Archive for the ‘countries’ Category

h1

Lawar love affair

October 9, 2011

Komang's pork lawar (with blood)Well hello everyone … I am hoping you haven’t all taken your pots and pans and gone home!

Apologies for my long absence; things have been a little overwhelming round here what with trips away and novels coming out and people being nice and whatnot (how’s that for some of the most flagrantly unsubtle self-promotion you’ve seen in a while!?).

You know, I’ve just realised something. Having a book published, even though I’ve done it five times now, is a very strange experience. It’s exposing and flattering (sometimes) and mortifying and exhausting in fast-moving waves. I’ve decided it’s  like being a five-year-old at your own birthday party – you run round shrieking look at me look at me look at me and then when everyone does you’re so hyped up on sugar and presents and nervous energy you feel like throwing up and burst into tears.

But as soon as I opened this page to start typing I felt a lovely calm descend upon me, and I thought, Ah, I’m home. That’s my realisation: that I feel at home here on this blog, and I’m determined to spend a bit more time here in the next while.

So last time I was here I was off to Bali for a week – and I have to say it was the most relaxing holiday I’ve ever had. We lay around reading, sleeping, swimming, feeling our winter skins slough off in the tropical weather, and generally managed what every holiday is supposed to feel like but hardly ever does – a wonderful rest from ordinary life. Serenity, peace, and stunning physical beauty (Bali’s, not ours – thank your lucky stars I am posting no pics of us around the swimming pool as proof). And, of course, absolutely wonderful food.

All the pictures here are of food cooked for us by the gorgeous Komang, our host at the villa we stayed in at Sanur (feel free to email me for details because it was just fantastic). I have never, never understood people who go to a country like Bali, dine out at terrible and expensive Italian and French and Japanese restaurants and then come home whining about how bad the food was. We only ate Indonesian food the whole time, and had almost no average meals at all, and certainly no bad ones. In fact the least pleasurable night involved one of the most expensive and chi-chi restaurants on the island, which describes its food as ‘contemporary Balinese’ – it was fine (and the wine was incredible) but we should have stuck to our instincts and the local cheapo joints, all of which were way more fun and generally much better food.

Probably my absolute favourite – among so many good dishes – was a new discovery, a dish called lawar (pictured at the very top). Komang told us his version was made with pork (“but only the skin”), coconut and spices. His was a red colour that I initially thought must be from red rice or just the cooking method, but found no rice in it and learned on our return that this must have been from the pig’s blood, which is often included in this lavish ceremonial dish. But lawar can be made from all kinds of different proteins – this blog here, for instance, says:

No big religious or private celebration would be held without serving this ritual dish. Only the eldest, and most experienced men are allowed to mix the many ingredients. Many versions incorporate raw pounded meat and fresh blood in the dressing. Chicken meat can be replaced with beef, pork, seafood, vegetables or young jackfruit. 

There are recipes for lawar all over the web, which seem slightly different but generally are variations on the same theme; and there’s a great video by Kitchen Insurgency about making it for a big Balinese family feast here. I believe lawar is particularly a Balinese specialty, not made in other parts of Indonesia unlike almost all the other food we ate – but does anyone know more about it than me?

On our return, I tried to emulate some of our favourite holiday dishes in an Indonesian spread for Senor’s colleagues who ran his business so magnificently in our absence – and the pork lawar, indeed, turned out to be the hit of the night with everyone. Sadly I don’t have any photos of it as we gobbled it all too quickly. But I  just used pork mince – no blood, you will probably  be relieved to hear – mixed with green snake beans and the spice paste and coconut. It had a lovely fresh green and turmeric-orange colour scheme going on, and tasted as fresh and vibrant as it looked.

