Just like the old days part 1

Pak choi with tofu & oyster sauce
I had a much needed day out of the office yesterday, spending it with two out of the three individuals who became close family to me the minute we connected several years ago in London. As you grow older, it becomes harder to meet people you automatically click with on a number of levels – intellectual, emotional, outlook on life, sense of humor, and just a general sense of being comfortable in their presence to the extent that it feels natural to let go of any barriers or defenses. In my case especially, I never settled in a country long enough to make/keep a group of core close friends since my family was constantly moving from one country to another. I went through my teenage and early adult years training myself to not depend on anyone other than family. This all changed one late summer afternoon in 2008 over a ridiculous game of cards on sunny Hampstead Heath.

Yesterday was spent road tripping to Melaka, doing what we love to do best – singing to great tunes, making up even more corny games (guys if you are reading this – I won the ‘love’ game!), laughing at anything/everything, catching up on life developments, discussing life philosophies/decisions, pursuing random moments, and enjoying great food. One of the things I love about the London foursome is that we are all passionate foodies, each one with his/her own unique view on the joys of food. So throughout this week, in honour of friendships that never change despite the four of us not living in the same country, I want to cook a dish that reminds me of each one of these amazing individuals.

The dish below, Pak choi with tofu & oyster sauce, comes to mind after a conversation over a vegetarian lunch with one of the London foursome. This discussion exemplifies a London foursome moment at its best – having an in-depth and analytical discussion about food, while eating lots of food. As we were recounting our top three list of favourite world cuisines, I brought up why I personally do not like Malay food. I find that it is often not vegetarian friendly and there is a tendency to overcook vegetables, drowning them with all sorts of sauces and spices. Similarly  Overcooking vegetables not only kills their nutrients, but also ruins what makes the veggies deliciously appetising in the first place. I absolutely love the light, fresh crunch of veggies. This probably explains why Mediterranean (Greek, Turkish, Lebanese) and Chinese food are on my top 3 list (I can’t deny that my one true love at number one is Italian). With these cuisines, the vegetables are often used raw or at least treated with respect for what they are. The pak choi dish below requires a quick blanching of the greens for 40 seconds in hot boiling water. The key here is to retain the freshness of the pak choi, thus transferring it into a bowl of ice, cold water after boiling will stop any further cooking. The dish is brought together by the nutty, savoury sauce that is poured while still hot over the veggies.

It’s a lovely feeling when you can intellectualise the benefits and cooking time of vegetables into a lengthy, inspiring conversation with someone. To always finding inspiration, this one’s for you Philios.

Pak choi with tofu & oyster sauce

Basic Ingredients
Pak choi, tofu, sesame seeds, sesame oil, oyster sauce, garlic, salt and pepper

The Preparation
1. Prepare a pot of salted boiling water and blanch pak choi for 40 seconds. Following this immediately transfer the pak choi into a bowl of ice cold water to stop this cooking further.

2. Toast sesame seeds
3. Pan fry tofu until golden brown on each side, slice, and place alongside dry pak choi.
3. In a separate pan, heat sesame oil and sauté chopped garlic. Add 3 tablespoons of oyster sauce diluted with a bit of water. Add black pepper – I don’t add extra salt since the oyster sauce is salty enough. Once the sauce is boiling pour over the pak choi and tofu arrangement.
4. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.