Monday 23 April 2012

Horn OK Please

I didn't hear much about last weekend's Taste of India, held at the Southbank so it was purely by chance that I stumbled across it on my way to The Hayward Gallery. I spent much of my time wandering around an exhibition, distracted by thoughts of curry. There were roughly around 20 stalls all wafting with delicious smells and it was pretty obvious what lunch was going to be. A few were bizarre, offering not only curry but paella and one stall even had a warming tray full of penne to serve alongside their curries. We swerved that one.

After circumnavigating the market, we decided on sharing a few small dishes to reduce the opportunity of missing out on the good stuff. We immediately ruled out a couple of stalls manned by what looked like gap yah students who, like, totally discovered India on their travels yeah? and instead headed for the most interesting. A lamb nihari with roomali roti was picked purely because that stall had a heated dome which the chef rolled the rotis out, flipped and then cooked on to order, to ensure you had fresh bread to scoop up your curry with. The lamb was tender and in a thin gravy which was well spiced with cardamom. For £3.50, this was decent and the star really was the delicate, pliable roti. I wish I'd had more room to try the dosas they were making fresh on their hot plate.

Horn OK Please had the biggest line, and they were selling dishes I'd not seen before. Billed as Indian street snacks, bowls of vegetables and sauces were out, and they meticulously filled hollowed out puffs (which I later found out were pani puri) with mashed potato and chutneys. We opted instead for a samosa chaat; a huge samosa was split a little and topped with chickpea curry, mint and coriander chutney, a little yoghurt and red onion. A further sprinkle of (I think) fried chickpea flour strands (sev) and a few pomegranate seeds finished this, and for £3 we headed off to devour it.

The richness of the dense, deep fried samosa pastry was saved with the tangy, spicy mint and coriander chutney. The Sev on top gave good crunch, while the chickpeas were creamy and slightly sweet. I totally loved this - so much so that I went back to try their Bhel Puri; a paper cone is filled with puff rice, crushed pani puri, that sev again and more chutneys and herbs. My friend went to Moti Mahal's stall to get a lamb wrap; this was abandoned in favour of my cone. Abandoning meat for a vegetarian snack if almost unheard of, so that's a testament to how great it was.

They can be found at The Stock Mkt (Bermondset Square SE1 3UN), Friday 27th April 5pm - 10pm and at The Hiff in Henley on Thames. See their website for more details.

Wikipedia has an excellent article on 'horn ok please', in case you were wondering what it meant.

Sunday 15 April 2012

Malaysian Fish Head Curry

It's a bit gnarly, this dish. I am fully expecting a lot of you to recoil in horror, and some "bleurgh!"s bursting from you as you read this. Fish heads aren't that scary, really. As long as you don't think about it too carefully, and maybe avoid looking it in the eye as you lower it into the broth.

The head simmers in the curry broth, imparting crucial base notes of the sea. Fish heads are packed full of meat, and the most prized part is the cheek meat just under the eye. Nudge this bit out with the tip of your chopstick and you're rewarded with a nugget of tender, silky flesh. The skin droops off, falling into the soup and adding an extra texture, thickening it with the collagen.
For a little extra luxury I added mussels as I had them kicking around, but this isn't particularly traditional. Green beans and okra provided textures - crunchy and slimy - that worked well with the fish. I spent a happy 15 minutes picking my way around the head, fishing deep into the bowl to ladle the curry broth onto my rice. The curry was heady with spice and a squeeze of lime juice and a splash of fish sauce added fragrance.

All the recipes I found called for fish curry powder; this was kindly gifted to me from Goz. You can buy it online here, or most Asian supermarkets will sell it. If you can't be bothered to cook this and you're in London, go to Goz's supperclub instead.

Malaysian Fish Head Curry

Serves 2

1 fish head - mine was hake. My fishmonger kindly gave it to me for free. Avoid stronger, oily fish; snapper, cod, grouper or hake work best.
4 tbsp Malaysian fish curry powder
1 onion
6 cloves of garlic
2" galangal
1 stick of lemongrass
4 dried red chillis, rehydrated
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp salt

1/2 tin of coconut milk
A handful of okra
A handful of fine green beans
2 ripe tomatoes, cut into wedges
2 tbsp tamarind pulp, loosened in 300mls water - use your hands to work the pulp
2 sprigs of curry leaves - not dried
20 mussels (optional)
1 tsp sugar
1/2 a lime
1 tsp fish sauce
A few sprigs of coriander, for garnish

Rub the fish head with salt and set aside for 15 minutes. Toast the coriander and cumin seeds in a dry frying pan. Add to a blender or a pestle and mortar to blend with the garlic, onion, chilli, lemongrass and salt. In a separate bowl add a little water to the curry powder to mix into a paste.

