Curried Popcorn

Inspired and tweaked from a Stéphane Reynaud recipe, this is a surprising twist on the norm. Popcorn can be a reasonably healthy snack, although the classic styles are far from it.

Popping your own corn couldn’t be simpler – just heat a little oil in a large pan until shimmering, add the corn kernels and cover with a lid. Give it a little shake and then wait for the popping sound to subside.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 50g popping corn
  • 35g unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp garam masala (or any curry powder)
  • zest of 1 unwaxed lemon, finely grated
  • Pinch of salt 

Method:

Once you’ve popped the corn as described above, mix in the other ingredients whilst it’s still hot and serve. Too easy.

lemon and curry flavoured popcorn

You could use pretty much any flavoured butter you might have.

Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls

..aka Summer rolls or more accurately, Gỏi cuốn, these little Vietnamese beauties are super-fun for younglings and still quite an exotic concept in the UK. They were staple lunchtime fayre back in our Australia days due to the proximity to South East Asia and its heavy influence in the region.

They’re a pretty healthy alternative to the ubiquitous sandwich, and well worth adding to your repertoire as there’s an infinite list of variations that makes them versatile and accessible for all.

The most challenging thing about this recipe is getting hold of the rice papers themselves – I’d head for your nearest Asian supermarket although some big chains are catching on and starting to stock them too. You’ll probably find them labelled as bánh tráng. I’ve just ordered some from Amazon of all places.

The concept couldn’t be simpler; just re-hydrate the rice paper in some warm water for 10 to 15 seconds, lay it flat on a plate or clean surface, top it with your favourite combination of flavours and roll it all up (as neatly as you can). Serve the rolls with a dipping sauce of your choice and prepare to be delighted by the clean, light and vibrant appeal of this delectable little dish.

Get the kids involved and you’ll be amazed by their intrigue and willingness to get stuck in. Imagine making a sandwich for the first time!

Ok, so you’ll probably find that there’s a bit of a knack to handling the delicate rice papers, but persist and you’ll master it in no time at all. The trick is to work quickly but calmly. They’re incredibly cheap so you won’t beat yourself up about the ones that you tear or throw across the room..

Here’s a classic recipe to set the scene.

Ingredients:

(makes about 10)

  • 100g vermicelli noodles
  • 10 rice papers
  • 10 large cooked prawns
  • ½ carrot
  • Lettuce
  • ½ chilli
  • Fresh coriander leaves

Method:

  1. Place the vermicelli noodles in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave them to stand for 15 minutes until softened (or follow the packet instructions), then drain.
  2. Meanwhile, wash and prep all the vegetables by slicing them into roughly even matchstick-sized pieces.
  3. Butterfly or halve the prawns along their length.
  4. Slide a rice paper into a shallow bowl/dish of warm water and leave it to soak for 10 to 15 seconds until softened.
  5. Carefully place the rice paper onto a board or plate.
  6. Lay a few strands of each ingredient on the rice paper. (Not too much – you’ll get a feel for how much will fit).Vietnamese Rice Paper filling
  7. Fold the side nearest to you over the filling.
  8. Fold the sides in.
  9. Roll away from you to close the parcel.
  10. The tacky rice paper will seal itself.
  11. If larger than bite-sized, slice diagonally across the middle and serve with a dipping sauce.

Variations to think about include pork (perhaps cold belly pork), avocado, fish, tofu, beansprouts, sugar snap peas, beetroot, peppers, shredded chicken, pea shoots, cucumber, lettuce, spring onion, any soft herbs you fancy – Thai basil or mint work really well. Try a few combinations and make them your own!

Here’s a top tip that I read about recently – to make it less fiddly, wrap all of your filling together in a lettuce leaf before placing it on the rice paper and rolling it up.

Dipping sauces

Hoisin, Soy, Kecap Manis, oyster, plum or Sweet Chilli sauces are all easy to buy in bottles, but you may like to try a simple homemade dipping sauce.

Here’s a quick authentic Nước chấm recipe that will take your taste buds to the next level.

Ingredients:

  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp chopped ginger
  • 1 small chilli
  • 1 tbsp palm sugar (or brown sugar)
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 3 tbsp fish sauce (nam pla)

Method:

  1. Place everything in a food processor.
  2. Blitz.
  3. That’s it.

Pop a few slices of chilli on top if you’re feeling fancy.

Vietnamese Dipping Sauce

Nuoc Cham

 

Let me know how you get on!!!!

 

Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls

Harissa Houmous

Love Houmous (or hummus even)?

Fancy a little twist to spice things up?

How about a super-simple Harissa Houmous for a change; my twist on Jamie Oliver’s Simple Houmous recipe

Harissa is the North African equivalent to Gochujang or Sambal Oelek chilli pastes.

Ingredients:

  • 400g tin of Chickpeas
  • 1 tbsp Tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • 1 tbsp Harissa Paste
  • 1 Lemon
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil

 

Method:

Rinse and drain the chickpeas in a sieve or colander, and place them in a food processor. Add the tahini and harissa with about 1 tbsp of olive oil. Squeeze in half of the lemon juice, pop the lid on, and blend away.

You may need to scrape down the sides of the bowl and add a touch more oil, water or lemon juice before blending it to a smooth consistency. Always be sure to give it a little taste and adjust to your liking – you shouldn’t need to add any salt as you would with plain houmous, but you may want to adjust how much harissa you add.

Serve with vegetable crudites or sliced pitta breads.

Now, if you fancy having a go at making your own Harissa paste, here’s how.

Harissa Hummus

The Treats That Pass Us By

A highlight of studying real food and cooking from scratch is discovering all those little hints and tips, treats and surprises.  It’s wonderfully satisfying when you come across something that’s terribly simple yet joyfully delicious.  There’s so many of them out there and it’s got to be the easiest way to get people engaged and inspired to start cooking real food for themselves.  It’s exciting to think that I might stumble across something new tomorrow – note that when I say new, I mean re-discovering recipes, skills and techniques that we’ve lost over the years.

Now that it’s Autumn here in the UK, wonderful varieties of squash are starting to appear in the shops and on farmer’s market stands.  The seasonal glut results in very reasonable price tags and I’m always tempted by the myriad of autumnal colours and odd shapes.  Soon it’s going to be Halloween, that time of year when we waste copious amounts of perfectly good food…

Harlequin Squash

So here it is: when you cut your squash or pumpkin and scrape out the seeds, don’t throw them away!  I pop them in a sieve and separate them from the pith.

Harlequin Squash Seeds

Cleaned Harlequin Squash Seeds

After drying them off I have a couple of options; store and sow them to grow more plants, or prep and eat them.  More often than not I roast them in the oven with a tiny amount of oil and salt (150°C for about 20 minutes works but you might want to keep an eye on them and give them a shake).

Once cooled, they make a devilishly moreish and deliciously crunchy little snack!  They’ll happily take a little flavouring like paprika or cayenne pepper and they’re perfect served with drinks before dinner.

Roasted/Toasted Harlequin Squash Seeds