Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Book Tour Stops Here: "Aunty Lee's Delights: A Singaporean Mystery" by Ovida Yu with Coconut and Salmon Laksa

Rosie "Aunty" Lee is the proprietress of Aunty Lee's Delights, a small café and shop in Binjai Park in Singapore where she makes mostly traditional Peranakan dishes and is famous for the jars of achar (pickles) and sambals (chili-based condiments) that she sells with her smiling face on the labels. Being "of a certain age" and more than comfortable financially, from both her own money and the estate of her late husband, Aunty Lee could live out her day's as one of Singapore's "tai tai" or an idle rich lady--playing mah-jongg and shopping at high end stores. But, Aunty Lee is far too "kaipoh" for that--always minding the business of others as much energy as her own. Liking to keep her mind active, take care of her friends, and having no fear--Aunty Lee wants to be involved--in everything. When an unidentified body is washed ashore on Sentosa, one of Singapore's most popular tourist destinations, Aunty Lee is on the case. 

Aunty Lee's Delights: A Singaporean Mystery by Ovida Yu, is a "cozy mystery" where the food and Aunty Lee's cooking play a major role in the storyline. Aunty Lee's detective skills are closely aligned with her cooking skills and she devotes equal high energy to both. Helping her along with her investigating (usually somewhat reluctantly), is Nina, the Philippines-born assistant/maid Aunty Lee "rescued" from a bad employment situation and who tries to rein in the whirlwind that is Aunty Lee, while keeping her "comfortable." Aunty Lee's stepson Mark, currently running a wine import business and hosting wine dinners after hours at the café with his shrewish wife Selina (or "Silly-Nah to Aunty Lee), add to the mix of eclectic characters. Everyone seems to be hiding something--Australian tourists, expats and locals--keeping Aunty Lee busy figuring out the different "ingredients" to these "human recipes." Aunty Lee's knack for sniffing out the smallest details and her many connections keep her a step ahead of the local police, who are smart enough to realize her formidable talents. 

Paperback: 288 pages  
William Morrow Paperbacks: September 17, 2013

I found myself loving Aunty Lee for her wit, energy and especially her kitchen wisdom. For example: "As far as Aunty Lee was concerned, people ought to go through the ideas they carried around in their heads as regularly as they turned out their store cupboards. No matter how wisely you shopped, there would be things in the depths that were past their expiration dates or gone damp and moldy--or that had been picked up on impulse and were no longer relevant. Aunty Lee believed everything inside a head or cupboard could affect everything else in it by going bad or just taking up more space than it was worth."  

Aunty Lee's Delights is a fun, fast and entertaining read. I enjoyed the Singapore setting-- having spent time there for work several years ago, and I loved reading about the cultural intricacies and the mentions of places remembered and food enjoyed. The one down side was that the ending seemed to come a bit quick--I would have liked more depth/details on how Aunty Lee actually came up with the solution to the mystery with all of the build up getting to that point. Still, I enjoyed it enough to hope this turns into a series and to see Aunty Lee and her friends back for another foodie mystery. Lovers of foodie fiction--especially foodie travel and mystery books will like this one.

Author Notes: Ovidia Yu is one of Singapore’s best-known and most acclaimed writers. She has had more than thirty plays produced and is also the author of a number of mysteries that have been published in Singapore and India. You can connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Because of the foodie spin and the Singapore setting, I was excited to be on the TLC Book Tour for Aunty Lee's Delights. Ideas for a dish inspired by this book were in excess. There are many mentions of classic Singaporean and Peranakan dishes throughout the novel. I used to travel to Singapore for work years ago and as much as I enjoyed the country and its delicious food, sadly, I got sick almost every time I went with a major cold or flu. I think it had to do with a combination of the travel, the humidity, sleeping in closed up hotel rooms with freezing air conditioning and the long walk back and forth in the hot weather from work to the hotel room. In any case, one of my favorite remedies and meals was a bowl of steaming laksa--a spicy noodle soup that helped "sweat" those nasty germs out. ;-) 

I thought about a traditional laksa--usually the ones I ate there were shrimp or chicken but, when looking through my Donna Hay cookbooks, I found a simple Coconut and Salmon Laksa in New Food Fast that looked particularly appealing. I think Aunty Lee would approve because, "Though she was revered for cooking the traditional standards, strange dishes occasionally popped up because Aunty Lee loved experimenting. In her view, anything cooked with local ingredients was local food." I couldn't have said it better myself! ;-)

Donna Hay's recipe calls for a "quality laksa paste" for simplicity and I found this one by Asian Home Gourmet at my local Asian market. Certainly you could (and I am sure Aunty Lee would) make your own laksa paste however, this certainly made the prep quick, easy and perfect for a weeknight dinner.

