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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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One pot meal – spicy lamb shank soup with vegetables and quinoa (low FODMAP, gluten free)

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Winter is (nearly) coming to Sydney and it is getting cold for some Sydneysiders. Don’t laugh – today is 12-16 degree Celsius and many of us were shivering.

So I made a tummy friendly lamb shank soup with potato, carrot and quinoa.  To spice it up a little, I added clove, bay leaves, cumin, paprika, chili flake and black pepper.  I cooked it in a pressure cooker so it was an easy one-pot meal.

SONY DSC

Recipe is as follows:

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One pot meal – lamb shanks and rice, with wine, tomato and olive (FODMAP friendly)

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With weather turning cool, some lamb shanks seemed a good idea for an easy weekend evening meal. Feeling lazy after a day’s painting (my little boy requesting his room to be painted purple and black, from previously blue), I made a simple one pot meal with lamb shanks, rice, white wine, can tomato, olive and a few herbs from the garden.

The rice was soft, juice, and slightly crispy bottom. The shanks were just falling off the bones.  Easy and delicious.

One pot meal - lamb shanks and rice, with wine, tomato and olive (FODMAP friendly)

Recipe is as follows:

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Simple seaweed salad with mung bean vermicelli and pickled carrot (gluten free, vegan)

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Every year I made this seaweed salad at the school fete, and every year it was a sold out.  It is a wonderful traditional ‘liang ban’ (cold mix) salad – soft, crunchy, salty, sweat and sour. It is aromatic, flavored with dark soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, white pepper, shallot (scallion) and coriander.

Asian seaweed salad

Recipe is as follow:

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Cantonese sweet tea buns and my friend OuYang

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I made some tea buns today.  When I was a little kid these buns were sold in little shops on nearly every street in GuangZhou. We had them mostly for breakfast. The bread was also great for a picnic lunch during school excursions.

Cantonese sweet milk bread / tea buns

Growing up, I didn’t have many close friends in the neighborhood, until I met OuYang in year 3 of primary school.

I grew up in a terrace house on a small lane way. There were always other kids around. During my early childhood years, I often wandered around and watched other kids played. I rarely joined in as most kids were older than me. At pre-school I didn’t quite connect with other kids. I was the odd one who always cried at the front door when my nails were examined for cleanness; the one who went for the old books rather than new toys; and the one that was the fastest on tricycle but never won any competitions.

In primary school, I was one of top students academically. I was ‘appointed’ as the literacy subject ‘leader’ for the class that year. The role of a ‘leader’ was to collect homework, and led the morning reading sessions at the front of the classroom, a proud job for a young girl.

One day, the teacher pulled me aside. She reassigned my literacy ‘leader’ responsibility to a new kid transferred from another school. The teacher said she was excellent in literacy, won awards for her essays, hence deserved to be the literacy ‘leader’. I was told to take on the role for English instead. I didn’t mind, I was good at both subjects. I was looking forward to meet this new kid.

Then I met OuYang, a bright girl with pony tails like ox horns (common those days). We got on straight away and we became best friends. OuYang was open, warm and highly competitive. Our next 3 years were amazing as we shared our love for literacy and appreciation for nature. At break time between classes, we leaned on the railing of the long balcony, chatted about anything and everything. When I spent time at her house, her mum was kind and gentle. It was the first time that I realized that mothers had different parenting style.

For a school excursion we went to the tallest mountains in the city, called the ‘Baiyun Mountain’  (白雲山) or the ‘White Cloud Mountain’. We found some common wild flowers with yellow blossoms. We sat down on the green grass and had our picnic lunch next to the flowers. We named the flowers ‘yellow sun’ and wrote a poem about it.  I still remember my lunch that day were 2 tea buns which I bought from the little convenience store near my house.

At white cloud mountain
A trip to the white cloud mountain, GuangZhou, in late 1970s

As I enjoyed the warm and delicious tea buns I made today, I wished I could reconnect with my long lost friend OuYang again.

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Blasting of a cattleman’s roast (FODMAP friendly, gluten free)

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On the weekend a few friends dropped by for lunch.  I cooked a simple roast cattleman’s beef using the blasting method.

I learnt the blasting method by accident. A few years ago I picked up a round beef roast from the supermarket. I then realized that the meat was so lean, it was one of the most difficult roast to cook.  Reportedly the only way to cook it was to blast it in a at 240°C/ 460°F in an oven, then turned off the heat and cooked it with the remaining heat for a few hours.  I fell in love with the blasting – the smoke, the aroma and the juicy and tender meat we enjoyed.

