My Kitchen From Scratch

Archive for the ‘Malay’ Category

Pandan Leaves

Pandan is possibly the most classic flavour that all Malaysians grew up with. We use pandan in many desserts from steamed cakes called kuih, chiffon cakes, cendol, agar-agar, kaya, and sweet broths. We also use pandan to flavour rice, other coconut based dishes and wrap different kinds of savoury food so that it could impart its fragrance. Some say pandan is the Asian vanilla but I say it’s more versatile than that. It can be sweet or savoury and its aroma in the kitchen can be very comforting. It’s how a Malaysian grandmother’s kitchen should smell like.

Pandan is often paired with coconut milk because they are excellent together. While many people use the fresh leaves, pandan extracts are very common. However many of them are made with artificial flavourings and colouring. So it would give the food a strong neon green hue which does not look natural. I never found a good extract that I really like all these years and it’s even harder in Vancouver here. So I decided to make my own, of course!

Many recipes blend fresh pandan leaves and water to extract the pandan flavour but I thought I should make pandan simple syrup because I mostly use pandan in sweet dishes. Plus sugar would act as some form of preservative, I imagine. Another better way would be to steep pandan leaves in a neutral spirit like vodka but I have not found a recipe that successfully tried the latter. I am going to stick with the simple syrup method for now but I will try extracting with vodka in the near future.

Pandan Extract (Simple Syrup) Pandan Extract (Simple Syrup)

I don’t have a blender in my apartment. So I attempted the traditional method, which was by mortar and pestle. The result was quite amazing. The colour turned out to be a brilliant jade green and the aroma was fragrant and slightly nutty. I used it to make kaya, which is a popular Malaysian coconut jam and luscious entremets or mousse cakes. I stored the simple syrup in a tight jar and it lasted for weeks in the refrigerator.

Ingredients:

  • 200g fresh pandan leaves
  • simple syrup

Method:

  1. Cut pandan leaves into small pieces.
  2. Pound leaves with mortar and pestle until a paste is formed.
  3. Wet the paste with simple syrup and let it steep for a bit.
  4. Pass it through a tamis or a sieve and reserve the syrup in a jar.
  5. Label and refrigerate.

Bubur Pulut Hitam & Longan (Sweet Black Glutinous Rice Porridge with Longans)

Bubur pulut hitam is a delicacy in our family and we don’t make it very often. But I remembered going to a tong sui vendor at our pasar malam and ordering a bowl of it for a late night snack. The vendors only sell tong sui which are sweet soupy broth that are not only delicious but also act as a restorative to balance out the energies in the body.  Their pulut hitam are always on the soupy consistency and that was what I grew up liking. I also always asked for more santan or coconut milk because it goes so well with it.

Bubur Pulut Hitam & Longan (Sweet Black Glutinous Rice Porridge with Longans)

I found out that some Peranakans adopted this classic sweet restorative into the Nyonya repetoire by adding dried longans. I find that ingenius because this sweet fruit adds a sweet floral dimension to the dish that refined sugar can’t. And fruits are great for the body, is it not? I would also consider adding fresh longan if it’s available but dried longans are more intense in flavour and it imparts a wonderful fragrance to the pulut hitam. For a change, I’ve also made bubur pulut hitam with a thicker consistency, almost like a rice pudding. It actually enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

Ingredients:

  • 300 g pulut hitam (black glutinous rice)
  • 2 L water
  • 6 pandan leaves, tied into a knot
  • 7 tbsp sugar
  • 15-20 dried longans
  • 250 ml coconut milk
  • pinch of salt

Method:

  1. Wash rice with plenty of cold water.
  2. Cook rice with water and pandan leaves under gentle simmer until the rice is soft and the grains open up. Adjust consistency of the rice by adding more water.
  3. About 15 minutes before pulut hitam is served, add longans and cook until soft.
  4. Adjust sweetness by adding sugar.
  5. Warm up coconut milk and salt.
  6. Serve bubur pulut hitam with a drizzle of coconut milk.

(Recipe adapted from Pulot Hitam with Longans, Modern Nonya by Sylvia Tan)

Singaporean Delicacies at Toast Box in Bishan, Singapore

After a fantastic time with my friend Ling and her family in Johor Bahru, we finally took a taxi the next day and arrived in Singapore. It’s fairly easy to get to Singapore as there were plenty of buses running. However, we hired a taxi because it’s much quicker and the journey to Bugis Village took about an hour. According to the driver, Malaysian taxis can only stop at the taxi terminal in Bugis, so he was unable to bring us to our hostel in Mount Emily. Since Singapore is such a walkable city, we walked there instead!

