Sunday, 26 October 2014

Make your own Sambal Chilli Paste using fresh chillies

Favourite chilli paste recipe using fresh chillies ...

This is a fragrant, smoky chilli paste that can be added to noodles, fried rice, stir-fries, casseroles.

Recently, I entered a chilli competition and ended up winning 5 kilos - yes, 5 kilos of freshly picked chillies. When they arrived, I gasped. It was a biiiig box of chillies. After many hours of heavy duty pickling and freezing, I decided to use the remaining chillies to make a Malaysian chilli paste called sambal.

There are so many sambal pastes in Malaysia, some made from raw chillies, some are left to ferment and some, like the Sambal Tumis are made from cooked chillies (the word "tumis" is Malay for sauté). You know what happens to chillies when they are cooked gently over a low heat for a long time? They turn deep red and develop a kind of sweet smokiness; and tantalising flavours emerge that taste completely unlike it in its raw form.

To make this sambal paste, you will need to de-seed the chillies, which is actually not as tedious as it sounds. I don't wear gloves, but most people would advise you to. Having spent my childhood years in Malaysia means that I have no fear of chillies, nor the heat, nor the inevitable burning sensation which comes with handling them. Its not that I don't feel the burn, it is just that it doesn't bother me.

The chillies you choose for your sambal will depend on your taste and tolerance threshold. I prefer to use a combination of medium and hot chillies, so that the end-result is palatable and does not cause pain.

Traditional "sambal tumis" recipes usually also call for tamarind and candlenuts, but this recipe is kept simple with just a few key ingredients - fresh chillies, shallots and belacan.

Belacan is a shrimp paste which comes in a block or powder form and is a widely used ingredient in Malaysia. You will find it at most Chinese supermarkets. I find that it is a must for this recipe, because it adds the (here we go) "umami" that everyone keeps going on about these days. Word of caution - it is pungent, like an extreme form of fish sauce.

Fresh, rather than dried chillies are used to make the most of freshly picked home grown chillies that are in season.

Sambal Tumis Chilli paste from fresh chillies


6 shallots or 2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
500g chillies, topped, de-seeded and roughly chopped
1 teaspoon belacan (shrimp paste or powder)
1/3 cup oil (plus 3-4 tablespoons oil during cooking)
2 tablespoons demarara sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt


1.Process onion and garlic in food processor until finely chopped.  Set aside.  Next, process chillies until finely chopped.

2. Heat a heavy based pan over medium heat. Add belacan and dry fry for 1-2 minutes until fragrant. (If using shrimp paste in a block form, break it into crumbs). Add half the oil, shallots and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

3. Add remaining oil and processed chillies to pan and cook for 5 minutes. Add sugar, salt and let chilli mixture cook for 45 minutes, stirring frequently.

As you are cooking the chilli mixture, add additional oil (one tablespoon at a time) to prevent it from burning.  Toward the end of the cooking process, it will turn a deep red and be oozing oil. This is when you know it is ready.

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Friday, 10 October 2014

Tomato sauce for pasta with end of season tomatoes

Harvest Tomatoes
Tomato harvest 

Tomato sauce for pasta using end-of-season tomatoes...

I really can't believe it is that time of the year again... all of a sudden a chill is noticeable in the air, the evenings start to get dark before you know it, and it is time to harvest the laaaast of the vine ripened tomatoes. Yup, it is officially the end of summer.

Over the last few months, we have enjoyed eating the sweetest tomatoes plucked straight from the vine. Often, they are eaten just as they are, sometimes simply sliced thinly then topped with capers and finely diced red onion.  But these colder days call for something warming like a tasty homemade tomato sauce made from fresh tomatoes.

Serve this tomato sauce with whole-wheat spaghetti (like SO organic Wholewheat Spaghetti by Sainsbury's). Inspired by a Tapas cooking class I recently attended, I have also added black olives.

There are so many variations on how to make the best tomato sauce from fresh tomatoes, so let me just say that this is simply my quick, easy, non-cheffy version. It is a simple but deliciously satisfying recipe to make the most of those end-of-season tomatoes.  

Tomato sauce, basil & olives tossed through spaghetti

Fresh tomato sauce (for pasta) 

Serves 2-3 


1-2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
750g fresh, ripe tomatoes
1/2 tablespoon demarara sugar
1/2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
handful of fresh basil leaves (about 10g), torn
black olives, pitted and chopped (optional)


1. Using a sharp knife, mark an 'x' at the bottom of each tomato and drop into a pot of boiling water until the skin starts to tear away (this will take between 20 - 60 seconds depending on the size of the tomatoes). Remove using a slotted spoon and plunge into a bowl of cold water. Using your hands, peel skin off and chop into small pieces.

2. Heat oil in pan over a low heat.  Add chopped onion, a few pinches of sugar and sauté for 10 minutes (adding a little oil as you go along, if necessary). Add red wine vinegar, chopped tomato, sugar and simmer gently for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.  Simmer for another 5 minutes or so, until it thickens.

