Monthly Archives: July 2012

Leemei Tan’s Gluten-Free & Dairy-Free Malaysian Coconut & Lemongrass–Scented Rice with Squid Sambal

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut, making the same spice paste over and over again. So I tried a new one to make this recipe – from Leemei Tan‘s Lemongrass & Ginger. I have an all-time favourite Thai green curry that I make that is hard to drag myself away from. But it uses a lot of different ingredients so it was great to try this simple paste – especially as it delivers delicious flavours and tons of oomph.

Leemei Tan is a food blogger, stylist and photographer. Her blog is gorgeous – full of Asian (inspired by her upbringing in Malaysia) and French/Asian (inspired by her French husband) recipes. Her brilliant book covers recipes from all over Asia – Japan & Korea, China, Philippines & Indonesia, Malaysia & Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia & Vietnam and India & Sri Lanka. Here I’ve tried one of the Malaysian recipes as I’ve become increasingly interested in this particular cuisine.

Malaysian food reflects the country’s different ethnic backgrounds. The mixture of Malay, Chinese, Indian, Nyonya, Eurasian and the indigenous people of Borneo has meant the cuisine majors on a fusion of Malay and Chinese ingredients and cooking techniques. Added to that is the effect of the spice trade in the 15th century that brought a wide range of exotic spices to Malaysia, including cardamom, cinnamon, clove and star anise, all of which often play a starring role in the dishes.

This recipe uses star anise, ginger and lemongrass, along with coconut milk, to make a truly delicious rice. (I made the rice the other morning, before I went to work, thinking that Zoe would love it for her lunch, as she loves coconut-flavoured rice. But when I came home and asked Peter whether she had liked it, he said that she’d eaten a fair bit of it but didn’t seem to enjoy it particularly. Later on, I realised that he’d given her the chopped up dried anchovies for this Sambal recipe that I’d had in the fridge instead. No wonder she hadn’t gone for it big time!)

This recipe is a great one for cooking squid. Squid can so easily be tough and rubbery when you’ve cooked it, so you have to either flash fry/stir-fry or cook it slowly, as you do here, to get a lovely tender texture. And the whole dish is full of punchy, vibrant flavours – delicious!

I went to New Loon Moon Supermarket in Chinatown, London, to get the dried anchovies, the pandan leaves and the banana leaves for this recipe. It’s always wonderful going to this store – and I generally spend far too long in there, drifting around the aisles looking at the wonderful selection of foods…

gluten-free, wheat-free, dairy-free, soya-free, nut-free

Serves: 4–6     Preparation time: 1 hour, plus soaking and resting time     Cooking time: 1 hour 15 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 350g/12oz/1¾ cups long-grain rice, washed and rested
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 lemongrass stalks, outer leaves and stalk ends removed and crushed
  • 3 pandan leaves, tied into a knot (optional)
  • 2cm/¾in piece of root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 100ml/3½fl oz/generous ⅓ cup coconut milk
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • 4–6 banana leaves (optional)

For the Squid Sambal

  • 4 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 2 red onions, sliced into rings
  • 800g/1lb 12oz squid, cut into rings
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp lime juice or 1 recipe quantity Tamarind Water
  • sea salt

For the Sambal paste

  • 4 dried chillies
  • 5 red chillies, deseeded and roughly chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 10 shallots, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp roasted shrimp paste
  • 2 macadamia nuts

