Farewell tuna, hello tilapia

Grilled tilapia with breadcrumbs & parmesan
Grilled tilapia with ginger and coriander
Cheese baked tilapia
Today marks one full year and 20 days since my return to KL. It has certainly not been the smooth sailing I was initially expecting when I decided it was time to say farewell to my London town. Some initial difficult adjustments, crazy challenges, and difficult realizations…  I myself am quite surprised that I’m still here, patiently waiting to see my relationship with the City of Lights blossom. 

Despite it all, every moment of confusion, heartache, and uncertainty has led to a new sense of acceptance and clarity. Two weeks before my 31st birthday, I attended a life-changing training session that has opened up my eyes to the fact that I am fully responsible for every single decision I make. You either make the best of out of a situation or you make a change. Rather than blaming the circumstances around you, you have the ability to respond to any given situation. So I can either wallow in the things that I miss about my London town or I can get with the programme, embrace my decision to come home and make my time in KL the best that it can possibly be.

In a ‘self-pity session’ prior to said training, I was trying very hard to recall everything that I missed about London. Summer days (although limited), random walks around the city, easy access to healthy food, work-life balance, a sense of liberated independence knowing that you only have yourself to count on (no family around), art, theatre, supermarkets with affordable produce, artisan farmers’  markets, and oddly enough out of nowhere fresh tuna popped into my mind. Good quality, juicy, meaty, and does not cost an arm and leg tuna steaks. That’s when it hit me that I have not enjoyed a nice tuna steak since I stepped foot in KL since fresh tuna, which is always imported, is too crazily expensive here. When forced to choose between the two, I always opt for salmon as it is a bit more wallet friendly compared to the smallest piece of tuna fillet. 

Rather than pine away at my long-lost food joy,  I need to happily accept the fact that I may not be able to enjoy certain things as much as I did in London. So the necessary adjustments need to be made. Instead of paying a ridiculous amount amount for tuna, I’m opening up my palate to the joys of the local, less costly tilapia. Tilapia is a fresh water fish and its meaty white flesh makes it ideal when served as fillets. Unlike tuna, tilapia is not too ‘fishy’. Its subtle taste ensures that it easily imbues the flavours of its surrounding ingredients, working well in both Western and Asian dishes. Best of all, unlike many local fishes, when filleted correctly you will not get any pesky bones interfering as you enjoy your meal. I have been experimenting with the Asian flavours of garlic and coriander to slightly more Western inspired assembles of breadcrumbed tilapia and cheese-baked tilapia (I am a firm believer of seafood + cheese = freaking delicious, hello seafood gratins?). Three recipes using the same fish in the span of two weeks? The best part is that I’m only at the very beginning of my adventure with tilapia. 

Grilled tilapia with breadcrumbs & parmesan (from Something Savoury)

The Ingredients
Tilapia fillet, a big handful of grated parmesan, breadcrumbs, zest of one lemon, chopped coriander, juice of half a lemon, and salt & pepper. For the orzo: 1/2 cup orzo, broccoli, sliced mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, a handful of parmesan, and salt & pepper,

The Preparation
1. Pat the tilapia fillets dry using paper towels.

2. Combine  cheese, bread crumbs, lemon zest, coriander, salt & pepper.
3. Coat tilapia fillets with mixture and bake fish for 10 to 15 minutes at 475F.
4. Squeeze fresh lemon juice on the fish before serving.
5.  To make the orzo, bring water to a boil and add salt. Add orzo.
6. When orzo is 3/4 cooked add the mushrooms and cherry tomatoes. Cooking should take a total of about 10 to 15 minutes. Once done and all liquid has absorbed, add parmesan cheese and seasoning.
7.  In a separate pan steam the broccoli.
8. Add broccoli to orzo mixture and top with the breadcrumbed tilapia fillet. 

Grilled tilapia with ginger and coriander

The Ingredients
Tilapia fillet, 1 garlic clove, 1/2 inch fresh ginger, 1 green chili, 1/3 cup chopped coriander, 1/4 cup white whine, 2 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tsp sesame oil, shiitake mushrooms, spring onion and extra coriander to garnish. 

 The Preparation
1. Pat fillet dry with paper towel and lightly season with salt and paper. Lay in a glass baking dish while heating the oven to 475F.
2. Blend garlic, grated ginger, chopped chili, and coriander in a food processor with white wine, soy sauce, and sesame oil. 
3. Pour sauce over the fish and add sliced shiitake mushrooms.
4. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes.
5. Once cooked (fish fakes easily), serve over a bed of brown rice. Garnish with chopped spring onions and additional coriander.

