Tag Archives: herbs

Vietnamese fresh rice rolls

Sorry for the hiatus – it’s been a crazy time at both work and play, I realise I still haven’t written any posts on our UK/Spain trip or had the time to even read my favourite foodie blogs (you know who you are). Things are thankfully winding down as the year draws to a close so I really need to dedicate some time to catch up.

A quick post on a GENIUS idea for making Vietnamese rice rolls. I love these – the herbs keep the rolls so light and add a fresh punch of flavour to each bite.

The genius idea is from Gordon Ramsay. I’ve made these rolls before and meticulously had plates and bowls lined up so that I could individually add each ingredient before rolling them up. It a fiddly affair and always ended up taking a really long time and making a mess, which meant that I made them less than I would have liked to.

Ramsay’s tip was to make a huge bowl of noodle salad with all the ingredients, so it’s just a matter of taking a small handful of the noodle salad, placing that in the rice roll and rolling it up. Simple. Why hadn’t I thought or realised this before ??

This recipe is very adaptable – add more or less of anything to your taste.

Ingredients makes about 12 rolls 

  1. 12 round rice paper sheets
  2. 50g dried rice vermicelli noodles, soaked in hot water until soft, then drained
  3. 50g raw prawns, cooked in a small amount of water – reserve the cooking liquid
  4. large red chilli, seeds removed, finely sliced
  5. large handful shredded iceberg lettuce
  6. large handful coriander leaves, chopped
  7. handful mint leaves, chopped
  8. handful of basil leaves (Thai basil if you can find it) chopped
  9. 1 – 2 tbls fish sauce
  10. splash sesame oil
  11. juice of small lime
  12. 100g bean sprouts

For the sauce:

  1. 4 tbls hoisin sauce
  2. few teaspoons of the reserved cooking liquid from the prawns
  3. 1/2 small red chilli, seeds removed, finely sliced
  4. 1 tsp peanuts, lightly toasted and crushed

Method

  1. Mix the noodles, prawns, lettuce, chilli and herbs together
  2. Mix the fish sauce, sesame oil and lime juice and dress the noodle salad
  3. Dip the round rice paper sheets in a bowl of hot water for a few seconds until you feel it soften
  4. Add a small handful of the noodle salad along with some bean sprouts lengthwise and roll – the rice paper will continue to soften and become “sticky” which makes it easier
  5. Set aside on a plate – don’t keep them too close together or you run the risk of the rice paper sticking to each other and tearing

For the dipping sauce:

  1. Mix the hoisin, prawn cooking liquid and chilli together, top with the crushed peanuts

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

The evil brew I have to drink twice a day

This isn’t a food post per se.  I am down with my fourth cold this year.  And they have all been whoppers.  D jokes that if we lived in the wild, I would be picked off my predators as the weakling of the pack.  I’ve always been the sick kid from school days.  Someone sneezes, I catch a cold. I’m so tired that I don’t feel like eating anything and so blocked up that I can’t smell any food that I eat – shocking !

Living in Singapore, I have ready access to a multitude of Chinese herbal remedies – my supermarket has those packets of herbs that you are meant to boil with chicken for various ailments – improving immunity, improving circulation, recovering from illness – you name it.

I actually like the taste of these – it’s just like chicken stock, and I do make it relatively regularly, but here I am, blowing my nose again as I write this post.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is the practice of various systems (herbs, acupuncture, massage therapy) for balancing the various functions of the body, based in the principles of yin and yang.  TCM practitioners believe that a healthy body has perfect balance of yin yang energy and it is the imbalance of these that causes ailments.

TCM professors train for years and years, usually in Mandarin, which has been an inhibitor for me going to seek their advice, because I speak barely conversational, let alone telling someone what’s wrong with me-type Mandarin.  I went to visit Dr Long Zhong – a TCM professor who has an interpretor in the room with you. After you tell the kind and wise-looking Doctor what’s wrong with you (via the interpretor), he feels your pulse, asks you more questions, and then prescribes a course of herbs.  What makes this place more awesome is the fact that they will boil the prescribed herbs (I was assured that all my prescription was vegetable-based only), vacuum pack single serves of the herbal drink for you, and deliver that to your house.

The prescribed herbs are precise – the ladies behind the counter weigh out the various ingredients on an electronic weighing scale (as opposed to traditional scales which I frequently see in other Chinese Herbal stores which probably are as accurate while looking soooo old skool cool), and they are boiled for a precise amount of time.  They have made the entire process so convenient for modern day living.  Perfect for me.

I’ve just had my first packet of herbal drink and it’s horribly bitter.  Chinese believe that anything bitter is good for you (bitter gourd is a perfect example of this) so this has to be very good for me, right ?  I have to drink two of these packets a day for six days.

Western medicine has so far not helped me in terms of improving my immunity.  Here’s hoping TCM will.  Stay tuned to the comments for updates.


Ng Ah Sio bak kut teh

Ng Ah Sio Signature bak kut teh with you tiao and liver and kidney soup

Ng Ah Sio serves traditional Teochew bak kut teh. Literally translated, this means pork rib tea.  The reality is a bowl of pork ribs simmered for hours to make a complex and delicious soup full of flavour and spices and herbs, predominantly garlic and pepper, served with hot tea.

The other type of bak kut teh is the Hokkien variety (there are various stories of which variation is the original between Teochew and Hokkien) which uses dark soya sauce as well as the addition of other spices like star anise and cloves to the stock to produce a sweeter, almost medicinal herbal stock.

