Weekday meals can be easy and economical. And there are some cuisines that fit the bill every time. Asian flavours appeal to most people — think curries, stir-fries and dumplings. These meals are speedy and special. Just keep a selection of economical, multi-purpose spices and herbs in your pantry.
Another fave cuisine with flavour is Mexican. I keep soft tortillas in the freezer so I can whip up a treat even if the traditional ingredients are not on hand. There are always good substitutes: eg, swap canned sliced peaches for tomatoes or plum sauce for salsa.
My family also love Japanese pancakes — okonomiyaki — because they can include just about anything in your fridge.
Okonomi translates to ‘as you like it’ and yaki to ‘grilled’. Traditionally these pancakes are prepared from flour, eggs and a flavoured stock, and filled with cabbage — maybe carrot and corn — plus pork or shrimp.
In Japan, this classic street food dish is available at markets and specialty okonomiyaki restaurants where it’s cooked on a large hot plate in the centre of the table. It’s also a popular meal Japanese families will cook at home, usually tweaking the recipe to suit their own tastes and to use ingredients they have on hand.
Four small wedges of green cabbage could replace the Shanghai cabbage. Prepare all the ingredients ahead and cook just before serving.
500g skinned and boned chicken thighs, halved
1 teaspoon five-spice powder
2 tablespoons canola oil
3cm piece root ginger, peeled and julienned or grated
1/2-1 teaspoon each: crushed Sichuan peppercorns, chilli bean paste
2 tablespoons each: soy sauce, rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
4 small Shanghai cabbages, trimmed and halved lengthwise
Sprinkle the chicken thighs all over with the five-spice. Heat half the oil in a non-stick pan on medium-high. Add the chicken and cook for 2 minutes each side. Place aside.
Add the ginger to the pan and stir for 30 seconds. Add the peppercorns and chilli bean paste. Return the chicken to the pan. Add the soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and the water. Cover loosely and simmer for about 10 minutes. Place the Shanghai cabbage on top, cover and simmer for another 3-4 minutes, until tender.
Serve with rice or noodles. Serves 4.
Japanese vegetable pancakes. Great drizzled with Japanese mayo eg Kewpie, and okonomiyaki sauce. To make your own: 2 tablespoons tomato sauce, 1 tablespoon each of Worcestershire and soy sauce and 1 teaspoon sugar, combined. I’ve used bacon in place of cooked pork.
Batter: 2 eggs
1/2 cup cold water
1/4 cup each: plain flour, cornflour
1/2 teaspoon each: baking powder, salt
Filling: 2 rashers rindless bacon, chopped
2 cups very thinly sliced cabbage
1/2 cup each: frozen whole kernel corn, thinly sliced beans, thawed
2 spring onions, diced
2 tablespoons canola oil
To make the batter, whisk the eggs and cold water together in large bowl. Add the flour, cornflour, baking powder and salt. Whisk until smooth. This batter can stand for an hour if necessary.
Panfry the bacon until crisp. Remove from the pan.
Combine the vegetables in a bowl. Add to the batter. Stir until well combined.
Pour 1 tablespoon of the oil into a 20cm frying pan and heat. Place half the bacon in the centre of the pan. Spoon half the batter mixture on top to make a 10cm diameter pancake. Reduce the heat to low and flatten the pancake. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes. When brown underneath flip over to cook the other side, until golden. Remove and keep warm. Repeat with the remaining mixture.
For extra zing, add a garnish of pink pickled ginger. Serves 2.
Drained canned salmon is a good sub for the hot-smoked salmon.
4-5 soft taco shells
250g hot smoked salmon, broken into chunks
1/2-3/4 cup plum sauce
1 cup each: grated tasty cheese, thinly sliced cabbage
2 tablespoons plain or chipotle mayo
6-8 thin canned peach slices, well drained
1 small avocado, stoned, peeled and diced
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
Heat the taco shells briefly in the microwave or according to the packet instructions.
Combine the salmon with the plum sauce. Heat through gently. Fill the warm taco shells with the cheese, then the cabbage mixed with the mayo. Top with the peach slices, salmon and avocado. Drizzle with a little lemon juice. Serves 2.