Saturday, 9 February 2013

Going Nuts!

Those who grew up before 1975 would remember -- life was so much simpler then. Color television was then a rare luxury; in fact the majority of households didn’t even own a ‘black-and-white’ television!

Much of my childhood was spent in Chinatown. The hill where Kreta Ayer Theatre now stands was the centre of activity for my neighborhood. Back then there was no theatre; in its place, instead, were a small community centre and a crèche, and a huge empty plot of land.

Come nightfall, a professional storyteller – an old man -- would set up his stall, which consisted of a small wooden box, a kerosene lamp, and 20 or so wooden stools. Night after night on the hill, his voice would echo. He would narrate tales from the Chinese classics – the cases of Justice Bao, the exploits of warriors of The Three Kingdoms...

People would drop him coins as a donation, or as rental for the stools, and these would be his earnings.  While the adults listened to the stories, the youngsters would play on the nearby seesaw or the community centre’s basketball court. The cool evening air would also draw out courting couples and strollers to the open grounds.

Hawkers would set up food stalls: ice kachang, fruits, drinks, and one particular snack that I loved dearly -- steamed peanuts. This hawker would ride his trishaw-cart, which held a huge basket of peanuts kept warm by a pot of simmering water below it. Five cents would buy one a tiny paper bag full. The peanuts would be too hot to handle, making splitting the shell open a challenge -- but the reward would be soft, steaming, succulent peanuts!

Sadly, this simple treat is not as ubiquitous as it once was, so I’ve decided to recreate it, adding some spices to enliven it!

Since, this is the eve of Lunar New Year 2013. I would like to wish everyone

花开福贵 ** 生意兴隆

Spicy Boiled Peanuts

Peanuts (with husks)               1 kg
Cinnamon                                 2 sticks
Star anise                                  2
Fennel seeds                            ½ tsp
Sichuan peppercorn                1 tsp
Salt                                           1 tbsp
Water                                       1½ litres

  1. Fry spices in a clean pan until it emits a strong fragrance. Pour it into the water and boil.
  2. Add peanuts and simmer for 3 hours.
  3. Strain the peanuts and serve immediately.
  4. Peanuts taste best when it is warm; simply reheat it in the microwave when it gets cold.

Note: By using a pressure cooker, cooking time could be shortened to 30 minutes.