Come over for Chinese !

This post is long overdue. We have spent the last month (February) swinging between school lunch making, FebFast (total failure), birthday parties, and reunions. So cooking has been a mixture of late summer salads, pancakes, easy grilled dinners and last but not least, Asian inspired feasts in honour of Chinese New Year. Obsessed with dumplings, I have dragged Terry to numerous dumpling houses in our area in search of the best Xia Long Bao (soup dumpling) and so wrapped in Asian cooking that I was, our February guests had no choice but tasting my take on Chinese fare, not once, but 3 times! I must say they have been very good sports, slurping cold noodle and duck salad, minced beef stir-fry, and my own version of dumpling soups. Some of it has been experimental (i.e hit and miss like a char sui roast pork), others better received ( everyone loves deep fried money bags!)

What follows are the stand out dishes of the month, the ones most likely to feature again on the menu: Minced Fish in Lettuce Cups (Chinese dinner #2), Prawns with XO Sauce (Chinese Dinner # 3), Chicken with Lily Flower and Dried Mushrooms (Chinese Dinner # 2), and Pandan Tapioca Pearl pudding (Chinese Dinner #1)

Minced Fish in lettuce cups

Try as I might to be authentic, the availability of ingredients (or lack thereof) played a major part in the finished dishes, hence the twist on some classic. This is a typical example. Similar to Sang Choy Bow, which uses chicken or pork, this dish is equally delicious with fish ( I used wahoo fillets) served hot or cold.


Serves 8  as entrée


800g white fish fillets (wahoo, snapper, mahi mahi…), skinned

3 tbsp lemon or lime juice

2 tbsp fish sauce

2 tbsp water

3 tbsp finely chopped green spring onions (shallots)

3 tbsp finely chopped coriander leaves

½ cup chopped celery

3 tbsp sweet chili sauce

Salt and pepper

8 baby cos lettuce leaves (iceberg lettuce leaves are good too)

Dried shallots, to garnish

  1. Mince the fish fillets in a food processor. Combine fish, lemon or lime juice, fish sauce and water in a wok or frying pan over high heat and bring to the boil. Break up the fish using a wooden spoon and simmer 2 or 3 minutes.
  2. Place fish in a bowl and mix in with spring onions, coriander, celery and sweet chili sauce. Season to taste. Divide mixture among the lettuce leaves and serve.

Prawns with XO sauce

XO sauce is one of our favourite chinese condiment. It is made with dried scallops and dried prawns, packed with seasonings such as chili and garlic and is used to enhance stir fried dishes like beef, tofu, chicken or seafood. You can find it in Asian food stores, though I discovered that none of the shops in my area had it, and I had to ask one of our guests to buy it for me in Chinatown (where everything is available, so I am planning an Asian grocery shopping trip there very soon to stock up the galley). Homemade XO sauce tastes immensely better than store bought one, but since sourcing the ingredients is just as challenging as buying a jar of the stuff, I am sticking to the commercial version for now. A word of caution: this sauce is seafood based, so unsuitable for any one allergic to shellfish. This is the case of our son, who loves the aroma of it but sadly will never taste its spicy delights.


Serves 8 as entrée (or part of a banquet)


1 kg tiger prawns, uncooked, shelled and deveined

4tbsp grapeseed oil

10 garlic cloves, crushed

6 cm knob of ginger, finely chopped

3 long red chillies, sliced

6 green spring onions (shallots)

4 tbsp XO sauce

250ml chinese rice wine (Shaoxing), or dry Sherry

½ cup oyster sauce

A pinch of white sugar

Coriander leaves, shredded to serve

  1. Heat a wok over high heat until smoking hot. Add grapeseed oil, garlic, ginger, chili and spring onions, cook for 30-60 seconds until fragrant. Add XO sauce and cook for 30 seconds. Add prawns and stir fry for another 30 seconds until coated thoroughly. Add the chinese rice wine and bring to the boil. Then add the oyster sauce and sugar and cook for another minute.
  2. Top with coriander leaves, extra spring onions or fried shallots if desired. Serve over rice, or inside lettuce leaves.

