Mulberry Leaves

Besides producing mulberries, the mulberry plant has many uses. My mom boils the leaves and stems with honey dates for a soothing tea. We also discovered that we can use the leaves to line our baking pan when grilling meats. The leaves are used as a substitute for aluminium foil and they can be eaten too! Eco-friendly and healthy alternative.

Since we found out that it is pretty delicious when grilled til crispy, I tried to incorporate mulberry leaves into my oven recipes. Inspired by the Greek stuffed grape leaves, I made some of these pork rolls wrapped in mulberry leaves. I marinated the minced pork with the usual salt, pepper, olive oil and some curry powder. Roll them up with mulberry leaves, drizzle generously with olive oil and bake at 180C til crisp.

The mulberry leaf shrinks and wraps itself around the meat when grilled. It forms a little envelope around the meat so you don’t have to worry about the wrapping opening up while cooking. It is the perfect wrapper for the grill.

So if you have a mulberry bush at home, make good use of the leaves. Use them to bake and grill, boil soup or just to line your pan.


AGAR AGAR RECIPES

Agar-agar is actually a type of seaweed. You can buy it in powder form or in seaweed strips. I usually use powdered agar for convenience and we use a lot of agar-agar in Southeast Asia for desserts.

However, I have recently discovered that you can use agar-agar strips in salads, just like seaweed. This is something new to me because agar has always been used for making desserts. Apparently in Southern China and Taiwan, agar strips in salad is quite a common appetizer. After all, it is a type of seaweed.

So here it is, tried and tested, my agar seaweed salad.

Agar Seaweed Salad

Ingredients

  • agar-agar strips, soaked in water
  • carrots
  • cucumber
  • jicama
  • coriander

Dressing:

  • garlic, chopped
  • fresh chillies or chilli powder
  • sesame seeds
  • 2-3 tbsp hot oil
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tbsp black vinegar
  • salt and sugar, to taste

The agar strips gives a crunchy and refreshing texture to salads. It is almost like glass noodles, but crunchy. And since it is neutral in taste, the agar-agar does not alter the salad taste in any way.

Method

1) Cut agar-agar into 2-3 inch strips and soak in water for about an hour or so. Let it absorb water to plump up.

2) Put some chopped garlic, chilies, and sesame seed in a bowl. Heat 2-3 tbsp of hot cooking oil and pour it directly into this mixture. Add some soy sauce, oyster sauce, vinegar and a little salt and sugar to taste. Let the dressing cool.

3) Cut some jicama, carrots, cucumber and coriander into strips. Mix the soaked agar-agar strips together and add the salad dressing.

My Agar Easter Eggs

Agar-agar pudding is so easy to make and super refreshing for the tropical weather. Compared with gelatine, agar-agar can set at warm temperatures of 35-45 degrees Celcius, making it perfect for tropical weather. Plus, it only takes a few minutes to solidify, unlike gelatine which requires chilling at low temperatures over a longer period of time. So this year I decided to use the agar-agar pudding recipe to make agar Easter eggs. Please refer to my video on Agar Easter Eggs for further instructions.

I use the blue pea flower moss pudding recipe to make blue marbled eggs. Moss pudding is a popular agar-agar pudding recipe in Indonesia. This recipe uses eggs in the agar mixture. When boiled, the egg separates from the mixture to form lumps of protein, creating a marbled effect against the blue liquid.

Blue Marble Eggs (makes about 12-15 egg shells):

  • 3.5 tsp agar agar powder
  • 100g sugar 125ml coconut milk
  • 550ml water
  • 100ml blue pea flower water (about 20 flowers)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Tips:

  • the more blue pea flower you use, the darker the blue colour
  • keep stirring the mixture when you start to boil it. This is to prevent the eggs from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Stop stirring after 2-3 minutes, when you start to see the egg proteins form. Leave it to boil on its own. Too much stirring can cause the egg solids to turn into really small pieces, losing the marble layers.

