Saturday, 23 February 2013

Desk Lunches and Egg Sarnies

I hate that there's long spaces between posts these days, and that they often start with "I'm sorry". It's been a hectic past couple of weeks what with my portfolio due for the term, a supperclub last weekend, and cookbook deadlines-- all happening together. My lunches have not been particularly exciting and are often had in front of my Mac and sketchbook. I've had some pretty awesome leftovers from the supperclub to tide me through and for you to daydream about-- Teochew slow-braised Gresingham duck and my mum's triple-cooked pork belly buns-- but those posts will have to happen another day (I promise).

For now, it's going to be just an egg sarnie. Yep, a good old sandwich. One that you can eat by holding in one hand so you have the other free for crossing out 'lunch' on your to-do list. I feel terrible for writing that but sometimes there's no way round a desk lunch. I swear once this week is over, I'm going to make a full-blown ceremony out of every meal I have. For now, yes, back to the egg sarnie. Probably not top on one's must-eat lists, but it is just, well, there-- a safe, rather unexciting, but delicious lunch standby.

That said, it's delicious only if you get a few things right. Since it is after all just a simple egg sandwich, I insist on making it a bloody good egg sandwich. Good eggs, good bread, good salads. And butter of course. I add miso and mustard to the butter but no mayo. I'm not trying to make it more exotic and hippie that an egg sandwich should be; I just tend to reach for miso whenever I want a salty savoury kick and I feel it adds a little something extra. (plus, I'm Asian, I have excuse to like fermented soybean thingies even in my sandwich.) And miso butter is amazing stuff. My filling is not like your usual spreadable paste at all and more so a chunky rough mash since I fancy more texture, so it's not a usual egg sarnie anyway.

serves 1
1 large free-range egg from a happy hen (obviously, boil more at a go but it's 1 egg per sandwich)
2 slices of good not-too-holey sourdough bread (homemade, or if you're keeping it real, from a good bakery)
handful of fresh watercress and mizuna (similar to rocket but more delicate; you can use your favourite peppery salad leaves. I have those on my windowsill.)
2 tsp of softened butter from a happy cow
1/4 tsp of dijon mustard
1/4 to 1/2 tsp mild white miso (depends on how salty your miso is)
bit of honey (opt, depends on how sweet your miso is)
lots of freshly ground black pepper

1. First, boil your eggs right. Overcooked powdery egg yolks and rubbery egg whites will still be that even when chopped and mashed up. Put room temperature eggs in a single layer in a saucepan with enough cold water to cover, bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, remove from heat and let the eggs sit in the hot water for 15 min, then immediately remove to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process till cool enough to peel.
2. Mix up 1 tsp of butter with the mustard, miso, pepper and honey (if using). Chop up one egg into small pieces, and add to the mix. Mix well. I like it more a chunky rather than mushy mash.
3. Butter your bread with the other 1 tsp of butter.
4. Pile on the egg filling and salad leaves then squish the second slice over. Obviously best when eaten immediately, but if you have to wrap it up for school, do what you have to do.

And that's it.  If I'm trying to make it sound all posh and amazing, you have creamy egg yolks and delicate whites coarsley mashed up with mustard and miso for a twist, topped with bitter leaves for just the right mix of pepperiness, saltiness, and tanginess, and then all sandwiched happily between slices of good bread. But well, it's really just an egg sarnie.

Other Boiled Egg Recipes:
How to Boil Eggs - Soft, Medium, Hard
Blue Eggs and Purple Broccoli (Soldiers)
THOSE Sambal Deep fried Eggs
Chinese Tea Leaf Marbled Eggs  (茶叶蛋)

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Roti Jala (Lacy Pancakes)

Ah, why do all delicious dates all happen around the same time? It's barely been 48 hours since the first day of Chinese New Year and already, before my stomach can recover, I find myself writing about (read: making and eating) pancakes. I was determined to go light and easy in the few days following al that gluttonous feasting , but alas, it's not meant to be. It's not me, it's the calendar.

