On a springtime Saturday

Poached eggs over smoked salmon and asparagus
Waking up early with a smile on your face. Lazing in bed knowing there is a slight drizzle outside but enjoying the comforting thought that you are not under any pressure to get up anytime soon. Reading your favourite food blogs for inspiration while sipping on a hot, strong, cappuccino. The perfect breakfast. I can’t think of a better way to start off a springtime Saturday.

So maybe it is not exactly spring in Malaysia considering we only have two types of weather – scorching hot and thunderous rainy days. Birds continuously chirp and trees flower pretty much all year round here. However while going through my usual blogroll and soaking in the entries dedicated to the fresh seasonal produce during this time of the year, I could not resist the urge to join the bandwagon in celebrating the arrival of spring in many parts of the world. Think a wonderful array of green and yellow – asparagus, peppery rocket, watercress, radish, chicory, heirloom tomatoes. The foodie spring fever has certainly kicked in with many features on light, bright, and fresh dishes to honour the season of new life. They May asparagus month is always one of my favourite times of the year. These lovely green spears require absolutely minimal cooking as the main standout is in its natural flavour. I always rejoice in the fact that the inclusion of asparagus to any dish invariable adds a touch of class, transforming a simple home cooked dish into an elegant, gourmet meal. Luckily for me  (but not so for the carbon footprint), asparagus tends to be available throughout the year since this is imported from various locations.

Inspired to bring the joyful spirit of spring to my tropical kitchen in Malaysia, I started off a wonderful Saturday morning with poached eggs, lightly grilled asparagus, smoked salmon topped with a yoghurt hollandaise. Such a simple breakfast with minimal cooking time and yet you come away feeling like it is a grand celebration of a special occasion. Guaranteed to put a spring in your step to welcome the weekend ahead.

Poached eggs over asparagus and smoked salmon
with a yoghurt hollandaise sauce

Basic Ingredients
Asparagus, smoked salmon, eggs, half a ciabatta, butter. 
For the sauce: onion, garlic, small single portion tub of natural yoghurt, 1 tbsp dijon mustard, dried thyme, juice of 1 lemon, olive oil, salt & pepper.

The Preparation
1. Toast ciabatta
2. Trim off their ends and blanche asparagus spears in boiling water for about 1 minute. Following this, pan grill with a bit of butter for about 2-3 minutes to add a bit of smokiness.
3. For the sauce – sauté onion and garlic with olive oil. Add yoghurt, dijon mustard, lemon juice, thyme, and season. Let sauce reduce.
4. Poach eggs.
5. To plate, line ciabatta with asparagus and smoked salmon. Top with poached eggs and a drizzle of the yoghurt hollandaise.

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Scandi Kitchen

Pea & mint soup and Smoked salmon & avocado open sandwich
After a full-on weekend (actually more like a week!) of excessive celebratory eating like no tomorrow, it was time to practice some restraint for lunch today. Though I had to remind myself it is still technically the festive season and any proper detoxes are only allowed to start in the new year. Wanting something light but still self-rewarding, I turned to some of my favorite Scandinavian dishes for inspiration. 

One of the things on my bucket list before turning 35 is to spend six months to a year traveling through the Nordic region, soaking up the culture, food, languages, and yes the freezing cold winds. I was lucky enough to work on a Danish/Swedish dairy brand at my last agency and was delightfully introduced into a world that has the right attitude towards work, life, family, and food. Not only do offices shut for a period of two to three months during the summer to allow everyone a proper holiday, on a daily basis my clients start work promptly at 8am and leave the office by 5pm so they can spend the evenings with their families. I once called a client, panicking about artworks that needed sign off, only to be told “Tasha, I’m swimming in the lakes with my children. No one is dying, this can wait until tomorrow.” When I was ill and working from home, I used to get messages FROM CLIENTS telling me to stop checking my emails and rest.  Quite a contrast to the “I wanted that due yesterday, sort that for me now or all hell will break loose” attitude that I have the joy of dealing with now in Asia. Intrigued by this balanced approach to life, I made sure to absorb as much as I could during my client/market visits to the region. When my sister wanted to escape to Europe for a holiday, Stockholm was our immediate choice. We even embarked on an adventure to hunt down the Northern Lights in Kiruna, Sweden’s northern most town. It was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, despite trying not to freeze our tropical Malaysian butts off when temperatures plummeted to -38 degrees Celsius while we snowmobiled across magical Hans Christian Andersen fairytale-like forests and frozen lakes.  

