Recipes

Kari Ayam (Malaysian Chicken Curry)

Some curries are made for dunking and Kari Ayam is most definitely one of these!

All about the rich kuah (gravy), Kari Ayam is a perennial favourite of mine. Simple, tasty and delicious, this classic Malaysian is a staple of many a family feast, simple breakfast, or for me, picnics. Wonderful served at room temperature, this dish was a feature of most of our family picnics – I have vivid memories of tucking into tubs of if with chunks of soft white bread whilst sitting on the boulders at our local waterfalls. It was always a messy affair, but nothing a quick rinse under the falls couldn’t cure!

Not to be confused with the famed Nyonya classic Kari Kapitan, Kari Ayam leans more towards Malay/Indian flavours as it omits the belacan, 5-spice powder, and lime juice. Another distinct difference is the inclusion of potatoes – something I was reminded of when rebuked by the queen of Nyonya cuisine, Pearly Kee, for suggesting otherwise!

Whilst delicious eaten on the day of cooking, like all curries this dish will be improved immeasurably given time to rest before being served. Overnight is ideal, but even a couple of hours will do wonders. If left in the fridge, reheat gently before serving with fresh white bread, roti jala, roti canai or rice.

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

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Siamese Laksa (Penang Laksa Lemak)

Whilst I have had many wonderful experiences working with Masters of Malaysian Cuisine (MOMC) as a guest chef on MOMC@Heart, the undoubted highlight was being invited to feature on MOMC’s Malaysian Heritage Cuisine series in association with MAFI (Malaysian Ministry of Agriculture & Food Industries). What an honour it was to work alongside some of the greatest Malaysian chefs in the business, but also to have the opportunity to share one of my favourite family recipes – Siamese Laksa!

Also known as Penang Laksa Lemak, Siamese Laksa is unfortunately somewhat eclipsed by Penang’s most famous laksa – Assam Laksa. More’s the shame as Siamese Laksa is wonderfully aromatic and its rich broth isn’t as divisive as the hallmark sour fishy “love or loath” broth of Assam Laksa. In fact, given the choice, I would opt for a bowl of Siamese Laksa every time!

Based on a much loved family recipe handed down from my late Grandmother and preserved by my aunt, Rohani Jelani, this is a recipe of many parts. Though it might seem intimidating, the ingredients are relatively easy to source and the actual cooking time, albeit intensive, is actually quite short. Nonetheless, the results are worth the effort!

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

Click here for the recipe

Khao Soi Gai / Chiang Mai Chicken Noodles

Though longstanding regional rivalries make it painful for me to admit, of all Malaysia’s neighbours, Thailand is undoubtedly our closest culinary contender when it comes to claiming the crown of being South East Asia’s greatest food destination.

Arguably the other great S.E. Asian powerhouse of complex flavours, Thai food may be geographically akin to Malaysia, yet the two cuisines remain fiercely distinct. Of course, it will shock no one to know that, for me, Malaysian food comes out tops over our Northern neighbour every time, even though it’s a closer run race than you’d imagine! What ultimately clinches it for Malaysia is it’s diversity. Of course there are many regional Thai dishes that reflect the local communities, but for the most part Thai food is represented as a unified national cuisine, unlike the wonderfully muddled menagerie that is Malaysian food.

Of course, one thing the two have in common, are noodles.

A self-professed noodle-eating fiend, I wholeheartedly believe that noodles make good cuisines great, and Thailand is responsible for some of the best noodles out there: Pad See Ew and Pad Kee Mao are personal favourites, and I’m even partial to wolfing down a decent Pad Thai. But aside from the famous wok-fried varieties, heartier and soupier Thai noodles seem more elusive than you’d expect. Thankfully, Khao Soi (or Chiang Mai Noodles), pick up the slack rather nicely.

Arguably Thailand’s most famous soup noodles, Khao Soi is also one of the easiest Thai dishes to make at home. Hailing from the country’s Northern region, versions of this wonderful dish can also be found in neighbouring Lao and Myanmar. Whilst most of the ingredients are accessible to anyone with a local Asian Supermarket, Khao Soi‘s laksa-like broth is nevertheless a heady brew of aromatics and depth. Makrut (Thai) lime takes centre stage here, adding a vibrancy to an otherwise rich coconut broth. As such, fresh Makrut Lime Leaves are essential, though the Makrut lime zest is easily replaced with regular lime.

