Breakfast from Chad

September 5, 2016 § Leave a comment

The latest in our Breakfasts of the World Project series. It’s been a while but I think the muse is back…

The Republic of Chad is a landlocked country in Northern Central Africa named after the great freshwater lake on its Western border. It is a huge country in terms of land area (the fifth largest in Africa) but with a relatively small population of some 14 million.

It was part of French Equatorial Africa until 1960 when the country declared independence from France. The capital city is N’Djamena and French and Arabic are the official languages. Confusingly, Chad’s flag of vertical blue, yellow and red stripes is identical to that of Rumania, a source of low level diplomatic tension unlikely to be resolved any time soon.

Chad has experienced vast numbers of refugees flooding across its border with Sudan since 2003 as a result of the Darfur conflict. More recently there have been further waves of refugees crossing its Western border fleeing civil war in the Central African Republic.

The UNHCR publishes copious detailed reports of its work with refugees in Chad that are probably not as widely read as they should be. Looking at these reports, I was struck by the pictures of refugees eking out a meagre living selling street food. My Chadian breakfast took inspiration from these resilient street food vendors and comprised sweet millet fritters plus the ubiquitous “jus de fruit” which is in fact a simple mango smoothie. The helpful Chad information website where I found both recipes says that many small businesses have started up throughout Chad based on selling this one popular drink.

Millet is a staple grain from this part of Africa and grows successfully in hot arid conditions but is relatively unknown in more temperate climates except as bird seed. The grains are like tiny creamy seed pearls and grind down to a yellowish, mild, slightly nutty tasting flour. It’s naturally gluten free and perhaps as a consequence quite hard to handle and my millet fritters were something of a disaster. This is what the first deep-fried batch looked like after cooking:


I had to abandon the deep fat fryer and ended up shaping my millet dough into shortbread-style fingers before oven baking. Perhaps these would have turned out better if I’d been able to use freshly ground local millet flour as the recipe specifies rather than a bag of Bob’s Red Mill US grown millet flour.

It’s also possible that my proportions were wrong as I used US cups i.e. 8 fl oz measures whereas the measure used in the original recipe was a “verre” i.e. a glass. Who knows what that might be but I suspect it may be smaller than 8 fl oz.

At least the mango smoothie turned out well – I’d happily drink this for breakfast anytime and the addition of the powdered cardamom adds an extra flavour dimension.

Jus de fruit – Mango smoothie from Chad

Adapted from a recipe from


1 medium-size ripe mango, peeled, stone removed and cut into chunks
2 cups whole milk (fresh tastes good but powdered milk would probably be used in Chad)
Caster sugar to taste
6 ice cubes
1/4 teaspoon cardamom powder

Crush the ice in the blender
. Peel and cut up the mango and put the fruit chunks into a mixer.
 Blend the mango in the mixer.
 Add the milk, sugar and cardamom to the mixer and blend well.
 Serve immediately.

Millet fritters from the Ouaddaï

Adapted from a recipe from


2 cups millet flour ground the day you prepare the fritters
1 cup wheat flour
1 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 egg

Peanut oil to fry

Mix the millet and wheat flours together. Heat the cup of vegetable oil to hand-hot and pour it over the flour mixture. Mix roughly. Whisk together lightly with a fork the sugar and egg and pour over the dough. Knead the dough for 5 minutes until it becomes firm and smooth.

Roll the dough to a thickness of 5 millimetres on a lightly floured board and cut into ribbons.

Fry to a golden brown in the peanut oil at about 150 degrees C. Drain the fritters on kitchen paper and serve hot, warm or cold.

Central African Republic breakfast

January 30, 2014 § 2 Comments

The latest in our Breakfasts of the World Project series.

I’ve been well and truly caught out by events. When I began investigating the Central African Republic (“CAR”), it seemed to me to be one of the world’s most anonymous nations but has since been catapulted into the headlines following the outbreak of civil war.

The country’s population is estimated to be some 4.5 million in a country comparable in size to France, coincidentally the former colonial power. Much of the country is taken up by the Ubangi and Chari river basins. The capital city, Bangui, is on the banks of the mighty Ubangi river that flows south to Congo and defines the border between the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo for much of its length.

Since gaining independence in 1960 the CAR seems to have suffered more of its fair share of misfortunes. The notorious Jean-Bédel Bokassa 1 was crowned “emperor” 1977 in a lavish ceremony watched by the world’s media. Since then, coup has followed coup more or less to the present day. Michel Djotodia, leader of the Séléka rebel alliance seized power March 2013 deposing President François Bozizé. The country has since descended into anarchy with the Christian anti-balaka militia (balaka means machete) retaliating against the mainly Muslim Séléka rebel group. Djotodia has now stepped down leaving a peacekeeping force of 1,600 French and 4,600 African troops vainly trying to control the violence. One can only hope that the new interim civilian government can deliver on its pledges to halt the violence and to organise elections by February 2015.

From this country of diamonds, timber, virgin rainforest and fertile river basins comes a recipe for the freshwater fish Nile Perch cooked in banana leaves. It seems somewhat frivolous to say so but is nevertheless true that this is a very attractive way of cooking and presenting any white fish fillets (I give the recipe below).

Given the circumstances, this was a somewhat sombre breakfast.

Somewhat to my surprise, I was able to source authentic Nile perch from online specialist retailer The Fish Society and found banana leaves in one of the specialist food shops in Manchester’s Chinatown.

Steamed Nile Perch in banana leaves

Serves 4. Recipe adapted from various internet sources.


4 fillets of Nile perch (capitaine in French)
4 banana leaves, halved
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
handful flatleaf parsley, roughly chopped
1 chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
3 small tomatoes, peeled, deseeded and sliced
salt and pepper to taste

Mix thoroughly together in a small bowl the chopped onion, garlic, parsley and chilli.

Arrange four pairs of halved banana leaves into rough cross shapes.

