Sunday, 31 March 2013

Sotong Kunyit (Squid in turmeric sauce)

Another personally improvised dish inspired by Malay cuisine, sotong kunyit is a mellow, fragrant preparation for small to medium sized squids. When it comes to squid, size does matter- the smaller ones tend to be more tender and less rubbery than their bigger relatives, making them ideal for this recipe.

5-6 medium squid (both body and tentacles), cleaned and left whole and not scored
1/2 onion
3-4 garlic cloves
3-4 cm galangal
2 cm ginger
1 lemon grass
2 cm turmeric root, or alternatively 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 red chilli, chopped
5-6 kaffir lime leaves
200 ml coconut milk

Stuff the tentacles of the squid in its body after cleaning the squids. Blend the onion, garlic, turmeric, ginger, galangal, lemongrass and 2 tablespoons of water into a smooth paste. Sauté this paste in 2 tablespoon of oil over low heat for five minutes. The chilli and lime leaves are added into the frying ingredients, let the flavours incorporate for another five minutes over low-medium heat. Pour 1 cup of water into the mixture and bring this to the boil. Pour the coconut milk in and add the fresh squid to the cooking pot. Cook for ten minutes before serving up with a bowl of freshly cooked rice and vegetables.

Note: Squid preparation was previously discussed here.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Mutton Biryani

The ultimate savoury rice, proper biryani (sometimes called dum briyani) are often prepared in a massive pot over wood fire where the lid is sealed to the pot with fresh dough, turning it into a pressure cooker. This dough is not broken off until the contents of the pots are cooked- something that requires impeccable timing! Traditionally, this North Indian dish is laden with meat and spices and flavoured with mint leaves. Over the years, however, there are many variations on preparing this rice and here's one I formulated. As with most rice dishes, I'm making this in my trusty little rice cooker, but it could also be done on the gas or electric hob/cooker.

0.8- 1 kg mutton or lamb, with the fat trimmed off and meat cut into small cubes
2 cups of basmati rice, washed
2 tablespoon ghee
1 onion, diced
6 large garlic cloves and 5 cm ginger, blended into a paste
1 bunch of fresh coriander leaves; pick out and leave the leaves whole, chop the stems
1 cup of thick yogurt (make it two cups if using runny yogurt)
1 tin of chopped tomatoes (or 4 medium sized fresh tomatoes, diced)
1 heaped tablespoon meat curry powder
2 heaped tablespoon kurma powder
1 desert spoon coriander powder
1 desert spoon chilli powder (optional)
30-50 g cashewnuts
juice of half a lemon
4 boiled eggs
salt for seasoning

1 teaspoon fennel seeds
4 star anise
2 large cinnamon sticks
4 cardamom pods
8 cloves

Raita (salad in yogurt)
1 cucumber, cubed
1 small tin of pineapple chunks, drained
2 tablespoons of thick yogurt (or 1 cup of runny yogurt)

Over low love heat, gently melt the ghee in some cooking oil. Before the oil gets too hot, add the spices and sauté for two minutes. Pour in the ginger and garlic paste and cook further for two minutes. Add the onions, coriander stem and meat to this frying mix, season with salt and stir well. Leave it with the lid on for five minutes.

Stir the yogurt, curry and spice powders, lemon juice and chopped tomatoes into cooking ingredients. Leave it to cook over low heat until the meat is cooked thoroughly (which may take up to 30 minutes for small pieces of mutton), stirring it occasionally to avoid it burning at the bottom. You can speed it up by turning the heat up but the slow cooked meat will impart more flavour into the rice later.

All the meat and its gravy will be transferred into the rice cooker pot, together with the washed basmati rice and 3 cups water. Add half the cashews and coriander leaves too, and leave it to cook. Again, stir periodically to stop the rice from burning at the bottom of the pot.

Making the raita is just a matter of stirring all the ingredients listed above together. Serve the rice with tomato chutney, boiled eggs and raita, garnished with the remaining coriander leaves. This recipe serves four.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Nasi Goreng Kampung

Just as there are many ways to prepare pasta dishes and noodles, the Malaysian fried rice too has many faces- nasi goreng Cina (an approximation on the Chinese fried rice), nasi goreng Pattaya (a Thai dish where the fried rice is encased in an omelette), and nasi goreng USA (one with several types of meat). Nasi goreng kampung literally translates to 'village fried rice'. While many fancier versions are the result of cultural fusion, this humble take on nasi goreng sticks close to the Malay roots with wholesome ingredients.

