Thursday, 29 October 2009

Fresh Popiah (Spring Rolls)

I present to you, one of my Mum's favourite foods since childhood. :)

The word popiah translates literally to mean "thin biscuit" in the Chinese dialects of Hokkien and Teochew, a reference to the soft thin wheat skins used to wrap up spring rolls. Mum has high standards for what constitutes a good popiah, so much so that she has a tendency to compare every version she eats (especially the thinness/quality of the skin) to the one she thinks is superior in her hometown of Ipoh. If you are lucky enough to live somewhere where you can get fresh handmade wraps then grr, good for you- here in London, not daring to hazard making skins of my own (which involves the rather messy and difficult art of rolling a sticky ball of dough on a hot pan then pulling it off to let the residue cook- watch it at I had to resort to using frozen (shock! horror!) spring roll wraps bought from an Asian supermarket. If like me you are in a similar predicament, defrost them at about 45 mins at room temperature, separate each sheet once soft then keep under a damp tea towel to prevent them drying out.

Most people in the West are familiar with the crunchy fried spring roll often served as a starter in restaurants, but are unaware that an equally (if not more) delicious un-fried, more substantially-filled variety of it exists. Dressed in a touch of sweet Hoisin sauce and chilli oil, the healthy and flavourful popiah is loaded with everything nutritious from grated jicama/yam bean (also known as Mexican turnip, sengkuang, mengkuang or bangkuang depending on who you ask), carrots, beans and lettuce to tofu, beansprouts and cucumber, then topped with shredded omelette, crispy fried shallots and crunchy crushed peanuts before being bundled up to create a tidy little package bursting with yumminess.

Not quite the Ipoh version Mum, but it does the job :)

Fresh Popiah (Spring Rolls)

Makes 4-6 rolls

Prep all filling ingredients beforehand and lay out so your popiah can be assembled easily.

Jicama Filling:
Mince and saute 1 clove garlic and 1 shallot/half an onion in a bit of oil over low heat, without browning.

Stir in and let cook for 5 mins:
500g jicama/yam bean, peeled and grated
1 small carrot, grated
Handful green beans, chopped into bits
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
Dash of white pepper

Cover and simmer for 15-20 mins until cooked. The jicama will produce a lot of water- be sure to squeeze it dry before using in the popiah.

Prepare the shredded omelette: Scramble 2 eggs with a touch of light soy sauce and white pepper in a bowl, then fry in a bit of oil in a large frying pan for a few minutes on each side. Let cool slightly before slicing into thin strips.

Prepare the peanut sugar: Chuck a handful of roasted peanuts with a teaspoon of sugar in a food processor. Blitz until it forms coarse grains.

Rinse and dry some fresh lettuce leaves.

You will also need some hoisin sauce (I recommend Koon Chun or Lee Kum Kee), Sriracha chilli sauce or chilli oil, and crispy fried shallots/onions, all of which can be bought in Asian supermarkets.

Other fillings you can also use if desired: cooked firm beancurd, blanched beansprouts, grated cucumber or seafood/meat such as pork, cooked shrimp, crab and sliced lap cheong (Chinese pork sausage).

The frozen spring roll sheets I use (found in the freezer section of Asian supermarkets)

To Assemble
Carefully peel off one popiah sheet from the stack and place on a large plate.

Spread 1/2 tsp hoisin sauce and 1/2 tsp Sriracha or chilli oil in a thin layer over the entire sheet.

Place 1 lettuce leaf in the centre of the sheet.

Spoon over 2-3 tbsp of the prepared jicama filling, squeezing off excess liquid before doing so.

Top with shredded omelette.

Sprinkle generously with peanut sugar.

Sprinkle generously with fried shallots.

Fold one end of the wrap over tightly to enclose the fillings.

Fold in the edges.

Flip the wrap over to seal.

Slice firmly all the way through with a sharp knife (easiest on a flat chopping board and using
a non-serrated blade) into 4-5 pieces. Garnish with fried shallots and serve immediately.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Malaysian Beef Rendang (Spicy Dry Beef Stew with Coconut)

Rendang, when made well, can be a simply luscious experience. This most traditional and delectable of Malay dishes essentially consists of melt-in-the-mouth beef chunks, slow-cooked in rich coconut cream and freshly ground Asian spices until it is tender, moist and bursting with a complex blend of mouthwatering flavours.

It isn't the simplest or fastest dish to cook up, but trust me- the delicious end result is well worth it. The secret to the beautiful taste lies in the kerisik- toasted grated coconut pounded to an oily paste. I use dessicated coconut, but if you are lucky enough to have fresh grated coconut easily available then do go for that. As with most Asian dishes, don't worry about being too exact with the shallots/garlic/dried chillies- the quantities provided are rough estimates and you should increase/decrease as needed depending on the size of each clove or bulb, and your own personal taste. Also by all means make this one or two days before you intend to eat it- the flavour simple improves and intensifies the longer it is kept :) Who says leftovers can't be amazing?

