What’s yo flava?

Whenever I talk about flavour, an urge to be “musical” arises, I blame Craig David. Anyone else know the song? Comment if you do!

I would say it was a trip at the age of sixteen to Malaysia that first opened me up to such colourful spicy notes. Mee-Goreng, an incredible noodle dish I had the good fortune of tasting, is a food memory that has stayed with me for over a decade.

Then came Curry Laksa during my Masters year while I was living near Brunswick Square in London. My mouth still waters thinking about it, a beautifully separated assam curry, a timid layer of fragrant oil just glistening on the surface and what lies beneath, fat rice noodles, crisp vegetables, tofu and other delights. It has all been cooked in a coconut milk broth that has incredible depth and heat.

The first Thai dish I ever cooked was Tom Yum soup, I literally had no idea what I was doing but the end result was pretty good. This convinced me I could cook. So much so, I basically whipped up an entire Thai meal over the following week for my Dad’s birthday and so it was that this school of flavour (Thai, Indonesian and Malaysian) kind of became my forte (Italian and Afghan comes in at a close second).

The kind of flavours used in these Asian cuisines hit all your tastebuds, sweet, savoury, sour and spice. The fragrance and freshness of coconut milk, lemongrass, lime, gently toasted ground and whole spices, fresh coriander, kaffir leaves and basil just explode bite after bite.

I’ll be honest, this experience can rarely be delivered as a quick fix recipe, if there are some cuisines I will slave over it’s these. For me personally, the slow cooked coconut curry is what develops intense flavours and gives you that melt in your mouth moment.

Having said that today is one of those crazy days where time is of the essence, while I didn’t spend hours over on it and though it’s no laksa, it tastes pretty awesome.

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Serves 2

Four chicken thighs with the skin
*(For a vegan version of this, use firm tofu and follow the same steps but apply half the cooking time of the chicken)
1tbsp ginger paste
Pinch of red chili flakes (or to taste)
1tbsp Tamari
Juice of half a lemon
1 cup of basmati rice
2tbsp coconut oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp Thai red curry paste
1tsp poppy seeds
1 cup of coconut milk

To serve: some chopped fresh coriander

Marinade the chicken in ginger, red chili flakes, tamari and half the lemon juice.

Wash and cook your rice according to packet instructions.

Heat 1tbsp coconut oil in a shallow pan that has a lid on a medium flame. Once the oil is hot, put your chicken thighs in skin side down. Fry them off until they are gold brown. Flip them over, go to the lowest heat setting and cover with lid.

You are going to steam the thighs slowly until they are cooked, about forty minutes or so. Once the thighs are cooked, reduce the remaining liquid in the pan so you get a nice glaze on them.

In another pan, on a medium heat, melt remaining coconut oil and throw in the garlic, curry paste and poppy seeds and sauté for about ten minutes until they are sizzling. Add your cooked rice, coconut milk, the remaining lemon juice and mix well until everything is combined.

Serve with coriander.

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Bless you…

Not everyone hates cold weather, I sort of love it. In Karachi we would wait in anticipation of November and December, then we would BBQ on my best friend’s balcony or chill at Roadside Cafe with a bonfire. When it’s cold outside there’s nothing more lovely than the thought of keeping warm with cosy knits, a warm fire, hot drinks and fleece blankets.

Of course with chillier weather comes other nasties, like colds and flus. I have an autoimmune disorder. If I catch a cold or flu it usually ends up initiating a domino effect of one thing after another on my body so taking care of myself is usually at the top of my to do list. Since switching my old eating habits for a more alkaline diet, I have found a remarkable improvement with my condition.

Keeping colds and flu at bay all winter requires more gentle tactics, more magnesium in one’s diet, a daily green juice, immunity boosting foods packed with nutrients and vitamins all help to keep on top of the weather as opposed to under. However, when an actual cold or flu beckons, launch a full on attack.

This weekend’s weather left its mark on me, Sunday night I felt the beginnings of an achy body, that feverish glow and a strange head that felt like it didn’t belong on my neck. I have too much to look forward to this weekend, a cottage trip away at Golden Lakes and lots to do before then, the last thing I want is to get sick.

Call me stubborn, but I hate taking medicine, especially when I am sick, unless it’s got that natural thing going for it.

The way I tackle a cold is by not letting it take hold and fester. As soon as I feel the slightest one, a ginger, turmeric and lemon shot (yes I know) loaded with raw honey, cayenne and cinnamon does wonders for me, as does a shot of wheatgrass with a few potent drops of chlorophyll. A leafy green juice, some avocado and boiled eggs with black pepper alongside a cup of green tea is my choice breakfast. I also stay hydrated with lots of fluids like herbal tea, coconut water and some good old H2O.

Then there’s my favourite type of chicken noodle soup, khow suey. Everyone has their own spin on this and there are countless recipes out there, so find your favourite. My one is full of cold busting ingredients like ginger, garlic, healing spices and coconut milk – you see where I am going with this don’t you? It can easily be made vegan, if you omit the chicken, it is gluten free and has no added salt. It’s the ultimate noodle comfort dish when you have a cold or flu, my advice is to make a massive batch of it, while you still have the strength. Or, try bribing someone who loves you to cook it, use the ‘I’m not feeling well’ card.

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Khow Suey

Serves four

1tbsp coconut oil
1 medium onion chopped
1 tomato diced
1tbsp grated ginger
1tbsp chopped garlic
2 Thai green chilies finely sliced (optional, with or without seeds)
1tbsp Thai red curry paste
1tsp curry powder
1/2tsp each of cinnamon, ground cumin, ground coriander, turmeric, cayenne (leave it out, if you aren’t a big fan of spice) and nutmeg
3 cups low sodium broth
4 organic skinless chicken thighs
Coconut milk
1tbsp coconut sugar
Bunch of basil leaves
2 spring onions chopped
4 oz mushrooms (your choice what type)
100g brown rice noodles (cooked to packet instructions)
Fresh coriander and lime to serve

Heat oil on a medium low heat, add onions and cover for 15 minutes or until nice and brown. Add the tomato and cover for another 15 minutes turning the heat up a little.

Stir in ginger, garlic, chilli and sauté briefly.

Stir in curry paste, ground spices and sauté briefly, once the spices let off their fragrance add a quarter cup of stock and the chicken thighs and coat them well. Fry in mixture like this for about five minutes.

Mix in the rest of the chicken stock, coconut milk and bring to a boil. Add sugar, basil leaves, spring onions and mushrooms and simmer until thighs are cooked through.

To serve, add the brown rice noodles, coriander and a squeeze of lime.

Tip: Chop your onions and get them going first, while they brown, do the rest of your prep.