Monday, 27 February 2012

Spicy Purple Sprouting Broccoli with Fried Red Lentils

It's that time of the year, isn't it? Neither winter nor spring. It's kind of getting warmer, but you still need your coat at times. It's kind of getting brighter earlier and darker later, but now and then the sky still threatens to rain and darken everything. On the food front, it's that time of the year when nothing's especially in season. The tender salad leaves aren't out yet, the winter roots are still here, but they're just going to leave soon, and nothing much is really new.

It's kind of easy to get bored, but thank god there is one "in-between' vegetable that's springing up at the farmer's market, the purple sprouting broccoli. They're gorgeous spindly stalks of broccoli with purple florets instead. I was just thinking to myself how nice it would be to get these instead of roses for valentine's day (I know I'm weird).

Spicy Purple Sprouting Broccoli with Fried Red Lentils
serves 2 as a side
handful of purple sprouting broccoli, broken to roughly even-sized florets
1 cup red split lentils
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp dried chilli flakes (or to taste)
juice of 1/2 a lemon
generous pinch of sea salt
1 tbsp ghee or grassfed butter

1. Soak lentils for about 20 min before cooking (to maximise digestibility, split lentils actually cook really quickly so you don't have to soak overnight unlike most pulses). Cook in boiling salted water for about 5-10 min, or until just tender but still retaining its shape. Drain.
2. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and plunge the broccoli in, boil for about 2 min until just tender, and drain and refresh in cold water. Squeeze some lemon juice over for a bit of tang and to help it stay fresh.
3. Fry the chopped garlic in ghee till fragrant, then add the spices and chilli along with the cooked red lentils, and fry till slightly crispy. Season, and add the broccoli to warm through at the end.

Purple sprouting broccoli has a nice delicate taste despite being part of the cabbage family. The leafy stalks are also yummy so don't think it's rather a waste just because of the stalk:floret ratio. The savoury warm spices in the red lentils help to bring out the flavours, and I just find spice a welcome addition in this transition from winter soups to spring salads. To be frank though, it's also because the art student in me just can't resist putting the purple vegetable against the complementary bright yellow of the turmeric-stained lentils.

I'm also submitting this to Dom's Random Recipes Challenge. This month, we have to go back to the first cookbook we used to enter RR, and for me, that was just my folder of cutouts and copied recipes. This came from a cutout for making tarka dal by Madhur Jafffery , which looks delicious and creamy and er, nothing like the red lentils I made. I decided I was sick of soupy dishes, and I kind of decided to just give the whole slow-cooking and tempering thing a miss; but well, there are similar spices used, and it is still red lentils o.0

Friday, 24 February 2012

Shrooms-Stuffed Rice Noodle Rolls

I'm still a little preoccupied with pancakes. I've run out of flour though, and my sourdough baby is unfortunately hibernating in the back of my fridge now. But
I insist every day can be pancake day. And I believe most things involving a batter and turns out round and flat-ish constitutes a pancake.

This is a variation of my original chee cheong fun, which I likened then to a rice crepe being rolled up. The one I did in the past is the Singapore version, just plain with sweet soy sauce drizzled over. This time, I decided to stuff it like you get in Cantonese dim sum restaurants, no shrimps though, sadly, but mushrooms did just fine, and the plus side is you get a delicious mushroom dressing.

Rice Pancake Rolls Stuffed with Mushrooms
For chee cheong fun (rice noodle pancakes)
150g rice flour
1 1/2 tbsp potato/tapioca starch
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp oil
450ml water
pinch of sea salt

For mushrooms and sauce
handful of fresh mushrooms, sliced (I used chestnut button mushrooms)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp good soy sauce (i.e. traditionally and naturally brewed/fermented)
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 tbsp shallot oil

To finish
fried shallots (as much as desired, though try not to finish all)
chopped spring onions

1. Mix the flours together, then stir in the water slowly, before adding the oil and salt. Leave the batter to rest for an hour. Prepare steamer (or makeshift one) with a greased plate or tray over, and then add a small ladle of batter and swirl to get a thin even layer. Steam for 5 min on high heat. While one 'rice crepe' is cooling, steam another in another plate/tray. (For detailed instructions/photos, see original post).
2. While your 'rice crepes' are steaming/cooling, prepare the mushrooms. Add shallot oil to a medium-hot pan, add the garlic, followed by the mushrooms. Saute till the mushrooms are nicely browned and give off their mushroom juices, then add the soy sauce and sesame oil and cook a little while more. Reserve the cooking liquor.
3. Place the fried mushrooms near one end of the crepe, then carefully roll up. Continue until you run out of mushrooms/crepes. To finish, drizzle the reserved fragrant mushroom-soy sauce over, and top with the fried shallots and spring onions, and eat immediately.

