Vietnamese spicy lemongrass beef with rice noodles

July 17, 2012

I once did a brilliant cooking class with Vietnamese food extraordinaire Uyen Luu, who showed me that even the most elaborate-seeming dishes can be very easy to make if you follow one basic principal: sweet, sour and salt. Balance these three elements, usually with simple ingredients such as fish sauce, vinegar and sugar, and it doesn’t take much to turn a bit of meat and some noodles into something mega.

This dish is based on something I once had in Mien Tay on Kingsland Road, and is essentially just a load of lemongrass and chilli fried up with some beef mince (a banging combo), thrown on top of some noodles with fresh herbs and vegetables and then dressed in the aforementioned sweet/sour/salt game-changer. Don’t be put off by the long ingredients list – it was very quick and easy to make, and was a proper treat on a gloomy Monday night.

Find out more about Uyen’s Vietnamese cooking class here, and if you’re less inclined to feed than be fed, check out her infamous supper club instead, where Vietnamese delights are always on offer.

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Purple slaw

July 1, 2012

Who doesn’t love slaw (weirdos)? From the mayo-slicked shit you get in Nandos to Spuntino’s incredible slaw, they’re all amazing, especially the all-spice laced one that comes with a Jerk chicken special in Nu-Spice in Brockley, hands down my favourite slaw in the city.

I made this purple extravaganza of red cabbage, beetroot, carrot, mint, mustard seed and red-wine vinegar macerated red onions for an American picnic this weekend. The mustard seeds were thrown in on a whim, but omit them not, as they actually really made it in the end – especially when piled onto a forkful of the shit-hot salt beef that was also present at said picnic.

Recipe after the jump…

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Caribbean roast vegetables

March 11, 2012

Plain roast vegetables need tarting up when you’ve eaten nothing but carrots and swede et al all winter. There’s a recipe in the book, Spice it Up called ‘Levi’s Roots’ by the author of the same name, in which he fries sweet potatoes with caribbean classics, all spice and nutmeg, a combo which I have nicked for this recipe.

As is the case with the Reggae Reggae man’s version, sweet roots such as carrots, parsnip, jerusalem artichokes and swede, which I roasted rather than fried for ease, go perfectly with warming spice, which powers right through any seasonal food monotony. Add some lime-soaked onion and fresh coriander and you’ve got yourself a fresh, crunchy side dish to pep up a bit of grilled meat and salad.

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‘Thai’ smoked mackerel pate

March 11, 2012

What to do when you need to knock up a quick canape at the last minute (LOL)? This! All it really involves is a bit of chopping and mixing, and everyone has mackerels, creme fraiche and spices knocking around all the time, right? I actually do, so there. I imagine this would work just as well with soft cheese too.

It’s Thai because it has coriander, chilli, fish sauce and lime in it, obviously.

Bottom line, it was well easy, cheap and quick, and the aforementioned Thai flavours are nice with strong fish, so it is a good alternative to a more usual shallot/parley mix in this kind of recipe.

I served the pate on classy little triangles of toast, but it would be good on any crackery thing or bread, or even a baked potato.

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Spiced roasted cauliflower

March 11, 2012

Cauliflower is for sure one of those vegetables that everyone thinks is shit, but is actually really good. While not a big player in the flavour stakes, its relative blandness makes it a brilliant vehicle for other delicious things. Obviously this is why it has long been used to relieve the guilt of simply eating melted cheese off a spoon.

Roasting it with fragrant spices such as cumin and coriander is a nice alternative to cooking it in a sauce such as cheese or curry, as it goes all crispy and retains a nice al dente bite. Breadcrumbs add extra crunch to this recipe, which would be nice eaten with a citrussy roast chicken, some harissa marinated lamb-chops, or even, as I had it, on its own with a dollop of sumac creme fraiche (couple of tablespoons of creme fraiche mixed with one teaspoon of sumac powder) for a healthy lunch.

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Coconut pancakes with rum bananas

February 13, 2012

Next week only includes one of the best days of the year; pancake day – the annual Tuesday when we all fry up batter, declare we should do it all the time, then not touch a homemade crepe again until the following February.

