It is hard to believe that we are almost at the end of February as the year has just flown by. I have been thinking back to this time last year when my mother made her last trip to Malaysia, not knowing that it would be her last, and without us knowing just how ill she was. She always went in the dark dreary months of February, but made sure that she returned in time for number 1 grandsons birthday in March. Being the first-born, he was always her self-confessed favourite and I am sure that her sisters in Malaysia heard more tales about her grandchildren than they did about me! But that is very much the Asian culture, and the grandmother/grandchild bond is almost as close as parent and child. My mother looked after my boys for 2 days each week before they went to school, and they considered her house to be one of their homes. I feel incredibly lucky to have had that support, but above all, for my children to have that close relationship with their grandparents.
When I was growing up in Singapore, I had one set of grandparents in Penang, and the other in England. We went to Penang at least 4 times a year and I also felt like the family house there was an extension of my home as it always seemed to be full of aunts and cousins. These were the pre mobile phone and wi-fi days, when there was just one English channel on the TV there and that only showed old black & white movies, so we had to come up with our own entertainment. For me that involved either bossing my brother around to rehearse for a ‘show’ which we would put on in the evening, or sitting outside at the back where there was a small stove, sink and stone spice grinder, watching my aunt grind her spices and cook her Bengali specialities. This is where my love for mustard vegetables and fish curry started, although as yet, I have not attempted to cook either (soon!).
In a similar way, my children hung out in the kitchen with my mother, unless she decided she needed some peace and banished them to the TV room! She would plan their meals meticulously ensuring they didn’t eat the same dish too often. Their meals were varied – from chicken curry & dahl to pork schnitzels, to fried noodles with prawns… she would even coerce my father to barbecuing in the rain so the tandoori chicken or lamb chops were just perfect! Once they had learnt that they could ‘place their orders’, she would ask what they wanted the following week… and I wonder why my boys now ask whats for dinner as soon as they get into the car!
My recipe for this post is again one that I have been cooking for years, and is a staple midweek meal. It is adapted from a Jill Dupleix recipe, and reminds me of my favourite Chinese (schezuan) dish, Ma Po Tofu. This is not as oily or spicy, but this can be rectified with the addition of chopped fresh red chilli. I was introduced to Jill Dupleix’s recipes in Hong Kong in 1995 by an Australian lady I used to work for – In those days I organised events and managed an outside catering company called The Continental which was renowned for great fresh food and an amazing Tiramisu! Jill Dupleix’s recipes were always tempting – simple with minimal ingredients and that Australian knack of adding in Asian flavours, or mediterranean or Greek, which in those days was not as commonplace as it is now. This Spicy Pork & Tofu with Hoisin & chilli is a favourite in our house… either served with noodles or rice, with or without the tofu, sometimes subsituting fried aubergine for the tofu, or prawns for the pork. Incredibly versatile and SO delicious!
Spicy Pork & Tofu with Hoisin & Chilli
500g minced pork
1 box of tofu (I use cauldron brand) – cut into small cubes
1 bunch of spring onions – sliced. Keep aside one tablespoon for garnish.
1 Tbs minced/grated ginger
2 cloves garlic – crushed
2 Tbs oil
3 Tbs light soy
2 Tbs Chilli Bean Sauce (I use Lee Kum Kee)
3 Tbs Hoisin Sauce (Any brand )
1 tsp sugar
1 Tbs rice wine (or dry sherry)
Heat the oil in the wok. Add the chopped spring onions, ginger and garlic and fry until just soft. Add in the pork and fry on high heat until sealed. Add the chopped tofu.
Mix all the sauce ingredients in a cup and pour over the pork & tofu. Stir to ensure everything is coated and then leave to simmer for at least 10 minutes. When the oil rises to the surface and some of the liquid has evaporated, this will be ready.
If there is too much liquid or you prefer a thicker sauce, you can add a Tbs of cornflour to some cold water and then stir it into the mixture.
Once it is ready, place into your serving bowl and garnish with chopped spring onion and/or coriander and some finely sliced red chilli.
Serve with steamed rice or egg noodles, perhaps with a side of stir fried greens.
*This should taste sweet and spicy… you can increase the chilli bean sauce slightly, but not too much as it is salty. It is better to add fresh red chilli. It can also be cooked ahead of time and reheated too serve.