When she was living in London from 2014 to 2016, Hunan-born housewife Liu Yaling hankered for spicy food the most.
"It was challenging because it was mainly Western cuisine everywhere - there was no chilli," Ms Liu, 37, recalls in a mix of Mandarin and English.
She would often accompany her 45-year-old Indian husband on his work trips to Europe. He works at oil giant Shell.
The couple are Singapore permanent residents and have an 11-year-old daughter and a nine-year-old son.
During the work trips, Ms Liu started developing her own chilli recipes to satisfy her craving. Last month, she started bottling a range of sauces for her family and friends - complete with homemade labels for her bottles and paper bags.
They include a mushroom sauce and Sichuan pepper with pickled vegetables; as well as the Singapore-inspired century egg and green chilli; shrimp paste; and lime leaf chilli paste.
She plans to work on more flavours that will incorporate seasonal vegetables.
One of her recipes is for spicy and sour black fungus, which she shares here. It can be eaten on its own as a side dish or mixed with noodles or rice. The tangy flavour comes from pickled green and red chillies, which can be adjusted to taste. The dish can be cooked in less than 15 minutes.
She says: "People think it's very complicated, but it's actually very easy. You can make batches of the sauce to add to plain rice or noodles and it will be very tasty.
"This is good for busy working mums. They can whip up a simple meal within minutes."
There are no preservatives in her sauces, so after cooling and bottling, the layer of oil at the top will help to keep the condiments well in the refrigerator.
If the oil turns cloudy and solidifies, just take it out from the refrigerator before eating and it will revert to the usual consistency at room temperature, she says.
The sauces are the star of the dishes that she whips up for lunch with The Sunday Times.
She fries a few dishes - kangkong with shrimp paste; Sichuan pepper with pickled vegetables with wo shun (lettuce stem); century egg and green chilli on top of tofu; and prawns with lime leaf chilli paste - within half an hour.
Ms Liu says: "I don't always cook spicy food. I make sure to balance the heat with non-spicy dishes."
Besides Chinese dishes, she can also cook Western fare such as steak and burgers, as well as make sushi.
On her passion for cooking, the doting mother says: "I don't want our children to eat out too often. Also, since I don't work, what do I do? My duty - and my weapon - is cooking."
SPICY AND SOUR BLACK FUNGUS
- 400ml vegetable oil
- 40g ginger, peeled and finely shredded
- 20g pickled red chilli, finely sliced
- 35g pickled green chilli, finely sliced
- 250g black fungus, after soaking and cleaning in hot water
- 200ml soya sauce
1. Heat oil in a wok on high heat.
2. Lower to medium heat and fry the ginger for a few minutes.
3. Add the pickled red and green chilli, and fry for a few minutes.
4. Then add the fungus. Stir in the soya sauce and fry everything for another five minutes.
5. Remove from the heat and serve immediately. Or leave to cool before keeping in sterilised glass bottles for up to two weeks in the refrigerator.
Serves two to four
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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