Asian occasions

Bart Beek | VOLUME 25, ISSUE 3

Hot, sweet, salty or sour – Asian dishes truly offer a taste for all occasions.

With its diversity, complex flavours and amazing presentations, Southeast Asia is a food lover’s paradise. There are no distinct food courses served in a Southeast Asian meal, and everything is brought to the table and eaten together. All the selected dishes have separate tastes, but together there is a balance of hot, sweet, sour and salty.

In this issue, I’ve made up two lovely soups, which will prove very popular for the cold months of winter. There is a silky smooth Laos-style pumpkin soup, which the kids will love, and a fragrant Vietnamese beef ball soup for the more adventurous.

Because I love fresh fish, I’ve included two easy recipes. One simply steamed in a bowl with soy, lemon and chilli and another featuring fish simmered in a lemongrass and tamarind broth.

There is a beautiful salad full of zing made with Pomelo; those large, yellow grapefruit. If you can’t find them, substitute with ruby grapefruit instead. That can be presented alongside the Laos-style grilled beef skewers that are so moreish.

And even though desserts do not play a big part in a Southeast Asian meal, the cardamon poached pears with mint and fruits will have your guests licking every last drop from the plate.

Laos-style beef skewers with lemongrass, rice noodles and salad plate

This would have to be a classic dish from Vietnam, with the wonderful flavours of grilled lemongrass, chilli and a delicious tang from the rice vinegar dipping sauce.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 8 minutes

Serves: 4

600g beef eye fillet, thinly-sliced

2 heads lemongrass, well-bruised and finely-sliced 2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 shallot, finely-diced

1 bird’s eye chilli, thinly-sliced

1 tblsp sesame oil

2 tblsp fish sauce

1 tblsp lime juice

30ml vegetable oil

3 tblsp well-toasted sesame seeds

200g thin rice noodles, cooked

Salad plate

Vietnamese mint


Garden mint

Thai basil

Red perilla leaves

Hot dipping sauce

2 cloves garlic, crushed

½ cup caster sugar

½ cup rice vinegar

2 tsp chilli flakes

1 tblsp fish sauce

Using a mortar and pestle, pound together the lemongrass, garlic, diced shallots, chilli, sesame oil, fish sauce and lime juice. When well-combined, remove and fold in the toasted sesame seeds. Thread the beef slices onto bamboo skewers and coat well with this mixture.

To make the hot dipping sauce, boil the vinegar, then add the sugar. Simmer for 10 minutes, then add the garlic, chilli flakes and fish sauce. Cool and place into a serving bowl.

Heat a grill pan with vegetable oil and add the beef skewers. Sear both sides well on high heat then place onto the cooked thin rice noodles. Present with the mixed salad plate and a side dish of the hot dipping sauce.

Laos-style coconut pumpkin soup with coriander and shallots

Note: don’t confuse the spring onions with shallots. (What Australians have traditionally called a shallot is, in reality, a scallion or spring onion). Shallots or ‘eschalots’ are brown and clustered together and have a mild, gentle onion flavour. They are widely used in Asian and French cookery.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Serves: 4 to 6 portions

2 tblsp vegetable oil

4 medium shallots, peeled and sliced thin

2 tblsp sliced ginger

6 cups diced pumpkin

3 cups chicken stock

3 cups coconut milk

2 tblsp fish sauce

1 cup coriander leaves

freshly-ground black pepper, to taste ½ cup finely-sliced green onions (scallions)

Place the vegetable oil into a large heated soup pot and add the sliced shallots and ginger. Stir-fry until soft and lightly golden, and then add in the pumpkin cubes, chicken stock and coconut milk.

Simmer until the pumpkin is tender, and then stir in the fish sauce and coarsely-chopped coriander leaves. Taste for final seasoning and add more fish sauce, if required.

Present in warm bowls with a good pinch of freshly-cracked black pepper and a scattering of finely-sliced green onions.

Khmer braised fish with tamarind and lemongrass

This is a very quick and easy stew, typical of the Cambodian style, which blends hot, sour and tasty. And lemongrass goes just so well with fish. Have a load of plain steaming-hot rice on hand to accompany the stew.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Serves: 4

1lt water

4 stems lemongrass, trimmed and well-crushed

4 tblsp tamarind pulp

½ lemon (juice only)

1 clove garlic, crushed

800g white fish, cut into 4cm cubes

4 tblsp fish sauce

1 tsp sugar

½ tsp salt

2 large tomatoes, seeded and cut into large dice

6 trimmed green onions, cut into 4cm lengths

1 cup Thai basil, torn

½ cup Vietnamese mint, torn

Bring the water to a boil and add the crushed lemongrass. Turn down the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Strain and place the fragrant liquid back into a saucepan. Place 1 cup of this liquid into a container and add the tamarind pulp. Combine well and keep aside.

Place the fish cubes and garlic into the simmering broth. After 5 minutes, add the fish sauce, sugar and salt. Then add the strained tamarind water and simmer for several minutes.

