Sunday morning at Bedok Reservoir Park

It was a bright Sunday morning in the middle of May. We were deciding on the route for our morning walk ritual. The next thing I knew, we were on the way to Bedok Reservoir Park, a beautiful lush green park around a reservoir in the east part of Singapore. I had been there a couple of times before, usually too late in the evening or without my camera or both.

Fortunately, I had my camera this time. Now the choice was to go for a brisk walk of 4.5 kms or a stroll with my camera covering the same distance. Without a second thought, I chose the latter.

We ended up calling the rest of the family to the park and had a little picnic. To know more about Bedok Reservoir Park and the activities offered there, click here.

Later, we walked down to Wawawa, Bistro by the Reservoir for some Coffee. We had some snacks there though not enough to write about it. The food they serve is greatly influenced by German cooking. You can find out more about them at http://www.wawawa.com.sg

P.S: The morning walk ritual lasted all of May and quietly departed from our lives ever since. I secretly hope that this post will help me make an effort to revive it and bring it back to life in some form or the other.


Tai Chi in the Park


Contemplating..


Dragon Boats waiting


Water skier


Wawawa, Bistro by the Reservoir

Maithan : the birth of Laksa leaves Pakoras with Spicy Coriander and Mint Chutney

A trip back home is synonymous to meeting relatives and a gastronomical treat that is limited only by your own will power. Our last trip home was essentially that.

While in Kolkata, we spent a weekend at Maithan (or Maithon). With an open mind and no expectations, we set out on a train journey to Kumardhobi, followed by a 25-minutes autorickshaw ride to Maithan. The first half of the auto ride was bumpy and gave you a quick glimpse of rural India.  It transformed almost seamlessly into one of the finer roads in India. Soon, we were on the Damodar Valley Dam which is built on the Barakar river, a tributary of the Damodar river.

We stayed in ‘Mazumdar Niwas’ a guest house for DVC (Damodar Valley Corp.) guests. The guest house is in a small island in the lake which is formed as a result of the dam. A short walkway connects the guest house to the mainland. The view from the guest house is nothing less than spectacular and undoubtedly the best in Maithan.

Maithan means (Mai-Than or Ma ka Than or Mother’s abode). It is in Jharkhand and borders West Bengal. It’s a very popular picnic spot for people living in nearby areas. One can spot them from a distance as you see and hear bus loads of people and blaring music from time to time. Unfortunately, the wastes that are left behind after these picnics, ruin the otherwise beautiful neighborhood. For more information on Maithan, you can visit here or here.

Maithan is a very small place and a weekend is sufficient to do any sight seeing here. I highly recommend a 2-hour boat ride in the lake. The best time to go is around 3pm in order to witness the brilliant colors of the sky as the sun sets over the lake.

Our daily meals were very simple, mostly at the guest house or at a nearby hotel. There isn’t much to mention in that respect, except of course, one place: the inspiration behind today’s post.

The pakoras or fritters (more about Pakora here) made by a small family-run shop, located at the main entrance of Mazumdar Niwas are simply sensational ! The place is run by a very humble gentleman, Mr. Chitto Ranjan Debnath, together with his wife and their son. You will find a variety of pakoras made with onions, cottage cheese and potatoes, amongst other things. I fell in love with these pakoras at the first bite – perfectly soft in the inside and crisp on the outside. Mrs. Debnath kneads the dough with her magical fingers and Mr. Debnath fries them into a golden crisp texture – creating something totally extraordinary! Their warm hospitality only contributes to making this experience a memorable one.

I was so inspired by it that ever since that trip, I have tried to make pakoras in many different ways at home. Of course, to have the best, you need to visit Mr. Debnath’s shop in Maithan 🙂

Pakoras with a unique blend of Indian and South-East Asian flavors – Pakoras flavored with laksa leaves (Daun Laksa or Rau Ram or Polygonum Odoratum).

Laksa leaves are used as garnish for Laksa, a very popular Singapore noodles. These herbs are also eaten fresh in some Vietnamese and Thai salads and used to flavour soups and stir fries. Laksa leaves have a penetrating smell with a citrus note and a refreshing, hot, biting, peppery after taste. In my opinion, fresh laksa leaves have an uncanny similarity in taste to Paan or betel leaves.

Laksa leaves and Spinach Pakoras Recipe:

Though the Debnath family shop served it with a garlic chutney, I enjoy these pakoras with a spicy Coriander & Mint chutney.

To print the Pakora recipe, click here.

Makes about 40 bite-sized pakoras.

