Vietnamese Prawn Noodle Salad

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It’s the same old story, or at least it is for me: I come home from a holiday, all sun-tanned, rested and full of good intentions, and declare that I only want to eat the cuisine of the country I just arrived home from. If you go right to the back of my food cupboards, you could probably find enough evidence to guess everywhere I’ve been on holiday in the past five years.

Cooking these dishes at home is easy enough, especially when you live in London and have access to speciality food shops for almost every country in the world, but eating out is a little trickier. Mainly it requires research: if you’ve just arrived home from a holiday exploring the ruins of Chichen Itza, walking into the first Mexican restaurant you find back home is unlikely to recreate your holiday gastronomic experience, because, let’s face it, a lot of restaurants in the UK offering ‘foreign’ cuisines are crap. That being said, if you do your homework, the more authentic places can easily be found (incidentally usually away from the tourist spots.) When I came home from a trip to Vietnam in 2009, I went straight to the Kingsland Road in, what was then a far shabbier, Hoxton to find the best place to satisfy my new-found love for Vietnamese food. Almost everybody I know has a favourite restaurant on the Kingsland Road, and most are fiercely loyal to theirs. I actually have three that I always go to: Mien Tay for pho, Song Que for grilled meats and the Tay Do Café for their tofu with chilli and lemongrass, which is, hands down, the best tofu dish in London.

If south-east Asian food is your thing, it is easy to be satisfied in London; with noodle bars and bahn mi stands in most neighbourhoods. Most are cheap and authentic, and many let you bring your own booze. The one thing that I have to say here, though, and my only real sticking point: the salads are never hot enough.

South-east Asian salads are typically shredded vegetables, and occasionally green mangoes, with a soy-lime-fish sauce dressing, some roasted nuts and a lot of chilli. It is easy to be fooled into thinking that they are completely innocuous, for they look like nothing, but they often pack more of a punch than most of the stir fries and noodle dishes. Once, I watched open-mouthed as a street food vendor threw a handful of chopped red birds-eye chillies into my comparatively small salad, seeds and all. In UK restaurants, the salads are far, far tamer. All of the elements are present and correct, but they will add considerably fewer chillies, presumably to better suit a western palate. I mean, they’re not wrong, for I have many friends who start panting on eating the tiniest bit of sriracha; but I do find myself underwhelmed by most of the salads I’ve had in London. The best one, for me, was the pomelo salad at Smoking Goat on Denmark Street, which was probably the closest to anything I ate in Asia.

This recipe is one that I developed some time ago. The vermicelli noodles makes it part south-east Asian salad and part summer roll filling, but I’ve come to like it very much. The dressing follows the main principle of south-east Asian food: balancing the sweet, salty, sour and spicy flavours. I almost typed ‘perfectly’ on to the end of that sentence and then realised that the perfection in this balance is found in your own personal taste. As you will have already gathered, I like a lot of heat in my salads, so have added five birds-eye chillies: two in the dressing and three in the salad . Do scale this down if the mere thought of it is making steam come out of your ears. Similarly, if you are a braver person than I (or you’re cooking dinner for my husband,) then add in one more. I tend to remove the seeds but, again, do keep them in if you wish. If you don’t like prawns, sub in any other leftover cooked fish or meats, or leave it out altogether.

My inlaws came to visit recently and we had this as a side dish alongside some bream baked with ginger and spring onion. And a lot of sriracha.

Vietnamese Prawn Noodle Salad

For the dressing:
2 tbsp dark brown sugar
2 tbsp fish sauce
90ml lime juice
2 birds eye chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely grated

250g fresh vermicelli noodles
75g beansprouts
1 large carrot, cut into thin batons
1 cucumber, deseeded and cut into thin batons
3 birds-eye chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
300g cooked small prawns
2 tbsp basil, finely chopped
2 tbsp mint, finely chopped
2 tbsp coriander, finely chopped

Combine all of the dressing ingredients in a bowl, whisk to dissolve the sugar and set aside.

Stir fry the noodles according to packet instructions, along with the beansprouts, and transfer to a large bowl. Add the carrot, cucumber, chillies, prawns, basil, mint and coriander. Pour over the dressing and toss to combine.

Serves two as a main, or four as a side dish.

