It’s a hot day and you have surprise guests, everyone is peckish and dinner is hours away. In the second of his regular monthly columns from the Coromandel, Simon Wright shares a range of delicious summery nibbles that put chips and dip to shame.
Happy 2019 everyone.
I just love this time of year. Now that all the pressures of Christmas are over, it’s time to relax, enjoy the weather, catch up with friends and, of course, enjoy great food.
I’m also – finally – coming to grips with my new way of life. I don’t expect you to feel sorry for me for one second, but when we first sold The French Cafe and moved from Auckland to the Coromandel, I struggled with my greatly decreased workload. Ridiculous,
I know, but I just felt guilty.
I think the change of life was so extreme that it was hard to adapt, though that feeling has changed and now I’m fully committed to my new environment. It’s the little differences that I notice the most, like only being five minutes from anywhere, not having to wait for ages at traffic lights (well actually there is no traffic), the fact that I can walk my dog off the leash for miles in one direction rather than going around in circles in a fenced-off dog park. I have time to do the things I want to do, at my own pace without rushing, and I love that we eat from our garden. I was so late putting our vege gardens down that we decided to plant quick-growing foods – lettuce, rocket, kale, spinach, tomatoes, beetroot, beans, peas (which are not quite ready yet), and loads of herbs – so we could reap the benefits quickly.
But, really, the one thing I love about being here above all else is the community spirit. It’s something I’m not used to – I’m from London originally – but living in a small, close-knit place gives you a wonderful sense of belonging. I love the belief that if you have too much of something that you grow or have access to, you share, and in the short time we’ve lived here a wide variety of local produce has been arriving as gifts on our doorstep. We have had freshly caught
These crispy spiced prawns are an absolute crowd-pleaser, easy to make and perfect as a pre-dinner snack. Be warned though, make more than you need as they are addictive.
I always double the spice quantities, so it’s on hand when I need it to save time. You can also use squid, pieces of fish or scampi, which is my favourite, and thickly cut courgettes make a great vegetarian alternative.
Firstly, pre heat your oven to 170C.
For the spice mix, place 1 tbsp of sichuan peppercorns,½ cinnamon stick, ½ tbsp dried chilli flakes or more if you want it with a real kick, 5 whole cloves,6 black peppercorns and 2 star anise into an ovenproof frying pan and heat in the oven for 5 minutes or until the spices become slightly toasted. This will help freshen them and make them more pungent. Allow the spices to cool, then grind them into a fine powder. Once ground, store the spice mix in an airtight container until required.
Now for the prawns. I like to allow about 3 prawns per person for a snack and I find a medium-size prawn works best for this recipe. Defrost, peel and devein your prawns, leaving the tails on. Place peeled prawns into a bowl and cover with milk.
Place 2 cups of cornflour into a large bowl so it’s ready when you are.
For the dressing, finely chop 1 spring onion,
a green chilli,a red chilli and 1clove of garlic and fry in a little oil over a moderate heat to soften. Keep warm.
Heat about 3 litres of oil in a small deep fryer or large heavy-based saucepan to 180C and you’re ready to go.
Working quickly, take a few prawns from the milk, place them into the cornflour and toss them around using your fingers until they are well coated in flour. Shake off any excess flour from the prawns, then drop the prawns into the fryer and cook for 1 minute or until crispy. Just cook a few prawns at a time, as cooking too many at once will drop the fryer temperature, resulting in soggy prawns. Drain the prawns on absorbent paper, season generously with the spice mix, sprinkle with sea salt crushing it through your fingers as you do so and spoon some of the warm dressing over the prawns. Serve immediately with lime wedges on the side.
Another snack I’ve been making a lot lately is vegetable pakora. I absolutely love Indian snack food and these spicy fritters packed full of veges are delicious, especially when dipped into slightly sweetened minted yoghurt or homemade kasundi. I’ll promise to give you the kasundi recipe another time. All you need to do is make sure you have some chickpea flour (also known as gram flour or besan) on hand, some Indian spices and a few veges and they are ready in minutes.
I generally place 2 cups chickpea flour into a large bowl, add one onion peeled, cut in half and finely sliced, ½ cup cooked diced potatoes, a small handful of green beans finely sliced, a large courgette coarsely grated, a green chilli finely sliced, 2 spring onions finely sliced, 1 tsp turmeric, 1 tsp each of cumin seeds, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, 1 tsp baking powder, a large handful of fresh coriander roughly chopped, a pinch of dried chilli flakes, a few fresh curry leaves, sea salt, and black pepper. Mixed it all together gently, then add enough cold water to form a smooth batter.
