Szechuan beans

I discovered the Szechuan delights of Bar Shu, in London’s Soho, earlier this year, and dreamed about their dry-fried green beans for weeks afterwards. A dish of green beans and pork mince doesn’t sound all that exciting, but the flavour was complex, full and completely addictive. And so after visiting Bar Shu’s sister restaurant, Bar Shan, a few weeks ago and ¬†again indulging in the deliciousness of the beans, I decided I needed to learn how to make an approximation of it. A bit of googling revealed that it’s a fairly common Chinese side dish – some Western cooks make it simply with beans, soy sauce, ginger and a bit of pork mince, other more authentic-sounding recipes utilise things like dried prawns and preserved vegetables and a look at Bar Shu’s website reveals that it’s cooked with ya cai – ‘an intensely flavoured preserved mustard green from the Sichuan city of Yibin’. I opted for a slightly exotic though not too scary path, and was fairly pleased with the results, as was A.

Szechaun dry-fried beans

400g pork mice (this is really too much mince for an authentic recipe, but it’s enough to convince a boyfriend that it’s a proper meat-filled dinner, and not just a plate of beans. And it still tastes good. If you want the dish to be more of a side vegetable, you could halve the amount of mince)

2 tablespoons sweet soy sauce

2 tablespoons light soy sauce

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon cornflour

about 500g green beans (actually I have no idea how much mine weighed, but it doesn’t matter too much – whatever looks enough), halved

1/4 cup Sichuan preserved vegetables, rinsed, finely chopped (I found cans of these in Chinatown for about 60p)

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 medium red chilli, finely chopped

2cm piece ginger, peeled, finely chopped or grated

Put the pork in a bowl and add the soy sauces, sugar and cornflour. Stir to combine then set aside to marinade. Heat enough vegetable oil to come about 1cm high in the bottom of a wok over high heat. When it’s hot, add about half the beans (or fewer – you don’t want them to be overcrowded and stew). Cook, tossing, until bright green and tender. Drain on paper towels then repeat with the remaining beans.

Drain all the oil from the wok except about a tablespoon then return to the heat. Add the pork mixture and cook, stirring, until browned. Add the chilli, garlic, ginger and preserved vegetables and continue to cook, stirring, until the aromatics are softened and well distributed. Return the beans to the wok and stir to heat through and combine. Serve just as it is, or with steamed rice for a more substantial meal.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Dinners lately

June meals of note

I haven’t posted for a while, but we have been cooking and eating… recent meals worth recording include steaks with cauliflower puree…

Steak with cauliflower puree

Bloody steak, cauliflower cooked in bouillon and then pureed with cream and a lightly dressed rocket salad. Man food, if ever I saw it, although I did very much enjoy it too. I also made a tweaked version of the chicken and pink grapefruit salad I made a while ago, this one with haloumi in place of the chicken. It was good – the saltiness of the haloumi contrasting wonderfully with the slightly tart grapefruit, while creamy new potatoes, toasted walnuts and peppery rocket rounded it out. Plus a few chives. My kind of food, though maybe a bit girlie and salad-like for A.

Haloumi and pink grapefruit salad

And then there was last Saturday, when a crippling hangover brought with it the need for a comforting, full-flavoured and carbohydrate-laden dinner. Serendipity then, that Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s recipe for these chorizo potatoes appeared in that day’s Guardian. Well, he calls them Portuguese paprika potatoes, but the chorizo was key to our enjoyment.

Hugh FW's Portuguese potatoes (and chorizo)

Surprisingly, all that dirt came off the roasting tin quite easily. And yes, that is a lot of potatoes – we ate the rest for lunch the next day, watching the football.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A deep-fried dinner

I thought fish would be a good idea tonight, largely because I don’t think I’ve eaten any for a while and everyone knows that fish is a Good Thing. I vaguely intended to buy something firm and white-fleshed that I could coat in crumbs and bake, but the fishmonger only seemed to have plaice fillets, which I thought might be a bit too delicate for that kind of treatment, so I lovingly coated them in batter instead, a bit like a protective blanket… I’ve never actually deep-fried anything before tonight – I suppose I’ve been a bit afraid of spitting oil and soggy batter. Not to mention an excess of calories and the ‘what do you do with the leftover oil’ issue. Tonight I did manage to dutifully strain and rebottle my oil though, and I’m hoping it will serve to fry another fish some day. As for the other issues – my batter was light, crunchy and delicious and I only have a very small burn on my forearm. And it turns out deep-frying is very easy, very quick and very tasty. Who knew?

