Monday, 17 August 2015

My Debut Cookbook, plus a Behind-the-scenes Sneak Peek

Gosh it's been ages. The past months have flown by, a mix of ups and downs and twists and turns that I'm not going to go into. There is one particular thing though, that I have been waiting for the longest time to share and now I'm finally allowed to let this giant balloon of excitement pop.

I've been working on my debut cookbook..! Watch out for Chicken and Rice, published by Fig Tree (Penguin Books), next spring. It will be a collection of Southeast Asian recipes, with a focus on using what's British and seasonal to create authentic home-style/ hawker dishes*. I'll definitely be banging drums and shooting party horns closer to its release but I thought I'll give you all a heads up and a tiny behind-the-scenes sneak peek.

It's been pretty crazy. Weekdays were a crazy juggle of work and late night recipe-writing. Saturday mornings often involved cycling across London picking up ingredients from the markets/ butchers/ fishmongers. Saturday afternoons were spent cooking or heading back out with a grumpy sigh to get whatever ingredient it is I had forgotten again. Sundays were the best. I would gather my friends round and cook up a feast. They were happy recipe testers, guinea pigs and dishwashers, and I'm at my happiest feeding people.

The final Sunday feast took place at my wonderful agent Emily's place. Her partner Pete's a chef and she herself is one hell of a baker. What that bit meant: A massive kitchen (probably the biggest room in her house) decked with every pot and pan and tool you could need, stacks of cookbooks, and rows of Japanese handcrafted knives hanging neatly on the wall. We also had a great outdoor wood fired oven and little charcoal barbecue in the garden to work with, i.e. my dream come true.

I roped in Sean, my partner-in-crime when it comes to cooking, gardening, foraging or just eating really, and we lugged our mortar and pestles to Emily's early in the morning. I'd left all the barbecue recipes to the end so that we could have a giant smoky feast in summer. The menu was an ambitious one: minced pork stuffed squid with dill nam pla prik, Nyonya grilled quails, sticky soy sauce wings, corn on the cob with Thai basil butter, Malay chopped herb rice, kohlrabi som tum, and coconut sticky rice for dessert. I was a little bit stressed to say the least; the worst part being that I had to look my best with smoke billowing in my face. Susan the photographer was a genius though, and she managed to snap photos of me before I could freeze up awkwardly.

My friends arrived soon after in a merry noisy hungry gaggle, beer bottles in hand. I did finally relax, especially once the food was out and the rain (yes, damn it England) cleared up. It was just like any other Sunday after all– good food, good friends and lots of messy finger licking. And book or not, this was always what cooking was about to me.

Anyway yes that's the good news. The final manuscript's off to the editors, there's much more to go of course, but I'll be watching from the sidelines. I have my weeknights and weekends back so hopefully I can start dusting the cobwebs off this space– the lil' ol' blog that started it all. Who would have thought? :)

A big thank you to Emily (and Pete) for lending us your home and for pulling me into this madness in the first place. To Anna and Juliet my patient food-obsessed editors, and to Alison the designer and the rest of the design team (please make my book beautiful). To Susan and co. for driving from Brighton on a Sunday with gigantic cameras. To Sean the man. To my favourite people for volunteering their stomachs.

All the beautiful photos i.e. first group photo, photo of me dishing up som tum, and my hand reaching for more chicken wings are by Susan Bell. The other hasty iPhone shots from me/ friends.

Related reads:
*A rant on authenticity, and recipe for Kohlrabi Som Tum

Will be keeping the mailing list updated, sign up here if you like!

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Homemade Condensed Milk, and The Easiest No-Churn Rhubarb Ice Cream

I have lived in London long enough to not trust that first day in March when it is irrationally warm. I watch out instead for wild garlic in the fields and the first pink stalks of rhubarb in the markets. For me, the appearance of the earliest spring vegetables is the best indicator that the worst of the miserable months are over.

I got a tip off that the wild garlic's started, so last weekend consisted of a hike round the Heath with Sean (my favourite and only foraging partner), his super dog, and a new friend, fashion blogger Melody. We got back muddy (I'm sorry Melody) and starving, so we easily destroyed in minutes a whole wok of vermicelli fried with shiitake mushrooms, omelette strips and the freshly picked wild garlic. She had her big camera (again, sorry for the mud) and wrote a beautiful blog post about it so you can hop over to hers for more photos.

