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Monday, March 19, 2012

Kueh Dadar - Pandan Pancakes with a Coconut filling

So what is a coconut? Is it a seed, a fruit or a nut? Coconut seems to have certain characteristics of all three of these groups – and as a result will often be a topic of confusion. The coconut palm does sometimes get referred to as “the tree of life”, and this is because of the versatility of everything it bears – from fibre to food there is definitely more to the coconut than the packet of desiccated stuff we would have all seen sometime in our travels – to the supermarket. The juice of the green coconuts is a one of my favourites – absolutely natural and unspoiled, it truly is a treat, like nature intended. In recent years our mainstream supermarkets have been stocking both green and brown types of coconut, so they are not just exclusively found in Asian grocery stores or markets.
Toast the coconut lightly before use - it brings out so much flavour!
I might have already mentioned that I love cooking with coconut milk and even eating the coconut flesh definitely rates highly on my list of hits. Usually well stocked, in the aforementioned grocery stores is a product called “shredded coconut” – this is different to supermarket desiccated coconut since they are longer coarse strands, rather than one grind short of being almost powdered. I prefer using coconut shreds for these type of dishes where the texture of the coconut is better if noticeable.  
My love for Malay food and it’s flavours inspires some of the best coconut based dishes from my kitchen, but they usually fall on the savoury side of the meal. This time, however I decided to make a dessert - Kueh Dadar - Kueh translates to a large range of snack food mainly sweet but sometimes savoury too, and Dadar loosely means omelette.  Laced with the essence of pandan, these pancakes come up a bright green colour that was enough to scare my kids into thinking they are vegie related – Oh well their loss! The coconut filling will satisfy any sweet tooth and just to make it authentic, the dessert is finished off with a drizzle of salted coconut milk.
I have adapted this recipe from “Poh’s Kitchen”, where I missed the episode when it screened, but was glad to find it in the book on the cooking series.
Ingredients - I have a large crepe pan so this mix made about 8-10 large serves
For the pancakes
120g x Plain Flour
4 x Eggs
250ml x Coconut Milk
125ml x Full Cream Milk
A pinch of salt
A few drops of Pandan paste - this is a thick green liquid available at Asian grocers
Butter to grease the pan
For the coconut filling
200g x Dark Palm Sugar, shaved (Jaggery is also a substitute)
100g x Shredded Coconut (substitute desiccated coconut if unavailable)
1cup x Coconut Cream
A pinch of salt
For the Salted Coconut Milk add a quarter of a teaspoon of salt to a cup of coconut milk and stir to dissolve.  Keep at room temperature when serving.
For the pancakes, place all ingredients into a mixing bowl and whisk with an electric beater until combined
Allow the bright green batter to stand in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour (This is now the best time to begin cooking the coconut filling - See directions below)
Heat a crepe pan or flat based frypan on medium heat
Grease the pan's surface and pour a quarter cup's measure of the batter into the pan
Use a flat spoon to spread the mixture evenly
Allow the pancakes to cook on one side then turn over and cook on the other 
Repeat the steps until all batter is finished
Keep the pancakes aside to cool slightly before filling
To make the coconut filling, begin by dry roasting the coconut in a heavy pan 
This only takes a few minutes as the coconut will turn a golden brown - do not let it burn 
Remove the coconut from the pan and keep aside, now add the shaved sugar and allow to melt on medium heat
Return the coconut and cream to the pan, add a pinch of salt and stir well to combine
The mixture will start to get thick now, keep stirring so that it does not catch.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool before filling the pancakes
To fill the pancakes, place a long "sausage" shape of coconut in the centre of the pancake 
Turn up the top and bottom flaps so that they form a flat edge 
Working from right to left roll the pancake into a tight log 
You can wet the surface with a little water to help it seal
To serve, heat the rolled pancakes in the microwave so that they are just warm
Cut the pancakes in half and drizzle on a little of the salted coconut milk.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Kedgeree - my way!

