Category Archives: Recipes – Asian

Authentic Bánh Mì – Vietnamese Sandwich recipe


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On our recent trip to Melbourne, Australia, we came across many bakeries and stores selling traditional Vietnamese sandwiches – Bánh Mì. These are the result of French and Vietnamese cuisines coming together, and boy, what a glorious effort.

Bánh mì sandwiches are different to the normal western sandwiches. The bread is crunchy on the outside and pillowy inside, serving as a light encasement for the delicious fillings inside. More on that later.

While watching our sandwiches being made, I duly noted what was included – the ingredients all play a part in achieving the balance of sweet, sour, savoury, spicy, umami, warm, cold, softness and crunch. That’s a lot achieved in one sandwich.

Here are the list of ingredients for you to create your very own bánh mì!

    • Bread – choose a light bread with pillowy centre and light crusty crumb. (J’s wanted to make sure I mention not to get bread that is so crunchy that it scrapes the roof of your mouth. Coz that will hurt. Noted, darling 😊) Baguettes or Ficelle from Paneton French Bakery would be my choice (in New Zealand).
    • Mayo – adds a creamy flavour to the sandwich.
    • Pate – this is essential to any good Bánh Mì, giving it the umami flavour.
    • Cucumber – Cucumber adds freshness and crunch, juxtaposing the other soft elements of the sandwich. Slice them lengthwise for even layering.
    • Herbs – for freshness and an earthiness, coriander leaves and sliced spring onions are added. I would also suggest Thai basil as well, if you wish.

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    • Pickles – this is a must! Easy to make: 1:1.5 ratio of white or apple cider vinegar to caster sugar to fill to just over half of a glass jar. Warm jar and sugar slightly in microwave to dissolve the sugar. While it is cooling, sprinkle a bit of salt over thin batons of carrots/daikon/rings of onions. Massage and squeeze the carrots the diakon (no need for the onions) to get rid of their juices. Pat dry and add to the cooled jar of pickling liquid. Ready to use in just an hour.

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  • Protein – you have lots of choices here: vietnamese ham, lemongrass pork or beef, grilled pork, chinese BBQ pork, chinese roast pork or even grilled tofu. Champagne ham works too if there is nothing else!

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  • Sauce – You can add squirts of hoisin sauce or Maggi Seasoning for extra flavour. For me, a good grind of black pepper was enough.
  • Fresh Red Chillies – a spicy element is a must and thinly sliced red chillies are commonly added to taste.
  • Fried shallots for extra crunch.
  • Add more meat if you wish.
  • Close the sandwich and enjoy!

Mapo Tofu (Pork mince with tofu in spicy sauce)


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For Chinese, this is a traditional dish most families would have at home. In northern China, Szechuan peppercorns would be added to give a unique spiciness that is at best described as a slight tingling sensation, to the more severe as ‘spins and needles’ on the tongue which means you can taste nothing for the next 5 minutes until the numbing feeling subsides.
In Hong Kong, we have milder, sweeter versions.

It wasn’t until a European friend pointed it out to me that I realised how strange this dish is – two proteins in the same dish! I don’t think I’ve ever looked at tofu as a protein and consequently consider why would there be a need to pair it with another (pork mince)?

I have no explanation except that the tofu is there to mix with the sauce and then with the rice as a perfect, wholesome, one plate meal. It just works so let’s not worry about it 🙂

Most recipes ask you to ‘parboil’ the tofu pieces before adding them into the wok. They claim this helps prevent them from breaking up. I have never done that and I’ve cooked this dish for almost 20 years!
What I’ve always done, is sprinkle salt onto the cubed tofu and letting it sit for 10 minutes. This pushes out the water from the tofu and keeps the cubes intact – it works every time. The key to it is in the manner of mixing –  mix the tofu in ever so gently and only till it’s warmed through. No tofu puddle mess at all.

Ingredients:
1 ‘brick’ of firm tofu, cubed
1 teaspoon salt
150g mince pork (or less if preferred)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon chinese garlic chili bean sauce (toubanjan or doubanjiang)
1 tablespoon chinese brown bean sauce (tenmienjan, tenmenjan, or tenmenjiang)
1 tablespoon chinese hoisin sauce
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 spring onion, chopped into small rounds

Marinade:
1 tablespoon dry sherry or Chinese wine
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 tbsp sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon szechuan peppercorn (optional)

Directions:
1.  Slice your tofu into 3 sections and then cut into long strips. Cube them into 1.5cm sizes.  Sprinkle salt on the top of the tofu. Set aside. (They don’t have to be perfect so don’t worry about being precise here.) Marinate mince.

2.  Set the wok on high and make sure it is hot.  Add vegetable oil and swirl the pan, then add the mince pork, using the back of your spatula to separate the mince.

