A different kind of curry – Burmese’s traveller’s eggplant curry

When we think about curry, we are dreaming of this thick, golden brown liquid that embodies a lot of spices and heat. Burmese’s curry is the exact opposite–it is usually quite thin (and at times, hardly any liquid), and contained very little spices. However it does not mean Burmese’s curry ain’t tasty.

The traveller’s eggplant curry is quite easy to prepare. And it doesn’t take too long to cook. I was rather surprised when I first tasted this curry. When I looked at the gravy, I thought it will taste boring. No! You get the fragrance from the shallot and anchovies, and all the flavours are soaked up by the eggplants. This dish is actually quite rich but the acid from the tomatoes help to tone it down.

Because the curry is not chock-full of spices and chillies, you can still taste the flavours of the core ingredient. And for those who fear of heat in their food, Burmese’s curry is a good place to start. It is now a staple at my dinner table.

Traveller’s Eggplant Curry
(Adapted from Naomi Dugid’s Burma: Rivers of Flavor)
I love eggplants but I always fear of eating really bitter ones. Initially I was thinking of salting the eggplants before cooking (to get rid of any bitter liquid). It was not necessary at all. As long as the eggplants are well-cooked, the sweetness from the anchovies will penetrate into them.

Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as a side

Ingredients
1)      250g eggplants, cut into ¾” cubes (lengthwise)
2)      ¼ cup minced shallots (around 6-8 cloves of baby shallots)
3)      ½ teaspoon minced ginger (around one small thumb size)
4)      ¼ cup minced tomatoes (1 medium size tomato)
5)      1½ tablespoons dried anchovies, soak in warm water for 5 minutes, drained and minced
6)      1½ tablespoons vegetable oil
7)      A good pinch of turmeric (I used half of 1/8 teaspoon)
8)      ½ cup of warm water
9)      Salt
10)   Fish sauce
11)   Chilli oil (optional)

Methods
–        Place a medium-sized saucepan or wok over medium low heat, and add in the oil and turmeric. Once the turmeric starts to sizzle, throw in the minced shallots. Do a quick stir and ensure the shallots are all coated in the turmeric oil mixture.
–        Stir shallots occasionally for around 3 minutes. Once soften, add in the minced ginger and tomatoes, and cook for another 3-4 minutes. If the mixture looks a bit dry, you can in a few tablespoons of water.
–        Once the ginger softens, add in the eggplants. Stir and make sure that the eggplants are well coated in the tomato mixture.
–        Once the eggplants are coated, add in the minced anchovies and water. At this stage, increase the heat to medium high, and let the curry comes to a boil. Once boiled, lower the heat to low and let it simmer for 5 minutes.
–        After 5 minutes, season the curry with salt, fish sauce and chilli oil accordingly to taste.
–        Once seasoned, let the curry cooks for another 15 minutes. If you like your eggplants to be very soft, let the curry cooks for a further 15 minutes. I prefer mine to retain a bite.
–        At this stage, you can adjust the seasoning accordingly to taste. I usually just add a bit more water so that I can have more gravy. Once seasoned, serve warm with rice.

A delayed birthday treat at Nirai Kanai Okinawan

The birthday was in November. The treat was in January. And now I am finally writing about it.

For the past few years, my friend, S will give me a birthday treat (together with another friend, G whose birthday is quite close to mine). Last year, I selected Nirai Kanai Okinawan. It was quite a feat finding the right place. S is allergic to seafood, and G doesn’t fancy fried food (yah I wondered why I am friends with her). After some good old googling, I found Nirai Kanai.

Located at the basement corner of Liang Court, Nirai Kanai Okinawan is an old school styled restaurant. The décor, in my opinion, is charming and adorable. The moment you step in, it is as if you have entered into a Japanese restaurant in the 1980s. And they are very considerate too. There are hooks and hangers for you to hang your jacket, and they built shelves underneath each table where you can place your bags.

We ordered quite a lot of food as we were hungry and greedy. I wanted the crispy river shrimps as they were my favourite beer snack. Though I did not drink that night, this little titbit is salty and crunchy, and best eaten when warm. The waiter placed the plate of fried shrimps in front of me, I had to push it aside as I cannot stop eating them.

One of Okinawa’s signature dishes is goya chanpuru. It is essentially thinly sliced bitter gourd with tofu, egg and pork. Nirai Kanai version was clean and well-seasoned. I would be quite content if you give me a bowl of rice and a plate of goya chanpuru.

