Hetty McKinnon has been experimenting with flavours and cooking methods to create surprisingly delicious veggie dishes since going meat-free in her teens.
The food writer and cook launched her salad delivery business Arthur Street Kitchen 10 years ago, and McKinnon has published four cookbooks of plant-based recipes, including To Asia, With Love, which features modern Asian dishes such as salt and pepper eggplant and fun riffs of her own, like buttery miso vegemite noodles.
In a new recipe series for ABC Everyday, McKinnon is sharing easy ways all of us can incorporate more plant-based colour into our home cooking – starting with fresh takes on the nation’s favourite Chinese takeaway foods.
“[It’s] a way to pay homage to all the wonderful, colourful Chinese takeaway dishes that have sustained Australian families for decades,” says McKinnon. “In many ways, these meals – like sweet and sour pork, wonton soup, lemon chicken, chow mein, spring rolls, chow fun – have become an intrinsic part of Australia’s culinary DNA and are as ‘Australian’ as meat pies.”
McKinnon, who is now based in New York, is sharing one simple, vegetable-forward recipe in every weekly ABC Everyday newsletter. She says people may think they can’t recreate these foods at home, but they’re easier to make than you’d expect.
“My spring rolls, which are traditionally fried, are baked – and the result is so very satisfying without the need for scorching hot oil. Even I’m intimidated by deep frying,” she says. “My recipe for Cantonese chow mein doesn’t require any special equipment or even a wok to achieve the signature crispy bottom – we can get the same result with an everyday frying pan.”
Hetty’s Chinese Takeaway is all about acknowledging the role immigrant food has played in Australian culture. “My passion for vegetarianising Chinese recipes stems partly from my deep love for the food and flavours of my youth, but it’s also inspired by hunger and greed,” she says. “When I started eating meat-free I was not prepared to give up my favourite Chinese dishes so I had to find ways of making them vegetarian.”
McKinnon tells Broadsheet food is an opportunity to “build bridges” too. “I think many Australians, from all walks of life, have fond memories of eating at their local Chinese restaurants.
“Chinese restaurants, like milk bars, are the true egalitarian Australian dining experience – accessible to both city-dwellers and those in regional areas. [They’re] inexpensive, unfussy yet always generous and full of bold flavours.
“This series is a way to celebrate this unique part of our culinary history – and to pay respect to all the hardworking Chinese families, including my own, who shared their culinary wisdom, ingenuity and optimism with their communities.”
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See here for another Hetty recreation – a recipe for cacio e pepe udon noodles, shared with Broadsheet last year. It’s a speedy comfort dish you can whip up in 30 minutes.