For lunch I bought a 2kg cattleman’s cut from our local butcher. I rubbed the meat with oil, salt, 2 tsp of cumin and 2 tsp of turmeric. I then laid the meat on a rack over a drip tray. I preheated the oven for 30 minutes at 240°C/ 460°F, then cooked the meat for 15 minutes before turning off the oven. The roast was cooked for further 2 hours with the remaining heat. The smell was unbelievable and it made me so hungry!

I served the beef with some roast vegetables which I first cooked in microwave to 90%, then finished cooking under a grill with some oil, salt and rosemary. For FODMAPers, carrots, Japanese pumpkins and potatoes are good options for roasting as it contains no FODMAP.

Simple roast cattleman's beef, blasting method (FODMAP friendly, gluten free)

Creamy and spicy tomato and capsicum soup with and coconut milk (low FODMAP, gluten free, vegan)

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We don’t eat much tomatoes in our house, my little boy is a picky eater and my husband utterly dislikes tomatoes. From time to time, I picked up some gorgeous tomatoes and made a dish, ate it all by myself with great contentment.

Today I roasted a batch of tomatoes and red capsicums. I roasted the vegetables and separated them into two batches. With the first batch, I made a spicy soup with coconut milk; with the second batch, I made another spicy soup with ginger, chili and tea (recipe to follow).

According to Monash University, common tomatoes do not contain FODMAPs, perfect for a hearty FODMAP dish – eat freely and according to appetite.

Creamy spicy tomato soup, with roasted tomatoes, chili and coconut milk

 

Roasted tomatoes - creamy and spicy tomato soup with coconut milk (low FODMAP, gluten free, vegan)
Freshly roasted tomatoes

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

Homemade wheat noodles in soup, memories of a peasant family at a noodle shop

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Homemade wheat noodles in soup, memories of a peasant family at a noodle shop

A few evenings ago, I watched Behind the News with my 9 year old boy on ABC iview. Behind the News is a TV news program made for the kids. That evening, the program covered the famine situation in Sudan.  “Had China ever have famine?”my little boy asked. These few innocent words had brought back my memories of a peasant family begging at a cheap noodle restaurant. I could still see their shadows, even today.

In early 70’s, my grandmother cooked communal dinners for the extended families. Each family contributed to the cost of the food. Money and resources were limited at the time. We nearly never went out for dinners, as my mother didn’t want to pay for meals twice. One night, for whatever reasons we were at this cheap noodle restaurant. It was a common and shabby place. The kitchen inside was steamy with a large pot of hot water for cooking the noodles, a large pot of cold water to cool and rinse the noodles, and a large pot of soup with nothing in it and barely any color. We found a table outside with wobbly chairs and started to eat our noodle soups. For a few cents, the meal had no meat or vegetables, just plain noodles and a little green shallot floating on top. It was hot and a rare treat for a little 5-year old girl.

Suddenly, 3 children in ragged clothes surrounded our table. They looked different to our city people. They had dark and coarse skin, as they were farmers from the countryside. They were dirty and messy, as they were far away from home and living on streets. They spoke in dialect that I never heard before. They would have traveled from afar, probably from another province where their crops failed. And their eyes, they had such hungry eyes. The littlest one just devoured some leftover soup from the next table, and redirected his attention to my bowl.

I looked up to my mother. ‘Eat up all your food’, she said sternly. When I left some food in the bowl at the end of the meal, she picked up the bowl and swallowed everything in it, including last drops of the soup, the soup of nothingness. The children moved away to another table, motionless.

Peasant family
A peasant family

Many years past, my memories of that family did not fake. Most of all, I was puzzled why my mother was so indifferent to the begging children.  After all, she was an orphan herself. She would have understood the pain and suffering of that family, hungry, homeless and desperate?

This weekend, I made a large batch of noodles from scratch. I served the noodles in a beautiful chicken soup, topped with mouthwatering crispy bacon bits. Life has been kind to our family and we really appreciate what we have.

Like to have a go at making your own noodles?  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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Fresh cactus flower soup 曇花汤

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I had been waiting for my  cactus flowers ‘tanhua’  to bloom. Such beautiful dedicate living wonders, with flowers only open up for one precious night.

The unusual weeks of Sydney rain stopped briefly on Sunday afternoon. The flowers quietly bloomed during the night. I harvested 3 flowers,  but hesitated on the thoughts of making a soup,  Traditionally, the flowers are sun dried, then boiled with meat for hours, ending up all marshy and  grey like the rainy weather. What a depressing thought.

 

4S2B1972A #3

 

 

I gently washed and sliced the flowers into quarters. I dropped the flowers into a saucepan of water with thinly julienne chicken breast;  brought it to a boil, added a dash of sesame oil, a dash of dark soy sauce and a few pinches of white pepper. The soup was done in 3 minutes.

