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Properly made Kung Pao prawns taste nothing like the overly sweet, sticky version – often padded out with peppers – most of us have encountered as part of a takeaway. Whilst it’s true they do have a sweet element to them it is much more of a fine balance between that, sourness and of course, heat. The original recipe use peanuts rather than cashews but it’s hard to find raw peanuts at all let alone skinned ones, so raw cashews it is.
Start by soaking 100g of them in boiled water to plump them up. After about an hour, drain them and put them in a small tin and roast them for 8-10 minutes on gas mark 4. If you don’t have time or you’ve forgotten you can skip this, but it does add a nice depth to the taste of the nuts if you have.
100g cashews (as above)
1/2 kilo shell on king prawns, de-veined and shelled but tails left on.
1/4 dozen dried red chillis broken into pieces
1 inch ginger finely chopped
3 big spring onions, most of them thinly sliced but the very tops finely chopped for garnish
1 small fresh red chilli, finely chopped for garnish
4 tablespoons Toban Djan paste
4 tablespoons Chinkiang vinegar (black Chinese vinegar)
4 tablespoons honey
Light soy sauce to taste
Oil for stir frying
Make the sauce; mix all the ingredients together apart from the soy sauce. Taste it and see how much soy you want to add to suit your palate. I find Toban Djan already quite salty so I go easy on the soy sauce.
Get a couple of tablespoons smoking hot and add the ginger, cook for 60 seconds and add the spring onion, the dried chilli and the prawns. Cook until the prawns just turn pink, keep them moving and turning all the while. Next throw in the nuts and the sauce and turn through once or twice to coat the prawns and nuts then tip into a dish and serve with the chopped fresh chilli and spring onion tops scattered over.
King oyster mushrooms are by no means cheap but they are definitely worth the money. The texture and delicate flavour are an absolute delight. There’s lots of ways to cook them from fried in butter to being used as a vegan substitute for scallops. This is the method I used for my beauties.
S(erves two as a side dish)
2 or 3 king oyster mushrooms, depending on size
2 tablespoons fish sauce (nam pla)
2 tablespoons black Chinese vinegar (Chinkiang vinegar)
Honey to taste (about a tablespoon)
2 tsp cornflour mixed in a little cold water to a smooth paste
Some finely chopped fresh chilli & spring onion tops.
First make the sauce; mix all the liquid ingredients together until it has a salt/sweet/sour balance that suits your plate. Then heat it up and thicken it with the cornflour, adding half to begin with and the rest if it needs it. Have the sauce as thick or thin as you like it but it’s nice if it’s thick enough to cling to the mushrooms.
Slice each mushroom into three slices length ways and score the pieces with a sharp knife (not strictly necessary but it does look nice). Pour a little oil into a non stick pan and sear the mushroom slices in batches so you can concentrate on getting a good sear on the slices. They will arch up in the same way a piece of fish would and need holding down flat to get an even sear. I do this with a metal potato masher. Keep searing and turning, adding more oil if you need to until they have a good colour.
Arrange on a dish, pour over the sauce and scatter over the chilli & spring onion.
There’s lots of controversy of what is and isn’t an authentic chilli and it’s a sure fire way to start an argument if you says yours is. So don’t. I’ve recently learnt there’s versions being made with coffee, tequila, with star anise added – all sorts of wonderful additions. What is certain is that a ‘mole’ is a Mexican sauce featuring the triumvirate of chilli, beef and chocolate. It’s also certain that beans were not added to chilli until the early twentieth century and it’s a feature we can attribute to Tex Mex cuisine. The title of my dish is a mash up of all of these and I can’t claim I made it up, either; I’ve seen it used on the internet. Anyway, here’s the recipe.
2lb beef mince
2 large onions, diced small
4 or 5 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 tins of tomatoes, blitzed in the blender
2 tins of kidney beans
1/4 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp chilli powder (or however much suits you)
2 tablespoons paprika (preferably smoked but ordinary will do)
2 beef stock cubes
2 squares of very dark chocolate
Soften the onions in the oil without letting them brown, add the garlic and cook it out for a few minutes then throw in the spices. Cook them over a low heat, stirring all the while for 3 or 4 minutes. Add more oil if it’s too dry and catching. Add the beef and brown it in the spices, again, stirring all the while. Add the tomatoes, the kidney beans, the stock cubes made up with 1/2 pint of boiling water and a tsp salt.
Simmer low and slow for as long as you have but at least 40 minutes to marry the flavours. Put it in the slow cooker and leave it for a few hours if you want. When you’re ready to serve, turn off the heat and check the seasoning. Lay the chocolate on top of the chilli for a couple of minutes until it melts, then stir it in.
Serve with rice, finely chopped red onion, sour cream, fresh coriander and a big row about what is and isn’t authentic chilli!
This really is far from authentic I’m sure, but it is quick and it is healthy and delicious so I’ll take the flak the shortcuts. It’s just leftover chicken turned in Korean Bulgogi marinade, a little soy, rice wine vinegar and sugar then flashed through a chargrill pan. I put the chicken in the marinade before I leave for work in the morning so it really gets into the chicken by the time I come home.
It’s a dinner I have when I haven’t really got time to cook and I confess to having it with good quality ready made rice pouches (the Tilda brown rice ones are nice and actually have no additives or chemicals in them – I was surprised about that as I’d always turned my nose up at them). Of course I cook rice when I have time but when I get in after 10 hours out of the house working and commuting and I’m utterly dropping with hunger it’s better than putting a crappy pizza in the oven or ordering a takeaway.
Whilst it’s chargrilling chop a bit of fresh chilli, some coriander and find the sesame seeds in the cupboard if you’ve got any. Some steamed greens in oyster sauce – something you don’t even have to chop like sugar snap peas – go well with it for a really quick but actually very healthy and delicious dinner.
This is one of those dishes where the parts are interchangeable but the idea stays the same; some type of noodle, a fragrant broth, a piece of crispy fish and some stir fried veg.
The broth cane be as simple or as complicated as you like but the basics are a good stock – be that home made from scratch or from a good quality stock cube – and then a balance of heat, salt, tangy, sweet. You need some form of chilli which could be a paste, it could be a few chilli flakes and it could even e a squirt of Sriracha sauce if that’s all you had in the cupboard. Salt could be soy sauce or fish sauce, tangy could be rice wine vinegar, lime juice, cider vinegar – anything really (but malt vinegar might be stretching it a bit) and finally a bit of sweetness. Sugar or honey, for example. Add them into the stock until it has a balance YOU like, they’re your noodles after all. Then cook the noodles according to the instructions, pan fry your fish (skin side down, hot non stick pan, hold it down when it first goes in to stop it arching up and the middle not getting crisped), stir fry whatever veg you have in or have chosen and put it all together in a bowl.
That’s kind of it, really. It’s best to make the broth first and keep it on the heat, cook the noodles and drain them ready to go in and stir fry your veg just before you cook your fish, which will only take a few minutes. Place the noodles at the bottom of a deep bowl, pile your stir fried veg on, place your fish on top and pour the broth around it rather than over – no point getting the skin all crispy just to make it soggy again.