Category Archives: FOOD

Tried & Tasted: Cheat’s Spicy Fish Custards

Cooking for three people can get unnecessarily tiresome when I don’t eat meat, my husband expects a surprise every now and again, and our helper craves rice at every meal (even breakfast). No complaints though as she’s happy with the simple fare of her Yangon home eg roselle leaves fried with garlic/onion/chilli.

To add to this I’m too lazy for anything fiddly except when my son and his fiancée drop by for Sunday dinner, and even then, I opt for a stew, roast, or some other one-dish meal like Vietnamese rice paper rolls or sweet & sour pork.

Top image: http://bit.ly/1Md93lU

I blame my lethargy on the haze and humidity. Was it this hot when I was growing up in the 1960s? I cannot remember but most likely not. Back then, the Singapore population was just over 1.6 million against today’s 5.5 million plus we have global warming, not helped by the raging forest fires nearby.

But I digress from my fish custard. The preamble is to explain why I have dishonoured my Nonya heritage by forgoing the traditional coconut or banana leaf wraps. My late grandmother had a sense of humour. She would have twisted my ear and laughed at my shameful attempt to recreate otak-otak (puhlease, we don’t say otah) by using (horrors!) frozen white fish and dumping the ingredients in a baking dish.

My husband who doesn’t know any better, said it was good. Phew! And actually, it tasted fine especially as I didn’t flake the fish. Leaving it in cubes gave the dish more texture. This no-fuss casserole-style dish is an easy way to enjoy fish with the appetising aroma of blended herbs and spices and a hint of banana leaf from the liner.

otak rempah

Ground spices for frying

ONE-DISH OTAK

500g white fish fillets (If using frozen fish, thaw and drain off water. Pat dry with paper towels)

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 cup coconut cream

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons grated palm sugar

8 kaffir lime leaves (daun limau perut)

Spice mix

10-20 dried chillies, soaked in warm water for 20 minutes

1 thumb-sized knob of galangal or 3 teaspoons galangal powder

¾ teaspoon turmeric powder

1 tablespoon coriander powder

1 stalk lemon grass

4 candlenuts or macadamia nuts

1 generous tablespoon prawn paste (belacan)

1 big or 2 medium-sized onions

Method

  1. Cube fish. Chop up if you like it fine. Set aside.
  2. Prep ingredients for grinding by skinning galangal if using fresh root, peel and slice onions, use white bulbous base of lemon grass (about 5cm) and throw the hard root end away. Slice galangal and lemon grass or you’ll get a ‘hairy’ mix after blending.
  3. Grind candlenuts, chillies, and lemon grass. When it’s fairly fine, add onions, prawn paste and powdered spices.
  4. Heat a pan and fry the ground paste in about 3 tablespoons oil till fragrant and glistening.
  5. Turn down heat, add coconut cream and give it a good stir to mix well. Take off the heat and when cool, mix the egg in.
  6. Throw away the hard vein of the kaffir lime leaves, and slice leaves into fine strips.
  7. Mix sugar and salt into spice mix and fish along with a sprinkling of kaffir lime leaves.
  8. Line a baking dish with a banana leaf (scald in hot water first) and fill with fish mixture. Pour enough hot water into the baking tray to reach half way up the dish. Bake for 25 minutes in a pre-heated oven (175˚C).

Note: If using frozen fish, the custard might be a little watery. Gently tip the dish and drain off as much liquid as you can without breaking up the custard. It will dry up as it cools. Or be a purist and use fresh fish – Spanish mackerel (tenggiri) is the usual choice. But taste-wise, frozen works fine when you have a craving for otak and it’s all you have.

kaffir lime leaf

While I was in the mood for fish custard, I decided to make some Hor Mok (the Thai equivalent) in the same lackadaisical way – after all, how much lower could I go? So, I dispensed with the delicate banana leaf cups and slapped everything into another dish for steaming. Again, it’s not as pretty but it makes a dang good side dish without having to cut banana leaves and pin with toothpicks. Just don’t serve it to Thais or fussy bibiks.

otak hor mok

Looks strange, but tastes fine. Presentation needs improvement.

