Galleries

Borscht soup, Hong Kong style 羅宋湯


Borscht soup, Hong Kong style

Borscht soup, Hong Kong style

Borscht soup, Hong Kong style

Borscht soup, Hong Kong style

The other night the topic of food trends came up at home. S and I talked about the food we had in our teenage years and shared with J, our fond memories of Hong Kong restaurants that were born out of the then-growing western influence in the 1980s. Their menus typically include pasta, pizza and grilled meats. Often, there will be set menus (which is still a very common thing to have on all restaurant menus) that goes typically like this:

1) choice of soup: soup of the day, creamy mushroom (“white” soup), tomato borscht type soup (“red” soup)

2) main of grilled meats (chicken thigh, pork chops and beef rump, or a mixture) with choice of pasta, potatoes/vegetables or rice. You also get to choose between a black peppercorn, belchamel or tomato sauce.

3) coffee or tea, and of course the “combination” drink yin yeung.

Sometimes you also get for dessert a small bowl of jelly or ice cream served in a tiny aluminium bowl.

This became in my mind, the iconic western meals in the 1980s to 1990s for the previous British colony. A step up from the cha chaan teng, which serves the more basic Hong Kong fare, like macaroni soup, pineapple buns and “stocking” milk tea.

For 99% of the time I will choose the borscht soup, which is an adapted version of the Russian Ukrainian tomato soup. It doesn’t normally have beets, and can have a variety of stable vegetables from any Hong Kong vege market. It’s the most popular soup in my childhood days, and is now J’s favourite soup.

My mum makes this with oxtail or beef shin. I’ve been able to source end-cuts of parma or prosciutto and prefers that now for the depth in flavour it adds to the soup (one time I didn’t use prosciutto and S and J both asked me about the lack of flavour. Seriously!) You can also use bacon or ham bones too.

This soup tastes better when cooked for longer. Cook on the stove for a few hours, in a crock pot, Instant Pot or a thermos, it will all work!

This quantity easily serves 5-6 people.

Ingredients

  • 1 onion, cut into large chunks
  • 2 carrots, cut into large chunks
  • 2 small potatoes, cut into large chunks
  • 2 celery stalks, cut into large chunks (I sometimes leave out)
  • 1/2 cabbage, cut into large chunks
  • 1 can of whole peeled tomatoes
  • 50g tomato paste
  • 2 tbsp beef stock (I use Simon Gault’s)
  • 2 tbsp worcestershire sauce
  • 300g parma ham, end cut or substitute with other meats like beef shin, oxtail
  • 2 – 3 litres of water

Instructions

  1. Lightly oil a hot pan, sautée the onions, carrots and celery. Transfer into a large soup pot (I use a Thermos pot, similar to a Crock Pot, except it has no heating function).
  2. Add potatoes, cabbage, tomatoes, tomato paste, beef stock, Worcestershire sauce and parma ham into the soup pot.
  3. Add enough boiling water to cover, about 2 litres, and bring it to a boil.
  4. Let it boil for 15 minutes and then turn it down to a simmer for 2 hours. If using a thermos cooker or Crock Pot, after the initial boiling, transfer that into the thermos/Crock Pot and let it continue to cook for a few hours. I often prepare this the night before and leave it to cook overnight.
  5. It’s ready when the cabbages and other vegetables are soft. Taste and add salt as required.

Borscht soup, Hong Kong style

Brown Sugar Iced Milk with Boba Pearls


Brown sugar milk with boba pearls

Brown sugar milk with boba pearls

Brown sugar milk with boba pearls

Brown sugar milk with boba pearls

My favourite boba/bubble drink used to be Taro milk tea. In my uni days there weren’t many Taiwanese tea houses in Auckland and I considered these a treat, rather than for a weekly consumption. I remember purchasing big bags of the drink mix to make bubble teas for friends at a gathering. It was manic having to brew so much tea and the pot of tapioca pearls took forever to cook through.

Fast forward to 2014, J was 6 and had been introduced to these milk tea drinks, but prefers chocolate milk with rainbow jelly. She said tea wasn’t really her thing and much preferred chewing on flavoured jelly rather than a tasteless blob.

