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

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

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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!

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Picanha Steak with Chimichurri

Picanha Steak with ChimichurriWith perhaps the exception of empanadas, nothing screams South America more than picanha steak with chimichurri.

A relatively unknown cut of meat outside South Amercia, picanha is also known as rump-cap or top sirloin-cover. Picanha is characterised by its thick layer of fat and heavy marbling, which gives the meat incredible flavour and succulence, making it one of the most prized cuts of beef to those in the know. Until recently picanha was a cut rarely found outside the Americas, but thankfully that seems to have changed and it is increasingly easy to source locally. Steak-lovers of the world rejoice: picanha is finally here and hopefully it’s here to stay!

So let me not undersell this, picanha and  chimichurri are truly a match made in steak-heaven! The succulent steak and piquant sauce are perfect bedfellows, with the robust and zesty chimichurri cutting through the richness of the steak. Put quite simply, the combination of picanha and chimichurri is pure carnivoristic perfection.

Steak has never tasted this good!

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Peppermint Crisp Tart

Peppermint Crisp TartEverybody knows the best way to a South African man’s heart is through a braai. However, to get him in touch with his inner soul, you need to feed him some Peppermint Crisp Tart! I don’t know what it is about this simple dessert, but seems to have a profound affect on most South Africans, inducing bouts of childhood nostalgia with every bite and even the odd misty eye (they aren’t crying of course, its just that pesky braai-smoke).

Sometimes referred to as a Fridge Tart and occasionally as a Transkei Mud Pie, Peppermint Crisp Tart was arguably the South African dessert of choice in the 80’s and early 90’s. The very definition of a store-cupboard dessert, it was originally made with Orly Whip (a long-life non-diary cream substitute) instead of cream, meaning you literally did not have to buy anything fresh to make the tart – you could whip it up in 15 minutes, pop it into the fridge to set and voilà: dessert bliss!

Today Peppermint Crisp Tart jostles with the mighty Malva Pudding for the title of South Africa’s favourite traditional dessert and whilst Malva Pudding may have a greater claim to that crown, Peppermint Crisp Tart must come a very close second. The key to Peppermint Crisp Tart’s enduring appeal is its convenience. All you need to make it are: 4 ingredients, a bowl, a whisk, a dish and a fridge – you can’t get easier than that!

Now I won’t lie to you, South African’s love their desserts jaw-achingly sweet and Peppermint Crisp Tart is no different – this stuff is not for the faint of heart! I’m not the biggest fan of desserts, but even I can’t resist indulging in a small portion of this decadent dessert. Why? Because, to put it mildly, Peppermint Crisp Tart is AMAZING! Something rather magical happens to the ingredients as the tart sets in the fridge, creating a masterpiece of dessert decadence that needs to be tasted to be believed.

Is it refined? No.

Is it subtle? Most definitely not.

Is it the greatest 4 ingredient, non-cook dessert ever conceived? Quite frickin’ possibly.

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Phat Kaphrao (Thai Beef Mince with Basil & Chilli)

Quick and tasty, phat kaphrao (Thai Beef Mince with Basil & Chilli) is a great dish for anyone who wants some authentic Thai flavour in a hurry! Unlike many other classic Thai dishes, phat kaphrao takes mere minutes to whip up and doesn’t require more than a couple of Thai ingredients, making it a great lunch option or a simple addition to a larger meal.

The real stars of the show are the basil and chilli so it doesn’t really matter what your protein of choice is when making Phat Kaphrao (Thai Beef Mince with Basil & Chilli)phat kaphrao. Whilst this particular version of the dish uses beef, you can also make it using minced pork or chicken – it really just comes down to your preference and what you have lurking in the fridge at the time. Personally I prefer making it with beef as I find chicken and pork mince can be a little dry – something that the beef’s fat content seems to negate, so don’t use extra-lean mince when making this dish. If you are going to use minced chicken just make sure that it’s made with some dark meat and not just chicken breast.

But back to the all important basil and chilli.

Firstly don’t be shy when adding the basil – use lots…and then add a bit more! I’m of the opinion you can never have enough basil in phat kaphrao! Another thing to bear in mind is that not all basil is created equal and it is important that you use the right kind in the right dishes. Whilst similar to Thai basil, sweet Mediterranean basil isn’t really a good substitute in Thai dishes as it’s far too ‘soft’ to withstand intense cooking and surrenders its flavour all too readily. Admittedly Thai basil isn’t always easy to source so I suggest growing a plant in your garden – it is easy to grow and you’ll have an abundant supply on hand whenever you need it.

Whilst it’s an integral part of the dish’s flavour, the amount of chilli you chose to add to your phat kaphrao comes down to personal preference and tolerance levels. Like most Thais I love my chillies, but I prefer to err on the side of caution when adding them to the dish as the heat of chillies can be notoriously unpredictable. Instead I prefer to serve the bulk of the chillies on the side (chopped and steeped in white rice vinegar) which allows you to add as much heat as you are in the mood for.

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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Homemade Pasta

Is homemade pasta really worth the effort? In my opinion the answer is an emphatic yes!

