Side Dish

Quick Cucumber & Ginger Pickle

Quick Cucumber and Ginger Pickle

Sweet and crunchy, this pickle is quick and easy, complimenting just about any Japanese meal.

The pickle takes at least a couple of hours in the fridge to work its magic, but after that it should keep for at least a few days before losing its texture and crunch.

For more great Japanese recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

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Sambal Kangkong

Sambal KangkongIn a cuisine not known for its prominent use of vegetables, there are few other Malaysian vegetable dishes that are so revered and cherished as this classic Nyonya dish! In fact, ask any Malaysian’s what their favourite vegetable dish is and most would probably lick their lips and tell you that it’s sambal kangkong! Made with lots of chillies, dried shrimps and a good dollop of belacan, this dish is as fragrant as it is hot and is not for the fainthearted or the nasally sensitive!

Sambal kangkong is a dish that has always reminded me of home – its heady fragrance and robust flavours are irrepressibly Malaysian and just the thought of it makes my mouth water in anticipation! Indeed, this is a dish that elicits passionate cravings in many of my fellow countrymen, myself included. Since leaving Malaysia, I’ve been slightly obsessed with recreating sambal kangkong, but it has always been a dish that was out of reach for the simple reason that I couldn’t source the key ingredient – kangkong. Also known as water spinach, water morning glory or water convolvulus, kangkong is readily available throughout South East Asia where it grows within the local waterways with an almost weed-like voracity. In spite of its endemic abundance regionally, it remains stubbornly difficult to find in the rest of the world. Whilst you can make a similar dish with green beans, sadly it is a poor substitute and there really isn’t any alternative vegetable that comes close to replacing kangkong.

Like all Malaysian expats, when I first moved to Cape Town I had a mental list of all the food items that I prayed would eventually find their way onto the local shelves. Mostly made up of Asian staples and childhood favourites, the list was extensive and largely amounted to wishful thinking! I’m happy to report, however, that over the years I have managed to find almost everything on that list, kangkong included! Along with finding IndoMee and Lingham’s Chilli Sauce in Cape Town, I was delighted to be able to cross this exotic leafy green off my list!

Now I just need to find petai locally and I’ll be, culinarily speaking, complete. 

As with most other Asian cuisines, it is virtually impossible to find a definitive recipe for any Malaysian dish and sambal kangkong is no different. Generally speaking most sambal kangkong recipes list the same basic ingredients, but in varying quantities. How much you decide to use of any particular item is entirely down to your own preference and tolerances, so feel free to play around with the quantities.

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Ingen no goma-ae いんげんのごま (Green Beans in Sesame Dressing)

This is one of my favourite Japanese ways to serve vegetables – it is simple, quick to make and utterly delicious!

imageThe key to the dish is toasting the sesame seeds, this adds a taste and aroma that marries perfectly with the sweetness of the dressing. Just be careful not to burn the seeds, as this will make the dish bitter. Of course, this dressing can also be used with other types of vegetables, like tender-stem broccoli, asparagus or even carrots to name just a few. Whatever your preferred vegetable though, it is vital that you cook them until just al dente.

Variations: Half a tablespoon of miso paste can also be added to the sesame dressing, however I would reduce the amount of soya sauce, as the miso will make the dish saltier.

Note: The sesame dressing makes a great onigiri filling, especially if you’ve added the miso paste!

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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Nori Tamagoyaki (Rolled Omelette with Nori)

A variation on the traditional Japanese Rolled Omelette (tamagoyaki), Nori Tamagoyaki is as visually appealing, as it is delicious!

As with all tamagoyaki, this version is also normally cooked in a makiyakinabe, a rectangular pan specifically designed to churn out perfectly formed rolled omelettes. While it is possible to make it in a regular omelette pan, it will be a little harder to achieve the desired shape. However, with a bit of creative trimming, you may still be able to approximate the perfect tamagoyaki!

When it comes to the technique of rolling your nori tamagoyaki, the same principles apply as when rolling a plain tamagoyaki. A calm head and timing are essential. As with a regular tamagoyaki, you need to start rolling the omelette whilst the egg is still a little wet. However, when you layer the nori onto the wet egg, you need to leave a small gap around the perimeter of the egg mixture otherwise the layers will not stick together when you start rolling.

