The search for the signature dish

Quinoa patties and roasted aubergine salad
My priorities in life have always been off the beaten track in comparison to most people I know. When faced with turning the big 3-0, rather than be a normal girl panicking about the fact that I am no where near walking down the aisle or popping out babies, I was hyperventilating about ‘the more important things in my life’. I still could not run 5km under 27 minutes, I had never been to an outdoor music festival, and I was no where near being able to fund my dream of spending a year traveling around the Nordic region. As I blew out the significant birthday candle, I did take a moment to rejoice my biggest accomplishment to date – touching my toes after a lifetime of inflexibility, all courtesy of yoga. So yes, my priorities in life are a little less conventional. 

Perhaps the most important goal on my bucket list was the quest for the my signature dish. As a person who cooks a lot and loves experimenting with new foods, one would think that by now surely I already have a dish I can proudly cook with my eyes closed. Wrong. I have been on this mission for years now, feeling like I was fruitlessly searching for the holy grail. You see, THE signature dish is so much more than just an ordinary meal you can comfortably cook. It’s THE DISH that best exemplifies your attitude to food and your style of cooking. I see the signature dish as an extension of yourself – it personifies your personality, character, experience, and outlook on life with every single bite. It’s THE DISH you want everyone to associate you with. THE DISH you are best known for. THE DISH people ask for when they think of you. 

For a while now I was confident that my signature dish would be a hearty plate of pasta. I even thought I had discovered it with my Prawn Pasta – it has a sense of carefreeness combined with soulful indulgence. That’s so me! Or so I thought. Don’t get my wrong,  I love my prawn pasta and without a doubt it is the dish I go to when trying to mend a broken heart or when life has kicked me in the ass. But face it, prawn pastas are aplenty. There are so many more talented cooks and restaurants that do even more amazing prawn pastas. So rather than have a mediocre signature dish, I would rather own something that is more unique to me. 

And last week, eight months post turning 30, I found it. It even sparked a term for the food that I cook. When trying to explain the dish to a friend (who is not so familiar with the world of veggie cooking/ingredients), I said something along the lines of ‘It’s just weird Tasha food.’ He then replied ‘WTF food?’ To which I sarcastically said ‘Yeah, you’ll be guaranteed to taste it, spit it out, cursing what the f**k?’ So he tasted a bite and said, ‘It’s WTF food alright – wonderful Tasha food.’ Ok so it was rather cheesy, but depending on how adventurous your taste buds are, my style of cooking can always be summed up as either one of the three 1) What the f**k? 2) Weird Tasha Food 3) Or if we’re on the same wavelength, hopefully, Wonderful Tasha Food.

The Quinoa Patties creation was a result of trying to finish off some leftover ingredients, while the Roasted Aubergine Salad was inspired by a recipe I saw on The Kitchn. Despite stemming from other recipes, I feel confident to own both dishes since I’ve tweaked them to my liking and will always insist on serving the two together. I’m ecstatic that my signature dish is vegetarian, with slightly more intriguing ingredients than the average meal because that’s what I’m about. It’s a reflection of my dedication to veggies, my passion for experimentation and ‘weird’ ingredients, late nights experimenting on flavor combinations, and my absolute commitment to healthy eating. 

And oh the absolute joy of crossing this off the ‘Things to do before turning 35 list’ (containing a mix of carryovers from the 30s list and new quirky missions). I cannot stress the importance of having a bucket list of amusing and accomplishable goals that will help make you appreciate the small, joyful moments in life. I read somewhere that many people go through a depressing life crisis between the ages of 30 – 40 as a result of setting unrealistic deadlines that place pressure on needing to be a certain degree of success, wealth, position and normal societal labels (i.e. mom, wife, have-it-all). So for now, with signature dish discovered, it’s time accelerate that marathon training to get than 5km under 27 minutes.

Quinoa patties

The Basic Ingredients
1 cup cooked quinoa, cumin, paprika, chopped red onion, chopped garlic, grated parmesan cheese, bread crumbs, chopped parsley, chopped capers, juice of 1/2 a lemon, 2 tbsp flour.  

