Hetty McKinnon describes her latest book, To Asia, With Love, as a celebration of how flavour can powerfully connect us to our past and create pathways to our future. Here are four recipes that demonstrate her mission: to democratise Asian food, showing home cooks how to create big-flavoured vegetarian (and often vegan) Asian dishes, featuring lots of vegetables and always made using the simplest of everyday ingredients.
Life-changing udon with soft-boiled egg, hot soy and black pepper
In a diminutive noodle shop called Shin Udon, a short walk from Shinjuku station in Tokyo, I savoured a bowl of udon noodles that would ruin me for all other noodle experiences. Perhaps it's unfair to compare all noodles to this – the thick, chewy strands are made fresh, moments before they are served (we spent half an hour watching the noodle maker at work while we waited for a table). My bowl of udon with hot soy, soft-boiled egg, butter and black pepper blew my mind and entranced my taste buds. As I slurped the toothsome, salty strands, I knew I was having a life-changing experience. While there is no way to truly replicate this unforgettable experience at home, my humble rendition of Shin Udon's incomparable noodle dish is still satisfying and crave-worthy.
- 4 large eggs
- 800g udon noodles
- 500ml (2 cups) vegetable stock
- 3 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
- 2 tsp mirin
- 80g butter, cubed
- 4 spring onions, finely sliced
- 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
- sea salt and black pepper
- Bring a small saucepan of water to the boil. Add the eggs and set the timer for 6 minutes. As soon as the buzzer goes, immediately drain the eggs into a colander and place under cold running water until they are completely cold. (This will make very soft-boiled eggs – if you prefer a firmer yolk, cook them for another minute.) Peel and set aside.
- Cook the udon noodles in a large saucepan of salted water according to the packet instructions until al dente. This will take 1-3 minutes, depending on whether your noodles are fresh, vacuum-sealed or frozen. Drain, then scoop the hot noodles into four bowls.
- Meanwhile, combine the stock, tamari or soy sauce and mirin in a small saucepan and place over low heat until hot. Pour the hot soy sauce over each bowl of noodles and top with a soft-boiled egg. Add a knob of butter and allow it to melt into the noodles.
- Add the spring onion and scatter a generous amount of black pepper over the noodles (use as much pepper as you like, but this dish is intended to be very peppery). Finish with a little drizzle of sesame oil and sprinkle with sea salt.
Fold momos into any shape you like. Photo: Hetty McKinnon and Shirley Cai
Potato and leek momos
Momos are Himalayan dumplings found in Tibet, Nepal and northern India. Usually steamed, they are also occasionally deep-fried, as they are at Phayul, a fave Tibetan haunt in New York's Jackson Heights – their crispy potato momo is one of my constant cravings. As with all dumplings, you can fold these momos into any shape you like – these round ones take a bit of practice (I am yet to perfect my technique), but it's also fun to try new shapes. Momos are best served with something spicy.
- 500g potatoes, peeled and cubed
- extra-virgin olive oil
- 2-3 cm piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 leek, white and light green parts only, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp chopped coriander leaves
- 16-18 round store-bought dumpling wrappers
- sea salt and white pepper
- your favourite dipping sauce, hot sauce or relish, to serve
- Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil, add the potato and cook until completely soft. Drain and set aside to dry out for 3-5 minutes, then mash the potato.
- In a large frying pan over medium heat, add a drizzle of oil, along with the ginger, garlic and leek, and season with sea salt and white pepper. Saute, stirring constantly to prevent burning, for 3-4 minutes until the leek is translucent. Remove from the heat and stir in the mashed potato and coriander. Taste and season with sea salt and white pepper.
- To wrap the dumplings, set up a small bowl of water, and rotate the edge of a wrapper in the water until it is wet all the way around, hold it in the palm of your hand and place a teaspoon of filling in the middle. Using the thumb and index finger of your other hand, pinch a portion of dough on one side to form a pleat. Make another pleat next to it, then continue pleating, rotating the dumpling slightly as your work your way around. Your pleats will eventually encase the filling. Gently twist the bottom of the dumpling in the opposite direction and make a small indentation in the centre of the pleats with your thumb. (Alternatively, use your favourite dumpling folding method – any shape works.)
- As you finish each dumpling, place it on a sheet of baking paper and cover with a damp tea towel to stop them drying out. Place the momos in a steamer that has been lined with baking paper or wombok cabbage leaves. Steam over a large saucepan of boiling water for about 10-15 minutes.
- Serve hot, with your choice of dipping sauce, relish or hot sauce.
Variation: You can also deep-fry your momos. Pour about 3cm of high-temperature oil (such as vegetable or sunflower) into a small deep saucepan and heat over medium-high heat. Working in small batches, carefully drop in the momos and cook them on each side until they are golden all over, about 1-2 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towel. You can also substitute potato for sweet potato and leek for onion or spring onions.
