Kueh Lapis Sagu

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Today is the end of Ramadan, the fasting month for my Malay friends and to mark this Hari Raya day, I made a Peranakan delicacy called Steamed Kueh Lapis Sagu. When I was growing up in Singapore, every Hari Raya my next door neighbor, a Malay family, would spruce up their home with new curtains and rugs, wax and polish their terrazo floor to a beautiful shine and host a traditional “open house” at their home for all their friends and neighbors. The highlight for me is always the food – the explosively flavorful and tender beef rendang, the crispy prawn crackers and the many beautiful home-made Peranakan kuehs (cakes) which they served to their guests. There are many kinds of kuehs – the white and green Kueh Salat, the coconut-palm sugar pancake called Kueh Dadar, the round balls bursting with flavor called Ondeh-ondeh and the rainbow-hued Kueh Lapis Sagu. Made from coconut milk and pandan leaves, Kueh Lapis Sagu is delightfully fragrant and beautiful to look at.  Depending on the skill (and patience) of the cook, sometimes it comes in layers of purple, red, pink, yellow, green and white but often times it is only in layers of green, white and pink. Its Chinese name is “9 Layer Cake” (九层糕) because it is supposed to have 9 layers of the different colors.

Like many children of my generation, I enjoyed the game of eating Kueh Lapis Sagu by gently peeling the layers off one by one to see how many layers I could peel off without breaking the kueh, savoring every bite as I work my way through each layer.

When I lived overseas, for many years I had missed eating this kueh. Recently, my friend Janet shared her recipe with me and to my surprise, the kueh is really quite easy to make… but it does take quite a bit of patience because it has to be steamed one layer at a time – definitely, a labor of love!

Ingredients:

3/4 cup rice flour
1 and 1/4 cup tapioca flour
1 and 1/4 cup sugar
3 cups coconut milk
1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
red food coloring
green food coloring
green pandan paste
pandan essence

Method:

  • Mix all the ingredients and stir well. Gently sieve the batter to get rid of clumps.
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  • Divide the batter into 3 portions:

Red (add 1/8 tsp red coloring to the batter)
Green (add 1/8 tsp green pandan paste to the batter)
White (add 1/8 tsp clear pandan essence to the batter)

  • Lightly rub cooking oil on the base and sides of a square or oblong glass casserole dish. (A glass dish allows you to see that the layers have even thickness. The casserole dish has to be deep enough to make 9 layers of kueh)
  • Steam each layer for 5 mins on high heat. Wait for each layer to be fully cooked before you add a new layer.
  •  Color sequence for the layers: green, white, red
  •  Wait for the kueh to cool completely before cutting into slices. Tip: If the kueh is too difficult to cut, gently grease your knife with cooking oil.

Note: Each layer is supposed to be of the same thickness. As you can see from the first picture, my layers were of uneven thickness. I started out with the good intention of making 9 layers of uniform thickness. The steaming process got a bit tedious and as I was rushing to run an errand, I shortened my cooking time by pouring on progressively thicker layers of batter, ending up with only 7 layers but it was still very delicious.

Bubur Cha Cha

Bubur Cha Cha is a popular dessert in Southeast Asian countries like Singapore and Malaysia.  It is beautiful to look at and fun to make. This colorful dessert is made of miniature cubes of sweet potato and taro, delicate pearls of sago and chewy glutinous balls swimming in a fragrant coconut cream.

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Ingredients:

1 sweet potato
1 small taro (optional)
1 package (200 g) coconut cream or coconut milk
1 cup water
2-3 Tbsp sugar (or approx 40 g rock sugar, crushed into small pieces)
1/2 cup glutinous rice flour
1/4 cup sago
1 pandan leaf, washed and tied into a knot
red food coloring
green food coloring

Method:

