Glorious Assam Laksa to bring Asia to your kitchen…

I have always thought Asian food to be especially delicious yet forever imagined it to be ridiculously difficult to make in the peace and comfort of your own kitchen. A particularly rubbish summer cold paired with a recent leafing through ‘Vegan Street Food’ from former Masterchef finalist Jackie Kearney has drastically confirmed that while the first of those two thoughts is seriously true, the second couldn’t be further from the truth.

A traditionally sour soup based around fish sauce, chillies and tamarind and heralding from the Malaysian island of Penang, laksa is unquestionably a perfect dish if you’re feeling under the weather or simply looking for something beautifully fresh & fragrant to scent your home and delight your stomach with; it won’t blow your head off but it will definitely clear out the cobwebs and leave you feeling clean and utterly satisfied.

This version (which can easily be made vegan with a couple of tweaks) has a long ingredient list but don’t let that put you off; this is not the kind of soup you make once and then forever find half empty jars languishing in the back of your fridge for months after. If you cannot find some of the ingredients, don’t panic; my version was made without Kearney’s original inclusions of lotus root and laksa leaves and it was still incredibly aromatic & packed full of flavours.

Make it once; make it forever.

Assam Laksa aka Penang Hot & Sour Noodle Soup

INGREDIENTS (serves 4-6 depending on how hungry greedy you are)

Soup:

  • 6 red chillies, stems removed
  • 2 small red onions, unpeeled & quartered
  • 2 lemongrass stalks
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • vegetable oil (if needed)
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • 3 tbsp vegan fish sauce or light soy sauce with optional pinch of seaweed flakes
  • 2 tbsp tamarind pulp or 2 tsp tamarind paste
  • 1-2 tsp salt, to taste
  • 1-2 tbsp soft brown sugar or rice syrup, to taste
  • 375g fresh udon noodles or dried egg free yellow noodles if going vegan

Fresh toppings:

  • 1/2 cucumber, halved length-ways
  • 1 fresh lotus root, peeled
  • 1/2 pineapple (canned in juice is fine if no fresh is available)
  • handful of Vietnamese mint leaves or a mix of mint and basil leaves
  • handful of laksa leaves
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 birds eye chilli, finely chopped (substitute with ordinary red chilli if preferred)

METHOD

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  • Preheat the oven to 210c/410f/gas mark 6.
  • Place the red chillies and onions on a baking tray and roast for 10-15 minutes until they start to blacken at the edges then remove from oven, cool and peel the onions.

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  • Put the lemongrass into a food processor and add the paprika, roasted chillies and peeled onions.
  • Blend to a paste and add a little vegetable oil if needed; don’t worry if some of the red onion pieces remain visible in the paste – the end soup will still be delicious.

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  • Spoon the paste into a wok or a large pan and cook for 2 minutes over a high heat.

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  • Add the stock, 1 litre of warm water, the vegan fish or light soy sauce and the tamarind to the pan then bring it to the boil and simmer for approximately 10 minutes.
  • Taste and add salt, soft brown sugar or rice syrup to taste; personally I didn’t add any salt but a couple of teaspoons of soft brown sugar helped to balance out the stronger flavours in the broth at this stage.
  • If using dry noodles, soak them in hot water for 10 minutes then drain in a colander; if using fresh, cook as instructed on pack and set aside.

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  • To prepare your fresh toppings, use a teaspoon to scrape out the watery seeds of the cucumber before slicing finely into half moons.
  • Thinly cut your lotus root, blanch it in boiling water for 1 minute then set aside.
  • If using fresh pineapple, cut off the top and bottom followed by the peel then remove the core and chop the flesh into bite-size pieces.

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  • To construct your soup bowls, divide the noodles between your serving dishes.

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  • Add a selection of the fresh toppings then carefully ladle the broth over the top, making sure that the noodles are covered and serve immediately; top tip – if you find your broth still has bits of the paste in it, simply ladle through a small sieve into the bowls for an immaculately clear finish.

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Original recipe taken from ‘Vegan Street Food’ by Jackie Kearney.

Glow with health & feather your culinary nest in the heart of Marylebone…

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I’m not going to lie…stepping into Daylesford Organic is a little intimidating. Pure, spotlessly clean, white walled & wicker basketed, the blonde wood & glossy lacquered tables will undoubtedly have at least one group of Lululemoned yummy mummies sat around them while chipper, glowing with health waiters glide between tables bearing carafes of cucumber water and bowls of green leafage. Yep, it’s definitely the kind of place that could make you hover fretfully across the street as you wonder if they’ll actually even let you in…

…if they weren’t so genuinely welcoming & friendly from the moment you tiptoe over the threshold. Arriving early afternoon, we were offered beaming smiles & seats immediately – they were even helpful enough to hold a table for us while we hungrily perused the deli area where gorgeously golden & squat homemade sausage rolls were piled alongside platters of seed sprinkled wholegrains, enormous bowls of virtuous salad and crates of beautifully fresh, crayola coloured fruit and vegetables.

