Monthly Archives: January 2015

Cashew Nut Island

This recipe is coming from my hammock on a small Thai island in the Andaman Sea, close to Burma.


It’s the place for an ultimate chill out. No roads, no retail therapy, no stress unless you have trouble deciding what to eat next. We have a simple hut on the beach made from woven bamboo, there’s a bed with large mosquito net, a bathroom with a toilet, a cold shower and a bucket for flushing the loo and best of all a deck with two hammocks which saves fighting over who gets to swing in the breeze.

The family that owns our hut look after everything. They get up early and sweep the leaves from the paths and the beach. they make delicious home cooked food any time you ask them and the pineapple shakes they make are to die for.


It’s surprising how quickly the days drift away between swimming in the sea and wandering about the island.


Most of the island is covered in dense jungle or patches of rubber palms and cashew nut trees.  To get a cashew nut from the tree to our plates is quite something, The  cashew nuts grow under the fruit, it’s known as an apple but looks more like a pear and the nut is dangerously inedible in its raw state.


The fruit can be eaten or made into smoothies or booze but the nuts need a serious roasting before they can be eaten. The nut in the shell is surrounded by  a caustic liquid that would burn the top of your mouth off if eaten raw. The roasting has to take place outside as the fumes are toxic, it’s quite palaver so when you consider there’s only one nut on the bottom of each fruit, the price of a packet of cashews seems quite fair.

As you might imagine the cashew nuts are delicious and feature on every menu. You can have salad with cashew nuts, prawns with cashew nuts, stir fried veg with cashew nuts, the list is endless. We had grilled barracuda with ‘green apple sauce’ the other night. It sounded quite a bizarre combo so of course we had to try. It was julienned Granny Smiths with a little carrot, chilli, garlic and cashew nuts, all dressed with lime juice and nam pla. Stunning!

Here’s a recipe for a sweet and sour carrot salad – with cashew nuts. We went for a ‘day out’ to another area of the island and ate this for lunch.


I thought it was delicious and as usual we puzzled over what could be in it when we found the recipe in May Kaidees Thai Vegetarian Cookbook sitting on the table right front of us. Here’s my translation


Sweet and Sour Carrot Salad

2 tbs shredded coconut, soaked in cold water for 2 hours

2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

75g cashew nuts

1 tbs sesame seeds

50g tofu

2tbs soya sauce -not dark

juice 1 lime

1 tomato- diced into big chunks

2-3 carrots, peeled and grated

Drain the shredded coconut.

Put the coconut, 25g of the cashews and the garlic in a mortar and pestle  and mash together to make a rough paste. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle pulse buzz in a food processor and keep scraping it down

Crumble the tofu with your hands

Toast the other 50g of cashews gently in a dry pan, put them aside then toast the sesame seeds until lightly golden.

Put the carrots into a large bowl and mix together with the coconut/cashew paste then add the chopped tomato, sesame seeds, crumbled tofu, lime juice and soya sauce. Toss everything together

Pile the salad on a plate and scatter the toasted cashew nuts on top

I think I’d be very tempted to put a chopped chilli or two in as well!!












Yuzana on a Beach

We’ve discovered a delicious new salad. It’s known as  Yuzana- a salad from Burma,


It’s an intriguing kind of upscale cole slaw with lots of different dimensions. Super skinny slices red and green cabbage,  julienne of carrot, Honey toasted cashew nuts, peanuts and sesame seeds. chunks of tomato, garlic and chilli, crispy fried chickpeas and  split dal and then there’s something else. It tasted quite earthy, a little fermented. I thought it might be some kind of mushroom.

We asked the lady of the house and she said she didn’t know what this ingredient was called, just that it was Burmese, so we asked her if we could have a look and she came out of the kitchen with a sachet on a plate. It was very dark, soft and  a little bit stringy and we were none the wiser until we got back to our hammocks and googled Yuzana.