I don't know much about Shrove Tuesday. It's always just been Pancake Day for me, an excuse to have a lazy pancake brunch in the middle of the week (or dinner for those plagued with school/work). Ah, ok google says it's the day before the first day of Lent and it's the last day for Catholics to eat all the rich fatty foods they want before they start fasting. Ah, that's all fine then, I'll start the soups and salads on Wednesday. Except that Valentine's Day is on Thursday. This is really not working... Forget it, I always believe healthy eating is about balance and loving what's on your plate anyway. And these pancakes I really love.

What makes these pancakes so special is how they're made. Roti jala literally means 'net bread'. This is one rare recipe you'll find yourself pleased with all the holes you have in your pancake. A traditional roti jala mould is quite a curious-looking thing. I'm trying to think of a less crude description, but I really think the most accurate way to describe it is to think of a cow's udders, with the pancake batter flowing from the 'nipples'. Right, or see this photo.

You don't have to waste money on an obscure roti jala mould for the sole purpose of making these lacy pancakes though. I did these easily with a Japanese mayo squeezy bottle that's got triple tips, and adjusted the consistency of the batter a tiny bit. You can also try poking a few extra small holes into the cap of a regular squeezy bottle or the base of a tin. Get creative. The batter is pretty much like crepe batter, but it's got a pinch of turmeric which dyes it a glorious golden, and I thin it with coconut milk instead of normal milk.

serves 2-3
200g plain flour (I use my favourite white spelt flour)
100ml coconut milk
200-250 ml water (adjust accordingly*)
1 large free range egg
big pinch sea salt
big pinch ground turmeric 
1 tbsp coconut oil

1. Whisk to mix all the ingredients except the oil together till smooth. If you can be bothered, pour through a sieve to remove any lumps. 
2. Adjust the consistency of the batter, adding more water if needed. *This will depend on how thick your coconut milk is, and whether you choose to use a roti jala mould/ squeezy bottle/ choice of creative innovation. Think crepe batter consistency if squeezing; and an even more watery consistency if using a mould/ holey tin. 
3. Set the batter aside for 30 minutes. When ready, heat a pan over medium heat, and lightly grease the pan with coconut oil.  
4. Fill your bottle with the batter, and then squeeze to form your own abstract lacy pancake art. If using the mould, first place the mould over the pan, then pour some batter into it, immediately moving in quick circles to form a net. It's pretty stressful. The first few pancakes are almost definitely disasters.
5. Let cook until set; you can let it go a bit longer if you like it slightly browned and crispy. You only need to cook on one side since the pancakes are so thin so there's no flipping. Remove and fold into quarters or roll up. Repeat with the rest of the batter.
6. Serve with curry (traditional) or choice of pancake topping. 

The coconut milk adds a wonderful richness to the pancakes, though the pancakes themselves are light and tender, and not heavy-oof-rich at all, perfect for mopping up creamy curries. They look so golden and pretty and girly you could make them for Valentine's Day as well if you like (just add a pinch of sugar to the batter and serve with chocolate sauce or something pink, maybe poached early-season rhubarb; curry's not very romantic). As with dumplings, don't fret if they don't look too pretty; the ugly ones still taste great and can be hidden below the prettier ones and whatever sauce you smother them with. 

Happy Pancake Day! 

Other pancake recipes to try:

Friday, 1 February 2013

Soon Kueh -- Steamed Turnip (Gluten-free) Dumplings

Chinese New Year is round the corner, actually no more than a week away, but this is when it's most exciting. The couple of weeks before Chinese New Year is when the new clothes get shopped for, the garish lanterns go up, the tacky music floods the radio stations, and when tubs and tins and jars and packets of goodies start piling up on the living room table. That was until 4 years ago though, when I moved to London.

They say Chinese New Year is about the people and not so much the clothes/lantern/music/goodies, and in a sense I guess you are right, because it is pretty much the only time in the year when I meet some of my relatives. But because it's the only time in the year when I meet some of these relatives, these meetings unfortunately usually look like this: A hot and crowded living room, a row of blank faces staring at the tv pretending there's something interesting going on, and maybe a cluster of people bravely attempting to strike conversation. There never was that heartwarming scene of people folding dumplings together. (We still all love one another though k.)

