The simplest Thai soup stock

Good ingredients let you keep it simple, which is especially useful if you aren’t organised. Like tonight’s dinner, which got rustled up.


  • Spencer Gulf King Prawns to taste. At least 5 x serve. Green in shells.
  • noodles – we had ramen noodles in the fridge, so that was it.
  • lime juice to taste – we used half a lime for two of us tonight.
  • sugar
  • chilli oil
  • fish sauce
  • fresh coriander leaves
  • fresh mint – we just have ordinary mint in the garden
  • water


Put some water in a pan and bring to boil. Add heads of prawns for a couple of minutes and remove. I used a slotted spoon.

Peel prawns and devein.

Add chilli oil and a little sugar to the stock, and a generous splash of fish sauce. Adjust to taste.

My noodles were fresh, so I threw them into the stock, they only needed a couple of minutes once they’d come to the boil. If your noodles are dry, cook them in separate water and then add. When the noodles are close to cooked, throw in the prawns, which only need a minute, if that. They will keep cooking in the hot stock.

At the table present the coriander, mint and lime juice to be added by each person to taste.

Really just making a record of this so I can remember it next time.

Note: prawns defrost really quickly, you only need an hour.






Pasta with broccoli and salmon (II)

I had one idea here a few years ago. Here is take two.


  • smoked salmon, wild
  • broccoli, washed and chopped into smallish pieces
  • pouring cream
  • garlic, chopped
  • shallots chopped
  • vodka


While the pasta is cooking, heat the cream to a simmer, add the garlic and shallots. Bring to the boil, add a large splash or two of vodka and burn that off. Next throw in the broccoli and cook at a lively simmer – you can add more cream or some of the pasta’s cooking water if necessary.

When the pasta is almost al dente, drain but not thoroughly, add it and the salmon to the sauce, stir thoroughly for a minute or two, while the pasta finishes cooking by soaking up the sauce. The thing is you don’t want to overcook the salmon, you are just heating it through.

That’s it. Bung it on plates, offer lashings of freshly ground pepper.


Pasta with sardines, pine nuts and prunes

If that’s not alliterative for you, change to ‘Pescatorial pasta with pine nuts and prunes’

We used to buy a lot of tinned tuna here in Geneva because it’s so much cheaper than fresh fish. We’d get the posh tins from Globus. But I wondered recently why sardines might not be at least as good and a whole lot cheaper. Tinned, that is. The kind of recipe that follows is normally prescribed for fresh sardines but they are expensive here too.

Ingredients for two

  • can of sardines in olive oil
  • a couple of shallots peeled and chopped
  • some fresh fennel bulb: discard outer coarse layer and very finely shave what’s left
  • some garlic peeled and chopped
  • 1 chilli washed and chopped
  • a handful of pine nuts toasted in a dry pan
  • some soft prunes – those packets last for ages in the fridge – chopped
  • parsley off the stem and chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste


While the pasta is cooking, drain the olive oil from the sardines and heat. Gently fry the shallots, fennel, garlic and chilli until shallots are softened. Stir in the sardines and chopped prunes, breaking up the sardines as you do so.

Let that sit on low heat until the pasta is cooked. Drain it and toss it through the sauce, adding most of the parsley and pine nuts. Mix thoroughly.

Serve on plates and top with the last of the parsley and pine nuts.

For next time: I like to try the basic idea before getting fancy. Next time I would add more fennel, it was too subtle today. White wine may add some good depth of flavour that would contrast well with the fish.

Some people add saffron to this dish, but that’s if it’s made with fresh sardines. Tinned, they are too strong for this subtle flavouring. Save the saffron for something else.

I don’t see cheese, grated or even shaved adding to this dish.

Cupboard risotto

This is a bit common and can be refined to taste. If the cupboard is otherwise bare, these are staples in our kitchen.

For two

1 cup risotto rice
3 cups chicken stock simmering
half cup of white wine
a couple of shallots finely sliced
clove of garlic finely chopped
juice of half a lemon
a few big handfuls of baby leaf spinach stemmed (or large spinach stemmed and chopped)
small tin of tuna in oil
olive oil

In a saucepan heat the olive oil along with the oil from the tuna and gently fry the shallot, as it softens add the garlic and turn a few times. Raise heat to high, add wine and burn off.

Turn heat to medium low.

