The Flavours of Asia

Free stuff, take it! A big sign outside the wine country bistro in Napa Valley in California. There are several couches, a chair or two and miscellaneous household items, all apparently in perfect condition. Here in this golden strip of some of the most expensive real estate in the world, it will probably be tough to get someone to take it. The grape harvest is over, its been a really good one, the countryside looks utterly beautiful, gorgeous autumn colours, bright yellows, reds and burnished gold.
I’ve scarcely had time to unpack my cases for the past few weeks. First it was the Slow Food Salone del Gusto in Turin, a few days later I was in London to attend the Waterford Wedgwood Awards where I felt deeply honoured to receive a Hospitality Award to mark outstanding achievement in the hospitality industry.
Then on to Paris for a foodie weekend. Home for a couple of days and then off to the Napa Valley in California to attend the Flavours of Asia course at the Culinary Institute of America in Greystone. The CIA as it is confusingly called in St. Helena, is the flagship of culinary schools, committed to using fresh and as far as possible, organic produce.
There are herb and vegetable gardens and 13 acres of vines. At last a culinary school where students are reminded of the connection between the good earth and the quality of the food we eat. The students who come to the Ballymaloe Cookery School are very familiar with this message. On the first day of the Certificate Course they are introduced to the gardeners and shown around the gardens, greenhouses and farm which will yield much of the produce they will eat and cook with for the next 12 weeks.
They learn how to make compost and understand the logic of using the leftover organic waste to make compost which will be used to enrich the soil to grow more good food. Without good soil there can be no health-giving food or clean water, a fact we urgently need to remind ourselves of in this day and age. There is growing concern about the decreasing levels of vitamins and minerals in our food, and the increase in pollution of our group water schemes.
The Flavours of Asia course was if anything over-ambitious – just imagine trying to condense the essence of Asian food into 3 days, even though they did start at 7.00am and finish at 10.30pm. My jet-lagged brain was numb by Saturday night, with images of Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Burma, India … all swirling around in my head.
Madhur Jaffrey and Mai Pham were co-chairs of this extraordinary event. The best traditional cooks and chefs from each of the countries had been flown to Greystone for the event, each one passionate about their culture and cuisine and each anxious to share their knowledge . Hundreds of people, mostly from the US attended the conference, the interest in Asian food has grown at an extraordinary rate, in fact I have never seen any food trend escalate so fast as the interest in hot spicy food.
Here in Ireland for those of us who have got hooked on the flavour of freshly ground spices, lemon grass, fish sauce, wild lime and curry leaves, trasi, soy sauce, bonita flakes….there is no going back.
Here are a few tastes to whet your appetite.

Savoury Meat Pancakes – Martabak

Makes 20-25
6 oz (170g) Won ton wrappers or 40—50 x 3 inch squares of filo pastry
8 fl.ozs (250ml/1 cup) sunflower or corn oil
1½ tablesp. olive oil
2 large onions, finely sliced
2-4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 teasp. ginger, finely chopped
1 teasp. coriander, ground
½ teasp. cumin, ground
½ teasp. turmeric or curry powder
1 teasp. salt
1 lb. 2 oz (500g) minced beef or lamb
To be added later:
1½ tablesp. lemon grass, finely chopped
4 ozs (110g) spring onions or chives
4 -5 tablesp. parsley, chopped
3 eggs, free range
Heat the olive oil in a wok or wide shallow saucepan, and fry the onions for 5 minutes, stirring most of the time. Then add the garlic and ginger. Continue stirring for 2 minutes, and add the ground ingredients. Stir again to mix, and add the minced meat and salt. Continue to stir and mix for 10-15 minutes. Put the mixture in a bowl, and leave it to cool.
Up to this point, this can be made a day in advance. Keep in the fridge until needed. Just before you are ready to fry the Martabak, mix the meat in a large bowl with the rest of the ingredients for the filling, including the eggs. Adjust the seasoning. Fill the dough and fry as explained below.
Filling and frying Martabak: Lay a few Wonton wrappers or pieces of filo pastry on a flat plate or tray. Put a tablespoonful of filling onto each wonton or pastry square. Then put another square on top, and press the edges down so that they are more or less sealed.
Pour about 4-6 fl.ozs (110-170ml/½-¾ cup) of peanut oil or corn oil into a frying pan or skillet, and heat to a high temperature. Transfer the first 4 filled wonton squares to the pan, and press the martabak down with a spatula for a few seconds. Cook for 2 minutes or so, then turn them over and continue cooking for 2 more minutes. The casing should be quite crisp around the edges, but not in the middle, and should be flat and evenly filled with the meat almost to the edge. Repeat the process until all the ingredients are used up. The oil in the pan will need renewing once or twice. Serve hot or cold.

Chicken Claypot

Serves 2
9½ ozs (265g) chicken, skinless and boneless
4 tablesp. water
scant 3 tablesp. of fish sauce
2 tablesp. brown sugar
½ teasp. minced garlic
½ teasp. lime juice
½ teasp. vinegar
½ teasp. shredded ginger
1 teasp. salt
½ teasp. ground black pepper
1 Thai chilli, chopped
½ tablesp. vegetable oil
3 sprigs of coriander
Cut the chicken into half inch cubes and marinate in salt and pepper for 20 minutes in the refrigerator.
In a small bowl combine the water, fish sauce, brown sugar, minced garlic, lime juice and ginger.
In a clay pot or 2 pint stainless steel pot, combine the chicken and fish sauce mixture. Over high heat, bring the mixture to a boil, add the black pepper, Thai Chilli and oil. Continually stir the chicken until cooked, about 10 minutes. The sauce should thicken and coat the chicken. Garnish with coriander sprigs and serve immediately.

Bengal Fragrant Fish Curry Maach Bhaja

Serves 4
1½ lb (680g) haddock or tuna steaks
1 teasp. mustard powder
1 teasp. ground cumin
½ teasp. turmeric
½ teasp. ground red pepper
1½ tablesp. mustard oil or vegetable oil
4 ozs (110g) onions, thinly sliced
1 scant tablesp. garlic sliced
1 scant tablesp. green chillies, shredded
12 ozs (340g) tomatoes, peeled and chopped
coarse salt to taste
juice of ½ lemon
2 ozs (50g) chopped fresh coriander leaves and stems
Place the fish steaks on a plate and sprinkle with mustard, cumin, turmeric and red pepper. Rub the spices all over the fish and set aside. Heat half of the oil in a large heavy non stick saute pan over high heat. If you are using mustard oil, let it smoke for a moment to rid it of its pungency. Add the fish and saute, turning once, until seared, about 1 minute. Transfer to a plate.
Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining oil, the onions, garlic and chillies. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions begin to brown. Add the tomatoes, along with the accumulated juices, and salt. Continue to cook until the sauce thickens a little, about 5 minutes. Add fish steaks and cook until the sauce is bubbling and the fish is heated through, about 4 minutes. Transfer the fish and the sauce to a heated serving platter. Sprinkle with lemon juice and coriander and serve accompanied with rice.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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