Sugee with taste of home

An hour-long phone conversation a day was Ms Catherine Ruth's key to unlocking her mother's treasure trove of recipes.

Having migrated here from India nine years ago, the 33-year-old, who is an operations executive at an online cleaning services platform, found the spice level of Indian food here too mild and often had to ask hawkers to add chilli padi when she ordered curries.

Hankering for a taste of home, the then-novice cook phoned her housewife mother, who lived in Tamil Nadu, every day for three years and jotted down her cooking tips and recipes.

Over the years, she has collected close to 40 recipes, ranging from black pepper curry crab to prawn and fish head curries to breakfast staples such as idli and thosai.

She says: "This is the closest I will get to the flavours of my mother's cooking. Sometimes, when the dishes do not turn out well, I would wish I had learnt cooking from her personally instead of having to do it by trial and error." Her mother died in 2009.

One recipe she got from her mother is for sugee cookies. She is making them for Deepavali, which falls on Tuesday.

She says sugee cookies are one of the most fuss-free festive confections to make - they can be rolled out in 15 minutes.

She has made some tweaks to her mother's recipe. Instead of store- bought ghee, she uses melted unsalted butter as it gives a stronger aroma. Other changes include adding almond powder, ground cashew nuts and raisins for more bite.

Getting the baking time right is also crucial for the cookies to achieve a velvety melt-in-your- mouth texture reminiscent of a crumbly shortbread and a pale white facade.

Bake the cookies for two minutes longer and they turn slightly brown and crispy, says Ms Catherine, who is married to a 36-year-old software engineer and has a four-year-old daughter.

She dabs each cookie with red food dye to make it "more visually pleasing".

Besides sugee cookies, she also makes other festive goodies such as mysore pak (a sweet made with ghee, gram flour and sugar), ladoo (ball-shaped flour and ghee-based confection), jalebi (deep-fried wheat flour batter soaked in saffron sugar syrup), muruku and butter vanilla cakes.

She bakes about 15 containers of goodies a week before Deepavali. In the past eight years, she has been distributing these "goodie bags" to her friends when she visits them during the festival.

She also enjoys wearing a new sari and cooking with her friends and their families.

And they do cook up a storm - about 15 dishes, such as chicken briyani, mutton curry, onion raita, palak paneer and kesari dessert, for up to 30 people.

The gathering usually ends with adults and children playing with sparklers.

The convivial atmosphere brings back memories of Deepavali celebrations in her hometown.

"Although we are far away from our relatives, I want my daughter to know more about her culture and follow the tradition of bonding with friends and family," she says.

This article was first published on November 1, 2015.
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