Personally I really rather enjoy the satisfaction of rolling the dough out into luscious sheets of pasta, so I don’t find it too much of a bother at all, but that’s just me.

You can roll the pasta out by hand but I wouldn’t recommend it, rather get yourself a good quality pasta machine. Given how much cheaper it is to make your own pasta verses buying the ready made stuff, it is an investment that will pay for itself (well almost). You can also use the pasta machine to make your own ramen which was incentive enough for me to get one!

My basic rule-of-thumb when it comes to making your own pasta is 1 large egg and 100g of flour per person. This recipe is for 2 people, but feel free to add more flour and eggs depending on how many you are feeding. I also don’t add any salt to my pasta, but feel free to add a pinch if you are so inclined.

I usually have some left over which I dust with extra flour, place in a freezer bag and immediately put into the deep freeze – when you are ready to cook the pasta, drop it into the boiling water straight out of the freezer.

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Chimichurri

Don’t get me wrong, I have come to love chimichurri, but this particular saucy love affair got off to a rather rocky start.

In spite of being the national sauce of Argentina, I’m sad to say that the chimichurri I had in Argentina kinda sucked! Shocking I know, but I spent almost an entire month in the country and from Iguazú in the North to Tierra del Fuego in the South, I never once saw anything resembling the ‘fresh’ chimichurri that most of us have come to expect. Perhaps it was just down to my own misfortune that I somehow missed the fresh version, but the Argentinians seem to favour a ‘dry’ chimichurri which consisted of combining dried herbs and spices with olive oil. Such is the prevalence of this version of the sauce, you can even buy pre-mixed dried herbs in packets from the local supermarket. All you need to do Chimichurriis add some oil and voilà: instant chimichurri!  Typically a large bowl of this dried herb concoction was left on the counter for customers to help themselves to, but to be honest after a few dollops I lost interest as I couldn’t understand what the fuss was all about. So I mentally ticked chimichurri off my TTL (To Taste List), thought “meh” and moved on.

That was way back in 2011 and since then the world seems to have woken up to chimichurri and has absolutely fallen in love with it. Mercifully, however, it has chosen to embrace the fresh version over the dried aberration that so traumatised me in Argentina! Chimichurri seems to be de rigueur at most steakhouses these days and rightfully so – it is downright delicious! As part of my recent flirtations with a LCHF diet, I’ve been eating a lot of steak recently and chimichurri is far and away my favourite sauce with which to have it. Yes that’s right, I gave the sauce a second chance and I’ve never looked back since. Fresh and piquant, it would seem that chimichurri is, in fact, the perfect accompaniment to a fat juicy steak after all!

Whilst similar to a regular salsa verde, don’t be fooled by appearances. Chimichurri is, in fact, far more robust and complex than its Italian counterpart. The key to a killer chimichurri is the addition of fresh oregano, which sets it apart from many other herb-based sauces. Only a small amount is added, but the oregano adds quite a punch, giving the sauce an earthy depth that cuts through the ‘freshness’ of the parsley and coriander.

Normally I’m a notorious stickler for authenticity and I typically strive to replicate a dish as authentically as I can, based on my travels or research. That said, however, when it comes to chimichurri I have to abandon my principles and advocate making the sauce contrary to my experiences in Argentina! So it is in that spirit I feel the need to confess that this recipe for ‘fresh’ chimichurri recipe is like nothing I had in Argentina…which trust me, can only be a good thing!

I don’t say this often, but perhaps sometimes the locals just don’t do it best.

Note: Whilst chimichurri is synonymous with steak, the sauce also works well with any other grilled meats, especially chicken, or perhaps even some grilled halloumi if you wanted a vegetarian option

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Pumpkin Ravioli with Shaved Fennel & Burnt Sage Butter

For somebody who loves feeding others, I seem to have a propensity for surrounding myself with people with serious food issues.

The omnipresence of my famously flavourphobic partner aside, my small circle of family and friends seem to be a motley crew made up of those with various intolerances, medically restricted diets, committed (and occasional) vegetarians, coriander-loathers, banana-haters and even someone who can’t eat anything green. Whilst I love feeding each and every one of them, they do, however, present somewhat of a challenge to cook for. Luckily (for them?), I do love a good challenge and catering for theirPumpkin Ravioli with Shaved Fennel & Burnt Sage Butter specific needs and preferences does force me to try out new things. More often than not, the end results become firm personal favourites.

Which brings me to this particular recipe: Pumpkin Ravioli with Shaved Fennel and Burnt Sage Butter – a dish so insanely good, just saying the name makes my mouth water! Born out of the need to feed a friend who is a borderline vegetarian (and a selfish desire to use a ravioli mould that I bought when last in Rome), this delightful little dish is damn near pasta-perfection on a plate.

A variation of the Italian classic Ravioli di Zucca, the addition of the thinly shaved fennel is a refreshing twist, both in terms of texture and flavour. The crisp fennel and lemon cuts through the richness of the pumpkin/pasta parcels and burnt butter, giving the original dish much needed balance.

This satisfying dish makes for an amazing starter, as it does a worthy main.

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

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