Kung Po Prawns

Stir-fried food is the ultimate fast food, taking literally less than 5 minutes from hot oil to finished dish. Obviously, that means that once you start cooking things move fast so you need to be well organised and have all your ingredients weighed-out, measured and chopped before you even think about turning on the gas. Though the ingredients list looks long there really isn’t much to it, and preparation should only take 15 minutes even if you take your time.

I made this a couple of nights ago; once we had used our fingers to clean every last drop of sauce from our bowls – and the wok, and the serving spoon – my wife said that she didn’t like Chinese food, but she loved this. What she really meant was that she loves Chinese food, real Chinese food, but she doesn’t like the food that you get from Chinese takeaways.

If Chinese takeaway food is your only experience of Chinese-style cooking then you are in for an extremely pleasant surprise, and this dish is an excellent way in to a delicious, filling and healthy cuisine. All the ingredients are readily available from UK supermarkets, so please don’t try and substitute say, black peppercorns for the Sichuan peppercorns, they are very different and it is the interplay of the various aromatic components of the sauce that make this such an amazing dish.

This is excellent served with Beijing rice, or your favourite noodles.

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RECIPE – feeds 2

For the crispy prawns:

1 tbsp sichuan peppercorns, dry-fried and ground

a good pinch of sea salt

2 tbsp cornflour

12 large raw king prawns, tails on

6 tbsp groundnut oil

For the stir-fry:

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 medium red chilli, finely chopped (seeds left in if you like it hot)

1 red and 1 yellow pepper, chopped into 1.5 cm chunks

For the sauce:

2 tbsp lemon juice

2 tbsp hoisin sauce

1 tbsp dark soy sauce

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

For the garnish:

a bunch of fresh coriander, leaves and stalks, chopped

a small handful of dry-roasted peanuts (optional)


METHOD

In a large, NOT non-stick pan over a high heat, dry-roast the sichuan peppercorns until they are aromatic. Be careful not to scorch them, then turn them out on to a plate to cool.

Prepare all the other ingredients.

Once the Sichuan peppercorns are cool, use a small coffee grinder or a mortar and pestle to grind them to a fine powder. In a large shallow dish combine with the cornflour and salt then roll the prawns in the mix until they are thoroughly coated, set aside for now.

Combine the sauce ingredients, set aside.

Heat a wok over a high heat, when hot add the 6 tbsp of groundnut oil and swirl it around the wok to coat all surfaces. Get it very hot then add the prawns, cook for about one minute, the prawns should be just turning pink. Remove from the heat and quickly, using a slotted spoon or ‘spider’  (a large open-mesh spoon, used a lot in oriental and wok cooking), remove the prawns from the wok and set aside on a plate.

Reheat the oil, add the chilli and garlic and stir fry for around 15 seconds, then add the chunks of red and yellow pepper. Stir-fry for 1 minute then add the sauce and bring to the boil, put the prawns back in the sauce and remove from the heat. Garnish in the wok, and serve.

I promise, you will fall in love with this dish.

 

Beijing Rice

There are many, many ways to make Beijing rice which is, at its heart, just egg fried rice. Feel free to use this as a template for your own experiments, give your imagination free reign and add any vegetables that you like.

Beijing rice is the perfect accompaniment to stir-fried dishes, but with the addition of a little separately-cooked pork, chicken, prawns or fish it stands up as a meal all by itself.

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RECIPE – feeds 2 -4 

basmati rice, cooked and cooled

2 tbsp groundnut oil

2 large eggs, beaten

2 medium tomatoes, sliced

3 tbsp light soy sauce

1 tbsp sesame oil

a twist of freshly ground white pepper

1 large spring onion, thinly sliced


METHOD

Measure out a quantity of rice appropriate to the number of people eating. If cooking for more than 4 people then increase the amounts of the other ingredients as appropriate.

Cook your rice, tip into a sieve to drain and leave to cool completely.

Tip: Back in the days when I could only manage to cook a small handful of simple dishes, the one and only thing that I could cook well was rice. In my hands it always had perfect bite coupled with softness, each grain was distinct and separate from its neighbour and there was no hint of stodginess. Then it all went wrong.

