One-Pot Wonders

Kimchijjigae 김치찌개 (Pork & Kimchi Stew)

Congratulations, so you’ve finally realised that you simply can’t live without kimchi. Fantastic! As my partner would say, you are now officially a bona fide “stinky kimchi-freak” just like me. Charming I know, but he’s most definitely not a fellow fan. Nevertheless, welcome to the Club.

So now that you’ve confessed your insatiable appetite for kimchi, you may be asking yourself the inevitable question, “What exactly does one do with a massive vat of homemade fermented cabbage?”

Kimchijjigae 김치찌개 (Pork & Kimchi Stew)Whilst delicious just eaten as a side dish (known as banchan in Korea), the truth is that plain mak kimchi can get a little monotonous after a while. Thankfully, however, there’s no shortage of ways in which to enjoy your kimchi-fix. Such is their love of kimchi, the Koreans seem to have based much of their cuisine around its consumption, resulting in a seemingly endless array of dishes that can be made using this spicy Korean staple. Kimchi fried rice, kimchi pancakeskimchi risotto and even kimchi ice cream, there are no limits to the wacky ways in which kimchi can be eaten. However, one of the more traditional dishes remains one of the most popular – Pork & Kimchi Stew.

Known in Korea as kimchijjigae 김치찌개, the first time I tried the dish was as part of a Korean BBQ at Galbi in Cape Town, where it was served at the end of the meal with a bowl of rice. To be honest it was the low-point of an otherwise great meal (their sweet potato fries are to die for!), as it was a tad insipid and tasted more like watered down tomato soup than the amazing spicy stew I had been eagerly anticipating. It was not a good start to my budding love affair with kimchijjigae, but considering the restaurant’s actual kimchi was also rather tasteless, it shouldn’t have been a complete surprise that their kimchi stew would also be somewhat lacklustre. Disappointed, but undeterred, I did what I typically do when I feel let down by a dish – I set about making it myself

Mercifully, kimchijjigae is actually very easy to make and only requires a few of the more basic Korean pantry staples. It was only after tasting my first attempt at making it, that I appreciated what a great dish this should be and why it warrants its enduring popularity. Simple and relatively economical to make, kimchijjigae is both deeply satisfying and is the perfect way to showcase kimchi’s hidden depths. Much like kimchi risotto, this stew actually serves to bring out kimchi’s complexity of flavour, something that is typically masked by the spiciness of the kimchi.

Any dish that makes kimchi taste even better is, in my mind, a dish worth making…but then again, if I’m to be perfectly honest, you already had me at kimchi. 

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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Aloo Mutter (Peas & Potato Curry)

I’m not sure many people can say this, but I owe my sanity to aloo mutter…or at least my sanity in India anyway.

Travel has always been a huge part of our lives. From Tokyo to Kathmandu, down to Ushuaia and all the way back up to Kirkenes, we are blessed to have trampled the globe together. For me our travels have always been synonymous with seeking out new food experiences. For my flavourphobic partner, however, the mere notion of culinary-tourism is unpalatable. In spite of being the most well travelled person I’ve ever met, my partner holds scant regard for sampling foreign flavours in foreign climes. This is, after all, a man who ate nowt but Big Macs in Beijing, Whoopers in Bergen, doner kebabs in Florence…and then there was India.

Ah, dear Mother India!

Aloo Mutter (Potato & Pea Curry)A land defined by fierce fragrances, earthy hygiene and spicy flavours; India is a culinary destination that should strike fear in the hearts of even the bravest of world travelers, let alone those of limited culinary bravado i.e. ‘you know who’…or so you would think. Little did I know that, culinarily speaking, the sub-continent would prove to be one place in the world the Flavourphobe would have no problem finding something to eat – all thanks to aloo mutter! Who knew a man could almost exclusively live on peas and potatoes for a month, but that he did. With the exception of the occasional aloo gobi, he had it in the South, he had it in the North, he even had it somewhere in the middle and he loved it every single time…but not as much as I did! No one was happier than I when we saw aloo mutter on the evening’s menu; not because I wanted to eat it myself, but rather because it meant we could actually enjoy a meal together whilst on holiday! For the first time on our travels I had been spared our usual dinner-time routine of depositing him at the nearest KFC whilst I sampled the local delights on my lonesome. At last, we could eat at the same restaurant every day. What travel bliss! Indeed what a privilege!

