Saturday 25 January 2014

Nyonya Spicy Dried Shrimp Sambal and Mini Prawn Rolls (Hae Bee Hiam 蝦米香)

As part of my  Chinese New Year prep, I've decided to make these mini prawn rolls. If you have never tried them before, you will be soon be addicted. Although these savoury nibbles have long been associated with the New Year celebration, their popularity meant that they are now available throughout the year and not just around the festive season. Good thing? I would say so.

To make the mini prawn rolls, you start by preparing the spicy aromatic shrimp sambal fillings or as we called it in Singapore, Hae bee hiam 蝦米香 . This piquant condiment is made by frying pounded/grind dried shrimps (hae bee) in hot chilli Sambal tumis. They are then rolled in little squares of spring roll skins before deep fried to golden brown. This merging of Chinese ingredients with Malay spices is a fine example of typical Nyonya cooking.

The shrimp sambal is really easy to make and does not take up too much time. You can of course make them days in advance and then when you find yourself having a bit more free time, embark on rolling them into individual mini rolls. If you find these rather fiddly, you can of course simply just make the filling.

Hae bee hiam is incredibly versatile. You can sandwiched them between slices of buttered bread for a delicious sandwich, miles away from those boring everyday options. Scattered them liberally on toast for a quick snack or use them as crunchy toppings on salads to give an added punchy oomph.

My favourite, however, is to toss plenty of them on a plate of white fluffy steamed rice à la Posh rice toppings. Delicious!

But of  course, if you have the patience and perseverance to continue in transforming the filling into something even more irresistible, do roll them into these tiny nibbles.

Leave these out when entertaining and your guests will be suitably impressed and grateful but remember, always save some for yourself. Believe me, these will be gone in no time and then you'll be kicking yourself for not doing so.

Ingredients (makes loads, I've lost count after 150 or so…)

For the Hae Bee Hiam:

300g dried shrimps (Hae bee), rinsed and drained
1 tbsp tamarind purée 
50g sugar

For the sambal/spice paste:
8-10 dried red chillies, soaked in warm water and drained
10 shallots or 1 medium onion, skinned and finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp dried shrimp paste (belacan), toasted
6 candlenuts (substitute with macadamia nuts if you can't get hold of this)
4 lemongrass, finely chopped
4 kaffir lime leaves
2 tsp ground turmeric

To make the mini prawn rolls:

20 sheets of spring roll skins, cut into 3cm squares
a small amount of flour and water, mix to a paste and use to seal the rolls
Sunflower oil, for deep frying


Dry the shrimps thoroughly in a low heat oven for about 1 hour. Pound into fine powder using a mortar and pestle or alternatively, use a food processor.

Pound all the ingredients for the sambal into a paste using a mortar and pestle. Alternatively, blitz in a food processor. 

Heat about 3 tablespoon sunflower oil in a wok or large pan over low heat. Add the spice paste and cooked the spice paste until fragrant, about 15-20 minutes, stirring constantly to stop them from burning. You will need to be patient for this, the spice paste will gradually turn from a pale red to a deep, rich maroon and the oil would have separated from the paste. 

Add the tamarind purée, followed by the ground dried shrimps and stir-fry for another 5-10 minutes, until the mixture is almost dry. Transfer to a dish and leave to cool. 

Once cooled, stir in the sugar and mix thoroughly. 

You have just made the Hae Bee Hiam or Spicy Shrimps Sambal. Store this in an airtight container if not using immediately.

To make the prawn roll, place a spring roll skin square on the work surface with one corner facing you. Spoon a small amount of the prawn sambal mixture in a line on skin. Fold the corner nearest to you over the mixture, then fold the left and right hand corners in to enclosed. Roll up to a neat and tight roll (like a mini cigar shape), brushed the edge with a paste made out of some flour and water and press edge to seal. Repeat until all ingredients are used up.

Heat the oil in a pan to 160ºC and deep fry the prawns rolls in batches until golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper and leave to cool.

Once cool, reward yourself with a couple or a handful of this before storing in airtight container. 

Saturday 18 January 2014

Brussels Sprouts And Radish Kimchi

I had loads of Brussels sprouts left over from the festive period so the idea of turning them into kimchi seemed like the perfect solution. I love brussels sprouts and I do adore kimchi which makes this union my ideal food heaven.

Traditional kimchi is made with Napa cabbage (or Chinese cabbage) and sprouts are from the same brassica family so this combination is a no-brainer.

If you've never had kimchi before, you are definitely missing one of the great pleasure in life. Although kimchi is commonly thought of as being the fermented cabbage but it actually describe the method of making it. You can, in fact, kimchi anything. Think of it like pickling if you like and that's precisely what it is. Except in this instance, it's the fermentation that produces that signature acidic sourness and not vinegar.

Kimchi making is very simple. Start by brining the cabbage or whatever base vegetable that you decided to use. In this instance, it's the sliced Brussels sprouts. This helps to encourage the fermentation process.

Roots vegetable, such as carrots, daikon or radish etc can be added to give a contrasting texture but these do not need to be brined. You are, after all, using them for their crisp and crunchy mouthfeel and adding them to the saline solution will soften them and kind of defeat the purpose.

The base paste is what give the kimchi the gutsy flavour. This is made with Korean chilli flakes, ginger, garlic, glutinous rice flour among other things. Make sure that you use the mandatory Korean chilli flakes. Don't be tempted to substitute them with normal chilli flakes. I have learnt from past experience that these will yield an extremely hot kimchi and although they were decent enough but taste-wise, they weren't quite right. Do not omit the glutinous rice flour or otherwise you will ends up with a wishy-washy result. The traditional recipe calls for Korean salted/fermented shrimps but I find fish sauce works just as well. This need to be of good quality so don't bother with those cheap varieties you find in most supermarket.

