Monthly Archives: January 2014

Tasty Tamarind

Tamarind trees grow all around the island of Ko Chang Ranong . They can grow pretty big and the ripe tamarind pods scatter around so that when we are walking  under these trees they are crunching underfoot. The pods are quite big and plump, about the size of baby broad beans. The pod itself is brown and the interior is a kind of rusty terracotta with seeds the size of pumpkin seeds encased in a soft pulp. This looks quite different from what we buy at home which is either in solid dark brown blocks or as a concentrate.


As you might expect they feature on the menu in a few different guises. My current favourite is Crispy Fish with Tamarind sauce. This is usually red snapper or barracuda, deep fried, and served with a delicious sweet sour tamarind sauce on top.garnished with crispy shallots and lime leaves. or fried garlic slices.  The fish are slashed a few times, through to the bone, on each side and slipped into a wok with a couple of inches of hot oil. The sauce is made with tamarind pulp, palm sugar and fish sauce with the addition of chilli, garlic and shallots.


It’s definitely a recipe that I will add to my repertoire, The fish could be pan fried, grilled or steamed and served with the tamarind sauce if you don’t want to deep fry whole fish.

Here’s an interpretation of the tamarind sauce recipe from last night. I quizzed the chef for the ingredients and  I’ve written it using tamarind concentrate as our cooking expert in Penang reckoned that if fresh tamarind paste wasn’t available the concentrate had the edge. I’m not entirely sure that the tamarind concentrate that we get is the way to go but I have to wait until I get home to try it out.

Meanwhile here’s my notes

For the sauce;

2-3 chillies – less if you don’t like spicy

2-3 cloves garlic

2 shallots

a little oil

1 tbs tamarind concentrate

2 and a half tbs palm sugar or light muscovado sugar

3tbs fish sauce

50 mls  hot water

Peel the garlic and shallots and finely chop together with the chillies.

Mix the tamarind with the water and fish sauce and stir in the sugar.

Fry the garlic/chilli/shallot paste for one minute in a little oil then add the other ingredients, bring to the boil then reduce until the consistency of honey.

For the garnish either slice peeled garlic thinly and shallow fry until lightly browned – not as easy as it sounds as it’ll burn in a jiffy so keep a sharp eye on it or fry thinly sliced shallots until crispy or fry lime leaves until crispy.

Pour cover the fish and serve with the garnish sprinkled over the top

Spicy Som Tam

As soon as I land in Thailand I have a yen for Som Tam. This spicy, zesty salad is sold on the street, in the bus stations and at all the little restaurants. In fact it’s pretty much everywhere and one of my favourites. I find that I read the menu from top to bottom with all the tempting noodles, seafood and curry dishes and can’t help but order Som Tam.

It’s like a Thai version of cole slaw, with crunchy julienned green papaya, a few shredded carrots and maybe some tomato and snapped up snake beans It’s healthier than cole slaw as the dressing is made with lime juice , chopped chillies, garlic and nam pla. It’s topped with a sprinkle of roasted and crushed peanuts. I have to admit this is part of the allure as I am something of a peanut fiend.


There are plenty of  variations. The one from the bus station was served in a plastic bag, the top secured with an elastic band and it almost blew our heads off. It made my eyes and nose run and my lips were singing with the chilli. Quite a blast. Here on the island where we are staying it’s pretty spicy but it’s tame compared to the bus station version.

I like to make this when I’m home in Ireland but as green papayas are hard to come by I use green mangoes which are plentiful. I don’t usually bother with the beans even though raw French beans make a reasonable substitution for the snake beans  and I usually skip the tomatoes too as Thai tomatoes are drier than the ones that we can get.

This basically pares it down to green mango, roasted and crushed peanuts and the dressing. It’s delicious. In fact green mangoes are perhaps tastier than the green papaya. Dressed with the spicy sauce it makes a fast and tasty lunch and will add a spring to your step.


1 big green mango or 2 smaller ones

Brown skin peanuts

2-4 cloves garlic

2-4  birds eye chillies

1 dsp sugar

1 tbs dried shrimp, soaked in warm water- optional

juice of 1-2 limes – depends how big and juicy they are

2tbs fish sauce – nam pla

Roast the peanuts in a tray in the oven, 180c, until the skins will rub off and the peanuts are light brown. It’s important to roast the peanuts enough as it gives a better flavour. Tip the peanuts into a clean t-towel and rub to remove the skins. Pick the peanuts out – you can take them outside and blow the skins away otherwise just sort through them. Put them into a mortar and lightly crush them, you want fairly big bits.

Chop the chilli and garlic together and mix together with the lime juice, nam pal and sugar. Drain the shrimp and roughly chop then stir into the dressing.

Peel the mango, cut into thin slices then cut into matchsticks – julienne.

Put the mango into a bowl, toss together with the dressing and sprinkle the peanuts on top.

Serve immediately.

Breakfast Series

Breakfast In Asia is nothing to do with cornflakes. In fact there’s not a cornflake in sight, it’s far more exciting.

Our day begins with all sorts, depending where we are. In the towns it’s likely to be noodles. Especially noodle soup with a range of condiments to spice up your dish – chillies, toasted peanuts, nam pal, oyster sauce, you just help yourself and add them in. There’s noodle soup with chicken, noodle soup with fish or noodle soup with just veg if you ask although that’s looked on rather strangely as it seems that you’re requesting the omission of the highlight. After my fish ball disaster I stick to the veg, it’s all very tasty


We have e feasted on Roti Canai, the Indian pancakes which are served with onions,egg and dal or bananas. Substantial and delicious


Then there’s Nasi lemak, rice cooked in coconut milk wrapped in banana leaf with sambal and little dried fish, this is pretty full on but it’s good once you get stuck in. It must have been okay as we’d eaten it before we remembered to take a photo.

