Mexican Inspired Quick Fix

I guess we are unconsciously channelling you in Los Angeles, so when Little C came home starving from school today, I chopped up half a green apple, a beautiful avocado, conjured up a quick fix salad and pretended we were snacking at a hole in the wall taqueria somewhere in SoCal. Sigh! Have you had some great Mexican on this trip?  Glad to hear you made your annual hike in the hills as the Three Musketeers again : how nice to be reunited with your gal pals. I am looking forward to hearing all their news when we see you for Christmas.

So, Izzy. When you are back in Melbourne and pining for some LA flavours, here is the salad which will satisfy that need. As you can see from the pics, it made a good study time snack.

Quick Mexican Inspired Salad

  • 1/2 ripe but firm avocado, skinned and chopped
  • 1/2 green apple, cored and diced
  • 1/2 a dozen cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters
  • 1/2 a cup of finely diced cucumber
  • 1/2 a pickled chilli, sliced fine (optional)
  • a handful of greens ( I used rocket/arugula)
  • a few sprigs of fresh cilantro/coriander
  • a tiny amount of finely diced onion ( one to two tablespoons depending on how much you like it!)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • corn chips


Combine all the ingredients and serve with a handful of corn chips. Ole! 

Red Lentil Soup With A Californian Friend

The moving process began on Thursday.  it was a long and busy day, but everything went smoothly.  On Friday, a dear friend from Los Angeles who is here visiting family, hopped on a bus ( like she does everywhere she goes in the world) and made her way across town. She got off at the Double Bay shops and then made her way up the hill to our new house.

It felt like old times to be sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of tea, Izzy, and catching up on all kinds of news about family and mutual friends. DT chatted about  new restaurants and stores in our old haunts ( you’ll be able to check on them in November ; how exciting to be heading back for a visit! ) and what everyone is up to in Santa Monica.

Around us, action swirled, as an electrician, plumbers and carpet layers worked to finish their projects. My phone kept ringing, interrupting.

I would have loved to have wandered up the road to our new ‘local’ with D for lunch.  I imagined us sitting under those huge Jackson Bay Figs and having a simple lunch, and a good coffee.  But all the workmen on site meant we had to stay close to home.

We ended up making a lentil soup, which was about the nicest thing to do: we were back in the kitchen together, pottering, chatting . I wish she’d move back to Australia…..

Lentil soup is your favourite standby: we made it slightly differently though, and I think you will be pleased with the improvement of barley in it: it gives it more substance, and a chewy element. You know how the orange lentils don’t mash down to a creamy consistency like some other lentils do, and can in fact be a little ‘floury’. I thought that the barley rounded it out nicely! There are few ingredients involved, and the soup is always a pleaser. We ate it sitting outside in bright sunshine: ah, a Sydney winter!

Red Lentil Soup

  • 1 cup small red lentils
  • 1/2 cup barley
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 a large onion, chopped
  • 1 large tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cummin seeds
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 large can crushed tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 litres water


  1. Heat the oil in a deep saucepan, and brown the onion,  garlic and ginger with the cumin and fennel seeds.
  2. Add the lentils and stir well.
  3. Pour in the crushed tomatoes, water and tomato paste.
  4. Add the barley, and stir.
  5. Adjust seasoning to your liking.  You might like to add a squeeze of lemon juice, and a hint of chilli powder.
  6. Turn the heat to very low, and cook gently for about twenty minutes to half an hour.
  7. If the lentils bulk up too quickly, and soak up all the liquid, add half a cup of water at a time to adjust the thickness of the soup to your liking. If you have to do this, be sure to check for seasoning as you go along, as the additional liquid changes the flavours. 

Serve with a dollop of yogurt and some crusty bread! I have also sometimes added tiny cubes of potato at the frying onions stage for an even heartier version.

Yummy and hearty.

Tonight we are sitting at the kitchen table: Little C hidden under a ginormous pile of books, and me with my laptop.  We both have a refreshing glass of mint and lemon tea: mint leaves, a squeeze of lemon and a dash of honey. Mmmmm! More moving trucks tomorrow- bring ’em on!


