Thursday, 6 September 2012

Rojak (Malaysian Salad)

An array of rojak ingredients and peanut sauce

Rojak is Malay for ‘jumbled’ or ‘mixed’, which describes the appearance of this salad. This savoury dish is not to be confused with Pasembor (also called Rojak Singapore), a dish based on fish ball and seafood skewers popular in Singapore and Penang, or Rojak Buah (Fruit salad) which contains a mixture of local fruits- jambu air (Syzygium samarangense), guava, cucumber etc., doused in a thick sauce topped with crumbled peanuts.

Malaysian Rojak is another one of many favourites of a mamak restaurant. It used to be peddled on vendors on their bikes before it took a firm root in restaurants. There are two main variants to this dish- with and without egg noodles. Other differences may include substitution of plain fritters for kuih udang, or a potato based sauce rather than peanut sauce. This recipe describes my favourite version of the dish.

The sengkuang root

The soul of this salad is sengkuang, also called jicama or yam bean. It may prove harder to find in the West, but some of the best Asian/Oriental supermarket may stock them. The freshness and nutty taste of this root is rather unique and it is this flavour that gives the rojak its distinctive taste.

½ yam bean, peeled and julienned
½ cucumber, julienned
2 boiled potatoes
1 cup of bean sprouts
150 g firm tofu
Boiled egg, peeled and halved

½ cup flour
50 ml water
Pinch of salt
½ cup of bean sprouts, chopped (optional)

Peanut sauce
2 cm piece galangal
1-2 slices ginger
1-2 cloves garlic
¼ onion
½ teaspoon belacan, or shrimp paste
1 cm turmeric root
2 dried chillies
1 stalk lemongrass
1-2 digestive biscuits or cream crackers, crushed into powder
1 cup coarsely chopped peanuts
A dash of white pepper
½ cups water

To make the peanut sauce, grind the galangal, ginger, garlic, onions, turmeric root, belacan, dried chillies and lemongrass into a paste. Fry the paste in a tablespoon of oil over medium heat. After frying it for about 4-5 minutes, add water and season with salt and white pepper. Bring this sauce to boil before pouring in the crushed biscuits and chopped peanuts. If desired (especially if you want to make the sauce taste less spicy), you may add about 1-2 tablespoon of coconut milk, but the taste should be sufficiently rich even without it. Your sauce is ready when it starts to boil.

To make the fritters, beat the flour and water to form a smooth batter. Season with salt, and if desired, add chopped bean sprouts. Deep fry spoonfuls of the batter until they are golden on both sides. Check here on detailed methods.

Boil the potatoes with the skin on. When they are cooked through (use a fork to pierce and check if they are done), cool them under running tap water and peel the skin off. Cut them into cubes.

Shallow fry the block of tofu until lightly golden on all sides. Blot out excess oil with some kitchen towel and cut them into thin slices. The beansprouts are blanched before serving.

Assemble all the ingredients, place the desired amount of each item on your plate and garnish with the peanut sauce and tuck in.

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