Ingredients:

Besan (Gram flour): ¾ cup
Baking powder: 1/8th tsp
Turmeric: ¼ tsp
Chilli powder: ¼ tsp
Salt: ½ tsp regular salt
Black Salt: ¼ tsp
Aamchoor powder (Dried Mango Powder): 1 tsp (Available in Asian/Indian stores)
Water: 2 tbsp
Onion: 1 ½ medium sized, thinly sliced
Ginger: 2 tsp, grated
Garlic: 1 clove grated (equivalent to 1 tsp of grated garlic)
Green chillies: 2-3 finely chopped
Spinach leaves: 1 cup, finely shredded
Fresh Laksa Leaves: ½ cup, finely shredded
Mustard Oil: 1 tbsp for mixing with the batter
Regular oil for deep frying
Chat Masala for sprinkling once the pakoras are fried – a pinch for every batch of 10-15 pakoras (optional)

How I did it:

  • Sieve Besan and Baking powder together.
  • Add all the ingredients in a bowl except the oil for frying and chat masala.
  • Combine all the ingredients together using your fingers. The batter should be sticky enough so that it does not crumble while deep frying later.
  • Let the mixture sit for 15 mins to let the baking powder do it’s job.
  • Heat sufficient oil in a deep wok or kadhai.  Check if the oil is hot by dropping 1 tsp of the batter in the hot oil. If the batter starts sizzling instantly, the oil is hot and ready. Taste it to make sure the seasoning is adequate and per your liking.
  • Use approximately 1 tsp of batter to make the pakoras. Make them in batches of 10 or more depending on the size of the wok / kadhai used.

  • You can either use 2 tsps to give the batter a round shape or the tip of your fingers to drop the pakoras in the hot oil.  The point to remember is each pakora will use roughly 1 tsp of batter.
  • Fry on medium-low heat taking care that the batter is reddish brown but not burnt. Sprinkle a pinch of chat masala over a batch of 10-15 pakoras. (I forgot to do it) Serve immediately.
  • Best enjoyed on a rainy afternoon.. With coriander and mint chutney and a hot cup of tea.

Variations: You can also make these pakoras by omitting the laksa leaves, if you can’t find them and increase the shredded spinach to 1 ½ cups.

Alternatively, omit the Spinach completely by increasing the proportion of onions (use 2 medium sized) with the same proportion of Laksa leaves

Coriander and Mint Chutney Recipe:

To print this recipe, click here.

Makes 3/4 cup Chutney

Ingredients:

For blending:
Fresh Coriander: 1 and ½ cup of roughly chopped coriander leaves. Remove roots and stem.
Mint leaves: 1/2 cup. Pluck mint leaves from the stem. Discard stalk. Use the leaves only.
Ginger: 1” pc
Garlic: 1 clove
Green chillies: 2-3
Mustard oil: 1 ½ tbsp
Water: 2 tbsp

For seasoning:
Salt: ½ tsp
Black salt: ¼ tsp
Lemon juice: 1 tbsp

How I did it:

  • Blend all the ingredients listed above under heading “For blending” until a thick and uniform paste is formed.
  • Take it out in a bowl and add the “for seasoning” ingredients listed above.
  • Combine thoroughly with a spoon.
  • Check for salt / sour taste and adjust as per your liking.

This chutney tastes best when fresh or a maximum of 2-3 days. Make in small batches to always enjoy this chutney at it’s best.

Khao Lak contd. | Thai Green Curry with Chicken and eggplants

As I begin to recollect my Khao Lak experience, reports of a strong earthquake and a Tsunami warning come flashing in all over the news media. A sense of panic struck. Considering I was there just over a week ago made matters worse. All I hoped for was the damage to be minimal and the tsunami averted.

I breathed a sigh of relief once the Tsunami warnings were lifted and reports confirmed that things were under control.

The joy of idling away an entire day by the beach knows no bounds. The clock stops ticking. Hunger takes a back seat. It almost feels like every part of your body is on that much needed vacation!

We continue our little party at the poolside bar. The poolside bar is one of the best places to hangout in this resort. The cocktails are inviting but the part I enjoyed most was sitting on the bar stools inside the pool. There is something so casual and refreshing about it.

