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.
There’s something very fishy going on in my kitchen. Yesterday, I finally braved the big scary world beyond the front gate and went in search of fresh fish at my favourite market, 30 kilometres away. The weather was chilly, with rain and sleet and a predicted top temperature of 10ºc. Swaddled in my trusty feather padded puffer jacket, mask and disposable gloves, Mr Tranquillo commented that I looked like a protagonist from a Scandi Noir series. The mask idea was a flop, making my glasses fog badly. The choice was clear, blindness or corona virus angst, fish or no fish as I eyed off the well fitting masks on the faces of other shoppers around me.
I had been yearning for fresh fish and had lost count of the days and weeks without it. Along the way, I had tried some very ordinary frozen stuff, and did visit the lacklustre display of pre-cut flaccid fish fillets at a nearby supermarket. I left empty handed. There’s something annoying going on during this health and economic crisis. Australian fishermen pay dearly for licences to fish our clean waters. Their life on the sea is arduous and often dangerous. But due to the closure of restaurants, much of our finer fish is frozen then exported overseas. Meanwhile, Australians are often reduced to buying sub- standard imported frozen products, often farmed or fished in questionable waters, while the major supermarkets offer mundane products, bought at a national level, bearing no relationship to the local seasonal offerings at all. If there’s one message in all this, is is support your local fishmonger. There aren’t many of them left. They are trained at selecting and purchasing, handling, gutting, boning, filleting, and selling local fish. There are no fishmongers employed by supermarkets and the choice is limited. Avoid frozen imported fish at all costs. You have no idea how it was fished, the working conditions of the fishermen, or the toxic state of the waters.
The Preston Market offers 6 fishmongers, small businesses that have continued to serve the public during throughout this lockdown period. One of my favourites is Nick the Fishmonger. The boss there knows exactly what his customers love and buys local fish early each morning at the wholesale market and then fillets them to order. Yesterday’s display drove me demented with desire. Each fishmonger has his/her own specialty and you get to know each one personally: the smiling Vietnamese lady on the corner, who has been there for the last thirty years, the ‘Aussie’ crew next door, who source local squid from nearby waters, the Greek guy around the corner who sources Mt Martha mussels. I came home with fresh blue swimmer crabs, flathead fillets, a kilo or more of squid, and some huge, frozen tiger prawns from South Australia. All these are now stashed in portion sizes in my freezer, though the crabs have been earmarked for today’s linguini, crab and chilli, while some of the flathead fillets and squid became yesterday’s fritto misto. I’m in heaven. It was worth the wait.
In my kitchen, like many others, I’ve been doing more cooking than usual. Supplies have been delivered by guardian angels and if there’s one up side to this self isolation business, it has been the sharing of shopping trips. My daughter visited a well stocked Indian grocery two weeks ago. As she toured the shelves, she messaged photos to me: I felt like I was shopping alongside her. She returned with bags full of pulses and chickpeas, fresh spices and ghee. Another friend, Helen H, was heading down to Psarakos, a busy store a few suburbs away, a 30 minute drive. She returned with a giant wedge of Grana Padano parmigiano, big enough to see me out. My eldest son calls every two days and checks to see if we need basics from the supermarket. Fiona dropped off a bag of freshly gathered wild pine mushrooms. My granddaughter found a source of Baker’s flour, some passionfruit, and happily collects our wine order from Nillumbik Cellars, where they specialise in Sangiovese and Pinot Grigio from the King Valley. Thank you angels.
For all other activities In My Kitchen, I’ll let the pictures below do the talking. Thanks Sherry of Sherry’s Pickings for hosting this round up each month.
Sunday Greetings from Sanur, Bali. Today’s post is simply about food. No spiritual anecdotes, or canang sari, moody sunrises or colourful Balinese characters. Just a picture post tempting you with some earthly delights eaten under a shady umbrella in a simple warung by the sea.
