Author: The Muddled Pantry

Born out of a passion for the food I love to eat, feed and share, The Muddled Pantry is about satisfying a global palette with limited ingredients

Marmite Chicken 妈蜜鸡

I’m not sure why, but recently I’ve been in a distinctly Marmite state of mind.

Perhaps its the riots and lockdowns talking, but I think we can all agree these are dark and polarising times. Indeed, seen from that perspective 2020 is turning out to be the most “Marmite” year of them all! Dividing more than it unites, this dark concoction of Brewer’s Yeast claims no middle-ground; making it the pantry poster-child of this “love it or loathe it” culture we seem to find ourselves living in. Alas I adore Marmite, but as a Year, it can go straight to the back of the shelf…but not before I drone on about one of my favourite recipes: Marmite Chicken!

Arguably one of the last ingredients you’d associate with Asian food, Marmite Chicken is a surprisingly popular dish in the Chinese restaurants of Malaysia. Robust, and un-apologetically marmity, this dish isn’t for the fainthearted – but then again neither is Marmite! Much like Horlicks Chicken, there is naturally an element of the novel in play here, but don’t let that put you off. Of course it goes without saying that non-Marmite lovers beware: this may not be the dish for you!

This surprisingly easy dish is, in fact, a triumph of crispy deep-fried chicken morsels, contrasted with, and smothered in, an addictive umami sauce. Balancing both sweet and salty, this certainly isn’t the dubious fusion hash you’d expect it to be. As with similar dishes, Marmite chicken is best plated on  some fresh lettuce, sliced cucumber, and even tomato – anything that will absorb that wonderfully sticky sauce!

Serve with: plain rice, mapo tofu and something “neutral” like Sichuan Cabbage, or egg foo young,

To discover other delicious Malaysian recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

To discover other delicious Chinese recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

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Daging Kicap Manis (Beef with Sweet Soy Sauce)

It’s hardly surprising given the circumstances, but just six months in and I think we can all agree that 2020 is officially the Year of Comfort Food. Whether it be baking, barbecuing, or brewing, many of us have sought solace through one of the few things left we can control – food.

Under Lockdown, my own desire to wring comfort from food has meant making a lot of  my favourite Malaysian dishes – specifically those from my childhood, which naturally leads me back to my grandmother’s cooking. A prolific feeder, Amah was a classic agak-agak cook – meaning there were never any recipes, and her cooking was always a case of “a little of this, a little of that“. Of course it made for some great food, but unfortunately it meant that many of my favourite childhood dishes were lost when she passed. Undeterred, and with the taste of her food still fresh in memory, I have tried over the years to recreate some of Amah’s best dishes, and I have finally cooked my way to what is perhaps my all time childhood favourite – Daging Kicap Manis (Beef with Sweet Soy Sauce)!

A simple dish, for a simple palate; daging kicap manis is often considered a child’s dish as it is both sweet and salty, without any notable spiciness to speak of. It is the prefect choice for a fussy eater – which explains why it was a regular feature at Amah’s dining table! As a kid I was incredibly picky, and this (along with green bean omelette) was one of the few dishes I would eat without the need for bribery…or threat!

Unlike most other “chunkier” versions, Amah’s daging kicap manis was always made with thin strips of beef, and the only semblance of a vegetable was a whole lot of sliced onion. As a result, her version was pretty much devoid of any real nutritional value, but I suspect her motivation was altogether basic: she had a fussy grandchild to feed, and all else was padding. Indeed, who hasn’t had a childhood favourite ruined by an errant chunk of carrot! After all, agak-agak isn’t always about “a little of this” – sometimes its actually about “a little less of that”.

To discover other delicious Malaysian recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

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Green Bean Omelette

A mainstay of many a family meal, green bean omelette has been a feature of most Malaysian’s childhood for decades.

Personally, there are few recipes that remind me more of my late Amah than this simple and humble omelette. My grandmother was a great home-cook, and along with her famed daging kicap manis (Beef with Sweet Soy Sauce), this was perhaps my favourite addition to her nightly dinner-spreads.

