from one generation to the next
This month, the Cookbook Guru hosted by Leah is exploring Charmaine Solomon’s Complete Asian Cookbook.
Charmaine and I go back a long way. My edition of her “Complete Asian Cookbook” dates from 1988, and it was with her guidance that I began to experiment making real Indian food incorporating whole spices.
I’m going to sound like your Grandma when I explain that in 1988, the spice section of the major local supermarkets comprised those few ground varieties needed to make English style cakes and puddings and coconut milk was an ingredient you made by soaking desiccated coconut in boiling water before squeezing out as much flavour as you could. Not deterred by these challenges, I drove around Melbourne to stock my pantry with the necessary whole spices then I began cooking from the now food splattered section of the book entitled “India & Pakistan.” The vegetable curries from those chapters remain firm family favourites.
When Leah named Charmaine Solomon’s “Complete Asian Cookbook” as this month’s Cookbook Guru, my first thought was of my old familiar friends, but in the end I decided to teleport myself to Indonesia and prepare Gulai Cumi-Cumi (squid curry) instead.
Bearing in mind the age of my edition and the fact it published at a time when fresh Asian ingredients were difficult to come by in Melbourne, I have replaced any dry ingredients with their fresh counterparts and chosen the more authentic option when substitutes are suggested.
This was an incredibly simple recipe to prepare if you disregard cleaning the squid. I could have bought ready cleaned calamari tubes but generally they have been frozen and are not to my liking.
I made a green bean sambal from the same section in the book as well, and frankly, it stole the show. We liked the squid curry though the assertive sauce overwhelmed the subtle flavour of the squid. I think prawns would have been a better choice of seafood. The beans on the other hand were smoky from the hot wok, spicy from the sambal badjak and totally delicious.
The recipes were easy to follow, simple to prepare and in 2014, all the ingredients were easily procured from my local food market. While my edition of “Charmaine Solomon’s Complete Asian Cookbook” may look dated (there’s no food porn here), the recipes are authentic and well written. The introduction to each country explains the local food culture and ingredients necessary. The glossary at the end translates the ingredients into plain English.
Charmaine Solomon was at the forefront of introducing the food of Asia to the Anglo-Australian home cook. She treated both the with respect by giving us a real insight into the authentic flavours of each of the countries she included.
Green Bean Sambal Sambal Buncis (with a few minor alterations)
250g fresh green beans
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 clove minced garlic
1 teaspoon sambal oelek or sambal badjak
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 spring onion, green part only, sliced
1. Wash and trim the beans. Cut them into fine diagonal slices
2. Heat the oil in a wok.
3. When it begins to smoke toss in the beans and stir fry for 2 minutes.
4. Add the garlic, salt and sambal. Cook for another 2 minutes
5. Toss through the spring onion greens and serve immediately
Squid Curry Gulai Cumi–Cumi (with a few minor alterations)
800g fresh squid
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 heaped teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 red chilli, finely sliced
1/2 teaspoon trasi, crumbled (fermented shrimp paste)
400 ml coconut milk
4 candle nuts, grated ( easy on a Microplane)
1 stalk lemon grass, finely sliced
1 teaspoon palm sugar
4 tablespoons tamarind paste
2 spring onions, green part only finely sliced
1 ripe tomato finely diced for garnish
1. Clean the squid, cut off the head and discard but keep the tentacles. Set aside the ink sacs for another dish.
2. Separate the wings from the body and peel the dark outer membrane from both the wings and body.
3. Using a knife, scrape the suckers off the tentacles and peel off the dark skin.Cut the body, wings and tentacles into bite sized pieces.Refrigerate until needed.
4. Put all the other ingredients except the tamarind, sugar and salt into a saucepan.
5. Bring to simmering point then cook until thick, about 5 minutes.
6. Add the squid and cook for another 5 minutes.
7. Add the sugar, salt and tamarind. Stir to combine.
8. Taste and add more salt if necessary.
9. Remove from the heat, stir in the spring onion, then transfer to a serving bowl.
10. Garnish with finely diced tomato