KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 9 — Some things are just hard.
Sometimes we can doubt ourselves or have self-defeating beliefs. Like how, sure, some recipes are easier (even novices like us can manage) while others are beyond our reach.
Making red bean soup at home seems a breeze while something more involved such as fa sang wu (what we call peanut cream in Cantonese) feels more of a challenge.
Why is it so hard to find a decent bowl of fa sang wu, like the ones we can find easily in Hong Kong, silky and substantial, aromatic and arresting? A tongsui such as this is sublime.
I’ve had so many bad versions from packaged powders that taste strange and clump up to watered-down disappointments at “proper” tongsui dessert shops, both in shopping malls and mom-and-pop outlets.
If the “experts” can’t get it right, why bother?
As ever, I am saved by my cravings. I really wanted a bowl and I really wanted a bowl that is good, true to my Cantonese roots and palate. Surprisingly all it takes is a bit of effort – the roasting of the peanuts, removal of peanut skins, blending, boiling and simmering – for a result so velvety smooth, so very worth it.
Why haven’t I ever attempted this before?
Some things are hard. Most things aren’t, however. Perhaps the truth is that some things are hard to contemplate which is why we as humans can be such fantastic procrastinators. Once we get going, however, bit by bit, the doing gets easier.
We begin to ask ourselves “Why haven’t I ever attempted this before?” more and more.
We continue questioning everything that seems impossible, unconquerable: What other self-defeating beliefs haunt me invisibly? What else constrains me that shouldn’t?
Who knew a bowl of tongsui could be so liberating? If we allow it, our Weekend Kitchen sessions can be an adventure, opening doors beyond merely the gastronomic. Our bellies and our souls will thank us for it.
PEANUT CREAM (FA SANG WU)
To save time, you can always buy ready roasted peanuts. But if you’re really after a truly fragrant bowl of fa sang wu, there’s nothing quite like roasting the peanuts right before making your tongsui. This ensures a fresh aroma rather than a stale odour.
An easy way to roast the peanuts would be by baking them in an oven but there’s always a danger of burning them unless you watch the progress with an eagle eye.
More satisfying is to use a wok and dry stir-fry the peanuts without any oil. (The peanuts will exude their own oil, naturally.)
Before blending the roasted peanuts, you could also reserve a few for garnishing later. You can pound these using a pestle and mortar to scatter over the finished peanut cream. A nice option, particularly to break up the monotony of the cream’s unblemished surface.
The more adventurous can tweak this classic fa sang wu recipe in small but significant ways: a late accent right before serving (try a nub of butter for richness or even dark chocolate for a more adult, complex flavour) or together when blending the base ingredients (a tablespoon of white sesame seeds would strengthen the tongsui’s perfume).
I like it as is though. I venture most of you feel the same. There is simply something so simple and perfect about a bowl of pure peanut cream that you wouldn’t want to change a thing.
250 g unroasted, shelled peanuts
600 ml water (for peanut paste)
3-4 tablespoons sugar (depending on preferred sweetness)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon glutinous rice flour
50 ml water (for slurry)
There are two ways to “roast” the raw peanuts.
First is by baking them in an oven. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread the peanuts in a shallow, even layer. Bake for about 15-20 minutes. Watch the progress to prevent peanuts from burning.
Alternatively, do a dry stir-fry in a wok over medium to medium high heat. Stir constantly with your spatula to ensure even browning.
Once the peanuts are roasted to a golden brown colour, set aside and allow to cool before you remove the skins.
An easy way to do this is to use a large sieve and rub the peanuts gently in a circular motion; their skins will separate and fall downwards, leaving the skinless roasted nuts in the sieve.
Now you have your roasted peanuts sans skins, pour these and the water into a blender to make your peanut paste. Start with a gentle pulse before blending on high until its texture is free from lumps or coarse bits of peanuts.
At this stage the mixture will be slightly watery but don’t fret: it will thicken later towards the end of the cooking process with the addition of the slurry.
Pour the peanut paste mixture into a large pot (prevents any accidental boiling over). Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
Once it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low. Add the sugar and salt, stirring briskly till these have dissolved.
Reduce the heat and simmer the mixture for 12-15 minutes. Stir from time to time to prevent any burning at the bottom of the pot.
To make the slurry, combine the glutinous rice flour and water in a small bowl. Make sure there are no lumps before adding to the peanut mixture. Stir and remove from heat once the peanut cream has thickened to your desired consistency.
Allow the peanut cream to rest in the covered pot for half an hour or more. This will relax the tongsui, allowing the flavours to deepen. Serve warm rather than piping hot. (You can always reheat gently if the peanut cream has cooled too much.)
For more Weekend Kitchen stories and recipes, visit https://lifeforbeginners.com/weekend-kitchen/.