Asian Meatballs with Sweet and Spicy Tamarind Sauce

Can you tell that these meatballs are made from tofu and pork? Neither can your family and guests!
Can you tell that these meatballs are made from tofu and pork? I didn’t think so, and neither will your family and guests!

I’ve been on a meatball kick lately, which is a little strange since I’m not a huge meat-eater. Maybe it’s the cooler weather. Maybe it’s all the spaghetti and meatball recipes I keep seeing. Who knows?

That being said, I didn’t want my meatballs to be too stodgy so I decided to lighten them up.

Scouring the Web and my cookbooks, I found suggestions for using extra fillers (breadcrumbs, oats, rice), adding beans, hiding veggies in the meatballs, etc. Then it came to me: why not add tofu just like the Japanese hamburger recipe in my cookbook (pg. 153).

After experimenting with ingredients and proportions, I first tossed the resulting meatballs into my favorite tomato sauce with spaghetti. My husband and son gobbled dinner up none the wiser!

About a year ago, my friend Jill O’Oconnor interviewed me for an article she wrote for the San Diego Union Tribune about Asian ingredients. We had talked about various ways to use Asian ingredients in very American recipes and she developed a recipe for Asian Turkey Meatballs with Honey-Tamarind-Chili BBQ Sauce.

Inspired by Jill, I decided to tweak her sauce and came up with my own sweet, sour, and spicy version.


Asian Meatballs with Sweet and Spicy Tamarind Sauce


These half-tofu-half-pork meatballs are awesome as party appetizers. I’d make several batches because they will go fast, especially when chased with a cocktail or beer. They’re that good. And your guests will never know they’re made with–gasp–tofu!

Time: 45 minutes
Makes: 30 1-inch meatballs

7 ounces firm or medium-firm tofu
1 pound 4 ounces ground pork, turkey, or beef (not super-lean please!)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons chopped green onions (1 stalk)
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray.

Place the tofu in a non-terry dish towel or sturdy paper towel. Over the sink, wring out as much excess liquid as possible. Do this a few times until the tofu is dry and crumbly.

In a medium bowl, combine the tofu, ground pork, soy sauce, green onions, cilantro, sea salt, black pepper, and mix until smooth. Hint: use your hands! I like to microwave a little of the mixture and taste it to see if it needs any more seasoning.

Roll into 1-inch balls and place them on the prepared baking sheets about an inch apart.

Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes, until the meatballs are golden and cooked through. Toss cooked meatballs with warm sauce and serve.


Sweet and Spicy Tamarind Sauce

Makes about 3/4 cup of sauce

1/3 cup wet tamarind (about 3 ounces)
3/4 cup water
2 cloves garlic, minced finely
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger (About 1-inch chunk ginger, peeled and grated)
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons palm sugar (or light brown sugar)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 to 3 teaspoons sambal oelek (chili paste)

In a medium saucepan, combine the tamarind paste with water. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat and stir until the paste softens into a thick puree. Add the ginger, garlic, sugar, soy sauce, and chili paste. Keep stirring to prevent the sauce from burning or sticking, until the sauce becomes thick and sticky, about 10 minutes. Press this mixture through a fine sieve into a large bowl or deep dish to remove any solids. Gently toss the cooked meatballs in the warm sauce.

This sauce can also be made a few days ahead of serving and reheated when needed.



Kitchen Disasters and Fixes iPhone App Giveaway

It’s 5:30 pm on a Saturday. The cheesecake you pulled out of the oven two hours ago has a gash as wide as the San Andreas Fault, the roast beef is sitting on the counter crusted in charcoal cracklings, and your guests are arriving in an hour. You sigh and brush your disheveled hair off your face, fighting back the tears.

Be strong. This is no time for a breakdown or to reach for the phone to call your favorite takeout place.

There is a simple solution! Charmian Christie’s Kitchen Disasters and Fixes iPhone app. Charmian’s app will tell you to just scrape off the roast’s burnt surface, then slice and serve. No one will know any better! And since a cracked cake surface is merely cosmetic, simply spray a thick layer of whipped cream over the top and decorate with berries. It’s all good. Your dinner party can still be a success!

