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My first recipe made public: a milestone of sorts.

Thai 'lovely legs'

This is a complete dish in the sense that it can be eaten by itself, as it has a substantial vegetable component which largely has cooked down into the broth; I have it on rice if I have trained that day.

Macro Lovely Legs are free range and deskinned, so should be acceptable to all but vegetarians (a butcher I used to go to in Curtin, and who disappeared in mysterious circumstances) had a sign out front that said, “Vegetarians are just people who don’t like vegetables”. Steve, the owner, was a deeply unsettling individual, and I never asked exactly what the sign meant, but I digress.

I will assume that the reader knows the rudimentaries about cooking, and there are two main ones: use the best produce you can find, and timing is everything. As an aside, my dictionary program does not recognise the word rudimentaries, so that if it does not exist I have created it now, because it’s necessary.

Here is the ingredient list (to make ~3.5Kg, so many meals; I figure if you’re going to make the effort to cook, it takes little more to cook four packets of LLs than one). You will need an 8–9 litre pot. Scale the ingredients if you want to cook a smaller amount.

Ingredients

  • 4 packs Lovely Legs (pack weight varies between 0.5–0.6Kg)
  • two large (and hard) red or brown onions, your choice
  • one whole head of garlic; buy Australian if you can find it, with big cloves
  • 500g okra, more or less depending on how you feel about okra
  • one large bunch of a mystery vegetable whose name I do not know; let’s call it ‘MV’ for now, but will amend here with a photo once I have one; it has thick dark green leaves that are slightly spongy to the touch and thick relatively soft stems; you have to get this at an Asian grocery (the one I go to features a female owner who spends most of her days happily ripping DVDs at the counter; these are for sale or hire :))
  • 750g (or three handfuls) of Asian eggplants, the small pale green hard round ones
  • two stalks lemon grass
  • two medium–large limes
  • 10–12 kaffir lime leaves, more for a stronger taste
  • 1 tsp* balacan (this immensely smelly paste will need to be isolated, with all the care needed for toxic waste, to avoid irrevocably smelling up your fridge): not only do I replace the lid with great care, checking its seal, but I place this tiny container inside another screw-top, airtight one, and still I wake up some nights thinking about the possibility of its escape)
  • a knob of fresh ginger (thumb sized)
  • fresh spices: star anise, rock salt, cardamom pods, five whole cloves, vanilla bean x 1, cinnamon quill x 1, and a whole nutmeg grated over the onions while cooking. Today’s challenge: how thin can you get the last piece of nutmeg before you grate your knuckles? (I can get down to around 1.5mm, with care, so little waste here). Toss the sliver.
  • 1–2 x 400ml tins coconut milk
  • chicken stock; I make my own
  • karamel makasan
  • coconut oil
  • fresh coriander to garnish when serving
  • rice, if you eat it, and prepared the way you like it; the LLs can be eaten as is, though

Cooking

Cut/dice onions; put in big deep pot with generous tbls* coconut oil; I use Nui, organic. Squash the head of garlic by pressing hard on the root (flat) side of the head down onto a chopping board, then smack each clove with the blade of a broad knife to loosen the skin, then dice and throw in. Coarsely grate the ginger over the onions and garlic; stir.

Now, timing-wise, it’s your choice of heating then grinding the spices, and throwing over the onions and garlic, or preparing the other flavours and putting that liquid in first. Let’s do this in the order written today.

Re. spices: heating them (except for the vanilla bean and the cinnamon quill: throw these in the pot now) in a pan before grinding liberates flavours; do not over-cook. I use a small steel frying pan for this. So, heat the star anise and cardomom, and once aromatic, use a spice or coffee grinder to grind to a powder, together with the unheated salt. Sprinkle power over onions and stir. Add just enough chicken stock to not have the onions/garlic stick. Alternatively, you can add the coconut milk instead at this point; I am still experimenting with the order. Add karamel makasan. Stir.

Re. other ingredients: use a ‘zester’ to get the zest off the skin of one whole lime, and extract its juice, then juice the second lime. Place juice into small blender (I use the Braun hand blender and its narrow, deep container—apart from knives, this is the one indispensable tool in my kitchen):

Braun hand blender

Braun hand blender

Chop up half the kaffir lime leaves, and drop into the same container. Carefully get the balacan out of the safe, I mean fridge, and extract 1 small tsp (or half, if this is your first time using) and place in gently.

Take the outer leaf off the lemon grass, and slice 3–4mm thick, from the thick end, cutting only the thick part. Trim the remainder of the stalk, and place these two long sections aside (you add them at the end of the prep.) once the pot is simmering). Place the slices in the blender, too.

Now, assemble the blender, plug it in, do not switch on, and insert cutting end into the container.

Wind some plastic wrap around both the blender handle and the top of the container: you definitely do not want to be spraying the balacan mixture around, if home harmony has any importance to you. Once sealed, carefully operate the blender using pulses until all ingredients are indistinguishable; the resulting liquid will be a not-very-attractive maroon–pale green. Unwrap the blender, and put the contents into the pot. Don’t forget to knock the cutting end of the blender out over the pot, too. I tidy up at this point.

Mix all the contents of the pot. Add the Lovely Legs slowly, adding either extra stock or the second tin of coconut milk so that the level of the liquid is near the surface of the top of the LLs.

Diagonally slice the okra (5mm, roughly) and chop the mystery veggie, and place into the pot. Don’t worry if the liquid does not cover these; they will cook down. Now quarter (or multiple slice) the eggplants; the thicker you cut them, the more discernible they will be at the end of the cooking process. As a guide, I usually have no parts thicker than 1cm, and they are still firm and have a nice eating texture by the time the dish is ready. The okra and the MV cook down (okra is the basis of gumbo, after all, so lends itself to the making of a thickish, interesting broth). Stir in the eggplant slices. Place the two trimmed lemon grass stems in, too.

Once the whole pot starts to boil, turn right down and place the lid. You judge liquid consistency; for me, two tins of coconut milk is a bit too much, but SWMBO has never met a dish that has too much coconut milk, so I might be out-manouvered on this point.

Cooking time is an hour or so; some pieces of chicken will be falling off when properly done:

LL Cup ('close up')

LL Cup (‘close up’); see the Asian eggplant slices?

Place rice in a bowl, and ladle two (in my case three) LLs over it, and dredge the bottom of the pot for the vegetables. Chop coriander fine, and put a small pile of it on top.

A strong flavoured, slightly acidic, white wine is a perfect accompaniment.

  • *tsp: teaspoon
  • *tbls: tablespoon