I quite liked the combination of the battered fish with Asian-style bits and pieces – the clean Thai flavours cut through the naughtiness of the batter – and it all looks quite pretty on the plate as well. I’m currently enjoying stirring chopped spring onions through my steamed rice, then using a measuring cup to serve it, so that I end up with a slightly wanky but aesthetically pleasing perfect pile.

Battered plaice with Thai cucumber salad

1 cup self-raising flour

About chilled 200ml soda water

1 large garlic clove, finely sliced

1/2 small red chilli, finely sliced

small white spring onion (bonus which came attached to spring onion bunch from Chinatown – a shallot would work instead though), finely sliced

1 cucumber

A few handfuls of coriander leaves

2 limes

1/2 teaspoon fish sauce

1 teaspoon caster sugar

lots of vegetable oil

2 fillets plaice or other thin fish fillets

Steamed rice and sweet chilli sauce, to serve

Sieve the flour into a large bowl, together with a pinch of salt. Slowly pour in the soda water, whisking continuously until the mixture is the consistency of cream (I didn’t use all my soda water). Set aside.

Heat a little groundnut oil in a small frying pan and cook the garlic, chilli and onion, stirring, until golden and crisp. Drain on paper towels and set aside.

Dice the cucumber and place in a large bowl. Stir through the roughly chopped coriander leaves. Mix together the juice from 11/2 limes (reserve the other half to serve with the fish), the fish sauce and the sugar. Add to the cucumber mixture and stir to combine.

Heat about 500ml vegetable oil in a large wok or frying pan over high heat until hot (or until a small cube of white bread browns in 1-2 minutes). Sprinkle some flour on a plate and coat the fish in it, then dip into the batter and carefully lower into the oil. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until light golden.

Place the fish on plates and sprinkle with the garlic mixture, then serve with the cucumber salad, steamed rice, lime wedges and sweet chilli sauce.

Battered plaice with Thai cucumber salad

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Caramelised onion and goat’s cheese tart

Caramelised onions sometimes seem to take forever to cook, perhaps a little like the watched pot that never boils – an impatiently-viewed onion refuses to caramelise? Or not. But when I do manage to distract myself with other things sufficiently to let them do their thing for 20 minutes or so, kitchen alchemy does occur and I am very fond of the unctuous, sweet and sticky jam that results. Tonight’s supper was prompted by a bowl of five red onions for a bargainous one pound which I purchased from a market man on Berwick Street, as well as some leftover pastry.

Caramelised onion and goat’s cheese tart

3 red onions, finely sliced

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon demarara sugar

11/2 zucchini, cubed

1 sheet puff pastry

1 log goat’s cheese

1 handful sunflower seeds, chopped walnuts or pinenuts

Preheat oven to 180C. Heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan over low heat. Add the onions and cook slowly, stirring occasionally, for 15-20 minutes or until very soft and caramelised. Stir in the vinegar and sugar and cook for a further five minutes or until sweet and sticky. Meanwhile, heat another tablespoon of oil in a frying pan and add the zucchini. Season generously then cook, stirring, for 10 minutes or until slightly soft and golden.

Lay the pastry on a baking sheet and score a 2cm border around the outside. Brush the border with milk or an eggwash then prick the centre all over with a fork and bake for 5-10 minutes or until pale golden. Remove from the oven and push down the centre. Spoon the onions evenly over then sprinkle with the zucchini and arrange the goat’s cheese slices over the top. Sprinkle with a handful of seeds or nuts then bake for 10 minutes or until the goat’s cheese has melted and the tart is golden. Serve with a rocket salad.

