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Fusion food

29 Dec

Stir-fried zucchini

As I was clearing out the fridge, I found a zucchini.  You’d think that with a bar fridge, one would not actually forget about things in the fridge.  But I forgot that I had it.  And in my defense, when your fridge is so tightly packed, it isn’t exactly easy to see what you have. I can’t remember what I bought the zucchini for.  There wasn’t anything else in the fridge which would have gone with it.  I wasn’t about to start a round of baking and I needed something for dinner.  But what to cook?  I thought I’d start by skinning the zucchini.  I tried a sliver of raw zucchini and it had this bitter aftertaste which was not very pleasant at all.  So how to mask it?  The Asian answer would be to use a generous amount of sambal balachan.  Afterall, zucchini in itself doesn’t actually have a distinctive taste.

But I didn’t have that at hand – sambal balachan is great stuff but to toast it ensures that an apartment would stink for days.  My neighbors would definitely not appreciate it at all, with the smell being very pungent to say the least.  But I had a bottle of crispy shrimp and chili in chili oil.  That would do.

The zucchini shrank to half it’s volume but the chili paste did it’s job.  The bitter aftertaste was gone, we had a dish for dinner which was great with hot fluffy rice.  Why fusion?  We don’t actually use zucchini in Asian cuisine.  Crispy shrimp and chili is definitely Asian.  That should qualify as fusion, yes?

Spicy Stir-fried Zucchini

Makes enough for 4 side dishes

Ingredients

1 garlic clove finely chopped

1 shallot finely sliced

1 zucchini skinned and julliened

1 tbs Crispy shrimp and chili in chili oil

Salt to taste

1 tsp canola oil

Method

  1. Heat up canola oil in saucepan and fry garlic and shallots until golden brown and fragrant.
  2. Add zucchini and stir fry until wilted.  Continue frying to reduce the amount of water in the dish.
  3. Add shrimp and stir through.
  4. Add salt to taste.
  5. Serve with hot rice.

Tips

  1. When frying garlic and shallots, be very watchful as golden brown can quickly turn to black when you are not watching.  I tend to add the garlic and shallots to the heated oil and stir constantly.  If I find the garlic and shallots browning too fast, I take it off the stove and leave it to cool whilst I continue stirring.  I only bring it back to the stove when I’m ready to add the next ingredient which would take the temperature down again.
  2. Zucchini can be shredded with a grater but I find that the pieces are too fine and almost disintegrate to nothing if stir fried.
  3. There will be a significant amount of water the comes out from the zucchini.  It should be cooked until most of the water evaporates.  Otherwise, it dilutes the flavor of the dish.

Scallion pancakes 葱油饼

14 Dec

A lot of experiments arise from my cravings.  It probably isn’t that I can’t find these foods in Melbourne but the hunt for it seems quite daunting without a car and eating out here at anywhere good is just pricey.  I was craving 葱油饼 that day.  Scallion pancakes.  I’m not even sure why I craved them.  I hardly ate them at all in Singapore.

I’ve made them 3x so far.  Each time trying out a slightly different recipe and tweaking the way I made it to make life a little easier.  The first recipe I tried was from Appetite for China.  I ended up with very tasty bun-like pancakes.  The bub LOVED it.  But it wasn’t quite what I had in mind.  Then I realised that I had probably been too stingy with the oil.  And there were too many steps and ingredients to make it a recipe that I’d dig out time and again.  So I went on another search.  Food Network was the other place that most people seemed to get their recipe from.  So I tried that one out.

With both recipes, I had a terribly sticky dough despite adding and adding more flour.  So I went hunting again and struck gold with Black Girl Chef’s Whites.  Perfect!  The dough was initially dry but with continual kneading, a dough that actually came together smoothly results.  To save washing I also hand mixed everything.  I loved that the layers actually came out beautifully!

