From China with Love

In Recipes on September 2, 2014 at 11:59 pm

As a teacher of English to international students I am lucky enough to meet people from many different countries and cultures.  My students at the moment are largely from Vietnam, India, Thailand and China.  They all know that I am interested in food so we often discuss their different cuisines in class.  Sometimes they bring  the other students and I food to sample so when my ex student Jingjing decided to do her presentation on authentic spicy crab and dumplings (and promised to bring samples) we knew we were in for something special.  We were not disappointed.  Following an excellent and informative presentation, Jingjing unpacked hot spicy crab and pork dumplings.  A fellow student was sent to the Chinese restaurant around the corner for some rice and that was my lunch for the day sorted.

A couple of months later, when Jingjing had begun studying at university and was no longer my student, she was good enough to come around to my house to cook a delicious and generous meal for my friends and family and, in the process, allow me to observe her cooking techniques in the kitchen.  She arrived on the day accompanied by a couple of friends and a number of large bags containing seafood, vegetables, tofu, sauces and noodles.  Within ten minutes she had taken command of my kitchen and was chopping away while her friend rinsed crabs in the sink.  Another friend was soaking wood ear mushrooms and goji berries.  In rapid succession (Chinese cooking is fast) Jingjing presented us with spicy crab, glass noodles with prawns and baby octopus, Shanghai chicken wings, wok tossed spicy cabbage, wood ear mushrooms and Ma Po tofu.  We hurried to keep up with notes and utensils but were soon admonished to sit down and eat by the cook who did not want her food to go cold.  We all ate way too much but fortunately, due to the more than generous servings, there was still plenty left when Jingjing finally sat down to join us.  Thanks to Jingjing and her friends for a great evening and a fantastic meal.  Here’s the recipe for Jingjing’s spicy crab.

Jingjing’s Spicy Crab

Jingjing's delicious spicy crab

Jingjing’s delicious spicy crab


5 blue swimmer crabs, cleaned, legs removed and cut into 5cm chunks

2 good knobs of ginger, julienned

2 large green capsicums, de seeded and cut into chunks

1 long red chilli

1 long green chilli, both de seeded and cut into chunks

1 red onion thinly sliced

5 celery stalks. chopped into chunks

5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

3-4 spring onions, chopped

4-5 dried chillies

potato flour 

1/2 cup peanut oil

2 tbs oyster sauce

1 tbs light soy sauce

2 tbs chilli sauce

1 bunch fresh coriander


Coat crab bodies and legs in potato flour.  Heat 1/2 cup peanut oil in a wok until sizzling.  Fry crab in batches until golden.  Remove and set aside.  Then add the red onion, ginger and dried chillies, stir fry for a minute.  Return the crab to the wok and add the remaining chopped vegetables and garlic.  Stir fry for a minute or two.  Add chilli sauce, soy sauces and oyster sauce.  Toss well to coat.  Cook for a further two minutes adding a little boiling water if it becomes too dry.  Add one bunch coriander (chopped) and serve immediately.

Cleaning crab

Cleaned crab

The vegies were chopped within minutes

The vegies were chopped within minutes

The spicy Ma Po Tofu paste that Jingjing used

The spicy Ma Po Tofu paste that Jingjing used


Shakin’ my bobotie!

In Recipes on March 2, 2014 at 8:08 am

Bobotie is a dish that originated in the Cape Malay community in what is now Capetown in South Africa.  The Cape Malay community was originally composed of Javanese or modern day Indonesian slaves who spoke Malayu, hence the name Cape Malay.  The community began in the 1600s as an outpost of the Dutch East India Company.  The original inhabitants were later followed by large numbers of Indian slaves.  They also intermarried with other slaves from South East Asia, Madagasgar and native African groups.  Bobotie is based on an Indonesian dish made with meat and eggs before being baked in a water bath.  Later, probably due to the Indian influences, curry powder and chutney were added.  Bobotie has been popular in South Africa since the 17th century and it is a dish that is still commonly found on South African tables today.  My friend, Fionna is originally from South Africa.  She sourced this recipe from an elderly South African relative who still lives in the country.  Recently she cooked it for myself and some other friends.  The result was delicious.



