Blog - Curry Twist

Grilled Lamb Satay Skewers In Borobudur, Indonesia

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Indonesia, a largely Muslim country, may be an unexpected place to find the biggest Buddhist temple in the world, but there it is: Borobudur, located a short distance from the Javanese town of Yogyakarta. The colossal stone pyramid rises above a lush plateau that is surrounded by hills and two still-active volcanoes.

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Borobudur was originally built in the 9th century by the Buddhist Shailendra dynasty that ruled over a large part of south-east Asia at that time. The temple consists of nine platforms that grow progressively smaller as you ascend. Each terrace has walls covered with stone carvings, interspersed with life-sized statues of the Buddha.

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The carvings are a wonderful album of scenes from everyday life in ancient Java. They also show stories from mythology and episodes from the life of the Buddha. Pilgrims visiting the temple can follow the Buddha’s quest for enlightenment, starting with his birth and scenes from his earliest days.

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As you ascend to the higher levels of the temple the carvings depict later stages of the Buddha’s life, successive terraces representing ever higher stages of wisdom. The apex of the pyramid is occupied by an array of Buddha figures, each inside a latticed dome, symbolizing the achievement of nirvana.

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Borobudur was abandoned in the 14th century as volcanic eruptions forced an evacuation of the surrounding area and the Javanese population increasingly converted to Islam. The temple stones collapsed and were buried under volcanic ash until the 19th century when Dutch colonial administrators began to have them unearthed. It was only in 1973 that a massive international effort led to the temple being restored close to its original state. Today Borobudur is Indonesia’s biggest tourist attraction, with millions of visitors each year.

Borobudur is a short, scenic drive from Yogyakarta and it is best to base yourself there. The drive is lovely and you will want to stop several times along the way to capture picture perfect rice terraces, gently flowing streams and the lush, mountain fringed countryside. Be sure to save some time to also explore the beautiful ancient temples of Prambanan just outside of Yogyakarta. Back in the bustling city of Yogyakarta, you will find plenty of opportunities to shop for local products or sample their famous street food.

Lamb satay skewers are a quintessentially Javanese dish and a popular street food in Yogyakarta. Grilled over a small charcoal stove atop push carts, they perfume the air with the heady aroma of spices. Just follow your nose to reach the nearest lamb satay stall around you or make my recipe at home till you can get to Indonesia!

This easy recipe comes together very quickly by throwing the marinade ingredients into a food processor or blender. After that, it is simply a matter of marinating the lamb overnight to produce the best flavours. Coconut cream is an essential part of this recipe, it keeps the lamb tender and saves it from drying out on the grill. Serve with Peanut Sauce and Nasi Goreng or Coconut Rice

Grilled Lamb Satay Skewers

1 lb (450g) boneless leg of lamb, cubed into bite sized pieces

4 cloves garlic

2 shallots

1 inch piece each: ginger, fresh turmeric or use 1 tsp ground turmeric

2 tbsp each: oil, coconut cream

1 tbsp each: tamarind paste or tamarind sauce or use lime juice, dark brown sugar

1 tsp each: ground coriander, red chilli sambal or hot sauce

Salt to taste

1 lime, halved

Place lamb in large mixing bowl.

Combine remaining ingredients (except lime) in the jar of a mini food processor or blender and process until well combined.

Scrape out the paste onto the lamb and mix well to coat.

Cover and refrigerate overnight or for at least 4 hours for flavours to develop.

Preheat barbecue to medium heat. Lift lamb out of marinade and thread pieces onto skewers. If you have any marinade left in the bowl, slather it over the lamb. Grill to desired done-ness, about 5 min per side for medium well done.

Serve with a squeeze of lemon over top.

Serves four

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Nasi Goreng (Fried Rice) In Prambanan, Yogyakarta, Indonesia

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Prambanan, located just a few miles outside the Javanese city of Yogyakarta, is the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia. Built in the ninth century by the Hindu dynasty that ruled Java at the time, it consists of a large compound that centers on three shrines dedicated to the deities Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. At its height, the elaborate complex included hundreds of temples and residences to accomodate the throng of priests, scholars and disciples who worked there. The buildings are covered with intricate carvings portraying stories from Hindu mythology and scenes from the great epic Ramayana.

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Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and dynastic wars led to the gradual collapse and abandonment of Prambanan by the fifteenth century. As the Javanese converted to Islam much of the religious significance of the temple ruins was forgotten, to be replaced by legends about an army of demons who had conjured up the buildings. It was only in the twentieth century that efforts were begun to painstakingly repair and rebuild these great temples.

Today Prambanan is one of Indonesia’s biggest tourist attractions, with its main temples restored to the glorious state they were in a millennium ago. The ruins of the smaller temples that once surrounded this core still lie on the ground, giving you an idea of the massive extent of the ancient site and reconstruction efforts. In the evening, on a nearby open air stage, actors perform a ballet that recounts the tales of the Ramayana using Javanese dance and music styles accompanied by a gamelan orchestra. For Indian visitors like us, it was a moving experience to hear stories that are such an essential part of our lives, recounted in such beautiful, exotic surroundings.

To explore the temples of Prambanan, base yourself in the nearby bustling city of Yogyakarta. In between marveling at nearby epic historic sights, you can also shop here for handmade batiks, local spices and handicrafts or visit the fresh market, brimming with just picked fruit and vegetables or catch a riveting ballet performance of the Ramayana.