I learned that the way I cooked rice was incorrect. I convinced myself that I should be using exact volumes of rice and water, cooking for exact times, sealing pan lids, leaving it to sit for ages, using tea towels as steam absorbers – the more instructions I followed, the more I got away from the simple pleasures of cooking rice simply, the worse my rice got.

My wife was in despair; “you have lost your rice mojo” she told me. Eventually I did the sensible thing and went back to cooking my rice the wrong way, and now it’s perfect again.

In my world, you put your rice in the largest pan you have and cover it in a lot of cold water, at least an inch of water over the level of the rice. Season the water with a very little salt and over a high heat bring the water up toward boiling point. Before it actually boils, turn the heat right down so that the water settles into a very gentle simmer. This will prevent the rice grains from bursting.

The time it takes your rice to cook can differ greatly, so check your rice after 3 or 4 minutes at the simmer and check it every minute thereafter. Your grains should be soft but with a definite firmness to the grain. Overall, your pan of rice should emerge as clean, distinct grains that will be a pleasure to eat.

Prepare all your ingredients, heat the groundnut oil in a large pan over a medium heat and when hot add the beaten eggs. Scramble slightly then add the rice and stir thoroughly so the egg threads all the way through the rice. Add the tomatoes and stir thoroughly over the heat for 2 minutes then add the soy sauce, sesame oil and ground white pepper. Stir, take off the heat, add the spring onion, stir again and serve, garnished with a little chopped fresh coriander leaf if you like.

Prawn Etouffee with Cajun Rice

My wife and I both love spicy food; not just Indian curries but also Italian food made with plenty of lemon and chilli, rich and creamy Thai dishes, and our most recent discovery: the Cajun cuisine of Louisiana, which finds yet more interesting ways to use a limited range of spices to make a whole new set of flavour experiences.

Prawn Etouffee is a traditional Cajun dish that uses a very dark, rich roux made from vegetable oil and flour. It was a new way of making a roux for me, and it takes a fair bit of bravery and constant whisking to get it dark and flavoursome without it burning. It’s well worth the effort though, this tastes like nothing I’ve ever had before, and I love it.

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RECIPE – serves 2

For the seasoning mix:

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

1 tsp cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp freshly ground white pepper

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tsp dried basil

1/2 tsp dried thyme

For the sauce:

1/2 small onion, finely chopped

1 stick of celery, finely chopped

1/2 green pepper, finely chopped

3 tbsp vegetable oil

3 tbsp plain flour

400 ml fish stock

30g butter

200g raw king prawns, peeled

4 spring onions, very finely chopped

a small bunch of coriander, leaves only, chopped


METHOD

Prepare all of your ingredients before you do anything else, and combine your seasoning mix in a small bowl. Also combine the onion, celery and green pepper in a small bowl.

In a large pan, over a high heat, heat the oil until it just starts to smoke. Add the flour gradually while whisking constantly, keep it on the heat. Keep on whisking over the heat until the flour and oil are fully combined and smooth, by now you should notice that the roux is starting to change colour. The longer you cook and whisk it the darker it will go. You need to get the colour to a very dark brown; be brave, just keep on whisking and if you think you are ever in danger of burning it just lift it away from the heat for a few seconds – just keep on whisking.

When your roux is a very dark brown remove it from the heat and immediately stir in your combined onion, celery and green pepper, and half the seasoning mix. Keep on whisking it all together until the roux and the pan have cooled sufficiently that you can safely leave it for a minute or two and nothing will burn. That should only take a minute or so.

Meanwhile, bring the fish stock to the boil. While continuing to whisk the roux and chopped vegetables, pour the stock in and return to the heat. Keep cooking and whisking until the sauce that you have now made is thick and smooth. Set aside while you cook your prawns.

Melt the butter in a large frying pan then add the spring onions and prawns. Cook over a moderate heat for around a minute, until the prawns just start to go pink, then add the sauce and the remaining half of the seasoning mix. Stir well.

Serve in a bowl with a mound of Cajun rice in the middle, garnish with fresh coriander leaves.

