Archives for posts with tag: peranakan food

_DSC38672So…you may recall a previous post (the one with the kaya recipe) in which I mentioned I had an abundance of pandan leaves to use up? Well, here’s me going through the rest of those fragrant fronds in a couple of culinary experiments that (fortunately) turned out according to plan. 😀

As promised, I made us Ji Bao Gai 纸包鸡 (literal translation: paper-wrapped chicken), a Cantonese dish that I haven’t had since childhood; and Sago Melaka (aka Sago Pudding), a very simple Peranakan dessert which you can see in the above pic. It goes without saying that both recipes include pandan leaves (or shop-bought pandan essence, which is easier to store and has a longer shelf life) in the list of ingredients.



SAGO MELAKA

Pudding – Add sago pearls* to boiling water. A serving of a similar size to what you can see in the photo above would require about three to four tablespoons of pearls. You’ll know they’re done once the grains turn translucent. Don’t worry too much if a few still have a bit of white in them so long as they are soft.

Drain the pearls in a sieve, and give them a rinse under the cold tap to get rid of any starchiness. After that, gently press them into jelly moulds or small bowls before placing in the fridge to chill for a couple of hours. Alternatively, if you’re not fussy about how it looks, set the pudding in a large tray or dish, and scoop out portions when ready to serve.

*Be careful not to confuse sago pearls with the huge dark tapioca globules in bubble tea. They are not the same thing! For this recipe, you’ll need the little tiny white balls, like in the left-hand pic below.

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Syrup – Heat up some gula melaka** in a pot of water with two or three ‘knots’ of pandan leaves. You’ll need roughly one tablespoon of water per 30g of the gula. I used about 100g for this batch of pudding (for four people), and still had quite a bit of syrup left over. Stir until the mixture caramelises, then set aside to cool. It may thicken further if you refrigerate it. Should this happen, stir in a few drops of hot water…just enough to thin it out, but not so much that the syrup re-heats.

**There are a few different types of palm sugar, some sourced from the date palm, others from coconut or nipa. Gula melaka originates from the Straits of Malacca (hence the name), and is produced using the sap of flower buds from coconut palm trees. Like pandan leaves, you can get them from most Asian stores, or major online shopping portals like eBay or Amazon. They come in hard solid blocks which can be difficult to break apart. However, they do grate easily.

Cream – Bring coconut milk*** to boil, and stir in a pinch of salt. The cream isn’t actually supposed to be savoury, so don’t overdo it. The idea is to enhance the milk’s natural flavour while acting as a counterpoint to the syrup. It’s probably best to sprinkle in a few granules and do a taste test before adding more (if required). Leave the cream to cool before serving.

***Any brand coconut milk will do, and most supermarkets sell them. I like my pudding to be literally swimming in cream, so a 400ml tin was about right for us, but smaller 250ml cartons are also available. Leftovers can be refrigerated for later use, though not beyond a week.



JI BAO GAI 纸包鸡

2018-04-21 21.15.51This dish is traditionally deep-fried, but I was overjoyed to discover that the healthier option of oven-baking is entirely doable! Yay, no more greasy kitchen…It’s such a bugger to clean!

Breast fillets are fine if you are calorie-conscious, but I personally prefer chicken on the bone (with skin…it’s the best bit!) as they’re tastier and juicer, so what you see here are chicken thighs (halved).

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Marinade – The essential ingredients are oyster sauce*, rice wine**, and the cornflour solution (so you don’t end up with a watery dribbly mess when unwrapping the chicken). Minced garlic would be ideal, but I was lazy and had recently bought a huge bottle of garlic oil from a discount store.

*I am very picky when it comes to oyster sauce, and would rather go through the trouble of ordering good quality (yet low-cost) ones online than purchase what most UK supermarkets have on offer. Highly recommended brands are Lee Kum Kee Gluten-Free or Ayam – neither of which contain MSG, but I honestly can’t say I’ve noticed that the authentic flavour has been compromised.

**If you haven’t got any rice wine, it’s ok to substitute with white wine…my dad often uses brandy or cognac in place of wine whenever he does the cooking and everything still turns out just as scrummy, sometimes even more so! 😮

Parcels – The chillies are optional, and any mushrooms will do, though shiitake works best here, and it doesn’t matter if they’re fresh or dried. However, the latter will require pre-soaking in hot water.

