6 mins

Take on the Wanderlust Cookbook Challenge

For the November 2013 issue of Wanderlust the team took on a cookbook challenge. Can you repeat their masterful dishes? Here are the recipes so you can try...

Image taken from From India by Kumar & Suba Mahadevan (Photographer: Mark Roper)


Red catfish curry (geng daeng plaa duk)

This is a very fine curry: rich, aromatic and quite thick with only a slight dappling of coconut oil. It comes from the mid-central plains, where catfish abound. They are a resilient fish, both in life and in death. Kept in large tubs at the market, they are usually dispatched to order – this can often be a messy business. This muscular fish can sustain prolonged cooking too. Some recipes I have come across propose to cook the fish for as long as 30-40 minutes, yet it still retains a toothsome texture. While the 10 or so minutes of cooking will present no problem to a catfish, it might result in overcooking of an alternative fish, such as cobbler, pike, zander, perch, or even a very large brook trout like a char. Take this into account when you cook the fish you have chosen.

Serves: 4


1 x 350g catfish or about 200g fish fillet
500ml coconut cream
Good pinch of shaved palm sugar
2 tbsp fish sauce
250ml coconut milk
3 kaffir lime leaves, torn
125-250ml fish stock or water
50g grachai (wild ginger) – shredded, washed in salted water, rinsed and squeezed dry
4 long red or green chillies, cut in half
2-3 bird's eye chillies (scuds), bruised
2 handfuls of holy basil or Thai basil leaves

Red curry paste:

7 dried long red chillies
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
10 white peppercorns
a little mace or, at a pinch, nutmeg
1 heaped tsp dried bird’s eyes chillies, about 5-8
good pinch of salt
3 bird's eye chillies (scuds)
2 tsp chopped galangal
2 tbsp chopped lemongrass
1 tsp finely grated kaffir lime zest
2 tbsp chopped grachai (wild ginger)
2 ½ tbsp chopped red shallots
1 tbsp chopped garlic
1 tbsp Thai shrimp paste (gapi)

1. First make the curry paste. Nip off the stalks of the dried long red chillies, then cut along their length and scrape out the seeds. Soak the chillies in water for about 15 minutes until soft.

2. While the chillies are soaking, roast the coriander and cumin seeds separately in a dry, heavy-based frying pan until they are aromatic, shaking the pan often to prevent the spices from scorching. Grind to a powder with the peppercorns and mace or nutmeg, using an electric grinder or a pestle and mortar.

3. Drain the soaked chillies, squeezing to extract as much water as possible, then roughly chop them. Rinse the dried bird’s eye chillies to remove any dust. Using a pestle and mortar, pound the chillies with the salt, then add the remaining ingredients in the order they are listed, reducing each one to a fine paste before adding the next.

4. Alternatively, puree the ingredients in an electric blender. It will probably be necessary to add a little water to aid the blending, but try not to add more than necessary, as this will dilute the paste and alter the taste of the curry. Halfway through, turn the machine off and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, then turn it back on and whiz the paste until it is completely pureed. Finally, stir in the ground spices.

5. If using a whole fish, clean and fillet it, but leave the skin on – this should yield approximately 200g of flesh. Cut the fish fillet into 3cm x 2cm pieces. If desired, make a stock from the fish bones and some of the offcuts from the curry paste by simmering them together in water for about 30 minutes.

6. Simmer the coconut cream with the curry paste over a medium heat for 5 minutes or until fragrant and slightly oily, stirring regularly to prevent it catching. Season it with the palm sugar and then the fish sauce. Add the prepared fish and simmer for a few minutes. Add the coconut milk, kaffir lime leaves and some stock or water and simmer for another few minutes, then add the grachai, chillies and basil.

7. Check the seasoning: the curry should taste hot, salty and rich. It should be creamy from the coconut, redolent of the cumin and mace, and aromatic from the basil and grachai. Leave for 10 minutes to allow the flavour to develop, then serve with steamed rice.

Deep-friend spring rolls (popia tort)

The best spring rolls are small, golden and crunchy – in fact, they are mostly pastry with just a little filling. Try to find chilled rather than frozen spring-roll skins, as the latter colour unevenly and absorb more oil as the rolls deep-fry. I like prawns in my spring rolls, but on the street minced pork is more common. I have seen one or two versions that add a little shredded yam bean and bamboo to the filling, with delectable results. Thais can buy freshly made glass noodles (also called bean thread noodles), but elsewhere the dried version is readily available in Chinese shops. Some stalls will serve their spring rolls cut into two or three pieces, making them easier to eat and also showing off the crispness of the skins. Most will offer a few fresh vegetable alongside, to give a contrasting texture and cut through any oiliness.

