Beef Laap or larb, larp – delicious however you spell it.

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My old neighbourhood is jam-packed with Thai restaurants, it seems they were taking business and marketing inspiration from the old quarter in Hanoi with its tin, paper and gravestone streets, rather than from the rest of the city. A shop would close and invariable a new Thai restaurant would open. I can count at least 15 in the stretch of only a few blocks, when someone mentions Thai food in Sydney, Newtown immediately springs to mind.

Unfortunately though, there is nothing wonderful, unique or even particularly tasty about these eateries. Perhaps the proximity to Sydney uni and a $6 lunch special makes opening a new Thai restaurant seem like a good business proposition. Unfortunately they mostly all dish out the same pad thai and stir fried chicken with cashew nuts.

(This said, i did have an eye opening vegetarian tom yum soup recently).

With this in mind, there is no need to explain the origins of Laap, though in my neighbourhood it would be recognised as Larb. The laap that I’m telling you about today the laotian version, a recipe I built from memory of eating this fiery complex salad in Laos. The Larb in the Newtown Thai restaurants doesn’t compare to this, and I am regularly disappointed by their lack of body and flavour.

My introduction to Laap was by the river in Vientiane, the lights of Thailand blinking at us across the water, eating grilled chicken, beef laap and sticky rice by candlelight. The rice and beer lao tamed the rich spiciness of the salad, but still the earthy fish sauce, tangy lime juice and fresh herbs shone through.
Now I want to go back to Laos, and sample traditional, spicy, gamey and rich laap from fish, eggplant, water buffalo or chicken. But for today, this avant-garde interpretation will have to suffice.

Beef Laap (very not authentic)
(serves 2)
4 spring onions
250g beef (blade steak)
4 cloves garlic
1 long red chilli
4T fish sauce
juice 1 lime
1t sugar
coriander
mint
2T roasted rice powder *
small piece lemongrass

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Wash spring onions and cut white pieces from green. Char the white sections and 3 of the garlic cloves in a dry pan over medium high heat. Remove when browned and just slightly blackened. In a mortar and pestle grind charred vegetables with chilli, extra garlic and pre-chopped lemongrass. Add sugar to aid in making these into a paste.
Fry steak in a little oil until browned and cooked to your liking (rare for me). Rest in a warm place for a few minutes, then slice thinly. Place in bowl with paste, fish sauce, lime juice and any of the resting juices from the steak. Mix well, taste and adjust seasoning, it might need more fish sauce or lime juice. (The original is much much hotter than this, so feel free to add more chilli). Leave meat to rest and prepare the herbs.
Slice the green part of the spring onions on an angle. Wash the herbs well. Pick the mint and cut the coriander roughly. Mix through the meat, add the rice powder and mix through.
Serve with a wedge of lime and sliced cucumber. Eat with rice and a vegetable for a light lunch.

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* Roasted Rice powder is a traditional laap ingredient. Take a few tablespoons of raw glutinous rice and toast in a pan over a medium heat until golden and fragrant. Grind in a coffee/spice grinder or by hand in a mortar and pestle. Adds an earthiness and rounded flavour to the laap.

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Moroccan Lamb and Chickpea Soup, set and forget.

I am not a great clipper of recipes. A few years ago, packing to move I was horrified that more than a box was being filled with food magazines, so I clipped all the recipes out of them (and now have no idea when my filed collection is). But that experience was really my only foray into the world of saving newspaper recipes, until last Saturday.

I was just finishing up the newspaper (from the previous Saturday , eeep!), when i noticed a recipe for Moroccan Lamb and Chickpea Soup which sounded delicious snuggled up in bed and pre-breakfast. It seemed easy and quick to prepare, so despite its strange cooking technique – boiling, I gave it a go.

Of course, I tinkered with the recipe (adding more vegetables, chilli and garlic and reducing the amount of cinnamon), but was pleasantly surprised by the fragrant yet robust outcome.

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Moroccan Lamb and Chickpea Soup
500g lamb shoulder, cubed
2L chicken stock
1 onion, finely chopped
100g green lentils
400g can chopped tomatoes
4 ripe tomatoes
mushrooms
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 tspn ground turmeric
1 tspn ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
400g can chickpeas, drained
3 tbsp orzo
lemon juice
coriander
4 cloves garlic
1/2 green chilli

Place lamb in large pot with stock (or water) and bring to the boil. Once boiling, skim away the froth and add the onion, lentils, tinned tomatoes, spices and garlic. Simmer for up to an hour, or until the meat and lentils are tender.
Add the chickpeas, vegetables, pasta and chilli and simmer until the pasta is cooked, about 10 minutes. Add lemon juice, coriander, salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.

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Muffins

Today is muffin Sunday. The last few weeks I have been terribly overindulgent, so to curb that tide I stayed in today and instead of making rich, sweet cupcakes I made (up) some muffins.

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Pistachio, cardamom and quince paste seemed like a good idea seeings as F. spent heaps of time last night organising the fridge and that container of quince paste just doesn’t seem to fit.