Put a quarter of the onion mixture in the centre of each pair of leaves then sit a fish fillet on top, followed by another spoonful of the onion mixture. Top with the tomato slices then wrap the banana leaves over the top to form a parcel and tie each one securely with string.

Place the banana leaf parcels on a rack set over a deep roasting dish half-filled with water.

Carefully transfer to an oven pre-heated to 200°C and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the fish is tender. Serve directly from the parcels and accompanied with fried plantains and/or boiled rice.

Cape Verdean breakfast

August 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

“Imagine unspoilt castaway islands. With bone-white beaches that you can bag all to yourself. And a unique blend of African, Portuguese and Brazilian cultures. No wonder summer holidays to Cape Verde are the hottest buzzword in travel right now. Marooned off the west coast of Africa, they sit serenely and modestly – almost as if they’re hoping to shirk the limelight.”

So says the blurb on the Thomson holidays website which is a pretty good introduction to the Cape Verde archipelago. This group of 10 main islands and 5 smaller islets, most of which are mountainous but with some fertile land, was uninhabited until its discovery by Portuguese explorers in 1456. Just for the record, the largest island is Santiago, the capital city is Praia and the islands gained independence from Portugal in 1975.

The strategic location of the islands lying in the Atlantic off the coast of West Africa meant that they became an important staging post in both the slave and whaling trades. Interestingly, there are more Cape Verdeans and their descendants living abroad than there are on the islands themselves having left the islands during various waves of emigration. Music and football are clearly important elements of the Cape Verdean culture. Famous musicians of Cape Verdean descent include Lena Horne and the Tavares Brothers – Ralph, Pooch, Chubby, Butch and Tiny – perhaps most famous for their rendition of “More Than A Woman” on the seminal Saturday Night Fever soundtrack from the seventies. Well known footballers of Cape Verdean descent include Nani, Henrik Larsson, Gelson Fernandes and Patrice Evra.

The food of the islands is very much a reflection of its history and geography – a fusion of Portuguese, South American and African ingredients. Nowhere is this more true than in Cachupa, the islands’ national dish, a hearty stew of hominy corn, red kidney beans, spicy linguiça sausage, salt pork, sweet potato, potato, tomatoes, onion and cabbage. Fortunately for me, Cachupa refogada, left over cachupa reheated and fried with plenty of softened onion is a typical breakfast dish so it had to go on the menu.

The recipe I used for Cachupa is adapted from this one

I decided to add another typical Cape Verdean dish, cuscus, to round off my breakfast menu. I found a video recipe here presented by the charming but oddly named Ideally Ilca on her Island Cuisine channel. White cornmeal is mixed with water to form little pellets. The resulting cuscus is steamed in a cake shape then served as a breakfast cereal flavoured with sugar and powdered cinnamon and eaten with cold milk. I followed Ms Ilca’s instructions to the letter and ended up with a successful plateful of Cape Verdean comfort food, agreeably soothing after the spicy Cachupa refogada:

Finding the recipes was the easy part: somewhat more of a challenge was tracking down authentic ingredients. Let’s start with hominy corn. I didn’t even know precisely what it was until I consulted Harold McGee. His encyclopaedic “On Food and Cooking” explains succinctly that “hominy consists of whole corn kernels…cooked for 20-40 minutes in a solution of lime or lye then washed of their hulls and excess alkaline solution.” The process is known as nixtamalization from an Aztec word and though it sounds a bit yucky and chemical-infused in fact produces a tasty, chewy and nutritious end result.

I tracked my hominy corn plus white cornmeal for my Cape Verdean cuscus down from ever-reliable Mexican food specialists The Cool Chile company. I sourced my linguiça sausage, plus a few extra Portuguese goodies, from the straightforwardly named

I packed up my specialist ingredients and headed for the coast to prepare and cook my Cape Verdean breakfast – nowhere exotic, just the good old British seaside. We were joined for a long weekend by friends Mike, Theo and Christopher who tucked in manfully (though I suspect they were hoping for a full English…)

Pass the piri piri sauce please. Did someone say it’s just like Nando’s?

Recipe for Cachupa Rica

Adapted from a recipe on “Mistress of Spices” blog.

Serves 8-12 depending on appetite.

500g dried hominy corn
250g dried red kidney beans
8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 litre water
1 litre vegetable or chicken stock
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
250g linguiça (or chorizo) cut into 1cm dice
500g thick piece of unsmoked bacon into 1cm dice
1 tablespoon chilli powder
4 small waxy potatoes scrubbed and quartered
1 sweet potato, peeled and quartered
1/4 white cabbage, sliced
2 carrots, chopped
2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and finely chopped

Rinse the corn and the beans. Drain and set aside.

Heat 4 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large lidded saucepan or stockpot. Add half of the chopped onion and one bay leaf. Sauté until the onions are translucent. Add the corn and the beans. Stir well and add the water. Bring to the boil, then cover, reduce the heat and simmer for 2 hours. Add the stock and continue simmering until the corn and beans are soft and cooked through (this may take a further 2 hours ie 4 hours in total).

In a second large lidded pot, heat the remaining 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the remaining chopped onion, garlic and one bay leaf. Stir well and sauté until the onions are translucent.

Add the linguiça, bacon and chili powder. Stir gently over a low heat until cooked through, about 15-20 minutes.

Add the cooked corn and beans and their cooking liquid to the meat mixture. Then add the potatoes and cabbage, mix well, add tomatoes and cook until the vegetables are tender and the liquid reduced, about 15-20 minutes.

Taste and correct seasoning. Cachupa tastes even better the next day sautéed with some chopped onion for breakfast, called Cachupa refogada.

Recipe for Cape Verdean Cuscus

From the Island Cuisine channel on Youtube.

3 cups finely ground white cornmeal
Sugar to taste
1 cup water

Add the water to the cornmeal very slowly. Mix with your hands to form a clumpy mix. Put in double boiler (I used a steamer set over a pan of boiling water). Sprinkle with plenty of powdered cinnamon.

