Panko Prawn Balls

The QANTAS business class lounge in Bangkok is currently serving some delicious prawn balls. Light and crispy on the outside and soft and prawny in the middle, they are served with sweet chilli sauce for dipping. Very moreish.

Having read through a few similar recipes online I came up with the following version.

Panko Prawn Balls

3 spring onions
¼ cup drained canned water chestnuts
300g peeled and deveined raw shrimp or prawns
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp grated ginger
2 tsp cornflour
1 egg white
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
2 tsp Chinese rice wine or sherry
To finish:
Panko crumbs (see note below)
Vegetable oil
Sweet Chilli Sauce

Finely chop spring onions and water chestnuts in a food processor using the pulse button or by hand. Tip into a bowl. Finely chop the prawns – not too fine – you don’t want a puree, so leave a few chunky bits. Add to the bowl with remaining ingredients and mix well.

Place panko crumbs in a shallow bowl. Using damp hands, form prawn mixture into balls about 2cm in diameter, roll in panko crumbs, then place on a tray. Refrigerate until needed.

Heat 2-3 cm of vegetable oil in a frying pan or wok. When hot add the prawn balls, a few at a time and cook, turning so they cook both sides, for 2-3 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels.

Serve prawn balls warm on toothpicks with sweet chilli sauce for dipping.

Makes about 20 balls

Note: Panko crumbs are much lighter and crunchier than normal breadcrumbs. You can find them in most supermarkets.

Smoked Trout Salad with Asian Dressing

One whole smoked trout is enough to make a light meal for two people. Whole hot-smoked trout are sold in supermarkets in Australia in vacuum packs. The use by date usually allows you can keep them for a week or two in the fridge before they need to be eaten. Handy for those occasions when you peer into the fridge thinking “What can I make for dinner with what I’ve got?”

Carefully remove the flesh in large chunks, discarding the skin and bones. I definitely have to wear my reading glasses to do this! Mix with freshly cooked pasta, adding a splash of cream and a few capers or chopped dill. Some halved baby tomatoes or rocket leaves are an optional addition.

Or make this Asian salad which is perfect for a hot summer’s day.

Smoked Trout Salad with Asian Dressing

3 spring onions or small shallots
1 clove garlic
½ small red chilli, seeded and chopped
2 Tbs roasted peanuts
1 Tbs fish sauce
1 Tbs tamarind paste (sold in jars)
3 Tbs water
3 Tbs palm sugar, chopped, or substitute brown sugar
1 smoked trout, flesh removed, bones and skin discarded
2-3 cups small salad leaves
1 Tbs finely chopped lime (skin and flesh)
2 Tbs roasted peanuts, chopped
½ cup coriander leaves
Extra virgin olive oil

Dressing: Place onions, garlic, chilli and peanuts in food processor and process until you have a paste, stopping to scrape down the sides halfway. Place paste in a saucepan with remaining dressing ingredients. Simmer for 3-4 minutes then leave to cool. It should be thick and a bit sticky.

Meanwhile arrange salad leaves on two plates. Top with the trout pieces, the lime, peanuts and coriander leaves. Drizzle with some of the sauce, then drizzle a little olive oil around the edge of the plate. Any leftover dressing is delicious served with cold roast meats.

Serves 2 as a main or 4 as a starter

Note: some supermarkets sell smoked trout fillets without skin or bones.

Variation: to serve as finger food, separate the leaves of 2 heads of chicory (witloof or witlof) and top each with a piece of smoked trout, the remaining toppings and some of the dressing.

Thai Green Mango Salad

My friend Jurate who lives in the Sydney suburb of Haberfield gave me 3 green mangoes. Actually the tree is in her neighbour’s garden, but he’s happy for her to take the fruit that hangs on her side of the fence.

We’ve been to Thailand so many times, I’ve lost count. When travelling back to Australia from Europe we find a few days of relaxation, massage, great food and swimming is the perfect way to break the journey and get over some of the jet lag.

I used the mangoes to make one of our favourite Thai dishes, Green Mango Salad and it was delicious.