Another ingredient not to be omitted are the fried wonton skins – of course these add some crunch, but ultimately when soaked in the spicy broth, they are transformed into deep-fried nuggets of joy – pure yumminess.

As I said previously, with dishes like Khao Soi, sometimes Thai food really does give us Malaysians a run for our money!

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Pasembur (Indian Rojak)

Culinarily speaking I’m pretty much up for making anything, but nothing puts me out of my comfort zone more than being asked to make vegan food! So when Masters of Malaysian Cuisine invited me to feature a veganised version of a Penang street food dish, I quaked in my proverbial cooking boots.

Whilst I’m in no way adverse to vegan food per say, I’m unabashed of my love of meat with the Malaysian in me always eager to sneak in a bit of belacan here, or some oyster sauce there. In term of diet and cooking, vegan food is an almost entirely alien proposition to me – especially when it comes to veganising Malaysian food. Whilst veganism is well catered for in the West, any vegetarian/vegan who has visited Malaysia knows all too well that our local cuisine is a veritable meaty minefield! From kailan swimming in oyster sauce, to sayur lodeh spiked with prawns. Malaysian vegetable dishes are rarely actually vegetarian, much less vegan: typically it’s a case of the meat vs. vegetable ratio, favouring the latter – hardly ideal for those who shun meat! Nevertheless, even in Malaysia, times and tastes have evolved, and the market for healthier eating has taken root, resulting in a desire for veganised Malaysian recipes. So, I too had to put my belacan away, get with the times and do the unthinkable: make a beloved Malaysian dish vegan!

Choosing a suitable dish was, in the end, perhaps the hardest part of this exercise. So many of my favourite street food options seemed indelibly meat-based, and without an intimate knowledge of suitable meat substitutes, I found it difficult to reimagine most without the offending ingredients. In the end I settled on one of my favourite Indian street food dishes – Pasembur, or Indian Rojak. Though traditionally made with prawn fritters and sliced eggs, this piquant salad seemed ripe for veganising! With the gravy already sans meat, it was a simple matter of substituting the offending prawns with mushrooms, and omitting the egg – easy changes which ultimately have little or no impact on the dish itself.

Vegan or not, pasembur is a sweet, spicy, and crunchy delight, and an absolute must-try!

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

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Penang Wonton Mee (Dry)

It’s no secret that I absolutely adore noodles, I could eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner – in fact, I’ve done so more times than I care to admit! To my mind they’re the ultimate fast food and I just can’t get enough of them. I would be hard-pressed to pick my favourite, but if I had to chose, wonton mee would perhaps rate as my ultimate noodle, making this the perfect choice for my 100th post!

A childhood favourite and made up of a medley of distinct components, wonton mee is a master-stroke of combined flavours. Rather unsurprisingly, wontons are key, along with addition of char siu and sliced pickled chillis, but there are no hard or fast rules. The interpretation of what constitutes wonton mee is notoriously diverse; the wontons can be boiled or deep-fried, the dish can be served wet (in a soup) or dry (with a sauce). It all comes down to individual preferences and finding a hawker who meets your expectations! Personally I like mine dry with soft wontons, lots of pickled chilli and white pepper – naturally my recipe reflects my own preferences, but you should feel free to adapt it to your own tastes!

Everybody in Penang has their favourite hawker centre and mine was at the back of Pulau Tikus Market. Sandwiched between the textiles stalls and the darkly fragrant meat section, this was the home of my ultimate wonton mee. The mee here had all the elements I loved, plus it was topped off with an enriching thick sauce that was, as far as I know, unique to this particular vendor. I’ve tried to replicate this sauce over the years, but never quite got it right – I guess somethings should be left to the professionals!

Midway on my daily cycle between home and school, stopping at the market for a quick bite was part of my morning ritual. Dressed in my school uniform I would sit perched on one of the many battered tin stools; my feet raised above the ever-wet concrete floor, knobbly teenage knees strained against my ill-fitting khaki school trousers. My order placed, I sat eagerly awaiting my wonton mee fix. The meal was always short lived, devoured in a matter of minutes and washed down with a glass of sweet kopi-o ice – there was no better way to start the day! After checking for specks of errant sauce on my white shirt, I would continue on to school, sated and ready to face the high-school dramas that that invariably lay ahead. I can’t say that I miss my school days, but I certainly do miss those morning pitstops at the market!

