Lentil & Ham Soup

One of the first things my mother taught me how to cook was lentil soup. We ate it regularly as I grew up. I would ask for it constantly in any weather. Maybe her idea to teach me, was that if I wanted it all the time, I could cook it myself, thereby saving her a job! Whatever the reason, It’s still one of my favourites. So, as the temperature in Sydney cools for winter – it’s time for lentil soup. It warms every inch of the body and takes me back to bitter English winters where there was always a pan on the go. My mother’s recipe would see the ham hock cooked in the soup. I’ve slightly changed her recipe, in that I create my ham stock first before cooking the lentils. For whatever reason, the ham hocks in Australia aren’t quite as smoky or intense as I remember the British ones being, so the soup needs all the help it can get to draw out that salty bacon flavour. It takes longer, but it’s that flavour that makes this soup so special – so I’m happy I’ve struck upon this slight variation. She also left hers chunky, which I like too, but prefer to blend mine ’til smooth. Either way, you must make this etc…

For the stock:

1 ham hock (5-6 deep cuts in the flesh – to the bone)
1 medium onion (quartered)
1 carrot (cut into chunks)
1 stem rosemary
2 bay leaves
4 stems fresh parsley
2 garlic cloves
4 peppercorns

For the soup:
2 cups split red lentils
1 onion (chopped)
1 carrot (chopped)
2 medium potatoes (peeled and cubed)
salt & pepper

To make the stock:
Place all the stock ingredients into a large pan along with 3 litres of water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low. Cover the pan and simmer very gently for 2 hours. Remove from the heat.

Take out the hock and cool slightly. Remove as much meat from the bone as you can – set aside and discard any fat and sinew.

Drain the liquid into another large pan and discard the vegetables and herbs. Add the bone to the liquid along with the lentils, onion, carrot and potatoes. Place this over a moderate heat until just simmering. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, partially covered for 30 minutes until the lentils have pretty much disintegrated. Remove from the heat. Remove the bone and discard then using a hand blender, blend the soup until smooth. Season generously with salt & pepper before serving.

Serve with a little of the ham sprinkled over the soup along with some black pepper and a little drizzle of good quality olive oil or melted butter.

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Pear Tarte Tatin

I have always LOVED tarte tatin. A simple and amazingly sweet blend of fruit and pastry. Sweet and caramelised pears atop of a flaky, crunchy pastry. Much easier to make than you’d think it’s a great dinner party spectacular that can be prepared ahead and popped into the oven as and when. When it’s turned out, it’s guaranteed a ripple of applause and with the first mouthful guaranteed a sigh of pleasure from everyone involved in its eating.

Serves 2 (I suppose).

50g caster sugar
50g unsalted butter
3 medium pears (peeled, cored and quartered lengthways)
2 star anise
pinch cinnamon powder
1 frozen puff pastry sheet (half thawed)

In a small oven proof frying pan (about 15m width), heat the sugar and butter over a moderate/high heat, shaking the pan until bubbling and turning golden brown. Add the star anise, cinnamon and pears in one layer and shake pan to coat. The sugar and butter may separate. Worry not, it’ll all be fine. Let the pears cook for 10 minutes, shaking occasionally. Remove from the heat and cool for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200ºC

Using a plate that is slightly larger than the frying pan, cut a circle from the pastry.

Arrange the pears in the pan, outer edge facing down. Place the pastry over the pears and carefully tuck it around the edges into the pan. Prick the top a few times then place in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and puffed up.

Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes. Place a large plate over the pan and carefully invert the pan onto the plate. Scrape any syrup from the pan and spoon over the tarte.

Serve with a spoonful of cream or mascarpone.

