Simple food for families

THE BOOK: A Year of Simple Family Food, by Julia Busuttil Nishimura, published by Plum, RRP$39.99
Simple ingredients and seasonal produce is the basis for Julia Busuttil Nishimura’s latest book, A Year of Simple Family Food.

A Melbourne-based cook, author and teacher, Nishimura’s food is influenced by her Maltese upbringing and time spent living in Italy.

She teaches sell-out cooking workshops and "pasta master" classes and is a regular contributor to Australian and international publications.

Her first cookbook, Ostro, was shortlisted for the 2018 ABIA Illustrated Book of the Year and named in Gourmet Traveller’s Best Food Books for 2017.

Nishimura’s family food is generous and unfussy and focuses on the family coming together at the end of the day to share a simple meal.

Following the seasons, she provides recipes that make the most of fresh produce, from apricot and berry galette in summer to a hearty baked maccheroni in winter.

She is a great believer in using the best ingredients available and there are plenty of quick recipes in the book, as well as those that take more time.


Potato pancakes with herbed sour cream and smoked trout

This is a perfect brunch recipe, but also makes an equally satisfying light lunch or dinner. Be sure to choose a starchy potato for best results.

Serves 4

750g desiree or other starchy potatoes,


1 onion, grated

1 Tbsp plain flour

1 egg, lightly beaten

sea salt and black pepper

ghee or olive oil, for frying

4 soft-boiled eggs, halved

small handful of snow pea shoots or rocket

350g hot-smoked rainbow trout, skin and bones removed and flesh flaked

1 lemon, sliced

Herbed sour cream

200g sour cream

handful of finely chopped dill fronds

handful of finely chopped chives

1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 Tbsp lemon juice

pinch of sea salt


For the herbed sour cream, simply combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside in the fridge while you work on the pancakes.

Place the grated potato in a large bowl. Cover with cold water and agitate with your hands. Drain well then squeeze out any excess moisture and place in a clean dry bowl. Add the onion, flour, egg and a good pinch each of salt and pepper. Mix well, using your hands to really work the mixture together for a few minutes. This helps the starch come out of the potatoes, which will hold the pancakes together without having to add too much flour or egg.

You should see the mixture change and come together as you do this.

Heat 1 tablespoon of ghee or oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat.

Using a cup measurement, drop portions of the mixture into the pan and flatten them slightly using a spatula. Cook for about 5 minutes, flipping halfway, until golden, adding extra ghee or oil as needed. The mixture should make about 16 pancakes — it’s best to cook them in batches so you don’t overcrowd the pan. Drain the pancakes on paper towel and serve with the herbed sour cream, soft-boiled eggs, greens, trout and lemon.

Chicken karaage sandwiches

We make these sandwiches for birthday parties or larger gatherings and they are so popular they disappear in a flash.

In Japan, unused sandwich crusts are often made into sweet rusks by frying them in the hot oil (before the chicken, to avoid any chance of mixing flavours), then tossing them in cinnamon sugar.

This is how my husband, Nori, remembers it from his childhood. The chicken recipe below can be used to make karaage on its own - simply cut the chicken into smaller pieces before marinating and then proceed as usual.

Serve on rice or by itself with a good dollop of Kewpie for dipping.

Serves 4

500g chicken thigh fillets, halved

200g white cabbage, finely shredded

2 spring onions, finely sliced

2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

juice of lemon

sea salt and black pepper

vegetable oil, for deep-frying

potato starch, for coating

hot English or Japanese mustard, for spreading

8 slices of shokupan (see note) or white bread, crusts removed

100g Kewpie mayonnaise

Karaage marinade

2 garlic cloves, grated

1cm piece of ginger, grated

1 Tbsp sesame oil

2 Tbsp soy sauce

1 Tbsp mirin

3 Tbsp sake

1 tsp brown sugar

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 Tbsp potato starch


Using a fork, poke holes in the chicken to better allow the marinade to soak in. Place the chicken in a shallow container so it fits snugly. Whisk the marinade ingredients in a bowl and pour over the chicken. Use your hands to turn the chicken in the marinade so it’s well coated. Cover and set aside in the fridge to marinate for 30-60 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the cabbage, spring onion, olive oil and lemon juice in a large bowl, season well and set aside.

Pour the vegetable oil into a heavy-based saucepan or wok to a depth of 5cm. Heat the oil to 170degC, or hot enough that a cube of bread dropped into the oil turns golden brown in 20 seconds.

Shake the excess marinade from the chicken, then toss the chicken in potato starch to coat. Fry, in batches, for 4 minutes or until cooked through and golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a wire rack.

Spread a thin layer of mustard on four of the bread slices and a generous layer of mayo on the others. Place a piece of chicken on the mustard, top with some slaw, then sandwich with the remaining slices of bread. Cut each sandwich in half and serve.

Note: Here, I’ve used the traditional Japanese milk bread called shokupan, which is incredibly fluffy. Regular white bread is fine, too.

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