Of Fusion Cuisine and Fusion Babies

The online Merriam Webster dictionary defines fusion cuisine as: “food prepared by using the techniques and ingredients of two or more ethnic or regional cuisines”

Going by this definition, just about everything we cook or eat is fusion cuisine. Noodles came from China (yes, they did!), so technically, spaghetti is a fusion dish. The Seattle dining scene is heavily influenced by the Pacific Rim, and even if no one bats an eyelid at grassfed flank steak shellacked with Sriracha-hoisin glaze served with a side of parsnip puree, this dish screams fusion! And while it never occurred to me when I was growing up, I was raised on fusion food. Many traditional Singaporean favorites are an amalgamation of the cultures that simmer in that diverse melting pot of a society. As were the Indonesian dishes my mum put on the table day after day.

In the same way, you could say my son is a fusion baby: he was created through the union of two or more ethnic groups. I am Indonesian-Chinese and my husband, Pakistani-White American (forgive the generalization as my husband is adopted and unsure of his heritage).

Fusion baby or not, all toddler boys are programmed to love trains especially one named Thomas.

So it’s not surprising he was the inspiration for this fusion dish I created for #LetsLunch, our monthly Twitter-inspired food bloggers potluck.

One weekday several months ago, I was exhausted after a whole day of Isaac-sitting and I didn’t really want to cook. I was fine eating leftovers but I didn’t think Isaac would appreciate the fiery Indian curry from several days ago so I rummaged around in the fridge and found leftover cooked pasta, frozen peas and tofu. Yay, I thought, my kid loves tofu and will eat it with anything. However, tofu and red sauce didn’t quite appeal so I decided to try an Asian-style pasta stirfry.

I cut the tofu into cubes and brushed them with oyster sauce before pan-frying them. Once they were done, I removed them from the pan then continued with the rest of the ingredients. When everything had been given a final toss in the pan, I was a little skeptical but once I tasted the dish, I was pleasantly surprised.

When I made the dish again, I wanted a crisper tofu so I tossed the cubes in olive oil and baked them. The result–light golden cubes with crusty edges that held up better in the pan. I also added some butter toward the end to give the dish richness and flavor, a tip I learned from a Vietnamese chef when I was gathering recipes for The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook. I thought, “why not?’ since Isaac’s pediatrician was always telling me to add olive oil and butter to his meals to fatten him up.

Tofu, pasta, and butter(!) may seem like an odd combo but this dish turned out very tasty and has been filed away in my “recipes to keep” folder.  Plus, Isaac LOVES it! There we are, fusion cuisine for a fusion baby.

Our very own #LetsLunch-er Grace Hwang Lynch of HapaMama wrote a BlogHer article, highlighting that one in ten married couples have partners of different races. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, mixed-race marriages have increased by 28% in the past decade nationwide. Not surprisingly, more mixed-race (fusion!) babies are being born, according to this Washington Post article.

In the next century, perhaps fusion cuisine will be an obsolete term, humankind will be entirely mixed-race, and if Joss Wheedon (sorry typo, thanks Mo!) is truly a soothsayer, we’ll all be space cowboys cursing in Cantonese on the frontier! (And if you didn’t get that “Firefly” reference, you really need to email me to fix that!)

~~~

Buttery Tofu, Pasta and Peas

This is an easy, no-fuss recipe perfect for a weeknight meal. You can bake the tofu the night before and refrigerate until needed, or utilize the baking time to cook the pasta and chop the garlic and onions. You’ll still have time to take a shower and feed the dogs! I like my tofu a little crisp but if you’re running short on time, pan-fry the tofu cubes for about 2 to 3 minutes on each side instead. You can also use store-bought fried tofu or baked tofu.

Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes active
Makes: 4 servings

14-ounce package firm or extra firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 teaspoons olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon for cooking
Sea salt
8 ounces farfalle pasta, cooked according to package directions
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped (about 3/4 cup)
1-1/2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup frozen peas
Freshly ground pepper

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, toss the tofu cubes with 2 teaspoons of olive oil and salt to taste. Spread them evenly in one layer on a baking sheet. Bake until golden and crispy along the edges, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

While the tofu is baking, cook the pasta according to package directions.

Once the tofu is done, swirl in the remaining oil into a large pot and heat over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Cook the garlic and onion until the onion turns translucent. Add the pasta, followed by the oyster sauce and soy sauce. Mix well to coat the pasta.

Add the frozen peas and the butter and toss until the peas are heated through and the butter has completely melted. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a glass of white wine or a sippy cup of milk (for you know who).

