16 May 2012

braised cabbage & butter beans in anchovy sauce

Here's a dish (and many variations of it) that I make often.  It's one of those dishes in my repertoire that works whether it's a cold or hot day.  And yes, its got cabbage and yes, its got anchovies.  Two much maligned ingredients I think.  I can assure you that this dish is so simple to make and yet so very delicious in all it's buttery, salty, almost meaty tasting goodness.

I ate a lot of cabbage growing up.  It's pretty popular in Chinese cooking - whether in soups, stir fry or braised. Maybe it's all the different ways that cabbage can be cooked in my culture and flavoured with different sauces and spices that hasn't turned me off it the way it has with so many people I've met in NZ.  Most of my Kiwi and English friends won't touch it citing bad memories of the smell and of limp grey bland tasting cabbage from when they were young.  Whilst I only have good smell (and taste) memories of cabbage!  Yes, cabbage.  Who would've thought, eh?

Try and imagine these - cabbage stir fried with loads of garlic and ginger and flavoured simply with some light soy sauce and a few drops of sesame oil, or braised slowly on low heat with chinese mushrooms, light soy sauce, sugar, ginger, garlic and a dash of chinese cooking wine, or simply chopped into squarish chunks to make a soup with chicken, ginger, garlic and goji berries.  And a little trick - white pepper is cabbage's best friend.  Everyone has cracked black pepper at home, but invest in some ground white pepper and experiment with it, especially in Chinese cooking.  You'll love it!  So suddenly, cabbage doesn't sound so terrible now does it?

And what of anchovies?  I suppose here's another ingredient I've grown up eating so am not aversed to it.  Although the anchovies of my childhood is nothing like the Italian-style cured and packed in oil type that I often use now.  Those anchovies were also dried and salted, but never packed in oil.  They're either fried just with sambal (chilli paste) and eaten as a condiment, or into this sticky, sweet and salty snack with brown sugar, sambal and peanuts.  Sometimes they're just simply fried to a light golden crisp - all salty, crunchy and addictive.

Up to about couple years ago, I had never cooked with the Italian or Spanish style (cured and packed in oil) anchovies.  But once I started using it, I was hooked.  Since then I've used it countless of times as a flavour base in pasta sauces, casseroles, soups, risottos, etc.  One of my favourite pasta 'sauce' is an olive oil mixture that's flavoured with anchovies and sautéed garlic, chilli flakes and chopped black olives, tossed through hot pasta.  Very quick to put together on lazy weekday nights and so very satisfying.

So if you're one of those who wrinkle their noses up at the very mention of anchovies because of a bad fishy pizza experience, give it another go - this time as part of a sauce or flavour base.  When it's cooked that way, the anchovies melt completely so that you no longer see the fillets at all and the pungent fishy smell turns into this deep rich salty explosion of flavour.  I promise you it's nothing but goodness.

And if you're still not convinced and swearing that no anchovies will ever pass your lips come hell or high water, let me let you in on a secret...those lips of yours, have had anchovies more times than you'd think.  Every time you ate at your favourite Thai or Vietnamese restaurant or takeaway, that dish was very likely flavoured with some fish sauce which is often made with anchovies.  And what about Worcestershire sauce?  Yep...did you know that anchovies is a key ingredient in that?  What about those fancy pants olive tapenade that you've smeared on your crusty bread or cracker? Ah-uh...

There, no more excuses. :-)

Braised Cabbage & Butter Beans in Anchovy Sauce
This is enough for 2 if it's a main meal, but can be stretched for 3 if eaten as a side with poached or baked fish, or some grilled chicken breast.

1 onion, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed and roughly chopped
6 pieces of anchovies (soaked in oil), plus a tsp of the oil
1/4 head of a large cabbage, sliced
1/2 cup of water
Cracked black pepper
1 can of butter beans, rinsed
A knob of butter (oh...about 30g)
1/4 cup grated or shaved parmesan (or any hard good melting cheese you prefer)

  1. Heat some lightly flavoured oil (like rice bran) in a deep pan over medium-low heat and saute the onion, celery and garlic until soft and translucent.
  2. Add the anchovies and the anchovy oil and saute until the anchovies are melted.
  3. Add the cabbage and saute for 1-2 mins.  Add the cracked pepper to taste.
  4. Then add the water, lower the heat to medium-low and slowly cook the cabbage uncovered until cooked through and soft - but still with a tiny bit of bite, unless you like it soft.  Make sure you stir it every now and again to prevent burning or sticking.
  5. Once the cabbage is cooked, add the butter beans and cook a little further to heat the beans through.
  6. Just before serving, add the butter and parmesan and stir through till melted.
  7. Serve with sides of crusty bread slathered with butter.  No seriously, do just that.  It goes so well with this cabbage dish!

