Lunchbox idea and recipes: Fluffy, spiced quinoa and quick chicken cacciatore

Spiced quinoa, quick and easy chicken cacciatore, steamed veggies. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad - an orange, pomegranate, strawberries and blueberries

Spiced quinoa, quick and easy chicken cacciatore, steamed veggies. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad – an orange, pomegranate, strawberries and blueberries

I fell in love today. With quinoa. Seriously.

It took me a while of experimenting with different types of quinoa and various recipes, but it has always been touch and go. Sometimes fluffy, most times soggy and a little gritty. In spite of this, I bought a new batch of quinoa during my last trip to the organic shop. I desperately want to like quinoa, and I want my family to like quinoa too because of its nutritional content. It would be good to have some other alternative to pasta, rice and potatoes. So, last night I blog hopped, trying to find new recipes, new methods of cooking this wunderseed. At almost 10 pm, I hit upon a website that had great step by step instructions on how to cook the perfect, fluffy quinoa, every time. It actually got me so excited to try the method out that it was hard to fall asleep.

So, this morning, bright eyed and bushy tailed, I tackled the quinoa. While I tweaked the recipe a little to suit my son’s palate, I followed the instructions to a “T”. The result… wow!!! Fluffy, tasty, soft yet with a little bite to every kernel, (can I say kernel?) It’s not unlike well fluffed couscous but with the added benefit of a really nice, rich, nutty flavour – not a single clump to be seen.

I decided to pair the quinoa with a rich and thick cacciatore made with chicken thigh fillets. Again, the recipe has been modified somewhat – sans alcohol, of course. A cup of steamed broccoli and cauliflower completed the lunchbox combo.  It was all I could do to not have a bowl of dear son’s lunch there and then – just a teeny bit of taste you know, just to make sure that it’s ok for him. Ha! Anyway, I could no longer stop myself by 10 am – whatever was leftover is now gone. All I can say is… try this. I would so have this combo for dinner, (and breakfast, and lunch,) every other day. As for the quinoa… if it were not so expensive, it would replace rice as the staple food in this household.

So… on to the recipe:

Fluffy spiced quinoa (for in-depth step-by-step instruction and photos hop on over to

  • 1 cup + 2 tablespoons quinoa (rinse till water runs clear and drain)
  • mix together – 1 tsp cumin powder, 1 tsp coriander powder, 1 tsp paprika, 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cloves garlic – smash
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup and 2/3 water
  1. After the quinoa is drained, add the spice mixture to the wet quinoa. Mix well.
  2. Heat the pan and with low heat, gently sautee the garlic. Careful not to brown.
  3. Add quinoa to the pan. Stir for a minute or two.
  4. Add water. Let it come to the boil. Cover the pot and bring heat down so that the water simmers gently.
  5. Leave the pot alone for 12 to 15 minutes, (do not touch, take off the lid, peep, whatever.)
  6. Turn off the heat. Walk away again. For another 15 minutes. Let the quinoa plump up further with residual liquid and steam.
  7. After the 15 minutes are up, take off the lid and fluff the quinoa with a fork. Not spoon. Fork.
  8. Ta-dah!!! You have a bowl of the good stuff. Ready for yumminess!

Quick and easy chicken cacciatore

  • Skinless fillet from 3 chicken thighs – cut into pieces
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 brown onion – chopped roughly
  • 1 garlic – chopped fine
  • 1/2 red bell pepper – chopped roughly
  • 1/2 of 400 gm can tomatoes
  • a splash of balsamic vinegar
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock
  • 1/3 cup of pitted black olives – sliced
  • a handful of parsley – chopped
  • salt, sugar and pepper to taste
  1. Heat olive oil and sautee chicken pieces for about 5 minutes till brown. Remove from pan and drain.
  2. Add to the pan the onion and garlic, stir till softened, add red bell pepper. Stir.
  3. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar and 1/4 cup of chicken stock. Scrape the bottom of the pan.
  4. Add tomatoes and the rest of the stock. Let it come to boil and add chicken pieces.
  5. Simmer gently till sauce thickens. Season and add parsley.

