Mains (Asian)

Stir fry egg with garlic chive

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Egg and garlic chive is a common home-cooked meal in Southern China. It is quick and easy to cook, nutritious, and comforting.

Egg and garlic chive

The easy 10-minute cooking involves:

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Bonito fish with chili bean paste and white wine

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I picked up some fresh Australian Bonito fish today. Cooking such a firm, meaty and bland fish can be challenging, as it can be easily over-cooked.

Bonito with chili bean sauce and white wine.

So I pan fried it as cutlets with chili bean sauce. Here are the steps:

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Meals for homeless – saute mushroom with bacon, onion, capsicum and green shallot

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I used rescued vegetables to cook for our homeless friends last week. There were some lovely button mushrooms, which I made a simple dish with bacon, capsicum, carrot, onion. They devoured it.

Meals for homeless - saute mushroom with onion, capsicum and bacon

Here are the easy cooking steps:

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Meals for homeless – poached chicken with oyster sauce (FODMAP friendly)

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This is a simple and delicious meal with whole chicken(s) and a few other ingredients –  oyster sauce, sesame oil, ginger, shallot and corn flour.  For a FODMAP friendly recipe, use only green part of the shallot.

Meal for homeless - slow poached chicken with oyster sauce and green shallot (FODMAP friendly)

Here are the easy steps:

Bacon and cucumber stir fry (gluten free, FODMAP friendly)

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I made a quick meal of cucumbers and bacon in 15 minutes.

I sliced the cucumbers and bacon. In a frying pan I drizzled a little oil and added the bacon pieces. I pan fried the bacon until nearly crispy, then added the cucumbers. A few stirs, added a little sugar and white pepper. And we have a big bowl of tasty veggie and yummy bacon for dinner.

Chili, ginger and garlic prawns (gluten free)

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Some summer Friday afternoons following the school pick ups, my school-mum friends may drop by for a few glasses of bubbles and the kids have a swim in the pool.

I always keep some easy-to-cook ingredients in my freezer for such occasions – homemade curry puffs, spring rolls, and of course, wild caught Australian prawns. The prawns are delicious, already peeled, easy to defrost, and quick to cook.

Chili, ginger and garlic prawns

Method is as follow: Read the rest of this entry »

Bitter melon with beef and fermented black bean, and the story of the ‘left-behind’ children

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Bitter melon 苦瓜 with fermented black bean 豆豉 and beef

When I chatted with my friends over lunch today, I told them about the documentary about the left-behind children in Southern China.

These children lived in small and remote communities deep in the beautiful mountains in the GuangXi province, bordering Vietnam.  With limited land for farming, their parents left home to work in factories in the coastal cities.  Some children lived with their elderly grandparents. Some children, as young as 12 years old, looked after themselves and their younger siblings.

Living in leaky shacks, these children faced daily challenges with the lack of food, water, firewood, money for school, and loving care by parents.  Yet, the children were full of hope and spirit. Their daily chores, besides going to school, were fetching water, growing a few corns, collecting wild vegetables and cooking meals. The children looked forward to seeing their parents once a year during the Luna holiday, when the massive migration of workers returned home to their families.

Amazing resilience, their unique stories filled with sadness and joy.

“I was a left-behind child too, together with my younger brother and sister,’ say my friend Loyd, who came from Malaysia.  “I  was cared by my grandparents until I was 9 years old. My parents worked at a logging site in the forest.  My dad leased out equipment to the workers, while my mum worked as an administration clerk for the big logging company.”

” How do you feel about it, growing up without parents?” I was curious.

“This was the life we were given. We appreciated what we had.” Loyd said.

I always look up to this man, kind, respectful and calm.  Life is good for him and his family.

I cooked a bitter melon dish tonight.  Bitter melon is an unusual vegetable with bumpy husk and a peculiar peppery taste.  Some people hate its bitterness, yet many more appreciate the humble and unique deliciousness it offers.

Life is good when you appreciate it.

Easy stir fry method is as follows:

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Meals for the homeless – Indian spiced chicken

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This week, I made some Indian spiced chicken drumstick fillets for our homeless friends.

I marinated the chicken thigh fillets with garlic and ginger paste, yogurt, cumin, turmeric, chili powder, garam masala, mustard oil, sesame oil, salt and black pepper. Then I grilled the chicken pieces until they are cooked.

Pan fried spiced chicken fillets

Chicken giblet with cucumber (sustainable living #3)

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Chicken giblets need to be cook quickly to avoid over cooking. So I blanch the giblets in hot water quickly before slicing and pan frying.  Once blanched, I cook the giblets the same way as the chicken liver.

Here are the easy steps:

  • Blanch the giblets quickly in hot water; transfer to a plate to cool
  • Thinly slice the giblets
  • In a frying pan, add some cooking oil, bring it to very hot temperature; add sliced ginger, minced garlic, and sliced chili;  add sliced giblets, a little sugar, toss; splash a little dark soy sauce, sesame oil, white pepper, toss; remove from heat
  • Add some sliced shallot / scallion, toss
  • Add some sliced cucumber, toss
  • Garnish with chopped coriander

The giblets taste better the next day, served chilled as a salad (‘liang-ban’).

Chicken giblet with cucumber

Chicken liver with oyster sauce (sustainable living #2)

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My favorite chicken liver recipe calls for a quick stir fry in a very hot wok.

It is super simple:

  • In a frying pan, add some cooking oil, bring it to very hot temperature
  • Add sliced ginger, minced garlic,  sliced chili, and sliced shallot / scallion (white part only),  toss lightly
  • Add chicken liver pieces (cleaned and trimmed in advance);  splash in a little sugar and toss (for aroma), splash in some dark soy sauce (for color), oyster sauce, white pepper, stir fry till cooked
  • Add some sliced shallot/scallion (green part), toss
  • Garnish with chopped coriander and toasted sesame seeds

Chicken liver with chili, garlic and ginger

 

Stir fry Pig tongue with leek (sustainable living #1)

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Our family talked about sustainable living from time to time.  We achieved very little – the house is unsuitable for solar panels, and we are too busy to run a productive veggie patch or to keep a coup of chickens.

One thing we do well as a half-Asian family, is to use “fifth quarter” cuts such as offal.