The Preparation
1. Mix all of the above ingredients and form into patties/ball shapes.
2. Bake until patties are golden brown.

Roasted aubergine salad

The Basic Ingredients
2 aubergines, olive oil, 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon honey, paprika, cumin, 4 cloves of chopped garlic, juice of 1 lemon, 1 tbsp soy sauce, chopped parsley, chopped walnuts, feta cheese, chopped spring onions. 

The Preparation
1. Cut the eggplant into 1 inch cubes in put in a large bowl with salt. 

2. Whisk together olive oil, red wine vinegar, honey, paprika, and cumin
3. Toss aubergines into the marinade and spread onto baking sheet.
4. Roast for 40 minutes until aubergines are tender and brown. It helps to stick every 15 minutes to make sure aubergine cubes are not burning. Remove from the oven and cool slightly.
5.  In a large bowl whisk lemon juice and soy sauce. Add aubergines to mixture ad stir parsley, walnuts, spring onions, and goats cheese. 

You really are what you eat

Brown rice salad with tofu, grilled aubergines and zucchini
Tonight is absolute testament to the fact that constantly eating outside food and lack of exercise has a significant impact on the way you feel. I’m feeling like a cliched social experiment now while I lie in bed on a Saturday night with a high fever and my conscience smugly taunting me ‘I told you so’. Yes that’s right. I’m sick. Not the minor ‘I’ve got the slight sniffles’ bug but the ‘every muscle in my body is aching and it feels like someone has just submerged me into hell’ type ill. For the first time in two years. I should probably be sleeping this off but I think the temperature has slightly gotten to my head. On top of the cocky conscience gloating away, I’m also feeling a euphoric epiphany moment that my outlook towards food and life may have some truth in it (and is not a load of hippy BS as some would think). I just had to get these words down. 

These past two weeks have been a bit of a haze for a number of reasons. Blame it on the fact that I’ve been walking on cloud nine, stressful late nights at work, anxiety over the avalanche of work that has been thrown at me, and well too much partying (music festivals and visiting friends – all have been worth it though). While I’m still forcing myself to get up for my early morning runs, yoga has taken a slight back seat in priority. At the same time, despite being religious about my packed lunches,  my dinner routine has involved a lot of eat out. I do try my best to make healthy choices when I’m out – noodle soups over anything fried, stir fried veggies instead of curries, and salads over unhealthy sarnies but what can I say, when you are on cloud nine even the most oily maggi goreng will taste like a slice of heaven.

As a result of these circumstances, my track record of not being ill for two years now ends with my body feeling like it is on fire and my head wanting to explode. Despite being in pain, I do feel a sense of satisfaction knowing that the decisions I have made to eat healthily, prepare my own meals, surrendering to yoga, and running have all taken care of my body over the last few years. I did not have much of an appetite earlier tonight but was adamant to redeem myself so I made the salad below using some of the leftover ingredients that have been lying around the fridge since my Orzo lunchbox. Side note to self, a recipe that calls for grilling different veggies, cooking brown rice, and sautéing is probably not the best thing to cook when you can barely stand. Hopefully this magical concoction of veggies and whole grains will nourish me back to health. More than ever I remain committed to my philosophy of healthy eating equals a healthy self. 

Brown rice salad with tofu, grilled aubergines and zucchini

Basic Ingredients
Brown rice, tofu, zucchini, aubergine, red pepper, sun dried tomatoes, onions, butter, cumin, olive oil, feta cheese. For the dressing: olive oil, red wine vinegar, dijon mustard.

The Preparation
1. Cook brown rice as per packet instructions. I like cooking rice as I would do pasta when  using in salads to retain an al dente texture. Once cooked, I transfer the rice into a sieve, pour cold water and let it strain. 
2. Pan fry tofu.
3. Grill zucchini and aubergines with olive oil, salt and cumin.
4. To caramalise onions sauté with a bit of butter and salt.
5. To assemble salad add brown rice, aubergines, zucchini, caramelized onions, shredded tofu, chopped sun dried tomatoes, chopped red pepper, and crumbled feta.
6. Whiz dressing ingredients and pour over salad. 