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Vietnamese Deep Fried Fish

Every day I cycle around the inner West of Sydney. Most days, I pass the Sydney Fish Markets. Some days, I remember to bring the lock for my bike so that I can make a quick, red faced stop to buy fresh seafood for the night’s dinner. Today, an abundance of New Zealand snappers caught my eye. They looked super fresh and plump and weren’t expensive either. Fighting my way through the tourists I finally managed to get to the counter, pay and get it home, whereupon I cooked this delicious Vietnamese dish. Deep fried needn’t mean unhealthy. If the oil you fry in is hot enough, the fish will not be greasy at all. It will almost steam itself cooked around the hot oil. The results are crisp on the outside and deliciously delicate and soft on the inside. The aromatic marinade is the perfect balance, letting the fish be the star of the show, while still bringing a complex and unique blend of south east Asian flavour.

Serves 2-3

1 medium fish, I used NZ snapper. (about 1kg, gutted and descaled)
1 shallot (chopped)
3 cloves garlic (peeled & chopped)
2 lemon grass stalks (whites only, chopped)
5cm piece fresh ginger (peeled & chopped)
1 hot Thai chilli (seeds in, chopped)
1 tablespoon palm sugar (or brown sugar)
2 tablespoons fish sauce

500ml peanut oil (or vegetable, canola etc).
4 garlic cloves (peeled and thinly sliced)
3 spring onions (finely sliced)
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 lime (cut into wedges)

To make the marinade: Using a hand blender, food processor or pestle & mortar, blend together all the marinade ingredients into a smooth paste.

Make deep cuts diagonally on both sides of the fish to make diamond shapes. Rub the marinade into the skin and inside the fish carcass. Wrap in foil and refrigerate for 3-4 hours.

When you’re ready, heat the oil in a large deep frying pan or wok over full heat until hot and rippling on the surface. Drop in the sliced garlic and let this sizzle until turning brown, about 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Set aside.

Pick up the fish by its tail and with the head towards you carefully lower the fish, head first and away from yourself into the hot oil. The fish will fry vigorously. Using the slotted spoon, splash the oil over to top of the fish as it cooks. After 3-4 minutes, using a fish slice, carefully turn the fish over. Cook for a further 3-4 minutes until the fish is cooked through and the skin crispy. Remove from heat and carefully lift it out with a fish slice and drain on paper towels.

Place the fish on a platter. Combine the soy sauce and fish sauce and pour over, then scatter over the spring onion and the fried garlic.

Serve with lime wedges. I had mine alongside a delicious vermicelli noodle salad and Nước mắm pya to pour over everything.

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Tortilla Española

I love NOTHING more than a big wedge of Spanish tortilla at any time of the day. Eggs are my favourite – any shape or form but this classic Spanish tortilla elevates the humble egg into something quite spectacular. Soft potato slices and good quality tuna make for a spectacular, simple tapas creation that is an absolute must for any tapas offering. Given my own way, I would eat this all day, every day.

1 small onion (sliced thinly)
4 medium waxy potatoes (sliced thinly)
1 small jar of best quality tuna in olive oil
olive oil
1 teaspoon of fresh thyme or oregano
1 tablespoon parsley (chopped)
8 free-range eggs
1/2 cup milk
salt & pepper

Heat about 4cm depth of olive oil in a frying pan until hot, but not smoking. Add some of the potatoes but not all of them. Fry until the potatoes soften but don’t brown or crispen. Drain on paper towels and repeat process with the other potatoes.
Drain the oil leaving about 2 tablespoons in the pan. Cook the onions until golden. leave to cool with the potatoes. Drain the oil from the pan.
In a large bowl beat the eggs and milk well and add the tuna in flakes (keep the tuna oil), the thyme, parsley, potatoes and onion and salt & pepper. Leave the mixture covered for about 1/2 hour.

