Recipe: Thai Sweet Potato Fritters

Thai Sweet Potato Fritters

This one’s a very quick one, but I thought it was worth posting as it’s taken me ages to put together a recipe that works for me.  I’ve tried dozens without much success – the fritters either don’t bind properly, they’re too wet, too dry, or just not the right consistency.  The trick is to use egg and polenta or cornstarch as a glue to hold everything together, and to not be shy when it comes to the amount of oil you fry them in so they caramelise on the outside a little – so use something healthier like Coconut Oil.

Thai-spiced sweet potato fritters brunch
Fritters for brunch with bok choi with soy and mirin, and a dippy egg

This is a good for using up leftovers as they can be padded out with finely sliced greens or whatever vegetables need using up – like a fancy bubble and squeak.  If you’re a gannet like us though and leftovers are a rare sighting in your house, it’s worth deliberately making too much sweet potato for tea one night, and then keeping it to make these for brunch or as a side with your tea Read more

Review: My Thai, Leeds

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Rather than stifling my feelings towards My Thai until making a grand reveal, I’m going to say right off the bat that I love it.  Claiming “OMG I could eat there every day and not get bored” could probably be dismissed as hyperbole, but after my first visit I actually did just that.  Fair enough it was technically only every day for three days, but that’s enough to make it a statement rather than a coincidence.

 
 
Popping up at the end of last year with little fanfare, My Thai’s marketing strategy relied on little more than word of mouth, good faith carried over from the reputation of its’ Bradford restaurant, and photographs of its folksy interior popping up on Instagram – which they did in abundance.  
 
They could have flipped the Thai-restaurant-decor coin and gone for a) Post Office ambience and laminated menus or b) “Exotic Palace” room in a themed hotel and been done with it, but instead they went for a unique look which dictates the atmosphere well.  Wooden panelling covers the walls, decorated with campy, vintage Thai cinema posters and strewn with fairy lights – on a hunch I reckon this is what a Full Moon Party beach-hut looks like, but I can’t say for sure – My attention span lasts no longer than 3 seconds whenever anybody begins sharing their “litchrally unreal” travel anecdotes.
 
The kitchen is tiny, and the menu reflects the restraints on space a handful each of starters, stir fry dishes, curries and rice bowls are available, as well a couple of specials – everything is billed as “Thai Street Food” and the flavours haven’t been sacrificed to appeal to farang tastes – on my first visit I liberally made it rain chilli powder on my prawn crackers, only to leave them at the end when I realised the heat was unbearable. The owner berated me for wasting the seasoning when she came to clear the table, and rightfully so – she told me afterwards that she grinds it herself by hand, and detailed the suffering that her eyes and sinuses endure in her doing so.
 
Lesson learned, don’t ruin any more dishes for myself.  There’s enough going on in My Thai’s food without having to supplement it with daft heat (incidentally if anybody wants to start a disco revival band, I think I’ve just come up with the perfect name) – familiar flavours pummel away at the tastebuds on the back of your tongue while the unexpected ones add sense of interest; implausibly light steamed dumplings give way to a salty chunk of spam in place of minced pork, star anise adds an anaesthetic quality to fragrant green curry but, unusually, doesn’t overpower the 5-spice roast pork which comes with perfectly sticky rice.
 
Satay skewers come complete with skin so crisp, caramelised and tense that you could be eating the wings of a bird engineered just for your eating convenience – The satisfying bite in the Tod Man Pla is enough to raise suspicion that there might actually be fish in them.  Tamarind Duck is a little greasy but manages to salvage some variety of texture with a good crunch of palm sugar, all while managing to not be cloyingly sweet.  The only downer I’ve encountered is Sweet & Sour, where the only thing setting it aside from your local takeaway’s version is an astringent taste of white vinegar – the Crispy Chilli Chicken is a much better version of the dish.
 
After she was done berating me for not being able to handle the chili powder that she routinely rubs into her tear ducts without flinching, the owner joked (I think) that she doesn’t care about cooking and just wants to make money – at less than £10 for two courses and a drink I’m not quite sure how she’s planning to do that, but I’ll happily do my bit to help.

