I am a comfort food junkie. There is something about a warm full belly that resonates with happiness and comfort food does just that for me. So after a truly busy week of lots of work and lots of Chinese New Year preparation, I was ready for my comfort food fix.
I have confessed before that I am the proverbial “banana”; yellow on the outside and white on the inside. So as an ethnic Chinese I know remarkably little about Chinese traditions and history. As an angsty teen I remember spending long hours reading about British and European dynasties and scorning Old China history (in fact the only character I can bring to mind now is Qin Shi Huang and heheh…thanks to Disney, Mu Lan!). Yet Chinese New Year is a festival that we are obliged to celebrate. I know of friends who will escape Singapore every CNY holiday, probably to escape those annoying relatives who want to drill down to desperate detail why they are not married or why they haven’t had children yet. This year I was really sorely tempted because it was literally the FIRST TIME in 10 years that I was not on call over the CNY period. Yet the guilt of escaping the mandatory visiting prevailed in the end. Firstly because my hubs is an only son and without our family the in-laws would have no one to celebrate with, and secondly because I have a pair of teens. Kid #1 is constantly indigent and depends on CNY to collect enough red packets to sustain his flamboyant dress style. So here I am stuck in Singapore in a festival I don’t really enjoy.
Yet to be absolutely honest, there are parts of the holiday I do enjoy. I like the cooking and baking (it’s the perfect excuse to experiment). So this past weekend I headed to the wholesalers to buy seafood and meat. Again being slightly clueless and for some reason underestimating the seriousness of the CNY prep, I turned up at the wholesalers completely unprepared for the crowds of determined aunties. There were literally 3 large tour buses outside Song Fish Dealer and the retail shop had moved the freezers out of the shop area into the patio because there was no room for the crowds of people.
Scene of organized chaos in the wholesale fish market
Somehow I gathered my wits and defenses and managed to fight off the heartland aunties who were literally shoving everyone and grabbing at the food in the freezers. I confess I did some of my own pushing and wielded my food basket like a weapon to create a swathe of personal space for me. So I did get enough for my steamboat dinner next week and it will taste all the sweeter for the hard work put into getting one-up on those fierce aunties.
After the wholesalers I also had to go to Johor Bahru on a recce trip to one of the hotels we were using for a conference in March. Because of the tight timeline we had no choice but to travel that weekend which most people would have said was plain foolishness because of the number of people who would be traveling to Malaysia to take advantage of the exchange rate to buy cheaper CNY goodies. So we were indeed stuck in the jam for about 2 hours and I was completely wiped out by the time we returned to Singapore.
So after all the physical challenges I was super ready for some comfort food. For me, comfort food must be either soupy or stewy and the flavors must be rich and not too acidic or jarring. I do admit a soft spot for beans and lentils, which are a bit of a no-no when doing a really low carb diet, but I find that not overeating bean dishes allows me to get away without sugar spikes, so I am allowed a bean fix once in a while. This was a recipe literally thought out and created as I went along and I did like how good it tasted whether it was eaten fresh or as a leftover.
Black Bean Stew
- 100g pork belly, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
- 200g smoked ham hock
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 cloves of garlic, diced
- 1 small carrot, peeled and diced
- 1 can of black beans
- 1 can diced tomatoes
- 200 ml water
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- In a soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat, then sauté the garlic, onions and carrots about 5 minutes till fragrant and tender.
- Add the pork belly and stir fry about 1-2 minutes. Add the smoked pork, black beans in their canning fluid and the canned tomatoes. Season with salt, pepper, paprika and cumin and adjust the taste accordingly.
- Simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally. Remove the ham hock, then shred the ham finely and return to the pot.
- Serve hot over a bed of cauliflower mash or rice or some low carb pasta.