So this is my muddled take on a true Penang classic!

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Mee Soto

For me, Sunday mornings are all about Sunday lunch.

With little else to distract me, I usually spend my Sunday mornings trawling through my legion of cookbooks searching for a spark of culinary inspiration: that fresh idea; the perfect meal to which I can dedicate these otherwise idle hours to. Alas, more often than not these weekend aspirations come to naught, and instead I find myself reverting to firm favourites for my Sunday feast. Of course there’s nothing wrong with that, but occasionally my lunch musings do hit the mark and I discover a dish I just have to have.

Most recently this inspiration took an Indonesian turn and I found myself dedicating my morning to making a dish I had never actually had before: Mee Soto. Also popular in Malaysia and Singapore, I was of course familiar with this classic Indonesian staple, yet for all my years living in the region it had somehow eluded me. Unfortunately, with a lifetime of local dishes to discover, my 16 years in Malaysia was never going to be enough to try them all! Not one to dwell on missed opportunities, I decided this was the Sunday I finally found out what all the fuss was about!

Rightly framed as the ultimate Indonesian comfort food, Mee Soto is virtually interchangeable with the more widely known Soto Ayam. The soto, or soup, that forms the base of both dishes is almost identical, though the latter is distinctly soupier and is served with either rice vermicelli or compressed rice cakes. As its name suggests, Mee Soto is instead served with heavier, chewier, wheat noodles and considerably less soto – making for a more substantial meal.

With either dish, the soto is undoubtedly the star of the show: fragrant and nourishing, this heady broth is a powerhouse of flavour. Spiked with many of the classic spices associated with regional curries, this chicken broth is flavoursome without being heavy, as it omits coconut milk which is ubiquitous in most local curries. In its absence, however, it is essential to import as much flavour as possible from the chicken. To this end, it is important to use chicken with both skin and bone, or if using skinned boneless chicken, a good stock is required to achieve the requisite depth of flavour.

Another aspect of the broth worth considering is the spice paste – traditionally this is added to the boiling broth without being sautéed first, however I prefer to fry off my spice paste before adding the liquid. Perhaps it is all my years of diligently sautéing my rempah, but it is a habit I find hard to kick as doing so elevates and intensifies the spices – plus I find the flavoured oil adds just a little extra body to the broth.

With all great noodle dishes, toppings are of course essential, but ultimately variable depending on the cook – Mee Soto is no different. The typical garnishes are a collective variation of the following: blanched beansprouts, coriander leaves, garlic chives/spring onions, sliced boiled egg, crispy shallots, and fried potato cakes. Aside from the potato cakes and boiled eggs (which add body to the dish), by all means let your personal taste guide you in your choice of toppings.

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

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Ayam Masak Lemak Putih

A common perception of Malay food is that it is an invariably spicy affair; for the most part it’s absolutely true – we do love our chilies and we certainly aren’t shy about using them in eye-watering quantities.

Nevertheless, Malay food is a diverse cuisine and there are, in fact, a number of delectable dishes for those of us looking for something a little less “pedas” (hot). Despite bearing all the hallmarks of a classic Malaysian curry, Ayam Masak Lemak Putih (Coconut Milk White Cooked Chicken) is, in fact, perhaps one of our mildest offerings, and is a great option for introducing your non-Malaysian friends to our incredible flavours. Of course, mild in no way means meek, and this wonderful dish is every bit as alluring as beef rendang and kari kapitan.

Brimming with nuance, on the face of it Ayam Masak Lemak Putih resembles a traditional Indian korma. Both mild and comforting, despite their inherent similarities what really sets these dishes apart is their flavour. Unlike its more famous doppelgänger, instead of cream or yogurt, Ayam Masak Lemak Putih is braised in a fragrant brew of coconut milk and classic South East Asian aromatics such as galangal, lemongrass and lime.

Another distinction between the two is the consistency of the sauce.

Unlike a korma, which is typically thick, Ayam Masak Lemak Putih‘s rich and moreish sauce is both looser and lighter; making it perfect for either drowning your rice in it, or as I love to do, moping up it with good white bread or, better still, some flaky roti canai.

