Friday, 27 September 2013

Mum's Marrow Recipe (NOT A STUFFED MARROW)

It's come to be a joke among some of the people at the farmer's market; last week I called up one of the farms and requested they bring a couple of marrows for me because they didn't have them last week (due to unpopular demand). Yeah, I reserved marrows.

I love marrow. I know– it's too big and too bulky and takes up half your shopping bag so you have no space for anything else, not particularly attractive, and tastes of nothing. Most marrow recipes seem to involve stuffing the marrow, delicious yes, but almost a begrudging, brave attempt to disguise the blandness of the vegetable. I like stuffed marrow, but it doesn't make sense to me because right at the stage when I'm frying the pork mince with chillies and fish sauce, I feel ready to dig into the stuffing – maybe throw in some mint and thai basil first– rather than spoon it into the soft, tasteless flesh of a hollowed marrow.

The way I see it, the blandness of marrow is exactly what makes it so wonderful a vegetable. My mum makes a dish back home in Singapore using a similarly bland local gourd. I would have bowls and bowls of it and I announced once it's the tastiest vegetable ever. My mum laughed and said it tastes of nothing at all. What happened was, she'd braised it in stock, and all the flavour from the broth had been soaked up by the gourd, turning it into wonderful hot wet (can't find an appropriate noun). This is one dish that will not work better with a 'tastier' vegetable. It's a dish that very much celebrates the mildness of the gourd/ marrow, the quiet ability to take on the delicate layers of flavours of a well-made broth. This dish is also very much about the wonderful texture of a marrow that's been stewed gently till its flesh is soft but not yet collapsing, so it all slithers smoothly and happily down your throat.

Yep, only possible with a boring old marrow.
Serves 3-4, but I ate it all
1 medium marrow
1" ginger
4 cloves garlic
2-3 cups flipping amazing stock*
handful of goji berries
handful chopped spring onions
sea salt to taste
1 tbsp groundnut oil

* My slightly insane mum makes stock with a specific blend of bones in a big black claypot over a charcoal fire, which is slowly fanned for hours. The charcoal fire might be hard here, but you can still make pretty amazing Asian stock with pork and/or chicken bones from a happy farm/ good butcher's– tips here. This one here is half chicken, half pork (back rib bones).

1. Chop the marrow into chunks, I don't bother peeling because the skin gives it an extra texture and colour that's rather nice. Finely chop the garlic and ginger.
2. Heat the groundnut oil, and add the garlic and ginger to fry till fragrant, remove before browned as they continue cooking after.
3. Add the marrow to the pot, followed by the stock, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to a low simmer and add half the fried garlic, ginger, and goji berries. Let everything stew gently on low heat till the marrow is well tender.
4. 10 minutes before serving, add the rest of the goji berries to plump up in the stock. These remain sweet and become surprise bursts of sweetness in the savoury stew.
5. To serve, scoop marrow into bowls, making sure to get a bit of broth and the sweet (newly added) goji berries in. Scatter spring onions and the rest of the fried bits over. Devour.

This is not a punchy dish. No big bold flavours, no crazy spices or sauces. But good, so very good.

(I obviously need to work on expanding my vocab of adjective and nouns)

More on Asian broths:
The 'right' way to make stock 
"Old-fire" Watercress Soup
Soto Ayam (Malay Chicken Soup)

Friday, 13 September 2013

Smashed Cucumbers and Marinated Aubergines

I was cooking the other day, with my very helpful friend perched comfortably on the couch observing me.

"Stop pinching the food." 
"What? (munch) Oh."

I know it's a bad habit, but I have an uncontrollable urge to nibble while I'm cooking. It's not even that I'm hungry, or that I need to taste the food (I do use this excuse a lot); I just need to nibble. I don't even realise it sometimes, until I look at the curiously small pile of cut vegetables on the side of my chopping board. 

"The word for it is greedy." (Yes that same friend again watching me type – GO AWAY TOM.)

I'm quite good these days. Before I even start cooking I make a little salad/ snack just to keep dinner safe from my (yes) greedy fingers. It sounds like a crazy thing to do, especially when you're already caught up in preparing the actual dinner, but it honestly takes less than a minute's work and is probably better than the packet of crisps Tom was trying to distract me from pinching dinner with. I usually just wing it with the vegetables that I'm already in the midst of chopping.

Smashed cucumbers is one of my favourite Chinese street snacks/ London kitchen snacks. Visually, it looks a mess compared to the usual neat circles of sliced cucumbers, but their ugly ragged edges hold on to the dressing wonderfully; also, this method is perhaps the quickest way that one could prepare cucumbers. Everyone has a slightly different way of doing the dressing, but I like mine with a drop of chilli oil for a fiery kick to the sharp, musky taste of black vinegar. I say dressing, but this is more so a marinade then a dressing, for the magic really happens when you let all that wonderful flavours seep through the crude smashed edges.

