KitchenTigress: 2011

Kueh Lapis (I)

Kueh lapis is a colourful kueh that's steamed layer by layer. It's sweet, and it tastes of coconut milk and pandan leaves. Tapioca starch, the main ingredient, makes the texture chewy and elastic.

Kueh lapis, take one: So there I was, poking the first layer of my nine-layer kueh lapis with a pair of chopsticks. Yup, it's cooked! At this point, other people would proceed with steaming the second layer, but not me.

Teochew Ngoh Hiang

Ngoh hiang are deep-fried meat rolls. They have the sweetness of prawns and pork, the crunch of water chestnuts, and the fragrance of yam and five-spice powder. The salty beancurd skin wrapped around the filling adds to the aroma. More importantly, it stops moisture from escaping, keeping the meat roll moist and juicy.

Crispy Bean Steamed Cod

There are two types of cod. The type used for fish and chips is cheap and cheerful. It's a whitefish that's quite lean. The other type is expensive. It's also a whitefish but extremely oily.

Sambal Ikan Bilis (I)

The good news is, anchovy stocks have doubled because their predators – the type without legs – have declined sharply in numbers.

Hey, that calls for us – the predators with legs – to step up our efforts.

Eat more anchovies, people!

Pickled Green Papaya

When life gives you green papayas, pickle them! Pickling is a great way to add flavour. Green papayas are bland and tasteless but they become sour and spicy after they're pickled. They also have a lovely crunch.

Bubur Cha Cha

Bubur cha cha is a very colourful dessert found in Singapore and Malaysia. You get white coconut milk, orange and purple sweet potatoes, green and red tapioca jelly and grey yam all in one bowl. It may be served hot or cold, and is delicious either way.

Tips for making bubur cha cha:

Fried Wontons

Fried wontons are different from wontons in soup, apart from the fact that they're fried.

The filling for boiled wontons should have dried sole (大地鱼, aka 铁脯). The fish is toasted till brown, crisp and fragrant, then chopped into little bits.

Nyonya Belachan Fried Rice

Leftover rice is great for making fried rice.

But, contrary to popular opinion, freshly cooked rice is perfectly OK too. All you have to do is use a bit less water than usual. That makes the cooked rice harder and less sticky, as if it's been drying out overnight. If you can, steam the rice instead of boiling it in an electric rice-cooker. You'll get rice that's firmer and more chewy.

10-Minute Kaya (I)

toast sandwiched with kaya and butter
Making kaya the old way takes 2-3 hours of stirring.

I greatly admire patience, dedication and tenacity but sadly these are virtues I don't possess. So I make kaya the quick way, in 10 minutes.

What's the difference between quickie and longie kaya?

Buah Paya Masak Titek (Peppery Papaya Soup)

Buah paya masak titek is a Nyonya soup. It has strong umami flavours from prawns, papayas, salted fish and dried prawns. It also has a spicy kick from white peppercorns.

My soup is inspired by "The Best of Singapore Cooking" and "Cooking for the President".

The recipe from "The Best of Singapore Cooking" is too salty. It uses too much salted fish bones and dried prawns, in addition to salt and a chicken stock cube.

Ikan Tempera (Nyonya Sweet & Sour Fish)

Ikan Tempera is the Nyonya version of sweet & sour fish.

Anything fried and topped with a sweet & sour sauce is good, right?

Soon Kueh (Turnip Dumplings) (I)

Soon kueh is a Teochew steamed dumpling. It used to be made with bamboo shoots. That's why it's called "soon kueh", which means shoot dumpling. Nowadays, jicama has replaced bamboo shoots because it's way cheaper.

Soon kueh may be eaten steamed or pan-fried. Some people like it with chilli sauce and sweet black soya sauce. Some like it without. It's great for breakfast. It's also a great snack.

Babi Masak Assam

Compared to Shermay Lee, who supposedly began learning Peranakan cuisine when she was 5 years old, Wee Eng Hwa was a very late starter. She began learning Nyonya cookery at the relatively ancient age of 47.

Fortunately, Wee Eng Hwa had two advantages over the self-proclaimed culinary child prodigy.

Babi Pongteh

Cast your mind back, all the way back to when you were 5 years old. Do you remember anything much?

Would you believe a 5-year-old child is capable of learning how to cook, and remembers what she's learnt when she's a 28-year-old adult? Would you believe a 5-year-old can be instilled with a passion for cooking?

Lotus Seed Sweet Soup

Lotus seed sweet soup is an old-fashioned Chinese dessert. It's a thick caramel soup with soft, powdery lotus seeds.

