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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Fish Fragrant Eggplant...once again!!!

This recipe is a retake, blast-from-the-past, redux, if you may, of a dish that I have been trying to recreate for some time now.  My first encounter with this very intriguingly named dish was at Sichuan House, where they stack it higher than my little molehills effort in the pic above.  I have previously blogged on a version that I cooked up a few months ago.  Check it out at Fish Flavoured Eggplant - This version was tasty, no doubt, but not at all close to the Sichuan House version.  This time around however, armed with the arsenal that is Fuchsia Dunlop's book, Land of Plenty, I think I have hit closer to the mark and I thought I should share the recipe along with a couple of my tweaks to it.
The eggplant in this dish holds up it's crispiness after being deep-fried and the accompanying sauce is not too short of the true Sichuanese taste.  Given that eggplant is my most favourite vegetable...ever, it wont be long before I give this another try after sourcing some authentic Sichuan style Chilli Bean sauce.  The main varieties available contain salted soybeans, but the Sichuan type consists of fermented fava beans.  I will continue hunting, there are plenty of Chinese grocers in Melbourne.
Ingredients, serves 4
2 x Eggplants, cut into large wedges or "fat" chip shapes
1/2 cup x Potato starch or Tapioca starch (I have used cornflour previously but found the tapioca starch really worked well for the crunch that I was looking for)
Oil for deepfrying
1 1/2 tbsp x Chilli bean paste (Lee Kum Kee brand is acceptable but can be salty, adjust to taste and dilute final dish with water if necessary)
3 tsp x Ginger, finely chopped
3 tsp x Garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup x Chicken stock
1 1/2 tsp x Sugar
1/2 tsp x Light soy sauce
1 tsp x cornflour mixed with 1 tbsp x Cold water 
1 1/2 tsp x Chinkiang Chinese Black Vinegar
4 x Spring onions, green parts sliced into fine rings
1 tsp x Sesame oil
Place the eggplant chips on a flat plate and sprinkle about a tablespoon salt over the surface. Leave to stand for 30 minutes while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. This is to draw out some of the liquid within the vegetable.
Heat the oil in a frypan or wok and allow to reach a good deep frying temperature (about 190 degrees celcius)
Wipe the eggplant pieces with kitchen towel to remove the extracted liquid
Place the tapioca flour (or potato flour) in a clean plastic bag along with the eggplant
Secure the opening and shake well to coat the eggplant in the flour completely 
Carefully fry the eggplant in batches for about five minutes until cooked through and crispy on the outside but not burnt
Remove with a slotted spoon, draining as much oil, and keep warm in a serving dish while you finish the sauce.
For the sauce, heat a wok with two tablespoons of the oil
Stir in the chilli bean paste for 30 seconds followed by the ginger and garlic for another 30 seconds 
Next combine the stock, sugar and soy and add to the dish, add a little salt to taste, if required, bring to a boil
Briskly whisk in the cornflour mixture and continue to stir until the sauce thickens
Now add the vinegar and spring onions and allow to cook for a few seconds  
Finally stir in the sesame oil and remove from the heat 

Pour the sauce over the fried eggplant chips and serve immediately to ensure the eggplants retain some of their crunch
This method with the sauce is listed as an alternative to the original Sichuan recipe in Fuchsia's book. I have tweaked it even further by adding the step of coating with tapioca flour. I prefer the beauty in the crunch of the eggplant when prepared this way, the tapioca gives it the edge, and is an ode to Sichuan House's tower of eggplant.
 The original recipe says to add the non-flour coated, deep-fried eggplant to the wok after the stock, sugar and soy mixture is brought to the boil.  Then it continues with the cornflour slurry, vinegar, spring onions and sesame oil.  I have prepared the dish in this method too, but found that the eggplant becomes far too mushy and the texture feast is missing as everything gets a bit soggy.  I have also had it prepared like so in other Sichuan restaurants but have always gone back to Sichuan House's version that has so much appeal - well for me anyways!!!

