As I enter week two of Paleo, there is one recipe that I made earlier this year that is lingering in my mind as containing pretty much all the sins of Paleo but all the glories of delicious food. Funny, the things I thought I would be craving – coffee, chocolate, hummus…not so much…but if you put one of these in front of my right now, I would step on you to get one.
I found this recipe in the same folder I found the recipe for the Smoked Trout Empanadas.I’ve changed it a bit to include the chili and the original chopped the salami and mozzarella and mixed them together.
I’m not sure if the lure here is:
The gooey, melty cheese
The crispy breadcrumbs
The spicy salami
The silky sauteed eggplant
The slighty sweet tomato sauce
The little hit of chilli
Or all of the above
But believe me, the sirens are singing this song loud and strong. And you will be too if you make them. So crispy, so cheesy, so gooooood….
I’m not going to say much this time (because I might cry). I’m just going to let the pictures speak for themselves.
Next stop on our trip was the old Imperial capital of Hue (pronounced Hway). There is an airport at Hüê but it was closed so we caught a bus from Da Nang airport, a journey of around three hours. The bus ride was an event. Vietnamese roads aren’t great and, as mentioned, the driving is terrible. It’s sometimes best not to look – seeing a fully laden tourist coach or truck heading straight towards you on the wrong side of the road is both scarily common and just plain scary!
The bus driver had no teeth. Which I’m sure is an occupational hazard of driving up and down those potholey roads all your life. After a while, I guess your teeth just jolt out. I’m surprised he had bones! The only solace from the bumping and the impending doom was that I had a Buddhist monk sitting next to me. Surely nothing bad would happen to us with a man of God on board. After one particularly scary near miss he took out an Ipad and began typing away. I took a peek over his shoulder to see if he was maybe sending a terse email to the guy upstairs but he was just on Facebook.
Hue is a great place to soak up some of the culture and history of Vietnam and the ideal way to do this is via a Monuments Tour. First stop was the tomb of the Emporer Minh Mang. This was pretty sensational, consisting of three main areas – the main gate, the temple and the tomb. The Minh Mang tomb was very elegantly laid out, very orderly and symmetrical. When we were there, these ponds were filled with lotus flowers which was gorgeous.
Minh Mang was quite the lad; fathering a total of 151 children from his 40 wives. Not so Khai Dihn, whose tomb we visited next. On his death, one of his concubines said that Khai was “not interested in sex” and “physically weak”. This, along with his love of fashion design has lead to speculation that he may well have been the gay prince of Vietnam.
If the Minh Mang tomb is a model of restraint and orderly design, then the interior designer of the Khai Dinh tomb, was to steal a phrase from the Luxe Guide’s description of the Cao Dai Temple “clearly Liberace or on drugs or possibly both”. It’s awesome!!!!! An absolute riot of gold and the most lovely intricate mosaics!
There was also a third tomb but you know, after you’ve seen the Khai Dinh, there’s only one way to go…and it’s not up. Also, the open air café next to where the bus stopped was selling freshly squeezed sugar cane juice and who doesn’t want a bit of that?
Me actually, it wasn’t great. Freshly squeezed sugar cane juice tastes, quelle surprise, like sugary water. Still, the prevalence of the fresh stuff could explain why the mojito’s in Hüê were the best I had.
In the afternoon we went to the Thien Mu Pagoda which was beautiful – we reached this via a boat ride. The Pagoda is situated on the banks of the river in some very pretty gardens. The complex does have a dark heart though. In one of the outbuildings is a car from the 1960’s one of those ones with the fins you always see in the movies. “Cool” you think. “Even the monks in the ‘60’s had wicked style.”
Then you read the plaque on the side and find out that this was the exact car that a monk, Thich Quang, drove to Saigon in 1963. When he got there, he stopped the car, sat down in the middle of an intersection, poured petrol over himself and set himself alight in a protest against religious persecution. Those monks from the ‘60’s were hardcore. No arseing about on Facebook for them.
The actual act is on You Tube for anyone who wants to see it – I haven’t watched it (and won’t be watching it) because it’s a person burning themselves to death and hence the type of thing that is likely to give me the screaming heebie-jeebies for months. But the link is here.
If you’re so inclined, knock yourself out. For those of a not so psychopathic more sensitive disposition, you can learn more about Thich Quang and this fascinating piece of history via a BBC podcast here.