Cheese baked tilapia served with sautéed spinach and cherry tomatoes (inspired by How Sweet It Is)

The Ingredients
Tilapia fillet, 1 tbsp butter, 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, 1 clove of garlic, thyme, salt & pepper, and lemon slices. For the spinach and cherry tomatoes: 1 clove of garlic, olive oil, baby spinach, cherry tomatoes, a squeeze of lemon juice, and salt & pepper

The Preparation
1. Pat tilapia dry and season with salt & pepper.

2. Lay on a baking tray (either use a non-stick spray or a bit of olive oil rubbed behind fish so it does not stick). Bake for 10 minutes at 400F. 
3. Mix butter, garlic, thyme and parmesan cheese.
4. Remove fish from oven and gently flip. Top fish with the mixture and baked for another 5 to 10 minutes until cheese is golden and bubbly.
5. Heat olive oil and sauté garlic. 
6. Add baby spinach leaves and cherry tomatoes. Season with salt & pepper and squeeze of lemon juice. Cook until leaves have wilted and cherry tomatoes and popped.
7. To serve, plate the tilapia on top of the spinach leaves and cherry tomatoes. Serve with slices of lemon.  

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On spontaneity and avocados

Grilled cheese & guacamole bagel
I have always considered myself a rather adventurous and spontaneous person. I’m game for new discoveries. I keep an open mind to new possibilities. I live my life with a passion for new foods and flavours. I’ve spent my life moving from place to place, with an open arm to welcoming new experiences. However post birthday celebration, the slight anxiety of leaving my lovely twenties even further behind, and multiple comments of “you always go for the same, exact thing all the time” on my lunch choices have led me to take a closer look at how carefree I really am.

The actual truth is that I may have an audacious ‘go-with-the-flow’ spirit, however in practice I pretty much tend to sick to a familiar comfort zone. And you know what, I do love my predictable routines. I get cranky when I fall short of my required number of runs per weeks and generally try to plan nights out based on whether I am going running the following day. At one point weekends were religiously dedicated to yoga but hey when you fall in love your priorities sometimes change. I still try to be strict about Wednesday nights and Saturday afternoon yoga sessions. When I do miss these classes, I become the most whiney un-zenlike person to be around. 

The biggest of all ironies is that my attitude towards food is engrained on the familiar. Having my own food blog and experimenting with new recipes on a weekly basis, you would think that I love trying new dishes and new restaurants. Wrong. I only enjoy the latter IF I can have a pretty certain guarantee that it will be a good experience. I try out new recipes when I cook at home as the elements are within my control (I know my kitchen, I know the ingredients, I know the flavours that I like). On the other hand when it comes to dining out, I tend to stick to places/dishes that are familiar and that I know for certain I will enjoy. To me, a meal time is sacred and one of the worst things that can happen is to have this special time be ruined with average, crappy food. So I will stick to the same restaurants or the same rice with sweet sour fish and tofu veg for my work lunch (when I’m not bringing food from home) day in and day out because it feels familiar and will minimize my chances of a negative experience. To add to the food neurosis, I spend the weekend planning out my meals for the following week to make sure I buy all the necessary groceries required to prepare dishes on my ‘menu-for-the-week’ list, which I obsessively refer to on my moleskin as the days go along.  

Recent inspirations though have taught me to breakaway from routine, to really go out and embrace things that may seem scarily unfamiliar. Try go-karting instead of that usual weekend yoga class or a spontaneous night out during the week to let-go of stress (‘run extra over the weekend’ I’ve been told). Best of all, be open to trying a new restaurant that I have not obsessively studied through various food blogs. If you have a crappy meal, at least you’ll have something to laugh about and your next meal will only seem more magnificent. Don’t plan meals or grocery shopping, buy what you feel inspired by at the supermarket rather than being led by a predetermined list. 

So today, in my first attempt to be more spontaneous, I crossed out my ‘meals list’ and decided to entertain my sudden craving for avocados. Genius that I am forgot that in Malaysia, spontaneity and avocados do not go hand-in-hand. You need to plan your enjoyment of avocados in advance since the majority of supermarkets DO NOT for some strange reason sell ripe avocados. Cold storage, Jaya Grocer, Jusco, or Carrefour all require you to let the avocados ripen for at least 3-4 days. As I stood in front of the stack of hard avocados at a chaotically busy Jaya Grocer in Empire cursing myself for not having a list to fall back on (‘what do I cook now that there are no avocados?!’), I remembered my little secret (well after this no longer a secret) of only ever finding ripe avocados at Village Grocer in Bangsar Village. And in the name of spontaneity, me and EP got in the car, drove through traffic just to buy some lovely ripe avocados to satisfy a craving. And trust me, ripe avocados are perfection, worth the half an hour standstill along Federal Highway. If following an act of randomness can lead to the blissful moment of enjoying a creamy ripe avocado, then it is worth letting go of the comfortable routine once in a while. I started off the year trusting in the magic of the unexpected, so I’m embracing this philosophy to take me through what will hopefully be an exciting few years enjoying the 30s. 

