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Steamed Sago Cake – Kueh Sagu

In Recipes, Singaporean on September 26, 2010 at 7:10 pm

I’ve been refraining as much as possible from buying new ingredients at the Asian supermarket, because they all come in packs of 500g – 1kg and I’m just about to move across town. Don’t want to be carting additional boxes of ingredients when I already have a massive amount of stuff to worry about. And so I decided to convert the remains of my packet of tapioca pearls into one of my favourite nyonya kueh for a recent international gathering. Steamed sago cake a.k.a. kueh sagu! But naturally, if I ever attempt to make anything, it’s of course ‘one of my favourites’, why else do I go through the effort then?


Just what is sago? And what are tapioca pearls and why do I seem to use it so interchangeably? NO, they are not FROG EGGS (in reference to their appearance) contrary to some Western belief that resulted from too much mischievous Asian teasing. Both are actually starches of very similar characteristics (transparent and chewy), and are produced in the form of granules or ‘pearls’ to be used conveniently for cooking. The former is obtained from the pith of the sago palm stem, while the latter is obtained from the cassava root. Nothing weird about it at all. Just starch, like potato starch, corn starch, wheat starch… made into a more convenient and potentially innovative form.

Yep, so here’s yet another green recipe (apart from ondeh ondeh and kueh dadar that I’ve been making frequently in the past year). It just happens that I never see any pressing need to obtain other colours for my recipes, apart from the green of my pandan paste. I hope that I’m not sending the wrong message that nyonya kueh are all green in colour, because they’re not and hopefully I will have a chance to show you soon 🙂


Kueh Sagu Recipe modified from here

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup pearl sago / tapioca pearls
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • a few drops of pandan paste
  • 1/2 tsp pandan essence (or 1 tsp pandan essence + colouring)
  • 20g dessicated coconut with a pinch of salt mixed in

Method:

  1. Soak the pearls in a generous amount of water (1L maybe?) and leave aside for 1h. Will double to triple in volume.
  2. Drain away excess water then mix in sugar and pandan paste / essence.
  3. Transfer to a greased pot / bowl that fits in your steamer. Here’s how to do it if you don’t have a steamer.
  4. Steam on high heat for 20min.
  5. Cool and coat with dessicated coconut while cutting into bite-sized pieces.

Alternative spellings of the name: sago kueh / kuih sago

Variations on the recipe: create layers by splitting into 2 batches after flavouring with sugar and pandan essence. Add an additional few drops of pandan paste to colour one batch green. Steam the white layer for 10 min, then pour the green batch over and steam for another 20min.

Other variations: colour with other colours and make layers the same way, or use coconut palm sugar (gula melaka) in place of white sugar!

Lazy Honeydew Sago with Coconut Milk

In Recipes, Singaporean on September 25, 2010 at 5:07 pm

When you’re a lazy and poor student living in the Netherlands, you might be in search of refreshing dessert alternatives apart from yoghurt, vla (custard dessert) and rijst pap (rice pudding). The solution to this is simple — that is, to look eastwards and then southwards, where warmer climates and more recently developed countries mean that sweets that are brought to the table are often simple, cheap and refreshing.

If I were to always get my way, I’d say that fresh fruits would be sufficient to end the meal. But once, it seemed that my nicely cut apples weren’t too well-received as a dessert for a dinner gathering 😛 So this time, when I got my hands on some really sweet honeydew melon from the farmer’s market, I made some into lazy honeydew dessert! Hmm, so lazy that I didn’t even bother to measure my ingredients nor take the time to make a proper photo of it. But anyway, here it is. A lazy alternative for non-yoghurt, non-vla, non-rijstpap dessert in a student dormitory dinner.

Honeydew Sago with Coconut Milk Recipe simplified from here

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 a honeydew melon
  • ~ 1/2 cup pearl sago / tapioca pearls
  • 1 can (400ml) thin coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 100ml water
  • ice if convenient

Method:

  1. Boil sago in 1L of water. When sago turns translucent, pour into sieve / strainer and wash away excess starch with cold water.
  2. Dissolve sugar in warm water to make a sugar syrup (I used the microwave).
  3. Add syrup to coconut milk until desired sweetness is attained.
  4. Cut honeydew melon into small pieces.
  5. To serve, spoon some sago and honeydew into a bowl, top over with sweetened coconut milk and add some ice. 🙂 That’s it!