Here is a stir fry pig tongue dish this week:

Stir fry pig tongue with soy and chili sauce

 

Stir fry pig tongue with soy and chili sauce

Simple cooking steps are as follows:

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Shandong shredded chicken, memory of a cranky Mr. Chen (FODMAP friendly option)

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Shandong Shredded Chicken

As the years went by, I found myself complaining more – the traffic, the bad drivers, so many conflicts around the world. Why can’t everyone just do the right thing, and the world could be a better place?

Some days, I thought I might have turned into a cranky person, like Mr. Chen.

Mr. Chen was a university friend to my father. During the culture revolution, his family was labeled as the enemy of the state. His house was searched, and wealth stripped; his father was prosecuted and thrown into jail; and Mr. Chen himself without a job or means to support himself.  Like many others ahead of him, he took the dangerous journey to the Pearl River Delta, jumped into the river, and swam across the sea to seek freedom.  He was shot at by the soldiers, but fortunately landed safely in Hong Kong.  Worked as an engineer, he married a lady 10 years younger. He was very fond of Mrs. Chen and constantly praised her achievements, such as being able to speak fluent English, and had worked as an executive assistant to a hotel general manager.

The Chens migrated to Australia in early 1980s. With their savings, they bought a small grocery store at Rose Bay and an apartment at Point Piper, both are rich suburbs of Sydney. Their apartment, although had wonderful views of the Sydney harbor, was dark, miserable, and quite a mess.

When I arrived in Australia in late 1987, my father asked the Chens to provide me with guidance and helps. Whenever Mr. Chen had the opportunity, he would talk about Chinese politic. He spoke with the deepest anger and hatred, teeth crunching and fist waving.  He yelled at me from time to time, for my lack of interest of his topics, and I did not keep my mouth firmly shut.

Within a few months, I found a job at a Chinese restaurant. The restaurant specialized in mid-north cuisine, such as Peking ducks and spicy Sichuan dishes.  The Chens had dinner in the restaurant one night, and particularly liked the Shandong shredded chicken.  They asked me to get the recipe, which was refused by the chef.  The Chens did not speak to me ever since.

I found out many years later, that Mr. Chen told my parents, who were afar, that I was very naughty – I enjoyed working as a waitress; and I went out for suppers with with co-workers after work.

The last time I heard of the Chens, they were running a small restaurant in a suburban office park.  Every morning at 3am, Mr. Chen, then 78 of age, got out of bed to collect supplies; then he joined his wife at the restaurant to work.

I can’t say that I appreciated my experience with Mr. Chen.  But I sincerely hope they are enjoying their life, and are happy.

And here is my version of a Shandong chicken, recalling the ingredients and method I learnt from the restaurant. I first placed the chicken in brine overnight, then shallow-fried the chicken with soy sauce, steamed the chicken, shredded the chicken, and served the chicken with a tangy and spicy sauce.

The most important element of this dish is the sauce. It is sweet, sour, salty and spicy – just like life, never boring.

Recipe and easy steps are as follows:

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Meals for the homeless: stir fry pork with soy sauce, lemon juice, tomato sauce, port wine, turmeric and cumin

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I bought two pork shoulders, which gave me about 3kg of good quality meat after I trimmed off the fat and skin. I marinated the pork slices with dark soy sauce, light soy sauce, lemon juice, tomato sauce,  brown sugar, port wine, turmeric, cumin and white pepper. I also added a few table spoons of corn flour.  I then left the pork in the fridge overnight, covered.

The next day I pan fried the pork in small batches, using a generous amount of cooking oil.  I used the highest temperature possible, so I could achieve an intense ‘dry fry’ texture and taste.  After I finished cooking the pork, I added some saute capsicum slices and saute green shallot (scallion) for colors.

It tasted delicious.

Stir fry pork with soy sauce, lemon juice, tomato sauce, port wine, turmeric and cumin (gluten free option)

Beef flank stew (牛腩) with Asian spices and soy sauce, my memory of the hawker stall on the ‘Poetry Book Road’ ( FODMAP friendly)

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Beef flank stew
When I was a little girl, I walked to the primary school each day.  I ate breakfast along the way. I had a ten cents allowance for two plain steamed buns each morning.

I walked down a street commonly known as the ‘Poetry Book Road’. For many years, the street was renamed as the  ‘Red Book Road’ in honor of Chairman Mao’s red book of quotations.

DSC01174
Translation of the road sign:  Poetry Book Road; to the north, ‘Paper Factory Road’; to the south, ‘Heavenly Successful Road’.  September 2017, GuangZhou, China

DSC01091#1
A street vendor selling beef flank stew and pig intestines near Poetry Street, September 2017, GuangZhou, China

At the end of the street, there was a tiny hawker stall selling beef flank and pig intestines. In winters, the hot steam rose from her big pots. The aroma of soy, star anise and clove lingered in the air, mouth-watering and irresistible. The stall operator was a middle age woman, short, chubby and never smiled. She had a pair of gigantic scissors that made loud ‘chop chop chop’ sound. When she received an order, she cut some small pieces off a larger piece, skillfully threading them to a bamboo stick without touching them with her hands.  A stick with 3 pieces of juicy, fatty and heart-warming meat cost 10 cents. It was a difficult decision for a little girl – spending the 10 cents on a meat stick and be hungry for the rest of the morning, or two plain buns. I took some deep breaths (the aroma was so good) and nibbled on the tasteless buns.

Now I remembered, the two buns never filled me up anyway. At school I sat next to a boy whose name was ‘Bin’. We enjoyed a few laughs as our stomachs rumbled at the exact same moment.

I cooked beef flank many times over the past many years. It always brought back memories of the hawker stall on the Poetry Book Road.

Recipe is as follows: Read the rest of this entry »

Pan fried tofu with soy sauce (FODMAP friendly, gluten free option, vegan)

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When I was growing up in China, tofu was the cheapest protein and it was always plentiful.  At the fresh food market they sold tofu on a large timber slab, carefully cutting out the required portion for each customer – 10 cents, 20 cents…

My grandmother loved pan frying tofu with load of cooking oil. She cut the tofu into little triangles then fried them until golden brown. She then finished cooking with a splash of soy sauce. What a mouth watering aroma!

Tonight I pan fried some tofu with soy sauce for dinner – the tofu was soft and heart warming.

* Use plain tofu for a FODMAP friendly recipe; use gluten free soy sauce for a gluten free option.