So did aloo mutter prove to be that watershed moment when he would finally open his taste buds to the favours of the world? Hah, don’t make me laugh. With the exception of Japanese Curry, his culinary ‘awakening’ was as short-lived as our time in India. Soon enough we were back to traveling together, but eating apart. Alas, the dream couldn’t last forever and the aloo mutter bubble had to burst at some stage. We will, however, always have dear Mother India and the days she granted us the simple pleasure of  enjoying a meal, together.

Oh…did I forget to mention that aloo mutter is also incredibly delicious and cheap to make? Don’t just take my partner’s word for it, it really is possibly the best way to jazz up a couple of potatoes and those long-forgotten peas at the back of the freezer! Aloo mutter is definitely a worthy addition to any Indian meal.

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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Idaho Stew (Beef Coffee Stew)

It was only when I finally moved to Cape Town to be with my partner that I realised I had, in fact, moved in with my own private flavourphobe.

From the very first meal I made us, it was abundantly clear that any thoughts I may have been harbouring about bringing about instant flavour-reform to his palette were a complete waste of time. His tastes preferences were set and I would simply have come to terms with the fact that there wasn’t going to be a belacan-epiphany or a glorious moment of garlic-redemption on the immediate horizon. Regardless how I felt about it, I had made my proverbial table so, for now at least, I was just going to have to eat at it.

Beef Coffee StewFor the first few months I dutifully made the plain dishes he enjoyed, but like all good spouses I was really doing what we do best – biding time. An errant garlic clove here, an extra splash of Worcestershire sauce there, little by little I tested the waters and after a while I began to introduce new dishes for his consideration. Some of these offerings were more successful than others, some were downright disasters, although with hindsight the roasted lamb with anchovies was particularly ill considered!

And then I discovered the recipe for this incredible stew.

On paper Idaho Stew fit the bill perfectly; it was a simple, old school beef braise with one small twist – it had coffee in it! It may seem minor now, but please remember that, culinarily speaking, South Africa was a very different place back in 2000. Back then the mere notion of sushi was downright provocative and the thought of cooking a savoury dish with coffee was considered, at best, daring to most South Africans (let alone my dearest flavourphobe)! So yes, back then this humble stew was a risk, but I had to try it, lest I be condemned to making sausage, peas and mash for the rest of my life.

So one night I bit the bullet and dished up my ‘daring’ new stew for dinner. With baited breath I watched as he eyed my latest offering with understandable suspicion. “What is it?”, he asked. “Oh, nothing weird, just a stew” I said, in what I hoped was my most casual voice. “Hmm, okay”, came the reply. Clearly he wasn’t convinced, perhaps the lingering trauma of that damn anchovy lamb was playing on his mind. In spite of his obvious suspicions he took a bite, albeit tentitively and after a moment of furrowed consideration he took another, then another – the stew was hit! It was only once his plate was cleared that I dared divulge the contentious ingredient.

“Coffee? Really? You can’t taste it”.

Wow, he was taking this surprisingly well.

“You can definitely make this again”.

Oh, sweet success!

“But next time may I have it with rice and not mash?”.

Sigh. Okay, so you’re still a freak, but I’ll take the win.

To this day Idaho Stew remains a firm favourite in his limited pantheon of acceptable meals and I still make it often, although he normally refers to it as “his coffee stew” suggesting a secret revelry in the kudos of his expanded palette. These days I usually have a couple of handy portions of this stew in the back of the freezer which I whip out for my partner when we have guests and the menu isn’t to his taste. Unfortunately, this seems to have given his much loved “coffee stew” a bad rep as one of “Brian’s meals”, which is, frankly, simply a byword for dull.

