Chef Wan’s Sotong Goreng Nyonya (Nyonya Squid Sambal)

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Coming to the end of November, still in Penang happily shoving my face with Malaysian food, I start getting excited and giddy about holiday parties. So I am taking in a cheerful meal and here’s a dish I decided to make when flipping through Chef Wan’s cookbook religiously. I had my heart out set out on this squid sambal Nyonya style dish because of the sunshine colour from the fresh turmeric. Hmm…the colour of festive. Oh and here, the use of calamansi limes and starfruit perk up the dish making it you know, brisk and very much alive. Soooo good that I inhaled this dish before eating.

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Calamansi limes

Level: Easy

Oil

Squid 500g, cleaned & sliced

1 small starfruit, sliced

5 calamansi limes, juice extracted

Tomato sauce

Brown sugar

20 mint leaves

Salt

Spice paste to blend:

8 red chilies 8, seeded

3 bird’s eye chilies, seeded

4 onions, peeled & cut

2 cloves of garlic, peeled & cut

1 tablespoon of dried shrimp paste/belacan

1 cm of turmeric knob, peeled

1 cm of ginger knob, peeled

2 kaffir lime leaves

2 stalks of lemongrass, bottom half

5 candlenuts

First, blend the ingredients to make a spice paste. Heat oil in a pan over a medium heat and fry the spice paste until fragrant. Stir in the squid, starfruit, calamansi juice and cook for about 3 minutes. Add tomato sauce, sugar and mint leaves. Cook for another 1 minute and season to taste. Garnish with mint leaves and serve with rice.

Rendang Daging (Beef Rendang)

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Beef rendang is a dry curry that is believed to be originated from an ethnic group in Indonesia called Minangkabau. Naturally, beef rendang is very common and essential for Malaysians, to me this is where you get to experience the proper flavours of Malaysia.

Think of melt in your mouth beef slowly cooked with aromatic Asian spices bathing in creamy coconut milk with an added tamarind skin/peel and turmeric leaves that lift up the flavours of the beef rendang.

The term rendang or specifically, merendang refers to a process of slow cooking on a small fire. Because of this method, be prepared not to be culinary shocked when a lot of cleaning is needed after making this recipe, especially if you simmer the curry without the lid.

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My version of beef rendayumnn is a bit saucier because I have this habit of flooding my plate of rice with lots of curry. Because it is slightly wetter, the curry base is paler in colour as in comparison to dry rendang. Don’t skimp on the kerisik/desiccated coconut as it has a very distinctive texture and smoky flavour that is necessary in this dish.

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Oh, this recipe freezes well and gets increasingly delicious the next day!

Level: You will survive

Spice paste to blend:

5 onions, peeled & cut

5 shallots, peeled & cut

4 cloves of garlic, peeled & cut

10 stalks of lemongrass bottom half (5 to blend, 5 to bruised)

5cm of ginger knob, peeled

5cm of galangal, peeled

15 dried chilies, soaked in boiling water

800 gm topside beef, sliced

½ kilo of coconut milk

80g of kerisik/desiccated coconut (store brought)

1 tablespoon of turmeric powder

1 teaspoon of cumin powder

2 turmeric leaves, sliced

2 kaffir lime leaves, sliced

2 pieces of dried tamarind skin/peel

½ cup of water

Salt

Palm sugar/brown sugar

First, blend the ingredients to make a spice paste. Heat oil in a large heavy based pot over medium heat. Stir in the spice paste, bruised lemongrass and sugar. Cook until the oil separates. Then add the beef and water, simmer until dry. Once dried, stir in coconut milk, desiccated coconut, tamarind skin and salt. Put on the lid and simmer for 1 ½ to 2 hours. Stir occasionally to avoid burning the sauce. The curry should be in a thick consistency coating the beef, however in my case I prefer it to be less dry, so feel free to adjust accordingly. Finally, add the kaffir lime leaves and turmeric leaves, cook for 3 minutes and remove from heat. Serve with rice, chapatti or bread.

