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First-class fare

The discovery of delicious dishes is one of the best reasons to take off for distant shores

 

Text Susan Jung / Photography Jonathan Wong / Styling Nellie Ming Lee

 

The best "souvenirs" I have from my travels are the memories of meals that were new to me and which I later try to replicate. Sometimes, these dishes need special ingredients, which I carry back, but for these recipes, you can find everything you need at a well-stocked supermarket.

 

Aloo bonda (pictured)
I fell in love with aloo bonda on a trip to Jaipur, India, earlier this year. Actually, I loved all the Indian vegetarian items served at the breakfast buffet at the Samode Haveli hotel, where we were staying - the idlis, uttapams, dhal and samosas were so delicious I couldn't wait to get into the dining room to see what the chefs had cooked each day.

It took me a few months to try to make aloo bonda, though, and my first attempt was so bad they went straight into the bin. I quickly realised that the secret behind a good aloo bonda is in getting the potatoes cooked correctly; if you dice them before boiling and mashing them, they get waterlogged, which makes the filling too soft and soggy.

 

1kg potatoes (use the smooth-skinned local variety - not waxy-textured "new potatoes")
30ml cooking oil
¾ tsp whole cumin seeds
1 tsp black mustard seeds
15 grams minced ginger
1 green banana chilli, seeded then finely diced
90 grams diced onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp chilli powder
¼ tsp garam masala
6-8 finely minced fresh curry leaves
A small handful of fresh coriander leaves, chopped
Fine sea salt, to taste
 

For the batter:
225 grams chickpea flour
¼ tsp turmeric
¼ tsp chilli powder
½ tsp fine sea salt
¼ tsp baking soda
250ml cold water
Cooking oil, for frying
Chutney, for serving

 

Scrub the potatoes but do not peel them. Put them in a pan of water and add enough cool salted water to cover them by about 2cm. Bring to the boil over a medium flame then cook the potatoes, uncovered, until they're just tender enough to be pierced with a fork. Drain them immediately then place them in one layer on a tray, slicing them in half so the steam can escape. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skins. Roughly mash the potatoes and set them aside.

Heat the oil in a skillet then add the cumin seeds and mustard seeds. Stir for about 30 seconds, or until fragrant (the mustard seeds might pop). Add the ginger, chilli, onion and garlic and cook for about a minute. Stir in the turmeric, chilli powder, garam masala, curry leaves and potatoes, then sprinkle in some salt. Stir over a low flame for a few minutes (this helps to dry out the potatoes). Transfer the mixture to a bowl and cool to room temperature. Taste the mixture for seasonings and correct if needed. Stir in the coriander leaves. Shape the mixture into balls about 4cm in diameter.

Make the batter by mixing the chickpea flour with the turmeric, chilli powder, salt and baking soda. Stir in 150ml of water to make a thick, smooth paste. Add in more cold water to make a batter that thickly coats your finger.

Heat oil to the depth of about 8cm in a wok. When the oil is hot (about 180 degrees Celsius), dip the potato balls into the batter so they're completely coated, then place them in the hot oil. Fry them in batches; do not crowd the wok. Turn them over so they cook evenly. The aloo bonda are ready when they're medium golden brown and the batter is slightly puffed. Drain them on paper towels and serve hot, with the chutney of your choice.

 

Samgyetang
I've tasted this chicken and ginseng soup at several restaurants in Hong Kong, but didn't care for it. The restaurants I went to used larger chickens, serving half of one per portion; and the meat was overcooked and stringy. It wasn't until I ate samgyetang at a restaurant in Seoul, South Korea, that I liked it. The restaurant made only this one dish, using chickens that were small enough to serve individual diners, and cooked so gently that they poached, which made the meat tender, not stringy.

The recipe is based on one from the book Eating Korean by Cecilia Hae-jin Lee.

 

2 small Cornish game hens, thawed, if frozen
150 grams glutinous rice
2 fresh ginseng roots, about 10cm long
10 ginkgo nuts, shelled
6 dried red dates
6 garlic cloves
6 chestnuts, shells and skin removed
Fine sea salt, rough-flaked sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Korean chilli flakes
White-radish kimchi

 

Rinse the Cornish hens inside and out with cold running water, then drain them and pat them dry with paper towels. Lightly sprinkle fine sea salt over the birds (including in the cavity). Rinse the rice in several changes of water, then drain it.

Into the cavity of each bird, put half the rice, four gingko nuts, two dates, two garlic cloves and two chestnuts. Put each hen, breast-side up, into an individual serving pot that fits it quite snugly (if it's too big, you'll need to add more water, which means the broth won't have as much flavour). Add enough water to almost cover each bird. Put one ginseng root into each pot and divide the remaining gingko nuts, dates, garlic and chestnuts between them. Place the pots over a medium flame and bring to a sim-mer. Put the lids on the pots then turn the heat to very low and cook at a bare simmer for 30 minutes. Turn the birds over then continue to cook for about 15 more minutes, or until the rice is tender and the hens are cooked through. Each diner should season the meat and broth with rough-flaked salt, pepper and chilli flakes before eating with white radish kimchi.

 

 

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