My bad for not having written in so long. I did not get run over by a tractor, and if I did, you would be the first ones to know how much I appreciate a ‘get well’ card. No, I have not jumped off the cliff thinking about the Republican’s agenda on healthcare. No, I have not been captured by an alien from Mars (although that might seem quite calming), nor have I given up on blogging.
The truth is, I have been busy reorganizing my life with things that may seem ordinary, but actually, they mount up to a level of importance one should never dismiss. I needed some time off from blogging, so I could refocus my efforts on things to keep me fit and trim. I joined the yoga studio near my house, started practicing my dancing again, and have been hitting the gym hard. I let go of these activities since I came back from overseas last year, and now that it has taken a toll on me, both physically and mentally. It is time for some revamping. This does not mean you won’t see the delicious pictures and tasty recipes. It means that I am making a conscious effort to reorganize my life.
I recognize my recipes are by no means fat-free, and I make no apologies. I have decided that healthy eating is all about portion control and the use of best ingredients. I can shamelessly tell you that I am not one for diets or pills, or turning a new leaf when it comes to food. I never understood how lean cuisines and processed foods that contain a thousand chemicals made their way to the mainstream market. How and why butchers sell boneless meat is beyond my imagination. Then again, why would you consume fat-free milk? If there was a food police, diet preachers and their fat-free consumers alike should go to jail for life! FAT=FLAVOR. This I’m not willing to compromise, but I will eat smaller portions.
Last weekend, I marinated a slab of spare ribs in herbs and spices and made a sauce to accompany it. I love bone-in meats as they exude a ton of flavor. They have a layer of fat that increases the juiciness of the meat. After two hours, I opened the oven door to an explosion of fragrance. I sank my teeth into falling-off-the-bone meat, and it was succulent. What can I say? This is what you will not experience if you are a FAT-FREE person!
Braised Spareribs (Costine)
Herb and spice rub
2-3 garlic cloves
2-3 sage leaves, finely chopped
1-2 medium rosemary sprigs, leaves removed and finely chopped
4-5 sprigs of thyme, leaves removed and finely chopped
1 tablespoon (or more) of crushed red peppers
1 tablespoon of ground coriander
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon of ground fennel
Salt and pepper
For the Spareribs
3 lb. pork spareribs
For the sauce
1/2 a red onion finely diced
2-3 cloves of whole garlic
Crushed red pepper to taste
1 can of San Marzano crushed tomatoes (17 oz)
Worcestershire sauce to taste
Salt, sugar and pepper to taste
1) Combine the ingredients for the herb and spice rub. Rub the mixture over the ribs.
2) Drizzle some olive oil. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate overnight.
3) When you are ready to cook the ribs, preheat the oven to 350 and place the ribs in a roasting pan.
4) Roast until the ribs are well browned on all sides. Flip the ribs every 20 minutes. This should take about an hour and a half.
5) Deglaze the pan with white wine and continue cooking.
6) While the ribs are cooking, make the sauce.
7) Bring a saucepan to heat and pour in some oil.
8) Toss in the onions, garlic, and crushed peppers.
9) When the onions begin to brown slightly, pour in the can of tomatoes and Worcestershire sauce.
10) Reduce to a simmer and cook the sauce for 1/2 hour. Be careful with seasoning the sauce with salt and pepper: remember that the herb rub is already salty.
11) Pour the sauce over the ribs and return to the oven. Cover the pan and continue roasting the ribs until the sauce has completely evaporated. This should take another 40 minutes or until the meat is very tender.
12) If you have left over sauce, save it for later use or continue basting the ribs.
The title says Happy St. Patrick’s Day, and I am a day late, but what the heck, Erin go Bragh! I’m not Irish, but my boyfriend is, and what better way to celebrate St. Patrick’s day with the ultimate comfort food – shepherd’s pie? Many Irish-Americans swear by corn beef and cabbage as the traditional dish during St. Patrick’s day, but Andy suggests otherwise. He says corn beef and cabbage was never the traditional meal because beef was too expensive in Ireland. The meat of choice was pork or lamb.
