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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Spicy Pork on Soba Noodles

What to say about Soba noodles other than Sugoi (“Fantastic” in Japanese (with no relevance to the brand of 2 minute noodles available from your friendly Aussie supermarket aisle).  Soba which translates to buckwheat in its place of origin – Japan, is one of their many fast food delicacies, especially popular on the streets of Tokyo.  Soba has good nutritional value with the noodles containing essential amino acids, antioxidants and nutrients that are classified as generally good for you.  It is any wonder that Soba gets its approval and appreciation in a country where the dining regularly focuses on  good healthy choices and clean flavours in chic style on a plate…or bowl.
My foray into Soba was only recent, and I was drawn to the sophisticated packaging of the bundled noodles with its paper band displaying the house of manufacture.  These short and thin noodles are all uniform in length and have a definitive elegance about them, so cooking with this ingredient gives you that feeling of using something quite special.  As you would expect Soba has a  less heavier effect on you than you would get from eating a plate of say, egg noodles (even though I would not knock back a plate!!!).  

In Japanese cuisine Soba is served in a variety of cold dishes as well as hot ones, ranging from salads to soups.  I have strayed a little away from the traditional in this recipe however as I was just experimenting with some tastes that I felt just fit together perfectly.  The result is more or less a fusion dish that lends it flavour a little from the Chinese, Korean and Japanese styling in what appears to be a cross between a warm salad and a stir fry.  Enough said! Here’s the recipe.

Ingredients, to serve 5

3 bundles x Soba noodles
25g x Chinese Dried Mushroom, soaked in ½ cup Water
500g x Ground Pork
1 tbsp x Peanut Oil
3-4 Spring Onions, sliced thinly
5 tbsp XO Sauce
2 x Carrots, julienned
3 x Lap Cheong (Chinese Sausage), cut into strips
½ tsp Sesame oil
Fried Shallots, to garnish 

Prepare the Soba noodles by dropping them into a pot of boiling water.
Cook for 3-4 minutes until tender then drain
In a hot wok add the oil and then the spring onions
Stir fry for a few seconds then add the pork and lap cheong
Brown the pork frying it until most of the water has dried up
Now stir in the XO Sauce and combine with the meats
Add the carrot and rehydrated mushroom
Pour in ½ the reserved mushroom soaking liquid
Cook for an additional 5 minutes 
Drizzle the sesame oil and stir through  
Garnish with store bought fried shallots
Serve immediately    

This dish really hits home high on the flavour scale and is fully adaptable for other noodles types, additions of chilli and even crushed peanuts for the garnish.  The taste really is quite a mix of the different cuisines but it really just works for me – I hope it does for you too….Enjoy!! 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Review: Indya Bistro, Nth Carlton.

Indya Bistro on Urbanspoon

While I am on the Indian cuisine high, I thought it fitting to post a review for Indya Bistro, a restaurant in North Carlton that I recently visited (and that isn’t a typo they really spell it I.N.D.Y.A – I think it flows with their modern Indian cuisine motto. We visited Indya Bistro early on a weeknight – how early?? Well, let’s just say there were no other diners there yet.  Indya Bistro has ranked highly in the local stakes and was voted Victoria’s Favourite Indian Restaurant in 2010.  I just had to visit to see and to taste, just what it takes to be given such a high accolade by People’s Choice.  It was time to check out what Modern Indian cuisine actually was. As part of a 7 course banquet we ordered a selection of entrées, a veg and non-veg main dish and dessert to cap off the evening.
For starters we were served a trio of dips accompanied with naan bread to do the dipping with.  The slightly unimpressive dips being Cucumber Raita, Mango Chutney and Lentils came in quaint ceramic bowls with teaspoons.  However I did feel a little short changed to discover that each bowl had about 3 meagre teaspoonsful of the dip, so literally 1 and a ½ spoonful and it’s over.
Thankfully, the next starter item, being piping hot Samosas had arrived.  The spicy potato filling was quite tasty but unlike those Samosas enjoyed at street eateries, where the pastry is flavour full and crispy like a biscuit, these were lacking in the crunch department.  Hardly impressed by this “Favourite” of the people, I hoped the upcoming dishes would have more lustre and give credence to the award.

Unconditionally the winner of the night was the Lamb Kebabs –  well spiced, delicately textured ground lamb, classically formed around a skewer, but served without it, just for that little bit of modernism – I think anyway!  These went down a treat and reassured me of good things to come.  The minced lamb was soft and had a welcoming mild Tandoori hint of that was just right.
Chicken Tikka is one of those dishes that you just have to love.  The success of this dish, for me, would be measured by the juiciness of the meat and it’s delicate balance of flavours from the marinade to the basting sauce it comes with.  I would like to say that Indya Bistro ticked all the boxes on this menu item but sadly this was not the case.  What was served was an overcooked and dry piece of chicken that had definitely not been given its due cooking process before it was plated and sent from the kitchen.
Entrées aside I was now somewhat anxious for our mains and I would like to think that you cannot go wrong with a serve of Rogan Josh and for something different Malai Kofta from the vegetarian side.  Now I may be mistaken, and it is probably going to take a few more visits to Indian restaurants to uncover what Rogan Josh is actually supposed to taste like.  The last three places including this visit has dished up a Rogan Josh with very thin runny gravy.  I recall cooking the dish myself and also enjoying my dad’s interpretation, which have both been a dish of boneless lamb pieces in a thick and spicy gravy, complimented with a slight tang.  Here was yet another version of Rogan Josh that just did not hit the spot.  While the lamb pieces were remarkably tender, I just could not enjoy the dish as a soup and where was the spice...nowhere to be seen!

