Butternut Squash Salad with Pomelo & Pomegranate

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Butternut squash is in season.  Pomegranate is in season.  Pomelo is also in season.  When I saw them in my neighborhood grocery, I decided to put them together in this delicious winter salad that bursts with flavors and colors.  During the filming of Marco Polo in Malaysia, Chef Duyen often prepared the most refreshing pomelo pomegranate salads with Vietnamese dressing for us.  The sight of the pomelos in the store brought back memories of that extended “summer camp” in the tropics, where every Thursday, my friend Russel would buy pomelos for me from the “Pomelo Man” who drove a truck to a certain cross road in Johor to sell the fruit from his farm. 

This is a relatively easy and simple salad to make.  The only time consuming part is preparing the pomelo and pomegranate.  The best way is to use your hands after you open the fruits with a knife.  I happen to enjoy this type of work where your eyes and the hands are engaged in a task and the mind is free and relaxed, you feel the sensual texture, inhale the sweet scent of the fruits and free associate.

Pomelo is a fragrant citrus fruit that is sweeter than grapefruit.  If there is no pomelo in your super market, you can probably substitute with a grapefruit.

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Roast Butternut Squash Salad with Pomelo and Pomegranate

Ingredients:

1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed

1 pomelo, peeled, pith and seeds removed

Seeds from 1/2 pomegranate

1 packed cup arugula

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Ingredients for the dressing:

2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon light maple syrup

1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste

2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

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Preparation:

Preheat oven to 400F.

Mix all dressing ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

Toss cubed butternut squash with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper.  Roast in a baking dish lined with parchment paper in a single layer for 30 to 35 minutes.

while the butternut squash is roasting, prepare the fruits.

When the butternut squash is done, take the baking pan out of the oven and let cool.

When the butternut squash is cool, mix in pomelo, pomegranate seeds and arugula.  Add the dressing and toss to coat before serving.

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2 Great Dishes with Fennel

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We went to a friend’s house for dinner last night.  I was to bring a fennel salad with burrata, yam casserole,  potato avocado salad and a no-bake mango cheesecake.  The ingredients for the dishes were prepared and packed in separate containers.  Then I took a shower, blow-dried my hair, put on makeup, got dressed and changed a few pairs of shoes before settling on a pair of Alexander Wang heels.  That was when I looked at the clock and realized that we were going to be late.  In the rush to leave the house, I left the pickled red onion for the potato salad and the burrata for the fennel salad in the fridge at home.  The mangos that I used to make the mango cheesecake were not as flavorful as the ones from Malaysia where I first made the cake.  I’m afraid that I have kind of ruined the Hungry Empress’s reputation.  

So today I remade the less-than-ideal dishes to redeem myself at least in my own mind.  I wish I could switch the dishes from last night like how people exchange gifts that don’t fit them on Boxing Day.

I received a beautiful two-toned ceramic serving bowl from my friend, whose house we were at last night.  I used it to serve my potato salad with the right ingredients for lunch. So Amy, if you read this, this is what I meant to bring yesterday.

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Potato Salad with Fennel, Avocado and Eggs in Greek Yogurt Dressing

Ingredients for the salad:

10 medium red skin potatoes, boiled and diced with skin on or off

1 tender fennel bulb, rough parts discarded and chopped

3 to 4 avocados, diced

4 to 5 boiled eggs

Pickled red onion from 1/2 red onion

Fresh lemon juice to coat the diced

Ingredients for pickled onion:

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced

1/4 cup apple red wine vinegar

1/2 cup water

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon salt

Ingredients for the dressing:

1 cup Fage or other Greek yogurt

2 to 3 tablespoons pale mustard

2 stocks green onions, minced (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

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Preparation:

Mix all the ingredients for the dressing in a bowl and set aside.

To make pickled onion, bring vinegar, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1/2 cup water to a simmer in a small saucepan. Add onion, bring to boil again and then remove from heat, and let sit 4 to 5 minutes; drain. Drain and let pickled onion cool.  Pickled onion should be crispy.  Don’t over cook it or let it stay in the hot brine for too long.

Boil the eggs for 5 minutes (counting from after the water boils) and rinse with cold water.  Do not over boil the egg. The yolks will get flaky if you overcook them.  Peel and cut into quarters.

Cook the potatoes in a pot of water to al dente and cut into bite size.

Cube the avocados and chop the fennel bulb.  To prevent the avocado from browning, coat the cubes with a little fresh lemon juice.

Toss all salad ingredients with the dressing.  Garnish with fennel fronds and serve at room temperature.

The recipe makes 8 to 10 serving.  You can easily half the recipe for fewer people.

