Pandan cake is probably my favourite ‘cake’ growing up in Singapore. As a kid, I loved my cakes airy and fluffy. It really wasn’t until I came to Montreal was I able to savour the more traditional idea of cake in the form of cute patisseries (which are too overpriced and cloyingly-sweet in Singapore anyway). When I returned to Singapore in 2012, I was rather underweight and that perhaps amplified my sweet tooth to an umpteenth degree so much that cakes and all sweet breads took on an addictive quality. I fell deeply in love with my aunt’s moist and sweetly aromatic pandan chiffon cake, a recipe she has kindly written down for me to share with you!
For those unfamiliar with South East Asian spices, pandan is very commonly used in desserts, or even curries and in rice (cooked together with coconut milk or chicken stock). Cooked in curries or rice, these leaves are tied into a knot to release their flavour. It’s very hard to describe the taste of pandan. It recalls for me earthy textures and childhood memories of humid evenings heavy with the swirl of different smells emitting from the nearby hawker centres. It is a taste that I find irresistible and comforting, and I can’t quite think of a taste that comes close to it.
We found pandan leaves in the local Vietnamese grocer (look for La Dua). If you cannot find fresh or frozen pandan leaves, look for pandan essence at your local Chinese supermarket. Substitute the pandan juice for 2-3 drops of pandan dissolved in 50g of water. Although this recipe calls for 7 pandan leaves, you can tie the remaining pandan into a knot and cook it with coconut milk to make coconut rice or put them into curries. You can even put them into crepes as my husband does. Really, anything goes.
Pandan chiffon cake
- 130g plain flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 5 eggs, separate (70 g each)
- 50g pandan juice from 7 pandan leaves
- 90g coconut milk
- 160g caster sugar(30g to add to flour mixture and 130g to add to egg whites)
- 85g corn oil/sunflower oil
- Preheat oven at 180C.
- Cut 7 pandan leaves with scissors and add some water to blend in a blender. Squeeze the pandan juice out of the blended leaves and filter the solution. Add water if necessary to make 50g pandan juice.
- Sift plain flour, baking powder and salt together.
- Add egg yolks, pandan juice, coconut milk, sugar and oil to the flour mixture and whisk manually to get a smooth mixture.
- Set aside.
- Whisk whites in a mixer till foamy. Add the caster sugar and whisk till soft peak is formed.
- Scoop some whites and fold in the flour mixture. Then pour the flour mixture onto the rest of the beaten whites. Mix till well blended.
- Pour mixture into a 10 inch tube pan.
- Bake for about 50 min.
- Invert the pan once it is out of the oven.
This is a dish we often enjoy! It’s a slightly different take on the Indian recipe. We often eat it on cold winter days. The subtle spice from the chilli burns your mouth, but the yogurt and soft fish balances it out, paired with aromatic jasmine rice! I often put the leftover liquid ‘sauce’ from the fish onto the rice and the blend of sweet, sour and spicy, soft and crunchy (from the nuts) can only be described as dimension-transporting, especially during the winter months. I highly recommend trying it out if you want to be transported to an earthy plane of herbs, spices and grounding aromas while a snowstorm surges outside.
In terms of ingredients, I use Tilapia fish because it blends well with Indian spices. I’ve tried using cod and I don’t recommend using it because cod does better with butter / Western ingredients. Same with the lime vs lemon thing: I am convinced lime goes better with Asian cooking and white fish, whereas lime’s slightly more intense sour flavour goes well with oily fishes like salmon or trout. In terms of the yogurt I chose, I actually found that out by accident! Plain yogurt is a bit bland for me and I dislike using sugar to sweeten things; using coconut Greek Yogurt adds that lovely sweet earthy taste which blends so well with the spices and the fish. Remember to buy Greek full fat yogurt over regular yogurt as it’s much creamier and less liquidity. 🙂
Tandoori Baked Fish
- 2 tilapia fillets
- Lime juice (I prefer to use lime over lemon because it has a more subtle flavour and compliments white fishes better)
- Coconut oil /ghee / olive oil for basting
- Cashews / Walnuts crushed
- Fresh lime to serve
- Chopped fresh coriander leaves / green onions
I usually make the paste with a mortar and pestle although you can also use a blender. I do think that stoneground spice pastes taste better. It’s up to you if it’s an available option or not.
Ingredients for paste
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 2 ts cumin
- Fresh ginger minced (I’m liberal… I usually chop a tablespoon)
- 3-5 cloves minced garlic
- 3 red bird-eye-chilli, deseeded and cut into small bits
- 1/2 cup (125ml) coconut Greek Yogurt (or any flavour. I actually like to use coconut yogurt for its natural sweetness)
- A pinch of rock sugar
- A pinch of pink salt
- Liberal amounts of white pepper
Dry roast the cumin and coriander first in a pan till they ‘pop’ for about 2 minutes. Usually you’ll know it’s ready when your pan starts making popcorn noises. Set aside. Grind rest of ingredients in a mortar and pestle, starting with the solids (ginger, garlic, chilli, coriander, cumin), then slowly adding a bit of yogurt till paste turns yellowish. I sometimes add some cayenne pepper or curry powder, as well.
– Rub fillets with lime juice and set aside while making spice paste
– Marinate the fillets with spice paste.
