Thai fish cakes with cucumber dipping sauce

thai fish cakes

My children are back at school and so I’m back to recipe blogging with a vengeance. My youngest has just started this week so I’m holding back the tears whilst writing this and using it as an excuse to avoid cleaning the house or look for a proper job  (both of which are inevitable).

I’ve been carefully nurturing three French bean plants at the allotment just to make this dish. Most were annihilated by rodents and slugs and so I built little fortresses around the remaining three and they just about survived.  You may think I’m a mad woman but I refused to just buy some from Tesco. And the waiting did make the tasting all the sweeter which is what I love about growing your own vegetables and eating seasonally.

Thai fish cakes don’t exactly spring to mind when you think of French beans but they are an essential part of this dish (although to be truly authentic you would use Chinese long beans). This recipe is another from the little pink Chiang Mai Cookery School cookbook (with a few minor alterations).

Thai fish cakes with cucumber dipping sauce

For the fish cakes

  • 500g of white fish (I used Cornish Ling but you can use any cheap white fish. My fishmonger tells me that the lady from an un-named local Thai restaurant requests only the smelliest fish which is on the verge of going off, but I don’t go that far to achieve authenticity)
  • 2 tablespoons of red curry paste (I use the Mae Ploy one which they sell in most supermarkets these days)
  • 4 tablespoons of fish sauce
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 heaped tablespoon of cornflour
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon of palm sugar (or I use soft brown sugar)
  • 10 kaffir lime leaves (or I use 1 tablespoon of lime juice instead)
  • 8 French beans, finely chopped
  • ground nut oil for frying

For the cucumber dipping sauce

  • 6 tablespoons of water
  • 6 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar
  • 1 chilli
  • 2 tablespoons of roasted peanuts chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of cucumber cut into small chunks
  • a handful of chopped coriander

For the fish cakes, first chop the fish into large chunks and pulse in a mini food processor until roughly minced. Add all the other ingredients (except the French beans) and then pulse again in the food processor until well combined. Tip into a bowl and add the French beans and mush in. Then using wet hands shape into small flat cakes about 4cm in diameter and no more than 1 cm thick. This amount makes about 18 – 20.

In a large frying pan heat about 1/2 cm of groundnut oil until very hot. Add the fish cakes to the pan and fry for about 3 minutes on each side until golden brown – you may need to turn the heat down after a while if they start to go too brown too quickly. Don’t overcrowd the pan – you will probably need to fry in 2 or 3 batches and you can keep the cakes warm in a low oven while waiting for the others to cook.

For the dipping sauce, put the water, sugar and vinegar into a pan and dissolve the sugar over a low heat. Once the sugar has dissolved bring the water to the boil and leave to bubble for 4 to 5 minutes until the mixture has thickened but not caramelised. Turn off the heat and allow to cool. Before serving add the chilli, peanuts, cucumber and coriander and stir well. Don’t mix together too far in advance or the cucumber makes the sauce to watery and the peanuts go soft.

Other Thai dishes on this blog

Thai marinated steak
Pad Thai
Mmmm curry – Red curry with pork from the Chiang Mai Cookery School


Stir fried chicken with cashew nuts

chicken with cashew nuts

I had a plan to try and feed my family on my butcher’s £20 meat for a week pack (which is really only designed for two people) and post the recipes on this blog. That was my middle class idea of tightening my belt and jumping on the economical cooking bandwagon.

But I was bought down to earth when I read about Jack Monroe’s attempt to live on £1 a day for the ‘Live Below the Line 2014’ challenge*. Now I like to think that I can produce tasty dishes even with cheap ingredients, but reading Jack’s shopping list and diary of meals it made me realise how much I rely on my store cupboard of spices, oils and sauces to make inexpensive ingredients taste good.

Jack Monroe was only able to afford lemon curd, stock cubes, chicken paste and tomato puree to liven up her meager dishes and some of the combinations she came up with in desperation sound truly disgusting. Like soup made with vegetable stock, chicken paste, rice, egg and lemon curd. I thought about the things I would use without thinking…oil, salt, pepper…but these would eat massively into a £1 a day budget.

