Tuesday, 25 December 2012

A taste of Asia at home

When travelling there's little chance of cooking in proper kitchens with proper equipment so a lot of cooking gets done in your head. You observe street vendors and try remember what they've done, you taste and see the food at a restaurant and guess how the meal was made. Imagine my excitement when I finally got the opportunity to cook a meal I learnt to make in Thailand - Chicken Skewers with Satay Sauce.


Yields: 10 skewers
Preparation time: 30 min (plus minimum 1 hour marinade time
Cooking time: Satay sauce – 15-20 minutes, Chicken skewers – 5 minutes

For the chicken marinade:

  • 100g chicken thigh, thinly sliced against the grain in about 6cm lengths
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • Pinch of palm sugar
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 4 tbsp coconut milk / cream

For the satay sauce:

  • 2 tsp vegetable oil
  • ½ tbsp red curry paste
  • 1 tbsp massamann curry paste
  • 1 tbsp sugar or palm sugar
  • ½ tsp fish sauce
  • 1 tsp tamarind paste
  • 150g roasted peanuts, roughly crushed
  • 4 tbsp coconut cream
  • 8 tbsp coconut milk

For the marinade:

  1. In a bowl mix together the curry powder, soy sauce, palm sugar, vegetable oil and 2 tablespoons coconut milk/cream to make the marinade.
  2. Thread the chicken onto skewers. Try to pierce the chicken through the middle so the skewers aren’t exposed.
  3. Coat the skewered chicken with the marinade on a plate and leave to infuse for 1 hour to overnight if possible.

For the satay sauce:

  1. In a pot, on a medium heat, add the oil, red curry paste and massamann curry paste and cook until fragrant.
  2. Add the coconut cream and stir well until combined. Leave to cook until the oil separates from paste
  3. Add the sugar, fish sauce and tamarind paste, stir well.
  4. Next add the coconut milk and crushed roasted peanuts and stir again to mix.
  5. Turn down the heat and reduce the sauce until you have a thick dipping sauce.

To cook the chicken:

  1. For the best results use a braai / BBQ but this is not necessary.
  2. On a grill or in a pan (with some oil) cook the skewers until lightly golden. Keep basting them with the excess marinade.
  3. When they’re golden with the caramelised marinade they’re ready to be served.

Serve with satay sauce

Enjoy :)

Friday, 14 December 2012

As the Sun Sets

This is my last post while in Thailand... I sit here ready to leave these shores, returning back to Cape Town - the city I know best and love most. I've been on this journey for 2 months and loved every minute (except those taken from me by insects and mosquitoes). Food has been central to everything I've done here. I've eaten things I never thought I would, seen things in jars that I didn't know existed and learnt to make foods I'll be eating for the rest of my life. Thailand (and Vietnam) is foodie heaven and if you've not been you should get yourself here as soon as you can.

Most tourists take tuk tuks, bikes or taxis to get around but I've been in Bangkok now long enough to get a feeling for the most popular bus routes. This has given me a small insight into the world of Bangkok that many tourists don't get to see in slow motion like you do on a bus. Taxi's take you straight to your destination (usually) but a bus takes you wherever before you get to your destination. It's also slower, stopping often, picking people up and dropping them off. Just today I got a but that took me along the river for a little while as the sun was setting. The bright orange sun just hung there like a lantern lighting the sky. This was a perfect moment. One of those moments you remember, not for its beauty but for its presence. We've all seen beautiful sunsets and this one was just that, but what made this sunset even more special was the setting, the moment, the feeling I have inside and the fact that it's my last in Thailand (for now). I had just come from a late lunch at a street stall down a dirty ally. Totally unromantic and in total contrast to the setting sun. But knowing that my next sunset will be in South Africa made this one more memorable. The lunch I had left me totally satisfied and wishing I had more sunsets here but if anything I'm glad the combination of everything together happened today...

My lunch was a red curry. The best I've had so far in Thailand. Since being here I've learnt to love red curry more than green. It's more complex and interesting. I mean, green curry is great but it's everywhere and less deep than it's red cousin. Red chillies have a more mature flavour, less grassy and I think that's the main thing that gives red curry its wonderful taste, the chillies.

Here's my Thai Red Curry recipe - paste and all


  • 5 dried red spur chillies, soaked in water or 10 minutes the finely chopped
  • 2 lemongrass stems, finely chopped
  • 3-6 fresh galangal, thinly sliced
  • 2-3 shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp kaffir lime rind, finely chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 coriander root, chopped
  • 1 tbsp (roasted) coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp (roasted) cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp white pepper corns
  • ½ tbsp shrimp paste
  • ½ tbsp salt

  1. Pound coriander seeds, cumin seeds and pepper corns together until fine, remove from pestle
  2. Pound dried chillies, and lemon grass together. When fine, add galangal, lime rind, coriander root, shallots and garlic in that order and pound until well combined.
  3. Add ground spices, shrimp paste and salt. Keep pounding until smooth for about 5 more minute

Your curry:

  • ½ cup chicken, sliced
  • 2 tbsp red curry paste (as per above)
  • ½ cup coconut cream
  • ½ cup coconut milk
  • 2 Thai eggplants (small, round), cut into quarters
  • 2 tbsp kaffir lime leaves finely shredded (as fine as possible)
  • 1/3 cup sweet basil leaves
  • 2 tsp palm sugar
  • 1-2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 red chilli, sliced julienne for garnish
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil

  1. Pot oil in a wok and add 2 tbsp red curry paste plus a little coconut cream, stir vigorously until fragrant and the fat separates (oil comes to the top)
  2. Add chicken and eggplants, continue to stir until nearly cooked, adding more coconut cream if the curry becomes too dry
  3. Add coconut milk, fish sauce, sugar and seasoning and bring to the boil on a medium heat
  4. Stir in the basil leaves and red chilli.
  5. Remove from heat and serve with rice.