And here it was, a simple soup to show my appreciation of these natural beauties.

Fresh cactus flower soup

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Hairy gourd ‘liangban’ salad with XO sauce 节瓜凉拌

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This week I discovered an Asian grocery store 10 minutes’ drive away. Their stock range was quite comprehensive. The man in the shop helped me with the bags to my car which was sort of services I never experienced from an Asian store. I managed to find a parking spot very close to the shop – can’t believe my luck. I was very impressed.

I picked up a beautifully fresh hairy gourd from the shop. Hairy gourd is a very popular vegetable in Southern China, easy to grow with plenty of subtropical rains. The gourd is normally cooked in a soup or a stew with a tender and soft texture.

Today I decided to do something different with a ‘liangban’ 凉拌 salad. I added XO sauce to the salad for a kick as the gourd, on its own, could be quite plain. XO sauce is a mildly spicy paste made with dried seafood, garlic and chili, packed of flavors.

 

Hairy gourd 'liangban' salad with XO sauce  节瓜凉拌

I first peeled the skin of the gourd; I then julienned the flesh, disregard the seedy part of the gourd (but reversed for a soup dish). I then briefly blanched the vegetable until it was just cooked (about 1-2 minute) and ran it under cold water to cool; I mixed the drained vegetable with sesame oil, XO sauce, a generous dash of dark soy sauce, white pepper, chili, sesame seeds and sliced green shallot. I left the salad in fridge to chill for couple of hours before serving.  So simple and delicious. No recipe required.

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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Simple soba noodles with vegetables 撈麵 (low FODMAP, vegan)

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I washed my child’s little blanket today. He has this blanket since he was a baby. There are holes in the blanket and the corners are totally worn. From time to time, I patched up the holes and sewed up the corners with bits from some old towels. I bought him a new one, exactly the same. But I was not allowed to throw the old one away. “So much remember-y”, he said.  “Don’t bring it when we travel then,” I said, ‘I would be embarrassed’.   We traveled with it everywhere we went – Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Fiji and Hawaii.  I love watching him sleep, wrapping himself comfortably in the blanket, with his cute button nose and long black eye lashes.

Old blanket #1
My little boy’s old blanket

Ah, simple things in life are the best. And for dinner, I shall cook one single simple dish.

And what is more simple than a ‘lao mian’ 撈麵 –  noodles simply mixed with soy and sesame oil. And if you desire, you can add whatever on top. ‘Lao’means mix, ‘mian’ means noodles.

Tonight, I used soba noddles. Soba noodles with wheat has been tested by Monash University recently. The low FODMAP portion is 1/3 cup noodles, or 90g. Unfortunately Monash didn’t identify if the 90g is dry weight or cooked weight. So I assumed the 90g as cooked weight, just to be on the safe side.

Simple soba noodles with vegetables 撈麵 (low FODMAP, vegan)

Recipe is as follows:

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Spiced lamb meat balls with pumpkin, carrot and rice vermicelli (low FODMAP, gluten free)

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On the weekend we had a lovely lunch on Fort Denison, a small island in Sydney Harbor.  It was for Nadine’s 40s birthday. Nadine was originally from Melbourne. She fell in love with Bill, a Sydneysider. She moved to Sydney and settled in his small waterfront cottage by the river. There they are raising 2 gorgeous kids.

Bill has IBS – but not just the ordinary IBS. He is sensitive to most ‘common’ food including coconut milk, soy sauce and packaged meat from the supermarkets. Cooking for Bill is not just a challenge, it is a war against the modern world that many of us accustom to.

Every time I create a FODMAP dish, I think of Bill’s challenges. What are we really feeding ourselves nowadays and what consequence would follow?

Shop bought meat balls is one those food that you rarely know what you get. In this recipe, I used basic ingredients and work on blending the ingredients to achieve the flavors. Hope you will enjoy it.

Spiced lamb meat balls with pumpkin, carrot and rice vermicelli (low FODMAP, gluten free)

Recipe is as follows:

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Seaweed and egg soup 紫菜蛋湯 and the memory of GuangYa Middle School (low fodmap, gluten free)

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Seaweed and egg soup 紫菜蛋湯
Seaweed and egg soup 紫菜蛋湯

Recently, I reconnected with my high school mates on WeChat via a group chat. The high school, named the GuangDong Guangya Middle School, was one of the most prestige selective schools in the GuangZhou city. We all grew up to be proud and competitive individuals. Then we went on our separate paths to distinctively different lives. I selected a simple but busy life in Sydney – a job in the finance industry, a small family, a house with picket fences, a lovely garden, and a double garage full of beautiful crockery and cooking equipment – I love my cooking.

