I’m always in search of a better prawn curry than the one I made last time, but the search is over, for a while at least. I’ve made many a good prawn curry along the way, Prawn Jingha Masala, various Keralan prawn curries with coconut milk and fresh curry leaves, prawn Malabar and north Indian masalas, and have finally settled on Prawn Balchao, a prawn curry from Goa. The combination of spice and vinegar makes this gravy really appealing on a cold night. The recipe is relatively simple. Once you’ve made the paste, the rest follows within minutes. During lockdown times, I’ve used frozen prawn cutlets ( large Australian prawns that have been pre-shelled and frozen on board fishing trawlers) and now keep a supply stashed in the freezer especially for this curry.
Prawn Balchao for 2-4 or more with other dishes.
The spice paste
8g ginger, peeled
15 g garlic, peeled
5 dried mild red chillies
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 tablespoon brown mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 small onion, peeled, finely chopped
3 tomatoes, finely chopped ( or use canned tomatoes with only a tiny part of the juice- about 3/4 cup)
1 green chilli, left whole
3-4 tablespoons malt or red wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar
salt to taste
300 g raw prawn meat ( this is the shelled weight)
Make a paste of the ginger, red chillies, and all the spices. I find a large mortar and pestle is the best tool for this job. You can produce a fine paste with a couple of minutes of banging and grinding. A food processor is too large for a paste this small. Add a little water to the paste towards the end to achieve a fine texture.
Heat the oil in a large non stick wok and fry the onion gently until golden. Add the tomatoes and green chilli and fry for about 10-12 minutes over a moderate heat until the mixture becomes a deep red colour. Add a splash of water if the pan becomes dry.
Add the spice paste and fry for 5 minutes until the oil separates. Add the vinegar, sugar and salt. Cook another minute and taste for a balance of flavours. adjust the salt if needed. Add the prawns and cook for 2 minutes or until cooked through. At this point, if the curry is too dry, you can loosen it with water, or cream. The latter additions are not so authentic, but I like a wet gravy in this curry and so recommend loosening the mixture.
Serve with rice and other lovely sides, with some papadum or naan.
Recipe adapted from Indian Food Made Easy, Anjum Anand. 2007. A very handy little book.
April was busier than usual with children on school holidays, beach days, Easter, followed by Anzac Day. I’m rather pleased that May has come around and I can get back to my home kitchen full-time, with some mellow Autumn cooking, interspersed with trips to the library. Anzac day, April 25th, demanded a few biscuits to mark the occasion. It’s a baking tradition in my kitchen as it was in my mother’s until recently. My Anzac biscuits are flat and crispy, the way I like them. I pop them in an old Anzac tin in the hope that they might last a few days. They never do. The Department of Veteran affairs has firm rules about Anzac biscuits. You risk a large fine if you attempt to call them cookies or play with the original recipe, or misappropriate the name in a commercial business. While not patriotic at all, I still believe in the uniquely Australian/New Zealand aspects of this day. Anzac biscuits are so popular with my extended family, I should bake them more often. For flatter, brown and crispy Anzacs, slightly reduce the percentage flour and add more brown sugar.
I whipped up these yeasted buns for Easter this year: unfortunately there was little time to concentrate on feeding a leaven for a sourdough version. This lot had extra fruit and were glazed with quince jelly. Unlike the supermarket versions which can still taste fresh after a week, ( or maybe even a month), these buns are preservative free so they don’t keep for more than a day or two. The left over buns landed in a rich bread and butter pudding.
One vegetable that grows very happily in this awful drought is chilli. They ripen in autumn and will continue to enjoy life in the garden until the first frost arrives. I use a few fresh, but the bulk of the crop is dried and ground into flakes for the year ahead. I also make chilli oil. Small batches are better as the oil can go rancid. This small jar will last a month or so. A nice drizzle for a pizza or crab pasta.