So, you may as well make the ones you cook good, and by gum is this tropical bonanza a treat. Coconut! Butter! Sugar! Rum! Mmmmm.

The batter uses desiccated coconut as opposed to coconut milk, as I reckon they’d end up too heavy then, and you need them to be light alongside the rich banaynays.  You could add a load more butter and sugar when you’re cooking the fruit to create more of a caramel sauce, but let’s not get carried away now – this version actually remains (relatively) healthy, and the bananas are moist enough on their own. Just add a dollop of creme fraiche if you’d like it a little wetter.

It’s important to use a good, heavy-bottomed non-stick frying pan when cooking pancakes, for two reasons: firstly, a thick base allows even heat and prevents them easily burning before they’re cooked through, and secondly, a good non-stick coating allows you to add little to no fat for frying, resulting in a much less greasy final dish. The same applies to the banana mix as cooked sugar sticks like chewing gum trodden into carpet. Who wants that? This Marks & Spencer one that I use is good for the price, and of course it’s important to use a non-metal spatula to avoid scratching it.

Recipe after the jump

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Leek, mushroom and broccoli pearl barley risotto

January 30, 2012

I’ve got well into using pearl barley instead of rice for risotto lately. It seems to retain a lovely chewiness when you cook it, and more often comes out like a shit-hot risotto, rather than going porridgey as easily as rice can.

Softly fried leeks make this sweeter and more interesting than a simple mushroom risotto (and allow you to use bog-standard mushrooms without spoiling it) and while the broccoli was a last minute addition for the sake of getting some greens in me, it actually really added something.

I don’t doubt this would taste effin’ delish with some blue cheese, cheddar or parmesan added at the end, I used a couple of tablespoons of cream cheese which was perfectly nice, and a LOT healthier. Don’t judge me.

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Quinoa, lentil, roast squash and smoked mackerel salad

January 16, 2012

Mmmm, look at that bowl of health- proteiney, vitaminey, health. And it was delicious too – what more do you want? Dark green lentils and quinoa together, rather than one or the other, have proved to be a textural treat, and the salty mackerel mixed with sweet, juicy squash make for a great flavour balance too.

Tastes good hot, tastes good cold, and wouldn’t be too bad with some pomegranate either.

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Smoky sausage with soft polenta

January 8, 2012

I cannot bang on enough about how easy and delicious this meal was. And it was created in less than half an hour, with ingredients that would have cost a few mere pounds per portion – I shit you not.

The inspiration for having a tomoatoey, sausagey mix came from Spuntino’s unbelievably good sausages with cheddar grits. Eff knows what they put in that to make it so amazing, but my simpler polenta and Toulouse sausage version is a more than adequate every-day substitute.

I used Toulouse sausages for easy instant flavour and cooking them in a can of tomatoes with a spoonful of dried chipotle gave the dish the smoky sweetness it required. Omitting the cheese from the polenta made it much healthier without particularly compromising on flavour, though I don’t doubt a handful of strong cheddar would be a decadant but satisfying addition. For a vegetarian version, some sauteed aubergine, courgette and peppers would make a fine substitute. A smoky ratatouilleif you will.

Served with a load of wilted garlicky spinach, you could say it was like having exotic sausage and mash, and ended up feeling like a real treat dinner in the wasteland of January budget-health cooking.

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Creamy pork, apple and mustard casserole

January 5, 2012


Pork, apples and mustard are like the food equivalent of Cher, Dionne and Tai (AKA BFFs) and this comforting casserole goes to prove it. So it looks like a bowl of sick, what of it?

Using tart cooking apples and fiery english mustard prevents it from being too sweet and the apples cook down as it simmers away to give it a nice thickness. That combined with the rich pork and creaminess make for a satisfyingly warming winter dish, that is both cheap, quick and easy to make. Plus, adding just a couple of spoons full of low-fat creme fraiche to achieve said creaminess means it’s not so unhealthy either.

Would probably be nice with a bit of leek thrown in (as you fry the pork) should you have any knocking around.

Serve with a hunk of bread and/or some green vegetables.

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