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RECIPE: How to Make Vietnamese Spring Rolls

How to make Vietnamese Spring Rolls Summer Rolls

Vietnamese cuisine is amongst the most delicious in the world. It is also amongst the prettiest. While most people think of spring rolls as being deep-fried, gỏi cuốn are actually served cold – at room temperature. In Western countries they are referred to as spring rolls, salad rolls or even summer rolls. They have slightly different names depending on the region of Vietnam: they are gỏi cuốn, meaning salad rolls in the south and nem cuốn in the north. Apparently they are called “rice paper” rolls in the central regions of the country, which is a simple description but accurate.

Gỏi cuốn comprise cold vermicelli noodles, salad, protein such as prawns or pork and herbs all wrapped up in rice paper, known as bánh tráng. They are usually served with a dipping sauce. Unlike fried spring rolls, these are really fresh and, like so much of Vietnamese food, full of flavour.

Makes 12 rolls

INGREDIENTS

For the Rolls

Rice paper wrappers (you can get these from Asian supermarkets)

100g vermicelli rice noodles

36 king prawns (3 per roll, or one more each if you are feeling greedy), cooked and peeled.

2 carrots

Shredded lettuce or cabbage

Handful of fresh mint and/or coriander (or a herb of your choice)

For the Dipping Sauce

2 tbs sweet chilli sauce

Juice of ½ a lime

Splash of fish sauce (or soy sauce for vegetarians)

HOW TO MAKE VIETNAMESE SPRING ROLLS METHOD

Prepare the noodles. Pour boiling water over the vermicelli and leave for 5-7 minutes until they are soft. Drain and allow to cool.

Prepare the filling. Shred the lettuce/cabbage.

Finely slice the carrot. There is a tool that you can buy easily in South East Asia which is a little like a vegetable peeler that juliennes the carrot. If you don’t have one of those you could use a mandolin. And if you don’t have a mandolin a grater will do just fine.

The packaging on the paper skins – and many other recipes – states that you only have to soak them in warm water for a couple of seconds. We found that actually some of them need quite a bit longer soaking time. (And some just didn’t go soft at all- those should be discarded, these are not crunchy rolls and will not only not taste very nice, they will have a horrid texture and be really difficult to roll.)

When the paper is super-soft and totally translucent take it from the water and lay it flat on a clean surface. The skins are much more robust than they appear.

Start placing your filling onto the paper. You want to place it around 1/3 to 1/2 of the way up from the bottom of the paper and leave about 2 cm space on each side. Because the papers are partially transparent you can take your time to make the rolls look pretty. To do this make sure that the colourful items such as the prawns, herbs (try to keep the leaves whole for extra prettiness) or carrot are on the bottom of the pile, so that they can be seen through the wrapper.

Add a small handful of vermicelli, remembering that less is more – you don’t want to overstuff the rolls.

Variation: We also added some slices of home-made pickled garlic to some of the rolls to add an extra zingy flavour.

Vietnamese spring roll pickled garlic

Now the tricky bit: the rolling of the rolls. It’s not as difficult as it might appear. Firstly, pull the filling together and fold the bottom of the paper over it, pressing gently into the filling so that the wrapping is tight.

Next, fold each side in towards the centre of the wrapper to form a little parcel.

Vietnamese summer roll spring roll

Then roll forwards to complete the spring roll, trying to keep the filling inside as tight as possible. The paper is soft so will stick at the end easily. When the rolling is completed, keep the seam on the underside which will also help it stick.

There are a variety of dipping sauces. A popular one is hoisin and crushed peanuts but we made a sweet chilli dipping sauce.

We used sweet chilli sauce, half a lime and a splash of fish sauce to give us that characteristic sweet, sour, salt and spice flavour. Just mix the ingredients together in a bowl. Then it was simply a case of serving the rolls, dipping and enjoying.

