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To go with the feijoada I posted about last, I wanted a light(ish) and more refined starter. Most of the food I cook is very far from refined, let’s face it, and the Afro-Brazilian dishes I enjoy the most tend to be hearty and robust. But I thought moqueca, the Bahian coconut-based fish and seafood stew, might be open to a bit of refinement.
I know there are many different variants of moqueca in Brazil but the kind I’m most familiar with is from Bahia in the North and mixes indigenous with African flavours. I had it when I was in Brazil – although I was in Rio de Janeiro, so I’m sure my Bahian friends will scoff at its authenticity – and it was a truly enormous pan heaped with all manner of seafood, swimming in a spicy lake of coconut broth and with orange dendê oil lapping around the edges. It was a bowl to be reckoned with and as I recall two hungry people could hardly make a dent in it.
But the essence of the dish is, like many a seafood soup, good stock and fresh fish. So I decided to make mini moquecas with a vibrant sauce replacing the traditional soupy stew, and the seafood cooked separately. If I wanted a full-on Bahian experience this might not be the way to go but as the opener to a Brazilian meal, it turned out pretty flavoursome and, crucially, not destructively heavy. We served the moqueca with homemade pão de queijo. Read the rest of this entry »
No, I didn’t accidentally type the word ‘orange’ twice: I really did make an orange orange curry. The thing is this: when reading about Thai curries, I’ve often come across recipes for orange curry or even sour orange curry. Perhaps because of my familiarity with Latin American cooking, the first time I read this, I thought it was a curry made with sour oranges. Makes sense, right? But of course, it’s not. Orange curry is orange the way red curry is red and green curry is green. It’s not connected to fruit at all. But that first misreading stuck in my head and when I was shopping in a fairly crappy supermarket the other day and had few options for fresh ingredients, I thought hey, why not make a Thai fish curry with actual oranges? Thus was born the idea for the orange orange curry. Read the rest of this entry »
My recent forays into the world of BBQ, both American and Chinese, has been delicious but rather meat-heavy. I noticed how brown the photography on the last few posts has been. Delicious looking, I grant you, but not so colourful. So I wanted to make something vibrant and this being me, when my thinking goes in the bright, colourful direction, it often comes up with Southeast Asian salads as the answer. The siren song of the spicy salad is never too far away from my ears…
This time, my starting point was a bag of wing beans I’d bought in the Chinese supermarket in London’s Chinatown. Wing beans (aka winged beans, or dragon beans, đậu rồng in Vietnam) are a fantastic vegetable that I wish I’d discovered sooner. They look like a combination of a runner bean and a bitter melon, but they don’t taste like either. Instead, they’re more like asparagus crossed with sugar snap peas – milder than those, but with a really lovely flavour. The beautiful pale green pods turn brown quickly, so use them up as soon as possible after purchase.
Wing beans are used to make a Thai salad with coconut cream and shrimp: I was planning more of a Vietnamese meal and I didn’t want the richness of coconut but I did decide to keep the shrimp. After that, it was just a case of putting together a gingery Vietnamese salad dressing and prepping some vegetables, herbs, and nuts to mix into the dish. We ate this alongside beef in la lot leaves, which I’ll post about next. The combination was fab, with the crisp, light, brightly spicy salad balancing the milder, aromatic beef.
If you wanted a vegetarian version of this dish, it would be easy simply to leave out the shrimp and replace fish sauce with soy. It might make it more of a side dish but it’s really all about the wing beans.
Shrimp and wing bean salad
- 12 shrimp
- 2 handfuls of wing beans, trimmed
- 1/2 red pepper, sliced thinly
- handful of mint leaves
- handful of cilantro leaves (or rau răm if you have it)
- 3 tbsp roasted peanuts
- 3 large chillies, sliced thin
- 2 tbsp ginger
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 birds’ eye chilli
- 4 tbsp lime juice
- 2 tbsp palm sugar
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
To make the dressing, pound garlic and birds’ eye chilli in a mortar and pestle. Chop the ginger into small cubes then add and pound till you have a paste. Add sugar and pound again. Then add fish sauce and lime juice and mix. Taste for balance and add a little water if it is too strong.
Chop the wing beans into inch-long sections and boil for 2 minutes. Refresh in a bowl of cold water. Peel the shrimp and sauté until just cooked. At the last minute, add a tsp of dressing to the pan – as it boils off, the dressing should sear into the shrimp and caramelise them nicely.
Bash up the peanuts a bit in a bag or (very briefly) in a mini-prep. In a large bowl, combine wing beans, shrimp and peanuts along with pepper slices, herbs and chillies. Dress, toss to combine and serve immediately over regular or sticky rice.
Serves 2, or 3-4 as a side dish
One of my favourite Malaysian dishes is sambal petai. I always order it in restaurants – it’s one of the choices that tends to get me a side-eye from the waiter, with maybe an ‘are you sure you want this?’ thrown in. I don’t know why. Despite their English name of ‘stink bean’, petai aren’t stinky and with their buttery texture and slight grassiness, they’re like a more strongly-flavoured version of British broad beans (i.e. American favas). Fresh petai are hard to come by in these parts, but when I saw the first of the season’s broad beans in the co-op, I realised that they might provide a good local alternative. My usual way with broad beans is Italian: either mashed up with pecorino, mint and olive oil or in pasta with asparagus, chilies and mozzarella. But maybe I could combine them with the embarrassingly large bag of chilies I had sitting in the fridge…
The only problem is that no matter how big a bag of broad beans you fill, what you end up with is always disappointingly paltry. This might be true with petai as well, but they’re bigger beans and the pods seem more reliably packed. With broad beans, you go home with an enormous and unruly bag of pods but by the time you’ve podded them then boiled and peeled the beans, you’re left with a harvest that’s always smaller than you anticipated. So, I knew I wasn’t going to make the version of this dish that’s almost all beans, with a little sauce and a few shrimp studded among them. Instead, I went for more of a saucy sambal, with lots of plump shrimps and the beans as a secondary element. I think if I made it again, I’d bite the bullet and buy kilos of broad beans to ensure they were the star of the show, but it was still pretty good this way.
Shrimp and broad bean sambal
- 12 large shrimp, peeled
- 2 cloves of garlic
- a small chunk of ginger
- 5 shallots
- 6 long red chilies
- 1 tsp shrimp paste
- 2 stalks of lemongrass
- 1 medium tomato, chopped
- 1 tbs palm sugar
- 1 tbs fish sauce
- as many broad beans as you can bear to pod
Pound the garlic, chilies, shallots, shrimp paste and ginger into a paste either in a mortar and pestle or with a mini-prep. (You can toast the shrimp paste first but I tend not to if it’s going to be cooked in a paste right after.) Boil the broad beans for a few minutes, then cool and peel.
Fry the paste in a good glug of vegetable oil for 5 minutes. Add the lemongrass whole, bashed a bit with the back of a knife, and the chopped tomato, fish sauce and sugar. Add the shrimp and stir until cooked. Take out the lemongrass. Lastly, add the broad beans and stir carefully to mix.