This time last year I was in the sunny Caribbean...and today I am in a very wet Wales...
Guess where I would like to be at the moment...
I was lucky enough to visit a number of Islands, and one of which was the little known island of Bonaire which was originally part of the Netherlands Antilles. Lying just off the coast of Venezuela, it is part of both the Caribbean and South America.
Bonaire is famous for its flamingos which are a wonderful pink in colour due to their diet of crustaceans and who haunt the quiet salt flats and lush mangroves of the island.
The salt works are still working, with each lake slowly evaporating the moisture from the sea salt until it is able to be harvested and collected.
Unfortunately the past history of Bonaire included the prolific and dreadful use of slaves to work the salt. Their sad history can still be seen in the now derelict and abandoned slave huts along the beaches.
Each were built deliberately low so everybody had to stoop and housed many slaves with little in the way of amenities.
Along the coastline now flies the occasional, solitary, stately pelican.
And then there is the exciting and volatile geysers that rumbles underground and then suddenly pop out of the rocks just to liven things up!!
And just when you thought it was quiet-up it goes again!
Scary but absolutely fantastic!!
Continuing on the salt theme, I would just like to say how important I think it is to use salt with a good provenance in your cooking. Salt should not be taken for granted...It is a precious resource. Great care needs to be taken to harvest it and good salts will be distinctive and add so much to a dish.
I always try to use a salt from a given place/source and whose production techniques are ethical and sound. Here in the UK, my three top salts are Maldon from Essex (www.maldonsalt.co.uk ), Anglesey (Halen Mon ) from Wales (halenmon.com) and Cornish (www.cornishseasalt.co.uk).
So onto today’s recipe...
I’m still going through the freezers and using up last year’s produce-so here is one I prepared earlier!!
I defrosted some for our lunch today and really enjoyed the bright colours in this bleak, rainy day.
Comforting And Creamy Coconut Vegetarian Laksa Lemak.
The Welsh version accompanied by of course our Welsh national flower, the ever cheerful daffodil!
Laksa is defined as a spicy, aromatic noodle soup with a wonderful tasty coconut base. Its origins are probably down to a delicious mix of Chinese and Malay influences but there are many, many variations and it is quite rightly, hugely popular worldwide!
Recipes for Laksa Lemak all seems to have in common, coconut, lemon grass, chilli and noodles. How you put them together, though, relies on your own personal preference!
Some permutations will use seafood i.e. prawns and others meat, i.e. chicken. My version here is vegetarian. Now before all you carnivores start panicking-it is really rather wonderful and full of complex flavours and textures-and just well...sublime...
I have used Basil Tofu- Taifun Organic Basil Tofu- a wonderful, extremely tasty and succulent Tofu which I can purchase easily from Waitrose. I have also made it using Paneer Cheese; I use Clawson Paneer Cheese-again widely available in the UK, including Waitrose and Sainsbury’s. Though of course you can make your own homemade Paneer Cheese...recipes at a later date from my Blog...
What I have found from making it numerous times, it that it hugely benefits from being made in two parts, with the first part being left for several hours-at least four to six hours, though longer if you can, to allow the flavours to thoroughly meet and introduce themselves to each other.
You can also vary which type of noodles to use depending on personal preference-here I have used the thin vermicelli which seems to go beautifully with the succulent shape and texture of the rest of the ingredients.
Cutting the Basil Tofu or the Paneer into thin matchstick pieces also seems to add the taste experience somehow...
The flavours are amazing with layer upon layer to tease the taste buds. The texture is also sublime with the contrasting, comforting soft noodles and the crunchy water chestnuts linked together with the creamy, spicy, succulent soup...
It also freezes beautifully, ready to be savoured and enjoyed another day...
Do please give this a try!
For those chilli fanatics amongst you, you can spice it up yet further with a spoonful of extra zing of Chilli Sambal on top on the day!
And now to the recipe...
First, make sure you have prepared all the ingredients before you start cooking...it is a bit of a faff but well worth it!!
For The Initial Spice Mix...
Two inches of fresh ginger-peeled and roughly chopped
Two generous fat cloves of garlic from my garden-again peeled and roughly chopped
2 red chillies-deseeded, membranes removed and thinly sliced-if you want extra heat then include the seeds!
1 stalk of lemon grass finally chopped
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp sea salt (I’m using Maldon Sea salt at the moment for its wonderful taste)
For The Beginning Of The Soup
1 tbsp Cold Pressed Extra Virgin British Rapeseed Oil (I’m using Hill Farm)
2 fat shallots from my garden or you could use a medium sized onion-finally chopped
1 red pepper-deseeded and thinly sliced
1 tin of coconut milk or a small tin of coconut cream made up to 400ml with water
750 ml of milk
4 lime leaves
4 curry leaves
2 Pak Choi thinly sliced
1 tbsp Tamari or light Soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
Grated rind and juice of one lime
For The Grand Finale Of The Topping Of The Soup
285 g Basil Tofu or Paneer Cheese-cut into thin matchsticks-I find the particular cut of the tofu greatly influences the mouth feel and overall enjoyment of the dish
4 spring onions from the garden, roughly chopped
1 tin of water chestnuts cut into half or a bag of bean sprouts again chopped in half
200g rice vermicelli
1 bunch of coriander roughly chopped
Your favourite Salt and pepper to taste
Blend the spices except for the turmeric and salt to a smooth paste in a pestle with a little oil.
In a large wok, heat a little oil and gently fry the chopped shallots/onions until just golden brown –be careful not to overcook.
Add the spice paste and gently cook for another couple of minutes to release all the flavours-there should now be a warming spicy aroma in the kitchen...
Add the red pepper and stir fry for a further couple of minutes then add the coconut and water, turmeric, lime and curry leaves.
Bring slowly to the boil and then gently simmer. If possible turn off the heat and leave for 4-6 hours to allow the flavours to mature.
Bring back gently to the boil and add the Pak Choi, tamari, sugar and simmer for a few minutes. Add the rice vermicelli and lime zest and juice.
Cook for a further couple of minutes then add the coriander, Tofu or Paneer, spring onions, water chestnuts/bean sprouts and simmer gently for 5 minutes.
Taste and adjust for seasoning with your preferred salt and pepper.
Serve in warmed bowls- perhaps accompanied with steamed purple sprouting broccoli and warmed homemade bread to dunk in that truly succulent and unctuous aromatic soup...
So on this dull and rainy day in Wales, I can, just about remember back to a year ago, in the sunny Caribbean with its beautiful blue coloured seas and pink flamingos...