Preheat oven to 200ºC

Heat a medium, deep and ovenproof frying pan with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil from the jar of tuna until hot.
Pour in the egg mixture. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the base starts to brown. Place in the oven and cook for 10-15 minutes until the centre is cooked through. Cool for 1-2 minutes then using a palette knife release the tortilla from the edges of the pan. Place a large plate on top, then invert the pan to release the tortilla to the plate. Leave to cool slightly and serve warm or, my favourite, room temperature.

cut into bitesize tapas and skewer with cocktail sticks. You can eat warm or cold. I prefer cold with a dollop of fresh saffron alioli

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Saffron Alioli

If there is something I love more than anything it is eggs! They are so versatile – hot, cold, sweet and savoury – they are a staple I just couldn’t live without. One use that I make all the time is my own mayonnaise. I can’t go back to shop bought ever – the homemade stuff is on another level! This recipe takes my standard recipe for garlic mayonnaise (aoli, alioli – whatever you want to call it) and uses saffron to bring a bit of luxury and colour to the party. The creamy mayo takes on a wonderful yellow appearance and is beyond creamy and delicious. Last night, I was serving mine with some crunchy fried squid cooked Spanish style with paprika so I named it Alioli! There was plenty leftover, so the next day, for lunch I ate the rest with one of my all time, all time, all time favourites Tortilla Española, a beautiful potato and tuna tortilla that is just out of this world. The two are just made for each other… If you love mayonnaise, you will love this – I guarantee!

20-30 strands saffron
1 anchovy
1 large clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 cup vegetable oil & 1/2 cup light olive oil combined.
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar

Soak the saffron threads in 1/3 cup freshly boiled water for 10 minutes. Set aside.

Meanwhile, mash together the anchovy and garlic with the salt until smooth. In a medium bowl, mix this with the egg yolk, mustard and pepper until smooth. In very small amounts drizzle in the oil. Whisk until fully incorporated before adding a little more oil and whisking again – the mixture should emulsify and create a thick mayonnaise as you incorporate the oil. Towards the end you may add the oil in larger amounts as the mixture will be more stable.

Stir in the sherry vinegar and the saffron with the soaking liquid. The mayonnaise will become thinner and turn a light yellow colour. Check for seasoning and serve.

As I mentioned above, this is great with seafood, with eggs and I also love with hot boiled potatoes and some steamed asparagus. Heaven!

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Aloo Baingan – Indian Potato & Eggplant

The benefits of cooking so much Indian food, is that I am often left with lots of freezer leftovers. This means, with little effort, I can put together an Indian feast. What normally happens is I dig out one or two meat curries from the freezer, then cook fresh one or two vegetable curries to accompany. This eggplant dish is a regular. A comforting, wholesome dish thats’s easy to put together. It benefits from cooking until very soft. The overall texture rich and smooth and very easy to eat an entire pan of. Works very well on its own incidentally, with a naan bread or rice. Delicious.

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 onion (thinly sliced)
1 tablespoon grated garlic
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 small chilli (seeded and finely chopped)
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon chilli powder
2 tomatoes (chopped)
2 medium eggplant (cut into large chunks)
2 medium potatoes (peeled and cubed)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 lime (juice of)
1 small bunch fresh coriander (chopped)

In a large saucepan, heat the oil over a moderate/high heat until hot. Add the mustard seeds and cumin and sizzle for 30 seconds until the seeds start to pop. Add the onion and fry for 2-3 minutes until they start to darken around the edges. Add the garlic, ginger and chilli and stir briefly before adding about 1/4 cup water. This will avoid them sticking. Let the water reduce until everything is frying again then repeat this 1/4 cup water method twice more. Add the turmeric, chilli and tomatoes and stir well for 3-4 minutes until the tomato turns into a paste.

Stir in the potatoes, eggplant and salt along with 400ml water. Bring to a simmer then reduce the heat to low. Place a lid over the pan and cook for 30 minutes or until the potatoes and eggplant are very soft. Some of the eggplant will break up, this will help thicken the sauce. Remove the lid, and if needed, simmer the sauce for 5-10 minutes to reduce to a dryish thick paste. Remove from heat.

Squeeze over the lime juice, stir in the fresh coriander and serve.

Serve with Indian breads or basmati rice, on its own or as part of a larger Indian feast.