Add rice and fry for a bit until well coated with everything in the pan. Now add the stock. Honestly, don’t bother doing this a tablespoon at a time. Add a third of it at once, stir. When absorbed add another third. Somewhere towards the end of your stock start being circumspect. When it is very close to done, just a little bite left, add the tuna and spinach. Keep stirring, add a little more stock now as you decide is necessary. You want a sort of creamy finish to it and a tiny bit of bite to the rice. Lastly stir through the lemon juice and then the parmesan.

That’s about it. Real chicken stock. Real fish. Naked man to stir risotto very slowly are all possible ways to improve this….

But as is, it is yummy and easy and cheap, which is exactly what I wanted.

Oh yes. Serve with lots of freshly ground black pepper, of course.


PS: If it comes down to it, you can really pare this down. Today, I had no shallots, grating cheese seemed like hard work, and I had tinned fish, but I don’t know how to use the can opener. How I will survive the nuclear holocaust is anybody’s guess.

Rice? Had no risotto rice, but had a small amount of something mysterious and short which definitely belonged in the general genus of ‘rice’. Whack it in.

It was still yum.

Soba noodle, smoked salmon, quail egg salad

On the plate:

first a layer of salad leaves which I cut into smaller pieces
then the soba noodles in their dressing
boiled and shelled quail eggs halved, on top
around the sides smoked salmon

Cook the soba noodles in boiling water. I do it by bringing water to the boil, adding noodles, adding a cup of cold water, when it’s at the boil again, add another cup of cold water. Repeat that again. Drain and run water through to cool.

Dressing for the noodles:

I lightly fried some garlic and ginger in a little oil, added some pale miso, honey, brown rice vinegar and a little tamari. Added water to make it a pouring consistency. Tossed it through the noodles before placing on top of the salad leaves. I took the ingredients for the dressing from here. I did find it too salty and would do something rather different next time.

Risotto with tuna and parsley

When you live in Geneva, you can’t have too many variations on Things to Do with Tuna, on account of how it’s probably going to be the main non-veg ingredient you can afford. I’m amazed at how well red wine worked in this, we are so used to ‘fish = white’. I will never be able to replicate this exactly as my red wine right now is an amalgam of various bottles people haven’t quite finished lately, including sparkling shiraz and cab sav.


  • Risotto rice
  • Shallot
  • Garlic
  • Olive Oil
  • Butter
  • Chicken stock
  • Parsley
  • Chilli
  • Tinned tuna
  • Red wine


While the stock is brought up to a simmer: gently fry the shallot and garlic in the olive oil. Add the rice and coat well with the oil. Add red wine – for two people I made that several generous slugs – and raise heat to burn off. Break up the tuna in the pan at the same time. Pour in the juice of the tuna if there’s any left in the tin and quite a bit of the stock. Leave at a fairly vigorous simmer. Start stirring and keeping an eye on it after five minutes (maybe more, I didn’t time it). Add lots of parsley, chopped, and the chilli. When it seems like it’s about done, stir in the butter.

That’s about it. Sorry it isn’t the traditional hover over it the the entire time earnestly stirring, but I find reading a book during that period has no damning effect on the risotto and it’s more fun.

Char Kway Teow

Serves 6-8.


1 kg/2 lb fresh rice noodles
250 g/8 oz barbecued pork
250 g/8 oz small prawns
2 lap cheong (Chinese sausage)
125 g/4 oz fresh bean sprouts
3 tablespoons oil
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
3 shallots, finely sliced
3-4 fresh red chillies, sliced
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
2 eggs, beaten
4 spring onions (scallions), chopped
salt and pepper to taste

I wrote this up in Geneva some time ago….now I’m in Australia and fresh noodles abound.

I’m in Geneva, so mine is missing fresh noodles – arrgghhhhhhhhh! I am assured that I can make do by cooking dried noodles the night before and then have them sit in the fridge until using them the next day. We will see…

Also, I’m not a big fan of Chinese sausage, so it’ll be getting the gong.

These directions are from Charmaine Solomon Encyclopedia of Asian Food


Pour boiling water over noodles to soften and separate them. Drain in a colander. Slice pork finely. Shell and devein prawns. Steam sausages for 5 minutes, and when plump and soft, cut into thin diagonal slices. Rinse bean sprouts and pick off tails.

