Sambal Ikan Bilis (II)

Monday, 9 July 2012

Ini ikan bilis; ini kacang.

"Beep beep beep! KT has reached maximum capacity of her Behasa Melayu."

What?! That is so not true. I know lots more Malay words . . . like, um, nasi lemak, mee rebus, ayam, ikan, babi, pulut, pisang goreng . . . .

No, it's not just food words I know. I can count up to 10 in Malay, and I know colour words like hitam, hijau, merah, puteh and biru. I have to confess though it's food, like kacang puteh and nasi kuning, that helps me remember the colour words.

Sambal Ikan Bilis (I)

Sunday, 30 October 2011

The good news is, anchovy stocks have doubled because their predators – the type that doesn't have legs – have declined sharply in numbers. This is where we, the two-legged predators, need to step up our efforts. Eat more anchovies, people!

I don't know about you but I don't need much persuasion to eat sambal ikan bilis. The salty little fishies and deep-fried peanuts make a perfect ménage à trois with the sweet and spicy sambal.

Pickled Green Papaya

Monday, 24 October 2011

The world is divided into two parts: those who love pickles, and those who hate pickles.
....... . . . .. ... . . ... . . .... . .. . . . . . .

Fried Wontons

Monday, 17 October 2011

Fried wontons are different from wontons in soup, apart from the fact that they're fried.

The filling for boiled wontons should have dried sole (大地鱼, aka 铁脯). The fish is toasted till brown, crisp and fragrant, then chopped into little bits. If it's not available, deep-fried shallots are a good substitute. With either of these ingredients in the filling, wontons cooked in soup would have a rich, intense aroma they wouldn't have otherwise. In Hong Kong, the motherland of Wonton Soup, the stock used is made with dried sole, amongst other things.

Sayur Lodeh

Monday, 22 August 2011

It was Cook a Pot of Curry Day yesterday because, to cut a long story short, some mainland Chinese with a delicate nose had asked his Singaporean Indian to stop cooking curry. Indignant Singaporeans protested in unison when they heard the story. How dare they tell us not to cook curry! It was a wonderful excuse to tell the mainland Chinese where to shove it, all in the name of protecting the national identity. Before long, Curry Day was organized via Facebook.

There are curries, and there are curries. If it had been a Malay, Nyonya or local Chinese cooking curry next to the mainland Chinese, there probably would have been no dispute. But Indian curries are different when they're not adapted to suit the tastes of the Singaporean Chinese. They have a pungence that's far more powerful than Malay, Nyonya or Chinese-style curries. Chinese Singaporeans call it 'the Indian smell'. For those who don't mince their words, 'smell' may be replaced with 'stink' or 'pong'

Sambal Timun

Friday, 17 June 2011

LinkI like Mrs Wee Kim's sambal timun recipe in Cooking for the President. The magic of the Spicy Pork Cucumber Salad is in the dressing – isn't it always, with salads?

Opposites attract, so bland, tasteless timun (cucumber) and spicy, hot sambal (chilli paste) are the proverbial match made in Nyonya heaven. And when the matchmaker is Mrs Wee, you can be assured it's a particularly blissful match.

Besides the usual red chillies and belachan, the ex-First Lady also uses pounded kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced bungah kantan (torch ginger bud) and julienned calamansi lime peel. That's a lot of intense flavours already but there's more.

Sambal Kangkong

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Do you know that there's a connection between kangkong and the God of Fortune, aka 财神爷?

I'm guessing you don't, so here's the story:

3,000 years ago, China was ruled by an emperor who knew diddly squat about everything. As with all useless emperors, he had a wicked concubine, and his was called 妲己.

One day, 妲己 pretended to be ill and said she needed to eat 比干's heart to be cured. 比干 was the good guy who was trying to set the useless emperor on the right path, so the concubine – actually a 'fox spirit' in human form – wanted to get rid of him.

Stuffed Tau Pok

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Working out the recipe for Chinese rojak didn't seem like work since it didn't involve any cooking. In fact, stirring and tasting was my kind of entertainment. Once I figured out how it was done, I wolfed down a huge bowl of fruits and vegetables. That was my '5 a day' as per doctor's orders, in one shot.

I then made a bucketload of the sauce, and kept some chopped up fruits and veggies in the fridge. When I felt like having rojak, all it took was 30 seconds. Rojak had never been so good and quick.

