an adventure into my cookbook collection: soul-searching, doing things differently & the truths I learn along the way...

deseeding pomegranates is feminine & erotic, unless you hit them with a wooden spoon...


Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Vietnamese style mango salad

As you may know, I watch an awful lot of cooking television. A recent discovery is ‘Luke Nguyen's Greater Mekong’ which focuses on the food of the areas around the Mekong River - going through parts of China, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. It is an area of the world I know comparatively little about, and it is fascinating. As Luke Nguyen is Vietnamese, I find it more culturally sensitive, and less excruciatingly touristy/voyeuristic than some of the other travel-based food programmes.

One part of the show that I found incredibly interesting was in part of Cambodia, where one of the local delicacies is deep-fried tarantula. They looked pretty terrifying, and apparently taste a little bit like peanut butter. Luke Nguyen explained that during the time of the Khmer Rouge, the people were starving and resorted to eating the spiders as a vital source of protein. It might be a little strange to think how what is essentially ‘food of our oppression’ could become a national dish – one might think that people would never want to eat that sort of thing again. But food memory doesn’t really work like that. There is the passover seder of course, and I’m sure a lot of the traditional ashkenazic foods were inspired by the scarcity and poverty of life in the shtetls and during the wars. I recently read that Japanese Ramen noodles have a similar heritage.

But anyway, this mango salad is nothing to do with oppression – it is just super delicious. I saw Luke Nguyen make a similar salad to this – also in Cambodia I think. This salad, and the similar version made with green papaya traditionally contain dried shrimps, and I am so pleased to have come across this recipe on Michael Natkin’s brilliant vegetarian blog Herbivoracious (see above) to inspire me to make a vegetarian version. I did however shred the mangoes in an authentic way (the most fun I have had in ages). Basically, you peel the skin from the mango, and carefully slice into it all the way around with a large heavy knife – creating little grooves. By peeling these grooves with a vegetable peeler, you get perfect strips of shredded mango. You could of course use a julienne peeler – but where is the fun in that?

About this recipe Michael writes: “Green mango (or papaya) salad is addictive. It hits all those sweet, tangy and fresh notes that wake up your palate at the beginning of a meal, or refresh it after a bite of spicy curry.”  

Serves 4 

- Juice of 1 lime
- 2 tsp sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil (optional)
- 2 under-ripe mangos, shredded into fine strips
- ½ red onion, cut into very thin rings and soaked briefly in cold water 
- 1-2 small chillies, finely sliced (I used 1 red one)  
- 1 big handful fresh coriander leaves, shredded not too fine (fresh herbs, coriander especially I find, tend to go mushy if chopped if they are still really wet from washing – a salad spinner is perfect for this)
- 1 handful fresh mint leaves, shredded not too fine
- 1 tbsp chopped salted peanuts (for passover, substitute with salted cashews)
- 1 tbsp crispy fried onions – you can either do this yourself by frying onions with salt until brown and crispy, or buy them ready-made in packets. Obviously I went for the packet option. I love these onions – they are also brilliant as crouton in soups or other salads.

Combine the lime juice, sugar, salt ginger, and sesame oil. Mix well to dissolve the sugar. Taste and adjust the balance of flavours if needed.  

Just before serving, combine the dressing with the mango, red onion, chilli and most of the herbs and peanuts. 

Garnish with the remaining peanuts, fried onions and herbs. 

Monday, 14 January 2013

Mars Bar Rice Crispy Squares

For as long as I can remember, these have been one of my ultimate favourite treats. Chocolate rice crispy squares are pretty standard, learning-to-cook-in-primary-school fare, but these ones really are the best. I think it is probably the combination of familiarity, or nostalgia, with the fact that they just taste so fucking amazing that makes them so magical. You may in fact not want to know the recipe, as it takes some of the wonder away - to be honest, if you give me enough cuddles and cups of tea I will probably make you some.

The old-school-y-ness of this recipe can be seen by the fact that the quantities are in ounces. With thanks to my mum for giving me the recipe.