GuangDong GuangYa Middle School
Today’s GuangDong GuangYa Middle School

Bo, a school mate from Singapore had been posting his dinners every night in the group chat. He often has 5 dishes for his family of 4. The dishes are home style, plain and simple. A typical meal consists of a gorgeous seafood dish, an overcooked meat dish and 3 seasonal vegetable dishes bursting with freshness.  Sometimes we could tell how many were dining at home by counting the jumbo prawns. I was puzzled by Bo’s persistence and efforts posting his 6 meals a week, and occasionally meals from the restaurants when they ate out on Sundays. And a few days ago, he posted this story…

‘I live a simple and unexciting life, often with repetitive routines. There were seldom any exceptional events. However, the memory of this single incident at GuangYa Middle School I will always treasure. 

It was a very hot afternoon. We were attending a physical exercise class in front of the physic building. That day we had a basketball game. I was pushed over by a big fellow student. I fell and my left hand landed on the ground first. I could see my wrist was twisted, followed by sharp pains. I realized I had broken my wrist.

I was surrounded by teachers and students. The PE teacher asked who would accompany me to the local hospital which was within walking distance from the school.  Hong pushed through the crowd and took my arm. Hong was a quiet student, often with a few words and rarely smiled. I hardly spoke with him in the past. I was pleasantly surprised by him volunteering to help.

One thing was overlooked by the PE teacher – he didn’t ask if we had any money for the hospital. Those days most families were not well off and kids didn’t get much pocket money. I didn’t have any money on me that day. Luckily Hung had some money and he managed to pay for the treatment.  There was no x-ray machine at the local hospital. The wrist was bandaged and that was that. 

The next day after the math class, our math teacher, Feng, came over to my desk with a bowl of soup and a gentle smile . Feng was one of the strictest teachers and rarely showed her emotions. ‘This is a seaweed and egg soup’, she said, ‘you have it now while it is warm. It helps with your calcium intake and good for your bones.’  

I was speechless. Even my mum never cooked me a soup before (she didn’t really learn how to cook until she was retired).  I looked at Feng, who had returned to the teacher’s podium, I felt warmth all over. 

Despite her tough appearance, teacher Feng had a kind and caring heart. Many years later I connected with her via a video chat. She asked why I was still so skinny and said I should look after myself better.  

Next time I am in GuangZhou, I will visit Teacher Feng and cook her a big bowl of hot seaweed and egg soup.’

Ah, I can understand why Bo has been posting his dinners each night. Somehow he found deep connection with his food.

Bo's family meals
Bo’s family meals

 

The traditional egg soups are often made of ‘egg flowers’, means scrambling the eggs in hot water. I found scrambling eggs with seaweed was too messy.

So here is my version of a ‘neat’ seaweed and egg soup.

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Steamed pork and fennel dumplings 豬肉韭菜餃子

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A school mum gave me some fresh fennel and taught me how to make pork and fennel dumplings,  a popular dish from Northern China.

Steamed pork and fennel dumplings 豬肉韭菜餃子
Steamed pork and fennel dumplings 豬肉韭菜餃子
Steamed pork and fennel dumplings 豬肉韭菜餃子

Recipe is as follows:

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South sea meat and bone soup (bak kut teh,肉骨茶)

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My best friend’s late mother, whom I dearly called Auntie Wong, used to make this herbs and spices infused soup for me. The wonderful aroma filled their small inner city apartment and floated down the narrow common corridor as I walked out the lift. I instantly felt at home, safe, warm and loved.

Besides being a fantastic cook, Auntie Wong was an amazing woman with many talents. Once a circus acrobat in Malaysia, she was retrained as a dentist. ‘It was so difficult at the beginning,’ she said, ‘there was this old lady with no teeth, and I could not figure out how to attach the denture.’ She grinned, ‘lucky that I was young and good looking at the time. I had lots of helps.’

Here is my simple meat and bone soup, with fond memories of Auntie Wong. Somehow my soup never tasted as good as Auntie Wong’s. She had added a lot more love to the soup.

South sea meat and bone soup (bak kut teh,肉骨茶)

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Spiced potato salad with pepper, chili infused oil and white balsamic vinegar (gluten free, vegan)

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Our friends had a 20 year anniversary getaway at South Australia for a few days. We looked after their child and dog while they were away. It was easy as their beautiful son is our little boy’s best friend. Their gorgeous cavalier is the best friend of our cavoodle.

When they were back they brought us a nice bottle of white balsamic vinegar they picked up from a market at the Barossa Valley.  So I made a fusion potato salad with it.