Another favourite of mine was cubed beef steak. There was nothing fancy about this dish – good quality beef topped with garlic chips and stir-fried beansprouts. The beef was cooked to medium which was how I like it. This dish needed to be eaten fast as it was served on a hot plate which cooked the beef.

With all these food, we needed rice to accompany them. I ordered the onigiri. Unlike the conventional rice ball where the core ingredient is stuffed in the middle, the onigiri was made up of mixed rice with mushroom, pork belly and seaweed. The rice was well-cooked and flavourful. We also ordered a pork belly dish (which I never tried but my friends said it was good), and fried chicken (which was also pretty decent but nothing extraordinary). We were pretty stuffed after this meal.

Okinawan cuisine is said to be influenced by the Chinese and South East Asian. More importantly, this particular cuisine is low in fat and salt, contributing to the longevity of the Okinawans. Though I am unsure if the dishes we ordered were low fat and low salt, they were simple and delicious.

Nirai Kanai Okinawan
177 River Valley Road, #B1-01/02,
Liang Court Shopping Centre
+65-6339-4811
Opening hours: 12pm-3pm, 6pm-11pm (Mon-Fri), 12pm-11pm (Sat-Sun)

Chicken soup for the soul

For those who came to this blog, and found there is no update, I AM SORRY! After the Chinese New Year, work and school just start to pile. But I finally completed my course and got my certificate. Hooray! Hopefully this also means my schedule will be back to normal soon.

For the past three months, I barely cook. Even if I do, it is simple, fill-up-the-tummy kind of grub. I was craving for chicken soup for a very long time. My friend, C and B, insisted that homemade chicken soup is the best. Me, being a lazy bugger and a supporter of instant stock, just couldn’t get my act together. But miracles do happen. I went to the supermarket and bought a chicken.

There are many ways to prepare chicken stock. My method is a combination of eastern and western style. The big difference between homemade and instant is that the latter has a stronger, more intense flavour. The former is lighter and very drinkable. The portion I made is quite small, you can double the recipe and freeze any leftover.

Chicken stock

Makes 1.5 litres of stock

Ingredients
–        One whole (cleaned) chicken carcass* (I like to use Sakura chicken which is available via NTUC)
–        One piece of chicken breast (optional)
–        One small onion, thinly slice
–        One small carrot, ¼” thick dice (½ cup of diced carrots)
–        One small leek, ¼” thick slice (¼ cup of sliced leeks)
–        200g enoki mushrooms, trim the ends off and separate (optional)
–        2 litres of hot (filtered) water
–        2 dried bay leaves
–        1 sprig of thyme
–        ½ lemon (optional)
–        2 teaspoons vegetable oil
–        Salt and black pepper

Methods
–        Place the chicken carcass and chicken breast (if using) in a large pot and cover it with cold water (you can use normal tap water for this stage). Place the pot over medium-high heat. Once the water starts to boil, and scum begins to form at the edge of the pot, remove the pot from heat.
–        Remove the chicken carcass and chicken breast (if using) and place it on a plate. Set aside. Drain the water from the pot.
–        Shred the chicken breast into small pieces and place it on a plate (where the chicken carcass is) and set aside.
–        Using the same pot, add in the vegetable oil and place it over low-medium heat. Once the oil is heated, add in the onion, bay leaves and thyme, and gently sweat the onion. Stir the pot occasionally. This is to gently soften the onion. If you notice that the onions are starting to brown, you can add in a few teaspoons of water to stop the browning.
–        Once the onion is soften, add in the carrots and leeks and continue to cook them for 5 minutes. At this stage, you can season the vegetables with a good sprinkle of salt.
–        As the vegetables start to soften, add in the chicken carcass and the hot water, and reduce the heat to low. Let the stock simmer for at least 30 minutes.
–        While the stock is simmering, remove any excess scum and oil with a ladle or a skimming spoon.
–        Taste the stock and add in salt and pepper.
–        At the last 15 minutes of cooking, add in the lemon if using.
–        Before turning the heat off, using a pair of tongs or chopsticks, squeeze the lemon. Remove the chicken carcass, bay leaves and thyme. Taste and season accordingly.
–        If you are using the stock for risotto or any dishes, there is no need to add in enoki mushroom and chicken breast. Pass the stock through a sieve to remove the vegetables and use the stock accordingly. Any leftover stock can be kept in the freezer for up to 1 month
–        To transform the stock to chicken soup, add in the enoki mushroom and shredded chicken breast at the last 15 minutes of cooking. To bulk up the chicken soup, you can add in cooked lentils or pasta.

