Vietnamese Prawn Vermicelli Noodle Salad

Vietnamese prawn and vermicelli noodle salad

Vietnamese prawn and vermicelli noodle salad

So it’s been a while, huh? 

A couple of weeks ago, I sat down to write and ended up putting it aside to write my thank you cards for the wedding presents.  Each time since there has been a similar distraction which has kept me away from this blog.  It isn’t that I haven’t been eating – far from it – more that other things have got in the way.  I think we all have this problem.

Yesterday I spent much of the day on the couch with a bad bout of asthma.  As is often the way when I feel sorry for myself, much of my sustenance came from the toaster and the biscuit tin.  When I finally mustered the energy to pop down to the local shops and buy myself some Lucozade (magical restorative potion of choice), I went past the greengrocers and realised that something had to change: I needed vegetables.

Although the temperature has dropped in London in the past few days, I find that I am still in love with the no-cook meals I have discovered during the recent heatwave.  After all, nobody wants to slave over an oven and a hob when it is in excess of 30 degrees.  There has been a lot of raw vegetable consumption in my household over the summer, and I have to confess that I am feeling all the better for it.

Asian salads are one of the best ways to eat raw vegetables as the punchy, spicy dressings are the perfect cure for the sometimes monotonous taste.  They usually consist of vegetables, and often fruit, shredded very finely and combined with noodles or beansprouts and often meat or fish.  The art of creating the perfect dressing is getting the balance of the four elements right: hot, salty, sweet and sour, the basis of a lot of Asian cookery.

This salad is a typical Asian medley of vegetables with vermicelli rice noodles and prawns.  Although it isn’t strictly a no-cook recipe, the few minutes spent stir frying the vermicelli noodles and beansprouts in a wok barely counts.  Using cooked prawns is the easy option, but you could cook your own if you wish.

Vietnamese Prawn and Vermicelli Noodle Salad
Serves 2-3; adapted from a recipe from taste.com.au

For the dressing
2 tbsp dark brown sugar
2 tbsp fish sauce
90ml lime juice
2 birds eye chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped

250g fresh vermicelli noodles
75g beansprouts
1 large carrot, cut into thin batons
1 cucumber, deseeded and cut into thin batons
2 birds eye chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
300g cooked, peeled prawns
2 tbsp each of finely chopped mint, coriander and basil

Combine all of the ingredients for the dressing in a bowl, whisk to dissolve the sugar and set aside.

Stir fry the vermicelli noodles and beansprouts according to packet instructions and then transfer to a large bowl.  Add the carrot, cucumber, chilli, prawns and herbs.  Pout over the dressing and toss to combine.

Stir Fried Squid with Ginger

Stir fried squid with ginger

Stir fried squid with ginger

I am finding being back in London a bit of a struggle.  Whilst it is something of a thrill being able to speak English to everybody, visiting favourite south-east London haunts and seeing comfortable old favourite London landmarks from the top deck of the number 12 bus, getting back into a regular routine is proving to be harder than I expected.  Getting up in the morning is by far the most difficult part, and I find myself needing several cups of coffee before I begin to feel normal.  By the evening, I am completely wiped out and good for no more than watching the Tour de France highlights and falling asleep on the couch.  I think it’s the sudden withdrawal of the lengthy afternoon naps I enjoyed on holiday.  Breakfast and dinner, as you can imagine, have suffered as a result.

Did I also mention that I am skint?  Whilst being a fairly cheap country in comparison to the rest of Europe, Spain will still put a dent in your wallet if you spend two weeks eating out and visiting local attractions.  All the more if you like wine.  If you like wine and gin, well, you can guess how this ends.

When on holiday, I have the best of intentions for my return home.  I will go to the market and buy lots of lovely fresh food and make wonderful, healthy dinners, I will exercise every day and will not eat chorizo with every meal.  I will not drink at lunchtime.  Of course, this is the guilt of eating chorizo with every meal and downing a couple of glasses of red before passing out on a lounger for an afternoon nap talking.  The reality is vastly different.  Tired and (albeit temporarily) poor, I want to sleep as much as possible and make meals that have inexpensive ingredients and take half an hour to make.  Tops.

