Beginner’s Tuna

Why can’t Auntie Sally just cook authentic Chinese dishes? My 17 year-old nephew J asked my sister A last year. She always makes weird fusion food.

Because she never learnt to cooked when she was younger.

I was always the prep cook. My mum or my sister A, who was 2 years older than me, did all the cooking. I chopped up vegetables, took out the sauces, and I distinctly remember once stirring the stir fry because A needed to blow her nose. When A and I moved out together for uni, I learnt how to steam broccoli using a steamer while waiting for her to get back from her lectures, so she could cook dinner.

Even being sent to Italy or interstate for work for a few months didn’t prompt me to actually learn how to cook and expand my repertoire of simple dishes like heating up canned tuna or frying a steak and eating it with rice or pasta.

Still with my prep cook credentials intact at the age of 26, I moved out with a friend and spent the first few months driving home on the weekends to pick up frozen containers of meals from my mum. This system worked really well for everyone involved, because mum cooked for 10 whether there were 2 or 8 people coming for dinner.

I only started cooking when, for various reasons, I wasn’t able to go home to pick up the meals and then became tired of takeaway. I now find that being able to combine a few ingredients together to create a tasty dish is one of life’s true pleasures!

My first ever fully-fledged dish was a minuscule step up from my away-from-home tuna days. It was pretty much just warmed up flavoured tuna, a bottle of pasta sauce, maybe some zucchini, and if I was feeling extra fancy, a scrambled egg underneath, served with rice or pasta. That original dish has morphed into this tuna pasta recipe, which, oddly enough, is one of my nephew’s favourite dishes!

Tuna Pasta

Serves 4

  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic gloves crushed
  • 1 can 375g tuna in olive oil
  • 1 can tomatoes
  • 140g tomato paste
  • 100g mushroom, finely chopped
  • 200g zucchini, finely chopped
  • Pasta (whatever you like)

Let’s cook!

  • Cook pasta according to directions
  • Pour the oil from the can of tuna into a hot pan and cook the onion and garlic until fragrant
  • Add the tuna and break the tuna up. Cook until you can see some of the tuna has browned
  • Add the mushrooms and zucchini and cook for 5 minutes
  • Add the canned tomato and tomato paste
  • Cook on low heat for about 30 minutes (the sauce should just be gently bubbling)
  • Season to taste and serve garnished with parsley


  • Feel free to increase/decrease the quantities of the vegetables and even the tuna to whatever suits you. I usually cook this by feel (and my mood!) – it’s a very forgiving dish, so if you don’t like mushroom, just omit, or add carrots!
  • As the canned tuna is already cooked, you don’t have to simmer it for 30 minutes if you’re in a rush. I do it when I can because I think it gives the dish more depth of flavour.

Poh’s Prawn & Yuba Beads

There are many, many dishes I would so love to cook, but if I find any one of my three recipe deal breakers in it, then I’m out.

And my 3 recipe deal breakers are:

  1. Too many ingredients are involved

If the ingredient list runs over a page, it’s just not going to happen, because at the end of the day, I really, really just want to eat.

2. Ingredients are too hard to get

Wakame, wakame, why-fore aren’t thou at the local Chinese grocery store? I don’t want to be tripping across town to source anything. I just want to eat.

3. Twice cooked anything

If I have to cook something two times before I can eat it (hello crispy skin chicken), I move on. Who has the time and desire to wash an extra pot?

I saw this recipe in a DVD episode of Poh’s Kitchen. It actually contains deal breaker number 3, but I didn’t know this when I decided to make it. I only saw the beginning of the segment when she introduced all the ingredients and then the end when she deep fried the beads. Ooohhh, I’d eat that. I’m going to make it!

I was making ginger tea during the actual making and cooking part. Some people would say that it’s quite an important part to watch when learning how to make a dish. I say I was in need of some tea at that precise time and forgot, or didn’t even think to pause or replay the segment.

I did print out the recipe afterwards. But by the time I realized you had to steam AND deep fry, Daddyken had already invested some time into getting me the ingredients and mum had already washed and peeled 2 small bags of chestnuts they had harvested from their garden, especially for the dish.

But as it turns out, I’d happily eat it and make it again. It was crunchy on the outside and the combination of the pork and prawns is a favourite pairing of mine, of which you’ll find in many Chinese dishes. It also reminds me of some of the dumplings you’d get at Yum Cha.

I also score two bonuses with this dish:

  1. It’s gluten free because it uses bean curd skin so Daddyken can eat it
  2. There’s no carb in bean curd skin, which means I can have a guilt free pig out!!


And despite the double cooking, it was surprisingly really easy to do.

Poh’s Prawn and Yuba Beads


  • 500g fresh prawns, shelled and chopped (so there is still a bit of texture)
  • 250g pork mince
  • 1 ½ tsp corn flour
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 ½ tsp white pepper
  • 1 egg
  • 5 large shiitake mushrooms, soaked in hot water squeezed and chopped finely
  • 1 tbs shaoxing rice wine (chinese cooking wine)
  • 150g water chestnuts, julienned
  • 250g Chinese soft bean curd skins (Not the pale yellow brittle sort. This one is a golden colour and translucent and should be very flexible in the packaging)
  • Lemon wedges to serve


  1. Mix all ingredients except for bean curd and lemon wedges. Work mixture with hand till it is very sticky and opaque.
  2. Lay out the bean curd skin and smooth out the folds and wrinkles. Cut off the rounded part of the skin to make it into a rectangle and easier to roll (see notes below on what you can do with the left over bean curd skin).
  3. Spoon the prawn and pork mixture onto the skin in a long thin line so that when you roll it over it is about the thickness of a regular sausage. Leave a 3cm space from the left edge and six centimetres at the other end. Ensure you tuck the mixture right in, under the bean curd skin so there is not a big cavity as this will cause the skin to split easily. Roll about four rotations.