Ryebread – Cutting it too thin?

In Danish, Dutch, Eats, Swedish on September 25, 2010 at 11:23 am

I tend to be easily influenced by the people around me, that means new habits rub off quickly and without conscious awareness. Often, I don’t realize it until I receive comments like: ‘do you always eat your sandwiches open?’ – the Hawaiian wwoofer asked as he passed me the top half of a sliced-open crusty bun to complete my sandwich.


Yeah, I’ve picked up a new habit of eating dense ryebreads while living in Copenhagen for 5 months earlier this year. Rye is a cereal grain that is higher in fibre, darker in colour and stronger in flavour than wheat. It is nutritionally better than its wheat counterparts, keeping one full for longer (not to mention, more sensory satisfaction) due to its high soluble fibre content. However, because of its heat-stable amylases that break down the weak gluten content, rise of the dough is greatly inhibited, and this is partially mitigated by the use of sourdough starters to inactivate the rye amylases by creating an acidic environment. That of course, results in a sour and dense-but-not-so-dense-as-it-would-otherwise-have-been product, that is sliced thinly because of its density but threatens to crumble into ruins if you try to sandwich more than a slice of cheese between it.


And then the habit of snacking on crisp rye bread (a long-shelf-life dried cracker-like bread) caught on, and I grew to love it as an alternative base for my open sandwiches–2 meals of rugbrød a day is enough.

And during my recent backpacking travels through N.eastern Europe, I fell in love with the dense yet soft wheat-rye breads of Czech Republic and Poland. These breads are soft enough to be made into typical sandwiches (if you wish to), but dense enough to be sliced very thinly (<1cm) without being able to see your dining partner through it.

While I once used to marvel at the thinness of these breads after being used to the thick fluffy slices all my life, the novelty has mostly worn out over the past year….

UNTIL I SAW THIS:
With a thickness / thinness of <4mm, the Brabants roggebrood leaves me confused whether to eat 2 slices or 6 for breakfast. With 15 slices in a loaf for 85 euro cents, a slice works out to about 25 calories and <6 cents each. I ate 2 slices with Camembert cheese (another habit I picked up from my recent travels), and I’m satisfied for now. For Now. I guess it’s a great way to fool the brain that is used to portion control by the number of slices.

I had thought the Danish ones were thin enough at about 1cm thickness…..why cut this so thin then?
(1) obsession with low carb diet?
(2) to complement the delicatessen ingredients popular in the south without engulfing them in fluff?
(3) value for money? 7 breakfasts for 85 cents?
(4) so lunch takes up less space in the bag?

Why? Why? Why? I wanted an answer,… so I asked a Dutch man. His reply was:
Because the Dutch don’t like the taste of ryebread.” LOL.

Long Live the Century Egg

In Chinese, Recipes on September 19, 2010 at 10:49 am

My dear readers, apologies for my long hiatus from blogging.

After five weeks of food indulgence in my food haven home of Singapore and…
five weeks of food travels and organic farming in Eastern Europe…

I’m now back in the Netherlands, once again living within one of the most neophobic cultures in the world. The Dutch have a saying that goes: Wat de boer niet kent dat eet hij niet, often used in excuse of their reluctance to allow unknown foods on their palate or even their plate. It happens to be the only Dutch saying that I know, as ever so often when I prepare something unusual from Southeast Asia, it would be met with equal reactions of delightful curiosity and of politely watered-down gag reflexes, AND a proclamation of this saying.

Surprisingly though, with this return to Wageningen, the friends seem to be a lot more fearless, unquestioning, and willing to ingest some foreign objects laid on the table by yours truly. Perhaps, by now they have been positively conditioned to know that poorskinnychef here loves them and loves food and will not poison them with ingredients laboriously lugged 10,000km across the globe?

With that, I refer to one of the foods that I missed so much while being away for 11 months last year. It is probably the last thing I would expect a Dutch person to want to try due to its freakish appearance… yet, several friends have pleasantly surprised me by their positive acceptance of the CENTURY EGG. 🙂

(See the snow-flake pattern on the egg that I had with pickled ginger as a side with my dinner? Beautiful, isn’t it?)