The recipe is slightly modified from Rachel Cooks Thai –

THAI CURRY FISH CUSTARD / HOR MOK
2 medium fillets of a white fish, cubed

Cabbage, shredded

2 Tablespoons red curry paste

1 egg

½ cup coconut milk, chilled

1 teaspoon palm sugar

1 Tablespoon fish sauce

½ cup Thai basil leaves

6 kaffir lime leaves, sliced thinly

1 red chilli padi, sliced thinly

¼ cup coconut cream, for topping

1 Tablespoon rice flour

banana leaves and toothpicks (if you choose to be traditional) or just banana leaf for lining the container

METHOD

To make banana leaf cups, refer to the step-by-step guide at http://www.rachelcooksthai.com/thai-curried-fish-custard/

  1. Mix the red curry paste, egg, palm sugar, and fish sauce to make a paste. (Rachel blends half the fish, but I didn’t bother to.)
  2. Add the coconut cream and most of the thinly sliced kaffir lime leaves, saving some for the topping. Mix well.
  3. Line your container with a banana leaf, and cover the base with a bed of shredded cabbage and Thai basil leaves. Add the fish cubes and then the custard.
  4. Mix ¼ cup of coconut cream with one tablespoon of rice flour until smooth. Place a spoonful of this thickened cream on the fish custard and sprinkle with the thinly sliced chilli and kaffir lime leaves. (I used just a small dollop, so the custard can be seen, but you’re meant to spread it all over)
  5. Steam for approximately 15 minutes, or until the fish is cooked through. Wrap the pot cover in a tea towel to stop water from dripping and pockmarking the custard.
Advertisements

Smoke gets in your rice

Yup, it’s looking far too foggy for the tropics and if you equate fog with cool, then, we must be in hell because it’s smokin’ hot in our part of the world. Our big neighbour will say we should be thankful we smell ash, not sulphur and truly, we feel sorrier for their hapless citizens nearer the forest fires who have to endure PSI levels of 1,000. Too bad the smoke isn’t reaching the mighty ones in their seat of power who’ve been snorting that their long-suffering neighbours should quit complaining.

Top image: http://www.haze.gov.sg/

Since we’ve been warned that the smoke screen will linger till late November, let’s put on our happy face and sing a ditty.

(sung to the tune of Happy days are here again)

Hazy days are here again

The skies above are gray again

So, let’s don our masks before we tear again

Hazy times

Hazy days

Hazy nights

Are here again!

For our fragile constitutions, we can make sweet soups to stay hydrated and soothe dry throats. Lotus root is believed to strengthen the lungs, white fungus too is good for the lungs and immune system plus the collagen is a beauty aid, red dates are a tonic for the blood and so on. But what’s most important is that these traditional desserts are a taste treat especially on hot, hazy days.

 Sweet soups - lotus root

Lotus Root with Red Dates

Serves 3

250g lotus root

16 deseeded red dates, washed

60g rock sugar or more, to taste

Method

1 Scrape mud off lotus root, brush and rinse thoroughly. Peel and cut into 2cm thick slices. Quarter each slice. Soak in lightly salted water for a few minutes. Rinse well before use.

  1. Fill a pot with 5 cups of water and add the cubed lotus root. Cover pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, simmer for one hour.
  1. Add rock sugar and red dates. Continue to simmer, covered for another 45 minutes or until lotus root is tender.

(Check water level now and again. Add another cup of water if necessary)

  1. Serve hot, warm or chilled.

For slow cooker: Transfer lotus root cubes into a medium-sized crock pot once water begins to boil. Leave to cook on high for ½ hour. Add rock sugar and red dates. Reduce heat of crock pot to medium and leave to simmer for 3 hours.

