Author: The Muddled Pantry

Born out of a passion for the food I love to eat, feed and share, The Muddled Pantry is about satisfying a global palette with limited ingredients

Cantonese Beef Steak

Some days you just wake up with a hankering for a really nice bit of steak, but if you are anything like me, that beefy craving is usually for steak of an altogether different variety: Cantonese beef steak!

Growing up in Penang in the early 80s the only time I really ate steak was at Chinese restaurants, where it was invariably prepared Cantonese-style. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that I’ve only recently begun to appreciate Western-style steak. Unnaturally tender and served with an addictively sweet soya-based pepper sauce, Chinese beef steak was undoubtedly the steak of my childhood! Of course, like all middle-class families in 80s  Penang we occasionally ate at the Eden Cantonese Beef SteakSteak House on Hutton Road, with its glorious coral décor and outlandish flourish of curly parsley (as children we were unconvinced that the parsley was, in fact, edible!). Looking back, we actually used to visit the Steak House quite often, but strangely enough I don’t recall ever actually ordering the steak. I’m pretty certain my father might have had it on occasion, but that was “dad food”. At any rate, who wanted steak when you could have lobster thermidor and prawn cocktail instead? This was, after all, the 80s…

So what makes a piece of steak Chinese?

The first thing that makes this dish such a Chinese classic is the sauce. Glossy and rich, this sauce is the perfect mix of sweet and peppery goodness – this isn’t a sauce for the faint of heart! The Worcestershire sauce adds spiced depth, whilst the tomato sauce imparts a hint of colour and extra body once everything has been reduced down to a sticky, gooey sauce.

Secondly (and most importantly) is the texture of the meat. Marinated in a batter made with corn flour, eggs and Bicarbonate of Soda, the beef is rendered meltingly tender – almost to the point that the texture of the steak no longer resembles meat. This might sound unappealing, but this technique of tenderising meat with Bicarbonate of Soda is fairly widespread in Chinese cooking where the quality of the meat is not always guaranteed. As unpalatable as it may seem, the use of Bicarb goes a long way in making the Chinese food you make at home actually taste like the cuisine you are striving to emulate. Authenticity isn’t always pretty, especially when making Chinese food!

For more Chinese recipes from the Muddled Pantry, please follow the link here.

For tips on stocking a Chinese pantry, please follow the link here.

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Gimbap 김밥 (Korean Seaweed Rice Rolls)

Gimbap 김밥 (Korean Seaweed Rice Rolls)Food is so often about memory and for me gimbap will forever remind me of one thing: icebergs.

It may seem like an unlikely association to have with this Korean staple, but it’s hardly surprising given that first time I had gimbap I was sailing across an impossibly blue glacial lake in the heart of Patagonia. I watched with awe as an iceberg the size of a double-decker bus floated by like a feather on water, all the while merrily munching on my gimbap packlunch. It was certainly a surreal experience and one I’ll never forget, both visually and culinarily speaking.

Admittedly Argentina might seem like the least likely place to find gimbap (or kimbap), but our hotel in El Calafate was run by a delightfully un-Argentinian Korean family and they happened to offer gimbap as a packed lunch option. Of course I couldn’t resist ordering it for our planned boat tour on Lago Argentino! At this stage of our trip I was understandably sick of empanadas so I jumped at the chance to try something different. More than that, however, I was intrigued that these Korean expats had deemed gimbap worthy of re-creating in this one-horse town in the depths of Patagonia. It couldn’t be an easy (or cheap) undertaking, so to my mind it most definitely had to be worth ordering!

So yes, Koreans sure do love their gimbap.

With its origins found in the Japanese occupation of Korea, gimbap literally translates to seaweed (gim) rice (bap) and is Korea’s answer to sushi (specifically norimaki), but with a few key differences.

The first major departure is the rice. Whilst short-grained rice is used in both, the difference lies in the dressing. Instead of the rice vinegar dressing that is used in Japanese sushi, gimbap rice is seasoned with sesame oil and salt.

Secondly, the gimbap fillings are all pre-cooked which means that gimbap keeps for far longer than sushi does – making it a popular option for picnics and takeaway lunches. Although typically eaten alone, mini-gimbaps are also served as a side dish to the pre-eminent and spicy manifestation of Korean street food  that is ttoekbokki (떡볶이).

Another key difference is the texture of the seaweed wrapping. Although similar seaweed sheets are used in both gimbap and norimaki, the seaweed used for gimbap becomes much chewier as it is typically eaten long after it has been rolled and as such, absorbs the moisture from the rice.

