Chayote: another healthy food

Chayote: another healthy food

Stop Press. Tempeh cooking demos Monday, 26 March. Morning and evening.

I mentioned in my last blog that I was planning to hold a session. These are the dates I’ve decided on. Book now! Space is limited. Send me a message via the contact form, or if you know my other contact details, call me, text me, or message me. Just let me know your preferred day and I will confirm with details. 


I keep coming across a vegetable called chayote in Latin American recipes.

It’s also used in Cajun cuisine (they call it mirliton), and by a huge variety of different names throughout south and east Asia. In Malaysia it’s called, weirdly, ‘English gourd’; in Indonesia we call it labu siam, which means ‘Thai squash’. Whatever it’s called, I love it!

Chayote (pronounced chay-o-tee) is a member of the gourd family, so related to squash and pumpkins, melons and cucumbers. Its flesh looks a bit cucumbery, but firmer—and you normally cook it. It has a very delicate—some might say nondescript—slightly sweet flavour, and a beautiful soft but crispy mouthfeel, which makes it ideal for adding to a stir-fry or a soup or stew.

And here’s the big thing about chayote: it’s packed with folate (vitamin B9), and contains zero cholesterol and saturated fats. It also has useful amounts of vitamin C, other B-complex vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, and fibre. Quite a nutritional powerhouse!

You can find chayote in most Asian supermarkets in the UK—see ‘Where to find ingredients’ in my blog on Sambal.

labu siam 180223-009

The photos show a very simple one-pan Indonesian dish that I put together in about 20 minutes (most of which is prepping the ingredients). In the first picture, above, clockwise from top-left: chayote, coconut milk, dried shrimp, tempeh, shallots and garlic, galangal, dried salam leaf (bay leaf can be substituted), tomato, and of course red chillies.

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Basically, chop everything up, and soak the dried shrimp.

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In a large frying pan (ideally a wok) gently fry the tempeh in vegetable oil to soften it, then add all the other ingredients except the chayote, tomato, and coconut milk. After a few minutes add the chayote and carry on frying until it’s soft (about another five minutes). Finally add the coconut milk and tomato, and salt and pepper (don’t be stingy) for the last couple of minutes. Serve with rice. If you’d like a more detailed recipe do let me know. I’ll be happy to let you have one.

Enjoy! And think of all the goodness.

labu siam 180223-021

Tempeh. The super-food.

Tempeh. The super-food.

I’m planning a demonstration of some super simple but tasty ideas for cooking with tempeh. Watch this space!

Seems like you can’t open a lifestyle magazine at the moment without finding an article about gut microbes. You know the sort of thing: we have ten times more bacteria in our bodies than human cells (a highly questionable estimate) and many of these bacteria are essential to the proper functioning of our digestive system. As a result we are bombarded with advertising trying to sell us ‘probiotic’ supplements.

Now I am not a food-faddist. I believe that a balanced diet of predominantly natural foods (by which I mean not processed industrially) is what you need to stay healthy. But I reckon if there’s a chance that some of those natural foods could benefit the gut’s microbiota by providing ‘good’ bacteria, and they’re great to eat, then you have little to lose by eating them!

Most of the foods that contain beneficial bacteria are made through the process of fermentation—the conversion of sugars and starch by microbes into acid or alcohol. Some of the well known products made this way are yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi (Korean), miso (Japanese), and sourdough bread.

But there is one that I’m particularly fond of, because it is so delicious, and it comes from Indonesia! I’m talking about tempeh—apparently the only soya-based product that didn’t originate in China.

Tempeh is made from whole soya beans, bound together by the fermentation process into a cake. It is quite unlike the better-known tofu, which is made from soya milk. Tempeh has a firm texture and a nutty flavour, with a high protein, fibre, and vitamin content. Bit of a super-food really! My husband, Kevan, is luke warm about tofu. He absolutely loves tempeh. It seems to be cropping up more and more in the media, and becoming easier to get hold of. I get mine from my usual Chinese supermarket, but you can find it in health food shops, and as I write I see that Crossways Fruiterers, the charming independent greengrocer in Fernhurst, has just started stocking it.