The joys of the office lunchbox

Orzo salad with sun dried tomatoes, feta & grilled chicken
I am often asked why I go through the trouble of bringing a homemade lunch into work almost every single day. The puzzled faces I receive from most people (including daddy dearest) boils down to two things. Firstly, I work in a shopping mall so food choices are aplenty if you are not a fast food snob like me I suppose. Secondly, why go through all the trouble? On most days I finish work late and people assume that I have better things to do than slave away at the stove after a long day of briefs and confused clients. 

The ritual of preparing lunch for the office is a habit that I picked up in London while on a mission to save some cash. At my last workplace, it was common practise for my colleagues to bring their own meals from home rather than eating properly at a restaurant or buying a takeaway. Working in picturesque but ridiculously expensive Notting Hill did have its downfalls. During our lunchtime strolls for fresh air, most of us would imagine walking in the shoes of the posh yummy-mummy window shopping at lovely boutiques. However we were quickly brought back down to reality when faced with paying 12 quid for an artisan sarnie while on the measly salary of the creative agency industry rather than the earnings of the Notting Hill glitterati. When I did the math, bringing my own lunch equated to saving an average of £50 a week! That’s about a weekend’s worth of drinks at the pub! I was convinced and eagerly joined the lunchtime microwave queue without looking back. Those office microwave catchup sessions became something that I looked forward to everyday. From its original practical intentions, they turned into a fun occasion to find out what type of meals other people were eating, sample foods, swap recipes, suggest restaurants, discover the closet office foodie/chefs that were so excellent at cooking they could have quit their day jobs, and best of all the numerous incidents of food envy.

This outlook is something that has stayed with me despite my move to the land of cheap food available everywhere/anywhere/anytime. It’s something I’ll continue to practise even if it means cooking meals late at night or lugging Tupperwares around like a little school kid. In KL, lunch options are a heavy fare – think mixed rice, big portions of noodles, or bad carb laden sandwiches sure to have you fighting the urge to snooze at your desk during that important 5pm conference call. The typical day at the office goes by in such a chaotic haze, before you know it, it’s past midday and you are absolutely ravenous, conveniently grabbing the first meal in sight. It’s easy to make bad food decisions. By making my own lunch ensures that I carefully plan my meals to ensure that they are healthy and nutritious.

Since time is rarely ever on my side when I’m preparing food for the next day, I like to make sure that the cupboard is always well equipped with the basic ingredients. Salads are great quick fix meal but it’s a safe assumption that the average person cannot live on plain greens forever. I swear by cold salads with base ingredients such as cous cous, quinoa, and wholewheat penne to help make the salad more filling. Sandwiches like the classic egg or grilled mushrooms are always reliable. More than often, I find that my lunchbox becomes an outlet for food experimentation. I only ever get to sit down to eat my own cooking during the weekend. On the week day, by the time I get home and cook, it’s way too late for a full on dinner. So rather than eat the meal right then and there, I’ll still insist on cooking up a storm and pack up the new creations for work the next day. I try to cook a portion that will last two days as it allows a rest from the kitchen the following evening. 

Recently post my barley disaster, I cooked orzo for the first time, using it as a cold rice/pasta salad. I was pleasantly surprised at how the orzo had a light, refreshing feel unlike the usual heaviness associated with most white pastas. For this particular meal, my mom was keen to knick some of the salad for her dinner so I served this with grilled lemon & rosemary chicken though the Orzo could easily work by itself as a lovely, light summer salad. The sweet taste of a Mediterranean summer to break up the drudgery of the working day versus convenient mall food? No contest. 

Orzo salad with sun dried tomatoes, feta & grilled chicken

The Ingredients
Orzo, sun dried tomatoes (not in oil), cherry tomatoes, walnuts, pine nuts, spring onions, chicken breast, dried rosemary, lemon juice, salt & pepper. For the dressing: olive oil, red wine vinegar, a sprinkle of brown sugar.