Combine in the tomato dice, green onions and torn herbs; serve immediately with a side of steaming-hot rice.

Asian steamed fish with winter fennel salad

This recipe offers a simple and fool-proof method of cooking any firm, white-fleshed fish. Sweet chilli and soy will please the kids and the whole dish is really healthy and quick to make. Large fennel bulbs are at their best in winter and this combination is wonderful.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 6 to 8 minutes

Serves: 4 portions

4x150g portions blueeye (or any firm, white-fleshed fish)

½ lemon, zest only

4 tblsp light soy

4 tblsp sweet chilli sauce

freshly-cracked black pepper, to taste

½ large fennel bulb, thinly-sliced

½ medium continent alcucumber, cutin to thinstrips

1 cup bean shoots

1 cup coriander leaves

1 lime (juice and zest)

2 tblsp sesame seed oil

4 tblsp light soy

4 tblsp Jingilli extra virgin olive oil

Place the fish onto heat-proof plates that will fit into a bamboo steamer basket. Top with the lemon zest, light soy, sweet chilli sauce and pepper.

Place the lid on and steam above boiling water for 6 to 8 minutes or until cooked. Present with the salad ingredients all gently tossed together.

Vietnamese beef ball soup

These types of soups are often found in Saigon; they are famously (and deliciously) made by street vendors. The highly-flavoured balls are dropped raw into the boiling broth and are served in the broth with a side bowl of chilli-garlic paste.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 25 minutes

Serves: 4 to 6

500g lean beef mince

1 tsp potato starch

1 tsp sugar

1 tblsp lime juice

4 tblsp fish sauce

1 medium bird’s eye chilli, thinly-sliced

1 tsp freshly-cracked black pepper

2 tblsp sesame oil

1 ½ litre water

1 tsp ground black peppercorns

1 medium small chilli, chopped

1 medium brown onion, thinly-sliced

3 stalks lemongrass

4 tblsp fish sauce

½ cup finely-sliced green onions (scallions)

½ cup torn mint leaves

½ cup torn coriander leaves

2 cups snow peas (tailed)

4 tblsp chilli-garlic sauce

Combine the beef mince, potato starch, sugar, lime juice, 2 tablespoons fish sauce, chilli and pepper. Once it’s smooth and mixed well, roll the mix into grape-size balls, using the sesame oil to season your hands and to lightly coat the beef balls. Set aside, and refrigerate until required.

Place the water into a deep saucepan and add the pepper, sliced chilli, sliced onions and well-crushed lemongrass. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes.

Gently immerse the beef balls into the boiling broth and cook them for 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the cooked balls with a slotted spoon and place into serving bowls. Strain the broth, place it back on a boil, then add the remaining fish sauce and snow peas.

Boil the broth for 30 seconds, then pour over the balls. Garnish with the sliced green onions, mint leaves and coriander. Present with a side dish of the chilli-garlic sauce.

Cambodian pomelo salad

Pomelo, also known as Citrus Grandis, is like a large grapefruit, only drier in texture. If unavailable, use yellow or pink grapefruit, but adjust the final balance of flavours as grapefruit are relatively sweeter. This is served alongside a rice-based meal.

Preparation time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: no cooking to do

Serves: 4

1 large pomelo

½ bunch mint leaves

1 small bird’s eye chilli

4 tblsp roasted coconut flakes

2 tblsp chopped roasted unsalted peanuts

2 tblsp shallots (sliced thin)

1 small butter lettuce

1 cup young celery leaves

2 tblsp fish sauce

2 tblsp fresh lime juice

1 tblsp palm sugar (crumbled)

Combine the fish sauce, lime juice and palm sugar well until the sugar has dissolved and place into a small bowl.

Peel and remove the segments from the pomelo. Peel away the skin membrane and place the pomelo segments into a bowl.

Gently combine all the ingredients and dress with half the fish sauce mixture. Present on a flat plate, with a small side dish of extra dressing.

Cardamom-poached pears with pineapple, and melon

In Southeast Asia, desserts are not traditionally served after a meal; sweet treats are consumed at any time of the day. Here is a fabulous combination of soft, poached fruits, teamed up with several fresh ones. This is all glazed with the delicious poaching syrup.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Serves: 6

6 brown pears

200g caster sugar

100g palm sugar

600ml filtered apple juice

1 small cinnamon quill

½ split vanilla bean

12 cardamom pods

1 cup sliced pineapple

1 cup sliced rockmelon

1 cup sliced watermelon

1 tablespoon torn baby mint leaves

Peel, halve and core the pears, then place into fresh water with a little added lemon juice until ready to poach.

Boil together the caster sugar, apple juice, palm sugar, cinnamon, split vanilla bean and the cardamom pods. Turn down to a simmer and add the pears and gently poach until just soft. Remove the pears and boil the poaching syrup until reduced by one third. Cool, strain, then add the pears and refrigerate until required.

Present as a shared plate with the pear halves in the centre and the fruits and mint scattered around the sides.