Makes: 12, enough for 3-4 each


4 tbsp tapioca flour
about 12 large fresh spring-roll skins – approximately 8cm square
vegetable oil, for deep frying
a few leaves of Chinese lettuce (green coral lettuce)
1 small cucumber, trimmed and sliced
1-2 large sprigs of Thai Basil


5 small dried shiitake mushrooms, rinsed
1 tsp oyster sauce or light soy sauce
50g dried glass (bean thread) noodles
2 garlic cloves, peeled
good pinch of salt
2 tbsp vegetable oil
4 tbsp minced raw prawn (shrimp) meat – from about 100g raw prawns (shrimps) in their shells – or 4 tbsp minced pork
25g bean sprouts, trimmed
½ tbsp white sugar
good pinch of ground white pepper
1 tbsp light soy sauce
½ tbsp fish sauce
4 tbsp chopped spring (green) onions
4 tbsp chopped coriander

1. First make the filling. Place the shiitake mushrooms in a small pan with 250ml water and the oyster sauce or soy sauce and simmer until tender – about 5 minutes. Allow them to cool in the liquid, if time permits, then remove the stalks and slice the mushroom caps finely; reserve the cooking liquid.

2. Soak the noodles in warm water for about 15 minutes until pliable. Drain, then cut into 4cm lengths with scissors. Crush the garlic to a somewhat coarse paste with the salt – either by pounding it using a pestle and mortar or finely chopping it with a knife.

3. In a small wok or frying pan, heat the oil and fry the garlic paste over a medium heat until golden, then add the minced prawns and cook for a moment before adding the sliced shiitake mushrooms and simmering for a minute. Now, turn up the heat and add the noodles. If the noodles are not quite soft enough add a tablespoon or two of the mushroom-cooking liquid and simmer until the noodles are soft and the mixture is quite dry again. Add the bean sprouts, then season with the sugar, pepper, soy sauce and fish sauce. Stir through the spring onions and coriander, then remove from the heat and put to one side to cool completely.

4. Make a thick slurry by mixing the flour with 2 tablespoons of water. Lay the spring-roll skin on the bench and place a heaped teaspoon of the filling in a line along its centre. Roll the skin tightly around the filling, folding in the sides halfway through to form a parcel, then continue to roll to the end, sealing the edge with the slurry. Repeat until all the filling is used, keeping the finished spring rolls covered with a clean, slightly damp cloth.

5. Pour the deep-frying oil into a large, stable wok or a wide, heavy-based pan until it is about two-thirds full. Heat the oil over a medium-high flame until a cooking thermometer registers 180°C  (350°F). Alternatively, test the temperature of the oil by dropping in a cube of bread – it will brown in about 15 seconds if the oil is hot enough. Deep-fry the spring rolls, a  few at a time, turning constantly so they cook evenly, until the skin is golden and crunchy.

5. Serve with plum dipping sauce, and with lettuce, cucumber and Thai basil on the side.

These two recipes have been taken from David Thompson's Thai Street Food (£25, Conran Octopus). Order your copy on Amazon now



Beer-braised ribs (costilla de cerdo a la cerveza)

In Spain we like a good pig. It's a beloved animal, the one we do the most with. This recipe for beer-braised pork ribs is rich and hearty – we absolutely love it back home. I hope that once you cook it, you will understand why.

Serves: 4, as a main dish

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 1-1¼ hours


50ml olive oil
1.5kg pork spare ribs
1 Spanish onion, roughly chopped
5 garlic cloves, unpeeled
100g chorizo (fresh or semi-dried), roughly chopped
100g pancetta or bacon, roughly chopped
1 tbsp clear honey
1 tsp sweet pimentón
1 bay leaf
4 sprigs of thyme
2-3 potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
330ml lager of your choice
bread, to serve

1. You can do this recipe in two different ways: either by cooking the whole dish in a large pan on the hob or by finishing it off by roasting it in the oven. If using the oven, preheat to 180°C/gas mark 4.

2. Put the olive oil into a roasting tray, a large terracotta pot or a heavy-based pan and place over a high heat. Add the ribs and pan-fry for about 5 minutes.