The Preparation
1. For the grilled chicken, marinate meat in lemon juice, dried rosemary, salt & pepper. After twenty minutes grill the chicken pieces.
2. Cook orzo as per packet instructions (this is cooked the same way you would cook pasta). Drain.
3. Mix cooked orzo with chopped spring onions, diced sun dried tomatoes, and halved cherry tomatoes.
4. Toast walnuts and pine nuts and when brown, add to orzo mixture.
5. To make dressing whisk the olive oil, brown sugar, salt & pepper, and red wine vinegar.
6. Drizzle dressing onto orzo salad and top with grilled chicken.  

In seven years time…

Grilled aubergine, spinach & feta salad
One of the worst things that can happen in the kitchen is the gas tank dying on you midst cooking a meal to satisfy the insane hunger pangs following an intense run. What is a famished person to do with a pan of half-cooked pasta sauce?! Note to self, always have spare emergency gas, particularly during the holiday season.

With none of the usual gas suppliers around because of the CNY period, I spent the entire week trying to prepare meals that did not require cooking on the stove. One Thursday I pulled together a tuna niçoise salad for my work lunchbox, pleased with myself for remembering that canned tuna is godsend for those lazy days when you cannot be bothered to fire up the hob. As I sat down to eat, I realised that I actually have not eaten tuna for quite some time now. With each forkful, I found myself having to force down the bites and it soon became obvious that I have actually gone off my canned fishy friends. The smell, the texture – everything about the tuna put me off. And this is coming from someone who used to live off tuna sarnies or tuna topped jacket potatoes! I suppose it’s only natural for your taste buds to evolve and your association to once familiar foods can change over a period of time. My attitude towards chicken is similar. Having binged on chicken breasts as the default choice since I do not eat any other meats other than seafood, I can no longer stand the stuff (unless I absolutely have no choice and do not want to come off as a picky eater). 

On the other hand, there are certain foods that I previously would have cringed in horror at but now wonder why I have deprived myself of them all this time – smoked salmon (I shockingly could not stand the slimy texture), sashimi (I questioned why anyone would want to eat raw fish), spinach, aubergines (I was not a fan of having sweet veg/fruit in my savory dishes and till today am not too thrilled at the thought of Moroccan tanginess), and probably the biggest wtf-factor of them all, avocados! I now can’t imagine a life without any of these beautiful ingredients. I read somewhere that this evolution of tastes is natural and can be attributed scientifically to your bodily cells regenerating every 7 years. Others say this is a myth. I think the changes in your tastes boils down to age and experience. Excessive repetition leading to boredom or a bad incident with a particular food will only eventually lead to a disinterest (i.e. me and chicken). However exposure to new foods cooked in exciting ways beyond what you are used to does wonders to expand your taste buds.

Another salad that I pulled together durning my no-stove cooking week contained two ingredients I previously could not stand – aubergines and spinach. Despite my earlier aversion to the sweetness of aubergines when used in savory dishes, I now love their versatility and their ability to easily soak up the flavours of other ingredients surrounding it. Aubergines are also one of the few vegetables that taste completely different depending on how you cook them. I’m extremely thankful for my new love for the ‘king of the vegetables’ and look forward to what taste surprises the next 7 years will hold! 

Grilled aubergines, spinach & feta salad

The Ingredients
Spinach leaves, aubergine, pine nuts, feta cheese, salt & pepper. Additional ingredients that I threw in to bulk up the salad – sliced mushrooms, croutons, and leftover quinoa.

For the dressing – olive oil, lemon juice, dijon mustard.

The Preparation
1.  Slice aubergines and place in a tray drizzled with olive oil. Season the top sides of the aubergines and grill until they have softened. When they look cook, flip aubergines and grill the other side.

2. Pan fry pine nuts (I placed mine in the oven!)
3. Combine the spinach leaves, pine nuts, crumbled feta cheese, sliced mushrooms, croutons, and leftover quinoa.
4. Whisk dressing ingredients and drizzle over salad.

I choose life.

