Asian food

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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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.

Chicken feet and corporate greed

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Chicken feet and corporate greed

“The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries”. Winston Churchill.

I thought of corporate greed.

They share their goals and visions loud and proud – the best interest of shareholders.  They sack as many workers as possible, and take the fat and bones out of the operation until it is on the verge of collapse.  This enables them to harvest bonus, and enjoy big fat golden handshakes when the real situation unfolds.

Does it have to be like that?  Why can’t corporations work for the best interest of all stakeholders including their customers and employees?

Corporate greed reminds me of chicken feet – skin and bone, tasty, yet unfulfilling as a meal. If a worker is struggling to feed his family and put a roof over their heads  – is this meal a blessing or misery?

Collaboration with Woofy Comics
Collaboration with my son @ Woofy Comics

Cooking method is as follows:

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Meals for homeless: turmeric eggs with chili tomato salsa

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This is a simple ‘please-all’ egg recipe with a tangy chili and tomato salsa.  It is often the first dish to be emptied at the street buffet for our homies.

Turmeric eggs with chili tomato salsa

Turmeric eggs with chili tomato salsa
Eggs pan fried with turmeric

Tangy capsicum, onion, tomato and chili salsa
Tangy capsicum, onion, tomato and chili salsa

Easy method is as follows: Read the rest of this entry »

Autumn sword flower soup 霸王花汤

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Cantonese loves soups.  There are soups for spring, summer, autumn and winter.

For autumn, one of my favorite therapeutic soups is the sword flower soup.  I cook it as a light bone broth with chicken bones, dried sword flowers,  carrots, almonds,  Chinese dates and Chinese mushrooms.  Just put all the ingredients in a pressure cooker, and it is done in 60 minutes.

Autumn sword flower soup 霸王花汤

Autumn sword flower soup 霸王花汤

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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 »

Fried cactus flowers, with Chinese five-spice and fried green shallot (gluten free)

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The cactus flowered again this year, yielding 2 single strikingly beautiful flowers, with pink and pearl like colors.

Fried cactus flowers, with Chinese five-spice and fried green shallot (gluten free)

Fried cactus flowers, with Chinese five-spice and fried green shallot (gluten free)

Last harvest I made a soup with the flowers. This year I fried them with some egg and corn flour, flavored with Chinese five-spice and green shallot.

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Method is as follows:

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Tomato and egg soup, with Chinese mushroom and miso, memories of friends from the GuangYa Middle School (廣東廣雅中學)

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In the 1980s, I attended a local selective school called “GuangYa” in Southern China. It was one of the few schools with boarding facilities. During high school years, boarding was compulsory so the school could control the kids academic progress with minimum disruption. We worked really hard and rarely did anything remotely exciting. On the weekends, other kids were eager to return home to their families. I liked to stay in the school over the weekends to avoid home, a place lack of warmth.

There were a few other kids staying behind too, mostly boys. It was scary to stay in the empty dormitory on my own. It was a huge room lined with over 20 bunk beds, dimly lighted with a few bare bulbs, and filled with dark shadows. There were no cleaners, the kids took turns to sweep the floor. So the room was full of spider webs and dust.

I tried to persuade some other girls to stay behind too. Two of my good friends, Yi and Qin, stayed with me sometimes. We studied the whole weekend at our own pace without bells and patrolling teachers – it was rather peaceful. The school canteen was closed and we were to manage our own meals.

At the back of the school, there was a busy bus terminal, a noodle shop and a few small grocery shops. A strip of the street was occupied by a few vendors that sold fruits, vegetables and some other basic essentials. We often ate noodles for dinner, and brought back a few eggs and vegetables to make soup for supper – we were peckish after our evening study sessions. With no cooking equipment available, we used a small electric kettle.

One of our favorite soups was the tomato and egg soup. It was the simplest soup you could imagine – drop some diced tomato and an egg in the boiling water, a quick stir, salt to taste (or a little soy sauce), and some chopped coriander. The soup is done in 2 minutes, light and delicious.

Ah, good old days – hardship and friendships.

Memories of GuangDong GuangYa Middle School - Friends
Memories of GuangDong GuangYa Middle School – good friends

I am visiting China in a few weeks, and I will be seeing Yi and Qin. It has been 30 years since we said good-bye to each other. I crossed the oceans and moved so very far away from my friends. Today, Yi is a devoted Buddhist and Qin is an energetic entrepreneur.

Here is my more creative version of an egg and tomato soup, with a Chinese mushroom and miso base. I am looking forward to see Yin, Qin and some of my school friends again in a few weeks.

I didn’t write up the recipe – imagination and creativity work best for this dish.

