Javanese Street Food- a world of temptation

Street food is omnipresent throughout Java : it is hard not to think about eating all day. Some of my best breakfasts ( indeed meals) cost a mere 25 cents: other snacks even less. It is important however to assess how pure the water is and how clean the vendor’s cart might be. Travelling with a native speaker opened a whole world of temptation. Thanks Barnadi. The winner of best street food award goes to:

  • Deep fried tofu with green chilli

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I ate a whole bag full of these and nearly spoilt my lunch. Imagine a bag full of freshly cooked tofu squares, with twenty little green, not overly mean, chillies. Pull the stem from the chilli and shove it into the centre of the hot tofu. To Die For.

In second place comes,

  • Javanese breakfast rice.ImageImageImage

Some were complex, others quite basic but all were satisfying and delicious. Nasi goreng or nasi coconut or kuning ( yellow) with lots of yummy little extras like fried tempe cakes, wrapped in brown paper triangular parcels that, when unwrapped, became the plate.  Add a little hot sambal for good measure.

Other photos include delicious corn fritters, my favourite fruit combo of pineapple and dragonfruit,  and pepes ikan ( fish and coconut mixture wrapped in banana leaf, grilled on coals)ImageImageImage

More Javanese delights coming soon.

Desperado – Summer Smoked Fishcakes and Tomato Salsa

Every year for three months between February and Easter, a large tribe of my extended family descend on the Mornington Peninsula, near Melbourne, for our annual beach campathon. The weather is reliably pleasant, the immediate seaside location is sensational, the commuting distance back to Melbourne is short, and, most importantly, all of the tribe are keen on good food. The topic is never far away from our thoughts. What will we all make next weekend? Will we have a curry night?  Who wants some Mie Goreng for breakfast?  Where can we buy some decent fish on the peninsula? I need some sauerkraut  to go with my Kransky?  Whose turn to do the salt and pepper calamari?  On and on it goes. The wok is always out, we have two well set up kitchens, a BBQ, a large old retro fridge, and every kitchen gadget you can think of. Everything AND the kitchen sink.  All that sea air makes every one very hungry.

But travelling to and fro between two kitchens can make meal planning a little tricky. Returning last Monday, I was about to throw in the towel and considered a pub meal out. ( a desperate solution given that I live in a Culinary Black Hole)  Then I found a simple little recipe in a favourite book which I knew would only take 20 minutes to throw together. Nick Nairn saved the day.

Hot Smoked Salmon Fishcakes with Tomato Salsa   for two mains, or 4 starters.

  • 300 grams mashed potato ( I used Dutch Creams )
  • 150 grams hot smoked salmon in a piece, flaked
  • 2 spring onions, finely sliced
  • juice of a lemon
  • sea salt and ground black pepper
  • seasoned flour for coating
  • butter for frying

For the Salsa

  • 6 small  tomatoes, heirloom or vine ripened, cut into eighths
  • 1/2 red onion, finely chopped or sliced
  • 1 garlic , finley choopped
  • 1 – 2 fresh chilli, finely chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons EV olive oil
  • juice of 1 lime
  • coriander roughly chopped- optional)
  1. To make the salsa, mix all ingredients and set aside.
  2. Mash the potato with a little butter, then add spring onions, flaked salmon, and squeeze the lemon juice into the mix. Fold together till of a suitable consistency and season.
  3. Shape the mixture into four fishcakes . Dip each side into seasoned flour.
  4. Melt the butter in a frying pan and fry the fish cakes for 3- 4 minutes each side until a golden colour . Keep warm.

To serve, Place a dollop of salsa on each plate and place a fishcake in the centre (or two for two mains) . Use the spare dressing to drizzle around the plate.

I have adapted this from Nick Nairn’s Top 100 Salmon Recipes. ( 2002) by altering the ratio of potato to smoked salmon. Scottish comfort food goes Asian – perfect.

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Cauliflower Indian/Chinese- Gobi Manchurian via Kerala

I have been trying to be healthy. No cheese, less wine, no chocolates and none of those other things either, but it’s getting boring. Looking at the big cauliflower lurking in my fridge, I considered another salad or a lean stir fry, but my body yearned for something more satisfying, something fried!  Time to attempt my first Gobi Manchurian.

