Siew Yen Chong shares her recipes for easy to make spicy Asian snacks that conjure up memories of lazy days in the tropical sun. Wait for sundown. Put your feet up, G&T in hand and reach for that crispy anchovy now.
I am a firm believer in the restorative power of a late afternoon G&T particularly on sultry Southeast Asian days where the oppressive heat is lifted with your first gulp. I remember with a sense of longing my first G&T on Phu Quoc, an island off the south coast of Vietnam. We had rather cleverly picked up a bottle of Tanqueray at the airport. Combining it with the local freshly squeezed lime juice made for a perfect marriage. The juice was sharp, tempered with sugar and filled with wedges of fresh lime and we would drink half of it before topping up with gin and tonic water. Bliss. The second day we ordered a plate of crispy fried squid and we were hooked. Add to the mix a comfortable hammock, a wide expanse of sea and sky and there you have it. Since then, I have been hunting down great Southeast Asian dishes to go with gin.
The citrus element in gin is an ideal partner for Southeast Asian food. The botanicals and taste of juniper berries in gin coupled with the limes (limes are infinitely better than lemons) go very well with slightly spicier meat or seafood dishes that are grilled or fried.
Everyone has their special quirks when making a G&T. Mine is to use really good quality ice cubes and pour the gin over them before adding anything else. If you can find it, the kalamansi aka calamondin, which looks like a small round lime and tastes like a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange, also works a treat.
Below you’ll find recipes for some of the dishes we discovered on Phu Quoc. The grilled baby scallops are delicious and all can be served with a simple yet thoroughly convincing dip. Some dishes are slightly finicky but well worth the effort. I also find that these autumnal days are ideal for staying in and cooking, the smells of food mingling and lingering just long enough to feel cosy and pique your appetite all over again.
- Cracked black pepper (coarse)
- Juice of a freshly squeezed lime
- Fish sauce – generous
- A bunch of coriander leaves & stalks, roughly torn/chopped
- One (definitely more for the not-so faint-hearted) bird eye’s chilli deseeded
Mix all ingredients well and leave to stand for a minimum of half an hour.
GRILLED BABY SCALLOPS
- 5 – 6 baby scallops
Get a griddle very hot. Throw your scallops on it with a drizzle of sesame oil.
Serve with thin batons of cold cucumber and your dip.
CRISP FRIED SQUID
- 300g of squid
- 75g of corn flour or plain flour (seasoned with salt & pepper)
- a good glug of groundnut or sunflower oil
- 1 plump stalk of lemongrass
- 1 clove of garlic
- 2 stalks spring onions
- 1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
Clean the squid and cut into rings, keeping the tentacles.
Thinly slice garlic, remove tough outer leaves of lemongrass and thinly slice inner leaves. Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat.
Swirl and fry the lemongrass and garlic pieces, making sure they turn a golden colour without getting burnt (approx. 2 -3 minutes). Toss in julienned spring onions – your kitchen should be filled with a lovely aroma at this point. Stir fry another minute. Remove and drain on a plate. Meanwhile, coat squid rings with corn flour or seasoned flour and deep fry them in batches in the frying pan. They should curl up tight when cooked. Drain on paper towels.
Transfer crispy fried squid to a fresh plate and scatter sauteed vegetables over them. Serve with winning dip.
SAMBAL IKAN BILIS WITH CASHEW NUTS
Stir-fried anchovies and cashew nuts with chilli paste
A strange combination at first glance but a good one so don’t be put off. What you need here are dried anchovies which are available from all good Thai/Viet/Chinese shops.
- 100g dried anchovies
- Good handful of cashew nuts
- 1 onion thinly sliced
- 3 tbsp ready-made chilli paste (available in jars from most Asian grocery shops)
- 4 tbsp sunflower oil
Dry fry the anchovies in a non-stick pan over medium heat until crispy. This should take take about 6-8 minutes. Set them aside.
Throw cashew nuts into the pan to get them toasty and a nice shade of brown. Mix them in with the anchovies.
Turn the heat down and fry the chilli paste for 1 -2 minutes until the flavours are released and then toss in the onions. Stir to coat. When the onions are soft, mix in the nuts and anchovies. Serve with a squeeze of lime if you wish.