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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.

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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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Ayam Goreng Berempah (Spicy Malaysian Fried Chicken)

 

For better or worse, I have recently found myself an avid fan of deep frying.

In the space of a Lockdown I have gone from fretting about the obvious detriments of cooking this way, to deep frying with rather worrying abandon! Battered sausages, onion rings, and of course, an attempt at D.I.Y. KFC – all have found their way into my sizzling cauldron…and onto my ever expanding hips. Of course, the best part about my newfound love of fried foods is that I can finally bring myself to make some of my favourite dishes at home – specifically, Ayam Goreng Berempah.

Often served alongside nasi lemak and drenched with sambal goreng, this spicy deep fried chicken dish is a crispy and irresistible delight. Marinated overnight in a heady blend of spices and fragrant curry leaves, the chicken is literally bursting with flavour. Unlike many other deep fried chicken recipes, ayam goreng berempah‘s marinate actually doubles up as the batter, meaning less mess!

The “secret” to getting the chicken’s crust crispy is the addition of cornflour into the mix. It’s important to get the ratio between the wet and dry ingredients correct – too wet and the batter/marinate may not remain adhered to the chicken when fried. Personally I like to give my marinated pieces a second dredging of cornflour, a couple of minutes before cooking – just in case! Remember to add a few fresh curry leaves to the sizzling oil beforehand to infuse it with extra aroma and flavour.

Simply irresistible!

Note: it is absolutely vital that the oil not be too hot, as it will burn the crispy coating long before the chicken pieces are cooked through. Ideally you want the temperature to be around 165 to 175°c. It is also important that the meat is at room temperature before cooking.

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

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Palmier / Pig’s Ear Pastries

Known as palmier in their native France, but as pig’s ears to the rest of us, it is easy to understand why so many across the world have fallen for these sweet, buttery treats! After all, what’s not to love? A delight on their own or dunked in coffee, these wonderfully simple pastries are hard to resist.

Even though they may look complicated, palmier are anything but, and are actually surprisingly easy to make at home. In fact, they are quite possibly the simplest pastry I’ve ever attempted! Requiring just two basic ingredients, palmier is one of the most economical sweet treats you can make: all you’ll need is a roll of store-bought puff pastry, a cup of sugar, some folding skills, and that’s it!

As with all pastries, the temperature of the dough is essential. In this instance, it must be fully defrosted, but still chilled. If it is too warm, the butter in the pastry will melt too quickly in the oven – you won’t get a crisp finish as the butter will ooze out of the pastries and burn. It is best to defrost the puff pastry in the fridge overnight so that it is ready and waiting for teatime the next day.

Personally I don’t like to use too much sugar, instead preferring to give them a quick dab of apricot jam when they are fresh out of the oven – the sweetness of the glaze is enough for me, but this is entirely down to taste. Whilst on the topic of preferences, I like my pastries to be slightly on the “burnt” side, but if that’s not your thing then just take them out of the oven a couple of minutes early.  If you would like to expand on the traditional butter and sugar recipe, you can always add a teaspoon of ground cinnamon to the sugar.

To discover other delicious Sweet Treats from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

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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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Cinnamon Fingers

 

I had high hopes that my time under global Lockdown would somehow make a baker out of me. I was wrong.

It seems that even the abolition of free-movement as we know it wasn’t enough to force my savoury brain into understanding the mysterious life of yeast, much less her minions of flour variants. Indeed, this period of isolation has brought a great many things to an end, my self-delusion of baking grandeur among them. Sure, I can make a mean carrot cake and some killer chocolate brownies, but bread and pastries?

Alas, these are officially now beyond me.

Nonetheless, and despite being at peace with this, it is hard not to break out the KitchenAid when you live with a partner who is more sweet-tooth than human. At any rate, now more than ever, we all need an occasional pastry treat to help break the tension of the passing hours; a moment to have a cup of tea and indulge in a sweet delight. With that in mind, I couldn’t allow being a cosmically confirmed Anti-Baker get in the way of my desire to please through food, so I put away the dough hook (and those judgmental packets of instant yeast) and went back to basics.

Indeed, life under Lockdown has taught us all a great many things, and for some of us most of those lessons have been learnt in the kitchen. Caught between a grocery run and a global pandemic, we have all found ourselves short of an ingredient or two, but instead of grabbing our self-sown face masks and heading out the door, many of us have taken to making the most of what we have available at home. Thankfully, the bare necessities of a kitchen often results in the perfect recipe from almost nothing, and these cinnamon fingers are no exception.

Made with just four basic pantry ingredients, they are the prefect treat to beat the Lockdown blues. Crispy, buttery sweet, and ready in just 8 minutes, these moreish fingers make excellent use of those unwanted crusts from sandwiches and the ends of loaves. Best of all, they are virtually fool-proof and are the personification of a great treat, on the cheap.

Trust me, you’ll love this recipe so much you’ll be hoarding bread cut-offs in the fridge in no time!

To discover other delicious Sweet Treats  from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

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Cape Malay Malva Pudding

Cape Malay Malva Pudding

A veritable heart-attack on a plate, Malva Pudding is quite literally the definition of a dessert to die for!

The very first South African dessert I learnt to make upon arrival upon these shores, it may as well have been my last. Arguably the nation’s most loved traditional dessert (and certainly my partners favourite), Malva Pudding’s enduring appeal is understandable given it embodies everything my adopted country love in their desserts. Sweet, comforting and unpretentious, this classic pudding has it all! As they say here in South Africa, “who doesn’t love a good malva?”. Indeed.

On the face of it Malva Pudding is little more than your basic sponge, but is transformed when soaked in an achingly sweet cream and butter sauce. The addition of apricot jam and a magical combination of boiled milk and vinegar, turns this humble pud into the moist desserts, the such dreams are made of.

Always served warm, Malva Pudding is the prefect dessert to get you through those dark winter nights. Traditionally it is served with either cold custard (never hot), whipped cream or even vanilla ice-cream. Malva Pudding also reheats very well, a few seconds in the microwave is all it takes to revive its gooey glory!

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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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