This unusual entree has most of the work done in advance, so it takes little time to serve. Don't let the exotic ingredients put you off, like a lot of cooking the key here is; Substitute! Serve 8 as a starter.
I first put this dish on the menu at my restaurant 5 years ago when our greens supplier got some fresh waterlily. I thought it would be a mildly popular "special", but it turned out to be more popular than I imagined.
1kg (2lb) baby octopus
500ml (1 pint) coconut milk, try "mae ploy" brand
50gm (2oz) snow pea tendrils (substitute any sprouts)
100gm (4oz) waterlily stem, sliced (try a Thai grocery, or substitute cucumber)
3 Tbs coriander (cilantro) leaves
3 Tbs mint leaves
50gm (2oz) roasted peanuts, chopped
10gm (½ oz) palm sugar
fish sauce, optional
1 banana leaf, washed, also optional
Pick at least 4 of the following
100gm (3oz) sliced galangal
100gm (3oz) sliced ginger
2 stalks lemongrass, sliced
3 coriander roots, washed
6 kaffir lime leaves
3 cloves garlic, peeled but left whole
4 star anise
1 Tbs coriander seeds
2 dried red chillies
Clean out the octopus, removing the beak and sacs, etc, or get your fish guy to do this if you are squeamish. If there are any bigger than your fist, then simply cut them in half.
Plunge the octopus into boiling water for 2 minutes, then drain and run cold water over to stop cooking, this will remove any gungy bits that would otherwise end up in your sauce (a great tip for char-grilled octopus as well, tender every time)
Place the coconut milk into a heavy based pan with an equal amount of water and add the spices you have chosen from the list. Bring to the boil.
Add the octopus and reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Cover and cook for 1-2 hours. You will know it is done if you can eat the octopus with a spoon, but before it has started to fall apart
Remove the octopus from the pot and place in a deep dish or bowl. Add the palm sugar to the now pinkish liquid and reduce to half its original volume. Taste to check the salt level and add fish sauce if necessary. Strain the liquid over the octopus, then cool, cover and refrigerate. The dish can be prepared to this stage several days in advance.
To serve, remove the octopus from the jellied liquid and brush off as much excess as you can. Heat a barbecue or grill and cook the octopus until warmed through. Don't be alarmed if the outside is deeply charred, this is normal. Remove to a large bowl and keep warm. Re heat the sauce. Add the coriander, mint, snow pea tendrils and waterlily to the octopus with 100ml of the sauce. Toss to combine.
Put a small square of banana leaf (if using) on a plate, top with the octopus salad. Garnish with the roasted peanuts and drizzle extra sauce around.