Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Easy Mutton Stew with Carrots, Onions and Tomatoes, Asian-Style

This definitely isn't a soup. It's a stew but it's such a robust, hearty stew that I have to share it with you.

First of all, eating mutton was not part of my childhood. My mom never cooked mutton, noting that mutton was tough and had a gamey sort of smell. 

When I was a teenager, I got it into my head that I won't eat mutton or beef. ( hell with teen ideals...I happily eat both beef and mutton now. I have a long way to go to be a vegetarian!)

mutton stew with carrots, onions and spices
Mutton Stew with Carrots and Onions

As I grew older, I started trying out all types of cuisine and I most loved Indian mutton curry especially mutton varuval. Oh how I loved my mutton varuval. It was spicy and yummy and all the things the cardiologists never want you to eat.

When I was growing up, I always had cold feet especially if it was a week before my menstruation. This was part and parcel of PMS together with awful headaches, bloatedness and breast tenderness. Yes, I had the whole bloody works of PMS. It was like a gang turning my life upside down before the dreaded aunt flow arrived.

I read that eating mutton or lamb helped in reducing having chilly feet. Maybe that's not the real reason why I succumbed to my desire of chomping on mutton but it justified my food cravings.

If you cook mutton with "dang gui" like a stew, it's even better. It warms you up inside and makes you fearless of the cold, any cold. You will never fear rainy days or air-conditioning. (The other typical Chinese warm-me-up stew is Bak Kut Teh or pork ribs herbal stew....another classic dish!)

So I started buying mutton from Tesco - not cheap, mind you - but I was all raring to try cooking mutton. I didn't want to cook mutton with "dang gui" though I could. I wanted something like a stew and I found the perfect mutton stew recipe!

This is my go-to mutton stew recipe whenever I feel the need to eat something that makes me connect to my carnivorous cave-woman side. The stew tastes gorgeous the next day and especially if you dunk baguette bits into the stew to soak up the deliciousness.

If you have a slow cooker, you can just chuck all the ingredients into the pot and leave it to simmer for a few hours till the mutton is as tender as a rosebud. I'd recommend buying mutton with some fat as the fat renders beautifully into a sloppy mess of goopey stew.

I cook mine in a claypot which is great as claypot retains heat well and cooks stews beautifully.

Easy Mutton Stew with Carrots, Onions and Tomatoes, Asian-Style

2 tbsp oil
2 cloves garlic
mutton chunks
2 carrots, cut into chunks
2 tomatoes, cut into wedges
2 large onions, cut into wedges
salt and black pepper
300 ml water or stock
2 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise

1. Heat up a pot and add oil. Fry garlic and onions with cloves, cinnamon stick and star anise.
2. Add mutton chunks. Sear the meat for a few seconds.
3. Add the rest of the vegetables and water.
4. Bring to a boil and then cover to simmer with low heat for 30 - 45 minutes until the mutton is tender.
5. Add salt and black pepper to taste.
6. Let the stew "rest" for 30 minutes or so before you dish up to serve with crusty bread or baguette slices. You can even eat it with white rice.

* If you are using a slow cooker, just place everything in the inner pot and let it cook on Auto for 2 hours or until the mutton is tender.

To continue my story about eating mutton and not having cold feet, actually it proved to be true in my case! I find that lamb and mutton warms up my body and I don't have chilly feet now. I have a friend who is always feeling cold (she even wears a cardigan to the supermarket as she gets cold faster than anyone of us) and she loves cooking lamb. I have not seen that warming effect on her despite her eating more lamb than me.

For some people, lamb or mutton is TOO warming so please go easy on mutton or lamb. Don't eat this stew weekly. Try it once a month first and see what happens. I don't want you to have nose bleeds!

(Nose bleeds as my mom used to tell me, was all about being too heated up inside. My youngest sister back in those days used to have nose bleeds off and on. My mom cured her of the nose bleeds with some soups made with black beans. I shall have to ask her what recipes those were.)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Lemongrass & Palm Sugar Drink

Sorry for the lack of posts. It's not that I have not been making soups but life and business intervened. Business, clients, family, life. 