There are really no limits to the variations of gimbap fillings, but generally speaking the most commonly found are sogogi (beef) gimbap (소고기 김밥) and chamchi (tuna) gimbap  (참치김밥). I have included the ingredient lists for both beef and tuna gimbap below. Once the ingredients have been prepared the process for making the rice and assembling the gimbap remains the same regardless of the fillings.

For more Korean recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

For tips on stocking a Korean Pantry, please click here

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Southern-style Pulled Pork

It may seem like a classic overshare, but I recently had a brief (but torrid) romance with a slow cooker that I bought online. Alas it really didn’t end well, but in the three and a half days we were together we did manage to make one great thing – pulled pork.

Ah, pulled pork, how we all love thee.

Arguably the reigning darling of the slow cooking movement, pulled pork is America’s Deep South’s gift to the culinary world. Traditionally slow-cooked and smoked for hours on a barbeque, pulled pork can in fact be cooked in a number of waysSouthern-style Pulled Pork including in a slow cooker or even in a conventional oven. I’ve only ever made pulled pork in a slow cooker and its always turned out great, but no matter which method you favour the key word is always SLOW – there is simply no rushing pulled pork.

Although most commonly made with a shoulder of pork, recipes for pulled pork vary wildly from region to region and state to state. Many recipes use a dry rub before cooking, whilst some just use a ‘wet’ recipe where a BBQ sauce is simply slavered over the meat before it’s cooked. Personally I prefer the dry rub method as it most definitely adds more flavour and complexity to the final dish. I also like to leave the skin on the pork as it just offers that extra assurance that the meat won’t dry out – simply peel it off and throw away once the pork is done.

When it comes to the actual “pulling” of the pork many recipes suggest using a couple of forks, but I like to get in there and use my hands. It may be a whole lot messier, but doing it by hand gives you more control over the texture of the pork and it makes it easier to identify any fat or gristle that you may want to remove.

Unsurprisingly, when it comes to serving pulled pork I’m a bit of a traditionalist – it can be served with any type of white bread (any burger bun, bap, pita or pretzel will do), but it should always come with a generous heap of coleslaw on the side (I’m obsessed with Asian Coleslaw at the moment) as well as some extra BBQ sauce.

Note: pulled pork freezes brilliantly

Click here for the recipe

Cape Malay Pickled Fish

Down here in the Cape you always know Easter is just around the corner when a seasonal preoccupation takes hold of our beloved city; yes, I’m talking about our pickled fish obsession.

It comes out of nowhere. Overnight supermarkets load tables with tubs of this sweet & sour delight, whole yellowtail is suddenly on the Specials board of your local fishmonger and, most tellingly, internet and food blog searches for pickled Pickled Fishfish recipes sky rocket. All pickled portents that tell us one thing – Easter is upon us.

Before its association with Easter, pickled fish was simply a tasty way for the Cape Malay community to make the most of an abundance of fish during the summer months by preserving the fish – allowing them to keep the fish for an extended period of time. This classic Cape Malay dish is the perfect example of the heavy influence of Malaysian and Indonesian culture on Cape cuisine as the pickling liquid is more akin to a sweet and sour curry than any other methods of pickling fish.  Traditionally snoek and yellowtail were the favoured catch as their dense flesh withstands the pickling process especially well, but flaker fish such as cob and hake can also be used although I prefer using yellowtail.

Of course there is also the small matter of what you should serve your pickled fish with.

The most common way is to simply have it with buttered white bread, but for those of you with a sense of adventure you can always try it with another Easter treat – hot cross buns. I know this might sound like a crazy and unappealing combination, but there really is method in this Easter mash-up madness. Call it an Easter miracle, but for some reason it really does taste amazingly good!

Pickled fish and hot cross buns; yep, welcome to the true taste of the Cape.

For more South African recipes from the Muddled Pantry, please click HERE

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Yam Khai Dao ยำไข่ดาว (Thai Fried Egg Salad)

Laughably easy to make and refreshingly different, Yam Khai Dao is definitely one of my favourite Thai salads and has become a regular feature of any Thai meal of mine.

Yam Khai Dao ยำไข่ดาว (Thai Fried Egg Salad)As with so many Thai dishes, this deceptively simple salad is a master class in contrast with the crispy, rich eggs giving balance to the classic sweet sour dressing and the bite of the chilli is tempered by the fresh herbs and lettuce. This is most definitely a case of remarkable food made with the most basic of ingredients.

Personally I think the addition of a salad is an essential part to any Thai meal. Not only do they as offer the perfect foil to the richness of most mainstay Thai dishes (like coconut based curries and fragrant salty stir-fries), but they also provide balance to a meal, both in terms of healthy eating and flavour.