Steam for 25 mins. It will form a sliceable cake. Serve with cold milk, honey, butter and coffee.

Supplier details Supplier of hominy corn and authentic Mexican ingredients Supplier of Portuguese sausages, hams, wine and other goodies.

Canadian breakfast

May 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

The latest in our Breakfasts of the World Project series.

We cheated ever so slightly on this one, eating it out of synch with the rest of the series to coincide with visiting family and friends the morning after a certain Big Birthday late last year (my husband Tim’s not mine I hasten to add).

Here are various family members and friends tucking into classic breakfast pancakes, back bacon and, of course, lashings of maple syrup.



We can buy maple syrup pretty readily here in the UK – you can see in the picture below two different grades of syrup – No 1 and No 2 Amber (I’ve not yet found the elusive Grade 3 Dark syrup on supermarket shelves here). It was also time to bring out the prized bottle of rare Nova Scotia maple syrup, a gift from cousin Paul and family who live in Halifax, Nova Scotia.


I delved briefly into the details of maple syrup production and it seems that the Canadian province of Québec is responsible for some 75% of the world’s output of maple syrup. Anything calling itself Canadian maple syrup must be made exclusively from the concentrated sap of predominantly three types of maple tree – the sugar, red and black maples. It can take up to 50 litres of raw sap to be boiled down and concentrated into 1 litre of syrup.

Also on the menu were muffins (English muffins though we call them just muffins in England much as Canadian bacon is known as such anywhere but Canada) and delicious wild Pacific smoked salmon. If I’d felt more perky that morning, I might have conjured this into a Vancouver-style take on Eggs Benedict but we had to make do with just cream cheese on our muffins to accompany the salmon.

There are lots of fascinating Canadian breakfast dishes I could have tried – fellow breakfast blogger Shawna has alerted me to cretons, a Québecquois take on French rillettes (small pieces of pork and onion gently cooked in the fat rendered from the meat to form a pâté-like mixture)served on toast as part of a traditional breakfast.

Browsing through my recipe book “Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens” by Marie Nightingale, I see we’ve missed out too on the “Old-Fashioned Lunenburg Breakfast or Supper Dish” of cooked apples and onions baked with onions and cream. Then there’s my Blomidon Inn bread recipe from Wolfville, Nova Scotia for a loaf flavoured with oats, cornmeal and molasses…I’ll have to return to Canadian breakfasts some time soon.

Recipe for breakfast pancakes

These are a perennial favourite at home and the recipe comes from my trusty and ancient Good Housekeeping Cookery Book where these pancakes are referred to as Scotch Pancakes or Drop Scones.

Makes 10-12 small pancakes.


100g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
30g golden caster sugar (about 2 tablespoons)
1 egg, lightly beaten with a fork
Milk to mix – about 150ml
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or ground cinnamon (optional)

Mix together the flour, sugar and baking powder in a medium mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour in the egg and a little of the milk. Stir with a balloon whisk, bringing in the flour from the edges of the well and gradually adding more milk as you do so. When the batter reaches the consistency of thick custard. Beat with the whisk for 10-20 seconds until any remaining lumps have gone. Whisk in some more milk until you have a thickish smooth batter the consistency of extra-thick single cream that will drop from a spoon. Whisk in the vanilla extract or ground cinnamon if using.

Drop the mixture in large spoonfuls (I use a small ladle) onto a hot lightly greased non-stick frying pan. Keep the pan at a steady heat and when bubbles start to rise to the surface of the pancakes (after about 2 minutes, maybe earlier), flip them over using a small crank-handled palette knife and cook for a minute or so on the other side until golden brown and cooked through. Store in a folded clean linen teatowel as you make them to keep them warm and soft.

Serve with maple syrup and bacon or butter and jam. They’re pretty good cold with butter and jam if ever you find you have some left over.

Cameroon breakfast

March 30, 2013 § 2 Comments

The latest in our Breakfasts of the World Project series.

Until the recent kidnapping of a French family in the far north of the country, football had been the only reason Cameroon hit the international headlines. The national team “Les Lions Indomptables” in their red, green and yellow strip echoing the national flag, has the best World Cup track record of any African nation. Cameroonian player Samuel Eto’o is reputedly football’s highest paid player under his contract with far-flung FC Anzhi Makhachkala (Russian Premier League).

Irregularly-shaped Cameroon is situated on Africa’s West coast between Nigeria to the North and West and Equatorial Guinea and Gabon to the South. The country’s name derives from Rio dos Camarões – river of shrimps – the name Portuguese explorers gave to the region. Cameroon first became a German colony but was divided between France and Britain post First World War. Independence and the merging of the two parts of the country occurred between 1960 and 1961 with Yaoundé as capital city.

Our chosen menu was beignets, also known as Puff-Puffs – a simple deep-fried yeasted doughnut, and also bouilli d’arachides, a peanut-butter enriched version of sweetened maize porridge.

Inspiration for the menu came from Californian aid worker and blogger Mara’s post here and also the clear and eminently readable Cameroonian and African food blog Ma Cocote. Reading through these posts you immediately gain a snapshot of this incredibly varied country. The food names – bouilli and beignets are French words, a legacy of the country’s colonial past. Mara talks about the bouilli being the evening meal breaking the Ramadan daylong fast. Although Christianity is nominally the dominant religion, a significant minority of the population (about 20%) are Muslim. Cameroon extends north to the fringes of the Sahara desert with its Extrême Nord province bordering on Lake Chad. In contrast, the south east of the country is equatorial rain forest territory, home to the Baka people (formerly referred to as pygmies).

Mara gives a sketchy recipe for bouilli so rather than following her instructions to the letter I did my own thing. I used a quick-cook polenta made up according to the packet instructions but with half milk and water instead of water alone. I then added sugar to taste and finally a big dollop of peanut butter plus an extra drizzle of milk.