I made a similar potato salad with chili peppers in the dressing when I was in Malaysia.  You can check out that recipe by clicking on the link here.

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Fennel Salad with Burrata:

Ingredients:

2 medium heads fennel, cored and very thinly sliced

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for serving

6 strips lemon zest, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon lemon juice

8  to 12 oz burrata

Fennel fronds for garnish

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

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Preparation:

Place fennel, oil, zest and lemon juice in a dish; season with salt and pepper. Let stand 10 to 20 minutes.  Just before serving, arrange fennel salad on a large platter. Cut burrata into halves or quarters and lay on fennel. Drizzle with additional olive oil, if desired.  Garnish with fennel fronds.

The original recipe calls for 1/2 cup of mint leaves, but I found the salad delicious without it.

Crunchy Pumpkin Spiced Granola

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Breakfast

Around this time of the year, my brother-in-law’s family comes to stay with us.  They always bring us oranges from Peter’s parents’ yard, home baked Christmas cakes and granola.  This year, they brought us the most delicious pumpkin spiced granola, which we have been eating for breakfast, snack and dinner.

I imagine my sister-in-law in their kitchen, measuring, weighing, mixing, turning the granola every 15 minutes with a spatula, tasting… You can’t buy this in a store with money.

When I was a child, my father would occasionally bring home gifts from his patients — sweet rice cakes, peanuts, ham, live chickens or salted duck eggs…  In those days of scarcity, food expressed one’s gratitude more than anything else in the world.  My parents would in turn re-gift the live chicken and the ham to the artist who gave my brother free drawing lessons or the swim coach who let us use the pool during off hours. My brother and I were always forlorn every time the food was given away.

Nowadays, I get to actually eat the food from the gift bags.  This crunchy granola can be enjoyed in so many different ways.  I served it on top of my yam casserole as a side dish for dinner and everyone loved it.  You can bake the yam casserole before sprinkle a layer of the granola on top, or you can simply make an instant casserole by mashing the cooked yam with the ingredients and top it with the granola.

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Dinner

Crunchy Pumpkin Spiced Granola

Ingredients:

  • 3 and 3/4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened coconut
  • 2/3 cup pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • 1/4 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice*
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted (or vegetable oil)
  • 3 Tablespoons packed dark brown sugar (or light brown)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup dried cranberries

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Directions:

Preheat oven to 325F degrees.  Line two large baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper. Set aside. In a large bowl, toss the oats, coconut, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, and salt together until combined.  Set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg whites for about 1 minute.  Whisk in the pumpkin puree, maple syrup, melted coconut oil, brown sugar, and vanilla until smooth and combined. Pour over dry ingredients and mix until everything is moistened. Spread onto two baking sheets and bake each batch for 40 minutes, making sure to stir the granola every 10-15 minutes to prevent burning.  Allow granola to cool for 20 minutes on the baking sheets. This will help it get crunchier. Pour into a large bowl and add the dried cranberries. Cover tightly and store at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. Granola will lose its crunch overtime because of the pumpkin.

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P1090389P1090406This wonderful granola recipe is from Sally’s Baking Addition.

Frog Legs and Porridge

IMG_0196I will be shooting almost everyday for the rest of my stay here and will not have time to cook. As my thoughts turned to packing, I began to give away things from my kitchen.  Though I will miss cooking, I am excited to try some of the local restaurants that my friends have been telling me about.  There are many unique and delicious places in Johor if one knows where to look.  My Singaporean friends often drive across the border to eat the more authentic pepper crabs, braised duck rice noodle or crispy fried pork chop with preserved beancurd in Johor. 

Tonight, my friend Russel and his wife Judy took me and another friend to a place that specializes in frogs and porridge.  I am not exactly a frogs fan— as a matter of fact I have always been a bit squeamish about the idea of eating frogs — but I went along out of curiosity since they had been raving about it.  Am I glad I did!  It was one of the most delicious meals that I have had in Johor.  It’s interesting how we become more adventurous and game to try things when we are traveling.  That was what I did and I was amply rewarded by the experience. 

We ordered frogs in two different flavors —  Kung Pao and Ginger Scallion, along with some of their other signature dishes such as Steam Egg Custard, Crispy Pork Chops, Tofu in onion and scallion oil and Otak-otak. Their Otak-otak was especially tasty because it was made of fresh fish fillet mixed with spicy fish paste.  We ate the flavorful dishes with a pot of porridge with sesame oil and ginger.  In about 20 minutes, we finished the first pot of porridge and had to order a second pot.

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The four of us pigged out for about US$35 and could hardly move after we emptied all the plates.