Charmian is a food writer, recipe developer and blogger (at Christie’s Corner) who has had her share of kitchen disasters yet has lived to cook another day. Her work appears in a wide variety of publications, including The Globe and Mail, More, Edible Toronto, Canadian Gardening, Relish, and Natural Health. After all the cooking and recipe-testing she’s done, you can trust that her advice, tips and tactics are sound.

One problem I’ve run into again again is making my curry too spicy. Now if I had Charmian’s app right from the start, I’d know to temper the heat with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream at the table with just one swipe of my iPhone. Instead I had to figure this out on my own. Charmian also offers another tip I haven’t tried—add something sweet like raisins or mangoes to the pot. Genius!

With my liberal shakes of the wrist, there’s another problem I encounter often—a too-salty stew. Thank goodness for my mum who advised me to add potatoes to absorb the saltiness and/or to add sugar. Charmian’s suggestion? A splash of vinegar or two.

In lieu of time and a kitchen sage, Charmian’s Kitchen Disasters and Fixes app will come to the rescue. The app also serves up avoidance tactics that are indispensable in the kitchen.

I know, we could all really do with Charmian’s app and as luck would have it, I have two free promo codes to give away. Just leave a comment telling us your ultimate kitchen disaster, and if you managed to salvage it, how did you do it? We’ll randomly pick two winners in a weeks’s time.

I’ll announce the winners on Tuesday, June 12th!

Homemade: Tofu–No Fancy Equipment Necessary!

For the last three years, I had a pack of nigari and a wooden tofu press sitting in my kitchen cupboard. Unfortunately, the duo never saw any action as I didn’t get round to making tofu.

Now that we’ve moved across the country and most of our belongings—and 95 percent of my kitchen equipment!—are in storage, I found myself aching to make tofu. So on a cool, fallish Thursday morning with “Putting on the Ritz” blasting away (I just rediscovered my 80’s collection on the computer!), I set about making tofu for the first time, no nigari, no tofu press.

First things first, I surveyed my ingredients and my equipment.

I decided I didn’t want to make soymilk from scratch (read: my food processor is in storage). I ended up buying a half-gallon bottle of fresh soymilk from the Asian store. This was my choice because it was made by a local company and it contained only three ingredients: water, non-GMO soybeans and soy lecithin (now if only I could find a brand that uses organic soybeans). Compare this to the widely available brand, Silk, which has calcium carbonate, natural flavors, carageenan, etc., etc. I wanted as few additives as possible.

Part of my tofu-making arsenal

Nigari (a natural coagulant of magnesium chloride made by evaporating seawater) is the coagulant of choice in Japan, while the Chinese prefer gypsum (calcium sulfate). Both are sold specifically for making tofu and are available at specialty stores (here are some online sources). I went with what was more readily available. In the spirit of experimentation, I used three different coagulants: lemon juice, lime juice and Epsom salt.

As for equipment, I took out my stainless steel pot, a couple of wooden spoons, my recently-purchased cheesecloth (you can use a thin cotton non-terry dish towel or handkerchief), and I was ready to start tofu-making.

True to “no fancy equipment” form, I decided to convert an old plastic tofu container into a makeshift tofu press.I turned it upside down and started cutting into the nicks that were already molded into the plastic, making sure the slits were big enough to allow liquid to drain through. Clever, eh?

I made similar holes in all 4 corners of the tofu container for my makeshift tofu press

Just so you know, we food writers and recipe developers are not perfect, and we do make mistakes. The first time round, I used 4 cups of soymilk and 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice diluted in ½ cup water as a coagulant. The first sign that something was amiss was that with every wring of the cheesecloth, still milky-white liquid oozed from the tiny holes. The liquid is supposed to be translucent. But I went ahead and pressed the curds into my “tofu press” anyway.

After my myriad tries to press out as much liquid as possible, my tofu was still soft and spongy.

I took a bite. It tasted like tofu, the texture wasn’t bad, plush and soft, kinda like marshmallow. But it refused to bind despite my best efforts so I had to raise the white flag. I decided I could use it in mabo tofu or to make tofu and minced pork balls.

Maybe I needed more lemon juice? Or maybe I should have continued stirring the mixture over the heat until it started separating more noticeably. Or … Whatever it was, I was determined to try again.

Then I recalled my paneer-making efforts. Perhaps I could follow the same method–the process is basically the same, separating the curds from the whey with a coagulant.

