Growing up, Darshini Kandasamy never really gave cooking much thought. Her mother produced all sorts of delicious home-cooked food all the time and Darshini didn’t really have to think too much about how it all came together or bother learning how to make anything.
Until she went to university abroad and literally had to learn to cook or face starvation. “Once you are overseas, you start getting homesick and you want to start tasting home food. That’s when me and a bunch of friends got together and started cooking and I kind of liked it,” she says.
Later, she became a journalist and as fate would have it – ended up marrying another journalist. Both she and her husband worked long hours and cooking soon became their solace. Even after getting home at 10pm, they found energy to whip up meals from scratch and enjoyed doing it.
When her husband was transferred to Singapore in 2014, the couple decided it was time to take her budding food interest to a whole new level.
So she quit journalism and started documenting her vast, varied cooking experiments on her newly-created blog kitchenmatrimony.com.
The blog is a catalogue of both Darshini and her husband Marc Lourdes’ many tried-and-tested recipes, from butter chicken, sous vide plum curd to orange cake and coconut banana macaroons.
Each recipe is prefaced by entertaining anecdotes and back stories, detailing how the dish came together in the first place. The recipes have been pared down and simplified, so you won’t feel intimidated or overwhelmed. In fact, the pervasive feeling you get from the blog is one of gentle encouragement.
“The main aim of the blog is to catalogue the experiments – the flavours and the dishes. The other thing is we really wanted to catalogue old recipes, because we don’t want these to disappear. So we keep harassing our friends and families for their recipes.
“Also, as you get older, you start appreciating your culture more, so I started appreciating Malaysian flavours and Indian flavours and wanted all this to be captured in our blog as well,” she says.
Darshini’s cooking is evocative of her interest in healthy, delectable food. She experiments with gluten-free cakes and reads extensively about food, so she has an intrinsic understanding of the fact that fats and oils are not necessarily bad for you.
“My idea or philosophy is, if you understand what you’re cooking and you take control of it, anything healthy can be delicious,” she says.
Also a talented artist, Darshini says her art has bled into her food, infusing her culinary concoctions with a creative flair that comes to life when she plates her food. She even sketches her recipes before she begins cooking, so that she knows how everything should look on the plate!
“I would say my art has influenced my food a lot because of how the colours work together. When you plate, it’s not just about flavour; it’s also about colour” she says.
Darshini’s next major plan is to start a supperclub in Hong Kong (where she is now based) sometime next year, inspired by the many cuisines she experiments with.
She confesses that she likes the idea of having a supperclub, because this will give her the opportunity to flex her creative muscles and change recipes based on what inspires her at any given moment.
She also has another exciting prospect up her sleeve: the possibility of conceptualising a menu for a local restaurant! “It’s still in the discussion stage, but that’s a good progression as well,” she says.
For now, Darshini is content to keep cooking and charting her journey on her blog. She says she constantly feels encouraged and motivated when friends and readers of her blog tell her they have tried her recipes and found success.
“It’s validation, because you can cook on your own and tell people, ‘Oh, I like to cook’ but unless people like your food, it doesn’t mean anything,” she says.
CAJUN GRILLED PRAWNS AND CREAMY CAULIFLOWER PUREE
For the prawns
2 tsp cajun seasoning
2 tsp chilli powder
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1/2 lemon, juiced
salt and pepper to taste
20 medium-large prawns, peeled with tails intact
1/4 cup water
spring onions, for garnish
For the cauliflower puree
1 medium cauliflower head, boiled till fork tender (reserve boiling liquid)
2 tbsp light cream cheese
1 tbsp room temperature butter
salt and pepper to taste
To marinate prawns
Mix the cajun seasoning, chilli powder, butter and lemon juice in a bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. Marinate prawns in the mixture.
To make cauliflower puree
In a blender, combine the cauliflower, cheese and butter, and blend till it forms a smooth puree. Add salt and pepper to taste and pulse until smooth. If the mixture is too thick, add a bit of the cauliflower boiling liquid, but don’t use too much water or overmix, or you’ll get a watery mess. Strain the puree to remove any lumps and set aside.
To cook and plate
Heat a grill pan under medium high heat. Shake off excess marinade from the prawns and grill for 2 to 4 minutes, turning over half way.
In a small saucepan, cook the leftover marinade over low heat, adding the water to loosen it up. Let simmer for a few minutes, stirring constantly, then remove from heat.
To serve, spoon puree on the centre of each plate and spread to form a circle. Place the prawns in the centre. Top with some marinade sauce and garnish with the spring onions.
PAN-SEARED THREADFIN WITH SPICY COCONUT LEMON GRAVY
For the coconut lemon gravy
1 1/2 large green chillies, chopped
4 red bird’s eye chillies, chopped
1/4 cup coriander, tightly packed
2 cloves garlic
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 tbsp sesame oil
oil, for sautéing
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
200ml coconut cream
1 cup water
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp butter
For the fish
4 threadfin fillets
salt for seasoning
oil for pan-frying
1/2 red chilli, sliced thinly
1 sprig coriander leaves, chopped
1 tbsp sliced spring onions
To make the gravy
In a food processor, blend the chillies, coriander, garlic, ginger, lemon zest and sesame oil to a fine paste. You may need a couple of tablespoons of water to get it going.
In a saucepan, heat up some oil over medium heat. Pour in the blended paste and turmeric powder and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add the coconut cream and 1/2 cup of water. Give the mixture a good stir. Reduce the heat and allow to simmer for about three minutes, stirring frequently.
Add the fish sauce, lemon juice, and salt and pepper, and taste the sauce. Add more water if you want the gravy to be less thick.
Finish off the sauce by adding the butter. Leave to cook for another two minutes then remove from heat. Reheat the sauce just before serving.
To cook the fish
Season the fish with salt. In a frying pan, heat some oil. Add the fillets, skin side down. Press and hold down each slice gently for about three seconds to stop the fish from curling. Release, then leave the fish to cook for about 4 minutes, before flipping over and cooking the other side for 2 to 3 minutes, depending on fillet size.
Ladle the gravy on the plate, place the fish fillet in the centre and garnish with chillies, coriander and spring onions.
GLUTEN-FREE ORANGE EXPLOSION CAKE
For the cake
1/2 cup (heaped) coconut flour, sifted
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup honey (increase to 1/2 cup if omitting the glaze)
1/4 cup agave syrup
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tbsp orange zest
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
3 large eggs, separated into whites and yolks
1 large egg, whole
For the orange glaze
3/4 cup icing sugar
2 tbsp fresh orange juice
For the decoration
1/4 cup almond slices, toasted
1 tbsp black sesame seeds, toasted
To make cake
Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Sift together coconut flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl.
In a separate bowl, beat honey, agave and olive oil with an electric mixer until well incorporated. Add the orange zest and juice and beat to combine. Add three egg yolks and the one full egg, one at a time, while continuing to mix.
Add the flour mixture in three batches, mixing just until the dry ingredients are fully immersed.
In a dry bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. In three batches, fold the egg whites into the batter. Do not overmix, to retain the air trapped in the whites.
Divide batter into two greased and floured 18x9x6 loaf tins.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown, a stick inserted into the centre comes out clean and the sides slightly pull away from the tins.
Let stand for 10 minutes, then remove from tins.
To glaze and decorate cake
Prepare the glaze by whisking together the icing sugar and orange juice until well incorporated and takes on the consistency of honey.
When the cakes have cooled, pour over the glaze, and sprinkle the almonds, sesame seeds and orange zest on top.
The cake is ready to be served once the glaze has set.