asian breakfast chitchat eating out fish salad vegetarian

Excellent things from the last few weeks

I’ve been running a bit ragged recently, so it’s a perfect time to have a pot of tea, take stock, and list a bunch of good things.


1. I recently learned to add a star anise when making a long-cooked beef stew. Transformative!


2. I give thanks for dumplings, and that it is so easy for me to get good ones here. Recent standouts have been the steamed wontons with chili oil at Hutong (tender skins, good filling, perfect chili), xiao long bao at Shanghai Street Dumpling, and everything in general at my beloved Gourmet Dumpling.


3. The midwinter arrival of citrus and avocado season. I made this salad for dinner one night last week. So good and refreshing.

Salad of hot-smoked salmon, avocado, blood orange and watercress

80 g hot-smoked salmon, flaked
a small palmful of pine nuts, toasted
1 large blood orange, supremed
half a smallish avocado, peeled and cut into 1-2 cm pieces
the leaves of a decent bunch of watercress
good olive oil
wholegrain mustard

Combine the salmon, pine nuts, orange, avocado and watercress.

Make a dressing by whisking together the juice that escaped from the orange, a dash of olive oil, a teaspoon of wholegrain mustard, and a pinch of sea salt. Toss with the salad.

Serves 1.


4. Having watercress growing in the garden at last after a couple of failed attempts. Such a great winter salad green.


5. The Egyptian eggs (poached, rolled in dukkah, then lightly fried) on a potato and pumpkin rosti, with rocket and chili jam, at Dood328 in Brunswick. So good, and the staff there are lovely too. Also, not having to queue for brunch = a good, good thing.


6. Dainty Sichuan in the city. This place gets a bit of hate but I love it. Went there for dinner last night with the lab and ate 10 fantastic dishes. Fish-fragrant eggplant, chinese leeks with tofu threads, chili chicken wok, ultra-spicy black fungus, many other things I can’t remember.


7. This morning’s breakfast, which was delicious but, even I recognize, slightly crazytown. Man I love savoury breakfasts with greens and asian flavours though.

For the steel-cut oats, I use this recipe and make enough for four days at one time. I also usually make two or three serves of the greens and use them for multiple breakfasts, or add them to lunches.

Steel-cut oats with asian greens and a runny fried egg

dash of olive oil
2 shallots, sliced
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1 small thumb of ginger, finely minced
chili flakes
150 g of mixed greens – I used a mix of what looked good in the garden: sprouting broccoli, cavolo nero, purple kale, a couple of broccoli leaves and red mustard leaf

1 serve cooked steel-cut oats

1 egg

sesame oil
sesame seeds

Chop the greens into smallish pieces. For broccoli and kales, I blanch them until they’re becoming tender, then drain. The softer greens I just chop.

Heat a dash of olive oil in a large pan, then add the shallot and cook a few minutes until golden. Add the garlic, ginger, and chili flakes to taste, and cook a further two minutes, then add the greens. Stir well, add a slosh of tamari and another of water if necessary, and cook until everything is tender.

Fry the egg. I do this by heating a pan over low heat, adding a dash of olive oil, cracking in the eggs, and putting a lid on top. Cook until the white is just set and the yolk is still liquid.

Put the oats into the middle of a flat bowl. Spoon the cooked greens around the oats. Slide the egg on top. Over all of this, sprinkle drops of tamari and sesame oil, more chili flakes, and sesame seeds. Eat at once.

Serves 1.

asian breakfast chitchat recipes

This week’s exciting tales from the stomach

I appear to be completely incapable of writing proper blog posts any more, even though I’m still cooking lots of great stuff and keeping the daily eating notes. But I’ve been feeling listalicious recently, so here is another list of good food that has been happening in our household this week.


1. Last weekend I made a big batch of kimchi, using Zoe’s recipe. I love this kimchi – the recipe is foolproof and easy, and produces some of the tastiest kimchi I’ve ever had. Love it. I’ve been snacking on kimchi all week and incorporated it into an ultra-delicious brunch this morning.

