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Monday, 14 December 2009

Chinese broth with noodles and salmon with crispy skin

During the festive season I often long for something light, spicy and dairy free to give my taste buds much needed respite from all the pastry-based nibblery.  I devised this dish in response to Mr. F's request for an "Asian soup".  It's probably more generic "Chinese" than anything else, but I used often to make Thai-inspired spicy soups, using chicken or pork stock, fish and soy sauces, chillis, garlic, ginger and sugar, as well as a generous squeeze of lime juice right at the end.  These soups are delicious with prawns and with sliced grilled steaks or chicken breasts. 

Salmon with crispy skin works well here, and gives the dish a much needed richness.

For two people you will need:

For the broth:

750ml of water
4 teaspoons of Marigold bouillon powder
Soy sauce to taste (start off carefully)
One red chilli (remove the seeds if you want a milder soup), sliced
Three cloves of garlic, sliced
An inch-long piece of ginger, sliced into slender batons
2 spring onions, sliced

2 pieces of salmon fillet with the skin on (about 500g)
Chinese five spice powder
Vegetable oil for frying
Salt and pepper

Egg noodles (one nest each or more if you are particularly hungry)

Bok choi, each head cut into quarters
2 spring onions, sliced
Small handful of coriander
Bamboo shoots (tinned ones are, in my experience, preferable to the ones in plastic pouches)
Sliced mushrooms

Boil the water in the kettle, and then pour it into a sauce pan.  Add all of the broth ingredients, bring the broth to the boil, and then turn off the heat.  Cover the pan and then leave the broth to infuse.

I generally cook the noodles for this dish by steeping them in hot water until they reach the requisite tenderness - this method makes it less likely that you will over cook them whilst concentrating on other things.  Keep checking the noodles periodically.  They should take between three and five minutes to reach al dente perfection.

Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Season the skin side of the salmon and sprinkle it with five spice powder. When the oil is hot enough place the salmon in it skin side down. Allow the salmon to do the majority of its cooking on the skin side down. Turn off the heat after you flip the salmon - this will ensure it remains coral coloured on the inside.

Whilst the salmon is cooking, arrange the sliced bok choi and mushrooms in two soup bowls.  They don't need cooking: the hot broth that is poured over them will do the job.  Place half of the chopped spring onions and coriander on top of the vegetables in each bowl.

The noodles should now be cooked through.  Divide them between the two soup bowls and immediately ladle over the broth.  Top with the salmon, skin side up.  Serve with additional soy for those that want it, and ensure you have a plentiful supply of napkins!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Lentil and grilled aubergine lasagne - for Nicole

I make this dish on a fairly regular basis, such is the gusto with which Mr. F devours it.  It has also proved successful with my in-laws who have exacting standards.  I therefore commend it to you.  Chargrilling the aubergines gives the dish a wonderful smoky flavour and silky texture.

One note of caution should be sounded.  Lentils absorb a lot of flavour and seasoning.  I would therefore entreat you to check the seasoning for the lentil sauce and make sure that it is salty enough.

The following recipe makes enough for 4 to 6 people (a baking dish that measures about 25cm by 25cm).  Any left over lentil ragu is good over pasta or with some soft cheesy polenta.


Two large aubergines, green tops removed and then sliced lengthways into slices about 1cm thick
Two balls of buffalo mozzarella, sliced
Large bunch of basil
50g of freshly grated Parmesan
25g of breadcrumbs (optional)
1 box of lasagne sheets (wholewheat if you absolutely must, but really, you shouldn't)

For the lentil ragu:
Two tins of small green or brown lentils (or you can use Puy or Castellucio lentils which you have cooked from dried)
Two tins of chopped Italian tomatoes
One large onion, finely chopped
Two large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Dried oregano
Knob of butter
EV olive oil
Pinch of caster/granulated sugar
Salt and pepper

For the bechamel sauce:
500ml of milk (whole milk or semi-skimmed)
100g of butter
100g of flour
One bay leaf
Half an onion
Salt and pepper

Start with the lentil ragu as it will need to simmer for about an hour.  Fry the onion in the olive oil until it is soft and translucent, but not browned, about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for a few seconds until you can smell it wafting out of the pan.  Add the tomatoes, seasoning, sugar and oregano.  Fill both of the empty tomato tins with water and add that to the pot.  Bring the sauce to the boil.  Mix in the lentils and the butter, return to the boil and then reduce the heat.  Simmer the ragu uncovered for about an hour, or until it is thick.  You do not want to cook away all of the liquid as some will be needed to cook the dried pasta.  Tomato puree and dried chilli flakes can be added to the ragu to enhance the flavour if you wish.  Check the seasoning and add more salt if necessary.

Whilst the lentils are cooking, chargrill the aubergines (which you will have brushed with EV olive oil on both sides) until they are soft and darkly ridged.  If you do not have a grill pan then you should make a mental note to buy one at your earliest convenience.  In the meantime, you can grill the aubergines until they are golden brown on each side.  You will also need to brush the aubergine slices with olive oil before you do so.  Once the slices are cooked, place them on a plate and sprinkle with salt.

To make the bechamel, heat the milk with the onion and bay leaf until just below boiling point.  Leave the milk to infuse for about 10 minutes and then discard the bay leaf and onion.  In another pan, melt the butter, and when it is foaming, add the flour.  Cook the mixture for about a minute and then gradually add the bay-scented milk.  I use a small whisk to incorporate the milk into the butter/flour which seems to protect against the sauce becoming lumpy.  When all the milk has been added, turn the sauce down to simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes.  Season well.

When you are ready to assemble the lasagne, preheat the oven to 180 degrees.  I usually layer my lasagne as follows:

Thin layer of bechamel sauce
Lasagne sheets
Lentil ragu
Lasagne sheets
Aubergine slices
Lasagne sheets
Lentil ragu
Lasagne sheets
Aubergine slices
Mozzarella slices
Layer of basil leaves
Lasagne sheets
Bechamel sauce
Grated Parmesan

Bake the lasagne for about 45 minutes, or until it is golden brown and bubbling and the pasta is cooked.  I let it cool for about 15 minutes before serving.  This dish is good with a green salad and buttery garlic bread.


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