Time is the important factor here too so patience is a virtue. Saying that, there is not reason why you can't delve right into it after only a couple of days. A short fermentation time will still give you a light and crunchy kimchi but flavour-wise, it will not compete with the more harmonious and fuller taste that slower and longer fermentation will give.

As for when or where is the appropriate time to serve them or eat them with? Well, this is entirely up to you. I'll eat them straight from the jar and with anything.

Ingredients (fills a 2.6L container)

1 kg Brussels sprouts, thinly sliced
6l water
150g salt (use table salt and not your good sea salt for this)
350g Korean chilli flakes
roughly 4cm piece ginger, peeled and grated
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
80ml good quality fish sauce
400g radish, thinly sliced
8 spring onions, cut into thin rings

For the base paste:
600ml water
100g glutinous rice flour
25g sugar


The day before, make up the saline solution by mixing the salt and water in a large bowl. Add the sprouts, make sure they are fully submerge. Weigh down with a plate and some weight if necessary. Leave to stand over night. 

The following day, drain the sprouts and set aside.

To make the base paste, combine the water, glutinous rice flour and sugar in a pan and heat gently over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens. This will takes 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and allows to cool.

In a large bowl, combine the paste, chilli flakes, ginger, garlic, onion and fish sauce and mix. 

Add the radish and spring onion, then the sprouts. Using your hands (the best tool for this), combined everything thoroughly, making sure all the vegetable are coated with the paste. 

Transfer to a large airtight container and leave to ferment for a minimum of 3-4 days, until the desired sourness is achieved. 

Be careful when opening the container as the fermentation will produce a great amount of gas. Use a flexible container rather than a glass jar to prevent 'exploding'. 

Sunday 12 January 2014

Nyonya Pineapple Tarts

It has been a while since my last post. With the holiday season prep and all that, I have decided to give myself a wee break. Now that Christmas and new year are over and done with, time to turn my attention back here.

For the first post of the year, I am making some Chinese New Year baked goodies. Pineapple tarts are very popular in Singapore and Malaysia over the new year celebration. As the big day approaches, these delicious, jam-filled flaky pastries would crop up all over Chinatown.

In Hokkien (main dialect spoken in Singapore), pineapple is known as 'ong lai' which sound similar to 'come good fortune'. Many of these tart will be consumed during the celebration in the hope that it will indeed a very fortunate year for those who chomped down enough of these, along with other 'lucky' treats.

Regardless of whether their polularity are due to the auspicious association, mould of sweet pineapple jam on those buttery pastry base, crumbles as you bit into, are simply addictive and moreish. I dare you to stop at just one, I know I couldn't.

These are easy to make once you have the pineapple jam, the laborious part of this recipe, ready at hand. To make life easier, the jam can be made at least a day or more in advance.

Be patience when making the jam, it will requires a long and slow simmering in order to caramelise the sugar within the fruits, gradually turning into a golden brown hue. Do not be tempted to turn up the heat or the jam will burn and turn bitter.

The consistency is also very important. It will need to be thick enough to be moulded onto the pastry base. Too much moisture and not only will it be trickier to shape but will also mean a soggy tart and the finished pastries will not keep for as long.

Make sure you make a big batch of these as they are just too good to be eaten only over Chinese New Year. Even if you are not celebrating the new year, these are perfect for a nibble with a comforting brew.

(Makes about 50 tarts)

For the pineapple jam:
2  large pineapple, peeled and cored and coarsely grated, about 500g
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves
250g caster sugar (adjust according to the sweetness of the pineapple)

For the pastry:
450g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
small pinch of salt
250g cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 free range egg plus 1 yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 tbsp cold water (you might not need this)

For the egg wash:
1 free range egg, lightly beaten


The pineapple jam can be made days in advance.

Place the grated pineapple in a muslin cloth or clean tea towel. Squeeze out as much moisture as possible over a large bowl. Do not over squeezed. The pulp should still remains slightly moist. 

In a large pan, combine the pineapple pulp, star anise, cinnamon, cloves and sugar. Heat gently over low heat, stirring constantly to prevent the jam from burning. Cook until the jam thicken and turn golden brown. This can take anything from 1−2 hours. 

Remove from heat and allows to cool. 

Stored in an airtight container in the fridge until required.

To make the pastry, sift the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl. Rub the butter into the flour with your fingers until it resemble fine crumbs. 

In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs and the vanilla extract and add this to the flour, a little at a time until the mixture comes together to form a soft dough. Add a touch of cold water if the mixture is too dry. 

Cover the dough with a cling film and rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. 

To assemble the tart, preheat the oven to 180ºC.

Lightly dust the working surface with flour and  roll out the pastry into about 0.5cm thickness. Using a pineapple tart mould, cut out the tart base and repeat until all the pastry are used up. Chill the tart bases in the refrigerator for 15minutes to firm up.
If you do not have a pineapple tart mould, cut out the tart base with a 5cm diameter cookie cutter.

Lay the tart bases on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Mould a heaped teaspoon of pineapple jam into balls and fill the centre of each tart base with these. Glaze with the beaten eggs before baking in the oven for 10 minutes. After this time, lower the oven temperature to 150ºC and bake for another 10-15 minutes, until the tart turn golden brown.

Allow to cool completely before treating yourself to a few of these delicious tarts. Storing the rest in an airtight container.


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