Pan fried tofu with soy sauce (FODMAP friendly, gluten free option, vegan)

 

It was so easy to make:   Read the rest of this entry »

Fried duck eggs, with green shallot and dark soy sauce (FODMAP friendly, gluten free option)

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An Italian man at my husband’s work keeps a few ducks in his back yard. He gave us some fresh eggs last week. The eggs reminded me a $20 fried egg dish I had at a posh Asian restaurant, garnished with plenty of green shallot and dark soy sauce.

‘I can cook that’, I said to myself.   It was easy,  I cracked an egg, shallow fried it in hot oil with some green shallot (scallion); then transferred the egg to a plate, splashed a little dark soy sauce on top.  It looked colorful and delicious.

* Use the green part of the scallion for a FODMAP friendly version; use a gluten free soy sauce for a gluten free option.

 

Fried duck eggs, with green shallot and dark soy sauce (FODMAP friendly, gluten free option)

 

Fried duck eggs, with green shallot and dark soy sauce (FODMAP friendly, gluten free option)
Fresh duck eggs

Meals for the homeless: pan fry pork with BBQ sauce, soy sauce, maple syrup and port wine

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Cooking something nice in bulk and with a budget is not an easy task, often involving extra preparation time to trim and slice a cheaper cut of meat. Pork shoulder is one of the easier meat to prepare and cook in bulk. It is also so tasty and nutritious.

Last week I bought 2 large pork shoulders, about 5kg in weight. I trimmed off the skin and most of the fat, then thinly sliced the meat. I marinated the meat with BBQ sauce, soy sauce, dark soy sauce, maple flavor syrup, sherry, sesame oil, sesame seed and some potato starch. I left the meat in the fridge to settle for 2 days in a tight sealed container.

On Saturday for the homeless feed, I simply pan fried the sliced pork with some oil, onion and capsicum The meal looked and tasted delicious. At the street banquet, the dish was very popular and it disappeared quickly.

 

Simple pan fry pork shoulder, homeless feed

Meals for the homeless: simple pan fry pork shoulder

The simple method is as follows:

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Saute oyster mushrooms with bok choy (low FODMAP, Vegan)

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Monash University updates their FODMAP diet app from time to time. I recently noticed that oyster mushroom has been added to the ‘green’ traffic light list at 86g per serve. Bok Choy is now restricted to 85g per serve due to moderate amount of polyolsorbitol.

So here is a simple oyster mushroom dish for our friends on low FODMAP diet.

 

Saute oyster mushrooms with bok choy (low FODMAP, Vegan)

Method is as follows:

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Meals for the homeless – pulled pork with plum sauce, Char Siu sauce, dark soy sauce and cumin

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I have been cooking for the homeless feed on some Saturdays.  Trying to cope with work and the endless chores around the house, I was only able to cook simple meals for our homeless friends.

This week I made a simple Asian flavored pulled pork with plum sauce and Char Siu sauce.  I used 5kg of pork shoulder. I first removed the skin and most of the fat under the skin; then I rub the meat with a jar of plum sauce, 1/2 jar of Char Siu sauce,  2 teaspoon of cumin powder and a few generous dashes of dark soy sauce; I marinated the meat in the fridge overnight.

The next morning, I placed pork in a pre-heated 180c (360f) oven for 30 minutes, tightly covered with foil;  after 30 minutes, I reduced the temperature to 160c (320f), cooked the meat for further 30 minutes; then I turned the heat to 140c (280f) for further 2 hours. After that I left the meat in the oven for another 1 hour to settle, before I pulled the meat with 2 forks.

For the sauce, I  mixed some corn flour with water; transferred half of the meat juice to a sauce pan, added the corn flour mixture, brought to a slow boil and stirred briefly as the sauce thicken. I poured the sauce on top of the meat.

We had some for dinner too, with boiled rice – tasted great.

pulled pork with plum sauce, Char Siu sauce, dark soy sauce and cumin

Method is as follows:

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Chinese mushroom, fresh mushroom and capsicum stir fry, with oyster sauce

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This morning, I soaked a few dry Chinese mushrooms in hot water no particular recipes in mind.  Dinner time, I found some fresh mushrooms and a capsicum at the bottom of the fridge, and made this simple stir fry.

Chinese mushroom, fresh mushroom and capsicum stir fry, with oyster sauce

So simple, no recipe required +- slice everything and throw them in a frying pan over high heat;  Add a dash of cooking oil, a little oyster sauce, a little sesame oil and white pepper; toss for a few minutes; and it is done; garnish with sliced shallot (scallion) and sesame seeds.

One pot meal – spiced sausages and rice

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Years ago, my little boy loved a book called “The Tiger Who Came To Tea”.  The story talked about a tiger who visited Sophie’s house and ate all their food. Sophia’s dad took Sophie and her mum out to a cafe, had a lovely supper with sausages, chips and ice cream.

‘How could sausages be lovely?’ my little boy asked.

So here is my version of sausages – a one pot meal with onion and capsicum, spiced with garam masala, turmeric and mustard oil.

SONY DSC

 

Method is as follows: Read the rest of this entry »

Stir fried tofu skin 腐竹 with Chinese mushroom 香菇 and capsicum (gluten free, vegan)

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My favorite Northern Chinese restaurant makes this lovely tofu skin dish, with Sichuan pepper infused oil and loads of garlic.  I tried to replicate it a few times but without success.

So here is my own version. It is actually tastier than the one in the restaurant (grins) !

Stir fried tofu skin 腐竹 with Chinese mushroom 香菇 and capsicum (gluten free, vegan)

Recipe is as follows:

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Asian spiced ratatouille with potato, eggplant, capsicum, zucchini and coriander (low FODMAP, vegan, gluten free)

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At work, we share a floor with a team of accounting staff. Among them is Garnesh, a vegetarian with an Indian background. Every time I saw him having lunch at the kitchen, I quizzed him about his lovely meals. Today I tried out one of his recipes. To avoid the vegetables being too mushy, I baked the vegetables in the oven like a ratatouille, rather than using a cook top. It was delicious.

Asian spiced ratatouille with potato, eggplant, capsicum, zucchini and coriander (low FODMAP, vegan, gluten free)

 

Recipe is as follows. A FODMAPs check list is attached.

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Saute capsicum and egg, with oyster sauce and sesame oil (low FODMAP)

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I have been volunteering at a food program for low-income earners. Most of the program’s fruits and vegetables are donated and sold for a fraction of the ‘normal’ prices. It gives me great joys to fill up their trolleys with milk, bread, fruits, vegetables and a small selection of daily essentials for as little as $10.

