Ginseng Chicken Soup

Chinese love soup. Soup enriches by dried herbs, slowly steamed or simmered with low heat for hours, is one of the staple in home meals. Our soup is usually cooked with ginseng and chicken, steamed till all the goodness of all ingredients can be sipped in a bowl.

A good bowl of soup needs to have four types of ingredients, and each one balances the others out, which is one of the most important traditional Chinese cooking principles. Animal protein, that can be simmered for a long period of time slowly to get the juices out, is usually a choice of whole chicken or pork ribs. Sweet dried herbs that gives the soup that sweetness, these are dried fruit, such as longan or lychee. Bitter herbs are normally variety of roots. Choices of bitter roots are ginseng, angelica roots, or other type of roots. The last type of ingredients is the neutral ones, these could be wolfberries (or gojiberries), dried mushrooms or lotus seeds.

This recipe is what we love to cook at home. The ingredients are very easy to find in any Chinese herbal shops.

Herbs we used are dried longan, dried lychee and dried wolfberries. The roots are American ginseng, angelica root and red sage roots. Crack dried fruits with back of knife. Use the soft fruit part only. Run all ingredients under cold water to wash dust away.

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This food item is truly loved by many. I particularly love them. Famously known as “ham cim peng”, it is simple fried bread that has been around for many years. I don’t know what is the history or where it actually came from. It is sold by street vendors or small local market hawkers only during morning hours. It is something needs preserving and more appreciation. Cheap street food doesn’t mean it is junk. Do it the right way and enjoy it moderately.

On a typical Sunday morning, I would find some traditional Chinese ham cim peng fried bread on breakfast table. It is a tradition for us to have these bread for breakfast. The bread are deep-fried and warm, served over a cup of coffee. Families and guests could sit for hours enjoying them. Of course I always suspect it is a week’s worth of hot gossips over other relatives or acquaintances that make them eat these bread so slowly. But I do love them. The bread is soft with a lot of holes in the middle. The flavor of sesame seeds and five spice powder blend nicely. It is warm. It is simple. It is familiar. It smells like home. It is love.

When I came across this recipe and was shown how to do it, I was over the moon. Although my family (and people whom I talked to) thought I have gone mad for making these at home, since it is very, very cheap to buy, I truly enjoy making them. It is very easy to make, despite the fact that you might need liters of oil to fry. The steps are pretty straight forward.

The key to getting nice and fluffy fried ham cim peng is good quality wok (as thick a bottom as possible) and  hot cooking oil. For those who are familiar with the bread, you might see that your bread would be lighter color. That is because you are using fresh cooking oil. The hawker sellers are using oil that has been used many times, that gives the nice dark brown color. I did try to fry them longer to get the dark brown color, but they turned out to be burnt. So do fry them just long enough. Golden brown is nice.

This can be made without mixer. For the amount of the recipe I am making, people usually knead by hands. I just love using the mixer so much. In a bowl, combine sugar, yeast, baking soda, salt and water. Whisk till sugar dissolves.

Add flour and distribute evenly with rubber spatula.

Knead using hook attachment, slow speed, about 4 minutes. Kneading by hands would be folding technique, lightly, about 8 minutes. Covered and leave in bowl for 15 minutes.

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Our area, North Sumatra that is, is famous of its passion fruit juice. The area’s souvenir shops don’t actually sell cheap and flimsy key chains, fridge magnets or t-shirts. The shops are packed with bottled passion fruit syrup, swiss roll cakes, bika ambon (a type of sand-cooked coconut cake, which I might never feature in this blog), peanut brittles, fried cassava chips and many more. Passion fruit syrup sold in the shops has gone through simple cooking process, slowly heating the juice and sugar, sometimes preservatives are added. The cheaper version would be purely passion fruit essence and sugar with water. The local name for this is Jus Markisa. A pretty name for such a sour fruit. Markisa syrup, sold commercially, would have a lot more sugar in it and needs to be cooked and naturally slightly thicker. To serve the syrup, dilute 1/4 of syrup with water.

Households in our area usually would prepare passion fruit drink in form of fruit juice, without any heating process and no sugar. It is believed the cooking will prolong the shelf life, but also killing the natural flavor of passion fruit, which explains the need of artificial flavoring in commercially sold syrup. Homemade version of passion fruit drinks would be simple juice, served with a lot of ice cubes to dilute and sugar syrup to taste.

This is how we do it at home. Our house makes this often, but always for out-of-town guests so they can bring them back when they leave. The homemade juice has to be refrigerated at all times and consumed within a week.

Buy some passion fruits. The smooth and black colored are considered good ones. As you can see, there’s none here. I woke up too late that Sunday and by the time we got to the market, all the good ones were already gone. I received an earful from mother, naturally. The green ones are not ripe enough. The wrinkly ones are day old fruits.

Cut the fruits into half with a sharp knife. A trick to halve these round fruits safely with fingers intact at the end is to make an deep indentation with a knife and just chop hard at the spot where you made the hole. The wobbly fruits won’t roll and you keep your fingers.

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Prawn Noodle, Hae Mee

I live in a city about 25 minutes flight away from Penang. And who doesn’t love Penang? It is a foodie heaven. It has the best street food in South East Asia. It has combination of regional dishes, fused into one style, Penang style. It is the home of Rasa Malaysia. Prawn noodle (or also known as ‘hae mee’) is not widely known in our area as it is in Malaysia and Singapore.

Many years ago, my auntie had been selling this in a school cafeteria and my mother is really fond of it. She is the only one in our family who cooks the dish. She was taught by someone she knows a long time ago and has been tweaking here and there since then. There wasn’t any googling activity going on then. I am sure it is not the authentic version of Penang prawn noodle, but it is pretty kicking. Sweet and spicy, with pungent smell of shrimp paste. My auntie is amazing. She has all these little tricks that is perfectly simple and plain common sense but always miss me by an inch.

Her (or now I can safely claim as mine) prawn noodle is egg noodle with prawn-flavored spicy soup, served with water spinach, prawns, chicken and egg. The special spicy sauce is made by shallots, shrimp paste and freshly ground chili. And sugar. It is the most vibrant bowl of noodle soup I have in a while.

Dried anchovies are one of the main ingredients for the prawn stock. The real version would be using a lot of shrimp heads for boiling the stock. We only bought half a kilo of prawns, so we cheated slightly by adding dried anchovies to flavor the stock. Give these a quick rinse under cold water and drain. Do not soak, as soaking will dilute the pungent flavor, which is the whole point of using anchovies.

Get a bunch of medium sized prawns. Trim head and feet off them. Don’t throw them away though. Those would be use for the stock as well.

Get some chicken. A couple of pieces should be enough. Real Penang style would be using pork ribs.

Cut water spinach into equal pieces. You don’t really need to subcategorize stalks and leaves that way. My auntie just does that to get into my head.

She actually made this from scratch. She went to the market to buy fresh chilies. Then she sun-dried them for a couple of days. And ground the dried chili. Look at the vibrant color. Is she great or is she great? And no, you can’t have her.

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Chocolate Chip Muffin

Something easy and super quick for a mid-week post. I can’t resist myself whenever I spotted Hershey’s chocolate chip at the store. It doesn’t happen very often, our local shop would rather stock up on local chocolate chip brands. Mother’s reaction at my muffins was this “Why don’t you just eat a chocolate bar?” Of course, I take it as a compliment.

The good thing about muffin is that you only need one basic recipe, like a little prayer that you would say when you are getting late, or hunting for a parking spot. Just one formula to create many, many versions of muffins as wild as heaven permits. Okay chocolate chip muffins are not as wild as I would like. But you get my idea.

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