Monday, September 14, 2009

Kulfi of the Day

Kulfi is a popular Indian, frozen dairy based dessert. The texture, taste and the way it is prepared is almost similar to preparing ice cream but kulfi takes a longer time to melt. Kulfi is also never made with eggs, like French ice.

The traditional way of preparing kulfi is by boiling and reducing milk over slow fire and then sweetening it and flavouring it. When the milk thickens it increases the fat, protein and lactose density. A new taste is formed too – the lactose and sugar caramelizes due to slow cooking process. These days it is quite common for people to make kulfis with evaporated milk and condensed milk that is thickened with cornflour!

You can make kulfi in many flavours – saffron, mango, pistachio, cardamom, orange, almond, rose, avocado, green tea and any other flavor you fancy. The kulfi mixture is poured into cone shaped canisters and sealed. The canisters are placed in the freezer. You can also pour the kulfi mix into ice cube trays and then freeze it. There is no paddle in the canister to rotate, as is the case with making ice cream. Technically, Kulfi is still an ice cream but that does not need churning or whisking in between.

Since the kulfi expands as it freezes don't fill the canister or moulds more than two-thirds full. If frozen in individual-portion dessert bowls to be served with a spoon, the bowls are removed from the freezer 10-15 minutes before serving to allow for melting at the edges.

Traditionally in India, kulfi is sold by street vendors called Kulfiwallahs . Kulfiwallas place the cone-shaped moulds into large earthen pots, or “matka,” filled with ice and salt. When a kulfi is ordered, they simply pull the frozen treat from its mould and serve it on a plate, garnished with pistachios, cardamom or vermicelli.

In your next visit to Spice Queen, try the kulfi of the day!!

Sunday, August 09, 2009

It's a meal on banana leaf!!

South Indian food is a brilliant blend of flavors, colors, seasoning, aroma, textures, taste and visual appeal in both the vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. Food is generally classified into six tastes - sweet, sour, salt, bitter, pungent and astringent (arusuvai unavu) and Tamil cuisine recommends that you include all of these six tastes in each main meal you eat. Each taste has a balancing ability and including some of each provides complete nutrition, minimizes cravings and balances the appetite and digestion.

The history of the South Indian traditional meal – Parimaral is truly unique. Despite the abundant knowledge of Indian food or Indian cooking, not many people is aware of the historical, diverse and cultural foundations of South Indian Cuisine that uses the banana leaf to serve meals. From the way you choose your spices and vegetables to the preparation of the meal, “plating” the food on a banana leaf, and the order of eating the different items on the leaf – every step is a testament to the authenticity and soulful enjoyment of eating from a Banana Leaf.

Besides being environmentally friendly, the banana leaf helps retain the flavor, aroma and nutritional value of the food placed on it. As the banana leaf is big in size, it provides ample space for the food to be laid in the traditional fashion. It is known fact that as soon as hot food is placed on a banana leaf, it releases a particular enzyme which further enhances the flavor of the food. And always remember that your host would have washed or wiped the banana leaf clean before serving food on it.

When serving food on banana leaf, always remember to place the banana leaf in the correct position. The most respected guest usually gets the tail end of the banana leaf and the tail end of the leaf is placed to your left. Traditionally, the banana leaf is placed only after the guest is seated. The top half part of the leaf is usually used for serving all the side dishes and the condiments while the lower part of the leaf is used for serving the rice. The rice is supposed to be served only after the guest is seated.

The top left of the banana leaf will usually have a bit of salt (this is for those who want to add more salt to their food – we Indians don’t need a salt shaker at the table) a little of pickle, a thuvayal and sometimes a bit of sweet and hot chutney.
Somewhere nearer to the middle where the rice is usually served will be the crisps like pappadums, banana chips, deep fried yoghurt chillies, vadagams, sometimes a vadai (deep fried urad dhall based savory doughnut)

Then on your right hand side, nearer to the corner all the curry, gravy items – the spicy, the sour and all the dry type of dishes are placed. Then of course there are the sweet dishes. Some are served in small pieces or in a smooth pudding or custard textured manner. This is usually eaten at the beginning of the meal or at the end of the meal.