The program reminded to respect food – not to be wasteful and appreciate what we have. More recently, I have been buying the ‘odd bunches’ fruits and vegetables from the supermarket. Today, I picked up a bunch of capsicums with odd colors – a bit of green and a bit of orange. I made a stir fry with some free-range eggs to go with my leftover curry from last night.

It looked pretty good, and tasted delicious.

Saute capsicum and egg, with oyster sauce and sesame oil (low FODMAP)

 

Recipe is as follows. A FODMAPs check list is also attached.

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Home style pork spare ribs with soy sauce, wine and vinegar (FODMAP friendly, gluten free option)

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Pork spare ribs are inexpensive in Sydney, a fraction of the cost of pork ribs.  It is one of the most popular cuts of pork for Asian food, lovely when slow cooked in a rich salty, sweet and sour sauce.

Here is our dinner tonight – pork spare ribs braised in a soy sauce, red wine,sesame oil  and vinegar, with a hint of ginger and cumin.

Home style pork spare ribs with soy sauce, wine and vinegar (FODMAP friendly, gluten free option)

Recipe is as follows:

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Simple Chinese mushrooms and cloud ear fungus, memories of Chinese New Year (vegan)

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Simple Chinese mushrooms and cloud ear fungus

Nearly 30 years had passed since I left China, but I still remember vividly the wonderful days around the Chinese New Years. Extended families gathered at the large dinner tables, briefly forgot about their quarrels throughout  the year. The wok chinked with an aroma of delicacies that we couldn’t afford as daily meals. The rolling pins were out for the wickedly delicious sweet peanut pastry.

The flower festival (‘huaJie’, 花街) was held about a week before the Chinese New Year. Families went to the street market packed of flower vendors to select their festival decorations. Kumquat 金橘 was an essential – ‘kum’ means gold and  ‘quat’ has a similar pronunciation as fortune. It is a plant that will bring good prosperity in the new year. A small blossoming  peach shrub was also an essential, s symbol of strength and vitality, with beautiful flowers emerged from the harshness of the winter. Also common were the chrysanthemum 菊花 and peony 牡丹, large and colorful, symbols of riches and honor.

Flower street
Memories of a street pack with people, flowers and green plants

When I was a little girl, my father worked in another city. So my second uncle took me to the flower festival each year. Our most memorable trips were the ones on the New Years Eves. We had loads of fun browsing the market and pushed through the crowd. There were so many people at the market, my uncle had to put me on his shoulders to be safe. When it was close to the midnight, we rushed home to light our fire crackers. There was one time that we were late and ran into the fire cracker storms at mid-night. The crackers and the odd firework were loud and smoky, with laughter of the children, so much joy and happiness.

Fire work
Memories of kids lighting fire crackers on the street

The next morning the streets were quiet with a red carpet of paper left behind by the fire crackers. Kids got up early to collect the odd fire crackers that did not go off the previous night, then ran around greeting their relatives ‘goon he fa choi’ 恭喜發財, in exchange for red envelopes with a little money, which they would use to buy lollies for months to come.

After the big feast on the New Year’s Eve, vegetarian meals were common on the first day of the new year.  My favorite dish was the stew Chinese mushrooms, a delicacy rarely consumed during the year. The mushrooms were cooked with different types of dry or fresh vegetables – lily buds, fungus, dry tofu sticks, hair vegetable 髮菜 and bamboo shoots. The aroma of the dish is still lingering in my mind.

Nowadays I cook Chinese mushrooms quite often – nearly everybody in our family and extended families love it.  In Sydney the Chinese mushrooms are inexpensive, a 250g bag of good quality mushrooms cost around $12. It makes a huge dish for 8-10 people to share. We are thankful for what we are able to enjoy today.

Here is a simple mushroom dish I’d like to share with you.

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Steamed pork with soy sauce, memories of my aunt Yi-ma(姨妈), and how my mother met my father (low FODMAP, gluten free)

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During the week, we try to make simple meals.  A meal cooked over rice in a rice cooker is ideal for a late autumn evening – warm, comforting and super easy. We enjoy a few glasses of wine while the rice cooker is hard at work.

I cooked some steamed pork in the rice cooker tonight. The dish reminded me my aunt Yi-ma (姨妈)  who cooked an excellent steamed pork dish. My mother met my father during a match making visit between for Yi-ma and my father.   Yi-ma means an aunt from the mother side.

Steamed pork with soy sauce

My mother’s childhood

My mother was an orphan. Her mother was a maid who married her aged master.

In early 1900s, my grandfather was a laborer who went to Malaysia to work on a rubber farm. It was very common those days along the south coast of China. When he returned to China, he bought some farm land and a few houses. He then took a concubine, the maid. His first wife gave him only a daughter and no sons.

The first wife’s daughter migrated to America with her husband. Before my grandfather had his own son, he adopted a relative’s child whose name was Han.

During the Sino-Japanese war the family ran out of money. Grandfather and his wives died under some unspoken circumstance. My mother refused to talk about it. Some relatives said they suffered a great deal of financial hardship as they were not able to collect rents from the land and houses during this period.

During the 1940s, my mother grew up with his brother, living on some cash sent home by the sister in America. The two young children cooked for themselves and cared for each other.

The adopted son, Han, was 20 years older than the children. During the war he was a soldier in the National army. When he returned from the war, he took over all the cash sent from America and rents. The two young orphans was left with no food or resources.  Every day the siblings walked down to the Han’s house to collect some rice and whatever he would give them. Their regular meal was a thin rice porridge (congee). They were always hungry. As a grown up, my mother refused to talk about this man. Every time his name was mentioned, mother was anxious, sad and angry.

Moving to the city

In mid-1950, my mother was about 12 years old. My aunt Yi-ma’s family needed domestic helps and took my mother into their home. They were remote relatives from my mother’s side. Mother was grateful to them despite that she didn’t enjoy the chores, like getting up 5am in the morning to cook breakfast.

A few years later, she was accepted by a selective high school and could not come up with the few dollars for school fee each year. Mother was devastated when the family told her that they didn’t have the resources to support her education.

My mother (left) and Yi-ma (aunt) at the roof top terrace of yi-ma's apartment
My mother (left) and Yi-ma (aunt) at the roof top terrace of yi-ma’s apartment

A young and beautiful maiden full of dreams

Young and attractive looking, my mother applied for an actress position which she was rejected because she was not sufficiently tall. Utterly disappointing, she found a job as a childcare worker which she thoroughly enjoyed. Her role was shortly made redundant and the position was offered to a relative of an official.