Before going to Spain, I had the good sense to stock up the freezer which, considering how many errands I was running in those last few weeks, is nothing short of miraculous.  This included a £10 bag of frozen squid from my local fishmonger, Moxons.  Although I tend to only buy fresh or smoked fish, the frozen squid has proven itself on many occasions to be a godsend.  A bit short on a fish pie: defrost some squid.  Need a quick last-minute pasta: defrost some squid.  You get the idea.  Keeping a bag in the freezer means that in those cash-poor few days before pay day, you can make a decent meal without having to fork our your precious pennies on protein.

This squid stir fry is from a Thai food book that I picked up many years ago from a church fete book stall for about 50p.  I think it dates roughly from the early 2000s and I’m not sure how authentic it is, but there are a few gems in there, including some lemongrass pork on skewers that I have been meaning to try for a long time.  There are a lot of curries in there, but the stir fry recipes are the ones I struggled to resist.  This stir fry in particular is so simple and quick to make, and contains very few ingredients.  If you used dried noodles, you’re looking at ten minutes; if you use fresh noodles you can probably do it in less than five.  As well as the squid, the sauce is flavoured with a simple combination of garlic, ginger, soy, lime and sugar.  It is one of the few stir fry recipes I use that contain no chilli (although we tend to douse it in Sriracha afterwards), which is sometimes good to have on hand when you have houseguests that can’t handle the heat.

Stir Fried Squid with Ginger

3 nests noodles (I used Sharwood’s Medium Egg Noodles)
7 ready-prepared baby squid
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 inch piece of root ginger, finely chopped
Juice of 1 lime
1 tsp granulated sugar
4 spring onions, finely sliced

Cook the noodles according to packet instructions, drain and divide between the two bowls. 

Rinse the squid and pat dry with kitchen paper.  Cut the bodies into rings and halve the larger tentacles.

Heat the oil in a wok and cook the garlic for 30 seconds until golden brown, being careful not to let it burn. Add the squid and stir fry over a high heat for a further 30 seconds.

Add the soy sauce, ginger, lime juice, sugar and spring onions and stir fry for another 30 seconds.  Serve over the noodles.

Mussels with Punk IPA, Curry Leaves and Coconut

Mussels with Punk IPA, curry leaves and coconut milk

Mussels with Punk IPA, curry leaves and coconut milk

As the year speeds along at a frightening rate, two things came to mind: next weekend the clocks go forward, stealing a precious hour in bed but giving us our beloved lighter evenings, and mussels season is coming to an end.  Back in November I posted the recipe for Ollie’s moules marinière and spoke about the rule of only eating mussels when there is an ‘r’ in the month.  Realising that this left me a mere six weeks or so to enjoy my favourite seafood, I popped along to the excellent Moxons in East Dulwich to pick up a bag of mussels for dinner.  A bit of a bargain at £4.50 a kilo.

I seldom make moules marinière at home as my attempt is always far inferior to Ollie’s spectacular efforts, so am often looking for new ways of cooking mussels.  The classic combination is, of course, white wine, creme fraiche and parsley, but what I had in the kitchen was a can of Brewdog Punk IPA, a can of coconut milk and a huge bag of curry leaves from SMBS Foods.  These, along with some shallots, ginger, garlic and chilli would go into make a very different moules dish altogether.

The cooking method is more or less the same with the mussels steaming in the hot liquid for a few minutes until they open.  The addition of a hefty amount of beer to the cooking broth cuts through the coconut milk and prevents it from having the sweet, cloying taste that some coconut based sauces have.  Due to the Indian influences in this dish, I thought it only right to choose an IPA (India Pale Ale) for inclusion in the dish.  Brewdog has been something of a religion in our family since, ahem, some shares were purchased, so their classic Punk IPA was the brew of choice.  You can use another beer if you prefer – IPA gives a wonderful ‘hoppiness’ to the broth, but another pale ale, or even a good-quality lager, would work just as well.

To be eaten with loads of chips and bread, and more Punk IPA, obvs.

