'Light and Fresh', isn't that something for the Ladies?

Wednesday 10/11/2004

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Diary and Notes

Today's blog is a bit of a rant.

There are many things which on their own are superb, but when combined with a particular something else make for a real disaster - sardines and Marmite for instance. Today, I'm having a problem with the combination of the two words 'light and fresh'. Now I've no problem with light. It represents either a wave/particle in the visible region of the electromagnetic spectrum or the concept of something not weighing very much (both very useful) and fresh is always a good word when you go shopping for fish, meat and vegetables, no, it is their combined power which I dislike. 'Light and fresh' is the phrase most often used by pretentious 28 year old theatre studies students (get a job and stop sponging off daddy) when they wax on about why that 'Olio Extra Vergine di Oliva terre del Chianti Classico' that Mummy made her try on their yearly trip to Tuscany was just 'soooo good'. (Why don't these skinny faddists eat a ploughman's lunch, that's light and fresh? Ah but they probably do, only they call it by some effete Shakespearean name instead, something like; Tatania's Platter or Imogen's Cornucopia.) Anyway, 'light and fresh' is why, for a period in the late eighties/early nineties the great Indian/British curry came under assault from a strange impostor, calling itself curry. By being both 'light and fresh', this interloper appealed to people who were far too important to eat curry like common folk. I am talking of course about Thai food.

Now I don't cook much Thai food. Not because I don't like it, but simply because I never really think to - I never crave Thai food like I do Indian, it's not the food of my soul. I think I also avoid it, simply because it became something fashionable and I don't want to eat fashion, I want to eat food. As an example, when Chop Suey was invented (in America) it was really just a pile of leftovers thrown into a wok in a San Fransisco restaurant and heated with some soy sauce and MSG. A few years later this trendy new cuisine swept the globe and was probably responsible for the Titanic disaster and the first world war. Stay away from fashion, it's dangerous and allows people to sell you bad food at expensive prices.

So I cooked a Thai style beef stew. I'm not calling it curry, people call anything with a hint of spice a curry, even eccles cakes. It was a spicy beef stew I made, with baby white aubergines and red chillis and lemon grass and fish sauce and all manner of goodly things. It was very very tasty and I wish I could have it again soon. I suppose I should take this as an object lesson in why I should shake off those two huge chips on my shoulders (by having two I remain a balanced person, if I shake one off, I might go insane.) and cook more Thai food. But let me say this: My stew was a stew and it wasn't 'light and fresh', it was good and wholesome. It was like food should be; filling enough to make me smile after a hard day bent over double, planting seedlings in a paddy field under a baking hot Asian sun.

One last note just to show how dedicated I am to my work. I was about to go to bed and realised I had forgotten to eat my pudding. It was late and I'd had some wine and wanted to sleep. But no, I got up from my chair, made a small cup of coffee and had an excellent piece of Möhnkuchen (poppy seed cake) before bed. This was a fantastic pastry cake with a thick black layer of poppy seeds that looked like fine caviar topped with a white frosting. It looked like a Newcastle United shirt and would make a much better cake for their city than stotty, with or without cheese savoury inside.


  • Thai red beef stew with baby aubergines,
  • Rice,
  • Cucumber salad.

  • Möhnkuchen.

  • Hasselroder pils


  • Beef, baby aubergines, peanut oil, shallots, garlic, red chillis, galangal (or ginger will do), lemon grass, pickled baby shrimp, fish sauce, cumin, fresh coriander, fresh basil leaves, coconut milk, limes.
  • Salad: Cucumber, thai fish sauce, peanuts, lime juice, fresh coriander, sugar


    To make the curry paste: Into a blender place the lemon grass, the stalks from the coriander, loads of chillis, some lime juice, fish sauce, a dollop of the preserved baby shrimp (or shrimp paste) some cumin and galangal and blitz for a long time. If you don't blitz enough the lemon grass will still be stringy.
    To make the stew: Heat some peanut oil in a saucepan and fry the very finely chopped shallots until soft. Add the beef and fry a little longer. Pour over the paste, stir, add a little water, the canned coconut and the chopped aubergines. Put on the lid and go do some Pali chanting (the Metta Sutta would be good before this dish) for an hour and a half, while it slowly cooks. About five minutes before serving stir in a load more fresh coriander and chopped basil. (I could only get European basil but that was fine. Also people often fry whole basil leaves in peanut oil as a garnish but I couldn't be bothered for just little old me). If I had found some kaffir lime leaves I'd have put these in the paste too.