Nothing could be further from the truth! This rich stew is chock full of flavour and should appeal to the whole family…whether or not you dare to tell them that the secret ingredient is coffee is, of course, entirely up to you!

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Slow Braised Brisket

Ah, slow-braised brisket – could there be a more quintessential culinary expression of Jewish motherly love?

For me, sadly, Jewish food has always been the forbidden fruit of world cuisine, but considering I grew up in a country which doesn’t recognize the state of Israel, it is hardly that surprising that my knowledge of Jewish food isn’t as intimate as I would like it to be!

Slow Braised BrisketUnfortunately, like so much in life, what little I do know about Jewish cuisine has been gleaned from that most dubious window into the world: 80s television. As a youngster, I loved nothing more than watching my weekly staple of disapproving 5th Avenue matriarchs and their well-heeled families. Aside from their wonderfully mordant sense of humour, I was always most drawn to the food they ate, marvelling at the mysterious treats they dished up at their vast family gatherings. Matzah balls, brisket, lox and latkes – to my ear they all sounded wonderfully exotic and the characters’ enthusiasm for the food was infectious. Of course, given my complete lack of exposure to all things Jewish at the time, I had no idea that these delightfully brisk people were anything other that well-to-do Americans. The fact that they (and their food) were Jewish was utterly lost on me. I simply assumed that all New Yorkers invariably had amazing apartments, a psychologist in the family and almost always wanted to marry their daughters off to “good boys” and doctors. As a child I did, however, know one thing for sure: more than anything else, I desperately wanted to know what brisket tasted like.

Some 30 years later, I am pleased to say that I have finally tasted the allusive dish and damn it, brisket is as delicious as I had imagined it would be! I was so excited the first time I made brisket, I could scarcely contain myself – 3 hours in the oven is an eternity to wait to taste a childhood dream. Meltingly tender, wholesome and served with a richly flavoured sauce, this is essentially the ultimate pot-roast, but made with a very special cut of meat.

Simple, classic and worthy of its iconic status: whether you know its Rosh Hashanah or not, a good brisket is always worth the wait! 

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Spanish Pork Casserole with Chorizo & Butter Beans

A true one-pot wonder, this simple Spanish inspired casserole is big on flavour and refreshingly light on effort. Other than the initial stages of browning the ingredients, this dish pretty much takes care of itself and rewards with a tasty family friendly meal that can be adapted to cater to almost all tastes and preferences.

Spanish Pork Casserole with Chorizo & Butter BeansNow I have to be honest, this wonderful casserole is about as Spanish as chow mien is Chinese or California rolls are Japanese, but these days cultural authenticity is hardly an impediment to being the poster child of world cuisine. The modern maxim seems to be, “If a dish tastes good, who cares?” and rightfully so. After all, when the results are this tasty, I’m all about the muddled.

So whilst only vaguely Spanish, this simple dish is nevertheless brimming with classic Iberian flavours and, for a change, all the ingredients are perennial pantry staples. Admittedly I take it for granted that my larder resembles an over-stocked cornucopia of random ingredients, but this isn’t the sort of dish that calls for long forgotten packets of shrimp paste, bamboo leaves and jellyfish (yes, I do actually have the latter lurking in the depths of my fridge!). I digress, however.

Thankfully, significantly less exotic pantry staples are required for this dish, namely tins of butter-beans, chopped tomatoes, chorizo and smoked paprika. Admittedly smoked paprika isn’t necessarily a staple pantry item, but is readily available at most supermarkets or it can be substituted with regular paprika and a pinch of chilli powder or flakes. You can also use chickpeas instead of the butter beans and the fennel seeds can be omitted if you don’t have any…like I said, this recipe is nothing if not adaptable.

Note: As with most stews and casseroles, this dish will be all the better from a night chilling in the fridge.

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Chilli con Carne

Chilli con Carne NachosBelieve it or not, but there was a time when I was completely at sea when it came to cooking and Chilli con Carne was my only lifeline!