I was buying lotus seeds when a fellow aunty shopper who was waiting for her turn asked me how the dried seeds should be cooked.

Whilst I pondered the question (and sized her up), she told me hers were still hard after soaking overnight and simmering for two hours!

Paper-Wrapped Chicken

The paper in 纸包鸡 serves a purpose (other than containing the chicken).

It gives the chicken the best of two worlds: steaming and deep-frying.

Because the meat juices have nowhere to escape, the chicken is extremely juicy, much juicier than paperless deep-fried chicken could ever be.

Tau Suan (Mung Bean Sweet Soup)

Tau suan is thick mung bean soup sweetened with caramel. It's topped with you char kway (Chinese crullers), which is salty and crispy.

If you know what 豆爽 is, you probably know that "豆" means beans.

What about "爽"? What does "爽" mean?

Kiam Chye Ark (Salted Mustard Greens & Duck Soup)

When I was looking at recipes for itek teem, I was surprised at the number of ingredients used for the Nyonya soup.

Various Peranakan adaptations of kiam chye ark had pig's trotters, assam skin, brandy, nutmeg, and even sea cucumber.

These were on top of the kiam chye (pickled mustard greens), ark (duck), pickled plums, and tomatoes found in every recipe, Nyonya or Chinese.

Sayur Lodeh (Vegetable Curry)

Sayur lodeh is an Indonesian curry made with vegetables. Cabbage is the main veggie used, along with some long beans, eggplants and beancurd. There're lots of spices and coconut milk in the curry, making it very aromatic. It also has good umami flavour from dried prawns.

Minced Pork Stir-Fry with Ketchup & Fermented Black Beans

Minced pork stir-fried with fermented black beans (FBB) and tomato ketchup is one of the standard items served at places that sell Teochew porridge. It's savoury, spicy, a bit sweet, and aromatic. The strong flavours go very well with plain porridge.

The dish is different from other FBB-based recipes because it's got a good amount of tomato ketchup.

Kueh Bengka Ubi (I)

Making kueh bengka ubi is incredibly easy. The main ingredients are grated tapioca, eggs, sugar and coconut milk. Just mix everything thoroughly and bake. It's as easy as a box cake, but the results are way more delicious.

Kueh bengka ubi has a wonderful aroma from coconut milk, pandan juice and its caramelized crust. Tapioca gives the cake its yellow colour, and makes it nicely chewy. 

Diced Chicken with Spicy Fermented Tofu

Fermented beancurd is good stuff. It's gotta be. Otherwise, it wouldn't have survived war, peace, and technological upheavals for more than 2,000 years.

Fermented beancurd is salty, creamy and aromatic. It may be used as a seasoning, or eaten as it is with porridge or rice.

Pork Stir-Fry with Sesame Oil

Pork stir-fried in sesame oil (麻油肉片) is a Chinese homey dish. Thinly sliced pork is marinated, then tossed with white sesame oil, garlic and ginger over high heat. The dish uses everyday ingredients, and it's done in minutes. Most importantly, it's delicious.

I've done pork stir-fry with sesame oil so many times I can practically do it with my eyes closed.

Fried Glutinous Rice

Fried glutinous rice is a Cantonese dish. It may be made with glutinous rice that's cooked or raw. The raw version, when it's done right, is more fragrant, more chewy, and not sticky at all. It's like regular fried non-glutinous rice, but better.

Stir-frying raw glutinous rice requires some patience. Water must be added to the rice a little at a time.

Lemon Curd Marbled Cheesecake

I love the lemon tree in my garden, especially when it's full of lemons. She (yes, she!) was planted by my grandfather in 1931.

The grand old dame is celebrating her 80th birthday this year. Her trunk is gnarled with age but Mrs Taango – that's what we call her because: lemon → tang → Taango – still produces a load of fruits every year.

Udang Masak Nanas

Udang masak nanas is a Nonya soup that's sweet, sour and salty. The 3 flavours are strong but not overwhelming because they're well balanced. The main ingredients are udang (prawns) and nanas (pineapple). The recipe also uses lots of herbs and spices. Nonya food is never subtle, right?

This is another recipe from Mrs Wee Kim Wee's collection in "Cooking for the President". It's the fourth recipe I've tried from the book.

Mee Siam (Spicy Rice Vermicelli)

Mee siam is a popular noodle dish in Singapore. Bee hoon (rice vermicelli) is mixed with spices and seasoning, then a slightly spicy, sweet and tart sauce is added. Basic toppings include egg slices, fried beancurd, sambal, garlic chives and lime.

The mee siam recipe I'm sharing is from "Cooking for the President".

