Sri Lankan Squid Curry

My friend Doug and his wife had a holiday in Sri Lanka last month. The gourmet food tour was organised by a company called Intrepid Travel and they had a fantastic time tasting delicious local food at restaurants, cafes and private homes, as well as visiting food markets and factories.

This Squid Curry was one of Doug’s favourite dishes so he sent me the recipe and I decided to give it a try. I left out the pandanus leaf because the Asian supermarket I use only sells it in huge bunches, but I did buy the curry leaves. The ones I didn’t use will keep for next time. I added a touch of sweetness with the palm sugar and used spring onion as a garnish because I didn’t have any coriander.

The squid itself doesn’t have much flavour but the overall result makes a nice change from the usual chicken, beef or pork curries.

1 kg squid tubes, cleaned (I used a frozen pack)
3 Tbs vegetable oil
10 dried curry leaves (I used a few more than that)
1 tsp each whole mustard and whole fennel seeds
A square inch piece of Pandanus leaf (optional)
1 Tbs grated or finely chopped fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Half a large onion or 3-4 French shallots
1 tsp each ground cumin, coriander and turmeric
2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
1 x 400ml can coconut milk or cream
Ground cayenne pepper and salt to taste
2-3 tsp palm sugar or brown sugar
Garnish:
Chopped fresh coriander or thinly sliced spring onion

Cut squid into bite-sized chunks and score any thicker pieces. Mine were all the same thickness so I didn’t need to do this. Wash and dry with paper towels. Heat oil in a wok or large pan over high heat. When very hot add the curry leaves, pandanus leaf and whole seeds and stir for a few seconds then add the ginger, garlic and onion. Stir fry until starting to brown then add the ground spices and tomatoes. Stir-fry for a few minutes.

Add coconut milk and mix well. Simmer to reduce slightly, season with cayenne pepper and salt. Can be prepared ahead of time to this point. Mix in squid and cook for a few minutes until tender. This won’t take long and if you overcook it the squid will be rubbery.

Garnish with coriander or spring onion and serve with steamed rice.

Serves 4-6

Japanese Meatballs

According to No.1 son, this easy mid-week recipe is the way to get kids to eat broccoli. Well it worked with his two sons who are ten and eight. If you can’t be bothered with the Ponzu sauce just serve the meatballs as they are, or with some soy sauce drizzled over.

1 large head broccoli cut into florets
2 Tbs olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbs miso paste (see note)
1 Tbs butter
1-2 tsp honey, to taste
2 cups corn (canned or frozen, thawed)
Meatballs:

500g pork mince
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 spring onion, finely chopped
½ cup breadcrumbs (preferably Panko crumbs)
1 Tbs sesame oil
1 egg
1-2 Tbs grated ginger (to taste)
Salt and pepper
To serve:
Steamed rice
1 spring onion, finely sliced on the diagonal
Ponzu Sauce (see note)

Preheat oven to 180°C. Mix all ingredients for meatballs and form into 2-3cm balls.

Mix broccoli with half the oil, salt and pepper. Line a tray with baking paper, arrange broccoli in one layer then roast for 20 mins. Heat remaining oil in a large non-stick frying pan and brown meatballs all over. Place them on another paper-lined tray and bake them for 5-10 minutes. Broccoli and meatballs should be ready at about the same time.

Wipe out frying pan then add the miso paste and butter and heat to dissolve. Add the corn, broccoli and meatballs and cook, stirring, for a minute or two, until coated with the sauce. If mixture seems a bit dry add a couple of tablespoons of water.

Serve the meatballs with steamed rice, garnished with the spring onion. Pass the Ponzu sauce round separately.

Serves 4

Note: Miso paste is a Japanese ingredient available in some supermarkets and Asian shops. If you can’t find Ponzu sauce make your own by mixing 2 Tbs soy sauce, 1 Tbs each lemon or lime juice and mirin (sweet rice wine), 1 tsp sugar and a pinch of cayenne pepper.