The resulting mush was pronounced “OK” by the family – a bit bland perhaps but a soothing easy-to-eat breakfast that, with the addition of peanut butter, really packs in the calories.

The Puff Puff doughnuts were a different story altogether. These disappeared in seconds! I give below the recipe I adapted from the Ma Cocote blog. It’s a simple yeast-raised batter made with just milk, water, flour, salt, sugar and instant yeast which, after proving, is dropped into your deep-fat fryer. For authenticity I fried the doughnuts in peanut oil which gives a very good non-greasy and nicely flavoured result (I find sunflower oil has an unpleasant greasy taste). To achieve a perfectly spherical Puff Puff the recommended technique is to get in with your hands and extrude the batter from your partially clenched fist. I wasn’t brave enough to try this in the frying-station I’d set up in our garage but I think the spoon-shaped ones were pretty creditable for a first attempt.

Recipe for Beignets (Puff-Puffs) – Cameroonian doughnuts

Adapted from a recipe in Cameroonian food blog

Makes about 20.


175g strong plain flour
175g ordinary plain flour
5g fast action dried yeast (the type that can be mixed straight into the flour without the need for prior activation)
75 golden caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
300ml milk and water mixed at room temperature (no need to warm)

MIx the dry ingredients together thoroughly in a large mixing bowl.Add the milk and water mixture and stir well to combine into a thick batter. Cover and leave to prove until the batter has become very bubbly and puffed-up. This is likely to take at least an hour, maybe two and will happen more quickly if the bowl is left in a warm place.

Drop tablespoons of the mixture into a deep-fat fryer ideally using peanut oil. Fry at 190 degrees C for about 7 minutes, turning the doughnuts over halfway through the cooking time. They are ready when they are a deep golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper, sprinkle with caster sugar and serve immediately.

Cambodian breakfast

February 4, 2013 § 4 Comments

The latest in our Breakfasts of the World Project series.

New Year, new letter of the alphabet – we’re finally onto the letter C! – new country.

In preparation for our Cambodian breakfast I watched Roland Joffé’s “Killing Fields” on DVD documenting the friendship between New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg and his Cambodian colleague Dith Pran. The Vietnam war spills over the border into neighbouring Cambodia and the Communist Khmer Rouge take control of Cambodia’s capital city Phnom Penh in 1975. Schanberg gets away unscathed but Pran, as an urban intellectual, is taken prisoner by the Khmer Rouge and made to work in harsh labour camps and witnesses Pol Pot’s in the killing fields.

How things have changed in the last 30 odd years. Cambodia is now very much on the modern-day Grand Tour with the holy city of Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor Wat a must-see destination. And a tourist website gives the following cursory directions to another top tourist attraction:

“The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek are 15 km from Central Phnom Penh. To get there, take Monireth Blvd south-westward out of the city from the Dang Kor Market bus depot.”

So what to eat for our Cambodian breakfast? The opening scenes of “The Killing Fields” feature Schanberg and colleague Al Rockoff (memorably played by John Malkovich) ordering café complet and aspirin at Phnom Penh’s Café Central but I was after something altogether more authentic. Fortunately, travel blogs are almost unanimous in identifying Nom Banh Chok – bowls of rice noodles with fish curry ladled over – as the ubiquitous breakfast dish in Cambodia.

You can read about the extremely laborious process of making Nom Banh Chok rice noodles by hand here, a link to the fascinating and beautifully photographed Eating Asia blog.

The list of ingredients required to make Num/Nom Banh Chok (spellings transliterated from the Cambodian language are many and various). I succeeded in tracking down an authentic recipe which comes from another West/Eastern duo – not Schanberg and Pran this time but Austrian and Cambodian chefs Gustav Auer and Sok Chhong who co-authored the cookbook “From spiders to water lilies” containing recipes from their Phnom Penh restaurant Romdeng (Cambodian for the key flavouring ingredient galangal).

Having tracked down an authentic recipe I wanted to do my best to use authentic ingredients. Whereas most large supermarkets now stock lemongrass, Thai basil, Kaffir lime leaves, Thai fish sauce and coconut cream and milk (and you can get hold of Kaffir limes from the Natoora range carried by online supermarket delivery service Ocado), some of the ingredients listed necessitated a special expedition to Manchester’s Chinatown.

I was delighted to be able to track down galangal, fresh turmeric and something close to the recipe’s specified “Cambodian rhizome” at Kim’s Thai Food Store. What I bought was Boesenbergia Pandurata aka Kaempferia pandurata, Chinese Keys, lesser galangal (though this name is probably incorrect), krachai (Thai), kcheay (Khmer) and kunci (Indonesian).

The aromatics were chopped then blitzed in the food processor to produce 15 tablespoons of precious yellow curry paste:


To complete the curry, a whole new batch of ingredients were needed. Coconut cream, fish sauce and coconut milk are now readily available in supermarkets. I had no idea at the time what type of fish to use, or even if it should be sea or freshwater fish so I chose a fresh and healthy looking Anglesey farmed seabass from my local fishmonger who expertly converted it into fillets. It was a shame to carefully poach and skin it and then pulp it into oblivion as the recipe specifies!

I’ve since read about Cambodia’s enormous inland Tonlé Sap lake which apparently supplies 70% of the protein consumed in Cambodia, including not only fish but shrimps, crabs, snails, frogs and snakes.

The only ingredient I couldn’t get hold of was the Cambodian fish paste called prahok. According to the helpful Cambodian food leaflet “Cambodia on A Plate”, prahok is “a grey paste of preserved fish…(that is) probably the most distinctive flavour in all Cambodian cooking”. I had to make do with a Thai shrimp paste instead (on reflection the UK anchovy paste we call “Gentlemen’s Relish” might have made a good substitute too).