Gong Bao Frog Legs

Back when I was a little girl living in a kampong, I jumped with joy whenever it rained at night.


Because my father would go frog hunting, and there would be a big pot of frog porridge for supper.

Sambal Timun (Spicy Pork Cucumber Salad)

I like Mrs Wee Kim's sambal timun recipe in "Cooking for the President". The magic of the spicy pork cucumber salad is in the dressing.

Opposites attract, so bland, tasteless cucumber (timun) and hot, spicy sambal are the proverbial match made in Nyonya heaven. And when the matchmaker is Mrs Wee, you can be assured it's a particularly blissful match.

Sambal Udang (Prawns in Chilli Paste)

Sambal udang is a delicious Nyonya dish. Chilli paste is fried in oil till fragrant, then prawns are cooked in the aromatic paste. The gloriously red prawns nicely balance spicy, sour, sweet and savoury.

Sambal udang was the first recipe I tried from "Cooking for the President".

Teochew Steamed Fish Head

What do char kway tiao, or luak, bak chor mee, and Teochew style steamed fish have in common, apart from being Teochew?

Don't know? What if I remove steamed fish from the list, and add or nee, chai tow kway and yam mooncakes? Is it obvious now?

Ladies and gentlemen, all these Teochew dishes have lard – lots and lots of glorious lard!

Sambal Kangkong (Water Spinach in Chilli Paste)

Sambal kangkong is a vegetable dish that even vegetable haters love. Kangkong, a green leafy veggie with hollow stems, is stir-fried with sambal over extreme high heat. Best eaten piping hot, good sambal kangkong is crunchy, spicy and smoky.

Did you know there's a connection between kangkong and the God of Fortune, aka 财神爷?

Marmite Pork Ribs

I wander up and down the aisles in the supermart looking for Marmite. It's not with jams and spreads, nor sauces and condiments. Baking products? Nope, not there either. Where else could it be?

You'd never guess! Marmite, together with its best friend, Bovril, is sitting next to the cough syrups, plasters and ENO.

Ayam Panggang (Sambal Grilled Chicken)

Roast chicken with nicely browned skin, slathered with lots of sambal. How does that sound?

First, roast a chicken till nicely golden brown. Then, lather the tanned chook with lots of sambal that's full of spices and enriched with coconut milk. Next, stick it back in the oven. As the spicy paste bubbles away merrily in the heat, it caramelizes and forms a crust, transforming the ordinary roast chicken into – TADAA! – ayam panggang.

Black Pepper Crab

Rule number one of crab handling: make sure it's dead before cutting the string! Ask the crab politely, whilst tapping its legs with a knife or chopstick, "Hello? Hello? Are you dead?"

If the crab nods its head or says, "Yes, I'm dead," beware of the crafty crab! If there's no response and the legs aren't moving, then and only then should the string be cut.

Sambal Stingray (I)

I love banana leaves. Rice and curry taste so much better on a banana leaf than a plate. Banana leaves are fun. And I feel good using something that's disposable yet traditional and natural.

Who says only modern people are lazy?

Herbal Mutton Soup

My mother never cooked mutton, lamb, or goat anything. Hence, my knowledge of cooking anything that goes "Meh-eh-heh!" or "Baa-aaa!" is pretty paltry. I learn on the job, which is a fun way of learning.

I cooked some lamb chops once. Said chops were marinated with pineapple juice, fresh rosemary and salt, then pan-fried till medium-rare. The chops were delicious but they had bones which were curved. I couldn't brown the curved part which had no contact with the pan.

Har Cheong Gai (Prawn Paste Chicken) (I)

There're many types of fermented prawn paste. I could smell this one once the bottle was open.

OMG, this is potent stuff!

It wasn't belachan, which is quite harmless until it's toasted or fried.

Pandan Chiffon Cake (I)

I'm on the hunt for a good pandan chiffon recipe. I start by comparing recipes from Epicurative, The Best of Singapore Cooking, The Raffles Hotel Cookbook, and the four featured by ieat.

Chicken Satay & Peanut Sauce

chicken satay with peanut sauce
I'm following the satay sauce recipe in "The Best of Singapore Cooking". My satay sauce is too chunky because the peanuts are all roughly chopped as per the recipe. And the colour doesn't look right. Maybe the recipe needs some turmeric?

Thai Stuffed Chicken Wings

Thai stuffed chicken wings (kai sawt sai tawt) are deep-fried boneless chicken wing mid-joints filled with minced prawns. You love chicken wings but hate bones? Stuffed chicken wings would be your kinda thing.

