This month we’re off to the Far East with Rick Stein – even though in his introduction he does say that the title is a tongue in cheek one, that there really is no such place as the Far East. He could, he says, have given the book the title of South East Asian Odyssey, but for the fact he was intending on visiting parts of the Indian sub-continent as well. Far East Odyssey it is. Far-East Odyssey does, however, have a lovely exotic full of spice ring to it.
One of the great pleasures of a Rick Stein cookbook – especially those based on his travels – is the writing. I find myself tucked up in my reading chair with a cup of tea, the book and a pile of post-it stickers. He links food and recipes with story, culture and history – the perfect blend in my opinion.
I think because we’ve been to some of the places in the book, we’ve sat on the plastic chairs built for a five-year-old in a street stall in Hanoi, we’ve eaten Babi Guling at Warung Babi Guling in Ubud (as an aside, if I had a desert island dish it would be that), we’ve eaten the best laksa in the world (#dramaticlicence) and seen (and smelt) spices and shrimp paste drying in the sun on the other side of the island in Penang.
We’ve even seen the sunset out at Halong Bay “on a boat cruising through countless vertical-sided limestone islands topped with jungle and past floating fishing villages where even the primary school was on a pontoon.’
Stein’s passion for food and travel is in every page of this book. The memories inspire the recipes and the food inspires the memories…and so on.
But I’m not remembering this just because it was so special. It’s also because it seems to sum up what we all so like about Southeast Asian cooking: the robust simplicity of the food, the immediacy of it. It takes no time to produce. It’s a glorious assault on the senses. It also seems to us to be healthy: vegetables are raw or hardly cooked; there’s a lot of seafood; freshwater fish everywhere; meat is used sparingly and rice is mostly simply steamed. It’s almost as if we’ve stumbled on something so obvious we can’t believe we’ve missed it all this time: the combination of hot, sour, salty and sweet, the occasional bitter notes, the enthusiasm for colour and texture that seems lacking in our own cuisines.Rick Stein, far-eastern odyssey
My biggest issue is what to cook first. Will it be the Hanoi chicken noodle soup with bok choi (Bun thang) or the Balinese equivalent, Soto Ayam? The Cha ca – Vietnamese fried fish with turmeric and dill – or the Loc lac – Cambodian marinated beed with a lime and black pepper dipping sauce.
I’ve decided that my first cook from this book will be Babi kecap – slow-cooked pork with ginger, chilli and sweet soy sauce.
If you want to cook along with me this month and you don’t have the book (or can’t get it from your local library), you’ll find recipes from the book (and accompanying TV series) here.
The recipe I’m sharing is Urap buncis – Green bean and fresh coconut salad with crisp fried shallots, garlic and chilli. It’s one that featured in Big Girls Don’t Cry – not that I’ve written it up yet. Anyways, here you go. The hardest part is finding fresh coconut and grating it – although you could probably use coconut strips from the supermarket or shredded coconut if you needed to.
Urap Buncis – Green bean and fresh coconut salad with crisp fried shallots, garlic and chilli
What you need
- 250g green beans cut into 3cm pieces
- 150g fresh coconut, finely grated
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 medium-hot red chilli, seeded and chopped
- 100g bean sprouts (although I leave these out because I happen to feel that bean sprouts are completely pointless)
- 2 kaffir lime leaves, finely shredded
- fried shallots
- fried garlic
- 2 red birds eye chillies finely sliced
For the dressing:
- ½ tsp shrimp paste
- 4 tsp lime juice
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 tsp palm sugar
What you do with it
Cook the beans for 2 minutes in boiling salted water. Drain and refresh under cold water and dry well on kitchen paper.
Remove the coconut from its shell (there’s no easy way to do this), peel off the brown skin with a potato peeler and grate the flesh. I used my food processor – although it is a palaver to get it out and set up with the right blades blah blah blah. I bought a coconut grater one time in Bali but for the life of me I couldn’t find it. hey ho.
Heat the oil in a small frying pan and add the chopped red chilli and fry gently for a few seconds until it’s just beginning to colour. Scoop it out and leave to cool on a plate.
Tip the blanched beans into a bowl, add the coconut, bean sprouts, lime leaves, fried red chilli, fried shallots and garlic and sliced birds-eye chilli.Mix together well.
For the dressing – blend the shrimp paste with the lime juice in a small bowl, whisk in the oil, sugar and ½ tsp salt. Add to the bowl and toss everything about a bit and serve.