Sunday, 28 January 2018

Vegetarian Nyonya Laksa (Noodle Soup with Coconut Milk and Other Spices)

Laksa is a popular dish, unique to Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, each one having its own distinct varieties and flavours. The one I am going to do in this one is based on the Nyonya Laksa, also known as Laksa Lemak (lemak meaning 'fat'). Don't worry if it's a bit sinful, because the good news is that you don't have to have this on a long term basis. If you want to do this long term, then you need to substitute the coconut milk with soy milk or almond milk, which is a bit lighter, but still very tasty. Nyonya laksa was born out of the Peranakan culture, a mix of Chinese and Malay cultures. All their food is flavourful and made mostly out of Malaysian spices and things like coconut. This one will be the first of the many vegetarian Peranakan recipes on this site and on Lunch Box Surprise.
(alternatively, you may buy your own vegetarian Laksa Paste from a supermarket or any vegetarian store- example of a vegetarian laksa paste is Nyor Nyar Assam Laksa Paste)

2 fresh red chillies
2 dried red chillies
3 cloves garlic
¼ inch galangal
3 shallots
½ stalk lemongrass
½ tsp vegetarian sambal belacan (chilli “shrimp” paste)
Salt to taste
½ tsp (or to taste) palm sugar
1-2 tbsp oil (or enough to emulsify)- alternatively, you can use water to blend, but it takes away flavours

70g Chinese black mushrooms
70g shimeji mushrooms
Mushroom seasoning to taste
1-2 tbsp vegetarian oyster sauce
Salt and white pepper to taste
Few laksa leaves
200-250 ml water

80 ml coconut milk
2 tbsp oil
¼ tsp curry powder
¼ tsp turmeric powder
Few curry leaves
50g bean sprouts (tauge)
50g water spinach (kangkong) or mustard leaves (sawi)
12 pcs or so tofu puffs (tau kwa)
50g boiled rice noodles
50g yellow noodles
2-3 calamansi limes

For Homemade Laksa Paste:
1)      Blend all ingredients together into a fine paste. Keep aside.

For Mushroom Laksa Broth:
1)      Heat water and add mushrooms.
2)      Bring this to a boil.
3)      Add veg oyster sauce, laksa leaves, mushroom seasoning, salt and a tiny bit of white pepper
4)      Cover and let it cook on slow flame for 1 hour.
5)      Strain the entire liquid only and use that for laksa. Keep that aside.

For Main Preparation:
1.       Heat oil and curry leaves.
2.       Add laksa paste. Fry till fragrant and oil separates on top.
3.       Add broth and bring to a boil. Then, simmer on slow flame for about 5-10 mins.
4.       Prepare your noodles if not cooked. Otherwise, just blanch for a while in hot water until little bit soft.
5.       Add coconut milk, curry powder and turmeric powder. Let it simmer again for about 5 mins.
6.       Add sprouts, spinach and tofu puffs. Again, let this simmer for 5 mins.
7.       In a serving bowl, spoon in noodles and soup. Garnish with calamansi limes

Calories (kcal) 448
Total Fat (g)14.3
Cholesterol (mg)0
Sodium (mg)68
Total Carbohydrates (g) 7.6
Dietary Fibre (g)1.3
Sugar (g) 0.8
Protein (g) 3.2
Vit D (%)4
Calcium (%) 40
Iron (%)10
Potassium (%)2


Thursday, 18 January 2018

Lunch Box Surprise: Eggplant Parmigiana (Parmesan)

Eggplant parmigiana, also known as melanzane or eggplant parmesan, originated in the countryside of Italy (Campagnia, Sicily & Parma), famous for its parmesan cheese. It’s real comfort food, but this recipe is also relatively healthier as it is air-fried. You can also bake it or shallow fry it. Vegetarian parmesan cheese is available in many brands, but I recommend Sargentos for toppings or Alba parmesan cheese powder, which is really delicious.

Be creative and try this dish anytime you like. This is best served with green salad, and if you are a wine lover, red wine goes best, e.g. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot etc. But since I don’t drink, I personally replace the wine with Ribena or cranberry juice! J

Here's the link:

Ingredients- note: this is just an estimate, as it depends on the qty of eggplant slices you use. I used 12.


