May 31, 2009
Pulp is good
By Chris Tan
Q I have a soya bean milk maker. What can I make with the soya bean residue instead of throwing it away?
Soh Kim Hong
A Think of okara - as the Japanese call the bean pulp left over after soya bean milk extraction - as an extender that will boost the fibre and nutrient content of anything it is added to.
It is an excellent addition to, or substitute for breadcrumbs in, minced meat mixtures destined for meatballs, rissoles, meatloaf, steamed meat patties, dumpling fillings, pasta sauces and such.
You can likewise blend it with fishball or cuttlefish paste to make a base for fried or simmered fishcakes and patties, or yong tau foo stuffing. It will make the paste drier and looser though, so you may need to add a little starch or grated fresh yam (wai san) to help bind it.
You can add okara to baked goods such as breads, pound cakes, cookies, muffins and even cheesecake, but expect to go through some trial and error in adjusting the other ingredient quantities to accommodate the subtle textural changes it will cause.
Okara can also be worked together with oats or other cereal flakes, sugar, oil and some milk to form a clumpy dough, then baked on a tray until crisp to make a crumble topping for desserts or breakfast cereal.
It also contributes body to soups, especially miso soups and cream soups, root vegetable purees, white sauces, cereal porridges such as polenta and oatmeal, and even smoothies, if you don't mind a slight graininess.
A classic Japanese recipe stir-fries okara with finely cut vegetables to make unohana, a side dish named for the small white flowers that okara is poetically thought to resemble.
You can also make a coconut-free serunding sambal with okara. Season it with salt, sugar, a little oil and pounded spices such as lemongrass and chilli, then simply fry it over medium heat in a large wok, stirring constantly, until it dries out and becomes fluffy and lightly browned. It crisps up further on cooling. Once cool, store it in an airtight container immediately.
The fresh tofu counter at Meidi-Ya supermarket sells bagged okara. If you are friendly with your local soymilk hawker, try persuading him or her to sell you some. Small-batch okara retains more nutrients than that from industrially made tofu.
Smooth finish to carrot cake
Q I have tried making Chinese-style steamed carrot cake using rice flour. It turned out okay but was not as smooth and soft as the carrot cake in dim sum restaurants. How do I get this result?
Ann Yong Kuen Guek
A To get a silky, slightly soft texture, you need to mix the rice flour with a starch that has a softer set, such as tapioca (cassava) starch, cornstarch or wheat starch (tang mien).
Ratios vary quite a lot from cookbook to cookbook: start with 20g of starch (which can be a single one or a mix of those mentioned above) for every 200g of rice flour, and see if the resulting texture suits you. Increase it to 30 or 40g if you want a still more delicate set.
Experience helps when measuring the water quantity. The optimum amount varies a little depending on the juiciness of the radish you have. Taro or pumpkin variations will also need water quantity adjustments. Very juicy radishes or crisp pumpkins need a tad less water.
Remember also that the flour-starch mixture has to be stirred with hot water or the hot par-cooked radish. The heat helps the starch to hydrate and gelatinise, and subsequently cook more evenly during the steaming.
If you're steaming the cake in individual bowls and serving it in them, then you can aim for a softer texture. If you want to pan-fry the cake, you need a firmer texture. Chilling the steamed cake overnight before slicing also helps you make neater slices.
Old hens, tastier chicken
Q My Hainanese mother swears by old hens to make the stock for chicken rice. She is right - the rice really turns out tastier. Why is that so? Shouldn't younger chickens taste better?
Vincent Chua Kok Choon
A Youth is not always to be desired. Chicken rice stock is much like celebrity autobiographies and blended cognacs - the older the source material, the better the flavour. No disrespect, but whose life story would you rather read: Dakota Fanning's or Robert de Niro's?
Nubile young pullets may have a juicier texture but you can't beat a mature chicken for depth and intensity of taste.
Older hens, like the one below, have exercised more, especially if they are free-range, and thus have built up more red muscle fibres, in which reside much flavour. For the same reason, chicken-leg dark meat is generally more flavourful than the white muscle fibres of chicken breasts, and wild birds of any kind are stronger-tasting than farmed ones.