Fried rice with egg. Egg in the rice or fried eggs on top. Fried egg on top is my preference.


Then there’s congee, a kind of porridge made from rice, lassis made with curd and fruit and the most magnificent fruit salads.


Now we’re on the island I feast on fruit. Most days it’s watermelon, banana, tangerine, pineapple and mango. Other days there’s dragon fruit included and there’s also ripe papaya which I’m not fond of so I always request ‘fruit salad no papaya’. Which ever way it comes it’s a healthy start to another sunny day.

Mango Shakes

I have a new addiction, Mango Shakes!


This very simple delicious drink is made with chilled ripe mangoes and ice, buzzed up and served with a straw. A fat straw to allow this delicious sludge to travel up to the mouth. Just the ticket in the sunshine. Full of vitamins and vitality, a good body temperature adjuster and thirst quencher

To make chill one ripe mango then peel and chop up. Put into a liquidiser with an equal amount of crushed ice a teaspoon of sugar and buzz.

Pour into a tall glass and serve immediately

Penang Noodles

We’ve spent the last few days in Penang, the food capital of Malaysia It’s a large island on the west coast and there are an incredible mix of people living here, Malays, Chinese, Indians and of course all of us tourists who have come from all over the world.

It’s possible to eat Malay food for breakfast, Indian for lunch and Chinese for dinner. There is an enormous amount of street food, family restaurants and a few fancy expensive restaurants. We frequent the local restaurants and street hawkers and are feasting on all sorts of surprises. Mostly happy ones.  There has only been one complete duffer so far and that was a bowl of breakfast noodles with ‘fish’ The fish were in fact a very strange fish balls which had such a disgusting texture that when I put it in my mouth I had to spit it out. The noodles were tasty though so it wasn’t a complete no no


We are staying in the home of a lady called Nazalina who has the headquarters of Slow Food in Penang and today we went on a tour of the food markets with her, bought a pile of ingredients and did some cooking together.

We headed out at 7.30, everything begins very early, as it’s very hot. We began with some breakfast next to the ‘wet market’ at an Indian eatery of roti canai stuffed with egg and onion served with a bowl of dal.


Roti canai is a type of Indian pancake and the guy who made it was delight to watch. The street hawkers are all experts in their own particular delicacies and produce the food with such ease that it’s mesmerizing.


Full with the roti canais we went over to the wet market where we bought tofu, prawns and mackerel, the mackerel was smaller than the ones we get in Ireland and are known as Indian Mackerel. We then wandered on to the main market gathering a dizzying array of exotic fruit, vegetables and spices. It was good to have a knowledgeable guide. Nazalina is well known by the vendors and we could poke, prod and sniff as we identified everything. Laden down with fresh spices, noodles, veggies and seafood we made our way back to her heritage house in Georgetown where we cooked everything up. This involved making fragrant spice mixes together with lemongrass, fresh turmeric, ginger flowers, galangal and spices in mortar and pestles. The menu was Asam Laksa which is the local spicy noodle soup with mackerel,


Otak Otak , a delicate prawn custard cooked in banana leaves and  Char Koay Teow, another dish that is the specialty of the street hawkers, made with flat rice noodles stir fried with chives, tofu, beansprouts, prawns and eggs.


It is easy to make and I’ve adapted the recipe slightly so the ingredients are easy to get in Ireland.

As with most stir-fry dishes everything needs to be chopped before the cooking starts and only one or two portions can be cooked at a time but the cooking is so fast it’s perfectly possible to make this in batches. If you are cooking for more than two don’t be tempted to heap everything into the wok at once because it won’t stir-fry. The temperature will drop and it won’t be able to cook quickly enough.

If you would like the real authentic prawns toss them in a little oyster sauce, toasted sesame oil and a tsp. sugar before cooking. Leave them to marinate for 10 minutes before cooking. This will help the prawns to char a little and give the street hawker flavor.

Char Koay Teow

For each serving you will need

Approx. 75g flat rice noodles

1 chilli, chopped or 1 tsp. Malay chilli paste

1 tsp. chopped garlic

A large handful beansprouts

2 chopped spring onions or large handful garlic chives

4-5  cubes tofu in approx. 1cm pieces

4-5 raw prawns

1 egg

2 tbs oil for frying

Half a lime

For the sauce – enough for 2 servings

1 tbs oyster sauce

1 tbs thick soya sauce

1 and a half tbs thin soya sauce

1 dsp fish sauce

1 dsp toasted sesame oil

a little ground black pepper

4 tbs water

Soak the rice noodles in hot but not boiling water whilst you prepare all the other ingredients. Leave them for at least ten minutes. Just before the cooking begins drain the noodles and put aside

Mix all the sauce ingredients together and put aside

Prepare all the other ingredients as listed above

Heat the oil in a wok, add the prawns and cook on a high heat for a couple of minutes then add the garlic and chilli and toss together for a minute then add the chopped spring onions, tofu and beansprouts. Keep tossing everything together on a high heat then add the noodles, stir in the sauce – only use half if you are making one portion. Toss everything together and cook for a couple more minutes then push the noodles to one side.

Tip the wok, keeping the noodles to the side away from the heat and crack the egg into the wok. When the egg is nearly cooked quickly scramble then mix together with the noodles. Squeeze a little lime juice over and eat immediately.