Nigel Slater’s recipes for kimchi prawn cakes, yuzu polenta cakes, grilled sprouts and comfort rice (2024)

There are tiny golden cakes cooling on the wire rack that smell of butter and Japanese citrus. On the hob, a casserole of long-stemmed broccoli with ginger and tamarind. Yesterday morning’s breakfast was sticky rice accompanied by a sour, salty preserved plum. My parents would barely recognise anything I eat. To them, cakes were victoria sponge or battenburg; a casserole was a neck of lamb and potatoes left in the Aga till the meat fell from its bones. Salad was lettuce, tomato and cucumber, and salad cream from a bottle. Delicious all, but a world away from what is in my kitchen in 2022.

I am not one for rushing out to buy the latest ingredient – no one needs that many varieties of dried chilli in their kitchen cupboard – and yet I never want my cooking to stand still. I hope I am pottering in my kitchen, curiously, hungrily, till the day I die.

Flicking back through the tissue paper pages of my diaries, the changes in what I eat and cook are easy to spot. Less meat, less sugar and more vegetables probably goes without saying, but there are other more subtle developments. My love of sour tastes – limes, green-skinned citrus, vinegars, pomegranate and the tamarind puttering on the stove as I write – has escalated. Last-minute seasonings to a dish are now more likely to be sharp, tart and pungent, citrus (zest, juice), grated ginger, tiny capers or a splash of flavoured vinegar, than anything else. Many a dish has been finished by the addition of brine from the gherkin jar.

Another gradual change is the amount of heat I include in my eating. The chilli pastes, wasabi and mustards in the door of the fridge seem to multiply in the night.

Salty flavours – miso, sauerkraut, kimchi – are very much a mainstay of this kitchen too. A daily tangle of sauerkraut has become something of a habit (it’s a breakfast thing). Kimchi sits beside grilled mackerel or pork ribs and is tossed through steamed rice. Most comes from the health food shop or the Korean supermarket. Sometimes, especially when I spot a fat juicy-stemmed Chinese cabbage at the greengrocers, I make my own version. Inauthentic, but very useful to have in the fridge. A hot, salty, sour blast to shake up a grey winter’s day and fireworks to see in a new year in the kitchen.

My comfort rice (pictured above)

Last year was a bit of a pig and I searched the cupboards for comfort. It resided in things the colour of parchment. Pasta and noodles; couscous, bread, oats and rice. Especially the shapes of pasta you add to broth – stellate and orzo – and the sticky rice you make into sushi. I make a bowl of round grain, “sushi” rice for late breakfast at the weekend, for weekday lunch or when I come home cold and soaked through as I have done so often this winter. I never share this rice, this bowl of calm, glutinous comfort. It is something I make purely for myself. And as this rice is mine and mine alone, it doesn’t matter what else I add.

Seasonings take their turn. Mostly in the glass jars in the door of the fridge. There are no rules to seasoning my rice. Some additions are sentimental – reminders of much-missed buffet breakfasts in Japan – others are purely to kill a craving (wasabi paste, pickled ginger, anchovy fillets). Against the bland steamy hug of the sticky rice, these seasonings – hot, sour, salty – dazzle and invigorate. This isn’t sleepy rice like risotto. There will be pickled ginger for its lemony heat, slices of emerald and magenta pickles (radish, cucumber) from the Japanese grocers and sesame seeds, but that is only the start.

I might stir in some shreds of spring onion or chopped coriander leaves; a knife-point of yuzu kosho for its citrus heat. Some flakes of cold salmon. Best of all is when I can add a slice of smoked cod’s roe – the pinky-rust eggs crushed and forked in as best I can through the grains of stick-to-your-spoon rice. An umboshi plum, tart and salty, might crown it – the cherry on my cake – and a sheet of shiny green-black nori that sticks to your lips, crumbled into dust-like flakes. Sometimes, in the depths of winter, I will treat myself to a fragrant yuzu and grate its zest over the steaming grains.

I will hold the bowl in my hands in a bid to feel the warmth of the rice through the porcelain, wood or lacquer. I will use chopsticks or a spoon depending on which is nearest.

Serves 1
short grain Japanese rice (often labelled sushi rice) 150g
black peppercorns 4
bay leaves 2
sesame seeds 2 tsp
yuzu 1 (see note below)
Japanese pickles (tsukemono) 2 tbsp
shichimi togarashi a little

Put the rice in a mixing bowl, cover it with warm water then swish the rice around, running it through your fingers, then tip the water away. Do this three times (the water will get clearer with each washing), then cover the rice with fresh water and soak for 20 minutes.