Tomato and egg soup, with Chinese mushroom and miso

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.

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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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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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Asian style ox tail Soup with cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and pepper (gluten free)

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When I attended university in the late 80s, I had the good fortune of studying alongside with a diverse group of Asian kids, many became my friends for life. They exposed me to a large range of comfort food from all over Asian, such as Malaysian hawker dishes and Indonesian desserts.

One of my favorite dishes I learned from my friends was the aromatic Indonesian ox tail soup – a scrumptious bone broth with vegetables, spiced with cinnamon, clove and nutmeg. Its flavors were enhanced by fried shallots and fresh herbs.  I often crave for it on rainy days. Unfortunately, we don’t have an Indonesian restaurant nearby.  So I have to cook my own.

We can use a pressure cooker for this soup (40 minutes) or a stock pot (slow cook for 5 hours). I like using the stock pot as I can make a huge pot to enjoy over a few days.

I love having this hot soup with some warm rice – really satisfying.

Asian style ox tail Soup with cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and pepper (gluten free)

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

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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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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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.

 

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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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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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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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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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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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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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Pan fried spring rolls with vegetables and shrimp shells

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As school fete fast approaching, I am trying out different ways to cook a large amount of finger food within a small amount of time. I am running an Asian Food stall for the school fete.

Spring rolls had always been a favorite at the previous fetes. Deep frying food at the fete makes me nevous, especially there are so many little kids around with their balls. So I am trying out pan frying the spring rolls.

The result was brilliant – they were better than the deep fried ones as I don’t have to roll them too tightly, so they are beautifully crispy.

The filling for my spring rolls today were mung bean vermicelli, wood ear fungus, cabbage, carrot, leek, shrimp shell, bamboo shoot and fried shallot. Sounds yummy, doesn’t it.

Pan fried spring rolls with vegetables and shrimp shells

To wrap a spring roll

Recipe is as follow:

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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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Poached salmon in a bonito and kelp broth (gluten free)

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Bonito flakes (Katsuobushi) are super tasty, dried, fermented, and smoked skipjack tuna. A soup (dashi) with bonito and kelp, with a dash of soy sauce is simply heavenly, wonderful with a piece of salmon. Really, you would eat the salmon for the broth.

 

Poached salmon in a bonito and kelp broth (gluten free)

Recipe is as follow:

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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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Asian inspired Paella with miso & wasabi (low FODMAP, gluten free)

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One of my friends and her 2 gorgeous children came over for lunch today. She has really good taste with food and wine, previously ran an restaurant in Italy while she was married to an Italian young fellow who cooked beautifully. Now a single mum, things are not as easy, and she is also having a difficult time at work. So I decided to cook her a heart warming meal to cheer her up – a dish with chicken, salmon, prawns, mussels, baby octopus sounded just like the perfect dish. To make it a bit more special, I gave the paella an Asian twist with miso, wasabi and Korean pepper.

 

Asian inspired Paella with miso & wasabi (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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Chinese north-west style lamb kebabs ‘羊肉串’ (low FODMAP, gluten free)

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When I was in Beijing many years ago I visited a night market with hundreds of food stalls. About half of them sell lamb kebabs with a Xinjiang origin. Xinjiang is region located in North West China  where Chinese Muslims and Uyghur people live, bordering many countries including Mongolia, Russia, Pakstan and India. I tried the kebab and was fascinated by the spices – it was the first time I tasted cumin.  The meat, although, was dry and chewy – we have much better quality meat back in Australia.

Here is my version of lamb kebabs with cumin, Sichuan pepper, chili flake, coriander seeds, sesame seeds and  sesame oil. I first marinated the lamb in cumin, salt and sesame oil. Then I made the kebabs and cooked them on the BBQ. Finally I added additional spices and sea salt to the kebabs.  The kebabs were juicy and spicy.

Chinese north-west style lamb kebabs '羊肉串' (low FODMAP, gluten free)

Spice mix for lamb kebab - cumin, Sichuan pepper, chili flake, sesame seeds and coriander seeds
Spice mix for lamb kebab – cumin, Sichuan pepper, chili flake, sesame seeds and coriander seeds

Recipe is as follow:

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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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Simple chicken stir fry with vegetable, egg and peanuts (low FODMAP, gluten free)

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On Fridays I work from home so I can drop my little boy off at school and pick him up. I am often swamped with work and I have something really quick for lunch at home (like a bowl of instant noodles cooked in the microwave). This week I was in luck with some free time – so I decided to cook a simple stir fry for lunch.

Simple chicken stir fry with vegetable, egg and peanuts (low FODMAP, gluten free)

Recipe is as follow:

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