Yummy bobotie


2 large onions (finely chopped)

25 ml sunflower oil

3 tsp curry powder

knob of fresh ginger (peeled and finely chopped)

2 large cloves garlic (finely chopped)

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp dried basil

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp turmeric

a handful of chopped dried apricots

1 kg minced beef

2 thick slices bread (soaked in milk)

1 1/2 tsp sea salt

1 tbs apricot jam

125 ml fruit chutney

juice of 1 lemon (you can also add the finely grated zest)

3 -4 fresh bay leaves

20 ml tomato puree


2 free range eggs

250 ml milk

pinch sea salt


Fry onions in the oil until translucent, add curry powder, dried herbs, cumin, ginger, garlic and turmeric.  Fry until fragrant.  Add the meat, soaked bread (roughly torn) sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Fry for 10 mins. or until the meat is lightly browned.  Add the chutney, apricot jam, lemon juice and tomato puree.  Simmer until all ingredients are well amalgamated (about 10-15 mins.)  Spoon into a large baking dish.  Top with the bay leaves.  Whisk the eggs, milk and salt for the topping.  Pour over the meat mixture.  Bake at 180ºC for 30 mins.


We used Halal beef mince which is vastly superior to any mince you will find in the supermarket


The chickpea may well save the world

In Recipes on January 20, 2014 at 5:10 am

A couple of years ago I saw a documentary about future world food shortages.  In the program it was argued that it may well be the humble chickpea that saves the world from starvation.  This legume produces a high yield, richly nutritious food under very arid conditions and this is probably why it is ubiquitous all over the Middle East.  One of the most popular ways to eat the chickpea in many Middle Eastern countries is in the form of the delicious, fried street food, falafel.

In my long cooking life I have cooked many dishes with a pretty good success rate but felafel was something that had always eluded me.  I tried a number of times with soaked and cooked chickpeas only to end up with an oily sludge at the bottom of the pan.  For years I gave up on them and bought my falafel from people who knew how to cook them.  Recently, to my great relief, the mystery was solved thanks to my friend, Hiba who hails from Iraq.  The dried chickpeas need to be soaked overnight, she told me, but not cooked.  The cooking was the reason my falafel always fell apart.  Hiba gave me a foolproof recipe but, not content with that, I invited her over to cook them with me so I would know all the tricks.  Here is what we made – quite simply, the best falafel I have ever tasted.

Hiba’s Falafel


Hiba’s tasty falafel


1 large onion (peeled and roughly chopped)

3 cloves garlic

4 – 5 cups chickpeas (soaked overnight but not cooked)

1 bunch flat leaved parsley

1 bunch coriander

1 1/2 – 2 tsps ground cumin

1 1/2 tsps ground coriander

2 – 3 tbs sesame seeds

freshly ground black pepper (to taste)

2 tsps ground sea salt

1 cooked potato skin on (peeled)

1 heaped teaspoon bicarbonate of soda


Into a large food processor bowl add the onion, garlic, torn parsley and coriander.  Pulse until coarsely chopped.  Add the chickpeas and blend until fairly smooth, it doesn’t matter if there are a few rougher pieces.  Add up to 1/2 a cup water if the mixture is too dry.   Add the cumin, coriander, black pepper, salt and sesame seeds.  Pulse until incorporated, not too much.  Place mixture in a large bowl, add the grated potato, mix together.  Just before you fry, add the bicarbonate of soda.  Let the mixture sit for 10 mins. while you get a wok or deep fryer heated up.  Place 1 1/2 cups sunflower oil and 1 1/2 cups olive oil in a wok or deep fryer, heat until the oil bubbles around the handle of a wooden spoon dipped in.  Use a tablespoon and your hand to fashion little patties, drop these into the oil carefully regulating the temperature of the oil with more falafel or by turning the heat down a little.  Be careful not to burn them.  Serve immediately with pita bread, dips and the salad of your choice.

falafel with dips and salad

Falafel served with dips and salad


Make a quick tahini sauce to go with your falafel.  3 tbs tahini, 2 cloves garlic (crushed), juice of 1 lemon, sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and a couple of tablespoons of water to thin the mixture down.