Quinoa with grilled tomatoes & caramelised onions and grilled halloumi
Grilled prawns with avocado & rocket salad
Being in a new environment, on a number of recent occasions I have found myself in the position of defending my approach to a holistic lifestyle to reassure everyone that I am not a mental nutcase with control issues. Yes, I admit my dedication to healthy eating, running, and yoga dictates my choices, how I spend my free time, and the social decisions I make. These three integral elements define who I am so they are naturally going to take priority over other things around me. However, I reject all accusations of me being a ‘health/fitness freak’ in that obsessive calorie counting ‘I’m going to spend hours at the gym and not eat anything until I lose weight’ attitude. Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that my love for food means that I can eat like a horse. A very hungry race horse. In fact, portion control is probably something I need to work on in 2012! 

Rather than focusing on a weight loss goal or having abs (or buns) of steel, I make conscious decisions on what I eat and what I do with my spare time because it is a lifestyle choice. It boils down to the simple fact that healthy, home cooked eating and exercise makes me feel better. It gives me focus and a passionate drive. Despite years of growing up in a nutrition centric household (to this very day condensed milk is banned from our home), this epiphany was inspired when I discovered running and yoga. With regular practise of both activities you become more attune to every single tingle and sensation (both good and bad) that your body exudes. Having this strong awareness encourages me to actively choose foods that will help nourish me to make me stronger, spark positive energy, and achieve a greater sense of clarity. 

I love having like-minded people who share this attitude and find it inspiring to be able trade healthy recipes and workout advise (funny, I would have never thought there would be that many similarities between yoga and circuit training!). For a recent recipe swap dinner, I introduced a dear friend of mine to the joys of quinoa by cooking the grain with roasted tomatoes and caramelised onions, topped with grilled halloumi. A side salad of grilled shrimps with rocket and avocado, along with grilled lebanese bread to mop up any juices completed the dinner. We experimented with the food layout to show that you can recreate restaurant style meals using wholesome ingredients prepared lovingly from your kitchen. See, healthy eating does not equate to food depravation (that is fad diet territory). It is about choosing the right mix of nourishing ingredients to create a delicious, filling, and nutritious meal. And I’m going to continue down this path so that I will still be happily doing headstands and ‘mental’ running sessions for the next 10, 20, and hopefully 30 years. 

‘Your outlook on life is a direct reflection of how much you like yourself.’
-lululemon

Healthy can be pretty – Quinoa with roasted tomatoes and caramelised onions topped with grilled halloumi

Grilled prawns with avocado and rocket

The Ingredients:
Quinoa & halloumi: 1 cup of quinoa, chicken stock, red onions, cherry tomatoes, dried italian herbs, cumin, paprika, salt & pepper, olive oil, halloumi

Prawn salad: prawns, olive oil, chill flakes, avocado, rocket leaves, and for the dressing – lemon juice, dijon mustard, salt & pepper, olive oil

The Preparation:
Quinoa & halloumi

1. Sautee onions with olive oil and a pinch of salt until onions have caramelised. Set aside.
2. Halve cherry tomatoes and sprinkle with italian herbs and a pinch of salt. Roast and set aside.
3. Cook quinoa with chicken stock and cumin. When grains are cooked sprinkle paprika.
4. Combine all ingredients above into the quinoa.
5. Grill halloumi – the trick to ensure the cheese does not stick onto the pan is making sure that you place the sliced cheese on a very hot pan.
6. Top grilled halloumi on quinoa mixture. 

Grilled prawn salad
1. Marinate prawns in olive oil and chilli flakes. Set aside for 15 minutes.
2. Grill prawns until they turn a coral pink and serve on a bed of rocket and chopped avocados.
3. For the dressing whisk olive oil, lemon juice, djion mustard, salt & pepper. Drizzle over salad.

