Sides

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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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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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

Nasi Lemak (Malaysian Coconut Rice)

 

It perhaps goes without saying, but we Asians do love our rice. From fried to steamed, fermented to ground; we work everyday miracles from this most humble grain.

Naturally my native Malaysia is no exception; in fact, in addition to an array of odes to rice, we have even concocted rice dishes of every colour and hue, covering the spectrum from a mellow yellow all the way to an alarming blue. The variety and choice are, frankly, dizzying. Nevertheless, ask a Malaysian what their favourite rice dish is and the most likely answer would be – nasi lemak!

Most commonly associated with breakfast, nasi lemak is arguably the nation’s favourite way to start the day. Fragrant with heady aromatics such as pandan leaf, this coconut enriched rice is the perfect soothing foil to the spicy condiments which are traditionally served alongside it.

At its most basic, nasi lemak bungkus (take-away) comes portioned into small mounds of rice, which are then topped with either a prawn, egg, or ikan bilis (dried anchovy), sambal. Each portion is then expertly wrapped up in a banana leaf and magicked into a three-sided dome – making for the ultimate Malaysian breakfast on-the-go. Aside from its simplistic bungkus variety, nasi lemak can also be an altogether extravagant affair. Served up each morning to queues of customers, a good nasi lemak place comes with a multitude of side dishes, from the classic beef rendang to assam prawns, and almost everything else in-between!

Regardless of the side dishes available, nasi lemak is almost always served with half a boiled egg, sliced cucumber, crunchy peanuts and a generous dollop of sambal goreng.

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Nasi Lemak with the basics: sambal goreng, peanuts, boiled egg & sliced cucumber

Substitutes: Pandan is scarce outside Asia, and although it can be found in some major cities around the world, it is still not widely available to most of us. In the absence of fresh pandan, there are “essences” you can use instead – at a push these are actually fine, though fresh is always best. Unfortunately there is no substitute for pandan, so if you can’t source either, but still want to make nasi lemak, please do. Just omit the pandan altogether and use the galangal and lemongrass instead.

Note: In this post I’m focusing solely on the basic nasi lemak recipe, but if you would like to know more about what else to serve nasi lemak with, please follow the links to my recommendations at the end of the recipe.

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

Click here for the recipe

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

Click here for the recipe

Japchae 잡채 (Sweet Potato Noodles with Beef & Vegetables)

One of Korea’s most loved dishes, japchae seems to be one of those dishes that can be found almost everywhere and at any time. Be it at breakfast, dinner or at a party, japchae is almost sure to be a feature. Like so many national dishes in Asia, food can represent so much more than just a tasty meal; in the case of japchae it is all about colour and harmony. Translating as “many kinds of various vegetables” japchae is made with the five colours that the Koreans believe reflect obang saek or world harmony to you and me. Each colour symbolises one of the five universal directions – North (black: beef/mushrooms), East (green: courgette/cucumber), South: (red: carrot), West (white: onion) and, most profoundly, the Middle (yellow: egg).

World harmony aside, the best news about japchae is that it is banting and LCHF friendly! Okay, so there is a bit of sugar in the recipe, but at its core japchae’s sweet potato starch noodles are a great low carb alternative to the regular wheat variety and taste infinitely better than courgette noodles.

Noodles without the carb-induced guilt; now what could possibly be better than that?

To be honest I was a bit hesitant about trying japchae when I first encountered it at a breakfast buffet in Seoul. I had tried cooking with Korean sweet potato noodles previously and it was a bit of a disaster, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to give it another go. I’m so pleased that I did! Chewy, beefy and incredibly satisfying; from the first bite I knew japchae was going to be one of the first Korean dishes I would attempt to recreate when I got back to my kitchen in Cape Town.

As it turned out, making japchae at home is relatively easy and aside from the sweet potato noodles themselves, all the ingredients are Asian store-cupboard staples. The only real difficulty is that the numerous components of the dish need to be individually prepared and cooked before being assembled, but other than that it is actually pretty straight-forward. Just don’t be tempted to soak the sweet potato noodles for longer than 30 minutes or overcook them as this will affect their texture.

Most of the japchae I had whilst in Korea actually didn’t contain any meat so if you would like to make a vegetarian version of the dish simply omit the beef. If you do, however, want to make a meat version then you can also substitute the beef steak with some mince instead.

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

For tips on stocking a Korean Pantry, please click here

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Nasu Dengaku なす田楽 (Oven-Roasted Eggplant with Miso)

Nasu Dengaku なす田楽 (Oven Roasted Eggplant with Miso)

Eggplants, aubergines or brinjals; call them what you will, but most of us are pretty much clueless as to what to do with this perfect purple delight. Along with an undeserved reputation for being bitter, eggplants are unjustly thought of as greasy. Typically shallow fried, eggplant’s absorbent flesh is easily saturated with excessive amounts of oil and can result in the dish becoming too rich. Luckily, however, there are a couple of ways to cook eggplants without the need to have your local cardiac surgeon on speed-dial, those being steaming and roasting. As the name of the recipe suggests this dish involves the latter method and the results are just to die for, as roasted eggplants and miso are quite simply a match made in heaven.

Traditionally nasu dengaku is made with eggplants that have been cut in half and then grilled, but this method only really works with thin Japanese eggplants which are, unfortunately, quite hard to come by in Cape Town. As such, you are welcome to oven-roast halved eggplants if you prefer, but it just seems so much easier to cube them instead, as the end result isn’t that dissimilar and makes for a more chopstick-friendly meal.

This dish makes for a wonderful addition to any Japanese spread and is also great in salads or even sandwiches (nasu dengaku on a ham and cheese sandwich would be all kinds of awesome!).

