Posts Tagged ‘noodles’

Vietnamese cuisine is one of the most varied on the planet.  From the Chinese and Khmer dynasties, Indian empire and Japanese occupation but in particular, the French colonial rulers.  Vietnam is a delicious mix of the food of its colonial visitors and native techniques and flavours.  War, climate and immigration tell the tale of Vietnamese cuisine.  

Vietnamese cuisine is incredibly light and fresh; herby-fresh: lemongrass, mint, coriander and Thai basil frequently mixed through dishes.  Fish sauce is used liberally but is never as pungent as the Thai variety (nam pla) and vegetables such as carrot, cabbage or green papaya are chopped into crunchy batons adding colour and texture to a dish.

People sat curbside on plastic stools enjoying a bowl of pho or congee before dealing with the rest of their day; the smell of food wafting through side streets and intoxicating the senses.   Food is pivotal to Vietnamese lifestyle and can be found on every street corner.  The food served in local cafes and restaurants just as good as the street-food served by women carrying a yoke around the town or balancing baskets on hips.

All dishes are created with the Asian principle of the five elements creating harmony. The principle of yin and yang providing balance that is beneficial to the body: wood (sour), fire (bitter), earth (sweet), metal (spicy), water (salty).

So having just got back from my travels in Vietnam I couldn’t wait to get back in the kitchen and try and recreate some delicious Vietnamese dishes with these principles in mind.

Here is my version of a Vietnamese Chicken Salad with noodles using the ingredients I had in the fridge at the time.

Vietnamese Chicken Salad (Gŏi Gá).

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Ingredients:
For the dressing:
Limes
Palm sugar
Fish Sauce
Garlic
Hot Water
Chilli (to taste)

For the salad:
Carrot
Cabbage (White or Asian)
Red Pepper
Sugar snap peas
Rice Noodles (vermicelli)
Cooked chicken breast
Mint
Basil (use Thai Basil if you can find some)
Coriander
Roasted peanuts (red skinned)

Method:

1st: Prepare the sauce by adding the juice of a lime, palm sugar, fish sauce, minced garlic, chilli and hot water to a jar and shake well until all the sugar is dissolved or place into a blender and blitz until everything is thoroughly mixed together.

2nd: Cut the carrot and red pepper into batons.  Roll the cabbage leaves and slice into strips.  Tear the cooked chicken breast into mouth sized pieces.   Cut the mint, basil and coriander.

Thai Basil v Italian Basil
Thai basil has an aniseed, almost liquorice, flavour to it whereas, Italian (Mediterranean basil) is sweet.  Both are incredibly fragrant.
If you can’t find Thai basil which is generally difficult to source outside of Asia, just use a combination of Italian basil and mint.

3rd: Pour boiling water over the vermicelli noodles and allow to rehydrate for 2/3mins.  Drain and rinse in cold water.  Drain and shake off excess water.

4th: In a large bowl mix all the ingredients together and add a splash of the sauce.  Toss together.  Add more sauce and lime juice to taste and drizzle with sesame oil (optional) and top with roasted peanuts.

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Serve heaped on a large plate in the centre of the table for everyone to serve themselves as part of a main course or make it small enough as a light lunch for one – the ingredients can be doubled up and changed to suit what you’ve got in the fridge.  During the summer I tend to have carrots and cabbage knocking about in the fridge to make coleslaw and I’ve always got red peppers in my deep freeze.  Remember to use veg that you can eat raw as you need it to be fresh and crunchy to work in this dish. I used nuggets of palm sugar brought back from Cambodia but regular granulated sugar works just as well.

The great thing about dishes like this is that you can tailor make them to suit your needs – instead of chicken add duck for a different taste, fried squid to make it a super light summer meal, tofu to keep it meat-free.  I say chilli to taste as depending on how much heat you can take will determine whether you use birds eye chillies or opt for a milder variety.  Always remember you could make this very fresh and mild and provide either birds eye chillies or tabasco sauce for those who can take a bit more heat.

Chúc ngon miêng
Bon apetite!

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Noodles in a Jar – the perfect lunchtime snack!

I get asked regularly, “What would make a healthy, lunchtime meal for a school child’s lunchbox?”  But as much as we want children to have a nutritious meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the reality is that a simple sandwich, a piece of fruit and plenty of fresh air is all they need to keep them going until home time; especially as many children have a substantial tea when they get indoors.

