Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Bento box lunch

Cute, creative and fun, bento boxes are gaining popularity worldwide as an alternative packed meal option in places once dominated exclusively by sandwich lunches. It does require a bit more effort to make, but I highly recommend making your own bento.

Components of bento can be a combination of anything you want. My bento inspirations are drawn from ekiben, bento lunch boxes sold in Japanese train stations, so I, a bento novice, apologise for it not being the most authentic. Some of the components I tend to include are onigiri (rice ball with fillings, sometimes wrapped in seaweed), egg roll, chicken or prawn katsu (breaded, deep fried meat), salad, rice and yakisoba (fried noodles).

This bento has
  • tuna mayonnaise onigiri
  • egg roll
  • prawn katsu
  • salad

The recipe below is for two servings of bento.


Tuna mayonnaise onigiri
1 cup short grain rice
1½ cup water
Nori, or seaweed sheets
½ can tuna
1-2 tablespoon Japanese mayonnaise (contains MSG, but tastes richer than regular mayonnaise), or regular mayonaise

Egg roll
2 eggs
Pinch of salt
Oil for frying

Prawn katsu
6 prawns, remove all the shells except tail, de-vein
1 egg, beaten
Some flour
Some panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) or regular breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper

Cherry tomatoes
Salad leaves
Cucumber slices

Wash and soak the rice in the given amount of water for about five minutes before cooking in a pot, or preferably in a rice cooker. After the rice is cooked, season it with salt while it’s hot. Drain a tin of tuna and mix with the desired amount of mayonnaise. Drape a ladle with a large piece of cling film and spoon some rice onto it, followed by a spoonful of tuna filling. Top it with a bit more rice, fold the cling film over and shape the rice into a tight, triangular form (or any shape you desire). Remove the rice ball from the cling film and wrap the onigiri with a strip of nori. Repeat to make 4-6 rice balls, depending on how big they are.

The egg rolls are normally made with sugar, but since I prefer it savoury, I’ll be jotting down the way I do it. Beat the eggs with a pinch of salt. Heat some oil in a frying pan over a low heat. Pour a small amount of egg mixture, swirl the pan around to cover the base of the pan. The thin omelette that forms is folded (to about 2” wide), left in the pan as a little more egg mixture is poured in. Repeat the process again until all the egg is used up. Then, remove the egg roll from heat and cut into 1” thick pieces.

Season the prawns with salt and pepper. Dust them in some flour before dipping them in beaten egg, followed by panko or breadcrumbs. Press firmly to make the breadcrumbs stick onto the prawns. Deep or shallow fry the katsu on both sides until golden.

Wash and dry the salad before assembly. Have fun assembling your own funky bento lunch!

Tip: A small amount of wasabi in the onigiri adds to the taste.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Mixed Shish Kebabs

We had an impromptu barbecue dinner last night, making the most of Britain’s precious sunny, warm evenings. This is one of the quickest things you can knock up to go on the grill, without compromising on scrumptiousness!

10 bamboo/wooden skewers, soaked in water for at least 10 minutes (it keeps the skewers from burning when grilling)
1 large (or 2 medium) chicken breast meat, cleaned and cut into 1” cubes
4 large spring onions, cut into 2” long pieces
1 red pepper, cut into chunks (about 2” in size)
1 yellow pepper, cut into chunks (about 2” in size)
10 small/medium mushrooms, cleaned
100 g halloumi cheese, cut into 20 little cubes
About 2 tablespoon olive oil, more or less as preferred
A pinch of dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon crushed black pepper

Marinade (for the chicken)
3 tablespoon teriyaki sauce
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 desert spoon whisky (optional, but adds a smoky flavour that works very well with the smokiness of charcoal grilling)
Pinch of white pepper powder

Coat the chicken pieces with the marinade ingredients and let it sit for at least 10 minutes. Meanwhile, the vegetables and halloumi cubes are tossed in salt, black pepper, olive oil and oregano.

Skewer the vegetables, cheese and chicken pieces together and grill over charcoal fire. Cooking time will depend on how hot your grill is, but it’s worth noting that these skewers will require turning every couple of minutes and will cook quickly. Enjoy the skewers on their own or wrap them around toasted pita bread and drizzle over your favourite sauces.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Chicken Katsu Curry

Chicken Katsu Curry is undeniably one of Japan's more successful exports to the UK. Although Paul and I tend to lean towards sushi and more exotic dishes when we have Japanese food, his home-made katsu curry is excellent!

