Cooking Asian food requires some preparation and energy to hunt and gather ingredients, but provides its own reward with simple, light and fresh flavours.
We don't need to travel very far in Canberra to access fabulous local food markets and a plethora of Asian grocers, offering the opportunity and inspiration to recreate Asian street style delicacies. My challenge each visit is to only buy as much as I need.
When old friends from the north coast of NSW arrive for a surprise stay we visit the Capital Region Farmer's Market to shop for an Asian feast.
So to counter my habit of buying more than I need, I make a shopping list and take my friend along for back-up. Arriving at the market I turn my trolley upside down to find the shopping list, which I realise is languishing on my kitchen benchtop. So we shop from memory and collect a little extra just in case. I do find shopping from memorytends to keep me a little more focused.
After escaping with only a couple of extra bags of produce, we return to prepare the feast of pork and chicken pancakes in bean sauce and sticky rice dumplings in ginger syrup. This is accompanied with a glass or two of alcoholic inspiration.
Over dinner, our visitors enthused about the quality and choice of the produce available at the market, again reminding me of Canberra's strong relationship to its burgeoning and multicultural food culture.
This recipe requires some preparation time, so start early and give yourself a few hours leeway or have someone else in the kitchen to share out the tasks.
Crispy Vietnamese pancakes with bean sauce
400g rice flour
300ml coconut milk
2 green shallots, chopped finely
vegetable oil for frying
200g pork mince
100g chicken mince
1 small onion, chopped
3 green shallots, chopped
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp palm sugar or coconut sugar
1 chilli, deseeded and chopped
1 lime, juiced and zest
½ cup of fresh herbs, a combination of basil, coriander and mint, finely chopped
1 tsp ground white pepper
200g fresh bean sprouts
50g vegetable oil
100g salted soy beans, found at Asian grocers
150ml sweet chilli sauce
1 tbsp tamarind paste
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp dried chilli flakes
¼ cup of fresh ginger, finely chopped
¼ cup of green shallots, finely chopped
1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
60g roasted peanuts
2 tbsp water
To make the pancake batter, place rice flour into a medium sized mixing bowl, add coconut milk and water and mix until smooth. Add shallots and mix together and leave to rest for half an hour.
To prepare the bean sauce, heat the oil in a medium sized frypan over medium heat. Then add the ginger and shallots and cook for one minute. Add the tamarind paste, bean paste, sweet chilli sauce, peanuts and sesame seeds and cook for five minutes, stirring to combine and prevent sticking and burning. Add the water and continue to stir for another two minutes. Remove to a bowl to cool slightly, then blend on high speed for one minute in a food processor or stick blender until smooth. Remove the blended sauce to a bowl and set aside.
For the filling, in a medium sized frypan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the pork and chicken mince and cook until golden and crumbly. Add the onion and shallots and cook for another five minutes. Then add the fish sauce, sugar, chilli, lime zest, peanuts, juice and white pepper. Continue to cook and mix for another five minutes. Taste for seasoning. Transfer the mince mixture to a medium bowl and stir through half of the chopped herbs, cover and set aside.
For the pancakes, preheat the oven to 80C. In a medium sized frypan or wok, heat three tablespoons of vegetable oil over a high heat and add a third of a cup of the batter, rotating the pan to evenly coat the the base of the pan. When bubbles start to form cook for a further two minutes until crispy around the edges. Remove from pan with a large egg lifter and place on an oven tray. Transfer to the oven to keep warm. Repeat until all the batter is used.
To serve, place the pancakes on individual plates, top with a couple of spoons of warmed meat filling, add a spoon of chopped fresh herbs and top with a good dollop of bean sauce, some fresh bean sprouts and toasted sesame seeds.
Due to the crispiness of these pancakes they do not roll well, so eating with a fork and knife works best.
Sticky rice balls in ginger syrup
⅓ cup dried yellow split peas, pre-cooked to the equivalent of 1 cup of cooked beans
½ tsp salt
3 tbsp sugar
Rice ball dough
2 cups of glutinous rice flour, found at Asian grocers
¾ cup of water, and extra if required
toasted sesame seeds for serving
3cm fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into thick rings
1 cup brown sugar
3 cups water
300ml coconut milk
1 tbsp sugar
⅛ tsp salt
1 tbsp cornflour
Cook the yellow split peas for about 45 minutes or until soft. Drain, rinse in hot water, and mash with a potato masher until smooth, add the salt and sugar and mix to combine. Set aside.
For the rice ball dough, in a large bowl combine the rice flour and water and knead until a soft dough forms. Add water a tablespoon at a time if more water is needed to bring it together. The dough should be soft and sticky. Knead the dough in the bowl for a few minutes and wrap in plastic wrap and leave to rest.
For the filling, take a half teaspoon of the mashed pea paste and roll into about small balls, and place lined up on a piece of baking paper so they are not touching. Continue rolling into balls until all paste is rolled. Set aside.
For the ginger syrup, in a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the water and brown sugar. When the syrup starts to boil, add the ginger. Cover pot and and turn to low and leave the syrup to simmer for about 15 minutes.
Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil and turn down the heat to medium. Take one tablespoon of dough and flatten slightly to form a patty. Place a ball of paste in the centre of the dough. Gently work the dough around the paste and pinch and roll into a ball shape. Roll the ball lightly between your hands before gently dropping them into the boiling water. Continue rolling the balls until you have about 10 at a time in the water.
When the balls float to the top, they are cooked. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer them into the simmering ginger syrup. Continue until all the dough has been used up. Once all the balls are cooked simmer lightly in the ginger syrup for another 10 minutes.
For the coconut sauce, in a small bowl, mix the cornflour and a tablespoon of water to form a thick slurry and set aside. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the coconut milk, water, sugar and salt. Stir to combine. When the coconut milk just starts to bubble, add the cornflour slurry and stir quickly for two minutes to stop lumps forming. Don't overheat the coconut milk before you add the cornflour as this will create lumps.
Serve the warm dumplings in a bowl with a few spoons of ginger syrup, the coconut cream sauce poured over the top and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds.
Debbie Skelton is a Canberra food blogger; debsravingrecipes.blogspot.com