For the past few weekends, I felt like an alchemist in my kitchen. I had been boiling water, scalding flowers and tinkering with colours in a quest to achieve a desired potion.
Sounds too far-fetched? In reality, it’s just butterfly pea flowers that have piqued my interest in creating natural colour extracts. I bought a batch of butterfly pea flowers so I was very eager to try my hands at extracting colours from them. These blue extracts are often used in Malay and Peranakan cooking to dye rice and desserts—now I finally know where kueh salat got its colour from—while in Thailand they are commonly made into a blue/purple drink called naam dork anchan (น้ำดอกอัญชัน). I got the inspiration to brew my own blue potion following recent visits to several hotels in Thailand and Laos that served their welcome drinks made from butterfly pea flowers.
The common names of this tropical Asian plant—butterfly pea or blue pea—sound innocuous in English but its scientific name is way more blush-inducing: Clitoria ternatea. This herbal plant is so named because of the shape of its flowers, which, with vivid blue hues and light yellow markings, supposedly resemble a particular female anatomy, but you have to look at the flower from its front to get the idea. (I think whoever named this flower must surely be a man!)
[Recipe] Extracting colours from butterfly pea flowers is easy peasy. Place the flowers in a bowl or container, add hot water and then wait for the colours to infuse into the water. Initially I used around 20 flowers to two cups of water, and an indigo-blue hue was yielded. I decided to go for a less intense blue so I soaked five flowers instead. This time round the colour created was a lovely cobalt blue, which reminded me very much of chemistry experiments during my schooling days.
After the colours have infused into the water, pass it through a sieve to remove the flowers and any loose petals. The flowers would have imparted a strong floral note to the water, so stir in some honey or sugar to the desired sweetness and your butterfly pea drink is ready.
Now more fun—and magic—is under way. Adding a few drops of lime will increase the acidity of the water and change its colour to purple. I could see twirls of purple slowly spreading across the water after I squeezed some drops of lime juice. Serve the tea warm or chilled, with or without lime, but the lovely hues of blues and purples are sure to impress!
Butterfly pea flowers provide an inexpensive and organic way to extract natural colourings without having to rely on artificial food dyes and will certainly make good kitchen science experiments for those with kids at home, don’t they?
Xin: “Hey, come and see what I did!”
Mr. P: “It sure looks like you. Eyes of uneven sizes, a flat nose, a big mouth… Oh, and the sparse hair too.”
Sometimes husbands do say the darndest things.
When I was young, my mum loved to assign me the task of folding wontons while she busied herself with other stuffs in the kitchen. “Go watch TV while you fold the wontons,” she would often instruct, “just fold them into triangles.” Since then wonton soup has become my no. 1 dish—it was the first dish I cooked for Mr. P—and I’ve been folding wontons into triangles just like how my mum had taught me. I never thought to adopt other methods (that just shows how uncreative I am) until I chanced upon a dumpling recipe in a cookbook recently. The author showed different ways of folding wontons and I was inspired to try them.
This morning, we awoke to a fridge with only one piece of cheese left for breakfast. And being the “sacrificial” wife I’m always am, I volunteered to eat my bread with naam phrik phao. (In my earlier post, I mentioned that some people like to eat naam phrik phao as jam, so I was really curious about the taste. Chilli on bread?)
I popped two pieces of bread into the toaster, then slathered a thin layer of chilli jam on top of one piece. I was still a bit skeptical, so I didn’t dare to apply a thick layer lest it wasn’t to my liking. I bit onto my toast and the now-I-know-why feeling immediately flashed in my mind. It was really delicious, with a hint of spice and saltiness, and which balanced very well with a slightly crunchy toast.
“You should try Xin’s winged bean salad. It’s much nicer than this restaurant’s version,” said Mr. P to ZP, who was passing by Bangkok and having a dinner with us on a Monday evening. Seriously, I don’t think my winged bean salad is that delicious—still lots of room for improvement—but to receive such encouraging remarks, particularly from someone dear, I was touched and even more determined to improve my cooking skills.
A leafy vegetable with thick stems, glossy leaves of a dark green shade and vestigial yellow flowers, Chinese kale, or Chinese broccoli, is very popular in Asian cooking. It goes well with many vegetables, such as shiitake mushrooms, crispy pork belly and salted fish. Chinese kale is probably one of best vegetables for stir-frying and gives confidence to an amateur cook like me. I love to rinse Chinese kale under running water, as rubbing the leaves’ leathery textures remind me of water droplets bouncing off lotus leaves.
I’m starting to discover the wonders of naam phrik phao (นำ้พริกเผา), a type of Thai chilli paste made by dry-roasting and pounding dried chillies with shrimp paste, dried shrimps, palm sugar and fish sauce. A very versatile sauce in Thai cooking, its uses range from flavouring soups to complementing omelettes to being a jam spread on toast (never tried that!).
Since I was a kid, I’ve always loved yam, from traditional Chinese food including or nee (芋泥) and suan pan zi (算盘子) to fast-food items such as Burger King’s taro turnover. Or nee used to be commonly served during Chinese wedding dinners in Singapore some 20 years ago; I remember relatives at other tables would pass over remaining bowls of or nee for the young, greedy me to gobble it all up. However, I hardly see any wedding dinners offer or nee nowadays, and a tasty bowl of or nee is becoming increasingly harder to come by too.