Saturday, September 25, 2010


The boys are aching from their hard-fought game last night. I don't quite get football, so I'm usually seated at the far corner, trying to follow the game, cheering for my teenagers. Son #2 had played through all the four quarters, and crawled out of bed like he just came out of a train wreck. Our plans to go shopping for his newly re-modelled room were quickly scrapped (the word shopping doesn't excite the boys as it would us girls!), so I decided to use the time to make Dumpling Soup.

Adapted from the Singaporean cookbook Shiok! by Terry and Christopher Tan, the hours spent filling, folding and sealing the little dumplings are worth the effort. As I watch the boys take seconds, and even third helpings, the heavy blanket of exhaustion lifts off slowly as they become their sprightly selves again. But not enough to go shopping. I will have to bribe them with something else next time!

Minced Pork and Prawn Dumpling Soup

For the Dumplings:
500g minced pork
(minced chicken is a good substitute for non-pork eaters)
250g fresh prawns, peeled, deveined and minced
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
4 spring onions, sliced thinly
2 dried shitake mushrooms, soaked until soft, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 pack wonton skins, preferably round shaped

For the Soup:
6-8 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar

For the Garnish:
10 garlic cloves, minced and sauteed until lightly brown
2 spring onions, sliced thinly
shredded cooked chicken breast
julienned iceberg lettuce
chili oil

In a large bowl, thoroughly mix minced pork, prawns, cornstarch, soy sauce, sesame oil, spring onions, dried mushroom, salt, and pepper.

Take 1 wonton skin, place 1 teaspoon of dumpling mixture in the center. Make a slurry of cornstarch and water and use this to moisten the edges of the dumpling skin. Quickly fold edges together to resemble a half-moon and press edges firmly with your fingers, ensuring that it is sealed completely. You will be able to make about 40 dumplings with the above filling. Add as much dumplings as you wish to the soup. The rest can be frozen.

For the soup, add chicken stock, sesame oil, soy sauce and sugar to a pot and bring to a boil. Add your dumplings one at a time, lower the heat to a simmer, and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring very gently to avoid the dumplings sticking together.

Top with a garnish of julienned lettuce, shredded chicken, spring onions and garlic. Spice it up with some chili oil, if desired.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Boost

The neighborhood kids take turns boarding their respective school buses, which drive by our road like clockwork, same time, same place. It's still dark when my boys run (actually it's more of a frankenstein trudge) to the bus, hauling their two-ton backpacks and football gear. The English boys cross the street and wait their turn patiently, already looking polished and proper at 7am. Later on the sun comes up, perking up the littlest ones, who play war games with their paper airplanes, happy that their bus is late.

Like Japanese Salarymen, my boys go about their early mornings like robots, moving from bed to shower to taking that death march to the bus in a stupor, then immediately fall asleep through the 45 minute ride to school.

Although nothing will ever shake them out of that morning daze, I thought a granita would be a welcome treat when they get back later.

Inspired by David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop, granitas are a great way to sneak in fresh fruit that the boys take for granted, never mind that the sugar content is substantial. Combining the techniques from David's cookbook and my earlier post on Watermelon Granita, this granita has the sweetness of strawberries, an exotic tartness from the kiwi, with a fresh citrus twist from the lime. The fleshy textures of the fruit give this granita a nice density, where the flavors linger a bit longer in your mouth before melting into a refreshing coolness.

Strawberry-Kiwi Granita

1 kilo fresh strawberries, hulled
4 pieces fresh kiwi, peeled and quartered
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
juice from 1 lime

for the sugar syrup:
1 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
zest from 1 lime

In a large bowl, mix the strawberries and kiwi with 6 tablespoons of sugar. Let stand, covered, for 1 hour.

In the meantime, make the sugar syrup by combining water, sugar and lime zest in a pot. Stir and cook until just boiling. Remove from heat and cool completely. Pass through a strainer to remove lime zest. Set aside.

Pour strawberry-kiwi mixture into a blender and blend until smooth. Strain to remove most of the tiny seeds, and pour into a freezable container. Add cooled sugar syrup and lime juice and mix well. Cover and freeze for about 3 hours.

After 3 hours, take the container from the freezer. You'll find the granita beginning to freeze on the sides. Scrape this and stir through the mixture. Return granita to the freezer and leave to set for another 8-12 hours, depending on your freezer capacity.

When the granita is thoroughly frozen, take a fork and scrape through the mixture to create the slivers of slushy ice characteristic of a granita. Scoop and serve in a chilled glass.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Chill Out

Leisurely mornings are a luxury for my young widowed sister, who admirably manages kids, housekeeping, elderly parents and a career, running from one to the other throughout her whirlwind days. So when she finally decided to take that well-deserved break to visit with us, our mantra for the week would be relax, chill out (and, as previously posted, eat our way through Singapore).