Vietnamese spring roll summer roll with dipping sauce

How to make Vietnamese spring rolls summer rolls

These are some of the tools and ingredients we used to make the summer rolls:

Please note that this post contains affiliate links. If you click the link and decide to make a purchase we will earn a small commission, at no cost to you, which helps towards running this site.

RECIPE: Vietnamese Pickled Garlic

We were in our favourite local Vietnamese restaurant recently and, while eating a delicious bowl of Bún Bò Chân Giò Huế – Beef, Pork Hock, Meat Balls in a vermicelli noodle soup (Bún means vermicelli and the dish originated in Huế, a coastal city in central Vietnam that used to be its capital), the restaurant staff brought out a jar containing pickled garlic to be used as a condiment. It was delicious – it added another dimension to the dish – a zap of sour garlic with just a hint of spice from the chilli infused vinegar. It’s a really popular condiment and apparently some of the restaurant’s customers will devour the whole jar when it’s brought to the table. We figured it probably wasn’t too difficult to make ourselves so we did some experimenting and, indeed, it’s a really easy recipe.

We had grown a bunch of garlic earlier in the year – planted in the late autumn we harvested it mid-summer. We also have a habit of keeping empty jars for preserving purposes, so had most of the ingredients and equipment to hand. It’s very flexible to make and the quantities in the recipe really depend on the size of your container. You will need a clean empty jar – you can use any old jar. Just wash it out thoroughly and fill it with boiling water, which will make sure it’s clean enough to store pickles, then let it cool down. Our jar was around 300 ml capacity.

Ingredients

Several bulbs of garlic (the quantity will depend on how large the bulbs are and how finely you wish to slice it)

Two red chillies

White vinegar (you can use rice vinegar if you are feeling decadent but the garlic has a strong flavour and we feel it would dominate the subtle flavour of the rice vinegar)

2tsp white sugar

1/2 tsp salt.

Method

Peeling the garlic is the most time-consuming part of this job. Garlic is one of the stickiest substances known to human kind but you don’t realise this until you start peeling lots of it.

Once peeled, you have a number of choices. You can keep the garlic cloves whole, you can slice them with a knife or you can slice them wafer-thin using a mandolin. We prefer the very thinly sliced garlic because when you add it as a condiment the flavour enhances rather than dominates the food.

If using a mandolin, be really careful. Being clumsy cooks, we use a knife glove which means that you can slice the garlic very close to the blade without risking sliced fingers. Bloody garlic pickle is not a good idea.

Place the sliced garlic, slice the chillies and add everything to the jar.

Top up with the vinegar. Add the sugar and salt.

Shake the jar.

Leave to infuse for at least a week. The pickled garlic will last for months… but is likely to get scoffed much sooner. Also, because the vinegar is acidic you can add additional sliced garlic or another chilli as you use up the existing condiment.

Although this dish goes really well with Phở and Bún Huế dishes, we’ve also used it to add a bit of zing to Vietnamese summer rolls.

And this condiment isn’t just for Vietnamese cookery. We use this pickle to garnish soups – this is a home-made vegetable soup.

Or it can be used in a meat dish – these are glazed pork belly bites. Just a slice or two atop really cuts through the richness of the meat.

This is the mandolin we use. It’s adjustable so you can get different thicknesses of slicing and you can julienne vegetables as well. The cut-resistant knife gloves are excellent and have saved us from multiple sliced fingers over the years.

Please note that this post contains some affiliate links. If you click the link and decide to make a purchase we will earn a small commission, at no cost to you, which helps towards running this site.

RECIPE – Kabocha Korroke – Pumpkin Croquettes

Kabocha is a type of squash, often called a Japanese pumpkin. It is small-medium in size (around 25-30cm diameter). Its flesh is bright orange which contrasts beautifully with its dark green skin. They are also pretty easy to grow. And it is a truth universally acknowledged that home-grown vegetables are always more delicious than shop bought ones.

