The gradual creep back to “real” food after weeks of being good – though not all the time – often tends to be via Asian flavours. There is something quite comforting yet nourishing about those flavours, which is maybe because they go well with so many other ingredients.
There is very little in the way of vegetables or meat that doesn’t taste incredibly more-ish when you add a few splashes of soy sauce, tamari, fish sauce, crushed lime leaves, garlic, ginger and chilli and a squeeze of lime juice.
I used pork in this recipe, but you could use minced chicken or turkey or even a selection of tough vegetables such as carrots, cabbage and sweet potato, plus a few mushrooms at the end.
Larb (or laab, plus a few other spellings) is the national dish of Laos and although many traditional versions use puffed or toasted rice, I’ve kept this one to the bare minimum.
You could argue that it’s inauthentic, but all I know is that one big frying pan’s worth of crumbled and well seasoned meat, doled out into butter-leaf lettuce, was wolfed down by the gang.
I had to fend off the last attacks as I was determined to keep some back for the photo shoot the next day. The leftovers just about made it into the frame.
The Asian slaw is really just an idea for the type of thing you can make in a flash at this time of year.
I don’t even bother making a proper dressing. A little drizzle of olive or rapeseed oil, a few drops of toasted sesame oil, to taste, and then a few splashes of soy or tamari, a little squeeze of honey, maple or agave syrup, some lime juice, along with a handful of sesame seeds and perhaps some dried seaweed, and hey presto you have a really hearty winter salad after it has macerated for a little while.
I also love the fact that you can take hardy old cabbages and, with just a little fine slicing and a few drops of umami-filled condiments, you can make a delicious and healthy salad to enjoy with just about anything.
1 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
1 large knob ginger, grated or diced
1 red chilli, very finely sliced
2 sticks lemongrass, thinly sliced
3 kaffir lime leaves, crushed
Approx 600g minced pork
2 tbsp fish sauce
Juice of 2 limes
1-2 heads baby gem or butter leaf lettuce
Bunch of coriander
Few mint leaves
Heat up the oil in a large frying pan and sear the ginger, chilli, lemongrass and lime leaves to make a fragrant base in which to saute the pork.
After a minute or so, add the pork. Smash it up with a wooden spoon and move it around so that it breaks into smaller chunks and starts to separate rather than remain as one big mound.
The idea is to lightly brown the pork and coat it with all the lovely fragrant flavours.
After about five minutes, add the fish sauce. Keep the heat up and keep cooking until it starts to char a bit in places and is really cooked through, then remove it from the heat and allow to cool.
Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add some lime juice, which will sharpen up the flavour, then spoon the meat into the lettuce leaves, top with chopped coriander, a few crushed pistachios and even a little mint. Serve up and watch them disappear. An extra wedge of lime is also nice to serve alongside.
QUICK ASIAN SLAW
1 head cabbage – sweetheart is nice
half a small head of red cabbage
2-3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
Juice of 1 lime
Squirt of honey, maple or agave syrup
1-2 tbsp sesame seeds
Slice the cabbages very finely. Peel the carrots and, using your peeler, cut into ribbons and add to the cabbage. Then either make a little dressing by mixing all the other ingredients or simply put on to the cabbage and carrots directly and mix really well.
Normally I would take a bit more care and not over-mix salads, but these vegetables are so hardy, they can take a good mixing. Season and sprinkle with some seaweeds or shredded nori sheets.
Season this as much or as little as you fancy. It softens up and wilts down after about 10 minutes, so don’t be put off by the initial quantity.
Food cooked and styled by Domini Kemp and Paul Kavanagh