The next best thing about the change of seasons is the candy pink stalks of rhubarb. With that, I made ice cream (the third best thing about sunnier days).

This is the easiest ice cream you can make. There is no need for a fancy ice cream maker, or an alarm set at 20-minute intervals reminding you to hand-churn the mixture. The secret is condensed milk – a pantry essential in many Asian kitchens. The resulting ice cream might not be as perfectly smooth as a liquid nitrogen-blasted gelato, but it is good– wonderfully rich, creamy, and versatile enough to take on most flavours. It is quite sweet so I usually go for something tart as a contrast. Rhubarb is perfect now, but peaches and berries will be great in the later months.

serves 4-8
2 stalks rhubarb
1 tbsp organic butter
2 tbsp unrefined light brown sugar
600ml organic double cream
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
200ml organic condensed milk*

1. Chop up the rhubarb into small pieces. Cook with butter and sugar over medium heat, stirring once in a while, until the rhubarb is tender. Let cool.
2. Put the double cream and vanilla extract in a large bowl, and beat with an electric whisk until you get stiff peaks. Stir the condensed milk into the cooled rhubarb. Gently mix in a quarter of the whipped cream, then fold in the rest, until well-combined.
3. Pour into a loaf pan and cover with cling film. Freeze until firm, about 6 hours. For easy serving, take out and leave in fridge for 20 minutes or so before scooping.

*When I was in California last year, one of the most amazing discoveries I made was that you can get organic condensed milk at their insanely huge Wholefoods stores. In which case, please don’t waste your time with the following recipe.


Condensed milk is the sweetener of choice for many beverages, like Malaysian teh tarik and Vietnamese iced coffee. In many parts of Asia, where fresh milk is expensive or difficult to come by, condensed milk is seen as a wonderful shelf-stable solution. It might seem silly then, that I am writing a recipe for making your own condensed milk. However, if you, like me, are after the creamy caramel sweetness of condensed milk rather than its cheap convenience, it is definitely worthwhile making your own additive-free version, using milk from healthy cows. 

makes about 1 cup
500ml organic whole milk
200g unrefined light brown cane sugar
1 tbsp organic butter

1. Combine the milk and sugar in a saucepan, and bring to a steady simmer. Lower the heat so that it is barely simmering, and let cook for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally to prevent the milk from forming a 'skin' on top.
2. Stir the butter into the reduced milk mixture, before letting it cool completely. It should thicken further. If a 'skin' forms as it cools, simply lift off and discard. Pour into a clean jar and store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. Drizzle over toast/ add into coffees, teas and ice cream of course.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

'Agak Agak' Glass Noodle Salad with Roast Pork Belly

Sorry for the silence, the past month has been a mad non-stop string of projects and flights. I was in Singapore the past couple of weeks for Chinese New Year and a much-needed breather. As with all my visits home, I was treated like a little princess and fed like a rather large king. The attention from my parents have been almost embarrassing, but I can't deny I haven't enjoyed every moment of it. I wake up to the smell of mum frying vermicelli with garlic chives and last night's leftover braised pork, and go to sleep happy with slow-brewed tonic soup in my tummy.

In a bid to be less of a pig, I've been trying to learn more recipes from Mum, but eventually, I gave up trying to get cooking times and quantities from her. Instead I just watched. And smelt. And tasted.

At the heart of all Asian home-cooking, is a spirit of 'agak agak' (estimation). A recipe from my aunt might look something like this: Chicken – depends how much you want to eat; shallots– 10 to 20, depending how much chicken; chillies – to your tolerance level; sugar – if you like it sweet, add more.I used to fuss a lot about getting every part of a dish perfect, but now, I've found myself cooking more and more like the older women in my family– relying less and less on tablespoons and timers.

