Fuss-free Lor Bak

Braised pork belly in a spiced dark soy sauce. For 4-5 servings, you’ll need:
400-500g (~two large strips) of belly pork
8 cloves of garlic
1-2 cinnamon sticks, 2 star anise, 5 cloves, 4 cardamom seeds
4 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp (flat, not heaped) white sugar
Hot water
Optional: ~4 hard cooked eggs, peeled
Serve with: steamed white rice

1. Bring a full kettle of water to a boil.
2. Meanwhile, prepare your ingredients. Rinse the pork; and rinse the garlic cloves and spices. Prep the garlic cloves by cutting off the ends and any spoiled bits, and smashing.
3. After making sure it is dry, heat your pot or wok on medium. When the pot/wok surface is hot, add the 2 tbsp sugar and spread it more or less evenly on the base of the wok using your spatula. In a minute or so, the sugar will melt, and then turn lightly golden. Once this happens, turn the heat down to low to stop it from burning, and add the 4 tbsp dark soy sauce. Stir the caramelised sugar into the sauce.
4. Next, add the two strips of belly pork to the sauce. Turn once to make sure that both sides of the pork are well coated with sauce. Then add the just-boiled water, until the pork is about 3/4 covered.
5. Turn the heat up again until the sauce mixture has reached a gentle boil.  Add the garlic and spices (and the eggs, if using), then turn down to a low simmer. Cook for about 1hr 45min or until the sauce is reduced and the pork is tender.


Seaweed, cucumber and cilantro rice

Turn leftover white rice into a delicious side that tastes good cold or at room temperature. You’ll need: 1-2 mini cucumbers per portion, lots of shredded cilantro, seaweed flakes (or use sheets of seaweed and shred them yourself if you can’t find that), soba dipping sauce (or a bit of soy sauce and mirin or something else a little sweet), and a tiny pinch of red pepper flakes. The seaweed adds depth, the cilantro brightness, and the soba sauce umami to the fresh-tasting cucumber and rice.

How to: At the bottom of a bowl, pour out a small splash of soba sauce — not too much, as you can always add more at the end if needed. To the sauce add a few red pepper flakes (again not too much as we just want a tiny bit of heat to make things interesting) and stir a bit to infuse their flavour into the sauce.  Add your leftover rice and stir. Then add the cucumbers chopped into half-moons, the shredded cilantro, and the seaweed. Add more soba sauce if needed, and combine well before serving.

To add protein, you can mix in shelled edamame, shredded crab meat, or bits of smoked salmon. If serving with the salty salmon, use significantly less soba sauce to start with.

Four ingredient tuna, white bean, and arugula salad

For two servings you’ll need: baby arugula, a drained can of cannellini beans (or chickpeas), a can of good tuna in olive oil (I used Genova yellowfin tuna, and recommend yellowfin instead of the lighter-tasting albacore in this recipe), and a lemon wedge. And salt and pepper.

Add the tuna and the white beans to your serving bowl. Season the tuna and beans heavily with a LOT of black pepper, and season the beans with a bit of salt if needed. Then add in the arugula, dress with a spoonful or two of the olive oil from the tuna, and toss. Season the arugula with a little bit more salt if needed. Finish with the juice from the lemon wedge.

Optional extras: the zest from the lemon, toasted pine nuts, a bit of avocado (if using avocado, cut down significantly on the oil in the dressing so the dish doesn’t get too fatty).

Versatile one-pan chicken and rice

This extremely flexible “recipe” outlines the basic steps for making a balanced, one-pan rice dish.

Every element of this dish is substitutable. I used chicken and spinach in this, but you could add or substitute bacon, ground sausage, steak strips, etc for the meat, and any leafy or quick-cooking vegetable (peas, zucchini, broccoli). I also used French-style seasonings (parsley and thyme), but you could swap out something spicier (e.g. curry powder and paprika), use a marinade (soy sauce and ginger, soy and balsamic vinegar, etc), or use whatever flavour profile you like. Finally, I used cooked brown rice in this recipe, but you could use raw rice or orzo and cook risotto-style. Other than that, all you’ll need is chicken or other stock, aromatics, and oil/butter.

1. If using uncured/unseasoned meat (I used whole chicken breasts, which I later shredded; you can also use cubed), prepare it by drying it well and then seasoning generously with salt, pepper and/or whatever dry herbs or sauces you are using. Leave to marinate on countertop until the meat more or less reaches room temperature.
2. When ready to cook, dice onion, garlic, shallots and other aromatics or base-vegetables (e.g. carrot or celery).
3. Heat your pan with oil or melted butter. Fry the meat until golden brown on both sides. Then add your aromatics and let them develop some colour.
4. By now, a nice fond should have developed on the bottom of your pan. Deglaze the pan with your chicken stock (and/or with a tasty white wine) to make a pan sauce. Finally, add your rice. If you’re adding cooked or frozen rice, simply cook until the liquid has absorbed. If adding uncooked rice or orzo, cook risotto-style, adding wine and/or stock until enough water has been absorbed to fully cook the rice (if you’re cooking whole chicken breasts or thighs here, you may want to remove from the pan and set aside at this stage, to prevent overcooking, and then replace and shred at the last step).
5. Finally, once the rice is fully cooked, add your quick-cooking vegetables and cook until done (I used bagged spinach and just wilted it down). I finished by stirring in a bit of butter (you could also use grated cheese, soft herbs, toasted nuts, or whatever you like).


No-cook Turkish-style couscous salad

Based on this recipe. Vegan. Makes 2-3 servings.

