Monday, March 31, 2008


While supermarket shopping in Thailand the other day I came across fried tofu puffs which I have never seen in Laos and immediately thought Laksa. Now, I have made many Laksa's over the years and while they are usually very tasty they are often really, really time consuming. I mean really, on most days, who could be bothered to boil prawn heads to get a stock - even if it is a damm tasty stock. So I took a risk and attempted a recipe from my new 'Bowl Food' cookbook purchased from the Cambodian chain bookstore that sells a wide range of photocopied, copyright infringed books. It looked easy and surprisingly was quite tasty. Anyway, that is why a make this post -it is a recipe for a tasty Laksa that you don't have to dedicate a day to.

For paste

1 ½ tablespoons coriander seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 onion, chopped
1cm x 3cm piece of ginger, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 stems lemongrass, sliced
4-6 small red chilies
2-3 teaspoons shrimp paste

For soup

1 L chicken stock
½ cup oil (I only used a few tablespoons)
3 cups coconut milk (I made do with a 200ml can coconut cream)
4 fresh kaffir lime leaves
2 ½ tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 table spoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons palm sugar or brown sugar
Handful of prawns or pork or beef or veggies
250g dried vermicelli noodles

To serve

1 cup bean sprouts
Handful of fried tofu puffs
4 hardboiled eggs
Mint, coriander – chopped
Lime wedges – to serve
Fried shallots – to serve

Dry roast the coriander seeds. Grind in a mortar and pestle. Repeat for cumin seeds. Put all of the ingredients for the paste in a blender and add half a cup of stock and blend to a paste.

Heat the oil and cook the paste on a low heat for 3- 5 minutes while stirring. Add remaining stock and bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 min, until slightly reduced. Add the coconut milk, lime leaves, lime juice, fish sauce and palm sugar and simmer for 5 minutes. At this time pour some boiling water over the vermicelli and leave for about 5 minutes until soft. Drain.

Add meat or vegies to soup and simmer until cooked.

Add noodles to each bowl. Top with soup and then garnish with eggs, bean sprouts, tofu puffs and herbs. Serve with lime and shallots. Serves 4-6.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Smoked Fish with Vegetables, Matapha and Gari

The food from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique has some similarities. The use of peanuts. Coconuts. Dried and smoked fish. Leaves from cassava and other plants as a primary ingredient. Combine all these ingredients with some onions, chillies, palm oil, and garlic and you have a fusion of Mozambican Matapha and Congolese Pondu. Served with some pap, rice or gari and you have a delicious and filling dish. We prefer to add another dish, like smoked chicken with peanut sauce (DRC), or (very) spicy fried okra with prawns (Mozambique). Since I’ve made these dishes many times before, I opted for a new addition: fried smoked fish with vegetables.
So here they are.

Smoked Fish with Vegetables

Found in Dorinda Hafner's A Taste of Africa, purchased at Borders for $10!

500g smoked herring or mackerel
3 tbs peeled and finely grated ginger
½ cup vegetable or peanut oil
2 onions, minced
4 tomatoes, blanched, peeled and puréed
1 tbs tomato paste blended with ¼ cup water
2 red chillies, minced
250g green beans
½ teaspoon garlic salt (or salt and garlic)

Season the fish with salt and ginger. Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan, and sauté the fish (I used mackerel) until crisp and brown. Remove from the oil, drain, and set aside. In the remaining oil, add the onions and sauté until they are almost brown. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, chillies, green beans, and garlic salt. Return the fish to the pan, cover, and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the sauce thickens.

Matapha / Pondu

is an amalgamation of many internet recipes that I no longer have because I wrote them in Rakas departing present, the cook's companion recipe journal.

6 handfuls Cassava (or Matapha) leaves
3 tbs palm oil
2 onions
8 cloves garlic
one piece of dried, salted or smoked fish, broken up
3 chillies (or more if they’re not very hot)
salt to taste

For Matapha add:
1 can coconut cream
1 cup roasted peanuts

NB: I’ve guessed the quantities as I normally make it by taste, so you may need to adjust.

