Clever Cooks, Footnote Frivolity***, Thrifty Asian

Leftovers – Mum’s way

Last weekend, my Aussie mother-in-law showed me her photos from her Vietnam trip. Amongst the scenery shots of Hoi An and Ha Long Bay were the photos of food. The food, she said, was lovely and healthy, though the soup that was brought out with each meal was ‘very bland’.

While the tour guides had been very careful to explain the stories behind the sights, they had not bothered to explain the method to Vietnamese dining. Soup is usually brought out in a large communal bowl. Instead of serving it at the start of the meal as an entree, it is poured over rice and served with a salty dish (i.e. stir fry). There is also a dipping bowl filled with fish sauce for the bland bit of tofu that you’ve fished out of your soup.

Explaining this to my mother-in-law made me reminisce over the family meals Mum cooks. Mum doesn’t reinvent leftovers like I do. Instead, she batch cooks her food and then dishes it out over several nights. Continue reading

Gardening on a Budget, Thrifty Asian

Striking betel leaf cuttings

It’s lunar new year this weekend and one of my favourite snacks to eat from the street-festival vendors is bò lá lốt, beef wrapped in betel leaves. I’ve recreated it at home, using Luke Nguyen and Mark Jensen’s recipe (via Secrets of the Red Lantern). Nguyen and Jensen use pork mince and pork fat to enhance the flavour, but Luke Nguyen also has a pork-free version up on the SBS website.

Because betel leaf is a such rare commodity in Melbourne, I’ve struck my own with the stalks leftover from cooking. Continue reading

Clever Cooks, Footnote Frivolity***, Thrifty Asian

Mother’s eggplant and pork mince stew

Mince is cheap, especially pork mince. However, it’s still meat and is more pricey than pulses or in-season vegetables.

A clever cook knows how to bulk out their mince with other ingredients. The meat in a spaghetti bolognese, for instance, can be stretched out with vegetables like onions, tomatoes and carrots.

Sichuan cuisine takes it one step further, turning meat into a side act in favourites like mapo tofu, green beans with pork mince, and ‘fish-fragrant’ eggplant. Making green beans or eggplant the main attraction makes sense, especially when they can cost as little as $2 per kilo.

Unfortunately, I don’t hail from Sichuan and I can’t handle chillies. So instead of Sichuan-style vegetables with pork mince, I’m going to recreate my mother’s mild-mannered eggplant and pork mince stew Continue reading

Footnote Frivolity***, Going Green, Thrifty Asian

Old-school cool

The average Aussie home uses 9-29% of their energy on cooling each year (via Origin) and air conditioners are mainly responsible for this power suck–‘[t]he energy an average air conditioner uses in 3 hours is enough to power a fridge for a week’ (via Green Times)–so it makes sense to go air-con-less in order to minimise the power bill.

You might want to consider some old-school alternatives of staying cool, however, before the temperature inside your home creeps over thirty-five degrees and your resolve melts into mush.

  • Summer wardrobes –  In Ancient Egypt, men wore wrap-around skirts or went about naked while women wore loose-fitting dresses. Garments were made out of linen, a lightweight, natural fabric that breathed. I’m not advocating nudity or skimpy/see-through dresses but we can all certainly opt for the modern equivalent of ancient Egyptian linen without causing too much of a scandal. Continue reading