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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Tamagoyaki 卵焼き (Rolled Omelette)

Tamagoyaki 卵焼き (Rolled Omelette)Only the Japanese could complicate something as simple as an omelette!

In a food culture that values aesthetics almost as much as taste, it’s not entirely surprising that even the humble omelette fell foul of an extreme Japanese makeover. Thankfully though, tamagoyaki’s impressive presentation isn’t at the expense of its flavour!

Eaten throughout Japan, tamagoyaki’s appeal lies in its versatility, both in terms of its taste and uses. Because the omelette is served at room temperature, it makes the ideal addition to bento boxes and makes a great nigiri sushi topping. More commonly though, tamagoyaki is eaten as part of a Japanese breakfast. While typically served plain, tamagoyaki often have a “filling” in the centre – salmon/tuna flakes, fish roe or blanched spinach are all popular choices. Torn-up sheets of nori can also be added, these are layered on the egg mixture as it sets. This not only tastes great, but it also looks very impressive! Whilst all versions of tamagoyaki contain some sugar, some are very sweet – it is really up to you how much sugar you want to use.

Tamagoyaki are usually cooked in a rectangular pan called a makiyakinabe. While it is possible to make it in a regular pan, the finished product will be less than perfect. With a bit of trimming though, you should be able to approximate the desired shape. It does take a while to “master” the technique of rolling the omelette, but with a calm head and a bit of patience, you’ll get the hang of it in no time. Timing is key, you need to start rolling the omelette whilst the egg is still a little wet, otherwise the “layers” won’t stick together. You’ll have a few mishaps along the way, but you’ll get it right soon enough. There is something immensely satisfying about making your own tamagoyaki, even if it’s not perfect!

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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Pumpkin Fritters (Pampoenkoekies)

Pumpkin Fritters (Pampoenkoekies)I know they may sound a little weird to the uninitiated, but pumpkin fritters are absolutely delicious!

Enjoyed either as a light snack or side dish to a traditional boerekos spread, these little South African delights are very easy to make, are surprisingly healthy and always go down a treat.

Naturally sweet, they are a great way to dupe vegetable-phobic youngsters into eating one of their “5-a-day”. When lightly sprinkled with cinnamon sugar however, they make a great sweet treat that are impossible to resist!

For more Sweet Treats from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

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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Fattoush (Moroccan Bread Salad)

Moroccan Bread SaladFar and away my favourite Moroccan salad, fattoush is both tasty and filling.

Popular throughout the Middle East, this bread salad is similar to an Italian panzanella. Not only is it a great way to use up old bread, it is also a great addition to any Moroccan meal. It even makes an interesting alternative to your typical “braai” salad and is a great option for any vegetarian guest you may have.

In this recipe I’ve used tinned artichoke hearts, but you can substitute these with any number of alternatives if you want – I would recommend using either some grilled green bell peppers or perhaps some grilled baby marrows (courgettes). Traditionally the recipe calls for oily black olives, but these aren’t always readily available so I would just use the tastiest black olives you can find instead.

For more delicious Moroccan recipes please click here or if you would like to read more about Moroccan food please click here

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Couscous (Plain and Cinnamon)

Plain CouscousCooking the perfect couscous may seem easy and generally it is, but it is also very easy for it to go very wrong. I should know, I’ve had enough couscous catastrophes to last me a lifetime; too wet, too dry, too clumpy – if there is a couscous calamity out there, I’ve suffered it!

In spite of my failings over the years, I’ve persevered with my mediocre attempts until I finally figured out the key to good couscous: olive oil…and your index finger. Sounds a bit strange? It’s really not. In fact, the key to my couscous conundrum is surprisingly simple – the trick is to lightly oil the grains before adding the boiling water. This simple act will produce clump free, fluffy couscous every time. I’ve been following this simple method for years now and I’ve been enjoying the perfect couscous ever since – now so can you.