Heat half the oil and fry garlic, shallots and chillies until soft. Add pork, prawns and sausage. Stir-fry for 2 minutes or until prawns change colour. Add bean sprouts and toss for 30 seconds. Turn mixture out of wok, heat remaining oil and stir-fry the noodles to heat through. Add soy sauce and oyster sauce and mix. Push noodles to side of wok, pour eggs and spring onions into the centre and stir till set. Return fried mixture and toss with the noodles. Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot.

Spaghetti with mussels

I’m tiring of the format, reporting how many centimes I’ve spent on garlic and whatnot, so I expect everybody else is too. Instead I’m going to cost dishes from time to time.

Eat seasonally.

It is the mussel season here. I always buy mussels from Globus, having had a dreadful experience at Manor. It’s the old story, you get what you pay for. At Globus the sign may say 15.90CHF/100g for mussels, but it does mean 15.90CHF/kg. So that’s alright then. They are cheaper than truffles.

Today we had them like this.

Spaghetti with mussels

Ingredients for two

200-250g dry weight spaghetti
500g mussels (a generous quantity, it could certainly feed 3, 4 at a pinch)
garlic finely chopped
shallots finely chopped
fresh chillies finely chopped: I used 3 bird’s eye
100-200g good quality tomatoes seeded and slivered
spring onion green tops snipped into small rounds
olive oil for cooking
up to 1 cup of dry white wine


While the spaghetti is boiling, clean the mussels, discard any that are open.

Heat the oil and gently fry the garlic, shallots and chilli until softened. Raise the heat, add the wine and let the alcohol burn off. Add the tomatoes and leave on a low heat, get all those flavours mingling.

1-2 minutes before the spaghetti is cooked, raise the heat to high, throw in the mussels along with the small amount of liquid that will have accumulated with them. Put a lid on the pan. While they are bubbling away, drain the spaghetti – I don’t do this too thoroughly as the whole thing probably needs a little more liquid still. Throw the spaghetti into the pot with the mussel sauce, stir thoroughly, turn off the heat.

Serve with the spring onion scattered on top. You need a bowl for shells and, if you are being posh, finger bowls, it’s a fingery sort of dish.

It is SO good! If you can’t get good tomatoes, consider something more like a vodka cream sauce. Might report on that another day.


mussels 8
spaghetti 1.50
wine 1
tomatoes 2
sundries 1

Total 13.50

Definitely an extravagance, but worth every penny and as I said, the two of us could have made do less mussels without feeling the least hard done by.

Fish cakes as the English have them.

Boys love this. Surely that’s evidence of intelligent design, how easy it is to keep boys happy.


Ingredients for two

A smallish tin of tuna in oil preferably, but drained
2 largish potatoes
Thai fish sauce
Lemon rind finely chopped or grated
Freshly ground pepper. Salt if you please: it might depend on the tuna.

For the crumbs:

Flour in a flat-bottomed bowl
A beaten egg
Dry breadcrumbs, preferably made yourself, honestly, it’s worth it.


Peel the potatoes and chop, then boil until cooked.
Mash and thoroughly mix in the other ingredients. The fish sauce is imperative.

When cool, pick up a handful or so and flatten a little. Cover with flour, then egg and lastly dry breadcrumbs.

Cooking: heat butter, ghee or olive oil in a pan. Don’t be mean with it, enough to make the crumbs happy – they love fat. Fry until golden brown on both sides.

There just isn’t a way to serve seafood with vegetables except potato, of course, so that’s it. A few of them on each plate and serve.

Feel good food for any time.

Prawns with cocktail sauce

One of the things I’ve been doing in excess while in Australia is the devouring of South Australian king prawns. This is a favourite way.

Rick Stein’s cocktail sauce it is the only way I drink whiskey and I really do mean drink. I can stand at the fridge, door open, shovelling this into my mouth. If you happen to have prawns about, so much the better.

Ingredients for sauce:

* 4 tbsp mayonnaise
* 4 tbsp tomato ketchup
* 2 tbsp single malt whiskey
* 4 tbsp natural, unsweetened yoghurt

Mix the above and serve with prawns.

I buy green king prawns and cook them myself: a large pan of water to a good rolling boil, toss in the prawns, they will rise to the top and be pink after a couple of minutes or so. Quickly plunge into cold iced water and then chill until needed.

If you are serving this formally in glass bowls with salad leaves underneath and prawns mixed into the sauce, then I guess you shell them. If you are simply serving the prawns as a free for all fight, maybe best not to shell them, this is probably supposed to be part of the fun of the dish.

One of my favourite Christmas Day dishes for when I’m in the climate God surely intended for that occasion.