Californian Corn with Justin Veruasa

Meet Justin,10656391_10203890664621186_1374932442_n a 27 year old teacher and photographer from California, USA; the place that brought you Hollywood, Google and The Beach Boys. He writes an amazing blog showcasing his photography that I recommend checking out. Justin and I met in the last weeks of my living in Thailand. Everyone else was working full-time, but I’d stopped teaching and was trying to get my things in order before I flew on, and since Justin wasn’t teaching either, we spent most of my last fortnight enjoying lazy late lunches, drinking beer in Lop Buri and cycling around Ayutthaya on decrepit old rental bikes. Justin also put up with quite a lot of agonising and a fair amount of crying from me whilst I said goodbye to everything, for which I am eternally grateful!

Famous for things like juice fasting and nutty fads like the maple syrup and cayenne pepper diet, Justin gave me his perspective on California cuisine, which was pretty delicious.

Which part of California are you from?

I am from Fullerton, a city in Orange County, California.

Is there a food that’s particular to there?

The California Burrito. It’s a carne asada burrito loaded with french fries. It’s typically not on any menu, but is almost always available at any authentic taco spot if you ask for it by name!

So what’s key to an authentic Californian meal?

In Southern California, we like our food nice and spicy, so a good salsa is key to any meal.

Tell me about your favourite dish from home. Is there a special time or place that you eat it?

Elotes! Elote is corn-on-the-cob usually sold by Mexican street vendors from a shopping cart.  They honk a horn as they’re walking down the street & when you hear the horn, you go running outside so you don’t miss them!

What you normally drink with it?

Corona or Orange Fanta.10656583_10203890642900643_1755115699_n

What’s the vegetarian situation like in California? Is it common?

They’re everywhere.

So it would be a pretty easy place for a vegetarian to travel through then?

I think it would be pretty easy to be vegetarian here. There are lots of options.

Do you think there are particular areas that it would be easier for a veggie to travel in than others?

Southern California, as a whole, is very diverse in terms of culinary offerings. There really is something for everyone here.

If I came to visit, what’s  the number 1 food and drink to try as a veggie?

That’s a tough one as I’m pretty much a carnivore. If I were to make some recommendations, I would say go to Pieology. They’re an up-and-coming pizza place where you stand in a line and select your own toppings in a similar fashion to Subway and Chipotle and they cook it for you on the spot. Aside from that, I would suggest trying to find your favorite dish from home because chances are we have a variation of it with some California flair.

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If you want to have a go at making elotes for yourself, they’re fairly straightforward and yes, they are delicious!

Ingredients:

  • Corn on the CobWP_20140907_002
  • Mayonnaise
  • Grated Parmesan
  • Pinch Chilli Powder

One thing I’ve discovered is that if you buy corn still in the leaves and then strip them back, but don’t pull them off, they make a great rustic-looking handle. Much easier than stabbing yourself trying to stick a skewer up it’s tough bottom.

  1. Grill your corn until the kernels are tender and golden.
  2. Spread it evenly with mayonnaise.
  3. Roll the corn in the grated Parmesan.
  4. Sprinkle with chilli powder.
  5. Enjoy!

For this and other great vegetarian/vegan recipes, check out the Forking Off Website.

How to do Spanish in Thailand

DSCF8415What do you do when you find yourself at a barbecue in Pai, a glorious hippy den in the northernmost part of Thailand, and you’ve got to produce something fabulous for everyone to share? All you’ve got is a frying pan and a single ring on the hob for your veggie self, whilst everyone else is skewering enough meat to keep a big cat sanctuary going for a few weeks. You could just say sod it and buy yourself a polystyrene tray of som tam or phad thai from the local market, or you could hit that market and refuse to be defeated!

What you do is track down some dead easy ingredients:

  •        About a pound of potatoes,
  •        Garlic Cloves,
  •        An Onion,
  •        8-10 Tomatoes,
  •        Hot Sauce,
  •        Passata (optional – most countries have a version of this),
  •        Oil of some sort for frying,
  •        Cheese,
  •        Salt/Pepper/Whatever seasonings are kicking about.

Cheese is harder to track down in Thailand and if I’m honest I’m not entirely sure where I got my hands on a lump. The fabulous thing about this though is that you can put in whatever you find in the local market and make it in a hostel, a house or a trangia on the side of a mountain. It is Spanish Potato Hot-Pot. If you want to try the original Spanish version then you can check it out on my website. What’s great about it is that it is so easy and so versatile!

Here’s what you do once you’ve carried your haul back to your pad:941420_10151463608491713_807895122_n

1. Chop up all your veg and defend yourself against all the snippy comments that your dinner is not going to be as good as everyone else’s. Make sure your potato chunks are pretty small or everyone else will have eaten, drunk too much, sung karaoke, fallen in the pool and gone to bed by the time yours is cooked.

2. Start frying your potatoes in the oil and keep them moving or their bottoms will burn.

3. When they’re looking quite browned, add the onion and garlic and keep them going, giving everything a good stir and flip every minute or so.

4. When those look a bit browned too, add your chopped tomatoes and hot sauce to taste – personally I like it spicy, but even if you don’t, don’t be too tight with it – without hot sauce this is a much blander beastie. If you are using passata then put that in now too, but don’t drown it too much. Let it all get hot and try a few of your taters to check that they’re done all the way through.

