Malaysian

Sambal Kacang Goreng (Malaysian Spicy Fried Green Beans) 

It never ceases to amaze me how our tastes can change over time and through circumstance. What was once maligned becomes much loved, and benevolence finds itself curing into something of an obsession. Though it is embarrassing to admit now, this was very much the case with this recipe.

It’s fair to say that I haven’t always been a fan of this wonderful Nyonya dish. It’s not that I’ve ever actually disliked Sambal Kacang Goreng (green bean sambal). It is, after all, a true Malaysian classic, and justifiably so. But growing up in Penang meant never having to settle for anything less than what you actually wanted to eat, and for me there was only ever two sambal dishes worth ordering – Sambal Kangkong and the almighty Sambal Petai. Blinkered by such delights, I never really even considered many of the other amazing sambal goreng dishes out there…until, that was, I left Malaysia and her bounty of fresh ingredients.

Culinarily speaking, it was a calamitous time in my relationship with Malaysian food, a make or break moment that ultimately culminated in starting The Muddled Pantry. Indeed, the availability of fresh Asian ingredients has always been, and continues to be, the greatest challenge for many Asian expats the world over. And though access to fresh exotic ingredients has improved considerably, supply remains frustratingly erratic. Even if you do find a source of fresh produce, it is often short-lived . If there’s anything my 30’odd years as a Malaysian expat has taught me, is that you have to learn to make the most of what’s available. Admittedly I am blessed to call South Africa home, so I have no shortage of great local produce all year-round; and one thing we do certainly have a bounty of are green beans! Affordable and (more importantly) freely available, green beans were naturally on the top of my list of substitutes. It didn’t take me long to buy a bag of beans and give them the sambal treatment.

Oh what a foolish child I’d been. At first bite I knew I was tasting a delicious slice of humble-pie. I had to look no further, I had found a worthy contender. By the second mouthful, King Kangkong was off its perch. Come the third, I was completely sold! What a revelation. Heady, spicy, and evocative, the dish was everything I had hoped it to be. Cooked through just enough to retain an essential bite, the beans more than held their own against the spiciness of the robust sambal – something that is key to the dish.

Though it is a remarkably easy dish to make, and is ready in just 15 minutes, just be mindful not to add too much water. It is important to only add splashes of water around the sides of the hot wok. This gradually steams the beans in the sauce and will help retain their bite – if you add too much too quickly, you’ll dilute the sambal and risk boiling the beans instead.

Undoubtedly at peak crispness straight from the wok, this dish can also be served later at a tropical room temperature; or reheated even (just add another splash of water to loosen the sauce). Resting and reheating will result in a tougher bean, but equally it gives space for the flavours to evolve. Both options are as different as they are delicious; a matter of taste really. Not that I’m trying to sway you either way, but my personal favourite is to have it slightly warm, between two slices of fresh white bread.

For me at least, in South Africa, it’s become the best thing between sliced bread.

Note: Traditionally made with yard beans, and these being considerably harder than the variety many of us are accustomed to, using fine green beans would not be recommended; they lack the robustness of an older bean, and would succumb to the sauce.

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

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Inche Kabin (Nyonya Fried Chicken)

Inche Kabin (Nyonya Fried Chicken)

A delectable Nyonya classic, Inche Kabin will have you licking your fingers and asking for more! Deep fried chicken morsels, marinated in a thick coconut and spiced rub, Inche Kabin is bursting with flavour and always goes down a treat.

Though not personally au fait with the origins of Inche Kabin, the reigning queen of Nyonya Cuisine Pearly Kee, refers to the dish as lipstick chicken and speaks to its importance in Nyonya culture. Often served when presenting debutantes to the society, these bite-sized pieces of chicken were the perfect option to keep the young ladies feed, allowing them to maintain their poise and dignity whilst nibbling on tasty snacks. After all, heaven forbid your future wife be seen chewing in public! Oh how the world has changed…And as to why it’s also known as lipstick chicken? I’m still not sure. It may well be poetic license, but I can only surmise that the residue of oil from the deep fried chicken upon the lips has something to do with it. I guess glossy lips have always been in vogue, even if its just a bit of grease from too much Inche Kabin!

