Ang ku kueh with love

Ang ku kueh with love

Growing up, Ms Gladys Foo found cooking a chore.

At 13, she had to cook dinner for her family of seven after school.

Her father, who was a businessman and the family's breadwinner, died from cancer in his early 40s when she was seven. To ease the family's financial load, her mother worked as a seamstress and her elder siblings also started working.

The fifth of six siblings, Ms Foo learnt to cook dishes such as fried fish and stir-fried pork with vegetables from her mother, and took turns with her two sisters to make dinner.

Now 44, the senior programme and services manager at non-profit organisation Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) recalls: "Back then, it was cooking for the sake of eating."

However, the bubbly mother of two daughters aged 11 and six started having fun in the kitchen when she got married 15 years ago.

Her husband, a 45-year-old creative director in a media company, is an adventurous cook who whips up creative dishes such as Bacon Explosion, a sinful baked dish of minced pork and cheese wrapped around a layer of weaved bacon strips and slathered with barbecue sauce.

The couple also organise cook-outs with friends.

His whimsical cooking style has rubbed off on her. These days, Ms Foo whips up an eclectic variety of dishes, from pizzas and burgers to bibimbap (a Korean mixed rice dish in a hot stone pot) and Vietnamese spring rolls. She also cooks Peranakan dishes such as babi pongteh and chap chye and makes kueh such as kueh salat and kueh kochi.

The self-taught cook gamely tries recipes from family members, cooking books and websites such as Noob Cook.

She says: "You never know what to expect from trying recipes - it can be a pleasant surprise at the end of the process. If it is not successful, I will find out what went wrong and try again."

This keen sense of curiosity led her to ask for her aunt's recipe for ang ku kueh, a traditional steamed glutinous rice flour cake with mung bean filling, nine years ago.

Ms Foo made 60 pieces of ang ku kueh for her mother's 70th birthday in 2006. She says: "It is meaningful for a daughter to make ang ku kueh for her mother's significant birthday, instead of buying them."

Ang ku kueh symbolises longevity in Chinese culture. The recipe calls for a small amount of sugar, as most of the sweetness come from the mung bean filling. Ms Foo also notes that the dough is less chewy because it contains more mashed sweet potato than glutinous rice flour.

One challenge was getting the texture of the filling right. Ms Foo says: "The filling has to be firm enough to stand on its own as you need to roll it into balls. If you overcook it, it becomes dry and crackly."

Her recipe for ang ku kueh is one of 36 recipes featured in the YWCA Recipe Journal, which was published last month to commemorate the association's 140th anniversary.

It has recipes from YWCA volunteers and staff. Some recipes, such as Devil's Curry, a fiery Eurasian dish and curry puff, date back to 1932.

All proceeds from the sale of the cookbook go towards funding community initiatives by the YWCA.

Ms Foo, who worked in the information technology industry for nine years before joining the YWCA, hopes to pass on her love for cooking to youth and children from disadvantaged backgrounds through cooking and baking lessons.

She says: "It is fulfilling to see that cooking can boost their self-esteem and create a difference in their lives."

This article was first published on April 19, 2015.
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INGREDIENTS For the filling 150g split mung beans (soak for 1 to 1½ hours) 2 pandan leaves 100g white sugar 20ml water 3 Tbs olive oil For the dough skin 400g orange sweet potatoes, cut into 5cm-thick pieces 400ml water 2 to 4 knotted pandan leaves ½ Tbs caster sugar 80ml sweet potato water 150g glutinous rice floor 20ml olive oil ½ tsp red food colouring 1 banana leaf, about 15cm

METHOD 1. Rinse split mung beans thrice and soak them in water in a large bowl for 1 to 1½ hours. 2. Drain the water with a strainer, add pandan leaves and place bowl in a steamer on high heat for 15 to 20 minutes. 3. In a food processor, add cooked split mung beans, sugar and 20ml water. Blend till mixture becomes a smooth paste. 4. Transfer paste into a non-stick frying pan. Fry the paste with 3 Tbs of olive oil on high heat for 15 minutes. Stir the paste constantly while frying so it becomes thick and firm enough to hold on its own. Leave the paste to cool. 5. Roll the split mung bean paste into small balls - each weighing about 20 to 22g. Set aside. The filling can be kept in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. 6. In a pot on high heat, cook sweet potatoes in 400ml water with two to four knotted pandan leaves for about 15 minutes. Drain the sweet potatoes and set aside. Reserve the sweet potato water. 7. With a food processor, mash the cooked sweet potatoes with sugar till fine. Add 80ml sweet potato water if mixture is too dry. 8. In a large bowl, mix glutinous rice flour gradually with mashed sweet potato and olive oil. Add 1 Tbs of sweet potato water at a time if dough is too dry. Fold in mixture with hands and mix contents thoroughly. Add 2 Tbs of flour if the dough is still sticky. The dough mixture should be firm enough to hold on its own. 9. Add red food colouring to the ball of dough. Mix the dough with the colouring to ensure it is spread evenly. 10. Pinch the dough into smaller pieces and roll each piece into a small ball, each weighing about 23 to 24g. 11. Flatten the dough into a palm-sized shape and use it to wrap mung bean filling. Roll the mixture into a ball and dust it with glutinous rice flour. 12. Press the dough mixture firmly into the ang ku kueh mould. Turn the kueh out by hitting the edge of the mould on a table cushioned by books. 13. Cut banana leaves into 6cm by 6cm squares and brush them with olive oil. Place kueh on an oiled leaf. Brush oil on the kueh. 14. Wrap the lid of the steamer with a cloth to prevent water from dripping on the kueh when steaming, which may cause its imprint to fade. 15. With the steamer on high heat, add a plate of kueh and cook for 10 to 12 minutes. 16. Remove the kueh from the steamer, brush some oil on it and let cool for 10 to 15 minutes. Makes 14 to 15 pieces

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