Tempeh is so versatile. Recently I posted on Instagram a simple, yummy Javanese snack called tempeh mendoan sambal kecap, which makes a wonderful canapé. Thinly sliced tempeh is coated in a spicy batter, fried quickly, then topped with a fresh sambal made with sweet soya sauce.

Yesterday I made a batch of the delicious stir-fry called, in Javanese, oseng-oseng tempeh. Here’s how I make it.

1. Slice a block of tempeh into strips. Fry these for a minute or so in very hot oil—I use sunflower oil; rapeseed oil is an alternative. They should stay soft—don’t overcook them. Remove the tempeh from the oil and set aside to drain.

2. Coarsely chop shallots, garlic, chillies (red and/or green), and galangal, and fry in the same oil with a few lime leaves and bay leaves.

3. Once the vegetables have softened and their fragrance released, add the tempeh and stir together with kecap manis (sweet soya sauce), a little tamarind sauce, and salt and pepper.

4. Finally I might add halved cherry tomatoes for the last few seconds of frying.

5. Put everything onto a serving plate, or a freezer container. We like our food chilli hot, so I top with whole grilled green chillies. Let the dish stand for a few hours for the flavours to develop before warming and serving, or freezing.

All the ingredients can be found in the bigger supermarkets, even the galangal and tamarind sauce. I don’t think it will be long before they start selling tempeh too.

Give it a try. I hope you love it as we do. And who knows, its fermentation genesis might give you a bacterial boost!

And in case you’d like more inspirational ideas on what to do with tempeh I’m planning a cooking demonstration some day soon. Meanwhile let me know if you think it’s a good idea.

Two recipes for the price of one: sambal terasi & sambal terong

Sambal is one of the foundation stones of Indonesian cuisine. It is often referred to in translation as chilli relish—but it is so much more than just a condiment, such as mustard or tomato ketchup. It might be served as a side dish, to accompany a main dish. But it is also often made into a main dish in its own right. I’m going to show you how to make a basic sambal, sambal terasi, and then turn this into a dish that is more of a main dish—sambal terong. ‘Terong’ means ‘aubergine’ in Indonesian. Sambal terasi, as its name implies, is essentially chillies and terasi, or shrimp paste, which I wrote all about in my last blog. I think of this as being the basic sambal. My family in Jakarta call it sambal ulek. But I know that some cooks use this name for an even more basic sambal, which doesn’t even have terasi—it’s just chillies ground with salt.

Ulek-ulek and cobek: pestle and mortar

ulek + cobek 1024

The traditional way of making sambal, as well as grinding the herbs, seeds, nuts and spices in many Indonesian dishes, is with a shallow stone mortar and a stone pestle. The pestle is called an ulek-ulek, from the Javanese for ‘to grind’ — hence the name sambal ulek. You can use a food processor and still get perfectly good results, but I reckon the effort of using a pestle and mortar really connects you with the raw ingredients, and somehow the end result tastes that little bit better!

Unfortunately it’s not easy to find these shallow stone pestle and mortars in the UK, where I live. I use two, both of them brought from Indonesia. I think you can find them in some Chinese supermarkets—if I find a supply I’ll post it on my blog. If you are in the US there is an online operation called Indo Food Store that sell them, together with most the ingredients you’re ever likely to want. Click to go to their website page.

I have seen recipes for sambal that call for the chillies to be boiled first. Personally I don’t do this. I prefer to use them raw. This retains their fresh, vibrant flavour. I also keep the seeds, which some discard in the interests of reducing the heat level. Sambal terong is really just sambal terasi with a couple of extra ingredients. It is still essentially a dish of raw ingredients, with the exception of the shrimp paste, which has been cooked in advance. This recipe is in fact my mother’s. The common way to serve sambal in Indonesia is to put the basic sambal ulek, or sambal terasi, in its own dish on the dining table, together with plates of different vegetables (or even fruits). You take a selection of vegetables, some lightly boiled, some raw, put them on your plate, and eat them together with a liberal quantity of sambal. Simple, but oh so delicious! Well my mum decided one day to serve a couple of the raw vegetables, the aubergines and the long beans, together with the chilli relish ground together on the same dish. The Soekardjo version of sambal terong was born!

