Once I cooked and savored my second dinner prepared from Nigella Express, I started to really “get” the recipe style: a simple (and usually short) list of ingredients, down-to-earth and easy-to-follow instructions, carefully chosen flavorings, and accurate measurements and cooking times. Once again, both the main course and the cookies were quick to prepare but packed in flavor.
For the main course, I chose a fish dish with an Asian twist: Seared Salmon with Singapore Noodles. The book includes many Indian- and Asian-inspired recipes such as sautés, curries, and soups—dishes that are simple to prepare, keep well, and even improve when reheated. What I liked about this recipe was the use of Madras curry powder in both the noodles and the rub for the fish. I love this spice mix; you can rub it on any piece of meat, grill it, and you’re done. It’s hard to go wrong with a one-stop blend that includes curry leaves, turmeric, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, cloves, chili pepper, bay leaves, fenugreek, allspice, and black pepper!
The noodle side dish reminded me of a milder and subtler Pad Thai. While some of the ingredients were impossible for me to find (dried shrimp and Chinese cooking wine), I searched for substitutions (extra-small frozen shrimp and dry white wine) and it turned out delicious. It was difficult to resist adding roasted peanuts (as on a Pad Thai) on top of these noodles: next time, I’ll indulge for sure, as I think the nutty flavor and crunchiness of the peanuts would add another dimension to the dish.
For dessert I had to go for the Totally Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies. Butter. Cocoa. Chocolate morsels. Chocolate chips. White chocolate. Honestly, do I really have to explain why they were awesome?
Seared Salmon with Singapore Noodles
The ingredient list may seem pretty long but most of it you already have in your pantry. I like to use the Sun Brand Madras Curry Powder, it’s a high quality product and once you find the nice little metal box (it’s available online from Amazon.com), you’ll have it for a long time as you don’t need much to get a lot a flavor.
I seared only two pieces of salmon (instead of four) but followed the recipe for the rub. It took almost all of it to coat my two pieces of fish so if you’re cooking for 4 and really want to rub it all over, you may want to double the rub ingredients. The recipe’s ok if you just want to flavor the top of the fish.
As for the noodles, I strayed a bit from the recipe by using small frozen shrimp instead of the dried ones, dry white wine instead of the Chinese cooking wine, flat rice noodles instead of vermicelli, miniature bok choy instead of the napa cabbage and orange bell pepper instead of baby corn (which I couldn’t find fresh either). Ok I strayed a lot but this only means that this recipe is very adaptable. I cooked the whole recipe and had a lot of noodles leftover: they kept and reheated very well the day after – they weren’t dry or mushy at all.
Makes 4 servings
For the salmon
2 teaspoons Madras Curry Powder*
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon table salt
4 6-8 oz salmon fillets
1 tablespoon olive oil
Mix the curry powder, sugar and salt in a wide, shallow dish and dredge the salmon in this, turning the pieces all over in the rub.
Heat a pan with the oil and cook the fillets on medium-high heat for about 3 minutes per side. I like to put a lid on my pan when cooking salmon: because the fillets are usually pretty thick, the steam helps them cook through in the given time.
* Please use Madras curry powder, regular curry powder (the yellow kind) really won’t taste the same.
For the noodles
8 oz vermicelli (or flat rice noodles)
½ cup dried or miniature frozen shrimp
½ cup Chinese cooking wine (or dry white wine)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups finely sliced napa cabbage (or baby bok choy)
1 cup baby whole corn, sliced into thin rounds (or 1 bell pepper, thinly sliced)
2 scallions (green onions), finely sliced
2 teaspoons Madras curry powder
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 cup chicken stock
3 tablespoons soy sauce (I prefer Japanese soy sauce like the Kikkoman brand)
2 cups (or more if you like the crunch) bean sprouts
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Put the rice noodles into a big bowl and cover with boiling water from a kettle. You need to soak vermicelli noodles for about 5 minutes and flat noodles for 20-25 minutes.
Unsoaked flat rice noodles look like this:
Soak the dried shrimp (or the miniature shrimp, thawed) in the wine, then heat the oil in a wok on medium-high heat. Put the garlic in the wok and let it infuse the oil for a minute or two (keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn). Add the cabbage or bok choy and scallions and fry for 3 minutes. Add the bell pepper and fry for 2 minutes more.
Add the curry powder and minced ginger to the wok, and then the stock and soy sauce. Pour in the shrimp with their wine and the drained, soaked noodles, tossing and shaking everything all together in the wok. I let it simmer a few minutes more because there was a lot of liquid and I wanted the noodles to absorb a bit of it (flat noodles will withstand this additional simmering step better than vermicelli noodles).
Stir in the bean sprouts and give a final toss before turning out into a bowl and sprinkling the cilantro over. I like to add more bean sprouts on each serving: these will stay crunchy whereas the ones blended with the noodle will soften a bit. Feel free to sprinkle roasted and chopped peanuts, I’m sure it’ll be nice.
Totally Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies
These cookies are perfect! I did the recipe exactly as is – well ok, I swapped a cup of dark chocolate morsels for white chocolate chips (because E loooooves white chocolate). The great thing about these cookies is that you can freeze the uncooked ¼-cup portions and cook them on demand – you’ll look like a star when you come up with warm cookies for your guests without breaking a sweat. To freeze, put them uncooked on a baking sheet and into the freezer. Once they’re hard and frozen, store them in a freezer bag for later use.
Makes 12 cookies
4 oz semisweet chocolate
1 cup flour
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa, sifted
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) soft butter
½ cup light brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 egg, cold from the fridge
2 cups semisweet chocolate morsels or dark chocolate chips or white chocolate chips, or a blend of all three
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Melt the 4 oz chocolate in the microwave (it’ll take about a minute – don’t burn it!).
Measure the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt into a bowl.
Make sure your butter is soft: if, like me, you never think of taking your butter out of the fridge early to let it soften, just stick it in the microwave for 10-15 seconds. Use a mixer to cream the butter with the two sugars in another bowl (you can also do it by hand, if you think a little exercise might do you good). Add the melted chocolate and mix together.
Beat in the vanilla extract and cold egg, and then mix in the dry ingredients. Finally stir in the chocolate chips.
Scoop out 1/4 –cup sized moulds (use a ice cream scoop or a measuring cup) and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper about 2 ½ inches apart. Do not flatten them.
Bake for 18-20 minutes, testing with a cake tester to make sure they come out semi-clean and not wet with cake batter. It’s best not to overcook the cookies so they stay soft and luscious. When they come out of the oven they may seem a bit too soft but they will firm up as they cool. Let cool on the baking sheet for 4-5 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack – if you can resist eating them right away.