Just like the old days part 2

Pak choi, egg noodle & sesame salad with grilled prawns
I finally watched ‘Midnight in Paris’ and what a beautiful film. I found myself falling in love with the city as the movie unfolded despite initial resistance (what can I say, I’m a cynic who thinks the hype that Paris is the epicenter of romance and culture is highly overrated!). The film touches on a number of themes but the storyline I resonated the most with was the lead character (played by Owen Wilson) and his fascination, awe, and almost childlike wonderment with Paris. I have always felt that my most important relationship in the last 8 years was not the usual boy-girl romance. The one true love of my life during my twenties was my London town. And what a true love it was – there was passion, excitement, laughter, tears, goosebump inducing magical moments, comfort in silence, and also intense disagreements (oh how I did get my ass royally kicked on a number of times). Just like the beautiful relationships where the connection transcends the superficial and you never stop falling in love, the best part was the endless new discoveries and never ending inspiration. But like some of the most memorable relationships, we loved deeply before painfully parting our separate ways.

Like Owen Wilson’s character, I loved to walk around London. This was when deep connections were cemented as the city unveiled its true self. London never failed to surprise me. Almost every corner turned revealed a new discovery. I really do miss being able to walk aimlessly without a plan. It is a sense of liberating escapism knowing that you can walk out your front door, not knowing your path or where you will end up. An early Saturday morning walk to buy a loaf of bread along the vomit paved streets of Kentish Town (I say this with my rose-tinted nostalgia glasses on, reminiscing puke lined streets – we Kentish Town-ers had a good time on the weekends!), could detour to a quirky cafe in Camden for brunch, lying on the grass with a book on Primrose Hill, and before you know it, you’ve somehow strolled up Haverstock Hill to the lovely Hampstead to watch a show at the historic Everyman Theatre, with loaf of bread still intact of course. These walks were a celebration of random, inspiring moments and no one appreciated this more than one of the members of the lovely London foursome. Both of us will always carry a torch for our London town.

The recipe that I’m dedicating to her is actually one of her own. Interestingly, I have always thought this dish best exemplifies her unique sense of adventure and appreciation for all things random. Her excitement towards discoveries, whether a new song, movie, stumbling on a lovely unknown part of a city, or the oh-my-god moment at finding delicious new food, is so incredibly refreshing. In the spirit of randomness, the salad comprises of an unusual mix of Asian ingredients, brought to life by a Western dressing. Raw pak choi (yes this is possible!) and uncooked egg noodles make the foundations of the salad. The dressing, comprised of red wine vinegar, olive oil and sesame oil, is poured over the raw ingredients to help soften the egg noodles. This is lovely as a side salad on its own or can be made into a more substantial meal with the addition of protein (I included grilled prawns). The composition is quite bizarre yet intriguing as under normal circumstances you would never consider using uncooked pak choi or egg noodles. Together. But somehow, the flavours fuse brilliantly and it just works. This has been one of my favourite kitchen discoveries. 

Nidsters, here’s to always finding those accidental moments of enlightenment.

Pak choi, egg noodle & sesame salad with grilled prawns

The Ingredients
For the salad:  Pak choi, egg noodles, cherry tomatoes, spring onions, sesame seeds, flaked almonds.
For the dressing: 2 tbsp Olive oil, 2 tbsp sesame oil, 6 tbsp red wine vinegar, salt and pepper.
For the prawns: unshelled prawns, lemon juice, red chili, salt and pepper.

The Prep
1. Chop pak choi and shred egg noodles into a bowl.

2. Add halved cherry tomatoes, sliced spring onions, and toasted sesame seeds and almond flakes.
3. Mix dressing ingredients together, pour over salad and let this rest so the red wine vinegar has time to ‘cook’ or soften the egg noodles.
4. To make the prawns, marinate prawns with lemon juice, chopped red chili, salt, and pepper. Grill.
5. Top salad with grilled prawns. 

Food to fuel the soul

Quinoa salad with broccoli, cherry tomatoes, tofu, avocado & feta
I’ve recently developed a slight addiction to all things grain and seeds – cous cous, bulgar wheat, barley (as a replacement to arborio rice in risottos) and best of all, quinoa. In fact, I’ll happily choose grains over rice, pasta, and noodles. Shock, horror, because most people will know about my emotional attachment to the carbs goodness of pasta as the ultimate comfort food. I was (and still am) a staunch sceptic of the Atkins diet. A life without (good) carbs is not worth living!