Ingredients

Quantities shown are for enough sambal terong for four, served as a side dish, served with a main dish of meat or fish. If we have it at home on its own, just with rice, we would eat this amount between the two of us.

sambal terasi ingredientslime + palm sugar 1024terong, beans, basil 1024

For sambal terasi

  • Red chillies | 6 or 7 (the long, finger-size ones that supermarkets sell; possibly jalapeño, but the variety is rarely specified)
  • Green chillies | 9 or 10 (the small, hot ones; usually called finger chillies—though they’re smaller than anyone’s fingers— or the smaller, hotter bird’s eye); quantity depends on how hot they are, and how hot you want the sambal! You can even leave them out completely.
  • Cooked shrimp paste | 3 tsp (or an equivalent sized chunk if it’s still in solid form)
  • Sea salt flakes | 2 tsp
  • Lime | 1 quarter
  • Palm sugar | 1 tsp

For sambal terong

  • White aubergines (the small, hard, round ones) | 2 or 3
  • Chinese long beans | 3 or 4
  • Fresh basil | 3 or 4 sprigs

Click to jump to notes on ingredients and where to find them

Preparation

  1. Red and green chillies Cut the stalks off and break them into a food chopper or processor. The green chillies are small enough to be popped in whole. Blitz for a few seconds to break the chillies down to a coarse pulp.
  2. Scrape out the chilli pulp onto a mortar.
  3. Sea salt, terasi Spoon the salt and the terasi onto the mortar, then combine them with the chillies using the pestle, until you get a uniform mixture. This process should take a minute or so. You want the to break the chillies down a bit more, but you’re not looking for a smooth paste.
  4. Lime, palm sugar Squeeze lime juice over the mixture, add the palm sugar, then grind for another 30 seconds or so, to incorporate everything nicely together.

    At this stage you have your basic sambal terasi. You can serve this as a relish to accompany many other dishes, or as an ingredient in recipes that call for red chillies. It will last in a jar with a lid for a couple of weeks in the fridge.

  5. White aubergines, Chinese long beans If you are going to carry on and make sambal terong, roughly chop the aubergines and cut the beans into 2 cm long pieces, and add to the mortar. Lightly smash the vegetables into the chilli mixture. You’re looking to break up the surface of the pieces, rather than reduce them in size.
  6. Basil Pick the leaves off the basil stalks and scatter over the mixture. Then just bruise the leaves with the pestle.
  7. With a table spoon just give the mixture one final stir, making sure all the ingredients are evenly distributed.

If you don’t have a pestle and mortar there’s really no reason you can’t get perfectly good results doing all these steps using a food processor. Just be sure not to reduce everything to a uniform pulp. It needs to be chunky! Be particularly careful when adding the aubergines and beans—just a very quick burst so as not to chop the vegetables too small. And break the basil leaves up by hand and add them to the sambal after you’ve removed it from the processor.

Serve

If you are using a mortar you could do worse than putting it straight on the dining table. The dark grey stone surface really sets off the bright red and green mixture —one of the advantages of using one. You can treat the sambal as a very tasty, very healthy light meal, just served with boiled white rice. (Make sure you use good quality, fragrant basmati rice—‘basmati’ in fact means ‘fragrant’ in Hindi. I’m planning to write a blog shortly about rice.)

Or for something more substantial you can serve it as as a side dish with a main dish of meat or fish.

