Macchi Tandoori & Raita from The Lion City

COUNTRY 48 – SINGAPORE

Lion City, Garden City, and the Red Dot are all other names given to this island country. A mix of  Malay, Chinese, Indian and Western culture, this country is one of tradition and new technology. Asia’s most influential city and the world’s 7th greenest city,                           selamat datang ke Singapore or Welcome to Singapore!

 Climate Controlled Botanical Gardens by the Bay in Singapore


Climate Controlled Botanical Gardens by the Bay in Singapore

This is where I usually talk about the country’s capital city but Singapore doesn’t have a capital as the whole country is basically one big island and 60 other small islands. So I am going to talk about the Downtown Core of Singapore as this is the CBD and where the main population resides and where several cultural landmarks are. The area surrounds the mouth of the Singapore River and is a 266 hectares in size. In 1822 under orders from Sir Stamford Raffles the Jackson Plan for the Town of Singapore was created, this urban plan was to organise to city, into segregated sections each minority having its own areas. The ideas for segregation were later taken away but the layout and streets are still very similar. Raffles Place (commercial area) and the European Town now make up the Downtown Core.

Singapore's Skyline. Marina Bay Sands over to the left (the world's most expensive casino) and the Climate Controlled gardens below that.

Singapore’s Skyline. Marina Bay Sands over to the left (a resort and the world’s most expensive casino) and the durian shaped Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay (performing arts centre) below that.

Singaporean Cuisine

Singapore a country with an extremely multicultural and diverse population is the same in its food. A melting pot, heavy with big flavours, spices and condiments. It’s roughly 74% Chinese, 13%  Malay, 9% Indian, and 3% Eurasian which together create a cuisine of rice and noodles, of seafood and meat, of curries and stir-fry’s and soups. Many traditional Singaporean meals have been created by mixing and borrowing the flavours of the various different cuisines present. Some dishes like this include: Hokkien mee, Wonton mee, Singaporean-style Biryani.

Most people to eat head out to Hawker Centres to get their meals, these are open-air enclosed “food courts” with dozens of stalls preparing a few signature dishes, hawker centres get extremely packed at prime meal times with a sometimes half hour wait to get served. The other style of food court is Cze Chas (Eating Houses) which are also open-air and enclosed but have fewer stalls and each stall has longer menus, they are considerably less busy and their is table service. Kopitiams (a mix of the Malay word for coffee and the Chinese word for shop) are coffee shops but also places for a small bite or quick meal and long chats with large groups of people.

The most popular dishes from influences such as China, India and Malaysia are: Hokkein mee from the Fuijan Province, China, Hainanese chicken rice from Southern China, Carrot Cake (not just your average carrot cake) from Fujianese region China, Roti from Indian influence, Laska a mix of Chinese and Malaysian flavours, Popiah from Southern China, Rojak from Malay influence and Chilli Crab one of the most iconic Singaporean dishes.

Spicy Singapore Laksa

Spicy Singapore Laksa

WHAT I MADE

I decided to look through our various Asian and Singaporean cookbooks we have at home. Lucky me I found a recipe in one of the books so I didn’t need to research for ages! I wanted to make something interesting something I hadn’t had or made before I chose a baked fish dish. Macchi Tandoori & Raita : Marinated Baked Fish & Cucumber in Yoghurt, this recipe was sourced from a cookbook we have at home called the Food 0f Singapore – Authentic Recipes from the Lion City by Djoko Wibisono. The same author has a new cookbook out this year called The Food of Singapore: Simple Street Food Recipes from the Lion City.

RECIPE

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 750g white fish fillets
  • 1 lime or lemon, cut in wedges

Tandoori paste

  • 2.5cm fresh turmeric, or 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 6 shallots
  • 4cm ginger
  • 3 large cloves garlic
  • 2 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tbl Tandoori paste or powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp white pepper (not essential you can just use black pepper)
  • ¾ cup plain yoghurt
  • 1 tbl lemon juice

Raita

  • 2 cucumber peeled
  • 1 tbl salt
  • ¾ cup of plain yoghurt
  • bunch of mint, roughly chopped

Method

  1. Make Tandoori paste by pounding or blending the turmeric, shallots, ginger and garlic together until fine (add a little yoghurt if hard to mix). Mix this with the remaining ingredients.
  2. Rub both sides of each fish fillet with this mixture and leave to marinate in the fridge for at least an hour.
  3. Place fish in a baking dish and cook in at 200°C for 30 minutes or until firm.
  4. Halve cucumbers lengthwise and remove seeds with a small spoon (I used a teaspoon). Cut in thin slices and put in a bowl, sprinkle with salt. Leave to marinate for about 10 minutes, then squeeze out the water. Rinse and drain.
  5. Mix the cucumber slices with the yoghurt and mint. Season with salt and pepper, can be sprinkled with ground chilli or cumin if desired.
  6. Serve fish hot with wedges of lime, boiled rice and accompanied with Raita.