Cooking is a lot more fun and creative when you aren't restricted to a set ingredients list and method. Some of my best meals have been made from the sorry bits I discover in a late night fridge forage. A recent NY Times article on reducing food waste also made a pretty good point: A lot of kitchen waste comes from people blindly cooking from a recipe– so learning to cook intuitively also works out to be more sustainable and friendly on the pocket. As much as I love flicking through cookbooks and poring over recipes on the internet, I think every home cook should learn about techniques, flavours and ingredients, and aim to get to the point where they are comfortable enough to cook intuitively from what they have.

And with that said, here is an 'agak agak' recipe for a Thai-style glass noodle salad yum soon sen – this one, a glorious mess of leftover roast pork belly, shredded rainbow carrots, cucumbers, and fresh herbs. 


2 bundles of dried glass noodles 

large handful of crunchy vegetables
  rainbow carrots, julienned
  cucumber, julienned
small handful of fresh herbs
  Thai basil leaves 
crunchy stuff 
  roasted peanuts
  leftover crispy roast pork belly
  fried shallots

  1-2 tbsp fish sauce
  lime juice (about 2 limes)
  urefined palm or light brown sugar
  small handful dried shrimp
  thinly sliced shallots
  chopped bird's eye chillies, to tolerance level

1. Pour boiling water over glass noodles, cover, and let soak till the noodles are pliable and turn translucent. You can pinch a bit off to test the texture- it should be soft but slightly chewy. Drain and refresh in cold water.
2. Stir together the fish sauce and lime juice. You might need more or less fish sauce depending on the brand and age of your bottle and how juicy your limes are. Taste, then add the sugar. It should lead with sour, followed by salty, and should not taste sweet at all; the sugar is only there to round out the flavours and take away some of the heat from the chillies. Add the dried shrimps and chillies, crushing them lightly with a pestle or something heavy. Taste and adjust again as the dried shrimp can be quite salty. Finally, add the shallots; the acidic dressing will take away some of the raw sharpness.
3. Combine the glass noodles, vegetables and herbs pour the dressing over. Toss well and let stand for at least 15 minutes for the noodles to absorb the flavours before serving. Mix in the crunchy stuff just before serving, so they stay crunchy. Crush/ sprinkle with extra peanuts and herbs. 

You can definitely play around with the ingredients – look into your pantry, fridge and/ or garden. What you're creating is your own perfect balance of flavours (sour and refreshing lime, salty pungent fish sauce, and just enough chilli heat to wake you up) and textures (slippery noodles, crisp vegetables and fragrant crunchy things). 


On my trip back to Singapore, I also visited Super Farmers, an old friend Cynthea's urban farming and cooking startup. We made a very similar noodle salad, but played around with local greens, pickled some foraged sour fruit, and infused the sauce with crushed herbal flowers. She wrote a little blog post about that if you're curious.

For my ultimate crispy roast pork belly recipe, get on the mailing list!

Related reads
Super Farmers Blog: Foraging with Shu
NY Times: Starve a Landfill (Efficiency in the kitchen to reduce food waste)

Other simple agak agak recipes
Wild Green Pancakes and Any Flower Syrup
Kohlrabi Som Tum
Bittergourd Fish Noodle Soup, and what I learnt about 'perfect' soups in Hanoi
Chinese steamed eggs

Friday, 30 January 2015

'Vegan, Gluten-free' Kale Fried Hor Fun, and my 2 cents on diets

I planned this to go out at the start of January, when words like 'detox', 'diet' and '(insert latest criminal ingredient)-free' are flying around. Work caught up with me though, so here I am posting this at the end of the month, hopefully when people are starting to falter a little bit on that perfect New Year New You diet.

I am a big health freak, though many of the green-juicing, bike-cycling ashtanga yogis out there would probably raise an eyebrow at the way I eat. (No offence, I do all of the above too.) We can generally agree that those who survive mainly on fast food, takeaways, and microwaveable meals could improve their eating habits. But beyond that, things get confusing. I don't think I've admitted it on this blog yet, but like many health-obsessed teenage girls out there, I've yo yo-ed through a few of these diets myself. There was a period in my life when I was experimenting with the 'healthiest' way to eat and I have done them all– from paleo to raw vegan–and only ended up unhappy, unhealthy, and hungry for whatever it was I was cutting out. It took me a while to end up back at square one, eating the food that I grew up with. I eat everything now and most of all, I love what I eat.