But I thought I would start getting this dumpling business down. I got some friends over for a premature Chinese New Year dinner, and instead of having food ready on the table, I made them work for their food. We made 2 sorts. There was a gluten-free girl, so none of your usual potstickers or shortcut wanton wrappers. We did steamed cabbage dumplings, using cabbage leaves to wrap a juicy pork-and-scallion filling, and one of my favourite dumplings, soon kueh, turnip dumplings. They have  a slippery smooth thin wrapper made of tapioca and rice flour that I absolutely love, and that isn't used in any other dumpling except soon kueh. The filling is actually made from bamboo shoots ("soon") and jicama (yam bean), not a turnip per se, but I've done it before with a British turnip from the farmer's market and though it's not the same, it's not half bad at all. I also skipped the bamboo shoots (taste-wise it doesn't affect much) but then I don't know if you should call it soon kueh. Hmm.

Recipe thanks to Kitchen Tigress who tried 6 recipes, before settling on Rose's Kitchen's ratios so thank her too.
makes 16 pieces

150g rice flour
50g tapioca flour (starch) + more to dust
1 tbsp groundnut oil
big pinch of unrefined sea salt
300ml boiling water

500g turnip (jicama or yam bean, though British turnip can work)
1 small carrot 
1 small chilli (optional. I just like chilli, a lot.)
2 cloves garlic
4 tbsp dried shrimps
4 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 tbsp unrefined cane sugar
1-2 tbsp good soy sauce (traditionally fermented)
1/2 tsp white pepper
a drizzle of sesame oil
1 tbsp groundnut oil or lard from happy pigs

To serve
fried shallots + fried shallot oil
thick dark sweet soy sauce (can make by mixing equal ratios of good soy sauce to blackstrap molasses)
sambal chilli

To make the dough,
1. Mix rice flour, tapioca starch and salt. Pour the boiling water evenly over the mixture and stir immediately to mix. It will be extremely hot to handle, but handle it when it's just cool enough. Knead to make a smooth sticky dough, then dust with more tapioca starch and continue kneading, till it's not sticky but kind of tacky. Cover and let dough rest for 10 min- a few hours.

To make the filling,
2. Soak the dried shrimps and shiitake mushrooms in some warm water till soft, about 10 min and 40 min respectively. Reserve the soaking liquid, it's the most amazing quick stock.
3. Chop garlic. Peel and slice the turnip and carrots into matchsticks, or you can use a very coarse grater (make sure it doesn't turn into mush). Then when the mushrooms are rehydrated, also slice the mushrooms into thin shreds.
4. Over high heat, fry the dried shrimps and garlic in the oil/lard till fragrant, and then the mushrooms, till all are nicely golden. Then add the shredded turnip and carrots with the soy sauce, sugar, pepper and sesame oil and continue to stir-fry till the liquid dries up. Add the soaking liquid and simmer till the liquid almost dries up again and the turnip and carrots have softened.

To wrap dumplings,
5. Roll dough into a log and cut into 16 roughly even blobs. Roll each blob out into a thin circle, dusting with tapioca flour. It doesn't have to look perfectly circle but if you want to be anal, you can use a rice bowl to cut off the edges.
6. Place 1 tbsp of filling into the centre of the wrapper, fold the bottom half up, bring the edges together and press to seal. Repeat 15 times. Note: Turnip at the end gets a bit wet/soggy so you might have to drain off the liquid.

7. Place soon kuehs on greased steaming trays and steam over high heat for 10 minutes, till puffed up. Remove onto greased plates (these will stick if you don't) and brush with shallot oil. Serve with crispy fried shallots sprinkled over, sweet dark soy sauce and a dollop of shit-hot sambal.

The soon kueh we made were, well, rustic. The skin was slippery, smooth and soft, but frankly not very pretty, I already chose the best ones to photograph. But within the ugly shapeless wrapper is a wonderful burst of flavour from the stewed turnips and mushrooms that are plump with sweet juices from the dried shrimps. And anyway, homemade dumplings aren't meant to be exquisite works of art; they're meant to be imperfect, delicious, and an excuse for you to get messy with your favourite people.

Happy chinese new year! If you're in London, come wish for prosperity and/or Ryan Gosling with us at the next supperclub!

See also:
Steamed cabbage dim-sum dumplings (as published in Flavour magazine)