 Eat up and enjoy.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

V is for very yummy

I've recently returned to Thailand from Vietnam with serious sunburn, a fever blister, a chesty cough, insect bitten feet, a mysterious lump in my foot, the list goes on. But as all these annoying travel symptoms slowly disappear and become old new I will still have a few things from Vietnam I'll never lose. Like the experiences of Halong Bay, towering mountain peaks piercing the ocean, lying on a boat at 2am staring at the stars like i was watching a movie I've seen a million times before but in high definition and making sense for the first time, The beautiful architecture of places like Hoi An, lit to perfection with millions of lanterns, whether purposefully or just by accident, swimming in a pool the literally opens up into sea and of course food that not only taught me new flavours but a new appreciation for what I've never even thought of before.

Obviously this is about the food. And although I loved some of it, some left much to be desired. Have you ever heard of Balut? It's a fertalised chicken or duck embryo that's boiled, cracked and eaten out of the shell. It's single handedly the most vile thing I've ever tasted, not for the taste but the texture and idea of it. I felt little bones and even feathers in my mouth while trying to enjoy this meal as much as the locals sitting around me on a dirty street corner dipping on beer with ice to keep it cool. Or what about Nem Chua, a pork snack that's wrapped in banana leaf and left to ferment for a few days and eaten as a snack while drinking, very much like South African biltong but not as good, in fact, a lot more disgusting.

But for all the odd things I've eaten there have been many more delights. Like the wonderful banana leaf prawns. Marinated prawns wrapped in a banana leaf and grilled on the open fire for just a few minutes until infused with all the flavours of Vietnam - salty, sweet, sour and spicy. Even fresh and smokey if you can count these as flavours. Or Cao lau, a regional Hoi An dish surrounded by legend. Turmeric flavoured, thick rice noodles, not too dissimilar to Japanese Udon noodles are made with water from secret wells only found in this part of Vietnam. This dish is packed with flavour from pork and fresh home grown herbs, like Vietnamese mint, Thai coriander, sweet basil, spring onions and mustard leaf. And then there's Ca Kho To... this has to be one of my favourite meals of Vietnam. Deliciously fresh cat fish cutlets in a sticky and sweet molasses type sauce cooked in a clay pot. Every bite of this amazing dish had me in heaven. I'm so glad I found it and here I can share it with you.

Ca Kho To:

It's important to try get cat fish for this dish as it's got a special earthy flavour but if not you can substitute it for any oily fish including sea bass and red or white snapper.

1. Firstly make a marinade of the following ingredients:
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp black pepper, crushed
  • 3 small shallots, sliced

2. Marinate 600g of cat fish in the mixture for a minimum of 2 hours to over night.

3. In a pan heat 1 tbsp oil and cook the marinated fish, with the marinade, for about 2 or 3 minutes on each side.

4. Transfer the fish and marinade to a clay pot. Heat the pot on the stove / open fire.

5. Add about 100 - 150ml coconut milk, just to cover the fish, and 2 tsp palm sugar or caramel sauce.

6. Allow the sauce to boil and reduce it until thick and sticky - about 30 minutes. The fish will become dark brown.

7. Near the end add 3 chopped spring onions over the top of the fish - don't stir.

8. Lastly, and this is an optional step, add crushed toasted peanuts when serving with jasmine rice.

(image from http://my.opera.com)

Vietnamese cook many dished in a clay pot so invest in a good one and you'll use it many many times. If you don't have a clay pot then you can use a pan but make sure it's non-stick or you'll hate cleaning up later...


Thursday, 29 November 2012

Gooooood moooooorniiiiing Vietnam

Can you believe it, Facebook is actually blocked in large parts of Vietnam? I've been a little quiet recently because of this. For some reason, BBC and cricinfo are also not accessible... This can be a strange country at times. You don't need much proof of this, just look around and you'll see things like dead snakes fermenting in bottles of alcohol - snake wine, no one drives on a particular side of the road, they don't seem to sleep - Sunday is as busy as a Friday and in Nha Trang, where I currently am, they are working non-stop on new buildings. I mean through the night! They also eat dinner for breakfast and breakfast for dinner...

One thing they do have that's not strange to me is good food. Not all of it, but the things they do do well, they do exceptionally well. One of these things is called Banh Mi.

Banh Mi is mostly eaten at breakfast or early lunch time. A warm baguette, soft or crispy stuffed with a multitude of ingredients. Each one is skillfully added to the baguette with chop sticks for a taste explosion. I'm a big fan of a hamburger. often the fuller the better. I love stuffing it with cheese, bacon, salad and even a sauce. But what the Vietnamese have done with the humble French baguette is nothing short of astounding. I've never seen so many ingredients packed into a little bun.

Bahn Mi

  • Crispy French baguettes

  • Spring onion, julienne
  • Baby lettuce, torn
  • cucumber, sliced thinly at an angle
  • Fresh mint
  • Fresh coriander
  • Fresh basil (Sweet basil is best if you can get it)
  • Tomato, sliced thinly

Spreads and sauces:
  • Mayonnaise - homemade is best
  • Pork pate - see recipe below
  • Pork gravy
  • Chilli paste - see recipe below

  • Ham, sliced (store bought)
  • Egg, scrambled in a tsp of oil
  • Shallot, thinly sliced and fried till crispy

To assemble:
  1. Cut open the baguette like a boat, not all the way so the ingredients don't spill out.
  2. With a spoon add and spread the mayonnaise, pate, and gravy.
  3. With chop sticks add the salad ingredients - in Vietnam they add one or two of each things only so not to over stuff the sandwich.
  4. Add the chilli paste.
  5. Add the pork ham, the roasted pork and lastly the fried scrambled egg and crispy shallots.
  6. If you want, you can add some more chilli paste.


Pork pate:

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 red birdseye chillies, finely chopped
  • 250g pork liver
  • 150g cooked pork, chopped
  • 6 tbps butter
  • 1 tsp salt 
  • 1 tsp pepper

  1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
  2. In 2 tablespoons of butter sauté the onion and garlic for a few minutes.
  3. Add the chillies and cook for an extra minute.
  4. Add the liver and cook for an extra few minutes until brown all over.
  5. Remove the mixture from the heat and transfer to a blender. Add the cooked pork, remaining butter and seasoning and blend until you have a course texture.
  6. Line an oven proof dish with butter and pack in the blended mixture fairly tightly.
  7. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes.

