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).
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.
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.
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.
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
Place all the ingredients together and boil over medium heat for about 25 minutes or until the chutney is thick.
Discard the bay leaf before storing in clean, sterilized glass jars.
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
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
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
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
Heat the cooking oil in a wok on medium heat
Add the fennel and fry until aromatic. Add onions and fry till a pale gold.
Add ginger and garlic pastes and fry for 1 minute, and add the tomatoes. Saute till the tomatoes soften.
Add minced meat, salt, mixed vegetables, water and curry powder.
Simmer till mutton is cooked and gravy is thick.
Turn the fire off, add lime juice and stir.
Place cooked keema in individual oven-proof dishes or a large pie dish.
To make the potato topping – boil and mash the potatoes coarsely with milk and butter.
Heat oil or ghee and fry the mustard and cumin seeds until aromatic.
Add curry leaves, salt and ginger and saute till fragrant.
I have friends who travel to places most of us only read about. I’ll be introducing them in my blog because for unadventurous folks like me, it’s an opportunity to go on a magic carpet ride to distant lands like Timbuktu (no kidding!).
If you’re looking for somewhere off the beaten track, let my Singaporean gal-pals lead you to fabulous places they’ve visited on their own madcap getaways or for work trips.
For instance, my friend, well-known chef and cookbook author, Devagi Sanmugam was in Uzbekistan a couple of months ago. Bet you’re trying to figure out where it is as Devagi was when she was invited by the World Association of Chefs, under the Train the Trainer’s program to teach Asian cuisine to chefs there.
“Part of the trip was sponsored by the Association of Cooks of Uzbekistan and International Centre of Uzbek Culinary Art. I was there for 10 days and I taught the following cuisines: Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Indian, Indonesian, Filipino, Burmese, Thai, Vietnamese and also Street Foods of Asia. I also went to the Uzbekistan Airways Catering centre to train the chefs there and eventually, I also developed a number of recipes for the first class passengers of Uzbekistan Airways.”
Uzbekistan is in Central Europe and South of Russia. It was formerly part of the Soviet Union. The immediate neighbouring countries are Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. Uzbekistan was part of the Silk Road and famous personalities whom I have read about in my History lessons example Marco Polo, Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great have been here. Tashkent is the capital of Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan is a landlocked country making it difficult to access to the open sea and the surrounding countries have to access to the sea too! There are only two rivers, and quite a large part of the country is desert. Apparently, the summers are intensely hot, and winter can be as cold as -20°C. I was there at the end of autumn, and it was still hot – about 35°C.
Their main industries are liquefied gas, gold, cotton, fruit,vegetables and poultry farming, and textile manufacturing.
VISAS & CURRENCY
Before you get your air tickets, apply for a Visa. It is about USD65 for a 15-day visa, and it takes about 2 days to process. It is not as easy as one would think – you must go and pay for a Visa at HSBC bank, take the receipt with you to the embassy and then wait for about 10 minutes for a visa. When you enter the country, you must fill up 2 forms and declare how much in foreign currency you are bringing in. The customs will retain one of the forms, and when you are leaving the country you will have to fill up another form and hand it over along with Form 2. Basically, they need to know how much money is entering and leaving their country!
You cannot change your Singapore dollars to Uzbekistan Som in Singapore or Malaysia. You will have to change Singapore dollars to US dollars and change it to Uzbekistan currency when you arrive. You get a 35-40 percent better rate if you change the currency at some “black market” shops – grocer, baker, or anyone except an authorized money changer. Anyone in Uzbekistan will tell you where the nearest black market currency exchange person is! At the time, I was there I got 1,724.52 Uzbekistan Som for SGD1!! Can you imagine how much money I had to carry around for changing SGD300?!
MUST-SEES & MUST-BUYS
Uzbekistan has many famous monuments, museums, naturally spectacular and beautiful landscapes, tombs, mosques with beautiful minarets, palaces, ski resorts, and other places of interest. Those who enjoy mountain trekking will love Uzbekistan – there are many trekking expeditions, camel riding, camping out in deserts etc. There are also winter activities like snowboarding and paragliding if you go during winter
The tour guides have many entertaining and fascinating stories. I found transport and food cheap too. The streets of Tashkent are extremely clean and green! I also found the area safe; there are always policemen around! The people are friendly and full of warm hospitality and helpful even if many of them don’t speak English.
The best part of my trip to any country is a visit to the local market! I think a visit to the market can give you a glimpse of the roots of a community and their customs and the memories of places I visited are preserved. I visited the famous Chorsu (Eski Juva) Bazaar in Tashkent. I enjoyed the smell, the colours, the noises and everything in the market; it was a treat to the senses. People were selling their products on makeshift tables or wooden boxes; from vans and even on prams! Many displayed their products on the ground.
This bazaar is supposed to be the oldest and biggest in not only Uzbekistan but also in the whole of Central Asia. I was told by my guide that the market was founded in the 2nd century B.C. The bazaar area has seven towering domes under which are the activities of the busy market. More than 60 over types of spices and herbs were on sale, and the smell of spices just enveloped me as I walked into the market. There was the fruit market where some of the local farmers were selling grapes, pomegranates, apples, unusually large watermelons and honey dew melons, large peaches, apricots, prunes, persimmons, yellow figs and many other fruits. I found these fruits about sixty percent cheaper than those sold in Singapore. I spent about 6 hours in the market, and it was not enough and I did not see all!
I found many fascinating things to get in Tashkent. But then luckily for me my luggage was already heavy with presents from the host; therefore, I was not tempted to buy everything I fancied. Most of the souvenirs are hand made by women in the deeper parts of Uzbekistan like Samarkand and Bukhara. Making ceramics is an ancient art in Uzbekistan. I came across so many designs and shapes, and what is particularly interesting are the kosa eating bowls. These hand-made bowls look like peacock feathers. Uzbek jewellery pieces can be worn as well as used as a decorative ornament –some of it is so chunky that you can frame it up. There are very delicate wooden boxes to purchase. There are of course carpets and more carpets as well as tapestries and wall hangings. Do not forget to bring home some traditional Uzbek bread, Non.
Uzbek cuisine is highly traditional, and recipes that may be hundreds of years old are still used. For example, the national dish is Plov (we call it pilau or pilaf), and it is served at weddings and any other celebrations. People still cook it with mutton fat! The rice is cooked with yellow and orange carrot, pea, quince, meat, dried apricots, pumpkin and many other vegetables. It is a tradition for men to cook the plov, and it is usually cooked in a deep cast-iron pot (kazan). Bread is relished like it is sacred. The most common bread is non, a round bread, and it is available everywhere. The breads are baked in clay ovens called thandir (it is like the Indian clay oven tandoor). The non is fluffy, light and and addictive. It’s got a glossy crust and an open, airy crumb and when it’s piping hot, it’s delicious without butter or anything. Some savoury snacks like the Samsa is actually another form of the Indian samosa; Manti is a steamed mutton or beef dumpling that resembles a Chinese steamed dumpling; Lagman is a thick soup with hand-made noodles. There are also some Korean, Indian and European restaurants.
WHAT TOURISTS WANT
Uzbekistan is a terrific place for people to travel to. However, personally I think there should be more English speaking tour guides; more non-Uzbek cuisine restaurants and Uzbek restaurants should offer healthier food (less oil/fat and more vegetable options); perhaps offer Uzbek bread making course (I am sure everyone who visits Uzbekistan would want to learn how to make those yummy breads); create tours to fruits orchards; offer bed-and-breakfast accommodation in traditional homes.