To serve

  • 100g/3½oz/scant ⅔ cup raw, skinless peanuts
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, quartered
  • 1 small cucumber, halved lengthways, deseeded and cut into chunks
  • 80g/2¾oz dried anchovies
  1. To make the Sambal paste, soak the dried chillies in hot water for 10 minutes, then drain, deseed and roughly chop. Put all the ingredients in a food processor and blend to a smooth paste.
  2. To make the Squid Sambal, heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium-high heat, then add the onions and cook until soft and translucent. Add the spice paste and cook gently, stirring occasionally, for 10–15 minutes until fragrant and the oil starts to rise to the surface. Tip in the squid, stir until well coated and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the sugar and season with salt, then add the lime juice and stir to combine. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes, or until the sauce thickens and turns a dark reddish brown. Leave to one side and keep warm.
  3. Meanwhile, put the rice, star anise, lemongrass, pandan leaves, if using, ginger, coconut milk and salt in a large saucepan and pour in 300ml/10½fl oz/scant 1¼ cups water. Put the pan over a high heat and bring to the boil for about 20 seconds. Stir with a wooden spoon to prevent the rice sticking to the base of the pan, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer gently for 20 minutes.
  4. Remove the pan from the heat, leaving the lid tightly closed, and leave to one side to steam for 10–15 minutes until cooked. Fluff the rice with a fork and discard the star anise, lemongrass and pandan leaves, if using.  Leave to one side and keep warm.
  5. While the Sambal and rice are cooking, heat a frying pan over a medium-high heat, then add the peanuts and dry-roast until fragrant and starting to brown. Tip the peanuts onto a plate, sprinkle over the sugar and leave to cool. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and fry the dried anchovies until slightly browned.
  6. Serve the rice on plates or banana leaves. Ladle the Squid Sambal over the rice and top with the eggs. To the side, heap the cucumber, toasted anchovies and sugared peanuts. Serve hot.

Sunshine, Gluten-Free Bread & Bruschetta in Tuscany

Just back from a heavenly week in Tuscany. Ahhhhhhh. I’ve never been (other than a weekend in Florence for Peter’s 40th) and have longed to go for years and years – and we finally made it. We stayed in an agriturismo appartment on the side of a beautifully-restored old farmhouse and spent the week travelling around, seeing the stunning countryside and persuading Zoe to look round Pisa and Sienna with us… Every morning I would get up and go for a swim in the salt-water pool pictured above. Truly, life doesn’t get much better than those early morning swims as the sunlight bounced on the water and the scent of the lavender bushes filled the air. (We’re now back in grey, chilly London and I’m dreaming of those swims!)

The farmer grows olives and makes the most delicious olive oil – smooth and clean yet full of depths of flavours.

We swam and swam and swam some more – in the pool, at the beach and even in this river where there were hot springs. The smell of sulphur was strong but somehow not unpleasant and we lay in the water, and then covered ourselves with the mud and sat in the water, letting the water do its magic. The waters are mainly detoxifying, drawing out toxins and impurities, but they also act as a relaxant and stress-reliever (so you come out feeling very sleepy!) and are also great for various allergic/intolerant conditions, especially eczema, psoriasis, asthma and sinusitis.

We went to Sienna which was stunning. The medieval buildings, famous Piazza and Duomo were awe-inspiring. According to Roman legend, Sienna was founded by Senius, who was the son of Remus. (Remus, and his brother Romulus, were the legendary founders of Rome. They were the sons of Mars who were abandoned as babies but saved by a she-wolf who suckled them and a woodpecker who fed them, and then rescued by a shepherd.)

Sienna is full of statues and artwork showing the she-wolf suckling the young babies. And the duomo is bursting with beautiful paintings, statues and glass windows.

And I was wowed by the Siennese style of paintings (you can see a rather bad photo of one of them below) which are full of bright, bold colour blocks and a modern-feeling graphic styling (despite the medieval style of painting.)

We went to Pisa, too, and took Zoe round the Duomo there. The audio equipment was brilliant as it meant Zoe was intrigued by the handsets and chatted into those while we gazed at the paintings! The Italians are generally lovely about kids and let them play and run around. We kept it to a minimum in the Cathedral (!) but even when Zoe was ordering rice and chocolate cake down the audio handset, they didn’t bat an eyelid.

And on the subject of food – yes it was amazing! The fruit was sweet and juicy and the vegetables full of the flavours of sunshine; the selection of prosciutto and hams in the delis were joyous; and the fresh fish and seafood were all gorgeous. But generally gluten-free or dairy-free in restaurants or cafés weren’t an option. We were in deepest, rural Tuscany – where they would serve just a few dishes with home-made gluten pasta and rich cheeses. But I happened on a selection of gluten-free breads in the small supermarket in the local town and, from then on, happily munched my way through the gluten-free breadsticks, buns and bread…

And I made a wonderful, wonderful bruschetta with toasted gluten-free buns, rich, plump tomatoes, pungent garlic and sweet, earthy basil leaves.

