Vietnamese Steamed Clams with Lemongrass and Basil (Nghêu Hấp)

Since falling in love with Nghêu Hấp (Vietnamese steamed clams with lemongrass and basil) in Da Nang, I’ve been eager to replicate that delicious memory at home.

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“Nghêu” means shellfish and “Hấp” means steamed. I had my first taste of this delightful dish at Tucana Restaurant and it was sooooo delicious, we went back for a pot every day throughout our 4D3N stay in Da Nang.

So here’s my first attempt at Nghêu Hấp and I’m posting my recipe here because, not to toot my own horn, it turned out really well. I fell off my chair at how good it tasted!

INGREDIENTS

500g Fresh Clams (also known as “lala” in Singapore)

50g Ginger (sliced)

3 Stalks of Lemongrass

150ml Coconut Water

150ml Water

2 Green Chillies

2 Cloves of Garlic

1 Tablespoon of Fish Sauce

Dash of Pepper

Basil and Mint (amount according to preference)

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Fresh clams, lemongrass, small green chilli, garlic and ginger surrounded by a profusion of sweet basil and mint leaves.

PREPARATION & COOKING

1. Wash clams in clean water and soak them in the water for about 30 minutes.

2. Rinse the lemongrass, peel the garlic, slice and de-seed the green chillies, and peel and slice a small nose of ginger.

3. Split / crush the lemongrass, garlic and chilli by smashing them with the flat side of a cleaver. I don’t have a cleaver so I split them with a knife sharpening block.

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Lemongrass, garlic, and green chilli all smashed up with slices of ginger placed at the bottom of a medium-sized ceramic pot. Ceramic or otherwise, the pot must be suitable for cooking with direct fire. Add coconut water and water (about 300ml) to just cover all the base ingredients and bring to a boil.

4. Line the crushed items (lemongrass, garlic and chillies) and ginger at the base of a pot.

5. Pour in the coconut water and water (total of 300ml) into the pot, cover it and bring to a boil for 15 minutes.

6. Add in the tablespoon of fish sauce and dash of pepper.

7. Add in the clams and turn to low fire. Cover the lid and simmer. Although the dish says “steamed clams”, it is actually boiled clams.

8. Boil the clams for about eight minutes and turn off the fire. Then open the lid of the pot and add the basil and mint leaves. Cover the pot with the lid again and wait for about 3 minutes.

9. The clams would absorb the aroma of the base ingredients while getting infused with the fragrance of the herbs.

10. Now, open the lid and serve.

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My home-cooked version of the Vietnamese Steamed Clams (Nghêu Hấp). Total preparation and cooking time is about 30 minutes. The outcome may not be Instagram perfect, but it is super yums nonetheless. Success! 🙂

Nghêu Hấp has a delicate flavor where the steamed clams hint lightly of a fresh sea’s harvest with a refreshing note of earthy herbs. The light broth steeped with the essence of all the ingredients is where the magic is embodied in this dish.

Leave no drop un-savoured!

The Rise of Black Rice

Rice has the effect of garlic to vampires for any gym bunny trying to carve a 6-pack or those on a low-carb high protein diet to lose weight. I know, because I’m one of those carb adverse even though I love rice and the floury taste of banmian (板面).

So instead of giving up rice altogether, I’ve found an alternative to make the calories count with every mouthful by carbing on not white rice, but a mixture of grains and herbs to increase the nutritional value of my bowl.

Here’s an herbal rice blend I’ve experimented with that’s packed with more fibre, vitamins, minerals and higher protein content than regular white rice. And the added Chinese herbs have health promoting efficacies as well!

Ingredients for herbal rice : (left to right) Green Lentils (绿扁豆), Wolfberries (枸杞子), Brown Rice (糙米), Red Cargo Rice (红糙米), Black Rice (黑紫米), Dioscorea Opposita (淮山), and Angelica Sinensis (当归). Angelica Sinensis is not pictured here.

