I love cooking in themes. I think because of the Covid19 pandemic, I have been deliberately cooking food from around the world, to bring a sense of wonder in the mundane goldfish bowl life we seem to be living in safe Singapore. So tonight, simply because I had 4 overripe avocados, I built dinner around guacamole and a Tex-Mex theme.
Truth is, I actually use this blog as a recipe keeper. I think I got tired of searching for dirty rice recipes and mentally translating it into low carb versions, so this post is actually for my personal quick reference!
But when I was cooking today, I was actually mulling over my cooking origin story, and how things have evolved into a personal style of cooking big and hearty meals with international themes. I started off, like most Asian kids, watching my mother and helper in the kitchen. I think I must have been a bit of a pest because after slicing my thumb along with potato peel, I was chased out of the kitchen because I was a hazard to myself. I remember wistfully listening to my parents talking about a friend of mine who, at the ripe old age of 10 years, could make a mean curry chicken on her own. So I would have been considered a slow starter. Certainly in my teens I only paid lip service to baking (like many other teenage girls suffering through home econs classes), making rock buns and chocolate chip cookies. But I was never known to be good in the kitchen. In fact I remember being mocked by my dad who discovered on a family trip to Perth when I was tasked to make Campbell’s mushroom soup that I didn’t know how to make the soup without lumps. I remember the thought going through my mind that no one ever taught me…how was I supposed to know?
Anyway it was only when I got married and had my own kitchen that I suddenly had to make meals for my new husband and I. Thank goodness dear hubs is so easy with food that I never felt discouraged or incompetent. I’m sure I must have poisoned him several times over in the first few months of our marriage but he never complained. But anyway in our early years of marriage, both of us were so busy with hospital calls, studying for exams and so on and I remember we bought takeout or hawker food more frequently than cooking. Then kid#1 arrived and we got a maid and she took over my feeble attempts in the kitchen.
So the moment that changed my cooking trajectory was when I had to do my post-doc fellowship in the US. We couldn’t bring the maid with us and so it was just me, hubs and 2 little kids in tow. When we got there a friend kindly helped us buy a rice cooker, a saucepan and a skillet and that was the bare bones beginning of a new existence. Because we had to cook our own meals and we missed home food so much, I ended up cooking with all my food memories in mind. I remember we used to get hubs to bring up dark soy sauce which was impossible to find in the Asian groceries in NJ. And I found a second hand southeast Asian cookbook by Dorothy Ng that helped me recreate my cravings like Hokkien prawn mee in an era where Asian recipes were sparse on the internet.
It also helped that both work and church had quite a few potlucks where we were expected to bring our own dishes. I had to pluck up courage to try making new dishes and to bake cakes and pies, which I had never done before. I worked in a lab full of internationals and our potlucks were eclectic and were a vast array of different ethnic cuisines. I discovered new realities, like using French butter for baking cakes and learning how to roast a turkey for Thanksgiving.
Returning to Singapore, I started attending cooking classes, mostly at Shermay’s cooking school where I learned both local and international recipes and techniques. But after a while I got much better at figuring out recipes and didn’t need classes any more, except for the odd class when I wanted to perfect a skill such as bread making. I went through different phases such as ice cream making and pie baking until I had mastered the science and technique of these recipes.
Then 8 years ago I developed insulin-dependent diabetes. The diagnosis was abrupt and the need to radically change my diet was disconcerting. But again it was all about mastery and learning a whole different way of thinking and cooking and baking, and that took a few years to figure out. Now, over the past 2 – 3 years I think I’m really having much more fun as I experiment with different cuisines but make it work for my low carb lifestyle.
I’ve tried to keep this blog mainly about Asian food because there is a need for an Asian perspective on low carb or keto cooking. But truth is that I love cooking all kinds of food and this Covid19 year I’ve been travelling the world by cooking South American, Middle Eastern, American, French, Italian and Indian meals. So this is why once in a while you may find an odd non-Asian recipe in this blog. I have an international tummy after all! So here is the Mexican dirty rice recipe that I love – now I don’t need to keep googling the Mexican rice recipes when I want to make it!
Mexican Dirty Cauliflower Rice
- 1 large head of cauliflower
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 green pepper, chopped (1 cm pieces)
- 1 can of red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
- 1/2 tsp dried red peppers
- 2 tbsp cilantro, chopped
- 1 medium tomato, deseeded and chopped into 1 cm pieces
- 2 tbsp oil
- Cut the cauliflower into florets and chop into small rice-sized bits with a food processor. Set aside.
- Heat up the oil in a skillet or wok over medium heat. Stir fry the onions for about 2 minutes till translucent, then add the garlic and green pepper and saute further till the green pepper is slightly tender.
- Add the cauliflower pellets and stir through. Add the salt, pepper, cumin, paprika and dried red peppers and stir fry until the cauliflower is just slightly tender. Add the kidney beans and continue frying. Taste the cauliflower at this stage to test for the doneness of the cauliflower as well as the taste. Adjust cooking time and seasoning accordingly.
- Turn off the heat and stir through the chopped tomatoes and cilantro. Serve hot.