Chilli Paste:

  • 8 large red chillies, halved (wear gloves)
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 4 Thai shallots / 1 large french shallot, peeled and roughly sliced
  • 4 red birdseye chillies, halved (wear gloves)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp palm sugar
  • 4 tbsp water
  • 4 tbsp tamarind paste
  • 4 tbsp vinegar

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. 
  2. Oil an oven tray and place the large red chillies skin side up on the tray together with the garlic and shallots. Roast them for about 30 - 40 minutes until the vegetables begin to blacken.
  3. In a blender add the roasted chillies, garlic and shallots, raw birdseye chillies and salt and blend until nearly smooth.
  4. In a pot heat the water, palm sugar and tamarind paste over a medium heat, stirring regularly. 
  5. When the sugar is disolved add the chilli mixture and bring back to the boil. Keep the mixture at a constant simmer for about 10 minutes until thick and sticky.
  6. Remove the paste from the heat and allow it to cool. Transfer it to a sealable jar and pour some vegetable oil over the top to preserve it.
  7. The paste will keep in the fridge for about 1 month.

Braai (Grilled) Pork:

  • 4 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp ground black peppers
  • 6 spring onions, julienne
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
  • 750g pork tenderloin, thinly sliced against the grain
  1. In a blender mix together the fish sauce, honey, sugar, pepper, spring onions and garlic until finely pureed.
  2. Marinade the pork in this mixture overnight.
  3. Thread the pork onto skewers.
  4. On the braai grill the pork, keep basting them and turn them regularly not to burn them (this can be done in a pan on the stove but the flavour won't be the same). Be careful not to overcook the pork.
  5. Remove the skewers and serve the pork cold
There's a lot of elements to making the perfect Banh Mi. At the end of the day it's up to you what you put inside yours. Substitute the pork for chicken, beef, duck or prawns but be creative. Spend the time making all the individual ingredients and scatter them in plates and bowls on the table for everyone to make their own. It's a winner and a crowd pleaser.


Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Out of India

Just enjoyed an excellent Indian curry, a chicken madras, at a restaurant in Nha Trang called Ganesh Indian Restaurant.
Shared it with a jeera (cumin) rice and chilli & garlic naan.
Apparently this is the best restaurant in Nha Trang... Not just Indian. I must agree that the food is great and better than many meals I've even had in India... Well done.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Welcome Calvin

My brother recently joined me. He’s never really been out of South Africa on his own so I have been very excited to see him broaden his horizons and see more of the world. He flew into Bangkok just the other day and since then we’ve travelled together to Vietnam and been to two amazing places – Hanoi and Halong Bay. Both exquisite in their own right.

Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam, and although not the biggest city in the country it feels like there are billions of people constantly on the go. I heard something crazy - there are more bikes in the city than people. This definitely seems to be the case. Just try crossing the road and you take your own life into your hands. They cruise at speeds in congested schools, like fish. Some overly confident and others just looking to get to their destination. They ride in all directions, no matter the rules. They constantly hoot, whether this prevents accidents or just adds to the calamity I can’t be sure. They make the city like nothing else I’ve seen before, and nothing else Calvin has seen either. There is so much to tell about and see in this city I didn’t realise before and so glad we came here.
In total contrast to the hecticness of the city, Halong Bay is an island of peace, or should I say 1986 islands of peace. We went on a cruise tour of the famous peaked islands, a birthday present for Calvin who celebrated his big day on the trip.

As much as I never before really considered Vietnam as a travel destination I also didn’t think of the food of Vietnam as being too exciting. I mean, how can you compete against the wonderful world of Thai food and especially when you’re so close in vicinity. It’s like being an ugly cousin looking for attention but what I didn’t realise is that Vietnamese food has its own uniqueness and our first meal proved this. A meal that has so far edged into my top three on this trip... Pho Bo.

Pho Bo is a clear beef soup with rice noodles and thinly sliced raw beef. Is dead simple and yet until this trip I was very unfamiliar with it. I’m now so glad I’ve discovered it and had probably one of the best in Hanoi.

Pho Bo

  • For the stock:
  • 2kg beef bones
  • Water to cover the bones in a large pot
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 2 thumb size pieces of ginger, peeled and roasted
  • 2 onions / 8 shallots, peeled and roasted
  • 6 tsp whole coriander seeds, lightly roasted
  • 2 star anise, lightly roasted
  • 3 cloves, lightly roasted
  • 1 thumb size piece of whole cinnamon, lightly roasted
  • 4 tsp palm sugar
  • 2.5 tbsp fish sauce

To plate:
  • cooked / soaked rice flat rice noodles
  • Raw fillet or rump very finely sliced

The way I like to serve a Pho is to prepare everything and bring it to the table so everyone can choose what they want in have in theirs. It’s not technically done this way in Vietnam but I like the idea of everyone sharing the table and making the meal their own. This way new comers to Pho can also have several bowls of soup with different combinations of ingredients to decide for themselves what they like most. The pressure is almost off once you have made the perfect stock. Here’s a list of ingredients you should have available, but remember this is only a guide so go crazy and put out whatever you think will go well with your stock soup.
  • Spring onions, sliced
  • Handful coriander leaves, roughly torn
  • Bean sprouts
  • Thinly sliced red chillies
  • Lime wedges
  • Shallots, finely chopped and fried
  • Garlic, thinly sliced and fried
  • Carrots, sliced julienne
  • Radishes, sliced julienne
  • Pickled chillies
  • Chilli sauce
  • Chilli flakes
  • Sugar
  • Fish sauce / soy sauce
  • Pickled ginger

For the stock:
  1. Preheat the grill in your oven
  2. Boil the beef bones for 15 minutes. Drain and discard the water pat the bones dry
  3. Heat the oil in an oven proof pan and quickly seal the bones. Grill them until they're lightly golden brown and fragrant
  4. Remove from the oven wipe off most of the oil
  5. Put the bones into a large pot and cover with cold water
  6. Add all the other ingredients into the pot and simmer on the lowest heat possible for 1.5 – 2 hours / if you're using a slow cooker for 10 hours
  7. During the cooking process, skim the stock to keep it clear
  8. When the stock is complete strain it and discard the whole ingredients
  9. Put your stock back into the pot and taste it to adjust for taste. When you're happy serve it in individual bowls over noodles and thinly sliced beef.