Curry complete, all that was left to do was prepare the all-important rice noodles, accompanying salad and Thai basil and red chilli garnish. Yet another long list of ingredients, some, such as the cucumber and beansprouts easy to obtain, others, such as banana flower (?) and water lily root (??) a little trickier. I was delighted to find a fresh banana flower in Chinatown but the water lily root request defeated both the Chinese and Thai shop assistants. In the end I went for the helpful suggestion of a lotus root which is apparently used raw in salads in some Thai recipes.

The resulting plate of salad was a thing of beauty:


And finally, after about 6 hours spread over 2 days of shopping, chopping, pounding and boiling, we sat down to breakfast:


Contact details

For Oriental vegetables in Manchester:

Hang Won Hong
Connaught Buildings
58-60 George Street
Manchester M1 4HF

Telephone 0161 228 6182

For Thai (and Cambodian) specialities in Manchester:

46 George Street
Manchester M1 4HF

Telephone 0161 228 6263

For the UK’s only Cambodian restaurant

243 Royal College Street
London NW1 9LT

Telephone 0207 284 1116

Recipe for Num Banh Chok – yellow fish and coconut curry with rice noodles and raw Cambodian vegetables

This recipe is adapted from one in the book “From Spiders to Water Lilies” by Gustav Auer and Sok Chhong published as a fundraising project by the Friends International organisation.

Serves 4-6


For the lemongrass paste

200 g young lemongrass stalks (about 15-16 stalks) trimmed and sliced
2cm cube of peeled and roughly chopped galangal
3cm cube peeled and chopped fresh turmeric
4 kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, halved
Peel of half a kaffir lime, chopped
2cm cube peeled and chopped Cambodian rhizome

For the curry

300 g fish fillets, poached
3 tablespoons lemongrass paste
2 tablespoons roasted chopped peanuts
500 ml fish stock

250 ml coconut milk
250 ml coconut cream
1 teaspoon prahok (Cambodian fermented fish paste)
2 tablespoons fish sauce
salt to taste
1 tablespoon palm sugar

To accompany the curry

400 g dried weight thin rice noodles, cooked al dente
2 small cucumbers, cut into matchsticks
half a banana flower, soaked in cold water acidulated with kaffir lime juice then thinly sliced just before serving
200 g bean sprouts
2 pieces of water lily root, peeled and thinly sliced

To garnish

red chillies
few Thai basil leaves

First, prepare the lemongrass paste. Using a food processor, blitz the chopped lemongrass into a paste. Add the remaining ingredients and 4-6 tablespoons cold water and blitz again until well combined. According to the original recipe, this paste will keep refrigerated for one day only, so take what you need for the recipe and freeze the rest in individual containers. This quantity of ingredients produced 12 tablespoons of neon-yellow paste which I froze in 3 tablespoon portions.

Next, poach the fish in the stock until just cooked – for thin fish fillets this will take just 2 or 3 minutes. Leave to cool a little then drain off and reserve the stock to add to the curry and skin the fish fillets making sure no small bones remain in the flesh as you do so. Set aside.

Prepare the raw vegetable accompaniments and garnish, leaving the banana flower pieces in iced acidulated water until the last minute as they discolour very quickly.

Weigh, measure and set out all the curry ingredients and necessary kitchen equipment so you can complete the curry quickly without overcooking the rice noodles and fish.

About 20 minutes before you plan to serve the curry, take the banana flower from the iced acidulated water, dry it and shred finely. Add to your serving platter of accompanying raw vegetables.

Next, soak the dried rice noodles in hot water for about 15 minutes until they soften to just al dente. Keep an eye on them as overcooked rice noodles have an unpleasant mushy texture.

You are now ready to complete the curry. Place the cooled cooked and de-skinned fish fillets with the 3 tablespoons lemongrass paste and peanuts into the bowl of a food processor. Blitz to a coarse paste. Set aside. Put 500ml fish stock, the coconut milk, coconut cream and prahok into a medium saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring frequently to mix. Add the reserved fish paste, fish sauce, salt and palm sugar, and simmer for 5 more minutes, mixing to incorporate.

To serve, put a large handful of vegetables into each person’s bowl. Add a portion of cooked rice noodles then ladle the fish curry over the top. Garnish with finely sliced deseeded red chillies and a scattering of Thai basil leaves.

Burundi breakfast

December 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

The latest in our Breakfasts of the World Project series.

It’s not long since we breakfasted Burkina Faso style. That was an impoverished landlocked West African country whereas Burundi is an impoverished landlocked East African one. Over to the BBC weather website for some basic facts about the country:

“This small country in central Africa is about the size of Wales or Israel and is densely populated. It lies between 2° and 4°S and is bordered by Rwanda to the north, Tanzania to the east, Lake Tanganyika to the southwest, and the Democratic Republic of Congo to the west. It is a hilly and mountainous country, with its highest point rising to over 4,600 m/15,000 ft.”

I was taken aback by the existence of a 4,600m peak in central Africa that I’d never heard of before – sadly this seems to be a factual error – shame on you BBC!- as other more reliable sources show that the highest peak in Burundi is the whimsically named Mount Heha clocking in at just 2,670m.

Over to another BBC site – a world news one this time – for more facts. This was a depressing roll call of colonial oppression (first the Germans then the Belgians who are presumably responsible for Burundi’s official language being French), Hutu and Tutse civil war, genocide, mass refugee emigration and a shattered economy. Amidst the depressing fatcs I did find this striking image (courtesy of Getty Images) there of a Burundi man on a bicycyle transporting a LOT of green bananas:


Information on Burundian food is hard to come by but the meagre information sources available seem to agree that green bananas or plantains and beans are part of the staple diet. So over to the Celtnet website for a basic red kidney bean and plantain stew which is there described as a main course accompaniment.


I’ve adapted the Celtnet recipe to make it simpler to concoct in my Western kitchen and I give my recipe below. Served with toast and a poached egg plus a cafetière of aromatic East African coffee (coffee is one of Burundi’s principal exports) this made a pretty decent breakfast, the kind of breakfast to set you up for facing the legendary man-eating crocodile Gustave said to inhabit the waters of Lake Tanganyika just off Burundi’s capital city, Bujumbura.


