Four fresh recipes from California to brighten your summer

Tacos for breakfast? It's a thing now.
Tacos for breakfast? It's a thing now. Photo: Con Poulos/Smith Street Books

California is known for its laid-back lifestyle, fresh produce and cultural diversity – a combination that can only lead to delicious new dishes and fresh ways of eating.

"The food scene offers an abundance of flavours and techniques, and Californians appreciate them all," says US recipe writer and food stylist Vivian Lui in her new cookbook, Eat California.

Here are four inventive recipes inspired by the spirit of the west coast.

Vivian Lui's new cookbook.
Vivian Lui's new cookbook. Photo: Supplied

Breakfast tacos

Tacos come in many forms throughout California – traditional versions from trucks, Korean tacos and vegan tacos with jicama as the base. The tortilla is a perfect vessel to fill with different ingredients, so it makes sense that there are so many adaptations.


  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 230g fresh breakfast sausage, casings removed
  • 1 small onion, finely sliced
  • 1 large poblano chilli pepper, stemmed, seeded and sliced
  • sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, grated
  • 8 small corn tortillas (about 13cm in diameter)
  • 8 large eggs


  • sliced jalapeno, pickled radish and coriander leaves


  1. Heat a large non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and the sausage and cook for 6-8 minutes, breaking up the sausage with a wooden spoon and stirring frequently, until the meat is browned. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
  2. Add another tablespoon of the oil to the pan, then add the onion and cook for 3 minutes, or until translucent. Add the poblano chilli pepper and season. Cook for 5 minutes, or until the vegetables begin to caramelise. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Transfer to the bowl with the sausage. Wipe out the pan and set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, toast the tortillas over a direct flame for 1 minute, or until lightly charred in spots or to desired doneness. Flip and repeat. Transfer to a plate and cover with a dish towel to keep warm.
  4. Crack the eggs into a medium bowl, season and whisk. Return the frying pan to medium-high heat. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and swirl to coat. Pour in the eggs and immediately reduce the heat to medium-low. Fold gently a few times and tilt the pan to allow any very runny parts to cook. Continue until mostly set with large billowy curds, about 3-4 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.
  5. To serve, divide the eggs onto the tortillas. Top with the sausage mixture and finish with desired toppings.

Serves: 4

This is an edited extract from Eat California by Vivian Lui, published by Smith Street Books, RRP $49.99. Photography: Con Poulos. Food stylist: Vivian Lui.
Breakfast tacos
Crispy rice sushi
Grilled meatballs with lettuce wraps
Avocado green goddess
Single use print & online

Sushi in crunchy form. Photo: Con Poulos/Smith Street Books

Crispy rice sushi

Sushi in California is so common now that regular supermarkets have a dedicated team to make the little boxes for takeaway. This version is a bit more special with the added texture of the crisp rice to contrast the fresh fish.


  • 190g sushi rice
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons sea salt
  • 280g skinless sushi-grade fish or 20 pieces uni (sea urchin) or combo
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • wasabi or lemon juice, to taste (optional)
  • rapeseed or other neutral oil, for cooking
  • fragrant herbs, such as chopped spring onions, shiso, sorrel, spicy or citrusy flowers, to garnish


  1. Rinse and drain the rice 10 times, or until the water runs clear. Drain well and transfer to a rice cooker or small saucepan and add 240ml water. Cook according to the rice cooker's manual. If using a pan, bring to the boil over medium-high heat, cover, reduce the heat to low and cook for 10 minutes, or until tender and the water is absorbed. Remove from the heat and leave, covered, for 5 minutes. Transfer to a large shallow bowl.
  2. Meanwhile, place the vinegar, sugar and salt in a small saucepan and heat over medium-low heat, stirring for 1-2 minutes until just dissolved. Sprinkle over the rice and fluff with a rice paddle or a wooden spoon. Cool to room temperature.
  3. Slice the fish into 20 pieces, about 7mm thick and about 4 x 4cm pieces or similar. Chill until ready to assemble. Mix the soy and wasabi or lemon juice to taste. Set aside.
  4. Lightly oil a small piece of plastic wrap. With wet hands, portion the rice into 20 (2 tablespoons/20g), rewetting hands as needed to prevent sticking. One at a time, wrap the rice in plastic, form in a tight ball and press down lightly to form a 1cm thick disc, about 5cm wide.
  5. Heat a large cast-iron frying pan over medium-high heat. Add 3 tablespoons of oil. Place half the rice discs in the pan and cook for 4-5 minutes on each side until golden and just crispy, adding more oil and adjusting the heat for the second side as necessary. Transfer to a plate lined with kitchen paper and repeat.
  6. Place the fish on top of the rice and brush with the soy mixture or serve on the side. Top with herbs.

Serves: 4

This is an edited extract from Eat California by Vivian Lui, published by Smith Street Books, RRP $49.99. Photography: Con Poulos. Food stylist: Vivian Lui.
Breakfast tacos
Crispy rice sushi
Grilled meatballs with lettuce wraps
Avocado green goddess
Single use print & online

Harmonious flavours. Photo: Con Poulos/Smith Street Books

Grilled meatballs with lettuce wraps

There is a whole world beyond just pho in Vietnamese cuisine. This Vietnamese-style dish mirrors the freshness of Californian cuisine with grilled meat wrapped in fragrant herbs and lettuce to form a harmonious bite.


  • 450g minced pork, not lean
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 small shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • rapeseed or neutral olive oil, for brushing

Dipping sauce

  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 1 garlic clove, grated
  • 1-2 Thai chillies, finely chopped
  • finely sliced cucumber, radish, green mango or green papaya, for sauce


  • 115g rice noodles
  • 2 small gem lettuces or mild mustard green leaves, to serve
  • mixed herbs, such as Thai basil, shiso, perilla, dill, mint, to serve


  1. Combine the pork, fish sauce, maple syrup, shallot, pepper and salt in a large bowl and mix gently with your hands until just combined.
  2. Divide into 20 balls, about 1 slightly rounded tablespoon, and lightly flatten. Set aside.
  3. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil. Submerge the noodles, remove from the heat and soak for 10 minutes. Drain and rinse in cold water.
  4. Heat a griller to medium high.
  5. For the sauce, combine the fish sauce, lime juice, sugar and garlic in a bowl and whisk until the sugar has dissolved. Stir in 125ml (½ cup) water and desired amount of chillies, then add the sliced vegetables and fruit.
  6. Lightly brush the tops of the meatballs with oil, then place, oiled side down, on the griller rack and grill for 3-4 minutes until nicely charred in spots. Flip and cook for another 3-4 minutes until just cooked through.
  7. Serve the meatballs with the dipping sauce, noodles, greens and herbs.
  8. Wrap and enjoy.

Serves: 4

Avocado green goddess

This dressing is a take on the original from San Francisco. The creamy avocado replaces the need for sour cream or mayonnaise. It can be enjoyed thick as a dip with crudites or thinned out as a dressing.


  • 1 avocado, stoned and sliced
  • 6 anchovy fillets, drained
  • 15g parsley, leaves and tender stems
  • 15g chives
  • 10g tarragon, leaves and tender stems
  • 10g mint leaves
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • grated zest of 1 lemon, plus 1 tablespoon juice
  • 1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
  • sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Blitz all the ingredients in a food processor until smooth and lightly flecked with green herbs, scraping down the side as necessary. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. For a thinner dressing, add 1 tablespoon water at a time and process until you reach the desired consistency. Season lightly.

Makes: 350ml

This is an edited extract from Eat California by Vivian Lui, published by Smith Street Books, RRP $49.99. Photography: Con Poulos. Food stylist: Vivian Lui. Buy now