3. Add the onion, garlic cloves, chorizo and pancetta and cook for a few minutes until golden and starting to caramelize. Add the honey, pimentón, bay leaf, thyme and potatoes and cook, stirring, for a further 3 minutes.

4. Pour the beer into the tray or pan and either cook in the preheated oven for 1 hour or leave to simmer on the hob for about 45 minutes.

5. Serve these ribs with plenty of fresh bread to mop up the sauce and enjoy!

This recipe has been taken from Omar Allibouy's Tapas Revolution (£20, Ebury Press). Order your copy on Amazon now.


Puff-pastry pastelitos

Puff pastry pies stuffed with a choice of savoury or sweet fillings are classic Cuban street food. Cheese picadillo makes a favourite lunch stuffing, or, for the sweet toothed, guava jam with sweetened cream cheese. Whatever the filling, a sweet glaze is prerequisite.

For an easy life, buy ready-rolled sheets of puff pasty.

To make sweet pastelitos, instead of picadillo substitute a dessertspoon of cream cheese mixed with a little honey and a dessertspoon of jam, marmalade, cooked fruit or fruit cheese.

Makes: 6


375g ready-rolled puff pastry

For the cheese picadillo:

2 tbsp olive oil
½ medium red onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
60ml tinned chopped plum tomatoes
4 cherry tomatoes, diced
1 tbsp red wine
1 tbsp chopped oregano leaves
a handful of black olives, finely chopped
a handful of raisins
25g grated Manchego or strong Cheddar cheese

For the sweet glaze

½ tsp honey dissolved in 1 tsp warm water

1. Preheat the oven to 190°F/375°C/gas mark 5. Heat the olive oil and sauté the onion and garlic until translucent. Add the tomatoes, red wine and oregano and simmer until the sauce has thickened.

2. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the chopped olives, raisins and cheese. Season to taste.

3. Cut the puffy pastry into 12 equal squares (approximately 8cm square). Place a generous tablespoon of the picadillo in the centre of six squares, moisten the edges with water and place the remaining squares on top. Press the edges together, crimp with a fork and brush with the sweet glaze.

4. Place on a non-stick baking tray and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, after which the pies should be puffed up, golden brown and ready to eat.

This recipe has been taken from World Food Cafe: Quick and easy recipes from a vegetarian journey by Chris and Carolyn Caldicott (£20, Frances Lincoln). Order your copy on Amazon now.


Goan fish curry

Serves: 6, as part of a shared meal


1kg whole barrimundi (or other firm white-fleshed fish), skin on, cut into finger-sized pieces about 2cm wide
½ tsp ground turmeric
5 pieces of kokam* or extra 1 tbsp of tamarind pulp
1 long red chilli
3 tbsp vegetable or sunflower oil
1 onion, sliced
1 tsp finely grated ginger
½ tsp crushed garlic
1 tbsp tamarind pulp
50ml coconut cream
2 tsp finely shredded ginger, to garnish

Masala paste:

140g grated coconut or 150g desiccated coconut
8 Kashmiri dried red chillies or 1½ tbsp sweet paprika
1 tbsp coriander seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp ground turmeric

1. Rub the fish with the turmeric and set aside for about 30 minutes. Soak the kokam in 250ml of hot water for about 10 minutes.

2. Prepare a chilli flower for garnish. Cut a cross in the bottom half of the red chilli and leave it in icy cold water for 5 minutes.

3. To make the masala paste, put all of the ingredients in a spice grinder and grind to a fine paste. Add 125ml of water and process into a smooth, fine paste.

4. Heat the oil in a large heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat, add the onion and cook for 5 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add the masala paste and cook for 2 minutes.

5. Add the kokam and its soaking water and the tamarind pulp and simmer for 15 minutes over low heat.

6. Add the coconut cream and fish and cook for 5 minutes or until the fish is cooked. Garnish with the chilli flower and shredded ginger.

Tip: To get some extra flavour, marinate the fish with salt and chilli powder along with the ground turmeric.

*Kokam A member of the mangosteen family, the kokam bears a purple coloured fruit that is used as a souring agent in western coastal cooking. The outer cover of the fruit is sun dried and that is used in cooking. It gives a sour taste and a darkish purple colour to the dish. The flavour profile is similar to tamarind, which is used more in South India.

This recipe has been taken from From India by Kumar and Suba Mahadevan (£25, Murdoch Books). Order your copy on Amazon now.