This recipe was full of big flavours that really packed a punch! It was only the second time I think I’ve ever filleted fish, so that was a new experience and I’d also never worked with fresh turmeric, let me say it stains your hands like crazy! I’d advise using some plastic gloves when handling. Also the techniques for preparing the cucumbers for Raita was different to how I usually make it but has taught me a new technique I will now know and use. My score for this recipe is 7/10.

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Coconut fish parcels grilled in banana leaves

Marshall Islands marshall is stamp

 

Week 13  – Coconut Fish in Banana Leaves

Where are they? Somewhere in the Pacific? was the general response. Yes indeed the Marshall Islands are located in the middle of the vast North Pacific Ocean, north of the equator, and due north ( a long way) of Vanuatu. They are everybody’s  idea of the picture perfect tropical island. Very isolated,  the group of 29 atolls and 5 lone islands is split into the Ratak Chain to the east, poetically called the Sunrise lands and Ralik Chain to the west meaning the Sunset islands . These are formed by two groups of a strung out straggling collection of long low coral atolls or some volcano tops barely rising out of the sea.

In fact since at their highest point the Marshall Islands are only 10 metres above sea-level!! they are in great danger of disappearing altogether. Much to the dismay of the local inhabitants facing rising sea levels. These islands are so small, they only just managed to squeeze an airstrip on one.

There is no fresh water supply, islanders are still pretty much dependent on rain water. Native vegetation is limited to lush tropical island palms that can colonise islands, and wildlife to what ever flew there – so birds, bats, insects but of course fantastic marine life.

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Inhabited by sea-faring Melanesians navigating using ingenious stick charts over 2,000 years ago, the islands came to the attention of Europe with the Spanish laying first claim, then sold to Germany in 1884. They received their name from British explorer John Marshall (1788). During WW2 the islands were invaded by the Japanese after which the USA conquered them.

They remained under US ‘protection” until independence in 1965. I qualify protection because the US government used the islands from 1946 to 1958 to test Nuclear bombs, 67 in total! Including the infamous Bikini Atoll and the testing of the first Hydrogen  bomb in the 1952 which blew Elugelab Atoll off the face of the earth! “Yes Karwowski – Kaboom!”

Marshall Island

Still mostly sustained by a big American presence, there is very little export or industry, some fishing, copra, some handicrafts and although tourism is increasing, it’s low because of it’s isolation .The world’s largest shark sanctuary was established there in 2011. But it’s an idyllic get away for those who like things laid back, and peaceful. Attractions revolve around the gorgeous ocean, diving, snorkelling, fishing or surfing and lolling around on pristine  white beaches overhung by coconut palms is about it.

The Food

Marshall Islands are another on of those countries where I would venture to say that traditionally they don’t have a cuisine – they have food. And much of that nowadays is imported from the USA. Sadly this means a great deal of processed food is consumed, high in salt, sugar and fat. Tinned meat such as Spam is hugely popular as little meat was traditionally available.

Like so many other Pacific Islands where soil quality is very poor, (see post on Kiribati) locally grown crops are scarce and mainly confined to a few starchy roots such as Sweet Potato, sago, cassava and tomatoes along with tropical island fruits like coconut, melons, and breadfruit.

Marshallese food makes the most of the fantastic local fish and seafood, and of course now most fresh food items are available in modern supermarkets- but apparently not always – maybe only after the supply ship has been. Traditional cooking methods are grilling, roasting over fires and ‘Hungi’ style (where food is cooked in a pit on hot rocks buried for many hours.)

Coconut is King

Here spicing and chillies are not common, recipes I found were very plain and simple, the natural goodness of the produce shines through. Since coconut is so vital in the Marshall Islands (not just for food) I paired it with fish, wrapped in banana leaves and topped with red onion and tomatoes. A side dish is sweet potatoes fried and tossed with brown sugar, red onions and some sambal – cos’ we like spicy food.

A simple salad of papaya seemed fairly authentic plus plain steamed rice, all served on banana leaves which gave us the tropical island spirit. Hubby loved the sweet potato which he normally won’t even eat – so a big win there! The fish parcels were delicious, I must confess to adding a bit of a fresh Malaysian style spice paste (or rempah) to jazz them up, but the combination of fish with fresh coconut was terrific. I loved it so much I gave it a 9/10, and hubby 8.5/10 a very high score from Mr Picky!

