This is the first entry in Read, Cook, Eat! a combination book review/cooking/eating series by beginner cook and food book enthusiast— me, Aik! I’ll be reviewing a selection of books that showcase food and culture and attempt to learn recipes straight off the page.
Today we’re delving into Seasonings Magazine—an independent publication that celebrates diversity in Singapore through the lens of food and culture. It’s helmed by Pamelia Chia, who runs Singapore Noodles and illustrator Hafizah Jainal, aka HAFI.
I first learned about Singapore Noodles, a platform that seeks to “embolden Singaporeans everywhere to embrace our heritage” through Christy, our editorial director, who’s been a big fan for a long time. Shortly after I learned about her extensive body of work introducing heritage Singaporean food and produce to young people, she announced that she was working on a food magazine of her own alongside HAFI. I was instantly intrigued by the premise of exploring Singaporean cuisine and culture through festivals and rituals and decided to pick up the first volume as soon as it became available.
Since then, there’s been three volumes, with more on the way. I’ve been impressed with the love and care that’s gone into every single one, but the one that I’m covering today in this piece might be my favourite so far: Seasonings #3, The Deepavali Edition.
First things first—this is a beautiful book. The photos are crisp and beautiful and the illustrations are colourful and varied. I’m astounded that this is a quarterly publication where the illustration and layout is handled by a single person. For reference, the Deepavali Edition comes in at about 188 numbered pages. That’s a lot of work.
And what good work it is! My favourite illustrations in this one are definitely the cow drawings; cows are wonderful animals, and they’re drawn wonderfully within the pages of this magazine.
The stories are interesting and varied. I love the variety of contributors, from people with professional culinary backgrounds to homemakers. I think home-cooked food is often overlooked in discussions of ‘Singaporean cuisine’ or ‘local food’. Seasonings definitely takes home-cooks seriously and gives them their due, which is one of the things that make it stand out as a food publication. The book is interspersed with information on the festival itself as well, with introductions to the legends and the deities that make up the mythology of Deepavali. There are a couple of pieces that I really loved. In ‘A Sweet Connection’, Vidula Verma shares her memories of her mother, Jagraj Verma, recounting elaborate Diwali parties planned down to the last detail. ‘A Conversation with Devagi Sanmugam’ features the titular subject, who shares her knowledge with the grace and warmth of a talented storyteller. COOK On to the recipe! The recipe I’m tackling today is a Yogurt Chicken Sambal along with Ghee Rice, contributed by Aruna Shanmuga Vadivel. I’m not very good at multitasking when cooking, as I tend to get overwhelmed in the kitchen with too many things going on at once. So hopefully I can get better at that by stretching myself a little! Sadly, before I even start to cook, I’ve already made my first mistake. A couple of days ago, in desperation, I bought some plain Swiss yogurt for the chicken. Moments before I start to cook, I realise that it’s low-fat yogurt. Despair. I’ve always been a little intimidated by ingredient shopping. Certain items go by many different names, and it can be confusing when you’re standing in the aisle and you’re not quite sure whether this is the right kind of tomato or not. However, as I started cooking more, I realised that it’s okay to make a couple of mistakes, especially when starting out; I shouldn’t let the fear of not getting it 100% right stand in the way of taking the first steps to get there. In conclusion, I forgive myself for this low-fat mistake. Firstly, with some help from Reggie (my household’s domestic worker), I tackle preparing a whole chicken for the first time. Luckily, this one has had most of its innards removed beforehand. Reggie guides me through the process—cleaving the wing, the thighs, where to cut, how to cut it. After much hacking, the chicken is finally ready! I’m a little proud of myself. Next, I prepare everything else. I marinate the chicken, blend the sambal (chopped onions, tomatoes, rehydrated dried chillies, garlic, ginger), get the spices I need ready, and so on. Mise en place or whatever. Plus, I don’t want to be scrambling for ingredients when trying to cook two things at once.
Before long, I’m scrambling for ingredients while trying to cook two things at once. After setting up two woks, I realise that I’ve forgotten to prepare spices for the yogurt chicken, which is concerning because the spices for the ghee rice have started to burn. Curry leaves start to splatter - a couple of them do high jumps and somersaults. This is not ideal.
After a few minutes of running around, magazine in one hand and spatula in the other, everything’s groovy. The rice is fried with spices and then transferred to a rice cooker, I start adding the chicken and sambal, and now all I have to do is patiently wait for the food to cook and finish up the last few steps. I’ve stumbled a bit, but it’ll be fine. Probably.
EAT It’s a resounding “not bad” from everyone at the table! Melody, our design head, describes it as a “strong 7/10”. I’ll take it, especially for a first try. Shash, our photographer, also seems to like it. Of course, I fancy my own cooking. It’s good, dear reader. I promise.
The ghee rice is light and sweet, each mouthful containing generous amounts of cashews and raisins. The cashews are slightly burnt. Whoops. It’s also not as salty as it should be. Confession: I forgot to salt the water as the recipe indicated. The chicken’s pretty good, although the low-fat misstep haunts me with every bite. This could be theoretically so much creamier.
That being said, I’m quite happy with the result. But also, all credit to the recipe, which is clear, easy to follow, and lists measurements mostly by weight, which I find much easier to replicate with my trusty digital scale.
Aruna Shanmuga Vadivel writes that this Yogurt Chicken Sambal has been a mainstay during Deepavali. I can definitely see why, and I’m thankful to have a chance to recreate it in my own home (and to eat it). Next time—and there will be a next time—I’ll add some fried onions to the ghee rice. And I won’t buy low-fat yogurt. See you guys next time! - Aik