3.  When the pork is nicely browned, add in your equal portion of the 3 main sauces: Chinese garlic chili bean sauce, Chinese brown bean sauce and hoisin sauce. Continue to cook for 1 minute.

4. Drain the tofu pieces and add tofu cubes to the wok.
5. Working quickly and lightly, mix the tofu in with the mince. A bit like working an angel cake batter, you scoop from the outside and bring it into the middle.
6. Continue until all the tofu has been mixed with the sauce.
7. Add in chicken stock and thicken with cornflour slurry if you preferring a thicker sauce. Add in your chopped spring onion.
8.  Serve with steamed jasmine rice.
Note: if you are making a bigger portion, you will need to proportionately increase the sauces, maintaining the 1:1:1 ratio.

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Massaman Beef Curry


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I don’t know about you, but I find that Monday dinners are the hardest to get on the table, fast.
Coming home from a full day’s work after a relaxing weekend – it’s hard to get back into the routine and I’m always in a rush to prepare anything decent.
What I’ve found to work for us, is that I pre-prepare dishes that we can heat up for Monday night.
That way, all we need to do is to cook the rice, add some veges and heat up the main dish.
Therefore you’d find that this blog category mainly consists of curry and other slow-cook meals. Not your typical Monday dinners of quick throw together meals, but instead meals that have been cooked with tender loving care that can be reheated in a matter of minutes.
Click over under the Monday Dinner  tab to see what other slow-cook meals I have in my repertoire.

This curry is sweet with a bit of kick.
J’s review: “I like it because it’s yummy and has potatoes and tender beef. Easy to eat and healthy for you.”

Ingredients:

800 g cross-cut beef, cubed
5 tbsp of spice paste
3 tsp dry spice powder
470ml of coconut cream (1 can)
5 potatoes, peeled and quartered
4 tbs of unsalted, roasted peanuts
2 tbs of peanut oil
2 tbsp tamarind water

Spice Paste:

3 Dried red chilli
1 Lemongrass
5 cloves of Garlic
2 Shallot
5cm Ginger
5cm Galangal
1 tsp Salt
4 tbsp Oil
4 tbsp Palm sugar

Dry spices powder:

combine 1 tbsp of each (except where indicated otherwise) in a mortar and bash them together.
Mustard seed
Fenugreek
Coriander seed
Turmeric
White pepper
Paprika
Cumin
Cinnamon powder
Clove
Cumin
Coriander seed
10 Cardamom seeds
6 Bay leaves
** save the remainder of your spices mix for the next curry.

Method:

1. Coat beef in 1 tablespoon of peanut oil and massaman curry paste. Stir well to coat and set aside.
2. In a large pot, heat remaining oil over a medium heat.
3. Add the curry-coated beef and brown for 1-2 minutes. Add the dry spices. Stir the beef well to coat it in the spices.
4. Add 1/2 can of coconut cream and 1/2 to 1 cup of water until the beef is just covered by the liquid. Stir well and then bring to the boil. Once boiling, turn heat down very low and cover. Gently simmer for 1 1/2 hours. (I leave them in a thermos cooker so I don’t even need to watch it)
5. After this time, add the remaining can of coconut cream, potatoes and peanuts. Stir well. Taste and add a little more fish sauce and sugar if necessary.
6. Turn heat up to medium and cover. Cook for another 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
7. Meanwhile, prepare the tamarind juice. Soak the dried tamarind seed in 2 tablespoons of warm water and use a spoon to push the pulp off the seeds into the water. The water will become brown and pulpy — this is tamarind juice. Discard the seeds.
8. Once the potatoes are cooked, remove the curry from the heat. Stir in the sugar and tamarind juice. Stir well and serve with Jasmine rice.

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Naan bread


Homemade naan bread
Homemade naan bread with chicken massaman curry in the background

J loves bread. Baguettes. Focaccia. Pizza bread. Chinese buns. Chinese pancake wraps. Naan bread is one of her favourite among this lot.
When she was younger, her tolerance to spices are not that great so when we went for Indian meals she would often just eat the bread and not the meat and the sauce, no matter now mild they were.

Seems though with age this is slowly changing and last week she managed to eat most of the sauce of a not-so-mild lamb madras! It was quite hilarious though as she was fanning herself and drinking copious amount of water while eating.

Hopefully she will be pleasantly surprised tonight when she discovers what is for dinner.

Ingredients:
1 cup warm milk
2 cups warm water
1 Tbsp of active dry yeast
2 tsp of salt
1 tsp of sugar
1 egg
2 Tbsp of oil
6 cups of sifted all purpose (plain) flour
butter

Directions:
Pour warm milk and water into a large bowl. Add yeast, sugar, salt, egg, 1 Tbsp of the oil and mix together.