The story of shepherd’s pie dates back as early as 14th century when potatoes were introduced to Europe by the Spanish. However, they did not make it to the British table until the early 19th century. Back then, anything foreign in Britain required speculation. Potatoes, which were considered food of the new world, were not favored during the reign of the Victorian empire in order to sustain the purity and norms of British cuisine.
Somehow, the rebellious nature of frugal peasant housewives in Northern England found creative ways to incorporate potatoes and leftover meats, and abandoned Victorian scrutiny. The choice of meat used was lamb, hence the name shepherd’s pie.
The Ultimate Shepherd’s Pie
Serves 4 people
For the filling
2 cloves of garlic minced
1 medium red onion, minced
1 large carrot diced
1 lb. ground lamb
1 teaspoon of rosemary chopped
1 teaspoon of thyme chopped
1 tablespoon of tomato paste
1/4 cup of beef or veal stock
1-2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce
1 cup of frozen peas
Salt and pepper to taste
1) Bring a medium-size pan to heat and pour in 1 tablespoon of oil.
2) Toss in the onions, garlic, carrots. Sauté until the carrots begin to soften.
3) Add the ground lamb to the pan along with the thyme and rosemary. Make a well in the center of the pan and add the tomato paste.
4) Mix the meat and the vegetables well.
5) Pour in the veal stock and add the Worcestershire sauce. Stir all the ingredients until the liquid is almost absorbed.
6) Add in the frozen peas.
7) Add salt and pepper to taste.
For the mash potatoes
3 Yukon gold potatoes
1 cup of heavy cream
1 tablespoon of butter
Salt and pepper to taste
1) Place the potatoes in a pot of water and bring to boil.
2) Once the potatoes are fork tender, remove from the pot and let cool.
3) Peel the skin off the potatoes and discard.
4) In a bowl, mash the potatoes, along with the butter, heavy cream, and salt and pepper.
Pour the ground meat and vegetables into a casserole or baking tray. Top the meat with the mashed potatoes and place it under the broiler for 15-20 minutes. Let rest for about 15 minutes before serving.
This morning was a revelation! That Bagna Cauda (the sauce I made a few days ago) left me with a trembling body, and consciousness that almost escaped me. I am prone to believe that human beings need a few essential things for survival: food and sex. They are driven by our natural state of hunger and libido. As animals, we need food and sex to sustain life. But what differentiates human beings from animals is our level of curiosity, a biological hunger to communicate and share our stories with each other. We live by stories, and food and sex create the best narratives. Food and sex tend to join each other more often than you think, forming an enigma, an unusual union that is inexplicable. Only experience will reveal its true nature.
I hope to unleash the story of my gastronomical orgasm in this post. And if the Bagna Cauda did this to me, I’m positive you will have a similar reaction.
I woke up thinking how soon it was morning already. Last night, in my dream, it took shape before my eyes. I got up with a start and went straight to the refrigerator, and there it was, Bagna Cauda, standing firm in all its glory. I melted a tablespoon of it into the frying pan, cracked two eggs, and toasted some bread. Then, I added more sauce onto the eggs. This was a moment between me and my bagna cauda. No significant other or company.
I didn’t care even if Cupid was there, attempting to attack me with his flowery arrows of love. The truth is, an orgy of flavors just exploded all over my mouth, leaving me speechless. Darts of salty tastes and creamy golden liquid shot in every angle imaginable. That elixir made me surrender to all of my senses, and I was drowned into submission. The miracle that happened with the first bite, happened again and again. My eyes unfolded as waves of light flooded the path I stood in. Fluttering glances healed my inability to blink, and for the first time, I was sweating, something that I’ve only encountered eating hot chilies. The perfume of anchovies and garlic melted into the butter and olive oil and mingled with oozing fried eggs and toasted bread. Now, this is a priceless breakfast out of bed. Can you beat that?
If you haven’t tried it you are already late!
My mind blistered in pain when I woke up this morning only to find myself under the covers in my apartment in New York. The night seemed endless in the dream I partook. A blissful dream in which I was in Italy with the chef I had worked with, scooping up Italian delicacies. Clearly my love for Italian food isn’t minimal. In an impulse, I almost booked a flight to Italy, that is until I realized my work schedule wouldn’t permit me to go anywhere, under any circumstances.
