Thursday, February 9, 2017

Yam rice - an easy one-dish meal

I never really realized that yam was so much a part of my Chinese heritage, featuring in so many of Hakka dishes. Admittedly stodgy and not very flavorful, it does seem to serve as a great foil for other ingredients and dishes. It must have been an ideal filler of hungry stomachs in the old days when money was tight and rice, a Chinese staple, was expensive. Today, yam has become an expensive supermarket item iteself and, for many, a treat whether as a savory or sweet.

Yam (or taro) is a root vegetable that’s versatile enough to feature in many recipes, both mains and desserts. My mother, a thoroughbred Hakka woman, used it in many of her dishes, but surprisingly, never made yam rice. It’s a dish I only encountered much later in life. But once I tried it, I loved it. Partly because all the other ingredients that are used in it are all my favorites, but also because of the yam.

My mother has always maintained that the deliciousness of her yam dishes all depended on the quality of the yam. Like potatoes, there are many varieties of yam, some more waxy, others more fluffy. Alas, unlike potatoes, there are no names for these different types of yam, and I kind of have to hope and pray that the yam I buy will be fluffy.

Cubed yam
Yam rice is surprisingly easy to make. It’s just a matter of frying up all the ingredients that go with the rice, then cooking them together with rice in a rice cooker. Then voila, a one-pot meal that’s hearty, wholesome and oh, so delicious. I’ve seen recipes that have some kind of meat in them, like chicken or pork. I've put my own spin on the dish, adding in some ingredients that I think work well with the others. I've found that bacon works well because it’s so flavourful (and admit it - everything tastes better with bacon!)

Other recipes also call for cabbage to be added. I like to add some mustard greens for some crunch, but I guess you can pretty much add whatever vegetable you want, like beans. Or you can just make the rice on its own, and serve a side dish of vegetables or salad.

Just a note about working with yam. I don’t know if other people have this problem, but yam makes my hands itch, so I just don a pair of gloves when peeling and cubing it.

Yam rice (enough for 6-8)
1 small yam, about 400 gm, peeled and cubed
100 gm dried prawns, soaked
50 gm dried shitake mushrooms, softened in hot water and cubed
50 gm bacon
100 gm mustard greens, cubed
100 gm shallots, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup rice
Oyster sauce
Soy or fish sauce
Oil for frying

Heat some oil and fry bacon will crispy, then set aside.
Fry shallots till crispy and set aside.
Fry garlic, then add dried prawns, mushrooms and yam.
Then add bacon and mustard greens. Fry till fragrant, and add oyster sauce and fish sauce to taste.
Rinse the rice and add enough water to cook it in a rice cooker.
Add the fried ingredients to rice and stir to mix.
Cook ingredients in rice cooker, then sprinkle fried shallots on cooked rice. Serve with sliced chillies or chilli sauce.

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