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Yogyakarta is well known for it’s distinctive dishes that are sweetened with local Gula Jawa (palm sugar). Warungs or family owned roadside eateries are very popular and a great way to experience local flavour. The food here is always freshly prepared and is never expensive! Sit alongside families of regulars in a shaded veranda overlooking rice fields and enjoy dishes like sambal grilled fish, sate babi (pork satay), gado gado (salad with peanut sauce) and lumpia (crisp spring rolls), all served with generous helpings of nasi goreng (fried rice)!

Nasi Goreng accompanies many of the dishes served in Indonesia and is simple to make at home. Its characteristic feature is the slightly sweet taste and rich dark colour from Ketjap manis, the traditional sweet soy sauce. Feel free to add more vegetables of your choice or sauteed chicken and shrimp and top it all with a runny fried egg for extra decadence! You can also pair it with Swordfish Satay Skewers or Lamb Satay Skewers for a delicious meal.

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Nasi Goreng (Fried Rice)

3 tbsp vegetable oil, divided

2 eggs, beaten

1 medium onion, chopped

1/2 cup finely chopped sweet red pepper

2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 fresh hot red chilies, thinly sliced

2 tbsp ketjap manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce) or use

2 tbsp dark soy + 1 tbsp brown sugar

4 cups loosely packed cooked rice, preferably chilled

2 tbsp rice vinegar or fresh lime juice

4 scallions (green onions), thinly sliced

2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander

2 tbsp chopped/crushed roasted peanuts, optional

Sliced cucumber and tomatoes for garnish

Heat 1 tbsp oil in frying pan over medium high heat. Add eggs, make an omelet. Sliver omelet, reserve.
Heat remaining 2 tbsp oil in a large non stick skillet over high heat, then add onions and sweet red pepper, stir-fry 3 - 4 minutes, until lightly softened. Add garlic and chilies and stir-fry 30 seconds. Add the rice and stir-fry until rice is heated through and lightly fried, about 5 minutes. Stir in the ketjap manis or soy and sugar as well as rice vinegar or lime juice, reserved omelet, scallions and coriander until combined well and heated through. Sprinkle peanuts over top (if using) and serve garnished with cucumber and tomato slices and a wedge of lime.

Serves four

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Curry In Japan

When we planned our trip to Japan, we were looking forward to enjoying authentic Japanese cuisine during our travels, never anticipating that the most memorable dish we would encounter would be something quite familiar – curry! 

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We first discovered Japanese curry in the famous Nakamuraya restaurant, in Tokyo’s chic Shinjuku district, where chicken and seafood curries were prominently displayed on the menu. For Indian visitors like us, this was irresistible - we had to try them! The curry came in a sauceboat, accompanied by a plate of white rice, grated Parmesan cheese and little dishes of fukujinzuke, pickled vegetables. The flavors of the curry were distinctly Indian, which only deepened the mystery. There was nothing in the décor or name of the restaurant that hinted at an Indian connection, so why was a Japanese restaurant in Tokyo serving Indian food?

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Curry has become such an integral part of their cuisine that most Japanese are surprised to learn it did not originate in their homeland. Curry arrived in Japan in the late nineteenth century, when for the first time many Japanese began to travel to the west and were captivated by the culture and food they encountered. Most Japanese first tasted curry when travelling on British ships and associated this exotic dish with European rather than Indian cuisine.

The recipe for English curry followed a well-tested formula: meat and onions were fried in butter, curry powder and stock added, an apple thrown in for tartness, and the mixture slowly simmered. Japanese curry was similar, with soy sauce, honey and the all-important browned roux (made by combining flour, curry powder and butter) added in, making it uniquely Japanese. Cafés began to open in Tokyo serving coffee accompanied by pastries, pasta, and strangest of all – curry.

The Japanese love affair with curry intensified in modern times with the invention of ready-to-eat curry roux. A curry can be prepared in minutes by simmering meat or vegetables with this instant mix, making it the perfect comfort food to be enjoyed at home. The Japanese, delighted to find a dish that does not require elaborate preparation, eat curry at least once a week on average. Curry is now the most popular instant food in Japan, with grocery stores selling frozen, microwavable or vacuum-sealed versions. Children adore milder curries containing apples and honey, and these have become a favourite item on school lunch menus. Curry is eaten with rice – kareh raisu, over noodles - kareh udon, or stuffed in bread - kareh pan. National curry chains have carried the dish to every corner of Japan. Whale, scallops, oysters and venison are all served in curries and considered regional delicacies.

Travelling across Japan we enjoyed many memorable dishes: sushi at Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market; tempura in the Asakusa district; yakitori skewers at a centuries-old inn in Kyoto; a vegetarian feast consisting only of tofu prepared in a dozen different ways at a Buddhist temple. But after savouring these we always came back to curry, for it was not only a beloved flavour for us but also a little window into Japanese history.

Nakamuraya’s restaurant has a particularly fascinating past, for it first opened as a café and added curry to its menu when the owner’s daughter married an Indian revolutionary who had evaded British police and found refuge in Japan in 1915. Nakamuraya’s curry was an instant success and the elite of Tokyo flocked to the café to taste authentic Indian food. Newspaper reporters soon picked up the story and made the curry famous as the “taste of love and revolution”. Who can resist sampling that?

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This recipe, with its intriguing mix of ingredients and flavours is popularly served all over Japan. The unusual combination of apples with celery, carrot and potatoes is strangely comforting!

