I first learned how to use Asian spices from my best friend’s late mother whom I dearly called Auntie Wong.
Growing up in Malaysia, Auntie Wong was an acrobat in a circus, and later became a self-trained dentist. ‘How do you install a denture for an old lady without a single tooth,’ she laughed,’ luckily I was young and good looking then, I asked male dentists for helps and was never refused’.
Auntie Wong migrated to Australia in early 1980s with her three daughters. She ran a small take away shop in Glebe, an inner Sydney suburb, selling Malaysian fast food. To supplement the limited income from the shop, in the evenings she made spring rolls for catering companies. My friend Mei, the youngest daughter, helped with the spring rolls while she was still in primary school.
Some years later, Auntie Wong saved up enough money and bought a studio apartment. Auntie and Mei lived there for many years, sharing a bed. In their tiny but always welcoming home, Auntie Wong cooked me many heart-warming meals. The smell of delicious food filled the small space, and what a wonderful place it was. My favorite dishes were the Singapore meat and bone soup, noodles with salmon XO sauce, and fried rice with Indian spices.
While enjoying meals, auntie told me many of her life stories. I was always inspired by her amazing abilities to adopt to changes, and her keen spirit for new adventures.
Here is my version of a spiced fried rice – simple, aromatic and satisfying, with fond memory of Auntie Wong’s kindness and love.
- cook the basmati rice in a rice cooker with a few star anise, some cloves, and stir in a few teaspoons of turmeric and cumin.
- When the rice is cooked, fluffed the rice with a pair of chopsticks; then remove the star anise and cloves.
- In a frying pan, scramble some eggs with generous amount of cooking oil; add the rice, break up the rice with a spatula; splash a few dashes of dark soy sauce*, sesame oil into the rice, along with some salt, white pepper and some frozen peas; add extra spices (turmeric, cumin, white pepper, or curry powder) if desired.
- stir fry the rice until the peas are cooked through, approximately 5 minutes.
* use gluten free soy sauce for a gluten free option.
Cantonese love soups.
There are soups for every weather condition, every season and very occasion. There are soups to warm your body, or to cool your temper. The key to a good soup is to balance all the ingredients for maximum nurturing effect. Snow fungus with goji and chicken is one of these well-balanced soups that can rejuvenate your mind and soul.
Snow fungus, also known as the silver fungus, is sometimes recognized as the champion of all fungus. Historically it was used by the royals and rich families as a remedy to boost their health, with supposedly nurturing effects for internal organs, skin and brain, as well as anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor effects.
Goji berries as a herbal remedy, was documented in various ancient Chinese medicine compendiums dated as early as the 1500’s. Today, it is a common Chinese ingredient with supposedly positive effects on liver, kidney, sore back, joints, tiredness and poor eye sight. Families use it frequently in soups and teas.
Sounds like a magic, doesn’t it. The soup is warm, gentle and comforting. Hope you will like it.
Easy method is as follows:
Winter is finally here, and it rained most days last week. This means it was very uncomfortable for our rough sleepers, with many of them having to seek shelter at temporary accommodation. However, I was assured that they would not miss our homemade hot meals on Saturday night. So I made an extra effort to provide them with some nice food – apricot chicken, prawn and chorizo pilau, and chicken siumai dumplings.
Although time consuming, chicken siumai dumplings are very easy to make. My simplest version has only a few key ingredients – wonton wrappers, chicken mince, chicken bouillon powder, salt and white pepper, and cooking oil for pan frying.
I first made the meat filling, then the dumplings. I steamed the dumplings, following by pan-frying the dumplings slightly, so they won’t stick during transit to the homeless feed.
The easy method is illustrated as follows:
As the years went by, I found myself complaining more – the traffic, the bad drivers, so many conflicts around the world. Why can’t everyone just do the right thing, and the world could be a better place?
Some days, I thought I might have turned into a cranky person, like Mr. Chen.
Mr. Chen was a university friend to my father. During the culture revolution, his family was labeled as the enemy of the state. His house was searched, and wealth stripped; his father was prosecuted and thrown into jail; and Mr. Chen himself without a job or means to support himself. Like many others ahead of him, he took the dangerous journey to the Pearl River Delta, jumped into the river, and swam across the sea to seek freedom. He was shot at by the soldiers, but fortunately landed safely in Hong Kong. Worked as an engineer, he married a lady 10 years younger. He was very fond of Mrs. Chen and constantly praised her achievements, such as being able to speak fluent English, and had worked as an executive assistant to a hotel general manager.
The Chens migrated to Australia in early 1980s. With their savings, they bought a small grocery store at Rose Bay and an apartment at Point Piper, both are rich suburbs of Sydney. Their apartment, although had wonderful views of the Sydney harbor, was dark, miserable, and quite a mess.