3. Add basil leaves, black olives and season with salt and pepper.

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Saturday, 20 September 2014

Five chilli peppers to grow and eat...

Grow Chillies (Apache, Cheyenne, Basket of Fire, Scotch Bonnet)
(L-R) A plate of harvested chillies; "Basket of Fire" chillies growing in container  

This time of year, there is no shortage of homegrown chillies, and this year, my chilli line-up includes Apache, Cheyenne, Hungarian Hot Wax, Basket of Fire and Scotch Bonnet.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Quinoa, Tofu, Wakame Seaweed in egg drop broth

Kale salad
Quinoa, tofu, wakame seaweed & coriander in egg drop broth 

Quinoa and tofu in broth that is just perfect for breakfast ...

Breakfast on the weekend doesn't always have to involve a greasy fry-up.  Sometimes, you simply want a cooked breakfast that is simultaneously hot, tasty, nutritious and doesn't involve three thousand calories.  I miss living in Hong Kong when a steaming bowl of rice congee was just a hop, skip and elevator ride down to the main street level away.  Which is why I am loving this recipe for quinoa in an egg drop broth filled with tofu, wakame seaweed and fresh coriander and spring onions.  It's a nutritious way to start the day and is surprisingly satisfying.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Warm Kale & Artichoke Salad with toasted almonds

Kale salad
Kale, artichoke salad tossed in anchovies and toasted almonds

Green leafy kale salad bursting with flavour and crunch...

It is early spring and the days have just started to get warmer, but there is still a noticeable chill in the air.  Today, I feel like a salad that is full of leafy green goodness that is warm, comforting and full of flavour and texture.  And I have just the thing, for kale, pan-fried, is seriously tasty, and even more so, when combined with the bold saltiness of anchovies, flavourful artichokes and crunchy toasted flaked almonds.  

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Vietnamese Crispy Coconut Pancakes with Prawns & Fresh Herbs ("Banh Xeo")

Vietnamese Pancake Banh Xeo
Vietnamese Crispy Sizzling Coconut Pancake

Crispy savoury sizzling pancakes...

These golden crispy Bánh Xèo are the perfect base for a savoury filling made up of prawns, red peppers and bean sprouts.  There are no eggs in this batter, which is made from rice flour and coconut milk.  Instead, ground turmeric gives this pancake it's lovely golden colour.

Serve the pancake with lettuce of your choice and fresh herbs like mint and watercress.  Then, eat it with a tangy dipping sauce made from fish sauce and fresh lime juice.   

Vietnamese Pancake Banh Xeo
Vietnamese Crispy Sizzling Coconut Pancake

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Swiss Chard growing in the garden!

The colourful and vibrant "Five colour Silverbeet" Swiss Chard growing in our garden.  It's surprising what you can find in the kitchen garden at this time of the year...

Seeds by: Thompson & Morgan (Heritage collection)

See also this earlier post:
Growing tasty and vibrant Swiss Chard 

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Stir-fried Spicy courgettes recipe

Stir-fried spicy courgettes with ginger

Stir-fried courgettes - mildly spicy and lots of flavour...

I've recently been learning about the Sze Chuan (Si Chuan, 四川 ) style of cooking from Terry Tan's "The Food and Cooking of Si Chuan and West China".  Sze Chuan cuisine is well known for being spicy, fiery sometimes leaving your tongue with a tingling sensation (think Sze Chuan peppers!).

This Sze Chuan inspired recipe (adapted from Terry's book) does not have chillies in it, but rather it is the heat from ginger root combined with flavoursome sauces that bring this very ordinary vegetable to life.  The stir-fried courgettes are then served with rice, as a vegetable side.

It won't be long now before we will grow our own courgettes in the garden, but for now, we used Sainsbury's basics courgettes and garlic.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Giveaway : The Nākd Celebration Box!

Our GIVEAWAY this month is a Nākd Celebration Box worth £13!

We've made it through January!  To celebrate, I am hosting a giveaway for Natural Balance Foods, better known as the people behind those delicious Nākd bars and TREK protein bars.

Haven't tried them yet?  Well, here's your chance!

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Chinese Noodles in mushroom & pork gravy

 Chinese noodles in Soy Mushroom Sauce using Leftover Roast Pork

Chinese noodles in a mushroom gravy...
There is a kind of noodle dish where the noodles are neither immersed in broth nor stir-fried in a sizzling hot wok.  Instead, the cooked noodles are tossed in a deliciously rich, usually soy flavoured sauce, with each strand of noodle glistening with mouth watering gravy.

I find this style of noodle the most comforting mid-week, when in the dark of the evening you arrive home, the mechanical hum from the long train journey still ringing in your ears and the ideas from an earlier brainstorming session still buzzing in your head.