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I've just watched a guy shimmy up a sixty foot palm tree yielding a machete. He's harvesting coconuts and pruning dead palm leaves. The THUD swooooosh cacophony woke me from my afternoon snooze - luckily my hammock is at a safe distance from the tropical aerial assault. The perils of beach bumming.

For the past couple of weeks I've been adventuring around Myanmar and Malaysia, NOT doing any cooking (apart from volunteering as a sous chef for one home cooked dinner in a Northern Shan state hilltop village). I've been enjoying the sights, smells, sounds and TASTES of the orient. Highlights have included a spicy spicy green papaya salad, a simple prawn and tomato curry, banana leaf and peanut salad, tofu crackers and a chili and garlic fish BBQ. Plus a luxury train snack of quails eggs and local rum tamarind cocktails. I'm loaded with supplies of chili, turmeric, jaggery, fish powder and dried fish crackers obtained through much GESTICULATION in colourful markets, and was even given a bag of homegrown tamarinds to take back. When I get home to Paris I'm looking forward to hosting a Burmese banquet from the recipe notes I've made along the way. In the meantime, here's something I made last month involving plenty of coconut, but more Indian in flavour than Southeast Asian. Sure, you'll probably have to buy the coconut rather than have it handed to you from the tree. Sorry.

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Vegan coconut and ginger daal with coconut chutney

Makes 4 portions, takes 15 minutes, plus 45 cooking time

side / soup / main / vegetarian / vegan / gluten free / dairy free / nothing fancy / easy peasy / on a budget / party / detox / baby / perennial

A lovely, rich daal with a punchy coconut condiment. It's not really a chutney as there's no pickling involved, but it makes an interesting side which would also be good with other curries. Thanks to CB for inspiration and recipe tips. She likes to serve this with roasted butternut squash cubes sprinkled over the top. Sounds delightful.

* Onion - 1, peeled and finely diced

* Vegetable oil - a glug

* Turmeric - 1/2 tsp

* Cumin - 1 tsp

* Coriander - 1 tsp

* Fresh coriander - 1 bunch, stalks and leaves

* Birdseye red chilli - 2, finely sliced (go easy or omit if cooking for a baby)

* Ginger - 2 inch piece (yes, a lot), peeled and finely diced

* Garlic - 2 cloves, peeled and sliced

* Red lentils - 1 cup

* Coconut milk - 1 can (400ml)

* Salt - 1 tsp

In a large saucepan, fry the onion, oil, spices, coriander stalks, chili and ginger on a medium to high heat for ten minutes. Add a splash of water to keep things moist.

Add the garlic and fry for a couple of minutes. Then pour the lentils into the pan and stir well. Add the coconut milk, the salt, and 2 cups of water. Bring to a simmer, then cover and leave to cook for at least 40 minutes. Add more liquid if needed, or if you like a soupier texture. Check for salt and add the coriander leaves before serving. Garnish with a few extra coriander leaves and some sliced chili.

Coconut chutney

Makes a large bowl, takes 10 minutes

side / vegetarian / vegan / gluten free / dairy free / quietly smug / easy peasy / detox / on a budget / party / picnic / ready in a jiffy

* Vegetable oil - a glug

* Mustard seeds - 2 tbsp

* Curry leaf - 3

* Coconut flesh - 100g

* Ginger - thumb sized piece

* Salt - 1/2 tsp

* Chili - Birdseye, half

Heat the oil in a frying pan until hot. Add the curry leaves and mustard seeds and fry until most of the seeds have popped. Cover the pan or you might lose most of them behind the cooker.

In a blender, roughly blend the coconut, ginger, salt and chili. Place in a serving bowl and stir in the mustard seeds and curry leaves.


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