Thai Green Mango Salad

3 green mangoes, peeled and coarsely grated or cut into fine julienne
3 spring onions or 1 small red onion, finely sliced
½ cup fresh grated coconut or desiccated coconut
¼ cup Thai or ordinary basil, shredded
¼ cup coriander, coarsely chopped
Juice of 2 limes
2-3 Tbs palm sugar, crushed, or brown sugar
1 Tbs Thai sweet chilli sauce
1 small red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
2 Tbs fish sauce
To garnish:
Roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
About 20 cooked prawns, peeled

Mix salad ingredients in a bowl. Mix dressing and taste – it should have a nice balance of sweet, salty, sour and hot. Mix dressing with salad, then serve garnished with the peanuts and prawns.

Serves 4

Note: green mangoes are usually available in Asian shops. If liked you can bulk up this salad by adding 2-3 cups of beansprouts.

Sticky Pork Ribs with Plums

What the supermarkets here call pork spareribs are actually pork belly rashers, as they have no bones. I bought a packet and was planning to cook them with a sticky sauce. Then my Thai friend Pom gave me some plums, so I decided to throw them in towards the end of the cooking time. The result was delicious with the fruit providing just the right contrast to the richness of the meat.

Sticky Pork Ribs with Plums

8-10 pork belly rashers or spare ribs
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs BBQ sauce, or HP sauce or Tomato Ketchup
2 Tbs oyster sauce or Sweet Chilli Sauce
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbs honey or brown sugar or maple syrup
1 crushed clove garlic
2-3 tsp grated fresh ginger
About 8 plums

Preheat oven to 180°C. If liked remove rind from the pork. Leaving it on results in chewier pork, but I like it that way. Place pork in a baking pan and season on both sides. Bake for an hour to an hour and a half or until tender, turning them over about halfway through the cooking. Tip off the fat. Mix the three sauces with the honey/brown sugar or maple syrup, garlic and ginger and spread some over the pork. Add the plums, stoned and cut into quarters. Return pan to the oven for about 15 minutes then remove, turn the pork over and spread with remaining sauce. Continue to cook for a further 15 minutes or until nicely glazed and plums are cooked. Serve with steamed rice and steamed bok choy.

Serves 3-4

Variations: leave out the plums altogether if preferred, or substitute peaches or nectarines.

Scallops with Black Bean Dressing

When Tetsuya Wakuda opened his restaurant Tetsuya’s in Sydney in 1989 it was a culinary breath of fresh air and Australians were literally wowed. By combining French cooking techniques he had learnt while working at Kinsela’s for Tony Bilson with the pure clean flavours of his heritage this smiley Japanese chef was an overnight success.

The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide gave Tetsuya’s their highest possible award every year from 1992 until 2009. Not bad for a guy who arrived in Sydney in 1982 with nothing more than a small suitcase and a love of food.

This delicious starter appeared in a newspaper article about Tetsuya some 20 years ago and I cut it out. I’ve been making it ever since and it always goes down well. Scallops are quite expensive but three per person is enough for a light starter.

Scallops with Black Bean Dressing

24 large scallops, without roe
1 leek, white part only, cut into fine julienne
oil to fry
3 Nori sheets, very finely sliced*

¾ cup vegetable or light olive oil
¼ cup salted black beans, finely chopped*
¼ cup finely chopped shallots
3 Tbs rice wine vinegar*
2 Tbs mirin*
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 Tbs fresh ginger, grated or finely chopped
1 tsp soy sauce

Thaw scallops if frozen and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Place dressing ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake well. Taste and add a bit more rice wine vinegar if necessary, to get the right balance. Deep fry leeks in hot oil until crispy then drain on paper towels. Recipe can be made ahead to this stage.

To serve, arrange the nori “straw” on 8 serving plates. Brush or lightly spray scallops on both sides with some oil, then sear on a hot pan or griddle for 1-2 minutes each side or until golden. Arrange three scallops on each plate, drizzle with some of the dressing, then garnish with the crispy leeks.

Serves 8

Notes: * ingredients marked with an asterisk are available from Asian food stores. Leftover dressing will keep for a week or two in the fridge and goes well with grilled fish or chicken. The black beans come in tins or packets. If you buy them in a tin, drain and rinse well. Large raw prawns can be used instead of scallops and if you don’t have any nori, serve on a bed of finely shredded rocket.

