When Rosheen Kaul returned to Australia from overseas in March, she went straight into mandatory self-isolation. Unable to go shopping for supplies, the former Lee Ho Fook, Ezard and Dinner by Heston chef relied on the pantry items she already had available and a little fresh produce delivered by her sister.
During her two-week quarantine she documented every dish she cooked (all her own recipes), before sharing them with a friend, artist Joanna Hu, “who brought them to life with her dreamy illustrations,” Kaul says.
And so the The Isol(Asian) Cookbook was born.
“With Centrelink’s tinny ‘on-hold music’ playing in the background, we managed to produce a 40-page, fully illustrated cookbook in two weeks, with full-colour photographs taken and edited in my living room – on my iPhone,” Kaul says.
Hu’s background is also in hospitality – she got her start with the Vue de Monde group, before a stint at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck pop-up in Melbourne opened a path to the original restaurant in the UK. After a period at the fine diner in Bray, where, Kaul says, “her artistic ability was identified, nurtured and encouraged,” Hu returned to Melbourne and began working as an illustrator and painter full-time.
Their cookbook has six sections, beginning with a glossary of Chinese cooking techniques and eight essential pantry ingredients. Then comes a selection of basic recipes “intended as the jumping-off point for home cooks” (congee, fried rice, wontons and broth), followed by sections devoted to snacks, vegetables, noodles, and condiments and seasonings.
Snacks include a Sichuan sausage sanga and a "completely unauthentic dim sum crispy prawn toast”, and vegetable recipes involve “more unusual Chinese vegetable preparations” Kaul says. Think shredded stir-fried potatoes, which Kaul describes as “a bright and textural way of eating the well-loved tuber”.
There are several noodle dishes that emphasise quick assembly, including creamy vegan silken tofu noodles with a punchy chilli and vinegar dressing, and a dish of wheat noodles in an aromatic broth garnished with spring onions.
“A condiment section at the back includes my lazy – and budget – XO sauce recipe. This section is geared towards procrastinators with some time on their hands,” Kaul says. It’s here you'll also find a recipe for vibrant, salty chilli oil and aromatic red soy sauce.
The $20 cookbook is available in limited numbers by pre-order now.
“We sold out several print runs last time so we eventually capped it, but since we're back in isolation it makes perfect sense to print it again.”
A digital version is also available for $10, and will continue to be sold indefinitely.