In some vegetarian meals, there is a balanced of ‘English’ and ‘Indian vegetables. You are puzzled? Well, English vegetables are like the cauliflower, capsicums, carrots etc and Indian vegetables are like the drumsticks, snake gourds, winter melon etc.
And if you are having a non vegetarian meal, the basic vegetarian dishes are all laid out and the meat dishes are served separately in a plate. The dry type of dishes eg, the masala chicken or mysore mutton is place away from the dishes with gravies that flow.

When rice is served remember to make a well in the center of your rice mound where you can have the gravy dishes poured in!! If you are not a big time rice eater, using your hand separate the mound of rice first served into 4-5 imaginary groups. One to wed with the gravy dishes (sambar, moru, rasam, pulli kozumbu) and one to mingle with the semi dry dishes (nei paruppu, kootoo, poriyal, pachadi). Then the dry dishes like the crisps and wafers can be enjoyed by themselves!!
In a traditional setting example at a wedding where vegetarian meal is served, a smooth textured lentil dish, Nei Paruppu is served. This mildly spiced dhall is served with melted ghee.

The sambar, the most famous of all South Indian dishes is poured over the rice and eaten. To eat, using rice as a base, combine each of the various dishes, with a swirl of your fingers, gently kneading, slowly binding and intermixing each lentil, grain and or vegetable to another, in a dance of the morsels. J The most common combinations would be that of the rice and the sambar with any one dry vegetable.

The next course is rasam, the spicy, at times tangy, clear soup of the South Indian. This is also a digestive aid. After the rasam, the balance of the rice is moved aside to the side of the leaf and payasam, the sweet is served………….now this may be unbelievable but it is true. We eat our sweet in between the meal. Correct way to eat payasam is to have it on the banana leaf, crush a pappadum over it and slurp it out with your hand…… yes it is not served in a bowl or glass but on your banana leaf. And conquering this flowly sweet is an art you need to master. For me this is the most tastiest part of the whole banana leaf meal. But I was joking when I said no glass or bowl…….by all means ask your host for a glass or a bowl of payasam.
Finally, you finish off the meal with the balance of rice with tairu or moru. Tairu is yoghurt and moru is spiced buttermilk.

Spice Queen, the restaurant is introducing Banana Leaf Set menu from 8th August 09. At $5.50 per meal, you get the whole works of the banana leaf meal eg. Pickle, kootu, poriyal, pachadi, sambar, puli kozhumbu, rasam, payasam and moru.
Enjoy a good meal at Spice Queen, 24 & 26 Race Course Road, Singapore

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Aromatic, Succulent Belachan Chicken

It’s Belacan Chicken!! It’s not Indian and I am selling it at the restaurant. I classify it as an Uniquely Singapore Indian dish. Before this recipe came into being, I did lots of experiments. First, I had to try other people’s Belacan Chicken. Found some so oily that I could not eat anything else the whole day – just the thought of the oil bursting out from the chicken wings nauseated me. Then there were some that were so salty, I would have used pieces of that chicken to salt my curries J. Some too smelly, some wings uncooked, some overly browned, some totally no flavor of belacan. I gave up after trying for a few weeks.
Then I started researching. I asked Chinese friends, Peranakan friends, Malay friends, Indian friends and even Filipinos. My world of belacan expanded - so many stories and so many ways of making Belacan Chicken. I had to choose one method that would work for me.
In case you are wondering what Belacan Chicken is….. it is chicken pieces marinated in shrimp paste and other ingredients, dipped in batter and then deep fried. You have to marinate it long enough so that the marinade seeps through every molecule of the chicken and make it very aromatic. The Belacan Chicken should be crunchy on the outside and burst with flavors in your mouth!! And I managed to do that. And chances are, when an Asian eats a good Belacan Chicken, all other colonels’ fried chicken will be forgotten J The smell of Belacan Chicken being fried will make your neighbors hungry.
Must tell you this - Some marinate the chicken pieces in belacan and some coat the chicken with belacan infused batter. And while some use belacan powder, I use belacan paste
For those who of you who think you are going to make me give you a recipe for the Belacan Chicken – fat hope!
But I can recommend something easy and almost like it – Use Maggi Shrimp Paste Chicken Mix. Well, it is good if you do not want to go through getting all ingredients and finding the right recipe (I am definitely not sharing mine). The direction in the package will tell you to marinate the chicken pieces for 15 minutes and then deep fry. Well you will get a nice aromatic golden brown chicken.
The Chinese in Hong Kong have Ha Cheong Gai – a version of the Belacan Chicken. Pink creamy shrimp paste from Hong Kong is used for this and the batter is made of potato flour.