He has kindly agreed to share his recipe:


For the curry:
½ large onion, diced
5 garlic cloves, minced
1.5 cm ginger, grated
2 green chillies, chopped finely
4 medium carrots, diced
 pints chicken stock
2 tablespoon plain flour
1 tablespoon curry powder
2 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon fenugreek

For the chicken:
2 medium chicken breasts
100 g Japanese panko bread crumbs
2 tablespoon plain flour
1 large egg
Salt and pepper

Fry the onions, garlic, ginger and chillies in some oil in a medium pot at a high heat for one minute. Add the diced carrots and place a lid on the pot. Reduce the heat to medium low and sweat the frying ingredients for ten minutes. Remove the lid, add the flour, curry powder (I like to use a relatively spicy Indian meat curry powder but any powder you enjoy will work fine), cumin, fennel and fenugreek seeds to the sweating carrots. Allow the spices and powder to fry for one minute, then add the chicken stock and stir while the mixture starts to boil. Stir in the soy sauce and honey and leave the curry to simmer for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, pummel and tenderise the chicken breast with a meat mallet (or a rolling pin, wrapped in cling film if you don't want chicken juices all over the rolling pin), cut into pieces approximately 5 cm across and season with salt and pepper. Break the egg in a shallow bowl and beat. Dip the chicken pieces, one at a time, first in the plain flour, then in the beaten egg and finally in the panko breadcrumbs.  Press the breadcrumbs firmly onto the meat. Shallow fry the coated chicken until golden brown on both sides.

Serve the katsu and curry with sticky short grain rice and enjoy.

Chicken katsu curry served with salad

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Mee Goreng Basah

Mee goreng basah, or literally, wet fried noodles are not simply a soupy version of mee goreng. In Malaysia, I found that they harder to come by (perhaps I have been looking in the wrong places), and are available in Malay restaurants more than anywhere else.

This dish uses the thinner variety of yellow noodles and are served in a generous amount of gravy (a concoction of various soy sauces) and vegetables. Have fun cooking and slurping this up (avoid wearing white when consuming this- you’ll thank me later)!

200 g thin yellow noodles, fresh or dried. If using dried noodles, soften them up as per instructions on the packet and save some of the starchy hot water that you used- this can be used for the gravy later.
½ onion, cut into wedges
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
2 Thai green chillies, or similarly hot variety. Skip this if you don’t want it spicy
2 slices of ginger
1 large tomato, cut into six wedges
1 large carrot, julienned
4-5 mushrooms, quartered
8-10 large prawns, shelled and de-veined (I’ve left the tail on)
A dash of salt and white pepper
1 teaspoon corn flour mixed with 25 ml water to form corn starch
Some fresh coriander leaves for garnish

2 teaspoon soy sauce
3 tablespoon dark soy sauce (very viscous, caramelised flavour- not salty)
2 tablespoon sweet soy sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
About 100 ml water or starch water from softening the noodles if you are using the dried variety

Heat some oil in a wok. Then sauté the onion, ginger and chillies over low heat to release their flavours. Turn the heat to medium high, add the garlic, mushroom and carrot to the wok and cook for a minute. Pour all the gravy ingredients into the wok along with the prawns and tomato and let it simmer.  Add the cornstarch to thicken the gravy before stirring in the noodles and seasonings. Heat the noodles through and serve them up (should be enough for two people) and garnish with coriander leaves.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Prawn Fritters (Kuih Udang)

Prawn fritters, another regular feature in kuih stands all over Malaysia, is perhaps not one of the more difficult kuih to make, but it does require a quick pair of hands and a dose of bravado when it comes to deep frying. Otherwise, it is a delicious tea time snack, for when you are feeling a little too indulgent to settle for anchovy fritters (cucur ikan bilis).

This kuih looks like a baseball sized fritter with a whole prawn stuck on one side (head and all), served smothered in homemade chilli sauce, although any bottled chilli sauce is a perfectly good substitute (I’ve also left the prawn heads off).

170 g plain flour
1 teaspoon dried yeast
1 desert spoon sugar
25 ml warm water
1 teaspoon baking powder
230 ml water
8 medium sized prawns, shelled and de-veined, but leave the tail on
2 tablespoon chopped Chinese chives. Alternately, you may use regular chives or spring onions.
1 cup of chopped bean sprouts
1-2 red chillies, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
A drop of yellow food colouring

Mix the yeast and sugar in warm water until they are dissolved and leave aside for 15 minutes. When the yeast mixture looks frothy, it is ready to be used.