Chicken with lily flowers and dried mushrooms

I discovered dried lily flowers in a Papeete supermarket, while cruising in French Polynesia last year. Tahiti used to host a very large Chinese and Vietnamese community, and that is reflected in the local food scene. Food shopping was always a delight: I would fill my basket with duck magrets, brie cheese, red wine, as well as spring rolls, Chinese noodles or tubs of poisson cru…

Dried lily flowers (or lily buds) have a fruity, floral scent and are used in traditional Chinese dishes such as hot and sour soup. They are typically paired with dried mushrooms, as in the following dish. This is an adaptation of a recipe I found in a local Tahitian cookbook, Cuisine de Tahiti by Lisa Mairai Bellais. It originally calls for duck legs, which is easy to source in Papeete. The duck was delicious, lending a certain richness to the sauce which everyone loved. I have since tweaked the recipe a little, using chicken instead and substituting water chestnuts for the jicama (impossible to find in Sydney!)

I absolutely love that dish. It reminds me of French Polynesia everytime I cook it, which I know is weird since it is a Chinese meal. I guess my taste buds are confused, in a good way…that’s travelling for you!

This is the duck version, served with rice noodles and plenty of sauce

This is the duck version, served with rice noodles and plenty of sauce

Serves 4, as a main course


4 chicken marylands (thigh+drumstick attached)

½ packet of dried lily flowers, rehydrated in warm water and drained. Keep soaking liquid.

4 large black fungus (mushrooms), rehydrated, drained and roughly chopped. Keep soaking liquid.

1 small can of water chestnut, drained and roughly chopped.

1 small knob of ginger, roughly chopped

5 tbsp dark soya sauce

5 tbsp oyster sauce

3 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tsp sugar

¼ cup chinese rice wine

  1. Pre-heat oven to 180 deg C.
  2. Heat 2 tbsp grapeseed oil in a large pot, brown the chicken marylands on all sides. Transfer to a large baking dish.
  3. In the same pot, add the rehydrated lily flowers and black fungus with their soaking liquid, water chestnuts, ginger, dark soya sauce, oyster sauce, garlic, sugar and chinese rice wine. Bring to the boil. Take the sauce off the heat and pour over the chicken in the baking dish. Cover with foil and transfer in the oven, cook for 45 minutes or until the chicken is done.
  4. When cooked thru, transfer the sauce back to the pot, leaving the chicken in the baking dish. If the sauce is thick, add more chinese rice wine to thin it down (don’t worry about the alcohol content, most of it will evaporate!). Bring to the boil and simmer until it has reduced to a gravy consistency (it can take up to 20 minutes). In the meantime, place the chicken under the grill, to crisp up the skin.
  5. Serve with rice and sautéed Chinese greens, with gravy on the side.
Same dish with chicken this time. It looks drier because Someone took the gravy away....

Same dish with chicken this time. It looks drier because Someone took the gravy away….

Pandan Tapioca Pearl Pudding

Ok, this is not a Chinese dessert per se. It is a very popular sweet dish from Malaysia and has been a favourite of ours for years. Similar to the coconut tapioca pearls dessert, this version uses pandan leaves which gives it a distinctive flavour ( best described as jasmine, baked bread and toasted coconut all rolled into one). Used widely in SE Asia, these leaves also grow in the Pacific islands but for some reason the locals would rather weave mats and hats with them rather than cook with them.  It wasn’t until we landed in Australia that I found the leaves for sale at the markets as well as pandan essence in a bottle. The latter has a much stronger flavour than the leaves, and is generally dyed green (not sure why, probably for dramatic effect in cakes ?) It is best to use the essence sparingly, a drop at a time, according to taste.

Pandan tapioca pudding

Serves 12, as dessert


500g tapioca pearls

500g palm sugar, crushed

1 cup (250ml) coconut milk

3 pandan leaves

1-2 tsp pandan essence (to taste)

A pinch of salt

  1. In a saucepan, boil water, fill with tapioca pearl and cook over medium heat until translucent. Stir occasionally to prevent it from sticking at the bottom.
  2. Remove from heat. Strain and rinse away excessive starch.
  3. Scoop the tapioca pearls into small serving bowls or cups. Set aside.
Now you know why they are called pearls. Looks like jewels!

Now you know why they are called pearls. Look like jewels!

  1. Cook the coconut milk on medium heat with the pandan leaves and a pinch of salt. Stir constantly ensuring it doesn’t overboil. When cooked, take off the heat, remove the pandan leaves, add pandan essence a drop at a time until you reach the desired colour and flavour intensity ( some of our guests like it very strong!) Set aside to cool.
  2. In a small saucepan, melt the palm sugar with a little water to obtain a thick brown syrup.
  3. Once the tapioca is cool enough. Pour the pandan coconut milk over it, followed by the palm sugar syrup. Serve at room temperature. It can be kept covered in the fridge for a day.
Puddings waiting for the final drop of sugar syrup.

Puddings waiting for the final drop of sugar syrup.

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