The readymade supply didn't last long and soon, I had to whip up another batch. This time, oh boy, it seemed like a lot of work!

Making the tamarind water was a real pain 'cause it was too thick for the strainer, so I had to pick out the seeds one by one . . . by one . . . . I counted up to 127, then started chanting, "Om . . . ."

Chinese Rojak

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Once in a while, I go on a binge eating session at a hawker centre to indulge in the "fun stuff". It's a low-carb pig-out so that there's as much variety as possible. Everything is, on its own, not very filling but when they're eaten together in one sitting, leave my friends and I barely able to move. A typical session may see us digging into barbecued stingray, barbecued crabs, stir-fried clams, fish soup, oyster omelette, chendol, ice-kacang and ngoh hiang. Anything else . . . ? Oh yes, we mustn't forget our fibre, so we'd have a plate of fruits and veggies in the most fun way possible – rojak!

Dry-Fried Bitter Gourd

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

There're two types of bitter gourd in my neck of the woods: big and small. I think some health freaks enthusiasts buy the small ones to make juice? Ewww . . . . They look really bitter – the gourds, not the fr . . . sorry, health enthusiasts.

Bitter gourds that are really bitter have hard, narrow ridges and are darker green. The less bitter ones are relatively softer, less green, more yellow, and have wide ridges. The bitter gourds I cook are the big ones that, over the years, have become less bitter. I used to sweat them before cooking but that's not necessary now.

Salt-Grilled Salmon Head

Sunday, 13 February 2011

I have a great solution for people who don't eat fish heads because they don't like the eyes staring at them. Eat the eyes first, then there's nothing to stare with!

Spicy Pickled Cucumbers

Saturday, 5 February 2011

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I don't know if pickles are part of 'normal' eating for other people but they are for me. In these times when everyone is oh-so-busy, is it necessary to make your pickles? Oh yes it is, when I eat the amount I do! Some folks polish off ice-cream by the tub; I inhale pickles by the truckload. To each his/her own, I guess.

I love achar, my favourite amongst tart and crisp preserved veggies, but making it takes some time. When I want something easier, I go for Jacky Yu's Sichuan style cucumber pickle.

Unlike Nyonya achar, Sichuan style pickling doesn't involve grinding and frying spices or roasting Photobucketpeanuts. A few tablespoonfuls of hot broad bean paste, chilli oil and white sesame oil provide all the oomph needed.

Unscrew a few bottles and pour. How easy is that?

And if I want it even easier, I could opt out of cutting up the cucumbers. A few hard whacks from the cleaver would suffice, which is how it's done by the northerners. They, unlike the southerners, prefer a less fussy approach when it comes to food. Sounds like fun, doesn't it, smashing cucumbers with a big knife?

You could, of course, eat pickles as a condiment. A few slices with any meat – braised, roasted, whatever – would be quite nice. Or you could do what I do. Have a heap of pickles with a few slices of meat.

SPICY PICKLED CUCUMBERS
Source: Xi Yan Cuisine II, Jacky Yu
(Recipe for 12 portions as a side dish)

1.2 kg cucumbers
1 tbsp salt
2 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns, toasted and ground
4 tbsp hot broad bean paste
2-4 tbsp chilli oil, to taste
250 g sugar (1¼ cups)
300 ml vinegar (1¼ cups)
4 tbsp white sesame oil

Cut about 2-3 cm from top of cucumbers. Rub cut side of each top against cut side of each cucumber till milky substance appears. Discard tops. Rinse cucumbers and dry with paper towels. Trim tails and cores. Cut into batons. Mix with salt. Leave to sweat for ½ hour. Rinse and dry with paper towels. Mix with all other ingredients and refrigerate, covered. Wait 12 hours. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Pickle may be served after another 12 hours.

Nyonya Achar

Sunday, 9 January 2011

I learnt how to make achar from my landlady's maid who, when she came and cleaned my place every week, occasionally left me little gifts in the fridge. I'm usually too shy (yes, really!) to ask anyone for recipes but I liked her achar so much that I did. She not only wrote it down for me but also – bless her! – brought all the ingredients to my place and showed me how.

Years later, after I bought The Best of Singapore Cooking, I realized that the written recipe she had given me was from Mrs Leong Yee Soo's cookbook. What she actually made, however, was quite different – and better – than Bibik Leong's, with less oil and more sugar. I guess it's important to "season to taste", which was what I did when I recreated the achar recipe I had forgotten because it wasn't written down. That's why I'm writing it down now!