Under a warm duvet in a cool, dark and quiet room, her internal clock quickly shifts to vacation mode. No crack-of-dawn carpool, no rushed presentations, frantic phone calls from Mother, or that long commute! Only the yap, yap, yapping of my hungry dogs wake my sister, as if to tell her that she gets breakfast too, if she comes and joins us in the kitchen.

As she makes her morning coffee, I prepare a family breakfast favorite, Spanish Omelet with Chorizo Bilbao.

Dice a quarter of a large onion, a small tomato, and one chorizo. Scramble two (or more) eggs, add salt and pepper to taste. In a pan, saute the onions and tomatoes in olive oil until onions are translucent and tomatoes have softened slightly. Add chorizo, saute for another minute. Add the eggs and fold into the onion-tomato-chorizo mix. Season to taste. Serve with rice or your favorite bun.

Monday, September 13, 2010


Not a good day to rain, I thought. My sister and her kids are visiting, and they're eager to do some sightseeing. Our first stop is the National Museum. We wander through the exhibits, and my nephews are impressed by the story of Singapore, at how this tiny dot of an island rose to become a first-world country in a region of emerging nations. They admire the harmonious existence of three ethnicities in the country, and their strong influences on the culture and cuisine of Singapore.

Which leads us to lunch. And to Hainanese Chicken Rice. A whole chicken is rubbed with salt, stuffed with spring onions and ginger, then dipped and dunked in a large pot of boiling water. It is served with the most fragrant rice, first sauteed in rendered chicken fat, garlic and ginger, then cooked in chicken stock and pandan leaves. Three condiment sauces of chili, ginger and thick soya heighten the taste experience.

In the next stall, the surly cook stands in front of a huge wok, endlessly frying garlic and prawns, then pours in a rich pork stock to cook two types of noodles. As she covers the wok, she has only a minute of rest, until the finishing touches of beansprouts, chives, fish cakes, squid rings, eggs, and fish sauce are stirred in vigorously. Hokkien Prawn Mee (Prawn Noodles) is served with sambal blachan, a fiery condiment made of shrimp paste, chillies, and lime juice.

The boys order Roti Prata, a thin, layered Indian pancake made of flour, milk and ghee, tossed and stretched by the cook until it's as thin as skin, then folded and pan-fried until browned on the outside, but still soft and springy on the inside. Some pratas are filled with cheese or eggs, or a combination of minced meats, onions and eggs (then called Murtabak). A bowl of curry gravy comes with the order, to dip the warm pancakes in. Delicious.

Of course, they had to try the "unofficial" national dish, Chili Crab, made with plump and juicy crabs in a sweet and tart gravy of chili sauce, ginger, garlic and onions, thickened with beaten eggs. It's messy, but oh so scrumptious, and the rest of the gravy is mopped up by fried sweet buns called mantou.

Crispy baby squid in sweet caramelized soy sauce and sesame seeds, deep fried prawns with a topping made from cereal flakes and spices, and salted fish fried rice, where slivers of salty fish and eggs coat grains of fluffy rice. What a feast it was!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Time and Again

In our agenda-packed day, sometimes the easiest way is to simply turn to old-reliables; the oversized handbag stuffed with everything, your little black dress, the neighborhood grocery stocked with the basics and token exotics, ready-packed salad greens, or curry powder.

I had planned to make an old-reliable curry dinner tonight. I had fresh prawns in the fridge, coconut cream and curry powder in the pantry. Then I found a clipping from our local paper, The Straits Times, featuring a recipe on Prawn and Squid Moilee, a south-Indian dish that combined the flavors of ginger, turmeric, herbs and chili into a luscious curry. Notice the absence of curry powder on the ingredients list? I was intrigued.

I adapted the recipe, using a kilo of prawns instead of adding squid, but I would recommend both ingredients to transform the dish into a medley of flavors and textures. Listen out for the crackling of the curry leaves as you saute them in your hot pan. As the kitchen fills with the nutty, piquant aroma of the Moilee, I glance at my ever-faithful tin of curry powder and return it to the pantry. Until next time.

Prawn and Squid Moilee

2 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, sliced thinly
2 green chillies, finely sliced
(I deseeded my chillies before slicing for less heat)
1 1/2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
2 sprigs curry leaves, remove from stalks
1 teaspoon chili powder
(I used Asian chili sauce this time)
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, optional
500g medium prawns, shelled and deveined
4 squids, cleaned and sliced into rings
550ml coconut cream
1 teaspoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a wok or large pan, saute onions, chillies and ginger over medium-low heat. Stir well and cook for about 5 minutes until onion is soft and translucent.

Add curry leaves and saute for another 3 minutes. Then add chili powder, turmeric and fennel seeds. Mix well and saute for 3 more minutes.

Turn the heat to high and add the prawns. Once the prawns begin to curl, add the squid.

Stir fry for a quick minute, then pour in the coconut cream. As soon as the coconut cream begins to boil, turn the heat to low and allow it to simmer for another 4 minutes.

Season with salt, adding more if necessary. Pour in lime juice and stir well before serving.