Ok so this wasn't dim sum restaurant quality. I tried my best to get it as thin as possible without it breaking,

but because my chee cheong fun batter has no wheat starch flour (not the same as wheat flour), it's a lot less translucent and springy. But it is more accessible to everyone, not just because it's therefore gluten-free, but also because most of us probably don't have wheat starch lurking in your kitchen cupboard. And, it was delicious anyway! Fresh rice rolls, fried mushrooms, and the yummy garlicky mushroom-soy sauce with the fragrance of toasted sesame oil and fried shallots.

Happy pancake friday (:

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Crispy Sourdough Pancakes with Caramelised Asian Pears and Bacon

Happy Shrove Tuesday i.e. Pancake Day! Everyone's getting into the mood and I've been bookmarking too many pancake ideas and toppings and fillings recipes the past week. I love my sourdough crepes, topped with some caramelised fruits and better yet, with homemade ice cream too. It felt time for something savoury though, since it was almost lunchtime, and I couldn't decide between sweet or savoury, so here we go with pears and bacon and cheese.

Pancakes are so very versatile that way, and the idea of a pancake is so loosely defined anyway, anything that kind of involves a batter and is fried in a pan kind of constitutes a pancake. The British idea of pancake is very different from the fluffy American version I grew up associating pancakes with, it's kind of..flat if you know what I mean. I leave it to you whether you call this a pancake or a crepe.

Crispy Sourdough Pancakes with Caramelised Asian Pears and Bacon
serves 2
4 sourdough crepes (I re-heated some defrosted ones that I've made earlier)
1 large pear, peeled and sliced (I used an Asian pear)
4 slices of bacon, cut into half so you get 8 shorter slices
handful of grated raw farmhouse cheddar (or melting cheese of choice)
2 tbsp unrefined cane sugar (adjust according to sweetness of pear and your taste)
1 tbsp grassfed butter

1. For bacon:
Add bacon to a cold skillet with just a tiny bit of olive oil (it will release its own yummy fat to cook in later) and let cook and crisp up over medium heat, turning once to let it brown on the other side. Set aside on a paper towel to drain, pour away the bacon fat but don't bother to clean the pan really well. (When I say pour away, I mean, save the bacon fat for another day to use in stir-fries or salad dressings)

2. For pears:
Toss the pears with the unrefined sugar. Add the butter to the slightly-bacon-greased skillet. When it just starts to foam, add the sugar-coated pears and let caramelise slowly, turning so both sides are browned.

3. To assemble:
Place the crepe best side down, place bacon down first, followed by the caramelised pears, and sprinkle the cheese over. Try to be fair and divide evenly. Bring the 2 sides together to form a pocket, or you can fold whichever way you like! Place into a pre-heated oven, and grill on high till the crepe is crispy and the cheese has melted and 'glued' everything together.

Asian pears are juicier and crunchier and have a more mellow sweetness to them than your usual Comice or Conference pears, but really, any pear or sweet fruit would be great against the crispy salty bacon. I've done a non-bacon version with gingery caramelised peaches and yogurt before, which could definitely work. This is really quite versatile so you could do this with your normal pancake too, though the tangy heartier flavours of the sourdough crepes make this even more so yummy, and a sourdough starter isn't too difficult to make. Well, maybe not in a day, but who's to stop you from declaring it your own pancake day next Tuesday ;)

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Black Sticky Rice Pudding

Black Sticky Rice Pudding with Red Adzuki Beans and Coconut Cream

I had a variation of this on Valentine's Day, at Kopapa, an all-day little cafe/restaurant at the Seven Dials started by chef Peter Gordon. The menu was interesting, a very creative fusion of asian and western. The dessert I had was "warm black rice and coconut pudding, pineapple caramel, pandan marshmallow, furikake". It was good, but it only brought back cravings for a familiar favourite dessert from home--something much simpler, but I find much tastier.