Since Italy is beyond reach for the moment, I made Bagna Cauda, blasted Cecilia Bartoli on my stereo, and invited my friends Frank and Amanda for dinner. Bagna Cauda, for the uninitiated, is a hot dipping sauce for vegetables or pieces of bread that appears in many Italian homes, particularly in Piedmonte. One part garlic, two parts anchovies, melted butter and olive oil sent its fragrance to announce a distinctively Italian presence. There is a ritual attached to dipping your veggies in this sauce. Each vegetable is dipped into the bagna cauda, cradled by a piece of bread. The idea is to not allow the sauce to spill on the table. The bread acts as a guardian, keeping the dip in its place. The routine is repeated until the plate is empty.
With the weather showing signs of shrewd cold, there is no reason not to fill your home with an intoxicating aroma. I have some left over, and I shall refrigerate it. Should I still dream of Italy, I will know that bagna cauda will come to my consolation. All I have to do is spread it on my toast, and I shall be singing along with Ms. Bartoli.
Bagna Cauda, A sauce of Dreams Come True
Makes 2 cups
1 stick of butter
1 cup of good extra virgin olive oil
4 whole cloves of garlic
6 pieces of anchovies, drained and bones removed
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
Juice of 1/2 a lemon (optional)
1) Pour in the oil and the stick of butter into a sauce pan, and bring to heat. Simmer on very low heat. Do not color the butter or bring the butter and oil to boil.
2) Using a mortar and pestle, mesh the anchovies and garlic, until the anchovies turn into a paste.
3) Add the anchovies and garlic into the pot with the butter and the olive oil. Do not increase the heat.
4) Using a wooden spoon, stir the mixture for 10 -15 minutes or until the anchovies are completely dissolved.
5) Add salt to taste.
6) Let the mixture cool at room temperature for about five minutes.
7) Pour the mixture into a blender along with 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard.
8) Blend until the ingredients are all emulsified.
9) Remove and serve over raw vegetables, cooked pasta or bread.
Ahh! With winter still lingering in the air, perhaps it’s a bit too soon to be making spring rolls. But what the heck! Who says you need to wait for spring to eat spring rolls? Besides, enveloping vegetables or meat in rice papers and deep-frying them is just a soul-satisfying event. And what’s not to like about crispy and crunchy spring rolls? Making them yourself ensures freshness of flavor, and you can be flexible with your filling.
Spring rolls are the ubiquitous Chinese appetizers that are meant to be eaten in three bites. Most Chinese-American restaurants offer loose interpretations of spring rolls. So here is my full-fledged version, a step-by-step method on how to make spring rolls. One with ground pork and one without.
Make the filling. You can be as creative or as simple as you wish, but beware of overfilling. The less filling, the better your spring rolls will be. To make the this, grate some cabbage and carrots. Leave the Enoki mushrooms whole. Cook the filling with or without ground pork and season well. See recipe below.
Then, cool the filling on a sheet tray.
Place a single layer of rice paper like a diamond on the cutting board. Put one tablespoon of vegetables in the near corner.
Roll over and tuck.
Tuck! Tuck! Tuck! Leave no air pockets. It’s okay if it tears.
Roll over and Tuck. Roll over and Tuck. Roll over and Tuck.
Using your fingers, paint a little cornstarch on the edges.
Seal to close.
Place them seam side down on a sheet tray to tightly secure the corners. Cover with a plastic wrap and freeze. Be sure the spring rolls aren’t touching each other, or they will stick and be very difficult to work with when frying. Bring a cast-iron pot to heat, and fill 2/3′s the way with peanut oil.
When the oil is hot carefully slide the spring rolls into the pot, away from you. Do not overcrowd the pot. Once they turn golden brown, they are done.
Makes 30 Spring Rolls
1 clove of garlic, crushed and finely minced
1/2 a head of cabbage, grated
2 carrots, peeled and grated
2 cups of Enoki mushrooms
1 lb. ground pork (optional)
1 tablespoon of Red Boat fish sauce
2 tablespoons of soy sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon of cornstarch
1/4 cup of water
Peanut oil for deep-frying
1) Bring a large skillet to heat and pour in two tablespoons of oil.
