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...