Mother became a factory hand in a wireless factory.  She made many new friends. In later years, I observed her interaction with her friends, I could not help wondering if some of her male friends were once her admirers.

With the ambition to migrate to the U.S. to join her elder sister, my mother refused to have a relationship. When she was 28 years old, her sister passed away.  Mother’s dream was shuttered again.

How my mother met my father

In the late 1960s, a young and bright engineer and his family were living two blocks away from Yi-ma’s apartment.

My grandmother was a friend of Yi-mas mother. They organised a match making 相亲 to introduce my aunt to my father. The introduction (相亲) did not go well – the young man stepped inside the apartment, and decided he wanted the other good looking maiden instead. Mother was visiting Yi-ma that day.

That’s how my mother met my father.

Married life

The young couple dated briefly, and happily married. They had many photos of happy times, sitting in the park with sweet smiles, and holding each others’ arms.

The happy time ended when I was born. My father was sent away to the countryside to work for another factory.  He visited us for 10 days each year at Chinese new year, and occasionally dropped in for a few days while he passed through for work.  My mother’s dream of marrying an educated man and living a comfortable life was shuttered. My father was not entitled to any accommodation in the city. We all cramped into a terrace house with my grandparents, uncles and aunt and their families.

When my father returned to the city, it was 13 years later.

My mother and father
My mother and father in late 1960s

 

Aunt Yi-ma

Yi-ma married a nice man with a gentle soul. He was a senior official in the foreign trade inspection office. We called him ‘Yi-zhang’ (姨丈), meaning an uncle from the mother side.  In his official position, Yi-zhang received gifts all the time – fruits, cookies to expensive Chinese liquor in fancy bottles. Yi-zhang didn’t drink. So it didn’t bother him that some liquor turned moldy in unopened bottles – they were fake and most likely filled with tea.

Beside free gifts, they were quietly well off. Yi-ma’s brother died during the Korean War. All the family assets went to Yi-ma, including a sizable portfolio of real estate and stocks in Hong Kong.

Knowing our limited financial resources, Yi-ma was always generous to us. Every year at the Chinese New Year she always gifted me a handsome amount in a red envelope.  She gave me my first $1 note. In early 1970s, $1 was a fortune to a little girl.  Unlucky for me, my mother confiscated the money, saying that she would have to provide red envelopes to other children so she must recycle the cash.

Yi-ma and Yi-zhang were the first family we knew to own a color TV and a fridge.  They often invited us over for meals, cold jelly, special goodies or simply when they cut open a watermelon.  Their most tasty dish was the steamed pork, cooked in a little metal dish on top of the rice, juicy, sweet, salty and delicious.

My steamed pork

I cooked some steamed pork tonight, just like how Yi-ma used to cook it.

Recipe is as follows:

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Grandmother’s fried pork cracklings, warm rice with pork fat and soy sauce 豬油豉油撈飯 (low FODMAP)

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I cooked some cracklings tonight, the way my grandmother cooked them a long long time ago.

Grandmother's pork crackling, warm rice with pork fat and soy sauce

When I was growing up, pork fat was a rare delicacy. Meat was rationed. It was difficult to imagine that one would waste the precious coupons on pork fat instead of good cut of meat.

My grandmother was an extraordinary woman, always working, never complaint and never indulged herself, except, she loved pork fat. Occasionally she took me to the food market across the street and bought a small slap of pork fat with skin. She cut up the meat, then pan fried the pieces in a wok over the coal stove.

The pan frying turned very quickly to deep frying. She scooped out the oil and stored it in a little black urn. The black urn sat on a rotten timber shelf, up high and away from the cats, looking like a treasure pot.   In the wok, the pork pieces eventually turned into golden delicious cracklings which we shared with the whole extended family of about 10 people.

Over the next few days, grandmother and I enjoyed hot boiled rice with pork fat for lunches, flavored with a dash of soy sauce. My grandmother called it ‘lou fan’ meaning ‘mix the rice’. These were some of the most delicious meals I ever had.

Grandmother's coal stove - grandmother's pork cracklings, pork fat with boiled rice and soy sauce
My grandmother’s coal stove

I still remember our kitchen. The walls were never painted, darken by the smoke from the coal cakes.  The small earthy stove was among piles of coal cakes, which we purchased from a small shop at the end of our lane way.  From very young age, I helped to carry the coal cakes home, a few at a time, on top of a small timber slab.  Our house cats slept on top of the coal cakes during winters for the warmth from the stove, waking up in the morning, looking filthy. The cats were working cats and expected to fetch most of their own food (rats). They ate scraps from the family meals, most of the time it was just some rice, vegetables and sauce. Unloved and hungry, they had anxious looks in the eyes that I could never forget. They had a hard life.

Today, we have shiny appliances in our kitchen and beautiful stone splash back. We have a beautiful dog in our household which we dearly love. He enjoys his home cooked meals with all the goodness.

As I enjoyed the meal, I really appreciate what we have today.

Recipe is as follows:

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Stir fry pickled lotus root (vegan, gluten free)

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Stir fry pickled lotus root with a dash of soy and sesame oil

To me, there is something special about lotus root – earthy skin with mud, crispy flesh, artistic structure. Looking at lotus root, I could see a beautiful pond, colorful lotus flowers, surrounded by peaceful willow trees, their green branches gently brushing in the breeze, like a dream.

And my husband described lotus root as potato with holes in them – silly!

A match box I collected in 1980s with lotus flowers in a pond
A match box I collected in 1980s with lotus flowers in a pond

It is difficult to find fresh lotus root in Sydney. This week I managed to buy some from an Asian store, and I made a stir fry dish with it.

I first sliced the lotus root, then blanched the pieces briefly. I lightly pickled the lotus root pieces and left it in fridge to infuse overnight. The next day, I pan fried the lotus root with some capsicum, green shallot, a dash of soy sauce and sesame oil.   Yummy.

Recipe is as follows:

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Pulled pork with pineapple, soy, vinegar, spices and maple syrup (FODMAP friendly, gluten free)

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I recently purchased a Tiger thermal magic cooker from Singapore. It is really a magical piece of equipment –  perfect for slow cooking with limited use of the stove top. I made some pulled pork for dinner last night  – it was slow cooked over 24 hour, juicy and yummy.