2) Sauté the garlic, carrots and pork. Omit the pork if not using.
3) When the pork is cooked, showing no signs of pink, add the cabbage.
4) Pour in the soy sauce and fish sauce.
5) Stir well until the carrots have softened.
6) Remove from heat and let cool on a sheet tray lined with parchment paper.
7) In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and water.
8) Place one rice paper roll on the cutting board.
9) Put one tablespoon of the cooled filling into one corner (see photographs for instructions).
10) Roll as shown in the photographs and freeze.
11) When ready to fry, pour peanut oil 2/3′s the way in a heavy cast-iron pot and bring to heat.
12) Fry the spring rolls until they turn golden brown.
13) Let cool on a sheet tray lined with paper towels.
Ha! Bet you thought I’d fallen off the face of the earth didn’t you? The truth of the matter is that writing has been difficult for me these past few days. My brains were as fried as an eggplant fritter, and I didn’t have anything exciting to report. I am always envious of people who can produce wonderful ideas, strung together in sentences in such short periods. They have the type of minds that are calm and inspired that I constantly pray for everyday. Mine is like a fierce battlefield, filled with shooting arrows of exotic voices, constantly attacking me with unusual thoughts. Each day I wake up, I am forced to face an inner voice, which seldom fails to tell me what to write. This voice carefully weaves exciting ideas. But when I sit to place these thoughts on a piece of paper, my mind goes blank. All of a sudden, it spins dizzily round and round, and my whole world splinters and falls. How could this voice tease me with a concept in bright daylight and turn it to torture by moonrise? I can’t produce a word.
All of that changed when I made these mini burgers a few days ago. These aren’t just any burgers. They are world class fancy shmancy patties of beef, luxuriously flavored with garlic and ginger, and they’re matchless. One bite turned into several. And I can shamelessly tell you that one pound of beef along with their trimmings nested craftily in my belly. While the flavors are totally up to you, I chose to Malaysianize my burgers and made a side of spicy aioli, which is sambal belachan mixed in mayonnaise. The ground beef was divided into five 3 oz. patties, and cooked in an iron skillet, basted with butter. The results: juicy, tender and comforting.
When making your own burgers at home, it is best to select meat that has a sufficient amount of fat. I choose chuck, short ribs, and sirloin beef which yielded a ratio of 30% fat to 70% meat. This amount of fat is necessary for a delicious and moist burger. I realize that grinding your own meat is not an option for most home cooks, therefore ask your local butcher do it for you. It’s worth the time and effort. Lastly, chill your ground meat in the refrigerator before you shape it. The patties need to maintain the same chill just before they touch the searing hot pan. This step will help keep the burgers in shape, ensure a gorgeous char on the outside and a juicy interior. Serve them with a side of refreshing Asian slaw, and you’ll have opened the gates of heaven.
Mini Beef Burgers & Asian Slaw
Makes five 3 oz. patties
1 lb. ground chuck, short ribs and sirloin
2 cloves of garlic, grated
1 piece of ginger (2 inches), grated
Salt to taste
Mix all four ingredients and chill. For a taste test, pinch a bit of meat. Bring a skillet to heat and sear the meat. If you are satisfied, proceed. Otherwise season with your choice of ingredient to your desired taste, and retest. Do not over mix the meat or it will turn firm when cooking. Divide the meat into 5 portions and shape them into disks. Chill.
For the spicy aioli
4 tablespoons of mayonnaise
1 tablespoon of sambal belachan
Mix the two ingredients together and set aside.
5 whole wheat dinner rolls, buttered and toasted
1) Bring a cast iron skillet to heat. Allow the skillet to be searing hot or until you see smoke rising.
2) Place the patties in the skillet and 1 tablespoon of butter.
3) Cook each side for 3 minutes for a medium rare burger.
4) Brush enough aioli onto the toasted breads. Place the lettuce and onions on one side of the bun and the burger on the other.