And in case you're wondering what is so fishy about a dish called Fish Fragrant Eggplant, which has no fishy ingredients at all, here is a little explanation from the book:- The fish fragrant flavour is one of the 23 flavours of Sichuan and get's its name from the seasonings used in traditional cooking of fish. It has a combination of salty, sweet, sour and spicy tastes and is heavily aromatic from the abundance of ginger, garlic and spring onion.  The sauce's orange colour is derived from the base ingredient of Sichuanese chili bean sauce which is also typical in the cooking of fish dishes.  

Monday, August 27, 2012

Kung Pao Chicken

My love for Sichuan food sent me on a Google search for cookbooks that could broaden my, shall we say, repertoire.  It was only then that I discovered Fuchsia Dunlop, who is very much considered to be the authority on Sichuan cooking, well in the Western world anyway.  She has penned a few books on the subject, having studied the culinary art in the Sichuan province - and she is quite the expert.  
I finally received my copy of Fuchsia Dunlop's Land of Plenty in the mail (It took a while getting here from the UK).  It's not your regular glossy cookbook, however.  Rather, it is quite reminiscent of a high school text book.  Lots of black and white pages and very few pictures - the kind you would scribble doodles on during those classes when boredom struck.  The first eighty or so pages are made up of a lengthy introduction and then a walk through the cutting techniques and ingredients in a typical Sichuanese pantry. To say the least, I have been so engrossed in reading the book that I figured it was time to try a recipe.
Kung Pao or Gung Bao Chicken is a dish I only discovered by chance at an impromptu take away fix a couple of years ago.  I have been making the dish ever since and absolutely love it.  The flavours of the soy and rice wine in the dish meld together in a smoky aromatic finish that fills the air well before the liquid hits the wok.  As with most Chinese cuisine, the preparation stage is always the most time consuming.  But the reward is far greater than the time spent - well for me anyways!  
Ingredients, serves 6
6 x Chicken Thigh Fillets, cut into 1cm cubes
6 x Garlic cloves, finely sliced
2" piece x Ginger, finely sliced
10 x Spring onions (scallions), white parts only cut into 1" lengths
2 tbsp x Peanut Oil
12 x Dried Chilli, snip in half and discard seeds
2 tsp x Sichuan Pepper
2 handfuls x Peanuts or Cashews, roasted 
1 tsp x Salt
4 tsp x Light Soy sauce
2 tsp x Shaoxing wine
3 tsp x Cornflour
2 tbsp x Water
6 tsp x Sugar
5 tsp x Cornflour
2 tsp x Dark Soy sauce
2 tsp x Light Soy sauce
6 tsp x Chinese Black Vinegar 
2 tsp x Sesame Oil
2-4 Tbsp of Water, as required
Combine marinade ingredients in a large bowl and toss through the cubed chicken pieces
Marinate for at least 1 hour
Place all sauce ingredients into a pouring jug and stir to combine
Heat the oil in the wok until it is just about to start smoking
Add the halved and deseeded chilli and Sichuan pepper and stir fry for 30 seconds
Tip in the marinating chicken and stir fry for about 5 minutes
Now stir in the spring onion, ginger and garlic and stir fry for another 5 minutes

Pour in the combined sauce ingredients

Stir through for two minutes, taste and adjust salt if required
When the sauce thickens slightly add the peanuts or cashews 

 Stir through for a minute 

 Remove from wok an place in a serving dish

 A dish as flavoursome as Kung Pao chicken can only be complimented with a bowl of Jasmine rice....ahhh delicious!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Review: Awash - African Restaurant & Bar, Footscray

On a cold weeknight in winter, I was out for some dinner with my usual band of food misfits (and I say misfits because we have stumbled upon some bad food many a times).  They wanted to eat something different that they hadn't tried before.  I had been raving about Ethiopian food for some time now and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to introduce them to the cuisine.  On checking some of the reviews on Urbanspoon we decided to try out a place I had never been to either - Awash - It had 4 and a half stars and sounded promising.  Nestled quietly on the less busy end of Hopkins St, Footscray, this little gem was just waiting to be discovered by unsuspecting foodies like us.  
The restaurant was empty albeit one table of four older gents of African origin.  An empty dining room usually sets of alarm bells in my head, ringing about bad food and or service and I am sure my other cohorts were thinking the same thing too.  But we were to discover that there isn't much truth in this notion - at least not on this night anyways.

