Quick and Easy Potato Wedges

When I first moved to Australia, it seemed to me that Australians ate some rather strange things. There was that strange, incredibly salty, unappetisingly-coloured spread called Vegemite. Then there was the funny powder they sprinked over their French fries called ‘chicken salt’. Huh?

So when I was first introduced to deep-fried potato wedges dipped in an unlikely combination of sour cream and sweet chilli sauce, my first reaction was another, “What?” But after the first bite of piping-hot potato chip contrasted with the tart flavour of sour cream and tangy chilli, I was immediately hooked.

I soon learnt there’s nothing more comforting on a cold winter’s night than a bowl of hot potato wedges. Mmm, carbs. Better still, the supermarkets’ freezer section stocked bags of the stuff, ready to be heated up in the oven.

Unfortunately I found the frozen wedges a bit pricey as I was living in near-poverty as a university student. Besides, I reasoned, I shouldn’t be paying that much for sliced potatoes mixed with some flavouring and spices. But what do you do when you need to feed a new-found food addiction?

You get creative. As the saying goes, Necessity is the mother of Invention. Or in my case, re-invention.
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Greek-Style Roast Chicken

Sometimes the best-tasting food is the simplest. My culinary forte is South-East Asian cuisine, and as a result I often get caught up with complicated recipes requiring a plethora of spices and condiments. Recently, I’ve been learning that food doesn’t always need a lot of ingredients and hours of preparation time in order to taste good. Rather, a simple recipe can be equally sublime with the right combination of fresh, tasty ingredients.

A prime example is this Greek-Style Roast Chicken, which only has five main ingredients: chicken, olive oil, lemon juice, oregano and salt.
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Tofu and Vegetable Noodles

These days I’m a big fan of quick, one-pot (or pan) meals. With a full-time corporate career, I have little time and energy to prepare the intricate meals I used to enjoy. So I often find myself making quick stir-fries that can be thrown together in about half an hour, like this vegetarian noodle dish.

This noodle dish features three main ingredients: fresh Hokkien noodles, tofu and Asian greens. It’s easy and simple enough to whip up on a weeknight, without sacrificing on taste.
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Sweet Potato and Mushroom Pilaf

I believe that food not only provides us with sustenance, but memories as well. For instance, some of us might associate barbecued ribs with a favourite grandparent, because Grandpa used to make the best ribs during your childhood.

For me, this Sweet Potato and Mushroom Pilaf kept me going during a period of unemployment a few years ago. It was a particularly tough time in my life, and I was eating canned food and other very basic foods in order to make my rent payments. During that time, I cooked this dish fairly often as the ingredients were cheap and I didn’t have to feel like I was merely surviving with baked beans on toast.

Thankfully, I’m now in a much better position financially, but I still like to cook this dish whenever I’m pressed for time. It’s quick to prepare, tastes great, and since it’s a one-pot meal, cleanup is straightforward. And whenever I make this dish, I give thanks that I’ve come a long way since the first time I made it.
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Vietnamese Ginger Chicken

It’s now early summer here in Australia and the herbs I grow in pots outside my flat are beginning to grow again. My Vietnamese coriander has been especially prolific, sending out new leaves everywhere. I felt it was time to give it a light pruning, and harvest some leaves at the same time.

I decided to try out a recipe from Mai Pham’s excellent cookbook New Flavours of the Vietnamese Table. Ginger Chicken looked straightforward enough, so I substituted the spring onions and coriander in the original recipe with my Vietnamese coriander.

The resulting dish was a sublime blend of fish sauce, sugar, chilli and a hint of pepper from the Vietnamese coriander. I think I made the gravy a bit more watery than it should be, but it didn’t matter as I was slurping it up like soup. It’s a good thing I live alone as I forgot most of my table manners while eating this dish.
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Malay-style Okra in Rempah

As stated earlier, I’m a big fan of home-made rempah (spice paste) made in a mortar and pestle.

While it takes some effort to prepare, rempah is incredibly versatile, and is a staple in many Malay and Nyonya dishes found to South-East Asia. One of my favourite dishes is okra stir-fried in rempah, which is also easily found in Singapore’s many nasi padang (assorted meat & vegetable dishes) food stalls.

Also known as lady’s fingers, okra is a versatile vegetable that can either be stewed in a soup or curry, or stir-fried. When fried in rempah, the natural stickiness of the okra is absorbed by the rempah, allowing the diner to savour the texture and flavour of okra more easily.
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Nasu-Miso (Fried Eggplant with Miso Sauce)

Like many people, I’m a big fan of Japanese food. I consider Japanese cuisine to be in a class of its own, with its emphasis on unique, fresh flavours and aesthetic presentation.

That said, I also find Japanese cooking to be very challenging. What looks to be a simple dish often involves plenty of preparatory work, skill and zen-like focus throughout. If you take shortcuts or cut corners, chances are you won’t get a fully authentic result.

Hence, for a long time I was too intimidated to attempt cooking Japanese food at home. Then I came across Emi Kazuko’s excellent cookbook Japanese Cooking. This book is well written, with detailed descriptions of various Japanese ingredients. The recipes vary in difficulty, but overall they’re easy enough for most cooks to follow.

This recipe for Nasu-miso or fried eggplant in miso sauce, has become one of my favourites. It’s simple and easy to prepare, and the taste is simply extraordinary. The soft, chewy texture of the eggplant is complemented with the unique taste of miso and a rich sauce made from Japanese condiments.
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Basic Fried Noodles

I often find it amusing whenever I see ‘Singapore Fried Noodles’ on the menu in a Chinese restaurant. This is because you won’t find ‘Singapore Fried Noodles’ sold in my native hometown of Singapore. While many hawker stalls sell fried vermicelli or noodles as a simple breakfast dish, it’s not considered a signature dish like Laksa or Char Kway Teow. Instead they’re sold ready-wrapped in simple brown paper packets for the breakfast crowd to pick up quickly on the go.

So, how a simple home-style Asian noodle dish became known as ‘Singapore Fried Noodles’ overseas remains a mystery to me. That said, fried noodles are not only tasty, but easy enough to whip up quickly for a weeknight dinner.

My version of fried noodles are reminiscent of the type sold in hawker stalls over Singapore. However, I’ve substituted the traditional Hokkien noodles with wheat noodles which are easier to obtain here in Australia.

This dish is so simple to prepare at home, you’ll never order ‘Singapore Fried Noodles’ again.
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Honey Soy Roast Chicken

This Honey Soy Roast Chicken is an adaptation of my late grandmother’s recipe. Ah Mah (which means ‘grandmother’ in her native Teochew dialect) used to prepare a delicious Chinese-style roast chicken by roasting a whole chicken marinated in soy sauce. It was simple, yet delicious.

Ah Mah would sometimes roast a chicken whenever she didn’t feel like cooking a traditional three-course Chinese dinner. But the same amount of love and care would go into its preparation. She would keep a close watch over the chicken as it baked, removing it every so often from the oven to baste it with the pan juices and more soy sauce. This, she explained, would keep the chicken moist and intensify its flavour.
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