When I cook lunch for myself, I rely on three easy staples: instant noodles (to which I add an egg and vegetables); grilled cheese sandwiches (always – always! – use a mix of three or four cheeses, and pan-fry the bread on both sides in butter); and open-faced canned sardine sandwiches (pour the juices from the can over the sardines, which should be placed on toasted bread). But if I am cooking for myself and a friend, I put in a little more effort. Here are two of my favourite recipes for when I have company.

Japanese beef cubes with fried garlic and shredded cabbage (pictured)

This is a dish I often ordered for lunch at Japanese restaurants, until I realised it’s easy to cook at home. It can be homey or luxurious, depending on the beef you choose. Supermarket beef is fine for most occasions (although it’s essential that you don’t overcook it), but if you want to treat yourself, choose a well-marbled piece of Japanese or Korean beef. I use cuts such as rump or strip loin, which have a deeper, beefier flavour than the more expensive but milder-tasting filet mignon.

400-500 grams beef steak, about 2cm thick
4 garlic cloves

Fine sea salt

Oil, for pan-frying

For the sauce:
30ml soy sauce

20ml sake

10 grams sugar

10ml sesame oil

For serving:
Steamed Japanese rice

¼ of a green head cabbage, preferably Japanese

Kewpie mayonnaise

Shichimi togarashi and furikake, for sprinkling

Cut the beef into 2cm cubes, sprinkle them lightly with salt and mix well. Set this aside while preparing the other ingredients.Thinly slice the garlic cloves. Lightly oil a skillet (preferably un-enamelled cast iron) and place it over a medium-low flame. Scatter the sliced garlic into the pan and use chopsticks (or small tongs) to place the pieces in one layer. Cook the garlic until pale golden on one side, then turn the slices over and brown the other side. Don’t let the garlic get too dark, or the flavour will be bitter, and adjust the flame under the pan as needed so the pieces don’t cook too quickly. When the garlic is pale golden and crisp, remove the slices from the skillet.

Thinly slice the cabbage and divide between two serving plates. Put all the ingredients for the sauce in a small sauce­pan and place it over a medium flame. Bring to the boil then lower the heat and cook at a low simmer until the ingredients reduce to a light sauce consistency. Turn off the flame.

Place the skillet used to cook the garlic over a medium-high flame (no need to wash the pan). Lightly oil the skillet and when the oil is hot, add the cubes of meat. Sear the meat, turning the pieces over so they brown on all sides, cooking them quickly so they do not become overdone.

Divide the meat between the two serving plates. Quickly re-heat the sauce, bringing it to a simmer. Drizzle the sauce over the beef cubes, then scatter the garlic slices on top. Squirt a blob of kewpie mayonnaise on the plate and dust it lightly with shichimi togarashi. Serve the meat and cabbage with a bowl of steamed Japanese rice that’s been sprinkled with furikake. Serve immediately.


Angelhair pasta with taba ng talangka

I try (not very successfully) to avoid eating this too often, because I have the feeling my cardiologist would not approve. A Philippine speciality, taba ng talangka, also known as aligue, is crab fat – the rich, oily innards taken from tiny crabs, before being mixed with vinegar and put into jars.

200 grams angelhair pasta
2 shallots

2 garlic cloves

About 80 grams taba ng talangka

Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 or 2 fresh calamansi

About 5ml cooking oil

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, add the pasta and let it cook while preparing the sauce. Mince the shallots and slice the garlic. Pour the oil into a wok or skillet placed over a medium flame. When the oil is hot, add the shallot, garlic and a sprinkling of salt and cook until soft, stirring often.

By now, the pasta should be al dente. Ladle off about 100ml of the pasta water into a measuring cup, then drain the pasta. Immediately put the pasta into the pan holding the shallot and garlic. Add the taba ng talangka and about 50ml of the pasta water and simmer, mixing well so the crab fat is evenly distributed. The sauce should thickly and evenly coat the pasta; if needed, stir in more crab fat and/or pasta water.

Season to taste with salt, then mix in some freshly ground black pepper. Squeeze calamansi juice into the pasta and mix, then divide the pasta between two shallow bowls.

If you like, top each portion with another spoonful of taba ng talangka before serving.