As with all deep fried chicken, the key to a good Inche Kabin is, rather unsurprisingly, the frying. Three times seems to do the trick, resulting in a crispy crust of spices. Traditionally chopped up chicken legs are the cut of choice, but I also like to use chicken wings for the recipe. Though obviously not as meaty as the leg, the wings are nonetheless delicious and not prone to drying out. Either would work, its really up to you.

Another key component to the dish is the dipping sauce. Never served without it, the simple piquant sauce adds just enough ‘zing’ to cut through the spice crust, making the Inche Kabin even more irresistible!

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

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Kari Nenas (Malaysian Pineapple Curry)

Kari Nenas (Malaysian Pineapple Curry)

From the heady spiced tagines of Morocco, to the British classic of roast pork with apples, almost nothing divides diners as much as the testy subject of fruit in cooked dishes.

Though their inclusion is widespread throughout some of the world’s greatest cuisines, there are many among us that nevertheless rile against it. To those, the combination of fruit and savoury is tantamount to flavour blasphemy! Now I’m not here to convert you (what’s the point, you’ve probably searched “Pineapple Curry” on the internet, so you are likely already a fan!), but when paired correctly, fruit can be a masterstroke ingredient in many a dish. Whilst I have a couple of fruity dishes that qualify as firm family favourites, one dish in particular holds a very special place in my heart: Kari Nenas.

The first time I had this wonderful dish was when I was a child at my youngest uncle’s first wedding. Set deep within the verdant Malaysian jungle, the wedding took place in an achingly idyllic kampong (village). And though I am a little vague on the nuptial itself, the one thing I certainly do remember was the feast that followed. Laid out along the worn wooden floors of the traditional stilted house, was a resplendent collection of Malay dishes, all lovingly prepared by the ladies of the house. All the great classics were there – beef rendang, kari kapitan and, of course, lots of roti jala to mop it all up! I recall taking my place on the floor, ready to tuck in, when I noticed the dish right in front of me was altogether unfamiliar. Yes, it was the Kari Nenas. A fussy eater at the time, I was more than a little hesitate to try it, but after some prompting from those around me, I acquiesced and tried it. I was immediately hooked! Enriched with creamy coconut milk, the dish was an irresistible mix of sweet and sour. Delicious in of itself, the dish also brought harmony to the multitude of flavours on offer. In fact, this was quite possibly the first time I became aware of balance as a concept in relation to flavour: quite a moment in a food blogger’s life!

Unlike many dishes with fruit in them, Kari Nenas is all about the pineapple. Typically fruit is added to compliment meat and/or sweeten a sauce, but in this case the fruit flies solo. The secret of its success lies in the combination of coconut milk and tamarind, both of which cut through the sweetness of the fruit. A slight hint of chili rounds off the dish perfectly.

Quick and easy to make, kari nenas isn’t really a curry to be eaten on its own, but rather as part of a larger spread. As I mentioned previously, it goes especially well with beef rendang, lots of sambal belacan and perhaps even with a simple green bean omelette and some rice.

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

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Ayam Masak Merah (Malaysian Red Cooked Chicken)

Ayam Masak Merah

As a child I wasn’t a great fan of spicy food, in fact I loathed it. Having grown up in Malaysia this presented a very real challenge, especially for my grandmother. The undisputed Queen of the Kitchen, my amah was always keen to entice me over to the spicy-side and did so through a protracted period of gentle assimilation, incrementally introducing my tender palette to the delights of one of my family’s greatest obsessions: chili.

One of my earliest memories of eating around the family dining table was watching as the Ghani men ate raw chili padi dipped in hecko sauce (it was always the men, the woman seemed to have more sense). Egged on by brotherly bravado, my father and uncles would pop these searing missiles into their mouths, chewing and grunting in apparent pleasure, all the while wiping their brows with handkerchiefs damp with sweat. This would go on until the large plate of chillies was laid bare and their stomachs churning in revolt. Apparently, this is what my amah was coaching me for, an adulthood of chili padi and agonising trips to the loo! It was a terrifying prospect to one so young, but thankfully she started me off easy and that is how Ayam Masak Merah become a childhood favourite of mine!