Coconut and Salmon Laksa
From New Food Fast by Donna Hay
(Serves 4)

150g (5 oz) dry rice vermicelli
4 Tbsp quality laksa paste
1 Tbsp shredded ginger
1 kaffir lime leaf, shredded (optional)
3 1/2 cups (28 fl oz) fish or vegetable stock
2 cups (16 fl oz) coconut milk
250 g (8 oz) salmon fillet, chopped
4 baby bok choy, leaves separated
chopped red chillies and coriander leaves to serve

Place the rice noodles in a bowl of boiling water and stand for 2 minutes, drain and set aside.

Place the laksa pace, ginger and lime leaf in a saucepan over medium-high heat and cook for 1 minute or until fragrant. Add the stock and coconut milk and reduce the temperature to low. 

When the coconut broth is hot, add salmon and bok choy and cook for 1-2 minutes. Place rice noodles in the bottom of serving bowls and ladle broth over the top. Sprinkle with chopped chillies and coriander leaves. 

Notes/Results: Warmly spicy, creamy from the coconut milk and filled with chunks of tender salmon, this is a soul-filling bowl of noodley goodness. The curry flavor of the laksa paste (this one uses galangal, shallots, red chillies, dried shrimp, garlic, lemongrass, and turmeric to flavor) is rich and good. Not too hot, the soup was spicy enough for me but, if you like a more painful kick, serve with some sambal oelek to doctor it to your own tastes. I like how quickly this dish came together--it was on the table in less than 15 minutes. It might not be a traditional laksa but it more than hit the spot and made for a satisfying but not heavy dinner.

We have just started cooking with Donna Hay at I Heart Cooking Clubs, the weekly cooking event I co-host. This week's theme is "G'Day Donna Hay"--dishes to welcome her to IHCC. I have already posted a welcoming soup this week--her Red Lentil, Lemon & Yogurt Soup, but in my mind, you can never have enough great soups--so I am linking this noodley bowl as well. You can check out all the Donna Hay dishes by following the post links here.

Note: A review copy of "Aunty Lee's Delights" was provided by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own.  


  1. Laksa has been on my list of soups to try this winter and I think this salmon version sounds absolutely lovely! i hope I can find laksa paste!

  2. Wow, that soup looks like a fabulous meal-in-a-bowl! I could easily post more than one of Donna Hay's recipes per theme - there are so many to choose from (and that's just from her website!)

  3. have to look to see if I can locate laksa paste - have always wanted to try to make laksa

  4. Joyce, Kitchen FlavoursOctober 4, 2013 at 12:57 AM

    Hi Deb,
    That book sounds really interesting!
    I love laksa, and have never tried having it with salmon before, this would be a nice change from the usual chicken and prawns!

  5. Couscous & ConsciousnessOctober 4, 2013 at 2:36 PM

    I love laksa - one of my favourite soups - and I frequently use the Asian Home Gourmet laksa paste - it's a great store-cupboard cheat to have on hand, and definitely makes a quick and easy meal of a dish like this. I've never had salmon in a laksa before, but I love the idea and I can't wait to try it.

  6. I think I'll hand this book over to my husband to get some recipe ideas - he's great at getting inspiration from books like this.

    Thanks for being on the tour. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.

  7. I have never heard of this soup, but boy, it looks wonderful!

  8. Aunty Lee sounds like quite the character! However, if I were her I'd be content to stick with the shopping end of things and leave the mysteries to solve themselves ;)

    Having just tried Giada's salmon in lemon brodetto, this looks really appealing. A little spicy, a little creamy, and a little noodle love. Definitely one to pin!

  9. 15 minutes? Wow! This is a new dish to me. Usually heavier, richer dishes are thought of as comfort food, but this looks like comfort food to me.

  10. I saw this recipe in her book and thought it looked delicious. Now I know.


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