Have you ever seen a sesame plant? I never had any idea how sesame seeds come about until I went to the village of Wuyuan in Jiangxi province, China. Wuyuan is hailed as the most beautiful village in China and I have gone to witness first hand the pretty landscapes that were much talked about.
As I walked along the ancient town, I noticed there were stalks of paddy or wheat looking grains being dried under the sun. I asked one of the village ladies what those were and she told me that those are black sesame plants. The sesame seeds are inside the pods. So they dry them under the sun, then remove the black sesame seeds from the pods.
My mother and I were pretty amazed by this random discovery. We have always heard this myth about black sesame being dyed black from white sesame seeds. Witnessing this first hand made us sigh in relief. It is safe to eat black sesame! It is not made with artificial black colouring! Black sesame plants actually exists.
I love black sesame desserts. So I can now rest assured as I make my dessert that they are natural and healthy. Below is my black sesame pudding recipe that you can whip up in just 5 minutes.
King oyster mushrooms are very versatile when it comes to meatless recipes. The texture is firm and chewy, almost meat-like so you can fry or steam or braise it to mimic meat in recipes.
I find that the texture comes really close to scallops when you cut it into round pieces. And the top is just shaped perfectly like an abalone when cut. In this recipe video, I make my butter garlic scallops and abalone with broccoli.
Use low heat when frying the garlic so it does not burn quickly
Adding olive oil before butter prevents the butter from burning
The actual practice of colouring rice with natural ingredients already exists in both traditional Yunnan and Malaysian culture. Combining my gastronomical adventures in China with my native Malaysian culinary knowledge, I was inspired to come up with my own version of rainbow rice. Simple and healthy rice cooker versions that you can easily make at home.
When I was living in Beijing, I used to frequent this cozy Yunnan restaurant that serves up a King’s Feast or Wa Wang Yan 佤王宴. This feast originates from the Wa ethnic minority group in Yunnan province where all the food is laid out on a huge table covered with banana leaves. A very impressive layout that fills up the entire table with colourful rice, vegetables, meat and ethnic delicacies. You can see the Southeast Asian influence here as they offer you a pot or basin to wash your hands at the table. Eating is to be conducted with your hands.
I noticed that they had three different types of rice laid out on the table. The restaurant owner told me that one of them is rice cooked in Pu’er tea. That really fascinated me as I have never thought of cooking rice in tea before. Pu’er tea gives the rice a light tea fragrance that doesn’t overwhelm the natural aroma of rice. So I kept that idea in a little corner of my brain, telling myself that I will try it out one day.
When I finally went to Yunnan a couple of years ago, I got to try the feast of the Dai ethnic minority group, known as shou zhua fan 手抓饭 meaning rice grabbed with hands. Again, I noticed the different coloured rice arranged in a radial pattern on a bamboo platter. Dying glutinous rice with the natural colours from flowers and herbs is a tradition in Yunnan culture. They have something called 5 coloured rice – red, purple, yellow, black and white rice soaked in dye extracted from local plants and flowers. Platters of colourful glutinous rice are served during festivities and for ancestral prayers.
Back in Malaysia, our traditional Malay rice dishes comes in a variety of colours too. Besides the plain white nasi lemak (coconut rice), there is also the nasi pandan (usually paired with grilled chicken) which is cooked with the juice from pandan leaves, nasi kerabu (Malay herb salad rice) which is cooked with the blue water from blue pea flowers and nasi kunyit (usually paired with curry chicken) which is cooked with turmeric powder or fresh turmeric. These rice dishes do not only look attractive, they smell absolutely wonderful.
With inspiration from both places, I have listed a variety of natural colour options to be used for dying rice:
White – coconut milk or just plain water
Green – pandan leaf
Yellow – turmeric powder/fresh turmeric or saffron
Blue – blue pea flower
Brown – Pu’er tea
For a stronger blue colour, blend the blue pea flower with some water
You can add these herbs and spices to your rice according preference: onion, garlic, ginger, galangal, kaffir lime leaf, torch ginger flower, pandan leaf, lemongrass, star anise, cloves, salt and pepper
For a healthier option, I add organic coconut oil instead of coconut milk for the wonderful coconut fragrance
Pu’er tea needs to be diluted with water so that you won’t taste the bitterness of strong concentrated tea. You can also add cloves and star anise to the rice for a stronger flavour
These aromatic rice goes well with meat curry, fried fish, grilled chicken, herb salad
You can use white rice, glutinous rice or mixed grain rice. Some people like to mix plain rice with glutinous rice to get a slightly firmer and stickier texture. Turmeric rice is traditionally made with glutinous rice.
Coating knife with a layer of oil can minimize stain from the turmeric roots. The coat of oil protects the knife and makes the yellow stain easier to rub off
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.
