From curry devil and sugee cake to pies with meatballs and sausages topped with crusty puff pastry, a Eurasian Christmas is often a bountiful banquet.
Other dishes include ham, salads, roast meats, shepherd's pie and feng, a pig offal curry. Even tedious-to-make snacks such as pang susie - buns with spiced pork filling - make an appearance.
For many Eurasians, Christmas is a time when families get together to celebrate over food.
Some tuck into supper in the wee hours of Christmas morning, while others enjoy all-day feasts on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
According to the last Census of Population in 2010, there are about 15,500 Eurasians in Singapore.
The Sunday Times talks to five chefs and home cooks about their Eurasian Yuletide food traditions. Here are some of their families' treasured Christmas recipes.
PANG SUSIE MADE WITH HIS LATE FATHER'S RECIPE
Who: Quentin Pereira, 45, chef-owner of Quentin's The Eurasian Restaurant at The Eurasian Association in Ceylon Road
Pang susie, also known as pang susi, is a popular Eurasian snack.
The sweet potato bun, which has a flavourful spiced pork filling, is usually eaten for afternoon tea and at social gatherings over Easter and Christmas.
Chef Quentin Pereira's version is an adaptation of his late father's recipe. His father, Robin, an avid cook with a large repertoire of dishes, died on Boxing Day last year after spending Christmas Day with family. This will be the Pereiras' first Christmas without him.
Like many other Eurasian families, Christmas festivities for the family start with a home-cooked supper at a sibling's home - there are six children in the family, all of whom are married with children. Their mother, Freda, a housewife, is 71.
When they were growing up, it was their father who did the cooking. This year, chef Pereira's eldest brother will prepare supper. It starts in the wee hours of the morning after midnight mass at church and usually includes dishes such as curry devil and pot roast beef.
The siblings then take turns to host festive gatherings at their homes in the lead-up to the new year.
- Butter for greasing baking trays
- For the dough
- 500g plain flour
- 11g (1 sachet) instant yeast, available at supermarkets and specialist baking shops such as Phoon Huat
- 100g sugar
- 125g butter
- 2 egg yolks
- 50ml evaporated milk
- 30ml brandy
- 400g cooked sweet potato, peeled and roughly mashed
For the spice mix:
- 10g black peppercorns
- 5g cinnamon stick
- 5g nutmeg
- 5g cloves
- 5g star anise
- For the filling:
- 4 Tbs vegetable oil
- 100g diced onion
- 600g minced pork
- 1 Tbs dark soya sauce
- 1 Tbs light soya sauce
- 1/2 Tbs sugar
- 1/4 Tbs salt, adjust to taste
- For the glaze
- 1 egg yolk
1. To make the dough: Sift the flour and yeast into a mixing bowl. Add the sugar.
2. Add butter and egg yolks. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour until the mixture is crumbly. Add the evaporated milk, brandy and sweet potato.
3. Mix well and knead gently to form a dough. Shape the dough into a ball. Cover the mixing bowl with a damp cloth. Leave it to rest and proof for at least one hour.
4. For spice mix: Grind the spices in a blender until they become a fine powder. Set aside.
5. For the filling: Heat oil in a pan set over medium heat. Add the onions and fry until they soften and become translucent, for about three minutes.
6. Add the pork, dark and light soya sauces, sugar, salt and 11/2 Tbs of the ground spice mix. Fry for about five minutes until the pork is cooked. Drain the oil and set aside.
7. After the dough has rested for an hour and when you are ready to make the buns, preheat the oven to 190 deg C. Grease three baking trays and set aside.
8. Divide the dough into about 40 to 50 balls of about 40g each.
9. Using your fingers, flatten a ball of dough into an oval, about 5 to 7mm thick.
10. Spoon one heaped Tbs of filling into the centre of flattened dough. Seal the bun by pinching the edges together. Repeat for the other buns.
11. Place the buns, pinched side down and 5cm apart, on a baking tray. Place the tray in the preheated oven.
12. After baking for about 13 minutes, remove the buns from the oven and glaze with egg yolk. Return them to the oven and bake for another two minutes or until golden brown.
Makes 40 to 50 buns
Pang susie is available for order at Quentin's The Eurasian Restaurant, $25 for one dozen. Order at least two days in advance.