This salad used blanched potato flavored with turmeric, coriander seeds and cardamon, a mild Sichuan style pepper-chili-garlic infused oil, sesame oil, white balsamic, pickled carrot, sliced wood ear fungus, sliced capsicum, sesame, shallot and coriander.

Spiced potato salad with pepper, chili infused oil and white balsamic vinegar (gluten free, vegan)

Recipe is as follows:

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Rice balls with wasabi furikake seasoning

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After a weekend of non-stop eating and drinking, we were keen to have a very simple meal this lovely Monday evening – perhaps some warm rice with a few sprinkle of seasoning.

I cooked the rice in a rice cooker. I used 1 cup of white glutinous rice with 1 cup of medium grain rice. The cooked rice was gently soft but not too sticky. I then rolled some rice into balls, and coated the rice balls with furikake.

I bought my furikake from a local Asian store. I particularly like the one with wasabi flavor. The furikake was made in China which is fine with me as it was very delicious.

A simple meal and no recipe required.

Rice balls with wasabi furikake seasoning

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Tangy green mango salad with prawns (gluten free)

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Friends who live in an inner west suburb of Sydney have a few mango trees. Every year I admired their trees and promised to make them some green mango salad. But I was never there when the mangoes were green.

This year they brought over 2 green mangoes to our house. Reportedly the husband was injured trying to catch the second mango –  the mango fell off the tree, bounced off his hands and hit him in the “privates”.

I had to make a mango salad as compensation.

The dish is very simple, mango, carrot and prawns pickled in a fish sauce, apple cider vinegar and sugar, mixed with coriander, green shallot and sesame oil and sesame seeds.

 

Tangy green mango salad with prawns (gluten free)

Recipe is as follows:

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Chicken TangYuan soup with dried shrimps, mushrooms, garlic chive and bok choy (gluten free)

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As mentioned, yesterday was the 15th day of Luna New Year, known as the lantern festival (元宵). TangYuan (汤圆), or the glutinous rice balls, is one of the most traditional food for the festival. Yuan (圆) means round, full filling, a symbol for family reunion. TangYuan often has a sweet filling and served in a syrup. Some years ago, my sister made a savory TangYuan soup that was really tasty. I had a go this year.

I first made the chicken stock white cook style. This means slow cook a whole chicken in water to get delicious chicken meat and a mild broth. Ginger and green shallot were added to enhance the flavor.  Chinese mushrooms, dried shrimps were added later to the broth, together with garlic chive, enoki mushrooms, bok choy and white cooked chicken meat.

The TangYuan was made with glutinous rice flour and hot water, mix and roll, pretty simple.

 

Chicken TangYuan soup with dried shrimps, mushrooms, garlic chive and bok choy  (gluten free)

Recipe is as follows:

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Tofu knots, enoki mushrooms and wood ear fungus salad 冷拌

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Yesterday it was the 15th day of Luna New Year (元宵节, YuanXiao), which is known as the day of lantern festival.  There was no lanterns for us. After all, it was too hot to even go outside in the scorching weather in Sydney.

So I made a few simple dishes to enjoy with a few of our friends, who came over to cool down in our pool.  One of the dishes I made was a ‘liangban’ salad with chewy tofu knots (百页结), tasty enokitake mushrooms (金菇), crunchy wood ears fungus (木耳), green shallot and coriander.

Tofu knots, enoki mushrooms and wood ear fungus salad 冷拌

Recipe is as follows:

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Easy banana, lime, orange and cardamom compote (FODMAP friendly, gluten free, vegan)

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This week I gathered a few limes from the garden. I have always struggled with my lime trees – lot of flowers but rarely bear any fruit. So my three little lime fruit this year were rather precious. I made a fruit compote with banana, lime, orange and cardamom.

Delicious for breakfast, served on toast –  just not enough of it. Hope my lime trees will be kind to me next year.

Easy banana, lime, orange and cardamom compote (FODMAP friendly, gluten free, vegan)

Recipe is as follows:

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Cherry tomato ‘sandwich’ with quinoa and alfalfa (low FODMAP, vegan, gluten free)

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Today I made some rice paper rolls with quinoa, coriander, alfalfa, capsicum and sesame seeds. I had some quinoa mixture left. So I decided to make a second dish. I had some cherry tomatoes in the fridge, perfect for some ‘sandwiches’.

The quinoa mixture was made of cooked quinoa, a little chopped coriander stalk, a little sesame seeds and sesame oil,  seasoned with salt and black pepper. I have attached the original recipe here – but you only need 1 tbsp of quinoa mixture to make 1 low FODMAP serve which consists of 4 cheery tomato sandwiches.

