Thursday, December 3, 2009

A feast of Singapore dinner party

My friend LB and I decided to recreate the recipes that we had learnt a few months ago from a Singaporean cooking class held by Chef Mohan Ismail at Rocksugar Restaurant. Since this was a formal sit down dinner, we had to keep the dinner small at six persons. In addition to the couple recipes from the class, we added additional dishes to the mix (a starch and a veggie; recipes from

The key to a successful weeknight dinner party is to prep as much as you can the night before. LB's brilliant suggestion of doing a trial run the week before was a lifesaver. At our trial run, we realized that many of the items had to be prepped before hand if we were planning to serve guests any food before 11pm.

Sambal was the base for all the dishes we would be preparing. It's a chili condiment that is quite time consuming to make so a large batch was prepared the night before.

A copious amount of shallots & garlic, red jalapeno, rice wine vinegar and oil was blended, then simmered in a saucepan for a good 30 minutes.

The result is an oily, thick, semi-chunky, aromatic sauce that is versatile and can be used with cooking almost anything from rice to fish to chicken.

Bubbly for the first arrivals. Guests also brought wine; apparently Rieslings go well with spicy food so we had a couple bottles on hand.

Appetizer: Sambal Shrimp

Shrimp was sauteed with sambal, kaffir lime leaves and salt. This was literally done in a couple minutes. I loved the lime leaves because they gave off a fresh, spicy fragrance.

Take out the leaves prior to serving. This is when you wished you had some rice to sop up the chili sauce.

Side Dish: Sambal Eggplant

Sambal was sauteed with dried shrimp, sugar and fish sauce.

Eggplant was added and sauteed until soft.

This was a favorite of the night because the eggplant was delicious and absorbed all the sambal and shrimp flavors. I used two large Chinese eggplants which whittled down to a relatively small bowl. Next time, I'd increase the quantity since this was gone in a couple minutes.

Main Course: Sea bass wrapped in banana leaf

The sea bass was marinated in guess what? Yep, sambal. Boy, you're smart. Kecap Mani (or Indonesian sweet soy sauce) was added to the sambal which added a nice sweetness. The fish was then wrapped in banana leaf and secured with a string of banana leaf, then popped into a 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes. The result was a buttery, tender and perfectly cooked piece of fish. The banana leaf really acted as a good insulator that kept the fish moist and simmering in the marinade. Furthermore, the leaf added a scent and was a lovely presentation for the dish.

We also prepared pickled cucumber that was served on the side. The cucumbers slices were marinated overnight in rice vinegar and sugar. The tartness from the vinegar went well with the spice from the other dishes. In fact, it acted as a palate cleanser.

Side dish: Singapore Fried Rice Noodles. Americans know this as Singaporean noodles however I don't think I've actually seen it in Singapore. It's like saying Chinese chicken salad hails from China.

Vegetables are sauteed with sambal, curry powder, chicken broth, soy sauce and sugar. You can include just about anything you wish: mushrooms, peppers, celery, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, wood ear fungus etc.

Vermicelli noodles and protein are added to the mix. We used char siew (Chinese BBQ pork) as our protein but you could also throw in tofu or shrimp.

One recipe could feed an army, or six hungry friends.

For dessert, I decided to wimp out. I did try a Singapore recipe over the weekend but it failed so I opted for an assortment of cake slices from Red Ribbon Bakery, an Asian bakery with outlets mostly in California and the Philippines. Pandan cakes were something that I ate in Singapore so I figured it'd go with the theme.

Slices of Pandan and Taro cake. Pandan (the green colored slice) is from the screwpine palm and has a coconut/nutty taste. Taro is a root vegetable that is commonly used in the Hawaiian dish poi. Be careful if preparing taro at home. It has to be cooked properly else it can cause a throat reaction (remember when Padma made that gargling throat noise after tasting uncooked taro leaves in the Season 2 finale?). Both cakes were delicious. The colors were gorgeous, the flavors were light and the cakes smelt fragrant.

Of course when you have a group of b-school grads and bottles of wine/bubbly, the night will naturally end with a heated discussion about the economy and real estate prices. That's when you clear the plates, start the dishwasher, create a ruckus in the kitchen and hide all the booze.

The night was a success, if I should say so myself. Our timing was spot on and the food was delicious. Planning a sit down dinner party on a work night may seem overwhelming. However I have a couple tips for you:

1) Keep it intimate; this isn't a keg party.
2) Use simple recipes; this isn't the time to test out that beef wellington recipe.
3) You'll need a good friend to assist. It's more fun anyway.
4) If you have the time, do a trial run. I'm glad I tried out the initial dessert recipe and decided to scrap it. I think my guests would not have appreciated semi-hard tapioca pearls, mushy yams, starchy cassava in fatty coconut cream.
5) Do as much prep work the night before. The sambal itself took over an hour because of the enormous amounts of shallots and garlic required for all four dishes.
6) Don't be TOO ambitious. Understand that it's a weeknight and hence there are limitations if you are a working professional. So don't feel bad if you're not baking that cake from scratch.
7) Enjoy the night with loved ones!


Sambal Eggplant Recipe
Adapted from

12 oz. eggplant
3 tablespoons dried shrimps (soaked in warm water and then rinsed)
4 tablespoons sambal
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon fish sauce or to taste
2 tablespoons oil

Rinse the eggplant with water and cut into halves. Soak them in salt water to prevent turning brown color.

Heat up the wok with oil. Add dried shrimps and sambal (recipe below) and stir-fry until aromatic, then follow by the eggplant. (Transfer the eggplant out of the water before adding to the wok). Continue to stir-fry until eggplant become soft but not overly soft. Add fish sauce and sugar to taste, dish out and serve hot.

Singapore Fried Rice Noodles Recipe
Adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine, Nov 2005, pages 64-65

2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced ginger
8 dried or fresh shiitake mushrooms
12 ounces of fine dry rice vermicelli
2 stalks celery, sliced thin
1 medium yellow onion, sliced thin
4 jalapeno peppers, seeded and sliced thin
1 cup bean sprouts, rinsed and drained
1 pound char siew (Chinese barbecued pork), cut into matchsticks
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons oyster sauce

For sauce:
3 tablespoons Madras (hot) curry powder
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 cup chicken broth
4 tablespoons soy sauce
4 teaspoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons hot chili paste or Sambal
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

If using dried shiitake mushrooms, soak them in hot water for half an hour. Drain and cut off the stems. Slice the mushrooms thinly. Put the rice vermicelli in a large bowl and soak in enough hot water to cover, until the noodles are soft (about 8 to 10 minutes). Drain noodles and set aside.

Start by heating up 2 tablespoons of oil in a small pan over medium heat. Add the curry powder, the ginger, and the minced garlic, and sauté until fragrant. Add the chicken broth, soy sauce, sugar, and chili paste. Stir to combine and then cover and cook for 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat and set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large wok over high heat. Add in the remaining garlic and ginger, and stir-fry until the garlic starts to become golden. Add in the celery, onion, pepper, sprouts, and mushrooms. Stir-fry for 3 minutes, until the vegetables start to soften. Set the vegetables aside in a bowl.

Add in the noodles, char siew and the vegetables. Pour on the sauce and also add the oyster sauce. Mix the ingredients thoroughly to coat all the noodles and incorporate all the vegetables.

1 comment:

betty said...

Thanks for posting the eggplant recipe. I might have to print this one out and post it up on MY fridge ;)

So delicious. Good idea to hide the booze at the end of the night...