It’s garlic planting time. When you see sprouting garlic around the markets, you know the time is right. I usually plant 300 each year. This basket of 100 is a mixture of my own garlic and some Australian grown garlic from the market. Three separate plantings over May will ensure a staggered pick.
The chooks are pumping again, and suddenly I have far too many eggs. I have sent Mr Tranquillo the recipe, again, for Crème Brûlée, purchased some second-hand shallow terracotta ramekins, and I have also given him a blow torch for caramelising the tops. It’s his favourite dessert so I’m hoping it becomes his signature dish. I really do like it too.
Autumn also sees the return of pasta making in my kitchen. Three eggs and 300 grams of flour, preferable tipo 00, or a mixture of tipo 00 and semola rimacinata, or just plain flour if that’s all you have: no oil, no salt and no other additives, according to Italian nonne. This will make you a truckload of fresh pasta. I fiddled with some parsley leaf pasta in these lasagne sheets. Not worth the effort and such a 90s thing to do.
It’s pastie time again. The filling in these pasties was fairly Cornish- onion, carrot, parsnip, potato. I found this puff pastry hard to digest. The sheets were left over in my fridge. For my next lot, I’ll focus on a good home-made short crust pastry.
There’s always soup in my kitchen. We don’t wait for Autumn or cooler weather to make good soup- we have it all year round. I am passionate about the building of a good soup. My soups are never randomly made. I like colour combinations, creating different flavour bases via a finely chopped soffritto, and seeking pleasing presentations so that you mangiare con gli occhi, or eat with the eyes before tasting the soup. Today, I wanted to paint a monochromatic soup in white and pale green, a contrast to today’s earthy dark rye bread. After building a soffritto of finely chopped garlic, fresh rosemary, a few anchovies and a pinch of ground chilli, I added a pile of cooked cannellini beans, shredded pale green cabbage ( wongbok cabbage which cooks quickly), and a handful of Pantacce pasta. A little grated Parmigiano Reggiano at the table and buon appetito. It’s ready.
Another cold day soup was built with Autumn colours, a typical Ribollita style soup. The soffritto build included onion, carrot, celery, and garlic. Once softened in EV olive oil, I added borlotti beans, more carrot, shredded cavolo nero, and some halved cherry tomatoes. This dense soup was served with a hunk of white sourdough.
A new cake has come into my life. I love flourless cakes that aren’t too cloying. This one has four ingredients ( butter, sugar, walnuts, eggs) and can be whipped up in a few minutes. It is dense, is a great keeper and très French. The recipe for Walnut Cake from Perigord can be found here.
That’s a quick roundup of the kitchen treasure this month. Thanks as always to Sherry, of Sherry’s Pickings, for the link up to In My Kitchen.
I’ve been on the lookout for some time now for a more authentic Indonesian peanut sauce to crown a gado gado salad or sate sticks. I’ve tried many recipes from my various Indonesian cookbooks and most seem to miss the mark. Indonesian sate sauce differs from island to island and each Indonesian home cook may highlight a distinctive spice in their sauce. I’ve tasted some dark, thick sauces in Java and Sumatra which are quite different from their Balinese counterparts. The same goes with the classic gado gado vegetable salad, a dish which depends on an excellent peanut sauce. I’ve eaten some completely green gado gado salads in Ubud, Bali and some made from only kangkung (water-spinach) in Sumatra, as well as the old-fashioned mixed steamed vegetable gado gado that I learnt around 35 years ago in my early visits to Bali, which includes hard-boiled eggs.
The following recipe comes from Janet de Neefe’s Bali, The Food of My Island Home. Janet runs a cooking school in Ubud, which I attended a few years ago, and also has three restaurants and a lovely guesthouse in Ubud. She has lived in Ubud for more than 30 years with her Balinese husband and family. Note that I often substitute brown sugar for palm sugar, a switch that makes very little difference to the outcome of the sauce. Balinese peanuts are always super fresh and freshly roasted: try to find a reliable source of freshly roasted nuts. Good Indonesian Krupuk Udung ( prawn crackers) are quite different from the ubiquitous supermarket variety. They are large and tastier and can be found in many Asian groceries.