Heat some oil in a pan. Add the curry leaves and onion spice paste, and fry slowly until golden and toasty. Add the curry powder paste mix. Add the tamarind water (strained) and the coconut milk, then bring to a boil. Add the okra, and simmer gently for 5 - 10 minutes. Rinse the fish head, and then carefully place that in with the slices of tomato and the green beans. Place the lid on and cook on a gentle heat for 10 - 15 mins (depending on the size of your head). If using, add the mussels during the last two minutes of cooking, just so that they open up. Remove the lid and take off the heat. Add the fish sauce and the sugar, then replace the lid and leave to stand for 10 minutes to allow the flavours to mingle.

Ladle the head out of the pot, then spoon the curry sauce around it and garnish with coriander leaves and a wedge of lime. Serve with rice.

Thursday 12 April 2012

Kimchi & Chorizo Rice Cakes

After leaving Wild Serai's Malaysian brunch, we went along to K-Mart. New Malden is famed for its Korean restaurants and supermarkets, so while we were there we did a little light shopping. Rows of fascinating produce were poked and prodded at by us, packets turned over to try and decipher what they were. I came away with a tub of kimchi to supplement my depleted stocks, and some fresh rice cakes from the fridge section.

Called 'duk', these are made with glutinous rice flour. There are hundreds of different types, all in different sizes and shapes. Chewy in texture, they are used in soups and stir fries, sometimes also made sweet as desserts.

I decided to go for a simple stir fried dish. Kimchi was the main ingredient, but I added some cooking chorizo for a bit of garlicky sweetness from the pork fat. A Korean Spanish fusion, if you will. After being plunged into boiling water the rice cakes turn seriously sticky and will stick to your sieve but they have a gloriously chewy, squidgy quality. They don't taste of anything, but for textural interest, they're brilliant. Seriously filling though.

Kimchi & Chorizo Rice Cakes

Serves 3

1 bag of Korean rice cakes, in pillow shapes
3 tbsp cabbage kimchi, chopped roughly
1/2 tbsp of chilli bean paste
3 small cooking chorizo - hot - I used Brindisa
1 yellow onion, sliced into thin half moons
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
1 tsp sugar
1 courgette, cut into batons
2 spring onions, sliced diagonally
A small handful of coriander leaves, chopped roughly
1 tbsp sesame oil
100mls chicken stock

In a pan, boil some water and add the rice cakes. Simmer for 3 minutes, then drain and rinse in cold water. Toss in the sesame oil.

In a wok, heat up a little oil and add the cooking chorizo, released of their skins and chopped roughly. Fry gently to release the oils. Add the yellow onion and fry gently until softened. Add the kimchi, garlic and chilli bean paste. Fry well for a few minutes, then add the rice wine. Fry for a further 10 minutes until the courgette is tender. Add the rice cakes and the stock and cook or a few more minutes. The dish will thicken with the addition of the rice cakes. Take off the heat, stir in the spring onion and coriander and serve immediately.

Monday 9 April 2012

A Malaysian Street Food Brunch

When it comes to food, Malaysians know their stuff. Most of their best food is sold on the streets at hawker centres and during my two weeks in Malaysia last year I slurped my way through bowls of noodles while sat on plastic stools, cooling cendol standing on street corners and sticks of satay, barbecue smoke stinging my eyes. We just don't have that kind of culture here, although things are improving with collectives like Eat St., and markets like Berwick Street allowing traders to peddle their wares. But still no Malaysian street food. So, I jumped at the news of Wild Serai's supperclub hosting an Easter Monday street food brunch.

Located in New Malden aka. Korea Town, I battled through driving rain and wind to sit at the lunch table. Two tables were decorated brightly, huge prawn crackers (krupuk) waiting for us to snap our way through them.

Chicken and beef satay was served with a spicy, chunky peanut sauce. The meat was smoky and benefitted from the charcoal it had been grilled on outside. The peanut sauce was so addictive I turned to just slathering it on the red onion and cucumber it was served with.

Mee Goreng was a big towering pile of fried noodles for us to all dig in to. Huge prawns were nestled within and tiny dried anchovies (ikan bilis) topped the dish. The noodles were well balanced, all sweet, savoury and tart and unlike other variations of the dish I've tried even in Malaysia, these were grease-free. I loved their colourful melamine plates.

Rojak is the Malay term for 'mixture', and a rojak salad consists of fruits and vegetables in a fruity, salty sauce. This was a strange one; sweet chunks of pineapple mingled with sour green mango, cucumber and tofu puffs. There was the unmistakable funk of fermented prawn about it. After my initial misgivings, as I speared more and more chunks onto the skewers we were given to eat it from, it became more and more palatable.

We were handed banana leaves to place on our plates for the next course, nasi lemak. At the core of the dish is a spicy sambal sauce, with fragrant coconut rice to eat it with. The rice wafted its perfume towards me as I waited for the rest of the accompaniments. I caved in, the sambal breaking my will. Sweet, spicy and with a hint of lime leaves, the sambal was gorgeous. More of those anchovies created a deep savoury base. My neighbour, Goz explained to me that sambals are all made differently according to taste; some people make theirs spicier, some sweeter. A piece of fried chicken, a couple of boiled quails eggs and some cucumber completed the plate.