Flowers + Food : Perfectly Pretty

It is such a natural combination, isn’t it, to have flowers and food on the same table. Both bright and colourful (hopefully the food is!) and both products of the earth. I am an incomplete person without some flowers stuck in a jar where ever it is I call home.

I caught you smiling as I photographed the simple stem of flowers at the cafe table in Melbourne: those small touches just make life better! I am so glad that your ‘local’ is as whimsical and charming as that- I was so happy to have delicious breakfast with you at Cafe Lua in Carlton. Claudia and I even brought home a loaf of their excellent gluten free bread, it was that good.

Cafe Lua, Carlton

Excellent huevos rancheros on home made corn tortillas.

Yes, it is always nice to have flowers on the table.  No need for fancy, right? Do you remember the amazingly stylish flower arrangements we used to have in the house in Virginia for those big parties? Pretty awesome.  The flavour now is for simple, simple: let the flowers speak for themselves.

I don’t have my collection of vases with me in this rental, so even an old tomato can does nicely for these bright poppies…

Foraging in the back lane at our Santa Monica house, I remember being trailed by a little house guest who was fascinated that I was collecting nasturtium flowers for our lunch time salad: What? You grown ups eat flowers too?? It made me think of how excited I would have been as a child to add flowers to a ‘real’ meal. Flowers on a cake are a beautiful decoration: who needs elaborate icing when you can dust some icing sugar on and sprinkle over with rose petals or lavender? Pretty!

Petals on a polenta cake

Not long before we left Toronto, I had an urgent call from my good buddy AK in St. Louis.  A wonderful salad, she demanded. Please help me think of something.  She was having one of her glamorous parties, and combined with a bright young caterer, she wanted to make a few dishes herself.  What about a Persian Rose Petal Salad, I asked? Apparently, it was a success, and blended nicely with everything else on the menu.  I love this salad, and really have not made it as often as I would like.  It is soft, and light, and oh so summery.  Do try it, Izzy. It is also immensely pleasing to look at. This recipe is not with the traditional yogurt dressing. I made it tonight with just lemon juice and olive oil to keep it fresh and extra light. Sooo pretty to look at!

Persian Rose Petal Salad (serves four as a side)

  • 1 freshly picked rose, carefully washed
  • a handful of fresh walnuts
  • a few sprigs of fresh dill
  • a few sprigs of fresh oregano
  • 2 small cucumbers, sliced into fine strips
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup of finely cubed fetta cheese
  • a handful of fresh mint leaves
  • juice of half a lemon
  • virgin olive oil

Combine all the ingredients. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and a little olive oil, toss, and serve at room temperature. Perfect with grilled kebabs, or a piece of fried fish.

Fragrant herbs for a salad

It is so nice to be in the new house, Isabel! I cannot wait for your holidays so you can come up for a visit and enjoy it. Our shipment of household things arrives on Wednesday, and then CHAOS will reign for a while until we find a home for every book, spoon and bicycle. The W family are such wonderful supportive darlings through our whole move. C and S arrived with yummy dinner last night, and the most magnificent orchid to grace the front hall. Happy days!


Curry Puffs and Canberra Connections

It was a Canberra infused week-end: SB dropped by to visit with an armful of daphne branches, an instant reminder of Canberra winter gardens. It has laced the apartment all week-end with a wonderful scent.

Then the Walkers arrived on Saturday to stay,  and last night C, R and T came over for a laksa dinner.

Curry laksa with Canberra friends….

Lots of laughs and conversation: T brought fresh strawberries which she hulled and tossed with Cointreau, C baked a gorgeous carrot and almond meal cake-extra yummy delicious. We looked over photos of the new house which R has been pivotal in helping us get ready. So excited, Izzy. We will be moving in three days!

Apart from shopping for all my laksa ingredients at the Chinese grocery store in Maroubra, the Ws stirred the pot, chatted and poured and cleaned and washed all through the early part of the evening. Such good friends.

While Little C struggled with mountains of French home work, The Walker family directed her to a Flight of the Concords segment, French style: that gave your sister a laugh! Now I have that crazy song stuck in my head!

