: Taste of Singapore – Fish Ball Soup

DSC_0944 (2)

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.

DSC_0891 (2)

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.

DSC_0913 (2)

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.

DSC_0906 (2)

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…

DSC_0895 (2)

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.

DSC_0921 (2)

DSC_0926 (2)

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.

DSC_0929 (2)

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.

DSC_0952 (2)

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!

DSC_0954 (2)

DSC_0957 (2)

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

Advertisements

: Ukrainian-‘esque’ Borsht

DSC_0281

Once upon a time, long, long ago, before the days of the internet….

When I was a kid, the only way I got to experience foods from other cultures, was in recipe books.

Though we ate a lot of kraft dinner and baloney, we owned lots of cook books. The typical cook books.  You know the ones. Betty Crocker, Better Homes & Gardens, and the ones the pee-wee hockey team were selling for a fund raiser.

I have a memory of talking my mom into buying a cook book with a collection of recipes from around the world. I think Dominion had published it. I remember some of these impressive-looking dishes… beef bourguignon, Mexican wedding cakes, and borsht.

Well, here I am a couple decades (or so) later. I am finally getting around to one of these dishes.

DSC_0272

*Disclaimer* : I won’t dream of claiming this as an authentic recipe. The truth is I had no idea what I was doing when I made this. I just examined a few borsht recipes and jotted down the basic ingredients. The honey and balsamic vinegar were additions I thought of, and I was pleasantly surprised by the result. However, I’m sure many Ukrainian cooks could teach me a thing or two. And I would love to hear any advice they have to offer.

This is not only my first time making it…but also my first time trying it.

I have to say the Ukrainians got it right. This is a classic example of farming people making the most of very little. And coming up with something superb.  This dish is, firstly, beautiful. It is so visually appealing with it’s bright, ruby redness! Secondly, the taste is so fresh, earthy, and tangy.

Humble, wholesome, economical, yet also spectacular.

DSC_0213

We made the borsht last night. My girls helped with the prep. I have found if I want my kids to try a dish that seems very different, I need to give them a job. If they have ownership and pride in it, they are less likely to turn their noses up.

DSC_0225

DSC_0233

And I was taking a risk. Beets are one of those veggies that people tend to love or detest. Many claim they taste like dirt (read why here) . Had I told one of my girls that (and I won’t say who) she would have tried it that much faster…just one of those kinds of kids. The sort who can’t wait to get a gross tasting jelly bean from a pile of ‘every flavour beans’.

They loved the borsht! Dyed red hands and all. They even discovered something that they loved even more. If they mix the dollop of sour cream into the soup, it turns hot pink.

Hot pink soup. Who can beat that?

I probably should have warned them (before they left for school) that they will have pink pee today.

Ingredients:

2 large beets, scrubbed and washed well (about 5 inches in diameter)

2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed (1” cubes)

1 small red onion, diced

3 carrots, peeled and diced

½ head of red cabbage, shredded

1 large tomato, diced

½ tsp garlic puree

1 tsp sea salt

2 tbsp liquid honey

1 cup tomato sauce

2 tsp balsamic vinegar

4 cups beef broth

Water

Method:

In an 8 quart pot, fill half full with water. Set on high heat and bring to a boil. Boil the clean beets, all intact but with stems removed, for 10 minutes. Remove beets and set aside to cool. But leave beet water boiling on stove, with pot covered.

Meanwhile, while beets cool, prep the veggies. Don’t rush as the beet water is okay to reduce a little. When done chopping and dicing, pour beef broth and garlic puree into the boiling beet water. Reduce  heat to medium. Now add potatoes and carrots. Let them cook for 10 minutes while you peel the beets.

Peel beets and quarter and slice them into ½ “ thick slices. Cut slices so that you have large bite-sized chunks.

Add cabbage, onions, honey, balsamic vinegar, and salt to the pot. Stir and then add the beets.

Cook, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Then reduce heat to low, add in the tomato sauce, dill, and diced tomatoes. Stir, and cook another 10 minutes before turning off the heat. Allow the soup to cool some before serving. Don’t serve piping hot.