Back to the point, what I love most about grains is their versatility. You can just about toss any combination of vegetables (or meat if desired) and the dish is transformed into a new, exciting meal. At the moment I’m having quite a lot of fun experimenting with what I can whip up with quinoa. To my amazement quinoa can easily be found in the organic section of most supermarkets in Malaysia. The types of quinoa available are also far more extensive than London!

I was first introduced to this superfood when I was trying to cook meals that could sustain me through a 10km run on the weekends. Just a few random facts – quinoa technically is not a grain. It’s a seed from a grain-like crop that was prized by the ancient Incans as being sacred as they relied on the seed to keep their people and armies strong. Quinoa became known as ‘the gold of the Incas’. These little gems are a nutritional powerhouse, packed with a higher protein content than most grains, eggs, or dairy products. It is ideal for the dieter as well as it’s a good source of complex carbohydrates that has a low glycemic index to avoid any blood-sugar surges. Your standard quinoa salad provides a meal high in vitamins, minerals and protein, while low in fat and calories. In addition to its detoxifying properties, a cup of quinoa is also known to help increase the delivery of oxygen to the blood, boosting energy and brain power. So food to make you skinny and smart? 🙂

You can imagine that this combination of energy fueling carbohydrates and nurturing protein (runners need protein for muscle growth and repair), makes this superfood a runner’s dream. I find that having quinoa before a run ensures a significant improvement to my performance. Not only can I have a pretty big serving without worrying about a stitch as a result of being too full or weighed down, I also feel so much more energy, see an improved breathing pace, and have more stamina to run for a longer duration. Fatigue does not become an issue as I feel almost impervious to the distance I’ve covered. You can literally feel the strength kick in, as if the superhero mode in you is all of a sudden unleashed. This was easily my meal of choice to power me through my half marathon earlier this year. 

One of my favorite combinations is quinoa with broccoli, cherry tomatoes, tofu, avocado, and feta. So easy to put together, it’s the perfect fusion of Asian and Western ingredients. This blend of magic food and veggies is pretty much wholesomeness and goodness personified. 

Quinoa salad with broccoli, cherry tomatoes, tofu, avocado & feta

Basic ingredients
The name of the salad pretty much sums up the list of ingredients! Easy. You’ll also need some grated ginger and chicken stock.

The magic
1. Cook quinoa (ideally soaked for 2 mins in water before cooking) with chicken stock and grated ginger. The way to tell if they are cooked is to check if the seeds have split to reveal an almost tail-like shape. Season.

2. Pan fry tofu to hold its shape and so it does not disintegrate into the salad. 
3. Add cooked quinoa to boiled broccoli, halved cherry tomatoes, sliced avocados and feta. That’s pretty much it. The spiciness of the ginger and creamy textures of the avocados and feta does not even warrant additional dressing but you could always drizzle with some lemon juice and olive oil before serving.

An ode to Sunday brunches

Bulgur Wheat, Puy Lentils  Mushroom & Caramalised Onions Salad
I can easily say that hands down, today has been the best Sunday I’ve had in KL. I broke away from the usual routine of isolating myself at the yoga centre to feast on the brunch buffet at the newly opened Acme Bar & Coffee at The Troika. Their Sunday brunch setup reminds me so much of Ottolenghi’s cafes in London – platters of wholesome salads, imagination, fusion of ingredients, and odd combinations that work so well together. I loved the fact that there were various moments of ‘oh wow this is good’ as we sampled new dishes. 

Not only was there delicious food, but great company as well. Today reminded me of how Sundays should be spent – lazily eating copious amounts of good food, over an extended period of time with great people, and surrounding yourself with conversation and laughter. The usual Sunday blues (well more like panic attack) of going back to work after being on leave for 2 days last week seemed like a distant memory once the food coma kicked in. 🙂 

Returning home after spending three and a half hours feasting away, I was not in a rush for my next meal but was inspired to try out the recipe below for tomorrow’s work lunch – Bulgur Wheat, Puy Lentils, Mushrooms & Caramalised Onions. This is slightly inspired by the Acme Bar & Coffee Bar’s Bulgar, Quinoa & Onion salad but I was out of quinoa and had to improvise! I’ll be tucking away into this and thinking of my perfect Sunday when shit hits the fan at work tomorrow. 