To make the ‘sandwiches’, turn a cherry tomato upside down, cut it open in the middle, as deep as you can without cutting through; fill the gap with a small piece of lettuce (I used butter and rocket), alfalfa, red capsicum, carrot and a little quinoa mixture. Top with a little BBQ sauce and a few sesame seeds.

According to the Monash University, a low FODMAP portion is 4 cherry tomatoes – hence 1 low FODMAP serving is 4 ‘sandwiches’.  But lettuce (butter and rocket), alfalfa, red capsicum and carrot have limited FODMAPs, so you can pile up as much fillings as you wish.

Use a gluten free BBQ sauce for a gluten free option.

Cherry tomato 'sandwich' with quinoa, coriander and alfalfa (low FODMAP, vegan, gluten free)

Cherry tomato sandwich with quinoa, coriander and alfalfa

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Rice paper rolls of quinoa, coriander, alfalfa and sesame seeds (low FODMAP, vegan, gluten free)

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A few days ago I set off to create a few vegan FODMAP dishes with alfalfa. The schedule was ‘interrupted’ by Chinese New Year with wrapping dumplings with extended family, chatting with friends on how to make ‘yee sang’, handing out red envelopes and, work. We don’t get any national holidays for Chinese New Year in Australia.

Here is my alfalfa recipes installment #2 –  rice paper rolls of quinoa flavored with sesame oil and coriander, lettuce, carrot, capsicum, alfalfa, sesame seeds,  and a small squeeze of BBQ sauce.

Can’t find any rice paper? Don’t worry, the recipe also works as a salad.

Rice paper roll with quinoa, coriander, alfalfa, carrot, lettuce, capsicum, sesame seed and sesame oil, low FODMAP, gluten free, vegan

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

Prosperity toss (‘yee sang’ 捞生) for Chinese new year (low FODMAP, gluten free)

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One of my best friend’s late mother, whom I dearly called Auntie Wong, was an exceptional cook. A Chinese woman migrated from Malaysia, she could make beautiful meat-bone soups, aromatic curries and many different type of chili pastes.  During Chinese New Year, she made ‘yee sang’, an elaborate salad with sashimi salmon and a plum sauce. We made wishes as we mixed the salad with our chopsticks, shared a few giggles and enjoyed the delicious feast.

In Chinese, ‘yee’ means fish, a symbol of plenty. ‘Sang’ shares the same pronunciation of 升, means uplifting. With a name like that, no wonder ‘yee sang’ is one of the most popular dish for Chinese New Year around Singapore and Malaysia.

My father and sister were travelling in China and only arrived yesterday, which was the Chinese New Year’s Day. To welcome them home,, I made my own version of ‘yee sang’ with tuna, salmon, fennel, carrot, capsicum, cucumber and a strawberry salad dressing.

I didn’t make any wishes as I mixed the salad – I already have everything I could have wished for. Although life is busy and demanding, I have a lovely family, good friends, a home with a double garage full of cooking equipment. I am happy.

Prosperity toss ('yee sang' 捞生) for Chinese new year (low FODMAP, gluten free)
Prosperity toss (‘yee sang’ 捞生) 

Recipe is as follows:

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Easy hand rolls of alfalfa, carrot, capsicum, rocket and sesame seeds (low FODMAP, gluten free, vegan)

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As I mentioned, I recently connected with my high school classmates on WeChat. I pleasantly discovered how diverse my school mates had become. One of the ladies is now a devoted Buddhist. She posted many photos of pagodas, Buddha, and vegetarian food. ‘You like cooking’, she said, ‘do you cook vegan food?’. She recommended sprout alfalfa and sent me a full description of its benefits.

‘Sure, I will made a few dishes tomorrow’.

I loved alfalfa, so dedicate and beautiful to look at. While I attended university in early 90s, alfalfa was in nearly every sandwiches I bought from the canteen. The sandwiches were charged by weight. Alfalfa is so light that I could have a ham and alfalfa sandwich for about $1. Bargain.

Here is my first installment of the alfalfa menu – easy hand rolls of rice, alfalfa, carrot, capsicum, rocket leafs, BBQ sauce and sesame seeds.

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Chinese sweet dumplings ‘tang yuan'(汤圆) – raspberry pink, in a ginger, cinnamon and honey syrup (gluten free, vegan)

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‘Tang yuan’, or the glutinous rice balls in syrup, were sometimes offered as a complementary dessert at Chinese restaurants. My husband always puzzled, why people liked these dull looking, doughy, boringly sweet and tasteless stuff.