The thermal cooker consists of 2 layers – an inner pot and an insulated outer pot. I first placed the pork shoulder in the stainless steel inner pot; I topped it with some pineapple pieces with all the juices^, 1 cup of apple cider vinegar, 1/2 cup of soy sauce*, 1/4 cup of dark soy sauce*, 1/2 cup of brown sugar, 1 cup of wine, 6 cardamon pods (slightly crashed), 6 star anise, 1 tsp cloves, 2 cinnamon sticks, a piece of ginger (approx 15g) and 1 tsp pepper corn (slightly crashed).  I then added some water to fully cover the meat, brought it to boil.  Once boiling,  I placed the pot into the insulated outer pot for 8 hours.

After 8 hours, I brought the inner stainless pot to boil again on the cook top – it took about 5 minutes as the pot was still hot from being inside the thermal pot. Then I placed it inside the insulated outer pot again for another 8 hours. I repeated this one more time. And it was ready to enjoy.

To serve, I hand pulled the pork to strips. I made a sauce with some marinate, added some maple syrup and some corn flour mixture  (corn flour mixed with a little water). I brought the sauce to boil and it was ready.

If you don’t have a thermal cooker, you can slow cook the pork in a heavy pot, or slow cook in an oven with an oven bag – juicy and yummy.

^use fresh pineapple for a FODMAP diet (as it is tested by Monash University)  *use a gluten free soy sauce for a gluten free option.

Pulled pork with pineapple, soy, vinegar, spices and maple syrup  (FODMAP friendly, gluten free)

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Pork spare rib stew with miso, ginger and wine 味噌排骨 (low FODMAP, gluten free)

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On WeChat my ex high school mates were chatting about not having time to cook dinners. Really? I thought, surely a few equipment could help.

In addition to a standard kitchen, I have a double garage filled with cooking equipment – a pressure cooker, a rice cooker, a waffle maker, a table top multi-use grill, a mixer, a blender, a Tiger magic thermal pot, a 16 liter thermal pot, a five deck steamer pot, a 3-deck electric mini steamer, 3 electric frying pans, a portable induction cook top, 2 electric bain-maries and countless pots, cake tins and serving plates. Cooking a quick dinner is a breeze.

Before I continue on, I’d like to declare that I am not a hoarder. I run the Asian food stall each year for the school fete and I always contribute a bundle towards special event bakes. Hence I have accumulated so much useful equipment over the years.

Tonight I cooked a quick dinner with my pressure cooker. In the morning, I put some rice in the rice cooker and switch on the timer. I then spent 10 minutes browning the pork spare rib pieces, added carrot, potato chili, ginger and white wine. I turned the pressure cooker on high pressure 30 minutes. When I got home, dinner was ready and warm.

Easy peasy.

Pork spare rib stew with miso, ginger and wine 味噌排骨 (low FODMAP, gluten free)

 

Recipe is as follow:

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Sweet and sour pork with tamarind,orange and pineapple (low FODMAP, gluten free)

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I blinked my eyes and we are already half way into summer.

The greatest things about summers are the lovely family holidays at the beaches and oversea adventures.  We love going to warm places, filled with smiles and aroma of tropical fruits.  We came back from our beach break last week and going to Malaysia next week. Oh, why do we have to wait so long?

So I picked up a beautiful pineapple from the local fruit shop. To me, pineapples are sunshine, good time and cocktails by the resort pool. I’d cook up a holiday with pork, pineapple, orange, chili, tamarind and strawberry jam.

Sweet and sour pork with tamarind,orange and pineapple (low FODMAP, gluten free)

Recipe is as follows:

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Winter melon broth with dried shrimps and memories of a factory in the town of ‘YingDe’ (英德)

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Today I cooked a winter melon broth with dried shrimps. It brought back so much memories of a peaceful country town with a fast running river, a farmers market and a factory with impressively huge machines that were sky high in the eyes of a little girl.

Winter melon broth with dried shrimps and memories of a factory in the town of 'YingDe' (英德)
Winter melon broth with dried shrimps 

I was born towards the end of the culture revolution in GuangZhou, a major city in Southern China. At the time, workers from the cities were sent to farming villages or smaller towns to work or for ‘re-education’. Shortly after I was born, my father, a young  mechanical engineer, left us to work in a township called YingDe (英德). YingDe was 150km or a 4.5 hour train trip away from Guangzhou. My father didn’t return to Guangzhou permanently until I was in high school.

My father examining a machine
My father examining a machine

I visited my father several times over the summer holidays. His accommodation was a bare room with its walls lined with old newspaper. The room was normally shared by a few workers using 2 set of bunk beds. The workers mostly ate at the canteen. If they wished to cook, the room was also their kitchen. There was no shower rooms for the male dormitories that I could recall. They washed themselves at the common cold water taps nearby with their shorts on, or at the nearby river. When there were family members visiting, the workers moved around to different dormitory rooms in order to make room for the families.

In this room, I cooked for my father and myself over a tiny diesel stove on the floor. The 3  x 20 cents meals from the canteen were deemed to be too expensive as daily expenses. Each morning after my father went to work,  I took a short walk to a small farmers market to buy ingredients to made lunches and dinners. Meals were mostly just boiled green vegetables, melons, eggs and rice. Once, a colleague came back from Northern China and gifted us a small bag of dried shrimps. We enjoyed it for months, adding a few pieces to each meal.

Sometimes in the afternoon I hanged out in the factory office. Bored with drawing, I often begged my father to take me to the workshop where they made huge machines. He chatted with the workers, tested the machines and they all looked awfully serious. I never had any ideas what they talked about and was never interested. I liked workshop for its high ceiling, big windows, smell of the engine oil, and something else special about it that I could not pinpoint.

YingDe was a quiet and peaceful town by a fast running river. The river was where I first learned to swim. In the evenings we walked down to the river on a small path shared by farmers and their animals. One time, I jumped into a pile of cow dropping thinking it was a rock. Where the river turned there was a small beach. Across the beach there was a particularly tall rocky mountain with a mystery looking cave.  I always wanted to swim across the river to explore the cave, but never had the courage.

By the river at YingDe, GuangDong, China
By the river at YingDe in 1980s

The winter melon broth I cooked today was a lot more fancier than the plain and simple YingDe version I cooked over 30 years old.  I do hope you will enjoy it.

