I came back from Asia having cooked and learned to cook a lot of good food. And then I had two kids. Two kids who, despite Chris and my best attempts to drive them away by dint of our inept parenting, still turn up to dinner every night.
Having passed through the baby food stage I started to try and figure out how to cook for them in a way which was authentic and child friendly. I can't promise that your children will eat the recipes found below... but mine will (on a good night).
These recipes are also suitable for adults who are afeared of the spices...
Salt and Pepper Tofu
A big bowl of this gets consumed within seconds of hitting the table. It's very moreish. A bit like popcorn...
250g firm tofu, cut into 1.5cm square cubes and still a little moist
40g plain white flour
1.5 tsp garlic salt
1 tsp pepper (white pepper if black bits scare them)
Mix the flour, salt and pepper in a dish. Toss the cubes of slightly damp tofu in the flour until their coated.
Heat 4 tbsp groundnut oil in a wok over a medium flame. Fry the cubes in two batches, adding more oil if needed. The outside should just begin to go slightly golden brown. Toss on kitchen paper and allow to cool for 5 minutes before eating.
Chow Mein with Chicken and Vegetables
300g dried or 500g fresh noodles (udon, vermicelli, ho fan or egg noodles if you must..)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 carrot, peeled and cut into long thin slices
6 mushrooms, cleaned and cut into small chunks
A handful of bean sprouts
150g chicken breast, cut into chunks (optional)
80ml vegetable or chicken stock (low salt if wished)
2 tsp light soy sauce
If using chicken, stir fry this first in a wok with 1 tbsp oil. Then set aside. If using dry noodles, reconstitute, drain, refresh in cold water and set aside. I like to cut my noodles up a little bit with scissors at this point as it makes them a bit easier to eat. Make up your stock and add your soy sauce to it.
Heat 2 tbsp oil in wok over a medium heat. When hot, add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Now add the carrots and mushrooms and fry for two minutes. Add the noodles and toss the ingredients together as you warm the noodles through. Add your stock and soy mixture and cook through for 1-2 minutes adding the bean sprouts half the way through.
Non-spicy Thai Curry
For spice paste:
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic
4 kaffir lime leaves
2 sticks lemongrass
6 slices galangal, dried is fine
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp ground coriander
6 tbsp groundnut oil
4 tbsp water
1 sweet potato, cubed
150g firm tofu, cubed or 150g chicken breast, cut into chunks
1 carrot, peeled and cut into small discs
Half a cup of peas
10 baby sweetcorn, cut into several sections
400ml coconut milk
1 tsp lime juice
2 tbsp light soy sauce
Blend the spice paste in a blender.
Heat 1 tbsp groundnut oil in wok and fry the chicken or tofu until they start to brown. Remove from heat and set aside.
Heat 2 tbsp oil in wok over medium heat and fry 2 tbsp spice mix for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and coat with spices. Now add the carrot and sweet potato and cook for 2 minutes, stirring.
Now add your tofu or chicken and your baby sweetcorn. Pour in a third of your coconut milk and cook until reduced. Now add the rest along with 150ml of water and the peas and simmer all the ingredients until the sweet potato is ready to eat.
Taste the sauce. Cook a little longer if need to reduce. Season with soy and lime juice. Taste again. Soy will heighten the flavours. If the curry becomes sour, add a little white sugar.
Serve with brown or white rice or flatbread.
Egg Fried Rice
The peas and egg help to make this a whole meal, so serve on its own for an easy lunch or as part of a bigger meal.
500g basmati or jasmine rice, cooked, drained and cooled in fridge for minimum 2 hours
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp soy sauce
3 tbsp groundnut oil
3/4 cup of peas or sweetcorn or a mixture according to preference
Stir soy into egg mixture. Heat groundnut oil in wok over a high heat. Add the rice and stir fry for 2 minutes before adding peas/sweetcorn and cooking for another minute. Now add your egg and soy sauce and toss everything together for another 2 minutes.
Corn on the Cob with Onion Oil
This is a Khmer dish from Cambodia where it is sometimes sold as street food.
2 corn on the cob, husked and cut into two pieces
80ml mild oil - vegetable or other
2 spring onions, topped and cut into small pieces
2 tbsp sugar
generous pinch of salt
Heat the oil in a small pan and add the spring onion. Cook gently for a few minutes, then remove from heat and add sugar and salt. Stir and leave to cool. When cool, have a little taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
Boil the corn on the cob until just tender. Now cook on griddle or barbecue until the kernels are starting to brown. Put on serving plate and spread over the seasoned oil.
