Menu 1: From Shimla to Sichuan Photo: The Toy Train, Shimla, India
Tikka Mushrooms (Shimla, India) - vegetarian skewers of marinated grilled mushrooms, served with a light yoghurt relish Dan Dan Noodles (Sichuan, China) – pork/beef noodles, spicy and fragrant with Sichuan pepper Lamingtons (Australia) – little squares of cake covered with chocolate icing and rolled in coconut Drink suggestion: A smooth Australian chardonnay, chilled to perfection, matches the mood.
Starters - Tikka Mushrooms, from a hillside restaurant in Shimla, India (vegetarian)
You’re at a hillside restaurant, lights of the valley below you, sunset on the Himalayas in the distance. A skewer of plump marinated mushrooms in a light spiced yoghurt appears on your plate.
Preparation: 10 minutes, an hour marinade, 20 minutes cooking.
600g mushrooms – normal white cap quite tight are the best, not portobello open ones
300ml plain Greek yoghurt
4 teaspoons tikka paste from a jar and a teaspoon of cayenne pepper or good chilli powder
1 good squeeze lime juice
½ bunch fresh coriander, ½ bunch fresh mint, ¼ cucumber, squeeze lemon juice
Mix the yoghurt, tikka paste, cayenne pepper and lime juice thoroughly – you will get a nice red cool yoghurt slurry. Add a good pinch of salt. Prepare the mushrooms –peel or wipe them as you prefer. Add the mushrooms to the marinade, mix well to cover them with the yoghurt and leave for an hour. Pre heat the oven to 200°C. Take the mushrooms out of the yoghurt and thread them onto metal skewers. Put on a tray in the oven for 20- 30 minutes – turn every now and then to make sure all sides are cooked. If they are large, you might need to turn on the grill and grill them for 10 minutes - depends on the size. You want a slightly browned outside, which means the mushrooms are nice and juicy inside. To make the chutney: blend washed herbs with chopped cucumber, the lemon juice and some salt until you get a foamy liquid chutney. You can also serve a yoghurt/cucumber/mint blend for a cooling touch. Serve: Remove from the skewers and serve a few mushrooms on each plate with a slice of lemon to squeeze over, and an artistic dab of coriander/mint fresh chutney.
Main Course - Dan Dan Noodles – from the streets of Xi'an, China
A bustling street in downtown Xi'an, wooden eaves lean over the street. A vendor appears with wooden carriers balanced on his shoulders from which a dark spicy irresistible aroma rises. Noodles in a sauce made from minced pork are served into your bowl, flecked with crisp chilli, adorned with slivers of spring onion.
Preparation: 30 minutes, most of it can be done a day ahead. For the meat mixture:
200g minced beef
200g minced pork
2 tablespoons of chopped pickled mustard greens or Chinese salted vegetable (xue cai) or substitute a firm green cabbage chopped small and soaked in salted water for 15 minutes. You can leave this out or substitute green beans chopped small.
1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns – from a specialist Chinese supplier or the internet
½ bunch spring onions, chopped
½ red chilli, chopped fine
1cm ginger, peeled and grated
1 clove of garlic, peeled and mashed up with salt
For the sauce:
2 tablespoons crunchy peanut butter
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons Chinkiang vinegar or white rice vinegar
2 tablespoons crispy chilli in oil
600g Chinese wheat noodles
Toast your Sichuan peppercorns for about 3 minutes in a hot frying pan. Tip them onto kitchen paper to cool and then crush to a gravelly texture in a pestle and mortar. Make the sauce: In a bowl combine the peanut butter with the sesame oil slowly at first, until you have a loose paste. Add the other liquid ingredients and half the ground Sichuan pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning. This can be done ahead and left in the fridge. Prepare the meat: In a frying pan, fry the meat until the oil comes out, then add the spring onions, chilli, ginger and garlic. Continue frying until the meat is browning and even crisping up a little bit. Add the green vegetable if using and fry for a minute or two longer, just to wilt the vegetable and drive off its liquid. Add the other half of the ground Sichuan pepper. This can be done ahead and left in a covered container in the fridge and just blasted again in a frying pan to warm up while you are cooking the noodles. Cook the noodles according to instructions – usually in a large pan of boiling water for about 5 minutes. Serve: Combine the three ingredients: noodles, meat, and sauce in a large serving bowl, mix well, and serve everyone a bowl of their own to slurp and dribble over.
Dessert - Lamingtons, The Australian National Cake
A houseful of hospitable Aussies welcomes you in. Lamingtons are offered. Sweet soft sponge, coated in thick chocolate, rolled in coconut (or chocolate vermicelli alternative). There are many recipes for Lamingtons, probably every Australian family has their own. Mine is adapted from Kate Young’s recipe in the Little Library Cookbook, which is authentic as she is herself Australian. This makes 25 cubes of cake which is too much for 6 people but maybe have a tea party next day to use them up with another 6 lucky neighbours? Preparation: Start 2 days in advance to make the sponge as it needs to cool overnight, then ice and roll the day before your party so you have it all under your belt well ahead.
Day Minus 2: Sponge Cake, 20 minutes preparation, 1 hour to cook, cool down overnight.
175g salted butter
250g caster sugar and a tablespoon of vanilla sugar or a teaspoon of vanilla essence
200g full fat yoghurt
5 medium eggs
300g self raising flour
Preheat the oven to 180°C and grease a 22x22cm baking tin, line it with greaseproof paper. Melt the butter while you measure out the flour, sugar, vanilla and yoghurt into your mixing bowl. Add the melted butter into the bowl and beat until it turns creamy, then add in the eggs one at a time with a spoonful of flour after each one. Add in the rest of the flour and mix briefly. You will end up with a thick creamy batter rather than a fluffy one. Pour into the tin and cover the top with foil. Bake 40 minutes, remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes until cooked. It doesn’t rise very much, and it won’t look very brown. Leave to cool completely in the tin overnight, covered.
Day Minus 1: Ice and Coat the Sponge – about an hour
200g granulated sugar
25g cocoa powder
200g dark chocolate, chipped small
200g desiccated coconut or alternative of chocolate sprinkles
In a small bowl, add a tablespoon of milk to the cocoa powder, mix to a thick paste, adding more milk if needed. Heat the rest of the milk with the sugar in a pan and add the cocoa paste to it – this stops the cocoa powder clumping and having to be whisked in. Bring to simmering point. Put the solid chocolate in another bowl and pour the hot milk onto it, stirring to melt. You should get a thick gloopy chocolate liquid. It stays quite liquid as long as it is warm. Lay out a shallow tray or wide bowl with some coconut in it and then a wire rack with another tray under to catch the drips. Cut the cake using a bread knife into even squares – 5 rows across and 5 down. Using a fork and spoon, dip a cube into the icing and smooth the icing over the sides, not letting too much cling but making sure each surface is covered. Drop the cube into the coconut and roll it around to cover all the sides, pressing the desiccated coconut onto the chocolate icing. Then put the cube on the rack to set. Keep in an airtight tin until needed.