While being home this summer, I had a fair dose of this wonder of traditional Chinese preservations. The century egg or 皮蛋 (leather egg, in reference to its leathery texture of the brown jelly that was once the white) is made by preserving eggs in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, calcium oxide (alkaline ingredient), coated in rice husks, and left to be transformed over the next several weeks to months.

The alkaline medium that the egg is stored in raises the pH of the egg, and in the process, proteins are denatured, sulfur and ammonia is released from the amino acids, resulting in reactions that are responsible for:
1. green colour of the yolk (iron sulfide that is also responsible for the green layer on the yolk of overcooked hardboiled eggs)
2. broken down proteins and fats to produce a sweetish ammonia flavour and other flavourful compounds (MMM!) that give this egg so much more character than a ‘normal’ one.
3. clear gelled egg ‘white’ probably due to the breakdown of proteins that result in a more open gel that forms in comparison with a heat-coagulated opaque egg white. just my hypothesis.
The point is that, there’s really nothing to be afraid of (no horse urine myth, please)…

My favourite way of eating the century egg is in Century Egg and Minced Pork Congee, because the flavour of the egg compliments the rice porridge deliciously well, sending a warm and wonderful sensation through my entire body 🙂 It’s the ultimate comfort food, the ultimate winter food, the ultimate homesickness food.

Century Egg Minced Pork Congee Recipe my own recipe for 2 from previous congee-cooking experiences

Ingredients:

  • 100g minced pork marinated in soya sauce
  • 1 cup rice (long-grained)
  • 1 litre of water
  • 1/2 chicken stock cube
  • 2 slices of ginger
  • sesame oil, white pepper, soya sauce, fried shallots, chopped spring onions, fried dough fritters (you tiao) for optional but recommended topping
  • 1 century egg

Method:

  1. Stir fry minced pork in pot (enough fat in the meat to not have to grease pan), and set aside when cooked.
  2. Add rice, water, ginger to the pot and bring to a boil
  3. When rice has softened after 15 min, lower to a simmer and stir until rice has broken down (about 30 min)
  4. Add chicken stock cube to taste (depends on how salty you like your congee!). Add more water to the desired consistency.
  5. Remove ginger slice, mix in minced pork and century egg sliced into small wedges / cubes.
  6. Top with a sprinkle of soya sauce, sesame oil, pepper, spring onions, fried shallots… and tuck in!

But of course, you wouldn’t have to spend a whole hour at the stove stirring the magic pot to enjoy the egg as here’s a couple other alternatives that are just as awesome.

Century Egg with Pickled Ginger Recipe see Camemberu’s

Ingredients:

  • 1 century egg
  • pickled ginger

Method:

  1. Slice century egg into 8 wedges
  2. Top each wedge with a slice of pickled ginger
  3. Eat!

That was too simple, wasn’t it? Here’s another delicious one.

Century Egg with Silken Tofu Recipe from the Graces of NUS FST’05 🙂

Ingredients:

  • 1 century egg
  • 1 block / 1 tube of soft chilled silken tofu
  • 2 tsp soya sauce

Method:

  1. Slice silken tofu into 1cm slices.
  2. Chop up century egg into cubes of half cm dimensions (or bigger or smaller, it’s up to you) and sprinkle on top of the tofu.
  3. Sprinkle soya sauce over the dish.

To the supportive Wageningen readers of my blog, I have 2 more of these treasures remaining, and I would love to prepare these dishes for you IF you would make a comment here that you would like to try it. Really, good food isn’t good food until it’s shared. To non-Wageningen Dutch residents, I’ve seen these century eggs (6 euros for 6 eggs) in a hidden bottom corner of a shelf of a Chinese supermarket in Amsterdam’s Chinatown. 😉
Interestingly, an alternative Chinese name for this egg is the ‘松花蛋’ or ‘Pine-patterned egg’ — Why interesting? Because I have just started my research project on the Pine Nut Syndrome and I’m currently (and desperately) collecting reports and samples from the public regarding pine nuts that have caused their taste disturbance that is described as : an offending bitter metallic aftertaste in the mouth upon consumption of any food, and these symptoms show itself 1-2 days after ingesting the pine nuts, and lasts for 1-2 weeks. Please contact me at pinenutsyndrome@gmail.com if you have a recent experience of this!