Khua Kling (Southern Thai Dry Curry)

There’s nothing subtle about khua kling, and the fact that it’s unsuspecting from the outside but a culinary killer inside puts a smile to my face each time just by looking at it. One reason. I spiced up my dad’s life at the age of 7, he was so sure I couldn’t take the excessive heat (I remember he was quite furious that mum was nonchalant about it) but I enjoyed every bit of it and moreover, mum was highly entertained by my culinary behaviour.

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Khua kling represents true Southern Thai style dish, fierce and tongue-numbing spicy. I’d describe it as a bit of a show off as in comparison to other Southern Thai dishes because of the significant amount of spice being used in this recipe. As such, it is usually accompanied with cool, fresh vegetables. My god mum from Bangkok will dine with us every now and then and knows she ain’t getting any preferential treatment from my family when khua kling is served. Not an insult, but Southern Thais in my opinion tolerate intense spice better than Bangkokians. This one here, trust me, you gotta need lots and lots of rice and a good temper to enjoy it. I dare you because khua kling has a class of its own.

Level: Easy

(A) 500 grams of ground pork (substitute with other meats if you’d like)

10 kaffir lime leaves (7 for cooking, 3 for garnishing on top)

1 red chilli, sliced for garnishing

2 stalks of bottom half lemongrass removing outermost layers, sliced thinly

Fish sauce

Salt

1 teaspoon of ground turmeric

1 teaspoon of palm sugar or ½ teaspoon of brown sugar

(B) Southern Thai Curry Paste (Gaeng Ped):

18 dried red bird’s eye chilies (soaked in warm water until soft)

Small handful of bird’s eye chilies

2 tablespoons of shrimp paste

2 heads of garlic, peeled

3 inches of fresh turmeric, peeled

3 inches of galangal, peeled

8 small shallots, peeled

2 tablespoons of black peppercorns or coarsely ground

2 tablespoons of coriander roots or stems

6 stalks of lemongrass bottom half removing outermost layers, sliced

½ kaffir lime rind

Blend all the curry paste (B) ingredients. On a pan/wok over a medium heat fry 3 tablespoons of the spice paste and 1 tablespoon of ground meat for 3 minutes or until fragrant. Then add the rest of the meat. As this is a dry curry, no oil is needed but you need to keep stirring until there’s no moisture and also to avoid burning. Stir fry the pork until fine pieces then add the lemongrass. Stir in palm sugar, ground turmeric and fish sauce. Season to taste. Add in the kaffir lime leaves and cook for another 2 minutes. Take off from heat, sprinkle with more kaffir lime leaves and red chili. Serve with fresh vegetables (cucumber, cabbage, long beans, basil leaves etc).

*Note: The Southern Thai curry paste otherwise known as gaeng ped is also used in other dishes like southern Thai chicken/pork curry (gaeng ped gai/moo) and stinky beans with prawns.

Yum Woon Sen (Glass Noodle Salad)

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When I was younger, I’ve never had the pleasure of enjoying yum woon sen because it has never made an appearance at home. I guess every family has their classics and in my home, yum woon sen wasn’t the most wanted as we favoured notorious dish like nam phrik kapi (shrimp paste chili dip) and raw vegetables as our salad.

Now as an adult, I’ve started to appreciate yum woon sen better maybe because familiarity with this Thai salad is on the rise, so when dining out friends are quick to order without any introduction. Yum refers to salad in Thai and woon sen means glass noodle.

Soooo, here’s there yummy recipe. The glossy slippery glass noodles with a voluptuous mix of aromatic Thai herbs infusing in the fish sauce, lime juice and sugar is easily likable and addictive! You will like it!

Level: Super Easy

Glass noodles, cooked according to package instructions

Shrimp, boiled

Squid, boiled & cut into rings

5 shallots, sliced thinly

2 tablespoons of bird’s eye chilies

1 small garlic, chopped finely

1 cup of Chinese celery leaves

1 handful of crushed roasted peanuts

½ cup of cherry tomatoes, halved

Yum dressing:

1 ½ tablespoons of sugar

2 tablespoons of fish sauce

2 ½ tablespoons of lime juice

Combine the yum dressing and stir. Season to taste, the dressing should be sour, spicy and slightly salty. Sugar here is to balance out the flavours. The sweetness is mainly from the cherry tomatoes.

In a salad bowl, combine the cooked glass noodles, shallots, garlic, cherry tomatoes, Chinese celery, shrimp and squid. Pour the dressing to the salad bowl and toss everything together. You can let it sit for a few minutes before serving. Sprinkle with peanuts before serving.

*Note: You can cut the glass noodles for easy serving. Yum woon sen can be served in room temperature or cold.