Hangout at Mt. Emily Hangout at Mt. Emily Private Room at Hangout at Mt. Emily Wild Rockets, Hangout at Mt. Emily Hangout at Mt. Emily Rec Room, Hangout at Mt. Emily Rooftop, Hangout at Mt. Emily Rooftop, Hangout at Mt. Emily Rooftop, Hangout at Mt. Emily

From our research, Hangout @ Mt. Emily has outstanding reviews from previous guests and I can see why. The hostel is modern and the private rooms are very clean. In Singapore, accommodation is not cheap but we got a room with three beds, a futon (which can be used as a fourth bed), and a insuite bathroom for S$140 a night. What a deal! Actually the price was for two beds but they gave us a larger room. =) The hostel also has a recreational room, a beautiful rooftop patio, free Wifi and internet at their lounge. Their cafe, Wild Rocket is a casual place that serves up simple and hearty breakfast for guests; and by hearty I meant eggs, sausage, bacon, toasts, baked beans, and more. In the evening, Wild Rocket becomes an upscale restaurant that serves modern Singaporean food a la carte or as part of their fancy nine course tasting menu for about S$90. The menu certainly looked inventive but unfortunately, my partner and I simply could not afford it. =(

Singaporean Delicacies at Toast Box in Bishan, Singapore

We headed out to meet my secondary school best friend, Huay Sean in Bishan right after we checked into the hostel. Since she was on her lunch break, we went out to Toast Box to get some Singaporean food. Singapore’s food is very similar to Malaysia’s because of it’s proximity and their shared culture. My first impression of Toast Box is of an upscale coffee shop similar to Old Town Coffee and Pappa Rich in Malaysia. I know, I know, the best place to sample Singapore’s food is at the hawker centres but I was hungry alright!

Singaporean Delicacies at Toast Box in Bishan, Singapore Singaporean Delicacies at Toast Box in Bishan, Singapore

I ordered some Singaporean coffee to go with my mee rebus, which is yellow noodles served with a sweetish gravy, hard boiled eggs, and aromatics. I don’t remember eating much of this dish when I was growing up but I am glad I got to try it this time. My partner ordered nasi lemak, which happens to be an extremely popular food in Malaysia. Their version comes with coconut scented rice, fried eggs, fried chicken, and a touch of sambal. The food was quite okay but it was not the best I’ve had. I just wished the gravy for my mee rebus was more intensely spiced.

We didn’t plan on spending much at Singapore as it’s quite expensive. The US dollar didn’t get us very far because US$1 only bought S$1.25. However, I managed to try some Hainanese chicken rice and visited the famous Raffles Hotel which I will elaborate more in my next post on my Southeast Asia trip.

Rendang Babi (Pork Rendang)

Rendang is one of Malaysia’s and Indonesia’s most iconic dish. However, it is quite unorthodox to make rendang with pork as many Malaysians and Indonesians are Muslims, and therefore naturally prefer halal meat. Beef and chicken are most common but I am giving pork a try because I have plenty of pork shoulder that I bought when they were on sale.

A classic rendang is a dry coconut stew made by slow cooking meat with spices. It often has notes of lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves with a subtle sweetness from local palm sugar called gula melaka. Recipes seem to vary from place to place but in my opinion, nothing beats a Malay style rendang that is finished with some kerisik, a roasted coconut paste. Rendang goes very well with plain white rice or turmeric rice and as with any stew, it tastes better if you let it sit overnight.

Ingredient:

  • 600 g pork shoulder, cut into 2-3 inch cubes
  • 2 tbsp shallots, fine chopped
  • 1 tbsp ginger, fine chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, fine chopped
  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds, toasted and ground
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and ground
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 lemongrass, bruised
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves, lightly bruised
  • beef stock/water
  • 200 ml coconut milk
  • gula melaka
  • salt/pepper
  • 1 tbsp or so kerisik

Method:

  1. Sear pork shoulder cubes until brown at all sides in a heavy bottomed pot.
  2. Reserve seared pork in a bowl.
  3. Deglaze and remove browned bits with some stock. Reserve the jus in the same bowl as the pork.
  4. Saute shallots, ginger, and garlic with 2 tablespoons of oil until fragrant.
  5. Add the spices, lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves and saute until fragrant.
  6. Add pork and jus to the pot and add coconut milk and enough stock to go up the meat halfway.
  7. Season with a bit of salt, pepper, and gula melaka to the desired sweetness.
  8. Bring it to a simmer and slowly cook until the meat is “empok” or fork tender, the oil separates, and noticeably dry, at least 2 hours. If the liquid dries up halfway and the meat is not yet tender, top with more stock and continue cooking.
  9. About 15 minutes before cooking is done, add kerisik to the stew.
  10. Serve with white rice.