Good point. As much ‘tang yuan’ is well loved by the Chinese community for its symbolic meaning of family and its reunion, it is not an exciting dish, not until it became a fusion dish anyway.

My ‘tang yuan’ were colored by raspberry coulis; some were filled with red bean paste and some were just small and plain. The syrup was infused with a cinnamon stick, cardamom,  ginger and orange peel, with brown sugar for color and a dash of honey for extra flavor. I really hope my husband would like them; and then he said, ‘they were okkkk’. Grrrrrrr!

Chinese sweet dumplings 'tang yuan'(汤圆) - raspberry pink, in a ginger, cinnamon and honey syrup (gluten free, vegan)

Recipe is as follows:

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Chinese New Year steamed sweet cake ‘nian gao’ (年糕) with coconut milk and ginger (gluten free, vegan)

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My old aunt loved making ‘nian gao’. My cousins called them rubber cakes, with a chewy, sticky texture and a plain sugary taste. My aunt is too old to cook now. So I started to make them myself, a not-so-authentic version with coconut milk, maple syrup and cinnamon. That’s what multi-culture is about, right?

‘Gao’ has the same pronunciation as ‘high’. ‘Nian’ means ‘year’. So ‘nian gao’ is symbolic for ‘every year a greater success’.  This puts ‘nian gao’ on the must-have list for Chinese New Year.

If you like it looking fancy, dust the cake with a mixture of peanuts, sesame seeds, sugar and desiccated coconut.

Chinese New Year steamed sweet cake 'nian gao' (年糕) with coconut milk and ginger (gluten free, vegan)

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

Chinese New Year sweet dumplings filled with peanuts, sesame seeds and coconut 角仔

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I remember the 10 joyful days during Luna new year while I was growing up. It was always in the midst of winter and the air was cold. There were sparkles in our eyes with the excitement of fire crackers, flower stalls, new clothes, a few good meals and the red envelopes with some money in it.

The ‘gok-zai'(角仔) or the ‘YouJiao'(油角), translated as the fried little triangle pastry, diligently homemade and exchanged between families while paying the rare once-a-year visits, were delightful.  Families often re-gifted the ‘gok-zai’ they received. We often ended up with a bag of ‘gok-zai’ with different shapes, sizes and colors. My grandmother stored them in a brown urn under the stairs and we were allowed to have a few each day. During the early 1970s while food supplies were scarce, these little treats were very much appreciated by the little ones.

Here is my quick and easy ‘gok-zai’. Traditionally they were deep fried but I baked them for a healthier version.  Happy new year everyone, 新年快樂. Hope the newSw year will bring you and your family health, peace and happiness.

Recipe is as follows: Ingredients

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Kale with orange and sesame (low FODMAP, vegan, gluten free)

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We had steaks for dinner tonight and made a kale dish as a side. It was very simple, blanched kale, diced orange,  orange zest, lemon juice, sesame oil and sesame seeds.

This recipe below is portion controlled to a FODMAP diet. Please feel free to use any additional ingredients you may like.

Kale with orange and sesame (low FODMAP, vegan, gluten free)

Recipe is as follows:

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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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Century egg and smoked ham congee

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What could be more tummy warming than a big bowl of congee?

One of my favorite congee is with century eggs. If you had not tried a ‘century egg’ before, they are probably the most fascinating eggs you would ever experience. After a period of preservation, the egg yolks are magically layered with green and gray, and the egg white are translucently red-brown and beautifully shiny. The congee is traditionally made with century eggs and salted pork. I often use smoked ham which is tastier.

Century eggs with smoked ham - for congee

I use a 10-cup rice cooker with a ‘congee’ setting. I cook the congee on the ‘congee’ setting 3 times, first time with a cup of medium grain rice and water half way up in the cooker, then I add 2 century eggs (sliced to 4-8 pieces) and diced smoked ham, cook it 1-2 more settings or until the rice is creamy. Feel free to add more water to achieve the right consistency to your own liking.

If you use a pot, it would take 2-3 hours.  First bring the rice and water to boil, turn it down to low heat, cook for 1 hour (with a lid), then add century eggs and ham, cook for another 1-2 hours until the it reaches the desired texture.

Season with salt and white pepper. Garnish with green shallot.

Really yum if you are game enough to try it.

Century eggs and smoked ham congee

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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Noodles with cloud ear, beef and vegetables

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Sometime we just want a quick and no fuss meal, something easy, hearty and delicious. Noodles fit into this category nicely.

I often have a few packs of udon noodles in the pantry. I found udon noodles have the right texture once boiled, perfect for tossing in a frying pan for a quick stir fry.  Cloud ears (Chinese black fungus) is another vegetable that I often stock up. Once re-hydrated, it is so quick to cook and refreshingly crunchy. We also love cabbage for its sweetness and longevity in the fridge.