*If you do not want to buy a whole chicken, you can keep the bones from leftover roast chicken. You can also buy chicken carcass from both wet market and supermarket.

Afternoon tea at Pollen

Hello! This slacker here finally woken up from her food coma and resumes her writing. It has been a filling and delicious few months, and I cannot believe it’s 2014! I ate so much and I am amazed that my stomach has yet to explode.

The savoury platter

My friend, Evie was back for her year-end holidays, and I suggested tea at Pollen for some catching-up. Unlike the hotels, Pollen’s afternoon tea menu was rather small. However every item that is served to you is well planned and paired beautifully. We were given a platter savoury and sweet treats.

Evie and I started with the bread basket of toasted sourdough and cod branade. At a glance, the cod branade looked tasteless – it was not fishy, and it was creamy with a slight hint of saltiness. We finished our bread and cod branade in rapid speed and were horrified when we discovered the table next to us did not finish theirs.

Beautiful Scotch eggs

For the savoury items, we had Scotch eggs with piccalilli relish, and seared beef with zucchini relish and onion brioche. Though the Scotch eggs did not have the traditional minced meat encasing the egg, the latter was cooked perfectly with a runny yolk. Paired with the cauliflower piccalilli relish which was pungent and sharp, it was a delight to put this small bite in my mouth (and this coming from someone who don’t like eggs).

For the seared beef, it was cooked to medium rare hence the meat was not chewy. I prised open the onion brioche, and filled it with slices of beef and zucchini relish, and ate it like a sandwich. It was awesome. I definitely have no making of a dainty tai-tai. The tartness from the relish cut through the richness of the beef and brioche. And I almost did an “Oliver Twist” and ask for more.

The sweet treats

Personally, I think the sweet did not fare as well as the savoury. There were some hits and misses. My favourite on the platter was the éclair with fresh strawberry and cream. Though Evie found the strawberry to be rather sour, I quite liked it as it was refreshing amongst the thick, luscious cream. The choux pastry was crisp without being dry.

My favourite éclair

On the platter, we also had an orange and cranberry scone, macarons and a banana tea cake. The scone was beautifully scented with orange but it was way too big. I knew I wouldn’t be able to finish it. The banana tea cake was not too bad but I don’t fancy the buttercream on top which was a tad heavy. And the cake itself was also a bit stodgy. The macarons we had that day was raspberry and chocolate, and lime and coconut. They were quite well made and the flavours complemented each other.

Pollen’s afternoon tea looked little, but seriously how much can one eat. It is not a competition to see how many open sandwiches you can eat. It is about a comfortable space, where one can chat with friends and enjoy some delicious afternoon delights.

Pollen
Flower Dome, Gardens by the Bay
18 Marina Gardens Drive #01-09
Afternoon tea starts from 3pm – 5pm, daily
+65-66049988

Finally rolling out of the cave

Obsessed with a perfectly round egg (homework at the back)

It has been awhile since I made my presence felt in World Wide Web. It has been crazy for the past two months. Since September, I have (work) projects to be completed by early November. Once those are completed, I helped a friend with a photoshoot for a week (which was very fun and tiring at the same time). Oh did I mention that the cookbook that I helped to do recipe testing was launched? Quickly go buy the book, my picture is in there too!

And to top it off, I signed up for an online course. Yes, sometimes I do wonder what is wrong with my brain. Anyway, I finally got my schedule sort of settled. Hopefully I can share with you all some of the deliciousness that I have been doing and eating before Christmas madness starts! So stay tune!

p/s: On a different note, my wonderful foodie pals Juji Chews and The Food Pornographer wrote some great articles about food blogging, ethics and sponsorship which I think are worth a read. My view is short and simple. There is nothing wrong with sponsorship as long as I don’t abuse the opportunity. Most importantly, I must be able to write what I want and standby what I have written.

I cooked my first plate of Pad Thai

When it comes to Thai food, I always rely on bottled pastes (McCormick used to make the best Thai green curry paste) and Nakhon Kitchen which is opposite my house. It has never crossed my mind to cook Thai food at home.