This year we grew three of the beauties in our little garden and the very first thing we wanted to make once harvested, was ‘korroke’, a Japanese version of croquettes (the word is spelled in katakana, the phonetic alphabet used for words of international origin). It’s the sort of dish that you would find in a Japanese izakaya (a bar that sells alcohol and tasty snacks/small dishes). They are simple to make and utterly scrumptious. Here’s our recipe for Kabocha Korroke – Pumpkin Croquettes:

INGREDIENTS

1 kabocha pumpkin. If you can’t get a kabocha, other squash can be used. Pumpkin might be a bit too squishy but something like a butternut squash would work well.

1 egg (vegans can use corn starch mixed with warm water in an approximate ratio of 1:3)

50g (approx) Plain flour

50g (approx) Panko breadcrumbs

Pinch of salt

Oil for frying/spray oil for baking

Tonkatsu sauce to eat with (Brown sauce will work well if you can’t get tonkatsu)

METHOD

Cut the pumpkin in half and then into slices. Remove the seeds (we kept loads of seeds and dried them so that we can sow them next year).

Arrange the slices into a steaming bowl. We tend to use the Asian style bamboo baskets as they stack very nicely and can just sit on top of a saucepan of boiling/simmering water.

Steam for around 15 minutes or until the pumpkin is soft – a knife should easily sink into the flesh. (If you don’t have a steamer you can bake the pumpkin slices in the oven for around 40 minutes.)

Although the skin of the kabocha is edible, for the purposes of the korroke it is best to remove it. (You can treat yourself to pumpkin skin snacks – once they have cooled down a bit – while you continue the preparation.)

Add a pinch of salt and mash the pumpkin using a potato masher. It is possible to add other flavourings at this stage if you wish. Some recipes add sautéed onions, others lashings of butter, yet others include shichimi (Japanese seven spice mix). We just seasoned with the salt, which brings out the natural flavour of the kabocha, in this instance.

Form into patties.

Panko are Japanese breadcrumbs. They are crispy and super dry, usually made from white bread. You can buy panko in most supermarkets these days but ordinary breadcrumbs will be fine if you can’t find them. Set out three bowls. One for flour, one for an egg, lightly beaten, and one for the panko.

Dip each patty in the flour, then the egg, then the panko. This process can get a little messy (especially if you are a clumsy cook). Do not attempt to take photos using your phone if you have sticky fingers.

There are several options for cooking. Bear in mind that the pumpkin is already cooked so the korroke don’t need long. We’ve recently invested in an air fryer so thought we would use that. Just spray the patties with oil and cook at 190C for 4 minutes on each side. You can also bake them in the oven for about 8 minutes. Or you can fry them the old-fashioned way in vegetable oil for a couple of minutes on each side or until the panko are golden.

Then it’s time to scoff! Korroke are often served with tonkatsu sauce. This is a sweet and tangy sauce that perfectly complements the pumpkin. If you can’t find tonkatsu, brown sauce (the type you eat with a cooked breakfast) is a good substitution. Other accompaniments can include mayo or a soy based dipping sauce. Best served with a nice, cold beer. Or two.

Go With The Sloe – How to Make Sloe Gin

It’s autumn in the UK, which means it’s the perfect season for foraging for fruit and mushrooms in the countryside. We are lucky to have many sloe (blackthorn) bushes in our local area and one of our favourite things to do at this time of year is to make sloe gin. It’s a really easy process but just needs a little patience. Here’s a flow chart – or, if you will, sloe chart – to show you how to make it:

This is what the colour of the sloe gin will look like after around three months.

Cheers!

Postscript – sloe gin is also great if you pop the bottle into the freezer for a couple of hours. The alcohol doesn’t freeze but becomes slightly syrupy. It’s delicious.

RECIPE: Thai Green Curry

Thailand’s famous curries are amongst our all-time favourites. Kaeng khiao wan is a sweet green curry, kaeng phet is a hot red curry. It’s generally the chillies that determine the colour of the curry, although the milder yellow curry, kaeng kari, uses turmeric. Other popular curries include Massaman (which has Indian and Malay influences in its spicing), Panang (another Malay influence with peanuts as a key ingredient) and sour curry, kaeng som, (which has a more soupy consistency with lime and turmeric being important flavourings). Another, less well known, dish that uses both coconut milk and coconut cream is tom kah gai – chicken and galangal in a coconut milk soup.