To plate:
  1. Serve your stock immediately and leave it up to your guests to add the extra ingredients they prefer on the table.

I hope to do the pho we had on our first night in Hanoi justice. If you are ever in Hanoi be certain to find Pho 10, a dingy restaurant serving only pho. You'll be more than surprised.


Thursday, 15 November 2012

Mr Samet and his food stall

Ok, so I’ve been a little slack at updating things the last few days. I’ve been on the road a lot seeing new places and eating new foods. The difficult thing about travelling on your own in non-English speaking countries is communicating and when I find food that interests me it’s especially hard to get the recipe out of the locals.

I returned to Bangkok yesterday to meet my brother today. I’m excited as he joins me for his first overseas trip on his own. I can’t wait to show him what I’ve seen and learnt over the past few weeks. In Bangkok there’s a little street in Sukhamvit area called Soi 38. A soi is a road. With so many back and forth throughout this spralling city they’ve settled on numbering street names as I’m sure they’ve run out of names!

On Soi 38 everyday at about 5pm a few market stalls spring to life and by 6pm the street is buzzing. Shutters have opened and street vendors have returned. Steam from freshly cooked food fills the air and there’s a hurried intensity to prepare and serve food to a few early comers. Most are local.

I returned here last night and am determined to bring my brother here tonight. It’s just too good a little find not to share.

But back to finding something you love and not being able to get the recipe... At one of these market stalls, probably my favourite in Thailand to date, I meet an elderly man. He wears a back brace for is arched back. He’s tiny with an infectious smile. His name is Mr Samet. Mr Samet and his wife run a little stall that only sells pork. They barbeque it, they mince it and wrap it into neat little wontons and they fry it. Each tastes beautiful. The salty sweet meat is treated with love and it tastes that way. What’s more is they serve the pork with a broth, you can have your pork smothered in it or on the side. I tried both but have to say the soupy, salty, slightly oily broth with soft, melt-in-your-mouth wontons floating in it and crispy pork scattered on a bed of noodles is by far the best way to enjoy this street food delight. I struggled for a long time to convey my message to Mr Samet. I’ve asked him a hundred times “how do you make this” but every time all I get in return is a smile, a nod and menu. Then out of the blue a young Malaysian man steps in and offers to try translate. He’s been living in Bangkok for 6 months and all too happy to try and help. After an hour of back and forth I finally have, jotted down on several napkins, the recipe for Mr Samet’s incredible Moo Grob and pork broth.

For the crispy pork:
  • 2 or 3 strips of nicely layered pork belly, between 1 and 2 cm thick
  • 3L water
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons vinegar
  • Oil

For the broth:
  • 3L boiled water
  • 1.5 kg pork bones and firm off-cuts (ears, tail, snout)
  • Pork water (from above)
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 8-10 white pepper corns
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 3 birds eye chillies, bashed open to expose the seeds
  • 4 cloves garlic, bashed to release flavour
  • 1 large onion, peeled and halved
  • 1 large carrot, halved
  • 2 tomatoes, halved
  • Fish sauce, to taste
  • 50g Rice / egg noodles
  • Garlic chives, cut into ½ inch lengths
  • Spring onion, cut into ½ inch lengths
  • Mustard leaf or cabbage, shredded
  • Bean sprouts

To serve:
  • Fish sauce
  • White sugar
  • Sweet basil
  • Pickled chilli

For the pork:
  1. Boil water in a kettle and add to a deep based pot.
  2. Flavour the water with 1 teaspoon of salt.
  3. Score the pork belly lightly on the fat side and when the water is rapidly boiling add the pork belly, covering well.
  4. Cook the pork for about 5 minutes until it turns white.
  5. Remove the pork with a fork / thongs and place onto a drying rack. Pat dry with kitchen towel to remove all the water.
  6. Keep the water in the pot for the broth later.
  7. While the pork cools and dries further mix the vinegar and 2 teaspoons of salt together. Stir until the salt dissolved (you can put this mixture into the microwave for a minute if you want).
  8. In a bowl brush the vinegar mixture all over the pork and set aside while you prepare the broth.

For the broth:
  1. Preheat your oven grill to a medium heat
  2. Boil the water in a kettle and add it to a deep based pot.
  3. Add the pork bones and off-cuts and boil for 5-10 minutes to remove all the scum from the bones. You’ll notice the water gets frothy on top. This is all the impurities from the bones.
  4. Remove the bones from the water and discard the water.
  5. Pat the bones and off-cuts dry with a kitchen towel.
  6. Put the bones onto an oven try and grill them on all sides for about 10 minutes until the excess meat is coloured a little.
  7. In the meantime bring the water from earlier back up to the boil.
  8. Remove the bones and off-cuts from the oven and add them to the pork water.
  9. Add the bay leaves, white pepper corns, sugar, birds eye chillies, garlic, onion, carrot and tomatoes.
  10. Turn the heat down to a rolling boil and add the lid to the pot. Boil this broth for at least 4 hours. (The longer the stock boils for the more intense the flavour will be – Mr Samet. boils his stock overnight and only used it a day later so that flavour can develop).

To finish the crispy pork:
  1. Heat the oil in wok on a medium heat.
  2. Remove the pork from the bowl and pat dry again with kitchen towel.
  3. When the oil is hot enough carefully add the boiled pork. Fry until golden brown.
  4. Remove the crispy pork from the work and let it rest for a few minutes on some kitchen towel.
  5. Once cool to handle you can chop it into slices to be added to your broth soup.