The most time-consuming part is the spice paste, a version of which seems to be used for almost everything Balinese, or at least everything I made that night  (fish sticks, roast chicken in banana leaves, as well as the lawar, along with some stirfried kangkung and some bumbu- the lemongrass & chilli sambal Komang served with every meal). But after the paste is made, the lawar is really just a matter of a quick cook, squidge and mix. So my plan for next time is to make a giant batch of the spice paste and keep it in portions in the freezer, just as I do with chermoula, and then whack this dish together for a quick midweek burst of Bali whenever I get homesick for the sound of gamelan and the scent of tuberoses.

I ended up pretty much using this recipe from SBS Food, partly because I knew I’d be able to get all the ingredients locally. But I used pork mince instead of chicken, and also just dry-fried a cupful of coarse grated coconut (I keep coconut in the freezer, along with all nuts) instead of going to the trouble of cutting up a fresh coconut and roasting it. The result was great, so I don’t think I would do the hard-labour version anytime soon. Oh and I also didn’t find ‘lesser galangal’ so just used ordinary for the whole lot.

Now, any of you have a favourite Indonesian dish – or any dish you’ve eaten on holidays and tried to replicate when you got home? Love to hear more about it, or even better – give us the recipe.

It’s so nice to be back.

h1

Oh my dahling: my deskside devotion

May 12, 2011

Some of you may remember my ill-fated experiment with dhal many mooons ago – an experience that made me gag. Well, thanks to a fantastic vegetarian Indian cookbook I was sent recently, I have not only got back on the dahl horse but the two of us have taken to spending many long, loving hours together.

What I’ve discovered, you see, is that dahl – and my particular favourite, spinach – is quite possibly the perfect desk-side lunch. And what with all the structural editing and rereading and copy-editing and rewriting of my forthcoming novel that’s been happening lately, I have been spending more time than usual glued to the office chair, working away to meet the required deadlines. At times like these, as many of you know, nicking off to the kitchen to potter about making lunch feels way too guilt-inducingly like wagging school.

So after a few goes at making dahl from different recipes, and falling head-over-heels in love with it, one Sunday I prepared for a very intensive week of editing by making a giant pot of spinach dahl. Flavour-wise, I find it improves more with each day (even up to four or five days in). It has the comfort-food factor to boot: soft in the mouth, and deeply nourishing to the body and soul. I have eaten this dahl every day for lunch for almost a week, and not tired of it one little bit.

Once it’s in the fridge, the only lunch preparation required is a bowl, a couple of pings in the microwave, and a spoon. Except, I must add, the one crucial addition when serving is a dollop of spicy chutney or hot pickle – this is absolutely essential in my view.

Another great thing about dahl is that it’s so easy to concoct your own version. After once or twice following a recipe, now I just bung in whatever I feel like on the day, with quantities and textures and ingredients varying each time. I am sure there are some dahl purists out there, and if so I would very much love to hear your views on texture and heat and starchiness and so on. But if you’re a fan of the bung-it-in-and-see-what-happens approach to cooking, this could be your new favourite too.  This recipe is a result of combining a Madhur Jaffrey recipe and one from the Mysore Style Cooking book, I think, as well as a few others I read online.

This serves about six people – or enough for one novel’s intensive week-long copy-edit.

Ingredients

  • 3 bunches English spinach, thoroughly washed and leaves separated from stems. roughly chop leaves; keep the stems from one bunch and discard the others. Finely chop the stems and set aside.
  • 2 cups dahl – I used skinned and split moong dahl, but you could use any old kind of split lentil (there are so many different types of dried lentil, split and whole, that work for dahl – try a few different ones to discover your favourite)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 bay leaf
  • vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp brown mustard seeds
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 or 3 onions, finely chopped
  • 5cm piece ginger, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • green or red chillies, finely chopped, to taste
  • 2 tbsp shredded coconut

Method

1. Thoroughly wash the dahl in several changes of water, then add to a heavy based pan with 8 cups water, the turmeric and bay leaf.

2. Stir and bring to a simmer. Cover almost entirely with the lid and leave to simmer gently for up to an hour, or until the lentils are tender.

3. In a separate pan, heat a little oil and fry the mustard and cumin seeds over medium heat until they start to crackle and pop.