Thai green curry is probably the dish we cook and eat most often at home. It’s easy to make and utterly delicious. Its translation means ‘curry green sweet’ – the green chillies comprise a significant part of the paste, which forms the base of the flavour, but this curry is slightly sweeter than other types of Thai curry. Some recipes call for a small amount of sugar to be added, others rely on the natural sweetness of the coconut milk. The flavour components revolve around green chillies, galangal, lemongrass, garlic, shallots, kaffir lime zest and coriander all blended together to form a thick, fragrant paste.

The curries are also remarkably easy to make. One thing that’s worth noting is that it is not at all shameful if you don’t make your curry paste. Even though you can get the ingredients and a blender and produce a paste that suits your particular taste, you will often see huge mounds of curry paste in Thai markets ready made for the locals to buy and use. This was an enormous pile of red paste in a market on the outskirts of Bangkok.

Many supermarkets stock good quality paste these days (as opposed to weaker versions aimed at western markets).

We’ve been using Mae Ploy for years as you can get it in industrial sized tubs which will give you several portions and it lasts for ages (store it in the fridge once opened). Although, to be fair, it doesn’t usually last very long in our household.

There are approximately three million recipes for Thai curry on the internet. Here’s ours:

INGREDIENTS

500g chicken thighs, chopped into pieces (thigh meat is definitely recommended over breast meat as it has so much more flavour). Beef and pork also work well with this curry.

Handful of julienned vegetables – e.g. bell peppers, chillies, bamboo shoots, baby aubergine (vegetarians can use these in greater quantities instead of the meat).

A good dollop of green curry paste to suit your preferred level of spicy heat.

1 can of coconut milk.

Splash of fish sauce (probably around a tablespoon).

Bunch of Thai basil (Thai basil is very different to Mediterranean basil), chopped.

A lime.

METHOD

Put a small amount of oil into a pan and add the curry paste. It’s really up to you how much paste to add – if you like more spice, then add more, if you prefer a milder curry, add less. Fry it off to a couple of minutes then add the coconut milk.

Add the raw chicken and bring to the boil.

Then turn the heat down and let the chicken simmer for around 15 minutes.

Add the vegetables and allow them to cook. Add the fish sauce and Thai basil. Allow to simmer for a few more minutes.

We often add a spritz of lime juice at the end (always at the end) to add some zing.

Serve with jasmine rice.

Scoff. Serves four.

Variations: One of the marvellous things about Thai cuisine is that it has a wonderful combination of sweet, sour, salt and hot flavours. Some Thai green curry recipes incorporate a couple of tablespoons of palm sugar (brown sugar can be substituted if palm sugar isn’t available) to the sauce. If you have a sweet tooth you can add it in as an option, although we don’t as we tend to prefer the sour flavours that the lime offers. This recipe is very flexible in terms of you being able to tailor it to your own palette: the coconut milk gives you sweetness (but you can add sugar if you want more), the curry paste gives heat, the fish sauce provides salt and the lime gives the sour flavours – perfect seasoning.

RECIPE: Dashi

Dashi is a Japanese soup stock which is really easy to make and very delicious indeed. It is a fundamental component of many Japanese dishes, such as miso soup, surinagashi and noodle dishes such as ramen and udon. It’s a very simple stock but provides a huge amount of flavour and definitely puts the “mmm” into umami, the fifth flavour. You can buy instant powdered dashi and just add water but if you can find the ingredients in your local Asian supermarket it’s really not much effort to make. The process is very simple and much quicker than traditional stock making in European cuisines, which generally require ingredients such as meat, vegetables and herbs to be boiled for several hours.