RETIREE SERVES SUGEE CAKE TO 200 GUESTS ON CHRISTMAS DAY
Who: Ms Michelle Sandhu, 58, retired director in the hospitality industry
The iconic sugee cake is a Eurasian classic that is integral to celebrations. Ms Sandhu made 25 sugee cakes for her son's wedding last month and it was also her mother's 80th birthday cake.
Come Christmas Day, she will be serving sugee cake to about 200 people who go through her doors.
Born to a Eurasian mother and Indian father, Ms Sandhu's feast for Christmas Day is generally Eurasian-themed - with curry devil, feng, chicken pie and roast pork, along with chap chye and dry mutton curry.
On Christmas Eve, however, the mother of two sons sticks to the more Western tradition of having turkey, roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and bone-in ham.
Her sugee cake recipe is from her late grandmother, who used to sell the cakes for a living. She fondly recalls how her grandmother would fill the butter tins with the excess cake mixture and bake them as special treats.
Ms Sandhu says: "The beauty of the sugee cake is in the soaking of the semolina in the butter. It requires a lot of patience. I also use chopped, along with ground, almonds for that extra bite. I do it the way grandma did it."
- 300g fine semolina
- 520g Golden Churn butter, melted
- 300g fine sugar
- 7 egg yolks
- 100g ground skinless almonds
- 100g chopped skinless almonds
- 5 Tbs brandy
- 4 tsp vanilla extract
- 3 Tbs plain flour
- 3 tsp baking powder
- 7 egg whites
1. In a large mixing bowl, mix the semolina and melted butter. Set aside for a minimum of six hours or overnight and give the mixture a few stirs every 30 minutes or so, to ensure the semolina absorbs the butter evenly.
2. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 150 deg C. Line two loaf tins (20x12.5x7.5cm each) with parchment paper.
3. With an electric mixer, whisk the sugar and egg yolks on low speed for about five minutes, until the mixture turns pale and has a creamy texture.
4. As you continue whisking at low speed, add scoops of the soaked semolina and the ground and chopped nuts to the batter, in small amounts to ensure everything is thoroughly mixed.
5. With a spatula, fold the brandy and vanilla extract into the batter.
6. Sift the baking powder and flour into the batter, and fold in gently in one direction.
7. With the electric mixer, whisk the egg whites on high speed until you get stiff peaks. Then, fold the whisked egg whites gently into the mixture (above).
8. Pour equal amounts of the cake mixture into the loaf pans. Gently drop the cake tins on the table to remove air bubbles and to help even the cake mixture. Bake for 75 minutes or until the cakes start to shrink away from the parchment paper.
9. Carefully remove the cakes from the oven when baked and let them cool completely before removing from the loaf pan onto a wire rack.
10. You can store the cooled cake in a clean, air-tight container and eat within seven days. Or refrigerate it to keep for up to three weeks. Microwave a cold slice for 20 seconds before eating.
Makes two sugee cakes (in loaf tins) or one sugee cake (in 20x20cm tin, bake for 90 minutes)
DEBAL IS A CHRISTMAS STAPLE FOR CHEF
Who: Damian D'Silva, 61, executive chef of Folklore restaurant at Destination South Beach Road hotel
Debal, or curry devil, is one of the staples at chef Damian D'Silva's Christmas and Boxing Day feasts.
The Eurasian dish is very meat-centric - with ham, bacon bones, spare ribs and roast pork cooked for hours with rempah, mustard and vinegar - and is best eaten the day after cooking, when the flavours have infused into the meats.
There are two types of debal, explains D'Silva - a red version (see recipe) and a white version that uses chicken as well as pickles, which requires hours of dehydrating the vegetables in the sun.
The chef recalls how his grandfather cured the ham, by salting it as early as April, to be used in the dish.
His grandfather also liked to add roast goose, which D'Silva substitutes with roast duck.
For those who prefer a hotter debal - which is how the chef's family likes it - he recommends using a mix of dried chillies and Thai chilli padi. Potatoes can be added as well.
Other dishes on the Christmas table include sugee cake, feng and oxtail semur. These dishes - debal ($30++ dine-in, $32 nett takeaway), oxtail semur ($26++ dine-in, $28 nett takeaway), feng ($30++ dine-in, $32 nett takeaway) and sugee cake ($10++ dine-in; $54 nett, 1kg, takeaway) - are available at Folklore until Dec 31 (takeaway orders open until Dec 25, with a minimum order of four mains; order five days in advance).
