She Came, She Ate, She Wrote a Cookbook

"7000 Islands: A food portrait of the Philippines"  by Yasmin Newman (Reprinted with permission from Hardie Grant)

"7000 Islands: A food portrait of the Philippines"  by Yasmin Newman (Reprinted with permission from Hardie Grant)

She was on a food sabbatical. Yasmin Newman spent time in Manila in 2009 to do research for an article and ended up writing a cookbook. While she waited to finish a ten-week assignment in the Philippines, she launched into a bigger project, staying for six months. Yasmin used the time to write 7000 Islands, the first Filipino cookbook to go mainstream in Australia.

Yasmin and her family are from Australia. Her family spent vacations in Manila when she was growing up. These visits gave her a connection to her mom's Filipino culture.

"It's a beautiful culture. The Philippines is so much fun. There are no rules there comparatively. Colorful jeepneys are overflowing. There are hundreds of people everywhere." Yasmin added that she learned to drive when she was in the Philippines.

While living in Australia, Filipino food was part of her childhood. Mom, Rebecca Morillo, often cooked her favorites. "Champorado, spaghetti with hotdogs were part of my youth," Yasmin said. Years later, she has gained a better understanding of Filipino food.

She was educated in Sydney, Paris, Los Angeles and Mexico. Her parents, Rebecca and John, are both urban planners. Yasmin and her older brother, Terry, were raised in Australia. In a country of 23 million, there are about 500,000 Filipinos. 

 Yasmin Newman, journalist and cookbook author (Photo by Nigel Lough. Reprinted with permission from Hardie Grant))

 Yasmin Newman, journalist and cookbook author (Photo by Nigel Lough. Reprinted with permission from Hardie Grant))

"Aussies are familiar with garlic, soy sauce, vinegars," she said. This is the link that makes Filipino food appeal to Aussie-Filipinos. "Aussies love adobo and the agrio-dulce (sweet sour) flavors."

"As a journalist, I read a lot of stories. I felt it was time to put our food out there."

In the Philippines, she traveled from Manila to Mindoro. She spent three months in the city capital and three in the provinces. She was 26 years old at the time, was working for a food magazine and fascinated with the food culture.

Yasmin met up with culinary icons like Claude Tayag and Amy Besa. She read the works of food writing pioneer Doreen Gamboa Fernandez. She was commissioned by the magazine to write an article on the Pampanga and Negros provinces. She contacted Poch Jorolan of Outereaters and Everybody’s Café, who provided her with Pampanga’s food history.

“I learned that in the Philippines sugar is cheap and used as a filler. We are now coming full circle in the food industry. We have to be sustainable. We need to maximize flavors in different ways.”

‘Champorado, spaghetti with hotdogs were part of my youth,’ Yasmin said.

When Yasmin returned to Australia, SBS (National Broadcasters) brought her on board for “Kitchen Conversations,” a monthly podcast. She shared Filipino recipes and interviewed Filipinos about their heritage.

Hardie Grant, a major publisher in Australia, asked her in July 2012 to submit the manuscript for her book. It took three months to write. In 2013, National Book Store flew her to Manila for the launch. In the USA, 7000 Islands was released this year.

7000 Islands has 110 recipes categorized according to Philippine meal times. "Merienda had to be there," Yasmin said. She started the chapters with descriptions of sawsawan (dipping sauces), breakfast, ulam (main dishes), fiesta, merienda, desserts, drinks. 

Yasmin confessed she had a sweet tooth and loved all the desserts in her cookbook. The buko pie is a favorite, and it is her own sweet, savory, flakey pastry. She also created a pork barbecue recipe, which fits into the Aussie lifestyle. 

Yasmin has put her dad's advice to good use. Her mantra is, "Just believe. Work hard. Shoot high." She has always relied on her parents' advice. Her dad, John, advised, "Take one of the opportunities that seem somewhat right. By doing that you move forward."

She credits her husband, Steve Ashbee, a multimedia designer for a nonprofit organization, with being her strongest supporter and the reason she can do it all. At the time of our interview last spring, Yasmin was due to deliver. She has since had her first baby and was excited over motherhood.

Sometimes it is the waiting that is a blessing. Waiting allows us to find another rhythm of things that are left untapped. It can lead to a best-case scenario. In Yasmin's case, it was the opportunity to write a book. Slowing down, staying longer in the Philippines. 

The perfect time is sometimes the unplanned moment. Opportunities are moments available to people at random times in their lives. When we find ourselves waiting in those in-between moments, we should listen deeply. In Yasmin’s case, it was the in-between space that connected her to a larger opportunity, one that led to 7000 Islands.

Elizabeth Ann Quirino, based in New Jersey, is a journalist, food writer and member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP). She blogs about Filipino home cooking and culinary travels to the Philippines on her site

Chicken and Coconut Milk Adobo (Adobong Manok Sa Gata)

 Chicken and coconut milk adobo (adobong manok sa gata) (Reprinted with permission from Hardie Grant)

 Chicken and coconut milk adobo (adobong manok sa gata) (Reprinted with permission from Hardie Grant)

Yasmin Newman described this recipe from her cookbook as coconut milk melding magically with vinegar, tempering the acid base of adobo and adding a creamy richness. She added turmeric for a yellow tint or ginger for its zing.


  • 170 ml (5½ fl oz/⅔ cup) coconut or rice vinegar

  • 400 ml (13½ fl oz) coconut milk

  • 60 ml (2 fl oz/¼ cup) soy sauce

  • 6 cloves garlic, smashed

  • 3 cm (1¼ inch) piece turmeric or ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

  • 3 bay leaves

  • 3 red bird’s-eye chillies, plus extra to serve (optional)

  • 1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper

  • 1 whole chicken, jointed into 8 pieces with bone in

  • steamed rice, to serve

Cook's notes:

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


Marinating time 3 hours

In a large non-reactive bowl, combine the vinegar, coconut milk, soy sauce, garlic, turmeric, bay leaves, chillies and pepper. Add the chicken and turn to coat, then cover with plastic wrap and leave to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours or overnight.

Transfer the chicken and marinade to a large, deep saucepan. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low medium and cook for 25 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Using tongs, transfer the chicken to a bowl and cover to keep warm. Increase the heat to medium high and cook the marinade mixture for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened and reduced. Discard the turmeric, bay leaves and chillies.

Return the chicken to the pan and warm through. Transfer to a serving bowl, scatter with extra chillies, if using, and serve with steamed rice.

Gata is the generic term for liquid extracted from mature coconut meat (niyog) and refers to coconut cream and milk. In the Philippines, it is still made the traditional way - coconut meat is finely grated (often with a machine) and a little hot water is added, then the mixture is squeezed for the thicker coconut cream orfirst pressing. This process is repeated to extract the thinner coconut milk or second pressing.

Reprinted with permission: Recipes and images from 7000 Islands by Yasmin Newman, published by Hardie Grant Books,.

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