Recipe is as follows: Read the rest of this entry »

Asian mustard greens 芥菜 and the memories of the GuangDong GuangYa Middle School

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Sometimes, I boil some Asian greens with a dash of cooking oil and a little salt. I eat the vegetables and drink the water that was used for boiling the veggies as a ‘soup’.  I can drink many bowls of this ‘soup’. It is strangely comforting. It brings back the memories of my GuangDong GuangYa Middle School years.

Chinese mustard greens 'gai choi'

GuangDong GuangYa Middle School was one of the highly selective schools in the city of GuangZhou. Although the school was located in one of the most populated cities in Southern China, it was established in the 1880s and built on an unusually large block of land with gardens, traditional style buildings and sports grounds. While we were not able to escape from the common poverty and a rigid  educational system which we were to memorize pretty much everything, we learned to be self-discipline and responsible for our own destiny.

My junior year at GuangYa Middle School - class singing competition
My junior year at GuangDong GuangYa Middle School – school singing competition

During my junior years when I was still living at home, the best time during a school day was the lunch time. When bell rang at 1pm we ran for the canteen. There were 4 tiny little windows at the front of the canteen where we collected our meals with prepaid vouchers. A typical meal was 2 cups of boiled rice, a few pieces of thinly sliced pork cooked with Asian greens, cucumbers or melons. The meals were pale looking, probably only seasoned with salt and nothing else. The vegetables were  over cooked, floppy and watery.  From time to time there were huge canisters in front of the canteen and we could scoop ourselves some ‘soup’ – the water used to boil the vegetables.  A few times a year before the major exams, we received special bonus called ‘Jia Chai’ 加菜 which was a little extra food.

When I started boarding during the senior years, I shared a rundown dormitory room with some 40 other girls. The room was large, with high ceiling and always full of dust. There were no cleaning staffs, the girls took turns to sweep the bare concrete floor each day. One end of the room was used as a drying area with rows of newly washed clothes dripping water onto the floor below. The external shower rooms  were bare with only cold water taps, no individual doors and very limited lighting. During winter time we could pay 2 cents to buy a bucket of hot water from the canteen and carried it all the way to the shower rooms for a warm splash, or to brave it with a cold shower.

At the dorm in the GuangYa Middle School, GuangZhou
Girls’ dorm at the GuangYa Middle School in the 1980s

The kids at the school were all very bright. They were expected to go to university. This meant 10-12 hours of study each day. Those days, going to university  would mean a guaranteed government job for life and the selection exams were very competitive. Boarding was compulsory during the senior years. There were strict routines –  getting up at 6am, compulsory exercise, breakfast,  a morning self-directed study session,  followed by 5 formal classes, lunch, nap time, 2 more study sessions in the afternoon, followed by exercise, shower time & dinner time, then evening more self-directed study in the classroom till 30 minutes before bed time. Lights were turned off at 10pm.

Despite the handwork and poor living conditions, GuangYa was a haven for me. At GuangYa  I found friendship, kindness and I was able to build confidence. I met a few good friends who were wonderfully warm and inclusive. Two of my main teachers were reasonably flexible and supportive (unusual for China those days).  Best of all, I escaped from home, a place where I struggled to feel warmth – perhaps one day I will have the courage to write about it.

Recipe for Asian mustard greens

Here is a simple dish with Chinese mustard greens (‘gai choi’芥菜 ), boiled briefly with a dash of cooking oil and seasoned with salt. I describe mustard greens as deliciously peppery with a slight bitterness.

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Carrot with maple syrup and turmeric (low FODMAP, gluten free, vegan)

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I was helping out at Salvation Army’s community kitchen earlier this week. The kitchen uses OZ Harvest, a food rescue service that collects excess food products and provides the food to charities for free. The lady who runs the kitchen, Monica, a wonderful and cheerful woman, explained that she was not able to buy any other ingredients other than what was donated.

On the lunch menu it was Vietnamese San Choy Bao. I volunteered to cook the meal as I was comfortable with cooking large amount of food. After all I had ran an Asian food stall at our school fetes over the past three years.  The good news was that, we had pork mince and lots of vegetables. The bad news was that, there was no fish sauce, soy sauce, lemon or lime.  I found two small bottles of BBQ sauce. I cooked the meal with the BBQ sauce, a little sugar, salt and some turmeric. Although not really Vietnamese, the dish tasted pretty good. The meal was sold at $2 per serve. After that, there was no fresh meat left. So I prepared 2 trays of zucchini slices for next day’s free community lunch.  For the vegetarian option, I stir fried some diced potato, carrot, leek, capsicum, scallion and coriander with curry powder, turmeric and veggie spices. Thank goodness for all the other volunteers who chopped, diced, graded, washed and helped.

When I got home that day, I decided to learn a little more about cooking with simple ingredients. I started with the humble carrots and some left over pure maple syrup.

I diced 2 carrots, tossed the pieces with  some rice flour, maple syrup, a little oil and a pinch of salt. Then I pan fried the carrots with a little oil, tossed in some sesame seeds, turmeric and coriander.

It was the best carrot I have ever had.

Carrot with maple syrup, turmeric, sesame seeds and coriander, Low FODMAP, Gluten Free, Vegan

Recipe is a follow:

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Smoked BBQ beef ribs

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On the weekend we went to a large extended family lunch. We made some smoked beef ribs to enjoy with the family.

It was a very simple dish – beef ribs marinated with BBQ sauce, tomato sauce & sriracha chili sauce; added a little cumin and garam masala. Then I smoked & cooked the beef ribs on the gas BBQ for 2 hours on low heat, with a lighted Amazen pellet smoke tube inside the BBQ.

I serve the beef ribs with a sauce made with left over marinate and apricot jam – simply combine the sauce and jam and cook gently in a sauce pan for a few minutes until the apricot jam is ‘melted’ into the sauce.

Beef ribs being smoked in the BBQ with an Amazen pellet tube

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Lemongrass pork scotch fillets (low FODMAP, gluten free)

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We have a bush of lemongrass in the garden. Each harvest we were reward a large bag of juicy stalks. So today I made some grilled pork with lemongrass, ginger, kaffir lime leafs, fish sauce, soy sauce and sesame oil.

There are still so much lemongrass left!

Lemongrass pork scotch fillets (low FODMAP, gluten free)

Recipe is as follow:

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Pan fried pumpkin with a miso sauce (gluten free, vegan)

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I found it difficult to create pumpkin dishes – pumpkin is so beautifully tasty already, I don’t want to ruin its natural goodness.

