The Saturday Kitchen – Piquant Asian Tomato & Cucumber Salad

I am trying to eat healthier these days to keep the excess weight away. My metabolic rate is slowing down and now that I am writing my second children’s book, I am spending more time seated. (Not good for the waist and the hips.) So I’ve taken to being mindful and eating only what I need. But I do like my food, and am unwilling to compromise too much on taste for health. Chia seeds, juiced kale and dry grainy things are not on my list of edibles, sorry. Picking through the refrigerator yesterday, I bunged up a quick salad that turned out refreshing and pretty strong on flavours.

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My trick to making salads is to add a few strong, accent flavours against a canvas of vegetables to make a tasty dish. In the Asian larder, there are many of these ingredients to use; the most commonly available would be coriander, crisp fried shallots and sesame oil. They will do the same work as bacon or chorizo does in western dishes.

• Coriander has a strong, minty, peppery and fresh flavour which lifts the dish.
• Crisp fried shallots adds texture (it’s crispy — like croutons), and the frying process heightens the shallots natural sweetness, while giving it a deep low flavour at the same time. Adds depth to the dish.
• Sesame oil is also a deep, rich flavour with natural sweet-umami flavours that provides a lovely, rich note to things otherwise bland. But remember, a little goes a long way. It is possible to overdose on sesame oil!

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Against chilled cucumbers and tomatoes, these aromatics add a stronger taste, acts as high points of flavour and adds contrast to the mix of tastes that pop in your mouth as you eat. And they are generally healthy — except perhaps for the fried shallots, but it is added in small portions, and you have to live a little, right? That is the salad’s answer to quality of life against health considerations.

This Asian style salad which I share here can be eaten as is like I did yesterday at my desk, or popped into hamburgers and sandwiches, or served as a side with meat or grilled fish. If you want it more substantial, add in steamed prawns, leftover chicken or assorted leftover meat items from the fridge.

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It’s like a basic dish for you to add and enhance with your favourite bits and pieces. Enjoy.

 

Asian Style Cucumber and Tomato Salad


Refreshing and piquant, this recipe makes use of the natural juices of the vegetables to moisten the salad. So don’t worry if the dressing looks a little meagre at first.

1 tomato, sliced
1/2 Japanese cucumber, sliced
2 shallots, sliced
3 stalks spring onions, sliced
1 tbsp chopped coriander
1 tsp crisp fried shallots*

Dressing
2 tsp lime juice
1 tsp sesame oil or to taste
Salt and sugar to taste

Method
• Make the dressing.
• Combine all the vegetables except the crisp fried shallots. Toss with dressing.
• Sprinkle with crisp fried shallots just before serving.

*Note: To make crisp fried shallots, slice about 10-12 shallots and fry in at least 1/2 cup of oil until brown and crisp. Remove shallots onto kitchen towel to drain off excess oil and store in an air tight container. Use in place of croutons for salads and soups, or noodle dishes. Store the shallot flavoured oil in another clean container, and use for salad dressings or to finish dishes.

The Saturday Kitchen – Green Chilli & Tomato Sambal

It’s not Saturday. I missed the boat again…but let’s just pretend its Saturday today and we’re going to make a nice meal tonight. Whatever you have planned, this addition is going to fire it up a bit more, and add a bit of tropical holiday excitement to the dinner table. 🙂 So here goes…

There’s nothing like a sambal to liven up a meal. A staple among the Malays and Indonesians, sambals are made from the most common ingredients found in the village garden. Housewives from centuries ago must have first wondered what to cook for the daily meal to please the husband and the bored kids,  looked out the window and found the plethora of aromatic herbs and vegetables growing. They must have picked up a bunch of their favourites, pounded them together, cooked it up and discovered it made a fabulously aromatic condiment, perfect to go with their staple of rice and fish or vegetables. At least that’s how I imagine it would have happened, and I think I’m not far off the mark.

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There is an incredible diversity of sambals found throughout Asia, and they are testimony to the creativity of  homecooks of the past. Always made from local ingredients, the humble sambal fires up the palate, and enlivens any meal, no matter how simple. They can be made from dried fish and prawns, to jackfruit and durian, and so much more. Stuff of the land, real locavore cooking in this part of the world. While the latter two sambals mentioned are among the more exotic examples, this green chilli and tomato sambal is something easier to make and more easily enjoyed. While it contains lots of large green chilli, they are really not hot, and you can adjust the heat as you like by the addition or omission of chilli padi.