It's because I love food so much that I insist it should come from a real source, made or grown by people who actually care about it; and if it does come off a shelf (still need my fish sauce and rice noodles #asian), to have real ingredients and as little ingredients as possible. Beyond that, there are no hard rules. I've rambled more about how I aim to eat most of the time when I first started the blog (and when I was more anal) on the How to Eat and Golden Rules page, if you can stomach it. But there are days when I just need a fat slice of chocolate cake and that's fine; because stressing out about unhealthy food is more unhealthy than just eating it.

Before I go on, I would like to say I'm not pushing for an ideal way of eating. I have plenty of friends who don't eat meat, friends who don't eat carbs, and friends who don't eat beyond 500 calories two days of the week– and I've eaten some great food prepared by them. I think there are lots of great takeaways from all diets, but I don't subscribe to the idea of restricting calories and/or any food groups. I do think everybody's body is different and it's up to you to work out what makes you feel best.

This fried hor fun recipe was something I made for an Indian friend who's grown up vegetarian due to religion. It was through her that I learnt a lot about natural sources of plant protein from vegetables like kale and sprouted/ fermented beans (during my vegan phase). It is gluten-free and vegan but I would rather not think of it as such. It was delicious. And that was it.

with chill and miso
Serves 2
300g fresh hor fun (fresh flat rice noodles)
1 bunch of kale
2 handfuls of beansprouts
1 tbsp chilli garlic paste (see below)
1 tbsp white miso 
1 tbsp good, naturally fermented soy sauce
2 tbsp kecap manis*
3 tbsp groundnut oil
4 shallots, minced
1 tsp sesame oil

1.  Rinse the hor fun and drain well. Rinse the beansprouts and if you can be bothered, trim them.
2. Combine the miso, chilli garlic paste, light soy sauce and kecap manis.
3. Heat the oil in a wok until smoking hot then add the shallots to fry, stirring quickly to prevent them from burning. Once fragrant, add the hor fun and kale and stir-fry for a few minutes, till the kale just begins to wilt. Pour in the seasoning mixture and stir well to make sure everything is well-coated with the sauces. Continue stir-frying for 4-5 minutes till the noodles are lightly charred.
4. Add the beansprouts and sesame oil and give everything a few final tosses to combine. Cook for another minute or so; the beansprouts should still be crunchy. Serve immediately.

*This is sweet dark soy sauce. The range available here is very limited and most of them have nasty additives. I cracked it by combining equal quantities of good soy sauce and molasses. 


This is a good one for the pantry. I make loads and use for cooking/ dipping.

makes about 1/2 cup
150g red Serrano chillies
4 cloves garlic
1 1/2 tbsp white rice vinegar
big pinches of salt
2 tbsp unrefined brown sugar

Place all the ingredients in the food processor and pulse till you get a coarse texture. Smell it right now- it should make you cry. Bring everything to a boil in a pot, then lower the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for about 5 minutes or until it no longer smells raw. Season with salt and sugar, adjusting quantities to taste. Let cool, then pour into jar or squeezy bottles. Keeps for a month in the fridge.

There is a version of this in every Asian country– fresh rice noodles, tossed into a wok with aromatics and a blend of salty, sweet and sometimes sour and spicy sauces. Instead of using tamarind/ fish sauce (a la pad thai), or oyster sauce (ala the Cantonese), I've gone for a combination of fermented soy sauces/ paste.

This recipe is incredibly versatile, what I like to think of as a 'base recipe'. Come summer I'll probably swop the kale for sweet sugar snap peas and beans. You can also change things up by using sambal tumis belachan instead of chilli garlic paste. On days when I feel like some meat, I'll add thin slices of pork shoulder or beef to the dish, marinated first in the seasoning mixture with a little dash of rice wine. I might even fry this with a healthy dose of lard. And it will be no less 'healthy' or delicious. 