Equivalent ingredients
Cassava or Matapha leaves have a distinct chlorophyll fragrance and taste, which is difficult to replace. If you can’t find them in Footscray or some other suburb of Melbourne which I don’t know about which has African grocers (sorry Melly, but I have no idea if you’ll have an option at all here), use 8 handfuls of spinach.

Palm oil is thick, red and sticky. Again, if you can’t find an equivalent, use peanut or ground nut oil.

For the smoked fish I tend to use half a small smoked fish (see picture), but you can also use a bunch of those tiny dried fish you get at Asian grocers (although not as fragrant).

If using fresh leaves, grind leaves in mortar and pestle with the garlic and chillies. Otherwise grind garlic and chillies then add frozen leaves. Place in a saucepan, cover with water and cook until almost dry (approximately ½ hour). Add all remaining ingredients and cook for one hour, adding water if necessary. For Matapha, once cooked, blend until almost smooth (it should be the consistency of a pumpkin soup). The dish should be nutty and smoky, but not spicy despite the inclusion of chillies.


Again, taken from Dorinda's cookbook

Gari is a new addition to my African recipes, and is delicious. It is actually a Portuguese and/or French dish which has been adopted by the Ivory Coast (I think it might be a Portuguese dish adopted by French colonies). It is almost like a cross between polenta and bread, and is very simple to make. If you can’t find it in African or Portuguese / Spanish grocers, use polenta, rice or mashed potato instead (I’ll explain pap another day).

Farine de Manioca (in French, or Farinhe de Mandioca in Brazil, or Farinha de Mandioca in Portugal, or dried ground cassava)

Put 2 cups gari in a bowl and add enough lightly salted water to cover it completely (I also give it a little stir). Let is stand for 10 minutes, or until the gari absorbes the liquid and swells (it will swell to about twice its original size). Fluff the gari with a fork and serve with the fish and the Matapha poured over it.

Serves 4

Monday, March 3, 2008

Fantastic Fish Pie

I love a good pie.  It's comfort food.  This winner is adapted from a Jamie Oliver recipe.   We've changed a few ingredients - swapped potato for sweet potato, added peas, garlic and more eggs.  As you can see, it unfortunately does not photograph so well but I can guarantee, there will never be left overs with this baby.  It's damn delicious!!

3 medium sweet potatoes, chopped
4 eggs
2 handfuls of fresh spinach
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1/2 cup of peas
1 cup of cream
1 big handful of grated cheddar cheese
1 big handful of Parmesan cheese
1 lemon, juiced
1 heaped teaspoon of hot English mustard
1 big handful of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
2 big pieces of fish cut into chunks (we use cod or rockling - any fleshy white fish will do)
Extra virgin olive oil
Fresh ground salt and pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 230C

Place sweet potato chunks in boiling salted water.  After a couple of minutes, add the eggs and cook for a further 8 minutes until they are hard boiled and the sweet potato is also cooked.

At the same time, in a separate bowl, wilt the spinach in boiling water.  Squeeze any excess moisture away.

Drain the sweet potatoes and eggs.  Place sweet potato in a bowl with a tablespoon of olive oil, salt, pepper, a touch of nutmeg and mash up.  Put a plate over the bowl to keep them warm. Cool the eggs under cold water, peel and quarter them.  Set aside.

In a frypan add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and slowly fry the garlic, onions, carrot and peas for around 5 minutes.  Then add the cream and bring to a boil.  Remove from the heat, add the cheeses, lemon juice, mustard and parsley.

Put the spinach, fish and eggs into an earthenware dish and mix together.  Pour over creamy vegetable sauce.  Spread mashed sweet potato over the fish.  Sprinkle with a thin layer of cheese.  Cook in the oven for around 25-30 minutes.
Serve with steamed vegies.  This recipe feeds around 4 peeps.  If there are any leftovers, I can assure you, there will be a fight for seconds!

Ban Keun Soup

When I first moved to Laos I lived for a year in Ban Keun. My kitchen was fashioned from a concrete shell of a room with old school tables for benches. There was no glass on the windows and I used to wipe the red dust from the surfaces daily. I had no sink, cupboards or stove - just a bucket of water, an electric frypan and a few bowls and spoons. To put it quite simply, it was uninspiring. But it was from here that Ban Keun Soup was created.

