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.  

The rice war

Wild rice salad with cherry tomatoes, broccoli, tofu, and mange tout
It’s an ongoing joke between my dad and I that the hospital where I was born majorly messed up, accidentally giving me away to the wrong family. The first piece of evidence is me being gigantically taller than my smaller, petite family members (and not to mention other Malaysians in general). There’s also the fact that I do not look like either one of my parents, while my sister is an exact carbon copy of my mom. However in my dad’s eyes, the ultimate test of being an ‘Aziz’ – how much you enjoy rice and meat. And unfortunately for him, I’m a fan of neither. 

I have never really been a rice person, which is strange thing to say considering I am Asian and this is our holy staple to any meal. Don’t get me wrong, I do eat rice on occasion, but it is never my first choice for a carb fix. Maybe I find rice bland, but the same thing can be said for most other carbs. Furthermore, the beauty of rice is its ability to act as a blank canvas, heroing the flavours of its accompanying dishes. Oddly though, I can happily live without nasi lemak (Malaysia’s national dish of coconut rice and condiments), nasi goreng (fried rice), nasi briyani, nasi campur (mixed rice) and all the lauks in the universe, or the veggie fav banana leaf meal. But deny me of my noodles, pasta, or even (brown) bread and my world will start to fall apart! When I was living alone, a small 500g pack of rice would easily last me a full year. I was probably one of the very few Malaysians that refused to own a rice cooker – why waste limited London kitchen counter space/storage when you can cook rice on the hob with a normal pot!

Surprisingly in the last year I have developed a new appreciation for rice with the discovery of the brown and wild variety. Now many who are white rice purists will scoff at the notion of brown/wild rice as ‘hippy food’ that tastes like cardboard. However as someone who has never been hooked on white rice, I actually prefer the nutty, earthy, slightly smokey flavours and texture found in brown/wild rice. The alternative variety also has far more nutritional benefits than its white counterpart. White rice starts off brown and is processed/milled/polished to death to completely remove the bran/germ layer, reducing its original fiber and vitamin content. Brown rice on the other hand still retains its wholegrain status, since only the first outer layered is removed through milling, thus holding on to its vital nutrients. Another benefit is that brown rice has a much lower glycemic index to stabilise your blood glucose levels, keeping you fuller for longer (while reducing the risk of diabetes in the long term). Think this is great? Well wild rice is even better. Not technically rice (it is scientifically classified as aquatic type of grass), wild rice surpasses other grains in protein content, minerals, B vitamins, and folic acid. It has twice the protein content of brown rice (8 times the protein of white rice) while only containing 83 calories for 1/2 cup cooked!

I find that the chewy texture of brown/wild rice makes it more enjoyable when served cold, which is something that cannot be said about white rice. This makes it the perfect accompaniment to a salad, just like the dish below.  In London, I absolutely loved Biona’s Organic Wild Rice mix, where a single pack contained a combination of brown, wild, and red rice. Please, please, please will a supplier start distributing Biona products to Malaysia? I may just consider experimenting with a brown/wild rice nasi lemak and see if I can convert the nation. Move over Village Park Nasi Lemak!

Wild rice salad with cherry tomatoes, broccoli, tofu, and mange tout

The Ingredients
Wild rice mix (I used the last of my Biona packet! Brown rice or multigrain rice can easily be found in Malaysia in the organic section of most supermarkets – you can buy the brown/multigrain/wild (or black) rice individually and combine this yourself.)
 broccoli, pan fried tofu, cherry tomatoes, mange tout, and almond flakes.

The Preparation:
1. Cook rice mix (1 cup of rice to 3 cups of water) until the black husks have split and rice is slightly al dente. Wild rice takes slightly longer to cook than regular. Like I said, I think rice can be easily be made without using a rice cooker. The trick is to cook it on the hob uncovered and when it looks 3/4 done, place the lid on to steam the rice and lower the heat.

2. Blanch broccoli and mange tout in boiling water.
3. Sautee almond flakes until this has slightly browned.
4. Mix rice, broccoli, mange tout, sliced tofu, halved cherry tomatoes, and almond flakes.
5. Serve with dressing of choice (I find that the sesame Japanese dressing is lovely with this).  

A headstand a day…

Vietnamese prawn & dill soup
Keeps the doctor away. I don’t believe in falling sick. For the record, I don’t mean unfortunate (and cruel) medical illnesses that often strike without proper reason or purpose. I’m talking more about the niggling colds, flues, fevers and aches.

For a while now, I’ve shunned away from the idea of doctors or taking any form of medication (even paracetamol to sooth a sore head after a night out!). This is possibly a rebellious reaction to growing up in a family that believes Panadol is the miracle cure to everything (Me: ‘I think my heart is broken’ Parent: ‘Have a Panadol!’) After a bad experience of going through the winter flu several years ago by myself and regressing into shameful case of self pity à la Man Flu (the I-can’t-get out-of-bed-there-is-no-one-to-cook-for-me-my-life-is-miserable type whinging), I now try my best to prevent falling sick in the first place.

For the past year and a half, in addition to healthy eating, yoga has played a significant part in this. Apparently yoga practitioners are less likely to come down with the sniffles and on the rare case that they do, they have a much faster recovery rate. Yoga is known to regulate the immune system to keep it strong and healthy, allowing the body to withstand infections. Shirshasana (headstand) is possibly my favourite yoga pose – coming into it you really do see the world in a new light. Being upside down increases the amount of blood flowing to the head, creating a greater oxygen flow to the brain to reduce overall stress levels (a main contributor to the pesky cold/flues). Not wanting to jinx anything, I can safely say that I have not had a cold/flu or been on MC for the past year and a half.

So at any indication of feeling under the weather (like today’s annoying fever and ache), rather than pop a pill, I choose to go into headstand. Lots of water, sleep, and a bowl of Vietnamese Prawn & Dill Soup for dinner will also help. I love this recipe for when I feel the symptoms kicking in – its nourishing broth and abundance of veggies help revive the senses and remedy aches. The original recipe is from BBC Good Food, but I’ve tweaked this slightly to include more vegetables so that it becomes a nutritionally full-proof meal to kick the cold in the ass.  My  version includes broccoli since this nutrient-packed miracle food is known to help shield from illness/disease.

I really do believe that the right combination of foods, exercise, and a yoga class has more mileage than any guy in a white coat keen to write you off with a costly prescription of antibiotics for just about everything.

Vietnamese Prawn & Dill Soup

Basic Ingredients
Chicken stock, oyster mushrooms, prawns, dill, broccoli, fish balls (optional), 1 lime, quartered tomatoes, nampla, wild rice

The Prep
1. Heat chicken stock (can use chicken cube and water). Season.

2. Add in broccoli and cook until tender. Add oyster mushrooms, fish balls, grated lime peel, lime juice, splash of nampla, quartered tomatoes, chopped dill.
3. I add in the prawns last to avoid overcooking them.
4. Once soup starts boiling take off heat.
5. I usually serve this with some wild rice that I cook normally and just add this into the soup for a more satisfying meal. You can also use any type of noodles.