Singapore Cooks

Gourmet traveller who collects recipes when he travels

Globetrotter Drew Ng has a folder containing more than 100 recipes from around the world

Flipping through Mr Drew Ng's bulging recipe folder is like taking a whirlwind trip around the world.

Over the past five years, he has collected more than 100 recipes. Most of them are inspired by his holidays to places such as Greece, Russia, China and the Middle East.

While satiating his wanderlust, the 24-year-old globetrotter broadens his cooking horizons. He jots down his food discoveries and re-creates them at home, after looking for recipes online and trying the dishes in restaurants here.

After nailing a recipe, he types it up on a recipe sheet and keeps it in the folder.

Mr Ng, who has just graduated with an accountancy degree from Nanyang Technological University, says: "Food is a big part of my travels. I like observing the unique cooking techniques of different cultures, such as how Middle Eastern dishes tend to use spice mixes, while French cooking involves more marination."

One of his biggest post-holiday cooking crazes involves Middle Eastern cuisine. It was sparked by a 11/2-month solo trip to Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt in 2015.

He had planned to travel to Israel as he was "curious about one of the more progressive countries in the Middle East". However, a civil conflict there thwarted his plans, so he visited the three neighbouring countries instead.

While there, he fell in love with Middle Eastern food.

"I like the strong and intense spice flavours. They are so different from Chinese cuisine, which is light-tasting," he says.

One of the first Middle Eastern dishes he attempted to cook was koshari, an Egyptian dish of chickpeas, lentils, rice and pasta tossed with tomato sauce flavoured with a spice mix called baharat, and sprinkled with crispy fried onions. The all-purpose baharat comprises black peppercorn, nutmeg, paprika and other spices.

Mr Ng likens koshari to "economy rice without the options" - the ingredients are cooked separately before being assembled on a plate and mixed with the tomato sauce.

The dish dates back to the 19th century and has Indian and Italian influences.

Its most important component is the tart and spicy tomato sauce, which has a heady aroma. Spiciness comes from the baharat and red chilli flakes, and sourness from the red wine vinegar and tomato.

Although baharat can be bought from Mustafa Centre, Mr Ng prefers to make his own blend. He increases the amount of paprika for a spicier kick, but lowers the amount of cumin and cloves so that the blend is less heavy.

Other Egyptian dishes that he cooks include grilled lamb kofta and ros bel laban, a rice pudding made with milk, sugar and rose water.

He also whips up Lebanese dishes such as kibbeh, or beef croquettes with pomegranate syrup and pine nuts; and fatayer (a spinach-stuffed pie), as well as Moroccan food such as baked chermoula fish that is perfumed with spices such as coriander powder and cumin; and kefta mkaouara (Moroccan meatballs).

The annual eight-course Middle Eastern-themed feasts he cooks for about 15 friends are so popular that the date is set three months in advance so that "everyone can set aside time for it".

Mr Ng's versatile palate stems from eating his way through international buffets with his family when he was younger. He says: "I am so amazed by the tremendous variety of flavours that can be experienced at one place."

The bachelor has an older brother, 26, who is a recent master's graduate. His father, 58, owns a paper distribution company and his mother, 56, is a housewife.

He hopes to learn Arabic before returning to the Middle East for a holiday, so that he can get more in-depth knowledge on the ingredients and cooking methods from cooks and stall owners there.

"It will be more fun as I can pick up recipes and cooking tips, and I can connect better with the culture."

For more Singapore Cooks recipes, go to http://str.sg/4MbR.


KOSHARI

INGREDIENTS

For rice:

10g vegetable stock cube

500ml hot water

2 Tbs olive oil

200g white rice, uncooked

For lentils:

200g brown lentils

1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed

1 tsp ground cumin

1 bay leaf

300ml water Salt to taste

For pasta:

250g San Remo short angel hair pasta (available in supermarkets)

1 litre water

Salt to taste

For chickpeas:

One 425g can of chickpeas

60ml red wine vinegar

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp cayenne pepper

For sauce:

1 shallot, peeled and finely sliced

2 Tbs olive oil

2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

450ml canned tomato sauce

2 tsp baharat spice mix, from Mustafa Centre

1/4 tsp red chilli flakes

1 Tbs red wine vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

1/4 tsp baharat and store-bought fried onions to garnish

METHOD

1. Cook the rice: Dissolve the cube of vegetable stock in hot water. In a saucepan set over medium heat, add the olive oil and rice, and fry the rice for two minutes. Pour vegetable stock into the saucepan and cook the rice for five minutes. Turn the heat off, pour the contents into a rice cooker. Cook it for 15 minutes. Scoop the cooked rice into a bowl and set aside.

2. Cook the lentils: In a pot set over medium heat, add brown lentils, garlic, cumin, bay leaf, water and salt to taste. Bring the mixture to a boil before turning down the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes until the lentils are soft. Once cooked, turn the heat off, drain and set aside.

3. Cook the pasta: To a clean pot set over medium heat, add short angel hair pasta, water and salt to taste. Bring the mixture to a boil, turn the heat down to low and simmer for five minutes. Drain and set aside.

4. Prepare the chickpeas: In a mixing bowl, toss chickpeas with red wine vinegar, cumin, coriander and cayenne pepper. Set aside.

5. Make the tomato sauce: In a saucepan set over high heat, fry the sliced shallot in olive oil until translucent. Add garlic and saute until golden brown. Add tomato sauce, baharat, red chilli flakes, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Bring the mixture to a boil and turn down the heat to low. Simmer for 20 minutes. Set aside.

6. Assemble the dish: Place the rice, lentils, pasta and chickpeas in separate piles on a large plate. Sprinkle the baharat over the piles. Top with the spicy tomato sauce and garnish with fried onions. Mix everything with the sauce before serving.

Serves eight

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 08, 2017, with the headline 'Gourmet traveller'. Print Edition | Subscribe