Considering that when I first went to the UK to study, I barely knew how to boil water, it seemed something of a miracle that the first paid work in my life was to cook for an aristocratic family who hired me for six weeks as a “mother’s help” while their real one went on summer holiday.
Breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner were all under my single-handed charge. Perhaps everyone was kind but I don’t think anyone would be so kind, even if they have the best of British stiff upper lips, as to eat the meals I dished out for all of six weeks, if they were indeed inedible.
Armed with this cooking experience, I know I can — and indeed have made — make a good meal out of all the ingredients — that can be eaten or drunk — which life throws at me.
If you’ve a certificate that says you can cook, good for you. If not, I’ll show you that you can cook just as well. Just have confidence and “keep it simple, sweetheart” style.
I’ll start with mee siam, the dry version or kerabu beehoon (as some would call it), because it’s one of my favourite dishes, as I’ve written before.
Look at the pix below which shows a full-blooded version, all done in less than 15 minutes of leisurely cooking over a low fire. And everyone at the table pronounced it great… even tho I must confess, I’ve never cooked this dish be4 this attempt, as I shall explain.
I make my love for dry mee siam so well known that once at N’s home, one fellow guest turned to me and whispered: “Easy, make it with tong yam paste”, when she heard me lamenting the nth time I didn’t know how to make the dish.
That tip set me to put in an order for the paste with the small kedai below where I live and the proprietess promptly ordered a jar and I was in business.
First, I soaked enough bee hoon (to satisfy six diners) in cold water for about 10 minutes. In the meantime, I poured hot water into a kwali and brought it quickly to a boil. Then I added two large tablespoonfuls of the tong yam paste to the water.
Siti, my picky maid, was set to chop a handful of bawang merah (small onions or shallots; a rose by any name etc)
As I was afraid that there might not be enough nutritional value in the paste and hot water, I added a bottle of Brand’s essence of chicken (part of a large haul that came the family’s way when my mum was hospitalised in July — almost every visitor brought chicken essence, a stuff that isn’t normally appreciated in our home but which somehow had become traditional for invalids to receive during convalescence).
The softened bee hoon was put into the chicken essence-tong yam gravy and cooked slowly and tossed gently till every drop of liquid was soaked dry. As the gravy was being soaked, the chopped bawang merah was added and tossed with the bee hoon.
My short-cut mee siam was eaten with my 1-2-3-4-5 pork ribs (recipe given here in an earlier post) and plenty of cucumber and tomato wedges. (Picky Siti ate hers with her self-cooked chicken curry).
A good meal was had by all, if I might say so. And all cooked without a drop of oil, except what was already in the tong yam paste and the pork ribs au naturel.