Sugared Yam (反沙芋)

Sunday, 2 January 2011

What do I like that's sweet, made with yam and Teochew? If you think it's the most well-known Teochew dessert, sorry, you're wrong. Nope, it's not Or Nee, 芋泥. It's Sugared Yam, 反沙芋, which is deep fried yam (or taro to Americans) coated with recrystallized sugar. Compared to Or Nee which uses steamed yam, 反沙芋 is lighter but more fragrant.

I first had 反沙芋 at Putien, a Heng Hwa restaurant. As I was enjoying the soft, powdery yam sweetened with a crunchy coat of sugar, I thought there was something decidedly Teochew about the dish although I wasn't in a Teochew restaurant. A quick check on the Internet confirmed my suspicion. In fact, there was no mention at all that 反沙芋 might be a Heng Hwa dish as well.

The key to a good 反沙芋, or any yam dish for that matter, is yam that's really powdery and fragrant. Pick those that have lots of red veins inside, said my grandmother who was a genius at choosing yam. Besides veins, weight is also a good indicator. Light ones are good because they have less water and therefore more starch. Half the battle is won once a good yam is selected.

Poached Spinach with Salted and Century Eggs

Saturday, 2 October 2010

There're a couple of vegetables I refer to as Chinese spinach, and yin choi (苋菜) is one of them. I think the proper name is Amaranth or, more specifically, Amaranthus dubius. But please don't take my word for it 'cause I'm not very good with plant names. I just eat them . . . the plants, not the names. Oh yes, eating is my forte!

I love yin choi because the texture is smooth when I cook it with minimal oil, unlike other dark green veggies which can be gritty. It goes very well with dried anchovies, and yin choi in dried anchovy stock – with maybe some fishballs or pork meatballs – makes a quick, delicious soup. Or it can be stir fried with dried anchovies that have been fried till crispy. That's also quite nice.

When I'm tired of pairing yin choi with dried anchovies, I use a mix of century and salted eggs. And the veggies are poached, a nice change from soups and stir fries. I love the dish 'cause it's fresh tasting and there's hardly any oil. I first had it in Chinese restaurants and after ordering it several times, I decided to hack the recipe. I thought it should be an easy dish to make at home, and I was right. It's just poaching a few leaves. How difficult can that be? Sometimes, I use yin choi; other times, I use kow kei (枸杞, aka boxthorn and matrimony vine) like the restaurant version. Nothing to it at all.

Have I stopped ordering poached spinach in restaurants after poaching the recipe? Nope, 'cause I really like the dish. Besides, we should always eat lots of veggies whether we're eating in or out, right?

Recent posts:
Buddha's
Delight (罗汉
斋, 什菜)
Spicy Poached
Pears
Durian with
Sticky Rice
Roasted Cauliflower

Buddha's Delight (罗汉斋)

Monday, 20 September 2010



It was my mother's birthday a few days ago. To commemorate her, I made a big pot of Buddha's delight (罗汉斋) or, if you prefer the less elegant name, chap chai (什菜). It was a dish she always made for our first breakfast of the Chinese New Year.

Five-Spice Beancurd Skin – Best Ever Tau Kee

Thursday, 29 July 2010

'Go for it! It's free!' the HR manager said.

The word 'free' reverberated through my head. If I were a cartoon figure, my eyes would have popped out. The HR manager was giving me the ultimatum for the medical check-up under company expense: use it or lose it, by year-end. So I used it, the first ever medical exam in my life.

I did the check-up towards the end of the year, when I was home for the festive season whilst working overseas. Inbetween the endless rounds of eating, drinking and shopping, I managed to find time to see my doctor. The various tests took half a day or so, and I just gritted my teeth and went through all of them. Except the one which involved the doctor wearing gloves. Eww! No, thank you!

On Christmas eve, I woke up just before noon – exhausted from the eating, drinking, shopping plus jet lag – to find five missed calls from my doctor. I called the clinic and caught the doctor's assistant just before she went home for Christmas. 'There are shadows in your lung x-rays!' She sounded panic-stricken, which I thought was quite strange. Wasn't she used to delivering bad news since she was working in a clinic? Please don't scare me!

