My sister Francesca and I live in adjacent suburbs and still struggle to find time for a meal together in Melbourne, so we have decided to try organising a monthly meal together. Last night was our first monthly meal.
Fran had recently had rice paper rolls and wanted to try making them. Thus set the tone for our cooking. We thought we would make an Asian meal but the recent chill in the air, as winter sets in, made us want more warm food so we decided to do Asian plus some more western dishes for warmth.
The afternoon started with a trip to Fran’s nearby Preston Market. We firstly braved the cramped Asian grocery – which yielded many interesting and bargain goodies but is not for the claustrophobic. Then we set out for fruit and vegetables. I have only been there once before on a 40°C day when everything (including the people) seemed terribly wilted. Yesterday it was full of fresh cheap food, vibrant colour, good humour and liveliness - I will be back.
So with our trolleys full of goodies we headed back to Fran’s kitchen to start our cooking. First up I did a vegetable ragout which promised an interesting mixture of ingredients including molasses, which I love for a warming winter stew. It was a little watery but tasty. (We had leftovers for dinner tonight, mixed with pumpkin and leftover sausage crumbles and served with rice.)
Then we started on the rice paper rolls. Neither of us had made these before but I had seen my mum and my sister, Chris, make them. On that occasion their problem had been separating the dried rice paper wrappers but ours separated easily. But when we soaked the first few in a bowl of warm water we were concerned that the dried wrappers had cracks in them and would not wrap our mixture well. Thankfully, after the first few, the wrappers were not cracked and they wrapped easily. We had the issue of Fran wanting to do some meat ones and working out how to differentiate them but this was quite easy. We made the mixture and then separated it so that I could add tofu and a bit more seasoning to my half. When we rolled them up, I put a parsley leave inside my wrapper. It all seemed ridiculously easy.
While I was doing the ragout, Fran had started on the fried rice – boiling 4 cups of jasmine rice so it could sit and cool while we made the rice paper rolls. Then she chopped carrot and capsicum to cook in a large saucepan with some soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sweet chilli sauce. She then added the rice, peas, snowpeas, corn kernels, pineapple chunks, chopped fried eggs, and lots more soy. Fran is a much better cook then she gives herself credit for, but isn’t as keen on her veggies as me. She was very pleased with this as it had many more veggies than she would normally use – and tasted great!
More veggies was one of our aims of the dinner. Both Fran and her partner, Steve, were very accommodating of my vegetarian diet. Steve was keen to join our cooking frenzy and chose a fragrant Simple Coconut Milk Fish Curry from Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook's Companion. Fran and I had hunted down lemongrass, spring onions, garlic, kaffir lime leaves and chilli at the market to flavour the curry. Steve did some impressive pounding of ingredients with his pestle and mortar. And rather than just adding fish he put in lots of vegetables ( broccoli, cauliflower, carrot, cabbage) and put aside a vegetarian version before adding the fish. It was spicy but delicious.
For veggies on the side, we roasted potato and pumpkin with oil and salt for over two hours (crunchy, melting and the flavours almost sweet from roasting - or was that me melting from the delicious taste!). I roasted some marinated tofu alongside it. In addition I also had decided to try some Asian mushrooms. I am a button mushroom girl but I was inspired by Lucy’s photos of enoki mushrooms. I found a recipe for Mixed Asian Mushrooms in Dashi in my Vegie Food: From Vegies on the Side to the Main Event. It was the sort of recipe that had to be made minutes before serving. The result was tasty and attractive with lots of interesting textures.
It was ambitious - we cooked for 5-6 hours - but the results were worth it. We had seven of us around the table. Fran is a whiz at transforming her kitchen into a stylish candlelit dining space. I confess one of my favourite dishes was one of the simplest – the roast vegetables – but I loved it all. Here is our menu, and a couple of recipes:
Vegetarian Spring Rolls
Chicken Spring Rolls
Vegetarian Fried Rice
Thai Vegetable Curry
Thai Fish Curry
Roast Potato and Pumpkin
Mushrooms in Dashi
Berry Pancakes with applesauce and berry sorbet
Mixed Asian Mushrooms with Dashi
(adapted from Vegie Food)
Serves 4 as a side
1 tsp dashi granules
1 tbsp shoyu
1 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp oil
100g oyster mushrooms, halved
100 enoki mushrooms, chopped into three lengths
200g fresh shitake mushrooms, sliced
100g button mushrooms, sliced
1 spring onion, finely sliced
In a small bowl combine 125ml or ½ cup boiling water with the dashi, shoyu and mirin. Set aside. Heat oil in a medium saucepan and add shitake mushrooms and button mushrooms. Fry over medium heat about 3-5 minutes or til softening. Set aside. Add enoki and oyster mushrooms to saucepan for about 2-3 minutes til softening. Add shitake and button mushrooms, spring onions and dashi mixture and heat. Serve hot.
Rice Paper Rolls
(makes approx 15)
½ cup shredded cabbage
½ carrot, grated
15g vermicelli, broken and cooked
1 spring onion, finely chopped
Small handful snowpeas, finely sliced vertically
Small handful bean sprouts
Small handful parsley, finely chopped
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tbsp soy sauce (or to taste)
2 tsp chilli sauce
200g tofu, shredded
100g dried rice paper wrappers (approx 20cm in diameter)
Mix all ingredients except wrappers. Check seasoning – add more soy sauce if required. Soak rice paper wrappers in a large bowl of hot water for 10-15 seconds til starting to soften. Place on benchtop - we found if it wasn’t totally soft it would continue to soften on bench and was a bit easier to handle than if it went really soft in the bowl of water. Place 2-3 tablespoons of filling in the middle of the wrapper. Wrap up like a cigar (ie wrap in half across the filling, wrap in the corners and then roll up). They were quite wet when just wrapped but they dry out a little quite quickly. Once rolls are all wrapped, keep covered in a container or with gladwrap til ready to serve. We served with sweet chilli sauce.
On the Stereo
fabriclive.07 – John Peel