Assam Pelai (Tangy Fish Curry)

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This Malaysian tangy, slightly sweet and spicy fish curry recipe will make your taste buds dance. The va-va-voom of this dish comes from the torch ginger flower. Known as bunga kantan in Malay, Malaysians use this flirtatious blushing red pinkish flower for curries, laksa and ulam/salads. For me, I like how it sounds in Thai – dalaa. Short, sweet and somehow a more appropriate name for this gorgeous herb. Split the flower bud and it will release an intriguing mix of delicate citrusy and peppery aroma.

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Bunga Kantan/Torch Ginger Flower
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Bunga Kantan/Torch Ginger Flower

 

Time to do the dishes. That is what you get for lodging longer than expected –  caught my mum sipping on her Bailey’s and happily left the dishes at the table. Pour moi.

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Tamarind Skin

 

Level: Kinda easy

(A)Blend:

10 dried chilies, soaked

6 red chilies

3 cloves of garlic

Galangal, 2cm

10 shallots, peeled & cut

½ tablespoon of belacan/dried shrimp paste

Fresh turmeric, 2cm

(B)

4 tablespoons of tamarind paste combine with 1 cup of water

Water

2 sprigs of laksa leaves/Vietnamese mint

1 bunga kantan/torch ginger flower, bud split

2 pieces of dried tamarind skin

2 stalks of lemongrass, slightly bruised

Threadfin fish or Mackerel, cleaned & cut

½ small pineapple, sliced

Salt

Sugar

Chicken stock granules/cube

Garnish: Mint leaves.

First, blend everything in (A). Then gently combine the curry paste, water, lemongrass, laksa leaves, tamarind juice and tamarind skin in a pot over a medium heat. Bring to a boil, then gently simmer on a low heat for 15 minutes or so. Stir in pineapple slices and simmer for 10 minutes. Add in fish and season to taste. Simmer until fish is cooked. Garnish with mint leaves and serve with rice.

Ayam Masala (Masala Chicken)

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Malaysians love curries. Hence, it is no secret I love to make curries and of course my obsession of admiring the curry lusciously simmering away, doesn’t matter if it is Thai or Malaysian, hhmmm the curry connection that can sharpen your senses!

Spices and ingredients are essential to create a good curry base but it is also obvious that in most Asian kitchens, the meat is usually cooked on the bone to get the incredible depth of flavour on the curry. So here, I strongly suggest that you might cook the chicken with bones on for this chicken masala recipe. And, the idea of wrapping your fingers around the bones is so satisfying, some days you need to set your table manners aside.

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Level: Easy

Marinade:

1 tablespoon of garam masala

1 tablespoon of coriander powder

2 teaspoons of chili powder

½ a chicken, skinless & cut into bite-size

4 tablespoons of Ghee/Vegetable oil

3 green chilies, seeded & chopped

2 cloves

2 cardamom pods

1 big onion, peeled & diced

3 cloves of garlic, peeled & minced

150 ml of evaporated milk

2 tablespoons of tomato puree

Salt

Black pepper

Sugar (optional)

Plain yoghurt

Water

Garnish: Coriander leaves

Marinade the chicken with the spices, set aside for 15 minutes.

In a large pot over a medium heat, add ghee/vegetable oil, garlic, onions, cloves, green chilies and cardamoms and cook until onions are soft. Stir in the chicken and cook until fragrant. Add in tomato puree, evaporated milk and a little water. Simmer until the curry thickens. Season with salt and pepper. Add in yoghurt and coriander leaves. Continue to cook until curry is thick. Turn off the heat. Garnish with coriander leaves and chilies. Serve with rice or bread.

Gulai Lemak Ketam Bersama Nanas (Chef Wan’s Crab & Pineapple Curry)

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Chef Wan is one of Malaysia’s most beloved chefs, known for his bubbly and overexcited personality, he really inspires me when a bottle of bubbly doesn’t work for me sometimes.

I am always in awe by his amazing culinary knowledge of Malaysia’s culture of food and cooking. Because Malaysia’s food is particularly complex and diverse, his ability to articulate meticulously on the art of cooking and our history makes him even more admirable.

One chilling confession – me hosting Malaysia’s late-night eats with Chef Wan TV series was what I dreamt of the other night, this must be Chef Wan’s spiciest nightmare.

