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Tag: Vegetarian

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

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 (optional)
11)   Chilli oil (optional)

-        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 (if using) 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.

It’s Honey Boo Boo Day!

I am a huge fan of Alana Thompson aka Honey Boo Boo Child. For those who are unfamiliar with Alana, she is a 7-year old girl who lives in McIntyre, Georgia and loves to participate in beauty pageants. She was first featured in TLC’s Toddlers and Tiaras. And she was such a hit that TLC decided to do a spin-off called Here Comes Honey Boo Boo Child which features Alana’s everyday life and her family.

When I first watched snippets of this show, I was actually pretty annoyed by this family. They were so loud. And I just gave up watching. With the encouragement from friends (you can tell my standard for friends is pretty low), I persevere and I fall in love with this show. A little disclaimer here – not everyone will like the show. I have friends who are amazed such families exist. For me, the reason why I like the show is that Alana and her family look genuine. Their conversations, actions may seem weird but they sound and look real. Most importantly, there is no ridiculous drama in this family. They just cry, laugh, talk, smile and fart (I truly believe this is the first time I used the word “fart” in my blog).

A couple of months back, my friends and I organised a “Honey Boo Boo Day”. We were going to cook some food and do a Honey Boo Boo marathon. Since I would be bringing my dish over to my friend’s house and we were doing lunch, I needed something that was quick to cook, easy to assemble and portable without fuss and spill. I finally settled on Ottolenghi’s soba noodles with eggplant and mango (of course, nothing makes me happier than a visit to my mango man. He sells really good, dirt cheap mangoes at Tekka market. His honey mango is only S$1 each).

Before I served this dish to my friends, I must do a trial-run – to test and adjust the flavour, and get myself familiarise with the recipe. The flavour of this dish is unbelievably amazing. The first taste, it reminds me of yusheng – it is tangy, sweet and slightly spicy. It is so refreshing that when I reach the bottom of the mixing bowl (it is so good that I cannot be bothered to plate it), I can feel my stomach weeping.

Soba noodles with eggplant and mango
(Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty)
You can make this dish two hours in advance. If you are bringing this to a friend’s house (like me), add ¾ of the dressing into the noodles. Once you have reached your friend’s place, and when you are about to serve the dish, add in the rest of the dressing. The noodles might stick together when resting in the fridge so the dressing helps to loosen them.

Serves 6

1)      120ml or ½ cup rice vinegar
2)      1 teaspoon sesame seed oil
3)      3 tablespoon granulated sugar
4)      ½ teaspoon kosher salt (table salt is fine)
5)      2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
6)      1 fresh red chilli, deseed and finely chopped (if you and your friends love spice, leave the seeds in the chilli)
7)      Grated zest and juice of 1 lime

-        In a small saucepan, add in the rice vinegar, sugar and salt, and place it over a low heat. Using a spoon, gently stir the vinegar until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Once dissolved, remove the saucepan from the heat.
-        Pour the vinegar mix into a bowl (or the container that you might use if you are transporting this dish to a friend’s house), and add in the sesame seed oil, garlic and chopped red chilli.
-        Once the mix is cooled*, add in the lime zest and juice. If you add in the zest while the mix is warm, the heat will discolour it. Set aside.

Soba noodles with eggplant and mango
1)      2 small eggplants or 1 large eggplant, cut into ¾” dice
2)      1 large ripe mango, cut into ¾” dice (I used honey mango; the mango should be prepped last when you are about to assemble and mix the noodles. If you cut the mango too early, it might oxidise and turn brown)
3)      270g of dried soba noodles (the only reason why I used 270g of soba noodles is because mine came in 3 bundles of 90g. You can use less noodles but no more than 270g)
4)      A small bunch of coriander, chopped (set aside some for garnish)
5)      ½ red onion, very thinly sliced (if you want, you can use a mandolin. I was lazy and didn’t want to clean up so I just cut the onion very slowly and you should be able to achieve thin slices)
6)      2 tablespoon vegetable oil
7)      A tray of ice cubes
8)      Salt

-        Preheat the oven to 200oC. Place the diced eggplant on a baking tray, add in the vegetable oil, mix well and make sure they are coated with the oil. Place the baking tray in the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes or until they turned golden brown.
-        Once the eggplant is baked, place them in a colander and sprinkle generously with salt and leave them to drain.
-        In a medium-sized saucepan, fill it with water (enough to cook the noodles) and place it over a medium heat. Once the water starts to boil, add in a generous pinch of salt and the noodles. Cook the noodles as per instructed on the pack. Mine takes about 6-8 minutes. The cooked noodles should be soft yet with a bite.
-        While the noodles are cooking, remove the eggplant from the colander and place them in a large mixing bowl**. Using the same colander (there is no need for washing up), fill it with a tray of ice cubes. Set aside.
-        Once the noodles are cooked, drain (don’t use the colander, just drain from the saucepan) and rinse it with cold water. Drain again but this time, using the colander that is filled with ice. Mix the ice cubes and noodles – this is to prevent the noodles from sticking and stop further cooking. Set aside.
-        Once the noodles and eggplant are ready, you can slice and dice the mango.
-        To assemble, in the mixing  bowl (with the eggplant), add in a tablespoon of the dressing, follow by the mango (the vinegar and lime juice will prevent the oxidisation of the mango). Add in the rest of the ingredients – soba noodles (make sure to drain off any excess water), onion, coriander and the dressing (remember if this is to be served later, reserve some of the dressing). You can use two forks or like Mama June (Alana’s mother) who believes hands are the best utensil, mix it with your (clean) hands.
-        To finish, garnish with more coriander.
-        If you are bringing this dish to a party, just pour in the rest of the dressing, mix and garnish.