Stuffed Tau Pok with Rojak Sauce

The rojak sauce for stuffed tau pok is similar to the sauce for Chinese rojak. It's the same sauce but thinner. And there're three added ingredients – lime juice, kecap manis, and palm sugar – which give the sauce a more rounded sweetness.

Steamed Garlic Pork Ribs

Steamed garlic pork ribs flavoured with garlic. Yup, tonnes and tonnes of garlic. Heaps of garlic. Garlic galore!

Nothing but garlic? A bit too simple, perhaps?

Nope, not at all. The garlic is incorporated in 4 different ways. That's not so simple, is it?

Chinese Rojak

Chinese rojak is a popular snack food in Singapore and Malaysia. It's a medley of fruits, vegetables, beancurd puffs and dough fritters tossed with a sauce that's sweet, savory, spicy and nutty. It also has a special fragrance from finely minced rojak flower, which is the flower bud of torch ginger.

Last weekend, I tried my hand at making rojak. I stirred bowl after bowl after bowl of rojak sauce, trying to find one I liked.

Cereal Butter Prawns (I)

Melt some butter and, when it's bubbling nicely, grab a few sprigs of curry leaves and rip off the leaves (with style, of course). Toss 'em in the wok, together with a roughly chopped up cili padi. Stir vigorously, knocking the spatula against the wok now and then. (Not sure what the knocking is for but that's what chefs do. Maybe it's a man thing?)

Butter, curry leaves and cili padi are all ingredients with pretty strong flavours but they complement rather than overwhelm each other. Each stands its ground, yet works with the other two to create a killer combination loved by young and old alike.

The party of three is excellent as it is but why stop there? When the aroma of the curry leaves starts drifting round the kitchen, tip a good half cup of cereal into the sizzling butter (with a flourish please). A few more vigorous stirs and – voila! – there's a pile of golden sand in the wok. I know many people would happily eat this crunchy sandy mixture with a shovel! It's so good it makes even cardboard taste good. (Not that I've tried, of course. I'll stick to prawns fried in the shell, thank you very much.)

I'd always thought cereal prawns were made with oatmeal, so my first stab at the recipe was with some Quaker instant oats that had been sitting in a kitchen cabinet, unloved and untouched. When the oats were mixed with melted butter, all I got was a disgusting, soggy lump that tasted downright nasty. Into the bin it went, no hesitation at all, and the prawns were eaten sans cereal.

Note to self: (1) "麦片" means cereal flakes; that's why "麦片虾" in English is cereal prawns; (2) oatmeal is commonly referred to as "麦片" (which isn't wrong since oat is a cereal) but, strictly speaking, it should be "燕麦片"; and (3) I need to improve my Chinese!

The second time round, after a bit of research, I bought a pack of Nestum All Family Cereal. This one, recommended by many cooks, worked like a charm. It was super fragrant and super crispy – a total success! There were smiling faces, finger licking, and nods of approval all round. YAY!
Did you know that Nestum cereal, made by Nestlé, is 67% wheat flour? The rest of the ingredients are rice flour, sugar, corn and various vitamins. So everyone who eats Nestum cereal, thinking it's good for his health because that's what the ads say, is actually eating enriched, baked flour. Except it's sold at almost four times the price of regular raw flour. Nestlé is really smart, eh? No wonder it's the biggest food company in the world.

13 August 2012 Update

How to make cereal butter prawns

Step-by-step guide

Prawns are deep-fried, then tossed with a cereal mix that's crispy, spicy and incredibly aromatic. The aroma comes from Nestum cereal, curry leaves, milk powder and butter.

cereal butter prawns

Cereal mix
  • ¾ cup Nestum cereal, original flavour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1½ tsp sugar
  • 1½ tbsp milk powder

  • 8 medium size prawns, 300 g – trim, devein, wash, dry thoroughly
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ egg, beaten
  • 1½ tbsp plain flour

  • vegetable oil for deep-frying
  • 30 g unsalted butter
  • 1 bird's eye chilli, thinly sliced
  • 6-10 sprigs curry leaves – rinse, dry with paper towels, discard stalks
  1. Thoroughly stir cereal, salt, sugar and milk powder. Set aside.

  2. Sprinkle prawns with salt. Add egg and mix thoroughly. Sprinkle with flour and mix till coated. Deep-fry in just smoking oil over maximum heat possible till just cooked. Drain.
  3. Heat butter till bubbling and lightly brown. Add curry leaves and chilli. Fry over medium heat till fragrant.

  4. Reduce heat to low. Add cereal mix. Stir till lightly golden. Curry leaves should crisp up as excess moisture is absorbed by cereal.
  5. Add prawns and toss till well mixed, turning off heat as cereal turns fully golden brown. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Plate and serve.