Bill's Everyday Asian is Australian chef Bill Granger's ninth book, but the first one of his books that I've ever bought. I'd heard good things about him, that his recipes were light and fresh, that he wrote in a personable and chatty way... and yes, that he was easy on the eye too! Living in South-East Asia as I do, I love to cook and eat Asian food, but sometimes feel that I'm not doing enough of it. I worry that I'm not taking full advantage of the local ingredients so easily accessible here. So when a friend recommended this book, I felt it was one that I needed to purchase to provide me with some inspiration that I felt was lacking.
And my verdict? I'm glad I did! I've had the book for a couple of weeks now and it's a real pleasure to read. It's beautifully laid-out with plenty of mouth-watering pictures. I spent the first week simply browsing through it, filling the pages with post-it notes to indicate my must-try recipes, and in the last week or so I've made no less than 4 meals from it.
The first dish was cooked for pudding on the last night of my parents' visit to Brunei - Banana Batter Cake. We don't often made desserts any more (it's just not the climate for ribsticking hot puds) but Bill described this as an Asian take on Sticky-Toffee Pudding so I knew I'd have to try it.
It was one of those self-saucing puddings that seem vaguely sinister when you are preparing it, as the batter is topped with lots of brown sugar and then a cup of water. It looks as though it will never work, but when it emerges from the oven it has created an amazing caramel sauce.
The pudding is almost clafoutis-like in texture, a dense batter but topped with sliced bananas instead of cherries. Bill recommends serving it with coconut milk, but we took the easy option and used vanilla ice-cream.
It was delicious, and I'll definitely be making it again. Apparently it serves 4, but they must be 4 very greedy people as we got at least 6 portions out of it.
My next meal was made - no cooking involved - as I was feeling the need for a detox. This may or may not have been related to the Banana Batter Pudding! The Vietnamese Chicken Salad with Carrot and Mint had immediately struck me as one of the most appealing recipes in the book. I love Vietnamese food, even more than Thai food I think. This was almost like a coleslaw, made as it was from sliced chinese leaves, beansprouts and carrot, but pepped up with a zingy Vietnamese dressing of fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, chili, ginger and garlic. Extra crunch was added with toasted peanuts, and some protein courtesy of shredded chicken breast. Another important addition is fresh herbs - mint and basil leaves.
This was a mild faff to prepare as it involved lots of chopping, plus the carrot had to be 'pickled' for 20 minutes, but I will definitely be making this again, it was gorgeous. It wasn't difficult, just a little time-consuming. Next time I'd be tempted to make a larger amount as it makes a great lunch-dish the following day.
Another salady dish followed later in the week - Chargrilled Chicken Salad with Pineapple and Basil. I had bought a whole chicken for the previous dish and just used the breasts, so for this dish I used the legs, thighs and wings. Bill suggests using thigh fillets, but mine seemed the easier option given what I had. The meat was marinated in fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, oil and turmeric. Bill said to leave it for 15 minutes, but I left mine for 48 hours! Instead of grilling it as he did with the thigh fillets, I roasted the meat which gave a great crispiness to the skin, and left a fabulous sticky residue in the pan, rich with the flavours of the marinade.
The meat was served on top of a basil salad garnished with fresh pineapple wedges, and with a chunky cashew nut relish on the side.
Again, this was fresh and zingy, and felt very virtuous! The pineapple didn't really do it for me I have to say, perhaps because my pineapple wasn't perfectly ripe? But the chicken was beautiful, tender and very flavoursome.
I'd make it again, but perhaps play with the salad combination a little. The basil was a great addition.
My final dish was an attempt to use up half a pumpkin that had been languishing in the fridge for several days, so I tried Bill's Butternut Squash with a Sesame Glaze. This involved boiling the squash/pumpkin in a small amount of water, soy sauce and brown sugar until the squash was tender and the liquid evaporated to a sticky sweet-salty glaze. It was then sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. This was super-easy and tasty, but far too sweet for our liking. I'd do it again, but with about 1/4 of the sugar in the recipe. It didn't look beautiful (so no photo!), rather a brown sludge actually as the pumpkin doesn't hold its shape well, but it was a simple supper served with plain rice and some stir-fried, soy-sauce-doused pak choi.
I still have plenty more post-it notes throughout this book, so I know I'll be cooking from it a lot more in the future.