Oi muchim, courgette flowers & boiled rice

Heat me up, melt me down: cool Vietnamese & Korean chilli favourites

Oi muchim, courgette flowers & boiled rice

As you might’ve noticed, it’s been hot. Very hot. And when it gets hot, I want food which both heats me up and cools me down (as the Shirley Lites almost sang). You could plot a graph showing a direct correlation between outside temperature, and my yearnings for salads and chilli. When we were growing up (and unexposed to hot, spicy food) I didn’t fully understand the concept of hot food actually cooling you down. I’ve come to appreciate it more over the years, and now many of my favourite foods in hot, humid weather are liberally laced with chillies.

My first chilli experience was… instructive. When I was nine, I watched a chilli-eating contest on a BBC TV programme called ‘Zoo 2000‘*. They made it all look fun and easy, so I went to the fridge and took out a green chilli I’d previously spotted. Biting off a decent chunk in one go, my  reaction to the subsequent heat caused the rest of the family to dissolve with mirth.

What turned it from a minor distraction into a family legend, though, was our dad laughing in that slightly condescending way adults can do, then eating the other half in one go. He probably thought my young palate was overly sensitive… but when he turn scarlet and grabbed the milk bottle from my hands to douse the fire within, comedy reigned. I learned two things that day: to treat chilli with respect, and that milk tempers capsaicin better than water. One reason I prefer lassi to beer in a curry house.

Anyway, weather like this tends to suppress my appetite, so an array of light but spicy food is perfect to nibble on. Recently I’ve been enjoying two of my favourite different south-east Asian dishes, each with a bit of fire in them. Hope you enjoy trying them out.

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Raspberry Ruffle Macaroons

coconut macaroons

You will have probably realised from the photographs that these are macaroons, not macaron. Big hulking coconut numbers rather than their Gallic cousins with their egg white shells. These are the thing to eat with a big cup of tea poring over the Sunday papers and putting your feet up. Sticky, chewy and very easy to make, I’m Team Macaroon all the way.

I think it’s because I grew up eating Raspberry Ruffles. Seemingly a Scottish and Northern Irish treat, these small nuggets of vivid pink coconut and dark chocolate were very grown up to me and I loved them. I hadn’t seen them for years but when I reasserted my love of the macaroon recently, I had a massive blast of nostalgia for them. And since raspberries are in season right now, it seemed a shame not to try making my own version, especially since they are incredibly easy…

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Coconut Chicken Bammy Salad

coconut salad chicken

When the weather warms up, salad becomes your new best friend. Quick and easy, it can be a great way to try out new things or reinvent old favourites. A recent trip to the Nour Cash and Carry saw me impulse purchase a coconut and a packet of bammy. This traditional Jamaican delicacy is made from ground cassava. It was the staple carbohydrate before the Second World War when wheat based breads became cheaper and easier to bake commercially. Wheat and gluten free, it is soaked before being fried or toasted and I just knew it would make great croutons for the salad.

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Hibiscus Barley Water

sorrel drink

It’s Wimbledon fortnight and here in SW9, I am feeling the excitement building in my nearby borough. I’ve been sneaking a peek when Andy Murray is playing because I’m not sure I can take more tears this year, but I know others are glued to the screen all day everyday. So it seemed appropriate to create a drink that would capture that British tradition of this time of year and accidentally make dinner at the same time…

Barley water is just that. It’s the water in which pearl barley has been cooked, strained off and flavoured with something sharp or citrussy to refresh on humid summer days. Reputed to be as excellent for one’s system as cranberry juice, it’s a healthy and cheap thing to make from scratch. I’ve flavoured mine with hibiscus or as it’s known in Jamaica, sorrel for a scarlet twist on the more classic lemon version.

It also means you have delicious nutty barley cooked and ready to eat. I’ve made a fresh salad, stuffed full of grilled courgette, scallion and fennel, studded with emerald green broad beans and salty capers before being dressed with mint and olive oil. Make a big batch and keep it in the fridge for a tasty lunch or dinner when you can’t leave Centre Court for long. It’s fabulous as it is or with cold chicken or grilled halloumi on the side.

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Sichuan Pepper Cured Mackerel

mackerel

The weather has warmed up just enough and the sun has come out long enough to make it feel like summer might be limbering up to actually do something. It’s making me crave fresh bright flavours after the long cold months that have only been coped with by eating lots of stodge and stews. I’ve particularly been enjoying fish recently, visiting my favourite fishmonger, Dagon’s in Brixton Village, to try as many sorts as possible including tilapia, snapper and butterfish.

Each has been delicious, but all that newness has given me a sudden urge for something familiar. I picked up a rainbow trout and grilled it with dill and lemon, but it was the mackerel that caught my eye. I think the most beautiful fish on the counter, that oily flesh is so versatile and flavoursome and allows for lots of experimentation. I had intended to barbecue it if the weather held and serve with salsa verde, but the skies were as grey as the fish skin and I decided against it.

Mister North’s love for Fuschia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice has revived my love of sichuan peppercorns with their fabulous fizzing flavour and I immediately thought of their floral tones with the fish. Not keen to grill oily fish indoors since I don’t have an extractor fan, I wondered if I could try a cured version instead to capture those light summery flavours. It turns out to be very easy and a perfect thing to do if you don’t want to heat the kitchen up…

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