If Australian-born Chef Adam Hynam-Smith ever had a fear of bold and spicy flavours, his travels through Morocco and Thailand quickly cured him of it. In 2010 he brought those flavours to the Niagara region in one of Canada’s first “non-traditional” food trucks, El Gastrónomo Vagabundo. In this case, “non-traditional” means a truck that is mobile and prepares fresh food to order. We love our fries and corn dogs from chip wagons in Ontario but we are definitely ready for something more. In his first cookbook, Curbside: Modern Street Food from a Vagabond Chef, Hynam-Smith gives us a taste of what we’ve been missing.
Spurred on by the food truck revolution celebrated on television, more people are now looking for a taste of high-end restaurant quality food without the gourmet prices. Modern food trucks can provide a whole new experience of tastes and textures along with the carnival atmosphere of waiting in line at a trailer for lunch. It’s like eating at the fair but less scary. Well, slightly less scary. There’s a Pickled Octopus recipe in this book with a full page of photos that gave me the willies, but I’m sure it’s delicious, if you can get past the tentacles. I’m too fond of alien movies for this to be an option for me. If you’re braver than I, please email me and let me know how it turned out.
The Mise en Place section of this book is dedicated to a collection of spice blends, garnishes, sauces, curries, and preserves. They can be made ahead and stored, ready to create recipes from this book or liven up just about any other meal you can imagine. You might add some Harrisa (Tunisian chili paste) to your burger, or season some roasted vegetables with Dukkah (sesame seeds, hazelnuts and spices). Candied Bacon should work on everything but your morning cereal. Maybe even there, actually. I particularly enjoyed the number of pickling recipes and look forward to adding many of these to my own favorite Thai noodle salads.
Hynam-Smith has adapted many of his restaurant recipes for home cooking. He also includes offerings from some of his friends, other chefs in the Niagara Region. There’s a great mix of items, from quick, casual food to more elaborate dishes that take several days to prepare. Beverage recipes range from simple mint tea to a Caesar made with soup broth, chili jam and fried shallots.
The Chicken Pot Stickers were so good they never made it to the table. We couldn’t stop eating each fresh batch as they came out of the pan. At our house, that’s a “keeper” recipe. A dish I’ll probably save for special occasions is a decadent food truck treat, Fried Banana with Toasted Coconut Cream. I’m not sure that the health benefits of bananas completely balance out the deep frying, but after one bite of this dessert I no longer cared.
Curbside is one of those books that makes you feel adventurous just flipping through the pages. Mike McColl’s photos are spectacular, I only wish there had been more of them. (Maybe in place of the octopus pictures.)
I’m not sure how long it will be before we see more gourmet food trucks roaming the streets of London but when they get here, thanks to the efforts of people like Hynam-Smith and his Vagabundo team, we’ll be ready and waiting.
Tracy Turlin is a freelance writer and dog groomer in London. Reach her at email@example.com
Recipes and photos on the following pages are courtesy of Whitecap Books. Curbside: Modern Street Food from a Vagabond Chef, Adam Hynam-Smith; Whitecap Books, 2015.
Chicken Pot Stickers
Pot stickers are a steamed dumpling that is fried on one side before steaming, which gives the pot stickers simultaneously a crisp and soft steamed texture, giving dumpling fans the best of both worlds. Variations of pot stickers are found throughout China, Korea, and Japan.
4 dried shiitake mushrooms
3 cups (750 mL) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/8 cups (280 mL) just-boiled water (approx.)
1 lb (500 g) ground chicken breast
6 water chestnuts, shelled and finely diced
2-inches (5 cm) long piece ginger, finely diced
5 red shallots, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, finely diced
kosher salt, to taste
black pepper, freshly cracked, to taste
2 Tbsp (30 mL) sunflower oil
¼ cup (60 mL) hot water
Soak shiitake mushrooms in warm water for 20 minutes. Squeeze them to remove excess water and finely slice. Set aside.