This time, I was really generous with the oil.  A teaspoon per pancake when I made it.  But it turned out perfect and exactly what I had in mind!  Incidentally, I just realised that the principle behind it is similar to roti prata from Singapore and croissant from France.  We had the pancakes for breakfast and I made a ginger-soya dip for it.

Scallion Pancakes 葱油饼

Adapted from Black Girl Chef’s Whites

Makes 8 pancakes

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 cup very hot water

2 TB vegetable oil + more for frying

1 tsp sesame oil

kosher salt

1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced

Method

  1. In a mixing bowl, combine flour and hot water and mix with a spatula until it comes together as a ball.
  2. Let the dough cool down until you can handle it with your hands.
  3. Dust the tabletop with flour and knead dough until it is soft and pliable.
  4. Let the dough rest for at least 0.5 hours in a bowl with a wet towel over.
  5. Divide the dough into 8 pieces.
  6. Take 1 piece of dough and roll it out flat on the tabletop dusted with flour.
  7. Mix canola oil with sesame oil.
  8. Brush 1 tsp of oil on the top of the rolled out dough.
  9. Sprinkle some of the spring onions on the dough, followed by salt to taste.
  10. Roll the dough into a cigar.
  11. Roll the cigar into the shape of a snail’s shell.
  12. Flatten the snail’s shell by rolling it flat.
  13. Fry pancake on a non stick pan until crisp.

Tips

  1. For even better flavor, you can use lard instead.  But don’t say I didn’t warn you that it isn’t good for your health!
  2. If you want to leave the dough to stand for longer than 0.5h, do pop it into the fridge.
  3. I find that by placing the spring onions in a straight line, right through the middle of the rolled out dough makes it easier to roll up and the final spread of the spring onions is more even.
  4. You can prevent the pancakes from sticking by gently brushing a thin layer of oil over the pancake.
  5. The pancakes freeze well too.  Just take them out to defrost and then fry!  It would be best to use freezer film to separate the pancakes for easy removal.
  6. Fry the pancakes on a non stick pan and you can omit the oil.
  7. To make it easier for cleaning up the oil you used, pour the left over flour into the bowl with oil and see the flour soak up the oil slick!  Then throw into the dustbin!
  8. If fried with oil, the pancake turns out slightly flakier but I’m opting for healthier so I omitted the oil.

Vegetable fit for an Emperor

13 Dec

We went to Richmond today to do some Asian grocery shopping.  I love going to Richmond.  The grocery stores are fantastic in terms of the variety of things you can find!  The items are truly mind boggling.

The Asian diet consists of a lot of greens which are stir fried or blanched – unfortunately the variety is rather limited in Queen Victoria Market which we frequent.  So I was delighted to find 王帝菜in one of the stores!

For the uninitiated, 王帝菜 (= Emperor Vegetable)  is apparently known as Basella alba.  It used to be a rare vegetable prepared for the emperor.  Being a green leafy vegetable, it is high in vitamins A and C, iron and calcium.  It is a vegetable with a slightly mucilaginous texture.  In simple words, it’s slimy.  First off, I like slimey vegetables.  Wierd, I know.  But I like the feel somehow.  Furthermore, it’s rich in soluble fibre.  It is also a vegetable that pickles well and the pickling process seems to take away the slime.

I remember it being a fairly rare vegetable to see around even in Singapore.  According to my mother-in-law, it is expensive to boot!  But she said she grew it in her backyard like weeds and when they needed some vegetables for dinner quickly, she’d go and harvest them.  So I thought, why not try our backyard and see if we get lucky here?/

So 1 stalk went into the backyard and the rest into the pan. I must say 1 large colander full actually shrank down to 1 soup bowl full after cooking.  But it was yummy piping hot over rice!

Stir-fried Emperor Vegetables

Ingredients

2 thin slices of ginger

2 shallots finely sliced

1 tsp of dried shrimp in chili oil (available at Asian grocers)

1 portion of Emperor Vegetables (about 1 colander full)

1 tbs of canola oil

Salt to taste

Method

  1. Pluck the leaves off and separate from the stems.  Put aside to dry.
  2. Heat the canola oil in a large saucepan or wok.
  3. Add the ginger and shallots and fry until fragrant
  4. Add the dried shrimp and stir quickly.
  5. Add the vegetables and fry until all the vegetables wilt.
  6. Add salt to taste
  7. Serve hot over rice.