The owner operator approached and welcomed us into the bright gaudily decorated room.  She was dressed in traditional costume and looked like a typical Ethiopian mother going about her chores against a backdrop of a bright maroon wall adorned with traditional painings.  Behind the counter was her kitchen setup, that added to the homeliness with her four burner stove with pots and pans steaming busily on the hobs.
What's good to drink?  Well, when in Rome...I mean Ethiopia we must try some local beer and Harar beer was suggested for us to try.  We did not need convincing - bring it on. It was a crisp drop of the amber stuff that was certainly refreshing and was going to be perfect to sooth the impending chilli heat from the food we were about to eat - unbeknownst to my fellow diners.  They had eaten some of my hot and spicy creations before and I didn't think Ethiopian would be hard to palette - besides we had the Harar beer at our disposal if required.
Dishing up the Doro Wat
 Our host suggested that with appetites like ours, that we order at least two meat mains and a veg dish.  She brought out the Injera bread first laid out on a huge plate ready to be dressed in the spicy stews that followed.  I was looking forward to the Chicken Doro Wat as I wanted to taste how well the version I had made stacked up to a real Ethiopian's. it came served with a hard boiled egg and although very scant on the meat pieces, it was well flavoured and definitely had a kick.  I could have done with a few more pieces of chicken as a small piece was not enough.
Full Forward - Derek Tibs 
I highly recommend the Derek Tibs - and although it sounds like a football player's name I assure you it's not.  This is a dish of dry pan fried beef or lamb (we had the lamb) cooked with spices and served piping hot.  The lamb was tender and delicious and really put up good competition to the doro wats as our favourite dish - it even came served in an ornate dish, which added to its charm.
Being the big meat eaters that we were, it seems remiss of us to stop at two meat dishes so we ordered the the Awash Special Tibs - a dish of stewed beef cooked with spices and Ethiopian seasoned butter - Niter Kibbeh.  This was a nice wet stew with lots of spicy runny gravy.
Awash Special Tibs

Ful - beans never tasted so good!
Pressed to order a vegetarian dish the decision was made to go with the Ful - Ethiopia's version of the very popular Arabic dish Foul Medames.  Considering the Ful had beans at it's base, this dish was surprisingly a hit.  The flavour that Berbere spices give to mashed beans is quite unique and well worth a try.  Even if you are not a fan of beans this dish will impress as you tend to forget that you are eating the humble bean.

Traditionally, wots and tibs are laid over a huge Injera loaf and our host served portions to form a circle in front of us so that each of us would have a taste of each dish.  
Dig in don't wait!
We were brought out scroll rolled extra injera to use for the meal and the best part was waiting for us at the end when we would be able to eat the stew soaked injera from the main plate.
 The quiet little restaurant that we entered about an hour ago had certainly surprised us with its delicious food and homely service.  Since we practically had the place to ourselves we had run of the house and asked the host to crank up the stereo with some of her hometown sounds.  It was quite a unique experience that I can liken to being at your grandma's home, where she is cooking up a storm in the kitchen for you and your mates.
  Footscray has its fair share of Ethiopian restaurants and you really are spoilt for choice. Despite its poor patronage Awash definitely could contend for some of the best tasting cuisine from the region and I am most happy to have tried it and can attest to that claim.
If you're nice to the owner, she will let you wear the Ethiopian knitted cap too! All hail the Fresh Prince of Awash!     
Awash on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 10, 2012

Ful...Ethiopian inspired medames (beans)