Later that evening, we took a so-called taxi (songthaew in Thai) to explore the Khao Lak market. It’s a rather small market area with rows of individual shops. In particular, I was interested in a boutique shop named ‘Kanyarak’, after reading about it online. All the desperate attempts to find the shop were futile. Frustrated, we decided to stop for a drink. As luck would have it, the shop I was looking for was right opposite the restaurant where we stopped for a drink. ‘Kanyarak’ has an impressive collection of designer stainless steel cutlery and dining ware (no plates though!). Be sure to carry enough cash or a credit card if you intend to shop 🙂

On the last day, we spent the afternoon at the ‘White Sand beach’, a 20 min songthaew ride from our Resort. The beach holds true to its name. Although it has its share of tourists, it is still less crowded than the Resort. The shacks at the entrance of this beach where the songthaew dropped us, serves some really authentic and spicy Thai food. Undoubtedly, the best we had in our trip.

We concluded our vacation with the last few hours spent at the spa, bringing us to the end of an absolutely gastronomical and rejuvenating retreat.

As the old adage goes: a picture is worth a thousand words. Here is a snapshot of some of the heavenly food we had during our trip.

Green Curry Chicken or Keng Khiao Wan Gai Recipe

I wouldn’t shy before concluding that Green curry or Kaeng khiao wan is one of the most popular Thai Curries across the world. The main reason for such universal appeal, in my opinion, is the ever-so-faithful combination of all the different herbs and spices used to make the Green Curry paste as well as the fact that it is mostly a mild curry.

Be forewarned: My version is on the spicy side of the spectrum. Please tone it down by reducing the number of chillies or use less-hot chillies in your Green Curry Paste if you prefer a mild curry.

Some restaurants like to add carrots and potatoes in this curry. I am not too big a fan of that in this context. Mine is a simple version with baby eggplants and green round eggplants. You may want to add more vegetables as you like.

Serves: 4

To print this recipe, click here.

Ingredients:

Green Curry Paste: 4 tblsp [To make it at home: Refer to my previous post : How to make Green Curry paste]
Boneless chicken: 300 gms (sliced into 2″ pcs)
Low fat Coconut milk: 2 1/2 cups (substituted by:  1 & 1/2 cups of coconut cream and 1/2 cup of water)
Kaffir lime leaves: 10 – each leaf roughly torn in two (tearing these leaves gives an  instantaneous aroma)
Galangal (Thai Ginger): 1″ pc, lightly crushed
Sweet Basil leaves: a big handful
Baby egg plants: 1/2 cup; Stem removed and washed.
Small round green egg plants: 5 (can be substituted with any other egg plant): Cut into quarters
Oil: 1 tbsp
Palm sugar: 2 tsp
Fish sauce: 1 tbsp or more depending on your preference

For Garnish:
1 big red Thai chilli (remove seeds and cut into thin strips)
3-4 tsp of coconut milk

How I did it:

Heat oil in a deep bottomed dish. Add the green curry paste and fry for 3 mins on medium-low heat.

Next, add 1/2 cup of coconut milk. Continue to cook until the coconut milk is almost assimilated into the green curry paste (5 mins).

Next add the chicken and fry for 2 mins until the chicken is nicely coated with the curry paste and begins to turn white. Now add the remaining 2 cups of coconut milk. Let it boil on medium heat for about 5 mins.

If using coconut cream, use 1 1/2 cups of coconut milk in all. Add 1 cup water. Coconut cream is thick in consistency so adding water helps to achieve the desired consistency.
Add the eggplants followed by palm sugar, torn lime leaves, galangal and 1 tbsp of fish sauce. Fish sauce is salty so make sure you taste the curry before adding more.

Note: the shrimp paste already has salt. So, if you have added shrimp paste in your green curry paste, do not add too much fish sauce at first. Let it cook for another 5 mins on medium heat. Stir in between. Do not overcook the eggplants as they become too mushy when overcooked.

Cooking Green Curry Chicken

When almost done, check the seasoning. Adjust palm sugar and fish sauce as per your liking.

Once done, turn off the heat. Add a handful of sweet basil leaves. Give it a good stir.

Garnish with a swirl of coconut milk and red chilli strips. Enjoy with steamed rice.

A beach vacation in Khao Lak | ..and Thai Green Curry paste

R & I are always looking for reasons to travel. Both of us love traveling but our motivations are different. Yet, one thing unites us : FOOD !

A well-planned but badly executed surprise holiday was in the making. It was R’s birthday last weekend.

At first, a dear friend spilled the beans – Phuket! I dodged that one somehow because we were going to Khao Lak, 1.5 hours drive from the Phuket airport. And then it was me – a terrible case of ‘slip of tongue’ 😦 So, just before the trip started, R knew exactly where we were going. And I cursed myself for it !