There was a detour on the way to the pagoda. We were ushered off the boat into a garden and I guess, like me, a few of the others assumed we were at our destination. We were greeted in the garden by an old lady who told us to follow her. Which we did because she was going to lead us to the pagoda right? Not so much. We start walking through the garden. Then she pauses and points at a tree. “Mango” she says, pointing at it. “Nice” we say, nodding.
We walk on. She points out other trees. “Apricot…lychee…banana” and we continue to nod. “Yes…I see…interesting”. We keep walking. She keeps pointing out trees. We keep nodding and agreeing. This went on for a while – possibly too long – there was a moment towards the end where I think both sides were just phoning it in. She gave us a bit of “Mango….mango….mango,” and we gave back some “Yeah…right…whatever.” It might been more interesting if there had been fruit on any of those trees. As it was, she could have told us pretty much anything and we would have nodded and agreed like a bunch of dummies.
Anyway, shortly after the mango, mango, mango episode, we ended up at the front gate (exactly where we started) and she asked us all for money for touring her garden. Huh? Where’s the pagoda? There were rumblings….the Germans and the Dutch were not happy about this development but she was not letting anyone go without them paying up. One of the Dutch tried to sneak past her – I’ve never seen someone so old move so fast. She was spry!!! Must be all the fruit. No one ever explained why we went there. I suspect she was the tour guide’s grandma.
Given that the actual tropical garden was kind of underwhelming, it was ironic that our favourite restaurant in Hue was a place called the Tropical Garden. This was really cute with tables set in the garden with little thatched rooves over the top. Very Gilligan’s Island! I so wish I’d worn my gold lame dress just like Ginger’s. Until I remembered I only own one in my dreams…
Huh… I just realised my whole sense of fashion, hair and makeup is pretty much derived from Gilligan’s Island and Get Smart….who says tv doesn’t influence young minds?
The food at The Tropical Garden was super tasty but the best thing about it is the absolutely terrible band. I guess Vietnamese folk music is an acquired taste because, our first time there, Mark had his back to them and shortly after they began to play frowned and asked. “What’s that noise? Is that cats? Or the band?” Mind you, they also set the local dogs to howling so I guess that, much like us canines can also not appreciate the nuances of the Vietnamese folk scene.
By no means should you let this put you off though, in fact I”m only telling you this to encourage you to go and hear it for yourself….we went three nights in a row….
Our other favourite place was a restaurant / art gallery called Confetti. This had great food at great prices and nice art. But you know what? After the quirkiness of The Tropical Garden, it all seemed a little normal….
So, I have a new camera and have been cooking up some Hüê inspired delights. Aubergine was a popular vegetable there so first up I have a very simple grilled aubergine / eggplant based on the recipe in Simple Good Food by Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Mark Bittman called Grilled Aubergine with Nam Pla and Basil.
My version is called “Hey, Hüê, It’s Vietnamese Inspired Aubergine”
1 Eggplant / Aubergine, sliced into rounds about 1/2 centimetre thick
1 tsp tumeric
1 -2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp lemon or lime juice
1 tbsp Nam Pla (Fish Sauce)
1 tsp sugar
1 birdseye chilli, finely chopped
Chives, finely chopped
Basil leaves, finely chopped
Mix the tumeric and the olive oil and dip your eggplant slices into the mixture then place them under a hot grill. Turn them once they start to brown – you may also have to redip them if they get too dry.
Whilst your eggplant is cooking, mix up your lemon juice and fish sauce. Add the chopped chilli and chives. Once the eggplant is cooked, place on a plate and dress with the fish sauce mixture. Scatter the basil leaves over the top.
This is a great side dish or, I quite like it just on crackers. You can also mess with the mix as much as you like. Add some ginger or garlic or your choice of flavourings!
And here is my “Minh Mang-o” Daiquiri.
Minh Mango Daiquiri
I large mango, chopped
1/2 cup white rum
1/4 cup lemongrass, ginger and chilli simple syrup (I used the recipe here)
Juice of 1 large lemon
2 dashes Agnostura Bitters
8 Ice cubes
Place all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.
Can you believe I’ve been doing this for nearly a year?
And as the anniversary approaches, I’ve been thinking about how to celebrate. Somehow my normal process of pulling one of the many vintage cookbooks from the pile under my bed at random doesn’t seem quite joyful enough. Primarily because this invariably involves me knocking the pile over, uttering some sustained invective as I pile it all back up then muttering “I really should Hoover under there one day”. That is not the stuff of celebration!