Recipe: Crispy Pork Belly with Kale

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I reverse-engineered the recipe for this dish after ordering it at Lemon Grass Thai restaurant when I visited earlier this year, to gauge if it was a worthy replacement to the recently-closed Thai Aroy Dee.  Under the circumstances, it was pretty much my duty to order as much of the menu as possible (for research purposes) and in the flurry of dishes, this was relegated to being a lavish side.  In more modest settings when you don’t have (however flimsy) justification for being greedy, it makes a perfectly satisfying main, served with white rice and flash-fried whole spring onions.

Belly is probably my favourite cut of pork, and there’s no better way to prepare it than Chinese-style, brined in Soy and roasted in a marinade containing brown sugar which combines with the rendered fat during cooking and turns into an amazing crispy, sticky caramelised scratching.  Marinading for even 30 minutes will give the pork a darker colour and deep Soy flavour, but if you can leave it for up to 24 hours then that’s even better. You can even roast it in advance, and then wok-fry before serving.
Any Leeds Thai food fans wondering about Lemon Grass as a replacement to Aroi Dee then I’d recommend you go and see if it’s for you – the quality of food and value for money stands up to comparison, but it doesn’t have that same lo-fi charm that only a select few have managed to emulate.  It has its own unique character though – relying on decor to try and disguise the building’s previous life as a nightclub – so if you can get on board with water fountains and tranquil gardens where a DJ booth and dancing podium used to be, it’s a strong contender.

Ingredients

Four slices of Pork Belly (Roughly 800g, depending on thickness)
Bunch of Spring Onions, top and tailed

For the Marinade
4 tbsp Soy Sauce
4 tbsp Oyster Sauce
2 Tbsp Shaoxing Wine
4 Garlic cloves, crushed
2 Tbsp Light Brown Sugar
1 Red Chilli, finely chopped
6 Whole Peppercorns (Szechuan if available, Black if not)
1 Star Anise



For the Kale
Bunch of Kale, or a bag, however you buy it
A good-sized piece of Ginger, thinly sliced
1 Red Chilli, deseeded and finely sliced
1 Garlic Clove,
Sesame Oil

Method
  1. Combine all of the marinade ingredients and steep the pork belly in it, making sure everything gets an even coating for up to 24 hours
  2. Roast the pork at 180 degrees for 40-60 minutes, brushing any excess marinade at regular intervals.
  3. Take the pork out of the oven and leave it to rest.  Cut into square pieces when it’s cooled a little.
  4. Heat up sesame oil in wok, add the kale, ginger, chilli and garlic, and fry for 2-3 minutes; tossing frequently (the kale).
  5. Dish up the kale and fry the pork belly – fat-side down – in the same wok, along with the bunch of spring onions.
Sprinkle with Green Chilli, Sesame Seeds and Palm Sugar, and serve with White Rice.

Belgrave Street Feast 4 Round-Up

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If both of the people who read my blog were paying special attention last month, they would have noticed that I neglected to review Belgrave’s March Street Feast.  This wasn’t because I forgot about it, or due to a lack of dedication to the cause – rather I had become a victim of its success.

