Thursday, October 20, 2011

First, catch your hare...

First, catch your hare” is the immortal first line commonly thought to originate in the recipe for hare soup by Hannah Glasse an author of the most influential English cookbook of the eighteenth-century. Although the familiar words, ‘First catch your hare,’ were never to be found in Mrs. Glasse's famous volume, I think in terms of culinary merit it is still being true today. Nothing is closer to the truth for many Overseas Singaporeans who want to cook a familiar dish in a foreign country where the main ingredient is unavailable. Unless the main ingredient can be substituted to accomplish a good end result, it is like cooking beef rendang without coconut or eating chui kueh without the chaipoh(preserved raddish).
I have been delaying my attempt to cook tagine until I have made the preserved lemon which is an essential ingredient in most Middle Eastern cookings. Now, that my homemade preserved lemons are ready in the pantry, I could not wait to cook the long awaited Moroccan Chicken Tagine.


1.5kg Chicken pieces
3 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced
½ cup green peas
1 small carrot, chopped
4 tomatoes, sliced
3 onions, sliced
150g of pitted olives
4 preserved lemons, cut rind only into strips
2 bay leaves.

Chermoula Paste

4 cloves garlic
4cm ginger, sliced
1 large onion, sliced
2 preserved lemons, cut rind only into strips
1tsp chili flakes
1tsp paprika
½ tsp turmeric
1Tsp coriander
3 tsp cumin
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp salt
1 bunch fresh coriander coarsely chopped
½ cup flat leaf parsley coarsely chopped.
½ cup oil


To make chermoula paste, process ingredients in a blender to a paste. Set aside 2 tablespoon of chermouila paste and pour the remaining paste over chicken, mix to coat. Mix potatoes and reserved chermouila paste in a bowl.

Pour 2 tablespoon of oil into tagine, and placed sliced tomatoes and onions on the base of tagine. Add chicken pieces in the centre and pile the potatoes and carrot in order to fit into the tagine. Scatter with olives and preserved lemons and bay leaves. Cook covered on low heat for 45 minutes. Add peas and cook for a further 15 minute. Serve hot with couscous.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Kiwi is of Chinese Origin...

I have always loved Kiwi and even more so now that I have come to know of its origin. With its brown velvety skin on the outside and sweet and juicy flesh inside, honestly who could ever resist it? Yes, I am talking about the kiwifruit which owes its origin to China until a clever marketing strategy in the 1950s changes its nationality ever since. This fruit had a long history in its original motherland before it was commercialized as kiwifruit, and therefore had many other older names such as Chinese gooseberry and Macaque peach or míhóu táo (獼猴桃) in Chinese.

Incidentally, I still think that I have also fallen into the same marketing ploy when I bought a pair of kiwi plants from the nursery. The plants was presented as a boy plant in a blue pot and girl plant in pink pot, packed together in a carry box with a delicious kiwi fruit-tart print. The nurseryman did not try to sell me more than one plant. It is all about the birds and the bees, that you must plant a male and a female plant in order to produce fruits. It is dioecious by nature, which refers to a plant population having separate male and female plants.

I have told myself not to add another plant in my overcrowded backyard but I have prepared the bed next to the pergola to accommodate my newly purchased kiwifruit plants. How can you not find room for a long lost cousin?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

What's the difference between the Greek's Pasteli and Teochew's Muar Tng?

What is the common factor between Greek’s Pasteli and the Teochew’s Muar Tng (sesame candy)? Both cultures consider it as a traditional confection, using sesame as its main ingredient. But unlike the Teochew’s muar tng the Greeks use honey in their pasteli instead of maltose. The Greek’s pasteli is often served during Easter and the Teochew’s muar tng besides being offered amongst other sweetmeats at Chinese New Year, it is wrapped in red papers and distributed to friends and relatives in traditional Chinese engagement ceremony to announce the happy event of the newly betrothed. This popular candy treats need not to be confined and designated to festivity or ceremony; it is a favorite treat any time of the year! This recipe is simple and easy to make at home.

Pasteli and Muar Tng Recipe:


• Cooking oil, for greasing the baking sheet
• 3 cups sesame seeds
• 1 cup honey/maltose
• 1/2 teaspoon salt


1. Grease a baking sheet with cooking oil and put aside.
2. Heat a non- stick wok or pan over medium flame.
3. Pour three cups sesame seeds into the hot wok and stir continuously with wooden spoon until they’re well-toasted and light golden-brown in color. It only takes a couple of minutes please take care not to burnt the sesame seeds.
4. Stir honey/maltose and a ½ teaspoon of sea salt into the toasted sesame seeds until they become well-coated and the mixture stiffens.
5. Pour the mixture of honey/maltose and sesame seeds onto the greased baking sheet and Use a oiled spatula to pat down and smooth out the mixture into a rectangle about 12mm thick. Allow to cool
6. Turn the block onto a cutting board, and cut into 12 mm strips with an oiled knife. Store in an airtight container.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Old School Revisited

‘I must be getting old’ I said to an old schoolmate from my primary school days. ‘And sentimental and grumpy” he retorted. ‘Next you’ll be complaining that the sky was always blue, the hawker food tasted different and children plenty’. And so it was. Well I mean to say, we had less distraction in those days. Look at the lorongs now, not a child in it. I remember when every lorong would have been swamped black with children. ‘Even towards the last day of school holiday! The kids are at tuition centre or enrichment classes ‘he interrupted me scornfully as I gazed forlornly into a deserted lorong. ‘Maybe you are right’, I admitted reluctantly but rather than trying to pacify a proud Singaporean and to avoid another debate later. And as if I do not know the pressure the parents put on their offspring to perform well and all that goes with it. I was deeply concerned by the thought of the children’s inflicted inability to allow them to participate in simple pleasures associated with childhood.