Masakan Padang at Restoran Salero Negori, Subang Jaya

My friend, Mar had been raving about Nasi Padang for a couple of years now but I’ve never had it because it was not popular among my buddies. So when I was able to meet her in Subang Jaya where she lives, she immediately brought me to Restoran Salero Negori to taste this amazing food. Nasi Padang literally means “Padang Food” in English (sometimes known as Masakan Padang or Masakan Minang), comes from West Sumatra in Indonesia but is prevalent in the state of Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia where the Minangkabau people from West Sumatra settled many years ago.

Restoran_Padang by Sakurai Midori

Padang restaurant food display by Sakurai Midori

From what I researched, Nasi Padang restaurants seem to only cook their food once a day but they cook a plethora of different dishes which are then artfully displayed in the front window. Dishes are stacked like the photo above, drawing a sense of awe from people who walked by. But most importantly, it’s the rich and spicy dishes that kept customers coming back for more. There’s everything from gulai, which is a kind of traditional stew, sate, rendang, fried chicken and fish and soto (Indonesian soup). It is impossible to try them all at once! What I also noticed is that Nasi Padang features plenty of offal dishes which are not as common in Malay cuisine.

I let Mar order since it was my first time at a Padang restaurant. We had some classic dishes such as Dendeng Balado (crispy, spicy beef), Daun Pucuk Ubi dan Sambal Pedas (Tapioca Shoots and spicy chilli sauce), Ikan Goreng (fried catfish), and Ayam Goreng Padang style (fried chicken with spicy granule bits). Not to mention, we also had bowls of extra gravy from gulai ayam because they were extra delicious when eaten with rice. I didn’t quite get it at first but once I tried it, I gave Mar my signal of approval in my eyes while I gorged on it with my mouth closed. Oh, and the granule bits from the chicken … it was so good!

Restoran Salero Negori, Subang Jaya Tissue Paper at Restoran Salero Negori, Subang Jaya Restoran Salero Negori, Subang Jaya

As far as drink is concerned, we just went with Teh Botol, which is a popular sweetened Jasmine tea from Indonesia and rose flavoured milk called Air Bandung. Every dish was super tasty and some left my lips burning. What made it even better was that we ate it with our hands instead of forks and spoons. It’s just a very traditional way of eating in Indonesia and Malaysia. Because we were using our hands, we had a pot of water before our meal from which water was poured from to clean the hands. So make sure you don’t drink water from this pot if you ever see one on a table.

If you are planning to visit Indonesia, Malaysia, or Singapore, try Nasi Padang if you can because this will be a great experience for any first timers. Some items might look foreign to you but don’t be put off by the looks. Just ask and find out what it is because you never know what you’re missing.

Homemade Pandan Kaya (Malaysian Coconut Jam)

If peanut butter is the king of sandwich spreads in North America, kaya is definitely the most beloved spread of choice in Malaysia. Also popular in Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand, this jam is sweet, and has a smooth and creamy mouth feel. It should have an intense coconut milk aroma because this is essentially a concentrated coconut milk mixed with eggs to give the jam extra body and binding power. You can’t beat a well made toast with kaya and thin slabs of butter for breakfast because that is a Malaysian classic. However, that is not the only way to enjoy kaya. People use kaya in various dessert applications from cakes to kuih.

Often known as sri kaya, seri kaya, or nonya (nyonya) kaya, it is a spread made from only three ingredients: eggs, coconut milk and sugar. While it may look simple, it is a labour intensive process. Many recipes, including the one I was looking at, recommend cooking the custard mixture on low heat in a double boiler and constantly stirring it. That is because kaya is prone to scrambling or curdling  if the heat is too high. I remembered making kaya with my grandmother when she was alive and I accidentally made coconut flavoured scrambled eggs instead.

This time around, I decided not to mess with a double boiler and cook the kaya custard on direct heat in a heavy bottomed pot. However, I was very very careful with the heat and I made sure I constantly stirred, non-stop. After one hour or so, I had something my grandmother will be proud of. Even though the end result had tiny lumps in it, I just whisked the kaya until it’s as smooth as it can get, in absence of a blender. I guess that qualifies it as whipped kaya because it is more airy than the real stuff. Nevertheless, it is delicious and my breakfast is never the same again.

Ingredients (yields enough to fill 1kg peanut butter jar):

  • 8 large eggs
  • 500g granulated sugar
  • 600ml coconut milk, from the can
  • 3 pandan leaves, cut into small sections

Method:

  1. In a mixing bowl, whisk eggs and sugar together until frothy and the eggs are well combined.
  2. Heat coconut milk with pandan leaves until lukewarm and temper into the egg mixture.
  3. Transfer custard mixture to a pot with pandan leaves and stir constantly on a low heat with a wooden spoon until almost like a loose creamy polenta consistency. Depending on the heat, it could take about 45 minutes to 2 hours. Remember that it will thicken further when cooled.
  4. Cool kaya quickly and transfer to a jar.