To finish the broth:
  1. After at least 4 hours taste the broth and adjust flavour as needed. Remember you can’t remove salt so be careful not to add too much,
  2. When you’re happy with the broth strain it into a container / pot to be served immediately or heat again later.

To serve:
  1. Prepare the egg noodles by boiling it in some water for 3 minute.
  2. Transfer the noodles to a bowl, pour over some broth until mostly covered and top with garlic chives, spring onion, mustard leaf (or cabbage), shredded, bean sprouts and slices of crispy pork belly
  3. Season with chilli flakes, fish sauce, sugar and pickled chillies – these are usually served on the table so guests can help themselves to their favourite.

So, after all that it's done. It’s a long and can be a laborious task. But get it right and you’ll be so glad you spent the time doing it.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Panaeng - the Jolly Frog's way

I recently learnt how to make this curry. From the paste through to the finished product served with fluffy jasmine rice. But not until I ate it again at a little restaurant in Kanchanaburi called the Jolly Frog did I realise exactly how this dish was meant to be served. Now I was taught this recipe by a Thai Master Chef and although his recipe was authentic it didn't impact me the way Jolly Frog's did. With barely any sauce and loads of fresh lime leaves the key to this recipe is getting the bags of flavour through the paste and cooking the accompanying ingredients just right.

I asked how I can learn to make this recipe myself and although the staff are friendly enough I was not given permission to enter the kitchen and see for myself. So the next best way to find out was to order it - 4 times...

Each time was as good, if not better, than before and each time I discovered how I would make this given the chance. Using the base from the recipe I was taught here's my take on recreating the perfect Panaeng curry - with mixed seafood.

Panaeng curry (Gaeng Panaeng)

For the paste:

  • 3 – 6 dried large red chillies, soaked in water for 10 minutes then sliced (or cut with a scissor)
  • 1 tbsp lemongrass, cut at an angle about ½ an inch in length
  • 1 tbsp galangal ginger, finely sliced
  • ¼ tsp zest of a lime
  • 1 tbsp coriander root, chopped
  • ½ tsp cumin seeds
  • ½ tsp coriander seeds
  • ½ tsp white pepper corns
  • ½ tbsp shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp garlic, sliced
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp shrimp paste
  • 1 ½ tbsp roasted ground peanuts

For the curry:

  • 1-2 tbsp cooking oil
  • 100g fresh mixed seafood (prawns, mussels, calamari, squid heads, clams)
  • 1 tbsp panaeng curry paste
  • 100ml coconut cream
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves, shredded as finely as possible
  • 1 tsp palm sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp red chillies, julienne (seeds removed)

For the paste:
  1. Combine all the ingredients from toughest and driest first to softest and wettest last in a pestle and mortar.
  2. Pound together until you have a fine paste. Try to ensure you don’t have any large pieces of the ingredients in the paste.

If time does not allow, you can use a food processor. Just be aware that your paste will not be as fine as when you use a pestle and mortar and therefore you paste won’t be as fragrant.

For the curry:
  1. Put oil in wok and add 1 tbsp or panaeng curry paste, stir vigorously until fragrant
  2. Add coconut cream, a tablespoon at a time and combine, heat until fat separates (oil on top)
  3. Add the mixed seafood and fry in a paste and continue to add coconut cream.
  4. Add lime leaves, chillies, sugar and fish sauce.
  5. Stir contantly until seafood is cooked.
  6. Serve with rice, add sliced red chillies and sliced lime leaves for garnish and enjoy!

Now I've not tried this myself so I'm leaving it to you to give it a try. Let me know how it comes out!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Sweet and Sour

Whenever I travel and go to places that offer something different, something out of the ordinary I often think to myself how does this exist together with what's right. For example, when I was in Mozambique I went wale shark diving and besides throwing up over the side of the boat I thought if this was good for the wales - I mean polluting the water with noise from boats and possibly petrol too, fake feeding them and then this out-of-the-ordinary people jumping in and out of the water to get a glimpse of these wonderful creatures. The same goes for when I went on a camel safari in the dessert in India. Were these camels well looked after when tourists were not around? Whenever you cross human interest with an unsuspecting animal you're bound to create an inequality - usually not in favour of the animal. For this reason I am a little skeptical when it comes to doing activities with animals unless I know they've been looked after well and genuinely enjoy the job we're asking of them.

Today I was lucky enough to find a tour that not just took me close to an amazing animal but also encourages them to be themselves. Today I went elephant riding.

Here, way west of Thailand, just about on the Burmese border is a little place called Sangkhla Buri. It's a town that for centuries has brought different people from all over together. People from Thailand's north, central and southern regions, Burmese, Bangladeshis / Indians and even Chinese. The old town was, until a few years ago, stuck in the valley of the surrounding hills until the government decided to build a super dam. Subsequently the town was moved higher up onto the hill tops and today the dam is what brings life to this revived town. Together with reviving the town the locals have established conservation tours where tourists can enjoy jungle treks or elephant rides with the funds going to the local communities scattered around the hills to preserve local traditions and the animals they hold so dearly.

The elephants today are used for a maximum of 2 hours a day and then left to roam in their camp, eating freely, bathing happily and showing their natural spirit. It was a huge relief to see good done for tourism and animals alike.

I'm so grateful to Su, Ann and Dao for making this experience so sweet.

The experience itself has made me think about the contrast of how animals are sometimes treated (especially in this part of the world) and a recipe I recently learnt for sweet and sour chicken. (Unfortunately the chicken in this dish didn't have much choice).

You know you order sweet and sour from your local Chinese restaurant you're confronted with this interestingly tangy, orange sauce that coats your food... Well you'll never guess how incredibly simple it is to make it yourself.