We call it bubur pulut hitam, though I think the Thais also have the same dish, by a different name. It's a sweet black rice porridge, with lashings of thick coconut milk. My mum makes it a "deluxe" version by adding a handful of red adzuki beans too, and that's the one I'm sharing.

This is made using black glutinous (but it doesn't have gluten) rice, also known as "forbidden rice", so it cooks up really sticky and starchy much like short-grain pudding rice or plain glutinous rice. Like brown rice, it's a wholegrain, with unevenly-coloured black husks, but it cooks into a gorgeous deep purple. The antioxidants in black foods are notoriously high (think black garlic, blackberries) and this is no exception, though you'd want to make sure you get all these benefits by soaking it nice and long to make all that fibre easier on your tummy.

Black Sticky Rice Pudding, with Red Adzuki Beans and Coconut Cream
serves 6 to 8
1 cup uncooked black glutinous "sticky" rice
1/2 cup red adzuki beans
2/3 cup unrefined palm sugar "gula melaka", or to taste
10 cups water, more or less as desired
thick coconut milk, to serve

1. Soak rice and red beans overnight in cold water.
2. The next day, drain, and replace with 10 cups of fresh water, and bring to a boil over high heat.
3. Let simmer for about an hour or more, or till the rice and beans split and are cooked till soft. Stir once in a while so the grains don't settle at the bottom and and burn, and top up water as needed, though at the end, the water in the pot will be mostly gone and the rice will be pretty much like porridge. I like it less thick and sticky so I add more water than normal.
4. Stir in the chopped up palm sugar till dissolved, then remove from heat.
5. Scoop into bowls and serve warm with a generous spoon of thick coconut milk over. For summer/tropical weather: Refrigerate leftovers, and then serve with a scoop of coconut or vanilla ice cream as a cold dessert.

The black sticky rice pudding is heaven in a bowl. Glorious chewy little amaranth grains, studded with soft sweet red beans, and the best part of all, that ripple of rich coconut cream running through it all. The gula melaka is a very Singaporean-Malaysian flavour that just makes this dish sing, you can replace it with another sugar (preferably unrefined), but this adds a delicious caramel toffee-like sweetness and depth.

I know porridge for pudding doesn't seem like the most glamorous dessert, but this is my antidote to the the lingering winter cold; to missing home; to dessert cravings; and to health-- all in one.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Soy-Braised Pig's Ears (NOT a Valentine's day recipe)

With February the 14th just round the corner, I'm seeing too many cupcakes, hearts and chocolate about. This is one recipe that is definitely not pink and sweet, and in fact, is quite likely to make your Valentine's stomach churn.

If you regularly read my blog, you'll know that I'm quite the offal fan. It's cheap, usually more nutritious than the popular cuts (liver has loads of vitamin a for instance, and trotters are rich in gelatin), more sustainable, and delicious. The last point is probably a point of contention, but I really think more people just don't give it a try enough.

Pig's ears are a first for me, it's actually not very meaty at all, made up mostly of soft cartilage and skin, i.e. gelatin i.e. good for joints and skin. I thought I'd treat it like kway chap, a very popular Singapore breakfast dish made up of very wide sheets of rice noodle sheets with soy-braised pig's intestines, beancurd and eggs. Absolutely delicious. See why I am the way I am?

Soy-Braised Pig's Ears (adapted from jeroxie's recipe)
For the pig's ears
A pair of pig's ears
2 cups water
1/4 cup of shaoxing wine
4 tbsp good soy sauce (traditionally brewed and fermented)
1 heaped tbsp of unrefined palm sugar
large thumb of ginger
1 cinnamon stick
2 star anise
generous dash of five spice powder
white pepper and fresh coriander, to serve

For the rice noodle sheets

For the chilli dipping sauce
2-3 large red chillies (not bird's eye)
1 clove garlic
1" ginger
1-2 tbsp rice vinegar
unrefined sea salt and sugar, to taste

1. First you need to clean the ear really well. That's probably the hardest bit about this. Use an unloved shaver to shave off the excess hair and try to scrub away any dirt. That part was quite icky, but at least it doesn't stink the way I heard intestines do, and it feels less squishy than normal meat in fact. It's really just like, your own ear, but extra large. Blanch the pig's ears in boiling water and throw away the water with all the gunk.