Crispy Fish in Chilli Sauce

The first Australian Women’s Weekly cookbooks were published in the late 1970s and constituted a turning point in Australian cuisine. There were very few cookbooks on the shelves back then and everyone had the same ones. My small collection included The Margaret Fulton Cookbook, The Complete Asian Cookbook by Charmaine Solomon, Great Dishes of the World by Robert Carrier and Mastering the Art of French Cooking, volumes 1 and 2, by Julia Child.

From 1976 the Women’s Weekly released a new book every few months – eagerly awaited by keen cooks around Australia. My friend Ferne and I made every single recipe and compared notes when we met. Home cooks started asking their local supermarkets for new and unusual ingredients and the supermarkets had to keep up with the demand.

The Chinese Cooking Class Cookbook hit stores in 1978 and sold out within a couple of weeks. Since then, it’s been reprinted countless times, selling over 4 million copies around the world. My well-worn copy, now almost 40 years old, has comments and amendments on every recipe. The price of $3.98 is on the front page and believe me, I got my money’s worth.

This is where I learnt to cook Chinese food, before I moved on to the likes of Ken Hom and Kylie Kwong. If you don’t have a copy and can find one online or in a bookshop, grab it. You won’t be disappointed. To say it’s an oldie but a goodie would be an understatement. Other favourites of mine were Beautiful Biscuits, the Italian Cookbook and the two Dinner Party Cookbooks, but there must have been around 50 in the full series. For about five years they were my bibles and although I rarely use them now, I can’t bear to throw them out.

I haven’t made this fish recipe for over 10 years and had forgotten how good it was. The original recipe has twice as much batter, but I find this amount is just enough. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

500g skinless, boneless white fish fillets
Oil for frying, such as canola or sunflower
Batter:
½ cup plain flour
2 Tbs cornflour
1 egg white
4-5 Tbs cold water
Pinch salt
Sauce:
1 Tbs oil
1 Tbs grated fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, crushed
¼ cup tomato sauce (ketchup)
¼ cup Thai sweet chilli sauce
2 tsp sugar
1 Tbs soy sauce
2 tsp dry sherry
2-3 Tbs water
Garnish:
Thin strips of the green part of spring onions, soaked in iced water

Cut fish into 2-3cm chunks. Mix all ingredients for batter until you have a thick, smooth batter. Place all ingredients for sauce in a medium frying pan, bring to the boil, then turn off the heat. Place all the fish pieces in the batter and turn to coat. Heat about 5cm oil in a wok, deep fat fryer or saucepan.

Remove fish pieces one at a time from the batter and lower into the hot oil. Cook them in 2 or 3 batches until golden brown and cooked through. Drain fish and place in the frying pan with the chilli sauce.

Turn on the heat in the frying pan and cook for a couple of minutes, turning the fish pieces gently, to coat them with the sauce. Garnish with spring onion slivers and serve with steamed rice.

Serves 4

Pork and Prawn Wontons

I was inspired to make these tasty little morsels after watching a cooking show on TV where one of the contestants made fried wontons.

I  came up with this recipe by combining ingredients from two I found online. It made 26 so I served half one night, fried and half two nights later, steamed. The fried ones were nicer but the steamed ones were probably healthier. I’ve included a photo of both. Wonton wrappers are available in many supermarkets and all Asian grocery stores.

200g pork mince (or pork/veal mince)
100g peeled cooked or raw prawn meat, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 Tbs hoisin or oyster sauce
½ tsp Chinese five spice
2 spring onions, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 egg white
1 packet wonton wrappers (you will need 24-26)
Vegetable oil for frying
To serve:
Sweet chilli sauce
Snipped chives or sliced spring onions

Mix the mince, prawn meat, garlic, ginger, hoisin or oyster sauce, five spice and spring onions and season. Place a heaped teaspoon of filling on each wonton wrapper. Using your finger put a little egg white along two adjacent edges, then seal the wonton into a triangle. Bring two edges together and overlap then press to seal, as shown in photo.

You can fry the wontons in a deep fat fryer or in a wok where you will need the oil to be a minimum of 5cm deep. Or they can be steamed. If frying cook, a few at a time, for 1-2 mins or until cooked through and golden. Drain on paper towel. If steaming they will take 5-6 minutes. Serve with sweet chilli sauce for dipping and garnish with the snipped chives and a vegetable salad.

