Sunday, February 14, 2010
Food for the soul
It's the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year and I need a break from cooking Malaysian Chinese delicacies simply because they are so difficult to make. After devoting three weeks or so to local kuihs, I have come to the conclusion that Western desserts are so much easier to execute.
Sigh. For next month's Don't Call Me Chef column, Marty, Blessed Glutz and I decided the theme should be Nonya Kuih (read the column in StarTwo or online on thestar.com.my on March 1).
We thought it would be fun. For one thing, we all love eating Nonya Kuihs; and the idea of being able to make these traditional delicacies was just exciting. We were psyched and selected the desserts of our choice. So excited were we that we embarked on our project weeks in advance.
And then we discovered to our extreme disappointment that these were complex recipes and weren't as straightforward as we though. The many recipes for local kuihs online or in recipe books borrowed from my aunt have been just impossible. There were just too many unanswered questions and no solutions.
An example of my most recent failure was my attempt at making my favourite cookie, Kuih Bangkit or melt in your mouth tapioca cookies (pic below). I followed the recipe to the T. Really, I did. And it wasn't the easiest of recipes. You have to dry fry the tapioca flour for about 30 mins or more and then store it overnight before actually making the cookie the next day. I bought the mould and everything. But my cookies didn't melt in the mouth. I kinda needed a sledgehammer to break them in two. Ok, I exagerate but they were hard. Why? Who knows. I looked at 6 recipes and no answers. Sigh. (Keep a lookout for a future post ... I will make this work).
So today I decided to make something healthy (no coconut milk) and, most importantly, easy. A recipe that was sure to work. I made a delicious bowl of cream of celery soup with two cheeses. And home made croutons. I followed Mark Bittman's recipe from his How To Cook Everything Vegetarian book. Want an example of a perfectly concise and clear recipe? Check Bittman's out.
It's real simple. You just need celery (I used a bunch I had in the fridge ... about 6 stalks, peel away the outer layer so its not stringy and then chop roughly), 2.5 cups stock, salt and pepper, butter and milk (or cream if you prefer). I must add that Bittman included potato, diced and cooked with the celery. But I am not a fan of potatoes so I left them out. Melt butter and add celery and cook on medium heat till the celery softens. Add boiling stock and let it simmer for about 10 mins till celery is soft. Season with salt and pepper. Blend in batches till pureed. Return to heat, add milk/cream and before turning off the heat and sprinkle grated parmesan and hard cheddar over it. Serve with crisp croutons.