12 slices eggplant, unpeeled (make sure it is sliced to ½ inch thick)

Batter as per nasi lemak recipe- I will send you a copy of that as well

½ cup breadcrumbs (or more)

Salt and crushed black pepper to taste

Pinch of dried Italian herbs

2 tsp (or more) parmesan cheese powder (containing non animal rennet)

About ¼ cup (or so) pizza sauce- I just used store bought

About 12 slices (180g) fresh buffalo milk mozzarella (brand I used is Zotarella; you can use Galbani’s- buffalo mozzarella is usually 100% vegetarian)

1-2 tbsp olive oil to drizzle

2-3 tbsp your choice of cooking oil (I use rice bran, as it has a higher flash point and is healthy)

5-6 leaves of fresh basil



1.      Preheat oven to 200 deg C (400 deg F or Gas Mark 5). For fan ovens, you should keep it at 180 deg C or equivalent.

2.      Prepare batter as per nasi lemak recipe I have sent to you. Keep aside.

3.      Prepare seasoned breadcrumbs. In a small plate, add breadcrumbs and to that, add your salt, pepper, Italian herbs and parmesan powder.

4.      Coat your eggplant in batter and then breadcrumbs.

5.      Freeze eggplants for about ½ hour or longer to hold shape

6.      Set air-fryer to 180 deg C, for about 15-20 mins. Drizzle eggplant with cooking oil and close. About halfway, shake the pan down as per instructions in the manual. Air-fry again till golden brown.

7.      Spoon a little sauce in the centre and top with a slice of mozzarella. Top with more breadcrumbs

8.       Drizzle olive oil on top.

9.      Bake in preheated oven for about 5 mins.

10.  Remove from oven and serve the way you like.




1)      Soak eggplant when not in use

2)      Baked version- bake at 200 deg C (400 deg F or Gas Mark 5). Fan oven- 180 deg C (or equivalent). You can even grill or shallow fry, otherwise normal fry. It's entirely up to you!

3)      Vegan version- use Daiya mozzarella cheese and your choice of vegan parmesan or you can use seasoned breadcrumbs only and make it a “cheezy crispy eggplant”

4)      Gluten free- use gluten free flour & breadcrumbs of your choice



Sunday, 7 January 2018

Lunch Box Surprise: Thai Mango Salad

Thailand is very special for its exotic salads. From papaya to pomelo, there is a burst of flavour with every bite. Thai salads are very distinct due to the ingredients used and each ingredient is used to create a balance between flavours. So many vegetarians like to try these salads when they go out, but a lot of the time, Thai food itself contains fish sauce and shrimp paste. This salad is not only completely vegetarian, but vegan as well.

If you wish, you may substitute the chilli garlic sauce with fresh chilli & garlic, and then add palm sugar. This is the way of making the dressing using fresh ingredients instead of bottled sauces. You may also wish to use no garlic and therefore, substitute by increasing the amount of vegetarian oyster sauce and/or soy sauce used. There are many different ways of getting creative with a Thai salad. This one is a basic mango salad that I created, using ripe mango instead of unripe. I love a sweet mango in my salad... :-P

Here's the link:


1 cup carrots, peeled and grated
1/4-1/2 cup bean sprouts
1 small cucumber, grated (squeeze out excess moisture if you like)
1 small (1/4 cup) tomatoes,chopped
1/2 unripe mango (you can use ripe mango if you like-sweetness)
3 slices red cabbage or Napa cabbage

1-2 tbsp chilli garlic sauce
Less than 1 tbsp vegetarian oyster sauce (or soy sauce)
1 tbsp sweet Thai chilli sauce
Juice of 1/2 calamansi lime (or 1/2 tbsp lemon juice)
1 tbsp or so sesame oil

1/4 cup peanuts, roasted and ground coarsely
1-2 tbsp sesame seeds, roasted
1 tbsp coriander leaves, finely chopped
1 tbsp spring onions, finely chopped

1. In a bowl, mix chilli garlic sauce and oyster sauce. Add lemon juice, palm sugar and water. Blend together well till everything comes together. Add sesame oil if you wish.