Turkish Eggs

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I’ve been meaning to make Turkish eggs at home ever since having them at Kopapa in Covent Garden; that Friday morning when I was hungover and in my eagerness to eat, ruined a great scarf by dribbling chilli butter. ‘Turkish eggs’ is a cover-all term for a number of egg dishes from the region, but most commonly refers to a dish of salted yoghurt with poached eggs and chilli butter.

I cannot stress enough that you should not eat this dish if you are already dressed for the day; this is definitely a dish to be eaten whilst you are still in your pyjamas. Better still, pyjamas that are promptly destined for the wash. It contains so many mess-making components that it is foolish to risk it: egg yolk, yoghurt, smoked-paprika infused butter that never comes out. It’s a hazardous breakfast.

Despite this, it is one of my new favourite egg dishes. I admit I had a yoghurt and eggs… really? moment, but was immediately convinced when the yoghurt, egg yolk and chilli butter fused together to form possibly the perfect topping for a slice of sourdough. Making this at home is simple. If you have the time, strain your yoghurt through a muslin for even better results.

Turkish Eggs

200ml thick Greek yoghurt
Sea salt
1 clove garlic, minced
60g unsalted butter
A few sage leaves
½ tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp chilli flakes
4 eggs
Sourdough bread, to serve

Combine the yoghurt, a pinch of salt and the garlic in a bowl and split between two plates. Melt the butter in a small saucepan, then add the sage, smoked paprika and chilli flakes. Cook until the butter sizzles then set aside.

Poach the eggs, then drain and set on top of the yoghurt.

Discard the sage from the butter, season with a pinch of salt and then drizzle over the eggs. Serve with a little cracked black pepper.

Serves two. Adapted from a recipe by Orangette.

Lunch at Ganapati, Peckham

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The way I see it, a long lunch on a Friday is a reward for hard work and extra hours put in earlier in the working week, non?

I won’t bore you with the details of why, but my husband and I have been busy lately. So busy, in fact, that our prevailing methods of communication at the moment are calendar invites and half-asleep grunts of recognition. Ships that pass in the night have nothing on us.

Last Friday, we were both working from home with the luxury of an empty diary, so decided to make a long-overdue visit to Ganapati in Peckham for lunch. Being a short walk away from our flat and having a stupendously good-value lunch deal during the week, we used to go there all the time. Ganapati specialises in south Indian food, so the menu is quite unlike the ubiquitous south London curry house. There is also a conspicuous lack of doilies, flock wallpapers and waiters in bow ties which sets it apart somewhat.

Vegetarian street snacks
Vegetarian street snacks

The lunch menu basically consists of a handful of curries and thalis, served with rice and poppadoms, for around £7.50. I ordered the Kerala fish curry, which is large pieces of swordfish, cooked in the spiced tamarind and coconut sauce so typical of that region. My husband ordered the chicken curry, flavoured with tomato, chilli and cinnamon. Both were excellent and generously portioned, but it was the side dishes that are what cause me to return time and again. The ‘vegetarian street snacks’ are well known in these parts, popping up on local Instagram feeds with some regularity. Two balls of spiced mash potato fried in chickpea batter and two chana dal and fennel seed patties, with a sambar and chutney to dip them in.  As well as this, a delicious paratha to dip in our curries: flaky, griddle-cooked flatbread, liberally brushed with ghee.

Last time I was there, I had the vegetarian thali, which was also excellent. Despite being so enamoured with their lunch deal, I have still yet to visit for dinner, or order from their new(ish) takeaway, something I fully intend to rectify in the near future. It’s difficult not to be smug when you have such a great place so nearby, but I fear I might be. If you don’t live in Peckham, it’s worth a journey on the Overground for.

