Recipes from Malaysia


So yes, shrimp paste. Now, here's a funny thing about shrimp paste, I really, really hate how it smells, and I hate working with it, but it's not actually that bad in stuff. There, I said it. It's a little bit like a really stinky cheese in that if you can just get past how it smelled when the food was cooking, it's actually almost enjoyable to eat.
Of course, I have never personally been able to get past the cheese stink in order to actually like eating stinky cheese, but that might have something to do with the fact that I once read that stinky cheese smells like someone's dirty feet because the bacteria in it is literally descended from the stinky feet of monks who used to press the cheese curds with--you guessed it--their stinky, unwashed feet. I guess I really don't care that those were unwashed feet from centuries ago, because that still has a seriously huge ew factor.

Wait, how did I get off on a stinky cheese tangent? Oh yeah, shrimp paste. Before I head off into that direction again, let me just tell you what recipes I chose for our culinary trip to Malaysia.
Beef Rendang. A flavorful beef dish that does not have any shrimp paste in it.
Nasi Goreng.  A fried rice dish that does have shrimp paste in it.
Pineapple Cookies. Modestly entitled "Best-Ever Pineapple Cookies," which might come pretty close to actually deserving that title, though I admittedly don't have any other pineapple cookie recipe to compare them to.
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Recipes from Malaysia: Beef Rendang


I was really looking forward to this dish, because it had such an interesting combination of flavors, plus it was totally devoid of shrimp paste. It didn't disappoint me, although my fat-hating husband thought differently. Short ribs, of course, are a pretty fatty cut so if you're like him you could probably make this with a leaner meat. There would be a slight hit to the authenticity of the dish, but I'm thinking that there's probably such a thing as someone in Malaysia who has made Beef Rendang with a piece of sirloin instead of short ribs, and I honestly don't think you'll notice much difference beyond the lesser degree of fat.

Here's how you make it:

First, you need galangal. You can buy this stuff dried but I seem to recall it's exorbitantly expensive--I happened to find some at the co-op this time, though they don't always carry it. If your grocery store has it it's probably going to be near the ginger and lemongrass. It looks a little bit like peeled ginger and it's usually kept in water.

Once you have your galangal, chop it up roughly along with some shallots, lemongrass, garlic, ginger and dried, soaked red chili peppers. Put everything into a food processor and blend into a paste.

Now heat the oil in a wok or frying pan and add the paste. Drop in the cinnamon, cloves, star anise and cardamom. Fry until fragrant.
Add the beef and some white ends of lemongrass that you've mercilessly pounded flat (this helps the flavor get into the stock). Stir for a minute or so, then add the coconut milk, tamarind and water. Turn the heat to medium and cook until the meat is close to being done.
Add the kaffir lime leaves, coconut flakes and palm sugar and stir until blended.
Reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer for 60 to 90 minutes or until the meat is tender and the sauce has thickened. Add salt to taste and serve.

There were a lot of complex flavors in this recipe, and I really liked it. I was the odd man out, though. I actually do think it would be worth doing again, as I said, with a different cut of meat, because the flavor profile was pretty interesting and unique. You can decide for yourself which cut to use, but I don't think you'll be disappointed with the results (unless you're terrified of fat, like some people I know).

Here's the printable recipe:




Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pound boneless beef short ribs, cut into cubes
  • 5 tbsp oil
  • 1 2-inch cinnamon stick
  • 3 cloves
  • 3 star anise
  • 3 cardamom pods
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, cut into 4-inch lengths and pounded flat
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tsp tamarind pulp, soaked in some warm water
  • 6 kaffir lime leaves, finely sliced
  • 6 tbsp toasted coconut
  • 1 tbsp palm sugar or to taste
  • Salt to taste
  • 5 shallots
  • 1 inch galangal (I got mine at the co-op; if they have it you can find it kept in water next to the ginger)
  • 3 stalks lemongrass, white part only
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 inch ginger
  • 10 to 12 dried chilies, soaked in warm water and deseeded

Instructions

  1. Roughly chop the shallots, galangal, (unpounded) lemongrass, garlic, ginger and dried chilies. Put them all into a food processor and blend into a paste.
  2. Heat the oil and add the paste with the cinnamon, cloves, star anise and cardamom. Fry until fragrant.
  3. Now add the beef and the pounded lemongrass. Stir for a minute or so, then add the coconut milk, tamarind and water. Turn the heat to medium and cook until the meat is close to being done.
  4. Add the kaffir lime leaves, coconut flakes and palm sugar and stir until blended.
  5. Reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer for 60 to 90 minutes or until the meat is tender and the sauce has thickened. Add salt to taste and serve.
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Recipes from Malaysia: Nasi Goreng


Here it is, the shrimp paste recipe of the week. Now, I've just spent a whole lot of time telling you how awful shrimp paste is, but it's really just a smell thing. It's not so bad to eat, but I honestly wouldn't blame you if you left it out.
If you have to order your shrimp paste, and it arrives, and you smell it ... don't throw it out and order another one. No, you did not get a spoiled batch. It is supposed to smell like that.