The other Easter egg agar-agar recipe I created is golden osmanthus eggs using osmanthus flowers. It’s basically making an agar-agar and osmanthus tea mixture and getting it to set. The trick is getting the flowers spread out over the egg instead of all clumping at the bottom. I do this by letting the agar mixture set in 2 layers. Since the osmanthus flowers sink to the bottom, letting the first layer set before pouring the next layer gives you another flower layer somewhere in the middle. It takes about 15 minutes for the agar to set. So experiment by pouring in different amounts of flowers and layers to get the effect you want.

Golden Osmanthus Eggs (makes about 6 egg shells):

  • 350ml water
  • 1 tsp agar agar powder
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp dried osmanthus flowers

Tips:

  • while waiting for the agar in your mould to set, make sure your remaining agar mixture is kept warm. Put it over a hot water bath or keep it somewhere warm. If it cools down too rapidly, it will set
  • you can set the agar in 3 layers if you want to spread out the flowers even more


Goat cheese tofu with ham

Yunnan is a huge province on the south-western fringe of China and it’s cuisine is as colourful as the vast array of ethnic groups that live there. One of the Yunnan dishes that my fiancé keeps talking about till now is the goat cheese tofu with ham. 

Goat cheese tofu or ru bing 乳饼 is a Yunnan specialty, made with milk from mountain goats. The process is just the same as making paneer cheese, pressing the milk curds into blocks of solid cheese/tofu. As for the ham, the ancient town of Nuodeng in Yunnan is famous for their salt cured hams 诺邓火腿. These hams are cured with salt derived from the salt well inside the ancient village. The food documentary A Bite of China documents this amazing process in detail. Just like pepperoni and mozzarella, the rich flavours of Nuodeng ham pairs perfectly with the muted flavours of goat cheese tofu. 

Since I’ve already tried my hand at making paneer cheese (check out my previous post on paneer cheese experiment), making Yunnan cheese shouldn’t be too difficult. The only thing is to find some goat’s milk. My local dairy co-op shop nearby sells fresh goat’s milk from Malaysian farms. It won’t be as rich as the milk of mountain goats in Yunnan but that will do. Local goat’s milk come in tiny bottles of 250ml and is more than double the price of cow’s milk. So I proceeded with this kitchen project with 500ml of goat’s milk at a cost of approximately RM12 (equivalent of US$3).

According to the ru bing recipe that I found on a Chinese cooking website, 5 pounds of milk should yield about 1 pound of cheese. With my 500ml of milk, I am prepared to accept a small yield for my first goat cheese experiment. 

METHOD

  1. In a saucepan, bring goat’s milk to a boil.
  2. Turn off the heat and stir to let it cool for about a minute, the temperature should now be about 80 degrees Celsius. Stir in some rice vinegar. Look out for any curdling as you pour the vinegar. As soon as you see curds appear, stop adding any more vinegar. The pH should now be around 3.4 to 3.8. Let the milk rest for 3-5 minutes so the proteins can fully form into curds and settle.
  3. Clip a cheesecloth over a pot. Pour the curds onto the cheesecloth and and rinse the curds with some water. Let the liquid drain.
  4. When the liquid comes to a slow drip, gather the cheesecloth and wrap the curds into a square block. Put a flat heavy object over it to press the remaining liquid out. Let compress for 24 hours (keep it in the fridge if the weather is warm).
  5. Cut the block of cheese into thin pieces.
  6. Thinly slice some Nuodeng ham and soak them in hot water for a few minutes to get rid of some of it’s saltiness.
  7. Slit the cheese in the middle just enough to insert the ham, but not cut through all the way to the end. You want to sandwich the thin slice of ham into the pocket of the cheese.
  8. Pan fry the cheese till golden on each side. Serve with a mixture of salt and pepper (or sichuan pepper powder).    