I think if I had to live off such a tiny amount I’d lose heart with trying to concoct anything tasty (or healthy) and just eat plain rice and smart price baked beans.

Now I’m not like Nigella with her walk in store cupboard of Za’atar, lavender herb mix and pumpkin puree. And I do try to keep the cost of my store cupboard down. For example, I’ve just been on my biennial trip to the oriental hypermarket where you can buy huge bottles of store cupboard essentials like soy sauce and fish sauce for the same price as a tiny bottle in Tesco.

In light of the Jack Monroe piece I’m not sure this is in the best possible taste, but here’s a quick stir fry dish that celebrates my newly replenished store cupboard and makes me feel truly grateful that I don’t have to cook on a budget of just £1 a day.

PS. To appease my guilt I’m going to start contributing to a food bank every time I do a Tesco shop. This is my written pledge.

*For the full article see

Chicken with cashew nuts

This is based on a recipe in my little Chiang Mai Cookery School book but it’s actually Chinese in origin.

  • 2 chicken breasts (approximately 350g), trimmed of any fat or sinew and sliced thinly
  • 100g cashew nuts
  • 200ml of groundnut or other flavourless oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • ½ onion, sliced
  • A pinch of chilli flakes or 1 fresh red chilli
  • 125ml of chicken stock or water
  • 4 spring onions or welsh onions (which I have growing wild in my herb bed)


  • 2 tablespoons of oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of palm or brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of whisky (Don’t leave this out, it’s only a teaspoon but it really enhances the dish. You don’t need a fine single malt just whatever you have to hand or can buy cheaply from the supermarket)

First of all shallow fry the cashew nuts by placing in a frying pan with 200ml of groundnut oil heated to a medium heat. Put the cashew nuts in the pan and stir until they turn a golden brown (this should only take a minute). Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a plate lined with some kitchen roll to absorb any excess oil. Set aside.*

Put two tablespoons of the oil you used to fry the cashews into a wok and place over a high heat. Add the garlic and fry for a few seconds then add the chicken and sliced onions. Stir fry for about 3 minutes stirring regularly until the chicken and onions start to brown and the chicken is nearly cooked through.

Add the water/stock and sauce ingredients and boil for another 2 to 3 minutes until the liquid has reduced by about a half.

Add the cashew nuts and spring/welsh onions and stir well.

Finally, remove from the heat and stir in the whisky.

Serve with plain rice.

*Don’t waste the oil, you’ll need two tablespoons to cook the chicken but the rest can be strained and used for other dishes.


Thai marinated steak

thai steak and rice

I’ve been eating lots of very basic food in January – baked potatoes with cheese, home-made wedges with a fried egg on top, dhal (as in my last post) – that sort of thing. There’s not been much meat involved which is fine but I can’t keep it up for any extended period and it’s not long before I crave a giant juicy steak.

This is a perfect recipe for a spicy, meaty, Friday-night feast. I wouldn’t use cuts like sirloin or rib-eye (which in my view are best simply cooked with no sauce or marinade to hide their delicate flavour), but it works tremendously well with rump steak which is cheaper and a little less flavoursome. Do still try to buy decent rump steak from your butcher if you can, or the best that the supermarket has to offer.

Served with salad I wondered whether this recipe might be good if you’re cutting out carbohydrates, only then I realised that the dressing has 2 teaspoons of sugar in it (which of course is the most evil carb of all, or so I’ve been reminded almost every-day this year). Perhaps though you could use some sugar substitute which I’m sure they sell in Holland and Barrett.

This dish also works well as a dinner party starter. Steak is really difficult to cook for a larger group (unless you have multiple griddle pans) but with this recipe one large steak, cut thinly, can stretch to serve up to 8 people as a starter or as one of a number of dishes in a banquet.

Thai marinated steak over rice or salad

Serves 2 as a main course or 4-8 as a sharing starter

  • A large piece of best rump steak (enough for two as a main course)


  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • A small bunch of coriander stalks
  • ½ teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
  • 2-3 tablespoons of oil


  • 2 tablespoons of fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
  • 1 fresh red chilli, or 1 teaspoon of dried chilli flakes
  • 2 teaspoons of soft brown sugar

Combine the marinade ingredients in a mini chopper or food processor and blend well. You can also do this in a pestle and mortar. Spread the mixture over the steak and leave to marinade in the fridge for a few hours.