Asian Cole Slaw
1 cup of Napa cabbage, shredded
2 carrots, shaved
1/2 a red onion sliced
1 cucumber (green parts only), Julienne
For the dressing
1 tablespoon of sesame oil
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/4 cup of mirin
Salt and pepper to taste
Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl and set aside. When you are ready for service, toss the salad with enough dressing. Do not drown the salad with dressing or you will lose the crunch. I prefer to dip a handful of veggies into the dressing and shake off the excess.
My biggest gripe with winter is when I have to walk on the streets between piles of slush ice and lakes of muddy water. You never can tell when a moving vehicle is right next to you because your ears are frozen in your thick woolen hat, and your concentration is on keeping your body warm. The next thing you know, your pants are drowned wet in that tarnished slush. And, when I look outside my window, Manhattan is covered over a blanket of grey clouds, not even a glimpse of the twinkling light on the Empire State Building.
When the world spins around into a tornado of stay-at-home cooking and indoor activities, it makes most sense to embrace hot soups and one-pot cooking. But these freezing moments are also the time to embrace the unusual. The charms of winter, falling crystals of pure white snow that you often see in fairy tales, have faded away and turned into several inches of black yuck, shoveled to the side of the street. When you have completely lost hope that spring will never come around, this salad might just come to a mini rescue.
Salads are usually not my thing, especially in the dead of this winter snow storm. But I must admit, they put things into perspective. When the scenery around you is dull and lost its charms, when you need something fresh to break through the heavy richness of one-pot cooking or stews, and when you need to uplift your emotions because the weather can’t promise anything, this salad will do the trick. It looks Oh so pretty and Oh so delicious!
This might be a summer salad, though it has some charms of a winter salad. A tangle of crisp green and red leaves with folds of sliced radish, grapes and confit of tomato; all get brushed lightly in a dressing of Mandarin orange vinaigrette and sesame oil. If Mandarin oranges are out of sight, any other citrus will work fine. My salad gets a light dip into the dressing, then shaken off to rid the excess liquid. This is my salad moment and I intend to cherish it while it lasts this winter.
Mesclun and Tomato Confit Salad
Please note that there is no specific measurement for this recipe. You will need to taste and adjust as you go along. If you like it a bit tart, add a little balsamic vinegar and regular vinegar. If you like it slightly fruitier, add more orange juice.
For the dressing
Juice of 2 mandarin oranges
Mirin or rice wine vinegar
Salt and black pepper to taste
Whisk all ingredients ingredients in a bowl and set aside at room temperature.
For the salad
Handful of salad greens (mesclun or baby arugula)
Radishes thinly sliced
Grapes cut in half
Cucumber, finely diced and marinated in mirin or rice wine vinegar
For the confit of cherry tomatoes
1) Preheat the oven to 350.
2) Place the cherry tomatoes on a sheet tray along with a few sprigs of rosemary, thyme, oregano, and a few cloves of garlic.
3) Sprinkle some salt all over the vegetables, the drizzle olive oil and coat well.
4) Using a strainer, dust 1 tablespoon of confectioner’s sugar onto the tomatoes.
5) Bake for 45 minutes to an hour or until the skin of the tomatoes begin to slightly crisp.
6) Remove and let cool.
7) Peel the skin and save it for another use later.
Dip a handful of mesclun salad into the dressing. Shake of excess liquid and place on the plate. Stagger three tomatoes in a zig-zag form around the leaves. Do the same with the radishes and grapes. Pile the marinated cucumbers at the tail end of the salad. Alternatively, just mix all the ingredients into a bowl and toss with the dressing.
Night falls. Bees are still buzzing around the lily trees and the crickets are singing their joyful chants with great flourish. Moonlight shines through the tamarind tree, latent with fire. A slight breeze blows from the direction of the south China sea, sending its crisp air to cool the night. The morning birds have gone home to their respective nests. My cousins and I are competing in a game of congkat, a game of dice. While dinner is long past done with, our moms are busy cleaning and washing dishes, and storing away pots and pans. All of a sudden the sound, from a Mercedes-Benz draws in closer and closer. Beep! There is dad coming in after his social hour at the local country club, an after-work event that usually takes place on a Thursday evening. Back in the eighties, when we lived in Kelantan, a state in the north of Malaysia, Thursdays marked the end of the week (according to the muslim calendar). With him is a parcel stained with streaks of scented oil. The aroma of lemongrass escapes the package, infusing his Batik shirt.