Mussels with Punk IPA, Curry Leaves and Coconut

  • 1 tbsp vegtable oil
  • 2 eschalion shallots, finely chopped
  • Thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 12 fresh curry leaves, sliced
  • 2 dried green chillies (I used birds eye as we like the heat)
  • Pinch salt
  • 250ml Brewdog Punk IPA
  • 400ml can coconut milk
  • 1kg fresh mussels, cleaned and debearded
  • Coriander, roughly chopped

Put a large cooking pot with a lid over a medium heat and pour in the oil.  Gently sweat the shallots, ginger, garlic, curry leaves and chilli for around 5-10 minutes until the shallots are translucent.  Be careful not to let them brown.

Turn the heat up to high and add the beer, letting it bubble up vigorously for a few minutes to cook off the alcohol.  Turn down the heat and stir in the coconut milk, gently bringing it to a simmer.

Add the mussels to the pot, turn the heat up to high and put the lid firmly on.  Cook the mussels for about five minutes, occasionally gently shaking the pan stir them, until they have fully opened.

Ladle into serving bowls and sprinkle with the chopped coriander.  Be sure to discard any mussels that have not fully opened during cooking.

Adapted from a recipe by the Indian Culinary Centre.

Fiery Mirchi Salmon Wrap

Fiery Mirchi Salmon Wrap using sauce from the Vini and Bal's range

Fiery Mirchi Salmon Wrap using sauce from the Vini and Bal’s range

This week, spring arrived in London.  Of course, none of us have yet had the courage to venture out of the house without our coats as the London weather has a tendency to surprise us with a little cold snap when least expected but, as the old wives’ tale goes, March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, so this is definitely a sign of good things to come.

Good weather and large lunches, for me, often go hand in hand.  With so many great places to eat around my office, and many with outside tables, there is no excuse for eating al desko, as I generally do throughout the whole of the winter.  Great Titchfield Street has been a hive of activity during lunch this week, with people sitting out on the street drinking coffee around the entrances of Kaffeine and Scandinavian Kitchen.  After work the crowds generally drift to the outside spaces of the nearby pubs.  This week I discovered Gitane, a lovely little middle eastern cafe that makes vibrant salads and beautiful-looking mini cakes.  I ordered the special of the day, which was a fillet of salmon marinated in harissa and yoghurt and topped with a sprinkling of black onion seeds, served with rice and green salad.  At £8.90 it was a little more than the average take-out lunch around here, but it was really delicious.

Lunch from Gitane, Great Titchfield Street:  harissa and yoghurt marinated salmon with rice and salad

Lunch from Gitane, Great Titchfield Street: harissa and yoghurt marinated salmon with rice and salad

Whilst on the subject of salmon, I wanted to share another recipe I have concocted with the Vini and Bal’s sauces.  After a large lunch, a light dinner is definitely in order especially when, like me, you will need to squeeze yourself into a wedding dress in the coming months.  I had a pot of the Vini and Bal’s Fiery Mirchi sauce in the fridge, that had always been intended for seafood of some kind, but now became destined to become part of a spicy salmon wrap, perfect for a light supper on a day you have overindulged more than is necessary. 

The Fiery Mirchi sauce is the spiciest in the Vini and Bal’s range, perfect if you live with a chilli fiend.  Although most traditional spicy curries use meat as their main ingredient, I always think that seafood lends itself well to a more intense level of heat.  In this wrap I have used a salmon fillet, cooked in the sauce until it gives it a thick coating.  By the end of the cooking, there is only a little bit of sauce left, which can be spooned over the wrap during its construction.  To add a little bit of sweetness, I have included a smear of mango chutney (a store-cupboard staple I could not live without), although you could use yoghurt or raita if you preferred.  I used wholemeal tortilla wraps for this recipe as that is what I could find at my local bakery, however an Indian flatbread, such as a chapatti would work equally well.

Fiery Mirchi Salmon Wrap
Makes two

  • ½ cup basmati rice
  • Olive oil
  • 2 salmon fillets
  • 1 pot Vini and Bal’s Fiery Mirchi sauce
  • 2 wholemeal wraps, or chapattis (see above)
  • 2 tbsp mango chutney
  • 2 large handfuls salad leaves
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
  • ½ red chilli, finely chopped

Cook the rice according to packet instructions and set aside.