‘There’s our old primary school if we turn left’ he said, as we walked along Sims Avenue. I turned into Lorong 23. I stopped and stared as I entered the old school gate of Geylang Primary School. The old school building with the grey asbestos roof still stood the test of time. On my right, behind the security fencing, a new warehouse structure was rising on the school field, where many ‘hantam bola’ games or rounders were played during recess time and being chased and fleeing gleefully with a torn shirt after avoiding being caught in a police and robber game. I noticed the century old Angsana tree at the corner was gone. It had a trunk which was partly blown by a bomb when the school was bombarded to the ground by the Japanese during the World War Two. Occasionally, a makeshift altar would appear at the base of its huge buttressed trunk to commemorate the tree not as a war survivor but most likely as a shrine by some illegal 4-D or chap gi kee winners to appease the spirit that many believed was living there. Ghost stories told at school lavatory and re-enacted in classroom with nightmarish result especially little did we know that Angsana tree bled a blood coloured resin when the bark was bruised or slashed.

But what have they done to my old school? Since then, of course, it has now become a centre of various welfare and charity organisations for housing the aged to rehabilitation of ex-prisoners. Well, at least it has been temporary reprieved and remained as an occasional remnant of the past for many an exile like me.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Geylang sipaku Geylang

Geylang, sipaku Geylang, Geylang, si rama rama.
Pulang, marilah pulang, marilah pulang bersama-sama.
Mari pulang, marilah pulang, marilah pulang bersama-sama.

Lyrics from a Malay Folk Song.


Geylang, sipaku Geylang, Geylang, si rama rama.
Home, come home, come home together.
Come home, come home, come home together.

Every balek kampung or home coming trip I have taken since I left Singapore nearly four decades ago, has always being a nostalgic journey to my past. My recent visit to my island home was no different except it was a double whammy. I was back to attend the 135th Anniversary of my alma mater and visited the house where I was born. Although my old house is insignificant and beyond any comparison to my former school, which holds a rightful claim of having three past presidents of Singapore as its former students, I could hardly hide my thrill to learn that it is under the preservation and heritage listing like my old school building. In this ever changing and land hungry city, not many Singaporeans can boast about of having their old house and old school to be protected from the demolishing hands of the city planners.
Early one hazy morning, last month I took a crowded MRT train packed with workers and students which stopped at every station to allow more passengers to join the morning rush. I travelled along the East- West line, passing stations with familiar sounding names like Bedok, Eunos and Paya Lebar in the direction of the city. As the train passed Joo Chiat and heading towards Aljunied, I had not been along this way in a good while but now on impulse, I decided to venture into the area, curious to see for myself, how much the district had changed at hands of planners as well as the influx of new migrants and residents, especially from China. So instead of continuing my journey to the city, I alighted from the train at Aljunied Station and I strolled towards Geylang Road.
I stopped and stared at the now empty space in front of the Aljunied Station. Just an empty space, but memories came flooding back. Gone was the Lorong 25 Market. It was a hub of the open air and wet market era, where the housewives, hawkers, fruits and vegetables sellers came to congregate, hustle and bustle every morning.
Here’s Geylang, I used to live, spending an uneventful childhood playing marbles, flying layangs(kites), fighting spiders and Siamese fish, sprinkled with occasional forays against the Lorong 27 kids who were foolhardly enough to venture into our territory. It appeared to me at that time our street gang had a fearsome reputation, though I suppose that by today’s standards we were not really at all fearsome. At the very most, we only had to explain or lied to our teachers or mother what caused the black eye or the tear at the back of our shirt was due to a game of catching at the school yard.
Bear with me, if I am rumbling like an old uncle for the next few postings but I promise to share some of the signature street hawkers recipes that I have collected during this balek kampong trip.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Topsy Turvy Tomatoes

The Hanging Tomato Planters on the clearance counter in a shop at the local mall caught my eyes and instantly reminded me of a special Planter advertisement I have seen on TV that allows you to grow a tomato plant upside down. Upside-down gardening has become quite popular in the last few years with upside-down planters and its concept is nothing new, but it is totally new to me. Thanks for the topsy turvy reminder; this is exactly what I am planning to do this spring.

Although the advertisements for products that grew vegetables upside down have had me convinced that they would be a great idea for my garden, I wondered how successful this would be in my frugal way of doing things. Instead of buying the commercial product, I have planted some tomato seedlings with cheap plastic buckets that I have bought for 85 cents each at the local shop.
To start my upside-down tomato garden, I simply cut a 50mm hole at the bottom of the pail and I filled it with planting mix, added organic fertilizer, planted a tomato seedling in the opening on the bottom and hung it in a sunny spot.
I am looking forward to growing tomatoes and chillies hanging up in the air in our pergola and veranda. Not only it saves space and adds decorative interest to my backyard, but it also eliminates the hassles of weeding, pests and digging.