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Here is a glimpse of Chef Wan’s gulai lemak ketam bersama nanas (crab and pineapple curry) I’ve made, a Malay recipe taken from his The Best of Chef Wan Taste of Malaysia cookbook. Expect a well-balanced and aromatic crab curry dish from the creaminess of the coconut milk, the earthy paste of turmeric with chilies and the slight tanginess of both the pineapple and dried sour fruit.

Level: Easy

Bird’s eye chilies (cili padi) 30, seeded

Fresh turmeric, 3 cm knob, peeled

Coconut milk, 4 cups

Pineapple ½, peeled and sliced

Dried sour fruit/tamaring peel (asam gelugor), 3 pieces

Sugar, 1 teaspoon

Salt

Turmeric leaves 2, shredded

Crabs 3/1 kg, cleaned and halved

Pound the bird eye’s chilies and turmeric to a paste or blend. Put paste in a pot together with coconut milk and pineapple. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Add dried sour fruit, sugar, salt and turmeric leaves. When gravy comes to the boil, add in the crabs and cook for a further 5 minutes or until crabs are cooked. Serve warm with rice.

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Sandwich

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Asian style pulled pork in a baguette. A heart-warming sandwich that is guaranteed to please the crowd. Pork shoulder snuggling together with soy sauce, brown sugar, five-spice powder, fish sauce and chili flakes in the slow cooker for 8 hours. The slow cooker will marry the flavours and will deliver an amazing deeply flavourful, tasty and tender meat. Perfect no-fuss recipe that all you just need to do is get yourself a drink and prepare yourself to shred the pork and have fun assembling your sandwich. Un-bee-table.

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Level: Easy

Pulled pork:

600g of boneless pork shoulder, rind removed

5 tablespoons of soy sauce/tamari

1/2 a tablespoon of fish sauce

1 tablespoon of chili flakes

1 tablespoon of five-spice powder

4-5 garlic cloves, finely chopped

4 cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled & finely chopped

2 tablespoons of brown sugar

Half cup of water/chicken broth

Baguette

Fresh salad:

Carrots, shredded

Cucumber, shredded

Purple cabbage, shredded

Fresh coriander leaves

Lime wedges

Mayonnaise (optiona)

Combine the pork and all the ingredients in a slow cooker and massage the mixture all over the pork. Cover the slow cooker with the lid and cook on low for 8 – 10 hours. Skim the fats off. Close to serving time, prepare the fresh salad. Once the pork is ready, shred with two forks. If you like to serve with the sauce, cook the sauce in a pan on high heat for 10 minutes until reduced or thickened slightly. Build your sandwich with fresh salad, lime wedge, sprinkle with black pepper and top with mayonnaise if you like!

Thai Style Baked Fish With Herbs

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You knew your mum meant serious business when she invited her friends over for a Sunday lunch at home but you are the one cooking. This recipe is incredible, a simple Thai roasted fish with fresh herbs is the perfect dish as you can cook and stay sane to entertain your guests. As we all know, Thai food is anything but bland, so you need zingy, garlicky and spicy Thai dipping seafood sauce to tickle your taste buds while enjoying the fish. As for the vegetable dish on the side, I will share the recipe on the next post.

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This recipe is so simple and faultless that if you mess this recipe, you basically ruined Christmas or Chinese New Year reunion dinner in my situation. For a more authentic approach, banana leaves are used but you can substitute with baking paper or foil. Absolutely healthy, delicious and a proper sharing meal for family and friends.

Level: Easy

1 kilogram of snapper fish

4 stalks of lemongrass, bruised (lower white half)

10 – 12 kaffir lime leaves, bruised

2 limes, sliced

Sea salt

Black pepper

2 tablespoons of vegetable oil

6 shallots, peeled and sliced

Banana leaves / baking paper

Garnish:

2 stalks of lemongrass, sliced finely (lower white half)

1 lime juice

1 teaspoon of fish sauce

Half handful of peanuts

Few sprigs of coriander leaves, chopped

Thai seafood dipping sauce:

Handful of coriander leaves, with stems and roots

Half a cup of syrup (sugar dissolved in boiling water)

Half a cup of green bird’s eye chilies

Half a cup of fresh lime juice

3 to 4 garlic, peeled & sliced

2 – 3 tablespoons of fish sauce

Preheat the oven to 200c. For the fish, place the fish on a baking paper or banana leaves. Rub the fish with sea salt and black pepper all over. Fill the cavity of the fish with lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and lime slices. Then, drizzle oil on the fish and bake for 15-20 minutes until cooked through, depending on the size of the fish.