Japanese Chicken Curry

1 lb (about 8 ) boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite sized pieces
4 tbsp all purpose flour, divided
4 tbsp vegetable oil, divided
4 cloves of garlic, grated or minced
1 inch piece of ginger, grated or minced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 medium Yukon Gold potato, peeled and diced
1 stick celery, sliced thin
Salt to taste
2 cups chicken broth, divided
¼ cup canned crushed tomatoes
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp each: garam masala, curry powder
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1 apple, peeled and grated
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp honey

Combine chicken and 2 tbsp flour in large mixing bowl, tossing to coat pieces well with flour.
Warm 2 tbsp oil in deep non-stick skillet set over medium high heat. Add chicken pieces, shaking off excess flour. Brown chicken for 5 min until lightly golden. Transfer to bowl.
Add remaining 2 tbsp oil to same skillet. Add garlic and ginger, sauté for about 1 min until they brown lightly. Add the onions and sauté for about 8–10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned.

Add carrot, potato and celery, sauté 2 min. Add chicken, salt, 1 cup broth and tomatoes. Cover skillet, bring contents to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and cook for 30 min, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile make the roux. Warm butter in non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add remaining 2 tbsp flour. Stirring occasionally, cook until flour turns to a light golden colour, about 10 min. Add curry powder, garam masala and cayenne pepper, cook 2 min. Add remaining 1 cup broth, cook 1 min, stirring till roux thickens.

Add roux, apple, soy and honey to chicken in skillet, stirring to mix it in gently. Cover skillet and cook for 5 min for flavours to blend and apple to soften.

Serves four

Article originally printed in Vacations Magazine, Fall 2018

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Khmer Fish Curry In Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor was the capital of the Khmer Empire, one of the most remarkable civilizations the world has ever seen, which was at its height from the ninth to the fifteenth centuries. Cambodia was strongly influenced by the culture of India, from which they received Hindu and Buddhist religions, Sanskrit literature, and models for architecture, art, sculpture and music. The name Angkor derives from the Sanskrit word nagara, meaning city. No further description was thought necessary - quite clearly, no one believed that any other city like this could ever exist.

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The first westerner to see Angkor, a Portuguese priest who visited in the sixteenth century when it was well past its peak, wrote that it “is of such extraordinary construction that it is not possible to describe it with a pen”. The first time you see Angkor you understand what he meant.

Angkor consisted of an inhabited area of approximately 1000 square kilometers, irrigated by a complex system of canals and lakes. Temples, of which almost a thousand have been excavated, formed the focal points of urban settlements. The temples were not just places of worship but also served as centers of education, courts of justice and financial hubs. Temples ranged in size from small shrines to massive complexes such as Angkor Wat and Bayon.

The temple of Angkor Wat was built as a shrine to the Hindu god Vishnu, but as the official religion of the Khmer kings changed to Buddhism, it was transformed into a Buddhist temple. Bayon, which was built later, is famous for the many towering statues, smiling serenely from its terraces and the enigmatic faces that are repeated across its walls, said to represent the Buddha.

Angkor was attacked and sacked by invaders from Thailand in the fifteenth century, after which it was gradually abandoned. The tropical jungle soon took over the city, burying the stones under creepers and vines until it all but vanished.

In the nineteenth French archaeologists rediscovered Angkor and led efforts to clear the dense jungle growth and restore the buildings to their former glory. The painstaking work still goes on, with restoration teams from around the world toiling on the many monuments and temples that are still being unearthed.

Today Angkor is Cambodia’s greatest tourist attraction with millions of visitors arriving each year. It takes several days to visit the many sites across the sprawling grounds, but it is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see what is one of the greatest wonders of the world. The temple of Angkor Wat is the most famous and visitors line up to see it at its best at sunrise or at sunset.

Cambodian or Khmer cuisine is also worth discovering for its complex, delicious flavours. It shares common elements with its Thai, Vietnamese and Laotian neighbours and has French, Chinese and Indian influences as well. You will find everything from noodle soups, stir fries, spring rolls and spicy curries to crusty breads and coffee!
We enjoyed wonderful dishes like Fish Amok (coconut milk based fish curry served in a banana leaf bowl), Beef Lok Lak (beef stir fry with soy and oyster sauce), Bai Cha (fried rice) and Khmer Laksa (spicy noodle soup with coconut milk), and were hooked!

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Creamy, mildly spiced and delicious, this easy Khmer fish curry is one of my favourites that I often make at home. Cambodia’s famous Kampot pepper is the traditional seasoning here, adding a subtle floral aroma and delicate peppery taste to the dish. Named after the Kampot region where it is grown, this prized pepper is a favourite for flavouring seafood dishes. Since Kampot pepper is hard to find outside of Cambodia, you can use regular ground black pepper instead.
If you’re looking for more ways to make fish curry, try my spicy Kerala Fish Curry!