Dashi usually only uses a couple of ingredients. The dashi we made used konbu (kelp – a seaweed) and katsuobushi (bonito flakes, which are skipjack tuna flakes that have been simmered and smoked, then dried in the sun to ferment and finally shaved to wafer thin slices). Katsuobushi, like many fermented fish products (think nam pla – fish sauce from Thailand), smells somewhat stinky and rather unpleasant when you open the packet, but somehow it adds a magical quality to the finished stock. Other dashi ingredients could include dried shiitake mushrooms or dried anchovies.

INGREDIENTS

3 sheets of kombu kelp seaweed

40g bonito flakes

OR

5 dehydrated shiitake mushrooms (for vegetarian or vegan version)

1 litre of water

METHOD

Make the dashi: Put kombu and bonito flakes (or shiitake mushrooms) into a saucepan of water.

Bring to a simmer. Skim off any froth.

After 15 minutes, turn off the heat. You should have a clear broth

Sieve the solids from the broth.

Keep the solid ingredients. You can dry these out and use them again to make a secondary dashi.

Please note that this post contains affiliate links. If you click the link and decide to make a purchase we will earn a small commission, at no cost to you, which helps towards running this site.

Stilton Crazy After All These Years

Melton Mowbray is a small town in Leicestershire in the English Midlands which, without wishing to be unfair, doesn’t really have any remarkable features. However it is known for being a foodie town. It is home of the Melton Mowbray pork pie and has a local creamery that makes Stilton cheese.

Stilton cheese comes in two varieties – white and blue –  although the blue cheese is probably the best known these days. It is often referred to as the “king of the blues,” and is likely to have been produced before the 18th century, but probably not in the form we now know it. Indeed in 1724 Daniel Defoe, when travelling through the Cambridgeshire town of Stilton, noted the location to be “famous for its cheese.” Its popularity grew over the years and producers got together in the early 20th century to specify production methods and to protect the origin of the cheese. Stilton is a geographically protected food and is only made in three counties in England… Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire. Ironically, because the village of Stilton is located in Cambridgeshire any cheese made there can’t officially be called Stilton.

There is a very comprehensive history of the cheese here.

You know sometimes, you just have bad luck when you’re on the road? When we visited Melton Mowbray’s market (whilst having a brief break from our canoe building holiday) both the pork pie and the cheese shop were closed. So we just had to go back home and make our own cheese.

The amazing thing about cheesemaking is that it largely starts off in the same way – add a culture to milk, warm it up a bit, add rennet so that it coagulates, separating the solid curds (which will form the cheese) from the liquid whey. It’s the things that you do with the curds subsequently – salting, cutting, pressing, resting, stretching, brining, maturing – that offer such a rich variety of possibilities for the finished cheese.

Cheesemaker Gavin Webber’s site is a fantastic resource. His video recipes are clear and concise but with enough detail to give you confidence to start serious cheesemaking. Here is our attempt at Stilton style. We have to say Stilton style because although we live in the English Midlands we aren’t close enough for our cheese to be able to count. So we’ve called ours Stiltonesque.

This Stiltonesque is a blue cheese, creamy and with lovely veins of sharp blue flavour running through the cheese.

First of all we cleaned all the equipment thoroughly (generally boiling water on equipment is enough to sterilise it) and added 5 litres of organic full fat milk. One of the elements that makes this style of cheese so luxurious is its creaminess which is thanks to the 500ml double cream that we added to the milk.

We put the Penicillium Roqueforti mould powder into the milk and stirred gently for two minutes. This is the bacteria that ensures that blue cheese develops those deliciously tangy blue veins that run through the cheese after it has matured.

Then the milk was gently brought to temperature – 30deg. It’s possible to do this by heating the milk on the hob (very slowly, so as not to burn the bottom of the pan) but if you are serious about cheesemaking it could be worth considering investing in a sous vide (£). This is definitely a non-essential kitchen gadget but it is very cool and can be used for other purposes such as cooking steak in a vacuum pack. The great thing about the sous vide for cheesemaking is that it has a heating element and immersion circulator which stirs the milk, heating it evenly. You can also set a target temperature and it beeps reassuringly when you’ve reached the correct heat level.

