THE STAR – Although Peggy Tan only started cooking in earnest after she got married, her culinary skills soon became the stuff of family legend.
“Actually when I got married, I didn’t know how to cook, but I soon learnt, because some of my relatives kept saying, ‘Why you don’t know how to cook? You’re married already!’
In her heyday, Tan even entered a litany of cooking competitions, chalking up numerous wins, including a particularly prestigious one with judges made up of professional Chinese restaurant chefs.
“After I won, they gave me the permission to join their association as a chef. I had so many children to look after, so I declined. Anyway, I just joined it for fun, ” said Tan.
Given her proficiency in the kitchen, it is no surprise that Tan said she now prefers to create new recipes rather than stick to traditional ones.
On the first day of Chinese New Year (CNY) for example, Tan typically has all six of her children as well as in-laws together and devises at least six to seven original vegetarian recipes to feed her large family.
Although this year’s CNY celebrations will be more muted for Tan and her family, she said she will continue the tradition of cooking up a vegetarian storm for CNY, and is hopeful all six of her brood will be home for the annual gathering.
“For CNY, I like to think of dishes with good meanings. From my own point of view, this dish means that the whole year will be blooming, so we will get the fruits of what we have planted. So this dish will help you fulfil what you have been working so hard to get,” she explained.
“Ultimately, I believe that the food that you cook should make the whole family happy. Once you create positive energy in the house, then there will be harmony and peace among the family, ” she said.
Tan’s deftness with Chinese vegetarian recipes is such a hit with her friends and family that she recently even decided to start sharing her dishes online on her brand new YouTube channel, Cooking with Compassion.
“Through my experience, when you enjoy cooking, the taste will be different – all the happiness you put in the meals will come through too, ” she said, smiling.
INGREDIENTS – Say Kwai Sing Kor
160g dried Chinese mushrooms, stems removed
One tbsp sesame oil
One tbsp sugar
400g seaweed vegetarian fish, sliced thinly and pan-fried till golden brown
salt and pepper to taste
100g vegetarian gluten puff, boiled to soften
110g canned braised peanuts, rinsed with warm water
A pinch of dried black sea moss, soaked
One small carrot, skin removed, blanched and cut into slices
A few fresh red chillies, chopped
250g to 300g siew pak choy, blanched
Soak mushrooms in some water, sesame oil and sugar. Mix and allow to marinate for one hour.
Pan-fry the vegetarian fish slices till golden brown. In a pot, heat up mushrooms with one litre of water.
Lower heat and leave to simmer for 25 to 30 minutes.
Add a bit of water if gravy dries up. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Add in the vegetarian gluten puff, braised peanuts, dried black sea moss and simmer for two minutes. Add carrots and remove pot from the heat. Arrange fish slices at the bottom and other ingredients in neat layers. Garnish and serve.
INGREDIENTS – Fatt Choy Yau Yee
10 limes, juiced
Half a can longans, cut into halves, syrup reserved
Five kaffir lime leaves, shredded thinly
One torch ginger flower, shredded thinly
350g vegetarian squid, blanched
250g vegetarian prawns, blanched
180g vegetarian Hokkaido balls, blanched
Two tsp dried chilli flakes
Five canned pineapple rings, cut into small pieces
Two canned whole peaches, cut into small pieces
A handful vegetarian seaweed meat floss
A few red chillies, diced
A few sprigs Chinese parsley, chopped
A handful of roasted peanuts, chopped
In a mixing bowl, add lime juice and longan juice. Season with sugar, salt and vegetarian mushroom seasoning. Add kaffir lime leaves and torch ginger flower.
Mix well and then add in vegetarian squid, prawn, Hokkaido balls and chilli flakes. Toss thoroughly.
Add all the fruits. Stir and mix well. Leave in the fridge to cool until ready to serve. Garnish immediately before serving.