Recipe for lunchbox: Salmon and herb filo parcels, wholemeal pasta in pesto sauce

Dear son came home  and burst into the kitchen… urrr well… the rather messy kitchen as I was trying to get dinner done and on the dining table. I was cooking Asian food, and you know how messy that can get… grrrrr. However, the interruption was worth it, as his next sentence was:

“Mama, I really, really, really, really looooooooove my lunch today! Thank you.”

Apparently he loved everything that was in his lunchbox and wondered when he could have it again. Whether this was due to the fact that the food was really nice, or because he was ravenous after his 2 hours of pre-school swimming session, I will never know. I am just happy that he enjoyed the meal enough to let me know that the lunchbox combo was a winner.

I use the same base for the herb marinade and pesto sauce – not just for the sake of convenience, it also ensures that the flavours are complementary. Here are the recipes for the said lunchbox menu:







Salmon and herb filo parcels:

  • 200 – 250 gms skinned salmon fillet – cut into 4 pieces
  • 2 sheets of filo pastry
  • some olive oil for brushing

Blend fine the following:

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • a handful of cilantro
  • 2 scallions
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • a squeeze of lemon juice
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Wash and pat dry the prepared salmon
  2. Rub 2 tablespoons of the blended mixture on salmon pieces
  3. Cut each of the filo pastry into 2, and brush with olive oil
  4. Place a piece of the marinated salmon in the middle of one of the filo pastry half – wrap and brush the  outside with more olive oil. Repeat till all salmon is wrapped.
  5. Bake the salmon parcels in pre-heated 180 degree celsius oven for about 10 – 15 minutes, depending on thickness of fillet.

Wholemeal Pasta in Pesto Sauce:

To the remaining basil and coriander marinade above, add the following and blend fine:

  • 10 raw almonds
  • 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • a handful of freshly grated parmesan cheese
  1. Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly. If mixture is too thick, adjust with more olive oil.
  2. Boil half a cupful of dry wholemeal pasta according to package instructions. Drain and toss in pesto sauce. I sprinkle the top with some grated emmental cheese for extra flavour.
  3. Serve with grilled cherry tomatoes.

Round-up: Lunchbox ideas for the week – part 7

Finally, we are getting down to the last set of photos… We had to say goodbye to the last Thermos insulated lunchpack. The top of one of the containers broke, so we got another Thermos insulated lunchbox set. Though rather pricey, it does keep dear son’s food hot until lunch time. The cost saving and health benefits of packing his lunch far outweighs the cost of the lunchbox, imho.


Monday: Chicken, oat and vegetable soup, steamed broccoli, cheesy tortillas. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad.


Tuesday: Traditional Malaysian Vermicelli Soto – Blanched rice vermicelli, spicy chicken soup, potato croquettes,  shredded chicken, blanched beansprouts & minced scallions, chinese parsley. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad and yoghurt.



Wednesday: Buckwheat soba salad, vegetable soup, baked Thai chicken nuggets. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad and yoghurt.




Thursday: Salmon and herb filo parcels, pasta with pesto sauce and grilled cherry tomatoes. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad and yoghurt.


Round-up: Lunchbox ideas for the week – part 6

We are at week 6… hmmm almost halfway through! Have I been away THAT long??? Just realized… this was the week before the school vacation, and wow! I must have been burnt out or something – poor son had 3 rice days? It goes to show how important planning is prior to the start of the week 😦



Cheesy tuna and wholemeal pasta bake, steamed asparagus, cherry tomatoes and tempeh chips. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad and yoghurt. Snack to share: wholemeal lamb pesto pizza



Tuesday: Brown rice with spinach and mushrooms, salmon teriyaki, veggie spring rolls. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad.



