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Nyonya Rice Salad

This dish is typical in northern Malaysia and is usually served as part of a banquet.

150g flathead fillets (can use any firm, white flesh fish)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons dried shrimps, soaked in boiling water for 10 minutes, drained and coarsely chopped
700g (3 1/2 cups) steamed jasmine rice (about 240g uncooked), cooled
1 stalk of lemongrass, white part only, thinly sliced
4 snake beans, finely chopped (alternatively use green string beans)
3 shallots, thinly sliced
45g (1/2 cup) desiccated coconut, roasted
Pinch of caster sugar
5 kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced (can substitute for zest of lime)
1/2 cup Vietnamese mint, thinly sliced
1/2 cup Thai basil leaves, thinly sliced
1 small Lebanese cucumber, seeded and finely chopped

Rub fish with 2 teaspoons sea salt, then heat oil in a frying pan, add fish and cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes or until golden. Drain fish on paper towel, cool, then flake into small pieces and place in a large bowl.

Add soaked shrimps, rice, lemongrass, snake beans, shallots, roasted coconut and sugar, then season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and gently combine. Gently fold in hersb and cucumber, then transfer salad to a large bowl or plate and serve immediately.

The Culinary Chase’s note: This dish is lovely on its own. If Thai basil is not available then use regular basil. I used only one shallot as the one I had was large, however, you can always add more if needed. Don’t be put off by the pungent smell of the dried shrimps. Once soaked in the hot water, the smell is reduced and adds a nice salty flavor to the sweetness of the coconut.

Nyonya food is an interesting amalgamation of Chinese and Malay dishes thought to have originated from the Peranakan (Straits Chinese) of Malacca over 400 years ago. This was the result of inter-marriages between Chinese immigrants and local Malays, which produced a unique culture. The ladies are called nyonyas and the men babas. Peranakan means “locally born” in the Malay language.

Porcelain is another important part of Peranakan households. Most of these wares have intricate motifs of flowers, butterflies and phoenixes in bright yellow and rose pink, unlike typical Chinese porcelain.

This is a ceramic nyonya dish I bought when I lived in Singapore. It comes with four sections; each able to hold different foods. I have used it on a few occasions and not only is it a lovely display piece for your table, it’s always a topic of conversation.


Dukkah (pronounced ‘do -kah’) is an Egyptian blend of coarsely ground nuts and spices. Use it by dipping bread in extra virgin olive oil then into the Dukkah mixture. I remember the first time I encountered this curious looking mixture when I was still living in Singapore. My husband and I went out for dinner at The Cellar Door and while we were waiting for our drinks, we were served Dukkah with bread. We looked at the waiter and asked what it was and how to use it. From that moment on, I had Dukkah in the fridge ready for consumption!

125g sesame seeds
50g coriander seeds
50g cumin seeds
75g macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
30g Maldon sea salt (please don’t use table salt!)

Dry roast all spices individually until fragrant; don’t burn:
1) Sesame first, quickly pan fry (dry pan), stir and then remove
2) Add coriander and cumin together and dry roast until fragrant
3) Roast macadamia nuts in oven until golden brown, 200c for about 5 minutes (let cool before processing)

Place spices in a spice grinder or pound with mortar and pestle. Grind to a rough consistency. When macadamia nuts are cooled, place in a food processor until fine but not a paste. Combine spices and nuts with sea salt and pepper to taste. Store in an airtight container preferably in the the fridge.

The Culinary Chase’s Note: You can also substitute the coriander and cumin seeds for ground coriander and cumin. Other ways to use Dukkah:
* Spread pita bread or pizza bases with some olive oil and Dukkah, and then lightly grill. Cut into wedges and serve.
* As a crust or breading for foods like lamb, shrimp, fish or chicken.
* Sprinkle over salads or pasta dishes.

Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Ok, so the photo isn’t so hot but the sandwich is! It’s been a favorite of mine for a very long time. For me, it’s a classic staple and when one is running short for time or you just don’t want to spend any time in the kitchen, this fits the bill.

2 slices of bread
grated cheese – about 6oz. (such as cheddar, fontina, mozzarella)

Traditionally the bread is buttered but an alternative is to brush one side of each slice of bread with olive oil. Place 2 slices on a work surface, oiled side down. Distribute the cheese evenly over 1 slice. Top with the other slice of bread, oiled side up.

Stove Top Method:
Heat the skillet over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Put the sandwich in the skillet and cook for 2 minutes, or until the underside is golden brown and the cheese has begun to melt. Turn the sandwich with a spatula, pressing firmly to flatten slightly. Cook for 1 minute, or until the undersides are golden brown. Serve immediately.

