Literary City Guide

pics

I’m over at Eat This Poem, a literary food blog helmed by writer, blogger, content developer, community builder, good food advocate, and home cook Nicole Gulotta, with a short “Literary City Guide” to Singapore! An excerpt:

BOOKSTORES

Basheer Graphic Books. Basheer Graphic Books carries a range of art and design titles, from fashion photography monographs to furniture design tomes, from cinematography manuals to ceramics encyclopedias.

Wardah Books. Wardah Books stocks an astounding collection of English-language books on Islamic philosophy and Sufism. I love the cheeky section titles in Wardah Books, such as “Reign of Quantity” (books critical of modern capitalism) and “Matters Still Unfolding” (books on politics and Islam).

Woods in the Books. This picture book shop houses picture books, graphic novels, and comic books for children and adults.

COFFEE SHOPS

La Ristrettos. La Ristrettos is hidden in Novena Medical Center; grab a seat on the terrace for a quiet meal.

The Plain. The Plain serves comfort food (including all-day breakfast and delicious open-faced sandwiches) and great coffee.

Loysel’s Toy Cafe. Best known for its premium gourmet coffeeconcoctions tucked away on the banks of the Kallang River.

Continue reading “Literary City Guide” to Singapore.

Cooking with… Shirley of Køkken69

As you know, I’m always searching for vegetarian versions of hawker center classics to reproduce in my own kitchen. I’ve always wanted to sample some laksa. Rice noodles? Coconut milk? I’m sold! Well, Shirley of Køkken69 to the rescue. Shirley, a chemist by training, draws upon her lab experiences and applies them to her cooking adventures.

Her gorgeous blog is a treasure trove of easy recipes and stunning photographs. Check out her Durian Snowskin Mooncake, Ondeh Ondeh (Onde Onde): Sweet Potato Glutinous Rice Balls, and Hokkaido Milk Loaf (Hokkaido Milk Bread).

And now, over to Shirley…

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Laksa, is a spicy noodle dish that is popular in Singapore and Malaysia. Believed to have Peranakan roots, there are two primary versions: the coconut milk based curry laksa (featured here) and the more tangy Penang Assam laksa.

Made with a melange of beautiful spices and spiked with the lovely umami flavour of belachan (dried shrimp paste), the stock is enriched with coconut milk and served with thick rice vermicelli noodles, tofu, hardboiled eggs, fish cake, cockles, and bean sprouts.

So how does one turn this mouth watering dish vegetarian? Obviously the fish cake and cockles have to go but that is not a problem at all. I am equally happy if my favourite laksa is served only with tofu, hardboiled eggs, and bean sprouts. My main concern is the stock. Omitting the belachan and the dried shrimps basically removes an important component of the dish.

The only way I know how to inject the flavour of the sea into a vegetarian dish is through a konbu (Japanese seaweed) stock. So, that was what I decided to do. Instead of adding just plain water, I added konbu stock. Additionally, to re-create the texture of the minced dried shrimp particles in the stock, I added dried soy crumbles (available at tofu stalls/Chinese vegetarian stalls).

Verdict? The foundation of the spices was there to provide integrity to the dish. To those with a less sensitive palate, it tastes quite similar to the original version. However, I was able to pick up the slightly sharp raw taste of the spices. With the umami flavour of the belachan missing, the seasoning had to rely solely on the balance between salt and sugar, rendering the overall flavour somewhat flatter than the original version.

Nevertheless, I am quite confident that this will be well received by my vegetarian friends. Hope you will enjoy the recipe!