I’m more inclined to help the grown-ups who often struggle to eat properly at lunchtime.

The working adult worries me the most – diminished lunch breaks, snatching something quick on the go, scoffing food at their desk, eating greasy take-aways, paying ridiculous prices for a filled roll or forgoing lunch altogether.

Mundane lunches leading to calorie induced foraging come 5pm.

All that can change with these simple to prepare, convenient and easy to eat noodle soups in a jar.  If you’ve only got a short lunch break, these are ideal and can also be conveniently eaten, if sadly, you’re chained to the desk.

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noodle jars – photo taken from phillymag.com

There are no rules; no wrongs, just a few simple points to bear in mind whilst you assemble your jars.  The idea is that everything is piled into the jar in clean layers; without the items swilling around before you’ve added the water, hence, keeping your ingredients fresher for longer.

What you need to make your Noodles in a JarIMG_3102.JPG

I like to use a ½ Litre Kilner Jar with a clip-top but a mason jar would work just as well.  The jar can be as small or large as you want it to be; but unless you plan on making, and subsequently eating, vast quantities of the soup try to keep the size at around 500ml or less.  A pint size is ideal.

A flavour base is very important for your noodle jars, as otherwise you’d just be eating noodles swimming in hot water, which would be extremely disappointing considering that we are trying to achieve maximum flavour for minimum effort and fuss.  Feel free to use any savoury paste/cube/stock that you prefer.  I’m trying to get through some miso paste (fermented soya bean paste) at the moment but a soup stock paste, curry paste etc can be used.

Soy sauce, coconut milk, sesame oil, chilli sauce, tomato paste, etc can be used as extra flavour enhancers.

This is a great way to use leftover cooked meats – especially the scraggly ends of a Sunday roast; alternatively some frozen prawns, dried mushrooms or hearty greens would provide satisfying ingredients to make your pot tasty, nutritious and filling.

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The noodle part of your soup can take many forms: dry vermicelli, cooked ramen or yakisoba noodles, cooked udon noodles, there are others too.  For total convenience you could even use a pouch of pre-cooked noodles from the supermarket.

I always like to top my soup jar with fresh ingredients such as coriander leaves, sliced spring onions and a wedge of lime.

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 Assembling your noodle soup jars

Assembling the jars is a simple process:

Empty jar → Flavour base → Meat/Prawns/Veggies → Noodles → Fresh ingredients.

1st: Place your flavour base at the bottom of the jar and add any of your flavour enhancers.  Make sure to spread this around so that when you pour the hot water it will mix through easier.

2nd: Add your meat, prawns or veggies to the jar.  It doesn’t matter if they mix into the flavour base but try to create layers of different items.

3rd: Pack the noodles down – if they are cooked they might stick a bit but they will untangle once you add the hot water.

4th: Top with the fresh ingredients.  Seal and refrigerate.

Place in the office fridge when you get into work but take the jar out at least 1hour before you think you’ll be available to have your lunch, as otherwise the jar and the ingredients will be very cold and your soup will become tepid very quickly.  The jar will keep unrefrigerated for a couple of hours.

When you are ready to eat;

1st: Fill the jar with boiling water, cover and steep for 3 mins.  A recently boiled kettle is best but I use the tea urn at work.

2nd: Stir thoroughly with chopsticks or a fork, making sure to scrape the paste from the bottom of your noodle pot so that the flavour mixes throughout the whole soup.

3rd: If you stored the fresh ingredients separately to the rest of the soup in the jar, scatter them over the top of the soup and eat right away.

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It is probably easier to mix the soup as you decant the jar into a bowl but your soup can be eaten directly from your noodle jar; especially if you are trying to ease on the washing up and eating at your desk.

I’ve tried two flavour combinations so far with very similar ingredients in both:
King prawn and coconut milk with dried vermicelli noodles, and
Beef with miso, tomato paste and soya sauce with cooked ramen noodles;

both layered with baby sweetcorn, sugar snap peas, mange tout, spring onions and coriander.

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The pots can be put together in a matter of minutes and eaten just as quick.  I definitely think I’ll be trying to make noodle pots for lunch again.  I’m already thinking about a pork belly and ramen noodle pot for next time or maybe a chicken, vegetable  and vermicelli soup pot or maybe a lemon grass, ginger and chilli marinated king prawns noodle pot with coconut milk, fish sauce, lime and vermicelli noodles.  Lots of fresh coriander.