2018-04-21 19.13.16Wrap chicken pieces in parchment/baking paper, and secure the parcels with staples before baking.

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Not going to specify a time or temperature as all ovens are different, and you’ll probably know how to operate yours better than I would. If you’re not confident, my advice would be to leave a parcel unstapled at one end so you can keep checking if the meat’s thoroughly cooked.

As always, any meal that involves pandan leaves (or other Asian ingredients) fills the whole house with a wonderful aroma that stirs up lots of memories from my growing-up years…mainly family celebrations – three generations of us sat around a huge table chatting, laughing, enjoying great food, and even better company. Happy days! 🙂

I suppose olfactory trips of of nostalgia are pretty much universal, but each experience is unique, so it’ll be interesting to hear what stories others have to tell. Comment below if any food smells in particular whisk you off to another time and place…what magic does it work on you? ❤

2018-04-15 14.33.40As jam is typically made from fruit, some argue it would be more accurate to call this a spread, or even custard because it contains egg. This is an ongoing debate that stems from confusion over the correct classification of coconuts. In botanical terms, coconuts do fall in the fruit category. Somewhat of a misnomer, ‘coconut’ is technically defined as a fibrous one-seeded drupe, putting it in the same league as plums and apricots.

To us Asians, the name of this breakfast condiment has never been a matter of contention since we just refer to it as kaya (or srikaya). However, there are quite a few variations (including a green one) depending on how it is made, so we may not always agree on which version is best!

I am a complete novice when it comes to making jam, so to keep things simple, I opted for a fast and easy recipe that only makes a small amount. Basically, I cheated. 😀

Please note that the end product of this method will only approximate the taste of the genuine article. It’s great for those living in countries where this coconut jam is not readily available, but want a quick fix to satisfy nostalgic cravings.

Making authentic kaya requires a great deal of kungfu (not martial arts…there is more than one definition!), slaving over a double boiler, and involving at least an hour (sometimes more) of stirring. Kaya usually requires eggs, but this particular approach omits the whites and uses only the yolks. True, your jam will not thicken up quite as well, but there will also be less lumps to break up, which reduces the need for all that arm action.

Some day, I will attempt to make kaya the proper way, but for now…this will do.



INGREDIENTS:

200ml Coconut Milk*
4 tbsp Brown Sugar
4 tbsp Gula Melaka** – Grated
4 Pandan Leaves*** – Knotted
4 Egg Yolks

2018-04-15 12.48.09METHOD:

Mixture A – Gently heat the coconut milk, sugar, gula melaka, and pandan leaves in a pot (no need for a double boiler). Turn off cooker once it starts to simmer.

Mixture B – Stir egg yolks, and slowly add in half of Mixture A.

Return pot with the remainder of Mixture A to heat (not too high), and gradually pour in all of Mixture B, stirring all the while.

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Reduce heat to low and stir constantly until the jam begins to coat the sides of your pot.

Add more sugar if preferred. If not, remove pandan leaves and transfer the jam to a jar.

Leave kaya to cool entirely before putting the lid on, and ensure it is airtight. Refrigerate and consume within one week.

*Although it is better to use fresh coconut milk, this is next to impossible to get hold of in most Western countries. However, it is ok to use tinned coconut milk.

**Gula melaka aka coconut (not date) palm sugar can be found in most Asian stores. It is also possible to buy it online. I actually got mine from an eBay seller.

***Another challenging item to acquire, though I did manage to purchase mine from Amazon. The trouble is not only are pandan leaves generally sold in large quantities, they also have a short shelf life and don’t last long in the fridge. I’d advise rolling up individual leaves in some baking paper, putting them in a bag, and freezing the lot.

With enough of these leaves to last me the next six months, I’ve now lined up quite a number of recipes to keep me busy experimenting in my lab kitchen. Pandan flavour is sometimes dubbed the Asian equivalent of vanilla, but I don’t quite agree with that analogy since it is a major ingredient in many savoury dishes from Asian cuisine, such as the Pandan Chicken I made awhile back (served with a prawn and vegetable stir-fry).