Sweet soups - 5 blessings

Five Blessings Soup

Serves 4

20 red dates, deseeded and washed

500g dried lily flowers

1 pack peeled ginkgo nuts

1 pack fresh lotus seeds

40g dried longan pulp

100g rock sugar

Method

  1. Soak dried lily flowers in a bowl of water for at least 2 hours. Rinse before use.
  2. Put ginkgo nuts and 8 cups of water in a pot. Cover and bring to a rolling boil. Lower heat, and simmer for 20 minutes.
  3. Add soaked lily flowers, lotus seeds and red dates. Cover pot and leave to simmer for another ½ hour.
  4. Add rock sugar and longan pulp. Continue to simmer for ½ hour.
  5. Serve hot, warm or chilled as a snack or for breakfast.

Sweet soups - white fungus

White Fungus and Ginseng

Serves 3

30g white fungus

1 teaspoon thinly sliced American ginseng

1 tablespoon red medlar seeds rinse before use

50g rock sugar or more to taste

Method

  1. Soak white fungus in warm water for at least 30 minutes or until very puffy.
  2. Combine 4 cups of water and softened white fungus in a small tall pot. Cover and bring to a rolling boil. Reduce heat to medium and continue to simmer for 45 minutes.
  3. Add rock sugar, ginseng slices and red medlar seeds.
  4. Continue to simmer for another ½ hour. Serve hot or chilled.

Sweet soups - multigrains

Sweet Multi-Grains

Serves 3

½ cup multi-grains (a combination of rolled and pearl barley, unpolished rice, fox nuts, etc available ready-packed at FairPrice supermarkets – rice section)

2-3 pandan leaves

12 red dates, deseeded and washed

30g dried longan pulp

100g rock sugar

Method

  1. Wash pandan leaves and knot.
  2. Wash and strain multi-grains like washing rice. Soak in 2 cups of water for ½ hour to reduce cooking time – don’t throw out the water.
  3. Put in a pot the knotted pandan leaves, multi-grains with the soaking water and another 5 cups of water. Cover and bring to a boil. Lower heat and leave to simmer for ½ hour.
  4. Add rock sugar, red dates and longan pulp. Cover pot and continue to simmer for 30 minutes. Serve hot or chilled.

Tried & Tasted: Souffle Cheesecake

My first attempt deflated as soon as it cooled. Visually, it was unappealing and I had to eat it with a spoon. But it tasted so good, I had to give it another try. How can cream cheese, white chocolate and egg not combine into a yummy whatchamacallit? Plus, all you need are three ingredients!

Top image: http://bit.ly/1WieKr5

After a few days of mulling over what I did wrong, I figured it wasn’t dry enough. Duh! It might seem obvious but the top was a pretty golden colour and it passed the skewer test. My mistake was covering the cake with a small sheet of foil to prevent burning. I removed the foil after 30 minutes and left the cake to sit in the residual heat, but it never recovered. It just shrank into a sticky pudding.

This time around, I extended baking time by 10 minutes and left it uncovered. The following recipe from cute Japanese blogger, Ochikeron is foolproof. What is absolutely necessary is speed when folding in stiff egg whites. And okay, I cheated by adding ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar to help hold the whites. Get enthused by the Ochikeron video at http://createeathappy.blogspot.sg/2013/05/how-to-make-3-ingredients-souffle.html

Deliciously light and airy, it’s easy to polish off this delicate cake in one sitting, so make two if you’re having friends for tea.

Cheesecake 2Cheesecake 3

As the cake cools, it shrinks from the sides and wrinkles a bit.

Cheesecake 4

JAPANESE SOUFFLE CHEESECAKE

3 eggs (large)

120g white chocolate (I used white chocolate couverture droplets)

120g cream cheese

Method

  1. Separate eggs. Refrigerate whites till ready to use.
  2. Preheat oven to 170˚C.
  3. Melt chocolate in a bowl over hot water. Mix till smooth.
  4. Whisk egg whites till firm. (If using cream of tartar, add when whites are foamy but not yet peaking)
  5. Add cream cheese to melted chocolate, stirring to mix well.
  6. Remove bowl from hot water, add yolks and mix.
  7. Fold in half meringue and then the other half.
  8. Brush oil on parchment paper for lining cake tin so rising cake can slide down without cracking. (I only lined the pan base with parchment paper. The sides, I oiled with cooking spray)
  9. Pour batter into lined tin. Drop the tin on the table gently a couple of times to clear away air bubbles. Place on baking tray and pour hot water in tray.
  10. Bake at 170˚C for 15 minutes (20 minutes), then 160 ˚C for 15 minutes (20 minutes), and finally turn off heat and leave cake for another 15 minutes.
  11. Cool and dust with sugar powder. (As you can see, I forgot to do so!)

