Dhal, shall we do the Sambar?

Hehe! Sorry for the cheesy title, but I could not resist. As you know, I hardly ever make ‘dhal’ as such.  It is usually sambar in our house.  Why?  Well, the first is a a very simple and straightforward dish with lentils as its main ingredient. Turn it into a good South Indian sambar, and you can combine the lentils with a whole lot more, and it is a meal in itself.  We love it with spinach and tomatoes, carrots and potatoes.  You can add whatever vegetables you like to it: okra, sweet potato, capsicum, zuchini.  About the best veggie stew around, in my opinion.

I had to put this one up for you Izzy. Let’s face it: you are a sambar girl from waaaay back. Birthday dinner requests, not feeling well days, absolutely starving days, this is the favoured option. We eat it over rice, and it goes well with an accompaniment of a dry fish or meat curry. It stands alone just fine though, and is always good with roti. And I like a pappadum on the side…..and some lime pickle!

There are ingredients here you won’t have in your kitchen, but they are worth getting because dry Indian spices don’t go off quickly, and you’ll want to eat this dish again and again. And you’ll have all the ingredients right there! So healthy and nutritious, and it won’t cost you a bomb too. Stop into any Indian grocery store and they will have all the items you need. If you buy fresh curry leaves ( they are of course the best), you can store them in a bag in the freezer. They refresh beautifully when you throw them in hot oil. You can also pick up a nice package of chapatis, and some samosas to go with your meal…..Have a feast!


  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil
  • 1 cup dried red lentils
  • 2 teaspoons black mustard seeds
  • two to three chopped garlic cloves 
  • two teaspoons chopped fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons cummin seeds
  • 3 tablespoons sambar powder
  • 1 cup red lentils (these are the small, orange coloured lentils)
  • a tablespoon of fresh or dried curry leaves
  • about three cups of vegetables of your choice. Pick from yams, potato, tomato, carrots, eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, capsicums, spinach, etc., cut into pieces.


  1. Heat oil in a pot.
  2. Throw in the mustard seeds, and wait for them to start popping.
  3. When the mustard seeds start popping, add the cumin seeds, the garlic and ginger.
  4. Stir well, and add the curry leaves, then the lentils after a few seconds.
  5. Add the sambar powder and stir everything well together.
  6. At this point, add your hard vegetables ( like root veggies if you are using any) and stir well.
  7. After about a minute, add a boiling jug of water to the lentils.
  8. reduce heat to a simmer, stirring well.
  9. Add more water so that there is about an inch above the lentil mixture at all times. The lentils will expand quickly and soak up the moisture, so watch the pot and keep adding water as necessary.
  10. Now add your softer veggies, like capsicum, tomato and zucchini if you are using them.
  11. Season with salt and lemon juice. The consistency of the sambar should be like a thickened soup: freely liquid, but also very thick. The lentils should be soft and mushy.
  12. Serve hot.
  13. Keeps well in the fridge for about 4 days.

Gone Green

Green right from the start: you wanted spinach and pesto, and as a baby you’d gnaw on the end of a bok choy stalk as happily as if it were an arrowroot biscuit. I am just back from the Cherry Street Asian market. It is HUGE as you know, and located right on a finger of the wharves down here, so the setting is pretty dramatic. Today was particularly stunning: on a drizzly cold day, a low cloud hung over the barn like building, and ship masts nearby loomed out of the clouds creating quite some drama.

Anyway, I am home now, laden with all ther good things that place has to offer: great pieces of fresh pork at ridiculously low prices, tender galangal, Chinese New Year cards (coming soon!) and LOTS of the best fresh veggies. Of course I am thinking of you, unloading the kai lan, bok choy and snake beans. You’d be so excited at this market harvest if you were here.  Also bought a plump pink pomelo, and a box of Japanese green seaweed salad. The pomelo is lovely and refreshing with lightly cooked prawns or  fish, tossed with some cilantro and toasted coconut.