Sandwich Maker Method:
Preheat the sandwich maker. Follow directions for sandwich assembly, and cook according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

What’s in a Name?

I’m always intrigued to know where words originate and wondered how the word ‘sandwich’ came to be. Some believe it was named after John Montagu who was the 4th Earl of Sandwich. Legend has it that in 1762 he asked for meat (most probably salted beef) to be served between slices of bread to avoid interrupting a gambling game.

However, the first recorded sandwich was by Rabbi Hillel the Elder in the 1st century BC. He started the Passover custom of sandwiching a mixture of chopped nuts, apples, spices and wine between two matzohs to eat with bitter herbs. The filling between the matzohs served as a reminder of the suffering of the Jews before their deliverance from Egypt.

It is said that Peanut Butter sandwiches were created by the American soldiers in World War Two. The soldiers combined bread, peanut butter and jelly from their c-rations (ready pack meals). This filling spread through the ranks and when they returned home after the war, peanut butter and jelly sales soared. Food historians have found nothing written about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before 1940. It would seem most likely that this would be the birth of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Oh, the stories a slice of bread can tell! What’s your favorite sandwich?

Fresh Figs with Goat Cheese and Peppered Honey

When figs are in season, this is the time to make this recipe. As a matter of interest, fig newtons and dried figs are NOTHING like a fresh fig! A fresh fig tastes like a mix of a peach and a strawberry! Figs won’t last long at room temperature, but a mildly cool refrigerator will keep them several days. Figs with light brown to violet or greenish brown in color are the best ones to eat fresh. Figs provide more fiber than any other common fruit or vegetable. The fiber in figs is both soluble and insoluble. Both types of fiber are important for good health. Figs can be used as an appetizer, in a main dish or as a dessert.

1/4 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
12 fresh figs
1/4 cup soft fresh goat cheese

Mix honey and pepper in small bowl. Starting at stem end, cut each fig into quarters, stopping 1/2 inch from bottom to leave base intact. Gently press figs open. Spoon 1 teaspoon cheese into center of each. Arrange figs on platter and drizzle with peppered honey.

Makes 4 servings.

The Culinary Chase’s note: Depending on the size of the figs, I would serve two per person as three figs each might be a bit much. If goat cheese isn’t a favorite, you can always try other soft cheeses or try combining mascarpone and goats cheese. For a variation on today’s recipe, wrap thin slices of proscuitto around the cheese filled figs (omit the honey), put on a baking tray and grill in the oven until procsuitto cooks or cheese is caramel in color (watch closely as it’ll cook quickly). A simple but delicious dish.

Lahmacun (Turkish Meat Pizza)

This famous Turkish flatbread is often called pide. It makes a nice change from the Italian pizza and is designed as a meal however, you could serve it as an appetizer. Make your own pizza dough or use flatbread (pita) if you are short for time.

2 red capsicums
1 medium eggplant
2 tblespoons olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
400g minced lamb (you can use minced beef)
1-2 teaspoons puree de piment or minced chili
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped flat-leafed parsley, plus extra for garnish

Place the red capsicums and eggplant directly over the flame of a gas burner or barbecue, or under a grill, turning often until completely blackened and soft. Place in a large bowl, cover with pastic wrap and let them sweat for 10 minutes.
Remove peel off all the blackened skin and discard. Remove the stalk and seeds from the capsicum and chop the flesh finely. Cut the stalk off the eggplant and chop the flesh finely.

Heat the oil in a frying pan and saute the onion and garlic for 5 minutes until soft. Transfer to a large bowl with the red capsicum, eggplant, minced lamb, piment or chili, salt, sugar, lemon juice and parsley. Mix until well combined.

Preheat the oven to 230c. After the dough has risen, divide into 4 and roll and stretch out to 30cm x 18cm canoe-shaped flatbreads. Spread the filling over each dough base.

Bake on an oven tray covered with baking paper for 10 minutes or until golden but still soft. Remove from oven and sprinkle with a little parsley and lemon juice.

The Culinary Chase’s note
: The chargrilled eggplant comes off tasting as if it was smoked which adds a nice balance to the sweet taste of the capsicums & the hot spice of the chili. Other choice toppings to use: feta, chopped tomatoes and sprinkle smoked paprika over the toppings when taking it out of the oven. Pide can also be rolled up and eaten like a donair.

The Stinky Rose!

Almost every cuisine on our planet has found an important role for garlic and is among the oldest known horticultural crop. Egyptian and Indian cultures referred to garlic 5000 years ago and by the Chinese 2000 years ago.