The ingredients sound exotic but they can all be found at local supermarkets in Singapore such as NTUC, Cold Storage, Giant and Sheng Siong with the exception of Black Rice which I bought from Mustafa Centre. If you can’t find the herbs at the supermarts, Chinese medicinal halls are bound to have them. The non-white rice varieties cost more than regular white grains with black rice being the most expensive (depending on brand, a 1kg pack of black rice costs around S$8 while white rice of the same weight costs between S$4 to S$6).

How to Cook : Simply wash all the grains and herbs and cook them together in a rice cooker. Cooking duration is approximately 30 minutes.

In terms of quantity, brown rice should form the bulk with red rice at half the amount used for brown and black rice at a quarter that used for brown. That is, if you used 40g of brown, then use 20g of red and 10g of black (use the same amount of lentils as black rice). But this is not cast in stone and you can vary the rice and lentils ratios according to preference.

For the herbs, use about a handful of wolfberries, 4 to 5 medium slices of dioscorea and 3 – 4 slices of angelica. Angelica has a very strong flavor so refrain from using too much or the resulting rice may taste bitter. Cut the dioscorea and angelica slices into tiny pieces to mix in better with the grains.

Once all the ingredients are in the rice cooker, add water. The water level should go slightly above the knuckles when you place your palm on the layer of rice and herbs. The more water you put, the softer the rice when cooked but too much and you will end up with a sticky rice mud.

Delicious and Healthy

The combination of nutty flavours from unpolished rice (brown and red) with the beany musk of lentils and aromatic fragrances of Chinese herbs gives the herbal rice a complex taste with a hint of bittersweetness.

You can Google each of the ingredients to read up on their health benefits but I would like to specially highlight the value of consuming black rice as more clinical research are uncovering the powerful antioxidant activity of this dark grain. Due to its scarcity, black rice was reserved and eaten only by emperors in ancient China, hence it is also known as the “Forbidden Rice”.

My first encounter with black rice was during a trip to the Yaeyama Islands, a group of islets off Okinawa, Japan. Residents on the Okinawan islands consume black rice and small bittergourd on a daily basis and the area has the highest number of centurions in the world. Many other factors definitely contribute to longevity but the Okinawans’ unique diet of black rice may be one of the key contributing ingredients.

Already, some health sites are calling black rice the new super food as it contains more vitamin E than brown rice and has higher anthocyanin content than blueberries, bestowing it with super antioxidant prowess that could potentially guard against a myriad of cardiovascular diseases, cancers and age-related conditions.

So the next time you have a carb crave, go black and don’t go back!

Day 326 : Prickly Pear Cactus Salad

Cactus, its very mention summons ouch to the brain. And it also spells F.O. to evil spirits for the plant’s purported power to banish paranormal mafia. Other than keeping cacti as hardy houseplants who are supposedly immune to death (I said ‘supposedly’ because I managed to kill quite a few despite their reputation for thriving with little care), the succulents never made it to our dinner tables.

But we do consume aloe vera don’t we? Yes, but aloe vera is not actually a cactus. It is a succulent plant like echeveria, agave. yucca and a whole lot of other fleshy arid species but the category of cactus has specific identification traits such as having spines (NOT thorns), pressence of areoles, and complex flowering structures. So technically, Singaporeans never tasted cactus. Until now…

Fresh Prickly Pear Cactus, a.k.a. nopal cactus, on sale at NTUC City Square Mall. Oh so exotic!

I was out playing Aunty Lucy during lunchtime today and came across these huge green oval paddles in the fruits and vegetables section. I thought the aliens have finally landed.

Upon closer examination, I was amused to find that they were actually cactus pads! Is internal acupuncture an upcoming health fad? Should I be swallowing a porcupine next? Or sea urchin perhaps?

Health Benefits of Prickly Pear Cactus

Apparenty. treating Prickly Pear Cactus as a health aid isn’t wrong. Because I was going to eat it, I did extensive research on the web and found many sites hailing it as a food-cum-medicine super plant. The Mexicans have been using it for centuries as food and to treat a host of ailments from superficial to diabolical. Recent studies have further confirmed the plant’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels as well as bust bad cholesterol, making it invaluable in the complementary treatment of diabetes and high cholesterol.

