27 July 2012

Curry Puff Dragons

"Puff the magic dragon lived by the sea
and frollicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee..."
Peter, Paul and Mary 1962

Marie-Laure's delightful watermill near Chateau Engalin. 
A weekend house party, lots of people coming and going at different times. Last minute arrivals with varied meal times and varied numbers, cocktails on the terrace before dinner or not?  But one thing's for sure the outdoor life and fresh country air means everyone's starving! A cook's nightmare. Well not necessarily. We were on just such a trip to see friends in the Gers region of South west France recently and to add to our problems the culinary standards of the Chateau owners are already stratospherically high. Chateau Engalin being very well known for it's culture of gastonomie. Daring to cook there is intimidating to say the least!

But back to the logistics of catering for hearty appetites in such a fluid and unpredictable environment. Maybe we are obsessed with food but really it just takes a little forethought and preparation and you can have most eventualities covered admirably. A couple of hours invested at the beginning of the break is guaranteed to  remove a lot of stress. All you need is a little secret armoury of weapons on standby and guests and fellow house mates will be very impressed. Key to this armoury we found were our curry puff dragons. They are essentially a Malaysian dish and talk about a versatile hunger weapon! They were very useful to augment the fresh fruits and salads on offer at lunch time delicious as a nibble with cocktails or as a casual starter before dinner. They can be made with minced chicken but we found wonderful 'steak hache' specially minced for us at the local butcher. We had fun making them up and then held them in the fridge and deep fried them as and when required.

Curry Puff Dragons


Half kilo lean minced beef
4 Medium sized potatoes peeled and finely diced
3 Onions diced
3 Tbsp Curry Powder
1 Tbsp Chilli Powder
1 Tbsp Turmeric Powder
1 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
1 Tbsp Light soy sauce
1 Tbsp Sugar
Green peas, French beans and/or Carrots
2 Tbsps Vegetable Oil
1 Cup water
Seasoning to taste

3 Cups Flour
1 Tbsp Baking Soda
3 Tbsp Margarine at room temperature


Heat oil and fry onion until translucent add curry, chilli and turmeric powders and cook for about 10 minutes on medium heat. Add the meat, potato, sugar, salt and pepper and combine well. Lower the heat and continue until you are happy the potato is cooked but still slightly al dente. Test taste and adjust seasoning. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

While the filling is cooling sieve the flower, salt and baking soda into a large bowl and rub the margarine into the mix until it resembles fine crumbs. Gradually add water and knead into a dough using the heel of your hands to smooth. Roll into a ball, cover with a damp cloth and leave in the fridge to rest for about half an hour.

Once ready to assemble, flour a cool work surface and roll out the pastry to the thickness of say a pound coin. Cut into circles using a glass rim or pastry cutter. Take a teaspoon of the filling and place in the middle of each circle then fold in two and pinch or crimp the edge making sure no air remains inside. Place on a dusted tray, cover and store in the fridge until ready to cook.

To cook heat  6 cms of vegetable oil in a deep pan or deep fat frier. Gently lower the dragons into the hot oil in batches and fry until golden (2 - 4 minutes).

Posted by incredibly fed

20 July 2012

Pol Sambol, Moju and Dal - by Ghaz

Last week Romesh and I  made a fantastic Sri Lankan curry but of course that is not the full story, so while the chicken was bubbling away we turned our attention to the supporting cast. There are numerous condiment dishes normally served which compliment and enhance the main star. For example many countries around the Indian ocean rim have a version of the coconut dish Pol Sambol. Known simply as sambal in my own country Malaysia, whilst in neighbouring Indonesia and Singapore it comes in numerous varieties such as sambal belacan made with dried shrimp, sambal goreng a fried version and even sambal tempoyak made with fermented durian and anchovies!! But before you stop reading the version which has become our favourite is actually from the island of Sri Lanka. It was Romesh of course who introduced me to this one. It is fantastic with curries, dals and pulses, grilled meats and rice which the zingy lime and chilli cuts straight through. A word of caution though it can be spicy for the uninitiated so use discretion with the chilli! By the way Maldive fish called for in the recipe is dried tuna and is a staple of those islands' cuisine as well as Sri Lanka's. It does enhance and improve the flavour but if you leave it out don't worry. Finally when grating the coconut you need to be careful it doesn't become a paste. Our local Thai shop On Hogarth Road in Earls Court has a wonderful grater and does it for us.

