Easy meals with an Asian bent

What I love most about good, fresh food is the awesome flavour. So much Asian food is focused on barely cooked vegetables and herbs and I just can’t get enough of it.

Most of my meals are based on convenience (ie. what’s in the fridge or pantry; what needs using up): I find it especially satisfying when I put foods together for a non-flavour reason and the final dish tastes über-fab anyway.

This is what happened to me the other night. I had pak choy and mushrooms begging to be used; the end result is below. And so continues my love affair with star anise

Recipe #27: Simple chicken stirfry. Serves 2 (big servings).

You will need:
• 2 tsp olive oil
• 1 tsp sesame oil
• 2 star anise
• 1 tsp ginger, finely chopped
• 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
• 2 tsp fenugreek
• 3 tbsp dark soy sauce
• 1 lime, cut into 6 wedges
• 1 glass dry white wine
• 1 chicken breast
• 1 packet bean noodles [or you can use a small packet of rice vermicelli]
• 1 chicken stock cube [I use Masel]
• 1 carrot, finely sliced
• 1 bunch baby pak choy, leaves and part-stems only
• 6 mushrooms, sliced
• 2 heaped tsp cornflour
• 1 cup water
• 1 handful coriander, roughly chopped [you could use basil instead]
• 1 small handful mint, roughly chopped
• salted cashew & macadamia nuts

To start, place the oils, star anise, ginger, garlic and fenugreek in a wok and bring saucepan to medium-hot. When the wok has been sizzling for about a minute, stir, then squeeze in 4 of the lime wedges, add the dark soy and wine, and place the chicken breast in the wok. Place the lid over the top and leave for 10 minutes, turning the heat to low once the wok starts to sizzle. Turn the chicken breast over and cook for a further 10-15 minutes.

While the chicken is cooking, prepare the bean noodles as per the packet instructions – usually 15 minutes soaking in cold water. They are ready to use when they are soft and glassy.

Next, remove the chicken and place on a plate to one side to cool slightly. Smoosh the stock cube into the watery base. Add a little water (up to ½ cup) if most of the liquid has evaporated. Sprinkle the carrot, mushrooms, then pak choy into the wok. Replace the lid for a further 2-3 minutes.

While you are doing this, hand shred the chicken. Add this to the wok and stir well.

Mix the cornflour into the cup of water, ensuring that the result is runny and well-combined. Give the wok ingredients another good stir, then push the chicken and vegetables to the side, allowing the liquid to pool at the bottom of the wok. If the liquid is not bubbling, turn up the heat to medium > once it is bubbling, slowly pour in the cornflour+water mix, constantly stirring it into the wok liquid. Once it starts to thicken, stir in the chicken and vegetables, and the noodles. Now it’s cooked; turn off the heat.

Finally, stir through the coriander and mint. Now it’s ready to serve.

Serve into bowls with a lime wedge that should be squeezed over the stirfry just prior to eating. A sprinkling of nuts over the top will add a delightful textural contrast.

mmm...chickenly goodness

The freshness of this meal made me crave something else: cold rolls. So I made them for dinner a few nights later.

Recipe #28: Cold rolls. Aka “rice paper rolls”. Aka “Vietnamese spring rolls”. Makes 20+.

Thank you to my sister, Katie, for inspiring me with her excellent version that she serves with a warmed satay sauce.

For my version, you need:
• 1 packet rice paper sheets [you can prepare 6-8 sheets at a time by soaking them in a deep dinner plate full of room temperature water – I place each sheet into the water individually then turn the whole lot over so that I am using the ‘oldest’ sheet first. Make sense?]
• meat from ½ barbecued chicken, shredded
• 1 packet bean noodles, prepared as per packet instructions [or you can use a small packet of rice vermicelli]
• 2 handfuls mung bean shoots
• 1 handful coriander, roughly chopped [you could use basil instead]
• 1 small handful mint, roughly chopped
• 1 whitlof, finely sliced [you could use baby cos lettuce leaves instead]

Mix all ingredients together except for the chicken and rice paper sheets. Take 1 softened rice paper sheet and spoon ~2 tbsp filling close to one edge. Lay 2-3 strips of shredded chicken on top. Fold over the filling side of the rice paper sheet, then fold over the top and bottom and roll.

[Mediterrasian has great instructions on how to roll, and a yummy-looking alternative recipe for a filling and dipping sauce. I also managed to find this instructional video on YouTube.]

I made a dipping sauce to match:
• 1 tsp peanut or sesame oil
• 2 tsp fish sauce
• 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
• 2 tbsp mirin
• juice of 1 lime
• 1 tsp ginger, finely chopped
• 1 large chilli, finely chopped
• 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
• ½-1 cup hoisin sauce

Mix all of the ingredients together, except for the hoisin sauce. Let sit for at least half an hour then strain into a serving bowl. Do not discard the leftover solid bits – these will make an excellent spice base for your next stirfry. To finish, mix the hoisin sauce into the strained liquid. You can include a floating garnish if you like – eg. sliced chilli and coriander leaves.

You can dip the cold roll into the sauce or, as I like to do, you can bite off one end and spoon the sauce into the roll for a real flavour burst. These are so fresh and full of chlorophyll that you can feel the life force pulsing through you as you eat.

simply delicious

You can add anything you want to these rolls, which also taste delicious with prawns or thin slices of beef. Or, for a vegetarian version, add light soy sauce in place of the fish sauce and try adding fried shallots and/or crushed peanuts to the roll filling.

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