A departure from theme
So these two young Germans showed up at my house. Not any Germans. Special ones. The son and daughter of love of my life. We hadn’t been together as a trio for a very long time and it was lovely. All this goes a little way to explain why I haven’t written for a while. I can’t write about eating alone when I’m not. So this little entry will just give a little sunlight to the pure joy of cooking for others, and the sublime nature of doing it for those you love.
The metabolism of youth is a glorious thing so eating was a big part of the weekend. Both still in their 20’s, they are seemingly able to put away quite vast amounts of food and maintain figures that I have never had. We managed to squeeze a bit of grazing and drinking at Maltby Street Market on Saturday morning. (I think a bottle of Sparrow gin was number one son’s only souvenir from the weekend.) We did afternoon tea at the Savoy and prawns and football at The Cow. During a sunny interlude, mediocre salads and cocktails were downed on the roof of Shoreditch House; In the rain cocktails and Rowley Leigh snacks were inhaled while watching Prometheus 3D at The Lounge…
But possibly my favourite evening was the one around my table. Until last week, the last really happy night we had all together was in my home in Bali. They had spent a couple of weeks alone there with their dad and I arrived for the last night. SE Asia is a big part of my life. Cooking the food from that region is like a little salve on my soul when I feel a long way from the rice fields of Ubud. That last night together, we went to one of the better known restaurants on the island, some would say the best – Mosaic. But given the choice I like the dive bars and warungs that line the streets. And it’s the food that you’d find there that I mostly cook at home.
Acar is a great refreshing little pickle to serve with krupuk (a kind of prawn cracker). So simple it’s what I always put on the table if we’re heading into a night of spice. A base of finely chopped shallot, cucumber and red chili, soused in a warmed-through liquor of fish sauce, lime juice and palm sugar. Sometimes I add a little carrot, mango or pineapple and serve with a little chopped coriander. (And yes I do know that coriander is a herb never seen in Balinese cooking. They positively hate the stuff. But I practice a melding of Thai, Vietnamese and Laotian nonsense, so get off your high horse. I hate culinary facism…)
I love anything deep fried and so couldn’t resist doing an Asian devilled egg. Another no-brainer. Hard boiled eggs relieved of their yellows, mixed with seasoned minced pork, chili, spring onion, put back into the half egg, floured, egg washed and covered in panko. A little tamarind and kecap manis dipping sauce and a few roasted peanuts and shards of spring onion sets the whole dish off as a pretty good foil for a limey, ginny cocktail or two.
I can’t do a meal from this region without my interpretation of Larb – that fresh and crunchy salad of green papaya and whatever else you feel like, dressed with lime juice, palm sugar and fish sauce. I threw in some barely cooked prawns, spring onion, shallots, blanched fine beans,cucumber, and lots more peanuts. The herbs are key here – mint and coriander added at the last minute. Perfect. A little hint – if you can’t get a green papaya (or if you can’t face paying £8 a kilo for something you can pick like a weed in SE Asia) use a really unripe mango slithered through a mandolin.
Moving to the mid-point, we went meaty. I slow cooked some lamb shoulder in the Sous Vide Supreme with ginger, chill, garlic and cinnamon. Released from its plastic tomb, I grilled it while basting with tamarind, ground coriander, kecap manis, honey, fish sauce and chill. Garnished with deep fried shallots and ginger shards. God it was good…
For some serious heat, a tofu stew with minced pork, sweet chili and ginger. A kind of ma po. Steamed rice soothed the burning taste buds.
Pudding was my favourite hot and cold combo. But no chocolate this time. Never ever at the end of all this spice. That would be just all wrong. We had a melon sorbet with a buttery lime and ginger caramel sauce.
But the food wasn’t the focus of the evening. As ever, it was just a catalyst for what is really important in life: People, friends, family, talking, listening and laughing. It was a special night. Lots of catching up, gentle teasing and inquiry about the course of these two wonderful young lives.
Only one thing was missing…but he was there, shining brightly in them both.
I feel blessed that they choose to still be in my life.