When I saw my doctor after Christmas, she calmly but gravely told me I had to consult a specialist. So I trotted off to the specialist she picked, who sent me trotting off to do a CT-scan. With the scan in hand on New Year's Eve, he said, 'You have only one kidney.'

Huh? What? I wasn't expecting anything wrong with my kidneys! 'What do you mean I have only one kidney? Where's the other one? You mean it's shrunken?' Obviously, 'one kidney' meant one kidney rather than one normal plus one shrunken kidney but I was, you know, in a state of shock, jet lagged and hung over from Christmas.

The doctor confirmed that 'one' meant one, then moved on to the more important stuff. The kidney I was born without was just a by-the-way digression. What worried him were the lungs, which had three possible diagnoses: sarcoidosis, tuberculosis, and lymphoma.

He explained that sarcoidosis, an infection of the lungs which usually had no symptoms and required no treatment, was unlikely because it mostly affected darker skinned people like Indians and Africans. He also ruled out tuberculosis.

I felt like someone had just kicked me in the stomach. 'How do you know it's not TB?' I asked after taking a deep breath.

'Experience. It doesn't look like TB,' said the expert in cardiothoracic stuff, who was also an associate professor. Of the three lovely possibilities, he reckoned I had lymphoma, cancer of the lymph nodes.

Lymphoma – gulp! Wasn't that what Lee Hsien Loong had? CANCER?! Oh sh¡t! Sh¡t!! Sh¡t!!!

The next step was to confirm the diagnosis with a biopsy. So I trotted off to the appointments counter, which told me the first working day in the new year was available. Wow, 2 January! The whole thing was hurtling along way too fast! Between Christmas and New Year, I saw my GP, did a CT scan, got the results, consulted a specialist, who said he was damn sure I had cancer . . . . Followed by a biopsy on 2 January, the eve of my birthday? Do I really want to do a biopsy the day before my birthday? Well, it was either that, my birthday or 7 January.

'Ok, I'll take 2 January.' I wanted to know, asap. It was good I took the first date available because after I walked out of the hospital, my entire world ground to a halt. I was in a daze whilst I waited for the surgeon's knife. I went to all the year-end get-togethers but they were meaningless. It would have been easier if I had told everyone I was having a biopsy after the holidays but I didn't want to spoil the party mood.

On 2 January, I checked into the hospital for my first ever surgery, all by my little self. Just before I passed out in the operating theatre, the surgeon popped round and said, 'Happy New Year!' Great sense of humour, eh? What could be happier than starting the new year with an operation? And if anything happened to me on the operating table, at least I was in the hands of a surgeon who was funny!

After the surgery, I was crying as I came out of the anaesthesia. It was a funny feeling, crying before I was fully conscious. I didn't even know that was possible. I guess I was more scared than I was willing to admit. The rest of the day was spent resting, begging the nurse for a cream cracker, and rehearsing how I was going to drop the bombshell on everyone. I fell asleep that night practising 'I have cancer/lymphoma!' in various tones, from downcast to upbeat, matter-of-fact, businesslike and various combinations of these possibilities. I thought 50% upbeat, 40% matter-of-fact and 10% downcast was a good, realistic balance.

The morning after – D-day! I got up bright and early to wait for the doctor, who came around half past seven. As he flipped through some papers which presumably contained the biopsy results, I almost stopped breathing. Out of the three possible diagnoses, he said, I had – drumroll please! – sarcoidosis! Phew! I was gunning for the consolation prize, TB, but I got the jackpot instead! I wish it was more dramatic but that was it. After all the hand wringing, it was over in two seconds. I didn't have cancer. I had an infection in the lungs which, if I hadn't gone for a medical check-up because it was free, would have been undetected.

Needless to say, after the emotional 10-day roller-coaster ride, I had the mother of all birthday celebrations. After that, I went on a massive shopping spree and maxed out two credit cards, the first and only time ever. I had a great time looking for necklaces to cover the surgery scar between my collar bones. I still have the necklaces but the scar is barely visible now, even when I look for it.

A couple of years after the cancer fiasco, I asked the specialist for a medical report because I was buying medical insurance. He sent me something that roughly said, 'Blah blah blah sarcoidosis was suspected, and confirmed after a biopsy.' What the hell! There was no mention at all of lymphoma, and the torment he had put me through! I know the details were irrelevant for the purpose of the report but still!