~~~

Don’t forget to check out the Let’s Lunchers’ creations below. And if you’d like to join Let’s Lunch, go to Twitter and post a message with the hashtag #LetsLunch.

Anastasia‘s Miso Salmon with Mango Salsa at In Foodie Fashion

Cathy‘s Bacon-Studded Polenta With Tomato Gravy at ShowFood Chef

Charissa‘s Gluten-Free Azuki Bean Bundt Cake at Zest Bakery

Cheryl‘s Goan Pork Curry Tacos at A Tiger in the Kitchen

Eleanor‘s Wok Picadillo at Wok Star

Ellise‘s Salty Lime Sablés (Margarita Cookies) at Cowgirl Chef

Emma‘s Kimchi Bulgogi Nachos at Dreaming of Pots And Pans

Felicia‘s Mexican-Lebanese Hummus at Burnt-Out Baker

Grace‘s Taiwanese Fried Chicken at HapaMama

Jill‘s Southern Pimento-Stuffed Knishes at Eating My Words

Joe‘s Grilled KimCheese Sandwich at Joe Yonan

Juliana‘s Fusion Chicken Casserole at Food, Fun & Life

Karen‘s Ukrainian-German Cabbage Rolls at GeoFooding

Leigh‘s Venezuelan-Italian Cachapas Con Queso at Leigh Nannini

Linda‘s Project Runway Pelau: Rice & Beans Trinidad-Style at Spicebox Travels

Linda‘s Edible Salad Totes at Free Range Cookies

Lisa‘s Sunday Night Jewish-Chinese Brisket at Monday Morning Cooking Club

Lucy‘s Coconut Rice Pudding with Mango at A Cook And Her Books

Maria‘s Spanish Shrimp with Bacon, Cheddar & Chive Grits at Maria’s Good Things

Nancie‘s Chili-Cheese Biscuits with Avocado Butter at Nancie McDermott

Patricia‘s Buttery Tofu, Pasta & Peas at The Asian Grandmother’s Cookbook

Patrick‘s Kimchi Jigae and British Mash at Patrick G. Lee

Rashda‘s Mango Cobbler at Hot Curries & Cold Beer

Renee‘s Asian-Spiced Quick Pickles at My Kitchen And I

Steff‘s Chicken Fried Steak at The Kitchen Trials

Vivian‘s Funky Fusion Linguini at Vivian Pei


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Triggering Taste Memory with Purple Rice Pudding

Gorgeous black grains are transformed into a luscious burgundy pudding

There’s rice pudding and then there’s rice pudding.

Or more precisely, my rice pudding: “my” being yours, mine, or Uncle Bob’s.

Ask just about anyone and you’ll probably get an earful about a “secret” ingredient, or a tale inextricably linked to the memory of their childhood (or perhaps adulthood) rice pudding, be it seeds scraped straight from the vanilla pod or an emotional recounting of their six-year-old self standing by the stove watching mom stir rice and milk into a whirlpool of thick, creamy custard.

I’m no different.

When I first spied Maria Speck’s Purple Rice Pudding with Rose Water and Dates recipe (Ancient Grains for Modern Meals, Ten Speed Press, 2010), I was overwhelmed by the taste memory of bubur pulot hitam (black glutinous rice porridge) swirled with smooth, velvety milk still warm from the first squeeze of freshly-grated coconut flesh. The result: a burgundy bowl of sweet bliss.

Ah, the power of comfort food! Just one whiff or taste (or the mere imagining) is enough to spotlight a singular emotion or event amidst the jumble of memories and thoughts that are churning in our minds day after day, year after year.