Notes on ingredients

  1. Red and green chillies. I wrote a blog about chillies a while back. It is very difficult to specify the type, since retailers are usually pretty vague about the variety on offer: if you look for ‘red chillies’ on the Tesco website you’ll see that the little packs they sell are the produce of ‘UK, Jersey, Egypt, India, Kenya, Morocco, Mozambique, the Netherlands, Senegal, Spain, Zimbabwe’—so I guess it’s hardly surprising! The inescapable fact, as I wrote in the blog, is that you just don’t know from one batch of chillies to the next how hot they are going to be—even if you use the same type. Welcome to the world of natural cooking, where things do vary from one session to the next! Just bear in mind the rule: the smaller the hotter.
  2. Shrimp paste (terasi). Covered in depth in my last blog.
  3. Sea salt. For my catering I buy Malvern salt flakes in a big plastic tub. I prefer flakes to crystals, since they are easier to incorporate into dishes that are not cooked.
  4. Lime. My secret weapon. I use lime juice in nearly everything I cook. It seems to add an extra flavour dimension to food, whether savoury or sweet. And it’s good for you—no sugar, no fat, no salt, and packed with vitamin C! The more lime juice you use, the less salt you need.
  5. Palm sugar. The sugar made from a number of members of the palm family, including the Palmyra palm, the sugar palm, and the coconut palm. The abundant sap from these trees is boiled down into a thick syrup, or further into crystallized blocks. Most the big supermarkets now sell it in a granulated form in jars. Unlike the cane and beet sugars we use as a rule in the west, palm sugar has a distinct and delicious nutty, winey flavour.
  6. White aubergines. These are delicious eaten raw. They are hard and crunchy, not at all like the standard purple aubergines which we are more familiar with. They were though probably the first variety known in the west, and make sense of the American name for aubergine: egg plant. For where to buy them, see below “Where to find ingredients”. On Amazon they’re called “fresh Thai round eggplant”. Since this recipe calls for them to remain uncooked I wouldn’t recommend substituting the softer common aubergine.
  7. Chinese long beans; also called yard-long beans, and asparagus beans. They look like big French beans—but they’re not. They are crunchier, with a similar flavour, but stronger. They are in fact more closely related to the mung bean and black-eyed pea. See “Where to find ingredients”—the Asian supermarkets usually have them, and at the time of writing so does Thai Food Online.

Where to find ingredients

It has become so much easier to find Asian ingredients in the UK since I started cooking in this country over 30 years ago. Back then I was always giving my husband long shopping lists for him to get me in London’s Chinatown. He’d struggle home on the train with as many overflowing carrier bags as he could carry, smelling like—well, an Asian supermarket! Now most small towns have a shop selling at least some fresh Asian ingredients, and the big supermarket chains stock an ever-growing selection. You can also buy most things on Amazon. Just bear in mind that the supermarkets and Amazon do tend to use ‘Thai’ as the generic description for any ingredients from South-East Asia, including Indonesia. There is also a website called Thai Food Online that sells most things. Personally I get the majority of my Asian supplies from Sun Hung Chang a wonderful supermarket that has been going for 20 years at the top end of Commercial Road in Portsmouth. There’s are some photos in my last blog. Everything for this sambal recipe can be bought there. For those living near my home town of Haslemere, Surrey there is a newer, smaller, but closer place in Bordon. They don’t have anything like the range of Sun Hung Chang though.

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September – noodle cooking demonstration

I finally held the first noodle cooking demonstration at home in September after a lot of requests by friends.  I’d like to say and admit that it was a big success….they all went home happy and enjoyed the noodle feast I’d prepared earlier.

To start with, I introduced the difference types of noodles I use.  There are too many types available it would have taken me hours to explain every single one.
The first one I introduced was the wheat flour based, yellow in appearance, with just water mixed into the dough (or with eggs and oil added).  My preference is the non-oil/fat-added type.  Easily prepared and available in all supermarkets.
The recipe for this was a Javanese Noodle with chicken, prawns and vegetables.  This dish can be eaten fresh from the wok or a bit later on like a salad

The second recipe was a Thai/Vietnamese influenced rice vermicelli salad, with loads of mint and coriander, plus minced chicken flavoured with lemon grass, shallots, garlic and fish sauce.  A lovely dish to serve for a summer gathering as this can be made in advance and keep in the fridge to let the flavour to mingle and served at room temperature.

The third dish was Chicken Laksa, a typical Malaysian/Singaporean noodle soup with coconut based stock that I served with the two recipes above, but not demonstrated as we were running short of time, and I could tell that everybody was getting impatient with the ‘lecture’.

The day went really fast and I was pleased that everybody went home happy with a few ingredients and recipes in hand to get them starting with their noodle attempts.

I’m hoping to do another session for those who couldn’t get a space in September and maybe an evening class for ‘ladies who can’t lunch’ and anybody else who would like to learn a few tips in preparing yummy noodles.