Whisk in water into a bowl containing the flour and yeast mixture. Stir well, but gently to form a smooth batter without lumps. Mince two of the prawns; add it to the batter along with chives, chillies, bean sprouts and food colouring. Let the batter sit for 30 minutes.

When tiny bubbles arise from the batter, season with a dash of pepper and salt and stir evenly. Heat up a deep pan of oil. When the oil is hot enough for frying*, scoop a ladle of batter, scrape off the excess at the bottom of the ladle, and place a whole prawn on top of the batter. Gently lower this ladle into the frying pan and allow the fritter to fry for a minute. Using a large metal spoon, separate the fritter from the ladle and cook the fritter on both sides until golden. Remove the cooked fritters and drain excess oil off with some kitchen roll. Repeat the process for the rest of the batter. This batch should make six fritters. Serve whole or quartered, with some chilli sauce for dipping.

To reduce the amount of oil in deep frying, it pays to use a small, deep pan.

* Test the oil with a drop of batter- if it starts frying immediately, the oil is hot enough for deep frying.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Spicy Pancakes

Spicy pancake is one of the dishes that I replied upon during poorer days in university. This humble yet yummy source of carbohydrates is easy to prepare and costs next to nothing. It takes minutes to make, and can be eaten on its own or with leftover curry as snack, lunch* or dinner*.

1 cup flour
1 cup water
1/3 onion, sliced
2 fresh or dried chillies, sliced
2 stalks of curry leaves
1 teaspoon spice mixture (fenugreek, fennel seeds and mustard seeds)
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon oil

Whisk the flour, water and salt together until they form a smooth batter. Fry the rest of the ingredients in oil over low heat for about three minutes to flavour the oil. Pour the frying mixture in the batter and mix well again.

Pour about a ladleful of batter in a hot non-stick pan, swirl it around to coat the base of the pan and let it cook for two minutes. Turn it over and cook for another two minutes. 

Cook on both sides of the pancake

Plate up and enjoy while it’s hot.

Spicy pancake served with egg curry 
Tip: The batter will keep for 2-3 days in the fridge.

* Carbohydrates alone do not constitute a balanced diet. This dish is best supplemented with other protein and vegetables.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Tandoori Chicken

One of the most popular North Indian dishes, tandoori chicken roasting is all about flavour sealed in high heat clay oven cooking, yet maintaining the tenderness of the meat. The meat is marinated for long hours, preferably overnight in a fragrant blend of spices and later cooked in the oven reaching 480ºC.

As regular ovens do not reach such high temperatures, I took an alternative approach: medium temperature and longer cooking time to keep the meat from drying out. I did, however, cheat and use a prepared tandoori spice mix instead of making it from scratch. Here’s how to prepare the chicken:
The pre-mixed tandoori masala I used for this recipe

2 chicken legs (you can use breast meat too, but it will require shorter cooking time)
1 tablespoon tandoori mix (pictured above)
1 cup thick yogurt 
A sprinkle of salt
Olive oil

Mint sauce
1 bunch of fresh mint, chopped
½ onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves
A slice of ginger
1 green chilli (optional)
1 teaspoon coriander powder
2 tablespoon of olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
sesame seed for garnish

Stir in the yogurt and tandoori mix powder together to form the marinade. Coat the chicken meat well in that paste and leave both meat and marinade in a freezer bag in a fridge overnight.

Set the temperature of the oven to 160 ºC. Sprinkle some salt over the marinated chicken and massage it in. Line a baking tray with foil, place the chicken pieces on the tray and lightly drizzle some olive oil over them. Bake for about 90-110 minutes, or until there are clear juices running from the chicken, whichever earliest.

Meanwhile, blend all the mint sauce ingredients together. Season according to your taste. Garnish with a sprinkle of sesame seeds.

I served this with garlic naan and a cooling cucumber raita. Sprinkle minced garlic and lightly drizzle olive oil over (store bought) naan bread and heat it in the oven for a minute or two. For the raita, stir in some runny yogurt with chopped cucumber.
Tandoori chicken with garlic naan, cucumber raita, mango lassi and mint sauce

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Clay Pot Chicken Rice

Clay pot cooking usually uses unglazed clay pot and is long believed to produce flavourful results. Clay pot chicken rice is a popular item in the food courts* in Malaysia. While more accurate recipes call for the Chinese sausage to flavour the rice in this dish, I am using dried shrimps (and glazed clay pot).

The thick soy sauce used in this recipe is a type of soy sauce that is very viscous, mildly sweet (not salty) and has a caramelised taste, instead of being a darker version of the regular salty soy sauce. If you can’t find this ingredient, you can substitute it with sweet soy sauce (again, it’s sweet instead of salty).