Cajun Rice

You can never have too many different ways to make plain boiled rice more interesting. This recipe uses green peppers, something I always used to regard as completely useless because they don’t taste good raw and can take an age to cook. The spicy Cajun food of Louisiana makes extensive use of finely chopped green peppers though, and now that I have discovered Cajun cooking whenever I end up with a spare green pepper I turn straight to the Cajun pages of my recipe diary. I can then feel doubly righteous: I get to make great tasting food while avoiding throwing away something that used to go straight in the bin.


RECIPE 

basmati rice, cooked and cooled

1/2 small onion, finely chopped

small stick of celery, finely chopped

1/2 green pepper, finely chopped

30g butter

a pinch of sea salt

1 fat garlic clove, peeled and crushed

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

a twist of freshly ground white pepper

a twist of freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

Measure out a quantity of rice appropriate to the number of people eating.

Cook your rice, tip into a sieve to drain and leave to cool completely.

Tip: Back in the days when I could only manage to cook a small handful of simple dishes, the one and only thing that I could cook well was rice. In my hands it always had perfect bite coupled with softness, each grain was distinct and separate from its neighbour and there was no hint of stodginess. Then it all went wrong.

I learned that the way I cooked rice was incorrect. I convinced myself that I should be using exact volumes of rice and water, cooking for exact times, sealing pan lids, leaving it to sit for ages, using tea towels as steam absorbers – the more instructions I followed, the more I got away from the simple pleasures of cooking rice simply, the worse my rice got.

My wife was in despair; “you have lost your rice mojo” she told me. Eventually I did the sensible thing and went back to cooking my rice the wrong way, and now it’s perfect again.

In my world, you put your rice in the largest pan you have and cover it in a lot of cold water, at least an inch of water over the level of the rice. Season the water with a very little salt and over a high heat bring the water up toward boiling point. Before it actually boils, turn the heat right down so that the water settles into a very gentle simmer. This will prevent the rice grains from bursting.

The time it takes your rice to cook can differ greatly, so check your rice after 3 or 4 minutes at the simmer and check it every minute thereafter. Your grains should be soft but with a definite firmness to the grain. Overall, your pan of rice should emerge as clean, distinct grains that will be a pleasure to eat.

When almost ready to eat, make your Cajun rice at the last minute.

Prepare all your ingredients, melt the butter in a large pan over a medium heat and add all of your ingredients. Cook gently for 3 or 4 minutes until the green pepper is soft. Add the cooled rice and stir thoroughly.

Garnish with a little chopped fresh coriander leaf and serve.

Universal Barbecue Bean Burgers

It’s a bank holiday in England, as usual the weather is a bit iffy, and we are off to a barbecue. Not being a fan of greasy burgers and mystery sausages (the mystery being: what meat is this?) we always take a brace of beanburgers with us. Everybody laughs, as if pointing fingers at the weird kid in school: “Burgers? That Vegans can eat? Yeuch!”

Then they try one, and I discover that I didn’t bring enough…


RECIPE – makes 4 large or 6 smaller patties (they are filling) 

1 tin of black beans, drained and roughly mashed

30g butter (or 2 tbsp olive oil if cooking for a vegan)

1 red onion, finely chopped

140g mushrooms, any kind, finely chopped

2 tbsp light soy sauce

1 large garlic clove, peeled and crushed

a bunch of parsley, chopped (stalks and all)

1 sping onion, trimmed and finely chopped

1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes

4 tbsp gram flour

1 tsp Marmite

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste


METHOD

Roughly mash the black beans, ensuring you keep enough texture to make the final burger interesting. Prepare the rest of the ingredients…

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Melt the butter, with a little oil (or just oil if you will be making these for vegans) in a large frying pan and gently sautee the onion for three or four minutes until softened but not coloured. Add the mushrooms and soy sauce, continue cooking until most of the mushroom liquor has evaporated, this should only take another three minutes or so. Now stir in the garlic, spring onion, parsley, chilli and black beans. Mix well and cook for a couple of minutes then add the marmite and season to taste with black pepper.

Transfer to a large bowl and stir the gram flour through the bean mixture, the gram flour will act as a binding agent to hold the patty together. Allow the mixture to cool until you can handle it comfortably, then shape into either 4 larger or 6 smaller patties…

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Cover them and chill thoroughly before cooking. They will firm up and can be patted into their final shape when chilled.

