GROWING up exposed to many taste sensations seems to give you the tools to explore and be curious with flavours. But not all of us have this exposure – some grow up on simple food, little or no seasoning and hardly any spice. Should we be more open to experience an array of flavours, be experimental in tastes or stay sheltered under the comfort of bland familiarity?

The New Year brings with it the motivation for new beginnings – to try things that usually daunt, fill you with wonder and most of all help you find an inner confidence to try new experiences.

Many of us are picky eaters, or resistant to new flavour, but I think there is no better time than the start of a fresh year to promise yourself that you will try recipes that you have never heard of or ingredients that intimidate you. This will lead to opening up a whole new world, educating, filling you with a sense of travel, without having ever left your home. Food has a delightful way of creating a sort of astral projection journey. You could close your eyes, take a bite and find yourself on a houseboat in the Kerala backwaters or sitting on the beach in Koi Samui.

I have set myself a New Year challenge. Each month, I will aim to cook at least two recipes from a different part of the world – I find even I – someone who loves to create flavour in the kitchen – have become stuck in my ways, cooking only the most familiar recipes and using ingredients repetitively. This year has been a challenging one, and as I look at the promise of a fresh new start, I will delve into my 400 cookbooks, by friends and icons alike, and aim to create flavours unfamiliar to me.

I urge you to do the same. Even one new recipe from a place you’ve never heard of will bring the excitement of exotic, faraway places to liven up the cold and dark January ahead with spice, freshness and most of all, experiences of a new world.

Burmese Khau-swe (beef and coconut noodle soup)

This recipe isn’t unfamiliar to me, as I grew up in Pakistan, where it's something of an adopted staple. I make this often, and I think it is a great one for anyone keen to experiment with new flavours. Many Burmese moved over to Karachi to flee prosecution in the 1940s and 1960s and have since become a part of the fabric of this already very ethnically diverse hometown of mine.

This version of a classic Burmese beef and coconut noodle soup probably has a slight South Asian slant to it, but it’s one that fills me with wonder, even after so many years of making it – the toppings bring it to life, and its filled with comfort to cold January evenings. (You can substitute the beef with chicken thigh meat.)

For the soup:

4-5 tbsp groundnut oil or corn oil

2 white onions, blended into paste

1 tsp crushed garlic

1 ½ tsp grated ginger

250 grams minute steak or thinly sliced braising steak

1 tsp turmeric

¼ tsp red chilli powder

Salt to taste

¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper

2 tbsp chickpea flour

250 ml coconut milk

250 ml chicken or beef stock or just water

For the noodles:

300 grams rice noodles, cooked as per instructions


A handful of dried rice noodles fried in hot oil until crispy, drained

3-4 spring onions, sliced finely

2-3 boiled eggs, chopped

2 red onions, fried and browned, drained

2 tbsp dried red chilli flakes, toasted in a dry pan until fragrant but not burnt or 2-3 green chillis, finely sliced

Wedges of lemon or lime

Handful of fresh coriander leaves, chopped


Heat oil in a saucepan, add blended onions together with the ginger and garlic. Cook on medium head constantly stirring and do no allow to get brown. Once the raw smell leaves the pan (about one or two minutes), add the thinly sliced steak pieces and stir. Add all the spices and chickpea flour. Keep stirring. Add a splash of water so that it doesn’t all stick to the bottom of the pan.

Pour over the coconut milk, stir and then add the stock or water. Turn heat down, cover loosely and simmer for about 10-12 minutes. In the meantime, prepare the toppings.

Once the soup is ready, stir and serve hot. To serve, add noodles in a serving bowl, top with meat and soup and toppings with a squeeze or lemon or lime.