I quickly made curry puffs while we were all lounging around and chatting, and Salsa Queen took the photos. Here is the recipe. Nice for you to see how it is done, picture by picture. I made potato and pea ones this time, but you know I sometimes do them with curried ground beef which is also good to eat. Let me know if you want the recipe for that filling.

Curry puffs ready to bake.

Izzy, you can freeze these babies in plastic bags, and then lay them out on a tray to bake when you need them. Such a good thing to prep waay in advance. I have kept curry puffs in the freezer for three weeks, no probs. As you know, they are always welcome as a snack, but in Santa Monica, I did go through a stage of making them slightly bigger in size, and serving them with a crisp salad for dinner. Chilli sauce, or yogurt and mint chutney on the side. If you have exams or long days of essays coming up, this is a wonderful snack to have in store. ( Especially now that you have a decent size freezer with our Eildon Road fridge transported over to Grouse!)

I was soooo happy to have photos of  the meals you’ve cooked recently, including chicken soup while you were sick, and amazing looking cupcakes with a difference (thanks for that recipe!!).

Curry Puffs

  • 5 to 6 medium sized potatoes, diced
  • 1/2 cup peeled and diced sweet potato
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon cummin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons fresh finger, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fresh garlic, chopped


  1. Fry the ginger and garlic in hot oil, and as they change colour to golden, add the fennel and cumin seeds.
  2. Add the turmeric, sweet potato and potato cubes, and stir till the spices have well coated everything.
  3. Add a cupful of water and turn down the heat.
  4. Cook the potato mix until soft, about 20 minutes or so. Stir occasionally.
  5. Season to your liking: salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Add the peas and cook for another few minutes until the mixture is dry.
  7. Leave to cool completely, in fact, best refrigerated before you make the puffs.

This mix also good in a wrap or with steamed hot rice!

To make the puffs:

  • 1 packet of Pampas puff pastry sheets (six per packet).
  • 2 tablespoons flour mixed with a little warm water to form a thin paste.
  • 1 tablespoon of milk
  1. Remove puff pastry from the freezer and lay each sheet out to thaw separately. If you leave them in a pile, there is a danger they might stick together.
  2. When the pastry sheet is pliable, use a sharp knife and cut each sheet into six pieces: cut into half from end to end. Then divide into three sections in the opposite direction:

Divide pastry sheet into six pieces

3. Holding a piece of pastry in the palm of your hand, place a small spoonful of cold potato mixture into one half of the pastry.

4. Dampen the edges of the pastry with the flour and water mixture.

5. Fold the pastry over, and press down firmly. You can make a decorative edge with a fork.

6. Arrange on a baking tray lined with baking paper, and cook in a hot oven ( about 190 degrees celsius) until it starts to turn golden. This will be in about 15 to 20 minutes.

7. At this point, pull out the tray from the oven, and dab each puff with a splash of milk ( a scrunched up paper towel dipped in milk will work fine if you don’t have a pastry brush). This will give your puffs a lovely shiny finish.

8. Cook for a last five minutes, for the milk glaze to set.

So darling,  a few more steps than usual for what I like to cook (speedy is my game!), but worthwhile in terms of having something stored in the freezer to pull out when you have the munchies. Here’s a tip: cook the mixture one day, and make the puffs on another! Keep sending me pictures of what you are cooking! xoxo

More on Dal: an article by a Californian friend

Thank goodness we were introduced early on to the fabulous Bombay Cafe on Pico Boulevard when we arrived in LA.

Here is an article by Neela who made up a formidable team with David Chaparro: they both owned that wonderful Indian restaurant, and ran it with a great deal of flair and love. We always ate well when they cooked, and I felt so lucky to become friends with them. They sold Bombay Cafe much to the city’s great despair. David went on to other creative ventures, and Neela moved to the Napa Valley where she opened her wonderful place: Neela’s.  Dad and I had the pleasure of eating there on a quick visit to Nothern CA. She is a truly wonderful cook. While she prepared to open this place, I spent many fun hours with David in our kitchen in Santa Monica testing dessert recipes that she might possibly like to use at her new establishment.

I thought your Vegan friends at Grouse would enjoy knowing more about legumes, courtesy of Ms. Paniz.