Despite it’s rather alarming name, Masak Merah (red cooked) is actually one of the milder dishes amongst the pantheon of Malaysian curries and was the perfect vehicle to get me started on, what to be, my love affair with all things spicy. Unlike most other Malaysian curries where the use of coconut milk is ubiquitous, Masak Merah is tomato-based, hence the name. Reliant on tomato rather than chili for its colour, the dish is fiery red but without the burn associated with its devilish hue. As it is still ostensibly a curry the use of chili is a prerequisite, but the quantities of such can be reduced without losing the appeal of the dish, making it an excellent option for those adverse to too much heat, especially children.

Quick to make and utterly delicious (even when eaten on the day it’s cooked), my fondness of Masak Merah followed me long after I have graduated to spicer dishes. When I moved to the UK it was one of my favourite tastes-of-home, and whenever I came back from a holiday in Malaysia my bag was always loaded with packets of Brahim’s Masak Merah sauce! Like most expat Malaysians I never bothered to learn how to make our favourite dishes, especially when the quality of readymade sauces were so widely available. Sadly, upon moving to Cape Town, my trips back to Malaysia diminished and with it my supply of those handy packs of Brahim’s. As is the case, there was only one thing for it: I would have to learn to cook Masak Merah myself!

Finding a decent recipe for this beloved childhood dish was surprisingly hard and almost all of my previous attempts fell woefully short of expectations. Cans of tomato soup seemed to dominate the recipes, but as far as I could recall I’d never seen a tin of Heinz in amah’s cupboard, much less in her Masak Merah! Disappointed, I did what every sensible Malaysian does and turned to the family WhatsApp group. Of course, they didn’t disappoint, and the recommendations came flooding in almost immediately. Initially most of these seemed similar to the recipes I’d already tried, but then came the motherload, a message for my aunt, Rohani Jelani. One of Malaysia’s preeminent food writers and cooks, hers was the Masak Merah I had been hoping for and it didn’t disappoint! Simple, both in method and ingredients, this was Malaysian home cooking at its best, and with just a few tweaks was the closest I’ve come to finding a recipe that matches my recollection and expectations. Amah would be proud.

Note: Though not traditional, you could also use jointed chicken wings. Simply dust the wings in seasoned flour, dip in egg and then coat in flour. Deep-fry before adding to the sauce. Reduce to its nice and sticky. Delicious!

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

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Cantonese Beef Steak

Cantonese Beef Steak

Some days you just wake up with a hankering for a really nice bit of steak, but if you are anything like me, that beefy craving is usually for steak of an altogether different variety: Cantonese beef steak!

Growing up in Penang in the early 80s the only time I really ate steak was at Chinese restaurants, where it was invariably prepared Cantonese-style. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that I’ve only recently begun to appreciate Western-style steak. Unnaturally tender and served with an addictively sweet soya-based pepper sauce, Chinese beef steak was undoubtedly the steak of my childhood! Of course, like all middle-class families in 80s  Penang we occasionally ate at the Eden

Steak House on Hutton Road, with its glorious coral décor and outlandish flourish of curly parsley (as children we were unconvinced that the parsley was, in fact, edible!). Looking back, we actually used to visit the Steak House quite often, but strangely enough I don’t recall ever actually ordering the steak. I’m pretty certain my father might have had it on occasion, but that was “dad food”. At any rate, who wanted steak when you could have lobster thermidor and prawn cocktail instead? This was, after all, the 80s…

So what makes a piece of steak Chinese?

The first thing that makes this dish such a Chinese classic is the sauce. Glossy and rich, this sauce is the perfect mix of sweet and peppery goodness – this isn’t a sauce for the faint of heart! The Worcestershire sauce adds spiced depth, whilst the tomato sauce imparts a hint of colour and extra body once everything has been reduced down to a sticky, gooey sauce.

