Main Meal

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

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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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Dak-dori-tang 닭도리탕 (Korean Spicy Chicken Stew)

North or South, Koreans share a universal love for spicy food, and it doesn’t get much more fiery than this hearty stew.

Dak-dori-tang (spicy chicken stew), also known as dak-bokkeum-tang, is a perennial Korean classic, and though the recipe varies across the peninsula it is almost always both fierce and comforting at the same time. Traditionally made from a whole chopped chicken, onions and potato, the recipe can be adapted to your tastes and needs. Though skinned chicken breasts can be used, I personally prefer using boned thighs – they hold up better against the robust sauce, and don’t tend to dry out during the intense cooking process. With regards to the vegetables, again the recipe can be modified to include almost anything you have to hand: carrots, daikon, leeks – all make excellent additions.

Though classified as a stew, dak-dori-tang is actually more of a braise as the liquid is reduced over a high heat, leaving you with a thick and spicy sauce. As the cooking time is quite short (about 30 minutes), it is best to par-cook the harder vegetables before adding them to the sauce. If you opt to use bone-in chicken, it is important to use equal size pieces, making sure that they are well-browned beforehand and you adjust the cooking time accordingly.

Dak-dori-tang 닭도리탕 (Korean Spicy Chicken Stew)

Dak-dori-tang made with chicken pieces on the bone.

Although spicy by nature, dak-dori-tang is no less delicious when made slightly milder, if preferred. Despite their volcanic appearance, Korean chili powder (gochutgaru) and chili paste (gochujang) are actually not anywhere near as hot as they look, making it is quite easy to adjust the dish’s heat without being at the expense of flavour. They actually add a wonderful earthy, smoky undertone, and are definitely worth a trip down to your nearest Asian Supermarket. Though generally quite expensive, both have a very long shelf-life and if you plan to make Korean food they are essential Pantry items. Keep an eye out for Chinese brands as these are often considerably cheaper than their Korean counterparts, with no discernible difference in taste. On that note, a word of warning: under no circumstances should you substitute gochutgaru with any other type of chili powder. Anything else will be way too hot and will undoubtedly be the ruin of your dinner.

Disaster awaits all who are even tempted to try…

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

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Serve with: freshly cooked white rice along with a select of banchan (Korean side dishes) – I suggest some simple stir-fried cabbage and, of course, a generous portion of mak kimchi!

Click here for the recipe

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)

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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