Sardinian Seadas: A Sweet Souvenir

Sardinian seadaCooking wasn’t much on my mind when I first arrived in Sardinia five weeks ago. Learning Italian, yes. Writing, yes. Expunging the recent stresses of New York and beyond, yes. That’s what I’d come to do.

But Sardinia and its charms instantly beguiled me, its platters of pane gutiau (a traditional flatbread drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt and baked to crackling deliciousness), spicy mussels and garlicky fried shrimp reeling me in ever deeper.

In Alghero, I’ve had the great fortune of not only eating tremendously well but also having terrific food gurus to watch in the kitchen. Among them is a lovely soul — Angelina Demartis, a local high school teacher who comes from a long line of Algherese women who have taken great joy in cooking well and feeding the ones they love.

Angelina occasionally holds cooking class dinners at her home in downtown Alghero and one night, I got to be a part of one of them. Which is how I came to discover the intense pleasure that is Sardinian seadas.

So when my hardy Let’s Lunch club decided on sharing a recipe they’ve brought back with them from faraway travels, Angelina’s seadas instantly came to mind …

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Mum’s Pork & Chinese Yam Soup: Rejuvenating the Soul

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In 1993, Straits Times editor Felix Soh gave a teenage news intern a tip that an illegal puppy mill might be operating in Singapore and said, “Check it out.”

After some digging and a little undercover work, a story ran that drew swift justice — authorities instantly shut down the mill, which had been keeping dozens of dogs in the most deplorable conditions. And I’ve been hooked on journalism ever since.

Felix, the man who walked and talked faster than anyone I know and had an infectious child-like glee whenever he smelled a good story, was the best first editor, teacher, mentor and friend that anyone could have — he taught me how to write a news story, never to be afraid to ask the tough question and pushed me to always, always be both curious and skeptical. I would not be where I am today without him.

It was with great shock and sadness that I learned Felix had suddenly passed away last week. I had just arrived back in Singapore for a visit and had been thinking of checking in. Although it’s been over 20 years since I was his intern, Felix has always been something of a journalism father figure to me and I greatly treasured the catchup lunches he’d managed to squeeze into his busy schedule.

Felix and I shared many things in common — a big passion for newspapering, the same birthday and most of all, a love for good food. During our lunches, he was always trying to teach me something about food, whether it was taking me to a new terrific Hainanese chicken rice joint or savoring foie gras chawanmushi at the Shangri-La’s Nadaman, an upscale Japanese restaurant he knew I likely wouldn’t have tried as as a college student because I simply could not have afforded it.

While I can’t make either of those dishes, I did want to share a recipe for the memorial-themed Let’s Lunch that my online cooking club was doing this month. This Chinese soup is not a tribute to Felix in the sense that we never enjoyed this dish together. Rather, it’s what my mother whips up whenever she thinks I’ve had a trying time and need a little pick me up.

And so after returning from paying our last respects to my old boss, this ensued …

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Red Wine Beef Stew: Warming The Home

IMG_6416Home and the warmth and security of it have been on my mind recently. After 10 years in an apartment I love in New York City, I’m finally moving out — where to? It’s hard to say.

When I look back on the years and think about what I’ve adored about this little Brooklyn pad, there are far too many things to list. But I do know that what started to make it feel like a home when I first moved in was that moment after all the boxes were unpacked and the dishes put away, when I could finally pull out my pots and make a good meal for me and the Ex.

So when my Let’s Lunch group decided on the topic of “housewarming” for our virtual lunch date this month — in honor of HapaMama‘s new kitchen finally getting done — I started getting hungry for a comforting, hearty dish that would truly make me feel at home in any new place.

What to make? Well, how about a classic? And so, red wine beef stew it was …

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Gingery Chicken & Bok Choy Noodle Soup: A Winter’s Bowl

IMG_6393If I had to name one food I absolutely could not live without, it would have to be noodles.

I ate noodles almost daily as a child in Singapore, then craved it daily when I moved to the U.S. many years later. And once cold weather hits? Forget about any other dish — I make myself a hot bowl of noodle soup at least once a day, for dinner, lunch and yes, even breakfast.

In a recent Wall Street Journal interview I did with Kenshiro Uki of Sun Noodles, which has supplied noodles to some of the country’s best noodle joints (Momofuku included), he said that a bowl of noodle soup is, in a way, the perfect, all-encompassing meal. Calling it “the ultimate bistro dish,” Uki explains, “in a bistro, you start out with a soup or salad, then you have starches, protein and vegetables—a bowl of ramen is all of that together in a bowl.”

In my Brooklyn kitchen, unless I have just five minutes for a meal, I insist on making my noodle soups from scratch — once you have certain ingredients on hand (garlic, ginger, scallions, good organic broth and perhaps seaweed, dashi or quality miso), this is a fairly easy and quick process. And it’s one you can endlessly experiment with — add some Japanese seven-spice powder one day perhaps, or toss in some kim chi the next.

So when my international Let’s Lunch club decided on sharing a noodle dish for this month, the topic wasn’t hard. I just had to choose which one of my daily experiments to share…

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Sayur Lodeh (Malay Vegetable Stew): Firing Things Up

IMG_6337It’s been a harrowing weather week here in New York City — especially for those of us who were spawned in the tropics.

With temperatures in the teens and 20s (and windchill dipping well below zero occasionally), this Singaporean transplant has never been more miserable. But with each gash of wind battering my cheeks, the thing that’s kept me going is one thought: Something hot and soupy — preferably with a little spicy kick to it.

Soup noodles are always terrific, but stews — now that’s a meal that has some heft for these climes. What to make? A surprising choice, actually, for anyone who’s read “A Tiger in the Kitchen” or this blog and knows what a carnivore I am.

But if you’ve ever tasted sayur lodeh (pronounced sy-yer loh-day), a heady Malay vegetable curry that’s fiery with a tinge of sweetness, you’ll know why it came to mind when my intrepid Let’s Lunch crew decided to whip up some stews for our January virtual lunch date …

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