Then we added the culture, stirred for a minute and left for half an hour. We’ve found that if you place a tea towel over the pan it does manage to retain the heat pretty well.

Then we added rennet in water and gently stirred it in. The cheese then needed to sit for an hour and a half. Unfortunately at this stage we had some trouble with the rennet – it just didn’t want to coagulate the cheese. A quick internet search revealed that we should try to add a little more rennet and wait a bit longer. If you add too much rennet the cheese can start to taste bitter but then, if you’ve bought the milk, starter and Penicillium Roqueforti you might as well try to continue. So we did.

We did, somewhat later than expected, get a good break (phew!), so ladled the curds into cheesecloth lined colander.

We kept the bowl of whey under the colander to let the curds sit in the whey for around an hour and a half.

Then we scooped up the cheesecloth and roll the curds into a ball. Let whey drip for 30 mins. Our set-up was a bit Heath Robinson – we tied the cheesecloth around an old broom handle and let the remaining whey drip off in the garden.

Then the Stiltonesque needed to be wrapped very tightly for a further drain and to compress the curds. We put a board on top of the wrapped curds then filled up milk bottles with water to place on top of board. We left this overnight and this process pressed most of whey away.

The following morning we opened up the cheesecloth in a colander, broke up the cheese into pieces and added cheese salt, mixing thoroughly.

Then a plastic mould was lined with a sterilised j-cloth, and the curds packed in. We covered the cheese and flipped a couple of times. The cheeses had a very satisfying schlurp sound as they emerged from the mould and, importantly, maintained their shape well through the turning process. We flipped every 15 mins for 2 hours, then let the cheese sit in the mould overnight. Over the next few days we turned the cheese four times each day.

After the fourth day, with hands duly sprayed with white vinegar to ensure they were extra clean, we smoothed the cheese over to try to remove any cracks. The next stage is very important in obtaining that characteristic blue veining. Using a metal cheese thermometer, we (gently) stabbed the cheese.

Then the cheese was placed onto a mat and put into a cave. A cheese cave sounds hugely exotic. Sadly we don’t have ancient caves inside which cheese can be matured at the bottom of our garden in the UK Midlands – the closest we would get is a coal mine in this area! – so our cheese cave is actually a wine fridge, which can maintain a warmer temperature than a conventional fridge. We matured the cheese, turning every couple of days for the first week or so, for four months.

When you undertake long-term foodie experiments (such as making miso) there’s always a bit of trepidation when trying the finished product. Fortunately our Stiltonesque turned out to be a complete success. Cutting through the cheese, there were lovely blue veins.

The cheese was creamy with a lovely salty flavour and characteristic tang from the blue. It didn’t last long…

Cheesemaking is a fascinating process. There’s a lot of frantic activity followed by a lot of waiting while making the cheese itself and then there’s the anticipation of waiting several months for the finished result as it matures. But it is a very satisfying thing to be able to do, especially if the finished product works out.

You can buy cheesemaking equipment from a multitude of online emporia. There are beginners’ cheese kits – definitely recommended if you are just starting out – as well as equipment such as presses for more advanced cheeses. But you can also get by if you cobble together bits and pieces in your house – it’s amazing how you can convert ordinary kitchen utensils into cheesemaking tools.

Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, annotated by a (£). If you click the link and decide to make a purchase we will earn a small commission, at no cost to you, which helps towards running this site.

RECIPE: Moo Larb

Moo Larb is the perfect dish for a hot summer’s day. It’s incredibly easy to make and really refreshing. It’s kind of a meat salad which hails from South East Asia; we first tried it in Lao but have also eaten it in Thailand, and quickly became hooked. Even better, all the ingredients are really easy to find in our home country. There’s a tiny bit of preparation needed prior to assembling the dish, so worth thinking about making it ahead of time. The following recipe will easily feed four as a starter or two hungry people.