Bumbu Kacang– Balinese Peanut Sauce
slice of shrimp paste/ Belachan/Terasi equivalent to 1/2 teaspoon
4 garlic cloves
1 long thin red chilli, seeded and roughly chopped
2 small red chillies, roughly chopped
2 kaffir lime leaves, rolled into a bundle and finely shredded
2- 3 tablespoons fried shallots ( optional)
1 tablespoon grated palm sugar
1 tablespoon Kecap Manis
1/4 medium tomato
150 gr peanuts, roasted
3 + tablespoons water
2 teaspoons lime juice
Hold the piece of shrimp paste with tongs or pierce with a skewer and roast over a gas flame on both sides until the smell is strong.
Blitz the shrimp paste, garlic chillies, lime leaves, fried shallots, palm sugar, and kecap manis in a food processor until smooth. Add a splash of water to get the mixture moving. Add the tomato, peanuts, water, lime juice and salt to taste. ( For a sauce with deeper flavour, you can fry the garlic, chilli, untoasted shrimp paste and tomato in 2 tablespoons of neutral oil ( not Olive) until fragrant first)
Prepare your gado gado vegetables or sate. Pour over the peanut sauce and garnish with krupuk udang ( prawn crackers)
A simpler version of Peanut Sauce can be found here, the latter useful for camping.
Photo on header taken at Taman Sari in Pemuteran, Northern Bali, where they make an excellent Bumbu Kacang.
It is hard to imagine a world without pasta. Italian style pasta was unknown to most Australian households until the 1970s, despite the presence of Italian pasta manufacturers here in Melbourne. One of the earliest producers of quality pasta, Nello Borghesi, established La Tosca Company in 1947 in Bennett’s Lane, Melbourne. They eventually moved to a larger factory in Brunswick in 1971.
“Before then, Melbourne’s Italian community were largely the only customers of this fine pasta. By the 1970s many new Italian restaurants emerged: it was, for many families of Anglo-Saxon background, the first time they had tasted real pasta beyond spaghetti or macaroni from a can.” ¹
Dried pasta could be bought in supermarkets, especially around Carlton and Brunswick, but it was still unusual to eat pasta at home regularly, and when it did make a regular appearance, it came only in one form: the ubiquitous Spaghetti Bolognese.
‘The Borghesi found it challenging at first to introduce the pasta to the Anglo-Australian consumers. The Italian Australian market also had to be convinced that the product was as good as that which they could make themselves. The pasta would be made in the mornings, then delivered in the afternoons in the family van. It was a very labour intensive process and the whole family would help in the production. Deliveries were made to most Melbourne Italian food outlets and restaurants, such as Florentino’s, The Latin, and Mario’s. By the 1960s, the clientele grew to catering for weddings and non-Italian cafes, and then the business really took off. In the 1960s, the delivery of dry pasta was replaced by frozen products.”¹
The Borghesi business and I became very well acquainted in 1997 when I decided to take a job at La Tosca Pasta Company in Victoria Street, Brunswick, a suburb of Melbourne. This short-lived factory job was wedged between one era of teaching and another, a time when I felt lost in my search for meaningful work. I took the job thinking that it might be interesting to work in a completely different field, to do some physical work for a change, and that the Italian staff might help me acquire a better grasp of idiomatic Italian. I had finished a degree in Italian, followed by three years translating an autobiography. Without daily interaction in Italian, I feared that I might lose the language. So off to La Tosca I went.