Khmer Fish Curry With Turmeric, Coconut Milk And Lemongrass

2 shallots or use 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion

2 cloves garlic

1/2 inch piece galangal or ginger

1 inch piece fresh turmeric or use 1/2 tsp turmeric powder

2 red chilies, sliced thinly, divided

2 inner, tender stalks of lemongrass (about 2 inches each), ends trimmed, tougher outer leaves removed

2 tbsp oil

Salt to taste

1 tsp brown sugar

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

2 fresh kaffir lime leaves, slivered or use fresh bay leaves

1 cup coconut milk

1/2 cup water

1 tbsp lime juice

1 cup packed fresh baby spinach

1 lb any kind of firm skinless white fleshed fish fillet, cut into 2 inch chunks

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 tsp fish sauce

1 tbsp coconut cream (saved from the top of a can of premium coconut milk), for optional garnish

Using a food processor or a mortar and pestle, mince/pound together the shallots or red onion, garlic, galangal or ginger, fresh turmeric, 1 sliced red chili and the lemongrass, until a fine paste is achieved. If using turmeric powder, add it later in the recipe.
Note: If lemongrass is too fibrous and will affect the texture of the curry sauce, do not mince it with the above ingredients. Simply smash it in several places with the back of your knife to release flavours and use it whole or halved lengthwise.

Warm oil in a skillet set over medium heat. Add the paste (and whole lemongrass, if using) and sauté for about 8 min until it is aromatic and lightly browned.

Add salt, sugar, pepper, turmeric powder (if using) and half of the slivered lime or bay leaves (reserve remainder for garnishing later), stir for a few seconds.

Add coconut milk, water and lime juice, bring to a gentle simmer.

Add the baby spinach and cook 2 min until spinach starts to wilt into the sauce.

Add the fish, stirring gently to spoon sauce over the fish. Cook on low heat for 10 min until fish is cooked through and spinach is wilted, shaking skillet gently to cook evenly.

In a small bowl, combine 2 tbsp of the curry sauce from the skillet, the beaten egg and the fish sauce, beating gently to mix. Pour it over fish curry, swirling it in gently without breaking up the fish. Switch off heat and let pan sit covered for 2 min for the egg to set. Remove whole lemongrass if used.

Garnish with remaining lime leaves, remaining sliced red chili and the coconut cream (if using).

Serves four

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Noodles In Ayutthaya, Thailand

The ancient, historic town of Ayutthaya, situated about 85 km north of Bangkok, was once the magnificent capital of the great Thai empire that ruled over large areas of south-east Asia from the fourteenth to the eighteenth century. Named after the legendary city of Ayodhya in India, it reflects the seamless blending of Hindu and Buddhist cultures that is still found in Thailand.

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At the height of its powers, Ayutthaya ranked among the world’s greatest cities, with exquisite buildings and an elaborate grid of canals and roads. Visitors from China, India, Japan, Persia, the Arab world and Europe all came to marvel at the wonders of the city, to trade, or to study and worship in one of its many Buddhist monasteries.

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Ayutthaya was destroyed by a Burmese army that invaded in 1767 and burned to the ground. The survivors of the attack abandoned the city, and when they rebuilt their capital it was at the present site of Bangkok, whose official title still includes the name of Ayutthaya. The old palaces and temples were left to crumble neglected for over a century while the jungle grew back over them.

Today Ayutthaya is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Thailand. The Ayutthaya Historical Park, located in the middle of the town, includes some of the most spectacular temples that have been carefully and painstakingly restored. Remains of other temples and monasteries are scattered all around the region and you can easily spend several days trying to visit all of them. Even if you do not have the time to do that, you must spend at least a day here to grasp the glory of the the ancient kingdom of Ayutthaya .

On your way to Ayutthaya you will pass by a touristy, bustling floating market which will provide you with a completely novel shopping experience! If you’re based in Bangkok, there are several authentic floating markets such as Damnoen Saduak, that are within easy traveling distance. It is real fun to cruise along the narrow canals, absorbing the sights, stopping occasionally to sample the wares on offer. Here you will find sellers in boats peddling everything from trinkets and souvenirs to fresh fruit, made to order hot food and even coconut ice cream with all the fixings!

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Stir fried noodles are my favourite and I made sure to have some wherever we went. By far, the most fascinating noodles were the ones that were being cooked on boats in the floating markets. To watch these amazing cooks deftly prepare food in the tiny confines of a rocking boat was an experience in itself, but to savour it while gently floating by in our own boat made it that much more memorable.

You can skip the shrimp, eggs and fish sauce and make these noodles vegetarian if desired, and also add other vegetables such as thinly sliced cabbage or green beans. If you can find smoked tofu, use that for the wonderful smoky flavour it adds. These noodles are best eaten fresh out of the pan, so have all the ingredients prepped (as they do on the boats!) and stir fry them just before serving. For more easy and delicious Thai recipes, check out Thai Green Curry Chicken, Red Curry Fish or Mussaman Potato Curry.

Stir Fried Rice Noodles With Vegetables And Shrimp

1/2 lb (225g) dried flat rice noodles (half of a 450g package)

2 tbsp each: light soy sauce, prepared sweetened tamarind sauce or tamarind chutney, tomato ketchup, lime juice

1 tsp each: Thai chili sauce or any hot sauce, fish sauce

1/2 lb large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined (about 10-12)

Salt to taste

4 tbsp vegetable oil, divided

2 eggs, lightly beaten

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

1/2 sweet red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced

1/2 cup small cubes of extra firm tofu

1 cup fresh bean sprouts

6 scallions (green onions), cut into 1 inch pieces

1/4 cup crushed roasted peanuts

Lime wedges for garnish

Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Add noodles and switch off the heat. Soak noodles in boiling water until softened, stirring now and then to loosen them, about 3-4 min. Drain and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, tamarind sauce or chutney, tomato ketchup, lime juice, hot sauce and fish sauce. Set aside.