For more delicious Moroccan recipes please click here, or if you would like to read on about Moroccan food, please click here

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Couscous Tabbouleh

Couscous TabboulehOften mistaken as being Moroccan, tabbouleh is originally from the Middle East and is commonly served as part of a meze. Especially dear to the Lebanese – the dish is so loved, it has even been granted the honour of having its own celebration: National Tabbouleh Day! So widely popular is tabbouleh, this humble dish is seen as a common cultural link between the divided people of this once war-torn nation; reflecting the diversity of the Lebanese people through its diverse ingredients. Seemingly, for the Lebanese at least, this makes tabbouleh something worth celebrating.

For the rest of us, however, it is just a salad.

So whilst traditionally part of a meze, in Western convention it is more likely to be served as an accompaniment to a main meal such as a tagine, stew or even a barbeque. Typically made with bulgur wheat, tabbouleh can also be made using couscous. Whilst not entirely authentic, I prefer using couscous as I find bulgur wheat a little chewy and, to my mind, it can weigh a good tabbouleh down. I have also recently rediscovered the joys of quinoa, which would also make a great base for a tabbouleh.

The great thing about tabbouleh is its adaptability – provided you have some fresh herbs and lemon, you can virtually use any ingredients you have available. There’s really only one “rule” to consider when assembling your tabbouleh (and even that isn’t set in stone) and that’s the ratio of couscous to herbs. Traditionally the couscous is actually one of the secondary ingredients and not, as is common practice, the main ingredient – this honour actually falls to the fresh herbs. Traditionally the herbs should make up at least 70% of the overall tabbouleh, but this is rarely the case in Western interpretations of the dish, where the ratio is often reversed in favour of the couscous. In truth though, it is not really that important – all that really matters is making the dish to your own tastes and preference. After all, your tabbouleh doesn’t symbolise the aspirations of the Middle East, it is just dinner.

For the recipe of perfect couscous, please click here.

If you would like to serve tabbouleh with some delicious Moroccan dishes, please click here

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Kimchi Risotto

If you follow this blog you’d know that I’m a tad obsessed with two things: kimchi and risotto! As much as I love both, I must admit I had my reservations about combining these two distinct flavour elements into a single dish. Kimchi and rice; that was a no-brainer, but kimchi and cheese? I just couldn’t get my head around how that would actually taste, frankly it sounded like fusion-cooking gone mad!

For a long while I just dismissed the notion of a kimchi risotto as a misguided attempt to make spicy fermented cabbage palatable to the uninitiated, by giving it a conventional context; but like cream-cheese sushi, it risks becoming a cultural and culinary aberration, an oxymoron that contradicts the very essence of what it purports to be. If you like that sort of thing, great, but it’s simply not for me. Generally speaking, fusion for fusion-sake leaves me cold.

Then one day I found myself in a serious food-rut; we’ve all be there before, we all know what grim times ruts can be. As I stared blankly at the contents of my refrigerator, I desperately hoped for a spark of inspiration. Nothing, we were mere minutes away from ordering pizzas for dinner, again. Then my eyes eventually rested upon that omnipresent fridge staple – kimchi. So strong was my desire not to have pizza, I thought: “Oh, sod it”. I figured making kimchi risotto was a win/win situation; either it would be amazing and I would love it, or it would be deplorable and I’d feel justified in my initial scepticism. I don’t mind admitting that I hoped for the latter, I don’t like being wrong.

As hungry as I was, I tried my best to dislike it, but I couldn’t. It was fantastic! My initial concerns about the combination of kimchi and cheese were unfounded. In reality the richness of the cheese muted the bite of the kimchi; mellowing it just enough to allow for an appreciation of the subtle flavours that normally hide behind the spicy, sharp bravado of kimchi. To my surprise, fusion cuisine had done the unthinkable – it had made kimchi taste better.

Does this fusion revelation mean I’ll be tucking into a portion of cream-cheese & biltong maki any time soon? Don’t count on it, but there are plenty of fusion temptations out there; bacon ice-cream, anyone? Perhaps not.

RECIPE NOTE: The rice quantities for these recipes vary depending on the number of people you are feeding and whether you intend making the risotto as a main meal or an accompaniment. As a general rule of thumb, I use approx. 70-80ml of rice per person for a main meal and 50-60ml as an side dish. Generally, risotto recipes on my blog are based on 2 people eating a full portion.

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