Okay, I have to qualify that the health benefits I dug up do not constitute medical advice. One study I read that examined the effects of Prickly Pear Cactus on diabetic patients only had 10 subjects. That’s hardly a convincing study at all. But other studies, such as one published in the Journal of American Medical Association concluded that phytonutrients in the cactus has the ability to block inflammatory agents in the body that causes swellings and even hangover!

How Does it Taste?

All the health benefits of the cactus should convince Popeye to ditch spinach. But wait. Does it taste good? Personally, I find it rather lacking in flavour except for a mild lemony tinge. The flesh is quite slimy like that of okra. And hardened fibres resembling fish bones are found at the narrow part near where the cactus ear had been removed from the main plant so that posed an eating hazard hassle.

So would I eat it again? Yeah I would. Bodybuilding.com claimed that bodybuilders and athletes are including the cactus in their diet to speed post-workout recovery and reduce pain. The cactus has anti-inflammatory properties remember? But the green paddles don’t come cheap considering the yield in edible flesh after removing the tough outer skin.

After the creation of the Fish n Prick Salad (canned tuna with Prickly Pear Cactus and assorted garden harvests), I think I’ll try cooking it with chicken in a soup! Bon appet-prick!

Day 078 : A 5-Minutes Nutritious Snack

When the year began, the folks at Yit Hong sent some of their convenient and delicious bottled Yifon mushrooms my way along with a calendar featuring mouth-watering recipes from one of Singapore’s top chefs, Eric Teo.

Being a toad at the bottom of a well, I had no idea who’s he until I Googled and realised his Kitchen God status in Singapore’s culinary arena. Chef Teo is the first Singaporean to be named President of the Singapore Chef’s Association (does that mean previous presidents were non-Singaporeans? How come a Singaporean association used foreigners to call the shots? *Puzzled*) and had led a local team to win top medals in the IKA 2000 Culinary Olympics and several other prestigious cooking competitions.

Working with Yi Hong’s range of canned and bottled foods, Chef Teo custom-created 12 simple to follow recipes that had me drooling each time I checked the day of the month. So today, I decided to try out the simplest recipe that can be served as a nutritious dish at meal times or eaten alone as a snack. And the best thing was, it took me less than 10 minutes to prepare!

Of course with my clumsy fingers, my version looked nothing as beautiful as Chef Teo’s. I couldn’t get the silken tofu out in one pristine piece from its packaging so I decided to mash it up and spread it on the plate. Here’s how to make this simple vegetarian dish that’s high in protein and fibre. I’ve modified his recipe slightly to suit my preference.

INGREDIENTS :

1 Bottle Yifon Teatree Mushrooms (or Yifon Spicy Nameko Mushrooms)

1 Block of Silken Tofu

2 Stalks Spring Onions (sliced)

Chilli, Chinese Parsley and Sesame Seeds (optional)

1 Teaspoon Sesame Oil

METHOD :

1. Cut Tofu into small pieces and spread on a small plate.

2. Drained the Yifon Mushrooms and spread on tofu. Steam for 5 minutes.

3. After steaming, water will seep from the tofu onto the plate. Scoop off the excess fluids, drizzle sesame oil on the dish and garnish with spring onions, sliced chilli and parsley.

The dish takes it taste mainly from the Yifon mushrooms used so choose the flavoured ones (Yifon Bottled Mushrooms come with 6 choices). Try the recipe today and have fun eating healthy! 🙂

A Multi-Flavoured Memory of Hong Kong

“And the winner for the best Hong Kong blog goes to… Darren Ng of Celebrate Life Lah!” Loud applause all around, bright flashes stunned my irises, congratulatory pats on the back and handshakes started pouring in…  

Darren, wake up… wake up…  

Huh? Oh, I was daydreaming! I didn’t win the best Hong Kong blog. Catherine did. With Jerome winning 1st Runner-up and Sze Peng taking home the honours for 2nd Runner-up. Congratulations to them! They will be receiving a basket of sour grapes from me soon.  

