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Where Flavour was Born (November 12, 2008)

Australia to Zanzibar. Now, that phrase has an exotic ring to it. As it should – for this part of the world contains the Indian Ocean, 10,000 kilometres wide at the southern tips of Africa and Australia, with an area 73,556,000 square kilometres. Wow.

Given the countries that ring the Indian Ocean, you can understand that this body of water has been an important trade route since people began venturing beyond the horizons! Bounded on the north by Asia, India, the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, the ocean brushes Indochina and Australia on the east, Africa on the west, with the great Southern Ocean and Antarctica to the south. Tired and hungry after all this distance? Who wouldn't be – and, given the history of the Indian Ocean, just imagine the food on all its shores!

We've happily eaten our way around part of the Indian Ocean and marvelled at the use of spice and flavour combinations we never dreamed of at home! From Mauritius to the Seychelles, East Africa to Indochina, then down over to Australia, the food is often a surprise and always a delight, local people making use of local ingredients – often with spectacular results! We've traveled through many of these countries, eating our way from food stall to golden restaurant, and never ceased to wonder and love the remarkable flavours and culinary combinations we found!

How delightful to find Where Flavor was Born: Recipes and Culinary Travels Along the Indian Ocean Spice Route by food writer and television chef Andreas Viestad. When he's not hunting and gathering dishes and recipes in his travels, he's at home on his farm outside Cape Town or his apartment in Oslo. Viestad is also the consultant chef at Emerson's Spice Hotel in Stone Town, Zanzibar.

Chef Viestad first experience with the intoxicating aroma of cloves on the island of Zanzibar was enthralling, and like all visitors to this part of the world he's been fascinated with the sights, sounds, smells and flavour from the lands surrounding the Indian Ocean since that time. In Where Flavor was Born he traces the origins of the spice trade and describes the wonders of this exotic area of the world.

We spent a month in Bali a few years ago and fell under the spell. Bali is one of the world's great beauty spots, and the food is also wonderful. We love the very specialized Bali Cookbook by Lonny Gerungan, with over 100 recipes from the island's most famous chef. Gerungan was born in Denpasar, where his father was the chef at the Bali Hotel – an establishment long famous for accommodating celebrities and royalty. His mother also ran restaurants on Bali, and from an early age Lonny was taught to cook by both his parents. He has spent the lat 25 years living in the Netherlands, where he is a respected TV chef, restaurant owner and consultant in the food industry.

If you've been to Bali, you've fallen in love with the place and will want to own this beautiful book... but unless you live in Southeast Asia you will probably never cook many of the recipes. Gerungan is authentic, and so are the dishes he writes about. They often include ingredients difficult or simply impossible to get most anywhere else. Never mind... we can all drool and dream over Bebek Mekuah Manis Lalah (Duck with a Hot and Sweet Sauce), Penyon Sampi (Stewed Beef with Jackfruit), or Rujak Kuah Pindang (Green Mango with Pindang Sauce), and make plans to revisit Bali soon to try these and other dishes firsthand!

Elsa Petersen-Schepelern is a Danish-Australian food and wine writer and editor. She travels the world sampling food and wine in Europe and Asia and has put together the most useful cookbook for all of us who are always looking for just one more quick, fabulous little recipe to dazzle ourselves and our friends! Finger Food: Bite-size Food for Cocktail Parties does just that: recipes from around the world that need no utensils, just napkins!

The photographs in Finger Food are by William Lingwood, who started out as an oil worker in the Middle East and learned to cook from the books of Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson; he was so inspired by the recipes and photographs that he hung up his desert boots, took up a camera and now appears in publications around the world! What a pair!

While we savoured everything from mini wraps, pockets, bagels and brioches stuffed and filled with delectables, we couldn't pass up the Thai Crabcakes, and you won't be able to, either!

On today's menu:

Download this article in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (108 KB)


Udang Pelalah (Fried Spicy King Prawns)

Chef Lonny Gerungan says about this dish, "In the many restaurants in Sanur, Kuta and also in Lovina in the north (of Bali), you will always find this prawn dish on the menu; on Bali, prawns are not very expensive, and many tourists consider them a delicacy. I always find this a very popular dish with guests. I think it's because the sweet flavour of the prawns is offset by the fresh and slightly tangy flavour of the lemongrass, lime juice and tamarind."

Don't be put off by the foreign ingredients. We've given you the recipe right out of the book and all the substitutes, which work pretty well. And hey, they're a lot more convenient than a trip to Bali... However, these days, with perseverance, you can find all the ingredients in Asian markets and, with the freshest large prawns possible, transport yourself back across the Indian Ocean to paradise!