Pour away the water and replace with 250ml of fresh water, add a quarter teaspoon of salt, the peppercorns and bay leaves and cover tightly with a lid. (I add the bay for its homely fragrance as it cooks rather than any discernible flavour.) Turn the heat down so the rice simmers – little puffs of steam will rise from the lid – and cook for 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and leave it to settle, still covered, for 10 minutes (don’t skip this).

Toast the sesame seeds in a shallow pan over a moderate heat, swooshing them around the pan, till they are golden. As soon as they are done, tip them quickly into a small bowl, as they will continue to brown in the heat of the pan.

Assemble your seasonings. The world is your oyster here, and this is a good way to use up leftovers cut into small pieces (wonderful with cold salmon) but my preferred list of seasonings includes slices of sushi ginger, pickled radishes and cucumbers (available from Japanese grocers), a half sprinkling of grated citrus and sometimes crumbled sheets of nori. Toss them through the rice together with the toasted sesame and a shake or two of shichimi togarashi. Sometimes, I add a splash of ponzu sauce too, the addictive citrus soy mostly used with sashimi.

A citrus fruit note: Yuzu are not easy to find and, when you do track one down, it will cost you a king’s ransom. You can get close with a mixture of half orange and half grapefruit. It’s not the same, so don’t @ me, but nevertheless carries with it something of the extraordinary fragrance of the magical fruit.

Grilled brussels sprouts with miso butter and oranges

When I was little, it was oxtail soup that put colour in my cheeks. Now it is miso soup that puts even my most disastrous days to rights. I used to buy it in sachets for an instant cure, but now I make it from tubs of thick and fudgy paste. A cup of miso soup – deep brown, salty and spookily cloudy – is made from fermented soybeans, rice or barley and is invariably the answer when life gets too much.

I also make savoury butter with ground chilli, unsalted butter and red miso paste in which to cook dark green cabbage or long stems of broccoli. It is good with brussels sprouts too. Pungent and salty – the colour of toffee. You could steam your greens first, then toss them in the melted miso butter, but I like to grill them too – taking the sprouts (or broccoli stems) from the steamer to the griddle and letting them sear and take on a light smoky note.

Once made, the butter will keep in the fridge for several days, either wrapped in kitchen parchment or in a sealed plastic tub. It is hard to think of this kitchen without miso paste and yet even now it feels “new”. An aromatic, umami-bomb with which to follow an authentic path or play with as you think fit. Perhaps the perceived newness is simply the way in which miso’s slightly sour, Marmite notes have recently jumped the fence and turn up in everything from Danish pastries to ice cream. (That’s a good thing BTW.)

If you fancy using broccoli instead, go for the long-stemmed variety – you’ll need about 250g.

Serves 4 as a side dish, 2 as a main
brussels sprouts 400g
orange 1
sesame seeds 2 tsp, toasted

For the miso butter
butter 100g, softened
ground chilli 3 tsp
dark (red) miso 3 tbsp

Put a deep pan of water on to boil. Trim the sprouts, removing tough stalks and any tatty or yellowing leaves and cut in half. When the water is boiling, lower the sprouts in and let them cook for 4 or 5 minutes till just tender. (They will get a little more cooking on the griddle.) Tip them into a colander and set aside to drain.

Using a large, sharp knife, slice the peel from the orange then cut into segments. Make sure no skin or pith is left on the orange.

Beat the butter until soft, either by hand with a wooden spoon or in a food mixer with a flat beater attachment. Mix in the chilli powder and then the miso paste.

Get a griddle hot. Switch on the extractor. Place the sprouts cut side down on the griddle and cook until they are lightly browned – a matter of 4 or 5 minutes, then turn with kitchen tongs and brown the other side.

Melt the miso butter in a wide shallow pan and add the orange segments. Toss the sprouts in the butter and scatter with the toasted sesame seeds.

Prawn cakes and red cabbage kimchi

Nigel Slater’s recipes for kimchi prawn cakes, yuzu polenta cakes, grilled sprouts and comfort rice (2)

There is a hotel in Seoul that has an entire table of different kimchi on their breakfast buffet. I take not one or even two, but four or five – just to try. I admit I have regretted some of my choices. One or two have sent me in search of yoghurt as an antidote to the searing chilli and garlic heat, but most are more tame than their rust-red hue might suggest.

I buy kimchi in jars but also make my own, a more gentle, finely shredded toss-up of red and Chinese cabbage, garlic, chilli and salt. Lots of salt. It helps to break down and soften the leaves. It is often served in our house before it should be, after maybe a day or two instead of four, when the red cabbage (an imposter but I like it) still carries a crunch.