There is an absolute myriad of rice dishes across the planet.  Its a known fact that rice is one of the most consumed foods in the world - they probably even have a dish on Mars!  I have tried my hand at pilafs, pulaos and biryani from my native India and can even cook up a mean Spanish paella.  I am not one to ever turn down a creamy risotto and I can always go for a sushi hand roll.  My ultimate craving usually finds me hankering for a piping hot fried rice complete with "wok breath" - satisfaction guaranteed!
An unlikely entrant in the rice dish stakes is Kedgeree - apparently from Britain.  The closest thing to kedgeree is an Indian dish made with rice and lentils called "kichiri".  Kedgeree appears to be the British adaptation of this staple Indian dish with a couple of additions, minus the lentils, and one major difference - it is consumed for breakfast - so it is practically a different dish altogether.  Kedgeree usually includes smoked or poached fish fillets which are flaked through the curry flavoured rice and also hard boiled eggs - it is breakfast after all.
My take on this dish renders it far from a breakfast dish as I probably would be hard pressed to find a time when I have eaten rice, the first thing in the morning.  Notably there are a lot of South East Asian countries who also have rice on their opening menu and I don't think that there is anything wrong with it - I'm more of a cereal and milk kind of guy.  This recipe will produce a lovely golden yellow rice, thanks to the addition of turmeric and I have upped the spices to boost the flavour.  You will notice the change to poached eggs as I am very partial to the gooey yolk instead of the hard boiled one.
Ingredients, to serve 4 - for lunch or dinner...or breakfast if you must!
2 cups x Long Grain Rice, washed and drained
2-3 fillets x boneless fish fillets
2 cups x Milk, combined with ½ tsp Turmeric powder
1 cup x Water
2 tsp x Fish Stock powder (substitute chicken stock if unavailable)
2 tbsp x Oil (ghee or butter if you fancy)
1 x small Onion, diced  
2 cloves x Garlic, finely sliced
2 x Red Chillies, finely chopped
1 x Bay Leaf
1 tsp x Cumin seeds
1 tsp x Black Mustard Seeds
½ tsp Turmeric powder
2 tsp x Curry powder
2 x Tomatoes, sliced
4 x Free Range Eggs, at room temperature
Coriander leaves, chopped to garnish (optional)
Pepper to garnish
Salt to taste
Place the turmeric and milk in a deep rimmed skillet and heat on medium
When milk begins to bubble stir in the powdered stock then add the fish
Allow the fish to gently poach for 10-15 minutes then remove from liquid and keep aside, reserve liquid
Heat the oil in a large skillet and add the onion, garlic and chillies, stir gently for a minute
Now add the bay leaf, cumin and mustard seeds and fry for a few seconds
Sprinkle in the turmeric powder, stir through and then the curry powder followed by the tomatoes
Pour the washed and drained rice into the mixture stirring well to coat
Increase the heat up to high and add in the reserved poaching liquid plus a cup of water
Check seasoning and add salt if necessary
Bring the dish up to boil then cover and place on the stove with the lowest heat
Allow to cook without opening the lid for 10 minutes
In the mean time flake the poached fish with a fork into chunks
Add the flakes to the surface of the rice, cover lid again and cook for a further 5 minutes
Using a fork again gently fluff the rice being careful not to mash the fish
With the back of a spoon make a four evenly spaced indents in the rice
Now gently crack the eggs into the round indents
Cover the dish once more and cook on low heat for 5 minutes
Remove from heat and rest for 10 minutes before serving 
Garnish with coriander leaves if using and a good grind of pepper
Serve with a chutney, relish or spicy Indian pickle    

Review: Pan Asian, Chapel Street, Prahran

Pan Asian on Urbanspoon

If you feel like getting your fill of different Asian food in a buffet style setup where you can eat all the satay chicken skewers you like then head down to Pan Asian in Chapel Street, Prahran on a weekend afternoon. The food is diverse and spans across Asia from mini Indian samosas to wedges of Japanese okonomyiaki that go down quite a treat.

The entree spread includes dishes like fried chicken wings sitting on a banana leaf for authenticity, in a wicker tray. An interesting cold soba noodle "do it yourself" salad with all the components neatly on display in bento box style arrangement.

It also would not be complete without an bain marie section, which in my opinion is synonymous with Asian take-away. Here you will find octupus flavoured balls and japanese omelettes drizzled with the traditional sweet soy and mayonaisse dressing. A spongy fish ball concoction in clear broth, Thai fish cakes with dipping sauce and south Indian vadais and samosas.