09 May 2012

leek, potato & kumara soup with nutmeg

Soup is my ultimate comfort food during winter (and when I'm feeling a little under the weather).  Now I love a spicy stomach warming curry, an unctuous risotto or a comforting bowl of rice congee with all its condiments.  These are all dishes the rich dishes that I have an excuse for making weekly - cold winter nights.  But nothing beats a good soup, mopped up with some bread on the side.

Soup is really versatile - you can make soup out of just about anything in your fridge.  I often use vegetables that are starting to go limp, or use up the last of whatever there is sitting at the bottom of the vegetable bin like the last 2 stalks of celery left and the lone carrot.  Depending on what I've got on hand will often dictate whether I blitz the ingredients into a creamy soup, or make a clear broth-like soup.

And it doesn't stop there.  I often try and cook a nice balance of both western/European and Asian food weekly.  So my repertoire also features soups with Asian herbs, spices or ingredients (like winter melon (tung qwa), shiitake mushrooms or chinese greens).  These soups often have a lighter or clear soup/broth base and I'd have some jasmine rice on the side to eat with it.

Hmmm...I just realised I've not blogged about any of the Asian inspired soups I've made before.  That's going to have to change.  Soon my friends...soon!

And since most soups take no time at all from stove to table, soup it was for dinner tonight.  (I was feeling a little lazy).  It was a 'poke-around-to-see-what's-there' kinda soup - there were 2 kumaras that have been sitting by their lonesome self for a while and had to be used.  So those went in with some leek and organic potatoes that we bought over the weekend.  It would have been nice if I had some rashers of bacon to fry up for the flavour base, but a tub of frozen homemade chicken stock was the next best thing (defrosted of course!).  The colour of this soup may not have been an attractive earthy colour like pumpkin soup or a gorgeous green like broccoli soup, but it certainly made up for it in taste.

It's quite a thick soup, so if you prefer something a little more liquid, add one more cup of stock to what I have listed below.  And if you don't have thyme at home, leave it out or substitute it with whatever other herb you like.  I drizzled a bit of cream and a sprinkling of parsley over my soup when I served it.  You're more than welcomed to leave both out!

Leek, Potato and Kumara Soup
Enough for 3-4 people for one meal, or dinner plus lunch to take to work for 2.

1 onion, finely chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped (use less garlic if you prefer)
1 leek, washed well and sliced
2 medium sized kumara, cut into small cubes (I used purple ones, but use whichever you prefer)
4 medium sized potatoes, cut into small cubes (I used organic Agria)
1/4 tsp thyme
Nutmeg, freshly grated (if not use about 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg)
6 cups of stock (veg or chicken)
1/4 sour cream
Salt and cracked black pepper
50g (or large knob) of butter
Oil (I used rice bran oil, but you can use olive, canola or any other vegetable oil you have)

  1. Over a medium heat, melt the butter with a bit (oh...about 1 tsp) of oil - the oil helps to prevent the butter from burning.  Gently saute the onion and garlic until soft and translucent.
  2. Add the leek and thyme and continue to saute until the leek softens.
  3. Stir in the kumara, potatoes and nutmeg.
  4. Add the stock and 1 tsp of salt (check the stock you're using to see how salty it is first) and bring to boil on high heat.  Cover and reduce heat back to medium heat.  Cook covered until the potatoes and kumara are cooked through and soft.
  5. Blitz the mixture until smooth - I used an immersion stick blender - and then stir in the sour cream, mix well and heat through.
  6. Salt and pepper to taste - taste the soup and add more salt if required.

PS:  I feel the need to apologise for the photos in this post - it's quite hard to take good photos in my house at night.  It's yellow/orangy lighting throughout the house except the bathroom which has white lights, but that's not an option!

07 May 2012

{review} the dumpling house

The Dumpling House - Review

The Dumpling House - Review

The photo above on the left should give you a peek into Vicky Ha - self-confessed 'Dumpling Queen' and face, talent and passion behind Wellington's latest culinary craze, dumplings from The Dumpling House. I say 'craze' because it seems like anyone who has tried these dumplings have raved about them on Twitter, Facebook, to each other...the word is spreading quickly!

See how each free range ingredient has a big fat tick, see how 'NO' MSG/Artificial Stuff is underlined, 'handmade' is in CAPS and underlined, and so is the fact (with asterisk!) that you'll get to choose from 4 different types of dumplings (unlike the dumplings at yum cha which all feature prawns, pork, prawns and more pork).  For me, that's Vicky to a tee - passion, energy and an unwavering conviction on what she believes in when it comes to food quality and the dumplings she makes.

