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.


Quinoa, zucchini, and pistachio salad

A four-ingredient version of this recipe (quinoa, zucchini, pistachios, greens).

1. Cook quinoa according to package directions.
2. Preheat oven to 425 F. Slice zucchini into fairly thick, half-centimetre rounds, and set out on a baking tray lightly misted with cooking spray. Bake for 10-12mins on each side or until caramelised.
3. When cooled, toss the zucchini and quinoa together with pistachios for protein; and with sliced scallions, chopped parsley, or spinach for something green. Serve warm or cold.
(4. You could also add: lemon zest and juice to taste; feta; leftover chicken; roasted chickpeas; asparagus; peas.)

Kidney bean and brown rice bowl

An attempt to expand my canned bean repertoire, based on this five-ingredient recipe.

1. Slice one onion and caramelise. Set aside.
2. Deglaze the pan with a small splash of wine or broth, and toss drained dark red kidney beans in to coat in the flavourful liquid. Set aside.
3. Toast walnuts or pecans in the pan.
4. Combine all the ingredients and set aside to cool. When cooled, mix in goat cheese or feta crumbles.
5. Serve with brown rice, tri-colour quinoa, or on a bed of arugula.

Sweet orange vegetable soup

Quick, cheap and versatile soup based on this recipe.

1. Dice one onion and one or two carrots. Add to a pot with warmed olive oil, along with minced garlic and herbs and seasonings (thyme, paprika, cumin, curry powder, etc). Cook on medium/low until softened.

2. Meanwhile, cut two sweet potatoes and about half a butternut squash into chunks. Add to the pot and add enough stock or broth to cover (about one full carton). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer while covered, until the vegetables start to break down and have thickened the soup (about half an hour).

3. Serve: over brown rice; with crusty bread; with a dollop of sour cream or cream cheese; with wilted spinach or arugula; with white or black beans.

Protein-packed pitas

Tuna salad (based on this and this):
Drain good canned tuna into a mixing bowl. Add chopped vegetables (I used shredded red cabbage and matchstick carrots, which you can microwave for 15 seconds to soften slightly; you could also use the traditional celery or cucumber), and throw in some sweet pickles or pitted olives for more flavour. Then mix with a touch of mustard, mayonnaise (optional), and a bit of salt and pepper to taste. Optional: add hummus or unsweetened peanut butter for even more protein and moistness.

Egg salad with hummus or smoked salmon:
Slice boiled eggs and season with salt, pepper, a dash of mayo, and either mustard or curry powder. Add shredded carrots, radish chips, and either spring mix or alfafa sprouts.

Coconut quinoa with salty broiled sardines

A four-ingredient, pantry-only, nasi lemak-inspired recipe with a great texture and flavour balance. One tin of sardines, one can of light coconut milk, 3/4 cup of quinoa, handful of toasted silvered almonds (or other chopped nuts) will make about 2.5 servings.

1. In a dry pan, toast the nuts until golden brown, then set aside.
2. Next, toast the (pre-rinsed) quinoa until golden and nutty-smelling.
3. Add a can of light coconut milk to the quinoa, let the mixture come to a boil, and then turn the heat down to low/medium to simmer. Season with minced/powdered/pressed garlic and a generous pinch of salt. Cover and cook until all the liquid has been absorbed and the quinoa has puffed, about 25-30 mins.
4. When the quinoa is almost done, open a tin of (skin on, bone in) sardines in water and drain well. Split the fillets in half and set down on a baking tray that has been lightly misted with cooking spray. If the sardines are unsalted, season generously. Broil for about 2-3 minutes on each side, or until the sardines are crisp and nicely browned.
5. Crumble the sardines into the quinoa, add the nuts, and mix well before serving. Optional: top with dried herbs (parsley or cilantro should work well) or with plumped sultanas.

Incredibly moist, absurdly simple flourless banana mug cake

Microwaveable mug cakes have gotten quite fancy these days, which rather goes against the spirit of the microwaveable mug cake IMHO. I am especially saddened by the recipes that require flour, which seems to me to be a messy and high-commitment ingredient that nobody owns these days unless they are fairly serious about baking. This is a nice, no-fuss “recipe” that you can make with literally one fork, one mug, one banana, one egg yolk, and some peanut butter.

