Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Ai manas

Ai manas is this amazing Timorese chili sauce, made from hot little chilies, limes, and what else I am going to find out in the next couple of days and tell you - because, it is FANTASTIC. I would have to say it is my favorite chili sauce ever.

So a recipe for ai manas coming very soon and for now a couple of photos.

Sara at the market in Dili

Danilo chilling out on the verandah

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Lovely Lahane

So I'm finally getting around to writing something - things have been absolutely nuts this week with work... but I'm just loving being back here in Timor Leste.

I'm staying with an old friend Danilo in Lahane, which is a little bit out of the centre of Dili, in a gorgeous little house with breathtaking views.

The view from the verandah

It's been so good to catch up with old friends, cooking, eating good food and drinking good wine. Being all the way over in Sierra Leone, I really miss my friends. Spending time with them is so good for the soul.

We've been eating well - but this right here was a particularly stand-out meal. We bought two ice cream containers full of clams for two dollars each, and Danilo cooked them up with loads of garlic, chili, olive oil, wine and some salt and pepper. Amazing.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Why does plane food have to be so crap?

Just a quick one to say I’m alive and now in the land of the sleeping crocodile – Timor Leste. I left Freetown Thursday at 2pm and finally arrived in Dili on Sunday afternoon. Talk about a long trip and lots of crap airplane food. Which raises the question – why does plane food have to be so bad? I exclude Singapore airlines here – one of the few airlines that actually seem to care about what they put in front of you. BMI and Merpati (the other two airlines I flew to get here) are another story entirely. I did all I could to stop myself from gagging – just from the smell – of the Merpati food (which I didn’t touch just for the record). Fortunately, we had an amazing dinner last night, more about that later – I have to get back to work now.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Gourmet guards

I've never been able to cook the right amount of food. I have this intrinsic flaw and always, always, always cook way too much.  My mum is the same, so that's where it comes from I suppose.

There are four people that currently benefit from this flaw of mine - Sorie (the generator/maintenance) guy and  the three security guards that protect our house (although to call them 'security guards' and to say that they 'protect' is really stretching the truth because they're asleep most of the time and I'm sure if anything happened they would be the first to bolt, but we have them because everybody has them and if you didn't I'm sure you would be robbed to convince you that you really needed them).  Anyway, they're decent guys.

The dream team: Mohammed, Mohammed, Sorie and Thomas 
Don't you love the pink shirts?

So most days, they eat what we eat - Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Polish, Mexican - you name it, they eat it.  Given that the food in Sierra Leone mainly consists of rice and cassava or potato leaves and some meat if you're lucky - I'm sure it's quite bizarre for them to taste some of the things we dish up for them.  Every time we ask them whether they like it or not - we get the same answer "yes, good" so we're really not sure what they think....   But - the meagre salary of a Sierra Leonean security guard does not stretch very far, so I'm sure they appreciate an extra meal each day.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Vicky's fish soup

Around eight years ago I shared a house in Dili, East Timor (Timor Leste) with three amazing women - Sara, Tegan and Vicky. It was a shell of a house really, significant parts of it were burnt during the conflict but we worked on getting it patched up and it was home for us. We were all pretty poor - all of us living on a volunteer allowance, but I have so many happy memories from that time.

I'm going to Timor next week for a couple of weeks work and as luck would have it, Sara will be there at the same time. I won't get to see Tegan as she is in the Solomon Islands these days but I hope that I'll get to see Vicky. Vicky is Timorese/Australian and these days works for the Timor Leste government. She is an absolutely amazing and inspiring woman and happens to be a fantastic cook. Last night I made a fish soup, which was inspired by a fish head soup she used to make for us. I don't think my version is quite as good as hers, but it's close. It's light but tangy and so good for the soul. We eat it with steamed rice on the side.

For the fish soup you will need:

(serves 4-6)
  • A medium sized whole fish, I used snapper (cleaned and scaled)
  • 3 liters water
  • 2 onions
  • Small bunch parsley
  • A small strip of kombu (Japanese seaweed - optional)
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic chopped
  • 1 inch piece of ginger chopped
  • Bay leaf
  • 1 hot chili
  • 1/2 cup tamarind water
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Soy sauce, 2-3 tablespoons
  • 1 tomato
  • Small bunch coriander
  • 3/4 cup chopped spring onions
  • Freshly ground pepper, 1 teaspoon
  • Salt to season
  1. Put the fish, one onion, parsley, one chopped carrot, bay leaf, and kombu into a pot and cover with the water.
  2. Bring to boil and simmer for 5 minutes.
  3. At this point the fish should be cooked. Take out the fish and remove the meat. Place the fish meat aside. Return the head and fish bones to the pot.
  4. Continue to simmer the fish stock for another 20 minutes.
  5. In a frying pan, heat up the olive oil. Fry a finely chopped carrot and chopped onion until it almost starts to take on color. Add garlic, ginger and chili and cook for around 1 minute.
  6. Drain stock and return clear stock to pan. Add the carrot, onion, garlic, ginger and chili to the stock. Bring to boil and simmer for 10 minutes.
  7. Add the tamarind water (tamarind water is the water in which you soak tamarind in), lime juice, soy sauce and pepper.
  8. Add the chopped tomato and fish meat.
  9. Bring to boil. Adjust seasoning (you may need salt, extra soy sauce, extra lime - it really depends on your taste, I like things quite tangy).
  10. Add chopped spring onion and coriander.
  11. Serve on its own or with steamed rice on the side.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Zucchini spaghetti