Yuzana are a Burmese company that pickle tea leaves. The chilli seasoned tea leaves are pickled then buried underground where they ferment. No wonder there’s such a flavour impact. There have been some dodgy write ups about their ethics and ingredients – the dye used was banned everywhere that knew about it and it would be difficult if not impossible to get in Ireland so I was thinking ‘pickled kombu’. I think that would deliver that intense umami that a little bit of Yuzana does.

It’s definitely one to try when we get home.


Here’s a run down of the ingredients that I noted. I’m sure it would be a delicious combo whichever way you interpret it.

Red cabbage – very finely sliced

green cabbage – very finely sliced

carrot – super skinny julienne

tomato – a few meaty chunks

green chill chopped pretty small

garlic- thinly sliced

a handful of toasted peanut, sesame seeds and cashews

deep fried legumes – chickpeas, split peas, fava beans

lime juice, olive oil and salt

about 1 tbs of the mysterious pickled tea leaves

Put on a big bowl and toss everything together.





Monkey Nuts

Having eaten gazillions of peanuts in my lifetime I was astonished when I bought some from this lady on the beach in Vung Tau, Vietnam.


They looked like monkey nuts – peanuts with the shell on. Well I guess they were monkey nuts but the difference was that they had just come out of the ground. I cracked one open and popped it in my mouth and discovered it was squishy, a little bit blobby. On closer inspection I could see they still had a downy skin on. They were plump and snug in their shell and hadn’t been roasted.


The people sitting next to us seemed to enjoy them but they didn’t float my boat.

It made me curious though so I checked out fresh peanuts and discovered a few facts.

Peanuts are not nuts. They’re legumes, hence the pea status in their name

They grow on bush type plants which flower as do all pea plants but they then throw down a tendril which buries itself and the peanuts grow under ground.

The peanuts we usually eat have been boiled or roasted.

So there you go!


Hanging out in Hoi An

Hoi An is a small fishing town that wasn’t damaged in the war and the old town is still intact. No high rise buildings just lots of cute houses, temples and plenty of water. It sits on a river that goes out to sea. There are lots of boats. lots of seafood and lots of tourists.


It’s a World heritage site and the architecture and the town is quite beautiful, especially at night when the town is lit up by coloured lanterns made from bamboo and silk that reflect on the water.  You can buy a paper lantern from one of the street vendors to launch on the river for 10,000 dong (40 cents)  and make a wish. They bob around in the water, all the  different colours illuminated by the light of the candles which makes a very pretty picture.


It’s well known for it’s food and one lady in particular, the famous Ms Vy, who is responsible for most of the food tourism. She opened her first restaurant in 1982, began to give cooking classes and now she has four restaurants including a street food food hall show casing the different foods and how they are made. It’s impressive – quite a success story

I went along to one of the cooking classes to learn a few more recipes and see what its all about. There’s no sign of Ms Vuy  but the class is very professional.


It begins with a trip to the market to gather ingredients followed a tour of the food hall where there are demonstrations of how to make rice paper, rice noodles and all manner of weird and wonderful dishes then the cooking class begins.


All the ingredients are laid out and it’s super organised.We made prawn and pomelo salad – absolutely delicious,


clams with lemongrass and ginger – very spicy,


marinated fish barbecued in banana leaf and then stir fried with noodles – yum


and a clever little Vietnamese ice cream trick.


It was well worth the money so if you’re ever in Hoi An check it out.

Originally we thought we’d hang out there for the week cooking and cycling to the beach but between the rain and the toy town tourism we have decided to bail out  so we’re up at the crack of dawn to hop on a plane to Ho Chi Min and then continuing south in search of sunshine. That’s another tree to plant!!

Lunch at the Jade Hotel

We’re about two thirds of the way up Vietnam now, in Hue. The clouds are are deeper than Saigon. I really should do better research before we travel! It’s a much smaller city than Saigon, still lots of traffic but we are getting the hang of crossing the road.Basically no one really wants to run you over and they are masters of avoidance so you just take a deep breath and launch yourself into the traffic and hope no ones driving the wrong way as you can’t look in two directions at once. The traffic is 90% scooters and bikes.


We are staying in a little guest-house run by the sweetest people who offered to show us how to make a ‘family dinner’ so we headed off this morning on scooters to the market.


