I was giving my pantry one of its regular clean-outs the other day which, because of the length of time it takes, becomes a bit of a contemplative exercise. My mindless amblings led me to thinking about how our interpretation of ‘pantry basics’ had changed over the years. No longer a tin of ‘Keens’ Mustard Powder and curry paste, the basic flours and sugars, tomato and barbeque sauce, some Worcestershire, and maybe some basic pastas. For me, ‘pantry basics’ are now soy sauce (light and dark), Kecap Manis (Malaysian soy), Tamari (a thick Japanese soy), Chinese cooking wine, cooking sake, mirin, sesame oil, oyster sauce, sweet chilli sauce, fish sauce, teriyaki sauce, tamarind puree, palm sugar, Sambal Oelek (a chilli concentrate), 5-spice powder, saffron, star anise, coconut milk and cream, a range of Indian and South-East condiments and marinades, and a counter-top bowl with ginger, galangal, chillies, lemongrass and limes. I grow my own kaffir lime trees (for the fragrant leaves), and I know how to blanch banana leaves, and use pandanus leaves for flavouring panna cotta. Well, this is my pantry! My mothers would be quite different, I can assure you.
For most of us, stir-frying in a wok comes as naturally as barbequing did to our parents. We use noodle bowls, Asian tea cups and chopsticks – proficiently. We know the Asian names for soups and common dishes as well as all the Asian vegetables, we know how to cook Pad Thai, and the difference in flavour between Basmati and Jasmine rice. We have made it, literally, a new cuisine for Australia. And we love it.
We have been prepared for this by a plethora of chefs and restaurants – some Asian, some not. Leaders in the field of moving Australians forward to a healthy diet of Asian cuisine have been Les Huynh (Blue Ginger); Martin Boetz (Longrain); Luke Mangan (Glass, Salt, Moorish); Tetsuya Wakuda (Tetsuya’s); Christine Manfield (Paragon, Phoenix, Paramount); Neil Perry (Rockpool, XO), and have shown us that this can be one of the most exciting cuisines in the world. Other restaurants including ‘RQ’ in Darlinghurst, and ‘The Chairman and Yip’ in Canberra have made eating Asian almost an orgasmic experience. There is hardly a chef or magazine whose cuisine is not influenced in some way by Asian influences, from Jamie Oliver to Bill Granger to Donna Hay; from ‘The Australian Woman’s Weekly’ to ‘Better Homes and Gardens’ and ‘Marie Claire’. I would think that even the Asians themselves would have been shocked to see just how versatile their cuisine actually is, and how it all melds into a glorious whole. It is no longer good enough to mask food with an overload of chilli or coriander and call it Asian. It is all about the subtlety of flavours, and how they can be combined so that Thai is no longer just Thai, but with hints of Vietnamese, and maybe served with Soba noodles. Our palates may never be the same again. Some of my favourite Asian recipes are below, with credit given where it is due.
Chicken Salad with Fresh Coconut; (Thanks to Marie Claire ‘Luscious’)
2 tablespoons finely chopped lemongrass
1 teaspoon of grated palm sugar (or soft brown sugar)
200ml coconut milk
3 tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 handful of mint
¼ fresh coconut, flesh shaved (Bake coconut in 200°C oven until it starts to split (10-15 minutes). Leave to cool, then using a blunt knife pry the coconut away from the shell. Shave using a vegetable peeler.
100g snow pea shoots
2 Lebanese cucumbers, finely sliced
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
lime wedges – to serve
Preheat oven to 180°C. Make a dressing by combining lemongrass, palm sugar coconut milk and 2 teaspoons of the lime juice in a saucepan over low heat. Simmer for 5 minutes. Stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar, then remove from heat and allow to cool.
Put sesame oil and remaining lime juice in a small baking dish Add chicken breasts and toss well to coat, then cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely, keeping the baking dish covered.
Roughly shred the chicken and stir through the dressing. Add the mint, coconut, snow pea shoots, cucumber and sesame seeds and toss together well.
Serve with lime wedges.
Sang Choi Bao; (Thanks to Neil Perry)
Vegetable oil, for frying
100g diced blue eye fillet
100g diced green prawn
2 whole dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked overnight in water, stem removed, sliced
1 small handful salted radish, sliced
1 small handful mustard greens, sliced (use Watercress if mustard greens are unavailable)
½ Spanish onion, sliced
1 large tablespoon roughly pounded garlic and ginger
A splash of shaoxing wine (Chinese cooking wine)
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon palm sugar
½ cup bean sprouts
½ cup cucumber julienne (fine nslice)
½ cup carrot julienne (fine slice)
A few drops sesame oil
Iceberg lettuce, chiffonnade, to serve (very fine slice)
Heat the oil in a wok. Add the blue eye and prawns and toss well over a high heat. Add the shiitakes, salted radish, mustard greens, onion and pounded garlic and ginger.
Stir- fry until the prawns change colour then deglaze with the shaoxing.