We landed very late that night. A prearranged car and driver was waiting for us at the Phuket airport. In my far-from-perfect-Thai, I explained to the driver that we were hungry! He took us to a small eatery nearby selling Khao Man Gai (Thai Chicken Rice). Khao Man Gai brought back memories of my university days in Bangkok. It was a standard meal for the times when I needed to have a quick lunch in between classes. Lost in nostalgia, I had an extra plate of chicken and two bowls of soup !

Our resort, Ramada Khao Lak, was a solitude by the beaches far from the madness of Phuket. The room was tastefully furnished with modern fixtures, a fancy jacuzzi indoors and sun-loungers in the balcony – perfect for a romantic vacation.

We were here to unwind and soak in every bit of sea, sand and sun.

The sun-loungers by the beach were highly sought after. We were almost always the last takers. As the boys played in the sun, I sat there listening to the sound of the sea. My mind drifting along with the whoosh-whash of the waves. I couldn’t help but imagine the plight of the many people who were here, just like us, more than 7 years ago when the giant Tsunami hit the Asian subcontinent. Khao Lak was one of the worst affected areas. I shuddered as images of those giant killer waves kept flashing in my mind…

After a couple of hours, we headed to the nearby shacks for lunch. What a treat that was! Tom Yam Prawns, Basil Chicken, Papaya salad, Spicy Noodles, and more – all phed phed (extra spicy). And some chilled Singha Beer to cool us down 🙂

As the sun went down, we strolled to the nearby local weekend market. What better way to experience a place than to shop and eat where the locals do ! One street dedicated to fresh spices and herbs, another to street food and yet another to the 199-Baht clothes and souvenir shops. The aroma of fresh basil, mint, coriander, lemon grass, galangal and lime leaves are enough to give anyone hunger pangs! As we just about managed to get past that, the most vibrant, innovative street food awaited us – Smoked pork balls, coconut pancakes, fried chicken, Stick noodles (Phad Thai) and much more! Needless to say, we kept sampling all the food as we walked along.

V chose an Angry Bird t-shirt for himself, which by the way he calls ‘bad birds’. Soon our little boy was getting cranky. It was dinner time. We were in the mood for something authentic, and not toned down for ‘foreigners’. A small Thai family restaurant down the road was the unanimous choice. They made a Stir Fried Prawn and Vegetable dish for V – Thai style but without chillies and he loved it! We had our share of everything spicy – fried fish, garlic chicken, stir fried prawns, stir fried vegetables and a yum load of sauces to go with it!

A little bit of pampering in the spa was exactly what we needed to end this long and tiring day.

More on the vacation in my next post for fear of exceeding the word count limit, if any!


To give myself a continued sense of that perfect beach vacation and to celebrate my love for Thai food,  I wanted to share one of my all time favorite curry recipes. I first made the curry paste and then used it to make a curry. I will share the curry recipe in the next post.

How to make Green Curry Paste:

To print this recipe, click here.

Ingredients:

Shallots: 8
Thai Garlic: 15 cloves
Lemon grass: 3 stalks
Galangal: 1 ½ “ pc
Fresh Green Peppercorns: 10 pc
Kaffir Lime rind: of ½ a lime
Thai Green chillies: 15
Sweet Basil leaves: 1 cup
Coriander seeds: 1 tbsp
Cumin seeds: 1 tsp
Shrimp paste: 3 tsp

How I did it:

Dry roast the cumin and coriander in a pan on low heat. This may take about 3-4 mins. Let it cool.

Finely slice the galangal (or Thai ginger) and shallots. Wash the Thai garlic thoroughly. If using Thai garlic, you can keep the skin. If using any other garlic, peel the skin first.

Smash the end of the lemon grass stalk with the back of a knife (white in color). Finely slice the white portion, discarding the green stalk.

Using a mortar and pestle, finely pound the dry roasted coriander and cumin seeds. Take it out and keep aside in a bowl.

Now pound the galangal and kaffir lime rind until smooth. Add the finely sliced lemon grass and green peppercorn and pound.

When done, add the green chillies, pound well until a smooth paste is formed. Next add the garlic and shallots and pound thoroughly. Finally, add the shrimp paste, sweet basil and pound until the mixture forms a fine paste.

Notes:

  • For a vegetarian version, skip the shrimp paste.
  • Alternatively, you could grind all the ingredients in a food processor instead of using the mortar and pestle. Though, I believe that the aromas and flavors that come out in pounding cannot be replicated by a food processor.