To make the dough, place flour in a mixing bowl or a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment. On low speed, gradually add the just-boiled water to the flour. Let the dough hook bring the dough together, stopping to scrape the sides of the mixing bowl as needed. Once all of the water is added, make sure all of the flour has been incorporated, and continue to knead with the dough hook for an additional 2 minutes. Add more water by the teaspoonful if mixture is too dry and crumbly.
Place dough on a lightly floured surface. Knead the dough by hand for 30 seconds to 1 minute, ensuring the dough is smooth. Place in a resealable bag, expelled of air. Allow to sit at room temperature for a minimum of 2 hours.
When dough is ready, remove it from the bag and cover with a moist tea towel. Cut off tablespoon-sized pieces of dough and roll them out on a lightly floured surface, one at a time. Stack rolled dough portions out between layers of plastic wrap in between, dusted lightly with flour. Repeat this process until all of the dough has been rolled.
In a bowl, combine chicken, water chestnuts, sliced mushrooms, ginger, shallots, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Mix well, and set aside at room temperature.
Working with one piece of rolled dough at a time, place a spoonful of chicken mixture in the centre of the dough. Use your finger to brush the edges of the dough with water. Fold the dough over so the edges meet, forming a moon-shaped dumpling. Pinch the edges to seal the dumpling. Beginning at one end of the dumpling, use your fingers to slightly overlap the edge of the dumpling with itself, pinching as you go to create a series of Z-shaped folds along the outside edge. Repeat this process with the remaining dough, covering the dumplings with a tea towel or plastic wrap as you go.
To cook pot stickers, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Place dumplings into the skillet, flat side down, and fry for 2 to 3 minutes or until golden brown. Do not flip. Pour in hot water, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and allow to cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes or until cooked through.
Serve immediately with your favourite dipping sauces.
Fried Banana with Toasted Coconut Cream
This dessert is the ideal food truck treat. It is quick and simple to prepare, and a crowd favourite. The bananas come out of the deep-fryer golden and crispy on the outside, and warm and almost gooey on the inside.
4 cups (1 L) canola oil
1 ½ cups (375 mL) self-rising flour (approx.), divided
1 cup (250 mL) soda water
2 bananas, halved lengthwise
¼ cup (60 mL) Toasted Coconut Cream (see below)
2 kaffir lime leaves, stem removed and finely julienned
4 sprigs mint, leaves picked
In a deep fryer or deep pot, heat oil to 350°F (180°C).
Place 1 cup (250 mL) of flour in a medium mixing bowl. Gradually add soda water to flour, whisking until batter is smooth but not too runny, similar to pancake batter.
Dredge banana pieces in 1/2 cup (125 mL) of flour, and then in wet flour batter. Carefully place battered banana pieces in hot oil and deep-fry for 3 minutes or until golden brown. Remove pieces from pot and place on paper towel to absorb excess oil.
To serve, place one banana piece on each serving plate, flattest side down. Using a teaspoon, place dots of Toasted Coconut Cream on each fritter and on each plate. Sprinkle with lime leaves and garnish with mint leaves. Serve immediately.
Toasted Coconut Cream
Toasted Coconut Cream can be served warm or cold.
1/2 cup (125 mL) fine unsweetened shredded coconut
1 tsp (5 mL) rice flour
1 cup (250 mL) coconut cream, divided
pinch of salt
2 Tbsp (30 mL) white sugar, or more to taste
Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).
Spread coconut in a thin layer on a baking sheet, and place in oven. Toast for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven, and allow to cool on the baking sheet at room temperature.
In a bowl, mix rice flour with ¼ cup (60 mL) of coconut cream to form a paste. In a medium saucepan, mix remaining coconut cream with flour paste over medium heat, whisking vigorously to incorporate. Add salt and toasted coconut. Bring to a boil, and cook for approximately 5 minutes, stirring constantly. When coconut cream has thickened, remove from heat immediately. Add sugar, and stir until dissolved. Add additional sugar to reach desired sweetness. Set aside at room temperature to cool.
Use immediately or transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Makes 1 ¾ cups (435 mL)