were wandering through her productive veggie patch, considering the nature of gardens in their Spring transitional stage. Her bountiful kale plants, all self-sown, may need to make way for spring potatoes. Some serious food swapping needs to happen down her end of the country lane. In the meantime I am happy to take the excess and swap for Cos lettuce or radicchio seedlings.

Di's self sown winter kale. Photo by Di Gilkes.
Di’s self-sown winter kale. Photo by Di Gilkes.

Our garden tour took place before we drank our way through the wine cellar and agreed that a sleepover was not only wise, but compulsory. We raised our glasses in tribute to our recently departed friend and pondered the meaning of life, all those questions that assume magnitude after a wine or six. Promises were made, and as I recall, a meal was eaten. We are too old and wise to adopt the famous drinker’s adage,”eating’s cheating”. No, maybe not wise.

balance and harmony
Balance and Harmony

But, getting back to that kale, now that the old-fashioned winter green is no longer trending, a healthy Japanese soup, combining kale, miso and tofu seems in order. I might even add a little recuperative salmon to the brew. Perhaps I should call this Penance Soup?

INGREDIENTS, for four.

  • 5 cups water or vegetable stock
  • 2 spring onions, white and light-green parts only, thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons shiro miso or pale coloured miso
  • 2 teaspoons Japanese soy sauce, such as, Kikkoman
  • 85 gr kale, trimmed and shredded
  • 175 gr silken tofu, drained, cut into small cubes
  • 180 gr piece of salmon fillet, skin removed, cubed
  • reserved chopped spring onion greens for serving

    The Cure
    The Cure

DIRECTIONS

  1. Bring the stock or water to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add spring onions, ginger, and garlic. Reduce heat. Cover, and simmer 10 minutes.

  2. Add miso, then stir to dissolve. Add the soy sauce, kale, and salmon. Return to a simmer, and continue cooking gently until kale is tender, about 5 minutes. Add the silken tofu cubes to heat through. Add reserved chopped spring onion greens when serving.

Notes. The salmon can be left out for a simpler vegetarian version. Any tofu may be used but I prefer the silken variety for this soup.

respect and
Respect and Tranquillity.

Farewell to our friend Piers, artist, sailor, adventurer.

In My Kitchen, Java, May 2015

I’m back in the small town of Cipanas, perched high in the mountains of West Java, a long way from the tourist trail.  I’m in the kitchen often, but it’s not my kitchen and I’m not doing the cooking. I’m watching, learning and asking questions as chef Banardi glides barefoot around his kitchen. It is a culinary ballet and a delight to watch. Years of Chinese and Indonesian traditions, the food of old Jakarta, is conjured and recalled, sometimes retaining it’s authenticity, at other times drawing on modern influences from Melbourne, Australia or Bath, United Kingdom. Like all great cooking, there are no recipes, no choreographer of the dance; the ingredients provide the inspiration.

Kitchen Ballet

Banardi, mentioned in a previous post, was chef and owner of the famous restaurant, Djakarta, in Richmond, Melbourne from 1995 to 2001. Growing up in Angke, a poor suburb in north Jakarta, he learnt to cook by shopping for his mother and observing her techniques. His mother was Javanese, his father Chinese: his cooking reflects these influences. In his twenties, he moved to Melbourne to study hospitality then opened the restaurant. It was deservedly popular, based as it was, on Ibu Bakhar’s authentic recipes as well as Jakartan street food.

In his kitchen, the equipment is minimal: a huge wok and rice cooker, a two burner gas stove with amazing power, a few pots for soup, metal spatulas and bamboo strainer spiders. As this is a holiday house, the kitchen is simple and austere but the food certainly isn’t.

A simple kitchen
A simple kitchen

My contribution to the kitchen is to go shopping at the local market or at Ibu Atit’s wonderful little store down a dark alley behind a mosque. Although we have a fridge, shopping for ingredients is a daily adventure. In Barny’s kitchen the following edible jewels are always present.

a variety of chilli with different levels of heat, garlic, shallot, lemongrass.
A variety of chilli with different levels of heat, garlic, shallot, lemongrass.
galangal, tumeric, ginger, palm sugar and nutmeg.
galangal, tumeric, ginger, palm sugar and nutmeg.
tofu, tempe bosok ( rotten tempeh) and today's tempeh.
tofu, tempe bosok (rotten tempeh) and today’s tempeh.