Whenever I get tired or bored, I'd head to the kitchen. I'll try a new recipe and a lot of people find cooking tedious (especially in my case when it's just my husband and me). Some people ask me, "Isn't it far easier to head out to the hawker stalls or a coffeeshop and get dinner over and done with?" 

After all, I am living in Penang. The island with the most lipsmackingly delicious street food. 

I admit that cooking small portions can be tedious BUT as I said, cooking and tinkering in the kitchen is my escape from a world that gets too hectic (at least for me). 

Cooking and gardening are my escapes. 

So this blog post is inspired by what's growing in my tiny patch of garden. 

I've been growing serai or lemongrass in a pot in my garden. It's been thriving happily. But at times I forget to use the serai in my cooking (or rather I have not been cooking dishes which need serai!) so the serai grows and grows. 

Serai is so easy to grow - it needs water and plenty of sunshine. It tolerates neglect well and you don't need to do any trimming except if you want to cut or dig some stalks out. Be careful though when you're digging serai as the leaves can be sharp. I always wear gardening gloves when I am pulling out serai. 

One day I thought I should get some lemongrass to make a beverage. I don't cook with it but at least I could make a drink out of it. 

So I did. And it is refreshing on a humid day. 

Lemongrass stalks and palm sugar - 2 simple ingredients for a healthy Asian beverage

All you need are a few stalks of serai or lemongrass and some gula melaka or palm sugar. Bring about 1 liter of water to boil and add the sliced up stalks of lemongrass. Add about 100gm of palm sugar and let the whole concoction simmer for 20 minutes on low heat, covered. 

You can drink it warm or you can store the excess in the fridge. I prefer mine chilled as it is lovely and refreshing. You can adjust the amount of sugar depending on how sweet you like your beverages.

Besides being a lovely fragrant drink (and much better than Coca Cola or any other fizzy drinks), lemongrass has a host of health benefits. 

It's actually strange that we only use the white parts (near the roots) of the lemongrass and technically no leaves of the plant is used. I once saw Martin Yan, that famous Chinese chef on TV, do the unthinkable on one of his cooking shows. He sliced up the green leafy bits of the lemon grass instead of using the white stalks! Even chefs get it wrong! 

WedMD notes that lemongrass is useful for "digestive tract spasms, stomachache, high blood pressure, convulsions, pain, vomiting, cough, achy joints (rheumatism), fever, common cold, and exhaustion. It is also used to kill germs and as a mild astringent."

It goes on to say that lemongrass might help to "prevent the growth of some bacteria and yeast. Lemongrass also contains substances that are thought to relieve pain, reduce fever, stimulate the uterus and menstrual flow, and have antioxidant properties."

I do know that drinking this lemongrass beverage made me pee a whole lot more. It was probably flushing out my kidneys. 

The other effect I felt was that my menstruation cramps were reduced when I had my period (I drank the beverage about 2-3 times a week BEFORE my period. I don't recommend drinking cold drinks when you're having your period. Call me utterly traditional but I believe cold drinks as well as cold baths are no-no's if you want to preserve health.)

If you can get it, lemongrass liniment or oil is good for massage and muscle pain. I have a bottle of lemongrass oil for those aches and pains that sometimes assail me if I've been hunched over the laptop too long. 

Do not confuse lemongrass or serai with the other mosquito-busting plant from the same family. Both look the same - long and tall grass-like leaves. I have both plants in my garden. 

I also read that lemongrass is good for getting rid of uric acid as well as excess fats and toxins. Plus because it's so good at detoxification, if you have problem skin with acne, drinking lemongrass will help you clear the skin issues up. 

And finally, everyone loves a herb that helps battle cancer - yeah, lemongrass contains anti-cancer properties. 

So there you have it - the wonders of lemongrass in a drink that's far healthier than guzzling Coke.