Dusty Springfield’s “The Windmills of Your Mind” from the soundtrack of the original “The Thomas Crowne Affair” started playing in my head in stereo.

Like a circle in a spiral
Like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning,
On an ever spinning wheel
As the images unwind
Like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind

I can’t say for certain what it was about Maria’s recipe that triggered my memory. Perhaps it was the Forbidden Rice, an heirloom black rice variety trademarked by Lotus Foods. During Ming Dynasty China, this medium grain rice was reserved for the Emperor to ensure good health and long life. I’m not one to resist the thrill of an illicit ingredient.

Find Forbidden Rice and other Lotus Foods rice products at Whole Foods Market

Plus, the rice reminded me of black glutinous rice, the grain used to make pulot hitam. Uncooked, black glutinous rice and Chinese black rice are almost identical. After a spell on the stove, black glutinous rice huddles together and transforms into a chewy, almost gummy (but not in a bad way) porridge. Forbidden rice is more toothsome and the individual grains hold their shape better.

Once I started making the dish, I literally started tearing as I doused the chopped dates in the fragrant liquid. The fragrance transported me to my childhood kitchen where on the refrigerator’s topmost shelf always sat a bottle of rose syrup, far out of the reach of prying little hands. As a little girl, ambrosia was defined by one part rose syrup and four parts water served in a tall glass. Alas, this was a drink mainly served to guests. Only once in awhile, my brother and I were given a glass as a special treat.

Rose syrup is not to be mistaken for rose water. Or for that matter, a natural product infused with the essence of rose petals. It was (and probably still is) made with artificial flavoring and coloring, clearly, since just one glassful left my tongue stained a deep crimson.

No matter the source, memory is both a marvelous and precious thing. And just like Dusty sings, “Never ending or beginning, on an ever spinning wheel” our memories are in constant flux. But rest assured the images will always unwind in the “windmills of your mind.”

~~~

Purple Rice Pudding with Rose Water Dates

A food writer friend once said that he wouldn’t let chefs test his recipes because they couldn’t follow directions and always wanted to add their own spin. I’m not a chef but I’m guilty as charged. While it is difficult for me to follow a recipe to a ‘T’, I ended up giving this one just a mini makeover. Amidst claims that I am in denial about my lactose intolerance, I used coconut milk instead of half-and-half to nudge it closer to the rice pudding I own kinship with. And in place of the cinnamon stick, I sprinkled ground cardamom as an ode to my favorite kulfi flavor–rose water and cardamom.

Makes: 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes

1 1/4 cups water
1/2 cup Chinese black rice
1/4 cup finely chopped pitted dates (about 6)
2 dates, pitted and cut into thin strips
4 teaspoons rose water, divided
1 1/4 cups coconut milk (slightly less than one 13 oz can)
2 tablespoons palm sugar or brown sugar
Pinch of sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom or 2 cardamom pods
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a small saucepan, bring the water and rice to a boil. Lower the temperature to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook until the rice is tender yet still slightly chewy, about 30 minutes. Some water will remain (do not drain).

While the rice is cooking, prepare the date topping. Place the chopped dates in a small bowl and drizzle with 2 teaspoons of the rose water. Add the date strips to a different small bowl and drizzle with 1 teaspoon rose water. Stir the dates in both bowls and set aside, stirring once or twice more.

Add the remaining 1 teaspoon rosewater, coconut milk, sugar, salt, cardamom, and vanilla to the rice. Raise the heat slightly until the mixture starts to bubble, stirring several times. Lower the heat to maintain a gentle bubble and cook, uncovered, for 15 more minutes, stirring every few minutes or so. The consistency should be creamy yet soupy — the mixture will thicken as it cools. Remove the saucepan from the heat and remove the cardamom pods if using. Stir in the chopped dates.

Divide the rice pudding among small individual dessert bowls or cups. Garnish with the rose water-infused date strips, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Notes:
Maria recommends choosing firmer dates such as Deglet Noor that won’t turn to mush in the pudding. To lighten up the pudding, she also suggests using whole milk instead of half-and-half. In the same vein, you can use light coconut milk.