Pat shrimp dry and lightly dust with salt.

Warm 1 tbsp oil in small frying pan over medium high heat. Pour eggs in, make omelet. Shred omelet roughly with spatula. Set aside.

Warm 1 tbsp oil in same frying pan over medium high heat and gently saute the shrimp for 2 min until they are lightly pink and almost cooked. Transfer to a plate and reserve for later use in the recipe.

Wipe down skillet and warm remaining 2 tbsp oil in it over medium high heat. Add the onions, garlic and red pepper. Sauté 4-5 min until lightly browned.

Add tofu cubes, reserved noodles and reserved soy sauce mixture. Mix well, cook 2 min.
Note: Just before adding noodles to skillet, loosen them under running water if they are sticking to each other.

Add reserved shredded omelette, shrimp, bean sprouts, green onions and 2 tbsp of the roasted crushed peanuts (reserve remainder for garnish).

Stir fry gently, tossing with 2 forks until everything is well mixed, about 2-3 min. Transfer to a platter and garnish with peanuts and lime wedges if desired.

Serves four

Jungle Shrimp Curry In Costa Rica

“Pura Vida!” is Costa Rica’s unofficial slogan, a Spanish phrase that literally means “pure life” but is also used as a greeting, to bid farewell, or to express happiness and satisfaction. It could easily be a description of Costa Rica itself with its sunlit sandy beaches, sprawling forests teeming with wildlife, and towering mountains from which cascade sparkling waterfalls and rivers.

Costa Rica is a nature-lover’s paradise, and whether your idea of a good time is surfing the waves, trekking up a mountain path, zip-lining over the trees of a cloud-forest, or simply lounging on the beach, there will always be something to make you happy.

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Tamarindo, a popular, tourist town on Costa Rica’s Northern Pacific coast, offers a chance to experience all of this. With lovely soft sand beaches, warm waters, legendary sunsets and an easy going lifestyle, Tamarindo is especially popular with surfers and expats. From Tamarindo you can take convenient day trips to nearby waterfalls, rain forests, volcanoes or wildlife refuges.

One of the most remarkable sights is the Rio Celeste waterfall, where the water of the Celeste river cascades into a pool with an unearthly turquoise color. Ancient legends describe how the gods dipped a brush into the pool and used it to paint the sky. More recent research attributes the blue colour to reflection of light from fine particles the water picks up as it goes through the nearby Tenorio volcano. To get to the pool takes a stiff climb up a hill and then down a long flight of stairs, but it is well worth the effort.

If you are looking for a more accessible destination the Llano de Cortés falls are spectacular and descend into a shallow pool where swimming is both permitted and encouraged. On a hot day a plunge into the water is one of the most refreshing experiences you can imagine.

More than a quarter of Costa Rica’s land is taken up by forests and wildlife refuges, and exploring these areas is one of the best ways to experience the country. There are many different ways to see the forests, but the most relaxing method is to sit back on a boat that takes you along one of the rivers that thread through the forest. An entire vista of mangroves and other types of trees unfolds on both sides, which you can enjoy without any exertion necessary.

If you are looking for a more active experience then take a walk through the rain forest. There are many trails that you can follow through the national parks, with varying levels of difficulty, from an easy stroll to multi-day expeditions.

As you travel through the forests you will find that they are teeming with wildlife. Monkeys chatter in the trees while iguanas and sloths hang from branches. Toucans, ospreys, herons and hundreds of other birds fly overhead, and every now and then you will spot a crocodile lurking in the water or sunning itself on the riverbank.

When in Costa Rica, be sure to try a Casado in a local soda. Despite sounding cryptic, it is really very simple, and delicious! Sodas are family run diners where locals hang out to eat cheap and cheerful meals. Here you can sample generous portions of authentic Costa Rican food in the form of a Casado - a ‘marriage’ of traditional dishes such as black bean rice, fried plantains, fresh salad and grilled seafood or meats, often served with a fried egg over top. When it comes to eating like a local, nothing beats a Casado at a nearby soda!

There is no dearth of fine dining in Tamarindo and you are going to be spoiled for choice! We had many a memorable meal sitting right on the beach, gazing out at the incredible view while digging into skillfully prepared fresh seafood. I don’t know if it was the perfect setting creating the right mood, but every ceviche (citrus marinated raw seafood), grilled octopus or roast fish that we had was better than the last! Some of the outstanding restaurants we ate at and highly recommend are Pangas Beach Club, Seasons by Shlomy, La Palapa, Cafe Tico, Green papaya, Nogui’s and Langosta Beach Club. And if you’re looking for a place to stay close to the beach, try the newly renovated, ultra comfortable apartment Casa Ravinder.

We had heard rave reviews about a popular little restaurant in Tamarindo, called Shrimp Hole. Operating from the tiniest kitchen imaginable, with a select menu specializing in shrimp, this lovely place serves fantastic food. We first had Jungle shrimp curry here and it’s mildly spicy, creamy and coconutty flavours evoked delicious memories of India. I couldn’t wait to recreate it as soon as I got back home!

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Make this easy, tasty curry just before you’re planning to serve, as reheating shrimp makes them rubbery. You can make the curry sauce ahead of time and just add shrimp at the last minute when warming up the sauce. An accompaniment of plain cooked basmati rice, Coconut Rice or Peas and Rice is a good way to soak up all the delicious flavours!