Like many extended families in Malaysia back in the 80’s, the Ghanis were a large and ravenous bunch, with at least ten hungry bellies to fill at any one time! Nevertheless, Amah was an undeterred and prolific cook, and in spite of our numbers, family dinners were invariably generous affairs. With so many mouths to feed, it was only natural that she was always keen to supplement her main offerings with easy and nourishing dishes…which explains why this classic omelette featured so regularly. Cheap and nutritious; this easy dish is ready in minutes and is the perfect dish to “bulk out” an otherwise meager supper.

Made with just 3 basic ingredients (and some seasoning), this simply flavoured omelette works well with almost all other Malay dishes. Unlike other Asian omelettes such as Egg Foo Young, this dish is dense and almost “chewy”, making it a great foil for lemak rich dishes such as beef rendang and kari kapitan.

Traditionally made with yard beans, and being considerably harder than the variety many of us are accustomed to, it is best to use regular green beans as a substitute. Fine green beans would not be recommended as they lack the robustness of an older bean, and won’t give the omelette the weight and bite associated with the dish.

To discover other delicious Malaysian recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

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Penang Hokkien Mee/Har Mee (Prawn Noodles)

When I eventually rule the world, one of my first decrees would be to outlaw throwing your prawn shells away – to do so should be nothing short of criminal! Along with pork and chicken bones, prawn shells are the humble building blocks of that lifeblood of cooking: stock.

A prolific and self-confessed Bone Collector, I freeze every scrap that comes my way; and reckon any home-cook would be remiss if they didn’t have at least one bag of bones lurking in their deep-freeze! For all my boney odds and ends, by far my most prized is my horde of prawn shells.

Pure crustacean gold, these precious cast-offs are where the flavour is really at, and are the foundation of one of my all time favourite dishes – Penang Hokkien Mee. Also known as Har Mee in the rest of Malaysia, this simple prawn noodle dish is a masterstroke of hawker food. Made with a combination of bee hoon (rice vermicelli) and yellow noodles, Penang Hokkien Mee is actually all about the broth.

Made with a base of fried prawn shells and heads, the stock is then lightened with either pork or chicken stock. Add to that a dollop of sambal goreng for kick, and crispy shallots for depth, the broth is almost akin to a bouillabaisse on Asian crack, and its just as addictive!

Like all good stocks, the broth takes its time; but other than that, Penang Hokkien Mee is a surprisingly easy meal to make at home. Though the ingredient list may seem intimidatingly exotic, the dish is actually achievable with even a limited Asian pantry,      I was able to reconstruct this hawker classic without needing any specialist ingredients. Other than substituting the traditional topping of kangkong with watercress, the only challenge you might have is the sambal goreng, but this can easily be made at home. There was a time when crispy shallots/onions were difficult to find in South Africa, but thankfully these days they can be found at Woolworths, saving us the effort of frying our own. The hokkien noodles can be sourced from Checkers, but if you can’t find them, feel free to just use the rice vermicelli on its own.

Aside from that, I suggest you start collecting as many prawn shells and heads as soon as you can – because once you’ve tasted Penang Hokkien Mee, there’s no going back!

To discover other delicious Malaysian recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

For other noodles recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

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Sayur Lodeh (Vegetables in Coconut Milk)

Ah, the classic conundrum of Malaysian vegetable dishes. 

A perennial quirk of the cuisine, the vegetable dishes of Malaysia are rarely actually vegetarian, with the omnipresent threat of the odd bit of dried shrimp turning up in your plate of veggies. To many Malaysians, a dish’s vegetarian credentials are entirely a matter of meat to vegetable ratio – making dinner a meaty-minefield for those of a vegetarian persuasion!

Unfortunately, Sayur Lodeh (Vegetables in Coconut Milk) is no different.

Popular in both Malaysia and Indonesia, Sayur Lodeh is often  considered a “safe” vegetable option as it is mild enough not to inflame younger, or foreign, palates. Simply flavoured with galangal, turmeric, and (unsurprisingly) a sprinkling of prawns, this coconut milk sauce works well with almost any other Malay dish. 

Traditionally eaten with lontong (banana leaf rice cake), sayur lodeh also works well with regular rice. As it is very mild, it is best to pair it with something spicy like Ayam Lada Hitam (Pepper Chicken) and, of course, some sambal belacan

To discover other delicious Malaysian recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

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Ayam Lada Hitam (Malaysian Pepper Chicken)

For better or worse, sometimes you can smell your dinner a mile away, as is certainly the case with Ayam Lada Hitam (Malaysian Pepper Chicken)!

