El Pueblo Unido – Tortilla de verduras

One of the occasional fringe benefits of teaching is that you get to orchestrate the first exposure a lot of kids have to other cultures. In the case of teaching abroad, that can often mean cultures that the students have no frame of reference for at all. Mexican food has not made it to Vietnam, apart from a few expat-centric outlets in Hanoi and HCMC, but most of my students could probably, after a few minutes of head-scratching, come up with ‘taco’ as an exemplar of Mexican culture.

(Title music today from the same playlist as last entry’s Tamarindo, but considerably easier to find in a standalone version )

Spanish culture, on the other hand, is almost entirely unknown here, and in the sense that they have greater things to concern them, fair enough. However, when A’s culture club was doing a lesson on Mexico, I thought it would be a good opportunity to combine that with some Spanish cooking in a form that would hopefully be acceptable to a handful of ethnocentric first- and second-graders – plus, one of the great benefits of tortilla is that it is very often made with only store-cupboard ingredients.

The classic version is of course tortilla de patatas, containing a very peasanty/puritan filling of potatoes and, if you’re feeling daring, onion and nothing else at all, how very dare you for even thinking of it. That’s all very well, but I had a fridge full of veggies and an ever-pressing need to find ways to use them, so behold:

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One day I’ll take a course on food photography or something.

This tortilla ended up being cut into squares and offered to the kids mentioned above, who rejected it almost universally – but since their idea of a good culinary time is a carton of Milo, I invite you to make this yourself and draw your own conclusions. I am not, as is often believed, an elderly Spanish grandmother, and therefore make no claims to authenticity.

Tortilla de Verduras (serves 6, probably)

Ingredients:

  • 10 (yes, 10) eggs
  • 4 tbsp milk
  • 3tbsp olive oil
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled
  • 1 large red onion
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups/500g assorted vegetables – I used red and yellow peppers, mushrooms, green onions and roasted corn
  • A large handful of leaf coriander/cilantro
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

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Method:

  • Heat a large, heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium heat. Quarter the potatoes lengthwise and slice them thinly, then add to the pan with the olive oil, tossing to coat them.
  • After five minutes of gentle sizzling and tossing (the potatoes), thinly slice the onions and mince the garlic. Chuck them in the pan, toss to combine everything and reduce the heat to medium-low. Allow to soften for ten minutes.

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  • Meanwhile, prepare your other vegetables in whatever way pleases you, – I aimed to get everything chopped roughly the same size. When the onions and potatoes are softening and golden, add the other vegetables and sauté for another ten-fifteen minutes.

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  • Finely chop the cilantro and toss everything together once more. In a large bowl, beat the eggs with milk and seasonings. You could add a pinch of chilli powder here if you feel iconoclastic.
  • Turn the heat up, add another splash of oil and then the eggs. Very quickly stir the eggs through the vegetables to distribute everything, then leave them alone to form a nice bottom crust. After a few minutes, there should be a circle of cooked egg on the outside, so try loosening the edges with a spatula.
  • After 6 to 8 minutes of total cooking time, the tortilla will be ready for turning. If you have an oven or grill, simply heat it up and stick the whole pan under it. Test for doneness by shaking the pan gently – the middle of the tortilla will wobble if it’s still undercooked.
  • Otherwise you’ve got some fun coming up: loosen the tortilla from the pan, slide it onto a plate, put another plate upside down over the top and, uttering a small prayer to any gods that may be listening, flip the whole lot over. Then slide the tortilla back into the pan and cook for another couple of minutes.

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Allow to cool completely and slice into thick pieces. Serve with very cold white wine.

 

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Tamarindo – Wings

 

An unexpected cold snap has us reaching for more familiar autumnal foods this week. Cold for Vietnam, however, means temperatures below 20c and rethinking the flip flops when you go out, so I don’t want to be slaving over a pan of oil to deep fry these chicken wings.

(title music today can be found on this excellent compilation)

Instead I’m going to use the oven, which takes longer and produces a slightly different texture – but most importantly, it’s outside and I don’t have to pay much attention to it. I have a fear to conquer when it comes to deep fat frying, so I’ve included our regular frying recipe alongside two recipes for oven-baked wings.

As always, if there is a way to rethink a traditional recipe, Kenji has the knowing of it, and his method should ensure perfectly crispy wings from the oven. However, I don’t have that kind of time today, so these wings will simply be marinated, entrayed and baked.

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You can either leave the wings whole or separate them into three parts (as above) – to do this, grasp the middle part of the wing and bend the drumstick away from its socket until there is a visible gap between them. Cut through this with a heavy knife or poultry shears. Snip off the wing tip and either marinade and roast it (they make good nibbly bits) or save them for stock.