Talking about belacan too much…..some of you may not know that there are many types of shrimp paste in the market. Belacan is made from small salted shrimps that have been allowed to ferment in the sun until very pungent. The mixture is then mashed and dried. Some are semi-dried. It may smell unpleasant to many but taste divine when cooked. In the hands of a good cook, belacan can work wonders and a bit of belacan with ground chillies and a squeeze of calamansi makes a meal near sublime.

Take note that belacan must always be cooked before being eaten. It can be grilled if using in raw salads and fried along with other spices for curries and sambals. If you need to grill belacan at home without making the whole house stink like a belacan factory, wrap the amount of belacan in aluminum foil and then grill in the oven for about 5-8 minutes, turning the package a couple of times in between. Alternatively, you can place the aluminum package directly on gas stove, but keep turning the package. Do remember that belacan is not something you will use in large amounts………a bit goes a long way!

Friday, June 26, 2009

What is Good Service?

What is ‘good service’ at a restaurant? Time and again, many people have asked me this question. Having been a food panelist for more than 12 years, this is a question you will never escape from your friends.

I must say that it is very difficult to isolate what elements are brought to the table by the waiter and what can be attributed to training and the house style. For example, I've had very good and very bad service at the same restaurant……… then how do I rate this restaurant?
In cases like that, I feel like it's the waiter that brings everything and therefore it becomes clear there is little training. Some people want to be "friends" with their waiters; others just want the person to efficiently deliver the food and clear the table. How a waiter approaches and chats up a table could also be part of the house style.

At Pete’s Place, the staff is there at every juncture, almost appearing like magic; they seem to know when to approach the table. And they know when to make themselves scarce. In this case, it's clear that they are not only veterans but adhere to a certain style.
The Rtiz, I guess has a rigorous training program for its staff. The staff has a certain approachable demeanor that's consistent regardless of who is working your table.

In addition, good service staff does special things to accommodate the guests that might not necessarily be strictly classified as service, but gives the overall effect of making the customer feel special. If diners are sharing appetizers or a dessert, the waiters volunteer to split the portion. If it is rains, the customers are asked “Do you need an umbrella to go to your parked car?” Babies get a bit of attention. The elderly get special attention. Pregnant ladies get attention and soon you find out that everyone is treated well equally – that’s good service.
At Spice Queen, our service staff is well trained and we get lots of accolades all the time.

I'd love to know where you've had the best service, and what made it special.

SPICE QUEEN – My Restaurant!