Ful medames is a common dish that originated in Egypt.  It has a basic list of staple ingredients with mashed fava beans at it's base combined with fresh aromatics and olive oil.  Surprisingly ful is very much enjoyed as a breakfast dish in parts of the Arab world.  We ordered it at a recent (dinner) visit to an Ethiopian restaurant in Footscray and were thrown aback by it's flavour and taste.  With a big batch of berbere powder still remaining from my last foray in Ethiopian Doro Wats, I was very inspired to make my own ful dish.  What resulted was a fine example of how the simplest things can be so good.  This is hardly a recipe - if anything it is simply a quick fix for a boring can of beans from the pantry - in no time it is transformed into pure deliciousness.
2 tbsp Olive Oil 
400g can x Cannellini Beans (Fava Beans if you want to be authentic!)
1 x small Onion, diced finely
2 cloves x Garlic, crushed
1 tsp x Sweet Paprika
2 tbsp x Berbere powder
1/2 cup x Stock
1/2 cup x water 
Salt, to taste
Chili, to garnish
Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the paprika, stir for a minute on low heat
add the onions and saute gently for 5 minutes then add the garlic and stir through
Add the berbere powder and stir to combine all ingredients 
Rinse and drain the beans and add to the spice mix with the stock

Bring to a boil then lower heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes
Add a little water at a time to maintain the sauce consistency
After the 10 minutes mash beans gently, folding through the sauce
Season well with salt, tasting to adjust accordingly
Cook for a further 2 minutes
Garnish with chopped chilli
Serve with injera, to be authentic, as part of an Ethiopian meal 

- or it even goes well with Lebanese flatbread.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Doro Wats - Spicy Chicken Stew from Ethiopia

So without any further say or do here is the recipe to what many consider the national dish of Ethiopia. And after cooking this stew and sampling it's exquisite deliciousness - all I have to say is that more national dishes should be like this one. This deep bodied stew is so full of flavour. It gets its dark red appearance from the loads of paprika in the Berberé powder, that is essentially the soul of the dish. Doro wats have a huge spicy kick that will knock your taste buds for a six. The Ethiopian eating experience is only further enhanced by pairing the unique flavours of this dish with the equally unique Injera bread. The slighty tart, sourness of the flatbread compliments the pungency of the stew perfectly.  I highly recommend tracking down a supplier in your neck of the woods.
Ingredients, serves 6 as part of a shared meal
1.5 kg x skinless Chicken thigh fillets, cut into bite size pieces
Juice x 1 Lemon
1tsp x Salt
2 x Onions, finely chopped
4 x Garlic cloves
2-inch piece x Ginger
60ml Niter Kibbeh
2tbsp x Paprika
4-5 heaped tbsp x Berberé powder
1 cup x Chicken Stock
½ cup x Red wine
1 tsp x Cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper - to taste
4 - 6 Hard-boiled eggs
Marinate the chicken pieces with the lemon juice and salt for about 30 minutes.
Puree the onions, garlic and ginger in a food processor, adding a little water if necessary.
Heat the niter kibbeh in a heavy pot over medium heat.
Add the paprika and stir well to color the oil for about 1 minute making sure not to burn the spice.
Now stir in the berberé paste and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the pureed onion, garlic and ginger and sauté for about 5 minutes stirring to cook down the onions
Pour in the stock and wine and bring to a boil
Next add in the marinated chicken pieces and stir to combine
Sprinkle in the cayenne pepper and season with salt and pepper.
Bring back to a gentle boil then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 45 minutes or until the chicken is very tender
Add a little extra water if the sauce begins to dry during the simmering stage, this dish needs a rich and thick gravy
Add the whole hard boiled eggs in the final 5 minutes and check seasoning
Serve hot dolloped directly onto the injera bread.
Roll up additional loaves of injera into scrolls and serve slightly warmed

A variation for vegetarians is to replace the meat with eggplant and zuchinni and cook for about 20 minutes - use veggie stock of course!
By far, one of the most unique tasting dishes that I have ever cooked and definitely a speciality.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Berberé and Niter Kibbeh - prelude to Ethopian Stew

