Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sweet Potato Leaves Fried With Sambal

My wife came to the kitchen with a handful of sweet potato leaves that she had just harvested from the vege patch in our backyard. Nonchalantly, she put it into a jug as if it was a bouquet of cut flowers for the house. She turned to me and said, “It not what you think but it’s for dinner tonight”, as she added water to keep it fresh.
The leaves of sweet potato are often judged to be a poor man’s’ vegetable in the past and eaten without much fanfare as it has been given today. In modern Singapore today, a dish of sweet potato leaves cooked in sambal would cost at least $10 or more for anyone who likes to sample the taste of yesteryear at the food stalls in the kopitaim. The image of these leaves as a vegetable was tarnished during the World War II, as it became the staple diet of many families during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore (especially in the tropical warm climates, where the plant tends to be evergreen and be easily grown all year round in any vegetable patches).
According to my late mother, sweet potatoes were a daily staple in those days as there was a great shortage of rice during the war. Sweet potato was dished up in every possible way, making many older Singaporeans resistant to the use of this very versatile plant and its tubers for a long time. Contrary to popular belief, the sweet potato plant is related to morning glory, not potatoes, and originated from Mexico.

Sweet Potato Leaves Fried with Sambal(Hwang Tsu Heok Char Sambal)

500 gm Sweet potato leaves
4 tbsp cooking oil
80g Dried prawns soaked and pounded.

To make Spice paste (ground or pound):

5 pcs fresh chillies
8 pcs dry chillies soaked
2 cloves garlic
I small brown onion or 12 shallots
5 candlenuts
5g belachan, toasted
3 tbsp of water
1tsp salt
1tsp sugar
Wash and drain sweet potato leaves. Cut stem and leaves into 50mm in length. Heat wok and add oil to fry dried prawns until slightly golden brown. Remove and set aside. With the same oil in the wok, sauté the grounded spice paste until fragrant. Add sweet potato leaves and stem and stir fry to mix well with paste.Put in fried dried prawns and mix well. Add water and salt to taste.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Fisherman's Tale and Trick...

In order to show off our biggest catch of the day and to make it appear larger than its actual size, an often used camera trick by many fishermen was suggested by Mark, the owner of the boat; by simply holding the fish with an outstretched arm towards the camera, it will double its size in an instant.
The next biggest trick was to turn the Australasian salmon into a delicious lunch for us and especially for Mark’s teenage children who were not too keen on fish except the filet o’ fish from McDonalds.

Despite the common name, Australian “salmon” is not related to the salmon (family Salmonidae) of the Northern Hemisphere; it was named so by early European settlers only because of their superficial resemblance to the salmon. Furthermore the big difference lies underneath the skin; it has white flesh unlike the distinguishable pink coloured flesh of the salmon.

Mark’s wife came to the rescue by offering to cook the fish. She simply chopped up a mango and two peaches from her fruit bowl and combined it with a chopped onion to make a stuffing for the fish. She smeared the fish with olive oil on both sides and top with chopped chilli and a squeeze of lime juice. Wrapped in foil to form a parcel, the fish was roasted in a hot oven for about 10 to 12 minutes before it was served strewn with fresh coriander leaves and lime wedges.

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Big Day Out ...The Sun and The Sea

I was not sure what the catch was going to be but I was happy to be invited to go fishing at Lake Macquarie (that’s the largest coastal saltwater lake in Australia) if only for the weather being so warm, bright and cheerful after a La Nina weather pattern, had produced unseasonal wet Sydney summer and it’s not over yet. The weather outlook for longer periods of extreme rainfall, such as those that caused flooding of the Darling, Lachlan and Murrumbidgee rivers and which made the Warragamba Dam to overflow a fortnight ago, still hold a threat to many residents living downstream.

It was a big day out at the Lake Macquarie, an aquatic playground, perfect for a relaxing day! Needless to say birds of all kind seemed to descend together on the same spot; a long line of eager anglers waiting in their 4WDs for other early birds taking their turn to launch their watercrafts, sharp-eyed terns circling in the clear blue sky and lazy seagulls with a flotilla of penguins waiting for a feed from fishermen gutting their catch of the day.

Soon we found ourselves floating and trolling lazily on the lake and occasionally interrupted to check on the moving lines with their metal lures. I was the first in the group to pull in a catch but luckily for the fish, it was just millimetres short of its legal size and I had to let it go back to the water to see another day.

My good deed was eventually rewarded with a combined catch of five taylors and an Australian salmon for the crew. Everyone on board was pleased with the catch of the day and for the next half an hour of homeward bound trip we were already planning for next fishing outing and collectively decided what was the best fish recipe for lunch. . Please stay tuned for the recipe.

Monday, March 5, 2012

There's a Toad in My Kuih Kodok !