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Vietnamese Chicken & Coconut Curry

When it comes to curry in South East Asia, Thailand and Malaysia generally steal all the thunder. But that’s not an indication of some of the delicious stews and curries available in the rest of the region. Vietnam have many such dishes – one being this splendid chicken curry. Unlike its fiery counterparts of Thailand, this curry favours fragrance over heat with a mild but incredibly flavoursome sauce. I’ve made this dish without chillies before and must conclude, that it didn’t suffer in the slightest. So, if you’re not into heat spice, but want to try something different then this may be the curry for you.

1 kg chicken thigh fillets (cut into bitesize pieces)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon white pepper

Curry Paste ingredients:
2 lemon grass stalks (white parts only, sliced)
1 small onion (chopped)
5 garlic cloves (chopped)
3″ piece ginger (chopped)
2 Thai chillies (seeded and chopped)

2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 teaspoons palm sugar
250ml coconut milk
3 tablespoons fish sauce
Fresh coriander (for garnish)

In a large bowl, sprinkle the chicken pieces with the turmeric and white pepper. Stir well to cover everything then set aside.

In a food processor or with a hand blender, blend together until smooth the lemon grass, onion, garlic, ginger and chillies. Set aside.

In a wok or large saucepan, heat the oil until hot. Add the curry paste and stir well. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring regularly. Add 1/4 cup water once or twice during cooking to avoid sticking.

Add the chicken and stir. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring regularly to avoid sticking. Pour in the coconut milk, sugar, fish sauce and 250ml water and stir well. Bring to a simmer then reduce the heat to medium low and simmer gently for 30 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.

Sprinkle over the coriander and serve alongside jasmine rice to soak up all the delicious sauce.

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Beef Rawon – Indonesian Beef & Black Nut Stew

I was recently out shopping, and as usual found myself wandering around an Asian supermarket. I was killing time, waiting for the rain to stop, and started to pick random ingredients from shelves and throw them into my basket. $100 later, and I had a sizeable collection of mystery ‘stuff’. Once home I began investigating what I’d bought, and more importantly – what I was to cook with them. One of the finds was and intriguing vacuum packed ingredient entitled “buah keluak”, which, when Googled, revealed themselves as Indonesian black nuts. They are the fruit of a native mangrove tree and apparently very very poisonous in their raw state. “Good start!” I thought.

Once soaked and prepared (by someone else thankfully), they turn jet black and take on a kind of olive appearance. They are also safe to eat at this point – a bonus. I learned that they’re used in soups and stews with various meats across Indonesia and Malaysia. I also discovered they have a smokey/sweet taste. This dish ‘rawon’ (the name for any sauce cooked using this nut) is quite amazing. A deep, rich chocolate brown in colour suggests a heavy sauce, but it’s surprisingly light and fragrant. It’s a sweet, smoky and intoxicating hit which is quite unlike anything I’ve eaten before. It’s something very special indeed. End of lesson!


For the spice paste:
10 pre-soaked Indonesian black nuts (buah keluak)
2 lemongrass stalks (white parts only)
6 Thai chillies (seeds in)
6 candlenuts
1 small bunch coriander (root and stalks only) (leaves for garnish)
20 shallots (peeled and chopped)
1/2 tablespoon of fresh turmeric (chopped) (or 1 teaspoon ground turmeric)
1 tablespoon fresh galangal (chopped)
2 teaspoons shrimp paste
10 garlic cloves

Other Ingredients:
1/2 cup of vegetable oil
1 kg stewing beef or brisket (cut into large chunks)
5 kaffir lime leaves, torn slightly
1 tbsp of tamarind pulp (mixed with 1/2 cup water)
Salt & white pepper

In a food processor, or with a hand blender, or in a pestle & mortar, blend together all the spice paste ingredients until tick and smooth.

Heat a large casserole pan with the oil over a moderate heat until hot. Add the spice paste and stir fry (being careful not to let it stick) for 10 minutes until cooked and aromatic. Add the beef and kaffir lime leaves and stir well for a further 10 minutes, again making sure it isn’t sticking, if it does, add a little water.

Add the tamarind water and then pour in hot water until the meat is just covered. Bring to a simmer then reduce the heat to very low and cover partially. Simmer for 1 hour the season with salt and pepper and stir well. Cook for a further 2 hours or until the meat is very tender. Add a little water if the sauce becomes too thick. Once cooked, remove from the heat and serve.

