: Choy Sum & Mushroom Stir-fry

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I still had a mountain of Choy Sum left over from my last recipe. I was craving some stir fried greens.

When living in Singapore I observed that every great dish started with these 3 ingredients: chili, ginger, and shallot.

And I also observed that many of the experienced cooks did not depend on electric devices in the kitchen. Preferring instead to do everything by hand. Including grinding the spices. “No, cannot use processor”, I was told, as this wouldn’t release all the oils. Only smashing releases all the oils.

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I watched my sis-in-law making beef rendang once. It takes hours and requires regular stirring and scraping. I asked, “why not use a slow-cooker/crock pot?”. I thought I was being practical and smart, and that perhaps it would make her task so much easier. I still remember her confused look and her reply,  “but how can I watch it cook?”

Guess what? I make rendang a couple times a year. And I use the same method as my sis! Some foods you must watch as it cooks. You need to watch for changes in colour and texture. And it’s just not done until your eyes and nose tell you it’s done.

I can’t help but marvel at my Singaporean family. They are like kitchen ninjas. I once got up early in the morning, shuffled out to the kitchen, and there they were. All my lovely sis-in-laws, up and ready for the day, quietly chatting and chopping and filling huge platters with sliced chili, garlic, onions, etc, etc, etc.

How do they do it? And with such cheer? I still am not sure.

I think it’s mostly the lovely company they find in eachother.

Also, as my husband would say, “in Singapore, food is Everything”. And it is. It’s family, it’s culture, it even ties in with one’s identity. It is used for healing, for warming the body up, or cooling it down. I found this out when We announced our first pregnancy and I was presented with a bowl of chicken-rice porridge. The first of a few bowls, “good for mom and baby”.

Food is celebrated. It’s always part of a social gathering. If there is a gathering, there is always food. Days revolve around what they will eat next and who they will share it with. It’s like the expression, “I don’t eat to live, I live to eat”. When they aren’t eating food, they are talking food. Here in the west, for many, it’s about immediate gratification and large portions. Convenience over quality. We Westerners gobble down 2 hearty meals around the same time each day.Or, in contrast, some Westerners fret over their food. And some avoid eating whenever possible. In Singapore, you eat several times, day and night. And often surrounded by family and friends.

In my husband’s Malay tongue they greet visitors with, “have you eaten yet?”

I rather like their practice of eating frequent, eating the best and freshest, and eating it with those you love.

For dinner, I made noodles with stir-fried Choy Sum. It’s a very delicious and simple Asian side dish.

The greens retain some crispness (making it lovely for sambal dunking). There is a subtle smokiness imparted by the sesame oil and the oyster sauce balances out any heat by adding a salty-sweet combination. Fried fish would make a wonderful partner to this side dish.

Ingredients:

1 lb choy sum, rinsed and drained

8 oz mushrooms, sliced

4 small cloves garlic, sliced

1 red chili or ½ tsp hot chili paste

1 tsp of ginger, minced

1 shallot, sliced

2 tbsp oyster sauce

1 tbsp sesame oil

Method:

First, trim ends off stems of choy sum. Cut off any flower clusters as well. Slice the greens in large pieces. Blanch in boiling water for 1 minute. Take out and drain. Set aside.

Grind together the shallot, ginger, chili, and garlic.

In large pan or wok, heat oil and fry ground ingredients until fragrant. Add mushrooms and fry until soft and dark. Stir in oyster sauce.

Add greens to wok and stir fry gently for 2 minutes.

Serve up with noodles or rice, and sambal sauce on the side.

Serves 4.

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: Taste of Singapore – Fish Ball Soup

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My sister in law made me my first bowl of fish ball soup. Ever since, I have been in search of a good bowl of this soup.

Recently my niece in Singapore posted a picture of this yummy soup on Facebook. She helped translate some of the spices for the soup base. I made up my mind I had to try and make this the only way for it to taste good. From scratch.

Many years ago, I purchased frozen fish balls from a market in Halifax. I tried making the soup with them… big mistake. I try to avoid imported fish products since that experience.  Fish just does not travel well.

This time, I am making them myself.

Mackerel is a popular choice in fish ball recipes. But I couldn’t get fresh mackerel.

I decided haddock will make a fine substitute. It has a mild taste (my preference), it can be flaked into a fine texture, and it’s light- not oily. This will help make for bouncy fish balls. What I mean by that is a good fish ball needs to be springy/bouncy when you bite into it.

You will need a food processor to make the fish balls.

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You will also need some Asian greens to go into your soup.  I found Choy Sum at the Asian market. This was the Tian Phat Asian grocery in Halifax. The customer service was a bit lacking but this place is packed to the rafters with (mostly Chinese) food and housewares. They also had some nice Japanese tableware and prices were reasonable.

