Cooking From The Heart

Healthy Eating & Living Guide
Chilli Trepidations

Chilli Trepidations

Brrrr! The chill factor is extreme for this time of the year don’t you think? I don’t know about you, but autumn seemed to pass in the blink of an eye. I’m into winter comfort food in a big way already, with lots of recipes popping into my head that involve slow cooking on the stove top or a bit of spice to heat us up from the inside out.

Out of pure ignorance, I was once completely terrified of all foods hot. If there was the slightest hint of chilli I’d got for another item on the menu. Heat in food is just something I didn’t grow up with and with only movie references to practical jokes involving chilli as my reference; I came to the conclusion that it was to be avoided at all costs. Worse, I equated anything with spice or pepper to be ‘hot’ and as such any foods including such items were blacklisted.

Over time, I started to get an inkling that I was missing out. There were just so many delicious-smelling meals I’d refuse all because of an unsubstantiated fear. With the encouragement of friends, I started on working on overcoming my trepidation by introducing some not-so-hot foods, one of which was a mild laksa. It was love at first slurp.

The thing about making your own curry paste is that you are in charge of how hot you want it to be. In this case, I’ve only included 2 bird’s eye chilli, so it is only mild in heat. The other thing I think helps, is adding sweetness to the dish. In this case it comes in the form of pumpkin. If you wanted to amp up the intensity of the sweetness, you could roast the pumpkin before adding it to the bowl with the other vegetables near the end.

With pumpkins now in season, I’ve got some additional recipes earmarked:
A oldie but a goodie, gramma pie.
This pumpkin ravioli.
A super-easy roasted pumpkin salad.

Chicken and Pumpkin Laksa

Laksa Paste
Makes 1 cup

1 red onion, chopped
2 tbs ginger, chopped
4 cloves garlic
1 tsp turmeric, chopped (or ½ tsp powdered turmeric)
1 stalk lemongrass, bottom 1/3 only, chopped
2 birdseye chilli
1 tsp shrimp paste
4 cloves
1 tsp coriander seed
1 tsp fennel seed
4 cardamom pods
1 tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp cinnamon
6 macadamia nuts
1 bunch coriander, root and stems only
10 Vietnamese mint leaves
100ml vegetable oil

Serves 4

3 cups chicken stock
1½ cups coconut cream
400g pumpkin, peeled, seeded and cubed
1 stalk of celery, thinly sliced
1 carrot, halved lengthways and thinly sliced
250 gm (about ¼) Chinese cabbage, coarsely chopped
1 bunch of baby bok choy, quartered
200g thick rice noodles
500g cooked chicken breast, thickly sliced
Handful each of Vietnamese mint and coriander leaves

For the laksa paste, process all ingredients except oil in a food processor until a smooth paste forms. Heat oil in a non-stick frying pan over low heat, add paste and cook for 5 minutes or until fragrant and oil separates. Paste will keep refrigerated in an airtight jar for up to 3 weeks.

In a large saucepan, combine chicken stock, ½ cup laksa paste and coconut cream and bring slowly to the boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and then add pumpkin.

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil, blanch celery, carrot, Chinese cabbage and baby bok choy then drain and set aside. Cook noodles according to packet instructions, drain and divide among bowls. Arrange vegetables and chicken on top, ladle over soup with pumpkin and scatter with herbs. Serve immediately.