I use most of my kimchi as a vegetable accompaniment or toss it into bland, leafy salads. Though not watercress, which carries its own heat. It is great with little cakes of minced prawns or crab – the sort you make by squishing the seafood with fresh white breadcrumbs, coriander and lemon grass. The recipe I use is mild – as the genre goes – and won’t frighten the horses. Make it your own by upping the garlic and the chilli paste or using more ginger. I don’t think we are after any fireworks here, just a pungent heat and saltiness that works for you.

Serves 4
For the kimchi (makes 2 x 1-litre Kilner jars)
red cabbage 600g
Chinese cabbage 300g
coarse sea salt 3 tbsp
rice vinegar 100ml
fish sauce 2 tbsp
gochujang chilli paste 3 tbsp
chilli flakes 1-2 tbsp
garlic 2 plump cloves
spring onions 6
ginger 15g

For the prawn cakes
fresh white breadcrumbs 150g
coriander 20g (leaves and stems)
Thai fish sauce 2 tsp
mirin 2 tbsp
lemongrass 2 stalks
garlic 1 clove
ginger 35g
prawns 300g, raw, shelled
groundnut oil 2 tbsp

To make the kimchi, sterilise your preserving jars with boiling water and let them drain, or bake them at a low temperature in the oven for 10 minutes.

Halve the red cabbage and shred it finely, each piece no wider than a pencil. Do the same with the Chinese cabbage, then put both in a colander and rinse under cold running water. Put the cabbages into a bowl and scatter the salt over. Place a plate on top of the cabbage, put a heavy weight on top, and set aside in a cool place for 4 hours.

In a small bowl, mix together the rice vinegar, fish sauce, chilli paste and chilli flakes into a soft, deep rust-coloured paste. Peel and finely cut the garlic into paper-thin slices and add to the paste. Slice the spring onions, stirring them into the paste. Peel the ginger and shred into fine matchsticks.

Rinse the cabbage in a colander, removing much of the salt. The cabbage will have relaxed.

Transfer to a large bowl then tip in the chilli dressing and toss thoroughly to coat the leaves. Pile into the clean storage jars, seal and set aside in the fridge for 4 days. I like to turn the jars upside down each day to encourage the dressing to trickle over the vegetables, keeping them coated. It will keep, for a couple of weeks, in the fridge. Turn the jars over every few days.

To make the prawn cakes, put the breadcrumbs and coriander leaves and stalks into the bowl of a food processor. Add the Thai fish sauce and mirin. Slice the lemongrass crossways into tiny discs as thin as paper and add to the crumbs. Peel the garlic and ginger and add them to the bowl, then process for a few seconds.

Add the prawns and process briefly, until they are finely chopped. Take care not to overwork the mixture. You should be able to see small pieces of prawn.

Roll the mixture into 10-12 balls, flatten slightly, then place them on a tray and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Heat the groundnut oil in a shallow pan over a moderate heat. Place the prawn cakes in the hot oil and fry for 3 or 4 minutes on each side, until they are lightly browned. Pile a tangle of kimchi on a serving plate and snuggle the fishcakes among it.

Broccoli and potato with tamarind and ginger

Nigel Slater’s recipes for kimchi prawn cakes, yuzu polenta cakes, grilled sprouts and comfort rice (3)

I have watched tamarind pulp being extracted from its giant brown pods, pushed through huge sieves in the markets in Kerala and Thailand till only the fat, shiny seeds are left behind. The glossy brown pulp that falls into the pot below is tart and fruity and will send dazzling sour notes through your curry. I have done the same, in a much, much smaller quantity in the kitchen at home and have decided it is easier to buy it ready-prepared, in a jar.

Tamarind paste is often the answer when your curry sauce is too earthy or tasting flat. I crave its fruity sourness with pork or chicken and with vegetables such as potatoes and pumpkin. I can eat more, much more, curry when there is a sour element such as tamarind paste involved. It has a singular affinity with ginger, chillies and garlic. Coconut milk too.

You could soften the heat and sourness of the sauce here by adding half a tin of coconut milk at the end, but I like it as it is. A curry to eat with steamed rice. The long-stemmed broccoli is a suggestion – you could use purple sprouting instead – and the potatoes could be swapped for sweet potato, cut into small pieces. The lime at the end, squeezed over as you ladle the potatoes and greens into bowls, accentuates the pulsing sour quality, but in a different way to the tamarind.