Our working day started at 8 am precisely. We would begin by moving the racks of drying spaghetti, linguine or tagliatelle which had been stored on wooden drying rods in darkened rooms overnight. The pasta was carefully scooped off the rods, taking care not to break any of the brittle strands, and bundled neatly onto the bench for packing. Each stack was then weighed to a precise weight: after a while it was easy to gauge this visually. The pasta was placed in small boxes, ready for the machine to wrap and seal with the La Tosca logo. These packets were then placed in large boxes, twenty to a box, ready for the delivery trucks. The work was relentless and swift: there was no time for conversation beyond the conveying of basic instructions.
At 10 am on the dot, a whistle would sound, and a short Neapolitan woman would yell “Andiamo,” let’s go. All activity ceased instantly, machines and work stations were abandoned, the factory floor silenced by the call to coffee. We climbed the narrow stairs in single file and gathered in a cramped morning tea room above the factory floor for a piccolo cafe ristretto, made in an old beaten up aluminium Napolitana by the Andiamo lady. Ten minutes later it was back to work. Huge dough mixers gyrated above, operated by men on platforms, moving effortlessly in a noisy industrial ballet. Other machines chugged permanently in the background- pasta cutters, ravioli stuffers, packing machines- the factory floor was alive with mechanical noise. The strong coffee kept us going for more back-breaking work, boxing, stacking, wrapping, then sweeping, constantly inpiedi for the 8 hour working day. I lasted for about 6 weeks at the La Tosca Pasta factory- the unremitting noise eventually drove me demented, my legs longed for that moment of rest and my back was trashed. I began to consider other forms of paid work.
In that short time, I came to admire the endurance and stamina of these women who had worked in factories since migrating to Australia in the 1950s and 60s, sturdy middle- aged and older women, dressed in sensible and spotlessly clean factory uniforms, standing solidly on concrete floors in stockinged legs and sensible shoes. The work was hard and relentless. They made the pasta that Melbourne came to love.
Melbourne’s Italianita´can be found far more easily without taking such drastic steps, as I was to discover. Inner city libraries specialise in Italian film and magazine collections, there is a local Italian newspaper, Il Globo, an annual Italian film festival, numerous Italian regional and cultural clubs as well as fresh markets, delis, restaurants, and Italian supermarkets. Melbourne’s Italian manufacturing centred around pasta, cheese making, salami and shoes, though this was far more pronounced in the last century than it is today.
Zuppa di Ceci con Maltagliati-Chick pea soup with Pasta Offcuts.
I recently made a large batch of pasta and after cutting the square shapes for some cannelloni, I was left with a nice pile of maltagliati, irregular shaped off cuts. ( I often call these cenci or stracci too ) These little pieces make a wonderful addition to a rustic soup, which can be thrown together in minutes, becoming a meal in a bowl. Like many good Italian recipes, my quantities are approximate. The soup is designed to be eaten at once- any soup with pasta is not suitable to be eaten the next day. The amount below makes three good serves.
2 -3 large garlic cloves, chopped finely
one stem fresh rosemary, leaves stripped, finely chopped
4-6 anchovy fillets
one dried chilli, finely chopped
a generous glug of EV olive oil
cooked chick peas- around two cups ( if using canned chick peas, drain off well and rinse off that awful preserving liquid)
one vegetable stock cube with water or home-made stock, vegetable or chicken.
Fresh pasta offcuts/maltagliati
Italian parsley, finely chopped
black pepper to taste
grated Parmigiano to serve
Using a heavy based saucepan, add the oil to the pan and gently fry off the soffritto, the garlic, anchovy, chilli, and rosemary, pressing the anchovies to a paste as you go.
Add the chickpeas and stock to cover (or water and stockcube). Bring slowly to the boil, then add the pasta pieces. Fresh pasta should cook in two minutes- if the pasta has been left overnight, allow a little longer. Taste as you go. Season with black pepper. Serve with ample parmesan cheese.