They can be pan fried for 1-2 minutes each side until golden brown, grilled for 3 or 4 minutes each side, or barbecued for a minute or so each side. Serve in a bap with your choice of salad and prepare to be quite full – if you can manage two of the larger ones you are a rare breed.

Fennel Chips

These chips get made on a regular basis in my house, and no matter how many I make, I never make enough. Feather soft inside, crunchy on the outside, with the delicious aniseed tang of roasted fennel seeds they are deliciously moreish.

They’re a healthy option as well, roasted in the oven with a little oil rather than deep fried. It’s a good job too, we always end up eating a few more than is good for us…

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RECIPE 

2 large floury potatoes (e.g. maris pipers, roosters) per person, plus 2

olive oil

fennel seeds

sea salt


METHOD

As a rule of thumb, allow two large floury potatoes per person, then add two more for the pot. So if you are cooking for four people use ten large potatoes – believe me, there will be no leftovers.

Pre-heat the oven to 220C / 200C fan / gas 7.

Peel the potatoes and chop them into thick and chunky chips. The chips at the extreme sides are likely to end up skinnier so will be more crispy, adding great contrast.

Place the chips in a large pan of unsalted cold water, bring to the boil. Keep an eye on the water and when it just begins to boil set a timer for three minutes. After three minutes drain the chips in a colander and let them steam themselves dry for a minute or two. Hang on to the empty pot, you will need it again.

Give the chips in the colander a good shake, the edges of the chips should roughen and fluff up slightly. Tip the chips back into the pan and drizzle a good glug of olive oil over the chips – don’t overdo it, all you are trying to do is coat each chip with a film of oil so it doesn’t stick to your baking tray. Agitate the pan to spread the oil around, then take a small handful of fennel seeds and scatter them all over the chips, agitate the pan again then tip the chips out onto a large roasting tray.

Give each chip plenty of room, if you crowd them together they will steam and so won’t roast so effectively. You only need a millimetre or two between each chip, but if you need to use two roasting trays then use two roasting trays. Scatter more fennel seeds over the chips, ensuring they are evenly distributed. Season lightly with sea salt, then roast on the middle shelf for approximately an hour. Turn them after 30 minutes to ensure even browning and so you can gauge how much longer they will actually need.

Serve straight from the oven – I leave them on the roasting tray and put it in the middle of the table. Season with a little more salt if necessary.

These chips are brilliant by themselves, awesome with seared tuna, amazing with any fish, and a match made in heaven when paired with salsa verde. I could use even more superlatives, but I think you get the idea…

Salsa Verde

Having a good salsa verde recipe is indispensable if you cook fish on a regular basis. If you’re stuck for ideas of what to have with your fish then a pile of home made chips and salsa verde will always pull you out of trouble. Vibrancy from the herbs and gherkins, a little bit of heat from the mustard, saltiness from the capers and anchovies, the unctuousness of the olive oil and the sharp tang of the vinegar – it is the perfect accompaniment for fish and chips because, if you think about it, it’s all about salt and vinegar.

The best thing? It takes literally five minutes to make.

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RECIPE – makes enough for 4 very generous servings

3 garlic cloves, crushed

2 tbsp capers, drained

6 anchovy fillets

2 large gherkins

2 handfuls of rocket

a small pack of parsley, roughly torn

a handful of mint, leaves only

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 tbsp English mustard

extra virgin olive oil


METHOD

Put everything into a food processor and turn it on to continuous mode. As it is chopping everything, slowly pour in the extra virgin olive oil and you will find that it becomes a thick puree and then a thick sauce. Only you can judge how you like your sauces, so stop pouring when it looks right to you. As a rule of thumb, around 100ml of oil is the minimum you are likely to need.

As I said earlier this goes great with fish and chips, or just fish by itself – anywhere you would think of using tartare sauce you can easily substitute this salsa verde.

 

Shortbread

We ran out of shortbread yesterday; good grief, you would think the sky had fallen in. It is my job to ensure that we always have a jar of homemade shortbread on our shelves, without a doubt it is the thing that I make most often and though we don’t eat it fast, we do eat it regularly – it is just so delicious. Luckily, shortbread is quick and very easy to make, it is a great thing to make with children, and so my mistake was quickly rectified.