2. Add all ingredients to a pot, bring to a boil, and then let simmer on low heat for 5-6h, longer will make it nice and gelatinous, shorter will leave it with a slight crunch in the middle. I just put it in a slow-cooker, on high for about 3 hours.

3. Meanwhile, you can prepare your chilli sauce (just blend everything)

and rice noodles sheets. This time, don't roll the rice sheets, and just slice (I'm into tearing) into very wide noodles.

4. Remove the ears and slice. Place noodles into a bowl, scoop the braising stock over, add a dash of white pepper, and top with the sliced ears and fresh coriander.

I know this is probably not many people's cup of tea, but I'll assure you it's not icky at all, and in fact delicious. The soy braising stock is the star actually, aromatic with the chinese braising spices, lightly savoury and slightly sweet at the same time. If you have any leftover, you can simmer some peeled hardboiled eggs in them for Chinese soy-braised eggs, or the easier/more traditional way is just to add them towards the end of cooking. The pig's ears themselves are soft and gelatinous on the outside, with just a slight bit of bite in the middle, great for slurping the fat rice noodle sheets with.

It's a nostalgic yum for me. I'm not being weird; try it. Maybe not for Valentine's day, but try it.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Simple Spiced Rice-cooker Pilaf

Once you get plain rice right, it's easy to do a whole range of rice dishes. Change the water to homemade stock or coconut milk, add a spoon of fried shallot oil or garlic oil, or even a generous dab of butter, and the plain ol' boring rice immediately becomes neither plain nor boring. There's no change in the basic steps at all, but it looks and tastes a bit more exciting than a pot of plain white rice (which I do love though). This one, I just sauteed the rice in some ghee with whole garam masala spices first, it's a brilliant side to Indian curries or and probably Arabian-style spiced stews and tagines.

Indian mothers seem to frown upon that thing, that modern rice-cooking machine, but ask any Asian mothers and they will swear by their rice cookers, and so do I. My beloved pink Toyomi rice cooker turned out fluffy, feather-light grains that may just fool the beady eyes of the Indian housewife. That said, you can easily do this over the stove-top too, in almost exactly the same steps.

Simple Spiced Rice-cooker Pilaf
1 cup basmati rice, soaked for half to 1 hour
1 onion, chopped finely
1 cinnamon stick
4 cardamom pods, crushed
2 cloves
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 cup cold water (plus minus. depends on your brand/age of rice and how long you soak)
very generous pinch of unrefined sea salt
1 scant tbsp of ghee/coconut oil

1. Switch rice cooker to "cook" and let the pot heat up.
2. Add the ghee/oil and saute the whole spices for a min or so to toast.

3. Add the chopped onions to sweat, before adding the ground turmeric.

4. Add the soaked and drained rice, saute to coat in the spices, then add the water and salt, and close the lid (make sure it's still on 'cook').

5. When it clicks done, do the "close and wait, open and fluff, close and wait, open and breathe".

(i.e. When it's done, do not open for 10 min. Then open, give a fluff through with a chopstick or fork but no spoon. then close and let steam for another 5 min. Then open for a min or so to let excess moisture evaporate, take the time to breathe in the wonderful fragrance. You can then eat or let it stay warm in there for a while longer till you want to eat.)

While cooking, the fragrance of the spices and the basmati rice will perfume your kitchen. Though done in "that rice-cooker thing", the rice has cooked up beautifully into loose, fluffy grains, and each and every one of it has soaked up all the warming flavours of cinnamon, cloves and cardamom, and the golden colour from the turmeric. Now I just need a big bubbling pot of curry with extra chillies, and I think I'm all set against the ridiculously late february snow.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Plain Old Boring Rice

Yes, paella is nice, so is risotto and congee and nasi lemak and all these special rice dishes, but there is just something so essential and comforting about a "boring" bowl of rice to an asian meal. And you'll be surprised how many people can't get it right. It was the hardest thing to me when I first started to cook for myself. It either clumps, or isn't cooked on the inside, or is both of them at the same time.

Long-grain white rice is the humble staple to accompany almost everything for me. I don't particularly fancy the korean/japanese sushi rice for anything other than well, sushi, so this is a guide only for the common white rice. I have 2 favourite varieties, basmati rice to go with curries/for fried rice, and jasmine rice to go with most other se asian/chinese food. The methods are a bit different because you want different end results (see "so what is perfect rice" below), but not that different, so here we go.