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I first came across this Indian – Chinese dish in Fort Cochin, Kerala, India in 2012. Once discovered, we ate it every second night at Casa Linda.*

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On returning to Melbourne, we sourced some very tasty versions in Sydney Rd, Brunswick.*  Gobi Manchurian is a spicy Indian cauliflower dish incorporating Chinese elements in the sauce.  Serve it with fat white rice, such as Sunrice medium grain rice. I noticed that Keralans don’t use Basmati  and I have come to appreciate medium grain rice again. Oh, to return to Kerala,  God’s own country.

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The recipe is a version from Saveur, but I have altered it slightly.  This makes a piggy amount for two, or serve with another dish, for example dhal, for four.

Ingredients.

  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 2- 5 cm. pieces peeled fresh ginger (1 cut into thin rounds, 1 julienned)
  • 1/2 head cauliflower, cut into large florets
  •  salt
  • 1/3 cup cornflour/ cornstarch
  • 1/3 cup  plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp.red chilli powder
  • Freshly ground white pepper
  • 1 tsp. plus 1.5 tbsp. soy sauce
  • Peanut or canola oil for frying
  • 1 small onion,finely chopped
  • 2-3 chilli, thinly sliced
  • 1⁄4 cup tomato sauce/ketchup
  • 1 tsp.or more sesame oil
  • 1 scallions, thinly sliced
  • coriander leaves

Method

1. Purée garlic, the ginger slices, and a little water in a blender; set aside. Boil cauliflower in a pot of salted water until tender, 6–7 minutes; drain.

2. Whisk together cornstarch, flour, chilli powder, 1⁄4 tsp. salt, and a little pepper in a bowl. Stir in half the garlic paste, 1 tsp. soy sauce, and 1/3 ( approx) cup water to make a batter.

3. Pour oil into a large deep wok to a depth of 3cms; heat over medium-high heat. Working in batches, dip cauliflower in batter; fry until golden, turning, 5–6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper towel–lined plate.

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4. Drain all but about 3 tbsp. of the oil. Add onion; cook for 3–4 minutes. Add chilli and remaining garlic paste; cook until paste is lightly browned, 1-2 minutes. Add tomato sauce, remaining soy sauce, sesame oil, and a little water. Boil; lower heat to low; simmer until thick, 1–2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste; toss cauliflower in sauce to reheat.

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5. Garnish with remaining ginger, scallions, and coriander. Serve with white rice and yoghurt or raita.

*Casa Linda, Dispensary Road, Fort Cochin, India

*Bilal, 860 Sydney Road, Brunswick, Australia 3056

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Lakes Entrance Seafarers’ festival 2013.

“Are we there yet?” That’s me in the passenger seat, in between texting everyone I know.

A trip to Lakes Entrance from Melbourne seems to take forever. There are a few unscheduled stops along on the way, a quick $15.oo meal of flathead tails at the Trafalgar Hotel, a visit to an Op Shop or two on route, a stop at the Thorpdale Potato Shed for some fresh Nicola or Dutch Cream potatoes.  And what about that Turkish Magic shop in Stratford for an exotic ottoman?  No wonder the trip to the Lakes seems to take forever. Mr Tranquillo is a patient driver: I justify the stops in the interest of leg stretching.

Lakes Entrance is 318 kilometres from Melbourne and in theory, the trip should take 3.5 hours. In your dreams!Image

Each year this seaside town holds a Seafarers Festival, which occurs on the Saturday following December 6, the feast day of St Nicholas of the Seas. The festival commences with a march through the main street, the green statue of St Nic leading the way.  He is then carried to the sea and watches silently while a group of pastors conduct the Blessing of the Fleet,  a simple Christian event,  preceded by an Aboriginal tribute.This year’s Aboriginal  welcome to country  included a remarkable didgeridoo performance, the melancholic sound silencing the gathered crowd. Today both Lakes Entrance and LakeTyers retain a strong Aboriginal community  and presence.

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Three large marquees were set up for the day’s entertainment.  The first cooking demonstration was conducted by Mark Olive, or the black olive, as he calls himself. Mark is really funny and engaging: he introduces us to indigenous foods as we taste a huge variety of peppers and herbs from the Australian bush. He is a great advocate for local produce, and sees the day when our herbs and animal meats become mainstream.ImageAlthough St Nicholas was known for his abstinence, this doesn’t deter us from indulging in a full wine tasting. This year only one wine company tempted us with their goods: in previous years, the Gippsland wine industry was better represented.