20228556_10155381175750856_7038454441550405045_nI was thinking of making it again, but would be happier if I could avoid any deep frying since that activity is almost guaranteed to cover most of our downstairs in a thin film of grease. Then I remembered a childhood favourite of mine – Ji Bao Gai 纸包鸡 (literal translation: Paper-Wrapped Chicken). It’s a Cantonese variant of Pandan Chicken and best of all, it can be done in the oven! Ji Bao Gai is absolutely scrummy and won’t be difficult to make, so I can’t wait to try it out, but that’s a project for another day. 🙂

Photo 28-01-2018, 20 43 28Most of January saw me in very ill health, and to make matters worse, what I had was contagious, and soon my entire household was poorly. However, I seemed to have been hit the hardest…Even when everyone else was getting better, I was still bedridden. Not being in a position to get anything done, my shop had to be closed temporarily. After (finally!) being prescribed two strong doses of antibiotics, the worst is now over. Though not quite fully recovered, I am starting to get my life back on track again.

First thing on the agenda has been to make sure our meals at home are healthy again. We were all feeling so sick we couldn’t keep food down, and if I’m honest, my appetite still isn’t what it used to be. Since none of us had been eating right, I decided we needed nourishment from some homemade ABC Soup.

Right now, you’re probably picturing Alphabet Soup in your mind, the one with letter-shaped pasta swimming around in a tomato broth…unless you’re from Singapore or Malaysia of course. Most Asians will probably know I am referring to a Nonya classic. However, the origin of this soup’s name isn’t as clear to us as its contents. The soup’s hearty and nutrient-rich ingredients have given rise to a popular conjecture: ABC refers to vitamins – A in the carrots and corn, B in meat and potatoes, and C in the tomatoes.

I personally prefer a simpler explanation – this soup is as easy to make as ABC, and indeed it is! You literally chuck all the meat and veg in a pot, boil, then leave to simmer. Search for a recipe and you will find many variations out there. You can modify this soup as you like, but the core components remain the same:

• Meat
• Onion
• Garlic Cloves
• Carrots
• Corn
• Tomatoes
• Potatoes
• Water

It doesn’t matter whether you use chicken or pork, but it is best to use meat on the bone as a lot of the flavour will come from that. I used pork ribs this time, but have previously made this soup with chicken drumsticks and thighs. This next step isn’t essential, but I usually like to marinade the meat in some rice wine, white pepper and light soy sauce.

Forgive me for not including exact quantities…I am more familiar with the agak-agak style of cooking, an approach which is quite common in Peranakan culture. Instead of painstakingly measuring out what is needed, we cook based on gut feeling that’s very much tied to an understanding of how each ingredient works with others. Granted there is a lot of trial-and-error involved, but there’s not much that can go wrong with this soup.

Once the meat (and marinade, if so desired) is in the pot, add the carrots and potatoes (peeled and chopped into chunks), followed by the corn (cut into smaller sections), onions (cut into wedges), tomatoes (cut into wedges), and garlic cloves (peeled and crushed). Pour in just enough water to cover everything (but don’t overfill the pot), boil and simmer for a few hours. The longer you cook it, the tastier it will be. A slow cooker would be best for this, though not strictly necessary. An hour before serving (another optional step), season to taste with salt and pepper.

My recent adaptation of ABC Soup that you can see in the photo above has had a few additional items thrown in – Turnips, Goji Berries, and Spring Onions. We normally polish this off with rice and fried egg (sunny side up), but this time, I made so much soup in our humongous slow cooker that we had enough leftover for lunch the next day…Great as a base for instant noodles!!! 😀

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Before my constitution failed me, I went through a phase of craving mussels, and if I had my way, we’d have had it every night for dinner! Well, seafood is good for you! 😀 Luckily for everyone else, I only had the opportunity to make two mussel-inspired dishes. One was a pasta dish with Grilled Asparagus and Mussels in Creamy White Wine Sauce, and the other was Spicy Steamed Mussels with Ginger and Garlic, which was paired with Spam and Onion Omelette. All turned out as nomalicious as I hoped they would be. 🙂

2018-01-07 21.08.06Just a few days ago, the thought of anything sweet would have made me reach for the vomit bucket, but not long after the Christmas break, I attempted a recipe for Coffee and Ricotta Shots with Chocolate Shavings and Biscuit Base. David and Zhouyi loved it, but I felt I could have done better…possibly because I was aware of the mistakes I’d made. The coffee wasn’t strong enough, and I used icing sugar instead of castor as I’d run out of the latter. When I have a little more time on my hands, I’ll have another go at perfecting it. In the meantime, I’ve got a home to put in order…I don’t know…out of action for a few weeks, and now everything’s in such a mess! 😛