Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls

These rice paper rolls make a refreshing aperitif or light dinner.  There’s no cooking involved making them the perfect choice for a hot summer’s evening when everyone is feeling lazy, even the cook.

The rolls can be made up to three hours ahead and kept in the fridge, covered with plastic wrap, so they don’t dry out. Vary the ingredients according to what you have on hand.

100g vermicelli noodles
350g cooked prawns, cut in halves horizontally
½ cup each coarsely chopped coriander and Vietnamese or ordinary mint
1 Lebanese cucumber or half a telegraph cucumber, cut into matchsticks
2 spring onions, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
10 rice paper wrappers (approx)
Dipping Sauce:
1 clove garlic, peeled
30g palm sugar or brown sugar
4 Tbs lime or lemon juice
3 Tbs fish sauce
1 small red chilli, thinly sliced
To garnish:
Vietnamese mint or ordinary mint

Place vermicelli in a bowl and pour over boiling water to cover. Stand for 2-4 minutes or until tender, then drain well. Use scissors to roughly cut the vermicelli into shorter lengths then place them in a bowl with the prawns, mint, cucumber and spring onion. Season to taste.

For the dipping sauce, pound garlic and sugar to a paste in a mortar and pestle then mix in the remaining ingredients. If preferred, instead of making the dipping sauce serve the rolls with store bought Thai Sweet Chilli Sauce.

Fill a bowl with hot water. Working with one rice wrapper at a time, submerge in water to soften for about 20 seconds, then place on a damp tea towel. Spoon some of the prawn filling down the centre, fold in the ends, then roll up tightly to form a cylinder. Place on a tray lined with non-stick baking paper and cover with a damp tea towel. When you have made them all serve immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until serving time, up to 3 hours.

Serve 2 or 3 rolls per person, with the dipping sauce and mint.

Makes about 10 rolls

Note: rice paper wrappers are sold in most supermarkets and Asian grocery stores.

Indian Spiced Roast Lamb with Coriander Chutney

Somewhere towards the end of January I get cravings for a curry. Something spicy and a complete contrast to the food we tend to eat over the holiday period, with ham or turkey as the centrepiece.

As a change from the usual roast lamb with mint sauce, try this Indian-style spicy roast lamb. Serve the lamb with vegetables or skip the vegetables and serve it in wraps. Good for casual entertaining or teenage kids, where you can let everyone fill their own.

When it’s first made the coriander chutney is bright green. I made mine ahead and the colour changed, so it’s not so pretty in the photo.

Indian Spiced Roast Lamb with Coriander Chutney

1 leg of lamb
Spicy Marinade:
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp chilli flakes or powder
½ tsp ground turmeric
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tsp grated ginger
1 Tbs lemon or lime juice
1 Tbs oil
1 Tbs tomato paste
1/3 cup plain yoghurt
Coriander Chutney:
1 cup coriander leaves, tightly packed
3 spring onions, sliced
1 long fresh green chilli, seeds removed
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 Tbs lemon or lime juice
½ tsp ground cumin
Salt to taste
1 Tbs water, if needed
Garnish:
Coriander sprigs
Lemon wedges

Make slashes with a sharp knife all over the lamb. Place in a roasting pan. Place first 5 ingredients for Spicy Marinade in a small frying pan and stir over moderate heat until the spices smell fragrant. Place in a bowl, add remaining marinade ingredients and mix well. Spread all over the meat and rub in well. Leave lamb to marinate for a few hours at room temperature or loosely covered in the fridge overnight.

Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Cover lamb with foil and roast for an hour and a half. Remove foil and roast for a further 30 minutes or until done to your liking. Remove from the oven and leave to rest, loosely covered with foil, for about 15 minutes, then carve thinly.

Place all ingredients for Coriander Chutney in food processor and process till chunky-smooth, stopping halfway to scrape down the sides. Add water if it’s too thick.

Serve lamb garnished with with coriander sprigs and lemon wedges with vegetables of your choice and the chutney. Or serve it in warm wraps with the chutney and some extra plain yoghurt and maybe some shredded lettuce or rocket.

Serves 8

Mango and Prawn Salad with Honey & Walnuts

This lovely summery salad was in a supermarket recipe hand out. I’ve made a few changes as I always do. Perfect for the warmer weather when mangoes are in season.

Mango and Prawn Salad with Honey & Walnuts

1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 tsp salt
1 Tbs sugar
¼ cup vinegar
½ cup boiling water
About six cups mixed salad leaves
1 mango, peeled, stoned and thinly sliced
1 red capsicum (pepper) thinly sliced
1 punnet cherry tomatoes, halved
300g cooked, peeled prawns (weight after peeling)
100g feta or fresh goat’s cheese, crumbled
½ cup walnuts or pecans
1 Tbs honey
Dressing:
¼ cup red wine or cider vinegar or lemon juice
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbs honey
Grated rind of 1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Place onion in a small bowl. Add salt, sugar, vinegar and water. Mix well then leave to macerate for half an hour or more. Drain and pat dry with paper towels. Place all ingredients for dressing in a jar with a lid and shake well.