Then came the Brown Sugar Milk drink in 2018. These were nick named “dirty” as warm brown sugar syrup were drizzled around the insides of cups, and when mixed with cold milk, it created a streaky effect, hence “dirty” illusion. It was a relatively simple drink, pearls cooked till tender and then soaked in unrefined brown sugar syrup to give the pearls a caramel taste. The best thing was the fresh milk that was used in the drink, no tea at all and is the reason why J didn’t mind trying it at first. In fact she drank most of that first introductory cup of brown sugar milk and was reluctant to share the rest with me 😅

One problem I have with the current tea houses selling such drinks: there seems to be no uptake of reusable cups for boba drinks. I guess the marketing strategy relies on customers seeing the layered drinks and contents. It makes me crinch everytime I buy one. At least I bring my stainless steel straw now, (the surprised look on the staffs’ face when I refuse their straw and pull out my own though) but one day I will bring my glass bottle or jar to the tea house and see if they will sell a drink to me in those. For now, this recipe to make these at home will suffice.

It’s really important to point out here that the quality of your milk makes or breaks this liquid delight. Use your favourite one, with fat retained. We used the gold class milk from a Jersey breed, by Lewis Road Creamery, from Waikato, New Zealand.

If you can, choose milk that has no permeate, a by-product of milkprocessing, which waters down milk. Jersey milk is naturally higher in butterfat and milk solids, making it a creamier milk with a full bodied taste.
This was perfect for this recipe. (this post is not sponsored nor have I been gifted the product. We truly love the milk).

Have fun making! (feel free to double or triple the amount of sugar syrup – you can easily use it on ice cream and desserts.)

Ingredients (makes 3 glasses)

  • 1 cup tapioca pearls
  • 5 cups water, boiling
  • 1 cup Mascovado sugar (or brown sugar)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 600ml Lewis Road Creamery Jersey Milk
  • Ice cubes, optional

Instructions

  1. In a small saucepan, bring 5 cups of water to a boil. Add the tapioca pearls to cook for 10 minutes, stirring from time to time.
  2. Cover with lid and turn off the heat, to keep it slowly cooking in the residual heat for another 40 minutes.
  3. While the pearls are cooking, place sugar and water in a separate pot. Bring to a slow simmer till thick and sticky, and turn off the heat. Pour about a third of this syrup into a small squeezy bottle. Reserve the rest in the pot.
  4. Once the pearls are cooked, strain them into the pot with the sugar syrup. Let it sit for 30 minutes before using.
  5. When ready, scoop the boba pearls into 3 glasses. With the glass on a tilt, rotate the glass so that the syrup from the pearls glide onto the sides of the glass. From about one cm from the top of the glass, squeeze a line of syrup from the bottle along the insides of the glasses, while rotating the glass.
  6. Pour cold milk over the warm boba pearls.
  7. Give the drink a good stir before drinking.

Brown sugar milk with boba pearls

Chawanmushi 茶碗蒸し


Chawanmushi - Japanese savoury egg custard

Shiitake mushroom chawanmushi

Shiitake mushroom chawanmushi

Shiitake mushroom chawanmushi

Shiitake mushroom chawanmushi

Shiitake mushroom chawanmushi

Little tiny dishes with delicately plated ingredients, perfect execution of cooking and tastes of deliciousness. I love Japanese meals that are presented as several courses, and especially when they integrate well, following naturally from one to the next.

One iconic dish, Chawanmushi, is often served as part of the course. This savoury egg custard is cooked with a fragrant dashi broth, hiding amongst it treasures to be revealed when you dig in. Made with delicate and seasonal ingredients, the best ones are silky smooth and very light. The dashi broth is very important as it is the unique flavour of Japanese food. I used packets of dashi powder mixed with water.

Dashi

Until recently, fresh Shiitake mushrooms were not commonly found in New Zealand. This is key to Asian cooking and I’m excited that Meadow Mushrooms, the 50 year old mushroom producer in NZ has extended their range to include these now. Grown on sawdust logs which have been inoculated with Shiitake mushroom spores, these grow quickly and are harvested in 14 days. They are bold in flavour, with a strong umami taste adding depth to most dishes.

Here I have also added wakame and fish cake. Other fillings such as prawns, crab meat, clams, small pieces of chicken thighs and onion slices are also excellent options. Traditionally steamed, you can also cook this in a water bath.

Using all my small sized cups and ramekins, I made mini portions. They were 60ml to 80ml each and I made seven with these quantities below. Increase your steaming time by 3 minutes if your bowls are larger.