Just quickly, I had to tell you about this recipe – Zucchini (courgette) spaghetti. We had it last night – and it was really good. It started out with two lonely zucchinis sitting in the fridge and me being too lazy to go shopping. I remembered seeing this recipe (or something similar to it) on Rocco’s dolce vita a while back. The capers, mint and the squeeze of lemon (or lime) at the end make this really tangy and delicious.

You will need:

Serves 2
  • Spaghetti (enough)
  • 2 zucchini sliced (not too thin, not too thick)
  • Olive oil
  • Small bunch mint, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons capers, chopped
  • A hot chili, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • Bread crumbs (optional – only if you have bread and are making them yourself)
  • Juice of half a lemon (or lime)
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Take a slice of bread or bread roll and make coarse crumbs by putting it into a food processor.
  2. Put a little olive oil in a frying pan and toast the breadcrumbs until golden brown (a couple of minutes). Put breadcrumbs into a bowl and set aside.
  3. Heat a little more olive oil in frying pan and fry the individual slices of zucchini in batches until golden brown and soft. Once browned place on absorbent paper to absorb oil. Salt the zucchini while still hot.
  4. Set the zucchini aside.
  5. Keep the remaining zucchini flavored oil in the pan (you don't want too much oil)
  6. Cook your spaghetti until just under al dente
  7. Heat up the zucchini flavored oil, cook chili and garlic until blonde
  8. Add cooked pasta, mix
  9. Add capers and mint, ensure everything is mixed through evenly
  10. Add pepper, lemon juice and salt if necessary.
  11. Sprinkle some breadcrumbs over pasta once plated.
Sadly, we were so hungry last night that we didn't stop to take a picture... so instead here is a picture of where I buy my zucchini...

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Hot and sour soup

In an attempt to alleviate some of our cravings and missing the many things that we can't get here and in response to statements that start out like 'remember when we used to live in a place that had restaurants, and proper food stores, and there were actually fun things to do and places to go, and....' well, you get the picture, I am now on a quest to learn how to make the things that we used to go to restaurants for.

In Jakarta, almost every weekend, as the first meal of the day we used to head to a Chinese restaurant. There we would have the most delicious hand pulled noodles in a chicken broth, dumplings and hot and sour soup.

While I'm a long, long way off mastering the hand pulled noodle, I reckon I've done pretty well in the hot and sour soup department. Last night was the second time I made this. The second time was much better than the first - in fact it was pretty damn good. This recipe is put together from about six different recipes I found trawling the internet.

For the hot and sour soup you will need:

makes 4 large servings
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 block of firm tofu (cut into small squares)
  • 1 dozen large shrimp
  • 1 cup cooked chicken (I used the chicken left over from the stock I made, you can use whatever cooked chicken you have, or alternatively pork or skip this altogether).
  • 8 dried shitake mushrooms (soaked in hot water for at least 30 minutes - reserve the liquid for later)
  • 20 dried lily buds (soaked in hot water for 15 minutes) (great if you can get them but not the end of the world if you can't)
  • 10 dried tree (ear) mushrooms (soaked in hot water for at least 30 minutes) (again, great if you can get these, but not necessary)
  • 3/4 cup bamboo shoots (canned are fine)
  • 6 tablespoons rice vinegar (you may need more to taste)
  • 3 tablespoons light soy (you may need more to taste)
  • Salt (to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 3-4 tablespoons of corn starch
  • 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper (you may need more to taste - this is the key ingredient, it's what gives the hot in the hot and sour).
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup chopped spring onions (scallions)
  • 1/2 cup chopped coriander leaves
  1. Cut the chicken, shrimp, mushrooms (discard the stems), lily buds and bamboo shoots into little, tiny square pieces that are reasonably uniform in size.
  2. Bring the stock to a boil.
  3. Stir together around 1/2 a cup of the liquid reserved from soaking the shitake mushrooms with the corn starch. Set aside.
  4. Stir together the vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil and salt in a bowl.
  5. Add the chopped chicken, mushrooms, lily buds and bamboo shoots to the stock. Bring to boil.
  6. Stir in vinegar mixture.
  7. Stir in corn starch mixture. The soup will thicken.
  8. Return to boil.
  9. Add chopped shrimp and tofu.
  10. Simmer for one minute.
  11. Beat eggs with a fork. Stir soup in one direction and add beaten eggs to soup in a thin stream.
  12. Stir in pepper.
  13. Season to taste - you may need to add additional vinegar, soy sauce and some sauce.
  14. Sprinkle chopped spring onions and coriander.
That's it!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Hungover gourmet