Arrange salad leaves in a large shallow bowl or four individual serving plates. Use small leaves or break larger ones into bite sized pieces. Top with the mango, capsicum, tomatoes, prawns, feta or goat’s cheese and the drained onions. Place walnuts in a dry frying pan and stir over moderate heat until lightly toasted. Add honey, stir to coat, then arrange over the salad. If you do this ahead and let them get cold they will stick to the pan, so you will need to turn the heat back on briefly to loosen them. Drizzle salad with some of the dressing.

Serves 4

Variation: use peaches or nectarines instead of mangoes.

Roast Sweet Potatoes, Pears and Chick Peas with Prosciutto

Regular Café Cat readers will know that I’m a great fan of roast vegetables and love trying new combinations. This dish using sweet potatoes and pears, combined with chick peas and topped with crispy prosciutto is a real winner.

Roast Sweet Potatoes, Pears and Chick Peas with Prosciutto

1 large or two smaller sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into large thick wedges
3 large pears, unpeeled and cut into six or eight, lengthwise then cored
1 can chick peas, rinsed and drained
About ¼ cup olive oil
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper
100g thinly sliced prosciutto (I used Aldi Black Forest Ham)

Pre-heat oven to 200°C. Place all ingredients except prosciutto in a large bowl and mix well. Line a large shallow baking tray with baking paper then spread the vegetables over the tray in one layer. The paper is to make washing up easier but is optional. Bake vegetables for about half an hour or until cooked and starting to brown around the edges. Re-arrange them halfway through cooking time, so they cook more evenly.

In a non-stick frying pan put a tiny bit of oil then cook the prosciutto until crispy. Serve on top of the vegetables.

Serves 3-4

Variations: use pumpkin instead of sweet potato, apples instead of pears, thinly sliced bacon instead of Prosciutto. To make the dish more substantial serve it on a bed of lightly dressed rocket and scatter some crumbled feta or goat’s cheese over the top. Vegetarians can just leave out the prosciutto.

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.

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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

Nutella Tart

Some of the grandkids like Nutella. I’m not a fan, but usually have it in the pantry for visiting Nutella eaters.

This recipe makes a quick dessert and was a good way to use up a jar which had been sitting there for a month or two since the last visit. To save time you can use bought shortcrust pastry, but this home-made chocolate crust is very quick to make in a food processor.

Nutella Tart

Pastry:
3 heaped Tbs plain flour
1 heaped Tbs cocoa
1 level Tbs caster sugar
55g butter
3-4 Tbs water
Filling:
300g (about one heaped cup) Nutella or other chocolate spread
2 eggs
¾ cup cream
To serve:
Whipped cream
Optional: Toasted hazelnuts, walnuts or pecans

For pastry place first four ingredients in food processor and whiz until it forms crumbs. Slowly add water through the feed chute, with motor running. Stop as soon as mixture forms a ball. Remove and press into a ball, then roll out thinly and use to line a 20cm (8″) metal tart tin. Refrigerate for up to an hour. If in a hurry stick it in the freezer for a few minutes.

Preheat oven to 180°C. Line tart with foil and fill with dried beans or corn to stop it rising. Bake for about 8 minutes, then remove foil and beans (which can be kept to use again and again) and put back in the oven for 5-10 mins or until set. Remove from the oven and turn it down to 150°C.

Meanwhile for the filling, place eggs in a bowl and beat with a hand whisk. Whisk in Nutella and cream and when smooth pour into the tart case. It should come almost level with the top of the pastry. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until set, but still wobbly in the middle. Don’t overcook.

Cool then refrigerate till serving time. Serve with whipped cream and toasted nuts.

Serves 8

 

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.

Boris and the Barbecue

Early in our marriage we were posted to Israel where we lived in the leafy suburb of Herzliyah Pituach, on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. It was one of the few times in our lives that we didn’t have a dog, but our neighbours had a boxer called Boris. They travelled a lot and Boris got lonely, so he spent as much time at our house as he did at theirs. When he felt the need for company he’d just turn up and we were always pleased to see him. Well, almost always.

A Minister was visiting from Queensland with his wife and secretary, so we invited them to join us for a very informal barbecue lunch. Matthew headed off late Saturday morning to pick them up, wearing jeans and an open-neck shirt.

Our guests arrived dressed to kill in white linen suits or similar attire. We sat in the garden sipping a glass of wine while Matthew lit the barbecue. Within five minutes Boris had arrived, his little stubby tail wagging excitedly as he sniffed the air in anticipation of things to come. He could smell a barbecue from a mile off.

Boris was a friendly soul and his usual way of greeting new friends was to slobber his way along their knees. As Matthew tried to stop him and apologise Mrs Minister said through clenched teeth “It’s okay we don’t mind dogs.” Her face said differently as she studied the remains of Boris’s breakfast, now smeared all over her white pants.

