pho

May 6, 2013 § Leave a comment

Chilli flower

Its been two and a half months since we moved to Darwin. In that time, I have started making a basket out of scrap material collected over my 29 years, made huge amounts of pickled cucumbers, watched far to many murder mysteries, tried to commit myself to balancing on my head at least once a day, finally got a job, and consumed large quantities of pho. AND pho could just so happen to be the very best thing that has happened to me since I arrived. A traditional Vietnamese soup, it’s so easy to make, and so so tasty.

As I have learnt, there are a few things you need to consider when making pho. The first is your stock. I always recommend people make their own stock out of organic meat, rather than buying it from the store. Not just because it tastes so much better but because homemade stock is very very good for you.

For pho, I have made and used stock from chicken, beef and fish. All work well, just adding a slightly different flavour. Just remember that fish stock can be quite strong, so adjust the quantities as needed.

The next thing you need to consider is the herbs you garnish your pho with. My favourite by far is Thai basil, but you can also use coriander, mint and traditional basil or combinations of each.

light in out backyard

How to make stock

To make stock, I usually use the leftover bones and carcass from the previous nights roast dinner (about 1 – 2 kg). If I haven’t had a roast in a while, I will sometimes use 4 chicken drumsticks instead. I will place them in a large pot with one or two bay leaves and a good pinch of salt. Some people add vegetable scraps too and you can if you want. This is then covered with water, (about 4 – 6 litres) and brought to the boil before leaving to simmer for 3 – 4 hours, skimming the scum as needed. This can then be frozen into serve size portions (say two cups each) and used when needed. It will keep in the fridge for about 4 days and in the freezer for 3 – 4 months.

Pho (serves 4)

For the broth

4 cups stock
4 cups water
4 star anise
1 – 2 cinnamon quills
1 inch piece of ginger cut in half
1 onion cut into quarters
4 cloves garlic peeled
1/3 cup fish sauce

To serve
375 g flat rice noodles
Roughly 300 g organic beef very thinly sliced
2 limes cut into quarters
A bunch of fresh Thai basil
About 200 g beansprouts
2 fresh chillies cut into strips
Chilli sauce (optional)
Hoisin sauce (optional)
Additional fish sauce

Method

Place, stock, water, star anise, cinnamon, ginger, onion, garlic and fish sauce in a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Cover and allow to simmer for around 30 minutes.

In the meantime, cook rice noodles as per package suggestions, and arrange limes, basil, bean sprouts, chilli and sauces on a serving plate in the middle of your table.

Divide the cooked noodles into 4 bowls. Place the raw beef strips on top and cover with steaming hot broth. The hot broth will cook the meat as it makes its way to the table. Allow people to add the additional ingredients in the centre of your table, as per their liking.

pho with condiments

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all about dragon fruit, iced green tea and being grateful

March 21, 2013 § 1 Comment

dragon fruit

There have been days when I have watched the clouds and the sea, breathed in the hot air, walked through the night when its pouring rain, listened to the jungle foul in our back yard, rode home at dusk in an electric sky, eaten green paw paw salad, bought armfuls of local mandarins, rambutans and dragon fruit at Rapid Creek market and loved this place. And then there have been days when I have questioned every reason I’m here and what it is I am trying to pursue. I have missed my southern friends, a good cup of coffee, cute little cafes with beautifully dressed waitresses, newspaper headlines that resemble some mild form of intelligence and a local radio station that I enjoy listening to. Luckily these moments can usually be fixed with a jar of pickles and an hour or so spent in the hammock watching the evening sky. Or eating oatcakes and admiring the little green tree frog that croaks outside our kitchen window and even sometimes comes in for a visit. And if this doesn’t work, a few stern words to myself about how great it is to be a little lost and not know what lies ahead because that way anything is possible.

dragon fruit and lime

But today is not a pickle and hammock day. Today is a green tree frog, cloud watching, rain walking day and I am grateful. I am grateful to my friends and family who have rung me up to ask me how things are going up here and told me not to worry, I’ll get a job soon. I am grateful to that person who is going to employ me sometime soon. And I am grateful to my new friends, one of whom wrote me a welcome card when we arrived, made me iced green tea and taught me the only way to eat dragon fruit – which is with lime. Or I guess lemon would probably work too.

I had only tried dragon fruit once or twice before and never really liked it or given it much thought. Perhaps this was because I lived in the south and it was far away from its tropical context. But more importantly, I think it was because it was lacking in preparation. Lime turns this fruit from somewhat dull and strange in taste to subtle and delicious, just like that. I hate to think of all the people who may have given up on it like I did, simply because they had never tried it this way. So, if you ever come across one of these striking fruits, that grows on a cactus, is about the size of a fist and has pink skin with protruding green wing like tips, I dare you, no I beg you, to take one home and cut it open. Their flesh is either a deep and intense red or white but always speckled with tiny black seeds that crunch ever so slightly in your mouth. Once you have finished admiring the way its red flesh has stained your knife, or the starkness of the pink skin against white, divide it into quarters or eighths, squeeze half a lime (or lemon?) all over it, and eat it up. It just so happens to have become one of my near favourite things. Even though it took some persuasion and more than one attempt.

red dragon fruit cut open

And finally, inspired by my friend Nia, I really recommend iced green tea, especially when it’s infused with ginger, fresh mint and, yes, you guessed it – lime, which conveniently grows on a tree in our back yard. This is so refreshing poured in a glass with ice and sipped slowly at the kitchen table. Or with your feet up on a couch. Or in a hammock watching the sky!