2. Add all the salad ingredients, except cabbage. Toss well.

3. Arrange cabbage slices on a plate and scoop salad into the cabbage. Top generously with peanuts and sesame seeds, and garnish with coriander leaves and spring onions. Serve chilled.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Lunch Box Surprise-Buttery Yellow Lentils with Rice (Dal Chawal)

Dal chawal is a household staple in the Indian subcontinent, and especially when talking about vegetarians. For those who may not know, dal is 'lentil' and chawal is 'rice'. The type of lentil used varies from region to region, and it depends on what is available. For example, if you go across to Punjab & Kashmir, you will get the blacker lentils such as kidney bean (rajma) and split black or green urad dal. In the Western parts, it will most likely be moong or chana.

But, when referring to dal chawal in itself, it will be any kind that is yellow in colour, but most probably pigeon peas (toovar dal or arhar ki dal) or moong dal. This time, we will use moong dal. This recipe is a traditional Sindhi recipe, which kids love, but even older people swear by. Dal chawal is listed as a favourite food amongst many including famous actor, Amitabh Bachchan.

So, here's the recipe...

For Pressure Cooking
Less than 1/2 cup split mung beans (yellow moong dal: Hindi), soaked overnight
2 tbsp split Bengal gram (chana dal/chane ki dal: Hindi), soaked overnight
2-3 cups water for boiling
2 green chillies, slit and deseeded
1/2" ginger, chopped
1/4 tsp turmeric powder (haldi: Hindi)
1-2 small tomatoes, blanched and pureed
Salt to taste
1 tsp clarified butter (desi ghee: Hindi)

For Tempering & Garnish
About less than 2 tbsp clarified butter (desi ghee: Hindi)
Pinch of asafoetida (hing: Hindi)
1/2 tsp cumin seeds (jeera: Hindi)
5 curry leaves
1/2 tsp red chilli powder (lal mirch powder: Hindi)
1/4 tsp mango powder (amchur: Hindi)
1-2 tbsp coriander leaves, finely chopped

For Serving
Cooked basmati rice infused with clarified butter and cumin (or just plain will do)
French fries topped with chaat masala or sandwich masala (available at local Indian supermarkets)

1. In a pressure cooker, add all ingredients and enough water to boil till soft and slightly mushy or creamy. Wait for ? whistles or ? mins

2. Add red chilli powder, and cook for another 5 more mins.

3. For tempering, heat ghee and add asafoetida and cumin. Wait till cumin seeds crackle.

4. Add curry leaves, and garlic. Cook till garlic gets fragrant and pour over lentils. Sprinkle mango powder and coriander leaves, and serve with basmati rice and French fries.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Lunch Box Surprise-Scrambled Cottage Cheese with Tomatoes, Chilli & Onion (Paneer Bhurji)

Originally, this dish started out as an “egg bhurji”, or an Indian version of scrambled eggs, which is very popular in Northern & Western India. Because it is very high in protein, and very spicy and delicious, a lot of people request to learn this recipe. You can also play around with spices, adding things like fenugreek to it. Paneer bhurji can be served with either chapati or naan, depending on your taste. Some people even have it with a slice of toast in the morning.


1 recipe of cottage cheese or paneer (as explained in my “Palak Paneer” recipe- footnotes)

2-3 tbsp clarified butter (desi ghee)

¼ tsp ground asafoetida (hing)

½ tsp cumin seeds (jeera)

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 green chilli, finely chopped

2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

½” ginger, finely chopped

2-3 tomatoes (small), finely chopped

Salt to taste

¼ tsp turmeric powder (haldi)

½ tsp red chilli powder

½ tsp ground cumin

½ tsp ground coriander

¼ tsp chaat masala

2 tbsp coriander leaves, finely chopped



1.       Prepare paneer according to directions given in the recipe.

2.       Heat ghee, add asafoetida and cumin seeds. Wait till cumin seeds crackle.

3.       Add onion, and sauté till golden brown.

4.       Add garlic and ginger, and cook till fragrant.

5.       Add tomatoes and cook till oil separates.

6.       Add green chilli, salt, turmeric, red chilli powder, ground cumin, ground coriander and chaat masala. Cook well.
7. Crumble the paneer into the mixture.