Serves 4

  • 500 g raw king prawns, peeled
  • 1 lemongrass stalk
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 3 salam leaves (substitute curry leaves or bay leaves)
  • Juice of two leprous (kaffir) limes (substitute Persian lime juice)
  • 200 mL thick coconut milk (see below)
  • 2 tsp tamarind pulp
  • Granulated sugar
  • Salt
    For the spice paste
  • 5 candlenuts (substitute macadamia or Brazil nuts; these are three times as large as candlenuts, so use fewer)
  • 2 tsp roasted dried shrimp paste (available in Asian markets)
  • 5 shallots, peeled and finely sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • 3 long red chilies, deseeded and sliced
  • 11 bird's eye chilies, sliced
  • 4 cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 3 cm piece of fresh turmeric, peeled and finely chopped

To make the spice paste, use a pestle and mortar to pound the candlenuts and shrimp paste to a fine pate. Add the shallots, garlic, chilies, ginger and turmeric and pound again to a paste.

Rinse the prawns and pat them dry. Trim the lemongrass, bruise the stalk and tie the leaves together in a bow.

Heat the oil in a wok and fry the spice paste for about 3 minutes. Add the lemon grass, salad leaves, lime juice and prawns. Stir fry for about 3 minutes on a low heat.

Add the coconut milk and d tamarind and bring to the boil. Reduce the beat and simmer for about 3 minutes. Season with sugar and salt and serve immediately with white rice.

Thick coconut milk

Makes about 500 mL

Grate the flesh of one coconut, mix with 250 mL of tepid water and soak for 15 minutes. Squeeze and knead the soaked coconut in the water. Strain, pressing out all the liquid, through a fine sieve set about another bowl. Or buy it in cans. We do!

Tony's wine recommendation:
Off-Dry Riesling (Spätlese quality), Dry Muscat, Viognier


Thai Crabcakes with Chili Dipping Sauce

Elsa Petersen-Schepelern says in Finger Food: Bite-size Food for Cocktail Parties that everyone loves Thai fishcakes and crabcakes. We do too, and simply couldn't get enough of them from stalls in Bangkok or at the many stunning beaches in Southeast Asia.

Elsa says chopped green beans or chopped asparagus are popular with western chefs, but she prefers snake beans, those long, long Chinese green beans which she feels have a better texture and more interesting taste.

Whatever. We found all versions delectable, and they disappear in seconds.

Makes about 30

  • 3 red chilies, cored
  • 3 scallions, finely sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 4 cilantro stalks, finely chopped
  • 1 inch fresh ginger or galangal, chopped
  • 6 kaffir lime leaves, finely sliced, or grated zest of 2 limes
  • 1 Tbsp fish sauce
  • 8 oz boneless fish fillets, such as cod
  • 1½ cups crabmeat, (fresh, frozen or canned)
  • 2 Chinese long beans or 12 beans finely sliced
  • 1 oz. beanthread (cellophane) noodles (one small bundle)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 Tbsp peanut oil, for frying
    Chili dipping sauce
  • ½ cup white rice vinegar or lime juice
  • 1 red chili, finely sliced
  • 1 Tbsp fish sauce, such as nam pla
  • 1 scallion, finely sliced
  • 1 tsp brown sugar

Put the chilies, scallions, garlic, cilantro stalks, ginger or galangal, kaffir limes leaves or lime zest, and fish sauce in a food processor and work to a paste. Add the fish and work to a paste. Transfer to a bowl and mix in the crabmeat and beans.

Soak the beanthread noodles in a bowl of hot water for 5 minutes, then drain and snip into short pieces, about 1 inch long. Mix into the fish and stir in the beaten egg. Wet your hands with water and shape the mixture into flat hamburger-shaped patties of 1–2 Tbsp each.

Heat the oil in a wok or skillet and swirl to coat the sides. Add the crabcakes, 3 at a time, and sauté until golden. Transfer to a plate lined with crumpled paper towels and keep them hot in the oven while you cook the remaining crabcakes.*

Mix the dipping sauce ingredients together in a small bowl and serve with the crabcakes.

Note: the crabcakes can also be deep fried in a wok about 1/3 full of oil. The patties can also be sprinkled with rice flour before cooking.

Tony's wine recommendation:
Gewürztraminer, off-dry Riesling, semi-dry Vouvray


Grouper with Ginger and Spring Onions
Thailand, Zanzibar, India, South Africa, Mauritius

From Where Flavor was Born

Talk about well traveled... variations of this dish pop up all over the Indian Ocean; the best version Chef Viestad ever had was, as he said, "in the Krabi region of southern Thailand in a spectacularly unfashionable restaurant; it came in a translucent seafood broth, covered with a blanket of ginger and finely chopped spring onion, and made the longboats racing past the restaurant terrace at suicidal speeds just disappear!" He went on to tell us that the recipe works well with salmon and trout as well as sea bass and snapper; to duplicate a great broth, simply use instant miso soup with a few extra vegetables and a hint of ginger; the way to preserve the flavour of the fish and the freshness of the ginger is to steam the fish.

We had this dish in Mauritius, and simply couldn't get enough of it there. This recipe comes closest to our happy memories!