The first time I tasted Chả Cá Lã Vọng, fried fish La Vong style, was in the famous 120 year old La Vong restaurant in Hanoi in 1996. It was the only dish served, along with beer and tea, so it saved any confusion about ordering. In those days, you entered the restaurant via steep rickety stairs and soon after, a tiny terracotta brazier was placed on the table, coals glowing, along with a small aluminium frypan, and a platter full of various ingredients, which were quickly cooked, layered and assembled before your hungry eyes.
I always vowed that I would make that dish on my return to Melbourne, once I had acquired a little authentic table top cooker. I never did, although I often saw some small charcoal braziers, moulded in the shape of a bucket, along Victoria Street in Richmond. Now twenty years have passed and I did not expect to see this famous dish from Hanoi turn up in Hoi An. It was a very good version too and transported me back to the more spartan days of Hanoi, where young women still wore pure white Au Dai and the spirit of Uncle Ho was alive and well.
We visited Vy’s Market Restaurant in Hoi An and were surprised to find Cha Ca on the menu. Vy’s is a huge dining hall with various cooking stations around the perimeter. You can watch rice pancakes being grilled on hot coals, young apprentices making vegetarian wonton, noodles being stretched and woks tossed. You can learn a lot here without attending their famous cooking school.
Marinade for fish.
1/2 kilo neutral tasting white fish, cut into 2.5 cm pieces
small knob of ginger, grated
½ tsp salt
1 tsp Nuoc Mam (Vietnamese Fish Sauce)
1 tsp Mam Ruoc (Vietnamese Fermented Shrimp Paste)
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp sugar
1 piece ( small finger) of fresh turmeric, pounded or 1 teas turmeric powder
A small amount of neutral oil
1 bunch spring onions, chopped into long pieces, white and green parts used. Thick white ends cut through lengthwise.
1 large bunch dill, chopped into 2-inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, smashed
roasted unsalted peanuts, chopped
Bun (Vietnamese rice vermicelli noodles), soaked or cooked so ready to use.
Herbs- rau ram (Vietnamese coriander), tia to (Vietnamese perilla), more dill. ( not basil- the predominant taste is dill)
Fresh chopped chilli or chilli sambal
Place the fish in the marinade ingredients and mix well. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.
Place the fish and its marinade in a small frying pan over a table top cooker. ( you can do this on a regular stove but part of the drama of the dish is assembling it before the diner). Pan fry the fish for a few minutes, then begin adding the flavours. First some of the herbs, especially the dill and spring onion, then half the peanuts. Toss about for 30 seconds, then add the rice noodle and perilla, toss about, incorporating the noodles through the fish. Then add the remaining herbs, the chilli and more peanuts. Serve with plain rice.
This version of Cha Ca was was enjoyed at Vy’s Market Restaurant and Cooking School, 3 Nguyen Hoang Street, An Hoi Islet, Hoi An and cost a little under AU $10, one of the most expensive items on the menu.The tofu dish cost AU$3.88. A small tiger beer is around AU$2. The prices are a bit higher than many of the local restaurants but the quality here is superb. Highly recommended for those yearning to visit or return to Hoi An.
In my kitchen are some wonderful gifts from my next door neighbour, Anna. Anna’s bay tree is huge and enjoys a good trim if you can reach its soaring branches. Bunches of bay leaves look lovely in the kitchen but are also good for deterring moths in the pantry. A clean out is overdue and these bay leaves will be taped to the walls and under the shelves.
Anna, who is Greek and 85 years old, still makes the best spanakopita and loukoumades, Greek doughnuts dipped in honey. Sadly there are no pictures as these get devoured as soon as they arrive. She also bought in a bottle of Ouzo and Sparkling wine, and a full-sized hand-woven rug that she made when she was a young woman in Greece. Beautiful gifts in return for a bit of shrub removal. Anna brings in biscuits most weeks, just because she has made them! She has two kitchens: the pretty show kitchen that looks like it has never been used and the real kitchen out the back in the laundry, where all the serious cooking occurs. Popping in for a coffee at Anna’s place is not to be taken lightly. She serves wedges of chilled Kasseri or Kefalograviera cheese, warmed tiropitakia, honey biscuits or almond crescents dusted with icing sugar, cut and chilled wedges of fruit, chocolates, ouzo and really bad Nescafe coffee which the Greeks of Melbourne seem to favour. Although she doesn’t speak much English and I have failed to learn Greek, we get by very well and speak the same language- that of friendship and love. One day I’ll get in her back kitchen when she is cooking.