Considerations of balance and healthy eating aside, Yam Khai Dao’s true appeal lies in the fact that it is so easy to make and, short of some palm sugar, requires almost no specialised Thai ingredients. Unsurprisingly the key component of this salad is the eggs; they must be cooked in a decent puddle of smoking hot oil to ensure that the whites of the eggs bubble up immediately upon contact, resulting in lovely crispy eggs without being saturated in fat. I love the fact that you can prepare most of the salad and dressing in advance and all that’s left to do before serving is to fry the eggs and mix everything together. To say that Yam Khai Dao is as easy as frying an egg is an understatement – if you can get that right, then the success of the salad is almost assured!

For more delicious Thai recipes please click here, or if you need tips on stocking your Thai Pantry please click here.

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Eloise’s Whisky Truffles

Simple and thoroughly decadent, these wonderful French-style truffles are a chocoholic’s dream come true. 

The ultimate bittersweet nibble, these truffles work well as a final flourish to a dinner party with a glass of cognac, port or even as a sneaky chocolate treat to be had when nobody’s looking.

I first had these truffles many years ago when I moved to Cape Town. My dear friend Eloise made them for me once as a thank you gift for inviting her family to dinner one evening. As it was the first time I had met her she was blissfully unaware that I’m lactose intolerant so I just passed the thoughtful gift on to my partner (who is a chocolate-fiend of note) and didn’t think about them until the next day.

As it turned out, the truffles weren’t to my partner’s taste at all as they weren’t as sweet as he would have liked. More surprisingly, however, they turned out to be right up my street! I’m not normally a ‘sweet’ person, but every now and again there are exceptions to the rule and these are most certainly that – exceptional!

Bitter, sweet and with a hint of whisky; these little chocolate gems are most definitely worth the consequences of lactose intolerance and that’s not something I say lightly.

Click here for the recipe

Bhartha (Spicy Indian Eggplant)

Generally speaking I’m an unashamed carnivore at heart, but when it comes to Indian food I’m more than willing to forsake my love of meat and go 100% vegetarian. Not only is this advisable whilst eating in India, the reality is that Indian food is truly a culinary-nirvana for the non-meat eaters amongst us.

Your rogan joshs and butter chickens aside, Indian food is perhaps the most karma-conscious cuisine in the world with a mind-boggling array of vegan and vegetarian dishes to choose from, one is never short of tasty delights from the sub-continent. At any rate, this diversity of dishes make an Indian feast a great option for a dinner party as it allows you to cater for a wide range of tastes and needs, all without compromising the overall success of the meal. Generally speaking, whether the dish be vegan or laden with meat, all Indian food goes well together.

I’ve always thought of eggplants and Indian cooking as being the perfect partners. It was almost as if the silky opaque flesh of the eggplant was specifically designed to absorb the rich flavours of Indian cooking and as such could withstand even the boldest of spices.

Personally bhartha has always been my favourite way of preparing eggplant and is often a stalwart of any Indian meal of mine, largely for three reasons: it is easy to make, tastes amazing and can be made days in advance. Traditionally the eggplant is deep-fried resulting in a dish that is often swimming in oil and that should come with a health warning. I prefer to steam my eggplant in a microwave instead of frying it which makes for a far healthier and more palatable dish.

As with most Indian dishes bhartha can, and should, be made in advance and gently reheated before serving – again highlighting why Indian food makes the perfect dinner party option.

For more of my top picks for an Indian feast, please click here, or for more great Indian recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

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Japchae 잡채 (Sweet Potato Noodles with Beef & Vegetables)

One of Korea’s most loved dishes, japchae seems to be one of those dishes that can be found almost everywhere and at any time. Be it at breakfast, dinner or at a party, japchae is almost sure to be a feature. Like so many national dishes in Asia, food can represent so much more than just a tasty meal; in the case of japchae it is all about colour and harmony. Translating as “many kinds of various vegetables” japchae is made with the five colours that the Koreans believe reflect obang saek or world harmony to you and me. Each colour symbolises one of the five universal directions – North (black: beef/mushrooms), East (green: courgette/cucumber), South: (red: carrot), West (white: onion) and, most profoundly, the Middle (yellow: egg).

World harmony aside, the best news about japchae is that it is banting and LCHF friendly! Okay, so there is a bit of sugar in the recipe, but at its core japchae’s sweet potato starch noodles are a great low carb alternative to the regular wheat variety and taste infinitely better than courgette noodles.

Noodles without the carb-induced guilt; now what could possibly be better than that?

To be honest I was a bit hesitant about trying japchae when I first encountered it at a breakfast buffet in Seoul. I had tried cooking with Korean sweet potato noodles previously and it was a bit of a disaster, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to give it another go. I’m so pleased that I did! Chewy, beefy and incredibly satisfying; from the first bite I knew japchae was going to be one of the first Korean dishes I would attempt to recreate when I got back to my kitchen in Cape Town.

