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Singapore Cooks

A recipe for Uighur-inspired lamb skewers

Lecturer Tanisha Manocha enjoys a multicultural range of cuisines when dining at home

Eating at home is akin to taking a whirlwind culinary trip around the world for Ms Tanisha Manocha as her family never has the same cuisine two days in a row.

Born to a Punjabi father and Chinese mother, the 27-year-old English-language lecturer in a private tertiary institute is as adept at whipping up Punjabi dishes such as chappati and aloo gobi (spice-laden potatoes and cauliflower) as she is with Chinese dishes such as prawn noodles and red wine chicken stew.

The eclectic range of cuisines that appear on her home dining table include Japanese, MiddleEastern and Greek.

Ms Manocha says with a laugh: "I am spoilt for food choices. My friends are envious as most of them eat the same type of food every day at home."


Ms Tanisha Manocha first tried Uighur-inspired lamb skewers during a family holiday to Shanghai 11 years ago. ST PHOTOS: FELINE LIM

Being exposed to a multicultural gamut of food from an early age has broadened her food horizons.

She adds: "Being open-minded towards food has influenced my outlook on the world as I learn about different cultures and I am more than happy to eat almost everything on my travels."

She also has an experimental streak when it comes to cooking as she tinkers with recipes by adding unconventional ingredients.

One such dish is the Uighur- inspired lamb skewers that she shares here.

Ms Manocha first tried her hand at making this Xinjiang staple four years ago, fuelled by vivid memories of her maiden encounter with the popular street snack during a family holiday to Shanghai 11 years ago.

She recalls: "I could hear the crackling of the fat that basted the meat as I tucked into the freshly grilled skewer. It was an explosion of flavours."

Besides heady lashings of cumin and chilli powder in the marinade, she tweaked the recipe to include corn flour and Chinese rice wine.

She coats the lamb cubes in corn flour, which yields a more velvety texture, while Chinese rice wine injects a tinge of sweetness to the meat.

To dial down the lamb's gaminess, she opts for a leaner cut - lamb leg instead of the more marbled lamb shoulder - and trims the excess fat and seasons it with sliced onions.

  • UIGHUR-INSPIRED LAMB SKEWERS

    INGREDIENTS

    800g lamb leg
    1 large red onion, peeled and sliced to 0.5cm thick

    For meat marinade:
    2 tsp crushed garlic
    60ml Chinese rice wine
    60ml light soya sauce
    2 Tbs canola oil
    1 Tbs corn starch
    1 Tbs white sugar
    2 Tbs cumin powder
    2 Tbs chilli powder
    1 Tbs ground red Sichuan peppercorn

    For seasoning mix:
    1 Tbs chilli powder
    2 Tbs ground cumin
    1 Tbs ground red Sichuan peppercorn
    1 tsp salt
    1/2 tsp white sugar
    Canola oil, for brushing
    Garnish with tortilla wraps, sliced cherry tomatoes and lettuce

    METHOD
    1. Soak bamboo skewers in water for at least 30 minutes to prevent them from burning.

    2. Trim connective tissue, silver skin and excess fat from lamb leg before cutting it into 3cm cubes.

    3. In a mixing bowl, toss the lamb cubes with onion slices.

    4. In another mixing bowl, mix together the ingredients required for the meat marinade and add the lamb and sliced onions. Coat the lamb evenly with marinade. Transfer the meat into a ziplock bag and marinate the meat in the refrigerator for at least two hours.

    5. Mix together all the ingredients for the seasoning mix.

    6. When the meat is ready, preheat the oven to 220 deg C.

    7. Thread four to five cubes of lamb onto each skewer, leaving a little bit of space in between each cube to ensure the sides of the meat cubes are cooked (pictured). Repeat this step for the remaining lamb cubes. Discard the onion slices.

    8. Put the meat skewers on a rack placed over a baking tray. Grill the lamb skewers in the oven for five minutes.

    9. Remove the baking tray from the oven. Brush the surface of the lamb skewers with canola oil and sprinkle 1/4 tsp of the seasoning mix over each skewer. Flip the skewers over, brush them with canola oil and sprinkle another 1/4 tsp of the seasoning mix.

    10. Return the lamb skewers to the oven and grill for another five to eight minutes, until the lamb turns dark brown. Serve with tortilla wraps, sliced cherry tomatoes and lettuce.

    Serves six to eight

The trickiest part of the recipe lies in concocting the mix of spices in the meat marinade.

She spent six to eight months experimenting with eight to 10 types of chilli powder and cumin from countries such as China and India. That meant numerous trips to supermarkets to hunt for different varieties of spices.

She says: "I wanted to bring out the balance of heat and spice flavours in the marinade without overwhelming the lamb."

For the recipe, she uses the Zheng Zheng Shi Shi brand of chilli powder from department store Yue Hwa Chinese Products in Chinatown and dry-roasts freshly ground cumin to accentuate its aroma.

The Uighur-inspired lamb skewers, which can be grilled in an oven or over charcoal, have been a surefire hit at her barbecue parties.

Her favourite dishes to cook include tandoori chicken that is wok-smoked to replicate the effect of being cooked in a tandoor, which she distributes with mint chutney and raita to neighbours as Christmas gifts; homemade fettuccine in red wine marinara sauce; and Asian-style pork sliders with sweet potato buns.

Ms Manocha, who is single, makes it a point to cook almost daily, helping out her 55-year-old housewife mother. Her father, 59, is a retired corporate lawyer.

A voracious interest in cooking runs in the family - her three younger siblings enjoy cooking and "can talk endlessly about food".

Her brothers, aged 26 and 15, relish cooking pasta, grilled sandwiches and zi char classics such as hotplate tofu, while her sister, 19, is an avid baker. It is little surprise their cavernous kitchen, which fits a 10-seat dining table, is a focal point for the family.

She says: "We take turns to cook in the kitchen. Whenever someone starts cooking, the others will seamlessly join in."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 30, 2017, with the headline 'Global eats at home'. Print Edition | Subscribe