Do you know I have a restaurant? It is the SPICE QUEEN, located at Race Course Road, in Little India of Singapore!The theme and décor are in keeping with all things simple, chic, modern and inviting and I wanted it to be a great place for the young and old to relax, eat and drink and leave the place with pleasant memories. The theme is “Indian spice” and therefore I do have lots of Indian dishes and some Asian dishes with the Indian spice influence. We serve uniquely Singaporean Indian cuisine, South Indian and North Indian cuisines. Well, I do have an assortment of pakoras – you may think it is no big deal and that it is only a pakora…….but I developed this pakora batter mix! So if you are ever eating at Spice Queen (I fondly call my restaurant SQ) and you like our pakoras, you can buy our Pakora Mix and make the pakoras at home!! Phew! I forgot an important element – the Tamarind Sauce that is sold with the pakoras in the restaurant. It is ‘simply irresistible” as one customer said.Then I have this classic Singaporean dish called the Belachan Chicken. It is chicken wings marinated in spices and shrimp paste and then coated with a special flour mix and deep fried. You are wondering where the “Indian spice” is in? The secret is our Green Chillie Sambal that is served with the chicken pieces. It is a sambal so good that you may want to eat it with everything else…..and you can buy our marinated chicken pieces to fry it at home at your own convenience and buy a bottle of green chillie sambal too! Just ask our good service staff. Talking about service staff, do you know one of our customers actually wrote in our Guests Book “the service we get at this restaurant is better than that from a famous 6-Star hotel in Singapore!” Well, you must come to my restaurant to experience good service.
Wait, I have one more starter – the Tauhu Telor. It is not the usual Indonesian style tauhu telor. I use egg tofu and the secret sauce is what makes our customers ask me “what is in this sauce?” and in case you are wondering what I told them – “try guessing” Everyone has an idea of what a briyani is. I love briyanis too but then I never wanted to indulge in too much briyani because of the way it is laden with saturated fat. At SPICE QUEEN restaurant, we cut down the saturated food and give you a very light briyani, whether it is chicken, fish, vegetable or mutton (OK, mutton has a bit of saturated fat but you know, we have most of the visible fat trimmed)As for the seafood, our best seller is still the fish head curries – we do have the Assam Fish Head, which is Indonesian inspired and the traditional Indian Fish Head curry. The Assam type does not have any curry powder in it but the Indian fish head is made of good quality curry powder that we sell. As Spice Queen, I do believe that I should only use some of the best spices available. We can also cook you a fish slice in Assam gravy or fish gravy if you do not like fish head.Mutton in thick gravy is one popular meat dish of the restaurant and try the Mutton Methiwalla, very Punjabi dish with fenugreek leaves.The vegetables are cooked ala minute – it means we cook after the order is taken. That means you don’t get soggy, discolored over cooked vegetables that are bad for health at our restaurant. We have enough food in the menu that is suitable for the vegetarians too.
Oops…..I forgot to tell you!! My favourite in my restaurant is the Cheese Podi Naan! Fluffy naan stuffed with cheddar cheese and spicy sesame powder – you must try this and must eat it hot!I also have a selection of yummy desserts. Sshhhh…….I don’t want to tell you about it. Read about it in our website and see pictures of the seductive desserts.

More details about the restaurant –
Spice Queen
24 & 26 Race Course Road
Singapore 218548

For enquiries and reservations call - 62552440

We are opened every day except Mondays and from 11.30 am – 3.30 pm and 6.00 pm till 11.00 pm.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Good, Hot Stuff

These days, I feel that I'm addicted to chillies. If I'm eating noodles, I'll always need fresh cut chillies especially small red fiery hot, bird’s eyes chillies in soy sauce to go with it. When I eat out at my restaurant, SPICE QUEEN, my staff ensure that a small sauce plate of chillies or sambal comes along with my food.
But I was not like this when I was younger. My father used to cane me because I refuse to eat certain dishes because that would be the only dishes my mum would have cooked for the day. I used to be such that I rather go to bed hungry than eat something spicy hot.
Now it is different. It is chillies and more chillies in my life. Since most of my friends are non-Indians, many have the notion that chillies are bad for health. Some of my Chinese friends told me that eating chillies causes pimples to surface on the face and trust me I never had pimples when I was young or now. Then my German friend, Kristie Buss, told me that chillies can cause diarhoea and stomach upsets. Another Indian friend said “chillies can cause loss of memory and also promotes blindness or eyesight problems”.
I think chillies are great. They are beautiful to look, to touch, to smell and to cook. Not only that, they are great fresh, dried, ground, crumbled, pounded, cut into strips, pickled, and the list goes on.
Today, a friend said that his doctor said chillies can cause ulcer. And so I did further research on my favourite subject – SPICE. Do you know that some people classify chillies as a ‘fruit’.
Chillie became extremely popular in India after it was first brought to India by Vasco-da-Gama. Chillie found its way in Ayurveda, the traditional Indian medical system. According to Ayurveda, chillie has many medicinal properties such as stimulating good digestion and endorphins, a natural pain killer to relieve pains. A survey conducted in Singapore in 1994 shows that the incidence of gastric ulcers is more common among the Chinese than among Indians and Malays who eat far more chillies. In another study on animals, it was found that the active ingredient capsaicin in chillies, increases gastric blood flow and protects the stomach from damage. It also encourages the healing of experimental gastric ulcer. It seems taking a dose of chilli actually protects the stomach from subsequent damage by aspirin or alcohol.
By the way, if you want to relieve yourself off a fiery mouthful of chillie, do not reach for ice water!! Drink milk or yoghurt as capsaicin dissolves very well in the presence of fats. Hence, the Indians always serve raita, a light salad with yoghurt dressing as an accompaniment with all their fiery hot dishes.
Chillie has also been used to help relieve arthritic pain. And ironically, that burning sensation stimulates the release of endorphins, which make us feel good - which explains why some people like me just can't get enough of the stuff!!!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

what is a good sambar?