As it turned out, making japchae at home is relatively easy and aside from the sweet potato noodles themselves, all the ingredients are Asian store-cupboard staples. The only real difficulty is that the numerous components of the dish need to be individually prepared and cooked before being assembled, but other than that it is actually pretty straight-forward. Just don’t be tempted to soak the sweet potato noodles for longer than 30 minutes or overcook them as this will affect their texture.

Most of the japchae I had whilst in Korea actually didn’t contain any meat so if you would like to make a vegetarian version of the dish simply omit the beef. If you do, however, want to make a meat version then you can also substitute the beef steak with some mince instead.

For more Korean recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

For tips on stocking a Korean Pantry, please click here

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Nasu Dengaku なす田楽 (Oven-Roasted Eggplant with Miso)

Eggplants, aubergines or brinjals; call them what you will, but most of us are pretty much clueless as to what to do with this perfect purple delight.

Nasu Dengaku なす田楽 (Oven Roasted Eggplant with Miso)Along with an undeserved reputation for being bitter, eggplants are unjustly thought of as greasy. Typically shallow fried, eggplant’s absorbent flesh is easily saturated with excessive amounts of oil and can result in the dish becoming too rich. Luckily, however, there are a couple of ways to cook eggplants without the need to have your local cardiac surgeon on speed-dial, those being steaming and roasting. As the name of the recipe suggests this dish involves the latter method and the results are just to die for, as roasted eggplants and miso are quite simply a match made in heaven.

Traditionally nasu dengaku is made with eggplants that have been cut in half and then grilled, but this method only really works with thin Japanese eggplants which are, unfortunately, quite hard to come by in Cape Town. As such, you are welcome to oven-roast halved eggplants if you prefer, but it just seems so much easier to cube them instead, as the end result isn’t that dissimilar and makes for a more chopstick-friendly meal.

This dish makes for a wonderful addition to any Japanese spread and is also great in salads or even sandwiches (nasu dengaku on a ham and cheese sandwich would be all kinds of awesome!).

For more Japanese recipes, please click HERE or to find out more about how to stock a Japanese Pantry, please click HERE

Click here for the recipe

Asian Coleslaw

Lets be honest, coleslaw has been called many things over the years but trendy has never been one of them – at least until now, that is.

A salad stalwart of 80s potluck dinners, coleslaw has since been pretty much relegated to being nothing more than a questionable side-order to a greasy bucket of chicken – a lazy attempt to elevate our deep-fried indulges into something that resembles a balanced meal! Thankfully, however, these days coleslaw has made something of a comeback and is looking (and tasting) better than ever! Personally I think coleslaw owes its unexpected revival to the recent trendy-burger movement: after all what is a gourmet burger without a helping of gourmet sides?

Truffled skinny fries, tempura onion rings and umami ketchup, it was only a matter of time before coleslaw got in on the action and got a much needed makeover. Whilst the Western incarnation of coleslaw has undergone somewhat of a reinvention, the greatest evolution of the dish is, however, truly manifest in Asian Coleslaw. An ubiquitous name at best, Asian coleslaw is really just regular coleslaw but with a fusion twist.  Don’t get me wrong, regular ‘slaw is awesome, but Asian ‘slaw is simply next-level awesome! Whilst no single ingredient turns regular coleslaw Asian, the star of this particular version of Asian coleslaw is undoubtedly the sesame seeds, which add a wonderful toasted flavour that suits the rich creamy tang of the mayonnaise.

Perhaps one of the best things about coleslaw is its versatility. Traditionally the only two mainstays of the dish are white cabbage and mayonnaise, other than that you can add or omit just about anything. Try making it with some shaved fennel or replace the spring onion with thinly sliced regular onion. Leaving out the sultanas and  doenjang (Korean soy bean paste) would instantly make for the perfect LCHF side dish. Of course if you really wanted to push the boat out you could always substitute the sesame seeds with toasted pine nuts, but given the exorbitant price of pine nuts it does rather feel like an extravagance too far for something as humble as coleslaw.

To call this a “recipe” is somewhat of a stretch as making coleslaw is really just an assemblage of ingredients rather than an actual recipe per se. Okay so there is a fair amount of chopping involved when making any coleslaw, but if you have a decent mandolin handy then there really isn’t anything to it. It seems almost criminal that something so good can require so little effort, but it does and I don’t mind admitting that I’m a little obsessed. I’ve been eating coleslaw with just about everything recently, but that’s because it goes with just about everything! Burgers, sausages, grilled chicken and tonkatsu / chikenkatsu (Japanese Pork / chicken schnitzels) – all make the perfect companion to a healthy dollop of ‘slaw!

Click here for the recipe