The best grilled prawns ever. AU$6/ Warung Odah Oning, Pantai Semawang, Sanur, Bali
All photos taken on my Samsung 9+. Impressed with the performance of this phone camera, at least for food shots.
Throughout Italy, various villages and towns hold an annual sagra or festival, very often dedicated to a specific locally grown or produced food, such as frogs, chestnuts or onions, or a local dish such as frico, polenta or risotto. A quick search of the various sagre in Italy will reveal many festivals devoted to pumpkin but not to zucchini. If you think about it, the pumpkin or Zucca is the Zucchino‘s much bigger sister. Orange versus green. Female versus male, fat and rounded versus thin and elongated. Anything you can do with a pumpkin can be adapted to the zucchino; stuff, fry, bake, layer, grate and soup them. Oh and pickle them too.
It’s high time to announce my own Zucchini Sagra. Come along and try my new zucchini recipes this month, or better still, suggest some more unusual ways of using this prolific garden beast.
My first recipe marries some young zucchini with prawns, spaghetti and mint in a rich sauce. The links at the bottom of this post will take you to some of my previous posts on this wonderful annual vegetable.
Spaghetti con Zucchini, Gamberi e Menta Serves four people.
Extra virgin olive oil
3-4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 small zucchini, halved lengthways then sliced in half moon rounds
pinch of crumbled dried chilli
2 anchovy fillets
100 ml dry white wine
40 gr butter
24 large uncooked green prawns
200 gr spaghetti ( see notes below)
16 or so mint leaves, torn
handful of flat parsley finely chopped
sea salt and black pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.
Meanwhile add 2 tablespoons olive oil to a large non stick pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute for a couple of minutes. Add the zucchini and cook for 2- 3 minutes until coloured. Add the chilli and anchovies, squash them into the oil, then add the wine. Allow the wine to evaporate a little then add the butter. Bring to the boil for a minute or so, then add the prawns, stir about then remove from the heat.
Cook the spaghetti in the boiling salted water until al dente. Drain, then add to the prawns. Pop the pan over high heat, tossing and stirring to combine all the ingredients. Add the parsley and mint. As soon as the prawns are opaque, remove from the heat.
Season with salt and pepper and add a tablespoon of olive oil. Serve.
The amount of spaghetti specified in this recipe would be suitable for an entrée or light luncheon.
I would suggest adding more pasta to the pot, say, around 80 g per person, for a main meal, with a green salad on the side.
I also used a large non stick wok, which is a better utensil to hold the volume of ingredients for the final tossing.
The sauce, made up of oil, garlic, anchovy, wine and butter, is an excellent base for any marinara you might make.
I once owned many histories of Renaissance and Medieval Europe. Most of them mentioned the words Tradition and Change somewhere within the text, if not in the title itself. That period, perhaps more than any other in history, encapsulates this historical concept so well. Things don’t change suddenly. Old ways continue side by side with the new, traditions and beliefs endure, long past their relevance to the society practising them. A clashing of paradigms might take a century to resolve, only to be followed by a reactionary movement, another turn of the wheel, bringing about upheaval and further revisions to practice and belief, whilst simultaneously drawing legitimacy and cultural validity from older traditions. History is usually written and re- written from the perspective of the current paradigm: facts alone stand for very little.
Now what’s all this got to do with Christmas in Australia, I hear you ask? Some traditions keep dragging on, despite their increasing irrelevance to a largely non- Christian society. Most Australians recognise, and are comfortable with this basic fact, embracing Christmas as a secular holiday. Or many see it as marking the beginning of summer and a long holiday for families. But before being let off the hook, before descending on beaches and rivers to play in the sun, certain archaic traditions must be followed. Shopping takes precedence over all others, with a slowish start in early December, building up to an insane frenzy as the weeks march by, as glossy supermarket magazines extol the virtues of catering for a family, with visions of excess, not unlike those Renaissance feasts of old. Catering for large numbers is not something that comes naturally to most, so Curtis or Jamie or Nigella can show the fashionable way. They make it look so easy.