This recipe (inspired by her home-grown tomatoes) came from Renée Elliott’s website and it’s utterly delicious.

gluten-free, wheat-free, dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, seed-free

Serves 2 for lunch or 4 as a starter    Preparation time 20 minutes     Cooking time 15 minutes

  • 125ml/4fl oz/½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • freshly-ground black pepper
  • 4 thick slices of gluten-free bread, or 4 gluten-free rolls, halved
  • 4 ripe medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 10g/¼oz basil leaves, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  1. Heat the oven to 220˚C/440˚F/gas 7.  Pour the oil into a medium bowl, add the salt and pepper and mix well.  Dip each side of the bread in the oil until lightly coated with oil and put the bread in a shallow baking tray.  Bake in the oven for 15 minutes until crisp.
  2. Meanwhile, add the tomatoes, basil and garlic to the oil and mix well.  Transfer the toasted bread to a serving plate, top generously with the tomato mixture and serve.

Gluten-Free Zucca and Nopi

The restaurant trade is definitely taking gluten-free seriously! Way back, when I was first diagnosed with allergies/intolerances, I would usually struggle to order a safe dish in restaurants. Meals would often come out of the kitchen with gluten or dairy products in them, even though I’d asked for them without. I would say something, the plate would be taken away and returned with the cheese, sauce or whatever simply scraped off, leaving a whole load of residue. One restaurant even refused to make a dairy-free version of their Moules Marinieres – which is the easiest thing to do. But now, everything has changed – and it’s great!

I went to Nopi recently and nearly fell off my seat when I was handed a specific gluten-free menu. The waiter then very kindly went through the menu and crossed off the dishes that had dairy, too. I was left with 6 dishes to choose from – not bad at all(!) and even a dessert. And the food was gorgeous. Ottolenghi is known for the vibrancy of his food. His dishes are truly different – innovative, cooked beautifully and full of wonderful, punchy tastes.

I had the Golden & Red Beet, Quince, Caramelised Macadamias. The flavour combinations were superb (one of the reasons why Ottolenghi is so brilliant at vegetarian dishes). Afterwards I had the Seared Lamb Cannon, Celeriac & Barberry Salad, Green Chilli Sauce which was truly stunning. The sharpness of the barberries with the hit of the chilli combining with the tender lamb and wholesome celeriac was gorgeous – and brought bright sunshine onto my plate.

I remember when I had just had Zoe and a friend of mine came round with boxes of deliciousness from the Ottolenghi Deli. I had had morning sickness throughout my pregnancy and had eaten pretty bland food throughout. This was the first meal of stunning, innovative and exciting flavours I had eaten in a very, very long time! I fell in love with his cooking then and I’m still in love with it now…

Recently I’ve also gone to Zucca where they – very nicely – tell you on the menu to let them know if you have any food allergies. The menu is small and, amazingly, much of it was gluten-free and also dairy-free. The ethos behind Zucca (which means pumpkin or squash in Italian) seems to be Italian food made imaginatively – with delicious, fresh ingredients, and served simply and with care. I tucked into Grilled Prawns that were meaty, juicy and utterly delightful, and then had the Grilled Lamb Rump, Cianfotta & Mint which was gorgeous. Cianfotto is a traditional vegetable stew that has deep, rich tastes and, paired with the fresh, zingy mint and garlic topping and the sweet, succulent lamb, it was a truly memorable dish. My friend had the Roast Cod with Borlotti, Clams & Ramson and was deeply impressed, too. Ramson is a type of wild garlic – and this was a very satisfying dish, full of robust textures and flavours.

Thank you – both Yotam Ottolenghi and Sam Harris for taking the trouble to cater for people on gluten-free and dairy-free diets – and for making dishes for us that make our hearts sing.