And we’ve reached the end of countries beginning with the letter B just in time to end the year!

Recipe for Burundian bean and plantain stew

Adapted from a recipe.

Serves 4


14oz can red kidney beans
2 plantains
1 small onion
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
pinch dried chilli flakes
salt and pepper to taste
300ml water

First prepare the vegetables. Drain and rinse the kidney beans in a colander. Peel and slice the plantain into chunks about 1cm thick. Peel and thinly slice the onion.

In a medium lidded saucepan heat the vegetable oil over a medium heat and add the sliced onions. Fry for 5 or so minutes until soft and translucent. Add the plantain slices and fry for 10 minutes more, turning the chunks occasionally so that they don’t burn. Once the plantain has coloured a little, add the drained kidney beans, seasonings and 300ml water. Bring to the the boil, turn the heat down to a simmer, partially cover with the pan lid and cook for about 20 minutes. The stew is ready when the plantain is soft and the liquid has reduced by a half.

Burkina Faso breakfast

November 26, 2012 § 1 Comment

The latest in our Breakfasts of the World Project series.

Before our Burkina Faso breakfast I knew just two rather trivial things about the country:

1) It has one of the most memorably named capital cities in Africa – Ouagadougou
2) Favourite French beauty company L’Occitane sources much of the shea butter (beurre de karité in French) it uses in its moisturising products from womens’ cooperatives in Burkina Faso.

I now know that it’s a landlocked country in West Africa, bordered by 6 different countries including sub-Saharan Mali to the North and West, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana to the South and Niger to the East.

Burkina Faso, formerly known as Haute or Upper Volta was a French colony until 1960. The country gained its current name in 1984, thanks to campaigning by the then president, the so-called African Che Guevara, Thomas Sankara.

Sankara was assassinated in 1987 in a military coup organised by former colleage Blaise Compaoré who remains president of what the UN lists as the world’s third poorest country to the present day.

Finding out what comprises a typical Burkinabé (the colloquial name for the people of Burkina Faso) breakfast was tricky. I found this solitary sentence on the Burkina Faso section of website

“In the morning wooden kiosks offer customers a breakfast of coffee, fried egg, and fresh French-style baguette.”

This simple breakfast encapsulates the country’s recent history, the baguette being a legacy of French colonialism and the meagre eggs and coffee a reminder of the country’s relative poverty.

Here are the raw materials for our Burkina Faso breakfast, purchased inauthentically from our local supermarket:

Tim did the honours, frying eggs to order:

The end result though simple was really rather good, and I’m now reminded to buy more of those L’Occitane shea butter products in the future.

Bulgarian breakfast

November 11, 2012 § 1 Comment

The latest in our Breakfasts of the World Project series.

Much like Lesley Chamberlain (author of “The Food and Cooking of Eastern Europe), my first experience of Bulgarian cuisine was sausage and bread purchased from a station buffet at Plovdiv (the next major city after the capital Sofia) part-way through my five day train journey from Blackpool North to Istanbul Central aged 19. My memories of then-Communist Bulgaria witnessed solely from the train was of bad food, grey cities – the capital Sofia as well as Plovdiv – and corrupt border guards who extorted payment for what turned out to be a non-existent entry visa.

Beyond the railway line there were obviously better things to be seen. Lesley Chamberlain goes on to write “Not much is known about Bulgarian food beyond the reputation of its yoghurt, but actually, when one is not dependent on the station buffet, it is one of the world’s simplest, healthiest and most naturally elegant styles of cooking, akin to the cuisines of Turkey and Lebanon. The seasoning is light and the accent on preserving national flavours. It is the very opposite of the ‘concentrated’ food of Poland. The mountainous country of 8 million, bordered by Greece, Romania, Yugoslavia (ed now Serbia and Macedonia), Turkey and the Black Sea, is hot, with fertile valleys, and broad plains. The land, which the ancients called Thrace, yields abundant green vegetables and fruit…Many of the dishes have a middle Eastern flavour, including white beans and preserved vegetables in olive oil, peppers, olives, tomatoes, spicy sausage (pasterma)…The sausage, salami, cheese, yoghurt, vegetables and fruit that characterize this very natural table first appear at breakfast.”

My mood lightened after reading this – I’d feared a Slavic spread of sausage and cabbage with dry black bread or some such but Ms Chamberlain’s description of Bulgarian breakfast sounded fresh and inviting. I decided to serve up some spicy sausage, a sharp salty ewe’s milk cheese, home-made sourdough bread, the much-loved Bulgarian cold vegetable dish lutenitsa and of course I had to track some genuine Bulgarian yoghurt.

What makes Bulgarian yoghurt special is its combination of two bacteria, Lactobacillus Bulgaricus together with Streptococcus Thermophilus. In fact, a little delving suggests that all live yoghurts contain these two bacteria so maybe we’re all eating Bulgarian yoghurt without our realising it…

Ready-made genuine Bulgarian yoghurt was nowhere to be found, but the Bulgarian yoghurt website saved the day and within a few days a little sachet of yoghurt culture sent to me in a handwritten envelope amusingly with a Plovdiv postmark (that brought back memories) dropped onto my doormat:

There were no instructions on the packet which initially caused some consternation until I remembered that they could be found on the website (and I’ve summarised them below). Rather gingerly I mixed up my culture powder of indeterminate provenance with a 2 litres of milk (semi skimmed as I didn’t have whole milk in the fridge):

The milk sat quietly overnight on the top of the warm Aga. Miraculously, it fermented and thickened and turned into something that really did look like yoghurt – it was a little thinner than I might have liked but I put that down to using semi-skimmed rather than proper whole milk.