Sweet and sour vegetables with chicken (Pad Preaw Wan Gai)


  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 100g chicken thigh fillets, sliced against the grain
  • ¼ cup chicken stock
  • 2/3 cup pineapple, diced
  • ½ cup cucumber, diced
  • ½ tsp garlic, chopped
  • 1/3 cup mushrooms, sliced or cut into bit size pieces
  • 3 baby corn, cut lengthways into quarters
  • ¼ cup onion, cut into boats (thickish slices)
  • ¼ cup spring onion, cut into 1 inch lengths
  • ¼ cup cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters
  • (you can also add sliced carrots if you want)

Mix the following into a sauce:

  • 2 tbsp ketchup
  • 1 tbsp white sugar
  • 1 tbsp vinegar
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce


  1. In a wok or pot heat the oil.
  2. Add the onion and garlic and give it a quick stir, cooking until fragrant.
  3. Add chicken and stir fry until almost cooked (add a little chicken stock to prevent the chicken from sticking and burning).
  4. Add all the remaining ingredients and sauce mixture and cook on a high heat until the chicken is cooked. (the veg should still have a little crunch).
  5. Serve immediately with rice

It is that easy... this recipe will serve two people.


Sunday, 4 November 2012

From bitter to bitter sweet

There aren't many thing I don't eat. Duck being one of them and raisins in warm food another, but the worst for me has always been grapefruit. It's bitter with a touch of sourness. To make it bearable most people smother it in sugar undoing all the natural goodness you're hoping to get from it. I just don't understand how anyone can enjoy this fruit. In Thailand they have a similar fruit. It's light green, almost lime-like in colour. Taste wise it's less aggressively bitter than grape fruit but it's similar enough! It's called Pomelo fruit.

Not knowing what it was I gave it a try recently and out of respect I fought hard not to spit it straight out. I guess most Thai people feel the same because they add this fruit to a salad and expertly hide the taste behind several ingredients. Immediately after eating the fruit on its own I was offered this salad to compare. Just by including a few ingredients to this bitter citrus fruit it transforms it from inedible to something unique and special. I actually enjoyed it. Spicy, salty, sweet, with that distinct bitterness all coming together in a harmony of sorts. I managed to wangle the recipe out of a street vendor with the help of someone very happy to try out their English. Now you're going to struggle to get pomelo outside SE Asia so instead use grape fruit and you will be hugely surprised at the results.

Grapefruit salad (Yam Som-O)

  •  ½ cup grapefruit (or pomelo if you can get), separated into segments
  • 4-6 prawns, cooked
  • 1 tbsp dried shrimp
  • 2 tbsp shallots, finely diced
  • 2 stalks spring onions, cut into 1 inch lengths
  • 1 stalk coriander root, chopped (or 5 stalks fresh coriander)
  • 1 tbsp chilli paste
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tbsp sugar

  1. Prepare the sauce by mixing the chilli, fish sauce, lime juice, coriander root and sugar in a bowl. Mix well together.
  2. In another bowl add the grapefruit segments, prawns, dried shrimps, spring onion and shallots. 
  3. Add the dressing and mix well. 

This recipe will serve two. So double it up if you have some friends over for lunch. This interesting salad will also accompany a chicken, pork or fish braai very well.

Give it a go, it's different but will definitely surprise you.


Friday, 2 November 2012


Just arrived at this beautiful, tranquil spot. It's soul food to be here...

Wednesday, 31 October 2012


I believe there are few things everyone should be able to make well. A comfort food, like spaghetti bolognese, a dessert, maybe a Victoria sponge and a crowd pleaser that will never let you down - this is what today's post is about. Spring rolls!

With a little practice these crispy treats are quick and easy to make, plus they freeze well so you can make a big batch one quiet Sunday and when someone comes over just pop them into some oil and within a few minutes you'll be enjoying them dipped into your favourite sauce.

The key to a great spring roll is getting the pastry right. These days you can buy perfectly good pastry from any Asian supermarket. They're common place in the UK and slowly but surely they're popping up all over SA. So you really can't go wrong.

This recipe is great as a start and can be adapted to suit your tastes with different meats, seafood or even veggies for a healthier option.

Spring rolls

Yields 24
Prep time: 25 minutes for the ingredients and 15 minutes to roll
Cooking time: 10 minutes for the filling and 4 to 5 minutes 6 at a time for frying

  • 2 cups vegetable oil for frying
  • 2 tsbp vegetable oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 cup minced chicken (can be replaced with minced pork, beef, finely chopped prawns or tofu)
  • 1 cup bean sprouts
  • 1 cup cabbage, julienne
  • 1 cup carrot, julienne
  • 3 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1½ tbsp white sugar
  • 1½ tbsp soy sauce
  • ½ tsp white pepper powder
  • 1 cup thin glass noodles, soaked to soften and drained
  • Spring roll wrappers
To seal wrappers:
  • 2 tbsp white flour
  • 2 tbsp warm water
To start remove your spring roll pastry wrappers from the freezer and let them defrost / loosen up.

For the filling
  1. In a wok add the oil and garlic, turn up the heat and fry until fragrant
  2. Add the minced chicken and stir fry for 2 or 3 minutes
  3. Next add the bean sprouts, cabbage and carrots before adding the oyster sauce, sugar, soy sauce and pepper - cook for another 2 or 3 minutes 
  4. Finally add the glass noodles and stir fry until all the liquid is cooked in
  5. Pour the spring roll filling onto a plate, flatten out and allow to cool

To seal the wrappers
  1. While the filling cools mix warm water a little at a time to the flour to make a thick paste. It should be sticky to touch 
To assemble
  1. Lay a thawed wrapper on a flat surface in a diamond facing you
  2. Place three tablespoons of cooled filling closest to you 
  3. Take the point closest to you wrap over the filling tightly
  4. fold in the sides like a present making sure the contents cannot spill out. Remember to keep the spring roll tight to prevent oil from getting in
  5. Next, with you finger brush a little of the flour putty on the pointed section facing away from you and bring it over towards yourself wrapping and sealing the spring roll tightly.
Deep fry in a pot / wok of hot oil for about 4 to 5 minutes.

Enjoy your spring rolls with a dipping sauce of your choice. Favourites are usually sweet chilli sauce, sweet and sour sauce, soy sauce and peanut sauce

There you have it. Initially it needs a little faf but after a while, when you have it down, you can make these little guys in less than an hour from start to tummy.