More health reads
How to Eat (listen to your mummy)
My Golden Rules (how I aim to eat mostly)
Detoxing is a myth (via Guardian)
Saturated fat is healthy (via Independent)

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Brussels Sprouts in Oyster Sauce, Gula Granola, and yes it's Christmas

I am writing this before I get onto a plane headed for L.A., where I'm spending Christmas with the Boy's family. I promise to keep the gloating about Californian sunshine and kale to a minimum while I'm there, but WHEE.

This is likely the last post for the year of 2014, a ridiculous whirlwind of a year that has been nothing short of wonderful. I’ve spent a good part of this year visiting some parts of the world I’ve always wanted to visit; bummed around in Singapore a lot– held some popups and a kimchi workshop on a rooftop farm but mostly just tailed Mum in the kitchen; done a handful of art direction, food styling and illustration projects I’m really proud of; come back to London as a creative director for an organic company I like the values of; gone foraging and cooked up a storm for 50 with a dog and her chilli-crazed dad and done the same-ish in New York; and I still have a few things up my sleeves I can’t yet share but are pretty damn exciting.

Amidst all that, it has been crazy keeping up with the blog, so I’m very happily surprised to have people still check back. I’m definitely still blabbing on on this lil’ ol’ page. I know no one reads blogs anymore; there are too many words to scroll through and it is much more fun scrolling and salivating through food photos on instagram, but it is nice to be able to sit down and let your photos stretch beyond a square and your thoughts ramble beyond a tiny textbox.

Today’s rectangular photos and rambling thoughts are decidedly Christmassy.

There are two vegetables that almost have to be on the Christmas table: (roast) potatoes and Brussels sprouts. One is a universal favourite, while the other is a little tricky to swallow for some people. It’s the one with the bad reputation I have a recipe and a tip for today.

Scientists have found it is actually genetic, which must be a relief for Brussels sprout haters subjected to years of “ah you’ve just not had it the right way, let me introduce you to my recipe which I swear everyone loves”. I personally love the things and can pop them, simply steamed, into my mouth like popcorn, but I understand how annoying it must be; I feel the same every time I admit I hate macaroons, though it is probably not genetic in this case. (“Oh but have you tried the one at the original Pierre Herme store in Paris?” Yes I have.)

That said, I have a recipe here today for sprouts. I figured it would be a timely one, and it is quite likely the sprout-haters might need to serve the terrible things to others as part of festive tradition. For those who want to give them a go, here’s my top tip: Brussel sprouts need fat. Roast them in olive oil, slice them thinly and saute with butter, or fry them in chicken fat– any of this will help tame the acrid musky taste of these little brassicas.

Greens stir-fried with garlic and oyster sauce is a very common dish found both in homes and on the streets of Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, and any Southeast Asian country with a Chinese community. I figured why not do the same with these little buggers.

Serves 2-4
250g Brussels sprouts
salt, for blanching
2 tbsp groundnut oil
8 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp good, traditionally fermented oyster sauce
1 tsp good fish sauce
1 tsp of unrefined light palm sugar or light brown sugar
60ml water

1. Wash and trim the Brussels sprouts. Halve any large ones. Blanch them in a pot of boiling salted water till they turn bright green, about 20 seconds, then drain and set aside to air dry.
2. Smash the garlic with the flat side of your knife but leave them whole in their skins. Heat oil in a wok or a large pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and stir-fry until aromatic and golden.
3. Turn the heat up and add the Brussels sprouts. Stir-fry on high heat until just tender, about 2 minutes. Add the oyster sauce, fish sauce, and sugar and continue stir-frying for 30 seconds. Add the water, bring to a boil and cook until the liquid has reduced slightly, about 2 minutes. 

Serve hot, usually with rice of course but it could maybe go with potatoes and turkey too, just this once.

It's hard for vegetables not to taste good when tossed in a hot wok till smoky, savoury, salty, sweet and garlicky. I like to leave the garlic whole in their skins so that they don’t burn as easily; plus, I get the bonus of roasted garlic cloves. For those still not convinced, you could try using sprout tops which are more tender and akin to spring greens. This recipe is a versatile one not just for Brussels sprouts but most vegetables really, or even a mix of vegetables; just blanch the hardier ones first before tossing them into the wok.