I love sambar. Hello, it is not a deer. Sambar is a curry, a gravy with lots of lentils and vegetables, slightly sour and oh so aromatic. Yumyum…….. But which is the original sambar? Anyone know anything about the history of sambar? I have eaten many types of sambar from the time I was a kid. I thought my Periamah’s sambar was so aromatic. She would grind the fennel, coriander seeds and cumin seeds in the ‘ammi’ or grinding stone and incorporate these into the boiling dhall. She used a firewood stove; the pot will be so black on the outside and the inside is where one of the most delicious sambar would be boiling. My mother used to make her sambar quite thick, with lots of tur dhall; she would sometimes add a handful of mung dhall to thicken it as she said. We, Singaporean Indians hardly rely on the pressure cooker. The advantage of boiling dhall in a pot is that you get this aroma of the dhall and garlic wafting from the kitchen and permeating into every room of the house and the outside. The hunger will start about 1 hour before the sambar is made. An aunt used to add a bit of coconut milk to her sambar to ‘sweeten’ it as she said; another Malaysian Indian friend of mind would fry some pounded dried prawns and add to her keerai sambar……..very delicious.
Then of course the vengaya (shallots) sambar of Saravana Bhavan in India is drinkable.
Nowadays, I see more of the restaurants using pumpkin pieces in their sambar, I guess it is to sweeten the gravy naturally instead of using jaggery like some would do. I do hate the MTR kind of sambar, unless of course the person grinds the masala herself/himself instead of relying on the plastic bag.
The sambar I once had at a railway station in Kerala is very memorable too. Someone told me that it must be the Palagat brahmin’s style of sambar. I could smell lots of asafetida (perungayam) but it was so sumptious. Another friend of mine said he had a good sambar in Coimbatore. He said the sambar was of blackish green (very unappetizing to look at it it seems) but he also said that it was the best sambar he has ever had in his entire life. Apparently, a lot of ground coriander leaves and grilled onions were ground and added to the sambar. Sambar with radish and drumsticks ….mmmmmm mind blowing.
I love my sambar with lots of potatoes. When eating, I will mash the potatoes lightly on my plate and pour the sambar over it, add a teaspoon of good ghee or butter and just eat. No need for rice! Or have a meal of hot sambar, fried dried fish and a vegetable poriyal.
My husband says a good sambar must be runny; I like it thick and so the argument about the best sambar never end as you may have something to say too.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

the Smell of Coffee

“Mmmm... There's absolutely nothing better than first thing in the morning, waking up to the smell of freshly brewed coffee....” said my friend. I too love the smell of coffee. I've never been able to drink it though, but I love the smell just too much! Over the years, I have tried drinking coffee from various establishments. I have bought and tried all brands of coffee powder, but it just does not agree with me. I am envious of all those who can enjoy coffee. I know what I will do if I can drink and enjoy coffee; I will buy one of the best coffee machines and brew myself gourmet coffee everyday. Alas, I can only do it in my dreams. But even though I don’t drink coffee I love to sit at a café, sip Earl Grey tea and inhale other people’s coffee. The smell itself is addictive.
Do you know that a number of perfume counters have coffee beans for people to smell in between smelling different perfumes? Do you know why smelling coffee beans enhance our ability to smell different perfumes?
Well perfumes are a mix of many different molecules of smell and that's why the smell of a good perfume "unfolds" over many hours, as the various molecules gradually evaporate.
Repeated exposure to a particular smell causes "adaptation". Do you remember all the bad smells in your environment you are so used to that you no longer think “this is awful” and hold your nose? Coffee beans are a pungent olfactory stimulus that is quite different from the components of most perfumes. Therefore, smelling coffee beans is a way of cleaning your "olfactory palate." This process is something like eating crackers or sipping water in between samples at a wine tasting. Olfactory adaptation is diminished by smelling coffee, so you can sample more perfumes.
The husband used to say that I should have been born a dog as I am constantly smelling and sniffing the air for smells of food. Perhaps I can smell better because I am forever smelling coffee!!