This cloud ear, beef and vegetable noodle dish takes about 20-30 minutes to make. It is flavored with oyster sauce and mushroom dark soy sauce. I added plenty of sesame seeds for extra flavor.

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

Sushi terrine with vegetables (low FODMAP, vegan, gluten free)

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A few weeks ago I set off to make a few carrot & vegetable dishes. Here is one of them…

It is made with sushi rice, saute pumpkin with cumin, saute carrot with turmeric, saute capsicum with garam masala and nori sheets.  Sesame seeds were added for extra flavor. The ingredients are layered in a terrine pan, and wrapped with 2 nori sheets.

Sushi terrine with vegetables (low FODMAP, vegan, gluten free)

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

Carrot ‘noodles’ with green bean and bean sprout (low FODMAP, gluten free, vegan)

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Last week I was cooking humble carrots and wondering how may carrot dishes I could create. Here is one of them…

There are so many wonderful things about carrot, crunchy, juicy, colorful, full of goodies. Best of all, it has no carbohydrate so the FODMAPers can have as much carrot as they wish.

Carrot 'noodles' with green bean and bean sprout (low FODMAP, gluten free, vegan)

Recipe is as follow:

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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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Golden pork dumplings 豬肉餃子

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My little boy’s school has a school fete shortly and I am running an Asian food stall for the school.

Last Sunday we had a few school families and friends over to wrap dumplings for the Asian food stall. We used up 16kg of pork mince, 6 large bunch of garlic chive, 3 large wom bok cabbages. At the end of the day we made 1,100 ‘jiaozi’ dumplings and 120 ‘siu mai’ dim sims.

In between wrapping the dumplings, we enjoyed a few bottles of sparkling wines, smoked spicy beef ribs, Vietnamese pork kebabs, some giggles and chats. We also tested our fruit of labor – pan fried dumplings (picture below).

Golden pork dumplings 豬肉餃子

I have learned a few new tricks for making dumplings. Our friend Michelle had kindly came over to help out and she was an expert in preparing the dumping filling.  She soaked some Sichuan red pepper corns with hot water and added the water to the filling, this will give the meat extra favors. She also stirred the mince with chopsticks one circular direction which will smooth the meat.  When she pan fried the dumplings, she added some plain flour mixed with a little water, which formed a lovely web-like base that tasted absolutely delicious.

We also added sesame oil, mirin, soys sauce to the dumpling filling. We used shop bought dumpling wrappers as 1,100 wrappers were too many to be hand made.

Making dumplings for the school fete
Making dumplings for the school fete

Looking forward to sell these lovely dumplings at the fete and raise some money for our school.

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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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Asian inspired carrot, pumpkin and kumquat dip (low FODMAP, gluten free, vegan)

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A good friend is on a self diagnosed gluten free diet. She is addicted to vegetables and all things fashionably healthy. You will laugh if you see her feeding her kids with healthy food the good old Chinese way –  with great persistence.

We were over at their house for lunch last weekend. I made some tasty vegetable dips which was very appreciated. I served the dips with some plain rice crackers.

 

Asian inspired carrot, pumpkin and kumquat dip (low FODMAP, gluten free, vegan)

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Homemade ‘fun guo’ 粉果 – steamed dumplings with Chinese vegetables and peanuts

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My sister was over this afternoon with my niece who is the same age as my little boy. While the kids were playing, my sister helped me to make some ‘fun guo’, one of my favorite yum cha dish.

It is really simple to make.  I first stir fried the filling with diced chicken, leek, five spice tofu, Chinese mushroom, salted radish, wood ear fungus and bamboo shoot; then I made the wrappers with wheat starch and tapioca.  I have no talent using rolling pins, so I used  my pasta machine to roll out the dough. While I was rolling out the dough and cutting out the wrappers, my sister worked on wrapping the dumplings.

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Homemade ‘fun guo’ 粉果 – steamed dumplings with Chinese vegetables and peanuts

Fun guo dumpling filling
Fun guo dumpling filling

Recipe is as follow:

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Pan fried fish & potato cake with Asian coleslaw (low FODMAP, gluten free)

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I have been planning for a fish cake dish for a while, however could not decide on what type of fish cakes to make  – Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Malaysian… there are so many options. Today, with some fresh rainbow trouts in the fridge, I decided to cook a tummy friendly fish cake with potato, spinach and coriander, served with a juicy Asian coleslaw.

Pan fried fish & potato cake with Asian coleslaw (low FODMAP, gluten free)

 

Recipe is as follow:

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