Discussing food with friends—or strangers—is one of my passions. What people eat at home provides a fascinating glimpse into a person’s identity. In this brand new home cooking series, I will nose around Doha mums’ kitchens to find out about their cooking style and techniques, and share some of their go-to recipes and secrets.
To start off this series and celebrate Doha Family Magazine’s fifth birthday, I joined Doha Family Magazine Editor Rachel Henriquez for a special one-to-one cooking class in her home. So what does a busy editor, mother (and my boss) cook at home?
What did you eat as a child?
I am American, but my mother is Japanese, so growing up my school lunches ranged between good ol’ turkey and cheese sandwiches to onigiri (rice balls wrapped in nori). Back then, Japanese food wasn’t as popular in America as it is now, so I would get weird looks and comments from kids in the lunchroom who weren’t familiar with Japanese food. The food was delicious so it didn’t bother me most of the times, but it’s amusing that Japanese-style lunches, such as bento boxes, are so popular now. Dinners were just as mixed. We ate everything from meatloaf and spaghetti to home-made sushi and miso soup.
Describe your cooking style influences.
Of course, I’m heavily influenced by Japanese and American cuisines, but I haven’t met a cuisine that I don’t like. I often mix techniques so I’d say my cooking style is fairly eclectic.
While my mother did most of the cooking, it wasn’t unusual for my father to cook for us as well. His dishes were mostly comfort foods—corned beef and cabbage, potato salad, spaghetti carbonara—but he did a lot of cooking around holidays. Every Christmas, my father and I would bake apple and pumpkin pies to share with family and friends. I got my sweet tooth from him.
What are your favourite types of “no fuss” meals to prepare for the family?
I’m a terrible meal planner. I always wait until the last minute to decide what to make and I often get bored of repeating meals, but baked panko chicken fingers, fried rice, stuffed peppers, spaghetti carbonara, shabu-shabu (Japanese hot pot) and stir fries are regularly in our meal rotation. I go through phases though and lately I’ve been making a lot of Thai curries.
What are your must-have cupboard ingredients?
I always have panko, ghee, Japanese mayo and Japanese rice on hand. Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) are so much better than regular breadcrumbs. They’re bigger so they make for a less-dense coating with a softer crunch. Ghee (clarified butter) is amazing for cooking eggs. Japanese mayo typically has no added sugar, but it is made with rice vinegar so it tastes sweeter. If you’ve never had potato salad made with Japanese mayo, you’re missing out (unless you hate mayo, of course). Every culture that eats lots of rice probably prefers their local variety, and I’m no different. To me, Japanese rice is the best. In fact, I brought back rice from my family’s rice farm on our last visit to Japan.
It’s always nice to have a few go-to dinner recipes that you can get on the table quickly after a long day. Here are two of Rachel’s quick, no-fuss dinner recipes that can be whipped up in less time that it takes delivery to ring your doorbell.
Baked Panko Chicken Fingers
Serves four to six
These healthy oil-free, oven-baked chicken fingers are a popular, kid-friendly favourite. They pair well with steamed vegetables and rice, and they are great for school lunch boxes so prepare these in bulk.
- 650 grams boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1.5cm-thick strips
- 1 cup plain flour
- 2 eggs
- 1/3 cup milk
- 3 cups of panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- Preheat oven to 200° Celsius.
- In a gallon-sized bag or large bowl, toss the chicken with the flour, making sure each piece is well coated.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk. In another medium bowl, mix the panko with the salt and pepper.
- After gently shaking off the excess flour, dip a chicken strip into the egg mixture and coat well.
- Transfer the chicken finger to the panko and toss to coat. You may have to press the panko on to the chicken to make sure it is completely covered.
- Place the breaded chicken finger onto a nonstick baking tray.
- Repeat with the remaining chicken, spacing the pieces no less than 1cm apart in a single layer.
- Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Serve immediately.
Chicken and Vegetable Fried Rice
Serves four to six
This is a great way to clean out the fridge and make a delicious and healthy meal for your family. Fried rice is a great comfort food and it pairs well with the panko chicken for a school lunch. I use chicken breasts but any part of the chicken will work. If you want a vegetarian version, omit the egg and replace the chicken with firm tofu.
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
- 2 cloves of minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
- 200 grams chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1/2 cup finely chopped carrots
- 1/2 cup finely chopped broccoli
- 1/2 cup finely chopped red capsicum
- 1/3 cup of 2cm-long pieces of green beans
- 1 cup of cooked brown or white rice
- 1 egg
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons fish sauce
- 1/4 cup finely chopped scallions
- Heat the vegetable oil and sesame oil in a large, non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat.
- Saute the onions for two minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté for one minute or until aromatic.
- Stir in the chicken and cook until brown, approximately four to five minutes.
- Add the carrots and broccoli and cook for one minute. Then add the red capsicum and green beans and cook for another minute.
- Push the vegetables to one side of the pan, pour in the whisked egg and stir continuously, mixing in the vegetables for about one minute until the egg is cooked.
- Mix in the rice and cook for three to four minutes, breaking up any chunks.
- Toss the rice mixture with the soy and fish sauces, and top with the scallions before serving.
Rachel’s top tips
- You can often find panko, Japanese mayo and Japanese rice at Lulu Hypermarket in Gharaffa, Megamart (any location), Spinneys and Monoprix. Japanese rice is expensive in Qatar so in a pinch, I buy short-grain Japanese rice from California.
- Fully cooked panko chicken fingers can be easily frozen and then reheated in the oven.
- Coating the chicken fingers can get a little messy, but using one hand for dipping into the egg and the other hand for dipping into the panko will help keep the mess contained.
- If you want to add a little extra flavour, swap out a half cup of panko for unsweetened, shredded coconut or flaked almonds. Alternatively, you can season the panko with your favourite dried herbs, such as oregano or tarragon.
- Keep your ginger in the freezer. It will be easier to grate and last longer.
- Day-old, refrigerated rice makes the best fried rice because it has had time to dry out a bit, making it a little firmer when frying.