Another dish that is worth a mention is the "do it yourself" laksa station, where you can choose your inclusions and have as much soup as you want or noodles. The broth is of a thinner consistency than the laksas I usually make but it had a good aroma and overall flavour.

The mains filled the whole back section and were a mixture of curries and stir fry type dishes. The curries were predominant with coconut based sauces and not to heavy on the chilli.  Two of the best ones that I had were in clay pots over a flame - A Malaysian fish curry and a spicy chicken curry.

Malaysian style Fish Curry
Indonesian style Chicken Curry 
Beef Rendang
Stir Fried Beef was another dish that was enjoyed and it was a fresh contrast to the curries although not as spicy as would have liked it.  This dish was more on the sweet side and it was the perfect prelude to dessert.  

Dessert was made up of a combination of puddings and sweet treats.  The colourful, layered jelly cubes (agar agar) looked very enticing.  If you have enough room left then the Indian sweet dumplings (gulab jamuns) will hit that sweet spot.  I also reccommend the cassava cake and the deep fried banana fritters with cinnamon sugar.

The glutinous black rice with coconut milk topping was the dessert that got the tables vote, with many bowls polished down satisfyingly.   
All in all the lunch buffet at Pan Asian was a worthwhile adventure around the various cuisines of different Asian countries.  The food was of a good quality and definitely much better than those cheap Chinese smorgasbords that always seem to serve the same sweet Cantonese dishes dripping in colourful sauces.  At around $30 a head, you get to enjoy some real flavour and I cannot complain about it.  Sure this was no fine dining, despite the Chapel Street address, but the restaurant was comfortable and the decor was modern.  Large, vivid animated Japanese art adorn the wallpaper and provide a colourful backdrop.  A huge chandelier above you on the high ceiling gives a little sense of yesteryear, fused with the citrus coloured oriental laterns brings you right back to today and the hustle and bustle of the street outside.   

Friday, March 2, 2012

Thai Fish Cakes...a plenty

These little fish cakes are the perfect spice delight. You will find them usually in the entree section of Thai restaurant menus and they are usually quite pricey for just a couple of cakes. Indeed, they are very delicious and I still cannot resist ordering them each time, only to be left with disappointment when I have finished the last bite. Thai fish cakes are surprisingly easy to conjure up, and making them is not labour intensive. All it takes is a few easily obtainable ingredients and you will be seated in front of a very generous amount of these devilishly good little fishy bites, all for yourself...unless you want to share!
I use the cheap white fillets that are usually tasteless unless you boost with flavour, which is what this dish exactly does.  Traditional Thai fish cakes use thinly sliced green beans but I find zuchinni works well too - the idea is to provide moisture into the cakes.  When frying these cakes will puff up a fair bit so do not overcrowd the frypan.  They do deflate on standing, to spongy little discs full of zing!
Ingredients, makes about 20 cakes
300g x White fish fillets (approx 2)
1 tbsp x Thai Red Curry Paste
1 tsp x Fish Sauce
1 x Egg, beaten
2 tbsp x Cornflour
1 x Red Chilli, finely chopped
4 x Kaffir Lime leaves, vein removed
1 x Zuchinni, skin on and coarsely grated
Oil for shallow frying
Place oil in a deep frypan on low heat
Add the fish fillets, curry paste, fish sauce, egg, cornflour, chilli and lime leaves into a food procesor bowl
Pulse the food processor a few times to break up the fish
Let it run for a few seconds until the ingredients combine to a thick paste
Dust in the grated zuchinni and fold through to distribute evenly
Turn out mixture into a clean bowl

Turn the heat to medium and bring the oil temperature of the oil up
Using a tablespoon as a guide form the mixture into even balls
Wet the palms of your hand and place a spoonful in the centre

Form the mixture into rough round balls
Test the oil for the right frying temperature by placing a piece of zuchinni in, it should bubble and quickly rise and float.
Carefully place the balls into the frypan in batches, flatten them slightly with a spatula
Turn every 30 seconds for about 4 minutes, the surface will become a reddish brown
Remove from the oil with care and drain on absorbent paper

Serve with a sweet chilli dipping sauce of your choice