I’m kidding. They really did very well in the Hong Kong blog contest. I learnt a lot about this multi-faceted city and about blogging through them and all my fellow travelers – Peter, Priscilla, Violet, Lawrence, Elaine and Gin. In the last 3 months from the time we won the Singapore Blog Awards to the Hong Kong trip, I think I represent all 10 of us when I say the whole experience is what dreams are made of.  

Bloggers + HKTB + Omy.sg  

With the dinner gathering held a few nights ago and the announcement of the blog and lucky draw winners, the Hong Kong Summer Spectacular came to a wrap for us. But things don’t end there for the 10 of us have left behind a ‘legacy’ of our HK trip… a combined blog where our experiences were meticulously documented through photos, videos, cartoons and words.  

It is a light-hearted collection of 10 first-person accounts and intimate thoughts about what Hong Kong has to offer. So do drop by My Hong Kong Travel Blog (我的香港之旅) as your first stop to this amazing city.  

My Hong Kong Adventures!  

When I started posting at My Hong Kong Travel Blog, I began with a countdown series that recorded my thoughts and preparations for the trip. Why did I do it? Frankly, I’ve been to Hong Kong before and I’m not impressed by my previous visits. So I wanted to see if this trip will change my mind.  

Really, I do!And frankly again, the blog contest has ended so there’s no need for me to continue posting about Hong Kong (my last entry was Day 3 of our 4-days tour on 26 Aug 10). So there are no other objectives other than to record what I really felt because I had a change of mind about Hong Kong being boring. I guess I was merely looking at the oyster shell previously and didn’t open it, or tasted it.  

No doubt that this trip was hosted by the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) and they took great care of us. But for the most part, they left us pretty much on our own to explore Hong Kong. Yes, they put us up at the uber cool The Mira Hotel (which totally blew my mind away), and brought us to great places to eat but to me, it is not so that we will write only nice reviews (well, at least not for me), but it really showed me the full potential of Hong Kong as a great holiday destination.  

For this trip, I got down to do some pretty serious research. That’s when I realized there’s more to Hong Kong. There’s Kowloon and New Territories. Especially the lesser explored New Territories, which is home to many beautiful natural landscapes and the very photogenicHong Kong Wetland Park.  

If you’re like me and like to research every destination and attraction before visiting and to get as local as possible, the HKTB website is a really great resource. What I really love about it is the clear, clean-cut directions it gives to get to the places of interest. And their pocket-sized brochures are really good too (copies of them can be obtained at the airport). I never leave my hotel room with them.  

HK Culinary Encounters  

But enough about the sights of Hong Kong here for details can be found in my earlier posts. With this concluding blog, I would like to share about the food. A topic I’ve not touched on in previous posts.  

During this trip, we were brought to restaurants that span the range from casual eats, boutique gems, and fine-dine menus. Very often a time, after I took a bite of the food, I was afraid to open my mouth again because I didn’t want the flavours to escape. Plus I ran out of words to describe delicious. The above 4 dishes are what I found interesting and super yumz (although the pork knuckles took some getting used to).  

Yin Yang so yum!  

However, my most memorable taste of Hong Kong was at the quaint, delicately retro ambience of Yin Yang Restaurant on Ship Street. I shan’t go into details about the culinary feats of its founder, celebrity chef Margaret Xu, because my fellow bloggers have done an excellent job, but I’ll talk about the inspiration she gave me… that of daring to experiment in the kitchen.  

As part of our dining experience at Yin Yang, which is famous for its healthy fusion fare, we were given a behind-the-scene demonstration of how to make one of its many specialty sauces. For our sauce-making lesson, Margaret shared with us the recipe for a dipping sauce which she later christened as ‘Green Dream’ in honour of us.  

