Fragrant Heart tells of Miranda and partner Chris's travels through China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia during a 'gap year' which they decide to take before settling down to start a family (they've since had two children). Miranda, a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4, interweaves her exotic travelogue with tales of her family background, her relationship with Chris and her worries of renting her house out, back home in Wales.
The book takes the reader on an adventurous journey through S.E Asia, painting a picture not only of the sights of interest, but also of the culture, history, art, politics and cuisine of each region. Some parts of the book are touching, some fascinating and some are laugh-out-loud funny.
Miranda, a long time vegetarian, struggles to find 'safe' food in countries which regard meat and fish an essential part of any meal...
"Are you a vegetarian? Want some advice? Don't go to China. No. Wait. Scrub that. Do go to China. Just don't try to be a vegetarian once you're there."Detailed descriptions of the foods they discover on their travels are so vivid that you can almost smell the food cooking and taste the flavours as you read...
"Bolou fan is a sweet and sticky and imparts a feeling of childish decadence to any meal. A whole pineapple is served to the table stuffed with berry-black, steamed short rice. Lifting the spiky lid you uncover a pirate's chest of delight. Candied peel curls in little crystalline caterpillars on top of glistening, sugary delight."Although not a cookbook, each chapter ends with one or two recipes from the region with both a meat-based and a vegetarian version of each recipe. I tried out the rather confusingly named fish-fragrant aubergine, which contains no fish at all! Fish-fragrant apparently describes the combination of seasonings which would traditionally be served with fish, but work equally well with vegetarian and vegan dishes:
Yuxiang Qiezi or Fish-Fragrant Aubergine (Vegan)
Sichuan cuisine is full of different preparations, ways of cooking things and sauces to cook them in. Fish-fragrant is a description given to this particular sharp and sour sauce classically served over aubergine. There are no fish products used in it. It is very spicy, so cautious first-time cooks might want to halve or even quarter the amount of chilli bean sauce they put in. Served over boiled rice with a handful of chopped spring onions and maybe some nuts on top, I think it makes the perfect winter lunch.
Preparation and cooking time: 30 minutes
- 5 Sichuan peppercorns
- 2 small aubergines
- 2 tbsp groundnut oil
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2-cm piece of ginger, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
- 2 tbsp Chinkiang black rice vinegar (available from most Asian grocers)
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 2 tbsp chilli bean paste (this can be found in Asian grocery stores and some supermarkets, under the Lee Kum Kee brand)
- 3 tbsp vegetable stock
- 1 tsp cornflour
- 3 spring onions, sliced
Make the sauce by mixing the rice wine, vinegar, sugar, soy sauces, chilli bean paste, stock and cornflour together in a small bowl.
Cut aubergine into bite-sized cubes.
Heat the groundnut oil in a wok over a medium to high heat. Add the aubergine and stir-fry for 3 minutes or until the outsides have browned. Add the garlic, ginger and reserved ground peppercorns and stir-fry for another 30 seconds. Pour the sauce over the aubergine mixture and cook on a medium heat for 4 minutes, until the sauce has started to thicken.
Remove from heat and serve with spring onions sprinkled over.
I have a paperback copy of the book to give away. Just enter the Rafflecopter below by Midnight on 22nd May:
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