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Singapore Cooks: She hopes her children will learn to make Hakka abacus seeds

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Eunice Quek on 24 Aug 2019

The Straits Times

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SINGAPORE - For those who find commercially-sold Hakka abacus seeds "too starchy", the only solution is to make it yourself.

 

Housewife Nancy Choong, 51, says: "You can't really taste the yam in the Hakka abacus seeds sold outside, and they look so perfect that they must be machine-made. The home-made ones don't have to look perfect."

 

Mrs Choong shares her late mother's recipe for Hakka abacus seeds, an auspicious dish usually cooked for Chinese New Year or family gatherings. The dish signifies wealth and gets its name from its resemblance to the beads on an abacus.

 

SINGAPORE - For those who find commercially-sold Hakka abacus seeds "too starchy", the only solution is to make it yourself.

 

Housewife Nancy Choong, 51, says: "You can't really taste the yam in the Hakka abacus seeds sold outside, and they look so perfect that they must be machine-made. The home-made ones don't have to look perfect."

 

Mrs Choong shares her late mother's recipe for Hakka abacus seeds, an auspicious dish usually cooked for Chinese New Year or family gatherings. The dish signifies wealth and gets its name from its resemblance to the beads on an abacus.

 

After getting married, she would steam fish or stir-fry xiao bai cai for her husband, who would ask why she always cooked the same dishes. This spurred her to try out more recipes. The couple have three children aged 16 to 22.

 

Now, Mrs Choong whips up everything from handmade yong tau fu, to mee hoon kueh in a soup made from chicken bones, ikan bilis and soy beans. She also cooks Chinese desserts such as tang yuan (Chinese glutinous rice balls), green or red bean soup, and cheng tng.

 

Soup is a staple during meals, and Mrs Choong's repertoire includes winter melon soup and what her children call her "super chicken soup" as she would tell them that drinking it makes them "strong and healthy".

 

Mrs Choong hopes that they will learn to cook one day, so that she can pass on her recipes. Her 20-year-old daughter Jasmine is just starting out with baking banana cake, as well as helping to shape the Hakka abacus seeds.

 

Interestingly enough, Mrs Choong's husband and children are not particularly fond of Hakka abacus seeds, and she has made it her mission to get them to enjoy the dish as much as she does.

 

She adds: "Seeing the finished product gives me a deep sense of pure achievement. It is highly enjoyable to eat the abacus seeds with a cup of good pu er tea. Hopefully, one of them will be able to cook this in the future."

 

HAKKA ABACUS SEEDS

 

Ingredients

 

  • 10 shiitake mushrooms
  • 30g black fungus
  • 1 dried cuttlefish (optional)
  • 1 Thai yam, about 800g
  • 500g minced pork
  • 1 Tbs light soya sauce
  • 1 Tbs oyster sauce
  • 1 Tbs sesame oil
  • 1 Tbs corn flour
  • 150g shallots
  • 1 firm beancurd (tau kwa)
  • 400g tapioca flour
  • 1 cup cooking oil
  • 1/2 carrot, diced
  • Seasoning to taste
  • Light soya sauce
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Sugar
  • Spring onions, diced

 

Method

 

1. In separate bowls, soak the shiitake mushrooms, black fungus and dried cuttlefish in hot water. Dice the mushrooms, and slice the black fungus and cuttlefish into thin strips. Set aside.

 

2. Peel the yam, then wash it clean and cut into thin slices.

 

3. In a wok or steamer, steam the yam for 30 to 40 minutes till very soft.

 

4. In the meantime, marinate the pork with light soya sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil and corn flour. Set aside.

 

5. Slice the shallots and beancurd into thin strips.

 

6. When the yam is ready, remove from the steamer and mash it with a fork while it is still hot.

 

7. Add the tapioca flour in small amounts and knead till you get a soft and smooth dough that does not stick to your hand.

 

8. Roll the dough into long logs of about 2cm in diameter, and cut them into equal pieces of about 1cm thickness.

 

9. Roll each piece into a ball, and press the centre gently with your thumb and index finger to create a depression. Repeat with the rest of the dough.

 

10. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add a dash of cooking oil to the water.

 

11. Prepare a separate pot of ice cold water.

 

12. Cook the abacus seeds in the boiling water for a few minutes. When they float to the top, scoop them out with a slotted spoon and plunge them into the cold water. Set aside the abacus seeds.

 

13. In a wok, heat one cup of cooking oil. Deep-fry the beancurd for a few minutes till crispy. Set aside.

 

14. Next, fry the shallots till golden brown and set aside.

 

15. Stir fry the minced pork for a few minutes till fragrant. Add in the carrots, mushrooms, fungus and dried cuttlefish.

 

16. Season with light soya sauce, salt, pepper and sugar to taste.

 

17. Stir in the fried beancurd. Add the abacus seeds and stir fry all the ingredients till evenly mixed.

 

18. Garnish with the fried shallots and spring onions, and serve hot.

 

Serves eight

 

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

 

 

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