My professional cooking is focused on the Mediterranean, but at home I experiment with other cuisines. I'm particularly fond of playing with Asian flavours. Today's recipes might not be traditional, but they're a tasty way to usher in the year of the snake.
Egg noodles with shiitake and bacon
Noodles are an essential dish for Chinese New Year, long strands symbolising a long life. Break or cut the noodles at your peril. Once the celebrations have died down, this simple, but intensely flavoured, noodle dish is ideal for a quick dinner - just make sure you soak the dried shiitakes ahead of time.
60g dried shiitake mushrooms
100ml oyster sauce
100ml shaoxing (shao hsing) Chinese rice wine, from Asian food shops
30ml sesame oil
100ml soy sauce
Packet dried egg noodles (about 360g)
280g bacon, in a block, not sliced
3 tbsp vegetable oil
10cm ginger, julienned
8 spring onions, cut in batons
250g bean sprouts
½⁄ bunch coriander leaves
1 punnet snowpea shoots (optional)
Chilli oil (optional)
Red chilli to taste, sliced (optional)
1. Put the shiitake mushrooms in a bowl, cover with boiling water and soak for two hours. When rehydrated, remove the shiitakes from the water, cut off the stems and discard, then slice the caps into strips.
2. Whisk together the oyster sauce, shaoxing, sesame oil and soy sauce.
3. Fill a bowl with iced water. Bring a pot of water to the boil and cook the noodles for three minutes. Drain and refresh in the iced water. Allow to cool and drain really well.
4. Slice the bacon into batons. Heat the vegetable oil in a large wok, add the bacon and fry until brown. Add the ginger and fry for two minutes, then toss the spring onions and shiitakes through.
5. Add the noodles to the wok, along with the bean sprouts. Stir the soy mix through. Heat through, mixing, for five minutes.
6. On the side, serve fresh coriander, snowpea shoots, chilli oil and fresh chilli, if using.
Tip Refreshing the noodles in iced water helps to maintain their texture and shape.
Drink India Pale Ale.
Chinese cabbage, shiitake and tofu salad
This salad is full of bright and fresh flavours but also has plenty of depth and warmth. I will happily have this for a light lunch, however it's also perfect alongside rich and spicy dishes.
100ml virgin olive oil
60ml light soy sauce
10cm ginger, peeled and finely julienned
2 tsp castor sugar
½ tsp white pepper
1 clove garlic, finely grated on a Microplane
½ tsp sesame oil
½ lime, juiced
15 fresh shiitake mushrooms, cut in quarters
1 green chilli, finely sliced
½ wombok (Chinese) cabbage, leaves trimmed
15cm piece daikon (white radish), sliced into ribbons (use a vegetable peeler )
200g pressed (dry, firm) tofu, sliced
1 bunch Thai basil, picked
6 sprigs dill, picked
6 sprigs mint, picked
2 tbsp sesame seeds
1. Combine the oil, soy, ginger, sugar, pepper, garlic, sesame oil, lime juice and a little salt, then add the mushrooms and chilli and let sit for five minutes.
2. Reserve half the wombok leaves for display, then shred the other half. Place the whole leaves on a platter.
3. Stir the shredded cabbage, daikon, tofu and half the herbs through the mushroom mixture.
4. Pile the salad onto the whole wombok leaves. Top with the remaining herbs, sprinkle the sesame seeds over the top and serve straightaway - it is much better fresh and crunchy.
Drink Jasmine tea.
Coconut creme caramel with mango and glace ginger
It may be a stretch to say this is inspired by Chinese cuisine. It's more French-influenced south-east Asian. But if you can forgive the digression, it's quite delicious. This is a lighter version of creme caramel, using coconut milk rather than cream, and it's freshened further with sliced mango and lime.
100g castor sugar
2 tbsp water
600ml coconut milk
40g desiccated coconut
100g castor sugar
3 mangoes, sliced
100g glace ginger, cut into small tiles
You will need a one-litre capacity terrine mould (I used cast iron).
1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
2. For the caramel, add the sugar and water to a small saucepan over low heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Turn up the heat and boil to make a dark caramel. Carefully (it is extremely hot) pour the caramel into a terrine mould (it doesn't need to be greased or lined), distributing it evenly by gently tilting the mould in your hands. It will set quite quickly at room temperature.
3. For the custard, break the eggs into a bowl and whisk until frothy. In a large bowl, whisk together the coconut milk, desiccated coconut and sugar. Whisk the eggs and coconut mix together and pour onto the set caramel in the mould.
4. Cover the terrine mould with a layer of baking paper and seal with foil. Place in a large baking tray, pour in sufficient cold water to come halfway up the terrine dish and bake for about an hour. Cooking time will vary, so check the custard after 45-50 minutes. It will be slightly firm to touch when cooked.
5. Allow to cool in the baking tray. Once cooled, remove from the water and put in the fridge to chill overnight.
6. To serve, run a knife around the edge of the terrine and tip out the flan, pour residual caramel over the top and serve with mango, ginger and a squeeze of lime.
Note Different moulds may require different cooking times.
Drink German auslese riesling.
Photos: Marina Oliphant
Styling: Caroline Velik