3 cups water
1.5 cups rice vinegar
2 tbsp salt
1 tsp sugar
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.
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
Palak Paneer or spinach curry with Indian cottage cheese is a default dish that I always order when I go to an Indian restaurant. I like it that the spinach gravy is not spicy and of course, I love it for the cheese. An Indian friend once mentioned that you can make your own cheese with just milk and vinegar, and I have always wanted to try it out since. So while researching paneer recipes online, I came across a very detailed explanation on how to make your own paneer here: https://www.indianhealthyrecipes.com/how-to-make-paneer-cubes-at-home/
I gathered my ingredients and made 2 attempts at this experiment. I followed the method in the recipe using Chinese rice vinegar as my preferred form of acid. Rice vinegar does not have that sharp acidic smell so I did not have to rinse my curds off with water after. Here is what I learnt from my 2 experiments in the video below.
After turning off the heat, the milk was stirred for a couple of minutes to cool down before adding vinegar
Vinegar was added immediately after turning off the heat
Stirred the milk over long intervals in between spoons of vinegar
Intervals between each spoon of vinegar was short
Curdling process took about 15 minutes
Curdling process took 5 minutes
Differences in methodology between Batch 1 and Batch 2
Curds were small and of sandy texture. Final block of cheese was crumbly and breaks easily.
Curds were in big lumps and smoother. Final block of cheese was firm and solid.
Differences observed in final product
The milk reacts quickly with vinegar while it is still hot. Vinegar needs to be added while the milk is hot because chemical reaction is retarded when milk cools down. The longer the curdling process is dragged out, the more dehydrated the curds become as it sits in the acidic liquid longer. Therefore, we can see the curds from Batch 1 is dry and crumbly compared to Batch 2.
My tips and recommendations from this experiment is:
use a pot with a narrow opening to prevent it from cooling too fast
use double layer of the disposable kitchen cloths. Disposable cloth is better because you don’t need to wash it after. The smell from the cheese is pretty strong and hard to wash off.
gather all curds into a ball and make sure they are not wrapped into the folds. This will give you a nicely shaped cheese.
Basic breakfast staples — eggs and toast. How many ways can you make breakfast with these two ingredients? I like to keep my weekend brunches interesting yet simple. So I decided to use bread as a shortcut for my mini quiche crust. You can call it mini egg tarts or shortcut quiche or even omelette muffins.
Salt and pepper
Add milk if you like a slightly smoother texture. If you prefer a crispier version, ignore the milk.
Bake at 170 degrees Celsius for about 20 minutes. The egg will rise and puff up when it is done, but will flatten once it cools.
You can use the leftover bread and arrange them in a tray. Pour more egg mixture over it and sprinkle with tomatoes and cheese. A bigger version has been created.
My housemate Pam used to make these little egg muffins without the bread crust. She bakes the omelette mixture in a silicone muffin tray and once it is done, you can just tip the whole egg muffin out. She calls it her whatever-you-like egg muffin, loaded with bacon, onions, cheese and just whatever else she has at home.
My mother is always championing the benefits of turmeric, from relieving joint pains to aiding digestion. She sometimes adds a few pieces of turmeric to her stir fried vegetables and she also blends it with pumpkin for her spiced pumpkin soup. It gives her cooking an extra bit of a kick.
I first came across turmeric latte in a vegan cafe in Beijing. One of those organic, low fat, meat free cafes that promotes a healthy lifestyle for stressed out city folks. I never knew you can have turmeric in your drink because we usually use it for cooking curry in Malaysia. So, feeling adventurous, I went for a cup.
I could feel my body warming up as I sipped my turmeric latte, heat radiating from the centre to my extremities. It gets your blood circulating and that feels good even on a non-winter day. Hmm, not too bad.
I’ve been thinking about that drink recently and decided to do some research on it. Just like the Indian chai tea that has turned hip after reinventing itself as chai latte, the turmeric latte also had its roots as turmeric milk in India. The basic ingredients for the turmeric paste are turmeric, black pepper (aids the absorption of circumin, the active ingredient in turmeric) and cinnamon. Cook into paste with organic cold-pressed coconut oil (or olive oil if you don’t have coconut oil). You can also add on cardamom, cloves or fennel seed powder for an upgraded version.
Benefits of herbs and spices in this golden concoction:
Turmeric: aids digestion, relieves pain from inflammation, and fights against influenza
Black pepper: improves the absorption of Curcumin (active ingredient in turmeric) into our bodies
Cinnamon: encourages blood circulation and fights bacteria
Organic cold pressed coconut oil: raises the good cholesterol levels in your body and contains fats that boost brain function and reduce heart disease
And you know what is the best thing about this paste? You can use it to cook curries, add it to your stir fried vegetables or even put a dollop into your pumpkin soup! It’s so versatile once you have it all prepared.