Soy-braised pork belly with ginger and star anise

My Aunt, Ah Nueng, is the best cook in our family and taught me how to make this classic Cantonese dish. The multi-step process is time-consuming, but worth the effort. Blanching draws out the impurities and softens the pork skin, the frying step helps render excess fat and the final soaking makes the belly easy to cut into thin strips. When buying pork belly, look for 'five storey' pork, with five alternating layers of fat and meat. The pork gets even better if it sits in the braising liquid for a day, so don't be afraid to make this ahead. Any leftover meat makes an excellent filling for steamed buns. Serve the pork with steamed rice to absorb the cooking juices.

Serves: 6, as part of a multi-course meal


900g skin-on pork belly, in one piece
3 tbsp dark soy sauce
240ml rapeseed oil
1½ cubes fermented red bean curd, mashed (about 1 tbsp)
1½ tbsp oyster sauce
2 tsp sugar
4 whole star anise pods
2 cloves garlic, crushed
4 pound-coin-sized slices of fresh ginger
6 spring onions, cut into 7.5cm lengths
210g pickled mustard greens, homemade or store-bought, rinsed and coarsely chopped

1. Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Add the pork belly and cook for about 5 minutes, until the water returns to a boil. Drain the pork and, when cool enough to handle, prick holes all over the skin using a fork or a pronged tenderiser. Rub the skin side with 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce.

2. In a large, deep Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pan, heat the oil over a medium-high heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the pork belly, skin side down. Turn down the heat to medium, cover the pot partially to protect yourself from oil splatters and cook for about 10 minutes, until the skin is golden brown and crisp. Carefully flip the pork over and cook for an additional 3 minutes on the second side. Remove the pan from the heat, transfer the pork to a bowl and pour the fat that has accumulated in the pan into a small heatproof bowl. Set the fat aside.

3. Add cold water to cover the pork and let it stand for 30 minutes. The skin will bubble up and soften. Remove the pork from the bowl, discard the water and cut the meat crossways into 2cm wide strips.

4. While the pork is soaking, make the sauce. In a small bowl, combine the bean curd, oyster sauce, the remaining  2 tablespoons soy, and the sugar. Mash the bean curd with the back of a spoon, then stir until the sauce is smooth. Add the star anise and stir to combine.

5. In a large clay pot or heavy-bottomed pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the reserved fat over a medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the ginger, spring onions and sauce mixture and cook for 2 minutes more.

6. Add the pork strips, stir to coat with the sauce, then add 720ml of water and mix well. Bring to the boil and decrease the heat so the mixture is simmering gently. Cover and simmer for 1 hour. At the 1 hour mark, stir in the mustard greens, re-cover and cook for 15 minutes longer, until both meat and fat are very tender.

7. Remove from the heat and serve the pork directly from the clay pan, accompanied by steamed white rice.

This recipe has been taken from Vietnamese Home Cooking by Charles Phan (£30, Ten Speed Press). Order your copy on Amazon now.


Paul's basil pancakes with cherry tomato ragoût

Paul was my Europhile sous-chef at Rubicon, a restaurant owned by Robin Williams, among others. I was working there the morning after he won his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in Good Will Hunting – he came down into the kitchen and gave us all a bottle of Champagne. Unexpected and very appreciated by his hard-working team.

In California in the 90s I feel certain they would have served this with a squiggle of balsamic reduction on the plate... thank God that trend seems to have bitten the dust.

Makes: starter for 4 (12 little pancakes) and takes 10 minutes to get it ready then a 30 minute cook.


For the ragoût:

20g butter
150g shallots, sliced
2-3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
220ml tomato juice or passata
200g vine-ripened cherry tomatoes
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
a touch of sugar (optional)

For the pancakes:

75g brioche (slightly stale works just fine)
125ml double cream
2 eggs, beaten
20g basil leaves, washed
a handful of spinach leaves (about 40g), washed
40g plain flour
1 tbsp butter
a few splashes of extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

To serve:

a ball of buffalo mozzarella (about 200g), sliced

1. Melt the butter in a pan over a medium heat and cook the shallots with the garlic for a few minutes. When they start to sizzle but before they begin to brown, turn the heat down to minimum and put on a lid. Stir from time to time for about 8-10 minutes until they are well and truly softened, then set the lid aside and pour in the tomato juice.

