Buta no kakuni, or braised pork, is, I think, one of the most comforting winter dishes. It was a complete revelation when my husband, Nori, cooked this for me for the first time – the flavours and textures were something I had never experienced before. I watched in awe as he trimmed the sharp edges of the daikon to make them slightly rounded – so it would cook evenly. Feel free to do this, but it is by no means a make-or-break step. There are a few other tricks to make a great buta no kakuni – blanching the pork to remove impurities, and making a caramel to coat the pork, but overall, this dish is very quick to prepare. The pork and daikon gently simmer, absorbing all of the wonderful flavours, and later, soft-boiled eggs are added. It is best left to sit in the fridge for several hours after making. The excess fat will solidify and can then be scraped off for a lighter, more pure braise before being reheated. We eat this simply with wilted greens and steamed rice.
Recipe Category: Issue 201
I have a real love for udon noodles – they’re so comforting. It must have something to do with their thickness, I think. I never tire of eating them in different ways. In Tokyo, for breakfast, served in broth with tempura; topped with many slices of sudachi – a small green citrus fruit with a very sour flavour; or eaten cold with a dipping sauce. At home, though, I usually make them like this: fried with pork mince, wombok and shiitake, all topped with a spicy chilli oil.
If you find yourself in Modena, chances are you will eat gnocco fritto (pillowy fried dough) at some point in the day. Whether for breakfast or as a snack with prosciutto, cheese or salami, they’re incredible. They are really easy to eat – almost too easy – so I suggest having a small crowd at the ready to help you devour them. Traditionally fried in pork fat, I’ve opted for a neutral vegetable oil here.
Originating in Tuscany, pici are like a fat spaghetti. The exact recipe for the dough varies from family to family – sometimes made with semolina flour, sometimes with an egg added. They are very textural and so comforting to eat. There are a few sauces that traditionally accompany this pasta shape – most often a simple garlicky tomato one but also one of toasted breadcrumbs – which are both delicious. However, I’ve been making variations of this lemon sauce since I was 16, after reading a similar recipe in a River Café cookbook. The sauce doesn’t even need its own pan – it is simply warmed over the pot as the pasta is cooking – making for a simple meal that doesn’t require you to stand at the stove for long periods of time. I have had great success using a combination of pure cream and mascarpone, and an equally fine substitute is, of course, dried pici, spaghetti or bucatini (use 320g for four people). I like my sauce quite zingy, so I’ve left the amount of lemon up to you to adjust – start with one lemon and add the rest if you like.
My husband was born in Vietnam not long after the war ended. His story is harrowing but sadly not unique, as many refugee families around the world have similar experiences of war and displacement. A few years after we met we travelled to Vietnam together, for the first time since his family fled when he was five years old. That trip was amazing in so many ways and healing for him, too, I imagine. As a food-obsessed traveler, I spent a lot of my time walking the streets, eating and observing how the locals live and eat, and the daily bowl of pho for breakfast is something, as a vegetarian, I wished I could join in with. There are pho shops everywhere in Vietnam, where people rub shoulders with each other as they sit upon tiny plastic chairs lining the footpaths, slurping up noodles and flavourful broth, adding herbs and lime juice as they do. My mother-in-law’s pho is legendary and when she makes it the whole family is invited over to share a bowl, or three. After many years of looking over her shoulder when she cooks, I came up with my own plant-based version and, while as a lifelong vegetarian I have no way of knowing if I’ve come close to the real thing, it’s something I crave often. This recipe is from my first cookbook My Darling Lemon Thyme (HarperCollins, 2014).
Green mango or green papaya salad is made and consumed throughout Southeast Asia and is one of my favourite things to eat. I think I was in the back streets of Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, the first time I came across the addictive combination of finely shredded green papaya, crushed peanuts, garlic, tomatoes, beans and lime. When we lived in Western Australia with mango trees in our backyard, it was something I ate almost daily during summer, but here in New Zealand it’s a little harder to come across decent green mango or papaya, so I substitute green apple instead. While slightly sweeter and not as crunchy in texture, green apple does a mighty fine job of standing in when you need that hit of sour, sweet and salty. Fish sauce is traditionally used, but I use soy sauce for a vegan version.
There are as many different versions of rasam as letters in the alphabet and, like most recipes, I’m sure every south-Indian family has their own special version. Essentially it’s a heavily spiced broth which can be consumed as a soup (or healing tonic when sick) or eaten spooned over cooked basmati rice. Some recipes contain toor dal and use different spices but I’ve settled on a lovely warming rasam, heady with black pepper, slightly sweet from the addition of tomato and sour from tamarind. It’s the perfect thing to make up ahead of time, store in the fridge (where the flavours will develop even more) and then simply reheat when ready to serve. The heat level of this rasam is definitely not mild, more of a warming hum. If you don’t tolerate heat very well, omit the dried chilli and use 1 teaspoon (or less) of black peppercorns.
I first ate masala dosa (which originate from southern India) in the middle of the night at a roadside bus stop somewhere between Ahmedabad and the island of Diu on the west coast of India. It was the only time during our trip – in which we travelled predominantly throughout the north – that I came across what has since become one of my firm favourites. Dosa are a mainstay in southern Indian cuisine and are also eaten in Sri Lanka and parts of Malaysia, where they’re known as thosai or tosai. The dosa you’ll find in India are far grander than mine, often folded into rolls half the size of your table or elaborately folded into cone shapes tall enough to touch your nose, but their tangy taste and spongy texture shines through no matter how big or small you make them. You can eat dosa with chutney for a simple snack, or fill with the potato curry below for a more substantial meal. You’ll find urad dal at your local Indian food store, and while you’re there pick up some fresh curry leaves too. Any extra curry leaves can be frozen for later use. Start this recipe two days before you plan to eat them to allow time for soaking and fermentation.
Bún chả is a grilled pork and noodle dish from Hanoi, Vietnam, where it’s served with piles of herbs and the infamous nước chấm dipping sauce made with fish sauce, lime or vinegar, sugar, chilli, and garlic. Here’s my vegan take with peppery tofu, a soy sauce-based version of nước chấm and served with one of my favourite sweet and sour Vietnamese pickles, something my mother-in-law always has in her fridge to add a boost of flavour to all manner of dishes. The pickles can be made up to 4-5 days in advance and stored in the fridge (just be warned they let off a funky smell for the first few days).
A spin on a classic baked custard, this statement tart has roast apples and rosemary custard in a lemon-almond pastry base – a good make-ahead dessert.