– Use a knife and cut little sideways incisions (about halfway through) into the fish so the spice paste enters the flesh and it cooks more evenly.
– Top fish with chopped nuts
- Preheat the oven to about 375 Fahrenheit
- Cook fish in oven for approx 14-16 minutes, depending on thickness of fish. Occasionally baste your fish from time to time with oil every 7 minutes or so. At 12 minute mark, check incision to see if the fish is white on the inside. If so, cook a bit more.
- Serve with jasmine rice, freshly cut coriander / green onions and lime wedges. I like to serve mine on a banana leaf as well!
This is one of the classic recipes that my Singaporean roommate, Dina, and I developed together in Montreal, inspired by childhood memories of fish porridge and drawing from our limited knowledge of what actually went into it.
As a child, I grew up eating Alexander Road’s famous raw fish porridge every Saturday morning. For the uninitiated, raw fish porridge consists of savoury mouth-melting fish that dissolves into your mouth, mixed with delicious creamy congee, freshly cut ginger and the spicy tang of chilli; a combination that can only be described as apotheosis-tic. When my husband and I returned to that place last year, the place had shut down after decades because of the raw fish ban in Singapore. We were very sad. However, it’s with some consolation that I present to you my take on the classic Teochew Fish porridge, with a Japanese, Cantonese and Western twist.
This is a dish that consists of many flavours, textures and colours. Fried scallions and green onions delivers a delightful crunch both crisp and crunchy; the fish melts in your mouth, mixed in with silky congee and the occasional starchy consistency of the potato. The century egg- a Cantonese inspiration- gives a strong flavour that balances out the milder soupy textures. All combined, this is definitely one of my favourite comfort recipes.
In terms of ingredients, I prefer to use Japanese rice because it makes for a smoother porridge. If you use other types of rice, it’s recommended that you blend it in the blender but I did not own a blender when this recipe was developed, and I think it turns out just fine. As for fish, freshness is not as important as how well the fish absorbs flavour. Frozen fish actually delivers a better texture for the porridge. I use frozen basa (tilapia’s softness is lost in this dish and cod/ sole do not absorb flavours as well as basa) marinated in ginger, oyster sauce, white pepper, a bit of sesame oil and soy sauce. I also buy century eggs that are already cooked, so not the ones coated in dirt but the ones pre-packed in boxes. Fried scallions are a must- do not skip it!
Ingredients (3 servings)
Marinade for fish:
- Dash of oyster sauce, soy sauce and sesame oil;
- 2 inches of chopped fresh ginger
- Lots of white pepper
- 3/4 cup Japanese/ short-grain calrose rice
- Chicken bouillon cube
- 1 small potato cut into small wedges
- Fried scallions/onions
- 1 century egg (They’re good in other things too although a bit strong to eat by themselves. People like to put it into bland things or even into steamed egg custard because it adds that needed punch)
- Green onions, finely chopped
- Liberal amounts of white pepper!
Prep (night before):
- Marinate frozen fish* with oyster sauce, soy sauce, lots of white pepper, chopped ginger, and a dash of sesame oil
- Boil Japanese rice in a lot of water > approximately 3x amount of water to rice to begin with. Add water halfway through if you see it becomes too dry; it should be mushy by the end.
- Add about one chicken bouillon block to the soup directly.
- Cut a potato into little cubes (I usually cut them into triangles so they absorb flavour better) and add it into the pot as rice is simmering.
- Turn the heat to about medium when it’s boiling and occasionally stir; let cook for about 20 minutes then turn to lowest heat; there should be some liquid but add more liquid if it’s not mushy enough. You want to make sure that there is a little bit of liquid so the rice doesn’t burn at the bottom.
- Once porridge is at right consistency, add the fish and turn off heat and put on lid. Let the fish cook in the porridge by itself; if it overcooks, it may lose it’s elasticity and become rubbery.
**A trick I learned growing up- they used to serve raw fish and we’d just cook it in the porridge which made for perfect fish!**
- Cut a century egg and add half a century egg per bowl, garnish with green onions and fried onions.
- Put lots of white pepper and lots of fried onions!
This is the blog Justine and I set up to share recipes we found or made. 🙂
Justine is a Canadian living in California and I am a Singaporean living in Montreal. Our recipes will hence span the range of East and West cuisine!
Amy: I am very much a haphazard, explorative cook. As an artist, cooking for me is another way of painting only with flavours: one plays around with many sources, textures and colours in order to create something beautiful but finite. I love food to be colourful, nutritious and delicious. I also love telling stories with my food! I grew up with my grandma’s Teochew cooking (a lot of soup and fresh seafood). In my early 20s, I lived with a woman whose elaborate cooking introduced me to the wide range of textures and flavours in Cantonese cuisine. Upon moving out alone, I taught myself (or rather, experiment-cooked) using the set of skills I had acquired observing her cook, in order to develop my own style of cooking. A lot of my recipes combine Japanese, Cantonese and Teochew influences, with a Western twist.
Justine: As a toddler I was fascinated by new tastes and intricate flavors, not long after I began to use the stove. I delight in the alchemy of cooking and fermenting. Growing food and living in California has influenced my style, I love the flavor of fresh in-season colorful fruits and veggies. Cooking is a beautiful endeavor, preparing the world to be pleasing to us so it can fuel us to do the things we enjoy.