For more Japanese recipes, please click HERE or to find out more about how to stock a Japanese Pantry, please click HERE

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Asian Coleslaw

Lets be honest, coleslaw has been called many things over the years but trendy has never been one of them – at least until now, that is.

A salad stalwart of 80s potluck dinners, coleslaw has since been pretty much relegated to being nothing more than a questionable side-order to a greasy bucket of chicken – a lazy attempt to elevate our deep-fried indulges into something that resembles a balanced meal! Thankfully, however, these days coleslaw has made something of a comeback and is looking (and tasting) better than ever! Personally I think coleslaw owes its unexpected revival to the recent trendy-burger movement: after all what is a gourmet burger without a helping of gourmet sides?

Truffled skinny fries, tempura onion rings and umami ketchup, it was only a matter of time before coleslaw got in on the action and got a much needed makeover. Whilst the Western incarnation of coleslaw has undergone somewhat of a reinvention, the greatest evolution of the dish is, however, truly manifest in Asian Coleslaw. An ubiquitous name at best, Asian coleslaw is really just regular coleslaw but with a fusion twist.  Don’t get me wrong, regular ‘slaw is awesome, but Asian ‘slaw is simply next-level awesome! Whilst no single ingredient turns regular coleslaw Asian, the star of this particular version of Asian coleslaw is undoubtedly the sesame seeds, which add a wonderful toasted flavour that suits the rich creamy tang of the mayonnaise.

Perhaps one of the best things about coleslaw is its versatility. Traditionally the only two mainstays of the dish are white cabbage and mayonnaise, other than that you can add or omit just about anything. Try making it with some shaved fennel or replace the spring onion with thinly sliced regular onion. Leaving out the sultanas and  doenjang (Korean soy bean paste) would instantly make for the perfect LCHF side dish. Of course if you really wanted to push the boat out you could always substitute the sesame seeds with toasted pine nuts, but given the exorbitant price of pine nuts it does rather feel like an extravagance too far for something as humble as coleslaw.

To call this a “recipe” is somewhat of a stretch as making coleslaw is really just an assemblage of ingredients rather than an actual recipe per se. Okay so there is a fair amount of chopping involved when making any coleslaw, but if you have a decent mandolin handy then there really isn’t anything to it. It seems almost criminal that something so good can require so little effort, but it does and I don’t mind admitting that I’m a little obsessed. I’ve been eating coleslaw with just about everything recently, but that’s because it goes with just about everything! Burgers, sausages, grilled chicken and tonkatsu / chikenkatsu (Japanese Pork / chicken schnitzels) – all make the perfect companion to a healthy dollop of ‘slaw!

Click here for the recipe

Charred Courgette Ribbons with Capers & Mint

 Charred Courgette Ribbons with Capers & Mint

Rich in potassium and virtually carb-free, courgettes are a vegetable worth getting excited about. Inexpensive and readily available, courgettes are perhaps second only to the mighty cauliflower when it comes to surviving any Banting/LCHF diet. That coupled with the fact that they are also rather delicious, it should come as no surprise that I’ve been eating a lot of courgettes lately! Simply sautéed, slow-braised or grated and eaten raw, courgettes are anything if not versatile.

Recently, however, but I’ve taken to grilling them on the braai.

Whilst not a natural-born braaier, I just acquired a fabulous new gas braai (an early 4oth birthday present), so I’ve understandably become a mite braaiverskrik of late and have been grilling up a storm at every given opportunity! I’ve been braaing virtually everything I can get my hands on and given that courgettes are pretty much omnipresent in my fridge, it was only a matter of time before they too found their way onto the griddle. As it turns out courgettes and a flaming griddle are a marriage made in barbecue-heaven, making them one of my favourite vegetables to get the flame-grilled treatment!

As with most good braai salads, this particular concoction was born out of what happened to be lurking in the fridge at the time. The zingy capers work an absolute treat with the smoky charred courgettes, the sprinkling of cheese gives the dish depth and the blast of fresh mint lightens the whole dish.

Deliciously summery…now lets get that braai started!

Click here for the recipe

Skinny Sweet Potato “Fries”

Skinny Sweet Potato Fries

Undoubtedly the best thing to come out of my recent flirtations with the Banting lifestyle is a renewed love affair with sweet potatoes.

I’ve always been fond of sweet potatoes, but they have never really been a major part of my diet. These days, however, I can’t seem to live without them. Whilst still a carbohydrate, luckily sweet potato finds itself on the Banting Orange List, making it the “occasional carb” of choice for many of us on LCHF diets. Provided they are eaten in moderation, this tuberous gem is nutritious, tasty and most importantly, relatively guilt-free. Chock full of goodness, sweet potatoes are high in Vitamins A, B6 and C, beta-carotene, potassium, antioxidants and contain enough dietary fibre to account for 16% of your RDA. That’s a lot of ‘goodness’ packed into a humble root vegetable!

The nutritional value of sweet potatoes aside, what ultimately makes them so popular is their versatility; they can be used to make soup, mashed, microwaved, oven-roasted, gratinéed or glazed, although the latter is most definitely not for those of us avoiding sugar! Currently, however, my favourite way of preparing sweet potatoes is to use them to make skinny fries.

Cooked in a hot oven, skinny sweet potato fries are just the absolute bomb. Easy to make, healthy and incredibly tasty, these skinny fries are downright irresistible, making them almost TOO good! Personally, I prefer skinny fries over making sweet potato wedges as their ‘skinniness’ encourages a light singeing of the edges, resulting in a ‘burnt’ bitterness that perfectly plays against the inherent sweetness and earthy tones of the vegetable.

Trust me, wholesome has never tasted this good.

Click here for the recipe