Archive for ‘Noodles’

January 29, 2012

Last Night’s Dinner: Greens and Noodles with Citrus Broth

We have already documented our feelings about Nigel Slater’s TV series and, judging by the amount of people who find themselves reading this blog after searching for the words ‘Nigel Slater creepy’, then many of you are of a similar opinion. Poor soul.

He doesn’t always help himself, however. In a recent Guardian newspaper feature he advocated using fresh, lighter flavours to accompany an Asian-inflenced dish of greens, instead of ‘the dark, almost sinister spicing of the past’.

‘Sinister’? What, cumin? Ginger? C’mon Nige. Did you a recipe backwards and find some hidden meaning in it?

Well, it didn’t stop us from trying his suggestion, although we pimped the recipe by leaving out the fish sauce, adding a dessert spoon of tamarind paste and throwing in some oyster mushrooms and rice noodles for four minutes at the end to make a more substantial stew. And very nice it was too. Fiery, fresh and fragrant. And definitely not sinister in any way.

Nigel’s recipe is here.

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January 23, 2012

Last Night’s Dinner: Bun Xa

Ah, I see you’re looking at the bun xa! Or perhaps that’s bunh xao, ben xao, benh xa or other variations of western spelling I’ve come across.

Bun xa is Ella’s favourite Vietnamese dish. Noodles, basically. Rice noodles. And in our case with a topping of fried tofu and salad, with a chilli dressing. It’s a dish that depends on both ‘mouth-feel’ and your nostrils: by which I mean that it should provide a range of textures in your mouth – not just mush – and both a blast of chilli and some fresh, subtle fragrance up your nose! Yep, it’s all about balance.

We’ve been making this dish for a couple of years, attempting to recreate the delightful version found in a favourite Vietnamese place on Kingsland Road, East London. But we’ve never managed to get it quite right… until now.

The difference this time? Sourcing ingredients from a local Asian food store, rather than trusting our supermarket’s ubiquitous brands. D’oh. Seriously, getting better quality tofu, authentic rice noodles, plus soy and rice wine vinegar – in place of the usual Blue Dragon, Amoy and Cauldron brands – really made a difference. The noodles didn’t turn to slop, the tofu crisped up nicely and the seasoning was deeper and more rounded.

So, how do you make it?

First, chop some firm tofu into bite-sized (finger-sized) pieces and fry in a single layer in a wide pan in a couple of tablespoons of sunflower and sesame oil. Add a little soy sauce to the pan as well, but don’t overdo it. (Or marinate your tofu first, if you give yourself enough time). Cook the tofu gently, turning occasionally, until the tofu is golden on all sides. You can set this aside and reheat later if you need to.

While the tofu cooks, get that dressing done: chop a couple of cloves of fresh garlic, a couple of chillis (ahem, or more, y’know, perhaps) and add them to a small bowl. To the bowl then add a large splash of dark soy sauce and generous glug of rice wine vinegar. Next stir in a teaspoon of castor sugar until it dissolves. Taste. It should be fiery, sharp, fragrant and with a touch of sweetness. Remember, it won’t be this hot when it’s poured over your food. Make it as bold as you dare.

The rest is even easier. Plunge your fine rice noodles into a pan of boiling water, take off the heat and leave for around three minutes. Drain immediately then add a splash of soy sauce and a generous splash of rice wine vinegar to season them. Try and coat them well. Set aside with the lid covering them.

Quickly fry some button mushrooms, halved if they’re on the large side, then add them to the tofu pan. Shred some iceberg lettuce, finely slice two spring onions and coarsely chop some fresh coriander leaves.

Now assemble. In the bottom of your bowl place a portion of the noodles. On top of that comes the tofu and mushrooms. On top of that the ‘salad’ of lettuce, onion and herbs. Then, if you can get them in your Asian grocers, sprinkle some fried shallot flakes over the dish (we really find these add a savoury depth that’s very complementary – and yes, we’ve tried making the flakes at home but they tend to remain slightly greasy and wet whereas these are dry). Serve and let people pour the dressing over the top of the dish.

Some variations could include bean sprouts or shredded carrot in the salad. The main thing is that it is light and fresh. Chopped toasted peanuts could also be sprinkled over, as well as, or in place of, the dried shallot flakes.

Get the balance right and this is as fragrant and moreish a dish as you’ll ever have. If it was music you’d be wowed by it hitting every note on the scale. If it’s greasy, heavy or bland – and if there isn’t enough chilli, then something has gone wrong.

Practise this. It’s a tool for life. Honest.

October 5, 2011

Tuesday-night suppers – the stir fry

I’ve mentioned previously that many of the dishes we post in the ‘Last Night’s Dinner’ section of this blog are the interesting ones – the ones that make use of gorgeous seasonal ingredients, or that make a pretty picture on the plate, or are worked up to some extent: a weekend meal rather than a Tuesday-night supper.