But for D'Silva, the true spirit of Christmas is a tradition his sister started - to prepare a meal for a home, either for the elderly or underprivileged children.
He says: "We cook everything and take it to them and serve them. The smiles we see when we bring food to people - for me, that's Christmas."
DEBAL (CURRY DEVIL)
For the rempah
- 80g dried chillies, boiled in water, drained and stems removed
- 80g old ginger, skinned and chopped
- 300g shallots, peeled, topped and tailed
- 1 cup peanut or coconut oil
- 1kg Bombay onions, skinned, topped and tailed, and quartered
- 2kg pork spare ribs, cut into 7cm long 100g young ginger, skinned and finely julienned
- 1 litre water
- 5 smoked pork knuckles, cut each into 4 pieces
- 1kg smoked bacon bones, cut into 5cm long
- 1kg roast pork, cut into 2cm-thick pieces
- 10 to 12 Tbs rice vinegar
- 3 Tbs Colman's English mustard powder
- Salt to taste
1. Place ingredients for the rempah in a blender and blend until a fine paste is achieved. Set aside.
2. Heat the oil in a deep pot. Add the Bombay onions and saute for about 15 minutes until soft and slightly caramelised around the edges.
3. Add the rempah from step 1 and saute for about 20 minutes on medium heat.
4. Add the spare ribs and julienned ginger and cook for about 20 minutes on medium flame. If cooking liquid from the meats appear, cook it further until it is almost dry. Then, add 1 litre of water and cook for another 10 minutes.
5. Add the smoked pork knuckles and bacon bones.
6. When the skin on the pork knuckle is soft, the pork ribs should be cooked. To check, use a fork and pierce through the skin. Simmer for another 15 to 20 minutes before adding the roast pork.
7. In a small bowl, mix the vinegar with the English mustard and add this mixture to the pot and stir well.
8. Cook for another 10 minutes. Add salt to taste.
9. Serve with hot rice or baguette.
Serves 10 to 12
POT ROAST PORK EATEN HOT OR COLD
Who: Mrs Celine Zuzarte, 78, housewife
Pot roast pork, flavoured with soya sauce and spices including cinnamon, star anise and cloves, is a dish Mrs Celine Zuzarte has been cooking for more than 50 years. It complements other dishes such as curry because it is not as rich, says the housewife, who is married to retired teacher Frederick Zuzarte (both pictured), 77. The couple wed in 1964 and have four children and five grandchildren.
She learnt to make pot roast pork, a dish her late mother used to cook, from her late older sisters. "It's very simple and you can make it in advance and keep it in the fridge. You can leave it to cook while you do other things around the house, which is what I like about it."
Eat it hot and on its own, or cold, straight out of the fridge, sandwiched in crusty baguette.
Other dishes she cooks for Christmas include a pie with chicken, sausages, pork balls, mushrooms, ham and vegetables topped with a puff pastry crust; and a leg of ham cooked in beer and pineapple juice.
This year, she has also decided to make an Indian lamb masala curry instead of the usual curry devil. "When you cook curry devil every year, you get sick of it. We're going to have a change this year," she says with a smile.
POT ROAST PORK
- 2kg pork collar
- 2 Tbs salt
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil, plus 2 Tbs for frying the shallots
- 120g rock sugar, or more to taste
- 150g medium shallots, peeled and blended into a paste
- 1/4 cup dark soya sauce
- 1/4 cup light soya sauce
- 110g galangal, cut into large chunks and smashed
- 3 cinnamon sticks, about 7 to 8cm long
- 4 star anise
- 5 cloves
- About 1 litre of water
1. Rub the pork collar with salt, then rinse thoroughly. You may repeat this step if the pork still smells gamey. Drain and pat dry with paper towels and set aside.
2. Add 1/3 cup oil to a large, hot pot or wok set over medium-high heat. Add the rock sugar.
3. After about two to three minutes, when most of the rock sugar has dissolved, carefully slide the pork into the pot. Brown the pork on all sides until a dark caramel colour is achieved. This will take about six to eight minutes, depending on the size of the pork.
4. Meanwhile, add the remaining 2 Tbs oil into another pan set over medium heat. Fry the shallots until they are soft and translucent, and just beginning to caramelise. Take the pan off the heat and set aside.