As the queue at Nakhon Kitchen gets ridiculously long (at all times), I decided it is time I learn more about Thai cuisine. I started with the simple and basic Pad Thai. Pad Thai is essentially a quick stir-fry rice noodles dish. When I was in university, I would buy those Pad Thai mix from the supermarket. I remembered the sauce was thick, dark and sticky. The finished product was a heavily sauced noodles.

A good Pad Thai should embody spiceness (chilli powder), sourness (tamarind), sweetness (palm sugar) and saltiness (fish sauce). The end result is a flavourful, substantial plate of noodles. I also did my research on Pad Thai, and realised everyone has their own version for the sauce, preparation of the noodles and so on. The first time I cooked Pad Thai, I felt it was lacking acidity. I made some adjustments and was quite happy with my second attempt. I am glad that Pad Thai has made it into my small repertoire of dishes that I know how to cook.

Pad Thai
(Adapted from David Thompson’s Thai Street Food)

Serves 2

Ingredients
1)      100g dried thin rice noodles (rice sticks)
2)      4 shallots, coarsely chopped with a pinch of salt
3)      2 eggs, cracked and whisked
4)      3 tablespoons vegetable oil or peanut oil
5)      ½ teaspoon chye poh, rinsed and dried (salted radish)
6)      100g firm beancurd, cut into small squares (I like to use Unicurd tau kwa that is specifically for tahu goreng)
7)      10 shelled prawns (optional; if you want to keep the dish vegetarian, omit them)
8)      A handful Chinese chives or ku chye (around 4 stalks), cut into 1” length
9)      A small handful cashew nuts, roasted, and coarsely chopped
10)   1 lime, cut into wedges (optional)
11)   Chilli powder (optional)

Sauce
1)      2 tablespoons brown sugar
2)      2 tablespoons tamarind water*
3)      1 tablespoon fish sauce (if you want to keep the dish vegetarian, use soya sauce)
4)      Dash of white vinegar
5)      1-2 tablespoons of water

Methods
–        In a large bowl, soak the dried rice noodles in cold water for about 15 minutes or until they have soften (make sure the noodles are completely covered in water).
–        While the noodles are soaking, you can start to prepare the sauce. In a small bowl, mix the sugar, tamarind water, vinegar, fish sauce (or soya sauce) and 1-2 tablespoons of water. Mix until the sugar has dissolved and taste. The sauce should be balanced. If need to, adjust the flavour accordingly – sweetness (sugar), saltiness (fish sauce/ soya sauce), and sourness (vinegar or tamarind water). Set aside.
–        Once the noodles starts to soften, bring a pot of water to boil.
–        Drain the noodles and add them in the pot of boiling water for less than a minute. The noodles should have firmness, and not mushy. Once cooked, drain the noodles and set aside. This will help to prevent the noodles from clumping when being stir-fried.
–        Place a wok over a medium heat. Add in the oil and let it heat up. Once the oil is heated, add in the shallots and fry them until they soften, coloured and develop fragrance. Once the shallots are soften, add in the prawns (if using).
–        Once the prawns are added, pour in the eggs. Like cooking an omelette, tilt the wok and using a spatula, push the egg inwards so that the egg that is seated inside will be moved and get cooked.
–        While the egg is still runny, increase the heat to medium-high, and add in the drained noodles. Fry for about 30 seconds and at the same time, break the eggs using the spatula. Add in the sauce, and fry the noodles to ensure the sauce is evenly distributed.
–        Once the sauce is absorbed by the noodles (it should take less than a minute), add in the beancurd, chye poh and ¾ of the cashew nuts, and continue to fry the noodles until it is almost dry. At that stage, add in the Chinese chye and fry for a few seconds.
–        To serve, divide the Pad Thai into 2 plates and garnish with the remainder cashew nuts, roasted chilli powder and lime wedges.

*To obtain tamarind water, you will need 2 tablespoons of tamarind pulp and 2 tablespoons of warm water. This should yield around 3 tablespoons of tamarind water. Before mixing the tamarind pulp in the water, rinse the pulp to remove any surface yeast. Once rinsed, mix the tamarind pulp with the water and let it soak for a few minutes. Once the pulp is soften, using a spoon, smash the pulp so that it dissolves in the water. Pass the mixture through a sift, and using the same spoon, squeeze out as much juice as possible. Don’t be terribly worried if the tamarind water is rather thick, you can easily dilute it with water. Any leftover tamarind water can be kept in an airtight container and place in the fridge for 2 days.