The quantities couldn’t be simpler – you need one ounce of rice crispies and salted butter per large Mars bar. For a standard sized rectangular cake tin, use 4 ounces of rice crispies, 4 ounces butter and 4 large Mars bars.

I tend to double this – using the large rectangular dishes that are roughly the same size as one full oven shelf (8 oz. rice crispies, 8 oz. butter, 8 Mars bars).

You will also need some dark chocolate to melt over the top – approx. 150-200g for the ‘4 bar’ size, and 300-400g for the ‘8 bar’ size.


Chop the chocolate bars finely, and melt them slowly with the butter in a bain marie or large heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Be careful that no steam from the water goes into the buttery-chocolate. Once the chocolate and caramel has melted, you will need to take the bowl off the heat and give it a good stir/pound to break down the little lumps of nougat and create a smooth consistency – if you do this on the heat, the chocolate will be at risk of splitting.

When the chocolate mixture is smooth, quickly mix in the rice crispies and press into a flat, shallow cake tin/foil dish (as described above). It may look like not enough goo to make the squares chocolatey enough, but trust me it does.

Leave the rice crispies to set in the fridge, and cover them with a layer of melted dark chocolate when completely set – ie. the next day. Leave to set and cut into squares to serve.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Celeriac soup with smoked garlic

I don’t think I had ever even tried celeriac until I first made the Celeriac Sofrito at Rumi’s Kitchen, but now I am a little bit obsessed. I think that maybe it is because I feel a little like a Masterchef contestant every time I use it. This recipe is much more Masterchef-y than the sofrito, I suppose you could make it thicker and turn it into a puree – once you managed to get the hang of those artful little spoon-swipes they seem so fond of. It makes me wonder – do the contestants on Masterchef, especially Masterchef: Professionals, realise that everyone is making celeriac puree and spoon-swiping it? If I ever competed on Masterchef, I think that a tactic to winning might be to make something different to what everyone else was making. But that’s just me, and I love being contrary.
Don’t be put off by the smoked garlic – it isn’t difficult to get hold of. I found it in an Asda superstore in Bournemouth, two massive cloves in a box for £1.50. I’m keeping them in a ziplock bag for the time being, as the smoke smells incredibly intense. Their taste is much more subtle then the smell, and I really love it.
This soup is rich, thick and creamy, perfect for miserable weather days. I have been taking it into work for the past few days and it has definitely hit the spot.
Serves 4-6
1 celeriac, peeled and chopped into smallish chunks
1 large potato, peeled and chopped
1 large onion, diced
Cooking oil
1-2 cloves smoked garlic, smashed with the side of a heavy knife and chopped finely
1 vegetable stock cube, dissolved in a mug of hot water
2 bay leaves
½ tsp. paprika
2 tbsp. crème fraiche (optional)
½ tsp. dried tarragon (optional)
Salt and pepper
Boil the kettle.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan and sauté the onion or a low-ish heat for 5-10 minutes, or until translucent and softened. Add the garlic and paprika and continue to fry for another few minutes, stir regularly to ensure that the garlic doesn’t burn and become acrid.
Once the onion and garlic are softened and smelling delicious, add the potato and celeriac to the pot, along with the mug of stock and bay leaves. With the water from the kettle, top the pot up so that the veggies are mostly covered (make sure that you have some decent ‘islands’ of celeriac poking through the top – you can always thin the soup down later). Add a pinch of salt and bring the whole thing to a boil. Once boiling, allow to simmer on a low heat with the lid on for 25-30 minutes, or until the veggies are soft.
Remove the bay leaves and blend the soup until smooth. Add more water at this point if the soup is too thick. Stir in the crème fraiche and tarragon if using, and season to taste with a little more salt if needed, and white or black pepper.
For an extra smoked garlic kick, serve the soup with the following bready things:
Smoked garlic croutons or
Make garlic bread by mashing a smoked garlic clove into butter, or
Roast a few cloves of smoked garlic whole (drizzle with olive oil) and squash them into some crostini.
With thanks to Kerstin Rodgers and Xanthe Clay for suggesting these ideas over Twitter.