Here’s another meal that I threw together from what I had in the freezer. As I keep going on about in my cooking posts, it’s absolutely vital to have a well-stocked freezer. It will get you out of all sorts of quandaries. What you see in the picture below used to be frozen solid in my freezer. Well, except for the laksa paste, which was sitting patiently in my fridge waiting to be used up. The snapper and the various herbs like the lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, ginger and chilli had all been prepared and put away for a lazy day like today. A quick thaw and they were all ready to go. A tip on thawing – take the fish out first and make sure it’s thoroughly thawed, putting the plastic bag of frozen fish in tap water helps a lot. Change the water often and use warm (not hot!) water if you’re in a rush. Make sure the fish is bendy before you start to make sure it’s thawed thoroughly. To thaw out the herbs, you can chuck them in the foil while warming the grill to help speed things along.
So what results do you get from slathering the fish with spice paste, stuffing every crevice with herbs and then grilling it? First, a wonderfully aromatic kitchen. Then for dinner, slightly charred and deliciously tender fish. You don’t have to use laksa paste, or any paste at all. Use what you have, maybe Thai green curry paste, or chicken rice paste or just minced garlic or mince ginger. Or plain herbs without any paste. It’s all good.
Serve it up with rice and fried greens and it makes for a wholesome and delicious dinner. Here, I used barley for something with a bit more bite and interest. (To cook barley, cover half a cup of the grain with about 2cm depth of water in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Let it simmer till the water’s pretty much all absorbed, then turn off and cover till the fish is ready.) Sorry for the messed up fish because I was too eager and mushed it up a bit. I also undercooked it slightly and had to return the undercooked bits to the grill for a while more. Don’t worry, I make mistakes so you can benefit from them!
One of my favourite soups to make at home is tom yum soup. I learned a version of it at the Chiang Mai cooking school and never looked back since. It’s dead easy to make from scratch and even adding tom yum paste is optional. Granted, the ingredients aren’t the easiest to find, but I’m finding that more and more shops are stocking them. Some of my local supermarkets even sell tom yum starter packs with lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, garlic, shallot, lime and chilli in them. What I normally do is buy a bit more of the herbs when I see them, prepare them and chuck them in the freezer. With a bit of forward planning, a fragrant spicy soup can be made from frozen to tummy in minutes. If you’d like the soup a little spicier, there’s no need to add more chilli, just pound the chilli padi into smaller bits.
For today’s soup, I had some seafood and plenty of prawns and their shells. I also had some spare chicken bones and made a lovely stock from boiling the bones and the prawn shells and heads together for about 10 minutes. The prawn heads, especially when I squeezed out the orangey guts, gave the stock an intensely briny prawn flavour. You can make the soup with plain water, it’ll still be fragrant but not as robust.
The things I learned from Thai cooking school stayed with me and two years since, I still cook Thai occasionally. Thai food is great mainly because there are quite a few dishes that are pretty healthy and easy to whip up in a jiffy. In this recipe, I’ve taken great liberties by turning tom kah kai, a coconutty chicken soup, into rice porridge. It’s so easy to make.
I’d arrived home after work wanting something easy yet comforting and didn’t have much in the fridge. Cue freezer to the rescue. I pulled out my staples of chopped shallots, kaffir lime leaves, galangal pieces and lemongrass slices. There was also some unidentified meat that upon defrosting, turned out to be pork ribs. Tom kha moo it was then instead of kai. Vegetable-wise, there were mushroom and carrot languishing in the fridge, so it all came together quite nicely. All of it dumped in a rice cooker together with the addition of tom kha paste from a packet and I was good to go for the quick run while the whole thing bubbled together.
3 pork ribs
1 small carrot, sliced
2 shallots, chopped
1 slice galangal
1 kaffir lime leaf, torn up
1 stalk lemongrass, sliced
¼ cup rice
½ tbsp tom kha paste
2 tbsp thick coconut milk
5 mushrooms, sliced
fish sauce, to taste
Cover the pork ribs and carrot in water and simmer together with the galangal, shallots, kaffir lime leaf and lemongrass for 30 minutes. Remove the galangal, kaffir lime leaf and lemongrass.
Add the rice, tom kha paste and mushrooms and simmer till the rice is cooked.
Stir in the coconut milk and season to taste with fish sauce.
One of Mum’s friends once made a dry version of laksa for a potluck. It made so much sense to do it without the liquid for easy luggability. It was really yummy, so I had to recreate a version so that DC could try it. It was incredibly easy, although it requires quite a bit of effort in chopping everything up. The picture didn’t come out so good partly because I was trying out a new camera and partly because I lost patience with the chopping. Get some help with the cutting if you can. If not, don’t worry, it tastes much better than it looks!
2 tbsp dried shrimp, soaked in water
1 piece belachan, about the size of two 50 cent coins, toasted
1 clove garlic
5 stalks laksa leaves
3 tbsp cooking oil
2 tbsp dried shrimp (keep dry, do not wash)
2 lemongrass stalks, sliced
2 thick slices galangal
1 packet laksa paste (I use Dancing Chef brand)
good squirt of coconut milk, approx 10 tbsp
6 taupok, cut into squares
400g beansprouts (40 cents from my market), picked over and washed
1 kg thick beehoon ($1 from my market)
20 poached prawns, shelled
1 big fish cake, shredded
2 chicken breasts, poached and shredded
3 eggs, hard boiled and sliced
1 cucumber, peeled, cored and shredded
large handful laksa leaves, shredded
Pound the soaked shrimp using a mortar and pestle together with the belachan, shallots, garlic and a handful of laksa leaves.
Fry the dried shrimp in hot oil till crisp, taking care to put them all in at the same time. Remove promptly from the oil as the shrimp burn easily. Set aside on paper towels to absorb the excess oil.
In the same oil, fry the pounded paste of shrimp, belachan, shallots and garlic with the lemongrass and galangal slices till fragrant, about 2 minutes on low. Pour in the laksa paste and fry till fragrant or till you start choking from the pungent chilli smell (whichever comes first). Remember to turn on the fan extractor if you have one. Still, it’s pretty much guaranteed that your whole house will reek of laksa for days.
Remove the lemongrass and galangal, discard.
Add the coconut milk and stir till you get a thick but fairly runny paste.
Stir in the taupok and beansprouts, making sure to incorporate fully before adding in the next ingredient, then finally the noodles.
Check the seasoning, adding fish sauce to taste. Garnish with cucumber shreds, chopped laksa leaves and crispy dried shrimp.
Serve with fish cake, prawns, chicken and boiled egg slices on the side for everyone to help themselves.