3 chicken thighs, de-boned and diced
½ onion, diced
1 desert spoon of sliced ginger
5-6 dried or fresh mushroom, sliced
2 teaspoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon dark, thick soy sauce
1 teaspoon mirin
¾ teaspoon pure sesame oil
A dash of white pepper
Spring onions, chopped
1 cup of rice
1½ - 2 cups of hot water

Soy sauce
Minced garlic
Chopped bird’s eye chilli

Marinade the chicken in soy sauces, ginger, mirin, white pepper and sesame oil. Fry the onion and mushroom over very low heat in the clay pot. When these ingredients are softened and lightly browned, add the chicken and marinade into the pot. Cook for five minutes, or until the chicken is 80% cooked. Place the contents in a bowl for later.

Wash the rice, drain and add the rice and hot water to the clay pot. The rice is cooked over medium-low heat with the lid on, adding water if needed. When it is nearly cooked, the chicken and gravy is poured onto the rice. Put the lid on and turn the heat to very low. The rice should be ready to eat in five minutes, sprinkled with chopped spring onions, served with garlic and/or chillies doused in soy sauce.

* Food Courts: An open plan customer seating area shared between several small food stalls. They are quite commonly found in shopping malls in Asia. The advantage of this type of eating establishment is that a group of people dining together can have Chinese, Indian, Malay, Western food etc. at the same time.These days, the list often includes cuisine from all over the globe, more popularly Japanese, Korean and Italian.

Tip: Always gradually heat or cool the clay pot to prevent them from cracking.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Dosai in London

Any dosai fans who find themselves in London should totally check out Chennai Dosa in Wembley (529 High Road, Wembley, Middlesex HA0 2DH). It is a very reasonably priced eatery with authentic yummy food!

If you're lucky, a group of six or more may enjoy their collosal offering: The 5' Family Dosa!

                               My friends and I savouring the brief moment when the dosai was whole.

Crispy dosai served with a variety of chutneys and dips

Friday, 6 July 2012

Rice Porridge (Bubur Nasi)

Rice porridge, sometimes called congee is one of the many comfort foods which are also available from street food vendors. Rice, being an easily digestible food, when overcooked into porridge form is also suitable infants who are being introduced to solid food and those who are feeling unwell. 

Its origins may have been as a peasant food, where a handful of rice can stretch further to feed a whole family when cooked into a gruel form. These days however, it has shed that humble image and established itself as traditional, hearty and tasty home-cooked meal.

The porridge I make is served with spicy dried anchovies and choy sum in soy.

Rice porridge
1 cup of white rice, washed
3 cups of water
½ teaspoon salt

Anchovy side
100g dried anchovies (cleaned, if using larger variety)
½ onion, sliced
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1 tablespoon olive oil

Choy Sum in Soy
4 heads of choy sum, sliced lengthwise at the thicker stems. Alternately, you can use pak choy
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons soy sauce

Add all the rice porridge ingredients in a pot and let it cook over low heat. Keep the lid on. The rice needs to overcook until the grains are very soft. Add water if necessary.
Fry the onions and anchovies in the oil for a minute. Sprinkle the chilli powder and coat well. Fry until the anchovies are crispy and take them off the heat.

Sauté the garlic in a pan, immediately add the vegetables and soy. Simmer for two to three minutes, just enough to wilt the leaves and tenderise the stems. It should be ready to serve in a minute.

Tuck in and enjoy!

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Oyster Mixed Vegetables

Try this vegetable recipe for a perfect accompaniment for your rice and noodle dishes. For a vegetarian option, replace the oyster sauce with Lee Kum Kee’s Vegetarian Stir-Fry Sauce. The vegetable sizes advised below (chunks, slices, wedges etc) are smaller for those which take longer to cook. This allows all the vegetables to cook at relatively the same rate.

1 head of broccoli, cut into florets
1 carrot, sliced
1 green pepper, cut into chunks
5-6 fresh or dried* mushrooms, sliced
½ onion, cut into wedges
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon soy sauce
A dash of white pepper
Olive oil

The onion and garlic are sautéed in ½ tablespoon of olive oil for a minute. Add all the vegetables, stir and cover with a lid for 3 minutes over medium high heat.

Season the vegetables with the sauces and white pepper. Remove from heat when the carrots are 80% cooked. This dish tastes better if the vegetables still has a little crunch left in them, so try and avoid overcooking them. Enjoy while they're hot.

*Soak the dried mushrooms before cooking