1. To your mug, add a forkful of peanut butter and chunks from a ripe medium-sized banana. Mash well with said fork until until no lumps remain.
2. Add the yolk of one large egg, and honey/sugar if desired. Combine well. You can also throw in chopped nuts or instant oatmeal for more texture.
3. Microwave for ~1min or until cake is done. Dust with cinnamon. Serve immediately.

Genaro’s (faster) fish spaghetti

This fish spaghetti recipe is a variation on this beautiful dish, but uses dried/prepared aromatics and a more accessible fillet (tilapia instead of grey mullet). The flavour profile is similar to other sardine/anchovy pasta dishes I often cook (such as this basic one with garlic + anchovy+ capers + heat), but is tenderer and healthier with the addition of fresh fish and fresh tomatoes. This is my favourite way to cook tilapia BAR NONE, and it may in fact be my new favourite pasta.

1. In a largeish pan, cook spaghetti according to package directions. (You can use regular, brown rice, spelt, or other lighter-tasting spaghetti here, but whole wheat won’t work as well with this delicate dish.)
2. Meanwhile, halve or quarter a small handful of cherry tomatoes, and slice the tilapia fillet into strips (half a fillet is enough for one serving).
3. When the pasta is almost done, reserve a couple scoops of pasta water, then drain and set aside.
4. Dry your pan, and return it to the stove on low-medium heat. To warmed olive oil, add a squirt of pressed garlic, just a few anchovy fillets, and the chopped tomatoes. Then add flavour with capers, chili flakes, black pepper, and dried (or fresh if you have it) parsley.
5. When the tomatoes are beginning to soften, add enough pasta water that the sauce becomes runny. Adjust the heat so that the sauce simmers gently, then add the fish.
6. When the fish is just cooked, turn down the heat, and add the pasta back to the pan and combine. Finish with more parsley for colour, if using dried.
7. Optional: serve with a side of baby arugula (dressed with a sprinkle of salt and a dash of lemon juice or balsamic vinegar).

Chickpeas with herbs and parmesan

This is less a recipe than a public service reminder that you can make a hearty and decently nutritious meal out of a $1 can of beans and some pantry staples.

Drain the can, empty chickpeas into a bowl, and microwave until warm (~1-2mins; after the first minute stir every 30s or so to prevent those pesky little explosions). While the chickpeas are still hot, stir in a couple of heaping tablespoonfuls of grated parmesan. Then add the herbs and spices: lots of parsley, Italian seasoning, and onion powder; and a touch of garlic or pepper to taste.  Finish with grated lemon zest and/or a small sprinkle of lemon juice if you believe in putting lipstick on pigs.

1/10/10 chicken breast pastas

You’ve heard of the 1/10/10 method of cooking boneless skinless chicken breasts — you cook one side on one minute on medium, flip and cover and cook on low for ten, and then continue off the heat for another ten. (Or, try a 3/3/7/7 variation, where you brown both sides first.)  The method is intended to “poach” the breast in its own liquid and prevent the natural moisture in the chicken from cooking out, but I always get some delicious juices left over in the pan. Happily, you can easily turn this into an excellent, naturally flavourful pasta dish. Here are a couple of variations:

1. Prepare and cook chicken breast according to 1/10/10 instructions. (One breast is enough for about 1.5-2 servings of pasta.)
2. Meanwhile, cook spaghetti in a separate pot according to package  directions. When done, drain and set aside.
3. When chicken is cooked, remove from pan and set aside to rest for a few minutes, before slicing or shredding the amount of chicken you’ll need for the pasta.
4a. For a chicken and mushroom pasta, cook some sliced mushrooms with pressed garlic and Italian herbs in the juices, stir in the cooked chicken and spaghetti, and serve.
4b. For a wonderfully effort-free lemon-olive pasta, cook the spaghetti until it’s about three-quarters of the way done in Step 2. Add a few squirts of lemon, some sliced olives, and a bit of pressed garlic to the pan juices, and finish cooking the spaghetti in the liquid mixture before serving. Garnish with parsley and Italian herbs to taste.