Years ago, my dad made a simple Cantonese lunch of steamed rice in clay pot with some leftover chicken and slices of lap cheong (dried sausage). I stared at the piece of meat mottled with white fat. It was merely the size of a nickel, but it looked like a ghastly monster clasped between my chopsticks. I shut my eyes and swallowed, willing myself not to chew for fear of prolonging the intolerable salty taste disintegrating in my mouth. I remember running to the bathroom, throwing myself over the sink, desperate to get rid of the horrid sausage bolus before it burned my esophagus.
On another occasion, my parents forced me to eat guilingao or turtle jelly (derived from powdered turtle shell plus a few other Chinese herbs). Despite my parents touting its complexion-enhancing properties, it did not deter me from cringing at the turtles hanging out in the corner of the restaurant, with their freakishly long necks and beady eyes staring back at me. Yuck! I’d rather have 1000 pimples than eat turtle. As my parents slurped away their bowls of this so-called "dessert", my reflection in the black jelly stared back at me, the thought of eating even a smidgen of bitter jello made me burst into tears. I don’t recall what happened afterwards, probably because I wiped it out of my memory.
On happier days, my parents would take me out for pasta, where there was no need to coax me into eating dinner, especially spaghetti bolognaise. I’d stab my heaping pile of pasta with my fork, twirling it around and around, literally stuffing my face with meat sauce, staining my shirt, my mouth and sometimes my nose. It was a nightmare for my mom, but a heaven for me.
Nowadays, there is no food-stabbing, less shirt-staining and more pleasurable meals. Whenever my mom makes pasta, I cook the sauce. I’ve picked up a handy trick from Jamie Oliver in his Jamie's Italy cookbook, it turns out that adding balsamic vinegar to tomato sauce transforms it into a complex, grown-up dish. It’s not cloyingly sweet nor overly acidic, the spaghetti soaks up the deep tomato flavour, having you begging for more.
My mom for instance,
The recipe is easy to follow, do all the prep work before hand and you dinner will be ready in no time. I promise there will be no tears and no power struggles at the dinner table. On a side note, I’m happy to report that I will eat lap cheong without running to the bathroom, though I still have issues with turtle jelly (shivers).
Adapted loosely from Epicurious
2 tbsp. of olive oil
6 oz. of lean ground meat (chicken, pork, beef)
1 tsp. of mustard
1 tsp. of Worcestshire sauce
1 tbsp. of ketchup
¼ tsp. of sea salt
¼ tsp. of ground black pepper
½ medium red onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup of bell peppers (any color you wish: red, yellow, orange, green), diced
1 medium tomato, diced
1 cup of tomato sauce (I’m lazy and don’t bother making my own, but supermarket brand tomato sauces are amazing)
1 tbsp. of balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp. of brown sugar
¼ cup of fresh basil leaves
¼ cup of Parmesan Cheese
1. Marinate meat in small bowl, add mustard, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, sea salt, and ground black pepper. Combine well. Cover with plastic wrap for at least 4 hours in fridge.
2. Heat 1 tbsp of oil in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add meat, stir often to break up chunks. Continue cooking until meat begins to brown, about 4 minutes. Remove from pan onto plate and set aside.
3. Add remainder of oil in same pan, saute the onions, garlic, bell peppers, and cook for 4 minutes, stirring often. Add the tomatoes. Continue cooking for 2 minutes.
4. Pour in tomato sauce. Return meat to pan and stir until sauce begins to boil.
Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until thickened, about 15 minutes. Add sugar and balsamic vinegar, and basil, stir. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
5. Meanwhile, cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite. Drain and divide among 2 plates. Spoon sauce over pasta. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese if desired and serve. Recipe here!