Sorry, back to topic…If you don’t have access to an Asian market you may be able to find a similar green called Broccolini at a regular grocery store. It’s a hybrid of the choy sum. Kai-Lan is basically the same. If you can’t get either, you could substitute baby spinach. Whatever you chose, it should be slightly bitter.

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The noodles I used are made from the starch of mung beans. They go by different names like cellophane noodles, glass noodles, or mung bean noodles. Not to be confused with rice vermicelli which is also popular in Asian soups.

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The noodles come in multi-bundle packs. I used 3 bundles.

As for how to make those springy fish balls, I stumbled upon this lady’s blog post on how to achieve perfectly bouncy balls. I ask you take a look at her detailed post, because as a native Singaporean, she knows exactly how the old Aunties do it. It’s also an interesting and entertaining read. As she explains a  ‘smack down’ method of getting the fish paste to bounce, she says, “60 slaps later, you will be rewarded with fish paste that quivers seductively when poked”. That was funny and reason enough to try making them.

Another blogger instructed only 40 slaps onto the board…if that makes you feel less intimidated. It didn’t work for me either. Thankfully I found out I didn’t need to be so brutal on my fish to get it to quiver. This is how your fish paste will look…

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Fish ball Ingredients:

500 grams fish fillets (haddock or mackeral, yellowtail, etc)

1/2 tsp sea salt

1/4 tsp ground white pepper

2 tsp rice flour

50 ml cold water (to add bit by bit during processing)

Carefully remove any bones or skin. Chop then place fish in food processor (or blender if you don’t have one) and pulse, adding water a bit at a time, until smooth (but not too wet).  I processed mine in batches, otherwise I would have had a huge ball of paste jamming up my food processor.

Here is where I took a HUGE short cut. The blogger stated she slaps her minced fish down 60 times (!!!!) on a counter to get it to the ‘wobbly’ paste consistency required. Well, I noticed my processed fish had reached that point without having to do it the old fashioned way. Halleluiah!

If you want to do it the old fashioned way, here is how it’s done: Plunk your finely minced fish into a bowl. Taking a handful at a time, slapping the paste down onto a cutting board several times (40-60 or somewhere in between). It will start to come together visibly (should wobble a bit).  And you will most definitely have a headache, smell for days, and acquire sore arms!

Once your paste is wobbly, whichever method you used, place your quivering paste back in bowl and refrigerate for an hour.

While fish paste is chilling, prepare the soup ingredients.

Soup Ingredients:

1 litre chicken stock

1 litre water

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 slice ginger  (thumb tip size)

1 shallot

2 garlic cloves, sliced

1 spring onion, thinly sliced (for garnish)

1 chili pepper, thinly sliced (half for soup, half for garnish)

1/2 tsp ground coriander

1/4 tsp white pepper

(Muslin tied bouquet garni: 1 inch chunk of cinnamon stick, 1 star anise, ½ tsp fennel seeds, 3 crushed cardamom)

1 cup choy sum, sliced in 1 inch strips

3 small bundles of mung bean noodles (glass noodles)

Wash and chop greens (leaves only). Set aside.

Grind shallot, half chili, garlic, ginger, and a few drops water into a paste. Set aside close to the soup pot.

Slice spring onion, coriander, and half remaining chili for garnish. Place in serving dishes, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside.

Prepare bouquet garni and dry spices. Set aside close to the pot.

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Just before taking out the fish paste: Prepare mung bean noodles (aka glass noodles) as per package instruction, rinse with cold water, cover, and set aside. Or, if you have a cooking partner, they can prepare noodles while you prepare the balls.

Take out fish paste from fridge, and roll them into balls (1 inch or slightly bigger), quickly setting them in shallow pan or large container. Wet the bottom of the pan with a bit of water to prevent sticking (without letting the balls soak in water- just enough water to wet the bottom). You should get approximately 20 fish balls from the mix.  Set aside.

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In large pot, over medium heat, heat sesame oil and briefly fry ginger-chili-garlic-shallot paste, just until fragrant. Pour in the chicken stock, water, and soy sauce. Drop in the bouquet garni. Raise heat to high and bring to boil.  Let boil for 10 minutes.  Then turn off the pot, let cool slightly. Remove bouquet garni from pot and discard.

** This next step is optional: To get my broth fairly clear and free of floaty shallot or chili bits, I poured it through a fine mesh strainer into a second pot. It just makes the broth prettier and it will prevent any chili bits from irritating my kids throats.  If you skip straining the broth, you did not need to turn the soup off.**

While at a boil, add fish balls. Reduce heat to simmer for 5 minutes. They should float to the surface when cooked. Now add the greens. Cook for 4-5 more minutes. Add the glass noodles during the last minute of cooking.

Ladle into bowls and serve with optional condiments.

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Not gonna lie…there is a lot of work to this soup. But the cooking portion of this recipe is quick. I may not make this often, but I will make it time and again. The aroma and taste reminded so much of being in Singapore!

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And yes, my fish balls achieved bounce. I hope it wasn’t just beginner’s luck!