Chinese pork jerky treat for dogs

The dogs surround me when I make Chinese pork jerky (bak kwa), shoving each other out of the way, so I can see their “Gimme, gimme, pleeese” expressions. They always get some but I figured I should make the doggy version a little healthier.

I can’t do away with the sugar and honey as the beauty of bak kwa is the caramelised flavour, but I can tweak the amount of sugar and cut back on sodium. It’s still not a treat dogs should eat every day, but it can’t be unhealthier than pet shop treats that come from dubious sources. At least I know my pork jerky has no preservatives and is made with love.

I hear that commercial bak kwa is made with as much as 30% fat, so it stays springy. I prefer to keep within the 10% fat limit for a chewier texture. This means watching grilling time as the protein can turn too hard.

The bak kwa recipe that everyone seems to follow is from Sonia, nasi lemak lover. It’s an excellent can’t-go-wrong recipe – thank you Sonia!! For the people version, visit http://nasilemaklover.blogspot.sg/2012/01/homemade-chinese-pork-jerky-bak-kwa.html

Can you resist this? I can because I don’t eat meat, but it’s enough to start my carnivore friends drooling.

bak kwa Sonia

Here’s Sonia’s recipe, but customised for dogs.

1 kg minced pork (with at least 10% fat)
120 g sugar (brown sugar will do fine)
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
½ tablespoon Chinese rice wine
1 tablespoon fish sauce

2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon dark caramel soy sauce or kicap manis
A generous sprinkle of Chinese five spice powder
A dash of Pepper
3 tablespoons honey

Method
1. Put all ingredients in a big bowl and mix with a pair of chopsticks or your hand. Keep turning and stirring the mixture in one direction until the meat feels gluey. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
2. Line a baking tray with aluminium foil (for easy clean-up) and spread enough minced pork to make a thin layer. Use your fingers to press and a small rolling pin to smoothen the top.
3. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 160˚C for 15-20mins. Remove from oven. Increase the oven temperature to 240˚C.
4. When cool enough to handle, cut into small squares with kitchen scissors or pizza cutter (I prefer scissors so as not to damage the foil) and arrange (bottom-side up) on the same baking tray.  If there’s any marinade in the tray, brush this on the jerky squares.
5. Grill (top heat only) at 240˚C for 10 mins. People who like charred edges can flip the pieces and continue grilling for another 7 minutes. Not necessary when cooking for dogs.

4. When cool enough to handle, cut into small squares with kitchen scissors or pizza cutter (I prefer scissors so as not to damage the foil) and arrange (bottom-side up) on the same baking tray.  If there’s any marinade in the tray, brush this on the jerky squares.
5. Grill (top heat only) at 240˚C for 10mins. People who like charred edges can flip the pieces and continue grilling for another 7 minutes. Not necessary for dogs.

Tried & Tasted: Mango Yogurt Chiffon Cake

Still on a chiffon cake binge, I couldn’t resist a mango-flavoured cake. This was tasted some weeks ago, but a pinched nerve in my back/neck has kept me laid up in various stages of pain and away from kitchen and keyboard.

Compared with the Red Velvet Chiffon Cake, the Mango Yogurt takes less effort because there’s no heating of ingredients required. It’s also sweeter (and tastier), so I will add sugar when I next make the Red Velvet again. However, despite my finding the Mango Yogurt sweet enough, a friend said he slathered it with kaya (coconut-egg custard) because my cakes are too healthy (huh?) for him.

Thanks to Diana Gale, aka the domestic goddess wannabe for this recipe. I used Marigold Yogurt Drink but after baking the mango scent is barely discernible, so I suggest adding some mango essence. It’s really quick to make when you expect friends for a spot of tea, and light enough for the weight-conscious.