Buying this whole box of banana for $5 in the market was likened to a ray of sunshine peeping through the dark rainy clouds that hung over Sydney in the past few days. How could we not bring it home to share with neighbours and friends? From our past experiences, we know that the price of vegetables and fruits will soon shoot through the roof as flooding had inundated most of NSW. I remember that a kilo of bananas was selling at $15, after cyclones desolated nearly all the banana crops in Queensland, last year and the year before. Like many price conscious shoppers, we simply had to delete bananas from our shopping list during that period and waited for the price to drop before we could afford to put bananas on the table again.

After distributing half a box of bananas away, we are left with the other half, and that is a lot of bananas for a family of three. Besides, they are all ripening at the same time right in front of our eyes. Think fast, mate! “What are we going to do with them?”, My wife said to me, as if it was my responsibility to save every banana from turning brown. “No worries mum, what we cannot finish today, I turn them into banana bread tomorrow”, I replied. “Before you do that, can we have some kuih kodok (banana fritters) for afternoon tea?” She added. For the next hour, we were still talking about what to do with the bananas which seem to be ripening by the minutes. Okay, before I go banana, let me post the kodok recipe. Incidentally kodok is toad in the Malay language and I do not want to go there without relating to the cane toads and bananas in Queensland. That’s another story.

Recipe: Kuih Kodok (Fried Banana Fritters)

6 big ripe bananas
1 1/2 cup flour
2 1/2 tablespoon sugar
Pinch of salt.
Oil for deep frying

Mash the bananas with fork into small pieces and put them into a bowl. Add flour, sugar to the mashed banana, Stir the ingredients so they are well blended.
Heat the cooking oil in a wok. Once the oil is heated, scoop up a spoonful of batter into the hot oil.. Deep fry until golden brown. Drain well on paper towel

Friday, March 2, 2012

Three-Quarter of NSW is threatened with flood!

Despite 75 per cent of NSW being either under water or threatened by floodwaters as the state buckles under its heaviest rains since the 1920s, my wife and I braved the rain this morning to do our weekly marketing. It took us longer than usual as the traffic was heavy and slow due to the wet condition on the road.

While in the traffic we heard from the radio that Sydney school children in areas near Warragamba Dam have been advised to stay at home today as the reservoir looks set to overflow for the first time in 14 years. The dam has reached 95 per cent capacity on last night and is predicted to spill over into the already swollen Murrumbidgee, Hawkesbury and Nepean rivers any moment today. Remember when former Prime Minister John Howard said a couple of years ago, that we better pray for rain? The Maker must have heard an awful lot of people. Within a short time, the sky broke the La Nina’s curse and brought much relief to farming communities throughout the state. Since then, I reckon He must have forgotten to turn off the tap. It was only last month that many communities in Queensland and Northern NSW remembered the lost of their loved ones and properties during of the first anniversary services of the flood that brought immeasurable grief to so many people.

As I write, residents of four towns, Bega, Cowra, Goulburn and Cooma have been evacuated as floodwaters sweep across NSW. People living in some properties in the outer western Sydney enclaves of Pitt Town, Gronos Point and Lower Richmond are also on alert as the Hawkesbury threatens to burst its banks.
I know we need water but don’t pour them by the buckets. Turn off the tap, please. I know you hear me!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A bottle of Penfolds Grange Shiraz 1953 is priced at $17,000 and on sale at our local liquor outlet

In the first week autumn which starts today, wine districts in Australia get very busy to be ready for wine festivals, which in Australia are many, supplying great wines and fun. Sydney jumped the gun and kicked off last weekend with the hugely popular and biggest wine event, aptly called Sydney Cellar Door, which allowed Sydneysiders to discover the wide range and the depth of winemaking in the state of New South Wales without leaving the city.
Like many Singaporeans, beer, not wine, is the beverage that calls out whether in restaurant or at home, though wine can be drunk with lunch and dinner, beer is often the best accompaniment for a Singaporean meal.Nevertheless, wine drinking in recent times has become popular with the younger and much travelled Singaporeans.

Singapore has traditionally imported its wines from France, Germany and Italy. And since signing free trade with many countries around the world, it has taken even more wines from the less well-known producing countries such as Austria, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Greece and Chile.
Although much have been said about the rules on storing, serving and drinking by many wine connoisseurs, on how to treat wine and when to serve it to their best advantage, it is not set in stone and they can be changed to suit individual tastes.
I once heard someone’s remark “life is too short to drink cheap wine and money is too short to buy them”. It may be true, in a philosophical and economical sense. But the price of wine no longer reflects the quality of the product. For many Singaporeans, it was taken for granted that imported French wines would command the highest prices, but now many vineyards from well known districts in Australia command equally high prices. A bottle of Penfolds Grange Shiraz 1953 is priced at $17,000 and on sale at Dan Murphy our local liquor outlet. It is bottled by Australia's most famous winery, which began life with humble beginnings in the early 1950s and has become the icon it is today.
However, at the lower end of the scale are many palatable wines to be had at a moderate price. Just follow the advice of the wine merchant and anyone wishing to learn more about wine should sample as many as possible whenever there is a wine tasting offer at the store. If a good discount can be obtained on a case of new vintage release, it might turn out to be a sound investment.