Sunday, March 6, 2011

1)三菜一汤 (3-plus-1 menu)

Soup: Shark's Fins Melon Soup
Dishes: Fried Fish with Crispy Garlic, Spicy Cucumber, Stir-Fried Beef with Celery, Minced Meat Tofu in Bean Paste

Our local TV variety show 《三菜一汤》3-plus-1, is a very popular show among homemakers here.  It is a weekly cooking show, where celebrities will prepare 3 dishes plus a soup, all within an hour's time and the cost of the food must be within the budget of S$20.  Besides being a very entertaining program, many homemakers watch this show to get ideas of what to cook for the week.  As the show is aired on every Wednesday, it is a common sight in the wet market (or supermarket), to see homemakers getting the ingredients for cooking the winning dishes on Thursday morning.

This gives me an idea to set up a page within my blog to record a list of my very own 《三菜一汤》menu.  And this shall be the first post for my《三菜一汤》.

Ingredients for soup: Shark's fins melon, pork ribs, 螺片,honey dates, dried oysters, red dates. 

Shark's Fins Melon Soup 《鱼翅瓜排骨汤》
There is no shark's fins in this soup.  When the melon is cooked,  the strands will separate and resemble the shark's fins and hence its name.  Prepare the soup first as this takes around 2 to 3 hours:

1) Blanch pork ribs in hot water.  Drain and set aside.
2) Boil a pot of water, 1.5 to 2 litres and put all the ingredients into the pot of water.  Simmer over low heat for 2 to 3 hours.
3) Add salt to taste.

The honey dates and red dates help to add sweetness to the soup since the 4 to 5 pieces of pork ribs are not enough for making a big pot of soup.  The addition of dried oysters also brings out a distinctive sweetness in this soup.  If you wish, you can also use dried scallop (瑶柱) instead of dried oysters, but it will be more costly.

You can also use a medium-sized old cucumber (老黄瓜) or winter melon (冬瓜) to prepare this soup, instead of the shark's fins melon.

Spicy Cucumber 《凉拌小黄瓜》
This is the second dish to prepare as it takes around 2 hours to chill in fridge for flavours to set in.   Please refer here for details.

Minced Meat Tofu in Bean Paste 《鱼香豆腐》
Compare to stir-fried beef and deep-fried fish, this dish can afford to "sit" after cooking without compromising in taste.  In fact, a little rest time allows the tofu to fully absorb the flavours of this dish.  So, cook this dish before the beef and fish.

1 thumb-sized salted fish (cut into small pieces)
1 stalk of leek (sliced)
Minced pork (around 80g) - marinate with 1 tsp soy sauce, 1 tsp sesame oil, pepper
1 small carrot (cut into small cubes)
2 cloves garlic (chopped)
1 to 1.5 tsp bean paste (豆瓣酱) - check how salty is your bean paste to adjust accordingly
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp curry powder
Box Tofu - 300g (cut into big chunks)
Cornstarch solution (1.5 tsp cornstarch + 1 tbsp water)
Chopped spring onion (for garnish)
Thinly sliced chili (for garnish)

1) Heat about 2 to 3 tbsp oil in wok over medium heat, fry the salted fish.  Push to one side of wok.
2) Increase to medium-high heat, stir fry the leek, followed by minced pork and carrots.  Stir to combine ingredients in wok.  Push to one side of wok.
3) With the remaining oil in wok, add chopped garlic, then the bean paste.  Stir fry garlic with the bean paste till aromatic.  Combine with the minced pork mixture.  Add water to fully-cover ingredients.  Add sugar and curry powder.  Cover with lid.
4) When mixture starts boiling, add tofu and gently stir to combine ingredients.  Cook for about 2 minutes for tofu to absorb the flavours.
5) Thicken sauce with cornstarch solution.
6) Garnish with chopped spring onion and chili.

As I used very little pork in this dish, the addition of a tiny piece of salted fish and curry powder help to bring out a rich flavour in this dish.

Stir-Fried Beef with Celery 《西芹炒牛肉》
I completed this dish before the fried fish.  But, in terms of preparation steps, I deep-fried the fish first (drain and set aside).  Turn off heat.  With the remaining hot oil in wok, partial-cook the sliced beef by scalding the beef in hot oil for around 30 seconds and remove (i.e. "过油").  Drain excess oil.  Restaurants typically adopt this step as it gives tender beef slices.