Mango chiffon slice 6

Mango Yogurt Chiffon Cake

http://thedomesticgoddesswannabe.com/2015/06/mango-yogurt-chiffon-cake/

Ingredients

6 egg yolks

50g caster sugar

70g oil – I used canola oil

100g cake flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

85ml mango yogurt drink

For the meringue

6 egg whites

¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

70g caster sugar

Instructions

  1. In a mixing bowl, beat together the yolks and sugar until light and fluffy.
  2. Add the oil and continue beating. The mixture will get a tad paler.
  3. Add the mango yogurt drink and mix to combine.
  4. Add the flour and mix until the flour is just incorporated. Scrape the bowl, mix one final time and set this aside.
  5. In another clean mixing bowl, whisk the egg whites until they turn foamy.
  6. Add the cream of tartar and whisk until soft peaks form.
  7. Gradually add the sugar and whisk until stiff peaks form.
  8. Transfer one-third of the meringue into the egg yolk mixture. Beat it in. This stabilizes the mixture.
  9. Gently fold in the remaining meringue in two batches.
  10. Once no white streaks remain, pour the batter into an UNGREASED 23cm tube pan. (Click here for conversion guide for other tube pan sizes – convert the ingredients accordingly using the number of eggs as a guideline.)
  11. Lift the pan about 20cm off the table top. Drop it vertically on the table to remove any larger air bubbles. Repeat twice.
  12. Bake at 160°C for 50-60 minutes. If the top gets too brown, cover with a piece of aluminium foil. Alternatively, you can lower the temperature of the oven.
  13. Once the cake is done, invert it immediately and cool on a wire rack. Do not unmold the cake until it has cooled completely.

Tried & Tasted: Red velvet chiffon cake

I can’t resist any chiffon cake. They’re so airy and insubstantial I don’t feel guilty about polishing off a couple of large pieces. It’s like eating coloured clouds.

But I don’t really like cakes made with cooking oil as I love butter. So, when Sharon Chan shared her Red Velvet Chiffon Cake recipe with The Straits Times, I pounced on it with glee as she uses melted butter in place of the usual oil.

Top image: http://www[.finecooking.com/slideshows/layer-cake-recipes.aspx

Any cake I can manage to turn out should be manageable for almost anyone as my baking skills are minimal. I see myself as the one who puts the idiot-proof stamp on recipes, so if you’re a kitchen newbie, step this way.

red velvet 1red velvet

Compared with Sharon’s cake, mine is a pink-brown rather than red, but it tastes good and is moist. For the recipe go to the link: http://www.soshiok.com/recipe/red-velvet-chiffon-cake#sthash.fNbfivcP.dpuf

To pretty it up and add flavour, try coating this cake with whipped cream or a cream cheese frosting.

PS – I cheated and used ¼ teaspoon of cream of tartar to help the egg whites fluff up as my first attempt resulted in a slightly heavier cake. This time I decided to split the batter into two small pans – a good size to take to work. You know how everyone always says, “just a small piece” when you offer them cake – well, this is small!

Grab a crab

What stops me from going totally vegetarian is my love of eggs and shellfish. That said, I can’t kill my food, so either I buy dead shellfish or do the hypocritical thing and let other people kill them i.e. eat in restaurants.

No problem with prawns which can be bought dead, but to avoid contamination crabs and lobsters need to be alive just before they are cooked. Result: I never buy crabs. Anything breathing that comes into my home will be given a name and allowed to live out its natural life. Imagine George and Daisy, the Sri Lankan crabs scuttling around the backyard, waving their pincers menacingly at our stalking dogs. Someone will get nipped, and it’s 3-1 in the crabs’ favour.

My friend Devagi Sanmugam recently posted a recipe for garlic-pepper crabs which got me drooling. Butter crab, chilli crab, baked crab, curry crab, fried soft-shell crabs….love ‘em all!