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Add sifted flour and quickly work the mixture into a dough. The dough should be very soft and quite sticky. I used a fork to bring everything together before kneading with oiled hands. Pat remaining oil over the dough and cover the bowl with a loose lid.

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Place the bowl in a warm place until the dough has doubled its size (40 – 60 minutes).
Preheat the oven at 240c and place the baking sheets inside the oven while the oven is heating.

(The yeast was a little bit too excited!)
(The yeast was a little bit too excited!)

Once the dough is ready, turn it over to a floured surface and shape small ball-sized doughs out of it. You may find the dough is very soft and almost fall through your fingers – it is fine! Just be gentle.
The trick is to make sure your hands are dusted with flour frequently. I also use disposable gloves as a barrier between the soft dough and my warm hands. To avoid the dough from sticking to your fingers, frequently flour them and work faster. Let the balls rest for about 15 minutes.

Round naan bread dough
Round naan bread dough

Once the dough has rested and risen, place one on the floured board and push down the centre of the dough, taking care not to flatten it too much. Gently pick it up and literally toss it from your left hand to your right, making sure each time it lands on the palm of your hand.

Round naan bead dough risen
Round naan bead dough risen

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This tossing action will create a nice longish triangular or oval-shaped dough.
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You can spread some butter or even garlic on top of the flat dough and they are ready to cook. Taking care when opening the oven door as it is very hot, take the sheets out and quickly but gently place the dough on sheets. Bake for about 6 minutes and remove when the top has slightly golden-brown spots. Continue with the remaining dough balls.

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Stack and cover with a clean tea towel, they are ready to be devoured with any curry you fancy. Or, like me, the plumpest one was picked, torn into and chewed away while typing this post.

Enjoy!

Hundred flower chicken – 百花鸡 – Chinese New Year prawn cake


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A hundred young chickens? Or a new species of chicken called ‘hundred flower’ that is being cooked here? Don’t be fooled. I’ll let you in on a secret: There is no chicken in this except the skin and the hero of the dish is prawn actually.
I’m sure if you google this you will find some mythical story behind the birth of this dish, involving some ancient Chinese palace kitchen maid who was forced to create something for the king who has demanded a new dish or else heads will roll. Said maid thought long and hard and came up with such a dish – crispy on the outside and springy on the inside. King loved it and everyone was saved. The End. Anyway they all seem to have similar stories like that.
This isn’t one of those recipes that then passed from the palace kitchen to the general populace, from one generation to another in the family home. At least not to our family home. It was a case of ‘wow that’s an expensive dish! Should we try to make it at home with ingredients on hand?’
My mum went about trying it and it became one of those special dishes we do for special occasions or guests. I’ve simplified it a bit here by removing the crushed cashews – they just burn too easily and I reckon I could save on the calories for dessert instead!

Ingredients:
500g raw prawn cutlets
1 ‘sheet’ of chicken skin from two chicken breasts (tear the skin off a double chicken breast)

Marinade:
2 tsp chicken powder
2 tbsp mirin
1 tsp light soy sauce
1 tsp ground white pepper
1.5 tsp sugar
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp cornflour (corn starch)

Drain excess water from prawns and tip them onto a chopping board.
Stand tall, roll your shoulders back and prepare yourself (well your arms at least) for a good workout. Using first 1 knife chop the cutlets small. Best to use a chefy technique where you hold the tip of the knife down with your left hand while moving the blade up and down with your right.

When they have been all chopped, proceed to use two knives to give the prawn meat a good hammering. This is also good for your mind as you channel all your negative energy into moving your arms and mincing the prawns.

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Scrape the flattened prawn meat into a heap and give it another hammering.

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Repeat for a few times until you feel calm and all zen-like. I would suggest 4-5 times is enough. If not, you may benefit from some kick boxing classes!!

Put the prawn meat into a bowl and add the marinade in. Give it a few crazy stirs and when your arms are tired, leave it for 10 minutes.

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Dry the chicken skin and pat a good amount of cornflour on the inside of the skin, covering it all over.

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Using a large soup spoon, smear the prawn meat onto the chicken skin. Smooth it down and even. Now you have a large pattie.

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Heat the pan up and add a tiny teaspoon of oil. When it is hot, place the pattie in, skin side down.

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Pan fry for 1 minute on high and then 2 minutes on medium, till golden. Turn over and fry for another 3 minutes. Watch it to make sure it doesn’t burn.

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Remove from pan and cool on some kitchen paper. (the edges look a bit dark and it is really just the lighting!)

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Slice and plate up.
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Served here with some magic sauce – better known to most children as tomato sauce.
Wish you all a joyful and bountiful year of the Snake! (like what I did with the sauce squiggle?)

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Ps. If I ever have the guts to apply for a spot in Masterchef, this would be my audition dish!!