Time to cook dal, Izzy!



Jennifer Martiné
Neela Paniz’s jawan’s pahari dal.
magnify Click image to view more.

Playing With Dals

July 2012

No Indian meal can be considered complete without a leguminous dish. Neela Paniz sorts through the kaleidoscopic variety of lentils and beans available to subcontinental cooks.

On one of my weekly jaunts to an Indian grocery store in Fairfield, California, about a 20 minute ride from my restaurant Neela’s in downtown Napa, I was once again reminded of the number of dals available for sale. The shelves were packed with a plethora of legumes, lentils, and beans, displaying a variety of colors and sizes. Dal is the Indian word for pulses or lentils, as well as the generic word for the different ways the pulses are cooked into a soup or stew-like dish.

Pulses, or the seeds of leguminous pods, date back nearly 5,000 years, mostly to the area around the Ravi River in the northern Indian province of Punjab. A pulse is an annual leguminous crop yielding from one to 12 grains or seeds of variable size, shape, and color within a pod. Evidence of dried peas has been found in Egyptian pyramids and even in ancient Switzerland. Dal is packed with nutrition, and when served withchawal (rice) and/or rotis (whole wheat flatbreads), the combination rms a complete protein. Pulses are not only used for human consumption but their pods and foliage are used as animal feed, due to their high protein and essential amino acid content.

To an Indian, dal represents not just the legume, but also the dish derived from cooking the pulses. Dal is also common to Pakistan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. The preparation of dal is determined not only by region but also by the pulse or legume itself. Pulses are available either hulled or with skins on, resulting in different textured dishes. While I was growing up in India, dal was a daily staple. My mother and our cook would decide which dal to cook for that day; there were so many options and, essential as it was, you didn’t serve the same dal over and over again. Today, many households in India prepare dal in a pressure cooker, especially those legumes that require a longer cooking time. Beans, though not prepared as dal, sometimes replace it at a meal. The denotation for large seeds, they can include the small chickpea known as kabuli chana; the red kidney bean raj­ma; the black-skinned chickpea kala chanas; the green-skinned chickpea hara chana; and the black-eyed pea lobia.

One of my favorite dals was prepared by Mercin, my childhood maid. She came from the southern city of Mangalore and used the pink lentils known as masoor dal to cook the most delicious lemony soup. Occasionally, she would add cubes of unripe green mangoes or another fruit that was similar in shape and flavor to star fruit, yet smaller. This was the first dal I served to my husband, Franklin, and to this date, it remains his favorite, too.

I’ve been in the restaurant business for almost 35 years and have never tired of cooking dal, not with the number of dals available, the wealth of regional dal recipes, and dals’ adaptability to other cuisines—the French have their green lentilles du Puy, northern Italians serve them with cotechino or zampone at New Year’s, and so forth. Mario Batali has a recipe for broad pasta with lentils called sagnatiellie lenticchie. Emeril Lagasse makes a soup with lentils and ham hock; Giacomino Drago of Il Pastaio in Beverly Hills, California, serves a lentil salad with shrimp and arugula; and Akasha Richmond of Akasha in Culver City, California, serves a dish called Punjabi mung beans and rice, a take on Indian flavors that she’s been cooking for many years. Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken served a poona pancake, similar to a dosa, in their original restaurant City, and now Feniger lists a Korean mung bean pancake on the menu of her restaurant Street in Los Angeles. She also offers a version of the Indian street food favorite pani puri, a crisp puffed cracker stuffed with sprouted mung beans and chutneys with mint/tamarind scented water.

Cooking dal
Here are some simple steps for preparing dal. Pick through the dried lentils for any foreign objects, such as pebbles, small sticks, etc., and then soak them in water, from 20 minutes to as long as overnight, depending on the variety of dal used. As I learned to cook, I was taught to measure the amount of water needed to cook them using the two-knuckle method (up to two knuckles of water above the top of the lentils) or approximately two inches. However, it’s best to start with less water than needed, as more hot water can always be added. Also, cook the lentils in their soaking water to retain flavors and proteins. Bring the pot of lentils to a full boil and skim off the foam that arises. Add salt and any other seasonings, such as turmeric and cayenne, or aromatics as per the recipe. Once the dal has “exploded,” or cooked through, again following the recipe, the legumes can be cooked further or removed from the fire to await further seasoning.