Tips

  1. This is very much a traditional Asian way of cooking.  Often when you ask the cook “How much?”, you’ll get the answer “A pinch” or “A smidge”.  I’ve actually tried to give some measurements but can’t tell you the weight of the vegetables.
  2. Fresh vegetables should be firm with no soft spots.
  3. You may want to run the vegetables through a salad spinner to minimise splash when frying.  But I’m lazy.  The initial volume of vegetables is so large, it contains it’s own splatter.  But if it’s your first time, be warned!
  4. The chili oil can get quite irritating to the eyes and nose so the vegetables have to follow fast to keep it down.

 

Char Siew 叉烧

17 Nov

Char Siew with rice and pan fried asparagus

One of my favorite childhood dishes is 叉烧 with rice.  The hawkers would hang the pieces of 叉烧 on hooks with a spotlight above it to make it look delicious and enticing.  The piece of meat would be colored bright red with bits of charred meat at the uneven edges, glistening in fat and oil.

I defrosted some pork neck instead of soft bone by mistake and decided to make 叉烧 for dinner.  Google brought up a number of recipes but they all needed the use of hoisin sauce which I didn’t have and wasn’t keen on buying.  So I decided to come up with my own.  It was delicious with soft fluffy rice and pan fried asparagus on the side.

Char Siew 叉烧

Ingredients

0.5kg pork shoulder

1 ½ tbs kecap manis

1 ½ tbs light soy sauce (low salt)

2 ½ tbs honey

1 ½ tbs oyster sauce (low salt)

2 tbs Shao Hsing wine

½ tsp five spice powder

Method

  1. Place all other ingredients besides the pork in a bowl and mix completely to make a marinade
  2. Cut up pork into 1 inch strips.
  3. Place marinade and pork strips into a resealable bag.  Massage the pieces of meat to allow for the marinade to coat the meat well and penetrate the layers.
  4. Place the bag in the fridge overnight, massaging a few times.
  5. Preheat the oven to 230 degrees celsius.
  6. Line a roasting pan with parchment paper to catch the drippings.
  7. Place the pieces of pork on a roasting rack and place onto the roasting pan.
  8. Bake at 230 degrees celsius for 30 minutes.
  9. Baste the pork with the remaining marinade once or twice during the baking duration and turn the meat over to allow for even caramelisation.

Tips

  1. Slice against the grain of the meat for more tender pieces
  2. Pork with a significant amount of fat make for tastier pieces as the fat absorbs the marinade well and keeps the meat moist and tender.
  3. Parchment paper is not a must but it makes cleaning up a lot easier.
  4. A bit of charring is part of a good piece of char siew as it means that adequate caramelisation has occurred.
  5. You can add red food coloring for the authentic red look.  But I try to keep my food as healthy as possible as far as additives are concerned.  And you can see that the meat turned out a nice reddish brown anyway.

Siew Yok 烧肉

11 Nov

It’s funny how it takes a stay out of Singapore to make me get off my butt to actually cook stuff like 烧肉.  Back home, one of the aunts does a mean 烧肉 and I was under the impression it was quite a feat to do so.  The blogs all around didn’t make it sound too easy either – there was either a secret method that wasn’t revealed or the techniques sounded a tad dodgy to say the least.  But I was missing it much and with an appreciative (or non picky) “audience”  I figured that there would be no harm in trying.  Afterall, Chubby Hubby’s recipes have never failed me yet!

The whole process was not difficult.  Just tedious!  Lots of actions and it sure doesn’t fit my”1 pot dish” style of cooking!  But the result was out of this world!  I tried out the recipe on the “spare pieces” of pork that the hubby got on clearance from the market.  No point spoiling an entirely good chunk of meat on a recipe that doesn’t work, right?  The result was a tad too salty for my liking.  I didn’t do the crackling as the pieces of pork were probably what they used to make bacon rashers and were cut impossibly thin so I couldn’t stand them up.