Admittedly, despite its name my version of Ayam Masak Lemak Putih tends to err on the side of gray as apposed to actually being white; please don’t get hung up on the colour, or its name – especially when it’s something that tastes as good as this! The “white” is a product of using a copious amount of lemak (coconut milk) in the sauce, but outside Malaysia this can be an extravagance too far, and frankly it’s unnecessary. Of course if you do happen to have a glut of coconut milk available, by all means increse the quantity for a truly authentic look.

Note: Like most Malaysian curries, this dish will benefit from a rest before serving. As there is little or no chili in the sauce, a couple of hours resting time should suffice, though overnight is, of course, always ideal.

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

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Caldo Verde (Portuguese Kale, Chorizo & Potato Soup)

It’s Soup Season here in the wintry Cape, which of course means it’s once again time for Caldo Verde! Though not really a soup-person per se, this Portuguese classic nevertheless remains a perennial winter favourite of mine.

Made with just a few key ingredients, Caldo Verde nevertheless makes for a surprisingly satisfying meal. Indeed, hearty and nutritious this humble dish is everything a rustic soup needs to be, making it the perfect antidote to winter’s chilly bite; and, when the mood takes me, I can eat bowls of the stuff for many a dark day on end.

Literally meaning “Green Soup”, Caldo Verde is very much about the kale.

Though wondrously healthy, kale isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but the soup’s other flavours definitely do help mitigate these contentious greens, making Caldo Verde a great way to add some kale to your diet. The key is to cut the leaves into thin strips before shredding them as finely as possible. It is important to take your time doing so, lest you want to end up with a tangle of kale, and not the spoonable soup you should be aiming for.

Admittedly, I do have a bit of a phobia of thin watery soups, and on paper Caldo Verde should be exactly that. But thickened with potato, and blitzed with a blender, nothing could be further from the truth. Caldo Verde actually has a surprisingly comforting viscosity and weight to it. To further enrich the soup, I also like to add a couple of strips of pork fat into the mix before blending. Of course this is entirely optional, but it gives the soup a satisfying mouthfeel it could otherwise lack.

Using a good quality chorizo is also a must, as most of the soup’s flavour comes from the spices rendered from the sausage. To that end it is essential to use cooking/soft chorizo as the smoked version will not yield as much flavour when sautéd. Along with the addition of the pork fat, I also like to blend half the chorizo along with the potatoes. Some recipes frown upon doing so, but I prefer the additional flavour it adds to the dish.

For more soup recipes from the Muddled Pantry, please click here.

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Mamak Mee Goreng (Malaysian Indian Fried Mee)

A veritable melting-pot of cuisines, Malaysian food is almost quite entirely a product of fusion. Indeed, like most other confederacies of mostly-migrants, much of modern Malaysia’s food has evolved from the crucible of colonially-induced diversity.

Incubated in the minglings of ethnically-polar groups, Malaysia’s unique schism-cuisines ultimately emerged from these culturally blended kitchens. Chinese noodles discovered Indian spices, whilst Malay ingredients found Western sensibilities; each evolving into their own distinct cultural identities, and ultimately resulting in some of our most acclaimed and cherished dishes. Unfortunately, most of the world has yet to discover the delights of these culinary culminations, but thanks to heritage ambassadors such as Pearly Kee that is beginning to change, with Nyonya flavours (at least) gaining international acclaim. By contrast, however, Mamak food remains relatively unknown outside Malaysia. A marriage of Tamil and Muslim heritage, Mamak food is a heady halal blend of “exotic” spices and local ingredients, and is mostly associated both with the wildly popular Nasi Kandar, Murtabak and, of course, Mamak Mee Goreng.

One of my late father’s favourite roadside treats, Mamak Mee Goreng is a powerhouse of fusion flavour. Consisting of thick yellow noodles fried in a spicy sauce with egg and potato, then lightened with lime – this is a true thug of a dish!

Indeed, this humble meal has it all…quite literally; this is kitchen-sink cooking at its best! With such a dizzying list of ingredients, it is easy to be intimidated, but don’t be. No one version of mamak mee goreng is ever the same, so variations are perfectly acceptable. As long as you stick to a few key ingredients, and nail the sauce, I guarantee you’ll still be tucking into a decent plate of noodles come makan-time.

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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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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