Just like the old days part 2

Pak choi, egg noodle & sesame salad with grilled prawns
I finally watched ‘Midnight in Paris’ and what a beautiful film. I found myself falling in love with the city as the movie unfolded despite initial resistance (what can I say, I’m a cynic who thinks the hype that Paris is the epicenter of romance and culture is highly overrated!). The film touches on a number of themes but the storyline I resonated the most with was the lead character (played by Owen Wilson) and his fascination, awe, and almost childlike wonderment with Paris. I have always felt that my most important relationship in the last 8 years was not the usual boy-girl romance. The one true love of my life during my twenties was my London town. And what a true love it was – there was passion, excitement, laughter, tears, goosebump inducing magical moments, comfort in silence, and also intense disagreements (oh how I did get my ass royally kicked on a number of times). Just like the beautiful relationships where the connection transcends the superficial and you never stop falling in love, the best part was the endless new discoveries and never ending inspiration. But like some of the most memorable relationships, we loved deeply before painfully parting our separate ways.

Like Owen Wilson’s character, I loved to walk around London. This was when deep connections were cemented as the city unveiled its true self. London never failed to surprise me. Almost every corner turned revealed a new discovery. I really do miss being able to walk aimlessly without a plan. It is a sense of liberating escapism knowing that you can walk out your front door, not knowing your path or where you will end up. An early Saturday morning walk to buy a loaf of bread along the vomit paved streets of Kentish Town (I say this with my rose-tinted nostalgia glasses on, reminiscing puke lined streets – we Kentish Town-ers had a good time on the weekends!), could detour to a quirky cafe in Camden for brunch, lying on the grass with a book on Primrose Hill, and before you know it, you’ve somehow strolled up Haverstock Hill to the lovely Hampstead to watch a show at the historic Everyman Theatre, with loaf of bread still intact of course. These walks were a celebration of random, inspiring moments and no one appreciated this more than one of the members of the lovely London foursome. Both of us will always carry a torch for our London town.

The recipe that I’m dedicating to her is actually one of her own. Interestingly, I have always thought this dish best exemplifies her unique sense of adventure and appreciation for all things random. Her excitement towards discoveries, whether a new song, movie, stumbling on a lovely unknown part of a city, or the oh-my-god moment at finding delicious new food, is so incredibly refreshing. In the spirit of randomness, the salad comprises of an unusual mix of Asian ingredients, brought to life by a Western dressing. Raw pak choi (yes this is possible!) and uncooked egg noodles make the foundations of the salad. The dressing, comprised of red wine vinegar, olive oil and sesame oil, is poured over the raw ingredients to help soften the egg noodles. This is lovely as a side salad on its own or can be made into a more substantial meal with the addition of protein (I included grilled prawns). The composition is quite bizarre yet intriguing as under normal circumstances you would never consider using uncooked pak choi or egg noodles. Together. But somehow, the flavours fuse brilliantly and it just works. This has been one of my favourite kitchen discoveries. 

Nidsters, here’s to always finding those accidental moments of enlightenment.

Pak choi, egg noodle & sesame salad with grilled prawns

The Ingredients
For the salad:  Pak choi, egg noodles, cherry tomatoes, spring onions, sesame seeds, flaked almonds.
For the dressing: 2 tbsp Olive oil, 2 tbsp sesame oil, 6 tbsp red wine vinegar, salt and pepper.
For the prawns: unshelled prawns, lemon juice, red chili, salt and pepper.

The Prep
1. Chop pak choi and shred egg noodles into a bowl.

2. Add halved cherry tomatoes, sliced spring onions, and toasted sesame seeds and almond flakes.
3. Mix dressing ingredients together, pour over salad and let this rest so the red wine vinegar has time to ‘cook’ or soften the egg noodles.
4. To make the prawns, marinate prawns with lemon juice, chopped red chili, salt, and pepper. Grill.
5. Top salad with grilled prawns. 

Just like the old days part 1

Pak choi with tofu & oyster sauce
I had a much needed day out of the office yesterday, spending it with two out of the three individuals who became close family to me the minute we connected several years ago in London. As you grow older, it becomes harder to meet people you automatically click with on a number of levels – intellectual, emotional, outlook on life, sense of humor, and just a general sense of being comfortable in their presence to the extent that it feels natural to let go of any barriers or defenses. In my case especially, I never settled in a country long enough to make/keep a group of core close friends since my family was constantly moving from one country to another. I went through my teenage and early adult years training myself to not depend on anyone other than family. This all changed one late summer afternoon in 2008 over a ridiculous game of cards on sunny Hampstead Heath.

Yesterday was spent road tripping to Melaka, doing what we love to do best – singing to great tunes, making up even more corny games (guys if you are reading this – I won the ‘love’ game!), laughing at anything/everything, catching up on life developments, discussing life philosophies/decisions, pursuing random moments, and enjoying great food. One of the things I love about the London foursome is that we are all passionate foodies, each one with his/her own unique view on the joys of food. So throughout this week, in honour of friendships that never change despite the four of us not living in the same country, I want to cook a dish that reminds me of each one of these amazing individuals.

The dish below, Pak choi with tofu & oyster sauce, comes to mind after a conversation over a vegetarian lunch with one of the London foursome. This discussion exemplifies a London foursome moment at its best – having an in-depth and analytical discussion about food, while eating lots of food. As we were recounting our top three list of favourite world cuisines, I brought up why I personally do not like Malay food. I find that it is often not vegetarian friendly and there is a tendency to overcook vegetables, drowning them with all sorts of sauces and spices. Similarly  Overcooking vegetables not only kills their nutrients, but also ruins what makes the veggies deliciously appetising in the first place. I absolutely love the light, fresh crunch of veggies. This probably explains why Mediterranean (Greek, Turkish, Lebanese) and Chinese food are on my top 3 list (I can’t deny that my one true love at number one is Italian). With these cuisines, the vegetables are often used raw or at least treated with respect for what they are. The pak choi dish below requires a quick blanching of the greens for 40 seconds in hot boiling water. The key here is to retain the freshness of the pak choi, thus transferring it into a bowl of ice, cold water after boiling will stop any further cooking. The dish is brought together by the nutty, savoury sauce that is poured while still hot over the veggies.

It’s a lovely feeling when you can intellectualise the benefits and cooking time of vegetables into a lengthy, inspiring conversation with someone. To always finding inspiration, this one’s for you Philios.

Pak choi with tofu & oyster sauce

Basic Ingredients
Pak choi, tofu, sesame seeds, sesame oil, oyster sauce, garlic, salt and pepper

The Preparation
1. Prepare a pot of salted boiling water and blanch pak choi for 40 seconds. Following this immediately transfer the pak choi into a bowl of ice cold water to stop this cooking further.

2. Toast sesame seeds
3. Pan fry tofu until golden brown on each side, slice, and place alongside dry pak choi.
3. In a separate pan, heat sesame oil and sauté chopped garlic. Add 3 tablespoons of oyster sauce diluted with a bit of water. Add black pepper – I don’t add extra salt since the oyster sauce is salty enough. Once the sauce is boiling pour over the pak choi and tofu arrangement.
4. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.