Jungle Shrimp Curry

2 tbsp oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or minced

1/4 inch piece of ginger, minced

1 tsp (or more to taste) good quality Indian curry powder or use Malabar Masala Powder

Salt to taste

2 large ripe plum tomatoes, finely chopped

1 can (14 fl oz) premium coconut milk

1 lb large raw shrimp, peeled and de-veined (about 30-32)

1 tbsp fresh lime juice

2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves

Warm oil in a large skillet set over medium heat.

Add onions, garlic and ginger to skillet and saute until translucent and lightly browned, about 6-8 min.

Add curry powder or Malabar Masala Powder (if using) and the salt. Stir for 1 min until spices are fragrant.

Add chopped tomatoes and cook for about 6-8 min, until they soften and break down. Mash them with the stirring spoon to incorporate them into the sauce.

Add the coconut milk, stirring gently to blend it in. Cover skillet and bring contents to a gentle boil. Reduce heat to medium low and cook for 5-7 min until sauce thickens slightly.

Add shrimp, cover and continue to cook over medium low heat until shrimp are cooked through, about 6-8 min.

Switch off heat, uncover skillet and fold in the lime juice and fresh coriander. Taste and adjust the seasonings if required.

Serve right away.

Serves Four

Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies In Vienna

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Vienna is perhaps one of the most gracious cities in the world, with an incredible variety of architectural gems that it amassed over the centuries as the capital city of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The best way to appreciate the beauty of the city is to walk through it, for even a short stroll from the sweeping arc of the Hofburg palace located in the centre of the city to the towering spire of St. Stephen’s Cathedral will take you past a gorgeous array of buildings.

The heart of the city lies along the pedestrian street known as the Graben, which despite its rather grim name that originates in it being built on a ditch outside the medieval city walls, and the presence of a monument to plague victims in its centre, is a charming place. It is lined with shops, restaurants and cafes, and in the evening is filled with street performers and throngs of visitors.

Wherever you go in Vienna, you never forget that you are in one of the great musical centers of the world, for this was the home of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven among many other great composers and musicians. Whether you are looking for orchestral music, opera or choral music, you will find some of the best performers in the concert halls of Vienna.

An evening listening to the Viennese Boys Choir is a sublime experience that you will never forget. Even if you only get to listen to street performers, they display a certain Viennese flair that you will find nowhere else!

Food in Vienna is hearty, warming and delicious! From charming old world ambiance and wonderful food at Griechenbeisl, which first opened it’s doors in the year 1447, to savouring traditional weiner schnitzel in wood paneled elegance at crowded Figlmüller, or sampling the famous Tafelspitz at Plachutta, there is lots to choose from. Be sure to leave room for a little more indulgence in the form of coffee and dessert!

Viennese coffee houses are a crucial part of the city’s culture. Vienna claims to have the oldest cafes in Europe, dating back to the late seventeenth century. The magnificent cafes that still flourish such as Hawelka, Landtmann, Sacher, Demel and Central have storied pasts and each lists luminaries such as Freud, Zweig, Klimt and Trotsky who were regular customers. The cafes also have a bewildering variety of coffees on offer and it is important to learn their nomenclature before you go. The relative merits of a Schwarzer (espresso), Brauner (espresso with cream), Melange (espresso with steamed and frothed milk), Franziskaner (espresso with steamed milk and whipped cream), or Einspänner (diluted espreso with whipped cream) require careful consideration before you make your selection!

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These chewy, nutty, chocolatey cookies are wonderful with a cup of Viennese coffee! Toasted hazelnuts and good quality chocolate powder are key, as is eating them fresh out of the oven!

Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies

4 cups loosely packed, toasted, ground hazelnuts (skin and all)

1 cup loosely packed chocolate powder

4 egg whites

Pinch of salt

2 1/2 cups icing sugar, divided

1 tbsp hazelnut liqueur (such as Frangelico), or almond liqueur (such as Amaretto) optional or use 1 tsp vanilla essence

Preheat oven to 350F. Line two baking trays with parchment paper.

Combine ground hazelnuts and chocolate powder in mixing bowl.

Using hand mixer or stand mixer, beat egg whites with a pinch of salt until soft peaks form.

Gradually add 1 1/2 cups of the icing sugar in batches, whipping and mixing with each addition (reserve remaining icing sugar for rolling cookies later).

Add liqueur or vanilla, mixing well.

Gently fold in the hazelnut chocolate mixture with a spatula, until well combined.

Place remaining 1 cup icing sugar in shallow bowl (for rolling cookies)

With dampened hands, form smooth walnut sized balls out of the cookie dough, flattening them lightly, then rolling in reserved icing sugar.

Place cookies on baking trays, spacing them 1/2 inch apart.

Bake for about 12 - 14 minutes, until cookies rise, tops are cracked and bottoms are lightly browned. Do not overcook, the centers should be slightly chewy. Cookies will dry out slightly and become crisper as they cool and with storage.

Cool cookies completely before storing in an airtight container.

Makes about 35 cookies

This recipe has been generously provided by my good friend Paola Moscato, who is an amazing baker.

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Fisherman's Soup In Budapest

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Few cities in the world have a location as dramatic as that of Budapest. The majestic Danube river divides the city into two distinct parts. On the western bank are the hills of Buda, surmounted by walls of the great royal palace. The flat eastern bank is home to the vibrant streets of Pest, filled with cafés, restaurants, shops and churches. Visitors are torn trying to decide which side to focus on, and the only solution is to make sure that you have enough time in Budapest to do justice to both parts of it!