Admittedly back in my university days, my Chilli’s “secret ingredient” was a packet of Knorr Chilli con Carne flavouring, but given the dish was also made with cheap soya mince, the dubious origins of its flavour-base was the least of its problems! That said, my Chilli was still the stuff of legend in my digs and its fame wasn’t without merit. In spite of its shortcomings it still tasted pretty damn good, but given my only real competition was marmite on toast, my culinary supremacy was pretty much a given!

Mercifully, my cooking has improved somewhat since those dark days and my Chilli con Carne has since had a much needed makeover. Rather unsurprisingly, the soya mince and glorified packets of MSG have fallen to the wayside and have been replaced with more natural ingredients, but don’t be fooled – this is still good eating, just on a slightly improved budget!

Aside from the exclusion of various e-numbers and MSG, key to the elevation of my Chilli from student fare to tex-mex bliss is the inclusion of some dark chocolate. By simply adding a bit of chocolate, this dish develops a depth of flavour that is hard to beat…give the Chilli sufficient time to mellow and you’ll have an overnight sensation!

There are many ways to eat Chilli. You can simply serve it with some plain white rice, topped with a spoonful of sour cream and snipped chives or you can use it as a filling for burritos by wrapping it up in a tortilla with salad and guacamole. These days, however, my favourite way to eat Chilli is by making nachos! Simply add the chilli to a pile of tortilla chips, sprinkle with all your favourite toppings and voilà: nachos’fantastico!

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Sang Choi Bao 生菜包

Sung Choi Bao I have always been slightly obsessed with Sang Choi Bao, but in a world gripped by LCHF (Low Carb High Fat) & Banting diet fever, this classic Chinese dish has found a renewed appeal. Literally translated as “lettuce package”, Sang Choi Bao is made with fatty pork mince which is then eaten encased in crisp lettuce leaves, making it a great option for those of us who are avoiding traditional carbs like rice – something that is quite hard to do with Asian food!

Like most Asian recipes this one does have a few specialist ingredients, all of which are readily available from good Chinese supermarkets, but feel free to leave out whatever you can’t source. The key to the dish is actually in the sauce and the various vegetables, rather than the recipe’s more exotic inclusions. Okay, so this recipe does call for a small amount of sugar (not strictly Banting, I know), but you can just leave it out if you are so inclined.

Substantial and satisfying, this tasty dish scarcely feels like a meal that forgoes anything; and although it certainly isn’t conventional, Sang Choi Bao is also delicious when eaten with rice.

Traditionally eaten with your fingers, Sang Choi Bao is great fun to eat, making it a good dish for sharing. I suggest serving it up in a big bowl surrounded by the lettuce leaves and just let everybody tuck in. You can expect lots of sticky fingers after dinner!

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Cider Braised Beef Short-ribs

Being half Asian I naturally adore food packed with flavour and usually in my kitchen that means spicy and exotic, but sometimes I crave the simple home-cooked comforts of my mother’s land. It may be the inner-Brit in me, but there are days when you can just keep your kimchi and beef rendang – all I want is toad-in-the-hole or a proper Sunday roast!

Without a chilli nor spice in sight, this dish is the epitome of what I would call real British comfort-food. Made with just a few seemingly unassuming ingredients, this humble stew seems to come out with more flavour than was put in! Uncomplicated and yet rich with depth, this dish is the perfect example of good food, made simply.

Adapted from Leiths Meat Bible, this amazing braise goes well with just about anything. Feeling sophisticated? Serve it with classic mash potato and some sautéed kale with grapes. Feeling rustic? Just grab some fresh crusty bread and mop-up the delicious sauce!

Kimchi and beef rendang? Lord knows I still love them, but when old-school British comfort-food tastes this good, you could be forgiven for never wanting anything else!

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Pork, Chickpea & Black Pudding Stew

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I have a real soft spot for a good old slice of black pudding!

