Jul 31, 2011
A wobbly slice of melon
A best-selling agar agar creation that looks like watermelon took Stella Lam over 10 years to perfect
The cool 'watermelon' dessert created by Madam Stella Lam has a crunchy, savoury bite and a fluffy texture. -- ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA
Retiree Stella Lam's 'watermelon' agar agar looks deceiving, but the proof of it is in the eating.
Madam Lam, 61, has had to convert many sceptics who cannot understand why she would make jelly masquerading as a watermelon.
Last year, she sold the agar agar to raise funds for a mission trip to Vietnam in the Church of St Teresa which she attends.
But it proved a challenge, as her fellow parishioners had to be convinced to even taste the agar agar.
Says the former cashier: 'I had to persuade them to try it and they were surprised at its fluffy texture. So, I ended up selling all the 10 pieces I made.'
Unlike the usual agar agar sold here, this cool dessert - perfect for beating the heat - has a crunchy bite. The use of whisked egg whites gives it a spongy texture.
Sesame seeds give the jelly a savoury bite, and stand in as watermelon seeds to complete the look.
On some occasions, she uses black sesame seeds and even grass jelly pieces for the 'seeds'. Such experiments have had mixed responses from her food tasters: The primary and secondary school students of her younger daughter Diana Lim, a tutor.
Her elder daughter Lena is a housewife. Both sisters are in their 30s.
Madam Lam explains: 'The black sesame seeds, which tasted a bit bitter, did not go well with the coconut flavours of the agar agar. They did not like the grass jelly pieces either, so I decided to stick to the white sesame seeds.'
This home-made delight has taken Madam Lam more than 10 years to get just right.
She recalls first trying the agar agar in the 1970s, when she attended a church function. The next time she tasted it was in the 1980s, when her niece brought a version of the same jelly to another event.
The recipe, handwritten on a pink piece of paper, is neatly filed with other recipes clipped from newspaper or obtained from other members of her church group, Golden Years.
The group sees 12 women from her church getting together for prayer meetings or cooking sessions.
At home, her husband, Mr Robert Lim, 63, is the main cook and whips up simple dishes, such as steamed fish and stir-fried beef. Madam Lam can cook other dishes such as fried rice.
In her five-room HDB flat's simple kitchen, with traditional steamers and a wooden rice pot, she prepares her watermelon agar agar with no fancy plating nor elaborate garnish.
When it comes time to cool the agar agar mixture, she grabs a plastic fan and fans it with the gusto of a satay man.
The younger Ms Lim, who first tried the agar agar when she was eight years old, is probably the biggest fan of her mother's whimsical dessert.
She says: 'My mum would never fail to make the agar agar for my school teachers on Teachers' Day each year. She would ask me which teachers I want to give the agar agar to and I made sure I gave them only to the ones I liked.'
MAKE IT YOURSELF: 'WATERMELON' AGAR AGAR
2 packets agar agar powder (white, 12g each)
8 Tbs fine white sugar
3 bowls of water, room temperature
6 to 8 Tbs fine white sugar
1 packet fresh coconut milk (250g)
2 Tbs sesame seeds
1 Tbs red food colouring
1 Tbs green food colouring
1. Separate five egg whites from egg yolks. Put the egg whites in a big mixing bowl.
2. Whisk the egg whites till fluffy and add the 8 Tbs of fine white sugar. Continue beating for a few minutes till they form stiff peaks. Set aside.
3. In a pot, mix the water, agar agar powder, 6 to 8 Tbs of fine white sugar and coconut milk. Bring it to a boil, stirring constantly.
4. Once it boils, remove from the heat and let the mixture cool for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, till the steam has dissipated.
5. Add the mixture to the whisked egg whites and beat till evenly mixed.
6. Scoop the mixture into five serving bowls, preferably with a round base. As it cools, the agar agar will start to set in the bowl.
7. Drop about five drops of the red food colouring in the centre of the agar agar mixture.
8. Add about half a teaspoon of sesame seeds (above, left). Carefully stir in the colouring and sesame seeds from the middle of the bowl without touching its base (above, centre). Leave a border of the white agar agar mixture without the colouring. This forms the 'rind' of the watermelon while the red part with sesame seeds is the watermelon's 'flesh'.
9. Repeat steps 7 and 8 for the next four bowls.
10. Refrigerate the bowls of agar agar for about 10 minutes.
11. Once the agar agar has set completely and is firm, remove from the bowls. Wear a pair of gloves and gently rub the green food colouring on the outer surface of the agar agar (above, right) and place back in the bowls.
12. After refrigerating for another 10 minutes, remove the agar agar from the bowls. Slice into wedges and serve cold.
Serves five to 10