Trust the Japanese to find a karaoke restaurant anywhere and everywhere - even here in Freetown. Last night we went to what I thought would be a very subdued dinner to welcome the new head of the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in Sierra Leone. Kobayashi san is replacing Kuge san, who went back to Japan a couple of weeks ago. We were sad to see him go, but very happy that he left his sashimi knife - thanks Kuge san! We will definitely put it to good use.

The venue was the Jilin Chinese restaurant. The Jilin province in China is right next door to Korea so the food has a very Korean feel.

There was yakiniku (grilled meat), two types of nabe (hot pot), grilled shrimp, crab, and some fried rice.

There was also a lot of soju (Korean spirit)..

Which led to a lot of karaoke... right until the owners of the restaurant told us that enough is enough.

It was a lot of fun, but I'm not feeling so good today. There is only one thing that's going to make my head feel better - and that's a big, steamy, delicious bowl of pho ga.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Imported gourmet

As much as we try to use locally available ingredients, there are certain things that we can't get here that we would really struggle to be without.

The top ten things we crave, smuggle and beg our friends to bring back for us:
  1. Dried porcini mushrooms
  2. Mirin (sweet sake for cooking)
  3. Dashi (Japanese fish stock)
  4. Thai/Vietnamese Fish sauce
  5. Good cheese
  6. Good wine
  7. Good whisky
  8. Kewpie mayonnaise karashi (although I have almost figured out how to make this myself... getting close)
  9. Dill seeds (for growing and eating)
  10. Good soy sauce

There are many other things that we would like to have, but these ten are the things we most frequently crave, and, umm, if anyone is coming this way we're all out of wine and cheese....

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Canned gourmet?

Can one eat well out of a can? Or does canned food belong in the ... can? (to use a quaint Australian expression for toilet)

I certainly don't love canned food and if I had access to good fresh food I would stay away from it, but... here often I have no choice but to resort to some canned items.

There are things that come in a can, which are just completely shocking to me and I wouldn't go anywhere near them. Such as these interesting examples from the local supermarket shelf:
  • Chicken and asparagus pie
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Sausages in brine
  • The full monty (the picture on the can is all meatballs and sausages....)
  • Hamburgers in brown sauce
  • Pork and beans
  • Canned pork in natural juices
  • Beef chunks
  • Cheese....
  • And my favorite - reformed ham.
I feel sick just typing these out.

But there are some things which can actually be pretty decent. I often use canned corn, kidney beans, chickpeas, olives and tomatoes. Last night for dinner we had a baked artichoke dip and a bean, corn and chickpea salad with feta. By any standard, these were pretty delicious. The recipes are below:

For the baked artichoke dip you will need:

Serves 4 people as a snack
  • 1 x 400g tin of artichokes in water or brine (drained)
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt (or you can use mayonnaise)
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, more for sprinkling over the top
  • 1 garlic clove
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Puree the drained artichokes and garlic in food processor
  2. Mix the yogurt and parmesan cheese
  3. Combine all the ingredients
  4. Season with salt and pepper
  5. Sprinkle parmesan cheese over the top
  6. Put into oven proof dish and bake in a medium oven for around 45 minutes until the top is golden brown
  7. Serve hot with fresh bread, corn chips or carrot and celery sticks

For the chickpea, corn and bean salad you will need:

Serves 2 or 3 people as a side dish
  • 1/2 400g tin of chickpeas (drained and rinsed)
  • 1/2 400g tin of kidney beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 3/4 325g tin of corn kernels (drained)
  • Juice of 1 large lime
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons of feta cheese
  • 1 small hot chili, chopped
  • Small bunch of coriander, chopped
  • A dash of olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  1. Combine the chickpeas, kidney beans and corn.
  2. Crumble in the feta cheese.
  3. Add chili, olive oil, lime juice.
  4. Mix all ingredients together, season to taste.
  5. Add chopped coriander.
  6. Enjoy!