Serves 4
banana shallots 400g, large
groundnut or vegetable oil 3 tbsp
potatoes 300g, small
garlic 3 cloves
ginger 50g
lemongrass 3 plump stalks
red bird’s eye chillies 3 medium or 2 small
chopped tomatoes 2 x 400g tins
tamarind paste 2 tbsp
long-stemmed broccoli 400g

To finish
cashew nuts 75g
coriander leaves 10g
lime 1

Peel the shallots, cut them in half from root to tip then slice each half into three. In a deep pan, warm the oil over a moderate heat, add the shallots and leave them to cook, with the occasional stir, until they are soft and translucent. A matter of about 15-20 minutes.

Bring a pan of water to the boil, salt it lightly. Slice the potatoes thickly, or halve them according to their size, cook them in boiling water for 10 minutes, till partially tender, then drain and set aside.

Peel and finely slice the garlic, then add to the shallots. Peel the ginger, grate coarsely, then stir into the shallots and garlic. Peel and discard the outer leaves of the lemongrass, then very finely slice the inner stalks into tiny rounds, the thinner the better. Stir into the shallots, then finely chop and add the chillies.

Add the tins of tomatoes and their juice to the aromatics, then stir. Season with salt and a little black pepper and the tamarind paste. Add the cooked potatoes to the sauce. Pour in 400ml of water and leave to simmer, partially covered with a lid, for 15 minutes – they should be really quite soft.

Rinse and roughly chop the broccoli, keeping the stalks and heads separate. Once the potatoes are ready add the stalks and continue cooking for 8 minutes, then add the florets and continue cooking, with the occasionally careful stir, for a further 5 minutes.

To finish, warm a little oil in a shallow pan, add the cashews and cook for 5 minutes or so, moving them regularly around the pan. When the nuts are golden, salt them lightly and tip them on to kitchen paper. Chop the nuts and the coriander and mix them together.

Ladle into bowls, cut the lime in half and squeeze the juice over the top. Scatter the cashews and coriander.

Yuzu (or lemon) polenta cakes

Nigel Slater’s recipes for kimchi prawn cakes, yuzu polenta cakes, grilled sprouts and comfort rice (4)

I give more respect to citrus fruit with each passing year and now is their moment. Lemons complete with their glossy leaves; tight, tricky to peel clementines and glorious ruby fleshed blood oranges sit in the salad crisper of the fridge, ready to start my day. A perfect orange deserves a little care – I love the way they used to come in wooden crates, wrapped in tissue and glistening foil, like Christmas baubles. It is only recently we are getting to see a fraction of the varieties that exist. Even now, we see nothing like the number elsewhere. Green-skinned citrus is easier to track down now, and has a clean, sour snap to it so lacking in the bog-standard sweet orange. The flesh often has a crispness to it, and the zest is fragrant.

My favourite, the somewhat knobby yuzu, is expensive and not easy to find, but I indulge myself occasionally. As discussed before, you can get quite close to its flavour by using equal amounts of grated lemon or grapefruit and orange zest. Of course, you can make the little cakes here with lemon instead. Use unwaxed ones as you need the zest. No one wants wax in their cake. Fill them with lemon curd and eat them warm from the oven.

Makes 8
fine polenta 125g
plain flour 200g
baking powder 1 tsp
caster sugar 150g
yuzu finely grated zest of 1 (see note in intro)
butter 150g
egg 1 large
milk 2 tbsp
yuzu jam or lemon curd 8 tsp

For the syrup
yuzu juice 150ml, or lemon and orange juice
caster sugar 1½ tbsp

You will need an 8-hole muffin tin or paper cup cases to fit an 8-hole cupcake tin.

Preheat the oven to 160C fan/gas mark 4. Put the fine polenta in the bowl of a food processor then add the flour, baking powder and caster sugar. Add the finely grated zest and the butter, cut into small pieces.

Break the egg into a small bowl, add the milk and beat lightly with a fork to mix. Pour into the crumble mix and continue mixing, briefly, until you have a soft, loose, sandy mixture. Take care not to overmix to a dough.

Divide the mixture into 2 portions, putting one half into the paper cup cases or muffin-tin holes. Put a teaspoon of jam or curd in the centre of each, then place the remaining mixture on top.

Bake for 30 minutes till risen and lightly golden on the surface. Remove from the oven.

Put the yuzu or lemon and orange juice in a small saucepan with the caster sugar and bring to the boil. As soon as the sugar has dissolved – a matter of a minute or two – then spoon over the cakes and let it soak in.

Remove the cakes from their cases or tins. They are best while still warm and soft, though they will keep for a day in an airtight tin.

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Nigel Slater’s recipes for kimchi prawn cakes, yuzu polenta cakes, grilled sprouts and comfort rice (2024)
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