In My Kitchen, August 2021

It’s challenging to write about my kitchen exploits without resorting to the L word. L is for lockdown, of course, and Melbourne has had it’s fair share, with 234 days since the pandemic began, but who’s counting. One of the crazy things that happens when we come out of lockdown is the excitement of shopping for food in a venue of one’s choice, which for me simply means anywhere but the local Coles supermarket. It’s like panic buying in reverse. The post -lockdown shopping list is always a huge one. My haul just after Lockdown 4 lasted very well and took me through to Lockdown 5, thanks to the spare fridge running in the laundry. My solar power app indicates that my fridges hardly make a dent on my power consumption. Unlike that wonderful cultural habit seen in parts of Asia and the Mediterranean where shopping for perishables takes place on a daily basis, lockdown style shopping is the antithesis.

Braised peppers, Turkish bulgar pilaf.

I know that my food preferences have radically altered since 2020, the year when life changed for everyone. We eat more simply than ever, waste less, and write a weekly menu which we follow unless I get side tracked. I rarely eat out these days, but when doing a big post lockdown shop, I always buy the same treats for lunch- a big fat samosa or a freshly made gozleme.

Over the last two months, we’ve probably eaten more Asian than Italian food and I’ve developed a real fondness for cooking in a Vietnamese claypot.

Claypot cooking- Vietnamese style fish in caramel sauce and fresh herbs

I’ve also discovered an excellent fish sauce, Nước Mắm Nhĩ 3 crabs fish sauce which has more depth of flavour than the cheaper brands. The search for a better quality fish sauce began after I read ‘New Flavours of the Vietnamese Table ‘ by Mai Pham, 2007. There is a traditional saying about fish sauce, ‘without good fish sauce, the father’s daughter will not shine‘. Mai Pham says she has always been struck by this saying.

On one level, it points to the Vietnamese view of the universe and how everything is seen from the family’s perspective. The implied pronoun- in this case ‘she’- is replaced with the ‘father’s daughter’. On another level, it suggests that without good fish sauce, the quintessential sauce of Vietnamese cuisine, food can never taste good, no matter how talented the cook. “

I know, dear reader, that, like me, you’re probably thinking that the daughter’s skill as a cook would make her more marriageable, and that her role in the traditional family was defined by this. Nevertheless, this particular fish sauce is good, and you only need to use a few drops to transform all sorts of dishes that require a little salt. It makes a wonderful nuoc cham dipping sauce, but I also add a few drops to an Italian style pasta with prawns. But please don’t tell the Italians. Non autentico ma buono!

Spaghetti with Tasmanian tiger prawns.

Another very tasty addition to this spaghetti prawn dish is prawn oil. This is a trick I learnt from Adam Liaw’s ‘The Cook Up’ on SBS. After de-heading and shelling your prawns, gather the heads and shells, fire up a wok with a little oil, and toss the heads around until bright red, then slowly add more oil. The addition of a little tomato paste adds to the colour of the oil. Once made, drain the brightly coloured oil into a jug or jar, then start cooking your garlic and prawns in some of this oil, which will coat the strands of spaghetti with a umami loaded pink gloss.

In My Kitchen, Vietnamese noodles and Chinese condiments.

Above are some of the ingredients that add excitement to my non supermarket shopping. I tend to use the rice noodles in Char Kway Teuw, my favourite Malaysian dish, or in Thai Drunken noodles or Pad See Ew. The Sichuan Chilli Douban sauce is reserved for that Sichuan classic, Fish Fragrant Eggplant, while the little jar of XO mushroom sauce is a wonderful base for any claypot concoctions such as mushroom and tofu.

Indian lunches are always welcome on a freezing day. I prefer a main meal for lunch, with a simple soup for dinner rather than vice versa. This is one of the changes that came about since lockdown- big lunch, small dinner. The main dish here is Moong Dal with spinach, accompanied by lemon rice, and a left over Muttar Paneer from the previous day. Did you know that dal means ‘split’ in Hindi? And Moong/mung means yellow, though whole Mung beans are green. As a general rule, dried split beans don’t need soaking while whole beans do.

Eating with the eye is a rather important idea, especially when serving a simple cheap meal such as pea soup. These large yellow dried split peas, unlike the tiny yellow moong dal, definitely need pre -soaking. This is a vegetarian version of that classic pea soup I grew up with, which was loaded with salty ham bones or hocks. In this version, the flavour comes from the vegetables, ( onion, parsnip, celery, carrot, swede, turnip and parsley) the salt from a small rind of parmesan, the latter added after pureeing and re-warming. The extras on top add more flavour and texture- garlic sourdough croutons and fresh marjoram leaves.

Above is my cake of the year, one that will be repeated often. The mandarin almond syrup cake recipe can be found here. Almond meal is on the list for my next mass shopping event. The mandarins are fattening up in the orchard.

During one of those treasured spaces between lockdowns 4 and 5, we headed into the city with Daisy and visited every Korean and Japanese shop in Melbourne’s CBD. She was keen to eat at a Sushi Train restaurant, one of the highlights of the day, after spending her hard earned pocket money at the expensive KPop store. This is my little non- kitchen addition to this month’s post, though it is food related. My message to all – enjoy these moments of freedom, the breathing spaces outside of lockdown, which is how we measure time now. Do something special, especially with the little ones who’ve had their world turned upside down.

Thanks once again Sherry, for hosting In My Kitchen. It’s always a pleasure to put together these kitchen posts together each month.