I followed the method almost to a “t,” using juice from 3 1/2 limes (about the equivalent in tablespoons), and lo and behold, I had firm, freshly-pressed tofu! I was overcome with so much jubilation—my first successful batch of tofu—I almost started tearing.

This time I pressed my tofu in a colander which formed an oddly-shaped disc of tofu. Nonetheless, I was excited to try a piece. Perhaps I should have waited and relished the tofu high a little longer. Once I popped a piece in my mouth, my elation crumbled like the disintegrating tofu in my mouth. I didn’t care for the powdery texture and the tartness that clung to the background like a wallflower, barely noticeable but still there.

Using a colander as a “press” results in an odd-shaped piece of tofu.

Not satisfied with my tofu-making efforts, I tried yet again, this time with Epsom salt as my coagulant. And as they say, the third time’s a charm!

The curds that formed were still smaller than I was expecting and I was skeptical. Somehow or another, the itty bitty curds bound into a perfect block of momen tofu (“momen” means “cotton” and describes a medium firm tofu). Unlike store-bought tofu which can sometimes taste bland, this tofu tasted mildly sweet, and not too beany. The texture was dense and looked crumbly but once in my mouth, it was cottony soft, just like its moniker.

Woot, my tofu was finally a total success!

I’m not sure if I’ll be making tofu regularly but I did come away from the experience with a few tofu tidbits. Overall, I wouldn’t recommend lemon or lime juice because they impart a tangy flavor that was a little odd in the resulting tofu. I think I’m going to try using nigari next to see if bigger tofu curds form, hopefully producing a smoother, less crumbly tofu.

And finally, for first-timers, buy Epsom salt. If you decide you don’t ever want to make tofu again, you can use the remainder for a relaxing soak in the bath after a busy day of standing in the kitchen!


Homemade Momen Tofu

I’ve tried making tofu several times now and the process never goes exactly the same. I’m always surprised–the resulting tofu may turn out a little firmer or a wee bit spongier. I really can’t tell you why but that’s ok since it always tastes good. I just mix it up, using the tofu in different recipes. Keep in mind, the quality of your soymilk plays a huge part in how your tofu will turn out. In other words, keep experimenting until you’re satisfied!

Time: 45 minutes to 1 hour
Makes: about 14 oz tofu

2 teaspoons Epsom salt
4 cups soymilk (storebought or homemade)

Stir the Epsom salt into ½ cup hot water until it completely dissolves.

In a large pot, bring the soymilk to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. When steam starts to appear and bubbles form around the edge of the pot, reduce the heat to medium. Simmer for about 3 minutes, stirring often to ensure the soymilk doesn’t burn. Remove any film that forms on the surface.

Reduce the heat to low. Pour the Epsom salt mixture into the hot soymilk a little at a time, stirring after each pour. The curds will soon start separating from the whey. As soon as obvious curds have formed and the whey turns from a milky white to a yellowish, translucent liquid, stop pouring. You want to use as little coagulant as possible because it might impart a bitter taste to the tofu. I usually use up about ¼ to 1/3 cup of the Epsom salts mixture.

Take the pot off the heat and cover with a lid. Let it sit for about 15 minutes to allow the curds to separate even further. After 15 minutes, if the whey is still opaque, add more of the Epsom salts mixture, stirring after each pour. Don’t worry if the curds are no bigger than coarse breadcrumbs.

Set your “tofu press” over a colander in the sink. Line the press with the cheesecloth.

Pour the curds and whey into the “tofu press” in stages, waiting for the whey to drain into the sink. Wring as much liquid from the cheesecloth as possible.

Press the curds into the “tofu press,” filling out the corners. Or press into the bottom of a colander or sieve. Fold the cheesecloth neatly and place a folded towel on top to soak up excess liquid. Weigh down the tofu with two cans of food.

Allow the tofu to set for 15 to 20 minutes. Unwrap the cheesecloth and turn the tofu block out into a large bowl or plastic container. Fill with water, being careful not to hit the tofu directly with the stream of water, and rinse the tofu gently. Drain and the tofu is ready to be made into dinner.

To store, submerge the tofu in water in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days, changing the water every day. Remember, this is fresh tofu and has no preservatives!