~~~

This music-inspired (well kinda) post is part of the Twitter #LetsLunch bunch. Here’s what the rest of the crew is raving about:

Tiger Cakes ~ from Ellise at Cowgirl Chef
Honey Mac Wafers with Coconut ~ from Lisa at Monday Morning Cooking Club
Tommy’s Chili ~ from Felicia at Burnt-out Baker
Banana Bread ~ from Rashda at Hot Curries and Cold Beer
Chicken and Dumplings ~ from Cathy at ShowFood Chef
Quiet munchies for concert-going ~ from Patrick at Patrick G. Lee
Coconut Cake ~ from Steff at The Kitchen Trials
Cuban black beans ~ from Linda at Spicebox Travels
Gluten-free Thin Mints ~ from Linda at Free Range Cookies

A New Take On A Dim Sum Favorite: Chinese-Style Savory Pumpkin Cake

Pumpkin savory cake
Chinese-style savory cake--think turnip cake (aka luo bo gao)--updated with canned pumpkin

When I was gathering recipes for The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook, I spent a day with Cathy Chun and her sister, Carol, cooking, chatting and sharing.

Shrimp with black bean sauce and taro cake were on the menu. While both were delicious, only the shrimp dish made it into the cookbook. However, I’ve been waiting for the perfect opportunity to highlight the taro cake recipe.

So the other day, as I was thinking about all the wonderful things I could make with the season’s bounty of pumpkin, I decided, why not make a Chinese-style savory cake with pumpkin instead of taro or turnip?

Pumpkin savory cake
The stirfried ingredients in a Chinese savory cake (from top right): Chinese sausage, shrimp, Tianjin preserved vegetables, chopped cilantro, chopped green onions

Taro or turnip cake is a staple at dim sum restaurants and surprisingly easy to make at home. Cathy learned to make this recipe from her dad but it is based on a recipe from Rhoda Yee’s seminal cookbook Dim Sum: The Delicious Secrets of Home-Cooked Chinese Tea Lunch (1977).

The recipe calls for some ingredients you can’t find at your local Safeway or Giant so let’s talk about them for a little bit and discuss substitutions.

Chinese Sausage (lap cheong, lop cheung)

Pumpkin savory cake
Sweet, salty, and slightly smoky, Chinese sausage adds so much flavor to just about any dish from fried rice to an omelet. It is is smoked, preserved, dried and sold in packages of 10 to 12 links. Unopened, it will last 3 months refrigerated. After opening, wrap it in a sealed bag or container and refrigerate for a month.

The brand I buy is Kam Yen Jan.

If you cut the sausage crosswise and look closely, you’ll see bits of white. This is pure fat! Cathy showed me how to steam the sausages on the stove for about 8 to 10 minutes to render the fat so that it becomes a little healthier. For simplicity’s sake, I microwave them. You can also sauté slices in a dry wok or skillet for about 7 to 8 minutes. Use the rendered fat to fry the rest of the ingredients but this defeats the purpose of rendering the fat :).

In this recipe, you can substitute ham, pork loin or Chinese barbecued pork (char siu).  To make a meat-free version, use Chinese dried mushrooms or fresh portabellos or shitakes. Or mix and match.

Shrimp
Pumpkin savory cake
The original recipe uses dried shrimp but I prefer my shrimp sans coloring and preservatives so I bought cooked pink shrimp instead.

Preserved vegetables
Pumpkin savory cake
Rhoda Yee’s recipe calls for chung choy, pickled turnip. I haven’t been able to find it at the Asian market but according to Cathy it comes rolled up like a ball of twine. I used Tianjin preserved vegetables (also called tong cai or winter vegetables) instead, which is pickled cabbage. A preserved vegetable is a preserved vegetable right?

Sometimes Tianjin preserved vegetables are sold in a cute little clay crock.

If you are wary of preserved vegetables, leave them out but add a little salt or soy sauce to the batter because the vegetables add saltiness.

Pumpkin
Pumpkin savory cake
To make taro cake, you’d have to buy fresh or frozen taro and cook it with broth to soften. While I’m a from-scratch cook at heart, ever since Isaac was born, all my good intentions have gone out the window. Thus, I am thankful for the convenience of canned pumpkin puree. I used Trader Joe’s organic pumpkin puree. For some inexplicable reason, the word “organic” always reassures me.