5. If they are, then add salt and pepper and turf it all out, covering it in cheese. You might want to melt the cheese in the pan quickly; it should only take 30 seconds or so for it to melt.

6.Serve!

7. Wash the dish up when it comes back licked clean.

8. Unfortunately I didn’t think to take a picture of it at the time, but here’s the Spanish version – for a visual image just mentally replace the olives and parsley with cheese.

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Som Tam in Bangkok

I’m not sure where I first heard of Som Tam, but it’s one of those things that’s mandatory to sample if you go to Thailand. I’d also heard it called papaya salad and after a day of wandering around Bangkok with a brutal hangover, I decided that something light and refreshing like a bowl of lettuce with hunks of sweet red papaya flesh dropped in sounded just the ticket. A girl from my hostel and I found a little place off Soi Rambuttri with plastic chairs and clean table cloths and I ordered a plate.

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What was brought out did not look at all like anything I would have described as a salad. I couldn’t see any papaya, which was disconcerting, just skinny strips of pale stuff; sprinkled with peanuts, green beans and a few chopped tomatoes swimming in a pinkish liquid. The first mouthful was surprising; a rush of crunchy, salty-sweetness. Then the next brought a tingling on my tongue and lips. The third came with a pressure behind my eyes and a nose that felt at once both hot and cold and started leaking like an old boiler pipe. When I first moved to Thailand I had a pathetic tolerance for spicy food and what everyone had neglected to tell me was that som tam is traditionally served hotter than the surface of the sun. This is a trial by fire that everyone who visits Thailand has to undergo and it only takes a few short weeks before you find yourself craving that rush of zesty spice, pounded mercilessly by an old lady with more strength than you’d credit her for.WP_20140708_038

Normally it would be served with fish sauce, crab and prawns, but it doesn’t need them. All Thai food is based around the four cardinal elements of taste (as the Thais consider them); salt, sweet, sour and spice, and no dish better represents these elements than Som Tam, made with crisp green papaya.

I’ve spent ages trying to recreate som tam here at home where you can’t get green papaya; experimenting with cucumber and cabbage (not the same at all), and I have finally found the winning substitution – shredded swede. If you follow my recipe it’s almost exactly the same as the real thing; crunchy and slightly sweet. I knew I’d got it right when I opened the fridge and a wave of Thailand floated back out at me; that perfect ratio of chilli and lime and coriander wafting around the kitchen like a cartoon cloud leading me by the nose.

You will need (for 2):

  • Half a Raw Swede Cut Into Thin Strips
  • 2 Tbsp Slightly Crushed Peanuts
  • 2 Cloves of Diced Garlic
  • 1-2 Diced Red Chillis
  • 3 Tsp Dark Brown/Palm Sugar
  • Juice of 1/2 Lime
  • 1 Diced Large Tomato
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp Soy Sauce
  • 5-6 Green Beans cut into Inch-Long Pieces

1. Roughly crush the peanuts.

2. Peel the swede and cut it into strips. Leave it in a bowl of cold water whilst you prepare the rest as that will absorb some of the starch and keep it fresh.

3. Melt the sugar in a pan with 2 Tbsp of water, until it becomes a glossy black syrup, this will help it to mix into the salad. Be careful not to burn it.

4. Mash the chillis and garlic in a pestle and mortar. You don’t want them pureed, but they need to be crushed up to release the juices. If you don’t have a pestle and mortar you can put them in a sandwich bag and bang it with a rolling pin. Make sure you’ve got all the air out of the bag though or it’ll explode; which, whilst hilarious, is not very good for your lunch.

5. Add the peanuts and bash some more, then add all the other ingredients, including the swede, and bash, bash, bash. Stir it occasionally, then carry on bashing.

6. Serve with a garnish of coriander.

New Eyes and Extra Colours

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Terry Pratchett (and many drunken travellers paraphrasing) once said; “Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colours. And the people there see you differently too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” Truer words and all that. Another thing a fellow back-packer once told me is that it takes you the same amount of time as you spent in a failed relationship to fully process that same relationship and move on. The same is true of time after travel.

One of the worst things about returning after an extended period of wild adventure is responding to questions like ‘what was it like?’ ‘Did you have a good time?’ How do you summarise 18 months in a whole other world down to a few neatly palatable sentences? I know what things I miss the most from being on the road (although I don’t doubt that I’ll be back on it again one day), but I was curious about what got my fellow backpackers to yearning – so I thought I’d ask!

Of all of the, at least temporarily, retired backpackers that I surveyed, the most popular answer that they gave was people; the other 488031_163772840451369_98655734_n - Copytravellers they meet on the road and the locals that they got the opportunity to spend time with. And how do you spend time with people? Why eating and drinking of course! In fact food made up a whopping 10% of all the answers given to the question ‘what thing do you miss most about international travel?’ Other top answers were finding out about new cultures, having adventures and the total freedom to be spontaneous and go wherever the wind blows you.

Now that I’m back in suburban Hampshire studying and working, there are limited ways that I can recreate any of those wonderful things for myself. If there’s one thing I know I can do though, it’s cook; so that’s what I’m going to do, at least until I can begin a fresh adventure. I shall see my kitchen with new eyes and extra colours as I recreate every wonderful, nostalgic meal I’ve had on the road. Hopefully I’ll even bring in some other people’s stories and recipes too, so that I can share the trials and triumphs of being a vegetarian in, and all-over, a meat-eater’s world.