Five Spice Wings:

Per 6 wings –

2 teaspoons each Soy sauce, Fish sauce, Sesame oil, honey
1 teaspoon each cayenne pepper, five spice powder

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Marinade ingredients for the five-spice wings

Whisk the marinade ingredients together. Place the wings in a large ziploc bag and pour the marinade over. Leave for at least an hour and up to 24 hours.

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Bagged up and ready to go

Line a baking sheet with foil and preheat the oven to 230C. Place the marinated wings on a rack on the baking sheet and roast, turning once, for 35-40 minutes. Keep an eye on them, as the spices may turn the skin black, and the wings will be a little bitter.

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Italian Wings:

Per 6 wings –

3-4 teaspoons good Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon each dried oregano, thyme and salt
1 large pinch red pepper flakes or dried chili
1tbsp olive oil
1tbsp lemon juice
(Optional: 3 teaspoons grated parmesan)

As before, mix up the marinade and place it in a ziploc bag with the wings. These need to marinate for at least four or five hours. Roast as above, for 40-45 minutes. These should have a good golden crisp crust and be juicy and tangy.

For our basic fried wings, otherwise known as Chinese Restaurant Chicken Wings, the marinade ingredient is simply Thai fish sauce (Squid brand or similar), a few teaspoons per 6 wings, marinated for up to 12 hours. Deep fry the wings for 6-10 minutes and drain on oil paper. They should be dark golden brown and very crispy.

 

 

Off The Wall – Chicken Parmigiana

My Italian sister-in-law sent me her recipe for Melanzane alla Parmigiana, which I have thus far failed to accurately reproduce – My version continues to be, though delicious, pretty heavy, while hers is light as a cloud and full of incredible fresh flavours. When I figure it out, I will post here. However, in the meantime, add some brined, breaded chicken into the mix and we have a pretty substantial Chicken Parmigiana (which means, incidentally, ‘in the style of Parma’, rather than anything to do with the ubiquitous cheese, although this recipe has plenty of that in it too).

(Title music found, not by Youtube but by the marvellous Vtuner Internet Radio which lets you listen to radio both online and ‘real’, from all over the world. You can tune into Blues radio from Gabon, or Blues radio from Malaysia, or probably some other types of radio that are not blues – but why would you do that? )

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The keen-eyed among you may notice the lack of a second layer of chicken. In fact it’s there, but I failed to remember to take a photo before slathering it with sauce.

This will take a bit of time and assembly, but the end result is worth it. Good dish for a day off, serves 4 realistically or maybe 6 if you‘re feeling parsimonious have some sides

Ingredients:

Chicken:

  • 2 chicken breasts, butterflied (see photo)
  • flour
  • 2 eggs
  • Panko or similar breadcrumbs
  • Parmesan cheese, grated

Sauce:

  • 1 large onion
  • 1 large carrot
  • 3-4 sticks celery
  • 6-8 big tomatoes
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tins Italian tomatoes or 1 tin and one jar of good quality pasta sauce
  • dried thyme and oregano

Melanzane:

  • 2 medium aubergines
  • Sea salt
  • Olive oil

2-3 large handfuls grated cheddar or mozzarella

1 large handful grated parmesan

Salt and black pepper

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Method:

Preheat the oven to 180c. Slice the aubergines lengthwise, about 1/2cm thick. Lay them flat on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Sprinkle with sea salt and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Bake until browned and softened, about 30-40 minutes.

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The sauce is a fairly standard thick red sauce for baked pasta. You’ll need an immersion blender, or you can leave it chunky if you prefer.

Dice the onions, carrots and celery. Saute in olive oil over medium heat for about ten minutes, until the veg have softened. Finely slice the garlic, add to the pot with the bay leaves and cover. Stir occasionally for twenty minutes. Meanwhile chop the tomatoes.

Add the tomatoes, saute another five minutes and then add the tinned tomatoes/sauce. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for about two hours or until the sauce is thick and delicious. It really is worth waiting that long. Taste and adjust seasoning, add a few pinches of dried herbs. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for ten minutes.

Remove the bay leaves (I nearly always forget this bit) and blend with an immersion blender until thick and smooth. If you have some, add a dash of double cream or creme fraiche.

When the sauce and the aubergine are done, set them aside. Grate the cheese and set that aside too, except for a handful of grated parmesan which you can mix with a plateful of panko breadcrumbs.

Butterfly and beat out the chicken. To make it more tender and juicy, even the next day, stick it in a ziplock bag covered with water and a tablespoon of salt. Leave in the fridge for half an hour, then continue as below.

Beat the eggs together in a shallow bowl, with the breadcrumbs and parmesan in another. Douse the chicken breasts liberally in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs.

Fry in about 1cm depth of oil until golden brown. Don’t go any darker, because they will be cooked more in the oven. Drain on kitchen paper.

Now begin assembling the Parmigiana as shown in the incredibly helpful and professional gif shown above okay, below too – layers of sauce, cheese, aubergine, chicken. If you have leftover breadcrumbs, scatter them on top with the majority of the cheese.

