A Passion for Asian Flavors takes us to…Australia!
Ever since I went to Vietnam two years ago, through Singapore and Hong Kong, I’ve been on the lookout for Asian recipes. I love the combination of flavors, the ease of a stir-fry and the speed with which you can make something really good to eat. Last year’s trip from Bali, Indonesia, to Borneo and then the Philippines only cemented my love for Asian cooking. But I got quite a surprise when I found this particular recipe. Almost every single version of this flavor-filled minced pork dish came from Australia. Yes, Australia.
Australia is home to superb Chinese Food
I shouldn’t have been so surprised. One of the best Chinese meals I ever had in my life was at a Restaurant in Melbourne, Australia. Called “Flower Drum” it represented Cantonese cooking at its best. If you get to Melbourne, don’t miss it. It’s located at 17 Market Lane (Tel: +61 3 9662 3655.). And one of my favorite Chinese cookbooks was authored by a woman named Kylie Kwong. Like most Chinese Australians, the Kwong Family were Cantonese. Kylie is as Australian as they come with an adorable Australian accent. For 19 years, she ran a restaurant in Sydney called “Billy Kwong” which she closed only last June much to the distress of her loyal fans. But you can learn a lot of what made it a success in Kylie’s “Simple Chinese Cooking.”
“White Australia” makes for a huge population of Chefs
Australia has a checkered history when it comes to its Chinese population. The Australian Gold Rushes of the 19th century brought waves of Chinese to the country. But starting in 1901 and lasting until 1949, the country instituted a “White Australia” policy aimed squarely at the Chinese and Pacific Islanders. It forbade people of non-European ethnic origin from entering the country. However, there was an exemption for Chefs! That likely explains why 33 percent of the cooks in Australia were Chinese.
Cantonese Cooking at its best.
Almost all of Australia’s Chinese immigrants came from the southern province of Guangdong. And if you thought I’d never get back to today’s recipe, I am happy to tell you that San Choi Bow originated in Guangzhou, its capital and the third-largest city in China. Sang Choi means lettuce in Chinese. In this case, the lettuce is used as a vessel for this spicy mixture of minced pork, curry paste, basil, lime and scallions, carrots and red chilis. The first time I made it, I used Butter lettuce. Unfortunately, it didn’t have the strength it needed. Andrew later suggested I should have doubled it up. Instead, I switched to the much more rigid Romaine. And I made this before the latest Romaine recall. It’s the second year running that Romaine has been nailed as the culprit in an E-coli outbreak. Today’s recipe recommends Little Gem lettuce but I saw versions that even used Iceberg.
Nevertheless, I highly recommended this fantastic dish. On restaurant menus, it’s generally in the starter section. But I think it makes a wonderful light meal which in this season of eating is a welcome relief. It is very easy to make, takes no time at all and is very forgiving: If you leave out the basil, you may not miss it at all. And if you can’t find Massaman curry paste, you can substitute yellow curry paste which contains the all-important galangal that’s key to its taste. If you haven’t cooked with Kecap Manis, which is a wonderfully sweet and thick cousin of soy sauce, you’re missing one of Asian cooking’s great flavor enhancers. Finally, you can even switch out the pork for an equal quantity of ground chicken if pork is not on your diet. And you can polish off whatever leftover fried onions you used at Thanksgiving. Here’s the recipe followed by some other Asian favorites you should try.
Pork San Choi Bow
A spicy sweetness is a perfect foil to the crunch of the lettuce in this hearty main course or appetizer.
- 2 tbs peanut or sunflower oil
- 1⁄2 bunch scallions, white and light green finely chopped, dark green sliced at an angle
- 1 carrot, finely grated
- 2 tbs massaman curry paste
- 2 tbs kecap manis, plus extra to drizzle
- 500g pork mince (ground pork)
- Juice of 1 lime, plus extra wedges to serve
- 1⁄2 bunch Thai basil, leaves picked
- 1 little gem lettuce, leaves separated
- Sliced red chili, to serve
- Crispy onion, to serve
- Step 1 Heat oil in a wok over high heat, add white and light green spring onion and cook for 1 minute, then add the carrot and cook a further 2-3 minutes until softened.
- Step 2 Mix in the curry paste, kecap manis and pork mince, and cook, tossing for 5-6 minutes until fragrant and combined.
- Step 3 Add the lime juice, half the Thai basil and 1⁄2 cup (125ml) water and cook for a further 5-6 minutes until all liquid has evaporated and pork is caramelized.
- Step 4 Serve in lettuce cups topped with extra basil, chili, crispy onion, scallions, and drizzle with extra kecap manis.