1 fresh Coconut
1 red onion or 4 shallots
2 tsp chilli powder
1 Lime
1 tbsp Maldive fish flakes (optional)
I diced green chilli
1 clove Garlic
Break open the coconut shell, remove the flesh and grate with a box grater. Chop the onion or shallots very finely. Add the coconut, onion, garlic, chilli and fish (if using) together and squeeze in the lime juice and mix well.

Similarly Moju is designed to complement curry dishes. It is a Sri Lankan pickle made from aubergine, onion and vinegar.

Half cup Black mustard seeds
White or red wine vinegar
Fresh ginger
1 Aubergine
1 Onion
2 Tbsp vegetable oil

Put half the mustard seed in a bowl and cover with vinegar and stand over night.  When ready to prepare slice the aubergine into strips, add salt and turmeric and allow to stand for 15 - 20 minutes to extract bitter juice. Meanwhile put mustard, vinegar and sugar in a blender with the ginger and garlic and blend until smooth paste. Heat oil and fry remaining mustard seeds till they pop . Add paste and cook for about 5 minutes. Fry aubergine and onion separately and drain and combine with paste. Add salt to taste.

2 cups Myshore Dal
2 Tsp mustard seeds
2 tsp Chilli powder
Half tsp Turmeric
1 Inch of cinnamon stick
1 Tsp Maldive fish (optional)
2 cloves Garlic (paste)
1 Large onion diced
8 Curry Leaves
1 Tbsp Curry Powder
4 Inch Pandan leaf
Juice of half lime
Half can Coconut milk
2 Tbsp Vegetable oil
Salt to taste

Rinse dal until the water runs clear then add the turmeric and boil (uncovered) in water at least one inch above the pulses until soft (about 10 - 15 minutes), topping up with hot water if necessary.

Meanwhile heat the oil in a pan and fry mustard seeds, cinnamon, chilli powder, onion, pandan leaf, curry powder and leaves until aromatic and the mustard seeds start to pop and dance! Finally add garlic and cook for a further one minute. Combine well and add to the dal together with coconut milk, lime juice and salt to taste.

13 July 2012

Cooking with Romesh - By Ghaz

Romesh takes a break on the balcony outside his kitchen.
You'd never guess it from the weather but it's high summer. The weathermen tell us the jet stream is in the wrong place so the rain continues to pour down, flood warnings abound and the countryside is a soggy, muddy quagmire. Still there are notable compensations not least of which is that my old friend Romesh takes this opportunity to escape the sweltering heat of his home in Sri Lanka and visit his friends in London and Cologne. He is one of those lovely people who, although we are not the best at keeping in touch throughout the year we can instantly take up where we left off twelve months previously.

Romesh's surname is De Costa and he was born Roman Catholic but he is adamant there is not a drop of Portuguese blood in his veins! It's 100% Asian he explains, his ancestors having had Christianity and Iberian names "bestowed" upon them during the early colonial period. Like Goa on India's west coast there is also a strong trace of European influence in the island's cuisine which Romesh has managed to master competently, so our bonding catalyst is of course cooking together. At least I should say he does the cooking and I watch all the time asking questions and taking notes. As soon as he lets me know he's coming we arrange a few sessions together in his tiny Barons Court kitchen. I have to say he is certainly not mean with his secrets and loves to share his techniques, indeed he is only too pleased to give me a masterclass when I ask. More importantly than learning a lot we always have great fun together, loads of laughs and refresh a friendship which has lasted ever since we were both pennyless young fashion students and both new kids on the block.

Last Sunday we invited a few friends over to watch the Wimbledon final and while everyone was glued to the TV we made a deliciously mild and light southern Sri Lankan curry, a gentle dal and "Modju" a type of pickle dish made from aubergine, onion and vinegar whose sharpness was just the perfect accompaniment for the dal and meat dishes. (Recipes to follow in a later post)

While cooking Romesh explained to me that Sri Lankan curries are milder as the constituent spices are all toasted whole before they are ground, giving them a unique aroma. When he was young he remembers every home making their own curry powder on a special grinding stone but these days most are bought ready made in the market. Similar to other south Asian curries this dish is coconut milk based but unusually includes tomato to add colour. He says he never uses tinned tomatoes as they are considered a new invention and would never play a role in authentic Sri Lankan cuisine. We made the dish with chicken but pork or king fish would also work well.

First here's how to make the all important curry powder...