Malaysian Beef Rendang (Spicy Dry Beef Stew with Coconut)
Serves 6

  • Spice Paste
Blend together until smooth:
6 small red shallots
6 cloves garlic
1” galangal
1” ginger
4 stalks lemongrass (white part only)
12 dried chillies-soaked for a few hours or overnight in warm water and deseeded
A few candlenuts

  • Kerisik

Toast 1½ cups dessicated coconut (makes about 6-8 tablespoons) slowly over low-medium heat until it turns from white to golden brown, stirring frequently. Then pound with a pestle and mortar, or grind in a spice mill (once it has cooled) until it forms an oily paste.

*Kerisik keeps well so you can make a big batch and store for future use if desired*

Cooking the Rendang

Heat 5 tbsp oil and fry spice paste until fragrant. Add:
1 cinnamon stick
4 cloves
4 star anise
4 cardamom pods

Add and brown briefly:
1 kg stewing/casserole beef, cut into cubes
1 stalk lemongrass, cut into 2” lengths and smashed

Pour in and simmer on medium heat, stirring frequently until almost cooked:
1 cup (250ml) coconut cream
1 cup water
2 tsp tamarind juice (soak a bit of dried tamarind pulp/block/paste in warm water, then pour through a sieve and discard seeds/fibres)

Blend well into meat, cover and simmer on low heat, stirring occasionally for 2 hours or until gravy is dry and meat is tender:
8 kaffir lime leaves, sliced thinly
8 tbsp kerisik
1 turmeric leaf (if you have it)
1 heaped tbsp palm sugar (or dark brown muscovado sugar if you can't get palm)
Salt to taste

Serve with hot rice or soft roti.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Garlicky Roast Lamb Shoulder with Herbs

Lamb is simply my ultimate favourite when it comes to English Sunday roasts- more moist and succulent than traditional beef (recipe here if you prefer it), and definitely far superior in natural flavour than pork or poultry.

Whilst a whole leg used to be my cut of choice, I recently discovered that lamb shoulder is not only cheaper but a provider of sweeter, more tender meat, probably due to the fact that it is a more gelatinous joint which a higher proportion of fat layered between its flesh. Try and choose a piece that isn't too fatty (it's no fun chewing on forkfuls of white stuff) and make sure you use a wire rack so that all the grease can drip off (to be used later as part of the gravy, or to bake the Yorkshire Puddings).

Whichever cut you use, as with any roast the trimmings and sides are just as important as the meat itself so be sure to serve this with lots of rich gravy, roast potatoes/parsnips/carrots (or buttered/mashed/baked if you prefer), something green like broccoli or beans or cabbage and most importantly, the aforementioned Yorkshire puds to soak it all up.

Garlicky Roast Lamb Shoulder with Herbs (serves 6)
*Recipe based on a 2kg shoulder joint on the bone, cooked to a juicy pink medium. Vary your cooking times accordingly*

*Marinate your joint a few hours or even the night before if you have time

Place the lamb on a wire rack over a foil-lined roasting tray and make little but deep incisions all over both sides of the meat with a small pointed knife. Smash 3-4 large cloves of garlic (or however much you want) very well until it can be stripped into pulpy slivers, then stuff into each slit. Make sure to tuck garlic under any layer of fat or crevice in the meat as well, so that the meat is nicely garlicky all over.

Rub both sides of the meat with the following:
Light drizzle of olive oil (not too much as the joint already has its own fat)
Good splash of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce
Lots of salt (I use crumbled sea salt flakes with rosemary but any salt is fine)
Lots of freshly ground black pepper
Generous sprinkle of mixed dried herbs (I like a good mix of thyme, marjoram, parsley, oregano, rosemary, sage and/or basil, gives a far more complex flavour than just one herb alone)

Preheat oven to 230 C/445 F (210 C/410 F fan-assisted). Pour a bit of water into the roasting pan under the rack (so that the meat stays moist), cover the entire tray in foil and roast for 20 minutes at this temperature. Lower heat to 200 C/395 F (180 C/350 F fan-assisted) and continue to cook about 15 minutes for every 500g, then take the foil off and let it roast a further 15 minutes uncovered (so my 2kg joint took about 1 hour 35 minutes in total). There is no need to baste while roasting- the shoulder is fatty enough to baste itself.

Remove the lamb from the oven, wrap it in foil and let it rest at room temperature for 20-30 mins. This is MUST so the inside of the joint can turn more succulent cooking in the residual heat. (I usually make my Yorkshire Puddings at this point so everything is ready to eat at the same time).

Once rested, carve and enjoy! :)


Pour all the juices from the roasting tin into a pot, adding some water if required. Chuck in a few spoonfuls of gravy granules, some milk or a dollop of cream to thicken and bring to boil.