Laksa07

Vegetarian Laksa

Konbu Stock
Water, 900 mL
Dried konbu, 12 cm piece

Laksa Rempah (Spice paste)
Lemongrass, 1 piece
Galanga, 20g
Tumeric, 10g
Shallots, 120g
Candle nut, 18g
Dried chili, 7 (soaked in hot water for 5 mins and seeds removed)
Coriander powder, 1 tbsp
Thick coconut cream, 150ml
Coconut milk, 600ml

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Chili Oil
Dried chilies, 10 (cut into sections)
Oil, 150ml

Garnishes and Noodles
Tofu puffs (taupok), 6 pieces (sliced)
Bean sprouts, 300g
Dried soy crumbles, 50g (soak in hot water to soften and mince in a blender)
Laksa leaves, 10 leaves, chopped finely
Fresh rice vermicelli, 450g (blanched for 2 mins in boiling water)
Quail’s eggs, 12 (cooked and peeled)

Seasoning
Salt, 1 tbsp
Sugar, 1 tbsp

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1. To prepare the stock, place konbu and water in a pot and leave to soak for 30 minutes. Place the pot over medium heat until small bubbles appear on the konbu. Remove the konbu from the water and set aside stock for use later.
2. Blend all ingredients, except for the coconut milk, for rempah to form a paste. Set aside.
3. To create the chili oil, heat a wok until very hot. Add oil, lower the heat, and add the dried chilies. Fry until fragrant and chilies turn dark. Using a slotted spoon, remove dried chili from oil.
4. Continue to heat chili oil over medium heat and add the rempah paste prepared in step (2). Fry rempah over low to medium heat for 10 minutes. Water can be sprinkled over the frying rempah to prevent rempah from burning.
5. The rempah should turn quite dark in colour. Add thick coconut cream to rempah in the wok and continue to fry until well blended. Turn up heat and add konbu stock from step (1). Stir and heat to bring the stock back to boil. Add thin coconut milk and simmer.
6. Add salt and sugar. Add minced dried soy crumbles and tofu puffs. Simmer for another 5 minutes. If stock becomes too thick, add a little more water.
7. Spoon stock over rice vermicelli and garnish with tofu puff, bean sprouts, quail’s eggs, and laksa leaves.

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I welcome recipes from Singapore and beyond for Cooking with…. Priority is given to original recipes that have not yet appeared online. Please indicate if your recipe has already appeared online or has been submitted elsewhere. Please email all recipes, including high-quality .jpgs, to me with the subject line ‘Recipes.’

(Additional credits: Photographs by Shirley of Køkken69; geometric watercolor pattern via August Empress.)

Cooking with… Jun of Indochine Kitchen

Ah, Singapore’s world-famous hawker centers. While they are best known for a diverse range of food at affordable prices, they are a minefield for vegetarians. I’ve learned that there is always lard or chicken stock or dried shrimp lurking somewhere. So, I’m always searching for vegetarian versions of hawker center classics to reproduce in my own kitchen.*

Today, I’m so thrilled to reprint Indochine Kitchen‘s recipe for vegetarian popiah (spring rolls). Food blogger Jun lives in a small city in North Sumatra in Indonesia. “When I am not fretting about what to cook and which recipes to make or calling my mother about what we should on make the coming weekend, I work full time at our family business,” she says.

Over to Jun…

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Fancy some spring rolls without the pork and lard? I made some vegetarian popiah using fresh popiah skin. Popiah usually contains both pork belly and deep-fried lard. In my version, I used ground peanuts and worked perfectly. The rich flavor of carrots, jicama, tofu, and beansprouts are already delicious enough!

Vegetarian Popiah
Makes 40 spring rolls

For filling 1 (jicama and carrot):
1/4 cup cooking oil
250 grams french bean, sliced diagonally (0.25cm width)
4 (250 grams) carrots, grated on the largest setting
1 (600 grams) jicama, grated on the largest setting
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar (optional)
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 cup hot water

For filling 2 (bean sprouts and bean curd):
1/4 cup cooking oil
300 grams tofu, cubed (0.5cm)
250 grams beansprouts
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar (optional)

For Skin
1 kilogram (40 sheets) popiah wrappers, about 20cm in diameter

Condiments
Lettuce
Hoisin sauce
Chili sauce
100 grams peanuts, deep-fried and ground
2 eggs, beaten, fried and cut finely (same size as carrots, jicama, and french beans)
Cucumber, seeded and cut into stripes
Coriander leaves (cilantro)

To prepare fillings:

To prepare carrot and jicama: Wash grated jicama and carrot under running water for one minute. Drain well on kitchen towel. This will remove excess starch that will make the dish sticky and soggy after cooking. Heat oil in the wok and add french beans, carrots, and jicama. Cook quickly for 3 minutes. Season with salt, sugar, and pepper. Add hot water to rehydrate the vegetables. Reduce heat to low and cover. Leave to simmer for a few more minutes. Remove from heat.