Enjoy them!

Monday, 29 October 2012

So This Is Green Curry

This morning I attended my first Thai food lesson. What better way to start than with Thailand’s most well known food export. No, not lady boys... Thai Green Chicken Curry.

The curry is known throughout the world and although it’s pretty similar from place to place I learnt a few new tricks with my teacher. He’s a Thai master chef who’s been cooking in professional kitchens throughout the world for over 20 years. He’s worked for Albert Roux, David Thomson and Rick Stein in the UK and here in Thailand. He regularly cooks for dignitaries and the Thai royal family, on a basis weekly in fact. Without giving me too much info he’s even in the process of starting up his family’s own Royal Thai culinary school next year. An impressive CV, so I count myself very fortunate to have these one-on-one lessons with him. 

Today on the menu he took me to a local market around the corner from his current school in Sukhamvit, one of the newer areas in Bangkok, bustling with young professionals and up and comers. We picked up fresh ingredients from a market in the shadows of a huge five star shopping complex. These ingredients you just don’t get readily elsewhere: oyster mushrooms, pomelo fruit, Thai aubergine, Thai basil and turmeric root. My hope is that in time we’ll be able to get these ingredients in South Africa and stop the dilution of authenticity of Thai foods in the west.

With produce in hand we returned to the kitchen and got started.

First things first I was taken through a history of Thai food. My teacher is a passionate traditionalist and somewhat reluctantly teaches certain dishes in the new adapted style. He believes two things have influenced Thai cooking more than anything, convenience and laziness. Customers what food that’s quick and easy to make. When something runs out a street vendor risks losing business if he can’t recreate a dish quickly from what’s at his disposal, so the food needs to be convenient, both for the customer and the person preparing it. Secondly to make real authentic Thai food you need the right ingredients prepared in the right way. Like a chicken stock that’s been boiling away for up to 20 hours. Who, these days has the time for this? Instead vendors and even restaurants resort to instant stocks, cheap supermarket sauces and pastes and even new non-Thai ingredients like tomatoes and sweetened milk (and English import). All this being said he’s teaching me the new ways because I only have 5 days and let’s be honest if it tastes as good I might as well not complain.

So on the menu today was 5 things:
  • Yam Som-O (Pomelo salad)
  • Tom Yum Goong (Tom Yum soup with prawns)
  • Gai Satay (Chicken satay) – including peanut sauce
  • Nam Prik Gaeng Kheao Wan (Green curry paste)
  • Gaeng Kheao Wan Gai (Green curry with chicken)

I’ve never made a Tom Yum soup from scratch and when I saw just how easy it is I was so surprised. All you need are the right ingredients in the right portions and you’ll have a beautiful soup within 10 minutes. I want to play around with this recipe and make it my own so look out soon for my version.

In the meantime it’s all about the green curry. As I’ve mentioned before it’s one of my favourites and extremely popular. And although I’ve had many good green curries in the past I’ve never had one quite like the one I made today. It was proper green, not a shade of off green or a grey green it was luminescent. There’s a secret ingredient that I’m going to reveal to you that makes the paste almost glow. The turmeric root bought this morning is pounded into the curry near the end, skin and all, and enhances both the colour and flavour. I was as surprised as you will be when you try it. Follow my recipe below and you’ll never look back. The best thing is the effort put into making your own paste doesn’t need to be a regular thing if you love green curry. Make a big batch of paste and you can freeze it for about 3, or even 4 months. Put it into an ice cube tray and use two cubes per person when you feel the urge for a truly great Thai meal.

Fet’s Thai Green Chicken Curry

Yields: 4 servings
Total prep time: 40 min
Total cooking time: 20 min

For the curry
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • Green curry paste (See ingredients and method below)
  • 1 can good quality coconut milk
  • 500g chicken thigh or breast, cut into thin strips so it cooks quicker
  • Baby Thai aubergines, cut into wedges
  • Handful pea aubergine
  • A few lime leaves, with stalk cut out
  • 4 tsp lime juice (1 lime)
  • 4 tsp good quality fish sauce, or to taste
  • 2 tsp sugar, or to taste
  • Handful fresh Thai / holy basil

For the paste
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, with though outer layers removed
  • 4 green birds eye chillies
  • 2 large green chillies, with seeds and white pith removed
  • Thumb sized piece galangal, grated or finely chopped
  • ½ tsp rind of a lime
  • 6 Thai shallots or 4 small / 2 medium French shallots, roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 4 fresh coriander stems (the white stem from fresh coriander)
  • 2cm piece of turmeric root
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp white pepper corns
  • 1-2 tsp dried shrimps / shrimp paste
  • ½-1 tsp salt, to taste

  1. In a pestle and mortar add the paste ingredients one at a time and bash well for about 15 minutes until you have a smooth mild green paste.
(Alternatively place all the ingredients into a food processor and blitz to a fine paste – be aware that a pestle and mortar gives a much smoother paste and therefore a better result)
  1. Set paste aside and prepare the rest of your ingredients.(this paste can be kept in the fridge for up to 4 weeks and be frozen for 3 months)
  2. In a wok or pot heat the oil and add the paste, stir fry the paste off for 1 minute.
  3. Add the solid coconut pulp from the tinned milk to help loosen up the paste in the oil.
  4. Next add the chicken and aubergines and coat in the paste cooking for 2 or 3 minutes.
  5. Slowly add a tablespoon of the liquid coconut milk at a time and stir thoroughly until you have a saucy curry.
  6. Be careful not to add too much milk at the same time or your curry will be watery and not thick.
  7. Bring to the boil and add your Thai basil, fish sauce, sugar and lime leaves.
  8. Once at a boil reduce the heat and cook or 5 minutes stirring occasionally.
    • If the sauce is too watery use your spoon to bring the sauce at the edges of the wok back into the curry
    • If you need more liquid to the sauce add the remaining coconut milk
  9. Taste the curry sauce, if not salty enough add more fish sauce, if not sweet enough add more sugar
  10. Finish with the juice of half a lime

Your curry should be a beautiful golden green with a luminescent layer. This is from the turmeric root that’s added to the paste. Next time you order a green curry from a restaurant notice that it’s more grey than green.