Walking through Budapest allows you to understand the many layers of history it is built on, starting as a prehistoric Celtic settlement that grew into a Roman town. Magyar tribesmen from the east swept through Budapest in the ninth century and made it the capital of the kingdom of Hungary. Turkish armies occupied Hungary in the sixteenth century and it became an Ottoman province until the Austrians captured it in the eighteenth century and made it part of the Hapsburg ruled Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The mix of people that have contributed to creating this city have forged a unique Budapest culture. The Hungarian language, with its roots in the Ural mountains from where the Magyar tribes came, sounds like none other in Europe. The magnificent churches resemble those of Renaissance Rome, the gorgeous cafés are inspired by Vienna, and the visually stunning bath-houses are modeled after those in Istanbul.

Budapest was one of the great centres of Hapsburg art and even today it is a wonderful destination for music and opera lovers. You can hear the sounds of Haydn and Mozart in the theaters, churches and streets as you stroll along exploring the city. Many of these churches also host evening concerts and attending a performance under the dome of St. Peters Basilica is a magical, unforgettable experience.
Another memorable experience is taking a boat cruise on the Danube with live music on board. Watching this glittering jewel of a city glide by to the sound of lively music is something you won’t soon forget!

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The Great Market Hall is an enormous covered food market a few minutes from the city centre. There you will rub elbows with serious food shoppers buying their groceries, office-workers looking for a quick lunch, and casual tourists looking for some local colour. This is a great place to stock up on the famous Hungarian paprika as well as cured sausages of every variety.

We were in Budapest around Easter and the historic Vörösmarty Square had been turned into a fabulous outdoor food and crafts market that was a delight to explore. This was our opportunity to sample this rich and varied cuisine, while watching traditional dance performances on the stage nearby.

The Ottomans introduced Budapest to the joys of coffee centuries ago, long before it was known to the rest of Europe. The glory days of its café culture were in the nineteenth century, when it competed with Vienna to build the most magnificent, gilded establishments that served cakes buried under mounds of whipped cream and chocolate, to the aristocracy of Europe. Today you can visit some of the most famous of these cafés that have been meticulously restored.
Gerbeaud Cafe, overlooking Vörösmarty square is one of the oldest cafes in Budapest, and still lovingly maintains its ageless elegance with grand chandeliers, old wood paneling and signature cakes that have to be tried at least once, if not many times!

One of Hungary’s most iconic and beloved dishes is Goulash. Made with beef, vegetables and plenty of paprika, simmered for hours until very tender, this delicious stew was something we savoured at least once every day and loved every bite!

Fisherman’s soup was another of our favourite dishes to eat in Budapest. With its richly flavoured broth and fiery red colour derived from lots of Hungarian paprika, this soup is traditionally prepared in a kettle set over an open fire, imbuing it with a characteristic smoky aroma.

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Fisherman’s soup is generally made with river fish such as carp, catfish or perch, but if those are hard to find, you can use any white fleshed fish. My recipe, adapted for easy home cooking, employs a few short cuts but is packed with plenty of flavour! Serve with crusty bread or crackers to dip into the delicious broth.

Hungarian Style Fisherman’s Soup

2 tbsp olive oil

1 cup each, finely chopped: onions, sweet red peppers, potatoes (peeled, cubed small)

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 tsp finest quality Hungarian paprika (sweet or hot, according to taste)

Salt to taste

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

2 cups (about 8) canned whole plum tomatoes with juices, pureed in food processor or chopped fine

900 ml fish or chicken broth

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 lb cod or other white fleshed fish, cut into 2 inch pieces

2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley or dill

Warm oil in deep saucepan or soup pot set over medium heat.

Add onions, peppers, potatoes and garlic. Saute until lightly browned and slightly softened, about 5-7 min.

Add paprika, salt and pepper, stir for a few seconds to bring out the colour and flavours.

Add tomatoes, stirring for about 5 min, until slightly thickened and cooked.

Add broth and vinegar. Cover and bring the soup to a gentle boil. Reduce heat to low and cook for 10 min until vegetables are cooked through and soft.

Add fish pieces and stir gently. Cover again and cook on low heat for 5 min until fish is flaky and cooked through.

Gently mix in the fresh herbs and serve.

Serves four

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Spinach And Corn Kababs In Chicago

Chicago has something to offer to every type of visitor. Art-lovers can head to the Art Institute of Chicago, which has one of the finest collections in the world, or just gaze at the monumental sculptures that grace many of the city’s plazas. Music aficionados can choose between the renowned Chicago Symphony Orchestra or one of the fine jazz clubs that dot the city.

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Students of twentieth-century architecture can spend all day observing the magnificent buildings that line the downtown streets. One of the best ways to admire Chicago’s beautiful buildings is by taking the Architecture boat cruise. Staffed with knowledgeable guides who recount fascinating stories about Chicago’s famous landmarks, it is a fun way of seeing a different side of the city. If none of these pursuits are to your taste, you can always join the Chicago Mob Tour and visit the favourite haunts of Al Capone and John Dillinger!