Resources I used to come up with my own tofu-making process:

Just Hungry: The blogosphere’s definitive site for Japanese food and cuisine

Brenda J Wiley: A detailed description of how to make tofu using a soymilk machine

LaFujiMama: Check out her easy-to-follow processes for making soymilk from scratch and quick one-hour tofu

A Not So Christmassy Christmas Cookie

IMG_0810 by you.

It’s amazing what you discover just by plugging words into Google.

Do you know what manju is? Well, in my books, it’s a Japanese confection that has myriad guises. It can be baked or steamed and filled with anything from azuki beans, lima beans to kabocha. According to Wikipedia, manju is also a Sanskrit word meaning “pleasing” or “sweet,” it is the Tamil word for “cloud,” as well as a popular name for females. Plus, Manchu (as in the people of Manchuria in what is today Northeastern China) comes from the Chinese Manju or Manzhou. Who would have thought?

Anyways, back to manju the Japanese confection. If baking is a holiday tradition in your family, or if you’d like to start the tradition, try this recipe on for size.

Yaki, or baked, manju is not your typical Christmas cookie–there’s no ginger, cinnamon or star shapes involved–but Katie Kiyonaga’s Auntie Shiz has been making them for the holidays for decades. Aunty Shiz makes a number of varieties with different fillings and in different shapes (including a brown-tinged sweet potatoe shape). Needless to say, each piece is an individual work of art.

Making manju from scratch takes quite a bit of work but you can hardly find them in stores anymore here in the U.S. I believe it’s worth all the effort to keep this recipe alive.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Japanese Sweet Bean Cookies (Yaki Manju)

IMG_0818 by you.

The recipe is deceptively simple because it doesn’t reflect the years and years of experience it takes to develop the know-how of when the dough is exactly the right texture, how to get the knack for rolling the manju so that there are no gaps between filling and dough. But keep practicing and you’ll eventually get it right.

Time: 1 1/2 hours
Makes: 3 to 3 1/2 dozen cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
2 egg whites
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
3 cups flour, or as needed
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 drops soy sauce for color (optional)
2 1/2 to 3 cups lima bean paste (recipe follows)

1 egg yolk
1/4 teaspoon evaporated milk (Carnation is the preferred brand)
3 tablespoons soy sauce

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and then the egg whites and beat until smooth and well combined. Add the corn syrup and mix well.

Stir in 2 cups of flour, the baking soda, and salt. Knead everything into a smooth dough with your hands. Sprinkle in the remaining cup of flour, a little at a time, and knead until the dough pulls away easily from the sides of the bowl and no longer sticks to your fingers. If desired, add the soy sauce and knead into the dough to color it evenly.

Pinch off a small portion of dough and roll it into a ball the size of a gumball (about 1-inch in diameter). Roll a small portion of the lima bean paste into a ball of the same size. Flatten the dough ball between your palms and cup it in one hand. Place the lima bean ball in the middle. Stretch the dough over the lima bean ball and pinch the ends together to cover the filling completely. Shape as desired into a ball or an egg-shaped confection with two pointy ends. Repeat with the remaining dough and lima bean paste.

Arrange the cookies on a lightly greased cookie sheet about 1 1/2 inches apart. Brush thickly with glaze. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until light golden.

Lima Bean Paste (Shiro An)
If you’re short on time, or patience, lima bean paste is available at most Asian markets well-stocked with Japanese merchandise. The beauty of making the paste at home is you can control the amount of sugar that goes into it. Lima bean paste keeps in the refrigerator for up to 1 week and in the freezer indefinitely.

Time: 3 hours plus soaking time
Makes: 4 cups

1 pound (3 cups) dried lima beans
2 cups sugar
Pinch salt

Place the lima beans in a large heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Soak for at least 3 hours, up to 12 hours.

Drain. Using your fingers, slip the skins off gently–they will pop off easily–and discard. Remove any sprouts. The beans might split but that’s okay.

The skins pop off with little effort

Transfer the beans to a medium saucepan and pour in enough water to cover the beans by an inch. Bring to a boil, skimming off any foam or scum that rises to the surface. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the beans are fall-apart tender and crumble easily between your fingers. Replenish the water as it evaporates so that the beans are submerged at all times (you will probably add 1 to 2 more cups of water), and stir often. If the beans scorch, they will turn an ugly brown and taste as bad as they look.

