Monday, May 31, 2010

My Garden To My Kitchen - Oyster Sauce Prawn With Spring Onion & Thyme

Ever since I moved back to Kuala Lumpur and into my own place half a year ago after calling Singapore home for the last 10 'freaking-where-did-they-go' years, I've been cultivating a new hobby - gardening! After I got help to get my messy backyard cleared (no more snakes slithering around anymore so far!! yes, scary!), I've been trying to plant anything and everything that could grow and flourish under the hot tropical sun plus withstanding the beatings of frequent and unpredictable heavy downpours! Gardening is pretty new to me and I'm not even sure if I have green fingers. Furthermore, the soil in my backyard is clay-like so I was really doubtful anything could grow well. But I guess if weeds and grass could grow, then the soil should be fertile enough to feed at least a couple of variety of edible plants and veggies. Well, as the old adage goes, you'll never know if you don't try! It also helps that I've been exchanging planting tips with my sisters (who are avid gardeners) and turning to the web for more information for a novice like me. Gardening has got me so excited that I've been buying seeds of all kinds, germinating and sprouting them, transplanting them and watching them grow. It's really going through a string of trials and errors, like rowing through uncharted waters but most of all, it's been fun so far...except for my failed cabbage seeds. Nothing seems to sprout at all from my cabbage seeds :(.

Anyway, on to more happy plants...I now have 2 corn, 1 longan, 1 Indian jujube (which I initially got conned and led to believe that it was an apple tree!), 2 pumpkin which I'm so excited about, a bunch of pak choy and bayam (local Asian spinach), and some herbs like rosemary, thyme and basil. Now, let me start small by sharing pictures of my humble spring onions and thyme.

Spring onions are the EASIEST and FASTEST to grow and pretty much suitable in most types of soil! Just bury a couple of onions about 3/4 deep into the soil, water twice a day (do not over water) and you'll get fresh spring onions for cooking in about 3 weeks' time. Growing your own spring onion is fail-proof and it'll make a great confidence booster in kick-starting your desire to plant other edible greens. Planting in pots works just as well.

This thyme plant was originally in a pot when my sister bought it for me. I transplanted it to the ground about 2 months after that and I completely didn't expect it to survive as the stems were starting to dry out. Much to my gladness, it did survive and is still growing new young stems and leaves. Thyme is a hardy herb plant and not much care is needed. It doesn't crave for attention but propagating it could be quite a challenge. Stem cutting is a way of propagation. I just love the smell of this wonderful herb.

Last but not least, here's a simple recipe with spring onion and thyme from my backyard garden.

Oyster Sauce Prawn with Spring Onion and Thyme


10 -12 large prawns (with shell intact)
2 tbsp oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 inch ginger, finely chopped
2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp cooking wine (optional)
1/4 tsp black/thick soy sauce
2 tbsp water
1 tsp sugar
1 green chili, sliced
1 tomato, quartered
A handful bunch of spring onions, cut into 1.5 inch strips
2 sprigs thyme leave, roughly chopped

Heat the oil and saute the garlic, onion and ginger for 5 minutes. Add in the sliced chili and tomatoes. Stir fry for about 3-4 minutes, then add in the prawns, then the oyster sauce, cooking wine, black soy sauce, water and sugar. Taste a little of the sauce. Add more oyster sauce if not salty enough and a bit more sugar if not sweet enough. It should be salty sweet but not too sweet (depending on personal preference too). Stir fry until prawns are just cooked. Then throw in the spring onion and thyme. Stir under high heat for another 1.5 minute and dish up. Serve hot with rice.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Apple Fritters

Fritters make wonderful tea time snacks! Banana fritters, sweet potato fritters, yam/taro fritters, tapioca/cassava fritters...these are all so easily available at many afternoon street stalls which is a common sight throughout Malaysia. But apple fritters? It's definitely not something I would think of or able to find at those afternoon fritter stalls here. Maybe because apples are not locally grown fruits and thus cost more. So when I saw this simple apple fritters recipe in my dessert book by Martha Day, I knew instantly it will be a hit! This recipe is also wonderful for me since I (as mentioned in one of my posts below) don't really enjoy eating apples as they are. Turning them into desserts or snacks seem like the perfect alternative . Coated with cinnamon sugar, the perfect perennial companion for apples, I assure you that these fritters make wonderful snacks that will delight you and your guests. It is so easy and quick to make too. So, be sure to make more if you have friends coming over! Brew some of that wonderful afternoon tea, and you're set to be the perfect host!

When I made these, I've forgotten to add baking powder in the batter as stated in the recipe. Take note of it if you plan to make some as the baking powder will make quite a difference - it'll give puff to the fritters.

Easy apple fritters recipe:
- 130g plain flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2/3 cup milk
- 1 egg, beaten
- oil for deep frying
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2-3 large tart-sweet apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/4 inch round slices
- some icing sugar for dusting

- Sift the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Beat in the milk and egg with a wire whisk.
- Heat the oil in a heavy frying pan.
- Mix the sugar and cinnamon in a plate. Toss the apple slices in the sugar mixture to coat all over.
- Dip the apple slices in the batter, using a fork or slotted spoon. Drain off excess batter. Fry in batches, until golden brown on both sides. Drain the fritters on kitchen paper.
- Sprinkle with some icing sugar and serve hot.

Have a great day!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Mushroom Braised Pork

There are several recipes for soy sauce braised pork as I'm aware. One of the authentic Nyonya recipes is 'bak tauyu', which doesn't use spices or condiments, but just light and dark soy sauces, and with a little bit of sugar. Potatoes can be added in for additional ingredient. I remember having 'bak tauyu' and rice as one of my regular meals during childhood.

Another version my late Mom used to cook is 'bak lor'. This version uses large pieces of pork belly braised in water, star anise, clove, cinnamon, light and dark soy sauce and sugar. The meat is braised until very tender and when the layers of fat have softened, giving a melt-in-your-mouth feeling. Then, the pork belly is cut to slices of about 1/2 inch thick and arranged on a plate. The thickened sweet black sauce is then poured over the pork belly slices and this is usually served with cucumber slices on the side and with home made chili sauce. If there's a heaven on earth, this must be it!!!

While 'bak tauyu' is more of a normal daily meal, 'bak lor' holds a higher 'status' in the Nyonya food hierarchy (if there is one) as it is often cooked during functions and celebrations like birthday dinners at home or on Chinese New Year days. Anyway, as cooking is always so versatile, I made braised pork as I like it - kind of combining the two versions. This goes very well with hot plain rice.


- Cinnamon (about 2 inches long)
- 2 star anise
- 4 cloves
- 400g pork belly, cut into 1 inch-thick pieces
- 8 dried Chinese mushrooms (wash, then soak in some hot water for 30 minutes & cut in half if too large)
- 3 hard boiled eggs
- 2 whole knobs of garlic, remove some of the papery outer layer skins, break the knobs in 2 large portions and wash clean
- 1 large piece of dried bean curd skin, wash and soak in water till softens, then tear into pieces
- 1 liter water
- 1/4 cup light soy sauce (or more or less according to preference for saltiness)
- 2 tbsps dark soy sauce
- 2 tbsps sugar

My cooking method is simple. Mix everything in a pot and cook under medium heat. Add some water from time to time if needed if the sauce dries up a bit. Cook until the meat and mushrooms are tender and finally, when the sauce has become thicker and lesser in volume, but not dried up (usually about 1-1.5 hours). Take a final taste and add a bit more sugar and soy sauce if necessary. The sauce should be a little sweet and salty, infused with the taste and smell of cinnamon, clove and star anise.