Wednesday: Flavoured rice, sweet and sour chicken, pickled veggies. Mid-Morning snack: Fruit salad and raw almonds

Thursday: Lamb meatballs in tomato sauce with wholemeal spaghetti, sesame sugarsnap peas. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad. Post-swim snack to share: Sweetheart brownies.


Friday: Malaysian roasted chicken rice and condiments, salad and chicken broth. Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad.



School Lunchbox Idea: Brown rice with cumin and broccoli, vegetable kofta korma

Brown rice with Packed lunch: broccoli and cumin, vegetable kofta korma and grilled salmon

Brown rice with Packed lunch: broccoli and cumin, vegetable kofta korma and grilled salmon

I am really excited to share this recipe for vegetable kofta with everyone. It is a-mayy-zing-ly scrumptious! If it were up to me, we would be having this on the menu every other day. I can have it with rice, flat bread, even on its own. Ouf, yumm-o. Who needs meat? But wait… didn’t the child say that he did not want any rice in his packed lunch? Right…

It all started last week, when dear son came home ravenous. Apparently he finished his snack and main lunch dish at the first break, and only had rice veggie rolls for lunch. He had to wait till 4.40 pm before sitting down for dinner at home, which was wolfed down within minutes. As a mother, I felt like a failure. Another plan had to be hatched. He obviously is going through some sort of growth spurt and couple that with the 15++ hours of swimming per week, we may need to put in more calories via nutrient dense food to fuel growth and recovery activity.

So, we had another minor consultation and I requested him to re-think the idea of having rice once in a while for lunch, (this was his deal breaker before.) He had really enjoyed the cumin and broccoli rice experiment last week so, he agreed to the idea as long the rice is not just plain steamed. Right-o! The plan is to go for wholegrain and fresh veggies for 55% carbs and vary protein sources to include more legumes on top of lean meat for fibre and other nutrients. The meals have to be broken down as well to allow for a steady stream of energy throughout the day.

So, this is what his meal plan looks like:

meal plan

From what I have read, a boy going through puberty needs about 2,400 calories a day  and an athlete may need an extra 500 – 1000 calories a day depending on level of activity – just as a guideline. However, it is important to also check the weight to track gains and losses and make adjustments accordingly. Whatever it is, I am pretty sure that if my child is continuously ravenous, he probably needs the extra sustenance. At the moment, I am aiming to provide around 2,400 – 2800 calories for him a day via 3 main meals + 3 snacks for days where he has 2 training sessions, and 3 main meals + 2 snacks on days with 1 swim session. We will see how we get on.

Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad and yoghurt. Wholemeal pesto pizza for post swim to share with friends.

Mid-morning snack: Fruit salad and yoghurt. Wholemeal pesto pizza for post swim to share with friends.

So far, since the the inclusion of the mid-morning snack, dear son seems to experience a higher level of satiety. I sincerely hope that we are on the right track.

Now, back to the yummy vegetable kofta korma…. I got the recipe from veggienumnums and with minor alterations, here is my version:

Orangey yumminess!

Orangey yumminess!

Kofta Balls (makes about 12 balls):

  • 1 egg
  • 200 gm sweet potato – grate fine
  • 170 gm carrots – grate fine
  • 1 small red onion – grate fine
  • 1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder (I used Adabi curry powder)
  • 1-2 tbs olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons  plain flour
  • salt to taste
  • vegetable oil for frying

– squeeze excess liquid from grated carrots and sweet potato.

– mix the egg, sweet potato, carrots, red onion, ginger, curry powder, oil and plain flour. Add more flour if the mixture is not sticking.

– roll into balls and fry on medium heat until golden.

Korma Sauce

  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • 1 cinnamon stick about 1 inch long
  • 1 brown onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp fresh grated ginger
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • 80g  raw almonds, ground
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • prepared kofta balls

– heat oil to medium, saute cardamoms and cinnamon with onion. When onions turn slightly golden, add garlic and ginger. Stir.