Pot noodle …but posh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1415Slurp, slurp, slurp can be heard throughout Japan as people slurp on their ramen noodles.  Ramen was made for slurping.  It is believed that as you slurp the ramen noodles, you create a greater umami experience.  In one of my poorer attempts at this, I wore my ramen broth down the front of my tailored shirt!  Simply put and almost disregarding the recipe’s complex flavours, ramen is Japanese noodle soup.  But leaving the description there is unflattering at best and insulting at worst.

Ramen is a Japanese noodle soup consisting of Chinese-style wheat noodles (alkaline noodles) served in a meat or fish broth, flavoured with soy sauce or miso and served with sliced pork, dried seaweed and green onions.  Nearly every region of Japan will have its own ramen variation.

Ramen has become a staple food in Japanese culture and is more popular than sushi with many salary men queuing up for hours at the more popular ramen hotspots to get their bowl to slurp.

Believed to have been brought back from China at the end of the second Sino-Japanese war, many soldiers, familiar with this Chinese cuisine, set up Chinese restaurants throughout Japan serving ramen.  But like everything the Japanese do, they made it better.  Eventually the instant ramen created by Momofuku Ando allowed anyone to make a simple ramen dish at home just by adding boiling water – indulge me if you will – Japanese pot noodle but better.

Unapologetically absolutely delicious!

However, if you are aiming for authenticity in your kitchen you need to plan well in advance.  If you want a bowl of ramen on Friday, you need to start with the recipe on Wednesday!

ramen10Momofuku

If you follow Dave Chang’s Momofuku (Lucky Peach) recipe, we’re talking

BROTH: 1) steeping Kombu (kelp seaweed) in hot water for 1 hour, 2) adding chicken backs and necks to this water simmering gently for 5 hours, 3) skimming, straining and chilling the stock,
TARE: 4) make the tare by roasting chicken backs for 20 minutes until mahogany brown, 5) deglazing the pan with sake, 6) adding mirin and soy sauce, 7) add pork belly/shoulder pieces to the liquid, 8) simmer gently for 1½ hrs, 9) strain the meat and bones out of the tare, 10) chill the liquid and remove the fat that rises to the top (Keep this fat to add to the ramen dish when serving).
ASSEMBLING THE RAMEN DISH: 11) season the broth with tare and salt, 12) add bacon fat, 13) serve with whatever accompaniments you want.

There are so many stages – each adding levels of depth to what inevitably becomes a complex flavoured dish screaming UMAMI at you from every direction.

Even though the stages themselves are not complicated they are time consuming and no-one has the time or the inkling to carry this out in today’s busy routines.  So I’ve come up with a cheat’s version of this dish cutting out the need to boil kelp for hours on end and roast chicken carcasses into the mahogany spectrum.

Cheat’s Ramen – serves 2

Ingredients:
1 pouch of good quality chicken stock                      1 carrot
4 spring onions                                                                Ramen noodles
4 Dried Shitake Mushrooms                                        Bean sprouts
Pork belly                                                                           Soy sauce/Miso paste
2 boiled eggs                                                                      Nori
Seasoning

To make the tare:
Olive Oil
2 cloves of garlic

Method:
1st: Pour the chicken stock into a large saucepan and heat gently.
2nd: Add 3 spring onions cut in pieces from root to tip and add to the stock.
3rd: Cut the carrot into chucks and add to the stock.
4th: Reconstitute the dried shitake mushrooms in boiling water and add this to the stock with some of the mushroom flavoured water (mushroom dashi), simmer gently until the dish is ready to assemble.
5th: Season to taste with soy sauce, salt and pepper.  Simmer for 20 mins.
I used chestnut mushrooms as dried shitake mushrooms are sometimes hard to find.

6th: Put the pork belly into a 200˚C oven for 20-25mins until the pork is cooked through.
7th: Prepare the tare by heating olive oil and pouring it over the grated garlic.
8th: After the pork belly is cooked bring it out of the oven and allow to cool slightly.  Pour the rendered fat into the chicken stock.
9th: Boil your ramen noodles following the instructions on the packet.

