Aunty Lee's Deadly Specials is my second read in this little series by Singaporean author, Ovidia Yu, and so glad I found it! Mysteries, with humor, troubling social issues, and lots of culinary interest. Some of the food mentioned sounds quite intriguing, though not especially appealing to Western tastes perhaps, but again, much of it is.
I especially enjoy her philosophy, partially based as it is around cooking; as well as the way she uses herbs and dishes to calm and even heal. Rosie is a compassionate, kindly and helpful character, who thinks about people and what motivates them with a purposeful sort of curiosity. Aunty can tell so much about a person by what, and how he or she eats, which information of course helps with her sleuthing.
Book Description from the Publisher for those interested in it:
"Rosie "Aunty" Lee, the feisty widow, amateur sleuth and proprietor of Singapore's best-loved home-cooking restaurant, is back in another delectable, witty mystery involving scandal and murder among the city's elite
Few know more about what goes on in Singapore than Aunty Lee. When a scandal over illegal organ donation makes news, she already has a list of suspects. There's no time to snoop, though—Aunty Lee's Delights is catering a brunch for local socialites Henry and Mabel Sung. Rumor has it that the Sungs' fortune is in trouble, and Aunty Lee wonders if the gossip is true. But soon after arriving at the Sungs', her curiosity turns to suspicion. Why is the guesthouse in the garden locked up—and what's inside? Where is the missing guest of honor? Then Mabel Sung and her son, Leonard, are found dead. The authorities blame it on Aunty Lee's special stewed chicken with buah keluak, a local black nut that can be poisonous if cooked improperly. She's certain the deaths are murder—and that they're somehow linked to the organ donor scandal. To save her business and her reputation, she's got to prove it—and unmask a dangerous killer."
There was a recipe at the back for the famous "Deadly Special", which is not only a delicious Chicken Curry, but uses candlenut (kukui here in Hawaii) instead of the very rare jungle nut, Buah Keluak, frequently used with the dish in Singapore. The author also suggests macadamia nuts can be substituted. As I do have a kukui nut tree and few opportunities to use them, this "Deadly Special" had to be the inspired dish for my post.
I had to wait, interminably it seemed for the rain to quit long enough so that I could go out and gather some of those kukui nuts. Between showers I was able to collect a good amount and proceed with putting them through the float test (see an earlier post on making poke). Surprisingly none were floaters.
As a side note; candlenuts are mostly used today as a thickener in the cuisines of Malaysia, Indonesia and surrounding regions, and in what is known as Peranakan cooking. They are pounded to paste before including in recipes, and are always put in when there will still be a fair amount of cooking time, both to develop their thickening properties and to destroy toxins. In Hawaii they are mostly used as a condiment called inamona for poke, which I will make with the rest of these nuts.
But I digress. Briefly, the nuts must be dried thoroughly after washing, Then cracked open, (Those suckers are harder than macadamia nuts and it took my large granite mortar) the meat removed and roasted. Though to tell you the truth, the roasting might not have been necessary as Yu didn't mention it in the recipe. But I was going with the general rule in curries, usually a tempering of the spices first.
The only change I made was to substitute manioc for potatoes in the dish, another garden product not given enough use around here. I served the very delectable curry with coconut rice, steamed with pandan, some preserved salted lemon and a salad of cucumber and peppers with a kefir cumin dressing.
This post will be submitted as my entry for Simona's current Novel Food event, as well as shared with the group at Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking meme. Be sure to visit both places for some good food and interesting reading.