32 thoughts on “In My Kitchen, August 2021”

  1. Since the magic of SE Asian foods fills my plate five days out of seven what joy and fun to read this post ! My interest and fascination have thru’ the years moved from provincial Chinese and Indian to fusion Malaysian and now to Vietnamese and Korean. So am reading every sentence twice and shall let my fingers find your fish sauce to try. Now I have bought on line for decades and learned how to find stuff I did not know existed . . . but, I LOVE my Coles and they manage to get most of what I require . . . or then to Harris Farm or Maggie Beer or dozens of smaller providers . . . food-wise the blessed lockdowns don’t bother me an iota 🙂 ! . . . re the latter . . . hmm: too late now to learn from you . . .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad that your Coles satisfies your needs. The wonderful online providors often charge an arm and a leg for shipping. I tend to frequent shops in suburbs that have a strong mix of different ethnic cultures for my yummy stuff. Our Coles is very bland, the fish looks grey and flaccid, the fruit and veg is over priced. But, given it’s the closest shop, 17 kms away, I’m stuck with that during lockdown.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love reading the “In my Kitchen “ blog posts . I should get motivated to do my own. Your food looks fantastic.
    Here in California life is almost back to normal except got the people that refuse to get vaccinated.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You should join in Gerlinde, I’d love to see what’s happening in your kitchen. The problem in Australia is not so much vaccine hesitancy but the botched rollout by our Prime Minister.


  3. oh those mandarins look wonderful! i must hunt up that fish sauce. i find them usually a bit blaaagghhh. thanks much for joining in with IMK this month. I think our lockdown in brissie will go on a bit longer than tuesday but here’s hoping … take care

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Francis, nice to hear from you. Longing to return to those hills near Lucca one day. Yes, our lockdowns occur fairly often as the aim is elimination here. Unfortunately the vaccine roll out has been slow, and our prime minister bungled the whole thing. So now with the Delta strain on the loose, and low vaccination rates only 15% fully vaxxed) it is a mess. I had mine last March then May. I feel a little safer, but still it’s not over yet. Best wishes, F.


  4. Your delightful food posts both here and on Insta inspire me and also reinforce my belief and experience that whatever our circumstances finding, growing, cooking and eating well has a remarkable -evidenced by how much I remark on it- positive effect of our sense of wellbeing. Thank you for sharing a how-to for the prawn oil and tips for inspirational multicultural ingredients 👏

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve been cooking more Asian too signora. For many years I stayed away from it as I could never do it well, but with perseverance and practice I now have some good dishes in my repetoire. I made Singapore noodles the other night which were delicious. A noodle and dumpling soup with roast duck on the top is one of the boys’ faves. Hope you are well Signora.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. We have been out of lockdown since March-5 months- We have been feeling like things are getting back to normal and now the variant is causing havoc and we are starting to curtail our activities on our own. I’m sure we will eventually have more lockdown type restrictions. I love Vietnamese food. During our lockdown, I learned to make some Indian recipes and Chinese recipes- all new to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Love your food offerings. I am afraid our COVID journeys are far from over. You’re not wanting to use the “L” word …I am trying not to overuse “Knock on wood” every time I reference a potentially live gathering or event. Take care!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. We have been on the same cooking spree – last month was all about Asian cooking, and last weekend I played around with mandarins. I will look out for the Nước Mắm Nhĩ 3 crabs fish sauce next time I need some. I am sort of back to my daily shopping habit. The only times I don’t go is if we are doing a left overs week, like we have just done.


  9. Oh those mandarins, I am so in love with them! I hear what you are saying about the reverse shop, today I found myself googling what stores are allowed within my 10km radius since Newcastle went into lockdown. I can’t believe it’s lockdown again for Victoria 😦 I love the style of your food, simple dishes focusing on flavour. I wonder too, how the lockdown will change my own eating forever…

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I drooled all over my keyboard while scrolling through these photos! Yum! I have to be careful with Asian foods, since I’m allergic to peanuts, so I should make it at home more often. Sometimes the ingredients sound daunting, but they are very available here in Vancouver so I really have no excuse!
    I’m so sorry about your continued ‘L’s’. Mannaggia! 2 weeks ago I worked at the vaccine clinic in Whistler, where a lot of the temporary workforce are young Australians. I vaccinated a lot of people who were going home to Australia in the next few months and were hoping to get ahead of things. I hope the situation gets better soon! Forza e coraggio, Cristina

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Grazie Cristina, si`, mannaggia!!! But here in lockdown land we have for elimination and as the Delta version takes hold, our policies are much stricter than other places in the world. Some folk in Italy laugh at the Australian approach- so strange, coming from a country that has a covid death rate of 128, 000. I’m sure Canada is pretty strict too on this score. And once again may I applaud you on your work at the clinic. Brava.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The immunization clinic work is slowing down, which is a good thing-and I’m aching up on blog posts! Things aren’t too bad here in Vancouver. About 82% have had first dose and 60% both doses. Things could change anytime though, so everyone is still careful. Stay safe, Cristina

        Liked by 1 person

  11. I can tell it’s time for lunch as your photos had my stomach growling. I wouldn’t need restaurant food with lovely food like your own. I have ordered some of that fish sauce, thank you so much for the recommendation. The US is such a mess right now, it makes me so sad. It feels like an increasing case of insanity. My best friend from high school in Florida just came down with Covid even though fully vaccinated. Australia has certainly fared better although the continuing lockdowns must be very difficult.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you found that premium fish sauce Liz. Only a few drops are needed to add extra umami to so many dishes, and not just Vietnamese. Yes the world is insane and it’s hard to find hope. Not only the disaster of covid, but the dire warnings of global heating is even more daunting. I see that California is suffering once again from wild fire. Unfortunately Australia’s wise stem largely from an incompatent leader who has failed us noth on vaccine rollout and addressing global environment issues.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Our country is split. Our PM has one seat majority only. The Murdoch press paints that picture of popularity unfortunately. He is our version of Trump and half the population detest him.


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