Add a dollop of sour cream and garnish with a few sprigs of dill.

Makes about 5 quarts of soup.

DSC_0266

: Soto Ayam (Indonesian chicken noodle soup)

my soto ayam

This is the Indonesian version of chicken noodle soup. It’s packed full of ingredients that are great for fighting cold and flu symptoms. We’ve had our share of those this winter. This is actually an older photo of a batch of soto ayam I made a couple of years back. I thought it timely to post about it as we are all getting over the mother of all colds in our house.

I’ve toned it down, with slightly less spice. Also, instead of the traditional bean thread noodles (glass noodles), I used something a bit more substantial; egg noodles.

This is a hearty and social meal, because each person adds what they want to their own dish.

Half a sliced boiled egg is thrown in when serving. This is optional. It may seem a little odd, but is quite common in Indonesian and Malaysian soups. At least try it. You may find yourself adding a boiled egg in your future bowls of chicken soup!

(A) Spice Paste Ingredients:

4 garlic cloves

1/2 cup sliced shallots

thumb size of ginger

1 tsp turmeric powder

1 lemon grass, just the bulb, sliced

1 tbsp vegetable oil

(B) Soup Ingredients:

1 1/2 lbs chicken, skin & fat trimmed

3 liters water

1 small onion, chopped

1 stalk celery, chopped

1 bay leaf

2 tsp salt

2 large carrots, peeled and sliced

6 oz. egg noodles

(C) Accompaniments Ingredients:

3 cups blanched and rinsed bean sprouts

1 cup green onion, sliced fine

2 cups finely shredded lettuce

1 cup chopped cilantro

1 lime, cut in wedges

1/4 cup chili sambal (if you like heat)

3 hard boiled eggs, halved

1/2 cup crispy fried shallots

Method:

First, trim your chicken and set aside. Prepare ingredients ‘A’ by grinding them into a paste.

In a large stock pot,over medium heat, add the ground ingredients. Fry until fragrant, then add the chicken. Cook for a couple of minutes, then add the water. Cover and cook until chicken is completely cooked. Remove chicken into a large bowl with slotted spoon. Strain stock by pouring it over a large pot through a fine mesh strainer. Discard pulpy spice bits. You should now have a nice, clear broth. Return to heat and add the sliced carrots to the stock. Cook for 5 minutes, then add the egg noodles to the stock. Cook until noodles are done, then turn off heat.

Remove the chicken from the bones, shred, and set aside in a bowl. Prepare sprouts, lettuce, green onions, cilantro, limes, etc…basically, everything in ‘C’ ingredients. Each of these ingredients will be put into individual bowls.Cover with lids or plastic wrap, and set these bowls (along with the bowl of shredded chicken) on the dining table.

Gently reheat soup. Everyone will then add his or her own ingredients from the table, to their own bowl. Then, ladle over the hot soup, topping with garnishes.

Serves 6.

: Italian Wedding Soup & Olive Garden Knock-Off Breadsticks

DSC_1059

DSC_1027

This soup was so yummy! It is adapted from Ina Garten’s recipe.

The main components of Italian Wedding Soup are the greens and the meat. Ina had a whopping 12 ounces of spinach in her soup. I ended up using 8 ounces as I wanted my soup a bit brothier.

Traditionally wedding soup has beef and pork in the meatballs. In this, I use ground turkey instead.  It is preference, but it is lighter and healthier. For healthier yet, you can use lean ground chicken, which is what Ina uses.

To pair with Italian soup, of course, I wanted breadsticks…the kind they serve at Olive Garden. This was my first attempt at breadsticks. I have always been intimidated making bread, but now I can’t wait to do it again! My daughters even got in on the fun and made their own.

Ingredients for meatballs:

3/4 pound ground turkey

1/2  pound turkey sausage, casings removed

2/3 cup white bread crumbs

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan

3 tablespoons milk

1 large egg, beaten

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Ingredients for soup:

2 tbsp olive oil

10 cups chicken broth

1 cup diced carrots (1/4”)

1 cup diced celery (1/4”)

1 cup minced onion

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 cup small pasta or 2 cups farfalle (bow-tie) pasta

8 oz baby spinach, trimmed

1/4 cup chopped fresh dill

Method:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

DSC_1017

For the meatballs, place the ground chicken, sausage, bread crumbs, garlic, parsley, Parmesan, milk, egg,  and ½ teaspoon pepper in a bowl and combine gently with a fork. Roll into 1” balls and place onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper (You should have about 40 meatballs). Bake for 30 minutes, until cooked through and lightly browned. Set aside.