One of my favourite foodie haunts as mentioned previously is the western suburban town of Footscray (West of Melbourne that is). In addition to the huge Vietnamese quarter of Footscray is the much more recently populated African quarter. Along the main shopping strips of Footscray, more and more restaurants pop up that allow you to venture (bravely and sometimes blindly) into the showcase of another worldly cuisine. Sometimes, the discovery of a new dish can really inspire a foodie like me.
Ethiopian food is one of the first of these that I have ventured out to try and I must say that I found it to be quite a unique experience. I dined at Harambe on Nicholson Street some time back and was delighted in the different style of cooking and taste that traditional Ethiopian food brought with it. I definitely have plans to revisit Harambe with a camera to capture what is undoubtedly a feasting event as they spark up the buffet and entertainment on weekend nights. Watch this space for a review blog, but for now, here is my take on an amazing Ethiopian dish – Doro Wat (Spicy Chicken Stew)
These curry or stewed dishes are often served quite uniquely on a large pancake like bread, indigenous to that part of the world, called Injera. I can assure you that any attempt to make this bread at home could result in major flaws and disappointment as it will never be the same as that from an authentic Injera bakery. (If you can do it - I take my hat off to you - and I'm coming over for some!) This flatbread is made from fermented wheat, pretty much on the same lines as sourdough. Luckily, Footscray has no shortage of bakers that supply Injera so without any hesitation, I recommend purchasing some, as this meal is just not the same without. If you have any Middle Eastern grocers in your locality they may stock it or know of where to purchase it.

To achieve true Ethiopian flavour there are two components that need to be part of this dish and this post is dedicated to those ingredients that I believe are crucial to making a good African stew, especially Doro Wats.  The first is a pungent and fiery red powdered spice mix called Berbere.  As always, with enough due dilligence, you are bound to find some ready made at your friendly African grocer - and I definitely am suggesting you get some if you do not have an extensive spice collection as mine.  But if you have all of the fifteen parts that make u this Berbere powder, then you are halfway there.

For the Berberé½ x tsp Allspice powder
1 x tsp Cardamom powder
½ tsp x Cinnamon powder
½ tsp x Cloves powder
1 tsp x Coriander powder
1 tsp x Cumin powder
1 tsp x Fenugreek powder
½ tsp x Nutmeg powder
1 tsp x Black pepper, crushed
½ tsp x Turmeric powder
3 tbsp x Cayenne Pepper (add more if you like it spicy!)
5 tbsp x Smoked Paprika
1 tbsp x Salt
2 tbsp x Ginger powder
2 tbsp x Garlic powder

Use a heavy based frypan over medium heat and toast the dry spices for a few minutes until aromatic. Be sure to shake the pan continuously to prevent the spice mixture from burning. Once the Berberé is cooled you can run it through a spice grinder to get a nice consistency in texture if you wish.

Niter Kibbeh is is a well seasoned clarified butter used in Ethiopian cooking. You may substitute with ghee (from Indian grocers), but it just would not be the same. The aromatics that are steeped in the hot butter as it clarifies really sets this ingredient apart from any substitution. 

For the Niter Kibbeh
500g x Unsalted Butter, cubed
2 x cloves of garlic, chopped finely
1" piece x Ginger, chopped finely
1 x Small Onion, diced finely
½ tsp x Turmeric powder
½ tsp x Cardamom powder
¼ tsp x Nutmeg powder
¼ tsp x Fenugreek powder
1 x Cinnamon Stick
2 x Cloves
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat
Bring butter to a slight boil, the moisture in it will start to cook off
Now add the chopped garlic, ginger and onion
Stir for a minute and do not allow the ingredients to burn
Now add all the dry powdered and whole spices
Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 45 minutes without stirring
The milk solids in the butter will sink to the bottom of the pan and clarified butter will rise to the top
Strain the liquid discarding the milk solids and spices
Allow the clarified butter to cool and store in the fridge to solidify for use

"You now have the Berberé and Niter Kibbeh and you are set for the Doro Wats click on the link below to go to the recipe
Doro Wats - Spicy Chicken Stew 
"I have to give credit to, from where I have adapted these recipes from. By the way this is a great website for all things African…foodie speaking of course."