For the seafood dipping sauce, blend everything and season to taste.

For the garnish, combine everything on a bowl and set aside.

Once fish is cooked, garnish and serve with rice.

Shrimp Pasta With White Wine & Tomatoes

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I am happiest when I am home! If you grew up by the beach like I did, you know the feeling of being close to the sea. Walking barefoot on a beach, admiring the waves carelessly drenching the sand and whiffing the fresh crisp salty air which gives an instant deep sense of relaxation mode until I saw my bikini that I’ve been neglecting all year since last December. *gulp*

Perhaps some therapeutic cooking moment for my family will do for now. Shrimp pasta with white wine and tomatoes that’s is. Bliss!

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Level: Easy

Spaghetti, cooked al dente, drained

Olive oil

6 small shallots, chopped finely

3 cloves of garlic (I used 4, it’s always a garlic feast at home)

1 tablespoon of paprika

1 teaspoon of chili powder

Sea salt

Black pepper

1 cup of cream, preferably heavy cream

1 cup of white wine

4 tablespoons of pasta water

8 large shrimps, peeled and deveined

1 cup of cherry tomatoes, sliced

1 bunch of fresh parsley

In a large skillet over a medium heat, add olive oil. Stir in the garlic, shallots and tomatoes. Cook until onions are translucent. Add paprika and chili flakes. Add a dash of salt and pepper. Stir for about 2 minutes. Then, pour in the white wine. Slowly add the cream and pasta water and cook for 1 minute. Add the shrimps, stir until the shrimps cook through before putting in the pasta. Toss and coat well for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Stir in fresh parsley before serving.

Gorgeous Georgian

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Didn’t know I can taste happiness until I was completely slayed by Georgian food. I had my first bite of Georgian cuisine last year in Holland and it has romanced me ever since. This recent trip back to the Netherlands and by the end of my vacay, we breezed our way to this all-familiar Georgian restaurant.

The food from Georgia (former Soviet republic, a country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia) were built for food enthusiasts. It is the texture, then the intense flavours of Georgian fascinating dishes using lots of walnuts, spices, cheese, herbs, beans and sour plums – a true mix of European and Middle Eastern that gave me food coma. Comfort food with steroids.

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Source: http://www.hotels-europe.com/info-countries/georgia/map.htm

We had own intimate supra (feast led by a toastmaster in Georgian) in Suhumi located at Elandstraat in The Hague. Although situated in an unassuming street, Suhumi is rather warm and welcoming. The feel of the dining area makes you want to linger in the place perhaps the friendliness of the staff or the eye catching brightly-lit bar, it doesn’t matter really because I do like the setting! Just like most restaurants offering national food from the former Soviet Union, Suhumi’s menu includes dishes such as Borscht and Olivier.

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This is the time when I allow myself to overindulge in Acharuli Kachapuri (cheese and egg-stuffed bread).

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Acharuli Kachapuri

Then I suffocated myself with heaps of Badrijai Nigvzit (eggplant walnut rolls).

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Badrijai Nigvzit

I was struggling but I had to sample this vegetarian dish Ajapsandali (eggplant stew).

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Ajapsandali

Even the faint hearted would love the Kuchmachi – a traditional Georgian dish of chicken hearts, gizzards and walnuts with pomegranate seeds for topping. Also because it is cooked right.

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Kuchmachi

Lobios Pkhali, hearty but healthy dish (green bean and walnut salad). Too delicious for me to refrain myself from eating.

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Lobios Pkhali

And the highlight of that night, Bazhe Baje– a typical Georgian dish of chicken in walnut paste served cold. It doesn’t look visually appetizing but it was uh-mazingly delicious.

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Bazhe Baje

And of course no visit to a Georgian restaurant would be complete without the Khinkali. If you are familiar with the Shangainese xiao long bao, then you know the first bite is definitely an explosive mess. However, unlike xiao long bao, you are not to eat the top handle of the Georgian dumpling. Here, you need to handle your dumpling with full care.