This recipe is Hetty McKinnon's West-meets-East homage to an Aussie party food classic. Photo: Hetty McKinnon and Shirley Cai
Mushroom and kimchi 'sausage rolls'
Our childhood birthday parties were always slightly awkward. In lieu of party games or activities, my parents' one and only party trick was food. And lots of it. My mum and dad, not really attuned to the customs of Western-style children's birthdays, would fill our sprawling dining table with plate after plate of food: Chinese roast pork, Kentucky Fried Chicken, frankfurts (which we would dip in soy sauce and white pepper), spring rolls, prawn crackers and chicken wings, a haphazard array of food that somehow kept the mini-masses happy. Along with the fancy food, humble party pies and sausage rolls were also celebration staples. This recipe is my West-meets-East homage to an Aussie party food classic – mushroom and kimchi "sausage rolls", served with tomato sauce, of course. An assured crowd-pleaser, they are meat-free yet "meaty", suitable for those who love the undeniable appeal of bite-sized pastry filled with umami goodness.
- olive oil
- 1 leek, white part only, finely sliced
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- 500g Swiss brown mushrooms, finely chopped
- 2 thyme sprigs, leaves picked
- 1 cup kimchi
- 50g (½ cup) dried breadcrumbs
- 125g (1 cup) grated sharp cheddar
- 2 tsp Dijon mustard
- handful of soft herbs (parsley, dill, chives) and/or spring onion, finely chopped
- 2 × 24 cm square sheets ready-rolled puff pastry, thawed
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 2 tsp sesame seeds (white, black or a combination)
- sea salt and black pepper
- tomato sauce, to serve
- Preheat the oven to 180C fan-forced (200C conventional). Line a large baking tray with baking paper. Heat a drizzle of oil in a large frying pan over low heat, add the leek, garlic and a good pinch of sea salt and cook for 10 minutes, until very soft and sweet. Add the mushroom and thyme, then increase the heat to medium-high and cook for 6-8 minutes, until the mushroom is soft and starting to caramelise. Season with sea salt and black pepper, then scoop into a large mixing bowl.
- Squeeze out all the moisture from the kimchi and finely chop. Add the kimchi, breadcrumbs, cheddar and mustard to the mushroom mixture and stir to combine. Mix through the herbs, then taste, and season with sea salt and black pepper if needed. Set aside to cool slightly.
- Take one sheet of pastry and cut it in half to make two rectangles. Spoon one-quarter of the mushroom mixture along the middle of one length of pastry, moulding it into a sausage shape. Brush the beaten egg along one pastry edge, then fold the pastry over to enclose the filling, pressing it into the egg-washed edge. Turn it over so that the seam is on the bottom.
- Repeat with the remaining pastry and filling, until you have four long rolls. Cut each roll into seven bite-sized pieces.
- Place the rolls on the prepared baking tray, brush with the eggwash and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until golden.
- Serve with tomato sauce. Store leftover rolls in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Substitute: Swap Swiss brown mushrooms for shiitake or button mushrooms and cheddar for parmesan or pecorino. Veganise by replacing the cheddar with grated vegan cheese or crumbled firm tofu, along with a tablespoon of nutritional yeast. Use vegan puff pastry and brush the pastry with melted vegan butter, rather than egg.
Spoon the soy sauce and oil over white rice for the full effect. Photo: Photography by Hetty McKinnon and Shirley Cai
Steamed tofu and shiitake mushrooms with ginger, spring onion and soy
On Friday nights, fresh from a day picking up seafood from the markets, my mother cooked fish for dinner – a whole steamed flounder or snapper, topped with spring onion and ginger, then doused with hot oil to release the flavour of the aromatics into the flesh of the fish. I remember dreading "Fish Friday"; the pungent smell assaulted all my senses. The one saving grace was the sauce – soy sauce, oil, ginger and spring onion. I would dip every mouthful of fish into the sauce and then spoon more sauce over my rice. It made everything better. This recipe is made exactly the way my mother steamed her Friday fish, using tofu and shiitake mushrooms instead. Make sure you spoon the soy sauce and oil over white rice for the full effect.
- 400g firm tofu, cut into 1cm-thick slices
- 2-3 fresh shiitake, oyster or king edward mushrooms (about 75g), sliced
- 2 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
- 1 tbsp shao hsing rice wine
- 2.5cm piece of ginger, peeled and julienned
- 1 spring onion, julienned
- small handful of coriander leaves
- 3 tbsp vegetable or other neutral oil
- Place a steamer basket or trivet in a wok or large saucepan, then pour in some hot water. Make sure the water does not touch the bottom of the steamer or trivet. Bring the water to the boil over high heat.
- Place the tofu slices in a single layer on a heatproof plate (make sure it fits into the steamer or on top of the trivet) and top with the mushroom.
- Place the plate in the steamer or on the trivet, then cover and steam for about 5 minutes, or until the tofu is hot and the mushroom is cooked.
- Carefully pour some (but not all) of the liquid at the bottom of the plate.
- While the tofu is steaming, stir together the tamari or soy sauce, shao hsing rice wine and 1 tablespoon of water. Set aside. When the tofu and mushroom are ready, carefully remove the plate from the steamer or trivet. Place the ginger, spring onion and coriander on top of the mushroom.
- Heat the oil in a small saucepan over high heat until it is hot but not smoking. Immediately remove the oil from the heat and carefully (stand back as it will spit) pour it over the ginger, spring onion and coriander.
- Drizzle over the tamari or soy sauce mixture and serve with rice.
Serves 4, with rice