Posts Tagged ‘chilli’


Black Beauty

January 18, 2012

Why is the taste of smoke so appealing, do you think?

I love all smoky-flavoured things. Bacon, of course, and you may remember my joy a little while back at discovering the amazing smoky power of the chipotle chilli (which I shall be running to very frequently during Senor’s & my forthcoming vegetarian experiment for February – more on that later).  And smoked fish, too, is a thing of beauty.

But it was my dear pal Steph, aka the Empress of the Chickpea, who introduced me to the wonders of deeply charred eggplant and the big whack of flavour that results. She taught me to burn eggplants into blackened oblivion to get the best baba ghanoush, and it was she who gave me this recipe for a gorgeous Asian minced pork salad ages ago. I just found it among my emails yesterday and the memory of it got my mouth watering, so I set to with the barbecue. Lordy it was good.

I find it easiest to char the eggplants on the barbecue, but if you have a gas hob you can almost as easily (though rather more smokily) blacken them directly on the flame, turning regularly to get the things good and papery and burnt all over. During this time – when you may find the scorching stalks smell remarkably like a smoking joint! – the flesh softens and softens, turning into the fabulously velvety, smoky stuff that makes me swoon.

I have rambled here in the past about my love of eggplant in general … the fresh ones are so aesthetically appealing in their squeaky, glossy purple bulbousness, and that stunning white  of the flesh when you cut them open. But the charred babies have a different but equally stunning beauty, I think. Once the blackened parchment of the skin is removed, with the fruit’s stalk still attached, the flesh spreads out into this raggedly beautiful flare, like a dirty ballerina’s skirt. Is it weird of me, to think that I could look at this all day?

But enough hyperbole, lest I start to sound like Nigella Lawson (please, please tell me if that ever happens, and then tape my mouth shut – or break my fingers). Here’s the recipe, as provided by the Empress, who I believe adapted it from a Madhur Jaffrey version.

I used two medium eggplants which were heavier than 220g each by a long way, and I used double the pork mince because that’s the amount I had in the freezer (from Feather & Bone, natch, so it was deeeeeliciously full of free-range fat and flavour),  and I used only half the chilli because we are wimps, but otherwise the sauce quantities stayed the same. Oh and I used a bit of leek because I didn’t have any green onion. Despite all this bastardisation it was unbelievably good.

Smoky aubergines in a lime sauce (with pork) – adapted from Madhur Jaffrey

  • 2 eggplants each 220g
  • 4 tablsp fish sauce seasoned w lime juice (see below)
  • 1 med onion
  • 1 green onion
  • 1 tbs veg oil
  • 100g lean minced pork
  • Salt & pepper

Leave eggplants whole, including tops. Prick lightly w fork to prevent bursting. Barbecue til black with soft guts. Cool then carefully peel skin off. If eggplant falls apart a bit just push it back into shape on the serving platter.

Make sauce:

  • 1 clove garlic
  • 4 tbs fish sauce
  • 4 tbs lime juice
  • 3 tbs sugar
  • 3-4 small red or green chillis

Dissolve sugar in 4 tbs hot water from kettle or in micky. Add all the other liquids to that as well as all solids, finely chopped.

Heat oil in wok, throw in onion. Stir once then add pork, salt and lashings o pepper. Stir and fry for about 5 mins to cook meat, breaking up lumps as you go. Stir through green onion. Spread pork mixture over eggplants then top with sauce.

Steph’s note: “MJ reckons this serves 4, I reckon 2, catering for one slim eggplant per person. You ‘ll probably have sauce left over too which is yummy slopped over any Asian salady thing.”

So in the one I made, a larger amount still served 2 greedy people for dinner, with just enough leftover for one lunch.

Mine. Right now. Ciao.


Fear of tofu

November 20, 2009

Don’t get me wrong, I love tofu. In good Thai and Japanese restaurants, or when somebody skilled cooks it for me. Agedashi tofu is one of my favourite things in the world. And at our favourite Thai, the beloved Ploy, there are a couple of tofu dishes to die for – one stir-fried tofu with bean sprouts, and the other a divine larb tofu salad.

Tofu should be on our home menu more often as we are trying to cut down on meat for all the obvious and much-discussed reasons.

But when it comes to cooking with tofu, I am filled with anxiety. Which one, for starters? What is the difference between ‘silken’ and ‘firm silken’ and ‘firm’, for example? Recipes tend to say ‘firm’  or ‘soft’ but the shops seem to have zillions of different kinds. I am way too confused to master this stuff, and always expect it to fall apart, so have generally just steered clear.

However, yesterday I decided to feel the fear and do it anyway (which reminds me of stonesoup’s excellent post on that subject recently).

I decided to have a crack at a very delicious looking Karen Martini recipe that appeared in the Sunday rag a little while ago. But as hers had salted black beans and various other bits and bobs in it, and I couldn’t be bothered hauling myself to the Asian supermarket to get such things, I just bastardised our usual basil and chilli stirfry taught to me many years ago by our Asian gourmand friend Ricardo, the lunging latino.

The first thing I did was buy the wrong tofu. ‘Firm silken’ is not the same as ‘firm’, I discovered as soon as I unwrapped the former (pictured above, at rear). Lovely soft, wobbly stuff – but even getting it out of the packet made it start to crumble and collapse, and I had visions of a wokful of sloppy custard. So back to the grocer for a block of the hard stuff, easily chopped into pieces (foreground).

I dried and fried the tofu cubes first, then drained them on kitchen paper – then did the rest of the stirfry and then tossed the tofu back in at the end with the fish sauce and basil. The result? Pretty damn fine! So here is the befuddled recipe, which can obviously be mixed and matched and altered as you wish.

But before my next foray into tofuworld, I would love to hear from any aficionados who may be lurking here – I need your advice! Tips, tricks, which is best for what, other easy recipes, how to buy, store, etc. Come on: spill.

Pork & tofu stir fry with chilli & basil

  • rice bran / peanut / vegetable oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • small knob ginger, julienned
  • 1 block firm tofu, cut into 1.5cm cubes
  • 150g pork mince
  • 1/3 red capsicum, cut into sizable chunks
  • handful green beans, halved
  • 2 birdseye chillis with seeds, split lengthwise
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce, or more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar, to taste
  • 1/2 bunch basil
  • steamed jasmine rice, to serve
  1. Heat a little oil in wok or other pan to smoking point, then toss in garlic &  ginger for 10-20 seconds.
  2. Add tofu cubes and fry for 2 minutes, turning so all sides are golden.
  3. Remove wok from heat while you remove tofu pieces & leave to drain on kitchen paper.
  4. Return to heat and add pork mince to pan, stir frying for a few minutes.
  5. Remove pork and set aside. Either wipe out pan or continue with pork juices.
  6. Add chilli, beans, capsicum and cook on high heat till just tender – a little water added to the pan can sometimes help cook more evenly.
  7. Return pork and tofu to pan and stir to mix, keeping heat high
  8. Add fish sauce & brown sugar, adjusting each to taste.
  9. When you are happy with the seasoning, tear basil leaves from stalks and toss through.
  10. Serve on a bed of fluffy rice.