Beef Teriyaki

Beef Teriyaki is one of my favourite stir fry recipes. There are other stir fries I’ve made once or twice, but I’ve made this one dozens of times. It’s quick, easy and adaptable – just as delicious at room temperature as it is hot.

With the addition of lots of veggies, a small amount of beef goes a long way. Use Singapore noodles, Hokkien or similar. We find the amount of soy sauce is about right, but soy sauces do vary from brand to brand. If you find it’s a bit too salty make a note and next time use less soy sauce and make up the difference with water.

Beef Teriyaki500g beef – I use 2-3 thick rump or topside steaks
3 Tbs vegetable oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 large onion, halved and sliced
1 large red pepper, sliced
4 medium zucchini (courgettes) sliced or cut into sticks
2 medium carrots, cut into sticks
250g mushrooms, sliced
½ cup soy sauce
1 Tbs sugar
¼ cup dry sherry
450g packet of fresh, pre-cooked Chinese egg noodles (omit for a Low Carb meal)

Freeze steak a bit to make it easier to slice thinly. Slice downwards into paper thin strips. Dry well on paper towels. Heat oil in wok or large frying pan. Add meat and garlic and stir fry for 1-2 minutes over high heat or until browned. Remove meat from pan, leaving the oil behind. Add onion and stir fry 2 minutes, then add remaining vegetables except mushrooms and stir fry for 5 minutes or until al dente. Add soy sauce mixed with sugar and sherry. Meanwhile cook noodles in boiling salted water according to packet instructions. Return meat to pan with mushrooms and stir fry for 2-3 minutes. Fold through drained noodles and stir fry for about a minute.

Note: if using dried noodles you will need only 125g and they will take longer to cook. If liked you can always add a touch of fresh chilli and substitute other vegetables such as broccoli, green beans, cauliflower or asparagus.

Serves 4

Sticky Chilli Chicken

You may have noticed that Café Cat has been quiet for the past 3 weeks while I was on a business trip to Chile. This involved catching up with lots of friends – rather too many lunches, dinners and pisco sours – the Chilean national tipple. But life’s too short to avoid occasional periods of over-indulgence!

For some reason jet-lag is always better coming back from Chile to Australia than it is going. Even so, in the first few days after returning from somewhere which is 14 hours behind AEST, I am not at my most creative. So we’ve been eating quick and easy, tried and tested dishes such as this one for Sticky Chilli Chicken. The original recipe came from Donna Hay – I’ve just cut down a bit on the sugar and the soy sauce. It may sound like a lot of chillies, but the end result is not very hot. Any leftovers are nice cold.

Sticky Chilli Chicken1.5kg chicken pieces (I use thighs)
Chilli Sauce:
3 red chillies, seeded and finely chopped
1 Tbs grated ginger
2 cups water
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup sugar
½ cup vinegar
½ cup chopped coriander

Place all ingredients for sauce except the coriander in a deep frying pan which has a lid and simmer for 3 minutes. I use an old-fashioned electric frypan. Trim chicken pieces and remove skin if liked. Add chicken to pan, cover and cook for half an hour, turning from time to time. Remove lid and continue to cook for 20-25 minutes, turning chicken from time to time until the sauce has become sticky and the chicken is well coated. Watch carefully towards the end as you don’t want the sauce to completely dry up and burn. Add coriander and serve with steamed rice.

Serves 4

Char Kuay Teow

When living in Malaysia in the 80s one of my favourite dishes was Char Kuay Teow (stir-fried rice noodles) sold by street vendors, known as hawkers. In the old days this tasty dish was cooked in pork fat which made it rather unhealthy. Nowadays most cooks use vegetable oil, which is better for your cholesterol levels.

I have tried various recipes in search of one which would transport me to Kuala Lumpur, or KL as we always called it, where I bought the heavy black wok shown in the photo.

My Malaysian friend Carmen, who goes to the doggy park most afternoons, recently gave me her version. It doesn’t use any belachan (stinky shrimp paste!) or shelled cockles – often found in char kuay teow in Malaysia and Singapore – but nonetheless I reckon it really hits the spot.