In my kitchen are the first Clapps Favourite pears. They are an early season variety and the fruit ripens very quickly once picked. The fruit is large and tasty and don’t last long as kitchen art.
In my kitchen there is a fresh supply of lentils, chick peas, bulgar wheat and other dried goods from Bas Foods in Brunswick, one of my favourite shops. These go well in curries and soups and are my main source of protein and iron.
At least once a week we eat a simple curry based on these goods which are complemented with things from the garden.
In my kitchen there are still loads of tomatoes. I have made passsata, tomato and chilli jam, gazpacho soup and am now about to borrow a dehydrator to deal with the many baskets of little yellow pear tomatoes, Romas and the funny black blushed ones.
I purchased these bulk tagliatelle egg pasta at Gervasi supermarket in Brunswick. Three kilo of nidi, or nests cost $10.00. They are stored in a large plastic bread bin from the bakery. These are great for 10 minute meals of pasta and garden goodness with oil and anchovy, herbs and Parmigiano. If you want to experience a real Italian vibe, the deli and butcher counters at Gervasi will transport you back to Italy in a flash. More autentico than the Mediterraneo Wholesalers.
Speaking of Italy, which I often do, I am enjoying Dominique Rizzo’s My Taste of Sicily very much. Although I have owned it for a couple of years, it has decided to take up residence in my kitchen this month. I love the vibrancy of Sicilian food: food of the sun, it works well in the Australian climate.
Siciliani love chilli and so do I. Excess chilli dry out on the bench and will be crushed then turned into chilli oil.
Finally my secret ingredient for making tasty frangipane cakes. Two tablespoons for the cake and a nip for me. One also for Celia, at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial who hosts this monthly round up of world kitchens. Follow the link and enjoy them all.
Happy Chinese New Year to all in this year of the Goat! In Chinese astrology, goats are described as peace-loving, kind and popular. They can be helpful and trusting but also ‘clinging’ and resistant to change. Were you born in the following years 1931, 43, 55, 67, 79, 91, 2003, 2015? If so, it’s your year!
Celebrating Chinese New Year here in Australia, means planning a few little dishes from that wonderful country. A refreshing salad for a hot day, Cucumber salad Yunnan Style makes use of the current cucumber and chilli glut. My addition of tuna is not traditional but transforms the salad into a light lunch. Leave out the tuna if using the salad as a side dish.
I am using my apple cucumbers as these have appeared in plague proportions. They are too seedy for most dishes, but with seeds removed, work well in this quick and easy salad.
Cucumber Salad Yunnan Style.
2 medium cucumbers, peeled and seeded.
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon of castor sugar
pinch of salt
1-2 hot chilli, seeded and sliced finely
1 can of tuna in oil, drained and flaked
A little Sichuan pepper oil or sesame oil to dress
chopped coriander leaves
Peel and seed the cucumbers, cut the cucumbers vertically then diagonally into 3 cm chunks place in a bowl. Toss with the vinegar, sugar and salt and marinate in the fridge for 30 minutes or longer.
When ready to serve, add chilli slices, flaked tuna and coriander leaves.
Dress with a drizzle of Sichuan pepper oil or Sesame oil.
Additions and subtractions.
Add more chilli if you grow the milder variety.
If using small Lebanese cucumbers, use more and leave half the skin on in strips.
add toasted sesame seeds.
For a Japanese twist, add cut up thin strips of nori seaweed and dress with toasted sesame and sesame oil.