1 onion, chopped
3-5 garlic cloves
2 tablespoon chilli paste (or according to taste)
2 teaspoon belacan or shrimp paste
3 bowls of cooked rice, preferably a day old and cold (straight from the fridge), for 3 servings
1 tablespoon sweet soy sauce
20 g dried anchovies (cleaned)
150 g spinach or kangkung (water convulvulus/morning glory)
2 eggs, beaten
salt and pepper to taste

Fry the chilli paste in a wok in 2 tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Add the belacan,  onions and garlic and fry for 2-3 minutes more. Allow the anchovies to fry with this mixture and become lightly crispy before the soy sauces and spinach are integrated to the cooking ingredients. Pour in the cold rice, making sure they are loose (no lumps), season with salt and pepper and stir well over high heat. Make a well in the middle of the rice, add a splash of oil and break an egg in it. Wait one minute before stirring the eggs into the rice. Fry for a further 2-3 minutes to ensure the eggs are cooked before serving up.

Nasi goreng kampung served with fried egg and chopped spring onions

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Chicken Broth

Chicken broth served with rustic bread

Instead of the creamy kind, this is a spicier, leaner take on chicken soup. This is my mum's recipe and it's not only great for when you're feeling poorly, but also whenever you want a warming dinner. However, it helps that it's nearly effortless to make. Since you're mostly after the broth, this recipe calls for the full flavour imparted by the skin and bony cuts of chicken- the ribs, wings, and if you're not squeamish, even the neck.

1 small onion,  sliced thick
3-4 garlic cloves, left whole
2 cm ginger, thinly sliced
1 cinnamon stick
3 star anise
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 stalk curry leaves or a small bunch of fresh coriander, chopped
400 g of bony chicken pieces, with some skin on
2 potatoes, skinned and cut into medium cubes
1 carrot, sliced thick
1 tomato, quartered
1 cup of cauliflower florets (medium chunks)
1 chicken stock cube
1 teaspoon of whole black pepper corns
1.5 litre water
cracked black pepper and salt to taste

Put all the ingredients except potatoes, carrot, tomato and cauliflower in a pot and bring to boil. Leave it to simmer over medium heat for about 30-40 minutes. Put the vegetables into the soup next and cook for another 15-20 minutes, adding more water if needed. The soup is ready to be served with some bread, rice or enjoy on its own.

Tip: Boil the remains of a roast chicken and a stock cube if you prefer not to deal with bony cuts of chicken.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Hokkien Mee (Seafood)

This used to be a treat at supper time during school holidays at my grandparents' place when my cousins and I stayed over. It's signature flavour comes from pork lardons (similar to bits of bacon/pancetta), but my recipe replaces them with slices of chicken thigh where the meat is fat-rich.

This Hokkien dish is one that requires high heat frying to seal in the delicious flavour, so be ready for some speedy cooking!

100 g chicken thigh strips (as lardon substitutes)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup of vegetables each: chinese cabbage (sliced), carrot (sliced), mushrooms (quartered)
300 g mixed meats: chicken pieces, prawns, squid, fish ball halves
300 g Hong Kong/udon noodles (fresh)
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
soy sauce to taste
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 chicken stock (1 stock cube in 2 cups of water)
cornstarch (2 heaped teaspoon corn flour in 2 tablespoon cool water)

fresh minced garlic
finely chopped green or bird's eye chilli (according to personal spice tolerance)
soy sauce

Fry the chicken thighs over medium heat in a tablespoon of oil until crispy. Remove them from oil and put aside. Turn the heat higher and flash fry the fish ball, garlic and vegetables for two minutes. Add the meat and cook further for two minutes before pouring in the chicken stock and sauces. Bring this to simmer before the noodles go in. When the soup starts boiling, quickly stir in the cornstarch to thicken the sauce. Top the noodles with the crispy chicken bits before serving with the condiments.

* If you're not into eating raw garlic and chillies, use only the flavoured soy that gains a hint of both garlic and chilli kick.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Asparagus Belacan

Asparagus belacan (in shrimp paste) is a dish I have sampled in a Malaysian Chinese restaurant. Considering this vegetable was considered an exotic western ingredient at the time, this fusion of flavours left an impression on first time diners (thanks to a variety of cooking shows, asparagus is now very popular in Malaysia and is even available from pasar malam*!). So you could blanch, boil or grill your asparagus any day, but if you want that little something extra to tickle your tastebuds, try this. Here's a my approximation on this recipe.

1 medium white onion, diced
2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 heaped teaspoon belacan, or shrimp paste
about 14 sticks of asparagus

Trim off the woody bottom part of the asparagus. You could cut them in half if they are too long.

Over very low fire, sweat the onion and garlic for  five minutes. Add the belacan and asparagus to the frying mix and cook further for ten minutes. Thinner (more tender) asparagus will obviously need less cooking time. Season and serve up as a side dish. It goes well with rice, potatoes and meats.

*Night markets- epitome of local cultural acceptance, in my books.