I served mine with a fresh, crunchy salad, a boiled egg and some plain boiled rice.

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Chicken Kapitan

The one nationality of food that I crave the most is Malaysian. I just love the stuff. From the delicious soups, to stir fries, rice dishes and salads to the awesome curries and stews – I love them all. Sweet, spicy, sour and salty – a marvellous combination of spice and texture. This kapitan curry is one of the tastiest I’ve eaten. I normally make my kapitan curries mega spicy as that’s how I like them – I also have a chilli bush in my garden that’s growing like a weed and producing thousands of chillies at the moment, so I hate to see a good chilli go to waste. This recipe has been toned down from my original, but it still packs a moderate punch – about a 6 out of 10. You can scale it up or down to your own taste naturally.

Spice Paste:

10 small shallots (peeled)
4cm piece galangal (sliced)
4cm piece fresh turmeric (or 1 teaspoon turmeric powder)
4 garlic cloves (peeled)
10-15 fresh Thai chillies (seeded)
6 candlenuts
1 teaspoon shrimp paste
1 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1kg chicken thigh fillets (cut into chunks)
2 lemongrass stalks (bruised with rolling pin)
5 kaffir lime leaves
1 400g can coconut milk
1 lime (juice of)

Using a food processor or hand blender, blend all the spice paste ingredients together into a smooth paste.

In a work or deep pan, heat the oil over a moderate heat until hot. Add the spice paste and stir fry for 10 minutes. If it begins to stick, add a little coconut milk.

Add the chicken, kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass and turn up the heat. Stir fry for a further 7-10 minutes. Pour in the coconut milk, fill up the empty can half way with water and add this to the pan too. Stir well and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium/low and simmer gently for 30 minutes until the chicken is cooked. Remove from the heat.

Stir in the lime juice and and adjust seasoning if needed.

Serve with plain boiled rice or the altogether more fancy coconut rice.

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South Indian Seafood Curry

This is fast becoming one of my favourite curries. I make it very regularly. It’s one of the easiest and most fuss free curries I make. There are lots of ingredients sure, but there’s very little other preparation, and hardly any chopping! Unlike most curries, this one doesn’t have any onion, garlic or ginger. But you’d never know or miss them. The flavours are rounded, intense and amazingly addictive. The thin but creamy sauce works very well with all seafood – I have made it using chicken too and I have to say it just didn’t work. It’s much better suited to seafood. I generally use salmon or trout but this version with a mixture of seafood was exceptional.

3 tablespoons coconut oil (or vegetable oil)

Spice Mix 1:
10-15 fresh curry leaves
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
5 black peppercorns
2 dried red chillies
1 cinnamon stick

Spice Mix 2:
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons Kashmiri chilli powder
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 X 400g can coconut milk
1 large tomato (diced)
1 teaspoon palm sugar (or brown sugar)
1 teaspoon tamarind pulp

500g mixed seafood. Prawns (peeled & deveined), calamari (cleaned and cut into rings), fish (skin off cut into chunks), mussels (out of shells).
1 cup frozen peas

Fresh coriander for garnish

In a wok, heat the oil until hot. Add spice mix 1 and stir for 30 seconds until aromatic.

Add spice mix 2, the tomato and about 1/2 cup coconut milk. Let this come to a sizzle, stirring constantly to avoid sticking and burning. Stir this way for 10 minutes until the tomatoes have broken down and the sauce is thick and unctuous and the oil has separated.

Add the remaining coconut milk. Refill the can about 2/3 with water and add this too. Now add the palm sugar and tamarind and bring to a simmer. Add all the seafood and peas and cook for 7 minutes until fully cooked. Remove from the heat, adjust seasonings of salt & tamarind to get the right salty sour balance, then sprinkle over the fresh coriander and serve.

I almost always serve this curry with an amazing fragrant lentil rice called kitchari. The two work perfectly together.

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