Category Archives: Weeknight dinner

Penang Char Kway Teow 

…or, fried flat noodles with prawns and eggs.


The photo doesn’t do it justice, but this is one of my favourite things to eat – probably top 5, maybe top 3. It’s a speciality in Malaysia, where half of my family is from, and where my mum learned how to make it by carefully watching (and interrogating) the specialists, who cook nothing else on fiery hot woks in hawker centres and coffee shops.

My mother’s is just as good (or better) and that isn’t some kind of fluffy emotional bias talking (we’re really not that kind of family, by which I mean, we’re Asian. “I won a maths prize Mummy!” “Hmmm.”) it’s cold objective analysis. I always request char kway teow when I go home, and order it pretty much whenever it’s on the menu. But I’ve been watching carefully too, and even without a wok, managed to make it at home on my own.

I sent her this photo and asked “Mummy are you proud??”


And she replied “Looks really authentic and I am thinking ,tastes really good too.  Well done you.”

…which would have been the sweetest taste of all!! except that after I’d sent the photo I realised it was underseasoned. But a few more iterations later and I’m ready to write down the recipe, something neither my mother nor her hawker gurus have done, as far as I know. So here goes:

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Healthy Pizza

Or, as per the message I sent to my vegetarian friend, “come round for dinner? I’ve made cauliflower pizza dough, so we can eat like hipsters”.

It might not quite be hipster pizza, because I forgot to put the kale on top, but I consider this relatively healthy pizza – with a thin wholewheat crust, half made up of vegetables, topped with reduced fat cheese and more vegetables (spoiler alert: heaps of vegetable ribbons, instead of tomato sauce), it doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable for a weeknight dinner.

Traditional pizza with asparagus, mozzarella and fresh basil

Healthier version: thin crust courgette pizza with aubergine, salami and reduced fat cheese

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Healthy Cauliflower Cheese

…or rather, Cheese Cauliflower – because we invert the elements of this classic winter comfort food to make it feel-good in both senses of the word.

Classically, the essential comfort components of this dish are the bechamel sauce and the bubbling melted cheesy top, luxuriously blanketing the cauliflower itself. Here, we replace the fat and starch of the bechamel with a velvety cauliflower puree, and the layer of cheese with a few cubes of burnished halloumi, which have a much stronger presence and so we don’t need as much to make the same impact.

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Miso Honey Salmon

This is not a particularly budget-friendly recipe, purely because salmon isn’t cheap. But it’s one of those foods that shouldn’t be, I think. If I’m going to eat a fish, I want one that used to swim in the sea and is fished sustainably and transported so that it’s still fresh, and so it should cost a lot of money. (I also believe in good treatment for animals, but that’s slightly different because it’s possible to buy an unpopular cut of a well-treated animal at a reasonable price). However, we made this the other day from a salmon I’d frozen after buying it from the supermarket at less than £10 a kilo. It was a lovely specimen – firm, rosy-fleshed salmon from Scotland, and very fresh. It was so cheap because it was unprocessed – gutted, but then just bagged up. It’s a cost-efficient way of buying enough salmon for dinner with friends, but only if you don’t mind wrestling a fish longer than your arm. I spent longer de-scaling and pin-boning that sea monster than preparing the rest of the dinner put together. Just call me Ishmael.

Miso Honey Salmon

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Baked Courgette Fries

Cost: minimal, around 40p for a two-person serving

The courgette plants we grew from seed are now sprawling triffids that dominate the vegetable patch. A couple of courgettes reach frankfurter-size on a daily basis now, and I try to pick them before they get too big. A month or so ago we only had flowers, which are rather lovely stuffed with ricotta and herbs, brushed with olive oil and grilled until they crisp up, and these alone would be worth growing the plants for, but now it is almost August and we have a full on glut.

With such excess, it is easy to get into slightly dangerous habits. Courgettes sautéed in butter with caramelised onions and crispy nuggets of bacon was an early favourite, served with pasta and topped with cheese. The pasta was wholewheat but let’s be fair, if this was a nod towards healthy eating, healthy eating’s response would have been an almighty blanking. “Um, I think not!”

This recipe, however, is satisfying on all sorts of levels. It is quick, cheap and easy – but it is also extremely healthy and utterly delicious. Courgette fries are a mainstay of some fancy burger restaurants such as Byron; the tinge of green hints at a virtue their potato counterparts could never attain. But most recipes call for deep frying – this method does produce crisply perfect fries, but they are greaseless and retain a depth of flavour, a certain sweetness of the courgette, and a moistness as well. The courgette inside is moist but not mushy, the burnished carapace breaking apart to yield a velvety interior. They really seem like an indulgence – a luxury even, but are so quick and easy (30 mins from start to finish) and very healthy, chips that make you feel better, not worse after eating them.

Courgette fries

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Easy Coconut Sago Pudding

Cost: under £1, serves 4 generously

This pudding is dreamy – caviar-like pearls of sago are suspended in a light coconut pudding with the gorgeous mouthfeel of custard. It is wholly composed of storecupboard ingredients – vegan and gluten-free, so it’s easy to knock up a batch when there is nothing in the fridge and no inclination to run to the shops. I make it unsweetened and then add a teaspoonful of dark, fudgy brown sugar – it’s not quite the authentic gula melaka that would be used in Singapore, but it does the trick.

Coconut Sago pudding

I feel like a guilty pleasure food should be something that is easy to make and doesn’t need lots of time/attention – after all, there is too much of an opportunity to make a more responsible choice if you actually go out of the house to buy some double cream, and for this kind of thing, delaying the gratification with hours of stirring at the stove or stacking up lots of washing up for later doesn’t enhance the pleasure – in fact it might start to seem not worth it. This is a one-bowl recipe that takes less than an hour to make – and half of that is just leaving it to soak.

My way of making sago is possibly not very authentic but it is easy, and delicious, and the result of much experimenting. It’s supremely comforting served warm from the pan, but achieves a certain cool sophistication served chilled in pudding glasses, perhaps accompanied by tropical fruit such as lychees or honey mangoes.

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Broccoli and Bacon Pizza

Cost: at a guess, I’d say between £6-8 to make enough pizza for 16 (i.e. eight large pizzas). It’s approximate because the dough and tomato sauce were purely ingredients we regularly have in the cupboard, and the cheese and broccoli happened to be in the fridge. Emergency bacon from the freezer.

This dough can be stretched very thin in the middle to make a crisp base, which is crackly and chewy at the edges. A barely-there slick of an intensely flavoured tomato sauce, heaps of cheese to turn bubbly and stringy in the oven, and little broccoli florets to char and sweeten. Also bacon. Always bacon.

Broccoli and Bacon PIzza

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