But that’s only half true. Our cooking at ETP towers varies little from weekday to weekend, mainly because at the moment yours truly doesn’t quite work a standard Monday to Friday 9 to 5 week. It’s also because even after a busy day’s work we enjoy a little kitchen prep and cooking as a way to relax. Why completely give that up during the week if you can help it?

That’s a privileged position, however, and there are times of course when you don’t want to think about cooking; when easy fall-backs become a practical necessity. For some people that’s once a week, for others almost every evening.

At these times we often resort to one-pot cooking to create a big bowl of health – for example our own signature dishes of butter beans, greens and peppers in a spicy tomato sauce, or spicy ‘Spanish’ chickpeas (recipes we may reveal in the fullness of time). This is basic stuff: take a big pot, fry an onion, add in some veg, chuck in some tomatoes, add spices, top with water and leave to simmer down. A hob-cooked stew, by any other name. You hardly have to think about making these and they’re so difficult to ruin.

I’ve heard that many carnivores resort to Spaghetti Bolognese and stir fries for a quick weekday meal. Well, we don’t eat much pasta here, but a stir fry, such as the one pictured, does hit the mark. The beauty is that we don’t have to think too much about how to cook the ingredients. Simple innit? But is a good stir fry as basic as one-pot cooking?

Well, it can be: if you use straight-to-wok noodles and throw all the veg in at the same time. Typically, however, and without wishing to turn a simple stir fry into a culinary challenge, I do now think a little extra effort can help.

Take the tofu in our Stir-fried tofu with broccoli, mushrooms and rice (above). Throwing chunks of even a firm tofu straight into the wok with the other veg will cause it to break up into a mush. Much better to fry it separately first for 5 minutes each side, then add it to the wok at the last minute. And the broccoli? To avoid tough stems it’s much better to steam it for 5 minutes before it hits the wok, too. So that’s two extra pans, but not a lot of extra thought. And it really does mean your stir fry will be a much more enjoyable Tuesday-night supper.

June 16, 2011

Last night’s dinner: Shiitake mushroom and Chinese leaf broth

Sunday 5 June

This broth is all about the stock that gives it its depth of flavour. The essential ingredient is dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in hot water for an hour to leach out their earthy flavour before making the soup/stew. The rest of the method is mainly about adding spice – and greens. We got the basic recipe from a Japanese friend, who passed it on from a Korean friend. I’m not sure where it originates.

So, first, soak a small pack of dried shiitake mushrooms in hot water for an hour or so until they are soft and you have a litre or so of earthy brown stock. Next, in a large soup pan, fry a medium onion in a little oil (a mix of sunflower and sesame oil works well). Then add fresh sliced shiitake mushrooms (oyster or chestnut will also be fine) – about 10 of them, or a typical supermarket tray of them. Fry for 5 minutes. Next, add a 2-inch piece of grated fresh ginger, a finely chopped clove of garlic and some chopped fresh chilli (as much as you can take – it should be hot!). Then add half a head of roughly chopped chinese leaf, followed by the dried shiitake mushrooms and their stock. Add around 750ml of boiling water and then simmer down for around 40 mins until the dish is somewhere between a thin broth and a hearty stew. When just about done, add a handful of rice noodles and heat through for an extra 5 minutes until they’re cooked through. Serve immediately with a garnish of coriander leaves. To reiterate, the soup should be as spicy as you can take it! Serves 2.

May 6, 2011

Last Night’s Dinner: Mee Goreng

Sunday 1 May

Having been so busy at work and not getting home until late, Ella was keen to do some cooking. Sunday afternoon saw her turn to Yotam Ottolenghi’s book Plenty for inspiration – where she found this recipe for Mee Goreng.

Mee Goreng is Indonesian (and Malaysian) street food: noodles with fried shallots, chilli and topped with shredded lettuce leaves. There are plenty of meaty versions but we had it with green beans and tofu. A quick web search will give you an indication of just how many versions of mee goreng there are out there – it’s a make-it-up-as-you-go-along kind of thing really. Ottolenghi adds sambal olek (chilli sauce) and some ground cumin and coriander to the cooked noodles as they’re frying in the wok with with the tofu and beans. This coats them and makes them sticky – stopping it from being a straightforward common or garden stir fry. I’ve often wondered how you achieve the kind of sticky noodle that you get with, say, a good Pad Thai, and I have a feeling that, more than just the sauce, it’s the adding of the dry spice that does the trick. Any thoughts?

In any case, sometimes you make a dish that’s so easy and yet also expands your repertoire. This was one of those.