A grim stalwart of a true Full English, black pudding has for many years been perceived as being one of the more unpalatable progeny of British cuisine. Along with the likes of jellied eels and winkles, black pudding harks back to an era when Britain was not unfairly considered the culinary backwater of Europe. Mercifully though, the tide has long since turned and thanks to an army of parading TV chefs, there is a renewed appreciation of local produce and food traditions in the UK. As a result, British cuisine has witnessed an unprecedented renaissance and thankfully, winkles not withstanding, the likes of black pudding have come along for the ride. Unfortunately, the reality is that few ingredients can transcend disgusting to de rigueur, but black pudding is slowly making its way back into the mainstream of British cuisine.

In nearby Spain, however, black pudding has had a far easier time of it. Known as morcilla or blood sausage, the Spanish seem to have none of the hang-ups about eating it that typically plauge its British cousin. Whether it be simply fried and served with bread or used to add depth and flavour to stews and soups, morcilla remains popular throughout Spain, if not the entire Spanish-speaking world.

Which brings me to this delightfully hearty stew!

On the face of it, this is just another typical Spanish stew, but what sets this recipe apart is, of course, the addition of black pudding. One of the last ingredients to be added, the black pudding has a transformative effect on the dish and is an absolute flavour-masterstroke – especially if the stew is afforded an evening to mature in the fridge. First fried and then added at the final stage of cooking, the black pudding melds with the sauce as it simmers, adding a depth and richness that elevates this humble stew to new, delicious, heights! 

For more great one-pot wonders from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

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Cape Malay Green Bean Bredie

As I have said in previous posts, bredies are an inescapable part of traditional South African cuisine and are, to many, the quintessential definition of South African huiskos (home cooking). And whilst tomato bredie may rule supreme in most kitchens, there are a number of different types of bredies that remain popluar, green bean bredie being chief among these.

Although less stew-like than it’s tomatoey cousin, the green bean version retains the key element that separates a bredie from a regular stew, that being that no liquid is added during the main cooking process. Instead of simmering in a liquid like a conventional stew, a bredie is self-saucing. Other than an initial splash of water when cooking the onions, absolutely no water is added to a bredie and its flavour is purely formed from the rendered juices from the lamb and the steam from the cooking vegetables, resulting in a dish that transcends its humble basic ingredients.

That said, I personally believe that green bean bredies can be a tad dry and can actually benefit from a bit of water after (and only after) the cooking process is complete. Controversial I know, but adding a dash of water when reheating the bredie will not only aid in warming the dish through, it will also ensure that the bredie’s wonderful flavours are given a chance to truly come to the fore.

Green Bean BredieAs with my version of tomato bredie, I have drawn inspiration from Cass Abrahams‘s recipe, albeit with some unorthodox cooking methods of my own. Cass Abrahams is widely regarded as the reigning queen of Cape Malay cooking and her recipes are often the launching point for many of my own.

When I initially attempted to make bredies my efforts were a tad watery and the meat would often come out a little tough. My first few efforts were so bad, they were given an unequivocal thumbs-down by my bredie-loving partner! Devastated, my early failures were enough to put me off making bredies for many years! When I eventually built up enough courage to attempt a bredie again, I decided that I needed to reinvent the cooking process to deal with my bredie-deficiencies.

I started by addressing my “watery” sauce. This was solved by first dredging the meat in seasoned flour before browning it thoroughly, resulting in a “fuller” finish to the sauce. To deal with my tough meat disasters, I decided to cook the bredie in the oven and not on the stove as it is typically done. Whilst I cook my tomato bredie in the oven for the entire cooking time, I only do so for the first half of the recipe when making green bean bredie, as I find the vegetables render superior flavour from being cooked on the stove-top. Either way, bredie traditionalists would be mortified by my preferred cooking method, but I find that cooking it in the oven helps creates an intensity in the gravy that you wouldn’t otherwise get when cooking it in the conventional way. I have been making all my bredies in this way for many years now and they have always been a success, the meat is invariably melt-in-your-mouth tender and the sauce is thick and bursting with flavour.

If you would like to read more about South African food please follow this link or for more South African recipes, please click here

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