When its cold and wet outside I feel like there are two very clear, very different options for what to eat. Either it's some serious comfort food, a good book, and a warm, enveloping duvet, or it has to be something with a good kick of chilli heat to drive the damp chill out of my bones. In the deepest darkest winters in New York I used to make a bowl of rice noodles each morning with coriander, bean sprouts and steaming hot beef broth, piled high with sliced bird's eye chillies. This was rocket fuel for the trip from my little downtown studio flat to the relative warmth of the subway and finally the office. Here in London the cold seems less bitter, but somehow wetter and I find adding something fried and crispy to the chilli mix is the perfect remedy.
200g raw shelled prawns 60g streaky unsmoked bacon, the fattier the better two small shallots two tablespoons of dried shrimp one or two small bird's eye chillies a pinch of flaked dried chilli a tablespoon of fish sauce plenty of ground white pepper black and white sesame seeds coriander leaves, to garnish
If you have a food processor, blend together all of the ingredients except the prawns and sesame seeds. Mince the prawns by hand (so they end up with a slightly coarser texture than everything else) and then mix well with the processed paste.
Have a bowl of water handy to dip your hands into every now and then. Take a small handful of the paste and roll it into a vague ball shape before pressing them into small, two-bite sized cakes. The water helps stop the mix from sticking to your hands. Ready a bowl with a shallow layer of the black and white sesame seeds. Heat a frying pan with about a centimetre of oil but don't let it smoke. Take a little cake, pop it on the sesame seeds and then add to the oil seed side down. It should sizzle gently, if not, turn up/down the heat. Continue with the rest of the cakes and fry each for a minute or two on each side until deep golden brown and beginning to crisp at the edges.
Drain the cakes on some kitchen roll before them piling onto a plate and scatter over some coriander leaves. Serve with the spicy lemongrass dipping sauce below.
Spicy lemongrass dipping sauce
You may decide to tone up or down the amount of chilli and chilli oil in this recipe depending on your taste. I find mine change with my mood and the weather, so I take a tiny lick of a sliced chilli and decide then how much to add.
three cloves of garlic, very finely chopped a stalk of lemongrass, finely sliced and quickly chopped the juice from a lemon 50ml rice wine vinegar a tablespoon of fish sauce two small bird's eye chillies, thinly sliced a tablespoon of chilli oil, the Chinese kind with dark roasted chilli flakes a tablespoon of palm sugar two tablespoons of water a good handful each of chopped parsley and either coriander or mint ground black pepper
Mix together all the ingredients and taste, adding more palm sugar, water, chilli, lemon or anything else that you feel needs more representation in the sauce. It should taste additively sweet, tangy, hot and salty.
I hope this will end up as a collection of recipes, restaurants and anything else that celebrates the wonderful diversity of foods and how we prepare and eat them. Some ingredients may seem unusual to you, but I love learning about new cooking techniques and tasting new foods. I am fascinated by the way in which different cultures have made their food into something more than just fuel. This is a reflection of what excited me at that time and season. Above all it is a record of where I was and what was eaten...and how to bring those memories back again.