And where did the dish of beancurd skin or tau kee come in? That was what the hospital served for lunch while I waited for the check-out. It was the best meal in my whole life, bar none!

One last thing: Mom, Dad, if you're somehow reading this from up there (or down there, whatever the case might be) . . . .

YOU LEFT OUT ONE KIDNEY! HOW COULD YOU?!

Garlic Bread

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

I've finally found a rustic baguette, or baguette à l'ancienne, in Singapore. Compared to the regular loaf, the rustic, traditional version is given a much longer fermentation. This gives the crust a darker colour and a rich, nutty aroma. It also makes the crumb – the white part of the bread – soft, chewy and really flavourful

When I was living in Paris, I used to stroll to Champs-Elysées most Sundays – took me all of five minutes – and grab a baguette a l'ancienne for breakfast. Most bakeries in central Paris were closed on Sundays but the really touristy areas had the odd one open.

Spicy Dried Prawns – Hae Bee Hiam (蝦米香)

Thursday, 5 November 2009

PhotobucketYesterday, my neighbour gave me some groceries 'cause she was going away for a couple of weeks. It was mostly fruits and vegetables, stuff that she couldn't keep for much longer. There was a whole pile of shallots and garlic which were either perishing or flourishing, depending on how you looked at it. I didn't want to waste the budding bulbs, so some emergency action was needed to terminate the 'growing ambitions'. I sliced off the freshly sprouted roots and a few tiny shoots, and stripped off the peel. Ground up the lot with dried chillies and dried prawns, and made Spicy Dried Prawns – Hae Bee Hiam in local parlance – the first time in many years. Mum used to make it quite often back when she rendered lard every fortnight or so. The crispy lardons from cooking pork fat were finely chopped, then fried with lots of finely pounded dried chillies, shallots, garlic and dried shrimps. That was really old world food at its best, I tell you. We had another way for eating freshly fried lardons, by the way. Sprinkled with a bit of sugar and dipped in light soya sauce. I kid you not.

It seemed like a lot of work when I made Hae Bee Hiam yesterday, despite using a mini chopper instead of a mortar and pestle. So I really savoured my homemade Spicy Dried Prawns even though it didn't have any lardons. And it was a bit too finely chopped and lacked a bit of texture. Next time, I will leave some small dried prawns whole. Might even render some pork fat for a just-like-Mum-made-it version!

I gave some Spicy Dried Prawns to my brother, the one who drives from Tampines to Jurong to get his Hae Bee Hiam fix at I-don't- know-which hawker centre. He was over the moon, to put it mildly. And offered to exchange more Hae Bee Hiam with his sprouting garlic and shallots. Gosh, what's with all these people growing plants in the fridge? Maybe I should give them a few plant pots?

Check these out:
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Prawns with
Salted Egg Yolks
Prawns with
Red Fermented
Beancurd
Prawn Tom
Yum Soup
Kung Pao Prawns

Roasted Eggplant with Sweet Miso – Nobu's Recipe

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

PhotobucketSo, I was saying yesterday I had two more enormous eggplants in t1he fridge. Well, there's none left now. I've cooked both with the leftover miso paste which I had used to make Miso Cod. I was going to leave one but I was afraid it might get cold and lonely in the fridge . . . haha. I was wondering if I made too much but after I tasted a piece of the slightly charred eggplant, the thought flew out the window. It was mmm mmm mmm mmm MM! The miso enriched with mirin, sake and sugar was awesome with the smoky, lightly burnt eggplant! It was much more distinct than in the Miso Cod dish since eggplants have a more neutral taste compared to cod. I was planning on keeping some for tomorrow – baked eggplants are delicious cold – but before I knew it, I was wiping the last drop of miso from the plate with the last bit of eggplant! As I savoured the final morsel of sweet and soft eggplant, I suddenly remembered Mum used to make steamed eggplants dressed with Chinese fermented soya beans. I must say this Nobu version is much better. I think the mirin, sake and sugar orchestrate a rounder and more mellow flavour compared to Chinese fermented soya beans performing solo. I'm definitely getting more eggplants for a Japanese encore.

Check these out:
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Bitter Melon
Soup with Chicken
Stir Fried Eggplant
with Chicken
Sichuan Spicy
Kung Pao Prawns
Chai Poh (Preserved
Turnip) Omelette