4. Now with kitchen string, start by tying and knotting from left to right, making small balls along the sausage, so it resembles a chain of beads. You should be able to fit seven to eight per chain (or you can make larger ones like the ones I’ve made). Repeat process till all filling is used.

6. Place the chains in a dish or bamboo steamer (they can lay close to one another) and steam for ten minutes. Cut at the tied intervals and remove string.

7. In a wok heat oil to medium and deep fry the beads till they are golden. Drain on paper towelling.

8. Serve with lemon wedges and rice



  • Recipe rewritten from Poh’s Kitchen, with my own small additions. I love watching Poh’s cooking shows not only because she cooks the type of Asian food that I love to eat, she doesn’t take herself too seriously and her warmth and energy is really infectious.
  • ‘Yuba’ means tofu or bean curd skin, and is made from the skin that forms when you boil soy milk (just like the skin that forms when you boil milk).
  • Poh actually recommends eating these beads with chilli oil, but since the arrival of the Cherubs, we’re not used to eating spicy foods anymore, so we opted out.
  • You can make Chinese ‘mock duck’ with the left over cuts of the bean curd:
    • Wet the bean curd skin and place in a square baking tin
    • Brush a little bit of soy sauce, Chinese five spice powder, sesame oil and hoisin sauce on top, and put another layer on top
    • Repeat with the spices and oil with each layer
    • Steam for 10 mins
    • Bake, covered in the oven for another 10 mins.
    • Cut into pieces and eat with rice.

Coriander Prawns With Glass Noodles

Seafood is one of my favourite foods to eat. It’s light, tasty and doesn’t leave you feeling bloated and heavy like the land meats. Prawns are a particular favourite – once they’re shelled, you’ve got a firm, almost crispy, sweet, juicy piece of seafood that is so very, very satisfying. Deep fried crunchy mini school prawns in their shells are another favourite of mine – you just eat them, head, shell, body and tail. Crunch, texture and full of marvelous prawnie flavour, most of which you’ll find in the prawn head.

Money wasn’t plentiful when we were growing up, so prawns were only for special occasions like birthdays, Chinese New Year or when guests came over. Mum would stir fry the prawns in their shells with some shallots, onion, red capsicum and oyster sauce. As soon as she put the plate on the table, my older sister A, younger brother W and I would go into a feeding frenzy, shelling and eating as many and as fast as we could. W would sometimes shell and stockpile a whole lot of prawns in his bowl until we protested that he wasn’t playing fair. We’d make him eat his stockpile before he was allowed to shell some more.


My parents would eat 1 prawn each and then suck on the prawn heads that we generously gave to them. The prawn heads are the best, they’ve got the most flavour they would say whenever we wrinkled up our faces at their preferred delicacy.

Years later, we could eat prawns whenever we wanted, for no occasion at all. And that was when I noticed my parents eating the prawn bodies and tossing the prawn heads away… and that was when I realized that when prawn money was scarce, they were just saving the prawns for us.

This dish is one of my parent’s favourite dishes – no prawn heads in sight, just in flavour!

Coriander Prawns With Glass Noodles

Serves 4


  • 500g king prawns, peeled – make sure you keep the prawn heads in a small pot and discard the shells. You’ll need the prawn heads to make the prawn stock.
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 8 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 3 tablespoons coriander stems and roots, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dry sherry
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ginger, grated
  • 3 spring onions (white and green sections), chopped into 2 cm lengths
  • 250g bean thread/mung bean noodles, soaked in hot water for 20 mins and drained
  • 250g broccoli chopped into florets
  • Coriander leaves to garnish

Let’s cook!

  • In a mortar, pound the black peppercorns until crushed.
  • Add garlic, coriander roots or stems and salt, and pound to form a paste.
  • Add 1 tablespoon of the oil to the paste and mix well.
  • Add the paste to the peeled prawns, toss to coat and set aside for 10 minutes.


  • Add 2 cups water to the prawn heads and bring to a boil. Simmer for  5 mins to make prawn stock.
  • In a separate bowl, mix the sauce ingredients together and set aside.
Putting everything together:
  • Preheat a 2 L clay pot or cast iron pot over medium heat.
  • When the pot is hot, add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and the prawns, a few at a time, and brown without stirring.
  • Turn the prawn over and brown the other side. Don’t cook the prawns through.
  • Transfer them to a bowl and brown the rest of the prawns.
  • Increase the heat to high and add the ginger, green onions, prawn stock and sauce.
  • Bring to a bowl, add the noodles and stir to mix.
  • Scatter the broccoli and prawns on top.
  • Cover, reduce the heat to medium and gently boil, stirring once or twice – this should take about 10 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and garnish with coriander.

Coriander prawns with glass noodles recipe


  • If you don’t like the idea of cooking prawn heads, just add chicken stock or water.
  • Traditionally, this dish is served straight from the clay pot.
  • The glass noodles are crucial to this dish, it absorbs the sauce fantastically but won’t go soggy or gluggy like rice noodles.
  • If you’re using a clay pot, make sure you soak it in water the night before, otherwise it may crack when you put heat to it.
  • I’ve adapted this recipe from ‘Savouring Southeast Asia’ by Joyce Jue (The Five Mile Press)