Living in a Western country, cooking food from Singapore isn’t easy. While Wex and I lived in Melbourne, we were lucky to live near Queen Victoria Market, where there was a stall specializing in Asian greens and herbs. There were also a string of Asian grocers that stocked everything from frozen pandan leaves to deep-fried tofu puffs.
Since we moved out of the city, however, it has been a real challenge sourcing for ingredients to cook with. Occasionally, Wex and I do make trips to the city and make bulk-purchases of ingredients such as frozen kaffir lime leaves and turmeric root. Recently, though, with the Coronavirus pandemic, we have been trying to reduce unnecessary travel out of the country and have been hunkering down and eating what we have available in our pantry and fridge.
For that reason, there is no better time to explore Eurasian cuisine. Influenced by the eating habits of the West, the cuisine, which has been said to be one of the oldest, most traditional forms of fusion cuisine, features many classically European-type dishes. These include buns, cakes, roasts, stews and pies, often made with a touch of Asian flair.
This morning was an especially cold one, with the windows misting over as soon as I turned on the heater. Having lots of potatoes at home, and in such chilly weather, I thought it best to make a beef stew called smore.
Smore or semur is derived from the word smoor in the Dutch language. Literally meaning to ‘smother’, it refers to food that is simmered and smothered in thick gravy over a long cooking process.
At first glance, the dish looks like a stew from the West, with the traditional combination of beef, potatoes and carrots. However, one taste and you’ll realize that it is a completely different animal.
The use of cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon, familiar flavours reminiscent of Christmas morning, makes the dish especially comforting. But the touch of vinegar and smattering of crushed chillies makes this dish a really feisty one. After all, it is the tanginess and spiciness of Eurasian dishes that makes them ‘so shiok‘, as one of my friends puts it.
It feels a little strange having such a seemingly Western stew over rice. But once you taste it, it all makes sense. It is still a ways away from Christmas, but if we are lucky enough to have this pandemic blow over by Christmastime, this would definitely be on my table.
Adapted from Chef Damian D’ Silva’s recipe
8 star anise
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons cloves
4 red onions, peeled and quartered
100g peeled ginger, cut into small pieces
1kg beef brisket, cut into large cubes
3 tablespoons kecap manis
4-6 tablespoons oil
4-6 teaspoons salt
4 potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
3 carrots, cut into bite-sized pieces
4 tablespoons vinegar
2 red chillies, sliced or cut into small pieces with a teaspoon
2 green chillies, sliced or cut into small pieces with a teaspoon
Grind the star anise, nutmeg, cinnamon, 1 of the red onion and ginger to form a fine paste. If you do not have a powerful blender, you can grind the spices separately in a coffee grinder or pound them to a fine powder with a pestle and mortar.
Mix spice paste with beef and kecap manis. Set in the fridge for an hour at least to marinate.
Heat the oil in a pot until the oil shimmers. Add the remaining onion and fry until soft over medium heat.
Add the marinated beef and allow to cook for a further 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.
Top up with enough water to barely cover the beef and bring to a boil. Simmer on low heat for 2 hours or until the beef is almost fully tender (the original recipe called for 1h of cooking, but it wasn’t enough).
Add the potatoes, carrots and vinegar. Top up with sufficient water to barely cover the vegetables and meat. Simmer for another hour or until the vegetables and meat are fully tender.
The gravy should be thick enough to smother the meat and vegetables. If at this stage the gravy still looks watery, you can bash up some cream crackers and stir it into the gravy to thicken.
Garnish the dish with the green and red chillies.