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Although lunch dishes such as lemon splashed Dorset crab on toast and the always comforting corned beef hash with homemade brown sauce cooed at me from the menu, it seemed unthinkable to be in a place so organically flawless & healthy and not indulge in their offer of 3 heaping portions of salad for £11.50. The Daylesford Chicken Caesar with crispy streaky bacon, plump golden-yolked eggs, crispy seven-seed toasts & Parmesan curls was excellent & the perfect combination of indulgent and wholesome while heritage tomatoes with nuggets of Greek style cheese and a zingy lemon & mint dressing were sweet & juicy and a giant Israeli cous cous tabbouleh with pale green broad beans and feta was deliciously satisfying.

Accompanied by a tumbler of fresh almond milk – surprisingly moreish – this was one of the most squeaky clean dining experiences I can ever remember having but, unlike many ‘clean eating’ establishments, this one didn’t leave me feeling out of pocket & hungry, just with a inexplicable urge to take up yoga…I gave in to the restaurant, I’ve yet to give in to the Lycra. One step at a time people, one step at a time.

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Once your appetite is fully sated, what better way to pass a little time than wandering the neighbouring shops & charming storefronts of Marylebone High Street? If you’ve ever lost hours of your life to the make-your-heart-beat-faster-because-they’re-that-beautiful kitchens of Pinterest, you’re probably aware of the location I’m about to divulge to you but if not, then listen up and listen carefully because I’ve some dangerous insider knowledge to share…

…there is a shop, a place, a land where those kitchens of your dreams can start to be brought to life…

…and they call it Divertimenti.

Stood quietly & unassumingly at the top of Marylebone High Street, this is a store where glowing copper pans nestle side by side with creamy painted Agas, chunky wooden boards stack up next to piles of gleaming silverware and quirky gifts to tickle the chef in your life sit alongside enough fabulous glassware to stock the ultimate Don Draper drinks cabinet.

The perfect place to start planning your fantasy kitchen – you will frankly want to bulldoze your entire current one and start again – this is also a knockout location for finding delightful gifts that are small on price but big on charm so don’t be put off by the aspirational window displays because if you need something for the gourmand in your life, this is the kind of place that you can’t afford to neglect visiting.*

*The author of this review can in no way be held responsible for the unexpected lightness of your wallet post expedition…

Re-inventing the (pea)nut butter of your sticky fingered childhood with a sumptuous almond adaptation…

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I love to cook. When I’m tense or fretful, time spent in my tiny, cobalt-tiled kitchen soothes me and when I see something that instantly makes me want to run out & get the necessary ingredients, it excites me. Be it lazy weekend cookbook browsing or throwing together something in a post-work pan on a Monday evening, well, exhausted I may be when I begin but after 10 minutes of slicing or sauteing or swirling, I can feel my shoulders relax and the cares of the day slip away into the realm of un-importance.

One of the things I get the most pleasure from is finding a recipe that instantly piques my interest so to do just that and then to combine it with writing? Well, that’s altogether splendid.

Food 52 is a website and online community that I would move into tomorrow if I could. Yup. I’d pack my little virtual suitcase with aprons and wooden spoons, my pasta maker, my champagne saucers and an avocado or two because, well just because.

Their belief that ‘how you eat is how you live’ translates into everything they publish, illustrate and talk about and I absolutely adore it. They make food and the exploration of it seem accessible and relate-able, lovely to look at and luscious to taste, so when they were recently on the lookout for testers for new recipes with coconut, I absolutely leapt at the chance and, not having attempted it before, the opportunity to try making my own nut butter – almond with toasted coconut to be specific – was an absolute winner.

A warning about the outcome of this recipe from Emily of www.nourishing-matters.com – it’s a seriously grown up take on the peanut butter you think you know. Velvety, decadent & luxurious, it tastes like it should be the result of hours spent toiling in the kitchen a la Betty Draper but in reality, you’ll need nothing more than the ability to hit ‘go’ on your food processor, leaving plenty of time to daydream about an elegant plate of creamy, nourishing, butter slathered toast or a bowlful of hot milky porridge, the butter spooned on top. Read More