I must have tried a dozen shortbread recipes, and they were all okay but not quite perfect. Then I found Delia Smith’s recipe and my search for perfection came to an end. The trick is to include semolina in the mix, it gives a lovely crunch and beautiful shortness to the finished biscuit.

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RECIPE – makes 24 biscuits

175g unsalted butter, room temperature

75g golden caster sugar, plus a tablespoon for dusting

75g fine semolina

175g plain flour

a small pinch of salt


METHOD

Heat the oven to 150C/130C fan/Gas 2

Using a stand mixer (just to make your life easier, if not a wooden spoon will do the job) cream the butter and sugar together until fully mixed. Add the semolina and beat again, then add the flour and a pinch of salt and beat until just combined. You do not want any rise in a shortbread biscuit so minimise the amount of beating to ensure you don’t put air into it.

Cut a square of baking parchment, scrunch it up then flatten it out. Turn your shortbread dough out onto it (no need to flour it) and using your hands or a rolling pin pat it into a rough oblong approximately 1 cm thick. Place the dough, on the baking parchment, into a small baking tin and ensure the parchment is pushed well away from the dough. The dough will flatten and spread slightly as it cooks so you need to ensure the parchment won’t impede it. Prick all over the surface of the dough with a fork, pushing right down to the bottom – this will ensure that any air has an escape route.

Bake in the oven for 60-70 minutes until it is a deep rich gold. If you like your shortbread extra crunchy you can safely leave it in even longer, just keep a close eye on it. About half way through it’s a good idea to check that it isn’t rising at all; if it is, just pat it back down with your hand.

When cooked, lift it out on the parchment and place onto a cooling rack. Immediately it comes out, use a knife to score the top of the baked dough, about halfway through, to mark out your biscuits (you can see this in the picture above). Sprinkle some caster sugar all over the top and leave for ten minutes or so.

Run a palette knife between the shortbread and the parchment, then slide the parchment out from underneath the shortbread, leaving the shortbread on the wire rack to cool completely. It will crumble a little at the edges, this is a good sign; just push it back together, as it cools it will solidify. When fully cool, break the biscuits off and store in an airtight jar or tin. They will easily last two weeks (or more) without losing their bite.

Cod Loin with a Fragrant Curry Sauce

This is a very simple curry that packs a huge punch of flavour. The spicing is bold but it isn’t the kind of curry that will have you bolting for a glass of milk to cool your mouth, instead the spices emerge as layers of flavour that queue politely for your attention.

As this is the first proper curry dish that I have posted here I wanted to use an amazing general-purpose sauce, to show how simple it can be to get great flavour and also how versatile a good sauce can be. I have used cod loin here but you can use any firm white fish loin or fillet, salmon, prawns, lobster, chicken and even pork. Quorn pieces go very well with this and if you want to make it for a vegan just omit the fish sauce, substitute the ghee for vegetable oil and use firm textured vegetables (e.g. potatoes, carrots, cauliflower) as your key ingredients.

I have specified using curry powder in this recipe – please note that it is my own recipe for curry powder and the recipe below is linked to the recipe for the curry powder. Please, please, please do not use a commercial curry powder in its place, it will be – how can I put this plainly? – crap.

This goes very well with chapatis and coriander rice.

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RECIPE – feeds 2 – 4 people 

One cod loin per person

3 tbsp ghee

1 tsp black mustard seeds

4 bay leaves

4 banana shallots, finely sliced

4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

a big knob of fresh ginger, about 25g, not peeled but rough bits cut off, finely chopped

1 green chilli, finely sliced

1 birds-eye chilli, finely sliced (optional, for if you like heat)

1 tbsp curry powder

1 tsp turmeric

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 tsp fish sauce

1 tin coconut milk

small bunch fresh coriander, leaves and stalks separated, stalks chopped finely


METHOD

Prepare all ingredients, combine the curry powder and turmeric with a little water to make a paste, set aside.

Tip: Adding a little water to dry ground spice powders to make a paste ensures that they don’t burn when added to a hot pan. It also allows the flavours to begin to develop even before you cook with them.

If you are ever adding powdered spices to a very hot oil (e.g. when cooking stir-fry in a wok) then make the paste using vegetable oil rather than water.

