Singapore Cooks

Stuffed brinjal in Shaoxing wine gravy

Culinary therapist Sharon Lam weaves her counselling work into the cooking sessions she conducts for people suffering from depression and anxiety

The kitchen is known as a sanctuary for many home cooks, a place where they unwind from the stresses of the day. For some, however, cooking can be a safe avenue to talk about their fears and insecurities.

Freelance culinary therapist Sharon Lam weaves her counselling work into the cooking and baking sessions that she conducts for people suffering from conditions such as depression and anxiety.

The 34-year-old says with a laugh: "I am known as the kitchen whisperer. Through cooking, people can put their emotions aside and be focused on enjoying the process. They feel more confident after accomplishing a kitchen task and can express themselves better through such an art form."

She worked as a school counsellor for five years and decided to combine her professional training in psychology with her cooking hobby. She saw how students opened up to her while tucking into the baked treats she took to group counselling sessions.

Her love for cooking is encapsulated in her debut cookbook, Daily Cooking With Delishar, which was launched last month.

Delishar, which is an amalgamation of "delicious" and Sharon, is the name of her blog. It has about 400 recipes for Asian and Western dishes that she has developed over the past three years. The 120-page book, published by Marshall Cavendish, features 45 recipes.

Sharon Lam's pan-fried stuffed brinjal is a one-pan dish.
Sharon Lam’s pan-fried stuffed brinjal is a one-pan dish. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

  • PAN-FRIED STUFFED BRINJAL

    INGREDIENTS

    For meat stuffing

    120g minced pork
    120g prawns, peeled, de-veined and diced
    1 Tbs light soya sauce
    1/4 tsp sugar
    1 tsp sesame oil
    1 egg, lightly beaten
    1 stalk spring onion, finely chopped
    1 sprig coriander, finely chopped
    1 Tbs cornflour Ground white pepper to taste

    For sauce

    1 tsp grated ginger
    1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
    1 tsp Shaoxing wine
    240ml store-bought chicken stock
    1 Tbs hoisin sauce
    1/4 tsp sugar Ground white pepper to taste
    1 large brinjal
    4 Tbs vegetable oil
    2 Tbs cornflour
    2 Tbs water Chopped spring onion to garnish

    METHOD

    1. To prepare the meat stuffing: In a mixing bowl, mix all the ingredients well. If the mixture is too runny, stir in 1 tsp of cornflour. Cover the bowl in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes.

    2. To prepare the sauce: In another mixing bowl, mix all ingredients well and set aside.

    3. Slice the brinjal diagonally into 4cm-thick pieces. Cut each piece through the middle, but not all the way through.

    4. Remove the bowl of meat stuffing from the refrigerator. Fill each piece of brinjal with 2 Tbs of meat stuffing. Gently press each piece of brinjal and use a spoon to scrap away the excess filling. Repeat for the remaining brinjal.
    Sharon Lam's pan-fried stuffed brinjal is a one-pan dish.

    5. In a non-stick pan set over medium heat, heat 1 Tbs of vegetable oil for one minute before adding half of the stuffed brinjal to the pan. Fry for two to three minutes until the brinjal turns slightly brown. Add 1 Tbs of vegetable oil, flip the brinjal and fry for two to three minutes.

    6. Remove fried brinjal from the pan and add the remaining brinjal. Repeat step 5.

    7. Add the first batch of brinjal back into the pan. Pour in the sauce from step 2 . Switch to high heat and bring the mixture to a boil, before returning to medium heat. Cover the pan and cook for five to eight minutes.

    8. Mix 2 Tbs cornflour with 2 Tbs water in a bowl. Set aside.

    9. Remove cooked brinjal from pan. Pour 3/4 of cornflour solution gradually into pan while stirring the mixture continuously until the sauce thickens. Turn off the heat.

    10. Place the stuffed brinjal on a plate and pour the sauce over. Garnish with chopped spring onion. Serve.

    Serves four

Ms Lam likes one-pot dishes and some of those in the book include roast chicken, tomato omu rice and pan-fried stuffed brinjal.

The dim sum classic was a must- have at her family's boisterous monthly gatherings at Red Star Restaurant in Chin Swee Road.

She recalls: "Up till I was 12, before my grandfather died, he gathered the extended family of 25 there. My cousins and I had fun looking at the fish tanks, dancing onstage and running after the dim sum trolleys."

The traditional way to prepare the dish is to steam the stuffed brinjal and cook the Shaoxing wine- spiked sauce separately. She turns it into a one-pan dish by frying the stuffed brinjal before pouring the sauce into the pan to cook the meat filling.

"The stuffed brinjal holds up better and doesn't get too squishy, and the flavours of the meat and brinjal develop together with the sauce."

Ms Lam started cooking regularly when she worked as a property development manager in Brisbane, Australia, a decade ago.

Then, she found it daunting to manage a team of Caucasian construction workers.

The solution? Cook for them.

She made dishes such as wonton noodles, fried rice and muffins for lunch every day.

"After those meals, they were motivated to work harder," she says, adding that they would have taken longer lunch breaks if they had dined out.

Her cooking also captivated the heart of her 46-year-old American husband, Devin, a teacher in the Singapore American School.

They have two daughters, aged five and six.

Initially, it was a challenge as their eating preferences clashed. He loves bread and pasta dishes, while she needed her rice and spice fixes.

The compromise? She created East-meets-West dishes such as kung pao chicken and beef fajita pasta, and chilli crab burger.

On experimenting with fusion food, she says: "There is a thin line between fusion and confusion, but if the flavours of the main dishes are good, you can't go wrong combining them in burgers and pasta."

•Daily Cooking With Delishar is available at major bookstores for $32.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 05, 2017, with the headline 'Kitchen whisperer '. Print Edition | Subscribe