With a glass in hand, we moved on to the next event, conducted by Mark Norvoyle and his handsome apprentice Samuel Smith.Image Within 40 minutes Mark and Sam deftly pin boned a side of fresh salmon, making one simple gravlax, some salmon and eggplant spring rolls, salmon confit, and a sashimi and tofu salmon. They made it look all too simple.ImageSalivating from the food demonstartions, we headed off in search of tucker, finding a wondrous Paella stall. The serves came in small buckets, with a generous supply of calamari, scallops and mussels for $8.00. We scoffed these down as we watched a troupe of Greek dancers spinning around in the big marquee.ImageImageImage

Off to another cooking demo by Matt and Mike, from My Kitchen Rules fame. These two were hilarious. Not cooks, these entertainers gave us an insight into the world of MKR.

A quick rest, then off to the Lakes Entrance Bowling club for an Italian Buffet night, with all you can eat pasta and pizza. The food was so- so, and that’s being kind, but the main attraction was the band, I Viaggiatori. Kavisha Mazzella and her troupe, performed beautiful Italian folk songs and ballads from the album, ‘Suitcase Secrets’.ImageIncluded was the Australianised version of Mamma Mia Dammi Cento Lire, one of my favourites, and Canzone della Lega, the radical womens song from the rice growing area of the Po Valley. Kavisha is a Melbourne legend, having initiated and led Le goie delle donne, an Italo- Australian womens choir, in the 90s. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jse5tqHTIdc

And then on Sunday we rested and ate more fish.

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Lake Tyers Dreaming and Fish Frenzy Recipes.

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The waves pound the coastline, often breaking like thunder, along the Ninety Mile Beach in Eastern Victoria . It’s a rugged and isolated stretch with few settlements along the way. Lake Tyers is one of those magic spots, a small town facing the gentle lakes which protect it via a sand spit, from the wild seas of Bass Straight. The town consists of beach houses, a few camping grounds, one milk bar/general store and delightful pub set right on the lake,the Waterwheel Tavern.Image

It’s the place I choose to visit out of season, usually in early December, and sometimes in winter, away from shopping malls, job lists and the internet, which is generally unreliable. We are here to ponder the view, read, walk and eat fish.Image

On clear nights, the horizon sparkles with fishing boats and trawlers, night’s glittering promise of tomorrow’s fresh fish. The catch is landed at Lakes Entrance, a major commercial fishing port which is a short 10 km drive away. Two outlets stock local fish and a few imports from interstate. The Fishermens Own Omega 3 fish shop. (which is basically the fish Co-Op ) and Ferry Seafoods, which is a little fish shop underneath a restaurant of the same name. It’s a fishy surprise each day!ImageImage

On rough nights I ponder the lives of these commercial fishermen who love and respect the sea and I think of my ancestors who earned their living fishing off the coast in the nearby town of Port Albert, many of whom met ‘their watery graves’.Image

The fish feast began on the first evening with a half kilo of freshly caught wild school prawns. To this we added bread and butter,lemon, and beer. A fitting start to the holiday!Image

The following day the ‘fishermens’ own shop’ had some beautiful slippery grey mauve calamari, a steal at $13.95  a kilo. We dusted them with flour, gave them a quick minute fry, then dressed them with chilli flakes, salt, spring onions and lemon. Say no more!Image

On the third day, the wonderful folk at the same shop had filleted a ton of school sand whiting. I would not normally buy these little fellas as they are so boney, but when filleted, bring them on! I bought a huge pile for $9.00- so delicate and transparent and silvery. These were popped into a Thai green curry, loaded with ginger, garlic, chilli, red onion, kaffir lime leaves, basil, lime juice, fish sauce and coconut milk. I added a few beans and zucchini, to avoid growing fins! The fish were stirred through at the end and cooked in a minute.

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The Fish gods were still smiling on us. On the fourth day some wild caught scallops turned up for a song. In the evening, these little gems were stirred through a simple spaghetti dish with lots of garlic, extra virgin olive oil,basil and a hint of chilli. The halved scallops cooked in the heat of the pasta.ImageImage

Accommodation is available in camping grounds or in apartments and beach houses. These are usually cheaper out of season, which is anytime outside of the Christmas holidays and Easter.

This post is dedicated to my sister Kerrie, who has inherited the same fish gene from Port Albert, and to Bruce, who is always so good natured.

Pesto Imposters.