With that in mind, here is the recipe (Note that the original version called for a small chicken breast and 12 oz of prawns, which I left out becasue I was making it as a side dish. I did find other Nasi Goreng recipes that didn't include meat, so I felt like it was still authentic.):

First mix the kecap manis, soy sauce and sweet chili sauce together and set aside. I actually have a bottle of kecap manis left over from another blog meal, but you can also make it from scratch by boiling a half cup sugar with 3 tbsp water, a half cup soy sauce, one star anise and one crushed garlic clove (discard the garlic and anise pod after boiling).
Heat 1 tsp of the oil in a frying pan or wok over high heat. Add about a quarter of the beaten egg to the pan and swirl it around until it coats the entire pan. Cook for 30 seconds or until the egg is completely set. Remove from the pan and repeat until you have four really thin omelets. Let cool, then roll them up and slice thinly.
Heat up the rest of the oil in the wok or frying pan. Add the onion, sambal olek (A spicy chili paste--if you can't find it in the ethnic foods section of your local supermarket, you can buy it on Amazon.com), garlic, shrimp paste and carrot. Laugh as your kids start running desperately around the house like trapped rodents, screaming "What is that SMELL???"
Fry for a minute or so, or until stinky I mean fragrant. Add the rice, sauce mixture, green onions and cabbage. Keep cooking for three or four more minutes until the rice is heated through. Toss with half the omelet, and then put the other half on top with the fried shallots and sliced chiles.

So yeah, it wasn't awful. I didn't eat the leftovers, though, so I guess like stinky cheese I wasn't able to get completely past the shrimp paste thing. If you're still on the fence about whether or not you should make this with shrimp paste, ask yourself how you feel about stinky cheese. If you hate the smell but love the taste, I think you'll be OK with shrimp paste too. I can't really promise anything when it comes to the rest of your family, though.

Here's the printable recipe:


Ingredients

  • 2 cups long-grain rice, rinsed
  • 2 1/2 tbsp kecap manis
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp sweet chili sauce (I used Mai Ploy)
  • 1/4 cup peanut oil
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp sambal olek
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 1 tsp shrimp paste
  • 1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 small Chinese cabbage, shredded
  • 1/4 cup fried shallots
  • Thinly sliced red chili peppers

Instructions

  1. Cook the rice just as you would usually cook it. Drain and let cool, then move to the refrigerator for a couple of hours.
  2. Now mix the kecap mais, soy sauce and sweet chili sauce together and set aside.
  3. Heat 1 tsp of the oil in a frying pan or wok over high heat. Add about a quarter of the beaten egg to the pan and swirl it around until it coats the entire pan. Cook for 30 seconds or until the egg is completely set. Remove from the pan and repeat until you have four really thin omelets. Let cool, then roll them up and slice thinly.
  4. Heat up the rest of the oil in the wok or frying pan. Add the onion, sambal olek, garlic, shrimp paste and carrot.
  5. Fry for a minute or so, or until fragrant. Add the rice, sauce mixture, green onions and cabbage. Keep cooking for three or four more minutes until the rice is heated through. Toss with half the omelet, and then put the other half on top with the fried shallots and sliced chiles.
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Recipes from Malaysia: Pineapple Cookies


For my kids, blog night is only worth doing if there's some dessert involved. Of course they feel that way about every meal, which is why most of them hardly ever eat anything (I'm a Dessert on Special Occasions Only kind of gal). Blog night is sometimes a special occasion, and since I was pretty sure that they weren't going to like either of the main dishes I decided to throw them a bone with these little pineapple cookies.
I'll just say up front: theses things are yummy. Now, you could go to all the trouble of making the pineapple filling but I'll be quite honest with you, you could easily make these with some store-bought pineapple jam and I'm pretty sure they would come close to being just as delicious. Making the filling is really the most time consuming part of the process.