Char Kuay Teow1 sheet of kuay teow (rice noodles) cut 1cm thick (or use pre-cut ones)
1 Tbs oil
½ cup Chinese sausage, thinly sliced (see note)
3 cloves garlic, diced
About 12 shelled green prawns
1 cup Chinese garlic chives cut into 3cm lengths (or sliced spring onions)
2 eggs, beaten
1 Tbs light soy sauce
2-3 tsp dark soy sauce
Handful beansprouts
Freshly ground pepper
To serve:
Chopped fresh coriander
Chilli jam or sambal

If noodles are difficult to separate place in a bowl with warm water and separate with your fingers, then drain well. Heat oil in wok until hot, then fry sausage until crispy. Add garlic, garlic chives or spring onions and prawns and stir-fry for a minute or two. Add soy sauce and noodles, turning them gently so they don’t break. They should become slightly browned and crispy but don’t overcook or they will fall apart.

Move noodles to one side and add eggs, then cover with the noodles. Leave for a minute till almost set, then mix with noodles and add beansprouts and pepper. Taste and add more soy sauce if necessary. Garnish with coriander and serve chilli jam as a side dish.

Serves 2

Note: rice noodles, Chinese sausage and dark soy sauce are all available in Asian shops. Chinese sausage is slightly sweet and helps add authenticity to this dish.

Gong Bao Chicken

Sometimes translated from the Chinese as Kung Pao rather than Gong Bao, this stir fry from the province of Szechuan in central west China is simple but delicious. The recipe I used called for 4 dried chillies, but one or two would have been enough for us. I’m not a wuss (good Aussie term for a wimp for those who don’t know) when it comes to chillies, but dried ones seem to pack more of a punch than fresh ones. As it says on Wikipedia “the use of hot and numbing flavours is a typical element of Szechuan cooking”. Clears the sinuses.

Gong Bao Chicken500g boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 Tbs cornflour
4 Tbs soy sauce
1/3 cup unsalted peanuts or cashews
2 Tbs oil
2 tsp Szechuan peppercorns
1-4 dried red chillies, to taste, roughly chopped
3 cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
4 spring onions, trimmed & finely sliced on the diagonal
Steamed rice to serve

Slice chicken and mix with the cornflour and 2 Tbs of the soy sauce. Leave to marinate for about 15 mins. Heat a dry pan and toast the nuts for a few minutes, stirring, until golden. Remove and set aside. Heat oil in wok or large frying pan. Add dried chillies and peppercorns and cook, stirring for 2-3 mins. Turn up heat and add chicken. Cook, stirring, until chicken is cooked on both sides. Add ginger, garlic, spring onions and nuts and continue to cook, stirring for 2-3 mins. Add remaining 2 Tbs soy sauce and serve with steamed rice.

Serves 3-4

Note: if you like a touch of sweetness, add 1-2 tsp brown sugar at the end with the soy sauce, or use kecap manis, which is a sweetish soy sauce.

Steamed Monkfish with Ginger & Spring Onions

You don’t see monkfish much in the shops and when you do it’s usually quite expensive, but I recently bought some at Costco. It’s a firm, “meaty” fish with a texture similar to scallops. I think the best way to serve it is steamed with Chinese flavourings.

350-400g monkfish filletsSteamed Monkfish with Ginger & Spring Onions
2-3 tsp grated or finely chopped ginger
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tsp sesame oil
1 Tbs soy sauce
2 spring onions, finely sliced on the diagonal
To serve:
Steamed rice

Cut fish into big chunks. Mix with the ginger and garlic and season to taste. Place on a dinner plate in one layer. Half fill a large saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Place the plate with the fish on top and cover with the saucepan lid. Steam for 7-8 minutes or until opaque and cooked through but not quite flaking. Timing will depend on how close the plate is to the boiling water – be careful not to overcook.

Meanwhile heat sesame oil and soy sauce in a saucepan or in the microwave. Arrange fish on 2 serving plates. Drizzle with the soy sauce mixture and sprinkle with the spring onions. Serve with steamed rice.

Serves 2

Variation: use another firm fish such as barramundi