There is no kind way to kill anything. If you must have your crab and eat it, the old-fashioned method is as good as any – Asian mothers use a chopstick to skewer the crab through the tapered flap on the underside. Devagi tells me she simply pops the crab in the freezer and leaves it to die of hypothermia. The biting cold will probably put it to sleep, so maybe it’s less painful than being stabbed to death. For a quick kill, refer to http://www.instructables.com/id/Live-Crab-How-To-Kill-Instantly-and-Humanely-Cooki/

Top image: http://bit.ly/1FQHjRD

Your mouth watering? Here is Devagi’s recipe – http://spice-queen.com/garlic-pepper-crabs/. Unless it’s hanging on to my toe, nothing will induce me to kill a crab, so I will have to drool on.

Image: http://bit.ly/1C49vyZ

SONY DSC
SONY DSC

DEVAGI’S GARLIC-PEPPER CRAB

Oil for deep frying

1 ½ kg mud crabs or crayfish, cleaned, washed and halved

 

TO MAKE THE SAUCE

100 g Q.B.B. Pure Ghee

2 green chillies, seeded and very finely sliced (optional)

10 cloves garlic, finely chopped

3 cm ginger, finely chopped

2 tablespoons oyster sauce

2 tablespoons light soy sauce

2 teaspoons dark soy sauce

1 tablespoon sugar

3 tablespoons black peppercorns, crushed coarsely

100 ml chicken stock or water

METHOD

  1. Heat oil until very hot (preferably in a wok) and then deep fry the crabs or crayfish until the shell changes colour.
  2. Drain and keep aside.
  3. Melt the Q.B.B. Pure Ghee in a wok. Add in the chilli, garlic and ginger and sauté till aromatic – about 3 minutes.
  4. Add the oyster sauce, both soya sauces and sugar.
  5. Simmer for a few seconds and then add the black pepper.
  6. Continue cooking until the sauce thickens and then add the crabs or crayfish.
  7. Keep stirring until the crabs are well coated with the sauce and cook for another couple of minutes.
  8. Serve hot.

Cut the mustard

Sometimes, I want to return to the familiar flavours I grew up with. I’m talking about staples like HP Sauce, Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce, Tabasco Sauce and Colman’s Mustard Powder.

Viva nostalgia! These condiments give an old school flavour to sturdy favourites like shepherd’s pie, pork chops, and curry debal or devil’s curry – dishes that hark back to our days as a British colony. Back then, knowing how to use such imported delicacies meant one was either sophisticated or a Hainanese cook in a club or expat household.

Top image: http://www.holidaycottages.co.uk/things-to-do-norfolk-broads

Now that we can get gourmet sauces from all corners of the globe, and those olde brands are available in neighbourhood supermarts, we don’t think of them as anything special. Yet, the fact that they are still in production means they’re as essential as soy sauce.

I just bought a large tin (454g) of Colman’s Mustard Powder in Mustafa Centre. Of late I haven’t seen Colman’s at my neighbourhood FairPrice. There’s no way I would miss the jolly yellow packaging. Also, what’s available elsewhere is only the small tin (probably 57g). Hence, at $13.80 for 454g, it’s a good buy.

Colman's mustard

As a flour miller, it wasn’t surprising that Jeremiah Colman came up with mustard in powder form in 1814. His factory in the vicinity of Norwich is still there today. So, if you’re ever in Norwich, check out the museum and bring home some Colman’s souvenirs.

Colman's mustard 1905

Cooks who prize Colman’s suggest combining equal parts of the dry mustard and a liquid – water, wine, vinegar, beer, milk, cream – and leaving it to stand for 10 minutes for the flavour to develop before using it. Stir a tablespoonful into stews, sauces, relishes, dips, marinades or dressings. Add zing to burgers, hot dogs and sandwiches.

(As an aside, if you have an ant problem, sprinkle some mustard powder on the ant trail. Wonder if it will work on roaches, but then, those hardy pests seem to be able to survive anything.)

For convenience, I’ve been using French mustard in my devil curry, but English mustard is sharper than Dijon. Now that I have my large tin of Colman’s, I’m going for the bigger kick. Here’s a recipe from my former colleague, Angela Fernandez. Every Eurasian family seems to have their own version, so vary the amount of onions and chillies to get a hotter or thicker gravy.