Meanwhile, here is my recipe for the rice vermicelli salad dish:

HOT AND SOUR NOODLE SALAD
Serves: 4 people

1 very green/unripe mango, shredded
300 gr rice noodles – vermicelli
100 gr ground turkey or ground cooked prawns
8 cooked prawns, peeled
2-3 cloves of garlic, grated finely
3 shallots, finely sliced
1-2 bird’s eye chillies, finely sliced
3 fresh sticks of lemon grass – finely sliced (only the root end)
3 tablespoons fish sauce
juice of 2 to 3 limes
1/2 bunch of coriander
1/2 bunch of mint
Chopped peanuts (optional)

Cook the turkey in 2-3 tablespoons of water for 3 minutes or until it’s cooked and most of the water has evaporated, breaking it up into small pieces, then drain if there is still water left.

Mix garlic, shallots, chillies, lemon grass, fish sauce, limejuice and turkey or prawn.  Taste, it should be salty and sour and slightly hot.

Mix in the noodles whilst they’re still warm, so that they absorb all the flavours.

Soak the noodles in hot water for 4-5 minutes (see instruction on packets) or until soft.  Drain really well and cut them into shorter lengths using a pair of scissors if necessary.

Before serving (at room temperature), mix in the herbs which have been coarsely chopped (almost whole) and the mango.

Scatter with chopped peanuts if used.

Sweet Sorrel Tart – HFW’s

I saw this recipe in the Guardian on Friday, the 4th May.  It caught my eye and I liked the sound of using sorrel in puddings.  We also have an abundance of sorrel in our garden which grows happily and I have not used it all that much.  I think it’s because the plant is not really within my every day view of the garden, I just forget and use lemon or lime instead.

I passed the recipe to Kevan who was really keen to give the recipe a go.  He cooked Sunday lunch.  We had spinach and mint risotto (courtesy of River Cafe) and  for tea, we had a slice of this not-too-sweet tart.  At first, it was weird to see and think of a vegetable based quiche eaten together with tea, but as soon as we put the first mouthful in, we, plus mother-in-law (who loves her sweets/puddings) enjoyed it and felt that we’d had a very ‘healthy’ lunch.

Twice cooked mix peppers with salmon

It’s been a while since my last post…but here is one recipe that got me going again and wanting to share with you all.
I had the inspiration as I had a glut of peppers left over from a catering job I did at the week-end and salmon fillets bought for our supper.
It was all done in the pan shown below (bought this from Ikea, and it’s one of my most useful cooking implements beside my woks). It’s oven-proof, and can go straight to the table for a casual supper.  Just mind the handles which get hot in the oven.

Twice cooked mix peppers with salmon fillet
Serves 4:
1/2 cup of olive oil or rapeseed oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, dry roasted for a couple of minutes
2 large red onions, sliced
3 large garlic cloves, chopped or grated
4 thyme sprigs, the leaves only
2 red and 2 yellow peppers, cut into approx 2cm strips
1 teaspoon mild cayenne pepper
4 large ripe tomatoes, cut into chunk
Black olives (use soft ones)
A tablespoon of caper berries **
4 salmon fillets
Salt and pepper
1/2 lime
A tablespoon chopped dill
Chopped parsley
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Heat up the pan, and once hot, add in the olive oil.  Sweat the onion very gently, for approx 5 minutes.  Add the garlic, thyme and cumin seeds mix for a few seconds.  Add in the peppers.  Cook, again very gently for approx 10 minutes, or until the peppers are soft but have not collapsed.  Add in the cayenne and tomatoes.  Cook for another 5 minutes before adding in the olives and berries, salt and pepper.  Don’t let the tomatoes go mushy, just soft and still holding their shape.
This can be done well in advance.  In fact resting it for a few hours will help the flavours to mingle.

Put the salmon on top of the vegetables.  Sprinkle some salt and pepper on the salmon and squeeze lime juice all over the fillets before popping the pan under the grill.
Check after 3 minutes.  Put back under the grill for another minute if the fish still looks a bit raw in the middle (the fattest part).
Leave it to rest for a minute then scatter chopped dill and parsley and drizzle some extra virgin olive oil over the top before serving
Serve with fresh sourdough or ciabatta bread.

**Capers are the flower buds and caper berries are the fruit.