Breakfast Pancakes for Tea
This is a bastardisation of the beautiful jian bing eaten throughout China by morning commuters. I have omitted the chilli sauce and added a little alternative flavouring. The garlic salt isn't authentic but the pancakes need something to make up for leaving out the chilli. Play around with the egg mixture to change the taste. Add a little soy sauce or some minced garlic or chop fresh herbs and mix them in - chives could work or coriander. Or you could give the whole thing a tiny kick by adding a little shake of dried chilli flakes, some black pepper or a couple of drops of Worcestershire sauce.
Makes 6 pancakes
For the pancakes:
100g plain flour
4 tbsp semolina flour
For the filling:
2 spring onions, chopped
1/2 tsp garlic salt
Whisk together the pancake mix and leave in the fridge. Whisk your eggs and add you spring onions and garlic salt.
Heat 1 tbsp groundnut oil in a large frying pan until sizzling. Now reduce the heat to low. Add one sixth of your mixture and swirl to cover the pan. Now add a tbsp or so of egg mixture and gently swirl over the top pf the pancake.
When the egg is just set, flip the whole pancake over and cook for another minute. Fold in half and half again and pop on plate. Eat messily with fingers.
Savoury Vegetable Platter
This a nice, unfussy vegetable side dish from northern China. It is designed to incorporate potatoes and similar vegetables which haven't traditionally been eaten much in this part of the world. You can swap potato for sweet potato or try something like butternut squash or yam instead. In China they would add citron day lily to this kind of dish, but since this is not very practical, I've added some green beans for colour and texture. If your kids won't eat green beans you can leave them out or swap them for spring onions.
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into bite size chunks
1 carrot, peeled and cut into rings
5 mushrooms, shiitake for preference, cut into large pieces
50g green beans, topped and tailed and cut in half
1 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tsp sugar
large pinch salt
small pinch pepper
500ml vegetable or chicken stock (there's vegetarian food and then there's Chinese vegetarian food!)
1 tsp cornstarch mixed with 2 tbsp water
Heat 2 tbsp oil in wok or saucepan over low flame and stir fry mushrooms gently for 4 minutes. Add potato and carrot and fry for 1 minute. Now add stock, soy, salt and pepper. Bring to boil then reduce to simmer. After 5 minutes add your green beans. Simmer vegetables for 15 minutes or until potato is ready to eat. Add your cornstarch mixture to thicken sauce. Simmer for another 2 minutes then serve.
This is my adaptation of the classic noodle dish from Malaysia. I've included chicken and tofu in this, but you can just pick one of these if you prefer. It isn't practical to cook this in large batches so only cook enough for two people at a time - around half the ingredients.
250g firm tofu, drained and cut into two blocks
200g chicken breast, cut into thin strips
5 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
10 mushrooms, cleaned and cut into large pieces
1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tomatoes, quartered
500g fresh egg noodles (available from most supermarkets)
2 eggs, beaten
1 limes, quartered (optional)
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1.5 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
Combine ingredients for sauce and set aside. Heat 3 tbsp oil in wok over medium heat and stir fry blocks of tofu, one at a time until golden all over. Allow to cool slightly then slice into long strips.
Heat 2 tbsp oil in wok over medium heat and add garlic and onion. Stir fry gently for 2 minutes and then add the chicken (if using) and mushrooms and stir fry gently for another 4 minutes. Now add your tomatoes and increase the heat. Cook for 2 minutes and then add in your egg noodles, tofu, mangetout and sauce. Stir fry over high heat for 2 - 4 minutes. Make a hole in the centre of your noodles so you can see the bottom of the wok. Add a tbsp oil and then the beaten eggs. Use chopsticks to gently agitate egg as it scrambles. Now mix everything together, check that your meat is properly cooked and then serve. Older children might like to squeeze over lime juice to add a bit of zing.
In China this is as likely to be a pudding as a light meal. If you are all about the authenticity, you can leave out the fried onions and the salt and season the final soup with sugar and cream before serving at room temperature for dessert. Or, you know, you can just make it like I wrote it.
Roughly 800g fresh pumpkin, skin and seeds removed
Half a white onion, finely chopped
100ml whole milk
1 tsp salt
1 pot of double cream to serve
Chop pumpkin into pieces and steam these to retain nutrients. Mash the softened pumpkin and set aside.
Heat 2 tbsp oil in wok over gentle flame and stir fry onions until beginning to colour. Now add mashed pumpkin and stir fry as you mix onions into pumpkin. Put this mixture into a blender and blend until smooth.
Return to wok or pan and simmer gently with milk until soup thickens. Season with salt and decant into bowls. Add 1-2 tbsp of double cream per person. These can be mixed in or used to decorate the surface of the soup.