Auntie Jane's Potato Gratin: A Singaporean Christmas Casserole

Chinese new year may belong to my grandmother, she of the legendary pineapple tarts. And my Koh family aunties, a stalwart group of women who make mooncakes rather than buy them each year, may own the Mooncake Festival. But Christmas — that will always, always be my Auntie Jane’s holiday.

In Singapore, where Christmas is typically celebrated by people of all races and religions — largely as a secular festival, one squarely centered on getting together to eat and exchange gifts — my family, representing a jumble of religions in itself, would do the same. It didn’t matter whether you were Buddhist, Protestant, Catholic or Jewish — we were united on Christmas Day in our quest to eat well, share gifts and sing along to cheeseball Christmas carols.

The venue for these celebrations was usually my Auntie Jane’s — she always had a beautiful tree, a wonderfully decorated home complete with holiday cards she had received fashioned into a 2-D Christmas tree plastered onto a wall and a large buffet table topped with turkey and ham, fried rice and noodles.

The one dish we truly looked forward to, however, was a potato gratin she whipped together just once a year — filled with sliced chipolata, a skinny British sausage that’s packed with seasonings, mushrooms, onions and potatoes, this gratin was a meal in itself. (And it’s usually a hit with even the pickiest of child eaters.)

Despite my fondness for it, this gratin was yet another family dish that I’d taken for granted and never attempted to make. But when my Let’s Lunch group, a monthly Twitter-fueled virtual lunch-date, decided on sharing a holiday dish from your family or culture this month, I decided it was high time I gave my Auntie Jane’s recipe a shot…

[Read more…]

Spicy Pickled Beets: Holiday Crunch


IMG_6669

I've had the great fortune of not having to worry about making my own lunch recently.

Up in the woods of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., I wake up every day to breakfast and a prepared lunchbox, courtesy of a precious place that graciously gives artists (and misfits like me) space, time and food to create. (You can donate to the cause here. No, really. DO IT.)

I haven't forgotten my Let's Lunch friends, though — so, just for a day, I'm coming out of seclusion to share a recipe for a holiday side that's a true knockout: Spicy pickled beets …

[Read more…]

Pfeffernüsse: Victory Sweets

IMG_4478 

My mother called the other day, saying she’d been thinking it was time for a change.

Time, specifically, to take down the massive German flag that’s been hanging in my girlhood bedroom in Singapore since the 1990 World Cup. (And the discovery of the wonder that is Jurgen Klinsmann.)

There were protestations, of course — the Germans were doing well in this year’s World Cup. They might win it all again! Why jinx things by folding up my precious flag?

That point, of course, is moot right now. After getting trounced by the Spanish earlier this week, the Germans take to the field today — not to fight for the World Cup. Instead, third place is theirs — if they’re lucky.

Now, when I’m stressed or depressed, I tend to storm the kitchen. So, what to make for this occasion?

“Time to write about some octopus recipes!” my friend Kevin suggested. (Given that I don’t sanction the rallying cry to grill Paul the Psychic Octopus, who predicted, to his German aquarium’s dismay, that Spain would knock Germany out of the semi-finals, I decided to ignore this.)

Something more humane, perhaps. Cookies, for example, seemed harmless enough.

And Martha Stewart had just the recipe …

[Read more…]

Debal: A Devil of a Curry


Deb

If you’re still staring at a fridge full of Christmas ham, roast beef or turkey, here’s something you can do with all those leftovers — make debal.

The dish, a traditional spicy stew that Eurasians in Singapore make on Boxing Day, is a kitchen-sink concoction made with the myriad leftover meats of Christmas feasts. It’s a classic dish in Eurasian cuisine, which developed in the 19th Century when European traders began migrating to Singapore and marrying into local families. Debal combines cooked hams and roast beef with spicy Southeast Asian chilis and ginger.

I spent a few hours last week learning how to make debal (pronounced “dee-bahl” and also known as curry devil or devil’s curry) from chef Damian D’Silva of Big D’s Grill for a piece for The Atlantic.

The process is fairly laborious — you’ll need to be stirring constantly for at least two hours. But the end result is out of this world.

Here’s how to do it …

[Read more…]