Heat the olive in in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat.  Gently cook the salmon fillets, skin side down for a couple of minutes.  Add the Fiery Mirchi sauce and lower the heat to medium.  Continue to cook, spooning the sauce over the salmon fillets to coat them.  Gently turn the fillets to cook on each side, spooning the sauce over as you do so, until the salmon is fully cooked.  Be careful not to break up the fillet if possible.  This should take about 10 minutes or so and the sauce will have reduced a little.

Place the wholemeal wraps on to a plate.  Spread the mango chutney over the centre of the wrap and place the salad leaves and rice on top.  Gently place the salmon fillets on top of the salad leaves, in the centre of the wrap, and spoon over the remaining sauce from the frying pan.  Sprinkle over the chopped coriander and chilli and contruct the wrap by folding the bottom up over the filling and then folding over the sides.  The top should stay open.

More abut Vini and Bal’s here

Dinner for a Time-Poor Christmas Shopper

I don’t have a great deal to write about this dish, and wasn’t even going to post it, but I fell in love with it so decided to share it with you.  This week has been a chaotic flurry of Christmas lunches, Christmas drinks and Christmas shopping and, sadly, meal planning has been put somewhat on the back burner.  The evening meal has either consisted of leftovers from the freezer or concoctions I can make from whatever I have in the cupboard or fridge.  Of course, throwing together ingredients and hoping for the best can have disastrous results, but sometimes they produce something so wholesomely perfect you wonder why you ever used cookery books at all.

This is a simple assembly of purple-sprouting broccoli, chargrilled to bring out the best of its nutty flavour, dressed in anchovies, chilli and garlic and sprinkled with pine nuts.  I stirred mine into a pan of cooked linguini with a healthy glug of olive oil, but it would work just as well as a side dish.

Chargrilled Purple Sprouting Broccoli with Anchovies, Chilli and Pine Nuts

  • 200g purple sprouting broccoli
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 8 anchovy fillets
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 red chilli, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp pine nuts

Blanch the purple sprouting broccoli in boiling water for three minutes, then refresh under cold water to stop them cooking.  Shake the broccoli dry and place on a hot griddle.  Cook for a few minutes on each side until the broccoli is charred but still retains its firmness.

Heat the olive oil in a small frying pan.  Add the anchovies and cook over a medium heat, stirring constantly, until the anchovies have broken down into the oil.  Add the garlic and chilli and cook for a couple of minutes more.  Do not let them burn.

Add the broccoli to the frying pan, along with the pine nuts, and toss in the anchovy, garlic and chilli mixture.

Dinner for One

image

Sometimes I fail spectacularly at having any decorum around mealtimes. For example, if you had visited me on any evening this week you would have found me curled up in the corner of my enormous couch with my plate perched precariously on the arm, eating what can only be described as a TV dinner.  My defence for this kind of sluttery rests on two main factors: one, my new job requires me to watch a fair amount of television; and two, we currently have a very temperamental boiler and heating system, so sitting at the dining room table looks less and less appealing as the temperature starts to drop in London.  Also, I have been dining alone for the past few weeks whilst Ollie has been working late and have been far too tired from my own work to set the table for one. Justification over.

Making dinner for one is also an exercise that has varying results.  I became quite au fait with solo dining when Ollie was touring with his band. Often I would be invited to friends’ houses for dinner, or would entertain people at home, but I would also crave my own company and nights in alone.  Whilst I love spending hours in the kitchen, I initially found that cooking a meal only for myself was a big effort and would often simply stir some pesto into some spaghetti or fix myself a sandwich.  After a while, I realised that there was a possibility for making excellent dinners for one, and began adapting recipes to make quick and easy single portions.