Fragrant, fiery, and flavoured to the extreme, Asian pepper dishes are often divisive; with most of us either loving or loathing it. Deployed sparingly as a form of seasoning, the use of pepper in Western cooking is actually quite limited – perhaps a relic of the days when the spice was highly valued, and its use judicious. At its abundant source, however, pepper can be added with abandon and is often used to add heat to a dish, instead of just being a seasoning to enhance flavour. Unlike the heat produced from chilies, pepper’s burn is slower, deeper, and more aromatic – adding a pervasive undertone to a dish that chili does not. Personally I’m an avid fan, but I have to admit that when it comes to pepper, you can easily have too much of a good thing. Like most things in life and cooking, balance is key and in this recipe that is somewhere in-between the toasted spiced oil and the heat of the pepper.

Adapted from an early recipe from my Aunt, the acclaimed food writer Rohani Jelani, Ayam Lada Hitam is old-school Malaysian cooking at its best. Packed with flavour and simple to make, this dish doesn’t require any specialist Asian ingredients – making it a great option for those of us with limited access to such.

Ayam Lada Hitam remains a home-cooking classic, albeit one that is rarely mentioned in the culinary lexicon of modern Malaysia. It’s a shame really, as this spicy dish is worthy of its place at the table, and easily holds its own against stalwarts such as beef rendang and curry kapitan. Best served alongside a mild vegetable dish like sayur lodeh, or something sweet like kari nenas (Pineapple Curry), Ayam Lada Hitam makes a great addition to any Malaysian meal.

A word of warning though: come makan-time, just be prepared for a knock at the door, as your whole neighbourhood will have smelt what’s cooking for dinner!

To discover other delicious Malaysian recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

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Prawn & Ginger Egg Foo Young

I never thought I would say this, but omelettes aren’t just for brunch!

As perfect as they may be for soaking up bubble-heavy mimosas, or stilling those flat-white morning jitters, these eggy envelopes deserve so much more than the standard fare we stuff them with. Quick and versatile, an omelette can pretty much be anything you want it to be, and this is especially true when they are cooked Chinese-style!

Egg Foo Young (Chinese Omelette) is a dish most of us know from our local takeaway, but very few of us realise how easy it is to make at home. If you can make an omelette, the chances are you can make this classic Cantonese dish too! Though similar in almost every way, Chinese “omelettes” are, in terms of flavour, a world apart from their western counterparts. Added to very hot oil, Egg Foo Young is crispy and, as such, benefits from that elusive wok hei (‘breath of a wok’). Add to that an umami laden sauce, and their irresistible flavour is almost complete…

But, of course, what’s an omelette without fillings?

The options for filling your Egg Foo Young are virtually endless, and go way beyond the generic takeaway options you are probably used to seeing. Seasoned with a dash of soy sauce instead of the usual salt and pepper, the egg mix is the perfect foil for anything from the classic char siew (Chinese BBQ Pork) to julienned vegetables. 

For this recipe I’m pushing the boat out and using prawns. It might seem like a waste to use them in something like an omelette, but rest assured it’s not. I love the sweet meatiness of the prawns with the fresh bite of the gingery eggs – its a classic combination and makes the perfect addition to a larger meal, or (if you want to spoil yourself) just have it on its own with some plain rice.

For more Chinese recipes from the Muddled Pantry, please follow the link here.

For tips on stocking a Chinese pantry, please follow the link here. Click here for the recipe

Sichuan Stir-Fry Cabbage 炝炒圆白菜

This may seem like a strange thing to admit, but I’m in love with cabbage.

Yes, it’s true; I’m in a lock-down love affair with arguably the most mundane vegetable out there. Perhaps it’s the prolonged period of isolation talking, but aside from some flatulence, what’s not to love about the humble cabbage?

Cheap and readily available, this cruciferous charmer is a true veggie-hero; albeit one that is too often maligned, and sadly, unsung. Aside from its incredible shelf life, green cabbage is also one of the most versatile vegetables out there. Whether it be fermented into sauerkraut, or sautéed then added to a buttery colcannon, cabbage is the star of countless recipes from across the globe, and is ripe for a comeback!