Ganapati, 38 Holly Grove, London SE15 5DF

Chorizo and Butterbean Casserole at The Olympic Cinema, Barnes

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Another week, another brunch meeting over at The Olympic Cinema in Barnes. It won’t be long before I will have worked my way through their entire menu. Yesterday at Honey & Co., my boss ordered shakshuka, which left me with a craving for something saucy with eggs. This was the closest thing on the Olympic’s menu: a stew of chorizo and butterbeans with a fried egg on top. It was perhaps not the best example of this dish I have ever had: there was not that much chorizo and the sauce was a little under-seasoned, but it was hearty and the egg was perfectly cooked. What it lacked in finesse, it definitely made up for in size; it was too big, even for me, to finish.
Chorizo and butterbean casserole was £7.50, sourdough toast extra.
The Olympic Cinema, 117-123 Church Road, London SW13 9HL

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Bacon and Egg Naan Roll at Dishoom, Kings Cross

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Sundays are made for lie-ins and brunch with your friends. Today I not only got to go to Dishoom, one of my favourite restaurants, but I got to have brunch with a fabulous group of women I worked with at my first job at the BBC. I’ve been to Dishoom’s Covent Garden and Shoreditch restaurants a number of times, but this was my first visit to the new(ish) Kings Cross site. For me, the highlight of Dishoom’s breakfast menu is their spectacular naan rolls; a freshly-tandoored naan spread with cream cheese, a mildly-spiced tomato chutney and a sprinkling of coriander. You can have yours filled with egg, sausage, bacon, or any combination of these three. This, with a cup of their house chai, is one of the best breakfasts in London. Hands down.
Dishoom Kings Cross, 5 Stable Street, London N1C 4AB

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Sweet Potato, Chorizo and Caramelised Onion Hash with Baked Eggs

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Quite a few of the items I received in my Farmdrop box could be frozen, so I immediately popped them in the freezer to make breakfast with at a later date. These sweet potatoes were the last of the fresh ingredients and, probably, what I was looking forward to using the most. Sweet potatoes make their way into my breakfast dishes often, but there are few better ways to show them off than in a hash. This one combined with chorizo and caramelised onions and was the base for some baked eggs. A little avocado on the side and a drizzle of hot sauce made it just perfect.

Sweet Potato, Chorizo and Caramelised Onion Hash with Baked Eggs

Olive oil
2 large onions, halved and finely sliced
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
250g cooking chorizo, chopped
3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2cm cubes
½ tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp finely chopped rosemary
8 eggs

Cook the onions in a large frying pan, or chef’s pan, over a medium-low heat, with the salt sugar, until dark and caramelised. This should take about an hour. Set aside. Add a little more oil to the same pan and cook the chorizo over a high heat until crisp. Set this aside also.

Preheat the oven to 220ºc.  Toss the sweet potato in a bowl with some olive oil, salt, smoked paprika and rosemary and spread out on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan.  Bake in the oven for about 45 minutes until the sweet potato is tender.

In a very large frying pan, or chef’s pan, combine the sweet potato, chorizo and caramelised onion and make eight wells in the mixture with a spoon.  Crack an egg into each of the wells and place the pan in the oven to cook the eggs.  This should take about 10 minutes for soft yolks.

Serves four. Adapted from a recipe by Serious Eats.

Sweet Potato and Chorizo Breakfast Tacos

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Today is my husband‘s birthday and, as per our tradition of ten years, I cooked him the breakfast of his choice. This year he asked for a ‘Mexican-style breakfast’, so I made him breakfast tacos with crispy sweet potato and chorizo, avocado, salsa, sour cream, coriander and a fried egg. Messier than the more common breakfast burritos, but if you don’t mind sticky fingers, an ace breakfast.

Sweet Potato and Chorizo Breakfast Tacos

285g sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1cm cubes
1 tbsp sea salt
1 tbsp distilled white vinegar
100g cooking chorizo, chopped
Olive oil
2 spring onions, sliced
1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
4 eggs

Place the sweet potatoes in a large saucepan and pour over enough boiling water to cover. Add the sea salt and vinegar and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until softened. Drain and allow to cool for five minutes.

In the meantime, fry the chorizo in a little oil until crisp. Set aside but keep the oil in the pan. Fry the potatoes in the oil, also until crisp, about ten minutes. Add to the pan two sliced spring onions and one finely chopped green chilli and cook for a further two minutes. Stir in the chorizo and transfer the mixture to a bowl and keep warm.

Wipe out the pan and add a little more oil. Crack in four eggs and fry until cooked. Serve the eggs and the chorizo mixture at the table with some sliced avocado, tomato salsa, sour cream, hot sauce and chopped coriander, and let everybody make their own tacos.

Adapted from a recipe by Serious Eats. Serves two.