When the beans are tender, mash them with a potato masher or large fork until the texture resembles chunky mashed potatoes. Working in batches, use a wooden spatula to press the bean mixture through a sieve. Add a little water if the mashed beans are having trouble going through. The sieved bean mixture should now resemble smooth mashed potatoes.

The post-sieve lima bean mixture

Return the bean mixture to the same saucepan and add the sugar and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly. When the mixture starts to bubble, reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent the mixture from scorching. Run your wooden spatula through the paste and if the paste holds it shape and remains parted for a few seconds, it is ready. The paste will thicken as it cools anyway, so don’t worry about cooking it down until it’s really thick.

Parting of the yellow sea

Remove from the heat and cool before using as a filling for confections.

The thickened lima bean paste

Chicken Biryani Three Ways


I first met Jafar “Jeff” Siddiqui 16 years ago when I first came to the U.S. Jeff and his wife Kathy were my brother’s host parents. Every year, FIUTS, an organization at the University of Washington, plays matchmaker, pairing newly arrived foreign students with American families who are willing to host them for a week and help them transition to a new culture and country.

Just as they did with my brother, Jeff and his family graciously took me under their wing, and we’ve become lifelong friends.

My first few thanksgivings and Christmases were spent with the Siddiquis and we’d go over for other occasions, both special and casual. I devoured my first plate of roast turkey smothered with gravy and cranberry sauce at theirs, and I was introduced to Kathy’s chili and cornbread one lunchtime. And every so often Jeff would cook up dishes hailing from his native Pakistan. “This is NOT Indian cuisine!” Jeff would declare, not realizing I had spied a cookbook on the kitchen counter with the word ‘Indian’ emblazoned somewhere on its front cover. I knew better than to open my mouth so I’d stifle a giggle, roll my eyeballs, and continue eating my plate of chicken curry, dhal or whatever sumptuous spiced dish was on the table.

I’ve met the extended family from both sides–mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, cousins–and I’ve watched their kids grow up. The oldest, Heather, is now a beautiful young woman of 17 and Arman is 13 and already taller than his dad.

So when I started working on my cookbook, I naturally asked the Siddiquis if the had any recipes to share. The kids were unanimous: Amma’s Rice, the name for their grandma’s chicken biryani.

Jeff’s mother, “Munni” Khursheed Ashraf, never recorded the recipe so all her children and grandchildren were left with were fleeting taste memories on their palates.

Last summer, Jeff’s sisters Fazi (who lives in Holland) and Samia (who lives in Seattle’s eastside suburb, Bellevue) recreated it in Samia’s kitchen, with Arman supervising of course.


Arman cooking in my kitchen 

And lucky me, I got to cook Amma’s Rice twice: once with Arman and another time with Samia. Arman came with a recipe his Aunt Fazi dictated over the phone the night before (and a veiled warning from his dad not to disgrace the family); whereas at Samia’s, we cooked based on the recipe notes she took when her sister visited.


Clockwise from bottom left: Lou (Samia’s husband), Samia, Jeff, Arman and Lena (Samia and Lou’s daughter) 

Although both versions had almost identical ingredients, there were subtle differences. I was fascinated that the same recipe could be interpreted in different ways by siblings.

Here’s what I observed based on my cooking sessions with Arman and Samia, and Jeff’s interjections:

-Fazi likes her biryani with lots and lots of butter–her recipe uses about 2-1/2 sticks of butter!

-Samia uses ghee instead of butter and likes to add a tad more spices–more peppercorns please! Samia prefers lamb in her biryani too.

-Jeff likes to cook his rice with more water: a ratio of 1 rice to 2 water, instead of Samia’s 1 to 1-1/2. He also likes more salt!!

– Both sisters use breast meat in their recipes but Jeff swears by tender, juicy dark meat.

My conclusion? This would make for a fun, non-scientific experiment among siblings. Pick a favorite recipe you remember your grandma or mom cooking and see how each of you interprets it. Drop me a comment with your results!

Amma’s Rice

“Amma” means mother and this dish is named for “Munni” Khursheed Ashraf, the late matriarch of the Ashraf/Siddiqui family. The recipe was never written down so her grandson Arman set out to recreate the recipe with his aunts Fazi and Samia one afternoon. Generally, chicken biryani is a sumptuous Pakistani/Indian dish often reserved for special occasions such as weddings, parties, or holidays like Ramadan. Samia remembers it as her mum’s go-to dish when expecting company. The preparation is rather lengthy but all the work is definitely worth it! Basmati rice with its thin, fine grains is the ideal variety to use. If unavailable, long grain rice is the next best thing; short grains result in mushy rice.

