Spice up your life

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

For his latest cookbook Mighty Spice Express, celebrity chef and all round spice expert, John Gregory-Smith, went in search of the best express dishes from around the world. Visiting Asia, North Africa, the Middle East and South America, John tasted the best street food that the aforementioned destinations had to offer – and returned home armed with delicious ideas that can be recreated in a home kitchen in minutes.

Here John shares his recipes for Cochin Crab Cakes and Vietnamese Bun Cha, with CD-Traveller readers


Serves two, ready in 15 minutes

My Cochin Crab Cakes make the perfect light meal. They are packed with juicy crab, and with tomatoes, coriander and spring onions to freshen things up. Finally, mustard seeds, curry leaves, turmeric and chilli add the flavours of South India. The hit of lime at the end accentuates all the spices even more, so in only 15 minutes you get something amazing.

2 tbsp groundnut oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
A large pinch of dried curry leaves
1⁄4 tsp turmeric
1⁄2 tsp chilli powder
3 spring onions
5 cherry tomatoes
1 handful of coriander leaves
200g/7oz/11⁄2 cups cooked white crab meat
60g/21⁄4oz/3⁄4 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1 small egg 1 lime
sea salt

1. Heat one tablespoon of the oil in a small frying pan over a medium heat and add the mustard seeds. Fry for 30 seconds, shaking the pan continuously, or until the mustard seeds start popping. Rub the curry leaves between your hands so that they break into the pan, then remove the pan from the heat. Add the turmeric and chilli powder, and leave to one side.

2. Trim the spring onions,then finely chop them with the cherry tomatoes and coriander, and chuck them all into a mixing bowl. Tip in the crab and breadcrumbs, and season with salt. Add the cooked spices and oil from the frying pan, then crack in the egg and mix everything together well. Divide the mixture into four and flatten each one into a crab cake about 1cm/1⁄2in thick.

3. Heat the remaining oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat and fry the crab cakes for two minutes on each side, or until beautifully golden and warmed through. Cut the lime into wedges and serve with the hot crab cakes.

Serves two, ready in 20 minutes


For the soup
500ml/17fl oz/2 cups chicken stock
6 black peppercorns
2 star anise
2.5cm/1in cinnamon stick
2 tsp sugar
3 tbsp fish sauce
2 lemongrass stalks
1⁄2 lime
140g/5oz vermicelli rice noodles

For the pork burgers
1 small handful of coriander leaves
1 small handful of mint leaves
120g/41⁄4oz minced pork
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp groundnut oil

To serve
4 spring onions
1⁄2 red chilli
1⁄2 lime
40g/5oz/11⁄2 cups bean sprouts
1 large handful of coriander leaves
1 large handful of mint leaves

1. Pour the stock and 500ml/17fl oz/2 cups water into a saucepan and add the peppercorns, star anise, cinnamon stick, sugar and fish sauce. Bash the fat ends of the lemongrass stalks with a spoon, snap them in half and add them to the stock. Squeeze in the juice from the lime, mix well and bring to the boil over a medium heat. Meanwhile, add the noodles to a pan of boiling water and leave to stand for three minutes, or as directed on the packet. Drain in a colander and refresh under cold water, then drain again. Leave them in the colander to drain.

2. Chop the herbs for the pork burgers and put them into a large bowl. Add the pork and fish sauce and mix well. Heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Meanwhile, divide the pork into four and flatten into mini burger shapes. Fry the burgers for three minutes on each side, or until golden and cooked through.

3. While the pork is cooking trim the spring onions, then cut each in half and then into thin strips. Deseed the chilli, then slice it finely. Cut the lime into 2 pieces.

4. Divide the noodles and bean sprouts between two large serving bowls, and put two pork burgers into each bowl. Scatter half the spring onions and the chilli over each bowl, then top with the lime and the herbs. Remove the spices from the stock and divide the hot, fragrant soup between the two bowls. Serve immediately.

To purchase a copy of Mighty Spice Express by John Gregory-Smith (Duncan Baird Publishers, 1 August 2013, £20), click here

For John’s fabulous Pineapple and lime pie recipe, be sure to log onto CD-Traveller tomorrow!


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