The final step, the tadka, also known as the baghar or chaunk, consists of tempering spices, mostly cumin or mustard seeds, any other aromatics, such as onions, garlic, ginger, chiles, tomatoes, and kari leaves in ghee (clarified butter), and then adding them to the cooked dal. The pot should be covered right after adding the tadka to entrap the spices’ essences in the dal. There are exceptions to the rule, of course, where the tadkais added while the dal is still cooking. Ayurveda, an ancient form of holistic medicine, advocates the addition of asafetida to the tadka. Asafetida, a gum resin native to Afghanistan but used widely in India and sold in solid form or ground, cut with wheat flour, alleviates the gassy effects caused by legumes and emulates the flavor of garlic and onions, a must with almost all dal recipes.

Dal varieties:
Although there are numerous dals available in India, these are the more common lentils used in subcontinental cooking.

Masoor dal: These pink skinless lentils, which turn yellow when cooked, are the lightest in texture and easiest to digest. Sometimes referred to as Turkish lentils. Masoor cooks very quickly, requiring very little, if any, soaking. Many recipes for masoor call for it to be cooked to the point of complete disintegration, creating almost a smooth texture. I cook masoor only until it “explodes,” so it retains some shape and texture. Flavoring masoor with an acid such as lemon juice or tomatoes enhances its flavor.

Saabut masoor dal: This is masoor with its brown skin on. Used in heartier dishes, it maintains its shape even after its core has softened. Saabut should be soaked for 30 to 40 minutes and cooked for upwards of an hour. A tadka of sautéed onions, tomatoes, green chiles, ginger, garlic, and sizzling cumin seeds lends aromatic heft to the finished dal. Though not traditional, it can also be flavored with sambar powder, a southern Indian spice mixture.

Toor dal: Also known as pigeon pea, toor is called arhar dal in some parts of India. Evidence of its cultivation dating back 3,500 years has been found in the northeastern and southern states of India. Today, this fast-growing lentil is cultivated throughout the country. Toor dal is used in southern India’s popular sambar dal, sometimes incorporating the young green lentil pods as one of the vegetables in the dish. It’s most often served with dosas, the lentil and rice crêpes. Tamarind provides the dish an acidic element; roasted coconut, kari leaves, cumin seeds, and mustard seeds complete the seasoning. Another southern dish, the toor-based tomato/pepper soup called rasam, often gets served with sambar in the same meal.

Cooks from the western state of Gujerat turn toor into thin soupy gujju dal, highly seasoned with chiles, tomatoes, whole spices like cinnamon and cloves, kari leaves, and a touch of gur, or jaggery (Indian unrefined sugar). Gujeratis will often have more than one style of dal during a meal. By contrast, in the central regions of India, toor dal becomes a thick soup with a simple tadka of crisp cumin seeds, red chile powder, and amchur (dried green mango powder).

Sindhis, from the Indus Valley, cook a small amount of the toor dal in a large quantity of water to create a lentil broth that’s strained and then thickened with besan, a flour derived from channa dal, as the base of a vegetable curry consumed as a main dish along with rice. The discarded toor dal mush is sometimes seasoned with fried onions, tomatoes, chiles, and spices to eat with bread.

Moong dal: This commonly cultivated and consumed green mung bean comes whole or split. With the hull removed, it’s yellow. Archeological evidence shows it was in use in central India as far back as 1500 B.C. Mung beans have a creamy consistency and are easy to digest, logically making them the first dal served to infants. The addition of tomatoes adds acidic balance and sweetness for a more palatable dish.

Once, in the desert state of Rajasthan, I was invited to share a meal with a family that dwelled in a mud hut. The lady of the house had waited for us to bring her bottled water to use in the preparation of our lunch, as she knew she was feeding “foreigners.” She cooked her yellow moong dal until creamy, then added the one tomato she had, which she diced and fried in the tadka along with cumin seeds and a whole spoonful of crushed red chiles.