A chance to work in a celebrity kitchen!  

I didn’t get a chance to note down the specific measurements of the ingredients, but it is basically equal weight green chili, ginger and spring onion. I think we used about 1kg each during our session. If you like it spicier, you can always increase the ratio of chili.  

In a wok of oil, deep-fry the ginger for about 3 mins then add in the chili. Deep-fry the chili till it is cooked but not to the point where it loses its green colour and fold in the spring onion. Again, deep-fry the spring onion till soft but not soggy. Drain the oil and transfer the mixture to a blender and add in a generous amount of salt (about 2 heaping soup spoons). This is meant as a dipping sauce so it has to be a bit salty. You can vary the salt content to your liking.  

We were each given a bottle of Green Dream and told it can keep for up to 2 weeks in the fridge. I kept it for over a month! It still tasted fresh and I didn’t end up in ER. But instead of using it as a dip, I decided to experiment and used it as a base sauce to create 2 new dishes. Here’re the recipes…  

Yin Yang Lady’s Fingers 

Hmm… With such a name, I think this dish will be a hit with transvestites! And no one will break any nails trying to cook this dish which draws inspiration from the delicious Peranakan-styled steamed ocra with sambal. But instead of sambal, Green Dream is used.  

Yin Yang Ocra  

Ingredients :  

400g Lady’s Fingers (a.k.a. ocra)  
20g Dried Shrimp (soak in water before using)  
1 Onion (diced)  
3 Cloves Garlic (diced)  
2 Heaping Tablespoons of Green Dream  

Method : 

  1. Deep-fry the dried shrimps till brown and crispy. Drain the oil and put it aside.
  2. Cut ocra into halves and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of sesame oil. Steam for about 8-10 mins. Remove from steamer and transfer ocra to a new plate to leave behind excess water.
  3. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium fire and stir-fry onion and garlic. Add in Green Dream and 2 tablespoons of water.
  4. Scoop sauce into a bowl and pour in the crispy shrimps. Mix the condiments and spread atop steamed ocra.

Green Dream Shrimp 

This dish is adapted from the Sweet & Sour Prawns recipe with Green Dream replacing the use of ketchup and vinegar. So instead of the fruity sweet taste, this dish has a mild spicy bite. 

Green Dream Shrimp 

Ingredients : 

600g Prawns (de-shell the body leaving the head and tail)
1 Medium-size Tomato (sliced into quarters)
1 Medium-size Onion (sliced into quarters)
2 Cloves Garlic
1 Bunch Spring Onion & Chinese Parsley
2 Heaping Tablespoons of Green Dream
1 Tablespoon Sugar
1 Teaspoon Fish Sauce
2 Tablespoons Sesame Oil
3 Tablespoons Whiskey (or Chinese Cooking Wine) 

Method :

  1. Slice the spine of the prawns to remove the black entrails. In a bowl, marinate with sesame oil and whiskey. Leave in the fridge for about 2 hours.
  2. Heat a table of olive oil over high fire and stir-fry onion and garlic. Add in tomato and 2 tablespoons of water. Cooked till tomato is slightly soft and add in Green Dream and sugar.
  3. Add in prawns and be sure to pour in the marinate sauce as well. Stir-fry and add in fish sauce. Serve on a bed of spring onion and parsley.

Now, I’m no Martin Yan or Fang Tai and I’d cook up many disasters that even my dogs won’t eat so you by trying out the above recipes, you’re doing it at your own risk! But I did put the dishes to a taste-test by my parents. My mum is a foodie and my dad used to be a cook.

So, did Yin Yang Lady’s Fingers and Green Dream Shrimp pass my parents’ taste test? Were they a dream or a nightmare?

Well, I couldn’t get a word out of them because like me, they were too afraid to open their mouths when food is good. Success! 

With the 2 dishes, I’ve brought home more than just postcard memories of Hong Kong, but the spirit of experimentation that made Hong Kong so resilient in creating a holiday destination bursting with contrasts and flavours.