*While the vinegar mix is cooling, you can crack on the rest of the dish.
**I am an advocate of use-less-bowl. However I will not recommend assembling or mixing this dish in the container or serving platter that you are going to use. You need a big bowl or room for you to mix all the ingredients and dressing together. And trust me, this will be less messy too.

Heidi Swanson’s a simple tomato soup

Since young, I never really like tomatoes. My first encounter with tomatoes was when I was about four or five year old. I saw my mother, Mdm Tan, munching on a tomato like what she will do to an apple. She was enjoying this juicy red fruit, and I was curious and wanted to take a bite. I took my first bite and immediately I spit out the tomato. It was disgusting. The slimy seedy pulp and the sourish sweet taste just turned me off.

Some of the ingredients

It was only when I went to Australia for school, I began to like tomatoes. Perhaps my taste bud had changes. Or the tomatoes in Australia were more delicious. Every two weeks, I would pick up a 1kg pack of tomatoes. I would use them in sandwiches, stir-fry and pasta. And I slowly learn to like tomato-based soup like minestrone and creamy tomato.

Last month, I saw Heidi Swanson’s recipe for a simple tomato soup (which was an interpretation of Melissa Clark’s curried coconut soup) and was immediately drawn to its simplicity and flavour profile. Perhaps I don’t make enough soup, I would not put curry powder in my soup.

When I was making this soup, surprisingly I doubled the amount of curry powder – I found the “curry flavour” was not pronounced. Like Heidi, the soup actually tasted really good on its own without the coconut milk. However it is on an acidic side (and could be because of the canned tomatoes I used). I added just a touch of coconut milk to balance the flavour, and the soup was lighter and more drinkable.

A simple tomato soup

What surprised me the most was the suggestions on how to serve the soup. Heidi recommended serving the soup with brown rice, toasted almond slices, poached eggs and so on. It never occurred to me to put rice and ang moh (Western) soup together. And it worked! I had the soup with brown and wild rice, and toasted almond slices with herbs. This breaks the mundane of always having bread with soup. The wild rice and almond slices provided the crunch and the brown rice gave it substance.

For anyone who don’t like tomatoes like the five year old me, give this soup a try. It might make you fall in love with tomatoes.

Carrot and pumpkin soup

Recently I uncovered this video Chow.com did with Nach Waxman, owner of Kitchen Arts and Letters. During the interview, Waxman talked about one of his fears that was cooking would be lost due to people heavy reliance on cookbook. He exclaimed that “cookbooks don’t have to do anything, you have to do it”. I agreed with him.

Though I am the proud owner of many cookbooks, I cannot remember a time where I strictly follow a recipe. Even for baking where precision is key, I would always make adjustment here and there. To me, the purpose of cookbooks is to discover and understand flavour combination and to inspire my next meal or dessert.

This carrot and pumpkin soup evolved from what was in my refrigerator. These days, I tend to cook what I can find – it is almost like the mystery box challenge in Masterchef and Chopped.

The truth is with a bit of creativity, logic (a lost art form) and motivation, it is possible to make a decent, if not, a delicious dish from what’s in your fridge (unless your fridge is stock full of jars of condiment and no produce).

I created this soup without the use of measuring cup or scale. It was just based on my understanding of flavour, watching enough cooking show and most importantly taste.

The end product was a rich, delicious, winey soup.

Carrot and Pumpkin Soup
While I cannot give you the precise measurements, I can however list down the ingredients I used. If you are missing any ingredients, be brave, switch things around and go with the flow.

This serves roughly two people. Or one very very hungry person.

1)      (1 stalk of) celery, diced
2)      (1 medium) onion, diced
3)      (1 medium) carrots, diced
4)      (Slightly more than a quarter of a medium) pumpkin, diced
5)      Vegetable stock
6)      Cooking sake
7)      Mirin
8)      (Lea and Perrins) Worcestershire sauce
9)      Olive oil

-        Start off with a mirepoix – onion, celery and carrots – sautéed with a bit of olive oil in a big pot (the pot must be able to hold at least 1.5 litres of liquid). Stir the mirepoix occasionally.
-        Once the onion turned transparent (not brown) and the rest of the vegetables has somewhat softened, throw in the diced pumpkin (I used Japanese pumpkin, you can go ahead and use butternut squash and so on). Cook for another 5 minutes.
-        Add in any leftover vegetable stock (I used instant stock; you can use chicken stock, or even water). Simmered for about half an hour (or till all the vegetables have turned really soft (You should be able to pierce through either the carrot or pumpkin with a knife).
-        Pureed the soup via the immersion blender or the blender machine.
-        Once the soup is pureed, taste and flavour the soup accordingly. In my case, I put in a splash of mirin (for sweetness) and Worcestershire sauce (for saltiness), and a very generous glug of cooking sake.
-        If you do not like or don’t have mirin or sake, you can also add in salt and black pepper (and white wine). Always start with small quantity, taste and then add more.
-        To finish, a small drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of herbs and Korean chilli powder (Gochutgaru) for some heat.

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