When is a pesto not a pesto? When its made from every other vegetable on the planet except basil. Some folk argue that any nut, vegetable product, garlic and oil can be processed into a pesto.  Witness artichoke pesto, pumpkin pesto, coriander and cashew pesto, beetroot pesto, mint pesto  and so the list goes on. What is it about this word, pesto, and why is it applied to every paste, dip, condiment and spread on the supermarket shelves and in cookbooks?  Pesto comes from the verb pestare, to pound, as does the pestello, or pestle used to pound it. When we think of pesto, Liguria and Genova come to mind, followed by thoughts of fragrant basil, pine nuts, garlic, and a good parmigiana or pecorino or both. Lets preserve the word for the real thing and use good old English words, such as paste, for the imposters.

A simple pesto recipe for the basil season.

2 Tablespoons pine nuts

4 small garlic cloves, peeled

1/4 teaspoon course sea salt

one large bunch of basil, leaves stripped from stalks

1/2 cup or more of extra virgin olive oil

finely grated parmesan, grana padano parmigiana, around 1/2 cup or more.

Add the first three ingredients to the food processor. Grind to a paste, then add basil leaves. When sufficiently mushed up, add oil slowly to mix while running motor. Add parmigaina to taste by hand. Taste, season, adjust with more oil or cheese.  Serve with pasta, add to arancini, toss with steamed green beans or new potatoes, drizzle over grilled fish.

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Artichokes, to eat or to decorate

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It’s artichoke season and I can’t find many people who love to eat them as much as I do. Our resident Italian guest, Albé, dislikes them, and my numerous family members, whose visits usually require a mass catering event, or the raiding of the cellar for a reasonable bottle of vino, don’t enjoy them.  Mr Tranquillo hates them intensely.

Back in 2000, our travels took us to Naples to visit the brother of my dear friend Olga. During that time, we were invited to lunch at the apartment of her cousins, right near the Galleria Umberto. The table was set impeccably, the hosts were gracious and also quite ancient. The whole event was ” molto elegante“.  But we forgot to mention the most important thing- that we were vegetariani , and along with the language, age and cultural divides, this would become an embarrassing hurdle.

First course was a simple Pasta Napoli. We were going well. Then came the polpettini di fegato. Liver meatballs, lightly crumbed and sauted.  Mio Dio!  Other expressions, involving the Madonna also came to mind. Mr Tranquillo turned a lighter shade of green and then quietly mentioned his dietary issues. A whole ball of buffalo mozzarella landed on his plate as a substitute.  I ate the liver balls, with some trepidation, but found them quite tasty and tried to focus on the concept of bella figura.*  Along came the next course – scallopini di vitello, veal schnitzels, served with a simple green salad.  I also ate these, and focused  this time on the Dalai Lama: I was almost enjoying this meat fest.  Mr Tranquillo once again sheepishly declined,  and was offered a freshly prepared giant carciofo.  Knowing how much he hates artichokes, but also feeling very embarrassed and quite uneasy about insulting our gracious hosts, I gave him THE LOOK which indicated,  “You will eat every bit of that maledetto artichoke and you will look like you are enjoying it!” He ate it.

young artichokes
young artichokes

Back to the back yard and my giant artichoke plants.  My dear friend Helen looked at them admiringly as I cut two long stems of artichokes from the bush, complete with their soft grey/green side leaves. She mused, décor or to eat,  examining them carefully, whilst pondering a far more sensible question than that of Hamlet.  Décor she decided. Well, I’ve done decorating with artichokes, and no more waxing lyrically about the plants’ architectural beauty.  Today I plan to eat them, by myself, just me.

La ricetta per carciofi in memoria della mia cara amica, Olga D’ Albero Giuliani – Artichoke recipe in memory of my dear friend Olga.

Leave a small portion of the stalk and peel  it. Prepare the artichokes by removing all the sharp spiky leaves, pulling them off, one at a time. When the plant looks much smaller and no sharp bits remain, cut off pointy top half then cut into quarters and remove all the hairy choke from the centre.  Drop each one into acidulated water as you go.  When all are ready, choose a heavy based pan, big enough to hold the prepared artichokes. Add extra virgin olive oil, garlic, sauté for a few seconds, then add drained artichokes. Sauté again for a minute or so, add some lemon juice, a little water, and salt to taste. Cover and cook on low heat, making sure that they don’t burn or catch, until tender. Eat out of the pan, if desperate, or if you can find some friends to share them with, add to an antipasti platter.

My friend Olga many years ago. I miss her every day. *** http://www.ozpod.com/yarra/books/share.html