Essentially a one-pot dish created from whatever fresh ingredients you can get your hands on, plus some longlife staples such as miso paste, canned tuna and eggs, Ban Keun soup for me is now one of the most soothing, simple, healthy things I can think of. It is Monday night food!

Serves 2
1 brown onion - sliced
1 small piece of ginger - diced small
1 japanese eggplant - halved longwise and sliced
handful of oyster (or other) mushrooms - sliced
1 small green cabbage (or chinese cabbage - wong buk) - sliced
1 small bunch morning glory - cut into thirds
1 medium sized can of tuna
2 tbsp miso paste (shiro or the light brown one)
2 tbsp soy sauce (yellow boy brand is best)
1.5 tbsp white vinegar
3 cups water
1 egg
2tbsp fried red shallots (pre bought is far easier) (to serve)
chilli paste or sauce ( to serve)

Fry onions in a small amount of oil in a wok or deep based saucepan till transparent. Add ginger, eggplant and mushrooms and fry for about 3 min, until the eggplant is a bit soft.

Add water (it will pleasantly sizzle!) miso, soy and vinegar and bring to boil. Add tuna. Taste for flavour, adding more miso, soy or vinegar if necessary. Turn heat down to a simmer and add vegies. Cook for another 1-2 min. Break egg into liquid and stir a little. Cook for another minute or so and you're done.

Serve with a spoon of deep fried shallots and some chilli sauce.

* this version had tomato too....flexibility is the key!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Kanel Bulle - Swedish Cinnamon buns

In the food stakes the Swedes are at quite a disadvantage to every other country we have spent a long time in. Just about all produce has to travel large distances to get here. The presence of good, tasty, plentiful vegies and herbs is limited, thus the main diet is (in my opinion) quite bland. Except in the summer when the berries are truly amazing.

But what these folk do well, very well, is 'fika'. Which basically means coffee and cake. So they bake well and often. The most traditional of these baked delights is the kanelbulle (literally cinnamon bun). There is even a national day dedicated to these little treats. This recipe came from the back of a flour packet here, with reference to another blog for the technique (I think it was called goodmoodfood.blogspot hosted by an Irish guy from Dublin). My translating skills are pretty good for all ingredients, but my verb knowledge of swedish is still pretty rudimentary.

Here goes.....

150 grams butter
150 mls full fat milk
50 grams yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
150 ml caster sugar
800 grams plain flour
2 tablespoons cardamon (kardemumma)

For the "cinnamon butter"
125 grams butter
150 ml caster sugar
3 tablespoons cinnamon

To paint the top of each bulle
1 whisked egg
Pearl sugar, or some other coarse sugar for sprinkling

*Melt the butter in a saucepan, and add milk. Heat to lukewarm/finger warm.

*In a large bowl, crumble the yeast and add a little of the butter/milk liquid. Stir the yeast in until it becomes a smooth paste. Then add the rest of the liquid.

*Add the sugar and the salt.

*Add the flour and the cardamon the smell here is heavenly

*knead the dough lightly by hand a little (do not take it out of the bowl to do this). It's fine if the dough is sticky.

*Place a damp tea-towel over the bowl and leave the dough to rise, for about 45- 50 minutes.

Cinnamon butter
*Melt the butter and add the caster sugar and cinnamon. Leave to stand while you are waiting for the dough to rise (but NOT in the fridge!).

Putting it all together
*Once the dough has risen, place on a large table. If it's too sticky to handle at this point, sprinkle the table and the dough with a little extra flour. Knead the dough a little, very lightly.

* Divide the dough into two pieces. Roll each piece out into a large, thin rectangle and smear the cinnamon butter over the entire surface of each, right up to the edges.

Roll each rectangle up (as you would with a swiss roll) and cut each "log" into 2-3cm pieces.

*Place each piece on a large paper cup-cake case. Cover with a (dry) tea-towel and leave for 20-30 minutes.

*During this time pre-heat your oven to 210-220 degrees.

*After 20-30 mins, paint the tops of each bulle with egg and sprinkle with sugar.

*Bake in the oven for 7 to 9 minutes.

Make yourself a nice cuppa and have your own Swedish style fika.