Flying back from christmas in Australia, I always wonder how I can cook bettter. It ties in with all that New Year’s resolution stuff: cook more interesting meals, eat more healthily, etc.  I have been doing some research online about what types of food keep our metabolic rates ticking at a good pace.

The bottom ( pardon my pun) line is any kind of processed food slows down our metabolism. You could say in that department, our family’s been pretty good about daily meals being cooked from scratch with fresh ingredients, and we do eat a ton of vegetables. If anything, I know you’ll take the healthy eating up a notch.  Dad and I have often agreed that if we ever won the lottery, we’d hire a traditional South Indian cook and become vegetarian (with a dispensation to eat bacon from time to time!!). Haha- I’m sure all the true vegetarians out there would be horrified at the thought!

When you go past an Asian grocery store Izzy, do stop in.  Somehow, the veggies are always so fresh, and look like they’ve just arrived from the garden. Their bundles tend to be generous, and the prices low. The huge bag of kai lan I brought home was $2.49. You could feed all of Grouse with the one bag. How cheap is that! Some delicious kai lan on top of steamed rice. What could be nicer.

That seaweed stuff is pretty magic too. It is so packed with goodness, eat it when you can: add it to salads, or use it as a side with a piece of grilled fish or chicken. Here is the recipe for the kai lan with oyster sauce which you never fail to order at a Chinese restaurant. When I was in a foreign country aged 16, I had the sweetest housemate from Johor called Jit Jee. This is how she made kai lan, and I have followed her recipe ever since.

Kai Lan with Oyster Sauce

  • I  bunch kai lan
  • salt
  • three to four  tablespoons oyster sauce
  • three tablespoons soy sauce
  • one tablespoon chopped fresh garlic
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil
  1. Bring a pan of well salted water to the boil
  2. Cut the stems off the leaf and make two separate piles of leaf and stem
  3. Throw the stems into the boiling water and cook for two minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon or tongs
  4. Now throw in the leaves and cook for barely a minute. Remove, drain thoroughly, and arrange the stems and leaves onto a platter
  5. Heat the oil in a fry pan and cook the garlic. Watch carefully as garlic burns eaily. As it begins to turn golden, add the oyster sauce and then the soy sauce. the micture will splutter. Reduce the heat, stir well and add a tablesppon of water if it begins to evaporate and stick to the pan.
  6. Turn off the heat, and pour the sauce over the pile of vegetables.

An addendum to the Mint and Pea Salad recipe

We had a wonderful time with family friends tonight in their gorgeous home at the Biltmore. Jenny had two fresh snapper fish which Innes cooked on the bar-b-que. Delish! I had made the mint and pea salad again. Jenny told me about a similar salad served at Haus Frau across the road  which I loved the sound of, so I am sharing it with you. I cannot wait to try it myself ! So Izzy, what you do is make the salad as usual, but add some cooked rissoni pasta and crumble some fetta cheese on it. Don’t those additions sound yummy? I know you will enjoy making this version too. Thanks, y’all, for a lovely New Year’s evening !

Mint and Pea Salad (Happy 2012!!!)

Emerging from the tundra of far North America, it is a wonderous thing to be experiencing this searing heat down under.

It is New Year’s eve and dad has been helping you over the last couple of days to assemble all the Ikea furniture in your new room on Drummond Street.  How exciting to be starting the year with a new address! We all hope you’ll be so happy in your new share house.