Off we zoomed and it began to rain. The market was busy.  Lots of wet people and mountains of food. All sorts of fruit and vegetables, live fish hopping in the baskets, fresh prawns and squid and dodgy looking meat.


We gathered up lots of vegetables, fresh noodles and prawns and headed back to cook. We unpacked and cleaned up all the veg and set cooking in the mini kitchen. The kitchen was very small in every dimension and Con and I were like giants, nearly decapitating ourselves on the cooker hood on several occasions.


The girls were great, masters of the large sharp knife and in no time at all we had made a feast of nem – Vietnamese spring rolls,


noodle soup,


prawns with tamarind sauce


and morning glory with chilli and garlic.


We sat down together and ate the lot!


Arrival in Saigon


We arrived in Saigon last night, it’s officially called Ho Chi Min but everyone still calls it Saigon. It’s hot and steamy. We’re sitting in a 32c cloud, mosquitos and all. Not that I expect any sympathy!

We have become instant millionaires, the Vietnamese Dong comes in zillions. It’s quite difficult to get my head around. one euro is worth around 26,000 and something so everything sounds expensive but it’s actually dead cheap,

The food we have eaten so far has been a mixture of delicious and strange. Last night when we arrived we were very hungry having not eaten since our Bangkok breakfast and we took the advice of the hotel receptionist and went to an eatery around the corner. That was very strange. Today’s lunch was much more successful, We wandered through the streets in the general direction of the ‘War Remnants’ museum and by the time we got there we were hungry again. There was a vegetarian restaurant on the same block so we sauntered in and had a delicious feed of fresh spring rolls,


morning glory salad



and deep fried vegetables



all washed down with carrot, celery and lemongrass juice


which was just the fortification that we needed as the war museum was quite a harrowing experience.

Anyone of a certain age will remember the Vietnam war and all the propaganda that went with it. The visual documentation is  disturbing. The exhibitions are a collection of news footage from all sides and nationalities and it just goes to prove what a waste of humanity it all was. We found it quite upsetting, the facts and figure would give anyone nightmares. Maybe it seems a strange thing to do on holiday but as a visitor to Vietnam what is in fact recent history is relevant in a perverse way.


Now we have that out of the way I think we’ll concentrate on eating!


Up Up and Away!

Last night someone had the bright idea to celebrate the New Year Spanish time as we had to get up at 3.30 for a flight. It sounded like great idea but what actually happened was we celebrated twice!  Once Spanish time and once Irish time and amidsts all that silliness we went to bed very late.  We hauled ourselves out of bed after about two hours sleep and rushed to the airport. The thing that I always forget is that the airport is busy at this unearthly hour and the queues for security are long. Luckily we were too anesthetised  by lack of sleep to stress much and once we tumbled onto the plane we snoozed all the way to Amsterdam.

I wouldn’t say we arrived bright eyed and bushy tailed but it wasn’t bad. We had a seven hour wait over for our connection so we took the train into Amsterdam for a wander. The city was very quiet. There weren’t many people about, a few strays from the night before and us.

IMG_2599There must have been a mighty party last night as the streets were strewn with debris – party poppers, bangers, food cartons, cans and bottles. It was impressive. As we walked about so the street cleaners appeared and systematically cleaned up. First the garbage was blown into piles by super blowers then the streets were hosed down and finally all the piles were removed.IMG_2613

We wandered the streets, drank some coffee – old fashioned Dutch coffee with little tubs of koffie melk on the side and ate a croissant.IMG_2604

The croissant was so awful that it was abandoned and we ended up eating frites with mayonnaise – not something a nutritional therapist should be seen eating for breakfast.


It was a bit of hodge podge trip down memory lane with the coffee and chips not that I used to eat them for breakfast, it was more of late night snack. Anyways by 11.20 (10.20 Irish time) we had consumed two ‘breakfasts’!


We’re about to board our plane for Bangkok now, en route to Vietnam, leaving the winter behind us for a few weeks.

We’re looking forward to our next food adventure.

Here’s wishing everyone a Happy New Year and may all your dreams come true