Updated: Sep 2
This week we entered the MasterChef Kitchen and saw the big “Famous” boxes. It was the mystery box challenge!! With mixed thoughts and feelings, we all stood at our respective stations.
Judge Audra explained that the mystery box is composed of very different ingredients but they all represented one basic taste. We opened the boxes and saw 8 varieties of traditional sugars: Jaggery, Candied Winter Melon, Palm sugar, Goji berry, Chinese Rock sugar, Granulated orange Gula Merah and others.
Judge Bjorn declared this as the Dessert Challenge!! We were allowed to use the entire pantry but needed to use at least one of the sugars from the Mystery box. We were given 90 minutes instead of the usual 60 for this challenge. And trust me in a competition like this, every minute counts. In fact, the crunch of the time dictates the choice of the dish, level of risk and eventually determine how well we will fare in the challenge.
My constant worry has always been “desserts”. My besties know it is my Achilles heel. I don’t bake desserts. Baking needs precision, knowledge of exact quantities. Estimations are dangerous while baking.
I was staring at the jaggery in the mystery box and instantly reminded of a dessert that I love. Growing up I travelled to Ratnagiri, a small village in Maharashtra, India often. I practice Sahaja Yoga and our yearly pilgrimages took us to this village. The women in this village made really thin and mind-blowingly tasty, traditional dessert called Puran Poli. The women were so skilled that they rolled out several hundred in a matter of hours. I loved it. Now, I make it during festivals for my son and husband.
I decided to make the Puran Poli for this dessert challenge. I wanted to showcase a dish that the judges had never eaten. I used துவரம்பருப்பு(Tamil) or Pigeon Pea (English) or Toor Dal (Hindi) that was available in the pantry and Jaggery from the mystery box to make the filling. I made the dough with Plain Flour, Turmeric, Salt and Saffron so that the dish is not unidimensional sweet. In order to give the dish a twist, I served it with baked Figs, a Mango Jam and some toasted Walnuts.
Traditionally the Puran Poli is pan roasted and eaten with ghee or clarified butter. I had no time to make ghee, so I browned the butter to pan fry and served it with clotted cream.
The Judges loved the Puran Poli, they loved the filling and the dough. Judge Audra commented that it reminded her of Tau Sar Piah, 豆沙饼. It is a traditional Chinese baked pastry with green bean filling. Interesting, both Tau Sar Piah and Puran Poli represent a taste of heritage.
@AudraMorrice is amazing. She is big on her flavour combinations. She makes for a great person to ask for feedback. She shared some constructive feedback with me on the dish. She advised me was that I should learn to restrain myself and perhaps that I could have done without the Mango Jam.
@BjornShen reaction to the tasting was hilarious. I cannot forget it, ever. He loved it so much that he slipped one into his coat pocket!! That was his idea of tapao and eat it later!! I couldn’t help thinking the washing nightmare the coat would be!! He is a very special person. You know some people make you want to cook, feed them, feed them more, he is all of that and more.
Damian (@the_rebel_chef) loved it as well. Throughout the competition he had been stressing about cooking from the heart, to draw our inspirations from our roots and cultural background. This dish had it all.
The Judges make MasterChef Singapore special. The competition represents the country, it's rich diversity and people. It is very unique.
Puran Poli was selected as one of the top 3 in the challenge but @ZanderNg won it for his Flourless chocolate olive oil cake!! Who can resist chocolate! As a winner, he now earned an advantage into the next challenge. He had to choose two ingredients that we all had to cook.
The next challenge was the Invention Test. Gulp! We were introduced to a guest Judge, Chef Haikal Johari of Alma, a Michelin-starred restaurant. Chef Haikal is trained in French cooking and true to his Malay roots, he brought those traditional flavours to his dishes. His style is fusion and therefore the challenge was to showcase a fusion dish using two ingredients, one Asian the other western. Zander chose Thai Basil and Veal Sweetbreads for the challenge.
The bowl full pile Veal Sweetbreads looked delicate and I learnt that it is similar to animal innards. To the uninitiated Sweetbreads is the thymus gland or pancreas of the calf.
I made up my mind not to use Indian flavours as it could overpower the main ingredient. After all, I wanted to hero the sweetbread and Thai Basil. To showcase my cooking skills, I chose to showcase ingredients that used in Asian, Middle Eastern and Western cuisines.
To hero the two main ingredients, I pan fried the Sweetbreads, served it with a Thai Basil Pesto. I also pan fried the Asian Shallots, Middle Eastern Muhammara, with some toasted chickpeas to give the dish a crunch and serve it on a beautifully charred Chard leaf used in Western cuisines.
I was happy plating this colourful-healthy dish. I was confident about the doneness of the meat. I don’t have to taste the meat, if I am told how it is to be cooked or treated, I can cook it.
The Judges commented that there were too many elements one plate. They appreciated different flavours that I was after like the pesto for the zing, the chard gave the bitterness, the shallots brought in the sweetness but the Muhammara could have been done away. I appreciate the feedback from all the judges. It is this constructive feedback that makes us grow in the competition and refine us to become better cooks. Chef Haikal mentions that my sweetbreads were cooked very well and I managed to cook it perfectly. I am so chummed, safe from elimination and so looking forward to the next level, next challenge.
The end of the elimination challenge always amounts to one amazing cook leave the Kitchen. This time it was @DianaIsmail. She is an amazing person. Personifies life goals at the age when most others have resigned their talent to family duties.
I believe the food you make reflects you. Diana’s food is full of flavour, love and right from the heart. Her understanding of Malay as well as Indian Cooking never ceases to amaze me. Both cuisines have spices in common but are based on different techniques of cooking. There are not many who can boast of the culinary experience and knowledge that she brings to the table.
People who leave the MasterChef Kitchen only physically leave the kitchen. They all become a part and a parcel of the whole life defining experience. As Diana is told that her MasterChef journey ends, the entire family is in tears.
I am very happy to have found Diana and I am going to cherish her for the years to come. I love you, Diana.
This was the end of Episode 4, until next week when we are paired up into teams of two, running up and down the aisles of a supermarket. I am paired with @ShamsydarAni as it is a battle of retail supremacy. In red, we call ourselves#SpiceGirls tune in to know why!
Check out my website: www.kechilkitchen.com