INGREDIENTS

300g pork mince. Chicken mince also works really well and quorn mince provides a nice vegetarian alternative. Lamb isn’t recommended as it’s quite fatty and the fat tends to congeal a little which doesn’t provide a very nice texture.

1 large red onion (or 2 small)

Generous handful of fresh mint

Generous handful of fresh coriander

Freshly milled black pepper

2 limes

Generous splash of fish sauce (vegetarians can use veggie fish sauce or a combination of soy sauce and vinegar) – around half a tablespoon

Optional: chilli flakes, toasted rice, teaspoon of sugar, Thai basil leaves for garnish

METHOD

You need to allow enough time for the mince to cook and cool before assembling the dish. Its’ the perfect ‘make in advance’ dish.

Cook the mince. Pour a little oil into a pan and fry until the meat is cooked through. Allow it to cool.

Finely chop the onion, coriander and mint.

Add the fish sauce, lime juice and black pepper to taste. We really like coarsely ground black pepper so grind ours in a pestle and mortar. This is really where you can adapt the flavour to your personal taste.

Mix well. Serve with steamed rice and a salad garnish.

Vegetarian version using quorn mince

VARIATIONS

There are some variations. If you like heat, add chilli flakes (flakes are better than fresh chilli). This was one of the dishes we had in Lao that wasn’t searingly hot, the spice coming from the pepper rather than chilli, but it’s fine to add more heat if you like it. If you’d like to add some sweetness, sprinkle in a little sugar and mix in. There is also a variation where you can add roasted ground rice powder for an additional nutty complexity to the flavour and texture. It’s very simple: place a handful of uncooked Thai rice in a dry frying pan and roast the rice for 10 minutes or so, until the rice is brown. Then transfer to a pestle and mortar or a spice grinder and grind to a powder.

(You can actually toast more rice to make a greater quantity of this powder; it will keep for a couple of months in an airtight container.)

Recipe: Miso Soup

Miso soup is a traditional Japanese broth made with miso (fermented soy bean paste), dashi (a simple but delicious stock) and a variety of other ingredients of your choice. It’s the perfect accompaniment to so many Japanese dishes.

INGREDIENTS

3 sheets of  kelp seaweed (kombu)

1 packet of bonito flakes (40g)

1 litre water 

1 tbs miso paste (home made or shop-bought)  

Optional:

spring onions

block of silken tofu

wakame seaweed

enoki mushrooms

METHOD

It should be possible to buy kombu (kelp) and bonito flakes from Asian supermarkets. The dashi really adds to the deliciousness of the soup but if you can’t get hold of the ingredients, you can make a vegetable/fish stock and skip to the step where you add the miso paste.

Make the dashi: Put kombu and bonito flakes into a saucepan of water.

Bring to a simmer. Skim off any froth.

After 20 minutes, you should have a clear broth

Sieve the solids from the broth. Keep the solid ingredients. You can dry these out and use them again to make a secondary dashi.

Add the miso paste to the dashi in the saucepan. You can buy miso in most supermarkets but you can also make your own. Warm through gently.

This is the soup base. There are a number of ways to embellish the miso. Optional ingredients include such delights as negi (Japanese onions, they are a cross in size between a spring onion and a leek – UK spring onion will be perfect), silken tofu cut into very small cubes, wakame seaweed (a type of kelp that you can buy dehydrated from Asian supermarkets) or small mushrooms (enoki style – the teeny bunches of mushrooms are perfect, but finely chopped ordinary mushrooms will work well).

In this instance we had some spring onions to hand. So they were finely sliced and placed in a serving bowl.

Pour the miso broth on top. Enjoy while hot.

It is absolutely fine to drink the miso soup using a spoon or to drink directly from the bowl. In Japan, it’s also okay to slurp – this helps cool the hot liquid as you drink it. Make sure you stir it (you can use chopsticks to do this) before consuming so that the ingredients that settle at the bottom are agitated – the miso never dissolves completely into the broth – and produce an even flavour throughout the drinking.