Although whole green moong cooks into a thick creamy dal, I prefer a little body on the legume, adding dark brown fried onions and garlic to create a very hearty dish. I also use it to prepare kichri, a rice/legume dish similar to a porridge or risotto. When sprouted, moong dal becomes part of pani puri, the popular street food served throughout India.

Chana dal: This small dry unroasted split and hulled chickpea comes from the blackchana variety. Used to make a hearty dal, it’s a favorite with Punjabis, Sindhis, and Bengalis of northern India. Often gourd or squash is added to its preparation. It has a low glycemic index, making it a practical dal for diabetics. The roasted or fried and spiced hulled chana makes up part of a trail mix-type snack called chiwra.

Urad dal: This whole black lentil, most common in the northern state of Punjab, is also known as urad sabut; the hulled bean is called urad dhuli. You can sometimes find the split version too. To add to the confusion, many Indian restaurants call it makhani dal because traditionally the creamy mushy dish is topped with a pat of makhan (butter). Whole urad should be soaked overnight, as it takes a long time to break down. Oftentimes, urad dal is cooked with a small proportion of raj­ma or chana dal. Hulled or white urad lentils are used in the south in the preparation of dosas and vadas (lentil dumplings).

There are other dals, of course, among them the red chori, a small bean similar in shape to the red kidney bean, and moth, similar in shape and texture to moong bean but brown in color.

One of my fondest memories is of a holiday I took with my parents to the Kullu Valley in the northeast region of India. From there, we took a day excursion to the border area of Leh in the Ladakh region. At that time, there was a huge Indian military presence in the region and we were invited to join the ja­wans, or foot soldiers, to partake in their meal of dal and roti. If memory serves me right, this chana dal was flavored with white radishes, potatoes, and cauliflower, along with the usual spices and aromatics. It truly dignified the phrase “join us for dal roti,” and it’s now on my menu asjawans’ pahari dal for the soldiers and the mountainous region where they were stationed.

Another is from when I opened Chutneys, an Indian fast food restaurant, in Los Angeles in 1985. One of my late night customers was David Chaparro, an established caterer at that time. I boasted to him that I could cook a different preparation of dal daily for a whole month. And I did! We became friends and eventually business partners in the Bombay Cafe, a partnership that lasted 20 years. I still cook a different dal for him whenever he visits me in Napa, evidence that nutritious dals also nurture lasting relationships!

Much Beloved Laksa

I had a lump in my throat as Uncle David, dad and I waved you onto your flight last night. Why did I think it would be easier from a shorter distance ? You will be sorely missed, dear Izzy. Such a happy month for us to have you around, in our settling in period in Sydney. Thank you for your enduring good cheer, great companionship and unfailing support. We did some good exploring of the city together, and I promise to keep you updated on all the continuing great finds.

When you were tiny, everyone looked at you, and after they had finished gushing over those crazy furry eyelashes of yours, they’d all say how much you looked like your dad. None of us have ever disputed that. But from me, you most certainly got the Laksa gene!

Quick! Chopsticks and soup spoon please!

Growing up in a little town called  Kuching, it was a local delicacy. My family used to go to a tiny food court called Tiger Garden after Sunday mass, and sit around a crowded table, and have bowls of this delicious curry  noodle dish.  A lifetime away, and living in North America, most people had never even heard of it. Luckily for us when we came home to Melbourne on holidays, Chinta Blues, a Malaysian Cafe down the lane served a good laksa, and we’d make a bee line for our fix.

You looked like a dainty little girl, but appearances belied the tolerance you had for fiery food. Dad even has a video of you in your pretty French pajamas, sitting in the blue and white stroller in Nana and Papa’s living room, wolfing down spicy fish curry. I think you were all of eighteen months. I was so proud! Haha!

So laksa! Why do we love it so? When chilly weather sets in, there is nothing better than a spicy, steaming bowl of comfort soup. The combination of fresh cilantro, bean curd, bean sprouts and omelette strips in a thin coconutty, chilli spiced broth made piquant by a squeeze of lime is quite special. In Malaysia, kalamansi lime is used, a most gorgeously fragrant variety, quite small in size with a thin dark green skin and bright orange inside. The addition of cooked shredded chicken and or prawns is optional, but it does happen to be our favourite version. On the North-West coast of the Malay archipelago, a soured fish version called Assam Laksa is made, with the addition of tamarind. But who am I kidding about the chilly weather bit? We love this soup even on the hottest day!