Here is the recipe.

Iced green tea with ginger, mint and lime

4 cups boiling water
½ cup cold water
4 heaped teaspoons loose leaf jasmine tea
1 heaped tablespoon of honey (or to taste)
4 – 6 thin slices of ginger
Juice of 1 large or 2 small limes
A handful of fresh mint

Bring 4 cups of water to the boil. Turn off the heat. Add 1/2 a cup of cold water. Then add the tea and steep for 2 minutes. Strain into a largish vessel. Add the ginger and honey and stir in. Leave covered on the bench to cool. Once the liquid has reached room temperature add the lime, mint ice and serve.

Hint # 1– Its a good idea to make double and reserve what you don’t drink straight away in the fridge for later. In this case its best to hold off on adding the lime, mint and ice until just before you drink it. It remains nice and fresh that way.

Hint # 2 – By adding 1/2 a cup of cold water you prevent the tea from being scolded and thus turning bitter. Interestingly however, green tea is very high in antioxidants, which are enhanced if you use boiling water to infuse your tea. Therefore if you choose health over taste, don’t bother adding the cold water before adding the tea.

limes on tree

spiced roast eggplant and zucchini salad

January 13, 2013 § 1 Comment

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It is hot! Stinking hot! The kind of heat with thick hairdryer winds. The kind of heat you feel like you are swimming in rather than walking in. The air is viscous, your arms almost float in it.

I never feel like eating much in this weather other than ice cubes, salads and smoothies. Not all at once of course but spaced between episodes of gasping on the couch with a wet towel on my head and the fan on high no less than two feet from my face.

Eggplant

The recipe below for an eggplant and zucchini salad spiced with paprika, cumin and mint, is both light and rich. The dried figs, walnuts and fetta add a lovely texture to the softness of the roasted vegies.

Spiced roast eggplant and zucchini salad

2 – 3 large eggplants
1 large or 2 small zucchinis
Salt
1/3 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp honey
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cumin
4 cloves garlic chopped
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Juice of half an orange
1/2 Tbs tamari or soy sauce
1 cup fresh mint leaves roughly chopped
1/2 cup dried figs roughly chopped
3/4 cup toasted walnuts roughly chopped
1 cup roughly chopped crumbled fetta

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Preparation

Preheat oven to 200°C /400°F

Cut the eggplant and zucchini into 1-inch cubes and put in a large bowl. Sprinkle lightly with salt and set aside for about 15 minutes or until juices start to come out of the eggplant. Rinse in cold water, drain and pat dry.

In the meantime, combine olive oil, vinegar, honey, paprika, cumin, lemon zest, half the lemon juice and chopped garlic. Stir into the salted and washed eggplant and zucchini.

Spread the mixture onto a large baking paper lined baking dish and roast in the preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until very tender and browned. You will need to check on them and give them a toss halfway through the cooking. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.

Place roasted veggies in bowl and add tamari, orange juice and the last half of the lemon juice. Toss. Stir in the mint, figs, walnuts and feta and enjoy.

Serves 4

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hello 2013

January 4, 2013 § 2 Comments

beans close up

I was camping at the Grampians for new years, watching birds and stars, climbing mountains and drinking lots and lots of tea. It was such a peaceful way to start 2013, and I feel like this year is going to be great! It is just a feeling, which is perhaps more important than any materialisation of the thought, but that’s ok too.

This festive time of year always makes me think of my mum and her bean salad. It often ends up on the table on special occasions and Christmas and new years are no exception.

As easy and very simple dishes often are, this has always been one of my favourites.  This year however, I have started making it with some fresh apricots chopped up and thrown in too. There is something lovely about the tartness of the vinegar with the sweet freshness of the apricots and the greenness of the beans and basil. Below, I have put mum’s recipe but feel free to add some apricots if you would like.

beans w feet

Mum’s Green Bean Salad

2 huge handfuls of green beans
A splash of olive oil
A few splashes of balsamic vinegar
A good sprinkle of sea salt
A very good handful of roughly chopped basil

Top and tail beans, cut in half and steam until fluorescent green and crispy.  Take off the heat and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking. Whilst the beans are still warm add the olive oil, vinegar and salt and mix in. Once the beans are cool add the basil.

This salad can be served straight away or left to marinate for a couple of hours and served at room temperature.