When I got there at 4pm, it was the busiest I’ve ever seen the venue; a 20-foot blockade of people queueing up for the last morsels from Papa Ganoush gave the game away as soon as I arrived, so after penetrating their forcefield and realising that all of the visitors had sold out of everything, I got a few tinnies from the bar; a burger from Patty Smiths (which in the month since first trying them had come on leaps and bounds, and is now probably the best burger you can get in town), and watched Matilda with some kids.
As enjoyable as it was, I can’t run a moderately successful food blog by drinking lager and trying to contact OFSTED to perform an emergency inspection on Miss Trunchbull, so this time I made sure I’d have something to write about.
Initial research had suggested that Arepa!Arepa!Arepa! were my priority – Jules and Bailey run one of my favourite food blogs Good Gobble as well as this Arepa stall, and I respect that they get their hands dirty and create something as well – it adds a kind of legitimacy and credibility to their criticism that you just don’t get at other blogs such as this one.
I went for a Sobrebarriga (£4), which is a Steak and Beer Arepa, which is actually what I chickened out and asked for.  And I’m pretty sure I even pronounced that wrong.  I was given a big handful of beery, spicy, tender, stringy beef and vegetables inside a fresh grilled maize Arepa – essentially a portable stew inside a dumpling – and it was awesome.  
I stood around for a few minutes waiting for a friend before I started eating it, and by the time I’d finished extracting all the beef with my fork (I wasn’t going to risk gravy-beard by eating it with my hands and face) the arepa underneath was saturated with beery gravy, so I was able to relive the former glory again.  The parts of the dough which hadn’t been imbued with juice were surprisingly light and had a satisfying crust where it had just been fried.
Also from A!A!A! was the Plantano Y Queso (£3) which was a dish of fried plantain with cheese, and a choice of Guava jam or a savoury option – which escapes my memory at the minute – on top.  I went for the Guava jam, which was almost unbearably sweet, but balanced against the sharpness of the cheddar worked perfectly.  I have to commend the choice of cheddar – it would have been easy to try and truss the dish up with some kind of posh cheese, but keeping it simple really benefits the dish.  I remember by Mum telling me that my uncle used to eat cheese and jam sandwiches when he was a kid and I would grimace – in the days before chicken and waffles and donut burgers, I thought this mixture of sweet and savoury was an abomination – but having eaten pretty much that, slathered on plantain, I now see that I was a narrow-minded idiot, and he was somewhat of a visionary.  So well done Uncle Clive.
Top marks to Arepa!Arepa!Arepa! as well, can’t wait to try them again.
Regulars Fish& were upstairs in the snug with their ever-adapting menu this time offering Beach Burgers (£5) – pan-seared cod, caper and parsley patties, then cooked in a spicy tomato sauce.  This had a lot of flavour for something with such a simple list of ingredients.  I usually find cod kind of bland, but in this case it complimented the rest of the flavours, as well as contributing its own distinct – almost smoked – fishy hint (I’m pretty sure I’ve seen “Fishy Hint” on a gig listing).
I’m a self-confessed seafood novice – when I look at a menu in a restaurant, I pay such little notice to the fish options that they might as well have been blacked out by the Ministry of Truth – but I find myself going back to Fish& again and again whenever I see them at an event, excited to see what they’ve managed to come up with each time.
Next door to Fish& was Taco Wall, the first installment of Belgrave’s Street Food Lab, pressing fresh corn tortillas, and serving them up as Fish Tacos (£3.5).  I thought it could do with a little tweaking – I thought there was a too much batter on the fish, considering the size of the taco – but everything else about it; the presentation; the pineapple salsa; the scotch bonnet and grapefruit sauce, proves that they know what they’re doing.  This was only the first time serving to the public, I’m confident they’ll have nailed it by the time I try it again.
The Street Food Lab itself seems like a brilliant idea, I’m a little unclear on the specifics of how it’ll work, but if it means more in-house vendors are going to join Dough Boys, Patty Smiths, Fu-Schnickens and now Taco Wall, then I’m massively in favour of it.
A few weeks ago I went to the Briggate World Food Fair and intended to eat loads and write a round-up of the day.  I didn’t manage to get an article out of it though, as after I tried Street Fodder‘s Thai Food, it started raining so I just grabbed a bag full of cakes from Madeleine Express and went home.  Both traders were at the Street Feast on Saturday (Madeleine Express going by the alias Noisette Bakehouse), and while I didn’t get anything from them then, I’ll quickly mention that Street Fodder’s Summer Rolls and Chicken Satay are some of the best I’ve had in Leeds, and the fact anything as wildly imaginative as Noisette’s creations taste as amazing as Noisette’s creations is a miracle – and there’s not a lame cupcake or lazy buttercream in sight.
BONUS PARAGRAPHS!
The day after Street Feast 4, Belgrave hosted a Game of Thrones quiz, which I took part in – not because I wanted to win, because I didn’t even want to win, I’m glad I didn’t win and I’m not even bitter so shut up – so I had a reason to try the Game of Thrones-themed food tie-ins.  Dough Boys Slice and Fire (£1.4 before 7pm, THAT OFFER IS STILL CRAZY TO ME) featured black pudding and pork belly with chilli apple jam and fresh sage leaves, and tasted like a £22.95 Gastropub meal wrapped inside dough.
Patty Smiths avenged Bobby Baratheon by topping their Valar Morghulis burger with Wild Boar sausage, then dialling-up the exuberance by piling on braised oxtail, bearnaise sauce, and a big pile of crispy shredded leeks.  I hope you’re sitting down for this, because it’s a big statement:  It was the best speciality burger I’ve ever had.  Ok joint-best with Patty & Bun‘s pork-belly and teriyaki smothered Mr Miyagi, but that’s still super-high praise, especially as they’ve only been in the game for two months.