– Mix all powdered spices and add a little bit of water to form a paste. Add this paste to the onion, garlic and ginger mix in the pan. Lower heat. Stir till incorporated. Add 1/2 cup of water and let the paste cook until thickened and the oil starts to separate.

– add ground almonds, tomato paste and the rest of the water. Let it simmer till thickens. Add salt to taste.

– When the sauce is thick, add the coconut milk and let it cook again til the sauce reaches the right consistency. Taste again and adjust the seasoning.

– Add the kofta balls and let it simmer for a few minutes.

Brown Rice with cumin and brocolli

  • 1/2 cup brown rice – cook with 1 cup of water and some salt (do this the night before). Let it cool.
  • 1 small head of broccoli, cut into florets
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 small brown onion – sliced.
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil

– Heat oil in pan. Add cumin seeds and onions. When onions turn golden, add the broccoli florets.

– Lastly add the brown rice and stir till all incorporated.


However, I must say, after all that cooking so early in the morning… this is how I feel like…

No cat was hurt in the taking of this photo... zzzz

No cat was hurt in the taking of this photo… zzzz

School Lunchbox Idea: Assemble your own falafel wraps

Chicken and Oat Soup, assemble your own falafel wraps for lunch. Fruit salad and yoghurt for mid morning snack

Chicken and Oat Soup, assemble your own falafel wraps for lunch. Fruit salad and yoghurt for mid morning snack

Middle eastern food opens up a whole new world of beans, pulses and different types of grain for anyone who wants to add a little more diversity in their diet. The salads are filled with the freshness of parsley and mint, garlic, olive and olive oil, nuts – all heart healthy ingredients worth exploring for its health benefits.

Last weekend, we had our little treasure hunt around the city of Kuching in order to re-stock our larder and as we are now rather plush with grains and legumes, today was the time to utilize what we had. A middle eastern fare was in order, and it all began with the bread.

I love making bread. There is nothing more satisfying than kneading the dough as it comes together. Knead, knead, knead – the smell of  yeast and honey, the texture of the dough as it becomes more elastic and silky..the thump, thump, thump of the work top in symphony with the movement of your arms. See.. I can get up at 4.00 a.m. just to mix a batch of dough. It also helps that you get such a lot of dough that you can save some in the fridge (in a resealable ziploc bag, but let some air out or the bag might explode! – Don’t ask how I know,) so that you can make mini pizzas for the following day. As the dough matures, the flavour develops… That’s the beauty of the Arabic flat bread dough.

The first time you have your home made Arabic flat  bread… you will never settle for store bought pita bread again …

The recipe is as follows:

IMG_00000541 IMG_00000542  IMG_00000544

Arabic Flat Bread (adapted from

  • 2 1/2 cups wholemeal flour
  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons powdered milk
  • 4 tablespoons honey
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 11gm sachet instant yeast
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water (add whole cup and the other half add little by little, depending on the flour)
  1. Mix all ingredients together – and knead until the dough is soft and silky, definitely not sticky. Oil a bowl and place dough in it and cover. Let rise till double in size – 50 minutes to 1 hour.
  2. Put a pan on medium heat, take a ball of dough and roll into a circle – not too thin, about 3 mm. Put in pan and leave for 30 seconds, flip – let it puff and nicely coloured.
  3. Remove from pan and place on a plate, cover with clean cloth. Work with the next ball of dough.
  4. If you are not using all the dough, put the leftover in a ziploc bag, leave about 2 cm of the seal open and leave the dough in the fridge for later use.
Falafel "paste" after processing

Falafel “paste” after processing

Falafel Patties – healthier when baked

  • 1 can of chickpeas (about 415 gm)
  • 1/2 red onion
  • 2 garlic
  • a handful of fresh coriander
  • 2 tablespoons dried parsley (if fresh is available go for fresh – use a handful)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 1 teaspoon coriander powder
  • 2 tablespoons wholemeal flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • salt to taste

Preheat oven to 180 degrees celcius.