Till my future visits to Hong Kong again, the fragrance of this recent trip lingers on…

Countdown to Hong Kong : – 7 Days

THE DIETING

To take part in the Media Bathtub Race during the Dragon Boat Carnival, we had to sign a form declaring that we can swim at least 100m with light clothing. Safety is paramount. So I guess that’s why I was asked to participate. My waist has a natural float. It is the size of a bicycle tyre now with the potential of growing into a Michelin.

And going to Hong Kong isn’t going to help since there are as many restaurants there as there are shopping districts. So I guess that sort of cancels each other out, right? You eat, and then get trim shopping. No wonder so many Hong Kongers are so slim despite their penchant for siu ngaap (roast duck), char siew (roast pork) and dim sum.

For me, chow dao fu (smelly beancurd) with a steaming hot bowl of cow’s heart and pig intestine is a must when in Hong Kong. I know they don’t sound very appetizing, and the stinky tofu smells like the sewage, but once you get past the stench, they’re really tasty.

Never judge a book by its cover. Never judge a food by its odour.

But of course, those street foods are gonna jam up the bad cholesterol level. So I’m taking the save-now-spend-later approach. I’m watching what I eat for every meal at the moment so as to calm the body before the storm.

Breakfast is a delicious and nutritious meal of oatmeal and raisins with soya milk, lunch is an appetising and mouthwatering bowl of fish soup (with no rice or noodles), and dinner… Well, it’s the last meal of the day so I spoil myself. I do housework with my tongue. I eat dust.

That, of course, is a fast diet to lose the float in a week. But who am I kidding? No matter how much I psyche myself up, when mealtime comes, my mind says eat fit food, my legs say go to the gym, while my hands pays the char kway teow hawker.

“Today is the day I’m starting and sticking to my diet.” Problem is, I say this every day. So I shall put it in words now, and the world as my witness, that for the next 8 days, I’m going to eat healthily. This morning I had the oatmeal breakfast, lunch I had seafood soup with noodles, and dinner I cooked brown rice and this…

Hong Kong-style Steamed Fish is my favouritest way of cooking fish because it is relatively fuss-free and it’s very appetizing with rice. Here’s my recipe for this simple yet looks-like-it-took-a-lot-of-effort dish.

Ingredients :

Serves 2 – 3 people

Fish – 300g (I used White Threadfin here but you can also use Garoupa or Sea Bass)
Light Soya Sauce – 2 tablespoons
Water – 6 tablespoons (3:1 ratio between soya sauce and water)
Olive Oil – 1 tablespoon
Sugar – 1 teaspoon
Chinese Cooking Wine (Hua Diao Jiu) – 3 tablespoon
Spring Onions, Chinese Parsley, Young Ginger (amounts according to preference)

Cooking Method :

1. Have the fishmonger gut the fish and ask for a ‘butterfly cut’ (slices both sides of the fish so that the flesh opens up like wings). Asked for it to be lightly scored too.

2. Wash the fish thoroughly with water, then rinse it with the Chinese Cooking Wine to coat it. The idea is not to soak or marinate it in the wine.

3. Slice ginger into fine strips and stuff them into the scores of the fish.

4. Finely slice Spring Onions and break Parsley into segments. Leave aside.

5. Heat up the wok and when the water is boiling, put the fish in to steam at high heat. A fish this size takes about 10 mins.

6. At the meantime, pour Soya Sauce, Water, Olive Oil, and Sugar and bring to boil. This is the sauce.

7. Remove the cooked fish and put it on a flat plate. Pour sauce over the fish and garnish with Spring Onions and Parsley.

Here’s a tip for steaming fish so that you get the nice butterfly form. If you just steam it on a flat plate, sometimes the fish meat gets stuck to the plate and disintegrates when you attempt to move it.

Now enjoy your Hong Kong-style Steamed Fish… while I look forward to the dinner aboard a traditional Chinese Junk in Hong Kong next week! Ha. :o)

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