Monthly Archives: January 2014

RECIPE – Spicy shepherd’s pie


My son loves this Indian version of shepherd’s pie. Created by my friend Devagi Sanmugam, it’s ideal if you want a spicy kick and an Asian flavor, and it’s a guaranteed success as a pot luck contribution. If you like this, check out more of Devagi’s recipes at

I skipped the cheese and substituted the chopped tomatoes with a few spoonfuls of tomato sauce because I wasn’t sure how many days it would sit in my son’s fridge, but it was still delicious.

Photo: Bernard Koh


Preparation:     20 minutes

Cook:              30 minutes

Serves              4

To make the keema

2 tablespoons cooking oil

1 teaspoon fennel seeds, coarsely pounded

2 sprigs curry leaves

120g finely chopped onions

2 tablespoons ginger-garlic paste

250g chopped tomatoes

500g minced mutton (or meat of your choice)

1 teaspoon salt

50g meat curry powder

300g water

200g frozen mixed vegetables

1 tablespoon lime juice

Chopped coriander leaves to garnish

To make spiced potato topping

750g potatoes, scrubbed and boiled till cooked

200g milk

80g butter

1 tablespoon cooking oil

½ teaspoon mustard seeds

½ teaspoon cumin seeds

2 sprigs curry leaves, shredded

2cm ginger, minced

1¼ teaspoon salt

100g grated cheese


  1. Heat the cooking oil in a wok on medium heat
  2. Add the fennel and fry until aromatic. Add onions and fry till a pale gold.
  3. Add ginger and garlic pastes and fry for 1 minute, and add the tomatoes. Saute till the tomatoes soften.
  4. Add minced meat, salt, mixed vegetables, water and curry powder.
  5. Simmer till mutton is cooked and gravy is thick.
  6. Turn the fire off, add lime juice and stir.
  7. Place cooked keema in individual oven-proof dishes or a large pie dish.
  8. To make the potato topping – boil and mash the potatoes coarsely with milk and butter.
  9. Heat oil or ghee and fry the mustard and cumin seeds until aromatic.
  10. Add curry leaves, salt and ginger and saute till fragrant.
  11. Cover with a sprinkling of cheese and grill.

TRADITION – The King and I

 I have been remiss, obviously. It is now the night of the 8th, and not only have I not posted anything since last year, my friend Hwee Hwee in France sent me a note meant for 6 Jan, and here I am leisurely putting it up late today.

I blame it all on being newly retired and enjoying (too much) not rushing to catch the bus and train, and especially not working to deadlines. Instead, I have been spring-cleaning although no one can tell because I haven’t been brutal enough.

But enough about me. Here is Hwee Hwee’s royal lesson about being a good sport, or it’s off with your head !


Around the period of 6 January, to celebrate Epiphany and the visit of the three kings bearing gifts for Baby Jesus, a traditional cake called galette des Rois (Kings’ cake) is usually eaten in France.

In the north of France, the galette des Rois is a puff pastry pie with frangipane (almond paste) filling.  In the south, it is a  brioche bread with fruit confit, usually in the shape of a ring or crown, and flavoured with orange-flower.  My family and I prefer the northern style galette.

The galette comes with a paper crown and a trinket (fève, its original form being a bean) hidden inside.  Nowadays, fèves are usually porcelain figurines in the form of little animals, Mother Mary, Baby Jesus or the Simpsons.  The person who gets the feve is the king and gets to wear the crown.

Isn’t it funny how some things are so important to children and so incomprehensible from an adult’s point of view?  My younger son Yves takes this fève business very seriously indeed.  Each time we buy a galette des Rois, he will spend hours carefully observing it to see where there might be a small bump to show where the fève is hiding.   I do not think he needs to do this – he is an extremely lucky boy.  He often finds money on the streets or in supermarkets; he gets good prizes when drawing lots, and once, during a night trek in the forest of Sabah, he even found 2 Malaysian Ringgit on the forest floor !  That is how lucky he is.  Needless to say, he has often gotten the fève and been the King each time the galette des Rois is served, either at home or in the school canteen.  So much so that he probably thinks it is his right to be the king.

Last year, when we had our galette, it was my husband who got the fève.  Yves was so frustrated that he started crying and throwing a (small) tantrum.  I was mad.  Taking into all consideration that children are children, I still hate it when what is meant to be a nice treat turns into something otherwise because of comparing and contrasting, little jealousies, and the failure to be contented with what is given.

This year, Yves asked if I we could buy a galette des Rois.  I did, and when I brought it home, I put it in front of the boys and said – If… IF(!) I see somebody crying or being angry again because he does not get to be king, I am going to rip the crown to bits, stomp the galette into a mash, and give three good smacks with my wooden spoon to that somebody.  Is.  That.  Clear ?


            It was.  And today, the cutting and eating of the galette passed without much drama.  But guess who got to be the king ? Again.