After his father, a home cook, died 15 years ago, Lloyd Matthew Tan made it his mission to put together a cookbook compiling recipes from his family.
That resolve picked up pace in the last two years and the Peranakan cookbook author's dream has finally come to fruition.
Last month, Tan, who is in his late 40s, released his debut 240-page cookbook called Daily Nonya Dishes - Laok Hari Hari: Heritage Recipes For Everyday Meals.
Unlike cookbooks that showcase more festive dishes such as ayam buah keluak, bakwan kepiting (pork and crab meatballs soup), and babi pongteh, he chose to highlight everyday dishes that he cooks at home.
So there are recipes in the book for ayam goreng tauyu ladah manis (fried chicken with sweet black soya sauce and pepper); babi tempra (pork in tangy soya sauce); gerago goreng tepong (krill fritters); and telor dadair empat daon (four-herb egg omelette).
The book - published by Landmark Books - also gives a comprehensive guide to ingredients and tools and there are plenty of heartwarming stories about each dish.
As he prepares the spicy dish of sambair kim chiam (Baba Malay for dried lily bud salad with coconut cream) - a recipe from his late mother - the bachelor regales The Sunday Times with his stories.
The salad is usually made with banana buds instead of dried lily buds, he says. However, for home cooks, dried lily buds are an easier option as they do not have to clean out the stamen and sap from the banana buds.
As he deftly knots each lily bud for the dish, he says: "The elder Peranakan women would tell me that the buds must be knotted. If not, when you die, your soul will lose its way.
"But more importantly, if you don't knot them, the ends will tend to fray when cooked."
Using belimbing (a small, tart fruit from the starfruit family) in the salad is optional as he notes that the fresh fruit is difficult to find, especially in the current wet season.
So, to add tartness to the salad, add more lime juice, suggests Tan, who used to work at the Popular Bookstore chain in merchandising before he quit to look after his mother. She died in February.
Other dishes close to his heart include buboh udang, a hearty prawn porridge he grew up eating. It is cooked with prawn and pork stock and is loaded with ingredients such as tau kwa, pork belly and prawns.
The book also features traditional dishes that have almost vanished, including babi moro (pork with fermented soya beans and red onions) and buah paya masak titik (papaya and prawns in spicy gravy).
Tan's interest in cooking started after his O levels and his parents would tell him to observe them cooking.
"They would just say, 'Look at what we do.' My mum was very particular about the way things should be done. My dad was more experimental, especially with kuehmaking," he says.
Tan is still busy perfecting his kueh recipes - which is why they are not in the cookbook.
On the struggle to perfect his kueh kosui recipe, he says: "I'm using an old recipe where the measurements are made using rice bowls. The flavour may be there, but the texture is still not right."
Continuing the discussion about kueh, he talks about how it is difficult to find quality handmade kueh that taste of yesteryear.
He says: "When you eat kueh salat outside, many recipes use flour to achieve the cake-like texture. My mother used only eggs and she would steam it over a low flame for more than two hours to ensure the eggs set without sinking.
"The art of kueh is totally lost. Let's not lose the food too."
SAMBAIR KIM CHIAM (DRIED LILY BUD SALAD WITH COCONUT CREAM)
100g dried lily buds
1/2 tsp salt
6 belimbing or kamias (optional)
1 red chilli
200g white grated coconut for 150ml of coconut cream (or use 200ml coconut cream from a packet)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp pepper
For the dressing:
8 calamansi limes
1 Tbs sugar
2 Tbs sambal belacan
1. Knot the lily buds individually (above) and snip off the hard ends with a pair of scissors. Rinse the buds a few times and leave to soak in a bowl of tap water.
2. Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add 1/2 tsp of salt and bring it to a boil again.
3. Place the lily buds in the water and simmer for five minutes or until they are soft but retain a bite. Then drain the buds and plunge them in a bowl of ice-cold water. Strain and gently squeeze the buds dry. Set aside.
4. Slice off both ends of the cucumber. Use the cut portions to rub the ends of the cucumber in a circular motion to draw the white, foamy sap out (above). This is to ensure the cucumber is not bitter.
5. Slice a bit more off each end, then rinse and peel the cucumber.
6. Cut the cucumber crosswise into 5cm pieces. Thinly slice the sides lengthwise and avoid slicing the core, which is meant to be discarded.
7. Arrange the slices into stacks and cut into matchstick-size pieces. Soak in ice water and set aside.
8. Cut off and discard both ends of the belimbing. Slice the belimbing thinly crosswise and set aside.
9. Peel and rinse the shallots and slice thinly crosswise. Set aside. Cut the chilli crosswise into 3cm lengths. Remove the seeds, then cut into matchstick-size pieces. Soak in ice water and set aside.
10. Put the grated coconut into a mixing bowl. Using your hands, squeeze and rub the coconut about 10 times. Leave it to rest for five minutes. Then, wrap the coconut in a muslin cloth and squeeze to get 150ml of coconut cream.
11. Pour the coconut cream into a pot and bring to a simmer over low heat. Add 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp sugar. Stir until the salt and sugar have dissolved, then allow the coconut cream to cool.
12. To prepare the prawns, wash them and mix them with the pepper. Place on a dish to steam in a steamer or wok.
13. When the water in the steamer comes to a boil, steam the prawns for five to eight minutes.
14. Remove and peel the prawns when they have cooled, then slice them in half and remove the intestinal tract. Set the prawns aside.
15. To assemble the salad: Cut the calamansi limes in half and squeeze the juice into a mixing bowl. Add the juice and sugar to the sambal belachan and mix well. Mix in half the coconut cream.
16. Add the cucumber, lily buds and most of the sliced chilli to the mixing bowl. Toss the salad and scoop onto a plate.
17. Garnish with the belimbing, prawns and remaining chilli.
18. Drizzle the rest of the coconut cream over and serve immediately.
Serves two to four
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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