Time: 2-1/2 hours
Makes: 6 to 8 servings

3 cups basmati rice
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1/4 cup boiling water
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon ghee
2 medium onions, sliced thinly (about 4 to 5 cups)
1 head garlic, peeled and minced*
3-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced*

Whole spices:
10 to 12 black peppercorns
8 whole cloves
Seeds from 8 to 10 cardamom pods
3 (3-inch long) cinnamon sticks

Ground spices:
2 teaspoons cumin powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon garam masala

2 teaspoons (or more to taste) plus pinch salt
2 pounds boneless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into 1-inch chunks (about 3 breasts)
1/2 cup yogurt, divided
1 tablespoon olive oil
4-1/2 cups cold water

Raita (recipe to follow)

Wash rice in 2 to 3 changes of water. Soak until required.

Place saffron threads in a small bowl and pour in boiling water. Soak until required.

In a (6-quart) wide-mouthed pot or Dutch oven, melt 1/2 cup ghee over medium heat. Fry onions until soft and translucent, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add ginger and garlic and fry for 30 seconds. Toss in whole spices and stir well. Add ground spices and 2 teaspoons salt, and stir for another 30 to 45 seconds.

When onions have turned yellowish, add chicken and mix well to coat. Cook and stir until chicken is no longer pink, about 8 minutes.

Stir in 1/4 cup yogurt and mix well. Cook, covered, over low heat for about 30 minutes, or until water evaporates and oil starts to separate.


Turn off heat and leave pot on stove, covered.

Drain rice well. Heat oil in a (4-quart) pot. Fry rice over medium-high heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Add 4-1/2 cups water, 1 tablespoon ghee and pinch of salt. Bring to a gentle boil, then simmer, covered, over low heat for 20 minutes. When rice kernels separate, rice is done. Set aside, covered.

Uncover chicken and spread pieces evenly in pot. Smooth 1/4 cup yogurt evenly over chicken. Layer cooked rice over chicken and yogurt as evenly as possible, smoothing down any clumps.


Drizzle saffron liquid, including threads, over rice. Cover and cook over low heat for 20 minutes.


Spoon chicken and rice into a large bowl with a low rim and mix thoroughly. Pick out cinnamon sticks and serve with raita and (store-bought) chutney.

Optional garnish:
Soak raisins in water for 10 minutes until they’re plump, and dry with a paper towel. Fry with a little butter and scatter over rice.

*You can mince both the garlic and ginger at the same time in a food processor.

Ghee is butter that has been slowly melted so that the milk solids and golden liquid have been separated and yields a more authentic taste. Use butter if you can’t find ghee.

Samia recommends buying free range, organic chicken breasts because they have not been injected with water like many conventional brands you find at supermarkets. And you don’t want a watery biryani.

2 cups yogurt
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
Pinch salt

In a small bowl, mix everything together with a fork until yogurt is smooth and there are no lumps.

Seeking recipe testers

Do you enjoy trying out new recipes?

Do you sometimes wish you could change some steps in a recipe? 

Do you love to give lots of great feedback?

Do you want to help a crazy-busy, frazzled food writer out?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the above questions, then perhaps you’d be interested in testing out some recipes for my cookbook. Please email me at: pat[at]ediblewords[dot]com. Let me know what types of recipes you’re interested in and how many you’d like to test, and I’ll give you a list to choose from as well as some guidelines on what feedback I’m looking for.

You’ll have my eternal gratitude and your name forever imprinted in my published cookbook! 

Thank you!

Recording recipes … behind the scenes

When I first started working on my cookbook, I really didn’t know what to expect.

I was lucky enough to have a brief chat with Grace Young at the 2007 IACP conference in Chicago. The author of two family-based cookbooks, Grace gave me a behind-the-scenes overview of cooking with grandmas and aunties. Be prepared, was her number one advice.

And so I am.