Flour
Pumpkin savory cake
Traditionally, taro cake is made from rice flour and wheat starch. However, rice flour has only become more available in recent years. So when Rhoda Yee was developing her recipe for taro cake in the mid-1970’s, she probably discovered that cake flour (Swans Down brand, she says, has no substitute!) produced a cake with a texture closest to traditional taro cake. Made from soft wheat flour, cake flour gives a delicate, velvety texture, which is what taro cake is all about.

I used King Arthur cake flour which has fewer additives than Swans Down. To make your own, put 2 tablespoons of cornstarch in the bottom of a 1-cup measuring cup, then fill the cup with sifted, bleached, all-purpose flour (3/4 cup).

I hope you’ve gained an understanding of the ingredients that go into a Chinese savory cake. Now, let’s get cooking!

~~~

Savory Pumpkin Cake
Pumpkin savory cake

I’ve updated Cathy’s recipe using canned pumpkin and baked the cake in a water bath in the oven instead of steaming on the stovetop. The cake will turn out softer than the traditional rice recipe but it tastes pretty authentic with a touch of sweetness from the pumpkin. The only difference is the pieces won’t hold up to pan-frying. Savory pumpkin cake is delicious for breakfast or as a snack, or serve it as an unusual seasonal appetizer for your holiday party!

Time: 1-1/2 hours
Makes: 1 9-inch round cake

2/3 cup sliced Chinese sausage (2, 7-inch sausages) or a combination of ham, char siu or mushrooms
2 teaspoons
1/4 cup cooked pink shrimp
2 tablespoons Tianjin preserved vegetables or chung choy (pickled turnip)
1/3 cup green onions, chopped (save 1 tablespoon for garnish)
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped (save 1 tablespoon for garnish)
1/2 teaspoon five-spice powder
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 cup cake flour
1/3 cup chicken stock (homemade or low-sodium store-bought)
1 (15 oz) can pumpkin puree (1 3/4 cup)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the sausage in a wide bowl and pour in 1/3 cup water. Cover to avoid splattering and microwave on medium-high for 2 minutes to render the fat. Drain the fat and mince the sausage into confetti-sized pieces.

In a large wok or skillet, heat the oil and stir-fry the sausage, shrimp, and preserved vegetables. Add the green onions and fry for 2 minutes before adding the cilantro. Sprinkle the five-spice powder and white pepper and mix well. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix the cake flour with the stock and pumpkin until smooth. The mixture will be a little lumpy. Add the meat mixture and stir to mix well. The batter’s consistency will resemble thick oatmeal.

Pour the batter into a lightly greased 9-inch metal cake pan (disposable is fine). Cover with foil and set the pan in a roasting pan. Pour water into the roasting pan until it reaches to about an inch up the cake pan to create a water bath.

Place the batter in the oven and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the center is firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. The cake will still be soft.

Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours, or preferably overnight, so that the cake will firm up. Or make ahead and freeze. Defrost in the fridge or microwave on low to defrost.

Let the cake sit out until it reaches room temperature. When ready to serve, run a knife along the edge of the cake to loosen sides. Cut the cake into 2-inch-wide strips and then on the diagonal into diamond-shaped pieces. Garnish with fried shallots, green onions and cilantro, and serve with hoisin sauce and chili sauce.

~~~

For those who would like a more traditional turnip or taro cake recipe:
Rhoda Yee’s original Taro Pudding Cake recipe

Grace Young’s Turnip Cake Recipe 

Daikon Radish Cake (Luo Bo Gao) recipe from Foodmayhem.com

Congee as Comfort Food

congee, jook
Can you spot Isaac’s mop of black hair looming at the top right corner in the first photo? “I … must … touch … congee …”

The last few weeks have been exhausting. I’ve been sick twice in three weeks (once with a gastro-intestinal virus and am now recovering with maybe strep and/or a sinus infection), and my two illnesses bookended my little man’s bout with a stomach virus (yet again). Ever since Isaac started daycare in August, it’s been a neverending series of maladies at our house. So please forgive me for not posting until now.