Secondly (and most importantly) is the texture of the meat. Marinated in a batter made with corn flour, eggs and Bicarbonate of Soda, the beef is rendered meltingly tender – almost to the point that the texture of the steak no longer resembles meat. This might sound unappealing, but this technique of tenderising meat with Bicarbonate of Soda is fairly widespread in Chinese cooking where the quality of the meat is not always guaranteed. As unpalatable as it may seem, the use of Bicarb goes a long way in making the Chinese food you make at home actually taste like the cuisine you are striving to emulate. Authenticity isn’t always pretty, especially when making Chinese food!

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.

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Sate Ayam (Chicken Satay)

Sate Ayam (Chicken Satay)

A perennial childhood favourite of mine, sate is a true South East Asian classic.

Perhaps the ultimate skewered meat treat, sate is often considered more of a snack than an actual meal in itself and is typically ordered as a side dish or “starter”. Sate is also a popular option for young children as the meat is sweet and irresistibly flavoured, without being too spicy – great for fussy eaters!

Whilst beef and chicken are by far the most popular varieties of sate, the use of mutton and goat meat is not entirely uncommon. Personally, I’ve always preferred chicken sate over beef, as it seems to fare better over the hot coals and the inherent blandness of chicken seems to marry better with the flavours of the marinade. Also at least you know what you are getting with chicken (for the most part anyway). The daging (i.e. meat) version of sate is, by definition, a tad ambiguous and there have just been too many scandals where meat of a dubious nature has been passed off as beef.  Trust me, stick to the chicken lest you are partial to the odd bit of horse meat.

At any rate, it turns out that making a decent stick of chicken sate at home is actually pretty damn hard! It isn’t that the recipe itself is particularly complicated or that the main ingredients are impossible to source, the problem lies in recreating the way the sate is actually cooked. Expertly grilled over searing hot coals on a specially designed oblong barbecue and basted with a brush made of lemongrass, the real deal is nothing short of chargrilled-perfection!

After many attempts at recreating the optimal cooking environment for sate, I must confess that I still haven’t got it quite right. Alas sometimes you just need to say “c‘est la vie” and except that perfection isn’t always an option when recreating your favourite dishes. Luckily, however, sate doesn’t have to be perfect to still be pretty damn amazing and totally worth making!

So here are a few tips on making the near-perfect sate:

Firstly, soak your bamboo sticks overnight otherwise they will burn and break off. Make sure the sticks are completely submerged in the water, I use a tall bottle with a stopper to soak mine in.

Secondly, marinate your meat overnight in the fridge – your sate will be all the better for your patience.

Finally, make a basting brush out of the outer skins of the lemongrass; it may seem a tad over-involved to go to such extremes, but it’s worth it.  To make the brush, simply shred the reserved lemongrass lengthwise and then tie at the top with some kitchen string. Give the “brush” a very light bash with a meat mallet just before using.

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

Sate Ayam (Chicken Satay) Click here for the recipe

Assam Prawns (Tamarind Prawns)

 

Assam Prawns

A common complaint about many Malaysian recipes is that they are usually complicated and often have a long list of intimidatingly exotic ingredients. Whilst the resulting meals are invariably worth the effort, for the most part this particular gripe about Malaysian food isn’t completely without merit.

Like most expat Malaysians, I am forever seeking out viable substitutes for ingredients that we just take for granted at home. Candlenuts (buah keras) get substituted with blanched almonds, galangal (lengkuas) with ginger, bokkoms for salt fish and so on. For the most part the integrity of the dishes are rarely compromised, but there are some ingredients for which there are simply no substitutes and the meal invariably suffers for their subsequent omission.

Thankfully, however, there are some great Malaysian dishes that defy these inherent pitfalls and are surprisingly easy to make, Assam Prawns being a case in point. Requiring just a few basic ingredients and a very short cooking time, Assam Prawns pack quite a punch for its meagre effort level. Provided you can source some tamarind pulp, this dish offers an authentic taste of Asia without any of the usual hassles and exotic ingredients associated with Malaysian cooking.