I ran so fast toward him, and hugs and kisses were exchanged. It must have been his musky Old Spice aftershave that still lingered on his smoothly trimmed skin, and the fragrance from that packet that kept me draping over him. I was about three and a half feet and he was at least 6 feet. We walk into the dining room, and he laid out this parcel of love. At just the right moment, my cousins arrive at the table, then my aunt and lastly my mother. I tear open the package and it reveals 70 sticks of satay, chunks of marinated chicken meat on a stick alongside a cup of thick, spiced peanut gravy. My aunt counts the sticks, my mom divides them and the rest of us race to chow down these charred meats.
Satay is the ubiquitous Malaysian/Indonesian dish of marinated pieces of meat skewered on bamboo sticks and served with a peanut sauce. Legend suggests that satay is a symbol of a mace, a weapon held by the god Brahma, one of the male gods of the holy trinity of the Hindu pantheon. Popularized by street hawkers, satay would be cooked over a smoky charcoal grill, sending wisps of scented smoke into the air. Satay is a ceremonial dish often included on festive days like weddings and birthdays. In my family, we ate satays on Thursdays, to denote the end of each week which is a ceremony in itself. The meat is marinated in a handful of spices overnight. The peanut sauce is cooked in the same spices along with thick, unsweetened coconut milk. Satay on its own is rich, and sometimes I don’t feel it needs the dipping sauce to accompany it.
I attempted to replicate the flavors of satay as I recall in my childhood, and I was successful. I only wished I had an open flame grill to achieve a richer char. Mine wasn’t as good as the ones my father brought, but it took me back to the glorious days I spent with my family.
I used chicken thighs because the fat from the meat helps to moisten the meat and enhances the taste. Chicken breast does not have the capacity to suck in the marinade thus resulting in a dry and unappealing satay. Make this today and your family will come running to the table, wanting more.
Chicken Satay and Peanut Sauce
Makes 20 skewers
For the satay
2 lb. dark meat chicken, cut into small cubes
1 thick stalk of lemongrass
20 bamboo skewers soaked in cold water for 20-30 minutes
For the marinade
1 tablespoon of coriander seeds
1 tablespoon of fennel seeds
Grind the seeds in spice grinder and set aside.
2 stalks of lemongrass, white parts only, bruised and chopped into small rings
2-3 cloves of garlic
5 shallots, chopped
1 piece of galangal or ginger (4 inches), chopped
1 tablespoon of turmeric powder
3 tablespoons of palm sugar or brown sugar
1 tablespoon of peanut oil
Salt to taste
1) Place all the ingredients listed above and the ground spices in a food processor and purée.
2) If the paste doesn’t purée well, add a little water to the mixture.
3) The paste should resemble the consistency of a thick carrot soup.
4) Place the cut chicken pieces in a bowl and combine it well with the marinade, making sure every piece is well coated.
5) Store the chicken uncovered at room temperature for about 2-3 hours., occasionally tossing the chicken pieces to ensure the marinade is evenly dispersed.
6) If you’re in a hurry, you can cook it right away. If not, store the bowl of chicken covered in the refrigerator overnight.
7) Remove the chicken from the refrigerator at least 2 hours before grilling, and set on the counter top.
8) Bring a grill pan to heat.
9) Prepare the lemongrass stalk for basting by removing the outer layer. Cut the bottom end. Bruise the lemongrass with a heavy blunt object.
10) Place the lemongrass in a bowl of peanut oil.
11) Thread the chicken pieces onto the bamboo skewers making sure the center of the chicken is well penetrated. This will secure the chicken from falling off the skewer.
12) To cook the chicken, baste the grill pan with peanut oil.
13) Place the skewers on the grill pan and cook each side for about 3-7 minutes.
14) Using the bruised lemongrass, baste the chicken pieces with peanut oil.
