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Wings for high-flying women

Tamarind wings - tart, hot, pungent, sweet and salty - are just the thing to celebrate inspiring women with

Tan Hsueh Yun on 08 Mar 2020

The Straits Times


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If, a couple of years ago, you had predicted I would be writing about female bonding on International Women's Day 2020, I would have kicked you out of the room.


But here we are.


Today, I want to write about the women who inspire me.


Stop rolling your eyes. Hear me out.


I've always chafed at the idea that men and women are different. Sure, that sort of generalisation sells books, but aren't we all just human beings? I know plenty of women from Mars and men from Venus. Cliches do not interest me. Ditto pigeon holes.


But in the last couple of years, I've come to value the women who have made a big difference in my life. I think of them as people who "get" me the way most people don't. Of course, I know men like that too. If the spirit moves me, I'll write about them on International Men's Day in November.


Back to the women.


Only one of them is famous. American singer Lizzo's music has gotten me through some tough times. I love the way she is perfectly comfortable in her own skin. If you follow @lizzobeeating on Instagram, you'll know exactly what I mean. Her music and how she lives her life do more for body positivity than any number of campaigns that are really just about selling soap.


The other women are extraordinary but hide it well.


There's Ann, my gym trainer, who has kicked my butt since 2000 and has not given up on me yet. She challenges me twice a week to be stronger, to do things I never thought I could. Just last week, I did a one-minute plank with my feet in stirrups. And chin-mostly-ups. Who knew? I am certain that one day, I will do them unaided by thick rubber bands.


When she barks: "Abs engaged!", I respond like Pavlov's dog.


There's Lillian, a whiz at altering clothes. Nothing fazes her. Not when I turn up with two of the same dresses and want them merged into one. I have no sewing skills. She does and knows how to turn my vague ideas into reality. Those hybrid outfits are among my favourites.


There's cheongsam-maker Ruixian of Studio HHFZ. I spent a lovely hour at her atelier in Katong recently, choosing fabric and grilling her about her career choice. She's in her mid-20s and is trying to keep a dying trade alive. Her cheongsam, in classical and updated styles, are finding favour among women. I wish I didn't have to wait two months for my first fitting.


I had been so bummed out that a fabric I fell in love with, one with a print of purple figs, was sold out. Last week, she WhatsApped me a photo of something else she found - fabric with a print of tomatoes, borlotti beans and onions on it. My abs were engaged at the time and I replied only an hour later. She had bought the fabric. She gets that I would want a cheongsam printed with the fixings for a bean stew.


There's K and E. They work for one of my doctors. They do their job with such skill, precision, good humour and grace. Trust me when I say what they do is not easy. They have rich, fulfilling lives outside of work, and sass to spare. They get excited about things. Alas, I can scare up that emotion only in the proximity of good sushi. But they make me want to combat world weariness with everything I have.


There's V, whose healing hands have been a godsend. I can rely on her for rational advice. After a session with her, I emerge feeling physically and mentally stronger. She's better than any shrink.


There's E, my sister's American friend, whom I met recently in New York.


We bonded over metric, believe it or not. We both bake and cook and can't deal with recipes that come only with cup measurements. Weights are more precise because one person's scoop and level technique will be different from another's.


E is the same age I am and is looking for a new job, having signed on with an executive coach. She shows me that a second, possibly third, act is not out of the question. That is inspiring.


And then there's Mei, my sister. The little squirt turned 50 in January and we went to New York to celebrate that milestone. It was a perfect trip, so perfect I wonder if it really happened or if it was an Inception thing.


We made our connecting flights. We breezed through customs and immigration at JFK. We had the loveliest time. Met the friendliest people who were really just complete strangers. Because of Mei, I fell in love with New York, whose charms were largely hidden on my previous trips there.


We have lived in different countries most of our lives and still do, but we have gotten closer in the last few years. I marvel at her resilience. She's had a very tough couple of years. But her determination is unwavering and she suffers no fools.


And so she told me very firmly that she did not want to be "running from one restaurant to another" in NYC. I am a planner. I get antsy when there are holes in the itinerary. And how can we not go to Le Bernadin? Or Daniel?


From Mei, I learnt the art of being chill. Beyond a handful of restaurant bookings, we stopped to eat only when we were hungry. The restaurants she did choose were spot on.


This week's recipe is inspired by a starter we had at Emma's Torch in Brooklyn, where we had her birthday dinner with E and her husband. It's a social enterprise that provides culinary training for refugees and victims of human trafficking who are rebuilding their lives. The food is excellent. I loved the tamarind wings we had that night and have tried to recreate it.


This dish celebrates the women who inspire me, being tart, hot, pungent, sweet and salty.


Tamarind paste is easier to use than blocks of assam pulp. I buy mine from RedMart. The version from 24 Mantra Organic has the right amount of tartness. For heat, I use Thai chilli paste. If you made my tomyum recipe from late last year, you might have some in your fridge. If you don't, dig through your condiments and use what you have. The important thing with the marinade is to taste it and tailor it to your tastebuds. Ginger and garlic are non-negotiable.


Roast the wings on a metal rack so the oil drips down to the foil-lined tray. And I give the chicken a blast under the grill right at the end to caramelise the sugar in the marinade.


If I ever manage to get all these women together for a meal, I'll make these wings.


You twerking, soccer-playing, aviator-specs-wearing, needle-and-thread-wielding, weight-lifting, precision-baking goddesses with magic hands, you are magnificent and my life is richer because you are in it.


When I grow up, I want to be just like you.


• www.facebook.com/tanhsuehyun






  • 12 whole chicken wings
  • 30g peeled ginger
  • 4 to 5 large cloves garlic, peeled
  • 100g tamarind paste 100g Thai chilli paste, or use sambal oelek or Lao Gan Ma chilli to taste 60g sugar
  • 1 Tbs fish sauce
  • Water
  • 1 to 2 Tbs crushed peanuts
  • Fresh coriander leaves
  • Lime wedges (optional)




1. Rinse the chicken wings under running water, pat dry with paper towels. Using a pair of kitchen shears, cut off the wing tips and save them to make stock. Cut through the joint to separate the drummettes from the flats (middle part of the wing).


2. Place the chicken in a resealable plastic bag or a large food container with a cover.


3. Grate the ginger and garlic into a medium bowl. Add the tamarind paste, chilli paste, sugar and fish sauce. Mix well with a spoon. Have a taste and add any of the marinade ingredients as needed. If the marinade is too thick, thin it out with water, adding 1 tsp at a time until it has the consistency of thick cream. Pour the marinade over the chicken and massage it into the meat with clean hands. Press out the air and seal the bag or cover the container and refrigerate four hours.


4. Take the chicken out of the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before cooking. Preheat the oven to 200 deg C. Line a shallow baking tray with foil. Place a metal rack, the sort you would cool a cake or cookies on, over the foil-lined tray. Oil the rack.


5. Place the chicken on the rack, leaving a little space between each piece. Place the tray in the middle of the oven and cook for 30 minutes. While the chicken is cooking, pour the marinade into a saucepan, preferably non-stick, and cook over medium high heat until it boils and thickens. Turn off the heat and spoon the sauce into a bowl.


6. When the 30 minutes are up, switch to your oven's grill function, which is to say the heat comes only from the top. Watch the chicken like a hawk, do not leave it unattended. Grill until the edges start to char. Remove from the oven.


7. Let rest five minutes. Pile the wings on a plate, sprinkle the peanuts and coriander leaves over the chicken and serve with the sauce and lime wedges (if using) on the side.


Serves four to six as a snack


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



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