Garlic’s good for you. Garlic acts as a warming herb for the digestion and respiratory tract and is an important antibiotic and antiviral remedy for colds, flu, bronchitis, pneumonia, and other infections.

It’s an important herbal supplement for protecting the blood and cardiovascular system. Used regularly, it can slightly lower your blood pressure, reduce high cholesterol, and help prevent atherosclerosis. Garlic has long been used as a remedy for intestinal parasites.

When selecting a head of garlic, look for large, clean, firm bulbs with unbroken, dry skins. Remove any green shoots from cloves because they give a bitter taste that persists when garlic is cooked. Store garlic in a cool, dry place where air can circulate. Refrigerating garlic inhibits flavour and dehydrates the cloves.

To peel garlic, place clove on cutting board and gently press with side of knife until skin starts to break. Discard skin.

One of my favorite uses of garlic is pesto.

100ml virgin olive oil
30 small fresh basil leaves (washed and dried; I use a salad spinner)
3-6 garlic cloves (start with 3 first, for taste and add more if needed)
30 grams freshly grated parmesan cheese
30 grams freshly grated pecorino cheese
2 tablespoons pine nuts
sea salt (to taste)

I use a pestle and mortar as I like to see the bits of crushed ingredients whereas the food processor tends to make everything smooth. Also, the pestle bruises the basil releasing its perfume into the garlic and pine nuts. Put the basil leaves and garlic in mortar and crush. Add about 1 teaspoon of salt and crush until almost creamy. Add the pinenuts and continue to crush; stir in olive oil. If using a food processor, slowly add the olive oil. Stir in parmesan and pecorino. At this point, you may need to add more salt or any of the other ingredients to your satisfaction.

The Culinary Chase’s note: If you don’t have pecorino, just double the amount of parmesan. Asiago is another cheese substitute one could use that would compliment the nuts in pesto. I use pesto in pasta’s, sauces, in soups and as a garnish. If you have leftover pesto, put the pesto into ice cube trays and freeze. Once frozen, remove from tray & put into a plastic container and place in the freezer for future use.

Above are polenta triangles with pesto, boccinchini and tomato slices. Grill under broiler for a few minutes or until you see the cheese starting to soften. Remove from oven, top with tommato slices and serve! Buon appetito!

Vegetable Salad with Curry-Soy Vinaigrette

This is a family favorite and not only is it delicious but easy to prepare. It’s a unique way to serve 5 vegetables in one dish and the vinaigrette enhances the flavors of the vegetables. At our family reunion this summer, I made this and while everyone enjoyed it, my sister Patrice waxed lyrical about it. I have to admit the aromas of this dish do have you coming back for more. Pair it with rice and salmon especially if some of your family or guests are vegetarian.

Serves 8

For the vinaigrette:
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
2 teaspoons Dijion mustard
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoons fine sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

For the salad:

1 lb. Tomatoes (I use cherry tomatoes as they’re sweeter)
1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
1 bunch broccoli cut into 1.5” florets
1/2 head cauliflower cut into 1.5” florets
1/2 lb. Turnips peeled & cut into 1/4” thick rounds & the rounds halved
1/2 lb. Haricots verts or other thin green beans trimmed
3 tablespoons finely chopped chives
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro (coriander)

Make vinaigrette:
Mix all the ingredients in a small plastic container, cover and shake until blended.

Make salad:
Cut tomatoes into quarters. Cook broccoli, cauliflower, turnip & haricots vert in a large pot of boiling water until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes then drain well (can also use a microwave to partially cook the vegetables). Toss warm vegetables with tomatoes, shallots, chives, cilantro & vinaigrette.

The Culinary Chase’s Note: Vinaigrette may be made 8 hours ahead & chilled, covered. Bring to room temperature before using. This salad can also be served at room temperature. Also, don’t be afraid to experiment with other vegetables you like. Use this recipe as a guide and create your own vegetable dish. Enjoy!

Moon Cakes and Mid-Autumn Festival

Yes, it’s that time of year where retailers and bakeries are promoting the ubiquitous ‘moon cake‘ to help kick off the The Mid-Autumn Festival. In Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia, it may be referred to as the Lantern Festival.

The Festival falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month of the Chinese calendar. In the Western calendar, the day of the festival usually occurs sometime between the second week of September and the second week of October. At this time, the moon is at its fullest and brightest, marking an ideal time to celebrate the abundance of the summer’s harvest. The traditional food of this festival is the moon cake, of which there are many different varieties. The Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the two most important holidays in the Chinese calendar (the other being the Chinese Lunar New Year).