I remember the Hokkien style from my childhood but have to admit it’s been a long time since I’ve tasted it – perhaps it’s time that I attempt to cook it 🙂

Kung Fu tea

But I digress – bak kut teh is traditionally a breakfast meal, although there are often people enjoying this dish as supper around Singapore at the 24 hour bak kut teh restaurants.  Ng Ah Sio opens at 6am and closes at 2pm, and I had the luxury of being able to take my dad there for breakfast this morning.

The shop is located in a quiet part of Rangoon Road and it was lovely to be able to sit down, relax and enjoy the food and just catch up with my dad in the relative cool of the morning.  By the time we left at 10.30 the place was full and I assume it will only get busier towards lunch time.

The menu is limited – they only do a few dishes…very very well.  We ordered the prime rib soup (which comes with soup top-ups if you ask for it), a liver and kidney soup, which comes in a more subdued and sweeter stock than the pork rib stock and you tiao – Chinese donuts.

It’s one of those dishes which is really difficult to describe other than if you like pork and pepper and garlic, it’s a must-try.  The tea is a must, to help neutralise the fat in the soup and cleanse the palatte.  It’s served out of old ceramic teapots with a large kettle of boiling water next to the table for you to refill, and drink out of traditional teeny tiny tea cups.  Enough to hold one sip of the strong tannic tea.

A million bowls have been served since 1988 in their current location – they’ve got to be doing something right.  Their site seems to be down but there’s a cached version of the history which is below if you’re interested in the history and evolution of this famous eating house.

Ng Ah Sio Pork Ribs Soup Eating House
208 Rangoon Road
tel: +65 6291 4537
Opening hours: Tue–Sun: 6am – 2pm
(Closed on Mon)

History
As one of the pioneers of this now famous dish, Mr Ng Siak Hai’s (nickname: Ng Ah Sio’s) father – Mr Ng Mui Song, began plying the pork-based, peppery herbal soup cooked in a distinct Teochew style in the 1050s at the current River Valley and Hill Street vicinity.  These early servings of the bak kut teh was accompanied by Chinese donuts (you tiao) and a strong brew of Chinese tea and there was no chilli and soya sauce dips.  One of the common beliefs of the origins of bak kut teh is rooted in the early days of the Republic’s founding where large numbers of young men migrated from China to work as coolies at the godowns by the historic Singapore River.  As their jobs involved much physical hardship and their meagre salaries could ill-afford the luxury of meat then, they used the bones of pork to brew their soups as a form of nourishment.

It is said that the Teochew labourers came up with the original version of the bak kut teh and their legendary stamina and strength after taking it soon led to other groups of Chinese coolies making the same with variations in the types of herbs added.

On 1 December, 1977, with an initial crew of seven workers, Mr Ng Siak took over from his father at his retirement and began serving the crowds at new World Amusement Park (current Kitchener Road) with an improved recipe that further enhanced the aroma of pepper in the soup, which is more robust than the original, while retaining many of the hall-mark use of fresh pork ribs, garlic and a secret blend of herbs.  He named his shop Ng Ah Sio Pork Ribs Soup Eating House.  It is this unique robust flabour that many have come to associate Ng Ah Sio with, and his team of workers soon increased to 18 to cope with the surging numbers of people looking to fulfill their craving for this invogorating version of Singapore’s heritage dish.

Since moving to Rangoon Road on 15 March 1988, over a million bowls of this classic heritage dish have been served.  Ng Ah Sio as a brand has since become synonymous with the dish.  It remains a firm favourite with both locals and foreigners and this is the place many would come to savour a truly original bowl of bak kut teh, served with chilli, soya sauce and many other accompanments for the ultimate enjoyment of this dish.


Salmon, corn and herb salad

This is a terrific salad that we used to make regularly in Sydney when we had a balcony – our flat in Singapore doesn’t have an outdoor area which means the flat smells of cooked fish afterwards – not such a bad thing, we just have to make sure the fish is as fresh as possible.

So when we find fresh salmon available in the supermarket, this firm favourite appears on our dinner table.  It could easily be served as a starter or even as lunch.

Simple, fresh ingredients all work completely harmoniously in this dish.  I would say go with the flow – use whatever herbs you have in your fridge, substitute lemons for the limes – but we’ve tried that (usually because we forgot to pick up one of the ingredients or the supermarket didn’t have it) and it just doesn’t seem to work as well.  I’m more than happy to stand corrected though, so send me your alternatives if you have tried and prefer it.

Ingredients for 2 servings

  • 200 – 250g fresh salmon fillets
  • 1 cup each of fresh coriander, mint and basil
  • 2 corn cobs
  • juice of 1 -2 large limes to taste
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Lightly brush corn cobs with oil and place onto a hot  griddle/frying pan/BBQ.  Be careful the kernels may pop.  Turn them around periodically so that the entire cob is cooked.  Let cool a little to handle and cut the kernels off the corn.  Set aside.
  2. Brush salmon fillets with oil, season with salt and pepper and cook, depending on thickness a few minutes on each side.  You don’t want to overcook salmon and it should still be a bit pink inside.  Set aside to cool for a few minutes then flake.
  3. Add the corn kernels and the salmon to the herb mixture.  Dress with olive oil, lime juice, salt and pepper to taste and toss to coat everything.
  4. Pile onto plates and serve with extra lime wedges.