Thursday, May 24, 2012

Ottolenghi Soba Noodle Mango & Aubergine Salad & Lao Larb encounters

The problem with going on benders with your friends, is that you always talk a load of shit, and make huge promises of how you're going to do all of this awesome stuff together; like "Let's go on a 3 month road trip around Eastern Europe where we only take €30, and have to rely on our raw survival skills & irrepressible charm to get by. We can hitch cargo trains from town to town, swim naked in the lakes, hunt bears, fashion couture from their pelts & become mountain children who live in log cabins", or even "When this crazy bender is over, let's cook dinner with each after only 2 hours sleep" (equally unrealistic). The nice thing was that this week, after postponing a day for recovery, we managed to come together to make really delicious dinner that we promised on one of those nights of excess. Oh rapture!

The initial proposition was that we were going to do some American style BBQ pork ribs, but this plan fell apart, like so much tender meat, when we weren't able to find a decent or affordable butcher. Berlin has quite a few Turkish butchers, but since pork is like Muslim Kryptonite, it wasn't such an easy find. Roll on plan B. 

Finbar called me up and said since it was so stinking hot outside, he was thinking of making a Lao dish - chicken larb. This was my introduction to Lao cuisine, & larb is one of their most common dishes. It's a salad, that's usually mince-meat based and mixed together with fresh herbs & raw vegetables, citric juices, chilli & a side of sticky rice. The result is a mouthwateringly salty, sour, spicy but fresh combination. People from Laos are commonly referred to as the "children of sticky rice" and their food is eaten without cutlery,  most dishes are made fit to bundle together by hand. 

I bought along a Soba noodle mango salad that was originally put together by Yottam Ottolenghi, but I borrowed a modified version by 101 cookbooks, and then further mutated it myself. It contains raw mango, coriander, basil, boiled soba noodles, fried tofu, fried aubergine, fresh basil & coriander, & a dressing made from brown rice vinegar, brown sugar, garlic, chilli, ginger, lime, peanut oil & sesame seeds. It was the perfect counterpart for larb, not worlds apart in flavours or ingredients, but sweeter & fruitier than the saltier meatier dish. We left out the sticky rice & just ate the larb wrapped in full iceberg lettuce leaves, as the mango salad already had noodles for the carb factor.

It was a perfect end to a scorching hot Berlin day, eating in the abandoned lot by the Spree with Simon, Finbar, Justine & Lisa.

And Finbar made a dog-friend!

Or a dog-foe...?

Mango Soba Noodle Salad Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup / 120 ml brown rice vinegar
  • scant 1/3 cup / 1.5 oz / 40 g fine-grain natural cane sugar or brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes or 1/2 fresh red chile, minced
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil (I substituted this for peanut butter oil & added a few teaspoons of sesame seeds)
  • grated zest and juice of one lime
  • 1/3 cup / 80 ml sunflower oil or olive oil
  • 1 medium eggplant/aubergine 3/4 lb / 12 oz, cut into 1/2-inch / 1cm chunks
  • 8 ounces / 225g dried soba noodles
  • 1 large ripe mango, cut into small chunks
  • 8 ounces grilled or pan-fried tofu (I cut it into really tiny cubes & cook it till it's almost chewy for a complementary texture in the salad)
  • 1/2 medium red onion, very thinly sliced
  • a handful of basil leaves, slivered
  • a handful of fresh cilantro / coriander, chopped

Directions: (Stolen from 101 Cookbooks)

While you are prepping the rest of the ingredients bring a large pot of water to a boil.
In the meantime, make the dressing by combining the vinegar, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring, for up to 1 minute, or until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and add the garlic, red pepper flakes or chile, and sesame oil.
Allow to cool, then add the lime zest and juice.

Heat the sunflower oil in a large skillet and shallow fry the eggplant/aubergine in three batches, until deeply golden. Transfer to a large plate lined with paper towels and sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt.

Cook the soba noodles in a large pot of boiling salted water, per package instructions, or until just tender. Drain and rinse under cold running water. Shake off as much of the excess water as possible, then leave to dry in the colander or on a tea towel. If you're not using the noodles soon, toss with a tiny splash of olive oil to prevent the noodles from sticking to each other.

In a large mixing bowl toss the noodles the dressing, mango, tofu, eggplant, onions, and most of the herbs. You can now set this aside for an hour or two before serving topped with the remaining herbs.

Serves 4-6.
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1 comment:

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