The same goes for aubergines, simply steamed so it becomes a soft sponge for soaking up gorgeous marinades– again, I wing it but my favourites are using miso/sesame paste or sweet soy sauce. I thought I'll throw this one in too; depending on how quick you finish with preparing dinner, you can either have it as a snack or a side dish. Both take seconds to prepare; the waiting time is for you to get on with what you've got planned for dinner. If you can't wait the ten minutes before nibbling, you have a far more serious problem than I do.

1 tbsp Chinese black vinegar
1 tsp good, traditionally brewed soy sauce
drizzle of chilli oil*
drizzle of toasted sesame oil
pinch of unrefined sugar
pinch of sea salt

*To make your own, put 2-3 tbsp dried chilli flakes into a glass jar, heat 1/2 cup groundnut oil till smoking, let cool a little, then pour into the jar, and let infuse for any period of time from1 hour to forever.

1. Using the handle of a large knife, smash the cucumber until it cracks open. Turn knife around and roughly chop into chunks.
2. Mix the rest of the ingredients for the dressing and toss with the cucumbers. Leave for 10 minutes to marinate and become awesome.


1 small young aubergine
1 tbsp good, traditionally brewed soy sauce
1 tbsp fine sugar 
1 tsp mirin*
drizzle of toasted sesame oil

optional, to serve
chopped spring onions
toasted sesame seeds 

*If unavailable, just use a bit more sugar and a dash of rice wine. If you don't have rice wine either, just heck it, it will still be awesome.

1. Chop the aubergine into roughly even, medium-sized chunks.
2. Steam over high heat for 10 min-ish till cooked and soft. 
3. Whisk the ingredients for the dressing until well combined, and toss with the cooked aubergines. Leave for 10 minutes to marinate and become awesome. Sprinkle over spring onions and/or sesame seeds, or don't. 

So, two snacks that took me less than a minute of actual movement. Of course, I spent the ten minutes  styling and photographing them, so dinner didn't actually get made on time that day, but you should be able to have a bit of snacking going on without interruption to your dinner plans.

If you would like the miso/sesame paste marinade, give me a shout below/ tweet/ facebook me, the post  is long enough as is.

Both my favourite vegetables, and both ending their run soon as the seasons change, so load up!
More cucumber/ aubergine recipes 
Sambal Grilled Aubergine Stack
Sayur Lodeh (a veg curry, but better)
Nonya Achar (best time to make this peranakan pickle)
Sweet Asian Pickles

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Satays and Shizzle and Macho Men: Cooking at Street Feast London

This is 2 weeks late, but all you lovely patient readers are probably used to my rubbish blogging schedule by now. Two saturdays ago, I did a stall at Street Feast London. You might have caught a few photos on instagram or twitter, or you might even have been one of those who came down for a bite (thank you).

It was all a bit mad (but all you lovely readers again probably know I have a penchant for signing up for crazy things and at least this time there was no risk of dying in the mountains.) Here's how that crazy week went:
Monday– Got an invite from the Street Feast guys to do a stall for #bloggersaturday (Ooh! Yes!.. Oh no what did I just do)
Tuesday– Planned the menu and conned my friends into joining me
Wednesday– Sweet-talked my wonderful butcher into chopping pork belly and leg of lamb into 0.5 inch cubes
Thursday– Picked up vegetables from the farm shops and achar-pickled them
Friday– Got sauces, marinades and rice cakes made. (Char, you are a nocturnal angel, thanks)

Just a note, I'm not lounging around on summer break here; I work, full-time. Oh what madness. But oh what fun madness.

The day started beautifully with a classic spot of English rain, and homemade bacon-and-egg crumpets (washed down with blueberry gin, oh yeah) by Erik DA MAN. We lazed around watching the rain get heavier, decided it was time to get set up, got set up, had the leaking roof flood our stall, got handsome manly boys to fix our roof (coos), got set up again and stood by the barbecue pit warming our hands while waiting for the first order.

I wanted my menu to be about what my blog is about, so: Suffolk pork belly/ Cornish summer lamb satays, come complete with steamed rice cakes and kickass peanut sauce and achar, a sweet spicy nonya pickle made with the best of this season's vegetables. Yes, all that shizzle. Styled and plated prettily for your instagram shots of course. I think that pretty much shouts me.

If you were one of the brave customers who ventured out in the storm to eat satay, or takeaway satay for your daughter in Oxford, thank you so much an I hope it was worth getting wet for. Thank you also to my amazing team– Charlene the real chef, and Erik the grillmaster; Adam and his Street Feast possum; and the rest of the bloggers who stuck it out in the rain with us (and who fed us delicious fritters/ rice balls/ lemon tarts). #Vibes.

More cooking gigs
Yum Bun popup
My first plusixfive supperclub

Related recipes
August's Nonya Achar
The BEST Sg Satay Peanut sauce  (Pedro the vegetarian i.e. Sorbitium Ices pretty much scoffed it simply with rice cakes)

Note: Marinades for pork/lamb satays are a bit different from the one in blog; give me a shout below or tweet me if you want it.