Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Eggplants - So many varieties

Before I became a farmer, I was vaguely aware of the a couple varieties of the eggplant.  Now, I find that there are so many varieties and called a few names - eggplant, brinjals, aubergine and guinea squash - and is from the plant family Solanaceae.  As with the varied names, there are also many sizes, shapes and colors.  This plant is a perennial but is often cultivated as an annual in locations which have a climate other than tropical.
This plant is propagated from seeds.The plant can grow quite tall but can be controlled by selective pruning to help shape it.  It produces small purple or white flowers with a yellow stamen.  A healthy plant can produce lots of flowers, beautiful to look at so you might want to consider this for your home garden, both as a landscape feature and food source.  At the farm, it is watered regularly and fornightly organic fertilizing and this seems to result in good quality and quantity of flowers and fruit.  I also water them at least once a week with water from the fish pond so that it can receive the various minerals and nutrients available from this water.  Be careful with terung pipit though as it does have sharp thorns on its branches and stems.

It is difficult to spot the difference between the leaves so I wait until the plant produces the fruit although I can distinguish a couple of the varieties.  The fruits produce can weigh the plant stems down so it is important to stake them to prevent the plant from toppling or the fruits from laying on the gound which can damage it.  At the farm, I use a 1" pvc pipe of at least 1m long and then I thread "rafia" string along the branches to provide support.  I find that by threading the string, it prevents damage being done to the branches and provides balanced support.

Some varieties taste better than others eaten raw.  Other ways for preparing it include using it in curries, baked either with olive oil or with a cheese topping, dipped in batter and fried, sauteed with a seasoning of your choice, stuffed with cheese, seafood, breadcrumb mixture or whatever you fancy - the options are limited to your culinary imagination.  A special quality of terung pipit is it is often used locally is as a condiment to reduce the bitterness of papaya shoots.

There are probably more varieties so I look forward to more discoveries....

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

SHL Red Tilapia Asam Pedas

My latest culinary adventure in the SHL Kitchen was to create my own version of the local dish Asam Pedas.  The aim was to use as many ingredients as possible from the farm.  The fish used is fresh red tilapia and with its firmly soft (is that an oxymoron? I guess most of you know what I mean) and ability to absorb flavors, I thought it would be a good fish to use for this dish.  Next I had some bottle gourd which I felt would also be a great vegetable to add to this dish as it can absorb the flavors of the Asam Pedas.  I also used vine-ripened tomatoes to have that slight sweet taste and a touch of sourness.The herbs used in this dish was also available at the farm so the journey began.  The ingredients used were:
  1. Cleaned red tilapia (300gm fish size to make serving much easier
  2. Tamarind juice - add more if you like it really sour and less it you just want to have a subtle taste
  3. Red chillies
  4. Bottle gourd
  5. Vine-ripened tomatoes
  6. Shrimp paste (belacan)
  7. Persicaria odorata or known in English as Vietnamese mint or in Malay as Daun Kesom 
  8. Lemon grass or serai
  9. Red onion
  10. Salt to taste
I do not like to use the blender and prefer to use a mortar and pestle (lesung batu) to create a paste of chillies, belacan and tomatoes.  I also use it to pound the lemon grass to be added.  I brown the sliced red onions in oil and add the chilli-tomato-belacan paste to it.  After a few minutes, allowing the flavors to blend nicely, I added the tamarind juice, lemon grass, daun kesom and additional water to create a gravy.  After it is brought to a boil, the pieces of bottle gourd is added.  When this has become soft and the gravy brought to a boil, the fish is added.  Once the fish is cooked, it is now ready to serve.  It is an easy and quick dish to prepare, all in all taking less than 30 minutes to prepare from cleaning the fish to serving.

SHL Smoked Red Tilapia

One of the things I enjoy is to experiment with ways if preparing whatever we produce.  I began producing smoked red tilapia in November 2012 - in small quantities first to have people try it out.  Based on the positive feedback, I began to make them quite regularly and sell it at the Sunday morning market in Sg. Penchala.  It is a popular item and finishes fast.  Many have asked how it is made so here's how I process it so maybe whoever is interested can try to make it too.
Starting with fresh red tilapia, preferably those bred in running water ponds (as it tastes tons better), clean off the scales and cut it open from the "back" so that is splits open and remains joined by the "tummy" side.  This will enable the fish to absorb more of the marinate and "dries" faster.  Rinse it well and at the farm, since we have clean, river water, the fish doesn't get touched by chemicals in our normal water although it may be present in small quantities.  Be sure that the fish is really fresh or the meat of the fish will become "mush".
Nest step is to prepare the marinate.  The ingredients are:
  1. Lemon grass (serai)
  2. Calamansi (limau kasturi)
  3. Coarse salt
Pound the lemon grass and squeeze in the juice of the calamansi and add salt, mixing these ingredients well.  I also add the calamansi fruit that has been "juiced-out" in the marinate.  Add the fish and mix it well with the marinate and let it marinate for at least 6 hours, keeping it in the fridge the whole time.  I tend to marinate it for at least 24 hours.
The most time-consuming part is the smoking of these fishes.  It is important to have damp firewood that will create the smoke as well as turn into embers to provide the necessary heat to slowly dry the fish.  Be sure not to have flames as this will cook the fish too fast and not allow it to smoke nicely or you will end up with grilled fish and not smoked fish.
Now that you have the smoked fish, what do you do with eat.  There are many ways to prepare them for your meal:
  1. Fry them to create a crispy fish and you can munch on the whole fish.
  2. Cook a sambal with chillies and a touch of shrimp paste (belacan) and tamarind juice (air asam jawa) to create a spicy smoked red tilapia dish.
  3. Cook a coconut-based gravy either with or without chillies, with or without belimbing buloh and add the smoked fish to create a creamy dish or  masak lemak as an accompaniment to your rice.
  4. Chop it up and add to your rice porridge.
If any of you have any other ways of turning it into your meal, I would love to hear about it.  Happy trying :)