Popiah: Singaporean Summer Rolls, Just Like Grandma Made

I’ve been thinking a lot about popiah, a Singaporean-style summer roll, recently — not just because temperatures have been creeping up in New York City and the foods of my tropical native country are starting to beckon once again.

As you may know, I’ve been on a bit of a book publicity blitz with the February publication of “A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family.” And in all the interviews and signings I’ve done, popiah — a roll filled with ingredients such as julienned jicama, shrimp, shallots, tofu — has been a recipe that has come up frequently.

It’s a roll my grandmother used to make when I was growing up in Singapore — and it’s one that I crave in the U.S. as you don’t see it often on restaurant menus. Because it’s light, a little spicy and the filling has a nice crunch to it, it’s the perfect snack food or appetizer for warm weather — in Singapore, people often have popiah parties in which the filling, summer roll skins and various condiments are set out and guests mill about, casually making their own rolls whenever they feel like eating one.

During my research for the book, however, I made sure to learn how my grandmother and chef Simpson (of Cafe Asean in New York) make theirs — so when my Let’s Lunch group of virtual lunch buddies decided on small spring bites for our March date, popiah immediately sprang to mind …

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Burgers: A Marriage of Shrimp & Tofu


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I now appear to have a regular lunch date with a gregarious bunch of new friends.

We love to cook and we love talking about cooking — so this little thing about never having met hasn’t exactly stood in the way of our growing friendships.

It all began with a lazy Sunday morning conversation on Twitter when three women, one in Paris, one in San Diego, and one in New York, started craving BLT sandwiches. That blossomed into our first intercontinental BLT lunchdate, which nudged us to new levels of creativity.

Ellise in Paris made a beautiful BLT with chipotle mayonnaise and Poilane bread and Karen in Atlanta created a mouthwatering grilled fontina cheese BLT. Nicole in San Diego actually baked a truly unusual Basque sheepherder’s bread for her BLT. (You’ve got to check out Nicole’s sheepherder’s bread pictures — it was a yeasty architectural wonder if I ever saw one.)

Our virtual lunch left us (temporarily) sated — but hungry for more.

So, for our next lunch, we decided to tackle another standard: Burgers.

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