Some tools of the trade

Every time I pay a visit to someone’s kitchen, my bag is packed with the following arsenal:
-Measuring cups
-Measuring spoons
-Notebook and pen
(I decided against a tape recorder though)

As you can imagine, it’s not easy juggling so much gear. I often feel like a character straight out of a Merry Melodies cartoon (though if I had to choose, I’d like to be the smart and feisty Road Runner … beep beep). Yes, it’s been comical–having to stop cooks at every step of the way to measure out the salt (2 teaspoons), the sesame oil (1 tablespoon), or the galangal (1-inch equals how many tablespoons minced??) And it’s not even funny anymore how many times I’ve had to fish packages out of the trash can to note down how many pounds of pork went into the soup.

Don’t forget that in between all this activity I’m taking photos (wait, hold that spatula in mid-air so I can capture your stir-fry motion!), and writing down notes (slice carrot on the diagonal not straight across), and timing (garlic is fragrant, add chicken to wok, start stopwatch now).

Everyone I’ve cooked with has been so very patient and they never fail to humor me. For this, I am very thankful.

Despite the flurry of activity that goes on when I’m out “in the field,” I feel that it’s actually the easiest and most accurate way to record recipes. And I get to taste the–always yummy–results immediately.

That being said, let’s turn to my other route for gathering recipes. Friends and strangers alike have been very generous in sending me their family recipes. Some have been easy-to-follow, requiring minimal tweaks here and there, yet others have been quite amusing. Take this list of ingredients my friend Luwei emailed me for her mom’s bakso goreng (crispy fried meatballs) recipe:

Bakso Goreng

(Luwei’s comments are in parentheses)
– 1kg minced pork
– 0.5kg minced prawn (you can halve the prawns and add 0.25kg fish as well, which is my mom’s friend’s recipe, but my mom sticks with prawn only)
– 2.5oz cornstarch (this is the iffy part–not sure how they figured that out since they don’t measure!)
– 8 eggs (another iffy part–seems like a lot of eggs to me, but my mom seems quite comfortable with that number)
– fish sauce
– salt
– sugar
– optional: green onion and rehydrated dried cuttlefish, diced (for crunch, but I don’t like it, and my mom doesn’t use it)

Recipes like these are priceless :).

No measurements, or iffy measurements–I don’t know which is better. But therein lies the beauty of homecooking: everything’s fluid, a dish is perfect when your taste buds say it is, and ingredients vary according to what’s available in the fridge.

And of course, it’s my job to translate and test recipes to make it easy for even the most novice of cooks to follow. All it takes is patience, patience to add the salt teaspoon by teaspoon, or water 1/4 cup at a time, tasting every step of the way; and a keen eye for observation–hmm … does the mixture look too dry or too mushy?

Et voila, here it is, the bakso goreng recipe after a makeover.

Bakso Goreng or Crispy Fried Meatballs

Bakso goreng is originally a Chinese dish and was modified by Hakka immigrants to Indonesia. Halal versions use chicken or beef instead of pork. Instead of shrimp, try substituting with fish paste. The same mixture can also be used to stuff peppers, eggplant, or tofu, which can then be either steamed or fried. This variant is called Yong Tau Foo in Singapore and Malaysia. Bakso goreng is delicious eaten with rice and a side dish of vegetables for a meal, or as party poppers (appetizers you can easily pop in your mouth 🙂).

Time: 45 minutes
Makes: about 35 meatballs

2 pounds minced pork
1 pound shrimp, peeled and minced
2 eggs
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 cup green onions cut into thin ‘O’s (about 2 stalks)
2 cups canola oil

In a large bowl, gently mix all ingredients together using your hands. The resulting mixture will be moist and lumps well into balls.

In a 14-inch wok or skillet, heat oil over high heat until it registers 350F on a thermometer. Fry a small piece of pork mixture and taste to make sure it’s salty enough.

Shape pork mixture into golf balls (about one-inch in diameter). Grab a handful of the mixture and squeeze it out of the hole at the top of your fist. Scoop each meatball with an oiled tablespoon and drop it carefully into the oil. Make 6 to 8 meatballs per batch; do not crowd the wok. Deep-fry meatballs until golden brown and crispy, about 4 to 5 minutes.


Lift meatballs from oil using a slotted spoon or wire mesh strainer, and drain on paper towels. Remove any debris from oil and continue frying meatballs in batches until done.

Serve with chili sauce and/or rice.