DSC_1032

For the soup, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat in a large pot. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken stock and wine and bring to a boil.

Add the farfalle pasta to the simmering broth and cook for 8 minutes (less time if using tiny pasta-adjust accordingly), then add the fresh dill and meatballs to the soup. Simmer for 1 minute. Taste for salt and pepper.

DSC_1041

Stir in the fresh spinach and cook for 1 minute, until the spinach is just wilted. Ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle each serving with extra grated Parmesan cheese. This will serve a dozen people.

DSC_1051

                                                           Olive Garden Knock-Off Bread Sticks

*Make these ahead of the soup, and warm before serving.

Ingredients:

1 package active dry yeast

4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour,plus more for dusting

2 tablespoons butter,softened

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1 tsp fine salt

warm water to make dough (see below)

Ingredients for Butter-Herb topping:

3 tablespoons butter,melted * some of this is for brushing the buns before baking (see below)

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 tsp dried oregano

Method:

Make the dough: Place 1/4 cup warm water in the bowl of a mixer; sprinkle in the yeast and set aside until foamy, about 5 minutes. Add the flour, butter, sugar, fine salt and 1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons warm water; mix with the paddle attachment until a slightly sticky dough forms. This takes about 5 minutes.

Knead the dough by hand until very smooth and soft, 3 minutes. Roll into a 2-foot-long log; cut into sixteen  1 1/2-inch-long pieces. Knead each piece slightly and shape into a 7-inch-long breadstick; arrange 2 inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheets. Cover with a cloth; let rise in a warm spot until doubled, about 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Make the topping: Brush the breadsticks with 1 1/2 tablespoons of the butter and bake until lightly golden, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt with the garlic powder and oregano. Brush the warm breadsticks with the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons melted butter and sprinkle with the garlic flavored salt.

DSC_1021

DSC_1070

: Enoki & Beef Miso Soup

DSC_0684

This is the first time I made a Japanese inspired soup. I don’t know why it took me this long because I’ve always been a fan of Japanese food. It’s fresh, balanced, and it’s always been my idea of the healthiest kind of cooking.

This is a quick meal, ready in under 30 minutes (not including marinading the meat).

….Also, these enoki mushrooms are really cute, no?

Ingredients:

3-4 small fast fry steaks

1 cup chopped brocolini (or substitute spinach)

3 green onions, sliced (white and green parts separated)

2 Cloves Garlic, minced

2 Oz Enoki Mushrooms

1 Tbsp ginger, minced

3 Tbsp White Miso Paste

1 Tbsp Soy Sauce

1/4 cup teriyaki sauce

1/4 cup firm tofu, diced

363 g package of prepared noodles (ramen or somen)

4 cups water

2 tbsp olive oil

DSC_0669

DSC_0677

DSC_0674

Method:

Marinade steaks in teriyaki sauce for 30 minutes.

In a medium sized pot, on medium-high heat, brown the steak on both sides. Cook for about 3 or 4 minutes, then set steaks aside on a plate. Cover with foil.

Then, add oil to the same pot and cook the ginger, garlic, white parts of the green onions. When fragrant, add in the brocolini and cook just until it starts to wither. Promptly remove pot from heat and set aside.

Prepare the noodles in a separate pot and drain.

Begin to heat the pot with the greens in it. Once hot, add the miso paste followed by 4 cups of water, enoki mushrooms, tofu, and soy sauce.

Once it boils, turn in the noodles and give a gentle stir. Cook for no more than a minute, then turn off heat, remove and cover.

Ladle soup into bowls, topping with thin strips of steak and green onions.

Have all ingredients ready before preparing this meal as it is prepared quickly. 

Serves 6.

DSC_0680