1. Boil water. Put dry couscous in a large glass or earthenware bowl (or pot), and mix with dry spices. (I used one box of Near East couscous with the garlic spice mix, and added smoked paprika and a bit of cumin and pepper.)  Pour the boiling water into the bowl until the grains are just covered. Stir with a fork to make sure all the grains are damp (but make sure not to add too much water or it will come out soggy). Cover the bowl with cling wrap and set aside.
2. While the couscous cooks, finely dice and chop your vegetables: one large cucumber, one or two large tomatoes, half to one small shallot or some red onion (be sure to mince this especially finely), and the tops of a bunch of parsley. Soak the cut shallots in cool water for 5-10mins to make the flavour milder, then pat dry (optional). Finally, mix the vegetables together and season with salt.
3. For dressing, mix about a heaping teaspoonful of tomato paste (not too much as you don’t want to overpower the other flavours) with a little bit of olive oil and some lemon juice.
4. When the couscous is done, fluff with a fork to separate. Mix in the dressing and then the vegetables. Add more olive oil, lemon juice, tomato paste, or salt and pepper to taste. Serve cold or at room temperature. Optional extras: feta cheese, sliced olives, toasted pine nuts.

Quiche-y spinach strata

You’ll need: a day-old baguette or other crusty bread, ~6 eggs, ~1/2 cup milk (not skim for best results), a large package of frozen spinach (16oz preferable to 10oz), shredded cheddar or other cheese, bacon bits (optional), mustard (optional).

1. In a large measuring cup or mixing bowl, make the custard by whisking together the eggs and milk with a large, generous pinch (about a teaspoonful) of salt, lots of pepper, and a glob of mustard.
2. Cut the bread into cubes of ~1.5cm. Dunk into the custard and ensure that all the pieces are coated. (You can leave the custard-drenched bread in the fridge for up to several hours if you like, to make sure it soaks up all the liquid.)
3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350F.
4. Add about half of the bread chunks to a greased baking dish lined with parchment paper. Use a fork to press the bread down to form a denser, more even layer. Add a thin layer of cheese over the bread.
5. Next, prepare the spinach by thawing it in the microwave (a 16oz package should take about 2-3mins to warm up) and then squeezing out ALL the water. Place the dried spinach in a thick layer on top of the cheese. It may look like you have too much spinach, but use it all as it will wilt down even further as it cooks. Season the spinach with some salt. Add the bacon bits and another thin layer of cheese on top.
6. Finally, layer the remaining custardy bread on top. Compress with a fork again, and finish with a final thin layer of cheese. Bake for 40-45min or until the custard is set and the top is crispy and golden.

Chickpea curry

Aromatics: chop onion, garlic, ginger, and fry in oil.
Spices: add curry powder (or paste), paprika, cumin, and tomato paste to the pan.
Cans: add a can of chopped tomatoes, a can of coconut milk (or less if you want it less fatty; can also substitute with cream), and a drained can of chickpeas to the pan.
Finish: with salt and pepper, a bunch of chopped fresh coriander, and lime juice and zest.

Based on this recipe.

Cuban-style canned black beans and rice

Based on this recipe. Pros: delicious and rich-tasting, very little prep time and prep-related mess, one-pan if using pre-cooked rice; cons: long simmering time, pan needs soaking, everything smells fragrant for hours later including yourself.

Ingredients: 2 cans of black beans in their canning liquid, cooked rice, an onion, fresh garlic, green bell pepper, jalapeno pepper, fresh cilantro, spices (cumin, paprika, oregano, salt and pepper).  (Makes 2-3 servings.)

Heat olive oil in a large pan with high sides. Quarter the onion and fry on low heat. Smash and peel 6-8 fat cloves of garlic and add to the pan. Seed and cut the bell pepper into quarters or thick slices and add to the pan. Finally, break the stems off a large bunch of cilantro, wash thoroughly, dry, and add to the pan. Add cumin, paprika, and dried oregano and fry until fragrant.

Open the cans of beans and add the canning liquid to the pan. If necessary, add enough water to cover the vegetables, or until the mixture is fairly thin (more like a soup than a thick stew). Simmer gently for about 15mins. Then, when the liquid has begun to reduce, add the beans. Simmer further until you reach the desired consistency, about 15mins. In the last several minutes of cooking, season with salt and pepper to taste, and add the seeded jalapeno pepper, tasting every few minutes or so, and removing when you reach the desired spice level.

When the beans are done, remove the cilantro stems and discard. You may also discard the onion, pepper, and garlic, though I prefer to leave them in, with the tender garlic cloves mashed and mixed into the beans. Serve over cooked rice. (The original recipe recommends serving with half an avocado, but I find the beans rich enough that surprisingly the dish really doesn’t need it. In fact, I prefer to serve this with something fresh, like chopped cilantro leaves, a wedge of lime, or fresh tomatoes.)

Perfect ham and pea pasta

Cook a handful of farfalle or any short pasta in quite generously salted water, according to package directions (you don’t need too much pasta in the recipe, as the peas will make up the bulk). When finished, drain more or less and set aside (don’t drain too completely dry, as the remaining pasta water will help thin the sauce).

Dry the pan and warm up some olive oil. Add sliced scallions and minced garlic. Then slice two pieces of ham into strips, and fry until caramelised. When the ham and garlic are browned, add frozen peas and cook until defrosted. Finally, add a tablespoonful of jarred alfredo sauce, add the pasta, and stir. Season generously with pepper, and with fresh or dry herbs to taste (mint, parsley, Italian seasoning, etc).