Ingredients

  • 400ml water
  • 1 x 8g packet dashi powder
  • 3 eggs (180g)
  • 1.5 tsp soy sauce
  • 1.5 tsp cooking Sake or mirin
  • 2 tsp dried wakame
  • 4-5 Shiitake mushrooms, sliced and halved
  • 14 thin slices of Japanese fish cake

Instructions

  1. Using a measuring jug, make up dashi stock. Add wakame to rehydrate it within the stock.
  2. Lightly beat the eggs and strain it through a sieve into the dashi stock, to remove any clumps of egg. This helps with the smoothness of the dish, ensuring no clumps or air pockets inside the custard. Add soy sauce and cooking sake.
  3. Place your fillings in the chawanmushi cups, reserving a few pieces of mushroom and fish cake for the top.
  4. Pour egg mixture into chawanmushi cups.
  5. On top of the mixture, add 2 small pieces of Shiitake mushrooms and a piece of fish cake, allowing it to float.
  6. Using a bamboo steamer over a wok, gently steam chawanmushi cups on low for 12 minutes. (mine were tiny 60ml to 80ml portions so steamed quickly. If you are making bigger portions, steam for 15 mins).
  7. If not using a bamboo steamer, where water vapor is allowed to escape, use aluminum foil to cover the tops of each cup to prevent condensation from dripping into the cups. You can also wrap a large clean tea towel around the steamer lid to contain the condensation from the steaming.
  8. Insert a wooden toothpick to check if it has cooked through. They are ready if clear juice comes out.
  9. Serve warm.

Shiitake mushroom chawanmushi

Congee (rice porridge: 白粥) with pork and salted egg


Congee

Congee

Congee

Congee

(mum’s version always has dried scallops for added sweetness)

Congee

Congee

Congee and fried dough. 白粥油炸鬼

The story behind this dish speaks to one of the foundational dishes of the Chinese culture, which is my heritage.

Congee (pronounced as ‘jook’ in Cantonese), is jasmine rice boiled down till soft, much like porridge. There used to be a shop selling congee at every Hong Kong street, and the good ones will have queues from early in the morning.

A good Hong Kong style congee can be described as creamy with a consistency similar to a thick soup. It should neither be runny or gloopy. There is a good amount of water, yet it isn’t watery. The grains should have broken down and not be wholly visible.

This can be eaten as any meal of the day, and is our go-to when we feel under the weather or needing a bit of a detox after big meals.

The variation to the congee is in the food you add to it. Mince, chicken, squid, dried scallops, fish and fried dough… Whatever you like.

My favourite is a very simple salted pork shoulder. The pork shoulder is marinated with a generous amount of salt and Chinese wine and this is cooked in the rice congee. When it’s done, the meat is pulled apart and eaten with condiments all mixed in with the congee.

This is what my mum cooks for me whenever I was sick, whenever we’ve returned home from our travels. Since I have lived apart from my parents for the last 20ish years, it’s a dish that always reminds me of her loving care. It’s also a meal that my NZ-born daughter loves and I hope she will one day master it. Ironically it only took a week-long hospital stay for me to finally write this recipe down…

Ingredients

  • 3/4 jasmine or long grain rice
  • 6 cups of water (more to adjust thickness)
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • (or for a quick version, use left over cooked rice that has been frozen)
  • 400g pork shoulder
  • 1 tbsp chinese shaoxing wine
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 8 cups of water

Toppings

  • Fried shallots
  • Spring onions
  • Fried dough 油炸鬼
  • Crispy fish skin
  • Seaweed paste (Japanese)
  • Salted egg 咸蛋(see recipe at the end. Duck eggs is traditionally used, but substitute with chicken eggs if you can’t find duck eggs. )
  • Preserved egg 皮蛋(preserved with a mixture of clay, ash, salt, quick lime and rice hulls for several weeks.)

