Inside My Kitchen: Lara Lee
Inside My Kitchen: Lara Lee

Inside My Kitchen: Lara Lee

Chinese-Indonesian-Australian chef and food writer Lara Lee is known for her bold flavours and intricate culinary skills. For her latest book, A Splash of Soy, she’s broadened her approach to embrace sweet, salty, umami, sour and spicy elements. Here, she took us inside her Sydney kitchen to find out more about her must-have ingredients, her favourite dishes – and the secret to the perfect bloody mary.
By Heather Steele
Photography: LOUISE HAGGER

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When we lived in London, my husband Nick (who is an architect) designed and custom made our kitchen exactly to my requirements. We are both tall, so the kitchen surfaces sat higher than most. We painted the kitchen cupboards our favourite colour, green, and the kitchen benches were made of stainless steel; the scratches that accumulate over time only add character. In Sydney, where we’re living right now, we’re renting, but it has a large kitchen island and a lot of bench space that makes easy work of entertaining – and filming cooking videos.

I love labelling everything and my kitchen pantry is very well organised. I need to be able to find ingredients in a flash. I also wanted a stainless-steel benchtop, because this is what I used in my professional kitchen when I ran a catering company and it is a game changer. You can just plonk your piping hot trays and pans straight onto the surface, or roll your pastry or dough directly onto it. It makes life so much easier.

I love browsing department stores for kitchenware to see the different ranges, as well as small boutique stores. I love to shop online too, but when it comes to serving plates and dinnerware, I prefer to see it in person and feel its weight and texture in my hands. My three must-have utensils are a spatula, measuring spoons and tongs. For gadgets, it has to be a kitchen thermometer and kitchen scales. I need accurate cooking temperatures and accurate measurements every time. I recently bought a KitchenAid 3.5 Cup Food Chopper. It’s now so easy to make spice pastes and clean them (in the dishwasher), rather than relying on my heavy-duty industrial food processor.

My signature cocktail is my BLOODY MARY WITH TOM YUM. It creates a cocktail that is quite exhilarating, thrilling, SOUR, SPICY AND FIERY.

Dinosaur Designs has the most beautiful resin tableware and accessories. I also love the colourful ceramics of Mud Australia. I enjoy collecting unique and handmade stoneware pieces from ceramic artists around the world when I travel, such as Eclipse Pottery in Ubud, Bali, or the artists at the Turning Earth Ceramic Studio in east London.

For glassware, I love Country Road in Australia. They have gorgeous pink and green-stained glassware that’s truly beautiful. For pots and pans I always go to the pros, from Circulon to Le Creuset. I like the Netherton Foundry woks too.

The first dish I learnt to cook was probably my grandmother’s peanut sauce, which she’s made ever since I was little. I’ve adapted it and since made it my own, but yes, I eat peanut sauce all the time and I will never tire of it. My most used ingredient in the kitchen is sriracha or the hot chilli condiment sambal from Indonesia. I add either of them as a condiment to most meals to spice them up.

Mud Australia
Mud Australia

Right now, Australia is in the middle of autumn, moving into winter. This means we are coming out of gorgeous avocado and mango season, and heading into cauliflower, aubergine, mushrooms, Asian greens, brussels sprouts and kale season. I love the texture of those winter vegetables, so full of crunch and just perfect for Asian comfort cooking. My signature dish is beef rendang, an Indonesian caramelised beef stew served with sambal, turmeric rice and Asian greens. If you’re entertaining and have to cook anything to order on the day, make sure it is a stir-fry that takes a matter of minutes. Everything else should be prepared in advance.

I recently hosted a Lunar New Year banquet for friends – one of whom is vegetarian so I served a mix of dishes to cater for everyone. On the menu was my beef rendang, chicken satay and tofu, pineapple and vegetable satay with peanut sauce, charred corn with sweet chilli butter and kecap manis, an umami-filled fiery tomato sambal, a kecap manis-glazed sticky tempeh stir-fry, a cucumber acar pickle and a tamarind mushroom egg noodles. We had leftovers for days…

There are so many high-quality pastes that make easy work of cooking these days. I always keep lemongrass paste, garlic paste, ginger paste and tom yum paste in the fridge. I use sriracha, Kewpie mayonnaise, kecap manis, soy sauce and oyster sauce nearly every day. I love coconut oil for cooking and extra virgin olive oil as a dressing for salads. In terms of aromatics, I always have lemongrass, ginger, garlic and chillies to hand, plus ground dry spices such as white and black pepper, coriander, cumin and five spice.

The thing I’ve made most this year is my TAMARIND CARAMEL BROWNIES. They BALANCE THE DEEP, RICH dark chocolatey flavour of brownies with the SOUR OVERLAY of the tamarind caramel so well.

My signature cocktail is my Tom Yum Bloody Mary. I use a lot of tom yum paste in A Splash of Soy, from soup to roast chicken and sweet potato wedges. I was considering how to inject some Asian influence into the classic bloody mary, so I swapped out the Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco, and added in store-bought tom yum paste. It creates a cocktail that is quite exhilarating, thrilling, sour, spicy and fiery. In terms of barware, a good old fashioned cocktail shaker is all I need.

I’ve always been drawn to Asian flavours. Lately, for Sunday lunch, I’ve been cooking my miso and gochujang butter-roasted chicken and sambal patatas bravas with lemongrass-charred brussels sprouts. The thing I’ve made most this year is my tamarind caramel brownies. They balance the deep, rich dark chocolatey flavour of brownies with the sour overlay of the tamarind caramel so well. I make them as gifts for people, always with a heck of a lot of offcuts for me and the family.

At the moment, my go-to cookbooks are Flavour by Ixta Belfrage and Yotam Ottolenghi – and anything by Alison Roman. Jeremy Pang’s cookbooks are also great and every recipe is well researched and works. Plus, all of Sri Owen’s books for Indonesian food. I adore Uyen Luu’s Vietnamese too.

When it comes to breakfast, my husband often makes me porridge on the days when I am feeling rushed, then it’s a banana as I’m walking out the door. If I have more time, scrambled eggs are on heavy rotation. At the weekends, it’s a little bit fancier, and I’ll add garlicky prawns, soy sauce, oyster sauce and chilli into the omelette mix (there’s a great recipe for this in my book).


A Splash of Soy: Everyday Food from Asia by Lara Lee (Bloomsbury Publishing, £22, Hardback) is out now. Photography by Louise Hagger. Alexander Breeze prop stylist.

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