Thankfully, I’m well-prepared when it comes to feeding the sick, whether my son, husband, or myself. My go-to dish is my mom’s congee, called ‘bubur’ in Indonesian, also known as jook (粥) or rice porridge. And it’s so easy to make, I can even fend for myself when I’m under the weather.

Just like chicken (noodle) soup is …

Read more at SmithonianAPA.org/PicklesandTea.

 

5 Secrets to Making Fabulous Fried Rice

fried rice 008
Leftovers come together beautifully in a delicious bowl of fried rice

Everyone loves fried rice!

I know, I know, it’s a bold statement to make. I don’t think it’s a stretch though. Just think about the infinite permutations worldwide. Examples include: Indonesian nasi goreng, Thai pineapple fried rice, Filipino garlic fried rice (siningag), and that’s only in Asia! (Don’t worry I’ll delve into these a little more in another post). Fried rice is also wildly popular at Asian restaurants, often served with lunch specials and always ordered by my friend, X, who shall go unnamed.

I have a confession to make. Fried rice is the last thing on the menu I’d order when dining out (unless it’s chicken and salted fish fried rice, yum!) for one reason—it’s so very simple to make at home. A quick dig in the fridge for cooked rice, last night’s leftovers and whatever treasures are lurking in the back, and everything comes together in the wok in less than 20 minutes!

Making fried rice is easy in theory, but getting it right does take a little know-how. I don’t know about you but I’ve dished up my fair share of burnt fried rice, clumpy fried rice, and simply not very good fried rice.

After years of experimenting and watching, however, I have to say my fried rice is pretty good.  So here are my 5 secrets anyone can pick up and you’ll soon be on your way to making fabulous fried rice.

Read more at SmithonianAPA.org/PicklesandTea.

What’s in a Curry?

027
Golden-hued Madras curry powder

Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as a generic curry powder. In fact, the term curry powder didn’t exist until the 18th century when local cooks in Madras (now called Chennai in India’s southern Tamil Nadu state) packaged a spice blend for British colonialists to take home with them. Hence, Madras curry powder is one of the most common curry blends you can find on the market.

So what’s in a curry? It is, to put it simply, a blend of spices called a masala and may contain two or three spices, or a dozen or more; and it varies from region to region, household to household.

It is widely accepted that curries originated in India and the phenomena has spread across the world through migration and trade over the centuries. The Indians who migrated to Southeast Asia brought with them not only their religion and cultural practices but their cuisine and cooking techniques as well.

In Singapore, I grew up eating Indian-style fish head curry and roti prata dipped into mutton curry. I also ate curries based on spice pastes called rempah (Malay) and bumbu bumbu (Indonesian). These pastes comprised herbs and spices such as chilies, lemongrass and galangal plus other ingredients like candlenuts and shrimp paste to make a wet paste instead of a dry spice blend.

My mum would also make what she called a Chinese-style curry. And surprise, surprise, I discovered the Vietnamese have a very similar version. Cathy Danh was gracious enough to share her grandmother’s recipe with me.

Vietnamese Chicken Curry (Ca Ri Ga)

IMG_6856

This mild adaptation of an Indian curry has a Vietnamese twist added—sweet potatoes. Cathy Danh’s grandmother cuts up her chicken into various parts. But Cathy likes to make it with just drumsticks since they’re a hot commodity in her family. She also uses a combo of white and sweet potatoes. If possible, allow the curry to sit overnight so that the chicken really absorbs the flavors from the spice-rich gravy.

Time: 2 1/2 hours (30 minutes active)
Makes: 4 to 6 servings as part of a multicourse family-style meal

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped (1 1/2 cups)
2 tablespoons Vietnamese or Madras curry powder
2 1/4 teaspoons salt
3- to 4-pound chicken, cut into 8 serving pieces; or 3 pounds bonein
chicken parts of your choice (drumsticks, wings, breasts, etc.)
20-ounce can (2 1⁄3 cups) coconut milk
1 cup water, plus more as needed
2 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes and/or russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat until it becomes runny and starts to shimmer. Add the onion and stir and cook until slightly softened, about 2 minutes. Add the curry powder and ¼ teaspoon salt and stir until fragrant, about 15 seconds.