This makes a good condiment with any rice-based meal, or grilled meat.

Green Chilli and Tomato Sambal

  • Servings: About 1 cup
  • Time: 20 mins
  • Difficulty: Easy
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1 tsp belacan
4 cloves garlic, sliced
8 shallots, sliced
8-10 large green chillies, sliced
1-2 chilli padi, sliced (if you don’t have any, you can substitute it with 1/2 tsp chilli powder)
2 tomatoes cut into wedges (or use canned tomatoes)
1 heaped tsp brown sugar or palm sugar (gula melaka)
2 tsp tomato paste
1/4 cup water
Salt and pepper to taste
Lime wedges to serve

Method
Heat a wok or pan and toast the belacan briefly until it is fragrant — about 30 seconds. Remove it and set it aside.
Heat 2 Tbsp cooking oil in the pan, and sauté garlic and shallots. Add in the belacan and fry for a minute or so.
Then add the green chilli, tomato wedges and chilli padi, and fry until the the chillies have softened somewhat.
Add in the tomato paste, sugar, salt and pepper and cook until the tomatoes have softened. You may have to add about 1/4 cup of water if it’s too dry.
Let it cook for another 5 minutes, then transfer to a plate and let it cool a little.
Serve with a few wedges of lime.

The Saturday Kitchen – The Best Babi Guling in Jimbaran, Bali

Since returning from my weekend in Bali earlier this week, I have been constantly thinking of my very humble but exceedingly delectable meal of babi guling at warung Karya Rebo, a simple eaterie at Kedonganan in Jimbaran. Babi guling, as many would know, is one of the most iconic dishes of Bali — suckling pig marinated in turmeric and other spices, roasted over a charcoal fire until the skin is crisp, and the meat juicy and tender.

PicMonkey Collage Bali Rebo 1

This warung, or local eaterie, isn’t fancy. There’s no aesthetics to speak of, but it is clean and comfortable. It serves only babi guling, for which it is well known among locals in Jimbaran. Sure, lots of people would have heard of Ibu Oka in Ubud, but there are other good places to find this iconic Balinese dish which is just as good. Rebo is one of these. This is my second time there, and both times, the food was consistently delectable.

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When you enter, just find a table and tell the ladies behind the counter how many are eating. The food comes quickly — rice, a small portion of babi guling with crackling, a side dish of long beans and a lemongrass and shallot sambal. This simple meal is a playground of flavours — piquant, spicy, sweet, umami, fiery, light and low. Depending on how you combine and pair the little morsels with the rice, you get a different combination of taste sensations.

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The pork was good – tender, moist, discreetly flavoured by the spices. But it was the sambal that really struck me. I spent the next few days trying to first identify what it was, then look up the recipe. I think I found it, and tried it yesterday. It isn’t very pretty but the flavours are lovely — sweetness from the shallots, tangy fragrant from the lemongrass and lime juice, a touch of fiery from the chillies, depth from the garlic, and all pulled together by a good lashing of oil. Have this as an accompaniment to white rice, or serve it on the side with slow roasted pork belly or grilled chicken.

(The bill came up to 220,000 RP which is about S$22 or US$16. We are quite sure it was the ‘tourist price’ but it’s still an inexpensive meal for three.)

Lemongrass and Shallot Sambal

  • Servings: 2-3
  • Difficulty: easy
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1 bulb garlic, skinned and chopped fine
5-6 shallots, skinned and chopped fine
3 lemongrass (only the tender white ends), sliced fine
2 chilli padi, sliced fine (remove seeds)
3 kaffir lime leaves, middle vein removed, then sliced fine
3 slices galangal, chopped fine
4 Tbsp oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Juice of lime

Method
Combine all the ingredients and serve raw, or sauté all the ingredients except the lime juice, in a pan for about 5 mins. Add the lime juice last and serve.

The Saturday Kitchen – Szechuan Cucumber Pickles

I found three Japanese cucumbers lurking at the bottom of my fridge the other day. They were a little past their absolute prime though by no means badly compromised. But there were plans to go out for dinner that night and the next few days, so leaving the cukes to languish was not a wise option, especially when one is trying to be mindful of food waste. So I did the next best thing and turned them into pickles. Time is no longer of the essence.