Now make the minted yoghurt. Place 200ml thick creamy yoghurt into a blender, add 1 tbsp runny honey and a large handful of roughly chopped fresh mint and blend all together for about a minute or until all the mint has completely blended into the yoghurt and turned it green. Refrigerate until required.
To cook the pakora you can either pan fry or deep fry, depending on what you prefer. Pan frying will give you more of a sweetcorn fritter texture and deep frying will give you
a crunchier coating. Either way, cook the pakora a few at a time for about 1 minute on each side or until golden. To give you a nice bite-size pakora, use a tablespoon as a measure. Then remove the cooked pakora onto absorbent paper and keep warm while you are cooking the remaining mix.
BEETROOT CRISPS WITH SMOKED FISH AND CREME FRAICHE
For something simple, how about crispy beetroot and smoked fish sandwiches?
You can use any smoked fish you like for this recipe, from kahawai to salmon, as they work equally as well. And feel free to replace the beetroot with kumara or potato if beetroot is not your thing.
To make the beetroot crisps, scrub a medium-sized beetroot and thinly slice into rings using a mandolin. Dry the beetroot slices with some absorbent paper, dust in a little cornflour to help stop shrinkage while cooking and deep fry the beetroot slices at 170C until crisp. Drain the beetroot slices on absorbent paper, season with sea salt and keep warm. Flake about 200g smoked fish into a bowl, add 2 tbsp creme fraiche, juice of ½ lemon, 1 tbsp chopped chives, sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and mix gently together. To serve, top a beetroot crisp with a small spoonful of the smoked fish cream, place another beetroot crisp on top and top with another small spoon of the smoked fish cream. Dust the top a little smoked paprika and garnish with fresh herbs and flowers.
GRILLED CHICKEN AND SWEETCORN SKEWERS
I have tried to be a bit tricky here and create an illusion with these skewers – on the surface they look like little grilled cobs of corn but are secretly hiding a juicy chicken centre.
Yes, they are a little fiddly to make but certainly worth the effort and your kids will love them. Don’t forget to soak the wooden skewers for half an hour in cold water before you cook them – this will stop the skewers from burning.
To make the chicken farce, cut a large chicken breast into small pieces and place in a food processor. Add a big pinch of sea salt, pinch of castor sugar, some freshly ground black pepper and 1 tbsp of picked thyme leaves into a food processor and process to a rough paste. Add ½ beaten egg, 2 tbsp cream and continue to process until all ingredients are fully incorporated, then refrigerate the mixture for 30 minutes to firm up the texture.
While the chicken farce is in the fridge, cook some fresh cobs of sweetcorn in boiling salted water, refresh in cold water, drain and remove the kernels with a sharp knife. Place the sweetcorn kernels into a large bowl and keep to one side. Or, you can just cook off a bag of frozen sweetcorn kernels to make life simple.
To make the skewers, take a large teaspoon of chicken mixture and drop it into the sweetcorn kernels. Coat the chicken mixture with sweetcorn kernels and gently scoop up the mixture with your hands pressing the kernels into the chicken so they stick and completely coat. Place the sweetcorn mixture on a piece of plastic wrap and roll into an oblong shape, twisting the ends as you do so. Repeat until all the chicken mixture has been coated and refrigerate for 1 hour, or longer if need be, to set.
To cook the skewers, firstly light your barbecue. Remove the plastic wrap from the sweetcorn mixture and insert a wooden skewer into one end until it reaches about half way. Brush the sweetcorn skewers with a little oil, season with sea salt and cook for about 5 minutes on the barbecue, turning them every minute or so until golden brown. A good tip (as they are quite delicate) is to make sure one side is completely cooked before turning. I like to serve them brushed with some warm melted butter and freshly ground black pepper as I would with fresh cobs of sweetcorn.
Cook time: 5 mins / Prep time: 15 mins
2 thick slices of decent sourdough, cut into cubes
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
4 anchovy fillets
1 egg yolk
1 tsp dijon mustard Juice of half a lemon Black pepper 2 large heads of cos lettuce, separated and washed
An unreasonably generous amount of parmesan, grated or shaved 2 soft-boiled eggs, cooled Sea salt
Handful of Vietnamese mint, roughly chopped Large handful of bean sprouts 2 large heads of cos lettuce, separated and washed
Handful of chopped roasted peanuts Chinese chilli paste, to taste
Simon Wright has been turning his hand to spicy, crunchy, juicy nibbles to accompany an afternoon beer.