I forgot to take a photo last week when we made Devil’s Curry, so I had to borrow a visual: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=znk2uC0U40k

devil curry

ANGELA’S DEVIL’S CURRY

30 dried chillies

2 fresh chillies (optional)

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

4 big onions

2 thumb-sized knobs of ginger

10 cloves garlic, sliced

2 carrots, cut into large chunks

2 potatoes, quartered

¼ cabbage, cut into large pieces

Chicken thighs and drumsticks or ½ a chicken, chopped

350g bacon bones

300g sausages, sliced into thumb lengths*

1 tablespoon vinegar

1½ tablespoons English mustard

Method

  1. Blend chillies , ginger and onions into a paste.
  2. Saute garlic in oil. Add mustard seeds and when they pop, add blended ingredients and fry till fragrant.
  3. Add bacon bones and top up with water. Slow cook for 4 hours or pressure cook for 10 minutes. Now add chicken and potatoes. When chicken is half cooked, add carrots. When chicken is almost done, add cabbage, vinegar and mustard.

*Substitute sausages with roast pork or char siew. This is an any-meat goes dish.

No bling-bling, just belimbing

When I first moved into my Sembawang-near-but-not-on-the-beach house, my late mother was thrilled to find a belimbing tree at the end of our lane. She picked enough to make sambal udang belimbing (prawn belimbing sambal).

Top image: http://toptropicals.com/catalog/uid/Averrhoa_bilimbi.htm

Over the years, I forgot about the belimbing until my Burmese helper brought a basketful home. While the Chinese are not interested in belimbing, the Indonesian and Myanmar nationals and Peranakans like me, cook with the sour fruit, a relative of the starfruit.

I gave a bagful to my chef-and-cookbook-author friend, Devagi Sanmugam. She made chutney with it and gave me two out of three bottles! So generous, but I’m not complaining as I’m eating a bit every day – it’s a yummy condiment.

Devagi - orange blouse

As Devagi blogged about it and provided a recipe, all I have to do is lift information from her blog – http://wp.me/p58GMV-Wu. If you don’t have belimbing growing in your neighbourhood, look out for it in the wet market. Tekka would be a good place to try.

Belimbing 2

Other names: bilimbi, belimbing buluh, belimbing assam,sour star fruit, irumbampuli

Bright green to yellowish green, the belimbing is quite crunchy when unripe and can go very mushy if ripe. It is extremely sour and has very tiny flat seeds. Since belimbing has a high concentration of oxalic acid, it can be used for cleaning brass and copper items and also for bleaching.

It is believed that consuming belimbing regularly will relieve high blood pressure, chronic cough and diabetes. All you need to do is, chop about 5-6 belimbing and boil it in 2 cups of water for 20 minutes and then strain and drink the water.

The belimbing is used to flavour curries and other dishes. When cooked, it mellows down. It can also be made into chutneys, pickles and into a refreshing drink. I like it in salads or just dipped in sugar!

Belimbing makes good chutney. This belimbing chutney has a tangy, sweet flavour which is perfect with cheeses such as cheddar or white stilton. Great on pork chops too. I am not joking – if served with vanilla ice cream, it will be an unforgettable dessert.

 belimbing chutney

BELIMBING CHUTNEY

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 25 minutes

Makes: 400 g

700 g belimbing, halved lengthwise and cut into 1 cm pieces

250 ml cider vinegar

150 g light brown sugar

80 g onion, chopped

5 red chillies

30 g finely chopped peeled ginger

½ teaspoon garam masala or ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon turmeric powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 bay leaf

METHOD

  1. Place all the ingredients together and boil over medium heat for about 25 minutes or until the chutney is thick.
  2. Discard the bay leaf before storing in clean, sterilized glass jars.

RECIPE – Spicy shepherd’s pie

Image

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 http://qbbchef.wordpress.com/

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

KEEMA SHEPHERD’S PIE

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

Method

  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.