Tempe and tofu are added to most dishes and are never boring. We buy freshly made spring roll wrappers, so easy to use with no wetting required, and fill them with leftover noodle stir fry, tofu or tempe, and bean shoots. Tofu also lands in curries or is coated with tapioca flour and fried as a side dish or snack.

spring rolls, old fashioned  Chinese corn soup, and fritters. Homemade chilli sambal.
Afternoon Tea. Spring rolls, old-fashioned Chinese corn soup, and corn fritters. Homemade chilli sambal.
Fried rice, vegetable stir fry, soup of tofu and greens.
Fried rice, vegetable and tempe stir fry, soup of tofu and greens.

Every meal is a feast. The herbs, spices and alum and rhizome members form the base of each dish, taking simple dishes to another level. Sometimes we grind these in the Uleg, sometimes they are torn or roughly chopped. Along with these and fresh vegetables, rice or noodles add the basic carbohydrates and salty fish, coconut and eggs add more protein.

Pepes tofu on charoal BBQ
Pepes tofu on charcoal BBQ

On Tuesday night, Barny decided to make Pepes Tahu. (spicy tofu stuffing wrapped in banana leaves). I have often eaten Pepes Ikan in Bali, a mixture of fish mashed into a paste, spiced and then rolled in banana leaf and barbecued on hot coals. This tofu version was heavenly. The filling made from tofu, tiny salty fish, fresh coconut flesh, chilli, shallot and other spices, is mashed, placed into the centre of a large banana leaf and then rolled into a neat package, and secured with toothpicks. Coconut shells provided the charcoal for the barbecue: I love the way every part of the coconut is used. The little metal BBQ cost around $4.00 AU. I know what’s going back in my hand luggage.

Pepes Tahu, bean and egg curry in coconut milk, nasi putih, salty fish.
Pepes Tahu, bean and egg curry in coconut milk, nasi putih, salty fish.

I think the Pepes Tahu stole the show, but then the Lumpia Manis, sweet spring rolls based on an old Balinese recipe, Dadar, pancakes stuffed with coconut and palm sugar, were ambrosial. As you can see, Barny turned very Melbournian with the presentation of this sweet. The Lumpia Manis deserve a separate post.

Lumpia Manis- sweet spring rolls stuffed with coconut and palm sugar, sweet and salty coconut sand, and palm sugar syrup.
Lumpia Manis- sweet spring rolls stuffed with coconut and palm sugar, sweet and salty coconut sand, palm sugar syrup.

Thanks Celia, for hosting all of us again. Why not check out other kitchen inspirations at  Fig Jam and Lime Cordial?

Javanese Street Food- a world of temptation

Street food is omnipresent throughout Java : it is hard not to think about eating all day. Some of my best breakfasts ( indeed meals) cost a mere 25 cents: other snacks even less. It is important however to assess how pure the water is and how clean the vendor’s cart might be. Travelling with a native speaker opened a whole world of temptation. Thanks Barnadi. The winner of best street food award goes to:

  • Deep fried tofu with green chilli

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I ate a whole bag full of these and nearly spoilt my lunch. Imagine a bag full of freshly cooked tofu squares, with twenty little green, not overly mean, chillies. Pull the stem from the chilli and shove it into the centre of the hot tofu. To Die For.

In second place comes,

  • Javanese breakfast rice.ImageImageImage

Some were complex, others quite basic but all were satisfying and delicious. Nasi goreng or nasi coconut or kuning ( yellow) with lots of yummy little extras like fried tempe cakes, wrapped in brown paper triangular parcels that, when unwrapped, became the plate.  Add a little hot sambal for good measure.

Other photos include delicious corn fritters, my favourite fruit combo of pineapple and dragonfruit,  and pepes ikan ( fish and coconut mixture wrapped in banana leaf, grilled on coals)ImageImageImage

More Javanese delights coming soon.