Simple recipe for grim times

I’m not going to use the C word, but you all know what I mean when I say “grim times”. The last thing anyone wants to think about right now is elaborate dinners. But we all have to eat, and I thought my friends and followers might appreciate some ideas for what to cook while we’re limited to shopping at the nearest supermarket (and hoping that their shelves aren’t empty!)

So here’s the first of some recipes that don’t require difficult-to-find ingredients, and which might add some interesting variety to the usual repertoire. This one is from Manado, in North Sulawesi, Indonesia’s fourth biggest island. It doesn’t have to be blow-your-head off hot, but it does offer a bit of a flavour explosion!

I found all the ingredients bar one in my local supermarket, even in the middle of panic buying. The exception is the long beans (also known as snake beans) which I got from my local Asian supermarket in Bordon. (See my comments below about where to find Asian ingredients.) But these are readily substituted with green beans or French beans—and frozen ones are perfectly fine.

In fact I think that some of the ingredients—ginger, lemongrass, lime leaves, chillies—because they aren’t every day essentials might even be easier to find on the shelves than bread and potatoes. And toilet paper.

As the video shows, it’s a very straightforward recipe. Like many Manadonese dishes it uses a high proportion of chopped fresh ingredients that are there for the flavour—shallots, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, lime leaves, green chillies—with the body of the dish coming from the beans, the sweetcorn, and the tomatoes. In Indonesia they use a herb called kemangi, which is lemon or Thai basil. I use our normal basil as a perfectly fine substitute.

Quantities are not critical at all. You can very them as the mood, or your taste buds, take you. Just remember not to skimp on the flavour elements!

Here’s a guide to what I used to make the dish in the video, which with some sort of carbohydrate—rice, potatoes, bread, whatever—would feed four people.


  • Shallots | 3 or 4
  • Garlic | 5 or 6 cloves
  • Ginger | 2 cm slice
  • Green finger chillies | 2 (you can use whatever type is available, but for this dish I prefer green for the flavour)
  • Lime leaves | 3 or 4
  • Lemongrass | 1 stick
  • Tomatoes | 2 or 3
  • Long beans | enough to fill a cup when broken into pieces (you can substitute fresh or frozen green beans or french beans)
  • Basil | 3 or 4 stalks
  • Canned sweetcorn | 325g can
  • Rapeseed oil | 2 or 3 tbsps
  • Salt
  • Black pepper


  • Shallots, garlic, ginger, chillies, lime leaves

Chop (not too fine—see video for how I do it)

  • Lemongrass

Cut stick in half. Chop the root end, lightly crush the other—this will be added to the mix whole just for the flavour

  • Tomatoes


  • Beans

Break or cut into 2cm pieces

  • Basil

Pick the leaves off the stalks


  1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan (best to heat the pan before adding the oil: it minimizes heat degradation of the oil, and it makes what is being fried less likely to stick)
  2. Add the shallots, garlic, ginger, chillies, lemongrass, and a couple of teaspoons of salt
  3. Stir and fry on a medium heat for about 3 minutes
  4. Add the tomatoes and beans and stir
  5. Add the sweetcorn and a good grind of black pepper
  6. Stir, then cover the pan and cook for 5 minutes
  7. Remove the cover, add the lime leaves and stir
  8. Scatter over the basil leaves and give it one last gentle stir


Ideally serve immediately while the dish is still nice and hot. Eat it with steamed white rice (ideally good quality, fragrant basmati rice).

Or for a bigger meal you could use it to accompany something like fried chicken, or a simple grilled piece of meat or fish.

Where to find Asian 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 buy for 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 a lot of 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 almost everything.

Until recently I got 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. But for the last year or so I’ve been able to buy more and more from Ikon Enterprise, a wholesaler that has opened a retail outlet in Bordon—very convenient for me living in Haslemere, Surrey. Their address is 29 Woolmer Way GU35 9QE
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