When you are ready to cook the steak, remove as much of the marinade from the steak as you can while you heat a griddle or frying pan over a high heat. You will not need to add any additional oil if you are using a griddle but if you are using a frying pan then add a tablespoon of oil to the pan before adding the steak.

Cook the steak for about 3-4 minutes on either side. Keep the heat really high and don’t move the steak around the pan during cooking and turn just once.

Remove the steak from the pan, cover with foil and leave to rest while you make the dressing.

Mix all the dressing ingredients together and stir well.

With rice

If you are serving with rice then cut the steak up into thin strips, place over the cooked rice (to cook see my post Nice Rice) and spoon over the dressing. Add some chopped coriander (and extra chilli if you like) to garnish.

With salad
Make a salad using one small soft leaf lettuce, ½ a cucumber (chopped into small chunks), a handful of cherry tomatoes (halved) and 4 spring onions (chopped). Slice the steak thinly and place over the prepared salad. Spoon over the dressing and add some chopped coriander (and extra chilli if you like) to garnish.

Mmmm curry

thai pork curry

This is one of several recipes from my little pink Chiang Mai Cookery School recipe book that I use all the time. When I was on my world trip (a long time ago now) I did what every sweaty English tourist seems to do in Thailand and spent a day learning to cook Thai food. Oh my goodness it was the hottest  I’ve ever been in my whole life, and standing up all day over a steaming wok meant that I did actually pass out at one stage (very, very embarrassing). Worse than that, it was a pregnant lady who came to help me out my offering me her chair. Despite this, the course was excellent and the free recipe book that came home with me has proved to be invaluable.

I’ve just looked on line and the cookery school is still in existence although it is 9 years now since I was there so I can’t vouch for whether it is still good or not. You do still get a free recipe book though.

This recipe is great when you’re cooking for guests or when you need something really quick and easy as it takes less than 15 minutes to cook. I cooked this in a holiday cottage for my friends at the weekend and it went down very well indeed.

Red curry with pork from the Chiang Mai Cookery School

Serves 4

  • 3 large pork fillets
  • 1 x 400 ml tin of coconut milk
  • 1 heaped tablespoon of Mae Ploy red curry paste
  • 2 tablespoons palm sugar or brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1/2 tablespoon lime juice
  • A good handful of Thai basil leaves
  • 3 small yellow courgettes cut into 1 ½ cm cubes

Since you don’t cook the pork for very long or brown it to crisp up the fat you need to make sure it is as lean as possible for this dish. Take your time and remove all the fat and silver skin from the pork fillets and chop into medallions about half a cm thick. Then add the red curry paste and rub it into the pork with your hands until it is evenly coated. Set aside.

Put the coconut milk into a wok and fry for 3-5 minutes on a medium high heat, stirring continuously, the milk will bubble and start to thicken a little. Then add the pork and cook until the outside of the meat is cooked. Add the courgettes and simmer until the pork and courgette are cooked through. I put a lid on at this point and find that it usually takes about 5-7 minutes. I keep an eagle eye on things and keep testing the pork so as not to overcook it.

Combine the sugar, fish sauce and lime juice in a small bowl and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Then add to the wok with half the basil leaves and stir to combine.

Serve with the remaining basil leaves sprinkled over the top and a good pile of rice (see my post ‘Nice Rice’).


Don’t be tempted to use other pork cuts for this dish however lean. I tried pork steaks and it tasted fine but the meat was ever so tough. The dish does work well with chicken breast however.

I add courgettes because they are in season but the original recipe doesn’t include any veg. I think they work well in this dish but would leave them out if they weren’t in season.

I’ve tried making my own curry paste but the Mae Ploy one is so good that I really don’t think it is worth the bother. Whatever you do though don’t buy what they call red curry ‘sauce’ which they sell in jars.

thai cookery school

Back in the day at the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School.
Spot a sweaty me inspecting potatoes at the market.