  1.  Wash and scrub the sweet potato and steam it for 15 minutes or until it is cooked.  Test for done-ness by pricking it with a fork. It should feel soft but not so soft that it falls apart when you cut it. Leave it to cool, then peel and discard the skin. Cut it into small cubes and put aside.
  2. Prepare the taro cubes in the same manner as outlined in step 1.
  3. While waiting for the sweet potato and taro to be cooked and cubed, prepare the glutinous balls. Mix 1/2 cup of glutinous rice flour with 6 Tbsp water.  The mixture should not be so IMG_8092wet that it sticks to your fingers when you pinch a small amount between your fingers.  If it is too wet, add a bit more glutinous rice flour to the mixture.
  4. Divide the glutinous rice flour dough into 2 equal sized portions.  Put each portion of dough into a small bowl.  Add a drop of green food coloring to the first bowl and add 1-2 drops of red food coloring to the second bowl.  Mix well. Pinch a small amount of the dough and roll it into a small ball and put aside on a plate. IMG_8093(Note: You may wish to make other kinds of colored dough eg for purple or yellow balls. In some Asian supermarkets, you may be able to purchase frozen and ready-made miniature colored glutinous rice balls but I think it is a fun family activity to make them yourself! 🙂
  5. Bring a saucepan of water to boil.  Add in all the glutinous balls and cook until they float to the top, about 3 mins.  Remove from the stove and put aside.
  6. Cook the sago in a small saucepan of boiling water for about 10 mins, stirring it constantly so that it does not stick together. The sago is cooked when most of the sago pearls are transparent.  A small amount of sago pearls may have some white bits in the center but it is ok as they will be cooked again in step 8.  Strain the sago into a bowl of cold water to prevent them from sticking together into a lump.   Put aside the bowl of sago sitting in cold water.
  7.  Add 2-3 Tbsp sugar or crushed rock sugar to 1 cup of water and a pandan leaf tied into a knot into a saucepan. Stir and boil the mixture until all the sugar is melted, for about 2 -3 mins.   Add in the coconut milk, stir and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and remove the pandan leaf  from the pot.  IMG_8097
  8. Stir in the sweet potato cubes, taro cubes and glutinous rice balls. Drain the sago pearls and discard the cold water. Stir the sago pearls into the mixture. Turn off the stove to prevent overcooking.
  9. Serve hot or cold. This recipe is good for 4 persons.

Notes:

  • Some people like to add in small cubes of cantaloupe or agar agar jelly for extra variety, color and texture.
  • Pandan leaf is used to infuse a fragrant smell. It is commonly grown in Southeast Asian countries and it is available in the local markets. You may find it in the frozen foods section in some Asian supermarkets in western countries.

 

 

 

 

Apple and Pear Crumble

I moved countries and have not updated my blog in months.  You know how it is, you move to a different place and it takes forever to get back into a routine.  I actually have been cooking and taking lots of photos so I have a huge backlog of stuff.  I can’t promise but I am going to be more diligent in posting in the next few weeks.

Now I am back to living in Singapore – in an apartment where I have an oven again.  I can’t even begin to describe how much I had missed baking.  It is not just about making cookies or banana bread, but the sheer joy of sitting down to a quick meal of baked chicken when I don’t have time to chop up bits of vegetables or slice meat for a Chinese stir fry.   Not to mention the ability to prepare a home-cooked turkey for Thanksgiving or Christmas.

The first thing I did was to make a crumble with apples and pears.  This is a wonderful dessert and fun to make.    Watching and waiting for the crisp buttery shortbread crust to turn a golden brown, I can’t wait to polish off  the whole lot.   It is that good!

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For the crumble:

220 g plain flour

140 g sugar

120 g butter, chopped into small cubes

For the filling:

2 pears – peeled, cored and sliced

2 apples – peeled, cored and sliced

2 Tbsp sugar

80 ml water

Method:

1.  Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

2. To make the crumble, put the flour and sugar into a large bowl and mix well.  Rub the flour and butter using your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

3.  Arrange the pear and apple slices in a baking dish.  Sprinkle the sugar over it.  Pour water into the dish.

4.  Spoon the crumble on top, spreading it right up to the edges of the dish.  Using the back of the spoon to press it firmly down – the more tightly packed it is, the crisper it will be.

5.  Run a fork lightly over the surface to “crumble” the top.

6.  Bake in the oven for 40 minutes or until the crumble is browned and the fruit mixture is bubbling.

7.  Serve with vanilla ice cream.  Enjoy!