Serve with fragrant jasmine rice and fresh coriander on top. For extra texture add roasted peanuts.

All the best

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Bangkok - day I

Ok, let me start with wise words, a fable if you will. I heard this sometime ago and decided to play along when leaving London. I entered the airport at Heathrow walking sideways. I looked around to see if anyone had noticed but if they did they didn't show. It was a personal joke I guess... The reason I did this is because the famous Confucius once said – “Man who goes through airport door sideways is going to Bangkok”...

So my adventure begins:

It's day one, but I should rather say evening one as I arrived with the sun setting behind the plane as I flew eastwards. A beautiful golden sunset with, the orange orb floating horizontally in the sky breaking through the fluffy white clouds every now and then. The rays of light piercing the gaps in the clouds make me feel minuscule  The fact that a city as large as Bangkok looms below me doesn't make me feel any different. The outskirts of the city begin 15 minutes before touch down just to give you a clue as to how big this metropolis really is.

The modern international airport, Suvarnabhumi, is something to be proud of. The connections are slick and everything just seems to work. A great first impression. But that’s not the point of this post. I’ll jump ahead about an hour...
After getting the city link sky rail from the airport to the heart of Bangkok I needed to change to the BTS Skytrain and find my hotel at Thong Lor. As I exited the train at its last stop, Phayathai, I spotted a restaurant on the street corner. I could hear loud music too – a live band playing inside with a deck full of locals all drinking and eating little Thai snacks. Part of me thinks “get to your hotel, unpack and shower” (bearing in mind I've not slept for 28 hours) while the other half of me whispers “you’ve just arrived, go with your gut and grab a drink and a bite down there”. Five minutes later I’m sitting on the pavement sipping on an ice cold Chang beer and waiting for my very first taste of authentic Thai. I order a green curry with sticky rice. I know it’s not too adventurous but since it’s one of my favourite Thai meals. I think it’s fitting for my first in Thailand. To tell you the truth I’m just over the moon I’m finally here. It’s been such a long time coming and everyone who knows me has been encouraging it and waiting for this day too.

I’ve yet to taste the curry as I write this but my first impressions of Bangkok is fantastic. It’s bustling. There’s little I wouldn’t expect from this place. The next few days will paint a fairer picture but so far I’m happy.

Meal down and my verdict is UNBELIEVABEL! I’m sweating. It’s a combination of it being 33 degrees outside and chilli, chilli, chillies everywhere in the curry but wow that was amazing. As my bowl of green chicken curry soup was placed in front of me I could smell the difference between what I’ve had and made before. A distinct licorice aroma permeating from the curry was the first thing I noticed. The Thai basil caused this, an ingredient we use too little in western cooking. The difference between sweet basil (the Italian kind) and Thai basil (and holy basil for that matter) is that Thai and holy basil release their flavours better under heat. They become something different, like the licorice flavour that came through in this curry. If you can get hold of Thai or holy basil then do so and cook a curry, it makes such a difference to the meal. I'll be posting a green curry recipe soon so look out for it...

The burn is finally subsiding and I can now taste the individual flavours all around my mouth. That enjoyable after dinner feeling where you’re satisfied and content.

If this meal (and experience) was anything to go by my foodie journey through Thailand is off to the best possible start.

I have already set my alarm for 7am tomorrow morning to visit Chatuchak weekend market - the largest in Thailand and one of the biggest in the world.

Tomorrow we get real!
Take care

Friday, 12 October 2012

Count down on a happy Friday

With my trip just less than two weeks away I'm planning and scrambling to get everything in order. Why is it that we always leave things to the last minute? I'm sure it’ll be fine despite having forgotten my toe nail clippers or my important phrase book, but hey it could be a lot worse…
My passport is with the Vietnamese embassy hopefully getting stamped with that all important visa, my plane ticket is printed and on my desk and I have my money card loaded with cash. These are the most important things you need when travelling – the rest can be bought or borrowed abroad.
So, taking a deep breath I take a break from planning and catch up on some news. My daily fix comes from News24 and of course I’m constantly drawn towards Food24 for inspiration and the sheer enjoyment of what is being spoken about – by the way today is International Egg Day. I had no idea!
To my surprise I came across a familiar recipe on the News24 homepage. It took a second to sink in but my surprise turned to pride and satisfaction when I realised the recipe was my very own.
I’ve been supplying Food24 with recipes over the past few months but none of them had made it this far up the pecking order to feature on the News24 homepage. Naturally I’m a little excited and decided to blog about it.
The recipe is for onion bhajis. I learnt this recipe from a street vendor in Mumbai. Half the recipe is from deciphering his attempt at English while the rest from observing him rapidly pour in various ingredients, some of which I’d never seen before, mix them up vigorously and fry them as quickly as he’d mixed it all together. They had hardly been out the oil before a handful ogeling bystanders guzzled them down. I had to get my hands on the next batch.
Confident that I had the recipe well rehearsed in my head (after observing the vendor for over an hour) I made my way through the tangled and chaotic Mumbai streets. It wasn’t until a few months later, after my trip that I tried to make these bhajis for myself. Going on this half written recipe and my memory, which is terrible, I gave it a go with some guesses and personal preferences thrown in. After a few tries I came up with what I’ve called Fet’s jumbo onion bhajis.
Personally I love them. And those I’ve served them to have enjoyed them too. Dare I say they were guzzled up as quickly as my teacher’s very own.
Have a look for yourself how you can also make these amazing treats. They’re perfect for starters, accompaniments or just a snack.

Thank you Caro de Waal, the incredible editor at Food24 for giving me the opportunity to write a few recipes and then having the courage to publish them. I hope this is the start of a great foodie journey.
I will be linking to the Food24 website regularly through my travels so pop back often for more recipes and stories.