On to the lutenitsa. I came across it when I scanned through various Bulgarian food websites. This sweetened vegetable preserve, part jam, part relish, part middle-Eastern cooked vegetable salad is available in jars sold under a number of brands but I decided to make my own, devising a recipe combining the best bits of a number of different versions found on the web (“The Food and Cooking of Eastern Europe” being silent on the subject).

I began by roasting some sweet red peppers until the skins were lightly charred:

Then the raw vegetables were sautéd in olive oil:

The tomatoes and soft pepper pieces were added to the mix and the whole lot simmered for 10 minutes. Some recipes suggest puréeing the lutenitsa but I wanted something chunkier so went in with an old-fashioned British potato masher for a minute or so which gave me the texture I was looking for – thick and chunky with a bit of bite.

Recipe for lutenitsa – Bulgarian vegetable relish

Makes about 2lb. Having tried out a couple of different recipes found on websites dedicated to Bulgarian food, this is my small-scale chunky version of the classic lutenitsa recipe.


2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 onion, diced
1 medium aubergine, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large roasted red peppers, skin and seeds removed and then diced
1 400g can chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme (or summer savory if you have it)
2 tablespoons sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Take a medium sized saucepan and fry the onions, carrots and aubergines in the olive oil until soft. Add the red peppers and fry for a further 2-3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and seasoning, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Add a little water if the mixture seems too dry. Mash some of the mixture using a potato masher. You are aiming for a thick ratatouille type texture. Spoon into a clean preserving jar, cool, seal and refrigerate.

Recipe for Bulgarian yoghurt

Adapted from the instructions given on the Bulgarian yoghurt website


2 litres whole milk
1g (1/4 teaspoon) of freeze dried Bulgarian yoghurt starter

Bring the milk to just below boiling point in order to kill any existing bacteria which could react with the Lactobacillus Bulgaricus. Be careful not to burn it.

Cool the milk down to 110°F (43°C). Without a food thermometer, the easiest way to test for the right temperature is to dip a finger in the milk – if you can comfortably count to 5 then the milk is just right.

Pour the milk to a separate processing container eg a large bowl. Add 1/4 teaspoon of the starter. Mix well – stir well for about 5 minutes. Cover the container loosely with a lid.

Let the milk and culture mix ferment in a warm draft free place overnight.

The fermentation process will continue until the milk reaches pH of 4,7. The fresh yogurt will be set in about 5-6 hours (or overnight). If the place is too cold (50F or less), the process may take longer (10-12 hours). In general, leaving the yogurt sit for longer after it is set, will result in a denser and more acidic yogurt. When your yogurt is ready, move it to the fridge (or a cool place) for storage.

Keep the remaining yogurt starter in a Ziplock bag in the freezer.

Brunei breakfast and best brioche recipe

September 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

The latest in our Breakfasts of the World Project series.

Brunei is a tiny country with a population of some 400,000 shoehorned into a territory of just 2,228 square miles on the island of Borneo. Part of Borneo belongs to Malaysia and the rest (apart from Brunei of course) belongs to Indonesia. The Sultanate of Brunei was powerful regional presence whose influence was at its height between the 15th and 17th centuries. As its influence subsequently declined its territory became gradually smaller. The economic decline was reversed following the discovery of oil in Brunei in 1929. As a result, tiny Brunei became a highly developed and wealthy country whose citizens have an appetite for Western luxury goods.

Today’s breakfast idea was taken from the cosmopolitan menu of the Fleur de Lys Bakeshop in Brunei’s capital city, Bandar Seri Bagawan. The Fleur de Lys Bakeshop is a French style pâtisserie whose macarons and croissants could rival anything you’d find in Paris. My selections was “French toast kaya – brioche French toast served with our very own ‘home-made’ coconut-egg kaya”. This looked rather more appealing than the various chicken sausage and beef bacon rasher combos on offer, pork being ruled out by local Islamic dietary rules.

OK so I know how to make brioche French toast but what on earth is coconut-egg kaya? Kaya, it turns out, is a sweet, creamy coconut preserve flavoured with pandan leaves, made in a similar way to our own lemon curd (but obviously without the lemons!). Ex pat South East Asians yearn for the stuff and either get it shipped out to them or make their own.

I searched around for an approachable, logical kaya recipe and fell for the lovely pictures in Malaysian-born cook and food writer Billy Law’s blog “A Table for Two”. It turns out that Billy was a finalist in the Australian extra-tough version of Masterchef winning the hearts of viewers if not ultimately the judges.

Billy’s instructions were sufficient and easy to follow. First stop is your local Asian grocer for pandan leaves and good quality 100% coconut milk. I’m lucky enough to have Kim’s Thai foodstore in Manchester’s Chinatown (see contact details below) almost on my doorstep. Walking down the steps into the tardis-like basement, you’re transported to the scents and sights of Bangkok’s Khao San Road. It was straightforward enough to pick up the specialist ingredients I needed here – a good quality 100% coconut milk and pandan leaves:

Having gone to the trouble of sourcing authentic ingredients for my kaya, I now needed a decent brioche loaf to turn into indulgent French toast. Having looked at the dry and sad little excuses for brioche offerings available at local supermarkets I decided I’d better bake my own.

I turned to Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking – from my home to yours” for inspiration, as, based on my experience with her Kugelhopf recipe, Ms Greenspan knows how to handle enriched yeasted doughs. The only quibble I have about this bible-type baking compendium is that having meticulously sourced and researched her recipes from professional European bakers in many cases, she doesn’t give accurate gram weights but turns everything into American cup sizes. I have to reverse engineer her recipes and convert everything back to grams!