Here, have a photo of me doing the last mixing step in the kimchi production process. I used Edwige and Jean’s old (well cleaned!) laundry tub, because I am all class. Also because none of my normal kitchen bowls are big enough to handle the kimchi. Note that grey thing in the bottom left of the photo- it’s the chainmail-esque glove I wear when using the mandoline these days, after slicing off the tip of my finger with it a couple of years ago.


2. We had dinner last night with Danielle at Rumi in Brunswick East, and loved everything we tried. We started with pickled vegetables and then shared oven baked baby baramundi fillet with poached onion in a tahini and almond sauce; spiced lamb shoulder roasted on the bone with sirkanjabin; persian meatballs in tomato and saffron sauce with labne; and an orange and fennel salad. Every mouthful was delicious. The lamb was particularly amazing – slow cooked until it left the bone perfectly clean, and the meat extremely tender without even glancing at sloppiness. Incredible flavour, highlighted brilliantly by the sweet mint sirkanjabin. I found this earlier review of Rumi that says that the spice mix the lamb is coated with is advieh, containing rose petals, dried limes, cumin and coriander (as well as other things, I would guess, given its complexity of flavour).


3. It was the Veg Out markets at St Kilda yesterday and I stocked up big on lots of winter vegetables, astringent persimmons, multiple kilos of chicken and beef bones to make stock, and some other cow bits as well from the Warialda Beef stall. These guys are so great. Super friendly and very happy to give advice, share knowledge, and recommend different cuts and recipes. I ended up carrying away quite a few pieces of beef to cook up this month- short ribs, stewing beef, a pack of tendon and sinew to go in the stock pot with some Flintsones-sized vertebrae and joint bones, and finally a pack of very tender little trimmings from blade steak that I will use for a couple of stir fries this week – I’m thinking one with kimchi (something like this) and another with piles of chinese broccoli and pak choy.


4. And today’s breakfast, which made me exclaim multiple times, with lots of enthusiastic profanities, about how great it was: fried rice and kimchi with fried egg. My god it was so good.

This is really the perfect winter breakfast – spicy and flavoursome, chewy brown rice for that texture hit, and runny egg yolk melding everything together.

Breakfast rice, kimchi and fried egg

1 large handful cooked brown rice
2 scallions, green parts chopped
kimchi, a bit more than the volume of rice, roughly chopped
fresh coriander leaves
1 or 2 eggs
toasted sesame oil

Heat a large saucepan, add a dash of sesame oil, and sautee the rice until it is hot. Add the scallions and kimchi, and cook a further 5-10 minutes, until everything is warm and the mixture is catching a little on the bottom of the pan.

Meanwhile, fry the eggs. I like to do this in a little non-stick pan – a dash of oil, crack the eggs in, cook over low heat with a lid on the pan until the whites are cooked but the yolks are still very runny.

Put the rice and kimchi in a bowl, slide the just-cooked eggs on top, and sprinkle with coriander and a few drops of sesame oil and tamari. Eat at once.

asian recipes vegetarian

Spring sushi bowl

Hello comrades. I have lots to report, but I am rather tired, so I will keep this short.

Melbourne is awesome! Life is fab. We have a wee back yard with a lemon tree, a fig tree, lavender, and a rampant mint plant. I am growing seven kinds of tomato from seed, as well as snow peas, zucchini, and forests of herbs. I’ve found excellent markets, pastry shops and restaurants. I dawdle down the streets near our house, transfixed by the lushness and prettiness of people’s front gardens. I’m getting closer to finding a bike route to uni that I am happy with. I love the fact that it’s almost December but I still don’t swelter during the day, and in the evening I can sit in the garden, listening to the cicadas, and appreciate the coolness. I thought it would be the city and inner suburbs that I would love in Melbourne – and I do love them – but our day-to-day life out in Armadale is wonderful. I am very happy. I can imagine living here for a long time.

Here’s what I ate for dinner tonight. Very simple, but satisfying to both the eye and to taste. The cicadas, the garden and the cool night air took care of the other senses.


Sushi bowl for one

a handful of cooked brown rice
1 bunch of asparagus
a quarter of a large avocado
a slice of firm tofu
sesame seeds

Trim the asparagus, halve the spears, then steam until tender. Peel the avocado segment, then slice crosswise into about 10 slices. Saute the tofu until golden, then cut into bite-size batons.