Spaghetti with sardines, chilies & olives

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It is not yet weekend, but mum’s friends are here lounging and being very much themselves unreservedly rowdy, creating a boisterous atmosphere after overdosing on caffeine, oh well we can still  live a little! There was a sudden eruption of laughter after witnessing a cute little squirrel taking an incredible acrobatic leap from my neighbour’s rooftop and landing gracefully on a tree branch. Guess the guests are here to stay…….

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To liven up our guests or to be a good host, I cooked spaghetti with sardines for lunch. Spaghetti with sardines is quintessentially a speedy meal as it is made up of canned sardines, bird’s eye chilies and jarred olives. I first made this dish when I came home tipsy and in a desperate need of carbs from a night out in St Kilda during my student days in Melbourne. Simple ingredients, mostly the bird’s eye chilies from my low budget kitchen, cured me that night. This recipe makes one of a hell snack on top of a toast too!

Level: Easy

Spaghetti (3 – 4 servings)

Olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 medium size shallot, minced

Black Kalamata olives, chopped

½ a cup of cherry tomatoes, halved

Basil leaves, chopped

2 tablespoons of bird eye’s chilies, chopped (1 tablespoon if you want it mild)

Salt

Black pepper

1 can of sardines in tomato sauce

Cook the spaghetti following pack instructions. Heat the oil in a pan and cook the onion for 1 minute. Add in sardines, chilies and garlic, cook for another 3 minutes. Add olives. Add the pasta and basil leaves to the pan, mix well. If the sauce seems too thick, add a bit of reserved pasta water. Season to taste. Sprinkle with fresh chopped basil leaves before serving if desired.

Tortilla Pizza

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The base is a store – bought tortilla wrap, how easy can it be? Healthy and simple pizza fix in less than 30 minutes

Level: Super Easy

Tortilla wrap

Olive oil

Tomato puree, homemade/store-bought

Black olives, sliced

Parmesan cheese, shaved

Fresh arugula

Black pepper

Chili flakes

Place baking tray in the oven and preheat to 200c. Use store-bought sauce or homemade sauce and spread it all over the base. Scatter over the Parmesan shavings. Arrange olives on the base. Season with black pepper and place on the hot baking tray. Cook for 10 minutes or until the base is crispy and cheese has melted. Once done, top with fresh arugula and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with black pepper and chili flakes.

Lemongrass & Pineapple Fish Noodle Soup

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It is the time of pre-festive season and my body is telling me that I need to recuperate. Knowing I have no tolerance for subtlety when it comes to food, enriching mum’s mildly-flavoured fish noodle soup with lemongrass, pineapples along with other aromatics is certainly the way to restore my strength. This is my kinda zen food. What’s yours?

Mum’s classic fish noodle soup is undeniably a killer, but why not pimpin’ it up if I can, a lil’ variation doesn’t hurt. Her version makes your life easier though, strictly using fresh ginger, crushed black peppercorns, carrots, fish and chicken bones to make the broth.

One useful tip to share with you, fish noodle soup or any soupy dishes should be enjoyed when it is hot. Firstly, most Asians are accustomed to consume their food hot/heated or even piping hot. Secondly, any soupy noodles are not to be left unattended to prevent sogginess. After all, who doesn’t like freshly cooked steaming dishes?

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Level: Easy

The soup:

1 litre water

2 – 3 fish bones

Chicken bones

4 stalks of lemongrass bottom half, bruised

½ medium size fresh pineapple, cut into wedges

1 big tomato

2 cm of ginger knob, peeled

2 cm of galangal, peeled

2 kaffir lime leaves, bruised

Black peppercorns, crushed

1 tablespoon of fish sauce

Salt

The Noodle & Garnish:

Vermicelli or any rice noodles

Fish fillet, sliced

Sesame oil

Vegetable oil

White pepper

Cornflour

3 – 4 cloves of garlic, minced & fried (to garnish)

Fresh herbs (basil leaves, coriander & mint)

Lime wedges

Bird eye’s chilies and soy sauce to dip

Put fish bones, chicken bones, galangal, ginger, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and pineapples in a pot. Pour in water over a medium heat with lid for 20 minutes. Add black peppercorns. Continue to boil for 45 minutes on a low heat. Add water if you must. Skim off impurities every now and then.

While the soup is simmering away, lightly coat the fish with 1 tablespoon of sesame oil, salt, white pepper and cornflour. In a frying pan add vegetable oil and garlic. Stir fry until garlic turns translucent. Then, set aside. Next, fry the fish fillets until golden brown. Set aside.

Once soup is ready, discard the aromatics and strain in a sieve. Pour the strained broth into the stock. Stir in tomatoes and fish sauce. Season to taste.

When ready for serving, make sure it is on high heat and the soup must be boiling hot before pouring the soup into your bowl of cooked noodles. Top with garlic oil. Serve with lime wedges and herbs on the side.

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.