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Bake for about 25 minutes at 180c, until the cheese is browned. Devour with fresh bread, salad and wine.

Midnight Rider – Gyoza

Standard White Boy Disclaimer: I am neither Japanese nor have I ever been to Japan – I have only a half-formed idea how to make gyoza (small, crispy-fried dumplings) and the filling doesn’t contain the traditional cabbage, so these are inauthentic at best.

(Title music by the late, great Gregg Allman – a laid-back version of the classic)

Nonetheless….

For a tutorial on how to fill and fold gyoza, see this excellent picture set on Steamy Kitchen, after scrolling past the now inevitable four pages of backstory (actually not bad for a cookery blog, side-eyeing you The Kitchn).

Find gyoza skins at any Asian supermarket, usually in the freezer.

Ingredients:

1 packet gyoza skins (they are round, but you can use wonton skins and cut them with a biscuit cutter if needed)

300g good quality pork

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon sesame oil

2 cloves garlic

2-inch piece ginger

4-5 spring onions

8-10 green (French) beans

1 lemongrass root

 

Method:

Very finely mince the garlic, ginger and spring onions. Halve and finely chop the green beans. Peel the two outer leaves off lemongrass, select a 5cm length from the middle of the stick and chop it finely – into four sticks lengthways and then chopped across, is my usual method.

Add all these to a bowl with the minced pork, soy sauce and sesame oil. You may want to use a glove for the next bit. Combine the mixture by hand and when it is reasonably together, pick it up and toss it into the bowl repeatedly. Splatting it against the side of the bowl like this helps with cohesion, it should stop the mix falling apart. Do this ten or eleven times until you have a sticky ball of filling.

With each gyoza wrapper, place a teaspoon of mix in the center – really a teaspoon, not very much at all – and fold the wrapper in half, pinching it in the middle. Then pleat the wrapper as described in the blog above.

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From bottom-left: first gyoza made with the plastic thing shown at top (better for pierogis, turns out), then a series of getting-the-hang-of-pleating-these gyoza until, at top middle, I almost got it. Then I ran out of gyoza skins and made the rest of the filling into spring rolls.

In a non-stick pan over medium-high heat, get about a tablespoon of oil ready. Add as many gyoza as you can fit, leaving about a centimetre between each one. Fry until the bottoms are browned and crispy, then add half a mug nope, two tablespoons of hot water. Seal the pan with a lid and cook for 4-5 minutes.

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Too much water, as it turned out. About two tablespoons is probably fine.

Serve with vinegared soy sauce for dipping (add a pinch of chili flakes)

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Matching dish and dipping bowl, the height of sophistication

On another note, if you’ve ever wondered how to butcher an entire cow – here, the internet provides: How To Butcher An Entire Cow

 

 

Breakfast Burrito

No title music this time, as I’m writing in the past and don’t know what I’ll be listening to then. As I write, however, it’s J.J. Cale again – surprise.

Had a bit of a brainstorm this morning re: breakfast – this has been known to happen on my days off, and usually means I don’t end up eating til 11am because why settle for a bowl of cereal when you could spend a couple of hours farting around with the ingredients of a pretty decent brunch.

Luckily this burrito doesn’t take a couple of hours. Twenty minutes at most, if you have all the stuff. It’s also not a burrito at all, except in the common-cultural-currency sense of being eggs and stuff inside a flat bread thing. I used frozen paratha toasted in a dry pan, because that’s what we had. I hope you didn’t come here for quantities and exact measures because it’s breakfast time goddamit.

Ingredients:

1 egg per burrito

1 flat bread thing (I don’t know. It’s your breakfast.)

Green onions

Tomatoes

Garlic

Red chilli

Kale or chard leaves or spring greens etc

Sazon goya or other generic seasoning

Milk

Butter

Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Wash and loosely dry the greens (I find the ‘vaguely waving over the sink’ method works well).

Finely slice a garlic clove and add to a pan with a slug of oil over medium heat. (Adding the garlic while the oil is cold will allow it to heat up gently and hopefully prevent burning.) Roughly chop the leaves and add to the pan. Stir and toss for a few minutes until wilted. Set aside and press under many paper towels to remove excess water.

Roughly chop the green onions, tomato, chilli and more garlic. Fry over a medium heat for 3-4 minutes. Meanwhile beat the eggs with a little milk and salt and pepper. Add some butter to the pan with the vegetables and a shake of Sazon. You could also add cumin seeds or more dried chilli, your call.

Stir and toss the vegetables with the seasoning, then turn the heat down low and add the eggs. Gently shake and toss the pan to scramble the eggs, breaking out the spatula when they get feisty. Toast your flat bread thing of choice in a dry pan to warm it through, then layer on the wilted greens and the eggs. A dab of what Julia Child calls ‘finishing butter’ won’t hurt either.

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Pictured: the author’s heroic failure to close the second burrito