While you all were hard at work over there, I was putting together the coolest side dish I could think of to take to the bar-b-que we are all heading to.  It is dead easy to make, Izzy. And we all know how much you love peas, so here it is to make and enjoy:

Green Pea and Mint Salad

  • 1 package frozen green peas
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • rind of one lemon
  • 1 bunch of fresh mint
  • half an onion, sliced fine


  1. Boil salted water and add packet of peas
  2. Turn of the heat, drain and leave to cool
  3. When at room temperature, add a tablespoon of olive oil and toss through
  4. Add lemon rind and onion slices
  5. Add mint leaves just before serving
  6. Taste for seasoning and add salt if necessary
  7. Serve at room temperature

A salad of substance

Until you causally mentioned it Izzy, it had never occurred to me: Aussies don’t generally eat salads the way Americans do.  What comes to mind for an Australian when you say ‘salad’ is usually the equivalent of an American side salad: mixed greens with a light dressing.

A salad is the most common thing anyone we know in the US eats for lunch these days. But it isn’t just a plate of mixed greens.

In the early days, with the great enthusiasm of making a healthy salad ‘hearty’, American chefs overdid the whole idea: tons of creamy dressing, lots of cheese and chopped egg, meat, and  croutons.

Californians have it down pretty good, we think: there is always a decent ceasar to be had. There are great mexican riffs with black beans, crumbled tacos and jalapeños. Maybe a Chinese chicken salad?  It has asian cabbage cut in a slaw with carrots, shredded chicken and maybe bean sprouts. The dressing is usually honey and soy. A little predictable, but quite delicious.

When you were out with friends, Izzy, it was usually sushi and miso at Taiko in Brentwood Gardens. And if not, it was a salad with warm felafels from the Countrymart, or your favourite chopped salad from California Pizza Kitchen.

Now I quite often make Claudia a hearty salad to take to school for lunch. It consists of a mix of the greens I have in the fridge (baby spinach, arugula, and romaine usually). Toss in some cherry tomatoes, chopped cucumber, and a handful of whatever fresh herbs you might have. Maybe a handful of edamame, if you have some. Then the ‘hearty’ bit which helps her go the distance in a long school day: some left over chicken curry pieces, or meat. I lift a few pieces out of the sauce it is in, and pull the pieces apart (a shred is much nicer to eat than cubed or chopped meat in a salad). I toss it all together with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. It really does make for a delicious lunch. And satisfying!

The other day we picked up your sister from school and took her down to the Forest Hill shops for lunch. We thought we’d try out the new Café Aroma. I ordered the chickpea salad, and immediately thought I should record the ingredients for you. We all know how much you love chickpeas….

Chickpea salad

  1. 1 can chick peas, drained and washed
  2. ½ cup chopped cucumber
  3. ¼ cup crumbled fetta
  4. ½ cup cherry tomatoes
  5. ¼ cup flat leaf parsley ( I would substitute with fresh mint)
  6. 1 chopped hard boiled egg
  7. a handful of croutons
  8. ¼ cup finely chopped red onion
  9. olive oil and lemon juice to taste


  • Toss all the ingredients together and dress with sparing amounts of olive oil and lemon juice. 
  • If you are making it to eat later, remember to add the dressing at the last minute!

Stir fried cabbage!

When we have a rice-and-curry meal together, this side dish always seems to be the favourite vegetable option. Sometimes I substitute green beans for the cabbage, and that is a nice alternative, so keep it in mind.

It is quick to make, so a tip is to have everything sliced and ready to go.  Toss it in a hot wok/saucepan just before you are ready to serve the meal. It is cooked in ten minutes flat!

To give it a more Indian-y flavour, add a teaspoonful of cumin seeds, and a half teaspoonful of tumeric with the onion and ginger at the start of the cooking process.

 This recipe serves four people.

Stir fried cabbage with coconut

  • half a small green cabbage
  • half a large onion
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger (optional)
  • 1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil
  • salt to taste


  • in a large wok or saucepan, heat the oil to very hot
  • toss in the onion and ginger and fry till golden and fragrant
  • add the cabbage and stir and toss till wilted, about five minutes
  • add salt to taste
  • if your cabbage is still mostly uncooked, add a quarter cup of water, and cover with a lid for a minute.
  • in the last two minutes before removing from heat, add the coconut