(recipe adapted from “Nonya Flavours: A complete guide to Penang Straits Chinese Cuisine” by The State Chinese (Penang) Association & Star Publications (M) Bhd.)

Final Notes:

  1. Kaya traditionally comes in two kinds, green kaya which flavoured with essence of pandan and brown kaya, which is flavoured with a bit of caramelized sugar or perhaps gula melaka (palm sugar).
  2. I was not able to make pandan extract from scratch. So in order to make the kaya as green as possible, I cut pandan leaves into small sections to increase surface area and to encourage flavour and colour infusion.
  3. If needed, some Asian stores carry artificial pandan essence.
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Malaysian Nasi Lemak (Bungkus)

Nasi lemak is undoubtedly the most iconic Malaysian dish of all, so much that we unofficially consider it as our national dish. They sell them everywhere, from road side hawker stalls to school canteens to high end restaurants. So, no wonder we have nasi lemak for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I remember when I was growing up, my grandmother used to bring me to eat nasi lemak off Loke Yew Road. They substituted the spicy sambal tumis with the milder sambal heh bee for children. Now that I am an adult, I love it prepared the way it should be.

Nasi lemak simply means rice cooked in rich coconut milk. When cooked together with pandan leaves and ginger slices, the rice has the most amazing aroma! But what’s nasi lemak without some accompaniments? In its simplest form, nasi lemak should have coconut rice, sambal tumis, hard boiled eggs, fried anchovies, peanuts and cucumber. When wrapped up with banana leaves and newspaper, it’s called nasi lemak bungkus and it’s the kind that you would get at hawker stalls. One can also serve it with beef, chicken, seafood or as elaborate as one wants it in the higher end versions.

I made my first nasi lemak with sambal sotong (squid with sambal). It’s an homage to the makcik, near my mom’s former office at Jalan Raja Chulan, from whom I got the most amazing nasi lemak with gulai sotong. I think her gulai is kind of hard to replicate but sambal sotong is close enough. =)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups good quality jasmine rice
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 can (200 ml) coconut milk
  • thumb size ginger, sliced thin
  • 3 pandan leaves, tied in a knot
  • 1 tsp salt
  • about 6 (or more) tbsp of sambal tumis
  • 2 medium squid, cleaned
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • toasted belacan, to taste
  • handful of tiny anchovies
  • handful of dry roasted peanuts
  • few large eggs, hard boiled
  • banana leaves (optional)
  • newspapers (optional)

Method:

Easy Pandan & Ginger-Scented Coconut Rice in a Rice Cooker

  1. In a rice cooker, mix rice, water, coconut milk, ginger, pandan leaves, and salt. Turn the rice cooker on.
  2. Fluff rice when it’s cooked.

Sambal Sotong

  1. Butterfly the squid and lightly score the body with a sharp knife. This is going to keep it from curling when cooked.
  2. Cut the body lengthwise into 2 and then crosswise into 1/2 inch wide strips.
  3. Sweat onions with a little oil until soft. Add squid and stir fry for a minute.
  4. Add sambal tumis and saute until fragrant. Add belacan to taste, a little at a time.

Anchovy and Peanut Condiment

  1. Shallow fry anchovies under medium low heat until crispy. Be careful not to burn it.
  2. Let cool and mix with roasted peanuts.

Final Assembly (on a plate)

  1. Put a piece of banana leaf on a plate.
  2. Serve coconut rice on the leaf with sambal sotong, hard boiled eggs, anchovies and peanuts.

Malaysian Nasi Lemak (Bungkus) Malaysian Nasi Lemak (Bungkus) Malaysian Nasi Lemak (Bungkus)

Final Assembly (optional, nasi lemak bungkus style)

  1. Layer banana leaf on a newspaper. Notice that the newspaper is slightly wider and narrower.
  2. Put rice in the middle and accompaniments on the side.
  3. Fold the top and bottom halves together in the middle. You should have flaps on the left and right like in the second picture above.
  4. Tuck the flaps underneath tightly.

Final Notes

  1. Nasi lemak is also called nasi uduk in Indonesia and I am sure they are served slightly differently.

(recipes adapted from “Nasi Uduk – Beawinese Scented Coconut Rice” by Indonesia Eats and “Nasi Lemak Recipe – kampong style wrapping” by Madam Kwong’s Kitchen)

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