Spread the rice over the bottom of a flattish bowl. Top with the asparagus, avocado and tofu in an aesthetically pleasing manner (I put asparagus on one side, the avocado fanned out on the other, and tofu in the middle). Sprinkle with sesame seeds, snips of toasted nori, and ponzu. Eat.

asian lunch recipes vegetarian

Fried rice with ginger, tofu and spring onion kimchi

Oh man, I feel like hell. I’ve got some revolting laryngitis/bronchitis combination and I haven’t been able to speak properly for a couple of days. I’m the hoarse whisperer, ha ha. I think I have produced my own body weight in phlegm in the last week. How delightful and charming I am!

Anyway, in an attempt to unblock a sinus or two, I made this excellent, ginger- and chili-heavy lunch while home sick from work yesterday. It was delicious enough to cut through my virus-induced anhedonia as soon as I took the first bite. I was asleep on the couch again 20 minutes later, but the brief interlude of enjoyment was nice.

100 g tofu, cut into 1 cm-thick slices
peanut oil
fish sauce
3 large golden shallots, peeled, halved and finely sliced
1 x 2 x 2 cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into fine slivers
1 large hot red chili, chopped (including seeds)
1/2 cup left-over cooked brown rice
2/3 cup spring onion kimchi, roughly chopped (it will cook down)
toasted sesame oil

In a frypan, heat a scant splash of peanut oil over moderate heat, then add the tofu slices. Cook on one side until starting to turn golden, then flip and repeat on the other side. Close to the end of cooking, splash in a little soy sauce and fish sauce, and turn the tofu once more to coat. Remove from the pan and set aside. Cut the tofu into batons.

Wipe out the pan, add a dash more oil, and cook the shallots until they are golden and softened. Add the ginger and chili and cook a further three minutes. Add the rice, kimchi, tofu batons, a few drops of tamari and a good drizzle of sesame oil. Keep cooking, stirring all together, for another couple of minutes until everything is warm and toasted. Eat at once.

asian lunch recipes soup

Miso soup with soba, tofu and vegetables

I’m writing this up not because I think it is anything novel or authentic (it’s not), but for two other quite different reasons. First, I want to remind myself how easy this kind of soup is, given the usual contents of my pantry and fridge. The only things here that I don’t always have on hand are the steamed butternut and the silken tofu, both left over from the laksa we made last night.

Secondly, I was struck by how thoroughly this soup held my attention while I was eating it. Many of the soups I eat are pureed or at least relatively homogeneous. This one is very different. It’s full of bits and pieces of things of varied sizes, shapes and textures, that must be handled in different ways – the broth is spooned up, the tofu nudged onto the spoon and brought to the mouth, the noodles fished for with chopsticks and slurped, the pumpkin and mushrooms held between the chopsticks while bites are taken. When I eat this kind of soup, my mind doesn’t drift, but stays focussed on the food and the action and sensations of eating. This is something that I think is worth cultivating.

3 cups water or light stock
2 heaped dessert spoons miso paste, or to taste
a dash of tamari

Things to go in the soup
120 g soba noodles, cooked, drained and rinsed
6 small pieces butternut squash, steamed till tender
10 small cubes silken tofu
6 dried shiitake, rehydrated in hot water
4 pieces dried black fungus, rehydrated in hot water
2 handfuls baby spinach leaves

coriander leaves
sesame oil
chili flakes

First make the broth. Bring the water or stock to a boil, then remove from heat. In a small bowl, mix a little of the hot water with the miso until it thins out, then add this to the rest of the water. Mix, taste, and add more miso if necessary. The broth is often improved by a scant dash of tamari at this point, too.

Into each of two large bowls, put half the cooked noodles, pumpkin, tofu, shiitake, black fungus and spinach leaves. Gently pour the miso broth over, half into each bowl.  Sprinkle with coriander leaves, a few spots of sesame oil, and a pinch of chili flakes. Eat at once.