Makes 24-26

Korean Beef

I haven’t posted any mouth-watering desserts of late. I’m trying to avoid them at the moment in an attempt to make some headway in the battle of the bulge. I always seem to be on the losing side in this battle, which I guess is par for the course when you love cooking and eating as I do. Anyway I like to think that this blog provides inspiration for subscribers wondering what to make for dinner tonight. Quick and easy, everyday dishes are the mainstay of Café Cat.

Fans of sweet sticky Asian meat dishes will like this one. Adjust the amount of brown sugar to suit your taste. The recipe doesn’t contain any chilli (though you could always add some) so it’s a good way to introduce young kids to Asian food. If you (or the kids) don’t like mushrooms leave them out and increase the meat.

2 Tbs olive oil
1 large onion, halved and sliced
250g mushrooms, wiped and sliced
450g lean beef (fillet or Scotch fillet) or leftover rare roast beef, in thin strips
¼ to ½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup soy sauce
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 Tbs sesame oil
To serve:
Steamed rice
Chives or spring onions, sliced
Toasted sesame seeds

Heat oil in a large frying pan or wok and cook the onion until soft, then add the mushrooms and continue to cook, stirring, until mushrooms are starting to brown. Remove from pan.

Add a tiny bit more oil to the pan with the beef strips and stir fry until browned. If you are using leftover roast beef this won’t take long. Add the brown sugar, soy sauce, garlic and sesame oil and cook, stirring, for a few minutes, or until sauce is thickening and glazed.

Return mushrooms and onions to the pan. As soy sauce is salty you probably won’t need to add salt to this dish. If the mixture is a bit dry, add 2-3 Tbs water and stir to combine. Serve beef with steamed rice, garnished with sliced spring onions or chives and a few sesame seeds.

Serves 4

Vietnamese Roast Chicken

If you’re bored with the usual roast chicken, try this easy alternative with Vietnamese flavours.

Instead of cooking it in the oven you could use a barbecue. If you prefer boneless, skinless chicken pieces it will also work, though the chicken might be a bit dry, so I suggest you add a tablespoonful of oil to the marinade. Leftovers are nice cold or reheated for lunch next day.

6-8 chicken thighs, skin on, bone in
Marinade:
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup Asian fish sauce
¼ cup palm sugar or brown sugar
1 Tbs grated fresh ginger
2 tsp Sambal Oelek (or other hot chilli paste)
Juice of 1 lime or ½ lemon
1 tsp finely grated lime or lemon zest
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 Tbs finely chopped coriander (including some of the stalks)
Garnish:
Lime wedges
Coriander leaves
Steamed rice

Mix marinade ingredients and pour over chicken pieces in a dish. Mix well then cover and marinate for 1-2 hours at room temperature or overnight in the fridge. Turn chicken over from time to time.

Preheat oven to 210°C. Place a rack over a baking tray to catch the drips. You can line the tray with baking paper to make washing up easier. Drain chicken (discarding marinade) and arrange on the rack. Bake for 35-45 mins or until cooked through when tested with a sharp knife.

Transfer to serving platter, garnish with lime wedges and coriander and serve with steamed rice.

Serves 4

 

Salmon, Prawn and Avocado Sushi

In the past 10 years or so sushi have taken off around the world, providing a healthy fast food solution for people who are fed up with burgers, fried chicken, pizza and tacos.

We’ve eaten sushi in all sorts of unlikely places. The most unusual place was Quito, capital of Ecuador, where we found a fabulous sushi restaurant through Trip Advisor called Shibumi. The owner/chef is a local who learnt to make sushi while living in Denmark. He also learnt Danish, married a Dane and had a son. The son is now grown up, the owner got divorced and moved back home to open the restaurant with his son.  We sat at the bar right in front of where they were making the sushi and as you can see we got the full story. There’s only enough room for 8 diners in this “hole in the wall” so it’s very intimate.