There are many tales about the significance of the mooncake:

Children are told the ancient story of the moon fairy who lived in a crystal palace and came out only to dance on the moon’s shadowed surface.

Another legend links them to a mythical day when 10 suns appeared at once in the sky. The emperor ordered a famous archer to shoot down the nine extra suns. When the task was accomplished, he was awarded a pill that would make him immortal but it was only eaten by his beautiful wife Chang E. After taking the pill, she floated all the way to the moon and it is said her beauty is greatest on the day of the moon festival that takes place on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month.

There is a saying in Chinese that marriages are made in heaven and prepared on the moon. The man who does the preparing is the old man of the moon (Yueh Lao Yeh). This old man, it is said, keeps a record book with all the names of newborn babies. He is the one heavenly person who knows everyone’s future partners, and nobody can fight the decisions written down in his book. He is one reason why the moon is so important in Chinese mythology and especially at the time of the Moon Festival. Everybody including children, hikes up high mountains or hills or onto open beached to view the moon in the hope that he will grant their wishes.

In the most famous legend, however, mooncakes are used to conceal secret messages sent among Chinese revolutionaries plotting the overthrow of the Mongol invaders in the 14th century.

In Chinese celestial cosmology, the moon represents the female principle, or yin. During ancient autumn Moon Festivals, women took center stage because the moon is considered feminine. Only women took part in Moon Festival rituals on the night of the full moon. Altars would be set up in households, and when the full moon appeared, women would make offerings of incense, candles, fruit, flowers, and mooncakes. Today, Chinese celebrate the festival with colourful lanterns.

Besides its significance in Chinese history, mooncakes play an important role in August Moon gatherings and gift giving. These palm-sized round cakes symbolize family unity and perfection. Some mooncakes have a golden yellow egg yoke in the center which looks like a bright moon. They usually come in a box of four and are packaged in tin boxes with traditional Chinese motifs.

A traditional mooncake is made of a sweet bean-paste filling with golden brown flaky skin. The top of the mooncake is embossed with the insignia of the baker molded into the golden brown skin. It takes 2 to 4 weeks to prepare the bean-paste. Because making mooncakes is labor intensive, many families just buy them from bakeries.

Mooncake molds are custom-made with the insignia of the baker. Many Chinese people are willing to pay a higher price for mooncakes from reputable bakers. Thus, the baker’s insignia is very important. To adapt to today’s health conscious and Westernized lifestyle, many bakeries offer miniature mooncakes and fat-free mooncakes. Some are made of yogurt, jelly and fat-free ice cream.

Steeped in tradition and history, this is no ordinary cake!

Asia’s Exotic Beauties Part II

Durians and Mangosteens
‘The King and Queen of Tropical Fruit’

These two fruit, though quite unrelated, are regarded as the King and Queen of all tropical fruit. Few would fault the mangosteen except that the rind leaves an indelible stain. Both mangosteen and durian are native to South East Asia and require a year round, warm, very humid, equatorial climate.

Durian, The King

You either love or loathe this fruit! To describe its pungent aroma is to liken it to the smell of rotten onions or the gases emitted from an egg sandwich. Those who do like the fruit describe it as an excellent taste that it surpasses in flavor all the other fruits of the world. I suppose everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. However, when there are signs banning the durian from public places, transportation etc. I cannot be that far off the mark when describing its odor.

The durian tree is very large. Picking the fruit is not required, as they fall when ripe. This is quite dangerous as the fruit is covered with hard spines and weighs several kilograms. Durians have about five segments, each containing several seeds and these are surrounded by a custard-like aril. Freshly fallen fruit are less pungent.

Fermented durian, wrapped in palm leaves, remains palatable for up to a year. The preparation is called “tempoya” in Indonesia and is a popular side dish. They may also be used mixed with rice and sugar to make “lempog”, or minced with salt, onions and vinegar, for “boder”. Durian seeds may be roasted in hot ashes, or cut into slices and fried in spiced coconut oil. They are eaten with rice, or mixed with sugar to make a sweetmeat. Half-ripe fruit are used in soups. The fruit is also suitable for the preparation of milk based foods, such as milk shakes, ice cream and custards.

I’ve tried durian fresh out of its shell, in baked goods and I still have to say, politely, that this king of fruit just plain stinks.

Mangosteen, The Queen

The ripe mangosteen is dark red and tastes best if harvested before turning purple or blue-black. It does not ripen post-harvest. The mangosteen appeals to almost all, without a “learning” period. The mangosteen would be a popular choice as the finest of all fruit. The fruit is the size of a mandarin. The outer skin is up to 8mm thick and rich in tannic acid, which makes the fruit insect resistant. To open the fruit, cut through the skin only, and lightly pull and twist the fruit apart.