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To assuage disappointment if the others didn’t work out, I made half a batch of walnut, mandarin and spice. These turned out very different, crispy and crunchy on the sides and top, meltingly smooth in the center, probably the brown sugar that did it.

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Work is dragging along, I think I need a holiday, I know these muffins help me get through tomorrow.

Pistachio, Cardamom and Quince Paste Muffins

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220g SR flour
1/2 castor sugar
3/4 cup milk
1 egg
3/4 cup oil
1/2 cup chopped pistachios
1/4t ground cardamom
1/4 quince paste, cubed
1/2 t lemon zest

Preheat oven to 180C and grease a 12 hole muffin tray with butter. Mix flour, sugar, nuts and cardamom, add quince paste. Combine milk, egg, oil, zest in a separate bowl. Make a well in dry ingredients and mix wet ingredients in very lightly. Spoon batter into prepared tray and bake for 20-25 minutes.

Walnut, Mandarin Spice Muffins

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220g SR flour
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 cup milk
1 egg
3/4 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
zest and juice of 1 mandarin
1/2t each ground cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg
3/4 cup olive oil
Preheat oven to 180C and grease a 12 hole muffin tray with butter. Mix flour, sugar, nuts and spices. Combine milk, egg, oil, zest and juice in a separate bowl. Make a well in dry ingredients and mix wet ingredients in very lightly. Spoon batter into prepared tray and bake for 20-25 minutes.

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Subtle Spinach Soup/Focus on Spinach.

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I don’t often follow savoury main recipes. I have my own way of doing things which is completely at odds with my cookery training. See, I have a thing about vegetables, something along the lines of a mantra of plenty and varied. This makes it difficult to highlight an individual vegetable as they get overshadowed by the lashings of onion, carrot, zucchini, capsicum, tomato, onions, beans and mushrooms all jostling for space in that same pasta sauce. I could just make vegetables on the side, but thats just too much effort and washing up for a mid week meal.

Thankfully, sometimes I manage to step back and ignore the fact that I’ve only eaten 3 different coloured items in the day and focus my energy on just more green. Just such a thing happened recently when huge bunches of english spinach appeared in the vege section, 99c each, double the size of a regular bunch, each leaf perfect. I couldn’t resist, I mean, how could I resist?

I had some ideas for this haul, but foremost in my mind was a subtle, gentle spinach soup – I pushed my need for a many and varied cornucopia of vegetables to the back of my mind, and there it stayed. This soup is so quick and easy to make, and to eat. It’s gently and soothing with a well rounded complex flavour, accentuated by dots of creamy ricotta and mouthfuls warmed with chilli.

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Spinach Soup
This is very light, so best served with hunks of good bread for lunch or as an entree.

2 bunches English Spinach, picked and washed very well and roughly chopped
1 spanish onion
3 cloves garlic
100mL cream
Chicken stock/vegetable stock/ water
1/2 red chilli, diced
100g ricotta
olive oil
1/2t lemon zest
nutmeg, salt and pepper

Chop onion and sweat in some olive oil without colouring. Add garlic, lemon zest and chilli and cook until fragrant. Add stock or water (the amount will depend on how thick you want your soup), and cream and bring to the boil. Add your spinach, stir well and cook until soft, wilted and bright green. Season to taste with nutmeg, salt and pepper and more chilli if necessary. Blend until smooth, and serve immediately dotted with ricotta.
Eat!
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Autumnal Panzanella

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Occasionally when something catches my attention it sticks in my head and I begin to see it, or reference to it, everywhere I look. Its the human condition, I think.

This time its Panzanella. A few weeks ago I ordered a badly executed version at a work lunch, later I saw a recipe on the Italian episode of SBS’s Food Safari, then I read this and this. So today when I had to use up some (slightly undercooked) homemade bread, Panzanella was the first thing to come to mind.

I pictured a smoother, more homely Autumnal salad then the traditional tomato and basil version. A subtle very moreish salad was the outcome, nutty with the chunks of croutons soaking up the lemony tahini dressing, creamy lightly fried zucchini pieces and sharp rocket, with a kiss of good olive oil and a touch of fresh chilli. A very fitting light lunch for a beautful, relaxed and sunny Autumn Sunday.

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Autumn Panzanella

1/2 loaf bread (sourdough would be lovely, but I used homemade country white)

1 1/2 Tablespoon Tahini
juice of 1 lemon
olive oil
2 zucchini
1/2 spanish onion
1/2 red chilli
2 cloves garlic
handful of rocket

Cube the bread, spread evenly onto baking tray and dry in a warm oven until crunchy.
Slice the zucchini’s and fry til lightly browned in a little olive oil. Remove from pan and add sliced onion and cook lightly. When onion is almost done, add sliced chilli and garlic. Cook for a minute then mix with cooked zucchini in a bowl.
For Dressing:
Mix tahini with olive oil and lemon juice. This dressing will inevitable emulsify so loosen with some water as we want a runny dressing for the croutons to soak up.

Add croutons to vegetables, pour dressing over and mix well. Add rocket and season with sea salt and pepper, mix lightly to dress the leaves evenly.
Serve and eat immediately.

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