Serves 2.

asian recipes vegetarian

Kimchi bokumbap with sesame-fried egg

This afternoon I went to the first grant-writing workshop of the season, and with it came the usual stomach-churning sense of dreadful intellectual inferiority and self-chastisement for wasted time throughout the year. I know from experience that this will only last a few days, but it’s nasty while it does. Works well to get your productivity skyrocketing, though. I’d felt like I’d already been running on all cylinders for the last few weeks, but the grant panic kept me going for a 13 hour day at uni today, setting analyses running on all cores of my computer and half a dozen nodes of the new cluster as well. It’ll snap my eyes open at 5.30 tomorrow morning too, and have me back on my bike to work by 6.

Anyway, I finally cycled home tonight and made this in about 15 minutes, and god it was satisfying. Crispy and chewy and squishy by turns; sour and hot yet mellow. I’ve got about a kilo of kimchi in the fridge and I can see many variations of this dish in the offing.

2 large golden shallots (or 1 small onion), chopped
sesame oil
2 scallions, green parts, chopped into 2 cm lengths
1 extremely large handful of kimchi, roughly chopped, plus its juice
1 handful cooked chopped silverbeet or other greens
1/2 cup cooked brown rice (leftover rice better than freshly cooked)
soy sauce
salt and pepper
1 egg

In a frypan, heat a dash of sesame oil over moderate heat and add the shallots (you can use peanut oil for this step if you prefer). Cook until softened and coloured, then add the scallions, kimchi and greens and cook another three minutes until the scallions are softened. Add the rice, a little dash of soy sauce, a good drizzle of sesame oil, salt and pepper, and stir to mix well. Spread the mixture over the bottom of the frypan and turn the heat up. Let it cook another few minutes, getting a little crispy, or at least toasty, on the bottom.

At the same time as you’re adding the rice, heat another dash of sesame oil in a small frypan over lowish heat. Crack an egg into the pan and fry it until the white is just cooked but the yolk is still runny.

Once the egg is cooked and the rice is toasted, tip the rice mixture into a bowl and slide the egg on top. Eat at once.

asian recipes salad vegetarian (almost)

Small pleasures

I can actually feel the stress shredding my immune system.  My whole body aches, I grind my teeth so much it hurts, I just had a melt-down about MS Word being the piece of merde it is, and I still have four analyses on my to-do-list for this Sunday afternoon.  If I met academia in the street I would give that bitch the cut direct.

However.  It ought to be noted that it’s a lovely afternoon outside (though I am tethered to my desk).  We’ve also had a few simple but tasty meals recently that deserve recording.

Today for lunch, it was roast cherry tomatoes with thyme, eaten with a tin of decent sardines,  ciabatta toasts, and a mixed leaf salad.  Roast tomatoes and oily fish are a heavenly match.

Last month I made pesto in a mortar and pestle for the first time ever, using Marcella Hazan’s recipe. I was frankly amazed that it worked, and that I managed to pound a gigantic bunch of basil into a smallish amount of pesto, all inside the not-that-huge bowl of my stone mortar.  It was extremely satisfying and the texture was excellent, very silky.

And last week we were inspired by an asian chicken and purple cabbage salad at the Little Larder, and made our own version at home using tofu instead of chicken. A rough recipe is below.

Tofu with crispy cabbage and herb salad

Mix together a couple of tablespoons each of fish sauce and rice wine vinegar, the juice of a lime, and  a tablespoon of grated palm sugar.  Stir to dissolve the palm sugar, and taste.  Now the tricky part begins.  If it needs more salt, add more fish sauce. If sweetness, sugar.  If sharpness, vinegar or lime.  You might need to add quite a bit of one or more ingredients to get it right – the proportions will depend on the strength of your fish sauce, lime, etc.  Keep going until it tastes good.

Mix together some very finely sliced red cabbage, chopped spring onions, and finely chopped red onion, and dress with half the sauce.  Set it aside for 15 minutes or so, tossing occasionally, for everything to get very slightly wilted. Just before serving, toss through some finely sliced cucumber and red capsicum, mixed tasty small lettuce leaves, and lots of picked mint and coriander leaves.

Cut tofu into cubes and marinate in half the sauce, plus some fresh or dried chilli, for 20 minutes or so.  The fry the cubes, drained of the sauce, in a little peanut oil in a wok, stirring only occasionally.  Let the tofu get crispy and browned before turning.  Add drizzles of the sauce as necessary to prevent sticking. Serve the tofu on top of bowls of the salad and eat at once.