I had planned to sift through the pile to find something special. However, when I found “Eat your Way To Love and Beauty” by Swami Sarasvati in my local charity shop I thought I had found my birthday book! Who doesn’t want to be loved and beautiful? Especially on their birthday? And, why not eat my way there? It beats getting there by the other “e” word. You know, the one we try very hard not to mention here. Hint: it rhymes with…mexercising. Yes, I know that’s not a word. If you’re so smart, you try coming up with a word that rhymes with exercising. Anyway, it’s obviously working for The Swami. She’s cute. And limber!
The caption to this photo says
“Swami Sarasvati, her youth and vitality living proof of her cooking, exercises among her health dishes”
Please note: Retro Food For Modern Times in no way condones its readers exercising among their health dishes. Nor will I bear any responsibility for damages incurred if you decide to do so. To put it bluntly, if you end up with a pineapple up your clacker by engaging in this you’re on your own. And be aware that hospital staff will mock you behind your back. “Of course you slipped over whilst exercising among your health dishes… that’s what all the deviants say.” You have been warned.
Swami Sarasvati was a tv icon on Australia in the 1970’s, where she taught a generation of early morning tv watchers the art of yoga and the delights of a vegetarian lifestyle. I wish she was on the telly now. I would totally watch her. Well, I probably wouldn’t get up that early but I would record her shows, meaning to get around to doing some sun salutations one day…right after I vacuum under that bed! She also still runs a yoga retreat in New South Wales. It is currently ranked the number one hotel in Kenthurst on Trip Advisor. That it is the only hotel in town is by the by.
Speaking as someone who has been on a yoga retreat, the Swami’s looks pretty good. I had a miserable time the last one I was on. It was freezing and in lieu of heating, my room came equipped with a massive spider. I thought it would be not in keeping with the yoga/vegan/hippie vibe of the place to beat the ugly fucker to death with my shoe. This meant I was too scared to sleep for the entire time I was there in case, during my slumber, the spider decided to break our unspoken entente cordiale to crawl into my hair or lay eggs in my face.
You will be disappointed, though if you click through the link. Eat Your Way To Love and Beauty is no longer on the list of the Swami’s books available for purchase. We’re about to find out why.
Some of the sensibilities of the book feel very modern. Take for instance the Swami’s response to the question:
“What is healthy food?”
“It is food as fresh as possible and eaten as soon as possible. Refining, preserving, canning or colouring food should be avoided wherever possible”
That doesn’t last long…we descend into the land of the loony almost immediately.
Q – “How can food make me more loving?”
“A well nourished woman will have the strength to be patient and understanding and loving even when life seems impossible. Your children won’t turn to drugs”.
Q – “My Husband won’t eat health foods”
“Girls, to keep your marriage fresh and exciting, you must keep yourself and your husband youthful and vital….there are enough tangy gourmet health dishes in this book to tempt your husband. Before long he will be better at business and sport.
You know what Swami? You had me at love and beauty…let’s not bring my husband and non-existent children into it.
But despite all this…despite dooming Mark to bankruptcy and failure on the sporting field (by which I mean his PS3 breaking) and the poor dogs to having to sell themselves to strangers for Schmackos…I will not be celebrating this birthday by eating my way to love and beauty. Eating for hatred and ugliness has got me thus far, I guess I can continue for another week or so!
I have made a few recipes from “Eat Your Way To Love And Beauty” being a celery soup, an eggplant bhurta and a carrot halva.
Here they are:
These all tasted ok. Actually, the carrot halva was really good once I added a bucketload of brown sugar – kind of like carrot cake without the cake. And the eggplant was also pretty good. The celery soup was average. There was nothing wrong with any of them. They were just a bit drab. Look at them. They’re not screaming party are they? They look, earnest, well-meaning, brown. The food version of Coldplay. Worthy but kind of boring…
Which brings me to the second reason, we will not be celebrating Retro Food For Modern Times first birthday by eating our way to love and beauty.
Now, for those of you who are not au fait with the gimlet, it is defined by the fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia, as:
“A cocktail made of gin and lime juice”
Two ingredients. One of which is missing from the Swami’s recipe.
Never mind, I thought, the next recipe is called Singapore Gin. Maybe I’ll make that as my birthday cocktail.