I’ve observed mothers going slowly mad with stress, bent on purchasing more and more each year for their children. Bucket loads of plastic crap, or designer labelled clothing, or the latest gizmo, or a better version of something that they already own, helps to create yet more landfill for future generations to deal with. The consumer obsessed are still shopping at 11pm on Christmas Eve, still hunting for the unattainable. It’s the season of sadomasochism, as those indulging in these pastimes gloat about their pain, yet are unable to disengage.
Stores ship in mountains of wooden tasting prawns from the frozen bowels of somewhere, grown especially large for the holy day/holiday occasion, costing twice as much and tasting unlike a prawn should. Prawns on steroids, no brine from the sea or sweetness of flesh. Decapitated legs sawn from Alaskan crabs now grace the window displays of our supermarkets. What happened to their bodies? Slabs of smoked salmon unfreeze before greedy shoppers’ eyes, cheap manufactured mince tarts and puddings appear two months before Christmas, only to be replaced by Hot Cross Buns in the New Year. Easter is similarly meaningless and just around the corner. Here are the large bright cherries, gassed up to artificial ripeness, yet more cheeses, more Pavlova, more hams and prosciutto, pigs, baby goats, lambs, chickens and ducks, and especially that Imposter, the Turkey, followed by more and more mountains of food, in search of new tastes and more waste.
I pulled the plug on excess this year. Gifts were still purchased, and a few lists were made. Simple little biscotti studded our pre- Christmas gatherings, as well as Lisa’s cardamom shortbread. A large Christmas cake, made early in December, was given to my mother, the keeper of our old English/Irish traditions: she has more use for it than I do . A last-minute pudding was made for my daughter, who catered for her in-laws this year. I tasted some of the left over pudding: it wasn’t like my mother’s, it didn’t have the taste of tradition, that secret ingredient, nor the advantage of slow aging in a cloth. The children rejected it: it didn’t contain any silver coins. My mother keeps old sterling coins and generously studs hers at the last-minute before serving, a tradition she has kept but one that I am happy to see die with the next generation.
The leftover coin-less pudding has been returned to my house, like a Christmas boomerang, reminding me that some traditions can’t change that quickly. Now it’s time to convert that fruity brandied reminder of times past into something that might be pulled out once again, renewed and reinterpreted, into something that is more suitable to our summer climate.
The following recipe is the traditional Australian way to deal with that left over Christmas pudding.
1 litre tub vanilla ice cream, slightly softened.
200 g left over Christmas pudding.
Amaretto to serve
Whizz the ice cream in a food processor until smooth, fold in the crumbled Christmas pudding and scrape into a freezer-proof container. Freeze for at least 2 hrs, or stash for longer. Scoop into bowls and top with amaretto.
My favourite Christmas read this year comes from Roger at Food Photography and France.
Postscript. After microwaving my plum pudding and serving with some brandy cream, I have to say it tasted dam good, so it will not be put into ice-cream after all, but stashed well in the freezer for a winter treat.
Paella is an uncomplicated and quick dish to prepare at home, once you get to know the basic ingredients and keep a few of these on hand. When a bag of mussels and a handful of fresh green prawns saunters my way, I now turn to Paella. It’s easier than risotto, with no stirring involved, and can be made on a regular gas stove.
In the pantry you will need these standbys:
a small container of commercial pre-made fish stock, or home-made frozen stock or one vegetable stock cube
some good quality Spanish smoked pimenton ( paprika )
Calasparra rice- no other rice will do for this dish
Some other desirable ingredients for a seafood paella for two people are:
some left over calamari wings, stashed in the freezer*
some green prawns, three large or 6 small per person
mussels, around 6 per person
one green or red capsicum, sliced
one finely sliced onion
one finely chopped garlic
good olive oil
You don’t need a special paella pan for a no fuss paella for two people. I use a heavy based frying 20-25 cm frying pan with a glass lid. My other paella pans come out and are used for bigger gatherings. Just double or triple the quantities for your larger pans and seek out an even and very large heat source.
