Thursday, August 4, 2011

You should never forget to eat...

Do you ever have days when you're so busy you forget to breathe, let alone eat?  For me, these are days when editors bring deadlines forward so that they clash with when I've got classes to teach AND baking to do for the farmers' market.

On days like this, eight o'clock comes around, my head is reeling and, unless things have gone dramatically wrong, I can't believe I've somehow managed to get everything done on time.  Everything that is except eat - as my suddenly ravenous stomach reminds me by growling.

This recipe is perfect for those sorts of days, perfect for when you crave something flavourful and substantial but don't have the energy to spend much time cooking.

I created it on one such day and, because it contains ingredients I usually have in my fridge, freezer and store cupboards, it's one I've cooked at the end of many a busy day since.  Another great thing about this recipe is that it's infinitely adaptable.  If you like chillis, I would add half a red chilli to this dish and cook it with the garlic.  If you don't have as many prawns as the recipe suggests, make it with what you have.  And if you like more or less of any of the other ingredients, the recipe allows for modification.

Ketjap Manis, shrimp paste and nam pla (or fish sauce) may seem like exotic ingredients to have in your store cupboard but, as they both last for ages, I would recommend them to you all.  Ketjap Manis is an Indonesian flavouring/condiment similar to soy sauce.  It has a complex, sweet taste and keeps indefinitely in a cool, dry place.  Shrimp paste is made from fermented, ground shrimp and it's cooked into curries and sauces in Southeast Asia.  It lends a fish-flavoured depth to dishes and it too keeps for ages.  And nam pla is also made from fermented fish and brings a deep, salty flavour to food.

Here's what you need to make the simplest and most delicious of suppers:
Serves 2
150g rice noodles
200g tiger prawns (if you're using frozen ones, be sure to defrost them first!)
1 red pepper, cut into chunks
6 spring onions/scallions, cut into strips approximately 2 inches long
1 large clove garlic, crushed
2 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
Shrimp paste
Ketjap manis
Nam pla
Oil to cook with

  • Prepare all of your vegetables.  Chop the peppers.  Shred the spring onions.  Crush the garlic and chop the coriander. 
  • Cook your noodles according to the instructions on the pack.  Once they are cooked, stop them cooking any further by rinsing them in cold water and then drizzle them in a little oil to stop them sticking together.  I like using sesame oil as it compliments the Asian flavours of this dish but if you don't have it, use a flavourless vegetable or groundnut oil instead.
  • Heat one tablespoon of your cooking oil (a vegetable, groundnut or olive oil that isn't extra virgin is best) in a wok over a medium heat.
  • Add your garlic and cook for one minute.
  • Add your chopped red peppers and move quickly in the oil and garlic for another minute or so.
  • By this stage, your garlic may be starting to stick to the pan so add half a tablespoon of ketjap manis to loosen things up.  Cook for another minute.
  • Add one teaspoon of the shrimp paste and one teaspoon of the nam pla to the dish and cook for another minute.
  • Add your prawns and cook for another two to three minutes until they have turned pink. If at any stage you feel like your wok has become too dry, you can add some ketjap manis or nam pla.  Be careful about adding the latter though as it is quite salty.  I would usually add about half a tablespoon of each at this stage. 
  • Add your spring onions.  Cook for a minute until they are warm but still retain a crunchiness.
  • Sprinkle over the chopped coriander.
  • Then get the noodles which you have set aside, toss them into the wok with the prawns and mix the whole thing together. 
  • Serve with some extra ketjap manis and coriander to sprinkle over and in ten minutes, you've got the simplest and most delicious of suppers.  It's the best kind of fast food!

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