  1. Place all ingredient in a food processor – pulse till all veggies are chopped but the chickpeas should not be too smooth. Form into patties.
  2. Oil a baking sheet and place patties on the sheet -bake till golden on one side, flip carefully to  brown the other side.
  3. Serve with arabic bread, sliced lettuce, tomatoes and a drizzle of tahini sauce.

Tahini Sauce

  • 1 clove garlic – pounded fine
  • 1 tablespoon tahini paste
  • juice of half lemon
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons hot water
  • salt and pepper to taste

Mix all of the above together to form a sauce.

My lunch which turned into breakfast... it was too good to wait :(

My lunch which turned into breakfast… it was too good to wait 😦



School Lunchbox Idea: Fresh salmon cakes and black quinoa with corn salsa salad

Fresh salmon cakes, black quinoa and corn salsa salad, steamed aspraragus and broccoli

Fresh salmon cakes, black quinoa and corn salsa salad, steamed aspraragus and broccoli

As part of my ongoing effort to diversify the types of food that we eat, I decided to pair the familiar and loved with another dish that is quite unfamiliar and untried. Salmon is a favourite in this house. The first time dear son was served with Salmon cakes at about 15 months old (?? I can’t remember,) he scarfed up about 6 of the cakes in one sitting and fell asleep within 8 minutes – while still sitting in his high chair. What surprised me was the fact that the cakes were full of herbs – dill, chives, parsley… he ate them all up with nary a complaint.

So, I wanted the family to try black quinoa. As we all know, quinoa is the supposed wonder-grain and for those interested in reading about this seeds (not grain, though, it has been used as grain,) please click on the following link – World’s Healthiest Foods

The hope here is that by associating quinoa with salmon cakes, the former will forever after be viewed in a positive light.

Other strategies employed in introducing this new food to dear son are as follows:

  1. Choose a day when he will be hungry at lunch time – He has an early swimming session on Mondays, after swimming, everything tends to taste good!
  2. Pair it with veggies that he likes – corn salsa, yumm!
  3. Talk up the food item a few days ahead, get him to help you find it at the supermarket, (actually, I could not find it because it was on the higher shelves!)
  4. Associate the texture with food he loves (e.g. the texture is similar to the flying fish roe that we get with sushi and the taste is rather nutty.)

Anyway… it was a success as son came home with his lunchbox empty and requesting for quinoa salad again. Now, now, everything in moderation, so I told him it will be there in his lunchbox on a weekly basis.

Fresh Salmon Cakes (makes about 4)

  • 200 gms salmon fillet – no skin – poach in water with some salt, bay leaves, whole black peppercorns and dill stems. Once cooked, flake into large pieces
  • 1 russet potato – boil and mash fine
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh dill
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 tbsp chopped scallions
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 egg – whisked
  • wholemeal breadcrumbs for coating
  • a little oil to coat baking pan
  1. Preheat oven – 180 degrees celcius
  2. add chopped herbs to mashed potato – season with salt and pepper
  3. gently mix salmon flakes. Form into patties.
  4. Dip patties in egg and roll in bread crumbs – place on greased pan
  5. cook in oven till golden brown.

Black Quinoa and Corn Salsa Salad

  • 1/2 cup black quinoa (wash and drain)
  • 1 cup vegetable stock

Cook quinoa in vegetable stock, bring to a boil and lower heat – cook covered for 15 – 20 minutes till tail begins to appear from grain.

When the grains have soaked up the stock, switch off heat, leave the quinoa covered for 5-10 minutes. Fluff with fork. Cool.

  • 1/2 cup corn (1 used canned sweet corn kernels)
  • 1/2 onion – chopped fine
  • some red pepper – chopped
  • half green chili – remove seeds, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh coriander
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

– mix all the above together, add cooked quinoa. Leave for flavours to meld for a few hours in the fridge. Serve cold or at room temperature.