Following the recipe and with the aid of my Kenwood mixer, after a day and a half (!) I produced a stretchy, silken ball of golden dough:

The golden colour is attributable not only to the eggs in the dough but also to the full 340g butter required to make the recipe. Let me repeat that – 340g butter, a pack and a half, which looks like this:

I shaped the loaves two different ways, the first like a triple bun loaf as the recipe specifies, and the second as a standard loaf shape (after the time-consuming effort of making the dough you are rewarded by one brioche loaf for now and one to stash in the freezer as a treat for later). These are loaves before proving:

They are quite slow to achieve a rise in the tin as the dough has spent the night chilling in the refrigerator before being shaped the next morning. This is what mine looked like after nearly 2 hours – not really doubled in size but I couldn’t wait for my breakfast any longer:

I always use steam in my oven when baking any kind of yeasted dough as I think it prevents a dry skin forming on the dough too soon which would impede its rise. Thus I added steam to my oven when baking the brioche and was very happy with the rise and end result. I have read elsewhere (specifically Tom Herbert’s comment in a baking article in October 2012’s Delicious magazine) that baking a brioche with steam will produce a thick hard crust but I have not found this to be the case so suggest steaming ahead!

Here are the loaves straight out of the oven:

That first slice, still warm, was definitely worth waiting for:

Interestingly, the loaf shaped as three buns had a more satisfactory structure and better rise than the standard loaf shape so I’d recommend this shaping method in future.

It goes without saying that the brioche made wonderful French toast, sprinkled with a little grated nutmeg and golden caster sugar before being topped with a generous dollop of the home-made kaya. Brunei is now up there in our “top ten” of world breakfasts.

Recipe for coconut egg kaya

Adapted from Australian chef and food writer Billy Law’s blog “A Table for Two”.

Makes enough to fill one small preserving jar with a bit left over.


3 eggs
2 egg yolks
150g golden caster sugar
250ml canned or packet coconut milk – check the small print to make sure it’s 100% coconut
3–4 pandan leaves, knotted (optional)

Set up a double boiler by placing a suitably sized mixing bowl over a large pan containing simmering water.

Having made sure the bowl will sit comfortably over the pan, take it off the heat and add the whole eggs, yolks and sugar to it and, using a balloon whisk, mix until the sugar has dissolved. Slowly pour the coconut milk into mixture while whisking until well combined. If using, drop the knotted pandan leaves into the mixture.

Swap the balloon whisk for a rubber spatula. Place the mixing bowl on top of the pan containing simmering hot water and start stirring the mixture constantly, scraping down the sides and base of the bowl. Baste the pandan leaves by using the spatula to pour the hot coconut custard over them.

The mixture will start to get thicker. This is likely to take between 20 minutes and half an hour. At this stage, remove the knotted pandan leaves, scraping and squeezing the kaya off them before discarding. Test for doneness by drawing a line right through the mixture in the bowl one swift move using the spatula. If a channel remains for a second or two before the mixture flows back, then it is ready. Remember that it will thicken further as it cools.

Spoon the mixture into a a sterilised jar, allow to cool then refrigerate. It will keep for up to a month in the fridge.

Recipe for Brioche

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking – from my home to yours”

Makes 2 loaves


7g fast action dried yeast
300g strong plain flour
225g ordinary plain flour
10g salt
80g water mixed with 80g whole milk, either at room temperature or slightly warmed
3 large eggs, lightly beaten with a fork
45g golden caster sugar
340g unsalted butter, at room temperature

To glaze

1 small egg, beaten
1 tablespoon water

In the bowl of a Kenwood or similar mixer fitted with a dough hook, stir together the flours, fast action dried yeast and salt. Pour in the milk and water mixture then turn the mixer on to a low speed and mix for one to two minutes until the flour is moistened and you have a fairly dry shaggy mixture.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl using a plastic dough scraper or rubber spatula. Turn the mixer back on to a low speed and add the egg mixture little by little, then the sugar. Increase the speed to medium and beat for about 3 minutes by which time the dough should have formed into a ball.

Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the butter in big chunks, beating until almost incorporated before adding the next. You will end up with a very soft cake-batter-like dough. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until the mixture comes away from the sides of the bowl, about 10 minutes.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a plastic dough scraper then cover the bowl with cling film and leave to prove at room temperature until the dough has nearly doubled in size, around 40 to 60 minutes depending on the ambient temperature.

Deflate the dough by picking it up and slapping it back into the bowl. Cover the bowl again with cling film and put it in the fridge. Check the dough every 30 minutes and slap it back until it stops rising. You may need to do this 4 or 5 times. Once it’s stopped rising, make sure the bowl is sealed with cling film and leave it overnight in the refrigerator.

The next morning, grease and flour two loaf tins. Loaf tins are notoriously difficult to size so I’ll tell you the measurements of the ones I used here which were both 22cm (Length) by 11cm (Width) by 6cm (Depth). Divide the brioche dough in half, and divide each half into four equal pieces (best done using an accurate set of scales). Roll each of these small pieces into a log shape (the length of which is equal to the width of your tin)and press four of the logs side by side in the base of each loaf tin. Cover the tins with an upturned plastic storage box or big mixing bowl and leave the loaves to prove until nearly doubled in size and filling the tins. This may take up to three hours as the dough is fridge cold and takes a while to get going again.

When the dough is reaching the end of its proving time, make sure your oven shelf is in a central position and preheat the oven to 190 degrees C (fan).

Make the glaze by beating the egg with the water. Brush the surface of the loaves carefully with the glaze trying not to let it run down the sides of the tin where it will prevent the loaves from rising.

Bake the loaves until well risen and a deep golden brown. I like to add steam at the beginning of the baking time (by quickly throwing a mug of cold water into a shallow preheated roasting tin placed at the bottom of the hot oven) to stop a crust from forming and allow the loaves to rise to their maximum potential.

Remove the loaves from the oven when done and allow to cool in their tins for about 15 minutes before turning them out to complete cooling on a rack. The crumb structure is quite fragile at this stage so be careful when you do this. Don’t attempt to slice until the loaves have cooled thoroughly, for at least an hour.

Contact details

Kim’s Thai Food Store
46 George Street
Manchester M1 4HF
Area: Chinatown
0161 228 6263

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