Typically most of us don’t associate a bog-standard “western” cabbage with Asian cooking; instead, we tend to think of exotics such as bok choy and napa cabbage as the staples of such cuisines. Nothing could be further from the truth! From being a key component in Sayur Lodeh (Malaysian Vegetable in Coconut Milk), and a traditional accompaniment to Phad Thai Noodles, green cabbage is a surprisingly common ingredient in many Asian dishes. In fact, if you have a wedge of cabbage lurking at the back of the fridge, you are actually halfway to making some amazing, and authentic, Asian meals.

Which brings me to this little gem of a dish! 

From wok to plate in just a few minutes, Sichuan Stir-Fry Cabbage is a true “lifesaver” recipe for when you are in a pinch and need to make a small amount of food go far – without compromising on flavour. Satisfyingly spicy and reassuringly comforting, this simple meal has all the hallmarks of a classic home-cooked Chinese dish.

This is a thoroughly adaptable recipe, please feel free to add a protein of your choice if desired. Thinly sliced pork works amazingly well and would be my preferred addition, but chicken is also a good option. Again, a little goes a long way and a small portion of meat can be stretched to feed many. Prefer a vegetarian or vegan version? Not a problem, simply leave out the meat altogether. With or without meat, this tasty and affordable recipe is cheap and nutritious, and delivers a lot of Sichuanbang for your buck, as it it were. 

Now that’s a dish worth gassing about. 

For more Chinese recipes from the Muddled Pantry, please follow the link here.

For tips on stocking a Chinese pantry, please follow the link here. Click here for the recipe

Lai Yao Kei 奶油鸡 (Malaysian Butter Chicken)

Butter Chicken, but not as most of us know it!

Now obviously I’m a tad biased, but when I fancy some Butter Chicken it typically isn’t the Indian variety I’m hankering after. More often than not, what I’m really craving is actually something altogether different.

Indeed, Lai Yao Kei (Malaysian Butter Chicken) is about a million miles away from what most of us imagine when we think of Butter Chicken. In fact, I’d go so far as arguing this wonderful Malaysian dish, is in a league of its own. Unlike the oft mangled classic that is Indian butter chicken, the Malaysian version is an altogether different beast.

Unlike the Indian alliteration, there are no overnight or penetrative marinates here. Instead, flavoured morsels of chicken are ready for the deep-fryer in less than an hour, and smothered in a super quick creamy aromatic sauce. Infused with the unmistakable aroma of fresh curry leaves, and spiked with the heat from fresh chilies, the sauce itself is actually very simple and comes together in minutes.

Though you’d think the butter would be the star of the show here, it is actually the evaporated milk that steals the limelight. Admittedly, evaporated milk is probably the last ingredient you’d expect to find in a savoury sauce, but trust me, it works a treat and will blow your mind!

To discover other delicious Malaysian recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

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Galbi-jjim 갈비찜 (Korean Beef Short-rib Stew)

Winter is almost upon us here in South Africa, and with that fresh Northwesterly blowing through the valley, comes the knowledge that it’s time to start thinking about bowls of stew in front of the fireplace again.

Unlike most people I know, I revel in colder climes, loving the darker days and promise of icy rains. With that in mind, it’s hardly surprising to know that I enjoy nothing more than spending such days fussing over a bubbling pot of hearty concoctions. Epitomising winter food for so many of us, the humble stew is perhaps arguably the most universal form of cooking. Across the globe, from Inuit blubber stew to the Seychellois fruit bat civet de chauve souris, almost every culture has a stew or two in their collective repertoire.

Though typically regarded as fermenters and grill masters, Koreans are no exception with an array of stews designed to get them through their harsh winters.  Dak-dori-tang (spicy chicken) and kimchijjigae (pork & kimchi) are both classics examples and a bowl of either would warm you right up. Their spicy nature, however, isn’t to everyone’s taste. Traditionally milder in flavour, galbi-jjim is no less hearty, but without the heartburn.

Sweet, rich, and savoury, galbi-jjim is traditionally made with beef short ribs, which are braised till fork-tender and the beef has rendered its flavour into the sauce. Simply served with a bowl of steaming rice and some aged mak kimchi on the side, this stew is a cure for even the darkest winter-blues.

It may be true to say that both dak-dori-tang and kimchi-jjigae ignite a fire in your belly, but equally galbi-jjim is like finding a hot water bottle at the bottom of a chilly bed.

Now to my mind, that’s my ultimate winter-bliss – Korean-style.

For more Korean recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here.

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