Matthew poured more wine, everyone relaxed and we moved to the table for lunch – barbecued lamb cutlets and salad, followed by apple strudel. Boris was starting to be a pain, snuffling under the table looking for scraps. Matthew escorted him home twice, but he kept coming back. We decided to give him a couple of chop bones at the far end of the garden, to keep him quiet.

Suddenly the sound of Boris choking interrupted the conversation. Matthew leapt up, rolled up his sleeve and thrust his hand down the dog’s throat to retrieve the bone. Our guests looked on in horror.

You will be relieved to know that Boris survived the ordeal and went on to attend many more barbecues, although bones were strictly off the menu. In honour of our dearly departed four-legged friend here’s a barbecue recipe without bones. It was given to me by an Australian friend in Israel and is very simple but always a winner. The quantities are flexible – if you use more pork just add more soy sauce, garlic and ginger!

Candy’s Barbecued Pork Rashers Candy's Barbecued Pork Rashers

800g to 1 kg pork belly rashers/slices
1/3 cup soy sauce
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tbs grated or very finely chopped fresh ginger

If the pork slices have skin, remove it. If they’re very thick slices hammer them out a bit with a meat hammer. Mix soy sauce, garlic and ginger in a shallow dish. Add the pork and turn to coat thoroughly. Leave to marinate for a couple of hours or overnight. Cook for about 15 minutes or so on a hot barbecue, turning a couple of times, or until well cooked and crispy.

Serves 4

The Best Guacamole

Many years ago I tried a fabulous Guacamole at the house of a Mexican diplomat. It’s so long ago I can’t even remember her name, but she gave me the recipe and I’ve been making it ever since. I guess you’d expect a Mexican to know how to make Guacamole.

I had been making my own version for years, but this authentic recipe taught me a couple of tricks. Firstly, don’t puree the avocados – mash them roughly with a fork so they remain a bit chunky. Secondly, a dash of cumin powder works wonders, although if you don’t like cumin you can always leave it out. Another tip is not to use overripe avocados as the dip will discolour very quickly if you do.

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2 large ripe but not overripe avocados, seeded and peeled
1 very small onion, grated (or ¼ medium onion)
½ clove garlic, crushed
2-3 tsp lime juice
2-3 tsp olive oil
2 Tbs chopped coriander
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp dried oregano
1 large tomato, peeled, seeded & diced (optional)
To serve:
Corn chips

Mash avocados roughly with a fork, then gently mix in remaining ingredients, except tomato. Cover with plastic wrap and chill. Fold in tomato just before serving. Garnish with extra chopped coriander or a few pieces of tomato and serve with corn chips.

Makes 1-2 cups

Note: instead of one large tomato use 3-4 baby ones (I used baby Roma). No need to peel, just remove seeds and dice.

Australia’s Oyster Coast

Australia’s Oyster Coast farmers operate across eight estuaries from the Shoalhaven River to Wonboyn Lake on the pristine south coast of New South Wales. A group of passionate artisans, they are committed to growing oysters of the highest quality in estuaries so well-managed they can be eaten straight out of the water.

Australia's Oyster Coast

Three different species, each with different characteristics influenced by the water in which they live, are being produced. Going from left-to-right in the photo, the Sydney Rock is a native oyster with a firm, creamy texture and incredible flavour. Highly prized by top restaurants, it can only be found along the South Eastern coastline of Australia. Next comes the Angasi, another native oyster which is rarer than its Sydney cousin and recognised by its flat shell and stronger flavour. The Pacific Oyster is significantly bigger than the other two. Introduced into Australia from Japan, it’s the mostly widely-consumed oyster in the world. Fast-growing and plump with a clean, salty flavour.

Australia’s Oyster Coast has partnered with a number of restaurants and wineries to sell their products in Australia. To place an order contact: sales@australiasoystercoast.com

They have also started exporting to a number of countries in Asia, including China, Hong Kong and Singapore and plan to expand to other countries in the region in the near future. They are also developing a domestic tourism trail along Australia’s Oyster Coast, with lease tours, restaurants, accommodation, sea planes and kayaks. This is still under development, but will take on greater importance once direct air flights between Canberra and Singapore commence.

Each of the three oysters requires a slightly different opening technique. You need a special knife and it’s also a big plus to have a family member who knows what they’re doing. Our son-in-law Sacha is our oyster expert. An Australian of Chilean origin Sacha has eaten more oysters than I’ve had hot dinners and says the only way to eat them is plain, or with a squeeze of lemon juice.

For those who like something a bit different I made this simple Asian sauce from Jamie Oliver.

Australia's Oyster Coast1 piece of peeled fresh ginger the size of a small walnut, grated
6 Tbs rice wine vinegar
1 small red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
1 Tbs finely chopped coriander
1 tsp sugar

Shake in a jar with a lid.