Or maybe I wont…we like our booze here at Retro Food For Modern Times, celebrating anything without booze is anathema.
No wonder this book isn’t for sale anymore, it was probably banned for false advertising. I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to call a cocktail Singapore “Gin” when it contains not the slightest whiff of a juniper berry!
Next week we’ll party like it’s 1969. I won’t give too much away but there will be gin and there will be gelatine; if I can get sufficiently organised there maybe something else starting with a “g” to make up a full three course meal…cocktail and dessert count as 2 courses don’t they?
I’ll be spending my week frantically trying to think of that third course…
I’m not flat-out saying that the photographer of the Australian Vegetable Cookbook was a psychopath (he’s probably still alive and looking for his next victim)….I’m just saying that I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if that was the case.
Why would I even suggest such a thing? Let’s just look at selection of photos:
Eggplant…this is about where I started to see the pattern…
Just in case you still haven’t got it, there is an almost always completely unnecessary knife in all of these pictures. Sometimes it is coyly half hidden (Broccoli, onions) or off to the side, (mushrooms) but quite often front and centre, and in the case of the eggplant, gleaming evilly to boot.. It got to the point where I was searching pictures Where’s Wally style looking for the next one….I started to get disappointed when I didn’t find one. It was like a pictorial Stockholm Syndrome.
There is also a really scary looking chopper in the photo for Kohlrabi. I don’t know much about Kohlrabi and maybe in Kohlrabi circles these implements are de rigueur but seriously this looks like it should belong in “50 Shades of Grey”, not in a vegetable cookbook!
Given this predilection, I couldn’t help reading the recipe for Broad (Fava) Beans and Bacon in full Hannibal Lector voice, finishing with “to be eaten with a glass of Chianti, Clarisse”. I’m such a geek…
One of the best things about this book, and completely non-psychopathic is the pen and ink drawings of each vegetable. These are lovely!
I can see a range of these printed onto tea towels etc, as high-end kitchen ware. Imagine the peas above with a little bobble fringing….so vintage chic!
Along with the pen and ink drawings, there are notes about the history, cultivation and some other fun facts about each vegetable These can be interesting but, if you tend to be little bit….OCD like me, can seriously drive you insane…. Take for example, the seemingly innocuous statement on page 59 that:
“Eggplant (aubergine) is the fourth most important vegetable in Japan”
Most people would read that and move on with their lives. I woke up in the middle of the night, wondering what numbers 1 through 3 were. The book doesn’t tell you. Which is really mean. Who cares about fourth in anything? Even bronze and silver are slightly dud…if you’re not going to tell me what THE most important vegetable in Japan is, don’t bother. And…define importance? Important how? Is it sacred? Is is the (fourth) most grown? Eaten? Exported? Nutritious? It’s half past three in the morning dammit and you’re giving me nothing!
Modern media is no help either. If you Google “eggplant in Japan”, the top entry is about a Japanese comedian who, as part of a reality tv show, was locked in an apartment and forced to enter magazine competitions until he earned $1 million yen. For some bizarre reason he was also naked the whole time. In order not to offend viewers, if his…erm…manly parts appeared on the screen they covered them with a cartoon of an eggplant. No, really. They did. I couldn’t make this s**t up if I tried.
Ok, so back to…..what the hell was I talking about? How on earth did I end up talking about naked Japanese comedians? Well, I guess we kind of know why eggplants are important now. They are to the Japanese what the fig leaf was to the Ancient Greeks.
Ah yes, back on track….now! The descriptions of the vegetables in these paragraphs sometimes makes them sound utterly repulsive. Take for instance, the following:
“The edible part consists of a compact terminal mass of greatly thickened, modified and partly developed flower structures together with the supporting fleshy stalks.”
As if this isn’t bad enough, it then goes on to say:
“This terminal cluster forms a white succulent ’curd’ when cultivated for the table.”
I know these are probably very accurate scientific terms but who wants to eat a compact terminal mass? It sounds like a tumour. And as for a white succulent curd….yecch! Cauliflower was never my favourite vegetable but it’ll be a long time before I eat it again. A length of time that will correlate precisely with the amount of time it takes for me to forget the words “compact terminal mass” whenever I see one!
That’s about enough for today, will speak about the revolting recipes contained inside next post!
In the meantime, hoping you can forget the phrase “compact terminal mass” as quickly as possible.