Here's how:

First you have to trim the pineapple. Now, you could probably use canned pineapple too, but you didn't hear that from me. If you're using a fresh pineapple, make sure you've removed all those little brown specs and hairs, because you don't want those in your cookies. 

Now chop up the pineapple and put it in a food processor. Process until it's a smooth puree.

Put the pineapple puree into a non-stick pan and cook over medium heat. You can add some whole cloves at this point too, but I didn't, because I hate cloves. This is really just like making jam: you need to keep stirring it to stop it from burning. You want most of the moisture to cook off--when the puree is almost dry, add sugar and lemon juice and stir to combine.

Reduce heat to simmer and keep stirring until the pineapple filling turns a lovely golden color. It should be really sticky.
Transfer to a bowl, remove the cloves (if using) and chill for a half hour.

Cream the butter and milk together until fluffy. Add the egg yolks and beat gently until combined, but don't go overboard or the eggs will curdle.
Add flour and stir gently until you have a soft dough.

Mix the remaining egg yolk with the 1/8 tsp condensed milk and 1/4 tsp oil. Set aside.

So now you're going to divide the dough and the filling up into 50 portions. That's right, these things are pretty small. First roll the dough pieces up into balls.
Take one of the balls and flatten it with the palm of your hand. Add one portion of the pineapple filling to the center.
Now fold up the edges to form a little packet. Then gently roll the packet into a ball. Repeat until you're out of balls and filling

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and put all the balls on the sheet. Cut a little criss-cross pattern into each cookie with the back of a knife, and then brush with the egg wash.
Bake at 330 degrees for 20 to 33 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool before serving. Post guards to protect from your children.
I probably don't have to tell you how much my kids liked these (Martin and I did, too). Really, as far as they were concerned, it made having to smell the shrimp paste all worthwhile. In fact I made this meal more than a month ago, and they still dream about pineapple cookies. My oldest daughter was watching me put this post together and when she saw the photo, she said, "Can you make those tonight?" Haha. As if I'll ever have time to make these from scratch again! Maybe on her birthday?

Here's the printable version of the recipe:


Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 1/2 tbsp sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour or plain flour
  • 1 whole pineapple, trimmed
  • 1/4 tbsp whole cloves (optional)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/8 tsp condensed milk
  • 1/4 tsp oil

Instructions

  1. First make sure you've removed all those little brown specs and hairs from the pineapple, because you don't want those in your cookies. Now chop up the pineapple and put it in a food processor. Process until it's a smooth puree.
  2. Put the pineapple puree and cloves (if using) into a non-stick pan and cook over medium heat. Keep stirring or it will burn. You want most of the moisture to cook off--when the puree is almost dry, add the sugar and lemon juice and stir to combine.
  3. Reduce heat to simmer and keep stirring until the pineapple filling turns a lovely golden color. It should be really sticky.
  4. Transfer to a bowl, remove the cloves and chill for a half hour.
  5. Cream the butter and milk together until fluffy. Add the egg yolks and beat gently until combined, but don't go overboard or the eggs will curdle.
  6. Add the flour and stir gently until you have a soft dough.
  7. Mix the remaining egg yolk with the 1/8 tsp condensed milk and 1/4 tsp oil. Set aside.
  8. So now you're going to divide the dough and the filling up into 50 portions. That's right, these things are pretty small. Roll the dough pieces up into balls, then flatten. Add one portion of the pineapple filling to the center and fold up the edges to form a little packet. Then gently roll the packet into a ball.
  9. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and put all the balls on the sheet. Cut a little criss-cross pattern into each cookie with the back of a knife, and then brush with the egg wash.
  10. Bake at 330 degrees for 20 to 33 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool before serving.
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Where is Malaysia?