So many people don't seem to find this important, but it is. They say it used to be necessary to remove talc in old processing methods but rinsing does more than that. You remove surface starch, stop it from clumping later, and just makes it overall cleaner and fresher tasting. Put the uncooked rice in plenty of water and swirl and swish and massage. Plus, you give your hands a nice shot of free SK-II anti-aging skincare at the same time. Wash till the water runs almost clear, it won't ever be totally clear.

Soak (only for basmati)
Soaking makes the grains really long and slender. I try to soak it for 30 min, sometimes I forget and leave it for an hour, and other times, I forget and just do it for 15 min. After soaking you throw away the soaking water with more unwanted surface starch. Cooking in fresh water makes the rice really fluffy and separate.

Water to rice ratio
My mum has this traditional method I'm sure you've all heard rumours of, sticking your finger in and adding enough wanter to come to the first knuckle of the index finger. It works for her, and it works for me sometimes, if I'm doing it in the pot of the same size, and for about the same amount of rice. But I don't know if it will work for a big guy with giant fingers.
So the more conventional ratio I always hear is 2:1. I don't know how it can work for people because I always get mush with 2:1.
For jasmine rice, I do 1 1/4: 1.
For basmati rice, I do 1:1, perhaps a bit more if it wasn't soaked.
But it varies a tiny bit with the brand and age. Just experiment. 2 flops should do it.

What else?
For basmati, also add a drop or two of ghee or some other oil.
And most western cooks seem to advocate salting the rice. I guess it's all good and fine if you want to, but most asians don't. It's really just a plain bowl of rice, sweet and simple, to go with the colourful flavourful side dishes.
Of course, if you want, you can throw in some spices like a cinnamon stick or some cardamom pods to the rice for extra fragrance. BUT these are instructions for a "boring" bowl of rice.

The Rice-cooker Way
"God every asian has this!"- english roommate in year 1.
Haha yup, it does make life easier.
1. Add water (and oil) to rice. Cook. How difficult can it get?
2. But also do the "close and wait, open and fluff, close and wait, open and breathe".
(i.e. When it's done, do not open for 10 min. Then open, give a fluff through with a chopstick or fork but no spoon. then close and let steam for another 5 min. Then open for a min or so to let excess moisture evaporate, take the time to breathe in the wonderful fragrance. You can then eat or let it stay warm in there for a while longer till you want to eat.)

The Stovetop Way
1. Add the water (and oil) to rice, bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
2. Once it starts boiling, turn the heat down to a medium and let it simmer, don't peek. Takes about 15 min, probably less if it's soaked basmati rice. Or just until you see most of the water has been absorbed and you see craters.
3. Turn the heat down to very low, and let it finish cooking for about 10 min.
4. Take it off the heat, and do the "close and wait, open and fluff, close and wait, open and breathe".

So what is perfect rice?
For basmati, it's that unique basmati aroma, and the fluffy, long separate grains of rice. Not sticky, not dry either but loose enough for the rice to flow easily when you run your spoon (or hands) through it.
For jasmine rice, it's that warm jasmine scent, the grains will be soft but not mushy, and plumper than the basmati. Not sushi rice-sticky enough to pick up a clump with a pair of chopsticks, but less dry than basmati, so you can shovel it safely from bowl to mouth with the chopsticks (bowl being just in front of your mouth of course).

Whichever it is, "plain old boring" rice is a thing of beauty. I love the little pearly white* grains, the curl of steam unfurling from it. I love how humble and simple it is- how easily it pairs with so many things, yet how happy it is to give its partner the limelight. I love the distinct signature fragrance it gives off, and even the sound of the rice cooker clicking when it's done.

I say, sod it with all the talk about "healthier" brown rice.
My mum absolutely hates brown rice. She says it's hard, and sits heavy in the stomach. There was a period of time I was convinced I loved it because it was higher in fibre and nutrients and what not, but in fact, the phytates in the hull of whole grains prevent us from absorbing all these additional nutrients so in fact we absorb a lot less goodness eating brown rice than white. I've since returned to the type of rice I grew up eating- white rice. And just look at the healthy Japanese, Koreans and Thais who prefer their rice white too. That said, I do have soaked wholegrain rice, but as I learnt from traditional chinese medicine and ayurveda, its warming and drying properties make it suitable less frequently than the neutral and calming white rice. There is a reason why our bodies cleverly seek out food that tastes better.


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