2. Simmer slowly for 12-15 minutes to a fairly thick sauce, seasoning along the way. Lob in the cherry tomatoes and cook for 5-ish minutes, until their skins have split and they are just cooked, not collapsed. Turn the heat off, stir in the balsamic vinegar, and taste: you may want to add a touch of sugar, depending on the tomatoes.

3. While all that is going on, mush the brioche into the cream using the back of a spoon, then gradually stir in the eggs. In a blender, whiz together the basil, spinach and the soaked brioche until pale green and very smooth. Scrape it into a bowl, sift then fold in the flour and give it a decent shot of both salt and pepper.

4. Only start cooking the pancakes when the ragoût is ready. In a large heavy-based frying pan over a medium heat, melt a teaspoon of the butter into a splash of olive oil. When the butter starts to sizzle, gently dollop in a dessert spoon of the mix per pancake – you should be able to get at least four in the pan. Turn them over after 1-2 minutes and fry the other side until very lightly golden – it's good to have a bit of goo left in the middle, so they should be in and out of the pan in three minutes. Drain quickly on kitchen paper and cover with foil to keep warm as you get on with the rest.

5. Serve with the ragoût and a couple of slices of mozzarella.

This recipe has been taken from Allegra McEvedy's book Around the World in 120 Recipes (£14.99, Conran). Order your copy on Amazon now.



Gnocchi ripieni (smoked cheese gnocchi)

I absolutely love these light little dumplings of smoked cheese and ricotta, which are usually served with a simple tomato sauce. The centre melts, giving the appearance that the gnocchi are stuffed with melted cheese. They are completely different to potato gnocchi.

Serves: 4 (make 12 large or 20 small gnocchi)


1 quantity of tomato sauce (see recipe below)

For the gnocchi:

250g ricotta, drained
1 egg
35g '00' or plain flour
50g Parmesan, finely grated
25g smoked cheese, such as scamorza or smoked Cheddar, finely grated
salt and freshly ground black pepper
50g semolina to serve
basil leaves
Parmesan or Grana Padano shavings

1. First prepare the tomato sauce.

2. Next, mix all the gnocchi ingredients except the semolina together in a bowl, using an electric whisk to achieve a smooth mixture. Bring a large pan of well-salted water to the boil.

3. If making large gnocchi, use tablespoons; if making small gnocchi, use teaspoons. To shape the gnocchi, use two spoons to make quenelles: take a spoonful of the mixture, hold a spoon in each hand and form ovals like small rugby balls by scraping the mixture from one spoon to the other, squeezing it together as you work. Roll the shapes into the semolina to coat them, then  drop them in small batches into the boiling water. They will float to the surface when cooked.

4. Lift them out gently using a slotted spoon and add them directly to the pan containing the sauce. Make sure the sauce is warm and gently toss the gnocchi in the sauce to coat.

5. Serve immediately with basil leaves and shavings of Parmesan or Grana Padano.

Our favourite tomato sauce

This is our best tomato sauce recipe ever (in 17 years of writing Italian recipes!), using a combination of preserved and fresh tomatoes. Many Italians bottle their home-grown tomatoes in summer to eat throughout the cold months. Unless, like them, you have an abundance of tomatoes and the flavour has been ripened by the sun, this is the next best thing. The richness of flavour is much enhanced by adding half the oil at the beginning and half at the end, but you can cut down down on the olive oil if you're watching your wasteline. This sauce is prefect with both long or short pasta and is also good to use in baked pasta dishes.

Serves: 6-8

6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 red or white onion, finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, lightly crushed
2 x 400g cans whole Italian plum tomatoes
1 large sprig of basil
1-2 tsp caster sugar
1 level tsp salt
good pinch of freshly ground black pepper
12 ripe and flavourful cherry tomatoes, diced

1. Heat half the olive oil in a frying pan and fry the onion and garlic slowly over a medium to low  heat for 7-10 minutes, until soft. Add the canned tomatoes, then wash out the can with a few tablespoons of water and add this to the sauce.

2. Add the basil, sugar, salt and black pepper, and continue to cook over a medium heat for about 15 minutes. Use a potato masher or fork to break up the tomatoes.

3. Next add the cherry tomatoes. Cook the sauce for a further 15 minutes, then taste and  adjust the salt and sugar if necessary.

4. Stir in the remaining olive oil and your sauce is ready.

Cookbook challengeThese two recipes have been taken from The Amalfi Coast by Kate and Giancarlo Caldesi (£25, Hardie Grant). Order your copy on Amazon now.

Related Articles