Add oyster sauce and palm sugar to taste. Remove the wok from the heat and add the sprouts, cucumber and carrot. Toss well.
Finish with a few drops of sesame oil and serve on a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce.
Serves 4 as part of a shared Asian style banquet.
Chinese Beef and Asparagus with Oyster Sauce;
500g lean beef fillet, thinly sliced across the grain
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
½ teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine
2½ tablespoons vegetable oil
200g fresh, thin asparagus cut into thirds on the diagonal
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons julienned fresh ginger (fine slice)
¼ cup chicken stock
2-3 tablespoons oyster sauce
place beef in a glass or plastic bowl with soy sauce, sesame oil and two teaspoons of Chinese cooking wine. Cover and marinate for at least 15 minutes.
Heat a wok over high heat, add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and swirl to coat the wok. Add asparagus and stir-fry for 1-2 minute. Remove from wok.
Add another tablespoon of oil, and add the beef in two batches, stir-frying for 203 minutes or until cooked. Remove from wok.
Add remaining oil to wok, add garlic and ginger and stir-fry for 1 minute or until fragrant. Pour the stock, oyster sauce and remaing cooking wine into wok, bring to boil and boil rapidly for 1-2 minutes or until sauce is slightly reduced. Return beef and asparagus to the wok and stir-fry for a further minute, or until heated through and coated with the sauce.
Serve immediately with Jasmine rice.
Lime & Coconut Sago Puddings with red Papaya & Coconut Wafers; (Thanks to Christine Manfield ‘Desserts’, which has to be the bible for decadent desserts)
1 small red papaya
2 teaspoons strained lime juice
125ml fresh strained lime juice
125ml sugar syrup (a 1/1 mixture of sugar and water, brought to boil, then simmered for 5 minutes)
2 gelatine leaves
Bring lime juice & sugar syrup to a simmer in a saucepan. Soften gelatine leaves for 5 minutes in a little water, squeeze out excess water and add to syrup, stirring till dissolved. Pour through a fine sieve, and pour into 6 x 120ml dariole moulds. Set in refrigerator for 1 hour.
200ml coconut milk
125g coconut sugar, shaved (try Asian grocers)
2 teaspoons finely grated lime zest
1 egg white
Bring water, coconut milk & coconut sugar to a boil in a saucepan. Add sago and lime zest and cook over a moderate heat, stirring continuously until the sago becomes transparent and the mixture is thick. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Whisk the egg white until stiff, then fold into the sago. Spoon the mixture over the lime jelly bin the moulds, then refrigerate, covered with cling wrap, for 2 hours or until set.
COCONUT CREAM SAUCE
100g coconut sugar, shaved (try Asian grocers)
100ml coconut cream
Bring coconut sugar and water to a boil, in a saucepan, then strain to remove any impurities. Stir in coconut cream, then remove from heat immediately. Allow to cool before serving.
Halve and peel papaya, then remove seeds. Finely slice into 5cm lengths, then arrange a flat stack on each serving plate and sprinkle with lime juice. To turn out the sago puddings, suspend mould in hot water for approx 30 seconds, and turn out onto papaya. Spoon some coconut sauce around the fruit and lean a coconut wafer against the pudding. Serve immediately.
50g unsalted butter
45g liquid glucose (from supermarkets or chemists)
90g caster sugar
35g plain flour
15g shredded coconut
Melt butter and liquid glucose in a bowl over a saucepan of slow-simmering water, then stir in caster sugar, flour and coconut until well incorporated. Allow to cool.
Preheat oven to 180°C and line a baking tray with baking paper. Roll the cool mixture into small balls about the size of marbles. Press the balls of mixture onto the baking tray about 5cm apart, then bake for 4 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven and leave to cool on tray.
Pandanus Panna Cotta with Mango and Passionfruit; (Thanks to Les Huynh ‘Blue Ginger’, the cookbook that has inspired some of my greatest Asian banquets)
4 teaspoons gelatine powder (from supermarket)
70g caster sugar
1 pandanus leaf, tied in a knot
½ vanilla bean, split lengthways
400ml single (pouring) cream
2 small or 1 large mango
250ml passionfruit pulp (about 8 passionfruit)
Mint leaves, to serve
Put 3 teaspoons water into a small bowl and sprinkle gelatine over evenly. Leave to sponge and swell.
Put the milk, sugar and pandanus leaf into a small saucepan. Bring to a very gentle simmer, then simmer for 10 minutes to infuse the flavours, BUT BE CAREFUL NOT TO BOIL. Remove from heat and leave to infuse for a further 10 minutes. Discard the pandanus leaf.
Add the gelatine to the milk and stir until completely dissolved. Strain through a fine sieve and refrigerate until partially set. Whip the cream until soft peaks form. Gently fold the whipped cream into the milk mixture, and pour into 6 125ml moulds. Refrigerate until set.
Combine mangoes and passionfruit and mix well.
To serve, dip moulds into warm water, then turn panna cotta onto serving plates. Drizzle with the mango and passionfruit, and decorate with a mint leaf.’