Takeaway

The world on your plate

Amrita Kamat | Updated on January 01, 2021

Food sojourn: Our plans for 2020 had included visiting Myanmar, but while we couldn’t physically get there, we journeyed there through food anyway   -  ISTOCK.COM

A food blogger looks back at a pandemic year and how her kitchen turned into a gateway to faraway lands

* My kitchen became my happy place my laboratory for experiments and adventures

* It’s amazing the connection we have to the food we grew up with and how it cradles us in its warm embrace in our time of need

As we leave a rather difficult year behind and step into a new one, I’m reminded of a quote from one of my favourite Disney Pixar movies Up: “Adventure is out there”. Whenever there is chaos outside, I can always seek excitement and adventure within the walls of my kitchen

***

A few years ago, we started a New Year’s Eve tradition. About a week leading up to it, we use a chalk marker to write or draw on our balcony glass window the things we were grateful for in the passing year and our hopes and aspirations for the coming one. We let the marker dry and the thoughts linger as we welcome a new year. We reminisce on what a wonderful adventure the previous year has been.

So where did our adventures take us in a pandemic year, you ask?

While the aircraft were safely tucked away in their hangars and hotels became fancy quarantines for those returning to Singapore, the kitchen became my happy place my laboratory for experiments and adventures. Initially the lockdown had me missing home a lot, so my culinary adventures took me home. There was lots of Konkani food the upkaris, dali tove, sambars, tambli, fried fish, chicken sukka, prawn balchao, batata saung, rasam, sasam and on and on it went. It nourished my soul and kept me grounded and sane during the madness that was happening around me. It’s amazing the connection we have to the food we grew up with and how it cradles us in its warm embrace in our time of need.

My husband is from Kerala but grew up in West Asia. The feeling of home for him was split between a bowl of hummus with pita bread and rice and kachimoru (a yoghurt curry) with beans thoran. So we travelled some more. During Onam, we went all out and welcomed King Mahabali back with a full Onam sadya, encompassing thoran (kerala stir fry), kachimoru, olan with white pumpkin, black-eyed peas and coconut milk, kalan and pullisherry (both buttermilk and coconut based gravies) and topped with payasam for dessert.

We made some delicious West Asian fare with hummus, pita bread, falafel, kebabs, fattoush and labneh. We also took the big leap of baking bread from scratch. Instead of store bought yeast, I used levain, the kind that is naturally formed with a little flour and water by taming the microbes around you. A mini home safari with microbes — who would’ve thought I’d be on a safari this year?

Once we were comforted by home food, we were feeling more adventurous and headed to the edge of Asia Japan. We rolled sushi, which my girls gobbled up in no time. It’s an incredible treat for parent to watch their children polish their plates off. We leaped across from Japan to South Korea and made some kimchi pancakes. These hot vegetarian pancakes are now a go-to on days we want a crispy snack with tea. We then explored Southeast Asian food with som tam, pho and some heart-warming chicken noodle soup. En route, we made a culinary pit stop at Bali by whipping up ikan pepes or spicy steamed fish wrapped in banana leaves, served with rice and salad.

In between these food sojourns, there were sudden Italian food cravings that we had to satiate, if only to relive our memories of some amazing pre-pandemic family holidays there. Apart from the heavenly pastas and pizzas, one of my favourite dishes has always been the humble and heart-warming one-pot meal that Italian peasants are known to consume minestrone (a thick soup made with vegetables pasta and rice).

Our plans for 2020 had included visiting Myanmar, but while we couldn’t physically get there, we journeyed there through food anyway. Burmese cuisine has some remarkable dishes such as the mohinga (rice noodle and fish soup) and pickled tea leaf salad. Simple, moreish and hearty, the Burmese cuisine checks the basic boxes of taste, health and wholesomeness. And we brought this home on our plates.

As we leave a rather difficult year behind and step into a new one, I’m reminded of a quote from one of my favourite Disney Pixar movies Up: “Adventure is out there”. Whenever there is chaos outside, I can always seek excitement and adventure within the walls of my kitchen.

And to mark a new year, here is the recipe of a favourite salad — Thai green papaya salad or som tam. This delicious, spicy, sweet, sour, crunchy salad is a party in your mouth. Just one bite and you’re transported to the land of smiles. Let’s be honest, som tam we all need some good food — couldn’t resist this!

Thai green papaya salad


Bursting flavour: Som tam or raw papaya salad is a party in your mouth   -  ISTOCK.COM


 

Traditionally papaya salad is pounded in a large wooden mortar and pestle. As a substitute, use a large pot and the side of a rolling pin. It will do the job and the salad will taste equally good.

Ingredients

1 cup shredded green papaya

1/4 cup each sliced onion and shredded carrot

2-3 long beans

5 cherry tomatoes quartered

2 cloves of garlic

1/2 chilli (I use the spicy Thai chilli padi so it’s half; go by how spicy your chilli is and how much heat you want)

1 tbsp palm sugar

2 tbsp fresh lime

1 tbsp tamarind juice

1 tbsp fish sauce

3 tbsp peanuts (roasted)

Fresh mint and Thai basil leaves to garnish

Let’s get started

In your vessel add chilli and garlic and crush them. Add some lime juice, tamarind, fish sauce and palm sugar to make a dressing.

Add the peanuts and crush a little bit. This is your textural element don’t powder it, you need the crunch.

Add the tomato and long beans and pound it a couple of times. Next step is to add the papaya, the carrot, the onion. Pound a couple of times and mix it all up.

Scoop out into a serving dish and garnish with fresh mint and basil.

Notes

If you want to add dried shrimp to the salad, roast 1 tbsp of it and throw it in along with the peanuts.

Fish sauce adds a salty umami flavour, which can’t be easily substituted, although some places sell vegetarian versions. In its absence, just add soy sauce and salt.

Amrita Kamat is a food blogger based in Singapore

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Published on January 01, 2021
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