The Dumpling House - Review
When I invited Vicky for coffee and a chat to talk about her new dumpling business, I had a few questions in my head that I had ready for her.  But I really didn't need to ask many questions at all.  Vicky was so damn passionate about her craft, her dumplings and her principles that I just sat there transfixed.  I did have to end up asking a few questions towards the end because I was too busy listening instead of taking notes!

As much as she knew at a relatively young age that what she really wanted to do was cook, Vicky being the dutiful Chinese daughter (Vicky is originally from Hong Kong), went to Dunedin and studied food sciences and marketing.  God forbid that she'd actually cooked for a living since apparently that's not a professional career - you have to be Asian to understand this...no really, you do.  I am and I do!

So what does one do with a degree in food science and marketing?  Well here's what Vicky did - she started a marketing company and then was the brainchild behind BAXI (pedicabs around Wellington) before selling the business.  Then she put herself through chef school at a local polytech.

And what does Vicky do now that she is a classically trained chef?  Why work as a cook on a prawn trawler of course!  Yep, no typos here - a prawn trawler, where she helped with sorting prawns as they got hauled in and cooked for the boys on board for 3 months.  Oh the stories she could tell from those 3 months...apparently the boys on the trawler complained about her cooking, calling her made-from-scratch gravy 'gay-vy' and snorted at her eggs bene.  All they wanted was meat and more meat!  Soon Vicky was back on shore (after threats of mutiny due to having to eat gay-vy maybe?) and spent the next couple of years at a popular local cafe as a larder chef.

Fast forward to present day and Vicky is now a chef with the Compass Group and also churns out trays of delicious dumplings on the side, for the good people of Wellington.

The Dumpling House - Review
The first time I heard about The Dumpling House, it was from a tweet sent out by The City Market one early April afternoon.  The name itself got me excited - afterall, why should Aucklanders be the only people in this country to have access to dumplings galore?  We may be spoilt for choice in Wellington when it comes to cafes and amazing coffee, but we are definitely sorely in need of noodle bars and dumpling houses.  I got down to market that Sunday at a respectable 10.30am to find that they had sold out!  So I made sure I was down early the next week to ensure I got my share of dumplings and to snap some photos before the market got crowded.

I wasn't disappointed.  I inhaled my first dozen right there at the market and bought some home for lunch, which I shared with 'S' grudgingly.

The Dumpling House - Review
Is there anyone more passionate about making good dumplings? I think not.

The dumplings from The Dumpling House aren't like the usual fare you get at yum cha.  Instead, you get dumplings that are from different cities/regions of China and elsewhere in the world (like Nepal and Korea), and vegetarian options as well.  Vicky made it a point to explain that respect for the origins of the different dumplings she produces is paramount - ingredients, flavours and production methods are kept as authentic as possible.  

The Dumpling House - Review
Browning up some dumpling to-go at the City Market

The dumplings are all handmade with the freshest ingredients and everything is made from scratch, from the stock to the dumpling skins.  Eggs are free-range and so is any pork and chicken used.  And very importantly, no MSG, stock powder or artificial flavouring is used.

The Dumpling House - Review
Choose from 3 dipping sauces when you buy your dumplings at The City Market.

When asked what her point of difference was, Vicky did not hesitate to list them in quick succession:
  • The Dumpling House is solely dedicated to the production and perfection of dumplings 
  • Her dumplings are made from scratch
  • They're all made with natural ingredients, with no preservatives or MSG
And when asked what her principle(s) was in running this business, Vicky was quick with that answer as well - to provide honest food.

The Dumpling House - Review
The crowd grows...and has been growing rapidly for these dumplings.

Judging from the increased online chatter and mentions on Twitter and Facebook, and how quickly the dumplings get sold out every Sunday at the market, it looks like more and more people have discovered The Dumpling House and Vicky's honestly good dumplings!

The Dumpling House - Review
Dumplings at home for lunch - wonder what the boys on the prawn trawler will think of these...

The Dumpling House will be at the market every Sunday, 8.30am - 12.30pm.
Fresh, frozen or precooked to be enjoyed on the spot.
Visit the website for the range of dumplings available.
For pre-orders to be picked up at the market on Sunday, email: vicky@dumplinghouse.co.nz 

The Dumpling House is also on Facebook.

So pop down this Sunday to get your dumplings from round the world - you won't regret it!

For more reviews - click here