Because pumpkin is so sweet, a bit of saltiness will enhance its flavor. Miso and pumpkin actually work quite well. It is also a very simple dish to prepare.

Pan fried pumpkin with a miso sauce (gluten free, vegan)

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Vietnamese black pepper beef

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For the days that I felt too lazy to cook ‘real’ meals, I have a stash of paste & sauces in my freezer – sambal balado, xa ot paste, xo sauce and many more.  My favorite, is the ‘bo luc lac’ paste, a Vietnamese black pepper paste.

It is such a simple stir fry – onion and beef (cubes or slices) with some ‘bo luc lac’ paste, a dash of oyster sauce, a dash of dark soy sauce and a dash of sesame oil; 5 minutes it is done; garnish with some green shallot and chili if preferred.

Served with salad or rice; some may prefers to enjoy with some pickled thinly sliced onion.

Vietnamese black pepper beef Bo Luc Lac

Bo Luc Lac paste
Bo Luc Lac paste

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Grilled beef, Asian style

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My little boy’s school has a spring fair in a couple of months. I will be running an Asian food stall to raise money for the school. Last year we put on over a thousand pieces of finger food, along with noodles, fried rice & cold dishes (‘LiangBan’). The stall started at 10:30am and we sold out most food before 12pm. Many of my friends didn’t get to try our food.

So this year I am planning for more food.. an Asian style BBQ sounds like a good option. I have been experimenting different style of BBQ – Vietnamese grilled pork  (nem nuong), northwestern Chinese lamb cumin, Korean chili chicken. Today I tried a grilled beef with soy, fish sauce, sesame oil, corn syrup and apricot jam. As you may have noticed from the pictures, I used coriander, which is uncommon for Korean food. But I love coriander so much and I can’t help it.

I served the beef on a crusty roll with lettuce and kim chi.  I also served the beef on its own. Really yummy.

Grilled beef, Asian style

Recipe is as follows:

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Salt and pepper chicken (low FODMAP, gluten free)

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I work in an unremarkable looking building in the city that was built in the 70’s. When I started working there 12 years ago, the food court were ordinary but cheap. Then the landlord renovated the food court and increased the rents. Now the food is still uninspiring, but expensive.   I had a salt and pepper chicken there last week – and it ended up in the garbage bin.

With an unsatisfied craving for salt and pepper chicken, I made my own today.

Salt and pepper chicken (low FODMAP, gluten free)

Recipe is as follow:

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Ginger pork with soy sauce and sesame oil (low FODMAP, gluten free)

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Recently our family visited Tokyo to spend our school holiday there. We enjoyed shopping at countless hobby shops, toy stores and rides at Disneyland, Disney Sea and Tokyo Dome.

My husband and I love noodle soups. Nearly everyday we went to a nearby noodle shop for lunch. Our little boy is a fussy eater who has Vegemite sandwiches for school lunch since the kindergarten year – he refused to have noodle soup. So we gave him a bowl of rice and the toppings from our noodles.   Ginger pork was his favorite. Luckily, noodles with ginger pork was available in nearly every noodle shop.

Here is my version of ginger pork. I served it with some saute Chinese greens with ginger.

 

Ginger pork with soy sauce and sesame oil (low FODMAP, gluten free)

Recipe is as follow:

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Lightly smoked rainbow trout fillets (gluten free)

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The local fish shop had some beautifully fresh rainbow trout fillets. I cooked them on the BBQ with a a-maze-n smoke tube filled with apple wood pellets.

I first lighted the a-maze-n tube of pellets and let it burn for 10 minutes before I placed it inside the BBQ.

While the pellets was burning, I rubbed the fish fillets with some sesame oil and a little sea salt. I don’t brine my fish – it is just too salty for my taste. I put the fish fillets on a rack, over a tray, on the BBQ with the lowest setting. I then closed the lid and let the smoke and the BBQ do their jobs. The fish was ready in about 25 minutes.

I served the smoked fish fillets at room temperature, with a sauce of sour cream, dill and lemon juice.

Lightly smoked rainbow trout fillets (gluten free)

 

 

 

 

Simple Korean chili chicken

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My first restaurant meal in Australia was a Korean BBQ at a quaint little restaurateur at the back of Potts Point, an fringe suburb of Sydney filled with eateries, bar and clubs. It was an amazing experience for me – BBQ meat with rich flavors and  endless little side dishes.

Here is my simple and quick Korean chili chicken, which is marinated with Korean pepper, cooked on a griddle over a gas BBQ stove. It is really nice to eat with warm rice, or in a lettuce wrap.

Simple Korean chili chicken

Recipe is as follow:

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Tofu chop suey with okra, eggplant and radish (low FODMAP, gluten free, vegan)

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FODMAP vegan can be delicious too – tofu recipe #1.

This weekend I am working on tofu dishes. I bought 2 different type of plain tofu (soft and extra firm) from the Asian grocery store and keen to find out how many dishes I can create from this rather plain ingredient.

Here is a chop suey with pan fried tofu, enhanced by selected vegetables with interesting and gentle textures – okra, eggplant, radish, red capsicum; complimented by ginger, chili and coriander.

Tofu chop suey with okra, eggplant and radish (low FODMAP, gluten free, vegan)

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Braised beef tendon with Asian spices (low FODMAP, gluten free)

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Winter is finally here in Sydney and I am craving for something rich and hopefully it would make my skin glow again. Beef tendon is pack with collagen, low fat and no cholesterol… not 100% sure about the skin care benefits, but I am cooking a bowl for the OMG deliciousness.

Braised beef tendon with Asian spices (low FODMAP, gluten free)

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BBQ baby octopus in Asian marinate (FODMAP friendly, gluten free)

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It was Queens birthday long weekend. I decided to cook a few dishes that would take some time to prepare.

The local seafood shop had some nice baby octopus so I picked up a few handfuls. I first dropped the octopus and some ginger in boiling water for a minute or two; then transferred them to a bowl of ice water; I marinated the octopus with fish sauce, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, lemon juice, kumquat juice, sliced kaffir lime leafs, chili, marmalade and sesame oil; I placed the octopus in the fridge to marinate overnight, then BBQ them on a hot griddle. So juicy and tender!

BBQ baby octopus in Asian marinate (FODMAP friendly, gluten free)

 

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