Beans

the way I like it

December 12, 2012 § 5 Comments

flowers

I have always taken on a rather flippant character in the kitchen and I have always been very hopeless at following recipes. It’s a bit like an uncontrollable desire to not do as I am told. But I think this also comes from being an impatient kind of person – I can never be bothered to measure things properly, I can’t stand all those different sized measuring spoons, and never seem to be able to find the measuring cup in our chaotic and unruly cupboards.  I’m also impatient enough to forget that it is this very nature that is the reason for unruly cupboards in the first place. Things get thrown on shelves with doors slammed and a quick prayer that nothing will come tumbling out when displaced by the new object that has descended upon its turf.

I admire those people, who don’t seem to notice the things that slow them down, those that can measure flour down to the milligram, who level a cup with the scrape of a knife, who follow a recipe methodically.

The recipe below for beef rendang is one I first ate at my friend and colleague Noel’s house. Noel and his wife Jenny are amazing cooks. The recipe came out of an old and battered book, with pages yellowing and crinkled at the sides. They picked it up when they were in Indonesia, perhaps more than 30 years ago, and they have been cooking out of it ever since. It is very much my kind of recipe – humorously vague with a few Indonesian words for ingredients thrown in here and there. It leaves much to the imagination. But it is also an absolutely beautiful recipe. The meat becomes lovely and tender with hours spent cooking and the flavours are rich and creamy.

Below I have written the recipe directly from the book, but with some added notes in honour of people who like things more precise, and in an attempt to be more like that myself.  I hope you enjoy.

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Rendang Padang

1 lb steak (I used 600g)
2 – 4 tsp chilli
1 scant tsp laos (galangal powder – I used fresh)
1 medium onion grated
1 small clove garlic crushed (I used 2)
1 bay leaf
1 tsp salt
3 cups thick santan (coconut cream)
1 knob ginger (I used about 1 inch)
½ tsp turmeric
1- 2 stalk/piece lemon grass pounded (and chopped)
Asam (juice of half a lemon)
(I also added 2 small potatoes and a small sweet potato)

Cut the meat into serving size pieces and place in a wide saucepan (with hot oil – brown the meat).
Crush Ginger and add, with onion and garlic and other spices (stir until fragrant).
Add Santan (coconut cream).
(Add potatoes and sweet potato)
Bring quickly to the boil, stirring frequently to prevent catching until the oil comes out.
Continue the slow cooking until the oil is re-absorbed. This can take 2-3 hours told, even up to 8 hours (I cooked for about 2 hours, being impatient offcourse).
The dish should be completely dry when served (I think they mean thick here).
(Serve with rice)
Note: New potatoes, red beans (previously soaked over night), or pieces of young jackfruit, can be added to this dish when the santan has come to the boil.
Instead of beef – can use chicken, prawn, duck, liver, egg, goat, or kangaroo meat.

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there’s time

October 24, 2012 § 7 Comments

Hello…

Well, I made it. I am on the other side of something quite big, something that has kept me rather distracted from myself and all the other things I have wanted to do for the past two years. I have finished my masters! And there is a very peaceful knowledge that time is now on my side. It belongs to me again. This is nice. Well very nice actually. Overwhelmingly fantastic!

So here I am with some space, to do something for myself, slowly and how ever I want to. Thats a lovely feeling.

The garden is caught between winter and summer and remains positively neglected and wild. But, this is not so bad, because I know that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Its wonderful to know I can now spend more time taming broad beans, if thats what I want to do. But perhaps more importantly, more time nourishing my wicked taste for very fine delicious things.

Thanks to a very delicious breakfast eaten here and to Jamie Oliver for the idea for this recipe.

Smashed Broad Beans and Peas

2 cups fresh podded broad beans
1 cup fresh podded peas
a decent handful of fresh mint
a decent couple of splashes of olive oil
juice of one lemon
about 1/4 of a garlic clove crushed
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook the peas and beans in boiling water for no more than two minutes, drain and rinse in cold water immediately. Pull the outer skin of each podded broad bean – and puree all ingredients together.

Its that easy

Serve on toast with a poached egg and a smattering of finely grated pecorino.

kimchi

September 30, 2012 § 2 Comments

Here is a vegetarian version of kimchi, a korean type of sauerkraut. I have had a craving for this for a while now, so yesterday I headed on down to the CERES market to pick up the ingredients .

What you will need

6 cups shredded cabbage
2 cups grated carrot
2 cups grated daikon radish
1 Tbsp grated ginger
2 cloves crushed garlic
1/2 – 1 tsp chilli flakes or chilli paste
1 Tbsp Salt
4 Tbsp Tbsp whey (or alternatively use an extra 1 Tbsp salt)

Place all  ingredients in a very large ceramic or glass bowl. Pound with a heavy spoon, potato masher, or a meat hammer to release the juices. Sterilise, a wide mouthed 2 liter jar. Place the pounded ingredients inside the jar and push down firmly so there is a layer of juices above the vegetables. There should be at least 1 inch between the top of the jar and the vegetables. Cover tightly and leave at room temperature for 3 days before transferring to the fridge. You can eat straight away, however it will improve after another week or so.

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