Grilled cheese & guacamole bagel

The Ingredients
1 ripe avocado, a handful of cherry tomatoes, a quarter onion, 1 clove of garlic, 1 lime, chopped coriander, bagel, a slice of mozzarella cheese, bagel, salt & pepper, salad/rocket leaves to serve on the side. 

The Preparation
1. To make the guacamole, mash avocado, cherry tomatoes, chopped onion, chopped garlic, coriander, and lime juice. Season with salt & pepper.
2. Spread guacamole  on bagel and top with sliced cheese.
3. Grill in pan until cheese has melted.
4. Serve with a side salad.  

Good morning Vietnam

Grilled chicken summer rolls
Holidays = new discoveries, cultural revelations, enlightening moments, and best of all foodie adventures. A recent trip to Vietnam has reignited my appreciation for meals containing fresh, minimally cooked veggies. Vietnamese cuisine in comparison to the offerings of its South East Asian neighbours, by far contains some of the healthiest and wholesome dishes. Unlike Indian food that cooks down veggies into an unrecognizable pulp or Malay food that drowns greens into a soggy mess, the natural texture and flavour of veggies is often the centerpiece of Vietnamese food. Vegetables tend to be eaten fresh to preserve their original textures and colours – if they are cooked, they are boiled or only briefly stir-fried.

The renowned gỏi cuốn (summer rolls) are packed with crunchy (non cooked!) herbs while even the traditional pho is always accompanied by a plate of fresh bean sprouts and even more herbs. Peek into a Bánh xèo (omelette) and you will surprisingly be greeted with an array of colorful, light veggies (instead of grease and onions a la the Malay omelette). Some of my travel buddies even pointed out that the Vietnamese seemed to consume a garden with each meal! This healthy approach to their meals is reflected by the fact that Vietnam has one of the highest life expectancy rates out of the developing countries within South East Asia, complemented by a low obesity rate (although obesity amongst children is becoming a trend in the more developed areas of the country). 

In an attempt to prolong the celebration of light, fresh, and wholesome food, I recently created my rendition of the favourite Vietnamese summer rolls (recipe inspired by Taste for Adventure). These veggie-packed parcels were my constant London summer picnic basket staple. Not only are they perfectly refreshing on a hot, sunny day, it is also so easy to impress guests with this dish as everyone always seems surprised that I would go through the effort to assemble all the ingredients and delicately fold the rolls. Here the traditional prawns are substituted with a marinated grilled chicken since I wanted a protein fix to help fuel a much overdue post-holiday run. I also substituted the usual ingredients (bean sprouts and basil) for whatever I had left in my fridge – rocket leaves and red peppers – a slightly Western twist to a Vietnamese classic!

Grilled chicken summer rolls

The Ingredients
 Chicken breasts cut into thin slices, vegetable oil, soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, rice paper sheets, 1 cup glass noodles, 2 carrots – shredded, 2 cups rocket leaves, 1 red pepper, coriander, 1 tsp brown sugar, lime juice, salt and pepper.

The Preparation
1. Marinate chicken with vegetable oil, sesame oil, soy sauce, and minced garlic. Season and leave in the fridge for half an hour. Grill.

2. Make sure all ingredients are ready to go – carrots are shredded, red pepper sliced thinly, glass noodles hydrated, and coriander is chopped. 
3. Fill a shallow dish with warm water and add a rice paper sheet one at a time for about 5 to 10 seconds. Remove from dish and place on a flat surface. Top with glass noodles, red pepper slices, shredded carrot, sliced chicken, and coriander leaves. Fold both ends and roll the sheet tightly. 
4. For the dipping sauce combine soy sauce, sesame oil, brown sugar, lime juice and chopped coriander. Serve with summer roll.
5. Folding the spring rolls can become a tad boring after a while – if you give up half way, combine all ingredients into a bowl, add sliced cherry tomatoes and thinly sliced mangoes for a refreshing salad!