The Malai Kofta on the other hand were quite delicate cheese dumplings with a little spice that were bathing in a bowl of cream – a little too rich in fact but tasty enough to tuck into. With the disappointment in the previous dishes I think it was safe to say I was not going to have a win tonight and this was only heightened by crusty stale textured rice.  Now I am not sure if we were unfortunate enough to get the scrapings from the batch but as a frequent eater of rice – this was hardly passable.  C’mon, it’s rice – a staple in India – How can you not get it right? At least the Roti was comforting enough to make up the carbohydrate component. 
Dessert was a couple of dainty little warm Gulab Jamun –  dumplings in syrup, and these satisfied the need for a sweet finale. 
As I left Indya Bistro I was still doubtful as to how deserving they were of the award for Victoria’s Favourite Indian Restaurant. I did not feel like I had feasted on Indian cuisine that night. My insides did not hum with fulfilment from a meal well-enjoyed that left a lasting impression on your taste buds. Perhaps I am ill-informed! Perhaps this is what Modern Indian cuisine is all about!!!          

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Butter Chicken - Murgh Makhani

Ask any discerning non-Indian diner to name their top Indian curries and this one is sure to be on that hit list.  Butter Chicken in all its bright orange glory is by far the king of curries for me, as serving it up guarantees a well-deserved pat on the back and smacking of the lips!  It is said that the dish was created by an Indian chef in the nation’s capital – Delhi.  It was here that Kundan Lal Gujral humbly created the first Butter Chicken and put it on the menu at the now famous Moti Mahal restaurant in Daryaganj, Delhi.  I caught an episode of Rhodes Across India, on the Food Channel, where UK celebrity chef Gary Rhodes visited the original birthplace of Butter Chicken and met with the restaurant staff.  As a result they happily divulged the secrets of their prized recipe and this here foodie on the other side of the world saw it right to snap it up and cook it at home – and now here it is finally on this blog page to be immortalised forever (well as long as the internet exists anyway!)
After mastering this you can say goodbye to buying bottles of so called Butter Chicken pastes, or sachets of powders that are supposed to turn out this delicacy, but produce coloured chicken lacking in all things “buttery” or “chickeny” to say the least.  I have eaten Butter Chicken or Murgh Makhani, as it is known in its hometown when I was in India, and when I first tasted the end product of this recipe – it really took me back.  I have since made it a number of times, and each time it does not fail to please me – and I am my worst critic - believe you me!
As with all special dishes you need to take your time i.e. once again this is not an after-work dinner that you can whip up from scratch.  There is at least an hour of simmering time and if you have not prepared the chicken beforehand, there is marinating and roasting time for that too.  I have already posted my recipe for Tandoori Chicken and it is notably the best place to begin this dish from.  Whenever I conjure up some tandoori magic I reserve a chicken or two for a Butter Chicken finale some time later.  So having said this if you make the Tandoori Chicken when time is not a factor, then you just may be able to dish some Butter Chicken up in just over an hour – after work perhaps, if you are game enough.  Either way it is well worth the reward, especially if Daryaganj in Delhi is not accessible to you.

Ingredients, to serve 4 
1 x Tandoori Chicken, prepared as per recipe and cut into pieces
1tbsp x Butter or Ghee to be traditional
2 clove x Garlic, chopped
5 x Cardamom, bruised
1 stick x Cinnamon
2 x Bay Leaves
3 x Whole Cloves
2 cans x Tomatoes, pureed in a blender
1tsp x Chilli powder
100g x Cashews, powdered into a paste with a little water
25g x Butter
1tsp x Cumin powder
1tsp x Garam masala powder
1tsp x Fenugreek seeds, grounds
1tbsp x Cream
Coriander to garnish

In a heavy pot heat the butter or ghee
Add in the garlic, cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaves and cloves
Fry gently to release aromas, do not allow the garlic to burn
Pour in the pureed tomato and stir in the chilli powder
Bring to the boil then turn heat down and cover pot
Allow to simmer for 45 minutes,
Do not allow tomatoes to dry too much adding a little water if required
When tomato mixture has cooked down carefully turn it into a sieve over a bowl
Strain mixture well pressing through the sieve
Discard the whole spices
Give the pot a wipe and return to the heat on medium
Melt the butter then add the cumin powder and toast lightly for 30 seconds
Return the sieved tomato mixture to the pot
Stir in the cashew paste and mix well to combine all ingredients
Bring the sauce to a boil adding a little water if too thick
Place chicken pieces into the pot and turn heat down
Cook for 10 minutes stirring occasionally to prevent catching
Stir in the Garam Masala and Fenugreek powders
Cook for an additional 5 minutes then remove from heat
To serve swirl in the cream and garnish with chopped coriander leaves

"Best enjoyed with hot Naan breads or Rotis or simply on some steamed Basmati rice.  It is surprising how little butter there actually is in this dish despite its name.  The creamy texture comes from the pureed tomato as does the overall orange colour.  There is no need for additional cream but it does make it look pretty when serving.  This is truly my favourite dish to make from my Indian recipe repertoire."