2 slices ginger
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
3 to 4 stalks of celery, cut into 1/2 inch thick (blanched in hot water)
1/2 carrot, thinly sliced (blanched in hot water)
200g beef * for stir-frying, thinly sliced (scalded in hot oil, see above)
1 tbsp grated ginger + 2 tbsp cooking wine (mix together)
Fish sauce to taste

*Marinate beef with 1 tsp oyster sauce, 1.5 tsp soy sauce, pepper, 1 tbsp oil,  1 tbsp water, 1 tsp sesame oil and 1 tsp corn flour.

1) Heat oil in wok over high heat.  Add ginger slices, followed by onion, then celery and carrot.  Stir fry.
2) Pour in the partially-cooked beef slices and squeeze the ginger wine juice into wok.  Stir-fry quickly.
3) Add fish sauce around edge of wok and stir-fry to complete this dish.

This is a typical "Quick Stir-fry Dishes" (快炒).  The above steps 1 to 3 take only about 2 to 3 minutes to complete, as the celery/carrot/beef are partially-cooked.  Do not overcook the beef or it will be tough.  Ginger wine juice works very well with beef and stir-fried kailan.  The fragrance is awesome!

1) Stir-fry beef with kailan (介兰) is another popular dish.  For this 3-plus-1 menu, kailan will be better option as it provides some dark leafy greens.  But as I just finished up my kailan the day before, I use celery instead.  To ensure even cooking for kailin, make a small cut at the head of the stalk before cooking.

2) Instead of scalding the beef in hot oil ("过油"), you can sautéed them in wok over high heat.  I normally prefer this method as it uses less oil.  For this menu, since I am deep-frying the fish, I might as well scald the beef in hot oil.  For the sautéing method, partial-cook the vegetables first (for celery - blanch in hot water; for kailan - quick stir-fry in wok) and set aside.  Add oil in wok on high heat, add ginger slices.  Add the raw beef slices and stir-fry briefly.  Add the vegetables back to wok, squeeze ginger wine juice, stir, adjust seasoning, stir well to combine and serve.

Fried Fish with Crispy Garlic 《蒜香鱼片》
This is the last dish to complete and the final whipping up (after the fish is deep-fried) takes about a minute.  I used smelt fish (沙堆鱼) for this dish.  Smelt fish looks very much like ikan kuning, but is lighter and silvery in colour.  Each fish is about 6 inches in length (small fish but very sweet in taste).

12 to 14 smelt fish (沙堆鱼)#, deboned and halved (marinate with 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 egg white, 1 tsp oil) 
1 tbsp corn flour
1 tsp custard powder
2 tbsp finely chopped garlic
1/2 chili, finely sliced
3 tbsp chopped spring onion
A pinch of 5-spice pepper salt

# can also be deep-fried in whole.  I deboned the fish as it is easier to eat.  Use the bones for making fish stock.

1) Mix the corn flour and custard powder with the fish fillet slices.
2) Heat oil for deep-frying till hot.  Deep fry the fish fillet till golden and crispy.  Drain on kitchen towel.
[The oil is hot when you immersed a pair of wooden chopsticks in the oil and there are small bubbles around the chopsticks].
3) Heat a little oil in wok, add chopped garlic and fry to golden brown.  Remove excess oil in wok.  On high heat, add the fried fish, spring onion, chili and pepper salt.  Quickly toss the fish to combine all ingredients.  Be careful not to burn the garlic.
4) Serve immediately.

1) Salted egg smelt fish (黄金鱼片) - deep fry the fish as above.  Heat a little oil in wok, melt the mashed salted egg yolk, then add in the fried fish, chopped chili , fried garlic and fried laksa leaves.  Toss quickly and serve.

2) Sweet & sour fish (酸甜鱼片) - click here for details. 

Update on 11 March 2011:

Ellena, of Cuisine Paradise, suggested pulling of ideas for preparation of our home-cooked meals "2 Dishes, 1 Soup (两菜一汤 )".    For the purpose of this event, I shall pick a soup + 2 dishes from above, for the estimation of my costs involved in preparing these dishes:

The above 3 dishes are enough for 6 persons.

Cost estimation:
Soup: Pork ribs ($3.50) + Shark's fins melon ($2) + others ($2) = $7.50
Beef with Celery: Beef ($5) + Celery/Carrot/Onion ($1) + others ($1) = $7
Fish: Smelt fish ($4) + others ($1) = $5

Total costs= $19.50 (including costs for garlic, ginger, spring onions, chili, cooking wine etc]
Your time & love in cooking these dishes = Priceless!


  1. Hi WaiFong, thanks for supporting this event. Hope we can get more quick and easy homecooked food ideas through this :)

  2. This is a great idea, Ellena! Hope we have more ideas of what to cook ...

  3. Thanks for introducing this 3-1 dish that is intertwine with the Thursday's cooking program! I appreciate it, especially as a local living oversea.


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