To prepare tofu and beansprouts: Heat cooking oil in a wok, Toss in tofu cubes and cook over high heat, turning slowly using a spatula, until brown at all sides. Add beansprouts, salt, and sugar, and mix well. Reduce heat and cook for another 2 minutes. Remove from heat and leave to cool.

To prepare popiah spring rolls:

Place a wrapper on a clean surface. Arrange a piece of lettuce on the lower part of the wrapper and spread a half teaspoon hoisin sauce and chili sauce on the lettuce.

Put one tablespoon each of carrot filling and tofu filling on top of lettuce. Try to only put filling without any liquid; use a small colander-shaped spoon if possible. (Excess liquid will soak into the wrapper and make the roll soggy and difficult to handle.) Add a couple of sticks of cucumbers. Arrange eggs on top of everything. Generously sprinkle ground peanuts on top and garnish with coriander leaves.

Fold the lower part of the wrapper to fully covering the fillings. Fold in both sides in. Try to fold tightly but be careful not to stretch the wrapper too much. Roll the whole filling to the end of the wrapper. Place rolls on serving plate with the end of the wrapper facing down.

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* Vegetarian char kway teow anyone?

I welcome recipes from Singapore and beyond for Cooking with…. Priority is given to original recipes that have not yet appeared online. Please indicate if your recipe has already appeared online or has been submitted elsewhere. Please email all recipes, including high-quality .jpgs, to me with the subject line ‘Recipes.’

(Additional credits: Photograph by Jun of Indochine Kitchen; geometric watercolor pattern via August Empress.)

South Asian Food and Singapore (So Far)

We rarely go out for South Asian (Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, etc.) food. One, because we’ve been spoiled by decades of stellar home cooking by family and friends. There is nothing in the world that is better than my mother’s egg curry or her biryani or my mother-in-law’s appam or her dosa. And two, it’s much tastier, cheaper, and healthier to whip a simple South Asian meal at home. We use the freshest ingredients and the best spices when we cook in our own kitchen.

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Having said that, every once in a while, we’re too busy or lazy to make a meal at home. Our recommendations (so far) for South Asian food on the Little Red Dot:

Kailash Parbat. My mother often visited this restaurant’s flagship outlet in South Bombay when she was a child. While Kailash Parbat serves a variety of different cuisines, including “Indian Chinese” (a post for another time), it’s the only restaurant we know of, here or elsewhere, to serve authentic Sindhi delicacies. I trace my ancestry to Sindh, in present-day Pakistan, and grew up eating Sindhi curry (a gram flour-based vegetable curry), sai bhaji (yellow split peas, split green gram, and a combination of green vegetables), and loli/koki (a thick flatbread made with ghee). Kailash Parbat is comfort food for me. Don’t forget to sample the samosa chaat and the paani puri, hollow puris filled with water, tamarind, chili, chaat masala, potato, onion, and chickpeas, if you go.

Murugan’s Idli Shop. The idlis, South Indian steamed rice cakes, here are divine and perhaps some of the best I have ever tasted, save for my mother-in-law’s, of course. Go for breakfast—it opens at 9AM—and make sure you order the ghee onion uttapam, a thick rice pancake, and the filter coffee.

Annalakshmi. This “restaurant” is run by volunteers and has a pay as you wish policy. We went one Sunday morning for an all-you-can-eat buffet, shared a table with two lovely, older, chatty gentlemen, and ate and ate and ate. FYI, your donation helps fund the activities of the Temple of Fine Arts.