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These are flavoured with ginger, garlic and Szechuan peppercorns with a touch of chilli flakes. Sautéing the chilli together with the garlic and ginger helps to coax out the piquant hot flavours, while the Sichuan peppercorns give it a lift of anise. The cucumbers remain nice and crunchy.

Serve this on the side with noodles, grilled meat, or even in burgers for a Chinese touch.

Szechuan Cucumber Pickles

  • Time: 20mins
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

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3 Japanese cucumbers, sliced
1 tbsp salt
1 heaped tbsp of finely chopped ginger
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 – 1 tsp dried Szechuan peppercorns
1/2 tsp chilli flakes (more if you like it hot)

1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp neutral cooking oil
2 tsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice or neutral white vinegar
1 Tbsp sugar

Method
Mix the cucumbers and salt and let it stand for 15 mins to draw out the moisture. Rinse and pat with kitchen towels to dry.
Heat the oils in a wok or pan, and saute the garlic, ginger, chilli flakes and peppercorns for about 30 seconds until it is fragrant.
Add in the cucumbers, soy sauce, vinegar and sugar. Cook until the liquid comes to a boil and the sugar has dissolved. You can adjust the amount of sugar and soy sauce at this point to your liking.
Set it aside to cool then pop it into the refrigerator to chill. Serve it nice and cold.
Keeps for about 1 week.

The Saturday Kitchen – Traditional Cantonese Radish Cake

Oh no! Is it already Sunday? This post may be late, but my kitchen was indeed busy on Saturday. This is my fifth attempt at making ‘Lor Bak Gou’, literally translated as ‘radish cake’. It’s not really a cake, but a steamed savoury Cantonese snack made of grated radish mixed with rice flour and aromatics, then steamed to a softly firm, bouncy consistency. It often features in a somewhat different form in dim sum menus. You can eat it just like that with chilli sauce or cut it into pieces, lightly toss it in cornflour and pan fried until the outside sports a slightly crisp crusting.

This is a favourite breakfast dish of mine, and I have been trying to perfect it for quite some time already, hence my fifth attempt. It didn’t turn out bad at all. It is comfort food for me, and is easy to eat for older folk (minus the Chinese sausage), the dentally challenged or the convalescing. You could serve it as a side dish in place of carbs for a bold east-west fusion meal.

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Traditional Cantonese Radish Cake
‘Lor Bak Gou’
Makes an 22cm x 22 cm pan

I large (about 600g) white radish, grated
3 cups water
2 Chinese sausages, finely diced
1 tbsp dried prawns, soaked in tap water to soften, then pound
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 Chinese mushrooms, soaked then finely diced
120g minced pork
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp five spice powder
1 Tbsp cooking wine / mirin

Batter
300g rice flour
75g tapioca flour
1/2 tsp alkaline water (ideal, but not essential)
2 generous tsp salt
1 tsp chicken stock powder
1/2 tsp pepper

Marinade for pork
1-2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp Chinese cooking wine or Japanese mirin
White pepper to taste
1/2 tsp cornflour

Method
• Mix the mince pork with the marinade ingredients and set aside for at least 15 mins.
• Boil the grated radish in the 3 cups of water until cooked and softened – about 20 mins. Place radish on a plate.
• Add tap water to the water in which the radish was cooked to make up a total of 4 cups of liquid. Set aside.
• Combine all the batter ingredients and add the 4 cups of liquid to it. Mix until it is smooth and pour the batter through a sieve to get rid of lumps. Set it aside.

BeFunky Collage - Lor Bak Gou
• Heat about 1 Tbsp of oil in a pan and saute the garlic and dried prawns for 2-3 mins until fragrant, then add in the mushrooms, Chinese sausage and mince pork. Stir fry briefly then add in the soy sauce and cooking wine. Continue to fry until the pork is cooked through – about 5 mins.
• Stir the batter and pour it into the pan with the pork mixture. Cook, stirring often, until the batter has thickened and coats the back of your spoon.
• Pour it into a pan and steam over high flame for 45 mins, until batter has set.
• You can serve it hot. If you’re planning to keep it for another day, let it cool completely before putting it in the fridge. It should keep for up to 3 days max.

Lor Bak Gou 2 - Runaway Palate

 

Lor Bak Gou - Runaway Palate