Our daughter Catherine and her husband went to a sushi restaurant some years ago and sat next to the open kitchen where they were able to watch the sushi-maker doing his thing. In fact I think they went back three nights in a row. In our family, when it comes to food, we like to be where the action is.

Catherine and Sacha are now the family sushi experts and I have to admit that I didn’t roll the ones in the photos. But having watched how it’s done I feel confident to have a go next time. A sushi mat is not essential but makes the rolling easier.

There are some excellent Japanese restaurants in Bangkok and while passing through recently we ordered these delicious sushi, garnished with crispy fried vermicelli. I made a note of what was in them – as I do when I’m travelling – and we re-created them on a recent trip to Newcastle to see Catherine & Co.

In Bangkok the sushi had an additional garnish of salmon caviar which was delicious, but we didn’t have any when we made the ones in the photos.

1 cup Sushi rice
1½ cups water
2-3 Tbs rice vinegar, to taste
5 sheets of Nori (seaweed)
1 salmon fillet (180-200g)
10 cooked prawns, halved lengthwise
1 large avocado, halved then cut into thin slices
To serve:
Japanese sweet soy sauce (it’s thicker than normal soy sauce)
Pickled ginger
Wasabi paste
1 cup rice vermicelli noodles
Oil to fry vermicelli

Place rice in a sieve and rinse thoroughly with cold water from the tap, until water runs clear. Place rice in a saucepan with the 1½ cups of water. Bring to the boil then cover and simmer on as low a heat as possible, until rice is cooked but still has a bit of bite. This takes about 10 mins and water will have all been absorbed.

Tip rice out into a shallow bowl and spread it out so it cools quickly and doesn’t continue to cook. After about 10 mins mix in the rice vinegar and allow it to cool completely.

Prepare prawns and the avocado. Slice salmon into thin slices downwards, discarding skin. Lay first sheet of nori on a sushi mat (if available – you can do it without) and spread about a fifth of the rice over. Rice should not be in a thick layer, there should be some small gaps. Arrange about a fifth of the avocado and four prawn halves in a row across one side of the nori sheet, then roll up tightly into a cylinder. Repeat with remaining nori sheets, rice, avocado and prawns.

Heat 2-3 cm of oil in a small frying pan and deep fry the vermicelli noodles until crispy. Drain on paper towels.

To serve, slice sushi into 2cm slices and arrange on a serving dish on their sides. Place a slice of salmon on each one and garnish with crispy fried vermicelli. If you don’t have enough salmon pieces to do them all, arrange the ones without salmon, cut side down, as shown in the photo. Drizzle a little soy sauce here and there then put some in a small dish and, if liked, mix in a little wasabi paste.  Arrange a small pile of pickled ginger near the soy sauce. Serve as finger food or with chopsticks.

Serves 4 as an aperitif or finger food

Note: if you can’t find them in your local supermarket, nori sheets, sushi rice, wasabi, pickled ginger, rice vermicelli noodles, Japanese soy sauce and rice wine vinegar are sold in Asian specialty shops.

Chicken Teriyaki

This chicken recipe is easy and delicious. Perfect for a family dinner but also perfect for a BBQ with friends – just double the quantities and arrange on a large serving platter, with the rice underneath and the chicken arranged over the top.

The spring onion slices in the photo are huge because they’re from the garden and everything seems to grow huge at the farm! Any leftovers are good cold.

 

8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs (about 1kg)
Marinade:
½ cup soy sauce
½ cup sugar
1 Tbs grated fresh ginger
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cinnamon stick
1 Tbs lemon juice
¼ cup water
To garnish and finish:
Extra water
1 Tbs cornflour
Thinly sliced spring onions
Toasted sesame seeds
Steamed rice

Place trimmed chicken pieces in a heavy-duty sealable plastic bag. Place all ingredients for marinade in a saucepan and heat until sugar has dissolved, then cool. Pour into bag with chicken, close the bag and leave in the fridge overnight. Best to put the bag into a bowl just in case it leaks.