Pictorial recipe instructions follow.
After preparing fresh calamari for another meal, stash the wings in the freezer for occasions like this. They defrost very quickly and add depth of flavour to the rice as it cooks. I have also used a small fillet of Dory in the same way. I learnt this trick from Sandra at Please Pass the Recipe and the habit has stuck.
It’s hard to become bored with pasta, given all the wonderful shapes, names and colours available. Walking down the long pasta aisles of that famous Italian grocery shop in Melbourne is a step straight back into the supermarkets or alimentari of Lucca, Siena or Roma. Even my Italian visitors are impressed. Reading all the names on offer- little beards, little worms, bridegrooms, ribbons and shoestrings, priest stranglers, corkscrews, smooth or lined pens, partridge’s eyes and melon seeds, just to name a few- excites my culinary imagination and sends my mind into a spin. Capellini ( thin hair) pasta is very fine, though not cut as finely as Angel’s Hair, and is the perfect carrier for light dressings or gentle sauces such as seafood. It is sold in packets of nidi or nests which usually cook in around 3 minutes. Fast food never tasted so good.
Capellini con Gamberini, Pomodorini e Basilico- Capellini Pasta with school prawns, cherry tomatoes and basil.
Note: there are no numbers or weights given. Choose the quantities that go with your needs. I usually serve 100 g of pasta per person for a main meal dish, but serve less of the finer cut pasta, letting the ingredients have more limelight. Everything in this dish is kept small, denoted by the suffix ‘ini’ after all those nouns in the title, to go with the thin pasta.
vine ripened cherry or baby Roma tomatoes, halved
garlic cloves, finely chopped
EV olive oil
a few handfuls of local school prawns, cooked and peeled
tiny basil leaves, Globe or Greek
Boil a large pot of water for the pasta and add ample salt. Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, add the olive oil ( don’t be mean as the oil is part of the sauce) and heat, then add lots of finely chopped garlic and the chilli flakes to taste. Toss around for 1 minute, then add the halved cherry tomatoes until the split. Take off the heat.
Cook the pasta nests for the required amount of time then drain.
Return the frying pan to the heat, add the prawns to the garlic oil, toss about on a high heat, then add the drained pasta, the basil leaves and season. Amalgamate while heating through. Serve in warmed large bowls, with some good oil on the table.
School prawns are usually sold in Australia pre-cooked. They come from trawlers at Lakes Entrance, Victoria and are the sweetest prawns available, despite the amount of peeling to be done.
I have set myself a challenge this week: to complete all my semi- drafted recipes and half written posts.There are usually about 10 or more in the queue and most just fall by the wayside. Mr Tranquillo calls me the post pumper! It won’t last.
The only year I missed Christmas at home was in 1985, when we spent the day in Koh Samui in Thailand, eating crab curry, with the sound of waves gently lapping in the background. Bliss. So it’s only fitting that a Thai seafood dish pops onto my Christmas menu. I have been making this seafood salad for Christmas for around 15 years now. I gleaned the recipe from my well-thumbed copy of Stephanie Alexander’s The Cooks Companion. It has lovely summer flavours and can be made a few hours ahead. The first time I made it, my sister-in-law drank the juice from the bowl, so the saucing is obviously the best part of the dish and I sometimes make extra, with Joanne in mind. The original recipe by Stephanie calls for 6 small calamari. Given that it’s almost impossible to source fresh calamari at Christmas time in Melbourne, especially small ones, I have substituted prawns and I can happily say, it’s still a great dish.
The quantity may be doubled or doubled again depending on your Christmas crowd. The recipe below made for a substantial lunch dish for two. If serving alongside other seafood, the amount below would be suitable for four. I am planning to quadruple the amount for the big day ahead, but will keep an eye on the balance of ingredeints as I go.
Thai Prawn Salad.
350 gr medium-sized green prawns
1 granny smith apple unpeeled (or any tart apple)
2 brown or purple shallots
1 tablespoon fresh coriander leaves
1 tablespoon fresh torn mint leaves
1 tablespoon fresh torn Thai basil leaves
3 tablespoons chopped peanuts.
