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.