Gong Xi Fa Cai or Gung Hay Fat Choy! Happy New Year!

Lunar New Year is the most important date in the Chinese calendar. It is celebrated not only in China but many other South East Asian countries. Although it is usually known as Chinese New Year in Western countries it is more commonly known as Spring Festival at home. It’s a really busy time of year when people travel across the country to visit their families in their home towns and it’s worth noting that flights and trains are likely to be booked up and very crowded. But it’s a joyous time and everyone in the country views it as a cause for celebration. Displays featuring the animals of the zodiac can be found all over town.

It’s also a lovely time of year because spring blossoms are often coming into bloom, especially in the southern part of the country.

Food is an important part of Chinese New Year when families come together and enjoy the celebrations. We have spent new year with Chinese friends in the UK who served us a feast. Traditional dishes include a whole fish, this one cooked with ginger, garlic and spring onion. It’s important that the fish is served whole – head to tail represents the start and end of the year and it also represents plentiful food and good luck.

This fish dish is easy to cook and tastes delicious. There’s a recipe here. Catfish and carp are popular fish.

We also sat around the table and made jiaozi (dumplings). These represent old-style Chinese coins which symbolise prosperity throughout the year. It’s great fun to sit around a table together drinking beer and chatting as you fill the dumplings, which are later boiled, steamed and/or fried and then enjoyed at midnight. Sometimes a gold coin is put inside one of the dumplings for a lucky recipient. The dumplings can be filled using a variety of ingredients: minced pork and cabbage or chive (or cabbage and chive), chicken, mutton, prawns or fish are popular, as are vegetable fillings, such as mushrooms, cabbage, leek, spinach, and spring onions. Any of these ingredients can be combined. The dumplings are usually served with a dipping sauce. Soy sauce with vinegar and sesame oil is popular and gives a salt, sour, smoky flavour to accompany the dumplings. You can make it to taste but it’s worth noting that you only need a tiny amount of sesame oil – just a few drops – as it has an incredibly intense flavour. Some dipping sauces add a dash of chilli oil to provide heat.

Other traditional foods include noodles, which represent longevity (due to the length of the noodles) and happiness as well as spring rolls which represent wealth. Sweet dishes include glutinous rice cake which apparently ensure you can aim for a higher position in life/work (and hence the prospect of a better income) and sweet rice balls which represent family harmony. These, particularly, are eaten throughout spring festival.

Although the highlight of the celebrations revolve around the lunar new year, Spring Festival actually lasts for a fortnight. It begins on the new moon and ends 15 days later on the full moon. The last night is known as the Lantern Festival.  Red lanterns can be seen everywhere towards the end of the celebrations. This can be a bit confusing as during the rest of the year red lanterns will often indicate that the establishment is a restaurant.

We were lucky enough to be in Xi’an on the last night of Spring Festival some years ago and went along to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda to join in the celebrations. We had never seen so many fireworks – they started at 6pm and went on till midnight – you could see fireworks in every direction you looked – and hear firecrackers. (In recent years, use of fireworks has been reduced or banned for environmental reasons.) The atmosphere was terrific – everyone was incredibly friendly on this happy occasion – and it was very much a family event.

Xi’an has a dancing fountain – it has the form of a T shape that is about 50m across and 100m long. It’s located on the north square of the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. Every night a variety of music that ranges from traditional Chinese to Western classical and Cantopop plays – and the fountain dances along, forming a colourful waterscape. All the water drains away immediately into a reservoir to be stored for the next show. The timing of the show varies depending on the season so, if you are visiting the area, it’s worth checking out the timetable so as to be sure to catch it.

2021 is the year of the Ox. According to legend the Ox is the second animal of the zodiac who was originally due to be the first to arrive at the Jade Emperor’s party. However, the sneaky rat had cadged a lift on the ox’s back, jumped off as they approached their final destination and arrived first.