Sri Lankan Curry Powder
1 cup Coriander seeds
1/2 cup Cumin seeds
1 tbsp Fennel seeds
1 tsp Fenugreek seeds
1 tsp Cardamom seed
1 Cinnamon stick 2 inches long
1 tsp whole cloves
2 tbsp dried curry leaves
2 tsp chilli powder

In a dry pan over low heat roast separately coriander, cumin, fennel and fenugreek, constantly stir until each one is fairly dark brown. do not let them burn. Put in a blender with broken pieces of cinnamon stick and curry leaves. Blend at high speed until fine then combine chilli powder.

Sri Lankan Chicken Curry

1 Whole chicken chopped into pieces with skin
1 Large Onion diced
6 Garlic cloves made into paste
1 inch Ginger paste
Juice of half a lime
2 Tomatoes chopped
10 Curry leaves
3 Inch Pandan leaves
2 Green Chillies chopped
Half tsp Turmeric
Half tbsp chilli powder
1 Tbsp Sri Lankan Curry Powder
1 Cinnamon stick
3 Cardamon pods crushed
Half to one can coconut milk
4 Medium potatoes peeled (optional)
Salt to taste
2 Tbsp vegetable oil


In a large pot heat up oil and fry onion until golden, add garlic, ginger, chilli, pandan leaf, curry leaves and powder, cinnamon, turmeric and cardamon. Stir and cook for about three minutes or until aromatic. Add chicken and stir well so that paste well coats all the pieces. Cook on medium heat for about 5 - 8 minutes. Add tomatoes and stir. Make sure mixture is not catching. Add potatoes and cook for about 40 minutes on a low to medium heat covered until chicken is cooked. Stir occasionally. Add coconut milk and simmer for a few minutes. Finally add salt to taste. Add lime juice just before serving

Posted by incredibly fed

6 July 2012

Lost in France (White Asparagus and Grabiche)

I was lost in France, in the fields the birds were singing,
I was lost in France, and the day was just beginning,
As I stood there in the morning rain, I had a feeling I can't explain,
I was lost in France in love.....
Bonnie Tyler  1977

The Mulberry tree at Chateau Engalin
A week or two ago we were invited to spend a few days with very old friends at Chateau Engalin near the Gers village of Mauvezin in south-west France. Our stay there coincided directly with the height of the asparagus season which in Gascony very definately means white asparagus. We love it but wonder what is it about white asparagus that makes it so unpopular and little eaten on these islands? Is it because it is difficult to grow requiring constant nurturing in the dark, where a moment's sunlight could ruin a whole crop or perhaps it's the association with the nasty, tasteless and overcooked industrial product in tins or jars which used to pass as white asparagus.

If fresh and cooked correctly and with the right simple accoutrements it is delicious. It has an undoubtedly more subtle taste than it's greener cousin. It's ghost like appearance being reflected in the etherial quality of it's flavour. But we think it is high time to put old prejudices aside and embrace it's delicious earthy and distinctive taste. We cooked two huge bundles picked up at the market which was enough to make an enourmous platter with "festive" baguettes and a grabiche to accompany it. The dish was devoured at our daily alfresco lunch ritual under the mulberry tree on the south side of the chateau. 

Grabiche is a sort of cross between a mayonnaise and a tartar sauce. It has similar ingredients to tartar sauce but unlike mayonnaise is made with hard or semi-hard boiled eggs rather than raw ones. We think white asparagus in butter, salt and crushed black pepper is delightful but for that extra wow factor serve the pale spears with a generous dollop of grabiche.

Remember the asparagus spears should be gently peeled to remove the tough outer skin and about one quarter of the base end removed. Drop them into boiling salted water and cook until softened but still "al dente". They take longer than green spears but you should keep a close eye on them nevertheless. Drain and dress with butter and seasoning much as you would with say corn on the cob. Serve with the grabiche and bread on the side.

Ghostly fingers in dappled sunlight! 


Zest and juice of 1 large lemon
Handful chopped capers
Handful chopped cornichons
Handful chopped parsley
Handful chopped anchovies
Sprinkle of castor sugar
1 tbsp smooth Dijon mustard
3-4 tbsps olive oil
4 eggs not quite hard boiled


Place all the ingredients except the eggs in a large bowl and combine well. Place the boiled eggs whole in the mix and crush with a fork. Gently mix in the eggs making sure not to break them up too much. You are looking for a chunky texture. Taste and adjust as necessary. The sauce should pleasantly blend it's constituent sweet, acidic, salty and bitter elements.

Posted by incredibly fed