Instructions

  1. Marinade meat with chinese wine and salt over night.
  2. Rinse rice and drain slightly. Place in a small bowl and sprinkle the salt over rice grains and mix in oil. Add just enough water to cover the grains. Set aside for 20 mins. This helps the grains break down faster and congee will later cook quicker (reach the right creaminess faster).
  3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the soaked rice, which should have developed cracked lines along the grains, into the boiling water.
  4. Keep it at a rolling boil for 10 minutes, stiring often. Turn it down to a medium boil, and cook for a further 5-10 minutes. The rice grains should have puffed up and slightly broken down by now.
  5. Add the meat, and let it simmer for 1.5 hours. Remember to stir often to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom (this is easier if you have a thermos cooker or crock pot, where it keeps the hot temperature of the pot inside another capsule, so that the food continues to cook without needing to stand by the stove).
  6. Check for creaminess often, adding water if it becomes too thick.
  7. Remove pork and shred to small pieces. Set aside.
  8. Place ladles of hot congee into bowls, add shredded pork and serve with toppings.
  9. If you want to have other protein like beef slices, chicken thigh pieces, fish or squid: instead of the shredded pork, you can cook your protein towards the end. I usually have a second pot ready and when the big pot of plain congee is ready, I will scooop half of that into the second pot and cook the meat in it. That way I will always have some plain congee as the base for a second flavour.

To make Salted eggs:

  1. First find a jar that will fill 8 eggs.
  2. Remove the eggs and fill the jar with water half way.
  3. Pour the water in a pan and add enough salt to make a saturated salt solution i.e. Where it has so much salt dissolved in, it can’t dissolve anymore. That’s when you see salt crystals still appear with lots of mixing. You may need 500g salt at least.
  4. Warm the salt solution up on the stove, with 2 tea bags and 3 tbsp of shaoxing wine. Let it cool.
  5. Place eggs into jar and pour the cooled salt solution in. Make sure eggs are completely submerged with liquid and doesn’t float up. You may have to put a small plate in the hold the eggs down. Close lid and place in a dark corner or the pantry for 30 to 40 days.
  6. Cook by boiling the eggs in hot water for 8 minutes. Shell and serve with congee.
  7. The salted yolk can be used to make the glutinous wrapped parcels too.

Soba noodles with a Basil, Cardamom and Coriander lime sauce


Soba noodles with Basil, Coriander, Cardamon, garlic and lime dressing

Soba noodles with Basil, Coriander, Cardamon, garlic and lime dressing

Soba noodles with Basil, Coriander, Cardamon, garlic and lime dressing

Soba noodles with Basil, Coriander, Cardamon and lime vinegrette

A few weeks ago I went to a pottery workshop in beautiful Titirangi, Auckland New Zealand. They served a delightful vegetarian lunch and one of the dishes served was from Yotam Ottenlenghi‘s SIMPLE. The cookbook is filled with really easy recipes and after tasting this soba dish, I just had to remake it at home.

My recipe below is an adaptation of the original recipe, as J is allergic to pistachios and avocados are out of season. We also don’t have Nigella seeds so have used chilli flakes instead. This is optional.

Love the tanginess of the lime, but mostly, I am blown away by the cardamom. Feel free to up the cardamom quantities, I have been quite liberal with it myself! You should have left over dressing with the quantities below, which is great stored in a jar for a second meal.

Ingredients

  • 250g buckwheat soba noodles
  • ½ tsp of cardamom seeds, crushed in a mortar and pestle
  • 35g (1 cup) basil leaves, roughly chopped
  • 35g (1 cup) coriander leaves, roughly chopped
  • 3 limes: slightly press and roll limes on the bench surface. Finely grate for 2 tsp zest, then juice to get 80ml.
  • Extra lime, cut into 4 wedges, to serve
  • 5 tbsp olive or avocado oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 drops of garlic essence (optional)
  • 1 red or green chilli, deseeded and finely sliced (optional)
  • 2 ripe avocados, deseeded and cut into thin slices (optional)
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes (optional), to sprinkle over
  • 1 tsp salt

Instructions

  1. Cook the noodles according to the instructions on the packet.
  2. Once cooked, drain into a colander and rinse under cold running water. Set aside in the colander to drain well.
  3. Crush the cardamom seeds in a mortar and pestle (if using pods, open for seeds and discard the outer husks).
  4. Place the crushed cardamom seeds in a mixing jug with the basil, coriander, lime zest and juice, oil, garlic, chilli, avocado (if using) and 1 tsp salt.
  5. Place noodles in a large mixing bowl and pour dressing in. Mix everything together well, taste and add more seasoning if needed.
  6. Serve platter style. Sprinkle over the chilli flakes, if using, and serve with a wedge of lime.

Soba noodles with Basil, Coriander, Cardamon, garlic and lime dressing