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Khinkali

If you think it’s a lot to take in, you certainly need a glass of Georgian wine. Georgian wine is, surprisingly likable especially for a curious drinker like myself and most of all, exceptionally divine! If you are feasting on Georgian cuisine, don’t forget to include Georgian wine, which is part of the culture too. Some Georgian wines are highly unique, so special that Georgia’s traditional winemaking technique (qvevri method) is listed in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists. The qvevri is basically a large traditional clay jar used for making and ageing the wine.

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Qvevris Rkatsiteli 2013

We had a bottle of Qvevris Rkatsiteli 2013 to take it all in.

Hmmmm…… now where can I get Sulguni cheese in Vietnam?

Gaengsom – Thai Sour Curry (Southern Style)

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My all-time favourite southern Thai curry – fiery, sour-y, turmeric based curry with a hint of sweetness from the pineapples chunks. Completely healthy as no oil nor coconut milk is needed for this Thai recipe! So, gaeng means curry and som means sour in this context. Generally, som means orange or orange colour in Thai.

I am ecstatically happy when my bestie in Holland wanted me to cook gaengsom for her, though I am on a #vacay but love her too much and my gaengsom too …so why not?! It is certainly our domestic routine now each time I get to see my bae!

This curry recipe is my rockstar recipe I suppose, the down south kinda recipe straight outta my grandmother’s gritty untouched village in south of Thailand. Google and you can see there are different versions of making gaengsom from the central to the south of Thailand but my grandmother’s recipe is more gutsy and spunky because the use of lemongrass, tamarind juice/pulp (instead of lime juice) and surprisingly no fish sauce.

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There was one time when I was visiting a friend’s place just outside of Bangkok – I was a bit annoyed with her, instead of handing me a glass whiskey to greet me, she quickly gave me her pestle and mortar, inappropriately forcing me to pound the gaengsom ingredients for our dinner that night. I was about to question her Thai manners but found out there was no lemongrass in her gaengsom curry paste. Now, her manners can wait but no lemongrass in gaengsom –  is absolutely unacceptable. Let me assure you, I am not a curry snob. #justsayin

That was also the day where my lack of manners friend and I learnt the many ways of making gaengsom. In conclusion, we both wholeheartedly agreed that her hosting manners needs a tweak and lemongrass in gaengsom is a hell of a must. #mygaengsomtastesbetterthanyours

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*Today I am using seabass, any white flesh sea fish can be used in this recipe. Try not to use any other seafood except for fish. Normally I prefer not to fry my fish but certainly, if requested like in this case my bestie wants her fish fried bathing in gaengsom. Fried fish in gaengsom is quite common too.

Level: You will survive

Fried sea bass / fresh fish

8 dried red chilies, soaked with water

8 fresh red chilies

5 – 6 bird eye’s chilies

Fresh turmeric, 3 finger sized pieces

3 – 4 stalks of lemongrass only the bottom half, sliced

1 head garlic, peeled

3 – 4 shallots, peeled

Half a cup of tamarind juice/pulp

1 tablespoon of shrimp paste

Salt

1 tablespoon of palm sugar / brown sugar

2 – 3 cups of fish stock / water

Watermelon rind / starfruit / unripe papaya (optional)

Pineapples (fresh/tinned – optional)

Morning glory (optional)

First, make the curry paste. Blend or pound the garlic, turmeric, shallots, dried chillies, fresh chillies and lemongrass. Add a bit of water, blend until pureed. Mix with the shrimp paste.

On a pot over a low heat, sauté the paste gently for less than a minute, careful not to burn the paste. Add 2 cups of fish stock / water. Bring to a boil, stir in tamarind juice and sugar. Add morning glory, pineapple or any desired vegetables. Season with salt. Once the vegetables are cooked, add fresh fish fillets. Do not stir the curry, bring it to a gentle simmer until fish is cooked.

Season to taste, the curry should be sour, slightly salty and sweet and definitely spicy.

In this case as I am using fried fish, I gently pour the gaengsom all over the fish. Serve with rice and eat immediately as you want to avoid sogginess of the fish.