More Christmas ideas:

Edible gift ideas:
Nyonya achar (spicy Peranakan vegetable pickle)

The best sort of presents are edible ;) This is a batch of organic granola I made with gula melaka, coconut oil and cinnamon last night. Gula melaka, for the uninitiated, is an unrefined dark coconut palm sugar that tastes like burnt toffee. Ho ho ho.

Recipe for those on the mailing list, get on it.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Turkey beyond drunken kebabs, and a Smoky Aubergine Dip

It's been a whirlwind past month. I'm sorry I haven't blogged in a while, but I promise it is for good, delicious distractions. I spent the past week stuffing my face with aubergines– roasted, pureed, stewed, braised and topped with lamb... you name it, I've probably had it.  I've also scored a stack of gorgeous handmade pottery to add to my already groaning shelf of plates and bowls. (I wish I collected more portable things but there you go. Silly food stylists.)

Turkey has always been one of those countries I really wanted to visit, and when my sister got sent on an exchange program to one of the universities in Istanbul, I jumped at the chance of free lodging (and of course the chance to see one of my favourite people from home). And the place did not disappoint. I knew Turkey was a food mecca, but my perception of Turkish food hardly ventured beyond the gloriously greasy doner kebabs of drunken late nights.

What I've had these past few days instead, were wonderful things like lamb-stuffed quince and perfectly spiced lentil soup from a humble homestyle restaurant with daily-changing menus; fragrant sesame-studded simits (Turkish 'bagels'), freshly baked from an 80 year-old wood-fired oven in a quaint little cafe; and up in the snowy hills of Cappadocia, gozlemes– flaky hand-rolled dough filled with spinach then grilled till crisp and fragrant with the smell of charcoal. The food was always simple but delicious, and served with a generous smile and eyes that lit up when I utter the only Turkish word I know, tesekkuler (which I pronounce wrong).

In my last days, we made friends with one hell of a character. Yilmaz drove us into forbidden valleys, changing gears while guzzling beer and smoking cigarettes, all single-handedly (quite literally, he broke one arm in a fight). We almost died a few times over trying to keep up with him as he happily climbed up slippery muddy slopes in the pouring rain, but the view was so breathtaking that it made it all worthwhile. On learning that we love menemen, a Turkish dish of eggs lightly scrambled with tomatoes and peppers,  he invited us to his place for dinner– where he cheekily watched and directed us from the couch while we cooked. He then pulled out a couple of aubergines from the fireplace, and gleefully instructed us to scoop the smoky flesh out from underneath the blackened and blistered skins while gently mocking my sister that she probably would never be able to find a Turkish husband with her skills. 

Like I said, one hell of a character you cannot help but love.

Yilmaz' aubergine dip was ridiculously simple– charred aubergines, butter and salt. This is a version I really like from a Turkish friend that's slightly fancier, but in no way fussy. You might not be able to find locally-grown aubergines as easily now that it's November, but this is a keeper for the summer months or for those living in perpetually sunny lands (Singapore!).


2 medium aubergines
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp ground coriander
lemon juice, to taste
sea salt, to taste
1 handful coriander leaves (optional but I couldn't help it, #asian)

1. Lay the aubergines directly across an open fire. The barbecue would be great but it is not exactly summer here, so you can do so across lit gas rings. Once they have blackened on one side, about 30 seconds, use a pair of tongs to turn them, until they are charred and black all over. You can also cook the aubergines in a very hot oven for 20 minutes, turning to the grill function for the last 5 minutes and flipping often.
2. Once cooked, place the aubergines in a bowl, cover, and leave to steam. When cool enough to handle, peel away the skin and scoop the soft flesh into a sieve to drain for 20 minutes.
3. Chop the flesh up roughly and mash with a fork, mixing in the garlic, olive oil, coriander, lemon juice and season with salt. You can puree this in a blender if you want a smoother dip. Stir in the chopped coriander leaves to finish and enjoy with warm grilled pita or whatever you fancy dipping.

I'll be back. (For more plates. And those beautiful Turkish carpets, when I one day have my own home.)

Ama's Cafe- near the bus station in Cappadocia. A really sweet husband and wife team serving up homecooked food and those gozlemes.

For an exclusive menemen recipe by Yilmaz the man himself, join the mailing list :)