5. When the pork is ready, scoop out excess oil from the pot so that the gravy will not be too oily.
6. Add both types of soya sauce, galangal and spices. Add 500ml of water. Stir and cover. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 75 minutes, until the pork is cooked through and sufficiently tender. The meat should still hold its shape and not fall apart when pierced with a fork.
6. Check on the pork every 10 to 15 minutes, stirring and turning the pork each time.
7. After about 30 minutes, add another 500ml of water. Stir. Continue to simmer.
8. After another 10 minutes, add the cooked shallots that had been set aside earlier. Mix well and continue to cook until the pork is tender. Adjust to taste with rock sugar and soya sauce.
9. When the pork is cooked, take it out of the pot and leave to rest for about 10 minutes before slicing. Strain the gravy and pour it into a separate bowl.
10. If preparing a day in advance, leave the pork to cool. Then, put it into a dish and cover it with plastic wrap. Refrigerate.
11. Slice the pork to serve. The dish can be eaten hot or cold.
FESTIVE FEASTING STARTS AT 2.30AM
Who: Kenneth Sebastian Francisco, 52, executive chef, Kitchen Language, the food and beverage arm of Far East Organization
For chef Kenneth Francisco, the annual Christmas feasting begins at about 2.30am, in the wee hours of Christmas morning. It starts after he and his siblings, and their families finish midnight mass at their respective churches and make their way to his home in Hillview.
The supper, which is attended by about 20 to 25 family members, ends when the sun rises at about 7am. The merriment begins again in the evening, with dinner at another sibling's home.
Traditional dishes that they tuck into for supper include gammon ham, roast pork with crackling, curry devil, a stew for the children and a shepherd's pie.
Chef Francisco's shepherd's pie is made with minced lamb, which is traditional for this dish, although these days many families substitute lamb with beef or chicken.
Christmas is a time to bond over food, says the second youngest of 11 children, who is married with three kids aged 18, 12 and nine. His wife, 42, is a training and development director with a hotel group.
"Christmas is all about family and extended family. It is about spending time together and everyone makes an effort to do that," he says.
For the mashed potato:
- 500g potatoes, peeled (Russet or other Idaho varieties)
- Water for cooking the potatoes
- Salt for the water
- 50ml milk
- 150g cold salted butter, cut into 3cm cubes
- 20g freshly ground black pepper
For the filling:
- 30ml canola oil
- 100g diced white onion
- 150g diced carrots
- 30g finely chopped garlic
- 500g minced lamb, seasoned with salt and pepper
- 50g all-purpose flour
- 50g tomato paste
- 60ml chicken stock
- 20ml Worcestershire sauce
- 10g fresh thyme
- 50g frozen peas, blanched
- Salt to taste
- Pepper to taste
1. Peel and wash the potatoes and roughly cut them into quarters. Put them into a pot and fill it with room-temperature water, making sure the potatoes are submerged. Salt the water.
2. Set the pot over medium high heat. Cover and bring it to a boil. Simmer for about 25 minutes. When the potatoes are tender and cooked through, drain the water and add the milk. Continue to simmer until most of the milk is absorbed.
3. Turn off the heat. Add the cold butter and mash the potatoes in the pot. Continue to mash and stir until a smooth texture is achieved. Season with pepper to taste. Set aside.
4. Preheat the oven to 180 deg C.
5. Set a pan over medium-high heat. Add canola oil. Once the oil is hot and starts to shimmer, add the onions and carrots. Saute for about three minutes, until the onions soften and the carrots begin to caramelise.
6. Add the garlic and stir to combine. Add the minced lamb and stir until it is cooked through, about three minutes.
7. Sprinkle flour on the meat and toss to coat. Continue to cook for another minute.
8. Add the tomato paste, chicken stock, Worcestershire sauce and thyme. Mix well.
9. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the sauce thickens slightly.
10. Add the peas to the lamb mixture. Stir well. Turn off the heat and spoon the mixture, spreading it out evenly, into a 2-litre casserole or oven-proof dish, about 30cm long and 17cm wide. You can also use a 23cm square dish. Fill the dish until it is about three-quarters full.
11. Spoon the mashed potato into a piping bag and pipe it over the filling (above). Start by piping around the perimeter of the dish and work your way towards the centre, eventually covering all the filling with mashed potato.
12. Place the pie in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, until the mash potato begins to brown.
13. Cool for about 10 to 15 minutes before serving.
Serves about six to eight people, when accompanied with other dishes.
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.