4. Add onion, ginger and finely chopped spinach stems, saute gently until translucent.

5.  Into the pan put the spinach, firmly packing it in if necessary, and cover.

6. Cook over gentle heat until the spinach is thoroughly wilted and shrinks right down.

7.  When the dahl is cooked, combine the contents of the two pans and mix thoroughly over low heat.

8. Add the remaining ingredients, adjusting seasoning and heat to taste, and continue to cook gently until you achieve the texture you prefer. Add more water if it becomes too thick for your liking.

9. Serve in a bowl with a dollop of hot pickle (this one is a standard Patak’s Hot Lime Pickle) or sweet chutney* and some chopped coriander if desired.

*My absolute favourite chutney in the world, first given me by our friend Caro, is this Roasted Cherry Chutney made by a New Zealand company called Provisions of Central Otago. Senor and I became so addicted to it that when we finished the jar Caro brought us back from across the ditch, and I learned my Twitter buddy and food fiend @Reemski was going to NZ, I basically begged her to bring some back for me. She doubled the joy by also bringing their Roasted Nectarine Chutney – lordy me, what a feast.  If anyone hears of a local stockist for this stuff, let me know! Otherwise next time I shall be biting the bullet and buying over $50 worth from their website (if they ship to Oz – not sure). 

h1

On the street: Shanghai snacks

November 10, 2010

The best thing about Shanghai for us was just strolling the streets, and clapping eyes on a new kind of street food stall every day. Lots of snack foods are sold from carts and barrows, and others from shops with windows into the street. Gives new meaning to the term ‘fast food’ – while there are lots of regrettable imports (think Subway and Domino’s Pizza, for sobbing out loud), these stalls are extremely popular with Shanghai locals and lots of anglos too. The several kinds of breakfast pancake were our particular faves as we strolled in the early morning to check out the 7am park life (thousands of people doing their own thing – from tai chi to fan dancing to shuttlecock, parks are a blur of colour and movement in China in the mornings).  Here are a few of our favourite street food things …. if you click on the photo you’ll get a larger version and a wee description. And hopefully if Hamish manages to drop in he might tell us more about these morsels he gets to try every day, the lucky devil.

Next post, hopefully some street food video!

h1

Taste, memory, chickpeas & Dorothy Porter

December 21, 2009

111. My Young Nose

Jerusalem has one delicious smell –

a fried chickpea
raucous savoury

cooked in tantalising mouthful balls
it sizzles aroma from grubby stalls

suffused with donkey and camel
my first taste of street falafel.

– From ‘Jerusalem‘, in The Bee Hut*

Dorothy Porter, the sassy, electrically vibrant poet and writer, died a little over a year ago. She was loved by many people; not just those who knew her, but her readers – and her students. I’m not sure if she taught regularly but many years ago, when she had just published a collection of poetry called Driving Too Fast, Dorothy Porter came to a university writing class of mine to give a one-hour workshop.

This was an important lesson for me as a young thing; not just about writing, but about sensitivity and compassion. I was in my early twenties, and most of the class were just out of school. But there was another woman, aged maybe about thirty-five or forty, in our class. I am ashamed to say she was pretty much routinely ignored by the younger people in the room. She was quiet, and seemed downcast much of the time.  There were occasional rumours about her being a junkie, and a single parent, but most of the time she was invisible to us. Except, that is, for the day Dot Porter came to class.

We did some writing exercise I now can’t remember, but it involved having to put some emotional truth on the page. Young people are not so equipped for emotional truth on the page, I recall from my own early writings and from much of what I’ve seen as a teacher. My own writing at that stage involved either still trying to protect myself from that kind of thing (truth, that is) and instead impress with my world-weariness or – sadly, I suspect, more often – I self-dramatised, exaggerating every workaday observation into Art, which at that age so often equated with Angst. Lyrical as hell, full of texture and colour and Beauteous Sensuous Detail but you know … lordy, I am weary just remembering it. Erk.