Bismillah Biryani Restaurant. OK, so I said that nothing is better than my mother’s biryani, but the dum biryani at Bismillah’s is pretty darn close. The rice alone is perfect. Vegetarians, order the egg biryani to get your carb-and-protein fix; omnivores, opt for the mutton over the chicken, so says my infinitely better half.

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Singapore-based friends, where else should we go for fresh, authentic, homestyle South Asian food? For better or worse, we have high standards for South Asian food, but we know there is a lot of good Subcontinental food to be had on this tiny island.

BTW, if you ever find yourself in New York City, make time for a meal at Sigiri, Devi, Tamarind, Tiffin Wallah, Ayurveda Cafe, Bhojan, Saravanaas, Brick Lane, and Graffiti (Manhattan); Skyway Diner (Brooklyn); Bownie and Southern Spice (Queens); and New Asha and Sanrasa (Staten Island), among others.

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Oh, my thoughts on Indian-Singaporean cuisine to come. So many dishes we’ve discovered here—briyani (spelled differently), fish head curry, roti John, murtabak, prata—are so unique to this part of the world. We’ve just begun to understand their histories and flavors.

Cooking with… Clare of Mrs. Multitasker

Months ago, I met Clare of the wonderfully written, beautifully photographed recipe blog, Mrs. Multitasker. We spent hours together the first time we met. I leaned that not only is she a whiz in the kitchen, but she also loves to travel, can speak several languages, and can sing like a dream. (In fact, she sang in an a cappella group at university with my sister-in-law’s cousin. Small world, no?) Perhaps we should call Clare “Mrs. Multitalented” instead?

To Clare…

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Agar-Agar

Wikipedia: A gelatinous substance derived from a polysaccharide that accumulates in the cell walls of agarophyte red algae.
English: The Asian answer to Jell-O.

I loved agar-agar as a kid. Sure, it wasn’t the most nutritious of snacks. But it was chilled, it was sweet, and it was crunchy. What was there to dislike? I used to get a real kick out of buying agar-agar from the school canteen during breaks and, to be honest, I still get a kick out of buying it today.

For those of you unfamiliar with agar-agar, it is a sweet gelatinous dessert that sometimes looks quite similar to jelly, but differs from jelly in the following ways:

  • It has a harder, crunchier texture.
  • It does not taste of artificial fruit flavouring, but of pandan leaves (and of coconut milk too).
  • It is usually not eaten out of a cup or bowl, but with one’s bare hands. *

I particularly love the agar-agar my grandaunt makes during Chinese New Year. A couple of years ago I asked her what the basic steps were to making it and wrote them down. I never got around to using the recipe…

…until notabilia asked if I would do a guest post on her blog. Her only specification was that it have a Singaporean flavour (pun intended). I decided to get my grandaunt’s recipe out of the storeroom and into the kitchen.

So here you go: My grandaunt’s recipe for agar-agar.

Agar-Agar
(yields a large 9×13-inch block of agar-agar)

8 pandan leaves, knotted together
4 packs of agar-agar (13g each)
3 litres of water
750g sugar
Red food colouring
Green food colouring
Lemon flavouring
Coffee emulco

(The colouring, flavouring, and emulco can all be found in the baking aisle of most supermarkets in Singapore. [Editor’s note for my dear American readers: Coffee emulco can be found in Southeast Asian speciality stores in the United States.])

1. Place the pandan leaves, agar-agar, and water in a big pot over medium-high heat.
2. When the liquid is almost boiling, stir in the sugar until it dissolves.
3. Once the liquid has come to a boil, remove the pot from the heat and allow the liquid to cool for 5-10 minutes.
4. In a separate bowl, combine 2 cups of the agar-agar liquid and 4 drops of red food colouring. Pour into a 9x13x2-inch baking tin and allow to cool and harden (about 5 minutes). Then, combine 2 cups of the agar-agar liquid, 4 drops of green food colouring, and 5 drops of lemon flavouring. Pour into the tray over the first hardened layer and again allow to cool and harden. Then, combine 2 cups of the agar-agar liquid and 5 drops of coffee emulco. Pour into the tray over the first two hardened layers and allow to cool and harden. Repeat until all the agar-agar liquid has been used.
5. Chill the agar-agar in the refrigerator for half an hour. Slice and serve.