Serves 2 as a main course

  • 1½ to 2 pound grouper or other white fleshed fish, cleaned, scaled, rinsed and patted dry
  • Dark soy sauce for brushing
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 2-inch piece of fresh ginger
  • 1 Tbsp candied ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds, crushed (optional)
    For the broth (optional)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 Tbsp instant miso soup or paste (or amount directed on packet)
  • ½ kaffir lime leaf (optional)
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • 1 1-inch piece of fresh ginger
  • ¼ cup finely chopped carrots
  • ½ cup finely chopped spring onions
  • 2 large red chilies, seeded and cut into matchsticks
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Cut several ¼-inch-deep slashes in the skin on both sides of the fish. Brush the fish with dark soy sauce and sprinkle with the ground ginger. Finely chop enough of the fresh ginger to make 1 Tbsp., then cut the remaining ginger into matchsticks; set the ginger matchsticks aside. Mix the chopped fresh ginger with the candied ginger, garlic and coriander seeds, if using. Fill the slashes with the ginger mixture.
  3. If serving the fish with the broth, combine the water, miso soup powder, kaffir lime leaf (if using), and ground and fresh gingers in a small pot and bring to a boil. Keep hot.
  4. Place the fish in a baking dish. Add ½ cup of the boiling stock (or water; if not serving with the broth), and cover tightly with foil. Make a small hole in the foil for the steam to escape, and bake for approximately 20 minutes. Make sure the hold in the foil is close to the oven door so that you can see the steam escaping; there should be steady stream of steam for at lest the last 7 minutes. Check for doneness by poking the flesh with a fork near the neck part, where the flesh is thickest. It should come away from the bone easily.
  5. To serve, add the carrots to the hot broth, if you have it, and pour the broth over the fish. Place the ginger matchsticks on top of the fish and the spring onions and chilies on top of the ginger. There is a whole lot of ginger in this dish, and you are not meant to eat it all.

Note: if you cannot find candied ginger, you can make a simple ginger syrup by combining 1 Tbsp chopped fresh ginger, 1 Tbsp sugar and ½ tsp ground ginger with ¼ cup water and boiling until reduced and syrupy.

Tony's wine recommendation:
off-dry Riesling (Spätlese), Alsace Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer


Cubeb Pepper Figs
Indonesia, South Africa

From Where Flavour was Born

This was an accidental dish; Andreas Viestad was staying at a friend's vineyard just outside Capetown when a ferocious bushfire wrapped the entire farm in thick, dark smoke. They fought the fire, and miraculously very little harm was done; the fire stopped before it reached the vines.

Viestad said while inspecting the damage among the fig and oak trees, he found some nearly baked figs behind a cover of wilted fig leaves. They were intensely sweet and slightly smoky; he cooked the figs in merlot, and added some cubeb pepper to accentuate the smoky flavor.

Cubeb pepper, also called tailed pepper, is an Indonesian relative of black pepper but with a pungent, smoky, almost pine-like flavour. Serve with crème fraîche, yogurt or ice cream; if you're watching your calories, low-fat ricotta mixed with a little freshly grated nutmeg and orange zest.

Serves 4

  • 8–12 ripe figs
  • 2 tsp coarsely crushed cubeb peppercorns, or 2 tsp crushed black peppercorns mixed with Szechwan pepper, or more to taste
  • ½ cup red wine, preferably Merlot
  • 2–3 Tbsp sugar
  • 3 Tbsp finely chopped dried figs (optional)

Cut a small slit in each fig and place a small amount of pepper inside each one.

In a medium pot, combine the red wine, sugar, dried figs (if desired), and the rest of the pepper and bring to a boil. Cook for 10 minutes, or until the wine is reduced and it is starting to get syrupy.

Add the figs and cook for 10 minutes over low heat, turning a couple of times. (The dessert can be made up to 4 hours in advance and simply reheated before serving.) Sprinkle with a little freshly ground pepper just before serving.

Tony's wine recommendation:
Verdelho Madeira, 10-Year-Old Tawny Port, Marsala


We wish to thank:

Raincoast Books, Vancouver and Chronicle Books LLC, San Francisco for permission to publish material and photographs from Where Flavor was Born: Recipes and Culinary Travels Along the Indian Ocean Spice Route, by Andreas Viestad. Text © 2007 by Andreas Viestad. Photographs © by Mette Randem.


Raincoast Books and Kyle Cathie Limited for permission to publish material and photographs from the Bali Cookbook by Lonny Gerungan. Text © Santi BV. Design © 2007 Kyle Cathie limited. Photography © 2007 Warren Bright.


Thomas Allen and Sons, Toronto, and Ryland Peters and Small, London and New York, for permission to publish material and photographs from Finger Food: Bite-size Food for Cocktail Parties by Elsa Petersen-Schepelern. Text © 1999 Elsa Petersen-Schepelern. Design and photographs © 1999 Ryland Peters & Small.


Happily enjoyed by Helen Hatton and Ron Morris.

Download this article in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (108 KB)




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