You were right here in the kitchen with me when we made it a couple of nights ago (thank you for taking the photos!). Dad had a work dinner, so we three girls got our socks on, and sat around the tv slurping chicken laksa and watching MasterChef. What fun, dearest Isabel! Come back soon, and we’ll cook together some more!  Meanwhile, here is the easy peasy recipe. (Thank goodness for laksa paste!!)

For your household of vegans (Misha, please note), exclude the chicken of course and add the eggplant, more of the veggie ingredients, and make your stock with just the coconut milk and water. Celiacs can omit the egg noodles and just keep with the rice vermicelli ; as delicious!

Laksa (Kuching version) for four people

  • two large chicken breasts
  • 2 litres of water
  • 1 packet fresh and crunchy bean sprouts
  • 1 packet firm fried tofu
  • four eggs
  • 1 bunch fresh coriander/cilantro
  • 1 jar of laksa paste
  • 1 packet vermicelli rice noodles
  • 1 small packet yellow egg noodles
  • 1 can light coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • sliced red chillies (optional for extra heat)
  • 1 cupful small cooked prawns (optional)
  • 1 medium-sized eggplant, sliced, grilled, and set aside (optional)
  • cucumber cut into thin match sticks
  • 2 fresh limes


  1. In a small pan of the water, gently boil the chicken breasts for about twenty minutes or until cooked through. Set aside to cool completely, and then shred by hand. Reserve the stock.
  2. Heat the oil in a stock pot, empty the contents of the laksa paste into the oil, and stir until fragrant. (Check the instructions on the jar to be more exact. )
  3. Add the chicken stock, and coconut milk, and bring to the boil, at which time, turn the heat down to a low simmer.
  4. Add the juice of one lime, and adjust seasoning by tasting. If more liquid is needed to make up larger bowls, add a little more coconut milk or chicken stock. The Kuching laksa soup is quite thin, so I add stock if more liquid is needed. Others (the Singaporeans for instance), like a very rich gravy, and use coconut cream and more coconut milk. You chose how you’d like your soup! After simmering for about ten minutes, turn the heat off and set aside.
  5. Beat the eggs in a bowl and fry a simple omelette. Fold over, and slice into thin strips when cool. Set aside.
  6. Boil a large pan of water, and throw in the noodles to soften. When cooked, drain, run under a cold tap and set aside.
  7. When you are ready to eat, turn the laksa soup pot on again to a very low simmer.
  8. Assemble in large bowls, some well drained noodles, bean curd strips and sprouts, egg slices, and all the other dry ingredients.
  9. Ladle some simmering soup into the bowls to just cover the dry ingredients, and serve with an extra wedge of lime. For those with the asbestos tongues, top with sliced red chilli.  Enjoy!

Laksa soup simmering on the stove…



Noodles cooked and waiting in cold water.

Thin slices of egg.


An Exciting New Phase For Our Family !!

Wow, Izzy, what an amazing couple of weeks! Dad accepted a new job, and suddenly, after more than a decade in North America, we will be heading back to Australia! It is hard to imagine that we’ll now be just a short domestic flight away from you, rather than two LONG international ones. What a difference that will make! We are so incredibly excited to soon be closer together again.

Claudia and I were in Los Angeles last week-end when the news broke in the press, and poor Dad was in freezing Geneva. You waiting anxiously in Melbourne. In different parts of the world, we were all trying to take stock of  this new phase and how it was about to have such a profound effect on our family. Apart from you and the Brands, and all the friends we care so much about in Australia, we will be that much closer to Nana and Papa in KL too. What a wonderful thing.