And not forgetting the lovely food! I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on Swedish/Scandinavian cooking but I absolutely love what I know of it. Most people think Scandi food and automatically blue/yellow images of Ikea canteens and meatballs come to mind. However, it’s so much more than plastic trays and balls of meat. Scandi food is a world that celebrates local produce, exotic fruits, seasonal vegetables (the absolute joy of Autumn and chanterelles), wholegrain/rye everything (you’re not a freak if you like wholegrain pasta!), healthy snacking, light open sandwiches, smorgasbords of flavors that are perfect for entertaining, and fresh gloriously to-die-for seafood. Visiting the various Saluhallen (food halls), I was like a kid in a candy store – wide-eyed, salivating, and aww-ing at everything in plain sight, much to my sister’s embarrassment as she yelled out ‘get a grip, it’s just food you fatty!’ On a not-so healthy but still along the self-rewarding theme, the Swedes make the best kanelbullar (cinnamon buns). Unlike the sickly sweet American/English counterparts, one whiff of the spicy cinnamon is enough to transport you to images of a rustic, homely kitchen with a roaring fireplace and the kettle brewing. Now that’s what I call the ideal life. 

For today’s lunch, I decided on a classic open sandwich of smoked salmon and avocados, served with my mom’s recipe for pea soup. I like the concept of open sandwiches as it allows the filling combination of your favorite sarnie ingredients without being too heavy. The base tends to be made from rye bread, a Scandi staple. Rye bread has a large fibre content, with only little fat and has the added bonus of not creating spikes in blood sugar in the way that other breads (especially white!!) do.  

Assembling the sandwich took about 3 minutes but was an enjoyable process (the soup I made beforehand and froze). I was quite excited about the fact that the rocket leaves used were organic and grown from my very own garden! My dad has a green thumb and has been experimenting with growing different vegetables and herbs as a slight acceptance to his daughter’s neurotic approach to healthy eating. If only we could grow avocados since ripe, ready-to-eat ones require a bit of hunting in KL. Village Grocer in Bangsar Village I seems to be the only supermarket in town that has individual ripe avocados that you can buy to eat on the day itself. Smoked salmon also tends to be an extravagance here, at a wallet burning RM 20 for a pack that will get you just through two servings.  But hey, it’s still the festive season and I’ve had a long year that has kicked my ass slightly so when it comes to healthy food indulgences, some things are absolutely worth it. 

Pea & Mint Soup

Smoked Salmon & Avocado Open Sandwich

Basic Ingredients
For the pea soup: 1 cup frozen peas, 2 leeks, 1 stalk of celery, onions, garlic, 1.5 – 2L chicken stock, mint leaves, creme fraiche

For the open sandwich: Smoked salmon, rye bread (my favourite brand is Biona but I can’t seem to find this in KL. Village Grocer does stock some German brand options), cream cheese, 1 avocado, rocket leaves, pepper, lemon wedges to serve.

The Prep
For the soup
1) Saute onions and garlic with olive oil. Add chopped leeks and celery and continue sautéing until translucent. Add frozen peas and mint leaves.
2) Add chicken broth, season, and leave to simmer for about 20 minutes. Take off heat and allow to cool.
3) Blitz soup and return to heat.
4) Stir in 1 – 2 tablespoons of creme fraiche and take off heat once soup starts to bubble. You can use single cream but I find creme fraiche less calorific.
5) Garnish with mint leaves.

For the open sandwich
1) Toast rye bread and spread cream cheese.
2) Top with sliced avocado, rocket, smoked salmon, black pepper
3) Serve with cherry tomatoes and lemon wedges on the side.