Chicago’s vibrant economy attracts people from all over the world, producing a fascinating mix of cultures. There are large Italian, African-American, Hispanic, and Asian communities and you can find a wide variety of cuisines in the city. We had really good Mexican food in Cafe Con Leche in trendy Logan Square. Chicago’s Chinatown is fun to stroll through for dim sum, which we enjoyed at bustling, stylish MingHin Cuisine.

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Chicago’s famous deep dish pizza is what every discerning tourist needs to taste at least once. We decided to head over to popular Lou Malnati’s pizzeria to try it. If the long waiting lines were any indication, we knew it would be very good! The pizza arrived in a special deep dish pan, bubbling with gooey, cheesy tomato sauce and spicy Italian sausage, baked in their signature crisp butter crust - an experience so delicious, we had to repeat it twice!

Apart from deep dish pizza, Chicago is well known for it’s innovative culinary scene. With many celebrity chefs opening Michelin starred restaurants here, creative, delicious food is everywhere! We had fantastic Indian food while in Chicago and these appetizer kababs were the highlight of our meal.

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Corn adds sweetness to these delicious kababs, while spinach and herbs add freshness and flavour. Be sure to dry the herbs and the corn well to keep the mixture from getting runny or if the mixture is too wet, simply add an extra couple tablespoons of the chickpea flour to hold them together. Leftover kababs freeze well for a rainy day!

Spinach And Corn Kababs

2 cups each: fresh baby spinach (packed), frozen corn kernels (thawed)

1/2 cup each: fresh coriander, fresh mint leaves, chopped onion, chickpea flour (besan), breadcrumbs

1/2 inch piece ginger

1 hot green chili (or use 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper)

1 tsp each: dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi), ground cumin

Salt to taste

1/4 cup oil for frying

Combine all the ingredients (except oil) in food processor and mince well. Transfer to a mixing bowl.

Shape 14 kabab patties out of spinach and corn mixture, flattening them to about 1 1/2 inches in diameter and 1/2 inch in thickness.

Warm oil in a large non stick frying pan over medium low heat. Cook kababs in two batches, for about 10 minutes per side. When kababs are cooked through, slightly crispy and lightly browned, remove to a paper towel lined platter and repeat with the remainder of the kabab patties.

Serve hot with mint chutney and a wedge of lemon if desired.

Makes 14 kababs

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Charcuterie In Charlevoix, Canada

 The earliest French settlers who landed in North America established their first towns and villages in the Charlevoix region of Quebec. It is easy to understand why they chose this area: the immense St. Lawrence river provides both easy access and abundant fishing, while rich farmland borders the banks of the river. A drive along the historic Chemin du Roy (King's Highway) that runs along the river gives you spectacular vistas while reminding you of the central role Charlevoix has played in the history of Canada.

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The Charlevoix region is bounded by Tadoussac in the north, where Samuel de Champlain first landed on his pioneering voyage in 1603, and Quebec City in the south, where he laid the foundation for a settlement in 1608. In between these two extremities lies a land of serene beauty with gently rolling hills and farms that slope towards the banks of the St. Lawrence river.

The names of the villages in the region are evocative of its history. La Malbaie (the "bad bay") was given its name by Champlain after his ships ran aground in the shallow bay next to the village. The Isle-aux-Coudres is a small island in the river that was named by Jacques Cartier, the first European to visit the area, after he saw hazel trees growing on it (coudrier in old French). The biggest landmark on the island is an old windmill that was built to grind flour, and has been lovingly restored and still operates. You can buy excellent buckwheat flour ground in the old millstones.

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The most distinctive sight in all of Quebec are the churches with their iconic twin spires. Even the smallest village will have a church in its centre and these have been the hub of community life for centuries.

It is hard to pick the most picturesque of the many lovely little villages in Charlevoix, but a strong contender on any list would be Baie-Saint Paul. A walk down its main street lined with charmingly quaint buildings is an absolute delight.

If you are planning a road trip through the Charlevoix region, be sure to pack along a large cooler. This part of Quebec is well known for it's flavourful lamb, artisan cheese, smoked fish, maple syrup and ciders. You will find yourself stopping often to load up on all these and so much more!

 A good place for one stop shopping is at Laiterie Charlevoix in Baie St.Paul. It is a family run enterprise where you will find local goodies you didn't even know you wanted!

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Most of the restaurants in the Charlevoix area support local farmers by showcasing their products on their menus. We had dinner at Hôtel Cap-aux-Pierres in L'Isle-aux-Coudres where the chef had worked his magic with local ingredients to create a lovely meal. The view from the restaurant is also spectacular and makes for a memorable evening out!

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When on the island, a visit to Boulangerie Bouchard is a must. Their freshly baked goods are fantastic and you can (must!) pack some to bring back home too.
We also had the fabulous charcuterie platter at Le Saint-Pub in Baie St.Paul and were hooked on the 1608 cheese (named for the year of the founding of Quebec), locally made salami, pork terrine and smoked salmon.

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Charcuterie Board

Putting together a charcuterie board or platter is easy and fun and it makes a great appetizer with drinks. It's up to you to decide how large you want to make it and here are a few options to get you started: cheese (a softer spreadable kind and a harder, aged variety), several different kinds of salami and smoked meats, pates and terrines, smoked fish mousse, olives, nuts and dried fruit (smoked almonds, roasted cashews, figs), pickled vegetables, chopped or sliced fresh vegetables (salad), preserves and chutneys, several kinds of crackers, toasted pieces of pita, lavash or other breads and some fresh fruit (grapes, figs) if you have room!

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