If I wasn’t hyperventilating over this news, I was eating very well while catching up with friends in Los Angeles. One lunch with girlfriends was at SugarFish on Second Street in Santa Monica which Debbie Thawley recommended. Excellent sushi, even Keiko approved. We all ordered the ‘Trust Me’  which really was us putting ourselves in the expert hands of the chef to serve whatever he thought was best.  We were not disappointed! Then catching up with Tim and David over dinner up near Mullholland, we ate at Shu, just the most amazing fusion of Japanese and Italian. Sounds weird, but they do it so successfully. No celebs spotted this week-end, as I’m sure you wouldn’t count Lou Adler, being a Brentwood School dad. He was at Blue Plate where Claude and Grace and I caught up . Everyone we saw was well, and of course asked after you, and sent their love.

Flew home on Sunday night to frigid weather, and in the very early hours of Monday morning came the much anticipated phone call from Paul: Jennifer was in labour! I was SO glad she had been the obliging friend and crossed her legs till I got home, to have that baby ( I would have been crushed to miss the event, you know! ).  Adrian Emmanuel Barrs was born at 8.30 am that morning, February 13. You shared our excitement long distance as I messaged updates. Such a perfect little baby and such proud and excited big brothers! Claudia and I were privileged to meet the new baby that day, and share in that family’s joy.

On the home front, it feels so good to have dad home.  His last two weeks away felt like a lifetime, especially with so much up in the air.  Now he is here with all the details, the move to Australia feels real. Its been cold, but hardly any snow has fallen. Stony grey and overcast, the weather has called for endless cups of tea, and comfort food like minestrone and bolognese.

This week-end, Chris and Steph were in town from Harvard for a conference on Australian Studies, and came to  dinner with their friend Lydia. They brought some excellent champagne to celebrate our recent news.  Dad cooked an awesome beef short rib served with giant rigatoni. More soul warming comfort food. It was great to catch up with all the Melbourne news, and hear their impressions of Sydney.

A couple of nights ago, I made a quick pad thai and was reminded that I should get back to posting some recipes for you. Noodles are easy, and instantly satisfying. In keeping with the gluten free phase we are experimenting with, the rice stick noodles were perfect to cook with.

Thanks so much for sending me all the pictures of the meals you are cooking. Dad and I are SO glad you are at Grouse, which allows you to shop and cook, and eat such a nice variety of healthy meals, have friends over to share them, and be creative in the kitchen. Isn’t it such a pleasure??

Vegetarian Pad Thai

  • 1 packet fresh bean sprouts
  • 3 to 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 a large onion, sliced fine
  • 1 fresh red chili, sliced fine
  • 1 red capsicum/bell pepper, sliced
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 1 small packet hard tofu, sliced
  • 5 to 6 stalks green spring onion cut into 2 inch segments
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup peanuts, roughly crushed
  • 1 packet rice sticks
  • 2 teaspoons chilli flakes, optional
  • a few sprigs of cilantro/fresh coriander to garnish
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • fresh lime to flavour

If you cannot find a jar of Pad Thai sauce at the supermarket, here’s how you make it yourself very easily:

  • 1 fresh lime, squeezed
  • 1 tablespoon brown or palm sugar
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons tamarind sauce
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons chilli sauce
  • salt to taste
  • pepper to taste
Mix the above ingredients well together. Taste and season accordingly. Set aside.
  1. Heat a large pot of water, and when it comes to a rolling boil, drop the rice sticks in the water, and turn off the heat. Leave the noodles to soften, stirring regularly to separate the sticks. Check after five minutes, and drain when al dente, and then reserve the noodles in a bowl of cold water.
  2. Next, heat a little oil in a large wok, and cook the garlic and onion, sliced chilli, and sliced tofu. 
  3. Add the very well drained noodles and the capsicum slices, add the sauce, stirring constantly to coat the noodles thoroughly.
  4. Add the beaten egg to the noodles, and at this point, put a lid on the wok and leave the egg to cook over the noodles.
  5. After about five minutes, remove the lid and stir well, distributing the cooked egg through the noodles.
  6. Now add the pepper, salt and some lime juice if desired. 
  7. Toss in the bean sprouts, and spring onions, stir well until wilted. 
  8. Sprinkle with chilli flakes and serve hot with a wedge of lime, crushed peanuts, and cilantro/fresh coriander to garnish.