Beyond being ridiculously simple to make, Assam Prawns are a true Nyonya classic and were, with good reason, a firm family favourite at my grandmother’s dinner table. This dish has it all! Sweet prawns, slavered in a simple tangy tamarind coating; what more could you want? This is truly finger-lickin’ good food, Malaysian style!

Note: Whilst the thought of it might seem strange to non-Asians, part of the joy of this dish is eating the prawns with their shells on. Encrusted in all that lovely sweet tamarind sauce, the prawn’s soft shell is perfectly edible and is, in fact, a great source of calcium. A word of warning though, don’t eat the sharp tail-shells and don’t forget to suck the prawn’s head. I’m serious, the tail-shell will totally choke you and the head is amazingly sweet and tasty when sucked. Trust me, your ultimate enjoyment of this incredible meal depends on both of these tips, so get sucking!

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!

Wonton Mee DryA 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!

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

Click here for the recipe

Roti Jala

Bored of curry and rice? Well don’t despair, roti jala makes for a fantastic alternative to your traditional curry fare. Lighter than other types of rotis, roti jala is perhaps the ultimate way to enjoy your favourite curry!

More of a pancake than a bread, roti jala’s name is inspired by traditional Malay fishing nets, known as jalas. Also widely referred to as lace bread, roti jala is a delicate web of coconut flavoured batter, lightly fried and then served either with curry or as a traditional sweet, eaten with a mixture of boiled coconut milk, palm sugar and pandan leaves called serawa. Personally I’ve never eaten it as a desert, so to my mind roti jala is very much a savoury treat. Perfectly designed to mop-up sauces, I suggest pairing roti jala with a good chicken curry with plenty of gravy, such as the classic kari kaptian or even a Cape Malay Chicken Curry.

Whilst the recipe for this lacy delight is very straightforward, unfortunately roti jala can be a little tricky to make. Made with a special 5-holed ladle or pourer, roti jala requires a steady hand, some assured wrist-action and plenty of trial and error. As with all “pancakes” you can expect a few mishaps in every batch you cook, but you should yield about 12 roti jalas out of this recipe, give or take the ones you’ll inevitably throw away.

I won’t lie, making roti jala can be a frustrating affair, at least initially. Between getting the batter to the right pouring consistency, that damned wrist-action and maintaining the perfect heat, it is easy to become disheartened, but don’t – you’ll get it right eventually! I’m still getting the hang of making it, but I like to think that I’m slowly getting there. To be honest, I doubt that I will ever truly master the art of the perfect roti jala, but when trial and error tastes this damn good, I’m happy to keep on muddling through!

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

Click here for the recipe

Bak Kwa 肉干 (Chinese Pork Jerky)

Bak Kwa 肉干 (Chinese Pork Jerky)There are two things in this world that sum up Chinese New Year for me – ang pow (red money envelopes) and bak kwa. Alas these days I’m precluded from receiving ang pow as I have the misfortune of being all grown up (and married), but that doesn’t stop me celebrating the New Year by stuffing my face with ill-advised quantities of bak kwa!

Sweet, sticky and bordering on the addictive, bak kwa is a very Chinese take on jerky. Available all year round, bak kwa is, however, largely considered a Chinese New Year must-have. I’m not sure if bak kwa‘s prosperous red hues ramp up its appeal for the New Year or whether the festivities are simply an excuse to indulge in copious amounts of this gooey treat. Either way, the queues at Bee Cheng Hiang stores in the build-up to the holiday are daunting and are a testament to bak kwa‘s enduring popularity as a Chinese New Year staple.

Now I’m not going to lie to you, making your own bak kwa isn’t something you’d do if you didn’t have to – it would be much easier to just join the long queues and buy yourself some. However, for those of us who find themselves far from home on Chinese New Year, we have little choice but to roll up our sleeves and make our own. After all, those bak kwa cravings are not going to quell themselves! Thankfully the recipe for making bak kwa isn’t actually that difficult, but it is quite involved; wire racks, rolling pins, wax paper and a blowtorch – I like to think of this as real Blue Peter-style cooking!

Click here for the recipe