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In the Kitchen With Mum and Popo

June 12, 2009

In this installment, Audrey Low contributes a little snippet that reflects on the kitchen chores she had as a child, plus a whimisical look at an old wives’ tale . Of Malaysian-Chinese descent, Audrey is an anthropologist living in Australia. Her blog: papayatreelimited.blogspot.com combines her love of Asian art, food, travel, and writing, blending her personal journey with people’s stories and her research.

If you would like to guest blog about cooking with a special woman in your life, please email me at pat@ediblewords.com.

In the Kitchen with Mum and Popo
By Audrey Low

Audrey and mum

Audrey and her mum, Judy Low, at graduation

Choy keok, a Hakka hot and sour soup, is a dish my mother learned to cook when she was a child from her nyonya grand-aunt. Imagining my mother as a child reminded me of learning to cook with her.

My mum cooks in silence; it’s like meditation for her. I remember my dad urging me to go into the kitchen to learn how to cook, but she would never say anything except, perhaps, the occasional instructions to get some ingredients: “Take the blunt knife and cut some serai (lemongrass) from the garden,” or “Pluck some curry leaves/fresh limes/chilies.” Mostly, I learned through observation.

There were many chores for kids around the kitchen. I, like Pat, had the interminable chore of breaking the ends off every single bean sprout. I too could never understand why it was necessary, and no amount of reasoning could get me out of that chore.

Pounding chili in the heavy stone mortar and pestle was another favorite job to give kids. And when I was doing the task, I would inevitably get a speck of chili in my eye. My grandmother’s solution was to pour cold water on my feet. Admittedly, it’s a far more elegant method than simultaneously hopping around in agony, rubbing one eye and splashing water on my face, which I did repeatedly.

However, after trying her way a couple of times unsuccessfully, I gave it up. But I’m pretty sure my grandmother still swears by the method to this very day.

Mum’s Choy Keok

Photo and recipe courtesy of Audrey Low

For this soup, mustard cabbage is not interchangeable with other leafy greens — it’s the only vegetable that will not fall apart in this robust soup. You can buy roast pork from a Chinese restaurant or deli or make it yourself with this recipe. Please visit Papaya Tree Limited for more stories and photos!

Makes: 8 to 10 servings
Time: 20 minutes plus simmering time

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
20 slices assam keping or assam gelugor (sometimes mistakenly called dried tamarind), or 3 heaping tablespoons tamarind paste
8 cloves garlic, smashed
5 dried whole chilies
3 fresh red Thai chilies, sliced
1 thumb-sized piece ginger, cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 to 2 pounds roast pork (or any other roast meat like duck and chicken)
2 (12 ounce) bunches mustard cabbage (gai choy), cut into thirds
1 1/2 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon salt

In a big stock pot, heat the oil over medium heat until it starts to shimmer. Add the assam keping, dried and fresh chilies (add more to taste, if desired), ginger, and garlic and stir until fragrant.

Add the roast pork and mustard cabbage. Add the sugar, salt and enough water to cover the ingredients. Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat to low and simmer for about 1 hour, or until the mustard cabbage is soft. Serve with rice.

As grandma always says, please share!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Chris permalink
    June 12, 2009 5:30 pm

    Do miss this…no Asian restaurant here in Canada serves it! It used to be the best part of a wedding banquet as the leftovers were turned into “choy keuk”! When my mum did it here for us, she would sometimes sub with napa cabbage. She would also add a couple of Chinese pickled plums that come in a jar. I remember as I love to eat them after!

    • June 17, 2009 2:03 pm

      Hi Chris, now you can make it yourself. Happy cooking!

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