Cookbook author, food and travel writer Leanne Kitchen talks pantry must-haves, her first love, and a tried and true secret for brussels sprouts.
Catherine Osmond

10 Nov 2013 - 1:37 PM  UPDATED 2 Jul 2014 - 3:55 PM

What’s for dinner tonight, Leanne?

Leftover pork belly from a photoshoot, simmered in a master stock with Shaoxing wine and sugar, soy and spices, along with steamed rice and wokked greens. It’s really hard to stuff up and everyone loves it.


Is that the kind of simple Chinese we’ll see in your next cookbook?

Absolutely – we’re hoping people will be quite surprised. There’s quite a few braises and barbecues and things that are quite easy to cook, such as my san choy bau recipe.


No chicken and almonds, or beef and black bean?

So far away from that. People have all these misconceptions that Chinese food is covered in a glossy goo and it all involves stir-frying, which actually is a really technical way of cooking and hard to do well at home.


Why a Chinese cookbook?

China’s always been my first love and I’ve been dozens of times. I’ve always had this weird connection to the country, even when I was a kid.


What’s your food philosophy?

I was a professional chef for a long time, so I used to be hung up on technique and presentation. Now I’m interested in “real” food cultures. It’s usually incredibly simple: using great ingredients with respect, and not tricking them up.


So I guess food “fashions” …

I hate the whole concept. It just doesn’t enter my head that a sundried tomato is so “yesterday”. Try telling that to an Italian!


With an 11-year-old at home, what’s your go-to dish for weeknights?

Something really simple like a pasta dish with a lentil-based sauce, perhaps with some silverbeet through it, tomato and lots of parmesan on top.


What pantry ingredients couldn’t you do without?

For starters, a really good olive oil, and my big indulgence in life is a good red wine vinegar – it’s just sensational and I use it in this brussels sprout salad …


Ok, brussels sprouts. What’s the secret to making them tasty?

Don’t cook them unless you have to – and then roast them, don’t boil them. The salad has finely shredded brussels sprouts, anchovies, chopped raisins, parmesan, parley, vinegar and oil. It’s that Italian sweet and sour thing … just sensational.


What do you like to cook when friends are coming over?

I always theme it – Thai, Chinese, Middle Eastern – and I always cook in advance and do big dishes that people can help themselves from. I never do sit-down three courses, plated up. I hate being in the kitchen when people come over!


What’s the most challenging thing you’ve eaten overseas?

Insects in Laos, for sure. And in China recently with my co-author, Antony Suvalko, fermented tofu. It was so fetid it almost made your eyes water.


I have to ask: what came first, the surname or the career?

I married Mr Kitchen when I was working in restaurants, and for some reason it never even occurred to me. Some people think I made up my name, but I’m not that pretentious!


Leanne Kitchen is the author of Turkey: Recipes and tales from the road (Murdoch Books). Her home-style Chinese cookbook, co-authored with Antony Suvalko, will be published by Hardie Grant Books in October 2014. View an exclusive sneak peek recipe for san choy bau.