Drain chicken and set aside. Pour marinade through a sieve and discard the cinnamon and other bits. Place marinade in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Mix cornflour with 2 Tbs extra water and add to the marinade, stirring until sauce thickens. Sauce should be the consistency of heavy pouring cream. If it’s too thick add a tablespoon or two more water.

Preheat a grill or BBQ. Lightly brush chicken on all sides with the sauce and cook for 4-5 mins each side, or until cooked through and nicely glazed. Reheat sauce.

Slice chicken and serve on a bed of steamed rice, drizzled with some sauce and garnished with spring onions and toasted sesame seeds.

Serves 4

 

Barbecued Baby Octopus

Whenever I serve baby octopus I think of my dearly departed Dad.

Kenf

His name was Kenneth but in the family he was always known as Kenf. For someone brought up on a very traditional British diet Kenf was quite adventurous when it came to eating. He loved Chinese food and spicy curries. In fact he pretty much ate anything you put in front of him.

My parents came over from the UK to visit us in Paris and I decided to serve baby octopus. As we finished our meal I glanced up and although he didn’t say anything I could tell that he wasn’t impressed.

“What do you think?” I enquired. “Well if you really want to know” he replied “I thought it was like eating Dunlop rubber”.

Maybe they were a bit chewy, but I didn’t think they were that bad! Since then I’ve found this recipe which isn’t chewy (thanks to the red wine) and I often wonder if it would have met with Kenf’s approval.

If you like things spicy you add a bit of finely chopped fresh chilli.

IMG_0156

1 kg baby octopus (fresh or frozen)
2 Tbs balsamic vinegar
250ml (1 cup) red wine
1 Tbs soy sauce
2 Tbs sweet chilli sauce
1 Tbs tomato sauce (ketchup)
1 Tbs olive oil
To serve:
Chopped fresh coriander
Olive oil

If using fresh octopus clean thoroughly, rinse and drain well. If using frozen octopus thaw, rinse and drain.

Place balsamic vinegar and wine in a saucepan with the octopus. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 mins. Drain, discard the wine and place octopus in a bowl with the soy, chilli sauce, tomato sauce and olive oil. Stir to combine.

Heat BBQ to high and cook the octopus for 5-6 mins, turning occasionally, until lightly charred and crispy on the edges. Serve on a bed of rocket or with steamed rice, garnished with coriander and a drizzle of oil.

Serves 2 as a main or 4 as a starter

Asian Style Kingfish Ceviche

When we were in Newcastle recently we dined at a restaurant called Sprout. The Kingfish Ceviche ordered by one of our party was so good we all had a taste!  I decided to try and recreate it on return to Canberra. I added the pink peppercorns (see note below) which were a definite plus to the flavour and colour combination.

Asian Style Kingfish Ceviche

300g Kingfish fillets (or other firm white fish)
Juice of 1 lime or half a large lemon
1 small bulb of fennel, trimmed and thinly shaved
3-5 radishes (depending on size) thinly shaved
2 spring onions, very finely sliced on the diagonal
4 stalks asparagus, blanched and cut into 2-3cm lengths
2-3 tsp very finely sliced lemon grass
1 cup coconut milk
2-4 tsp fish sauce, to taste
2 tsp grated ginger
1 tsp finely chopped fresh chilli (or to taste)
2 tsp brown sugar
1 Tbs vegetable oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
To garnish:
Pink peppercorns

Cut fish into bit size slices and mix with the lime or lemon juice. If you like your ceviche very lemony add more lemon juice. To blanch the asparagus, cook them in boiling water for 1-2 minutes then refresh under cold water, drain and pat dry with paper towel.

Leave fish for an hour or so, stirring from time to time, then mix in remaining ingredients, keeping some fennel, radish and asparagus for garnish. Season to taste then arrange on serving plates and garnish with the reserved vegetables and a few pink peppercorns.

Serves 6 as a starter

Note: A pink peppercorn (baie rose in French) is the dried berry of the Peruvian Peppertree. They were so-named because they look like peppercorns. The flavour is aromatic and only slightly peppery. They go well with all kinds of fish dishes, including Gravlax and smoked salmon. Available at specialty shops such as The Essential Ingredient.