In a large pan, melt the ghee over a medium heat then add the mustard seeds and bay leaves, cook for approximately a minute then add the shallots, garlic, ginger and chilli. Cook for a few minutes until soft and aromatic then add the curry powder and turmeric paste. Cook for a minute or so, stirring the paste around to distribute it around and coat the other ingredients, then add the tomatoes, fish sauce and coconut milk. Bring to the boil then simmer for five minutes.

Turn off the heat, make sure your fresh coriander stalks are finely chopped and add them to the sauce; stir them in thoroughly and now let the sauce sit for as long as you possibly can. This sauce gets better with time, so try and make it in the morning or early afternoon for the evening meal. If you can make it the evening before it will be even better.

When ready to eat, gradually heat the sauce up and when it reaches a boil add the cod loins (or other fish) and simmer for 5-8 minutes until it is just cooked – it will continue to cook in the sauce, even off the heat. Scatter chopped fresh coriander leaves over the top and serve.

If using chicken or pork it should be cut into fairly small chunks and added with the tomatoes and coconut milk. By the time it comes to reheat it the meat will have slowly cooked through.

If using vegetables they should also be cut into fairly small chunks and added with the tomatoes and coconut milk. Check the vegetables for firmness before reheating to serve and cook on for as long as necessary to cook to your liking.

If using Quorn, that should also be added with the tomatoes and coconut milk.

 

Coriander Rice

Rice is often viewed as a bland accompaniment to strongly flavoured dishes, but treating it that way does it a huge disservice. Like pasta and potato, rice is an excellent carrier of flavour and a little ingenuity with your rice goes a very long way in turning a good curry into an exceptional meal.

I have a large repertoire of rice side dishes, this is one of the simplest but it still packs a punchy, aromatic flavour.

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RECIPE – feeds 4-6 people 

Basmati rice, cooked and cooled

2 tbsp groundnut oil

1 tsp coriander seeds

2 kaffir lime leaves (dried or fresh), finely shredded

2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves


METHOD

First, weigh out your rice. You will probably know how much rice your family and friends will eat, it varies greatly among people so I have avoided giving a defined quantity. As a rough guide, if you need it, a small mug filled with dry rice will easily feed two people with leftovers at my table, as an accompaniment to other dishes.

Cook your rice, tip into a sieve to drain and leave to cool completely.

Tip: Back in the days when I could only manage to cook a small handful of simple dishes, the one and only thing that I could cook well was rice. In my hands it always had perfect bite coupled with softness, each grain was distinct and separate from its neighbour and there was no hint of stodginess. Then it all went wrong.

I learned that the way I cooked rice was incorrect. I convinced myself that I should be using exact volumes of rice and water, cooking for exact times, sealing pan lids, leaving it to sit for ages, using tea towels as steam absorbers – the more instructions I followed, the more I got away from the simple pleasures of cooking rice simply, the worse my rice got.

My wife was in despair; “you have lost your rice mojo” she told me. Eventually I did the sensible thing and went back to cooking my rice the wrong way, and now it’s perfect again.

In my world, you put your rice in the largest pan you have and cover it in a lot of cold water, at least an inch of water over the level of the rice. Season the water with a very little salt and over a high heat bring the water up toward boiling point. Before it actually boils, turn the heat right down so that the water settles into a very gentle simmer. This will prevent the rice grains from bursting.

The time it takes your rice to cook can differ greatly, so check your rice after 3 or 4 minutes at the simmer and check it every minute thereafter. Your grains should be soft but with a definite firmness to the grain. Overall, your pan of rice should emerge as clean, distinct grains that will be a pleasure to eat.

When almost ready to eat, make your coriander rice at the last minute.

Heat the oil in a saucepan large enough to comfortably hold your rice. When hot but not smoking add the coriander seeds, agitate the pan constantly and when the coriander seeds begin to pop add the shredded kaffir lime leaves. Cook for a minute or two, ensuring that you don’t scorch the seeds or leaves, then add the rice. The pan will be hot so the rice will quickly heat through, stir thoroughly so the kaffir lime leaves and coriander seeds are well distributed, then add the chopped fresh coriander leaves and stir through again until well combined.

Serve alongside any dish where you would normally use plain rice.