There are heaps of variations to this basic recipe.

  • If you want the agar-agar to be softer, increase the ratio of water and sugar to agar-agar powder.
  • If you want the agar-agar colours to be more intense, use more colouring. I used very little colouring here!
  • If you want fewer, thicker layers, pour more of the agar-agar liquid into each layer.
  • If you want the agar-agar in a specific shape, use a different container in place of the baking tin. (i.e. For a dome-shaped dessert, use a bowl.)
  • If you want each slice of agar-agar in a specific shape, use a cookie cutter. (Just make sure the cookie cutter is thick enough to cut through the many layers of agar-agar).
  • If you want layers of coconut milk in your agar-agar, prepare a separate pot of agar-agar liquid. At step 2 (above), add 3 liters of coconut milk. Alternate layers of coconut agar-agar liquid with the non-coconut layers. You can also add coloring to the coconut layers if you like. (My grandaunt doesn’t usually put coconut milk in her agar-agar, but many other people do. My parents are of the view that coconut milk is essential in agar-agar, and were quite disappointed when I appeared at their doorstep bearing agar-agar sans coconut milk!)

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* And agar-agar is vegan, perfect for my aforementioned sister-in-law.

I welcome recipes from Singapore and beyond for Cooking with…. Priority is given to original recipes that have not yet appeared online. Please indicate if your recipe has already appeared online or has been submitted elsewhere. Please email all recipes, including high-quality .jpgs, to me with the subject line ‘Recipes.’

(Additional credits: Photographs by Clare of Mrs. Multitasker; geometric watercolor pattern via August Empress.)

Cooking with… Samuel Chan of Sam’s Cakes and Bakes

Earlier this week, when I asked my Twitter friends what treats I might make to celebrate Chinese New Year, I was told that buttery, bite-size pineapple tarts are a must.

There are a number of very good tart recipes on the internet. But today, Samuel Chan of Sam’s Cakes and Bakes, an online bakery that specializes in egg-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, and sugar-free cakes and cookies, brings my readers and me a festive recipe perfect for vegetarians. Thank you, Samuel!

(Note: This recipe is not vegan. There is quite a bit of butter in it!)

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Egg-less Pineapple Tarts

Yields about 28 tarts

For tart:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon milk powder
1 tablespoon castor sugar
8 tablespoons cold butter
1 tablespoon milk
1 1/2 cup store-bought pineapple filling*

For “egg” glaze:
evaporated milk
yellow food colouring (optional)

For garnish:
slivered almonds
cloves

1. Pre-heat oven to 180°C (convection oven).
2. Combine flour, milk powder and sugar. Mix in butter until mixture becomes sandy and crumbly.
3. Add the milk. Continue mixing until a dough is formed. Let it rest for 20 minutes.
4. Divide the dough equally. Roll each portion out and fill with one teaspoon of pineapple filling. Shape into a ball to close.
5. Place the assembled tarts on a baking sheet lined with non-stick baking paper. Brush tops of tarts with evaporated milk and food colouring glaze. Garnish with slivered almond or cloves.
6. Bake for 15 to 20 mins, until tarts are golden brown.

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* The pineapple filling is made by slowly reducing and caramelizing grated pineapple that has been mixed with sugar and spices, usually cinnamon, star anise, or cloves. If you want to make your own filling, a step-by-step recipe, with photographs, can be found here.

If you are feeling particularly ambitious, here are a few more recipes to keep you busy these next few weeks: kueh bangkitkueh belandah AKA “love letters”; almond cookies; and sugee cake. (Many thanks to @littleteochew for those last two links.)

I welcome recipes from Singapore and beyond for Cooking with…. Priority is given to original recipes that have not yet appeared online. Please indicate if your recipe has already appeared online or been submitted elsewhere. Please email all recipes, including high-quality .jpgs, to me with the subject line ‘Recipes.’

(Additional credits: Geometric watercolor pattern via August Empress.)