My arch nemesis showed up again this week, you remember him, right? That's right, shrimp paste. 
Shrimp paste is awesome in its smelly disgustingness and it's ability to make my children lose their freaking minds. I love shrimp paste, because I hate it so, so much, which makes it one of the world's most entertaining ingredients.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Photo by  Luke Zeme Photography.
For details about the latest battle in my war against smelly things that people like to eat, you'll have to come back in a few days. Today, I'm mainly just going to talk about the nation that helped to perpetuate the obscenity of shrimp paste in my life (this week): Malaysia.
In terms of population density, Malaysia is a good-sized nation in Southeast Asia, the 44th most populous country in the world, in fact, with more than 30 million shrimp paste eating people residing there (sorry, I'll stop now). It shares a land border with Thailand and maritime borders with Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines. The southernmost point of continental Eurasia is in Malaysia, though the southernmost point of Eurasia overall (including islands) is actually in Indonesia.
Some cool facts about Malaysia: it's one of only 17 designated "megadiverse" nations in the world, which means that it is one of only a few countries that harbor that majority of Earth's species, kind of like how only a few people harbor the majority of the world's wealth, you know. That fact is made somewhat less cool when you learn that the US is also one of the world's 17 megadiverse nations, or maybe more cool depending on your perspective. I guess I don't really think of the US as being particularly megadiverse since the same five species keep showing up on my trail cam every week.
Malaysia is a pretty forward thinking place: the state religion is Islam, but non-Muslims have the freedom to practice, too. The government is a lot like the British government except that the king is an elected official (chosen from a pool of the hereditary monarchs that rule each of nine Malaysian states, which sadly means that regular people can't "run for king.") Like England, Malaysia also has a prime minister.
There are three major ethnic groups in Malaysia: Malays, Chinese and Indians, which means that the cuisine is heavily influenced by all three traditions. There's also influence from Indonesia, Thailand, Portugal and Britain, which really makes the food pretty wonderfully diverse and interesting.

Of course, there's the shrimp paste thing, too. Check back for details. 
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Recipes from Malawi


I must have been in the mood for simple food this week, because I did enjoy our culinary journey into the little nation of Malawi. Now I say "simple" but these recipes weren't simple in taste--yes, the ingredients were basic, but they were still a nice combination of flavors.

Fish is really important to Malawian cuisine--remember from my last post that 1/3rd of Malawi's area is occupied by a lake. But I just didn't find a whole lot of fish options online (I know there have to be some out there, but I didn't have any luck) and with only one exception my kids hate fish anyway, so I settled on a chicken dish and, just because I did need some small way to torture my children, that cornmeal porridge stuff that everyone hates.

Here are the recipes I chose:
Nkhuku Ya Sabola. Spiced chicken curry made with tomatoes and potatoes.
Nsima.  A polenta-like porridge made from cornmeal and butter.
Banana fritters. Yes, something deep fried. Because I really needed the calories.
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Recipes from Malawi: Nkhuku Ya Sabola (Spiced Chicken Curry)


So let's face it, any recipe with the word "curry" in the title is going to be tasty by default, because, you know, curry. Of course the funny thing about Indian curry is it almost never has actual curry powder in it--or if it does, it's really a mixture of spices you put together in your own kitchen, which sort of fall under a generic umbrella of "curry" spices. Lots of other nations, though, make curries that get most of their flavor from a pre-mixed commercial curry powder, which is true for this Malawian chicken.

Like many African recipes, this one is simple to make and has only a handful of ingredients (recipe below).
First, season the chicken with salt and fry in oil over medium heat until browned on all sides. Remove from the heat and transfer to a large pot.

If there's any excess oil, pour it off and then use the remaining oil to saute the the onions.
When the onions are translucent, add the tomatoes, chili pepper, thyme and curry powder.
Cook the spices until fragrant, then add the water and stock. Bring to a boil, then transfer to the pot with the chicken. Let simmer uncovered for 45 minutes. Add the potato cubes and cook for another 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Season with a little more salt and pepper and serve.

I enjoyed this recipe, though my kids of course were ho-hum as they always are about anything that contains, you know, actual vegetables. So they spent a lot of time removing each individual little bit of onion, tomato and potato and then picked at the rest and asked me when dessert would be ready. That's OK, I'm used to it. At least Martin and I enjoyed our meals.


Nkhuku Ya Sabola (Spiced Chicken Curry)

from Ayileche


Ingredients

  • 1 lb chicken, skin on
  • Salt to taste
  • 3 to 5 tbsp oil
  • 3 onions, chopped
  • 5 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tbsp curry
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, chopped fine
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. First, season the chicken with salt and fry in oil over medium heat until browned on all sides. Remove from the heat and add to a large pot.
  2. If there's any excess oil, pour it off and then use the remaining oil to saute the the onions. When the onions are translucent, add the tomatoes, chili pepper, thyme and curry powder.
  3. Cook the spices until fragrant, then add the water and stock. Bring to a boil, then transfer to the pot with the chicken. Let simmer uncovered for 45 minutes. Add the potato cubes and cook for another 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Season with a little more salt and pepper and serve.
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