This recipe is one by the majestic Nigella Lawson from her most recent book, Nigellissima: pasta with mackerel, Marsala and pine nuts.  At first I was unconvinced about the combination of smoky mackerel, sharp pine nuts and sweet Marsala but after reading that her inspiration was one of my favourite seafood dishes, pasta con le sarde, I decided to give it a go.  In fact, it is utterly delicious – the many different ingredients create complex levels of flavour and texture that far surpass that of many other pasta dishes.  I first thought that the addition of pine nuts was a touch unnecessary, but they add a little extra oily richness to the oiliness of the mackerel.  This dish is also astoundingly quick to make – in fact, boiling the dried pasta is the most time-consuming part – the rest can be whipped up in a matter of minutes.  The quantities in the cookbook are for two people, but I have adapted the amounts and proportions slightly to make a generous meal for one.

image

Nigella Lawson’s Pasta with Mackerel, Marsala and Pine Nuts

  • 100g dried linguini
  • 30g sultanas
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp Marsala
  • 1 large smoked mackerel fillet, broken into large flakes
  • 1tbsp capers, drained
  • Few drops of cider vinegar
  • 25g pine nuts
  • Dill, roughly torn

Cook the pasta in a pan of boiling salted water according to packet instructions.  Drain the pasta, reserving a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid, and set aside.

In the meantime, warm the olive oil in a frying pan and cook the shallots until translucent, about two minutes.  Add the Marsala and let it bubble before immediately adding the mackerel, sultanas, capers and cider vinegar.  Once the mackerel is warmed through and the liquid absorbed, remove from the heat.

Put the drained pasta back into the pan with the reserved cooking liquid, the contents of the frying pan and half the dill and pine nuts.  Toss together until well combined before transferring to a warmed bowl.  Scatter the remaining dill and pine nuts over the top of the dish and season well.

Ollie’s Moules Mariniere

Moules Mariniere

Moules Mariniere

The old rule that certain types of shellfish can only be eaten when there is an ‘r’ in the month means that I always endure the summer without a number of my favourite foods.  After reading an article in the New York Times that explained why this was – the warmer waters and algae present in the summer months lead to an increase in the potential for food poisoning – I have observed this rule ardently, despite the temptations from supermarkets who still sell the shellfish at these forbidden times.  My favourite shellfish of all is mussels, so almost as soon as the autumn rolls around, I visit my fishmonger for a bag.  The repeat visits often continue until the onset of spring.  There is something about the sound of them crashing against the sides of the pan, and the salty burst of steam when you open to remind you of holidays past and make you feel that you are in a French beach house somewhere, not in the midst of a British winter.

photo 2-2

Moules Marinere is such a deliciously perfect dish that I anticipate it in the same way that I do many of my other favourites – especially as I usually do not have to cook it myself.  When I first met Ollie, he would cook mussels for me all the time, with a side order of salted, skinny frites and a glass of cold muscadet.  His recipe is so excellent that I have yet to find one in a restaurant that I enjoy as much.  It has been a long time since he perfected it and he makes it so often that he knows it by heart, so to get my hands on it, I had to volunteer as sous chef for the evening whilst trying to write down each step in a wine-splashed notebook.  Not the most conventional way of recipe research!

There is very little out of the ordinary in this recipe, the only wildcard being the addition of some finely-diced carrot to to give the sauce an extra amount of sweetness.  The rest is your usual combination of white wine, garlic, shallots, cream and herbs that make the most beautiful mariniere you have ever had.

Moules Mariniere

  • 1kg mussels, cleaned and de-bearded
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ medium carrot, very finely chopped
  • 3 eschalion shallots, very finely chopped
  • 5 medium cloves garlic, very finely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ tbsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 250ml dry white wine
  • 2 tbsp creme fraiche
  • Sea salt and black pepper
  • Flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

Heat the olive oil in a very large saucepan and sweat the shallot and carrot until very tender – about 5-10 minutes.  Add the bay leaf and thyme and stir to coat with the oil.

Turn the heat up to high, add the wine and allow it to bubble away until reduced slightly. Keep the lid on the pan whilst doing this as it will create some steam with which to cook the mussels.  Add the mussels and cook on a high heat.  After a couple of minutes, pick up the pan and, holding the lid on tightly, toss to coat the mussels in the wine mixture.  As the mussels just begin to open, take them off the heat.

Carefully pour the liquid from the pan into a separate saucepan, leaving the mussels and vegetables in the pan.  Put the lid on the mussels and leave to one side.  Heat the sauce on a medium heat until it is reduced a little further and stir in the creme fraiche.  Season well and gently cook the sauce for a further ten minutes.

Pour the sauce back over the mussels, add the parsley and toss again.  Serve in bowls with skinny fries or crusty bread.