8.       Add a little hot water and cover up and cook for a few mins.

9.        Garnish with coriander and serve hot with your favourite roti, naan or toasted bread.
1. Palak paneer recipe can be found:
Prepare the cottage cheese according to that.
2. You may try adding a little dried fenugreek leaves; maybe about 1/2 tsp. Roast it a little first, and then crush it.
3. You may replace the paneer with "tofu", which is known as "soy paneer" in India.
4. You may replace the ghee with your choice of fats (cooking oil, margarine or butter), whichever you prefer.
5. You may omit the onion and garlic.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Lunch Box Surprise- Spicy Vegetables Cooked In Onions & Tomatoes with Soft Roll (Pav Bhaji)

So, if you ask me about street food, I believe every street dish should be something totally unique, and yet appeal to the masses. You can use your own unique ingredients, but you should also do something that everyone will appreciate. The Pav Bhaji, is a great example of that. The vendors prepare a delicious blend of vegetables with their aromatic spices and serve that with delicious hamburger buns. Whilst the vegetables are distinctly flavoured with the likes of onion, tomato and other special spices, the bun is just something comforting; soft and buttery. When you hit the streets of Mumbai, India, you have to try this dish at least once. If you feel scared about eating on the roadside (due to unhygienic practices that might be there), try it in a higher class restaurant or a hotel.

Or, better still, try this recipe at home in the comfort of your own kitchen (and much healthier also)... The video is right here:

For Vegetables
1/2 small capsicum (preferably green), finely chopped
1/4 cauliflower, grated
2-3 small potatoes, scrubbed (DO NOT PEEL)- you can just cut it into half to help it boil faster
1/2 small carrot, finely chopped
2-3 tbsp frozen green peas
1/4 cup French beans, finely chopped
About 2-3 cups (or so) water to boil
1 tsp butter

For Gravy
2 tbsp butter
1/4 tsp ground asafoetida (hing: Hindi)
1/2 tsp cumin seeds (jeera: Hindi)
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic
1/2" ginger
2-3 small tomatoes, finely chopped
1/2 green chilli
1/2 red chilli
Salt to taste
1/2 tsp (or less) red chilli powder
1/4 tsp turmeric powder (haldi: Hindi)
3/4-1 tsp pav bhaji masala
1/2 tsp garam masala
1 tbsp (or less) lemon juice

To Serve
1 tbsp coriander leaves, for garnish
4 hamburger buns
1 1/2 tbsp butter
Pinch of ground turmeric, pav bhaji masala and red chilli powder
Few slices of onion mixed with lemon juice, coriander leaves and black salt

For Vegetables
1. Heat water for boiling in a saucepan. Place all vegetables, except capsicum, to cook till soft- a little more than fork tender. DO NOT DISCARD WATER.

2. Take out potatoes from the rest of the vegetables and peel off skin. Keep all vegetables aside.

3. Heat butter in a small pan, add capsicum and saute till little soft. Keep aside.

For Gravy
1. Heat 1 tbsp butter, add asafoetida and cumin. Wait till cumin seeds crackle a little.
2. Add onions, and cook till translucent. Take off heat.
3. Make a paste of ginger, garlic and red chilli.
4. Heat remaining amt of butter, add ginger etc. paste and cook till fragrant.
5. Add tomatoes and cook till oil separates.
6. Add green chilli and cook for about 2-3 mins.
7. Add potatoes and other vegetables except capsicum. Mash them till well combined and slightly soft.
8. Add salt, about a pinch of turmeric, less than 1/2 tsp red chilli powder, 3/4 tsp pav bhaji masala and less than 1/2 tsp garam masala. Add lemon juice. You can add about 1/4 cup or so water at this point and then cover up and let it cook for about 10 mins.
9. Add the remaining amount of spices into your gravy, and season as per your preference.
10. Dot with a little butter if you like and cover up and cook again.