TIPS

  • At Yunnan restaurants, a dipping powder is provided on the side. It is usually made up of sichuan pepper powder and salt. Since I don’t have sichuan pepper, I substituted with black pepper. Both works well to enhance the taste of the cheese.
  • Traditionally, an acidic solution made from a local Yunnan herb is used for making cheese. But for convenience of the modern household, vinegar is sufficient.  If you are making small batches like me, pour the vinegar by the spoonful to avoid over-pouring. If you are making a big batch of a few litres of milk, then you can pour directly from the bottle until reaction occurs.  

RESULTS

Indeed, the goat cheese has a much better texture than cow milk cheese. It has a fine, silky and creamy texture that is different from paneer made from cow’s milk. When pan fried, some of the cheese melts slightly to meld with the ham inside. The smell of goat cheese here is mild, and is negligible when paired with salt and pepper powder. It’s almost like pan fried tofu but with a more robust flavour.

As you can see from the pictures, my yield is a thin piece of cheese about 12×12 cm. The cost of this tiny piece of cheese is a little over RM12 (US$3), not including my ham costs. Conclusion: goat cheese doesn’t come cheap unless you have a mountain full of them. So enjoy the little luxury that is this goat cheese tofu with ham. Bon apetit!


Pickled Okra

In Malaysia, okra is typically stir fried with garlic, chilli and a little tamarind juice. The tamarind juice gets rid of the slime and balances the spicy flavour. My usage of okra was therefore limited to stir fry with chilli and garlic or dropping them in curries. 

Recently I discovered another way to eat okra – pickling it. I first encountered pickled okra at a brunch place in Shanghai. My Bloody Mary cocktail came with a celery stick and a piece of okra hanging on a toothpick. I didn’t know you can eat okra like this! 

I took a bite. Crunchy. Hmm…cold and refreshing. And not slimy at all.   

So I decided to google up ways to pickle okra and settled on this recipe. I adjusted my pickle liquid accordingly and liked the salty and sour taste that it produces.

Feel free to adjust your pickle juice according to taste. I find the salty and sour taste suits the okra as an apetiser. 

Pickle Liquid:

3 cups water

1.5 cups rice vinegar

2 tbsp salt

1 tsp sugar

Method:

  • Sterilize a glass jar with boiling hot water.
  • Put the okras and other vegetables such as chili, garlic and herbs in the jar.
  • Put the ingredients for pickling liquid in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Once boiled, pour into the jar with okra and vegetables. Make sure the liquid covers the vegetables.
  • Close the lid and let it cool down. Keep in the fridge when completely cool. Okra is ready to be eaten the next day. 

Tips:

  • You can pickle other hard vegetables together in a jar – chilli, onion, garlic, dill, cucumber, carrot.
  • Pungent herbs like onion and garlic needs to be pickled for 2-3 days. Other vegetables are ready after a day.
  • Serve your pickled okra whole. Bite into a whole okra to feel the crunch. Okra is crunchy when it is cold. 
  • You can also dip your okra in a glass of Bloody Mary

Grilled Lemongrass Pork Skewers

During my 13 years in China, I have discovered that I have an obsession with Yunnan cuisine. Maybe it’s the Thai, Vietnamese, and other southeast Asian flavours in their cooking that reminds me of home. Or the use of tropical herbs like lemongrass, mint, basil and chillies that sets it apart from other Chinese cuisines on the eastern coast.

I first came across this lemongrass skewer dish in a Yunnan restaurant in Beijing. The lemongrass is cut lengthwise through the middle and stuffed with chicken meat, then grilled. So I got the inspiration to stuff my lemongrass with mince pork instead. Minced meat is able to absorb more of the lemongrass flavour.

The secret to getting the most out of the lemongrass is to drizzle it with enough oil. The aroma and flavour of the lemongrass is released through the oils. Just like how the satay man dabs the lemongrass soaked in water and oil over the skewers frequently, the lemongrass essence needs a carrier to bring out its aroma.