About a third of the fruit is edible and this part consists of 4 to 8 white to pinkish juicy segments. The precise number is indicated by the remnant flower parts on the front of the shell. A greater number of segments reduces the chance of seeds. Seeds can be boiled or roasted and eaten. The fruit’s taste is delicate, sweet-acid, and the pulp seems to melt in the mouth.

The flavor? It’s really not like anything else you may have tasted, so do not take comparisons too literally. The mangosteen has flavors that range from strawberry, peach, vanilla ice cream – it is definitely sweet tempered with a very slight sourness.

5 Things to Eat Before You Die!

I was recently tagged by two food bloggers: Bruno from Zinfully Delicious and Sam from Becks & Posh for “The Food Bloggers Guide to the Globe – 5 Things to Eat Before You Die”. A guide started by “The Traveler’s Lunchbox“. Trying to narrow the search to five things is a huge task for this foodie, however, I felt I better start now or I could end up changing my mind many times over.

1) Lobster Suppers in Prince Edward Island, Canada – If you only visit PEI once, don’t miss a traditional church basement lobster supper. Some restaurants do imitations, but it’s better to go authentic and head to Saint Ann’s Church on Route 224 any day but Sunday. Saint Ann’s started lobster dinners in its basement to raise money for the church and other church charities. It’s been serving customers for over 40 years. For a set price, you get mussels, chowder, lobster, potato salad, homemade pie, ice cream and tea – with a side of local colour and congeniality.

2) Dim Sum – Ah, if you haven’t tried this Cantonese cuisine you are in for a treat. Dim sum literally means, “to touch your heart”. It consists of a variety of dumplings, steamed dishes and other goodies such as the famous egg custard tarts. There’s no ordering; instead you choose from a wide assortment of snacks that the waiters bring out on carts and trays. It’s a noisy affair and the best way to enjoy dim sum is with a large group; otherwise you’ll fill up on a few items and miss the opportunity to sample everything.

A few of my favorite items are: steamed pork spareribs, char siu bao (steamed buns with roast pork), har gau (shrimp dumplings with the translucent skin), mini spring rolls, siu mai (steamed pork dumplings), rice noodle rolls with shrimp, haw heung tsun chu gai (steamed sticky rice with chicken in lotus leaf), pot stickers, yiu chu law bak go (steamed turnip cake) and anything with eggplant. Finally, there’s dessert. Custard tarts are a must; you may also have a choice between mango or almond pudding. All of the above are washed down with copious amounts of tea.

3) Dulse! – You’re probably wondering what that is. Well, it’s a red seaweed that grows attached to rocks and is commonly used in Ireland and Atlantic Canada as a food snack. I grew up eating it and it is an acquired taste. The closest example of taste comparison I can think of is a sushi roll. If you enjoy the green wrap, then dulse tastes a bit like that. One must try this delicacy and the best dulse comes from Grand Manan, NB Canada.

4) Jane’s On The Common – Located in Halifax, NS Canada this bistro is small (37 seats) and gets busy during peak hours. It’s amazing that a city the size of Halifax (around 350,000) has over 350 restaurants! There seems to be a push for all things natural and support for the local farmers and fishermen. Jane’s delicious food and a varied wine list coupled with a neat atmosphere and a diverse set of customers make this place a reason for people to come back wanting more. I know we did. My husband and I were on holiday in Halifax in July and managed to eat there twice (once for lunch and once for dinner). An absolute pleasure to dine there.

5) Restaurants in Wineries – In August 2005 my husband and I were in New Zealand’s South Island for two weeks. We had never been to New Zealand and had planned our trip to celebrate our anniversary there. We both love wine and what better a place to celebrate than in a winery. One of our favorite NZ wineries is Pegasus Bay.

If you enjoy wine and food then I highly recommend eating in a winery. Usually these restaurants offer outstanding dishes and the value for money is amazing. Chefs prepare the food and a winery cannot afford a poor rating in its restaurant as that would reflect on the winery itself. A good winery restaurant will either pair its food with its wine and or suggest wines to compliment the meal. We’ve eaten in many winery restaurants (South Africa, Australia, and now New Zealand) and I have to say we’ve never been disappointed. In this category trying to choose one was also a difficult task. Pegasus Bay, however, was special for us in that we celebrated our anniversary there. Our waiter walked us through some suggestions giving us feedback from other customers along with his own personal recommendations. The food was brought to us in a timely fashion and towards the end, we didn’t want to leave.