Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Steamed mussels with coconut milk

I went to the Port of Siam, a Thai restaurant just off Broughton Street in Edinburgh, the other day, and this was one of the starters.

1 kg mussels
1 tin of coconut milk
1 tsp minced ginger
1 tsp minced red chilli
2 stalks of lemongrass, cut into slices
1 tbsp fish sauce
juice of 1/2 lemon
handful of chopped coriander leaves


  1. Clean and beard the mussels, and discard any with broken shells or ones that won't close.
  2. Put the coconut milk in a large saucepan, add the ginger, chilli, lemongrass, fish sauce and lemon juice, bring to a boil, cover and simmer gently for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the mussels, return to a boil, cover and simmer until all of the mussels have opened.
  4. Sprinkle with fresh coriander and serve.

Ma Po tofu

In my ongoing search for vegetarian dishes, I cooked this from Fuchsia Dunlop's brilliant book, Every Grain of Rice. Tofu itself is quite bland, so enjoying it is all about using it is a vehicle for other flavours, and appreciating the texture of the tofu itself. As far as I can tell, the three different 'grades' of tofu - silken, plain and firm - roughly correspond to use in soups, braised dishes and stir fries (although with a bit of overlap at the edge of each category).

500g plain tofu
4 tbsps of cooking oil
2 tbsps of chilli bean paste
1 tbsp of fermented black beans, rinsed and drained
1 tbsp of minced ginger
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
100 ml of vegetable stock
black pepper
2 tsps of potato flour, mixed with 2 tbsps of cold water
1/2 tsp of ground roasted Sichuan pepper
the green parts of 4 spring onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal

  1. Cut the tofu into 2 cm cubes, cover in very hot, slightly salted water, and leave to steep. Prepare the other ingredients. (When I'm cooking Chinese food, I tend to arrange all my dry ingredients on a plate, in their order of use.)  Remove the tofu from the water with a slotted spoon, and put it on a plate.
  2. Heat your wok until it is nice and hot, add the oil, reduce heat to minimum, and add the chilli bean paste. Stir fry for about 30 seconds, add the black beans, and stir fry for a few seconds more. Add the ginger and garlic, stir for a few seconds more.
  3. Add the tofu, stir gently to coat with the sauce, and add the stock and a few grinds of black pepper.
  4. Bring to a boil, simmer for a few minutes, then add the flour and water mixture, and continue to simmer until the sauce thickens.
  5. Transfer the tofu and sauce to a serving bowl, sprinkle the Sichuan pepper and spring onion greens over it, and serve.

Pock-marked old woman's tofu
Apparently this is what the Chinese name of this dish means. One can only admire the honesty - it makes a refreshing change from all the adjective-laden titles of restaurant dishes in the UK. It also made me wonder if I have been missing a trick in marketing my own services. I always try to project a professional image in the belief that this will make people more likely to hire me as a translator, but I remember when I realised there was no going back from the freelance lifestyle for me. It was when I found myself halfway down the corridor that connects my 'office' (i.e., bedroom) to the toilet, unzipping my trousers in anticipation of arrival. Any lingering doubts were dispelled a couple of days later when I took an important conference call with a couple of academics writing a book on business decision analysis. Fortunately there was no video connection, so they had no way of knowing that I was completely naked and my face was still covered in shaving foam. So perhaps I should follow Ma Po's lead, and start selling myself as the Naked Translator.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Since I last posted, one of the members of my family has turned vegetarian. As a result, I've been on the lookout for vegetarian options, so falafel (little fried balls of ground chickpeas and spices) seemed like a good idea. I got this recipe from Tori Avey's Jewish food blog, with a couple of minor adaptations.

250g of dried chickpeas
30g water
1 onion, chopped
a bunch of parsley
2 cloves of garlic
2 tbsps plain flour (or use chickpea flour)
2 tsps of salt
2 tsps of ground cumin
1.5 tsps of ground coriander
1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper
freshly ground black pepper
the seeds from 2 cardamon pods

1 tsp of baking powder
1 tsp of water
oil for frying

  1. Leave the chickpeas to soak in plenty of water overnight.
  2. The next day, drain the chickpeas, and combine with all of the remaining ingredients apart from the baking powder. Chop in a food processor until you have a grainy paste. (Too grainy and it will fall to bits when you fry, too pasty and it will taste ... pasty.)
  3. Cover and leave to sit in the fridge for 2 hours.
  4. Mix the baking powder with the water, add to the mixture and stir well with a fork.
  5. Heat about 3 cm of oil to a medium heat.
  6. Shape the mixture into balls, slip them carefully into the oil, and fry for a couple of minutes until golden underneath, then flip them over and finish cooking on the other side.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Sourdough: bloom, ear and open crumb

I always hesitate before posting about bread in general and sourdough in particular. When I write up a 'normal' recipe, it's easy enough to work out what levels of knowledge to assume - I don't need to explain how to chop an onion, although I might say how finely it should be chopped if I think it's important. With bread, though, one is caught between writing for the complete beginner and writing for the experienced baker. If you assume no knowledge, then the recipe becomes unmanageably long, as every technique and term has to be explained. And if you write for those who already know how to make bread, then your recipe will be incomprehensible for anyone else.

So no recipe this time, just some shots of my latest sourdough, made with white wheat flour from Shipton Mill, together with a little white spelt flour. My bread usually gets eaten before I have a chance to photograph it, but I managed to get some photos of this loaf that nicely illustrate three of the things sourdough bakers aim for: bloom (the way the bread opens as it bakes), ear (the crusty flap where the loaf has been slashed) and a nice open crumb.



open crumb

Oyster men

It's always nice to be able to share the food you enjoy with the people you love, so I was thrilled when Sammy said he wanted to try oysters:

And even happier when he decided he liked them:

Now I have somebody to eat oysters with!

Aubergine dip (baba ghanoush) - microwave version

Summer is here again, and the root vegetables in my veggie box are gradually being replaced by more exotic fare. For the last couple of weeks, this has included a lone aubergine, so I decided to make a quick aubergine dip. I couldn't be bothered with roasting or grilling it, so I thought I would try the microwave instead, and I was really pleased with the results. Unfortunately I seem to have mislaid my photo of it.

1 aubergine
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of ground cumin
handful of chopped parsley
2 tbsps of olive oil


  1. Top and tail and peel the aubergine, cut it into chunks, and cook it on full power in the microwave for 10 minutes.
  2. Combine the cooked aubergine with the other ingredients in a food processor, and blend.

Monday, May 13, 2013

White bread with spelt

These white loaves tempered with some wholemeal spelt flour were made by my son, Sammy.

775g warm water
1125g strong white flour
100g wholemeal spelt flour
7g instant yeast
20g salt


  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl, mix very thoroughly with a spoon, then stretch and fold in the bowl. (Do about 12 'stretch-and-folds', turning the bowl as you go.)
  2. Place the bowl inside a large plastic bag, leave to rest for 15 minutes, then do another 12 'stretch-and-folds'. Repeat the 'rest/stretch-and-fold' cycle three more times, then leave the dough to rest for a further hour.
  3. Prepare two large banettons by lining them with plenty of spelt flour.
  4. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface, divide into two even portions (1kg each) and shape.
  5. To make a round boule, form the dough into a ball. To make a long batard, form the dough into a ball, then flatten slightly and fold both sides into the middle. Rotate through 90o, then fold into the middle again. Without rotating, fold a third time, then fold in half and press the edges together to seal.
  6. Place the shaped loaves seam-side up in the floured banettons, cover with a linen cloth and leave to rise at room temperature.
  7. After 30 minutes, put your baking stone onto the middle shelf of the oven, put a baking tray on the bottom shelf, and turn the oven to maximum. Leave the loaves to rise for a further 60 minutes.
  8. Boil some water in a kettle.
  9. Transfer one loaf onto a peel and slash the top (lengthwise if it is the batard, with a criss-cross or circular pattern for the boule).
  10. Pour some of the boiling water into the baking tray, quickly transfer the slashed loaf, spray a little more water into the oven, and close the door.
  11. Bake at maximum for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 225oC and bake for a further 25 minutes. Remove to a grid to cool.
  12. Repeat steps 8 to 11 above for your second loaf.