Caramelised onion and goat's cheese tart

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Chinatown and lovely larb

I love wandering around the Asian supermarkets in Chinatown. I have no idea what to do with most of the things on the shelves, but I still find it fascinating looking at everything (so many greens! such a wide variety of sauces!) and I rarely leave empty handed, even if it’s just with a bunch of coriander. (I hate buying coriander from the supermarket – all the tasty roots have been chopped off, the portions are very mean and the poor stems are enclosed in a cellophane bag, which are circumstances I really don’t think they thrive in. Much nicer to buy it from a market or Chinatown, with bits of dirt still clinging to the roots and an abundance of lovely green aromatic leaves, and a bunch costing around 80p, rather than the extortionate ¬£1.50 or so for a few stems the supermarkets charge.) Anyway, today’s trip didn’t yield anything particularly exotic, but a bunch of coriander, a few limes, some lemongrass stalks and a can of bamboo shoots were enough to provide the essential flavours of a larb-style dinner. This is one of our current favourite dinners – quick, easy and flavourful. It would also make a good starter, in which case it would easily serve four and you could forego the rice.

Pork and lemongrass larb

2 stalks lemongrass, finely sliced

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/2 small red chilli, finely chopped

500g pork mince

2 tablespoons sweet soy sauce

2 limes

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1/2 red onion, finely chopped

225g can bamboo shoots, drained, rinsed and chopped

about 1/2 bunch coriander, leaves roughly chopped

1 iceberg lettuce, broken into palm-sized leaves, washed

Steamed rice and sambal oelek, to serve

Heat a tablespoon of groundnut oil in a wok over high heat then cook the lemongrass, garlic and chilli, stirring, until softened and aromatic. Add the pork mince and cook, stirring, for 10-15 minutes or until cooked and slightly crisp in parts. Mix together the soy sauce, juice of both limes, fish sauce and sugar. Stir through the pork, together with the onion, bamboo shoots and coriander. Pile into a bowl and serve with lettuce wraps, steamed rice and sambal oelek.

Pork & lemongrass larb

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


I’d wanted to make a spinach and feta pie of some kind for a while, so it seemed like serendipity when I had three-quarters of a block of feta left over from a roast vegetable salad and all the market men had piles of the green stuff last week. Unfortunately Sainsbury’s wasn’t in synch with the rest of the universe, and inexplicably had no filo pastry in store, so the pie became a puff pastry-topped one, rather than the crispy log I’d envisaged. It was good, but I think it would be even better with filo, so I might revisit it.

Spinach and feta pie

Serves 4

1 red onion, finely sliced

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 zucchini, grated

1 large bunch spinach

150g feta

200g ricotta

1 sheet puff pastry

Preheat the oven to 180C. Head a glug of oil in a large frying pan over low heat and cook the red onion, stirring occasionally, for 15-20 minutes or until soft and sweet (though not quite caramelised). Meanwhile, cook the zucchini and garlic in another pan for 5-10 minutes, or until soft and aromatic. Set the vegetables aside to cool.

Roughly chop and wash the spinach then place in a large pan or pot, with water still clinging to it. Cover with a lid and heat over low to medium heat for about five minutes, or until bright green and wilted. Drain well and allow to cool. Combine the zucchini mixture, onion and spinach in a large bowl. Crumble over the feta and and the ricotta then season well and mix to combine.

Pile the mixture into an ovenproof dish and use a spoon to flatten it out a bit. Place the pastry over the top of the mixture and trim it to fit. Brush with an egg wash or a little milk then bake for 30-40 minutes or until puffed and golden. Serve warm with a tomato and cucumber salad, a dollop of natural yoghurt and lemon wedges. (It’s also delicious cold for lunch the next day.)

Spinach and feta pie

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Soup for supper

A cold snap last week accompanied by grey skies made a warming bowl of soup an appealing proposition, albeit late May. Although I like soup any time of the year really – much like my favourite broccoli dinner, it always feels nurturing and wholesome. Plus, the intense orange of the carrots brightens up any day.

Carrot and coriander soup

1 onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2cm knob ginger, peeled and grated

1 bunch coriander, roots washed and finely chopped, leaves reserved

6-8 carrots, peeled and chopped

1 litre vegetable stock (I like Marigold Bouillon)

Heat a little olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat, then add the onion, garlic, ginger and coriander roots and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until soft and aromatic. Add the carrots and stir well to coat in the onion mixture, then continue to cook for 10 minutes or so. Add the stock and bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, or until carrots are completely soft. Puree with a stick blender, then roughly chop a handful of coriander leaves and stir through the soup. Serve hot with a dollop of natural yoghurt on top, and plenty of crusty bread.

This really makes enough to serve 4 or 5 people, but A always likes to go back for seconds, and I also like to take it for lunch. It also freezes well.

Carrot and coriander soup

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment