Project cooks: ambitious Australian lockdown dishes from laksa to labneh

Chicken Laksa by Mandy Yin.Chicken laksa by Mandy Yin. Photograph: Martin Poole/The Observer

ith many parts of Australia in some form of lockdown, home cooking projects are back on the agenda. Whether you find cooking from scratch an escape from the world, a way to entertain the kids or a place to unleash your inner mad scientist, we’ve rounded up a few options that aren’t sourdough, because sourdough is so very 2020.




Start with a bowl of thick homemade yoghurt and choose your own adventure

Start with a bowl of thick homemade yoghurt and choose your own adventure. Photograph: Johner Images/Getty Images

At first glance this might not appear to be the most exciting cooking project, but freshly made yoghurt can be used in a number of delicious ways and after you make this once, you will have a skill for life.

All you need is some good quality milk and a saucepan (though a thermometer is advantageous). You’ll also need a starter. This could be a few spoonfuls of store-bought yoghurt lurking in the back of your fridge but as Tom Hunt writes, stalks from chillies can be used in just the same way. Then the science-y magic begins. After you have inoculated your boiled and cooled milk, leave it in a warm place for several hours and marvel as the live (good) bacteria colonise the milk and create a thick, luscious yoghurt.


Tom Hunt’s homemade yoghurt made from chilli stalks

Tom Hunt’s homemade yoghurt made from chilli stalks. Photograph: Tom Hunt

Once your yoghurt has set in the fridge overnight you can choose your own adventure.

To make labneh, strain your yoghurt overnight to remove the whey and you will be left with the cream cheese-like solids. Roll into balls and season with herbs and spices, or preserve in olive oil and garlic to keep in the fridge.


Lemon yoghurt spelt cakes

Lemon yoghurt spelt cakes. Photograph: Kristin Perers

For something sweet, try Ruby Tandoh’s easy blueberry yoghurt loaf cake or Claire Ptak’s syrup-drenched and glazed lemon yoghurt spelt cakes.

Yoghurt takes a starring role in Yotam Ottolenghi’s hot charred cherry tomatoes with cold yoghurt or for the cooler nights, try a warming Gujarati kadhi, which combines yoghurt with chickpea flour to create a gently spiced tangy soup.



Yotam Ottolenghi’s lime leaf cured ‘gravadlax’

Yotam Ottolenghi’s lime leaf cured ‘gravadlax’. Photograph: Louise Hagger Food styling: Emily Kydd. Prop styling: Jennifer Kay. Food assistant: Susanna Unsworth

Set yourself up for a week of decadent lunches with homemade gravlax. Curing your own fish sounds a lot more intimidating than it is in practice, and the end result is very rewarding. It’s also more affordable than buying it from your local grocery store.

Walk the traditional path with Kate Young’s recipe using the classic Nordic combination of salt, sugar and dill. Yotam Ottolenghi adds his signature flair with the inclusion of coriander, chilli and makrut lime leaves. Thomasina Miers cures her salmon in a punchy cocktail of pink grapefruit, pink peppercorns and tequila. But if you want to be the envy of all friends on Instagram try Nigel Slater’s beetroot cured gravadlax. Beetroot imparts its vibrant jewel-pink pigment into the top layers, so when it’s sliced, the flesh glimmers like colourful stained glass windows.

Serve generously on dense, dark rye with some horseradish cream or if you are after an even more ambitious project, try your hand at making bagels from scratch too.

When you’ve finally tired of extravagant open sandwiches, you can also add your salmon to a breakfast frittata or as a substitute for tuna in a niçoise salad.

Fermented hot sauce


Tom Hunt’s pickled chillies.

Tom Hunt’s pickled chillies. Photograph: Tom Hunt
If you are craving the maternal gratification that comes from throwing together a jumble of ingredients and tending to them from their gurgling beginnings through to delicious maturity, then consider fermenting your own hot sauce.

Tom Hunt sets out a blueprint for a standard hot sauce, but you can experiment using different chillies, from poblanos and habaneros to fataliis, which each have their own nuanced flavours and heat levels.

When it comes time to bottling your hot sauce, you can find bottles readily available online and they make the ideal homemade Christmas gift.

Chocolate chip cookies


Chocolate chip cookies

Chocolate chip cookies. Photograph: Louise Hagger. Food styling: Emily Kydd. Prop styling: Jennifer Kay

Sure, you could turn out a batch of perfectly delicious cookies in under an hour but if you are looking to unleash your creative prowess, consider transforming each element of the cookie to create your own bespoke super-cookie.

A good starting point is appropriately titled ultimate chocolate chip cookie.

Inject roasty, toasty flavours by transforming your butter into beurre noisette, a process of caramelising the milk solids in butter until it reaches a nut brown colour. Just remember, you’ll need to start this ahead of time to allow the butter time to solidify again before you can begin creaming it. You can also toast your caster sugar, which builds on the caramel notes without being obscenely saccharine.

For the very ambitious, consider making your own bespoke chocolate chips using this recipe by Heston Blumenthal, where they are tempered with a hit of smoked sea salt.

From there, you can add any inclusions you wish, from toasted nuts to dried fruit or even some shards of homemade toffee brittle.

Finally, it’s a truth universally acknowledged by bakers and cookie fiends alike, that cookie dough left to rest for up to 36 hours provides a far superior result. Resting allows the dough adequate time to fully hydrate, but this New York Times article notes that the longer resting period also affects the flavour, producing “richer, more sophisticated taste, with stronger toffee hints”.

Your favourite noodle soup

Australians are a bunch of noodle soup-slurping enthusiasts, but if lockdown has curtailed your visits to your favourite restaurant and like me you find yourself gazing mournfully at your delivery apps wishing you weren’t just outside their range, the next best thing is giving it a crack yourself.

Because the soup base is such an integral part of these dishes, you want to allow it time to simmer, and in some cases leave to sit overnight, to fully develop the flavours. For this reason I would recommend starting a day or so before your soup cravings peak, or you will find yourself passed out from exhaustion and unable to appreciate the fruits of your labour.


Aromatic beef pho

Aromatic beef pho. Photograph: Uyen Luu/

If a deep, steaming bowl of pho is what you are lusting after, Uyen Luu has rounded up six of the best pho recipes from the more traditional beef pho to a vegan pho. With some leftover turkey or other roasted meat, James Ramsden suggests this aromatic pho made with a broth of charred onion and ginger.

Or, if you’ve signed up to the cult of ramen and are in need of its warm embrace, there are a lot of great options. There is Meera Sodha’s caramelised onion and chilli ramen with overnight soy eggs, Ken Yamada’s roast chicken ramen, where he makes his own toothsome noodles, and Felicity Cloake’s take on the best miso ramen. But if it’s the thick, collagen-rich tonkotsu ramen you really crave, try Adam Liaw’s version.

Then there’s laksa. Nonya-style laksa lemak is the most recognisable version in Australia. Mandy Yin’s chicken curry laksa serves six, but each component freezes well so you can put together some laksa packs in your freezer for lower-effort returns in the future.





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