Anyway, we read our bits and pieces, desperate to impress Dorothy, who was kind and funny and sexy and generous. And then the woman we all ignored read; something simple – and if I had even paid it any attention, I would have presumed it dull – about loneliness. We rolled our eyes, if not directly at Dorothy, then at each other, or just in our own minds. And then I learned my lesson. Dorothy Porter rested her gaze – that powerful, thrilling gaze of hers – on this woman, and listened intently. Then she allowed a silence before praising the woman’s work. And then she said, looking coolly around the class at the rest of us, that throughout history artists had wrestled with the psychological and spiritual demons that this piece of writing – a truthful piece of writing – was showing us. And she turned her life-giving smile and warmth back to the woman and thanked her for her work.

A big, important, kick up the arse for young smartypantses, and I never forgot it.

From that day I was a huge fan of Dorothy’s, and was lucky enough to meet her a couple of times many years later, when I had published my own work. She was electric. Anybody who ever heard her read knows how the air crackled when Dorothy spoke. It’s what I remember most – the physical charge you felt fizzing through you when she read poetry.

A few weeks ago I went to the new Meanjin Dorothy Porter Prize announcement here in Sydney, where the writer Andrea Goldsmith, Dorothy’s beloved partner, spoke of ‘Dot’, as those close to her knew her, and read from her posthumously published new collection, The Bee Hut. This collection is pretty breathtaking. If you’ve sometimes felt shut out from poetry, as I occasionally do, buy this book. You will be drawn in and demolished by it.

The other day I heard Andrea Goldsmith (whose own novel Reunion is urgently on my must-read list)  talk about writing, about grief and about Dorothy, and read from The Bee Hut on The Book Show. The interview is riveting; her reading of Dorothy’s ‘The Ninth Hour’ is devastating.

Anyway – I thought of Dorothy Porter the other night, because I was making chickpeas for dinner. Not falafel – I tried that a few weeks ago and ended up with a miserable disaster as they repeatedly dissolved into a fizzy mess – but an easy chickpea fritter. It’s quite delicious, and holds together just fine. We gobbled up lots, and then froze the leftover mix for later.

Chick pea fritters – makes about 16 biggish fritters

  • 2 cans chickpeas, rinsed & drained
  • 1 leek, finely chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1-2 tsp cumin
  • 1-2 tsp ground coriander
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, grated
  • 2 baby fennel bulbs, finely chopped
  • ½ bunch parsley / coriander, finely chopped
  • 3 eggs, lightly whisked
  • 3 tablespoons rice flour
  • salt & pepper
  • rice bran or vegetable oil


1. Gently fry onion, garlic, leek & fennel in a little olive oil with cumin & coriander for a few minutes.

2. While that’s cooking, roughly mash chickpeas with a potato masher.

3. Mix together chickpeas, onion mix, carrots & fennel and herbs till well combined.

4. Add eggs, then flour, and mix well, then season. Clump mixture into a ball – if it seems too loose, add another egg & a little more flour. Form mix into flattish fritters.

5. Heat a centimetre of rice bran or veg oil in a non-stick pan over medium heat. When hot, cook fritters a few at a time, turning once. Drain well on kitchen paper.

Serve with salad and a dollop of yoghurt sauce: mix yoghurt with finely chopped dill or any other soft herb, a drip of honey and lots of sea salt.

* My thanks to Andrea Goldsmith for generously allowing the reproduction of Dorothy’s poem here.

Woops, forgot the Christmas Excess Antidote.

Try this one, which I found via stonesoup – food bloggers around the world do this nice thing each year,  called Menu for Hope, which raises money for the UN World Food Program. An excellent cause, I am sure you agree. Give it a shot – you can donate any small amount you wish, I think. I just did fifty bucks, which makes me rest a teensy bit easier about all the money our family is spending on lavish food this Christmas.


h1

Ay, carumba!

October 2, 2009

stephburritosThe Empress has ventured into Mexico – well, the kind of Mexico you find in Oz restaurants – in her column on burritos this week. I’ve never been a fan of Mexican restaurants, scarred by the country town one of my youth (sangria = headache, let’s just get that on the table right now), but I have to say this column had me almost ready to change my mind…..