2 fresh chillies, seeded and finely sliced
1 tablespoon palm sugar (soft brown sugar may be substituted)
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon fresh lime or lemon juice. ( lime is better)
Make the dressing by mixing the ingredients together in a jug.
Bring a large pot of water to the boil, add the prawns and cook for a couple of minutes or until nicely pink. Shell and devein the prawns. (you can do this before or after cooking. I prefer to cook them with the shell on) Halve the prawns vertically. Reserve.
Core the apple but don’t peel it. Julienne into fine sticks. Finely slice the shallots.
In a serving bowl, mix the apple, prawns, shallots, and herbs. Pour on the dressing and gently toss. Add peanuts to finished dish.
If making this dish ahead of time, leave out the herbs and peanuts until ready to serve. Dress the salad of prawns, apple and shallots, cover well, then refrigerate. Bring out around 15 minutes before serving time to take the chill off the dish, and add the torn herbs, toss and then the peanuts. Of course the peanuts are optional- purchased fried shallots would also add some final crunch.
Serve with a French Rosé wine. Salute!
Adapted from The Cook’s Companion, Stephanie Alexander, 1996 edition, page 689.
There have been lots of fishy things happening in my kitchen this month, or should I say, in cabin kitchens along the East Coast of Victoria and New South Wales. I love the challenge of cabin kitchens: they are all so idiosyncratic and designed for the user of microwaves or non cooks. Challenges include how to drain pasta without a colander, chopping on thin plastic boards that have warped into canoes, looking for a non-existent grater and salad bowl and dealing with an oven that doesn’t cook. But I’m jumping ahead.
Let me introduce you to the first kitchen I popped into on my coastal road trip. I met up with Maree, from Around the Mulberry Tree, in her kitchen in Trafalgar. She was having a garden open day and I just happened to be passing by. Her garden was looking magnificent with its well designed chook house and wicking beds, but I was keen to see the progress on her kitchen renovation and her ‘toy oven’, in which she makes beautiful sourdough loaves! I can report that it is all true, and it just goes to show that with a bit of imagination, a good loaf can be made in a tiny little pie warmer of an oven! Neither of us are too keen on having our photos on our posts: I think this one sums it all up.
The first night in our Lake Tyers kitchen we feasted on a seafood paella or Paella de Marisco. The seafood co-op at Lakes Entrance provided the goodies for this- fresh squid, prawns ( from South Australia) and a few scallops. I used the prawn heads and shells to make a quick prawn bisque for the stock. I love the first stage of making paella when the smoky pimenton is added to the stock.
Travelling with me always are these ingredients, as well as a good pan with fitting lid, a decent knife, a pasta pot, and fresh herbs and spices from home.
The kitchen in Lake Tyers was pretty good as far as cabin kitchens go except for the dodgy oven which only worked on the grill function. This was the setting for our scallop feast.
The kids were happy to eat their way through piles of flathead tails, also readily available from the local seafood co-op. A large bag of panko crumbs from Costco and eggs from home are also part of my travelling kit.
Eden was the next stop for seafood along this route, with blue mussels available near the jetty and a local smokehouse. Kyle bought a bag of smoked mussels: I like his cooking style. Pour the smoked mussels out of the bag and into a bowl, and compete to see who gets to eat the most. No photo for this treat as they disappeared in a flash.
The lakes of Pambula provided the next briny piatto del giorno. Two dozen oysters, freshly shucked, only required a picnic table, a lemon, and a loaf of ciabatta. Needing lemons? Head to the country op-shops for cheap home-grown bags full.
Heading back down south, and passing my favourite Co-op again, these pretty creatures were available for $13.50 a kilo. Packed on ice, they are now in my home kitchen and will give us at least three more meals. Calamari and squid are the most sustainable seafood species you can find in Australia.
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.
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.
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!
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’.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.