I was pretty stuffed by now and grateful for the break that came in between courses. Roti jala, a type of pancake made by creating a lattice from the batter was to come. It was less crisp than I imagined, but it went well with the rich, coconutty curry sauce.

I love Asian desserts; tapioca pearls, jellies, beans and shaved ice feature a lot in hawker centre desserts. Cendol is probably the most famous, with those little green worms. We had ice kakang and beneath the shaved ice drizzled with coloured palm sugar syrup, sweetcorn mingled with red beans, sea coconut and fruit jellies. The most prominent was the honeydew melon jelly. This revived me.

To finish, cups of teh tarik - a type of black tea sweetened with condensed milk, and then poured at a high height to create a foam - reminded me of my childhood. A four hour brunch was perfect for a rainy day, and at £25 per head I felt like I was ripping them off since so much work goes into supper clubs (where do they keep all that crockery?!). It was as good as any street food I had in Penang.

Their next event is a seafood feast and you can book tickets here.

Read more about Malaysian Street Food Brunch on Edible Experiences

Monday 2 April 2012

Blackened Mackerel & Miso Sandwich

I was in two minds about whether to write about this sandwich. Goddamn it was hard work. It was a labour of love, something that I've pursued doggedly for the past two months. It cost me a lot of money and a lot of effort and yet when making it, I still had no idea how it would taste until I first sunk my teeth into it.

The recipe was from the 2nd edition of Lucky Peach, a food quarterly written by David Chang and Peter Meehan. Call me a Momofuku fan girl and it's true; I am a huge fan. My first stumbling block was in the blackening spice. It called for Grains of Paradise (below); what? Aframomum melegueta, a spice of the ginger family. Fine, there are shops online that sell it. Pure tomato powder? Also tricky, but not impossible. Chang's recommended shop sells both but ships to the US only, so I managed to combine this with my New Year New York trip.

But what's this, KONBU POWDER? Good lord. A spice grinder was purchased. It was no easy feat, the toasting and grinding of 6 different spices, and then dry roasting a piece of konbu seaweed too, before grinding it into oblivion. At one point I cursed the day I set eyes on the recipe.

Bluefish. What is bluefish? Not something I'd seen before at the fishmongers. I wearily swapped in mackerel instead, beautiful shiny fillets glimmering with freshness.

Finally I could set about making my sandwich. The only thing left to do was to make the miso mayonnaise. It was described as 'one of the standout parts of the dish' so, you know, it was quite essential. Of course when I got to making the mayonnaise the bloody thing split and I, arm limp from constant whisking, had to chuck it all away and start again. Even an extra egg yolk wouldn't save this demonic sauce. I gritted my teeth and got to it.

Bread toasted, miso mayo smeared, gherkins balanced carefully atop the shredded lettuce and mackerel slid on top, AT LAST. I took a glorious bite and then it was all worth it. The fish was spicy and crispy and moist, the grains of paradise giving it a little lemony tartness. The miso mayo was nutty, rich and luxurious. The pillowy ciabatta held it's bounty well, pickles snapping under the teeth and the lettuce cooling the mouth. Thank Christ.

I watched my housemates devour theirs, all beady-eyed like a hawk for their reactions. This was my baby. I was too attached to make an informed decision.

"That was freaking delicious."

And then I realised I'd forgotten about the potato chips, also dredged in blackening spice and layered into the middle of the sandwich. !*&%!

For the sandwich

Serves 4

1 loaf of ciabatta
4 mackerel fillets
A couple handfuls of shredded Iceberg lettuce
4 pickled cucumbers (I bought these, dill pickles. Chang includes a recipe to make them. No way man.)

Slice the loaf into 4 sandwich sizes. Split in half, smear with butter and grill inside up to toast. Meanwhile dredge the mackerel fillets in the spice mix and fry on both sides for 2 - 3 mins in hot oil.

Smear the toasted bread with the miso mayo. Add shredded lettuce, then the gherkin and the fish fillets. Place the other side of bread on top and slice in half to serve. The recipe also recommends making crisps and then sprinkling them in the blackening spice. I forgot and it was still awesome.

Blackening Spice

Enough to make this recipe a couple of times

This is in teaspoons, tablespoons and cups. Sorry. I know we don't use cups but I forgot to convert them.

3 tbsp grains of paradise
2 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp coriander seed
4 tbsp mustard seeds (the yellow kind)
1 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp whole allspice
1/4 cup of ground konbu - cut a sheet of konbu up into small pieces and then toast in a dry frying pan. You'll need more seaweed than you think. Grind to a fine powder once cooled.
3 tbsp onion powder
6 tbsp cayenne powder
1/4 cup of tomato powder
1/2 cup sweet Spanish smoked paprika

Toast and grind the whole spices, then mix with everything else.

Miso Mayo

1 egg yolk
250ml neutral oil
2 tbsp white miso
1 tbsp cider vinegar
A pinch of salt

Use your best mayonnaise making technique and add the miso. I won't tell you mine because it failed once. Chang recommends a food processor, pureeing the egg yolk while adding the oil in a slow steady stream. Add the miso and vinegar and pulse to combine.