I hope you will make this as it’s really yummy and the banana wrapping can be substituted with baking paper and foil if you need. I have wild bananas growing down the back of the garden so I can just pick some leaves anytime. Do try to get them if you can as they do impart a special fragrance to the parcels as well as looking exotic.

Chargrilled Coconut Fish Parcels wrapped in Banana Leaves    serves 4

Ingredients for Rempah – spice paste

  • 1 fresh coconut
  • 1 fresh red chilli, chopped
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • 1 lemongrass stalk, peeled & cut into short lengths
  • salt & fresh ground white pepper
  • 4 firm white fish steaks/fillets e.g. snapper, ling, barramundi
  • 1 large tomato, sliced
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 2 large fresh banana leaves/ silicon paper & aluminium foil
  • toothpicks
  • Little oil for leaves

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Methods 

To open a fresh coconut: DON’T PUT IT IN THE OVEN! I know a lot of recipes where this is advised – this is so unnecessary and will only ruin the beautiful flavour of your fresh coconut.  It’s really simple, first pierce the eyes with a sharp knife point, let the coconut water drain through a sieve into a bowl.

(i) Cup the coconut in the palm of one hand, with the eyes at the top of your hand. With the back of a heavy chefs knife or a cleaver firmly hit the middle of the coconut. Go around the circumference of the coconut, hitting firmly. You will hear the shell cracking as you go – once it’s 3/4 done, just pull the rest apart. There you have it – so easy!

(ii) Use a small thick blade to prise the flesh out, it comes out quite easily in large chunks. Peel the brown skin off with a potato peeler, then rinse the coconut flesh and it’s now ready to use.

To make fresh coconut cream and milk: (i) Grate the chunks of fresh coconut in a food processor. Reserve 1/3 for Rempah. Place grated coconut in a blender with 1 cup of near boiling water. Blend on high until smooth. Let sit for 10 minutes.

(ii)  Pour into a wide jug or bowl lined with a clean damp tea towel or cheesecloth.  Tightly wring out the cloth, extracting as much liquid as possible. Put coconut back into blender and repeat process with another cup of water.

(iii) Leave the extract to sit 15 minutes, The thick cream will rise to the top, carefully spoon this off. What’s left is your delicious fresh coconut milk! OMG so much better than even the best of the tinned stuff.

(iv) The coconut solids can still be used, in place of desiccated coconut in cakes and desserts, or in curries etc. Can be toasted golden for a lovely topping to sprinkle on pancakes, cereal or yogurt.

  1. To make Rempah, blend chilli, lemongrass, chopped red onion, reserved grated coconut, salt and pepper together into a smooth paste with a little coconut milk to help blend.
  2. Cut banana leaves into 4 large squares, cutting either side of centre rib. Wash and carefully dip into boiling water to soften. Dry. Oil the centre of each leaf, place fish fillet on top, then top with spice paste.
  3. Lay slices of  red onion along fillet and top with sliced tomato. Spoon 1-2 TB of fresh coconut cream over fish.
  4. Fold leaf over to form a parcel, fold ends over, secure with toothpicks.
  5. Either grill, BBQ  or place on metal rack and cook base of parcels over a gas flame ( to get charred flavour) Turn carefully to cook other side on grill or finish cooking in oven if cooking over flame.  5-10 minutes depending on thickness of fillet.
  6. To serve, place each one on dinner plate and let diner open own parcel- ah the aroma! Will take you to the South Seas!

Overall Marshall Islands scored well, an average 8½ /10,  (7/10 from the kids, as they’re not so keen on fish).

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Sticky Sweet Potato        serves 4 

  • 1 large yellow sweet potato
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 1 dsp sambal oelek (malaysian chilli paste) Subs: 1/2 tsp chilli flakes & 1 tb water
  • 1 tb. brown sugar
  • 1 dsp kecap manis (sweet soy sauce) Subs: normal soy sauce & add 1 tsp. extra brown sugar
  • 1 dsp vegetable oil
  1. Cut potato into finger thick slices (about 1.5cm)  Heat oil in large frypan on medium heat,  fry potato on both sides until golden brown.
  2. Add onion and fry till softened. Add chilli, sugar and soy sauce, toss well. Fry, adding a little water if necessary  3-5 minutes on low, until potato is tender.

Papaya Salad       serves 4 

  • 1/2 medium red papaya
  • 10 cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 red chilli (optional)
  • 1/2 avocado
  • 1/2 lime, juiced
  • Salt & pepper
  1. Peel, seed and cube papaya and avocado. Cut tomatoes in half and thinly slice chilli.
  2. Put in a small bowl, season with salt & pepper, squeeze over lime juice and toss lightly.