For Serving
1. Cut the buns lengthwise
2. Heat a skillet with butter and let it melt a bit.
3. Add turmeric, pav bhaji masala etc to the butter
4. Toast your buns in that butter till golden brown.
5. Serve pav bhaji garnished with coriander, with buns and onions (as mentioned above)

TIPS- #'s 2 to 4 are by Courtesy of Jit

1. You can add your cumin seed after onion as well.
2. Adding 80% spices during cooking and 20% after helps it to be more aromatic and flavourful .
3. You can do the same with the peas, so that the peas added after last stages remain fresh and sweet.
4. Be careful you don't add too much carrot, capsicum, onion or peas, as it will be sweet.
5. Do not add too much salt if you have added salt whilst boiling potatoes.
6. If you want you can even add a little bit of eggplant and/or bottle gourd, but be careful it's not too much either as pav bhaji will be bitter otherwise.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Lunch Box Surprise: Sludgy Fudgy Brownies (Eggless)- The Most Basic & Best Brownie Recipe Of Mine

One of my signature recipes & my favourite ones too, would be the chocolate fudge brownie. I have been trying to develop a good recipe for this one and have had to consult so many websites on the Internet. One thing, I found is that it is very important to replace the egg in this recipe, because the egg and the sugar react to create a meringue of its own, and it becomes a crispy layer on top. In an eggless brownie, it is difficult to achieve that, and speaking from experience, we can actually achieve something not exactly the same, but similar. While it may not be so important to use melted chocolate in the original brownie (with egg), it is actually vital to do so in this one.

Also, an eggless brownie is a bit more crumbly and soft. I will post more about good eggless brownies in the tips below. Meanwhile, please see the Youtube video below:

Dry Ingredients:
100g (about less than 1/2 cup) all purpose flour
80g-90g (about 6-8 large tbsp) cocoa powder
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
100g icing sugar

Wet Ingredients
50g (about 1/2 cup) butter, melted
50g brown sugar
80g (about 1/3 cup) chocolate chips
100g (about 1/2 cup) yoghurt*
3/4 tsp vanilla essence
2-3 tbsp cold milk (to thin batter)

60g (about 1/4 cup) chocolate chips
45g (about 3 tbsp) walnuts, chopped

1. Preheat your oven to either of these temperatures:
Normal Oven (Celsius): 180 deg
Normal Oven (Fahrenheit): 350 deg
Gas Mark: 4
Fan oven (Celsius): 160 deg
Fan oven (Fahrenheit): 329 deg

Grease a square cake pan

2. In a mixing bowl, sift all your dry ingredients and blend together.

3. In a saucepan, add boiling water and place  a glass bowl or another small dish. Add your chocolate chips to the dish and melt it till sticky and smooth. Keep aside.

4. In another mixing bowl, beat together your butter, yoghurt, melted chocolate and brown sugar, till creamy and well combined.

5. Add your dry ingredients at once to the wet ingredients. Keep blending well. If too thick, then add your milk.

6.  Add vanilla essence and fold in your 60g chocolate chips and walnuts.

7. Pour batter into your prepared cake pan and bake for about 10-20 mins (KEEP AN EYE ON IT- remember, every oven differs).

8. Cool and cut into square pieces.

9. Ways to serve:
- Warm or sizzling with vanilla ice-cream & chocolate sauce (little melted chocolate/Nutella with milk)
- Frosted with M&M's
- Cold & plain with fresh milk, or hot coffee, tea or hot chocolate
- Naughty Brownies... See recipe below :P

1) Eggless brownies are generally more crumbly or moist compared to normal brownies. Remember not to overbake it. If you prefer a crispy layer on top only, then you need to have it cold.

2) When sizzling, take care not to overheat it.

3) Melted butter is best, as it becomes easier to incorporate with the wet ingredients.

4) Sift the dry ingredients only once, as it is not airiness we are looking for. Add them all at once, as it's not a cake, so we don't desire a soft consistency as much.

5) You can omit the nuts if you feel like. For gluten free & vegan brownies, head to this link:

6) Naughty Brownie Recipe:
- This is known by another name, but I can't use that since this blog is for families.

Brownie batter as per the above recipe
12-15 pcs Oreo cookies (or chocolate & cream filled cookies of your choice)
1 package Betty Crocker cookie mix (prepare this by adding 110g butter & replacement for 1 egg- 1 tbsp ground flax seed & 1 tbsp water)

All you have to do is press the cookie dough to the bottom of your cake pan, top with Oreo cookies and pour brownie batter on top. Bake this for about 15-20 mins & there you have it... Naughty Brownies :P