Add the chicken and brown for 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Don’t worry about completely cooking the chicken at this point, you just want to sear the meat so that it retains its juices and doesn’t fall apart during cooking.

Add the coconut milk and water followed by the potatoes. Make sure the chicken pieces and potatoes are completely submerged in the liquid. If necessary, add more water. Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cover. Simmer for at least 1 hour, preferably 2.

When the dish is done, the chicken will be fall-apart tender and the gravy will be thick from the starch of the potatoes. Add the remaining salt. Serve hot with freshly steamed rice or French bread.

Variations: When frying the onion, throw in chopped lemongrass or crumpled kaffir lime leaves for a very Southeast Asian flavor.

Add red chili flakes or ground red dried chilies to give the curry a little more kick.

For a lighter curry, decrease the amount of coconut milk and top off the difference with water.

Pat’s Notes: For a true Viet flavor, buy Vietnamese curry powder from an Asian market. This golden curry mixture is very similar to a Madras curry powder and is made of curry leaves, turmeric, chili, coriander, cumin seeds, cinnamon, cloves, bay leaves, allspice, and salt. Cathy’s grandmother prefers the Con Voy brand but D&D Gold Madras curry powder is also recommended.

As grandma always says, please share:

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Macaroni and Cheese My Way

You caught me. I used leftover holiday ham instead of Spam to make this dish.

People either recoil in terror or express intrigue when I tell them about one of my favorite comfort foods—Spam mac and cheese. Yes, you read right: Spam–aka luncheon meat–that processed and prepackaged meat product (I daren’t call it real meat!) in a can. Growing up in Asia, Spam was called luncheon meat and branded Ma Ling (which I recently discovered was banned in Singapore in 2007 for containing nitrofurans, an antibiotic for pigs. Whoa. Click here and here for two interesting articles).

Technically, the dish is called macaroni schoetel, a Dutch-inspired dish that has become a staple in the Indonesian culinary landscape. For some people, pronouncing “schoetel” (scott-tle) might be more of a challenge than the thought of eating Spam. If you’re a stickler for details, I admit it’s more of a macaroni casserole because unlike American mac and cheeses, it contains egg, and the minimal amount of cheese may offend the mac and cheese connoisseur. Regardless, it’s a hit with children (and some adults :)).

If you really don’t like Spam, alternatives abound in sausage, ham, chicken or corned beef.

Macaroni Schoetel

070

I’ve had versions of this dish that are baked until the egg binds the macaroni together firmly so that it can be cut into slices and eaten as finger food—great for picnics or as a party appetizer. I like mine still mushy and served on a plate. Use 6 eggs and bake for an hour if you prefer firmer macaroni schoetel. Of course, the peas are my doing to make it seem “healthier.”

Time: 1 hour 15 minutes (30 minutes active)
Makes: 6 to 8 servings

Half pound shell or farfalle pasta (or any small pasta shape of your choice)
¼ cup (1/2 stick), plus 1 tablespoon butter
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup flour
2 1/2 cups milk
8 ounces luncheon meat, ham, or cooked chicken, cubed
1 cup frozen green peas, thawed
3 cups shredded Gouda or Edam cheese (about 8 ounces)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground white or black pepper
Freshly ground nutmeg
4 eggs, beaten

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Cook the pasta according to package directions with 1 tablespoon of butter. Drain and set aside.

In a large sauté pan, melt the remaining butter over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and stir and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Sprinkle in the flour and stir until pasty and light golden. Pour in the milk, and stir until the sauce thickens and starts to bubble, about 2 minutes.

Add the cooked pasta, luncheon meat, green peas and cheese, and mix well. Stir in the sugar, salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary, keeping in mind that the cheese is already salty.

Turn off the heat and stir in the eggs until well blended.

Transfer the pasta into a greased 2-½ quart dish. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes or until bubbling and golden brown on top.