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A grain bowl that won't break the bank

Hedy Khoo on 21 Apr 2019

The Straits Times


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You can make this pretty one-dish meal for less than $5 a person


Grain bowls are hearty and flavourful, have interesting layers and often cost the earth.


But you can easily rustle up this rice salad - inspired by a southern Thai dish called Khao Yam or Khao Yum, and the beautiful herbed rice salad Nasi Kerabu - for less than $5 a bowl.


And while you are at it, why not amp up its Insta-appeal and add more colour - in fact, all colours of the rainbow - to your bowl?


For this recipe, which serves four, I have chosen to use basmati rice which costs $6.50 for a 1kg packet. The deep blue colour comes from dried butterfly pea flower. The rice is fragranced with kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass and torch ginger bulb.


To keep costs down, I suggest taking a trip to the wet market where it is possible to buy vegetables in small quantities. For example, instead of buying a whole head of purple cabbage, I asked to buy a quarter (150g), which cost 70 cents.


With a budget in mind, I chose chicken fillet as the protein for this grain bowl.


Don't let the insipid look of poached chicken put you off. The meat is aromatic with the use of coriander root, lemongrass, garlic and ginger in the poaching liquid.


Save the poaching liquid to serve as a simple soup on the side. You will be surprised at how tasty it is. It also works well as the base for the dressing.


I used a mortar and pestle to bash the garlic mixture for the dressing, but you can also use a blender or chop up the ingredients.


Pack this colourful grain bowl to work and it is bound to become a talking point in the office.





For the assembly of the bowl

  • 150g purple cabbage, shredded
  • 40g shallots, finely sliced
  • 3 mini peppers, finely sliced
  • 2 winged beans (30g), finely sliced
  • 3 stalks of long beans (100g), finely sliced
  • 1 Japanese cucumber (100g), diced
  • 2 Tbs dried shrimp powder
  • 150g roasted peanuts
  • 1 lemongrass stalk (use 5cm of the white root part, remove the outer two layers and slice finely)
  • 1 torch ginger bulb (use 5cm of the bulb tip, slice finely)
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves, finely sliced
  • 1 lime (70g), sectioned


For the rice

  • 500ml water
  • 7g dried butterfly pea flowers
  • 2 rice cups of basmati rice (270g), soaked for 30 minutes
  • 2 kaffir lime leaves
  • 1 lemongrass stalk
  • Leftover portion of torch ginger bulb


For the chicken

  • 1 litre water
  • Remaining portion of the 2 lemongrass stalks used for the dressing and assembly of the bowl
  • 2 whole garlic cloves, bruised
  • 3 slices of ginger (10g)
  • 1 coriander root ½ tsp salt
  • 4 chicken fillets (200g)


For the dressing

  • 50g tamarind pulp
  • 100ml water
  • 80ml chicken stock (reserved from cooking the chicken fillets)
  • 10g ginger
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 lemongrass stalk (use 5cm of the white root part, remove the outer two layers and slice finely)
  • 3 shallots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 tsp dried chilli flakes
  • 20g palm sugar
  • 3 Tbs fish sauce
  • 2 Tbs dried shrimp powder



Cook the rice


1. Bring 500ml of water to boil in a saucepan. Add the dried butterfly pea flowers. Simmer for 5 minutes, then turn off the heat.


2. Place the basmati rice in the rice cooker. Add the butterfly pea flower mixture, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass stalk and leftover torch ginger bulb. Cook for 30 minutes or until rice is cooked through.


3. Set aside the rice.


Cook the chicken


1. Bring 1 litre of water to a boil.


2. Add the lemongrass, garlic, ginger, coriander root and salt.


3. Cover and bring to a boil. Boil over high heat for 5 minutes.


4. Place the chicken fillets into the water and poach for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and remove the chicken from the pot. Allow to cool and slice. Set aside.


5. Reserve 80ml of the cooking liquid to make the dressing.


Make the dressing


1. Soak the tamarind pulp in 100ml of water. Strain and reserve the tamarind juice.


2. Use a mortar and pestle to pound the ginger, garlic, lemongrass, shallots and dried chilli flakes.


3. In a saucepan, pour the chicken stock, add the garlic mixture, tamarind juice, palm sugar, fish sauce and dried shrimp powder.


4. Bring the mixture to a boil and mix well.


5. Cover and let it simmer for 2 minutes. Set aside.


Assemble the rice bowl


1. For each bowl, place 100g of the butterfly pea flower rice in serving bowl.


2. Arrange a portion of the shredded purple cabbage, shallots, mini peppers, chicken, winged beans, long beans and cucumber.


3. Garnish with ½ Tbs of dried shrimp powder, roasted peanuts, sliced lemongrass, torch ginger bulb, lime leaves and a slice of lime.


4. Serve with dressing on the side.


Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.


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