Writes La Emperatriz:

Burrito means “little donkey” in Spanish; it’s believed the name comes from a similarity in appearance between this street food and the animal’s ear. It’s simply a flour tortilla wrapped around a filling and when they were first sold in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua in 1910, they were slim, containing only a couple of ingredients. American influences saw them grow to stupendous proportions…

Check out her recommendations here.

h1

Oils aint oils

September 27, 2009

olive oilThe Lunging Latino’s remarks on his fave Italian olive oil in this post here reminded me of a conversation with my friend C recently, where she declared, having read a bit on the subject, that she would never again buy Italian olive oil.

Apart from wanting to support local olive oil producers and reduce the environmental effects of transporting stuff across the oceans, she told me that Italian olive oils are subject to so much adulteration and fraud that it’s difficult to tell if you are ever actually getting what the label says.

This startling conversation sent me to a disturbing New Yorker article from a couple of years ago setting out the slippery olive oil adulteration issue in Italy. The upshot, according to this article, is that owing to some dodgy labelling laws, lax governmental investigation, corruption and outright criminal fraud, some of the biggest olive oil producers in Italy (Bertolli, Nestle & Unilever, for instance) have sold adulterated oil from other countries as Italian extra virgin olive oil and collected millions of dollars in Italian subsidies designed to support domestic producers.  Olive oil labelled ‘Made in Italy’ apparently may be Turkish, Tunisian, Greek or Spanish, and may just as easily be adulterated with hazelnut, soy, canola or sunflower seed oil and even artificially coloured green to look like olive oil.

A few unnerving quotes from this article by Tom Mueller, which is well worth reading:

  • In 1997 and 1998, olive oil was the most adulterated agricultural product in the European Union, prompting the E.U.’s anti-fraud office to establish an olive-oil task force. (“Profits were comparable to cocaine trafficking, with none of the risks,” one investigator told me.)
  • For the past ten years, Spain has produced more oil than Italy, but much of it is shipped to Italy for packaging and is sold, legally, as Italian oil.
  • The [criminal] ring, which allegedly sold its products in northern Italy and in Germany, is accused of coloring low-grade soy oil and canola oil with industrial chlorophyll, flavoring it with beta-carotene, and packaging it as extra-virgin olive oil in tins.
  • Zaramella, a garrulous sixty-six-year-old former businessman, has made oil from olives grown on his small farm in Umbria since 1985. He began to study olive oil systematically when he found that the local farmer who tended his trees had been cutting his oil with sun-flower-seed oil. “Fraud is so widespread that few growers can make an honest living,” he told me.

Do read this article, as there’s lots more in it than I can reproduce here.

So now I’m thinking I’ll take on C’s policy and buy local olive oil, which presumably is free from this level of adulteration and corruption (okay, so this move was also prompted yesterday by a rather stunning supermarket special of three litre tins of Cobram Estate EV oil for $20 – I bought two tins) – at least for general cooking, if not dressings or other special stuff.

But, apart from your own tastebuds, do any of you know how to tell a good extra-virgin olive oil from a dud? And how can we be sure that our own fledgling olive oil industry is free from adulterated or bogus oils sold as EVO? Would love to hear more from you all about this slippery issue …

h1

Empress roundup

September 21, 2009

Another bit of falling down on the job I’ve been doing lately is omitting the Empress’s last two weekly columns – ! – and now am annoyed that it seems I’ve left her fish and chippy one too late to find online and post here. Bummer, because we were with her on one of those assignments – to wit, fish ‘n’ chip morning tea at the excellent Greenwell Point F&chipper whose name I can’t now remember.

Anyhoo – her column of last week, on Sydney’s best Lebanese pizza – or Man’oushe – is still up and running here so check it out quickly before Wednesday when no doubt it’ll be down to make way for the next instalment!

And I promise to keep myself nice and up to date from here on in.