Today was the best day to give it a shot: 1. I remembered to take the pork out of the freezer 24hours before.  2.  I had space in the tiny fridge to store the pork overnight to dry.  3. I had enough time to marinate and leave the marinate to settle in. 4. I could do it when the kid was asleep.

I was chicken and tried with only a 0.5kg piece of pork.  No point having to force yourself to eat 1kg of ruined pork or having to throw it away.

Siew Yok 烧肉

Adapted from Chubby Hubby

Ingredients

0.5kg

1 clove of garlic minced

1 tbs salt

1 tbs sugar

1 big cube of nam yee

1/2 tbs five spice powder

1 tbs rice wine vinegar

Method

  1. Wash the piece of pork and remove the hairs with a pair of tweezers.  I prepared my meat at night so I thought there were no hairs.  Lesson learnt – I need to get better lights.  I only found out the next day when I had to marinate.  At least I found out.
  2. Using a needle, poke many, many holes in the skin.  I thought I had some needles around but I didn’t and ended up using satay sticks.  It worked.
  3. Boil 1L of water and prepare a large bowl of ice cold water while that is boiling.
  4. Pour the boiling water over the skin side of the pork to blanch it.  Follow this with the ice cold water to stop the cooking process.
  5. Dry the pork with paper towels and pop it into the fridge to dry further.
  6. Prepare the marinate by mixing all the other ingredients together (except the vinegar) and rub it into the meat part of the pork, avoiding the skin and pop it back into the fridge overnight.  Being a bit pressed for time and the piece being a tad small, I didn’t bother with scoring the meat or rubbing it in.  But I think I may just do those in the future coz the inner layers of meat while tasty may be even better if I did that.  Remember to keep the skin dry!
  7. Preheat oven to 220 degrees Celsius.
  8. Fill a roasting pan with water to about 1/3 and place a rack above it.  The pork goes on the top.
  9. Bake the pork for 20 minutes at 220 degrees Celsius and then turn down to 180  degrees Celsius and bake for another 40 minutes.
  10. Take the pork out and brush the skin with the vinegar and pop it back into the oven at 250 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes.  At this point, I was a smart alec and I turned on the grill.  That resulted in the pork charring a lot faster.  But the skin was so CRISP!
  11. Scrape off the charred parts with a serrated knife and chop the meat immediately.

Wonton soup

6 Nov

Wonton

I’ve been looking for some comfort food.  I have recollections of helping my grandma make wontons in her kitchen and in my memory, they were good.  We often eat wonton noodles from hawker centres in Singapore and they could never measure up to the ones my grandma made.

Chubby Hubby had a recipe that looked easy enough.  But my grandma had spring onions in hers and water chestnut.  I was too lazy to hunt the water chestnut down so I settled for just spring onion.

This recipe is a definite keeper – everyone polished it up and the little one was quite enthusiastic about it too!

Wonton

Adapted from Chubby Hubby

Ingredients

60 wonton wrappers

60g piece of fresh ginger, unpeeled

450g minced chicken

1 spring onion sliced finely

1 egg, beaten

2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine

2 teaspoons sesame oil

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Method

Slice the ginger into thin slices and soak in 100ml of cool water for 5 minutes.

Mix the minced chicken with all the other ingredients and add the ginger water.  Reserve the ginger slices for the stock.  Stir the mixture until it binds.  The result is slightly watery but don’t worry.

Place a teaspoon of meat into a wonton wrapper and fold the wrapper in half to form a triangle.  Seal with a little bit of water at the edges.

You can freeze the wontons and use at a later date.

Place the wontons in boiling stock and cook until they float.  I used a homemade chicken stock prepared and frozen beforehand.

Serve with noodles and fresh Chinese broccoli.