When I arrived in Australia in late 1987, my father asked the Chens to provide me with guidance and helps. Whenever Mr. Chen had the opportunity, he would talk about Chinese politic. He spoke with the deepest anger and hatred, teeth crunching and fist waving. He yelled at me from time to time, for my lack of interest of his topics, and I did not keep my mouth firmly shut.
Within a few months, I found a job at a Chinese restaurant. The restaurant specialized in mid-north cuisine, such as Peking ducks and spicy Sichuan dishes. The Chens had dinner in the restaurant one night, and particularly liked the Shandong shredded chicken. They asked me to get the recipe, which was refused by the chef. The Chens did not speak to me ever since.
I found out many years later, that Mr. Chen told my parents, who were afar, that I was very naughty – I enjoyed working as a waitress; and I went out for suppers with with co-workers after work.
The last time I heard of the Chens, they were running a small restaurant in a suburban office park. Every morning at 3am, Mr. Chen, then 78 of age, got out of bed to collect supplies; then he joined his wife at the restaurant to work.
I can’t say that I appreciated my experience with Mr. Chen. But I sincerely hope they are enjoying their life, and are happy.
And here is my version of a Shandong chicken, recalling the ingredients and method I learnt from the restaurant. I first placed the chicken in brine overnight, then shallow-fried the chicken with soy sauce, steamed the chicken, shredded the chicken, and served the chicken with a tangy and spicy sauce.
The most important element of this dish is the sauce. It is sweet, sour, salty and spicy – just like life, never boring.
Recipe and easy steps are as follows:
Meals for the homeless: stir fry pork with soy sauce, lemon juice, tomato sauce, port wine, turmeric and cumin (gluten free option)
Pork shoulders are cheap this week – $6 a kilo at the supermarket, perfect for a tasty budget meal for our homeless friends.
I bought two pork shoulders, which gave me about 3kg of good quality meat after I trimmed off the fat and skin. I marinated the pork slices with dark soy sauce^, light soy sauce^, lemon juice, tomato sauce, brown sugar, port wine, turmeric, cumin and white pepper. I also added a cup of corn flour. I mixed the ingredients well, and left the pork in the fridge overnight, covered.
The next day I pan fried the pork in small batches, using a generous amount of cooking oil. I used the highest temperature possible, so I could achieve an intense ‘dry fry’ texture and taste. After I finished cooking the pork, I added some saute capsicum slices and saute green shallot (scallion) for colors.
It tasted delicious. I hope our homeless friends enjoyed the dish.
^use a gluten free soy sauce for a GF option.
Beef flank stew (牛腩) with Asian spices and soy sauce, my memory of the hawker stall on the ‘Poetry Book Road’ ( FODMAP friendly)
When I was a little girl, I walked to the primary school each day. I ate breakfast along the way. I had a ten cents allowance for two plain steamed buns each morning.
I walked down a street commonly known as the ‘Poetry Book Road’. For many years, the street was renamed as the ‘Red Book Road’ in honor of Chairman Mao’s red book of quotations.
At the end of the street, there was a tiny hawker stall selling beef flank and pig intestines. In winters, the hot steam rose from her big pots. The aroma of soy, star anise and clove lingered in the air, mouth-watering and irresistible. The stall operator was a middle age woman, short, chubby and never smiled. She had a pair of gigantic scissors that made loud ‘chop chop chop’ sound. When she received an order, she cut some small pieces off a larger piece, skillfully threading them to a bamboo stick without touching them with her hands. A stick with 3 pieces of juicy, fatty and heart-warming meat cost 10 cents. It was a difficult decision for a little girl – spending the 10 cents on a meat stick and be hungry for the rest of the morning, or two plain buns. I took some deep breaths (the aroma was so good) and nibbled on the tasteless buns.
Now I remembered, the two buns never filled me up anyway. At school I sat next to a boy whose name was ‘Bin’. We enjoyed a few laughs as our stomachs rumbled at the exact same moment.
I cooked beef flank many times over the past many years. It always brought back memories of the hawker stall on the Poetry Book Road.
Recipe is as follows: Read the rest of this entry »
A common style of Chinese cooking is called ‘liangban’ or ‘liangchai’, which means a salad-like chilled dish. The ingredients for these dishes can be very diverse, from vegetables to different kinds of meat including offal. My husband’s favorite liangchai is Sichuan style liver and tongue. My favorite liangchai is pork hocks.
This week I made a liangchai with pig hocks. It took 2 days, but the process was very simple and easy.
Recipe is as follows: