Posts tagged ‘lettuce’

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.

August 4, 2011

Last night’s Dinner: Greek salad

Wednesday 3 August

…yesterday’s lunch, actually, and in contrast to this very wet morning, yesterday the sun was wilting the leaves of the hydrangea we brought from London with us and the skies above the Colne were an unbroken blue. What better for lunch than a Greek salad al fresco?

I’m sure everyone has their own way with a Greek salad. Even we make better ones and worse ones. It really depends on the quality of the ingredients. Ours, here, benefited from a mix of perfectly ripe little cherry, sungold and plum tomatoes from Cansdale Ross & Co, up the road in Wivenhoe. The very essence of a summer lunch.

I halved the smaller tomatoes and kept the larger ones variously chunky to add some range to the look and feel of the salad. Red onion? Yep – slice it finely and soak it for 10 minutes or more in a little red wine vinegar to take the sting from it. I didn’t use olives but did add a few shredded leaves of a little gem lettuce (‘Heresy’ I here you cry). Cucumber should be roughly diced and then all the ingredients mixed together ready to be topped with some large chunks of feta cheese (you can break it up with your fork as you eat). I’ve seen some people add fresh mint to a Greek salad and, don’t get me wrong, mint and feta are a good match, but it feels a somewhat contrived concoction and surely the best – and most traditional – herb to add at the end is a small scattering of dried oregano. Dress with a little olive oil and lemon vinaigrette.

On such a hot and sunny day we could easily have accompanied this with a refreshing glass of Vinho Verde from the Village Delicatessen (which I saw temptingly described as a good ‘lunchtime wine’). But we had work to do and the wine had to wait.

Need more inspiration? There’s a good account of Greek salads in the Guardian, here.

July 16, 2011

Last Night’s Dinner: Lettuce, pea and cucumber soup

Sunday 26 June

This is the second entry for the 26th of June, following on from the morning’s veggie sausages.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: ‘Cucumber, in a soup?’ Well yes, actually, and it really works by adding some substance to the light summer greens. I’m not sure how, but it does.

The recipe we took it from is by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and includes the herb lovage. We couldn’t find any lovage and replaced it with flat-leaf parsely. It probably misses the point but hey, we’re all friends here. The soup was good. Go on, try it: the recipe’s here.

June 26, 2011

Recipe: Lettuce, pea and cucumber soup

We saw this recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall here in the Guardian yesterday and made it today. We didn’t use lovage, the ‘main’ ingredient because, quite frankly, even in the middle of London, I wouldn’t have a clue where to find some on a Sunday afternoon. Or any other day for that matter. Anyway, after a hot afternoon in the sun this was a perfect summer’s evening soup. And no, it wasn’t chilled, although I reckon it could be.

May 10, 2011

Lettuce… summer must be here!

For the second day running there’s been something interesting on the Guardian food blog. Today it’s all about lettuce and, while the main feature is pretty bland, some of the comments are quite interesting. I usually avoid the comments on blogs except for those occasions when I’m deliberately trying to make myself angry. Yes, those times do exist. When there are comments on a vegetarian blog it usually takes me about, well, oh, 0.0000001 of a second to turn into a very green Hulking ball of fury. But on this occasion (so far) the comments have been really rather pleasant.

You can read the feature here.

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.