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ramen

10th: Assemble and serve: Pile your ramen noodles into the centre of your ramen bowl and assemble the shitake mushrooms, bean sprouts, pork slices, sliced spring onions, and boiled egg around this.  Pour ladles of your chicken broth into your noodles until you have a bowl filled with soup.  Spoon some of the tare over the noodles.  Serve with a nori rectangle.

I know it is inauthentic but it’s a long way from pot noodle, ingredients are accessible, easily recreated and unapologetically absolutely delicious.

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ramen

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday saw the return of the eagerly anticipated El Capote evening of food and wine matching.  Before anyone gets upset that I didn’t tell them about it – I had been invited along by Ian at the last minute, it was a small gathering of us and once again it did not disappoint.

This time around the menu was Japanese/Mediterranean fusion menu.

Normally, fusion cuisine is cuisine that combines elements of different culinary traditions.  This was perhaps not so much fusion cuisine as a fusion concept.

The food which was delicious, was the type of cuisine served by El Capote but presented in alternative ways, aiming to represent Japanese cuisine.

Fresh Calamari California Roll served with caramelised onions

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This is now the second time that I have eaten fresh calamari at El Capote on these foodie evenings and I have to say (I may have said it the last time too)

that with a product this good, the less you do to it the better.

And Ian knows how to get the best out of his product.  A quick flash fry on the hot plate and served with caramelised onions.

Showing a level of innovation in the kitchen, the Calamares were rolled into the shape of California Rolls and filled with sticky, plummy, jammy, caramelised onions. The idea being that the Calamares’ white flesh represented the rice and the caramelised onions the salmon/tuna in the roll itself. Sadly, and you could see Ian’s enthusiasm for this dish deflate, as the Calamares did not retain their round shape.  As on the flesh touching the heat of the hotplate, it just opened out spilling its onion insides. But this dish was sublime. Served with a fruity Sauvignon Blanc to echo the sweetness of the dish.

Noodles a la Gallega

This was a winning dish!  Galicia’s signature dish served as if taken out of a Japanese cookbook.  The octopus served in thin strips with thin chips (fried in oil!) and mixed with the characteristic pimienton of Pulpo a la Gallega.

Each diner was presented with their own individual nest of chips and octopus to savour.  As the idea was that the strips of potato and octopus were meant to represent noodles, I would have attempted to serve the dish in little bowls to try and recreate the noodle experience.  But having said this, ‘noodles’ a la Gallega was a flavoursome dish that was brilliantly accompanied by a Penfold Shiraz.  The complexity of spices in the Shiraz enhancing the pimienton in the dish.  I could have easily eaten another of these nests washed down with more of the Penfold.

Tuna pan amb oli (pa amb oli)

Roughly translated as bread with olive oil it can also have tomato sauce.  This is traditionally a peasant dish of bread rubbed with garlic and olive oil and topped with tomatoes and seasoning.  Usually served as an appetiser or tapa, this can also be a great breakfast (my Friday breakfast of choice).  However, Ian served this over tuna steaks – gorgeous!

The bread, garlic and olive oil fried/oven toasted added texture and crunch to the otherwise delicate tuna and tomato.  Served rare (some pieces needed to be even more rare) but with thin tuna steaks this is a hard one to time when cooking on a large scale.  My solution was thicker steaks.

The only part of the combination which tasted/sounded Japanese, was the wine “Hito.”  Served slightly chilled, this red was subtle and carried the flavours in the tuna pan amb oli without necessarily taking over the dish.  Hito, is a new young wine of the Emilio Moro, Cepa21 range.  I have tried this wine before and thoroughly enjoyed it, however, several people at the table were put off by the idea of a chilled red.  What are your thoughts on this?

Fillet Steak Sashimi

This beautiful thinly sliced blue beef was exquisite.  Seared on the outside, each slice of beef boasted a quiveringly rare centre encased in a charred crust.  Reminiscent of a beef carpaccio but slightly thicker and with more texture and depth of flavour.  Served with roasted red peppers and fried Jamon de Bellota crumbled on top.  The roasted red peppers adding a sweet jous and the fried jamon providing a necessary seasoning to the meat; under-seasoned meat is vile.

The Septima Malbec was a good choice of wine to accompany this dish – it stood up to it but let the fillet and its jamon-seasoning do the talking.

We ended the evening with a Reserve Chedder Cheese and blue cheese with crackers and a Special Ruby Port.  Neither Mediterranean nor Japanese but a worthy ending to the evening.  Especially as the port kept coming!!