Image

Bulgur Wheat, Puy Lentils  Mushroom & Caramalised Onions Salad

Basic ingredients
Bulgur wheat, portobello mushrooms, puy lentils, spinach, slivered almonds, cumin and paprika for the bulgur wheat, chicken stock, onions, butter, feta cheese (*at the time of the picture taking I had completely forgotten to add in the feta so this salad can easily work without it as well)

The magic
1. Cook the bulgur wheat with chicken stock and cumin. Season with paprika and pepper.

2. Sautee the portobello mushrooms with olive oil.
3. Boil the puy lentils in some salted water.
4. Toast the almonds. 
5. Now this is where the magic ingredient comes in – the caramelised onions is what makes this dish. I loved the fact that the Acme Bar & Coffee had lovely sweet onions in their salad. Sautee onions in butter until they have caramelized. 
6. Mix all the above ingredients together with the spinach.
7. Top with crumbled feta cheese as a bonus.  

Seven easy steps to get to the goodness of ‘forget Sunday blues’ in a bowl.

Getting my mojo back

Watermelon & Feta Salad
So 2011 has been pretty significant… after years of contemplating I finally decided to leave London to be closer to family and embark on a new chapter of my life. Perhaps it was the ‘I’m turning 30’ freak out kicking in as well! London was where I discovered my passion for food – the beauty of ingredients, the joy of veggies & farmers markets, relishing in the simplicity of basic flavors (i.e. not drowning your food in sauces and spices!), and basically wholesome, healthy eating. 

I was initially excited to come back home to a city that thrives on a 24-hour food culture, where delicious meals are being prepared every where you look, and where the question ‘have you eaten’ replaces the standard ‘hello, how are you?’. I thought ‘how nice to meet new people and start a conversation around food rather than discuss the weather conditions.’

To my surprise, on a food level, coming back to KL has been a slight culture shock.Yes I have visited KL once every two years and eaten my much missed Malaysian food to my heart’s content. However, coming back home on a more permanent basis forced the acceptance that it is hard to eat Malaysian food daily and still be a healthy. I was slightly disturbed by the reliance on chain restaurants, the open acceptance to fast food, MSG!!!, and the exorbitant prices for good, imaginative food at restaurants and to buy the ingredients I loved. 

These realisations (along with other big life questions) discouraged me from food for a couple of months. I lost my passion for cooking and basically stopped being inspired to try new recipes and new food in general. I pretty much lived off cereal from end of June to August. Then one day my boxes from London arrived and I stumbled across Ottolenghi’s ‘Plenty’. Flipping through the pages and being embraced by the familiar, gorgeously mouth-watering photography reminded me of what I loved most about cooking – the experimentation, seasonality, and making the best of what ingredients you have available. ‘Plenty’ also re-ignited my spark. The book was actually a gift from my lovely colleagues at piglobal. They knew Tasha = passionate and obsessed with food and food photography, so they treated me at the quaint Books for Cooks store on Portobello Road. The perfect present for a foodie. I got the lovely ‘Plenty, an eye-opening workshop on Lebanese cooking and a beautiful farewell card designed as a cook book with my food pictures! Classic! I thought to myself ‘see this is what defines me so well that everyone who truly knows me, knows that I love the magic of food.’ So I of all people should clearly know this about myself. 

Then and there, at around 8pm, I stopped unpacking and decided to try out Ottolenghi’s simple Watermelon and Feta Salad. This recipe imbues the concept of seasonality, particularly in KL where our tropical weather means that watermelons are a plenty (and dirt cheap!). The only slight splurge was perhaps the feta cheese. Thinking that watermelon and cheese is a strange combination? Well, there never has been anything so right together. And with this simple summer salad, I can safely say I’ve found my mojo back.

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Watermelon & Feta Salad

Basic ingredients
Watermelon, basil, feta, balsamic vinegar, olive oil

To assemble…
There really is not that much work involved. Just cut the watermelon into triangles, crumble feta, and drizzle balsamic vinegar and olive oil.