15) Soon, the chicken pieces will pick up charred black spots(caramelization).
16) Turn the skewers over and continue grilling.
17) Do not overcook the chicken.
18) The taste of doneness will depend on each individual.
Serve this with or without peanut sauce.
For the peanut sauce
Makes 3 cups
1 1/2 cups of unsalted roasted peanuts
1-2 tablespoons of sambal belachan
1 clove of garlic
2-3 tablespoons of palm sugar (brown sugar will do fine as well)
1 cup of unsweetened coconut milk
2 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar
Salt to taste
1-2 cups of water
1) Bring a medium-sized pan to heat.
2) Roast the peanuts, rotating the skillet gently.
3) Once they have picked up a nice golden color, remove and let cool.
4) Place the peanuts in a food processor along with the sambal belachan, garlic and palm sugar.
5) Pulse until you have a solid mixture. The mixture should still be coarse.
6) Transfer the ingredients to the same skillet you roasted the peanuts in.
7) Pour in the coconut milk and vinegar.
8) Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer and cook for about 3-5 minutes.
9) If the paste is too thick, ad some water. The sauce should be the consistency of carrot soup.
It all came to me in a vision from my dream. I saw this thick slab of marbled meat, artfully carved out of a voluptuous cow. And my alter ego was nagging me to make a stew to beat the cold weather. I had to do it. While most people’s’ alter ego may lie in their minds, mine inhabits my stomach. Oh! My alter ego is better known as my gut instinct, and it was screaming for warmth. I had no choice but to satisfy my need.
This weather, it deceived me, playing all sorts of tricks these past few days. First it was warmer, and now, extremely cold. I slipped off the covers, and my half-naked body caught a chill from the winter breeze. The weather man had warned us before, but I didn’t take notice. My bones were troubled, my skin and throat dry, and my muscles tight. I stuck my head outside the window just to be sure that it was cold and that I wasn’t coming down with a fever, when a sudden chunk of glued ice almost landed on my head from the apartment above. That was when I realized it was a stay at home day, and I had to honor my gut.
The influence of Portuguese cooking in Malaysia can be traced as far back as the early 1500s when they settled around the coastal villages of Southwestern Malaysia. Alfonso d’Albuquerque, serving under King Emanuel 1, conquered Malacca, one of the Malaysian states that formed a triangle spice trade route with Goa in India and Hormuz in the Persian Gulf. Their settlement in Malacca formed one of the most unique communities – Eurasians, half Portuguese and half Malay, thus leading to the birth of intermarriages between European cooking and local Malay ingredients. Malacca beef stew, or Daging Semur, is believed to have evolved from the Portuguese Sarabulho, which is a type of pork stew with pig blood and pork offal. Today, Daging Semur is made either with beef tongue or chuck beef.
During the reign of the Portuguese, there were probably no formal recipes involved simply because there were too many variations to be documented. Dishes were cooked in each home and were a family matter. Every village differed in cooking style and ingredient choice, so much that competitions were held on which family provided the best meal.
The year 1641 marked the end of Portuguese rule in Malacca when the Dutch took control and made the city their center for trading power in the region. Although Portuguese rule was brief, their influence on food has survived until this day, thankfully because of an identifiable Eurasian community who still thrives on the cultural richness of their cuisine.
Without further ado, I present Malacca Beef Stew.
Malacca Beef Stew (Daging Semur)
For the Beef
1 1/2 lb, chuck beef, cut into 2 1/2 cm cubes
2-3 tablespoons of double black soy sauce
1 teaspoon of freshly ground pepper
AP flour for dredging
1) Marinate the beef with soy sauce and ground pepper for 30 minutes. Use your hands to massage the beef with the seasonings. Allow the beef to marinate, uncovered, at room temperature.
For the beef stew
1 tablespoon of mirin or rice vinegar
4 whole star anise
4 whole cloves
1 piece of cinnamon bark
2 cups of water
5 medium-size carrots, skin peeled
2 medium-sized, starchy potatoes (Yukon Gold or Idaho), cut into cubes
1 medium-size red onion, quartered
1 cup of shelled green baby peas
1) Bring a dutch oven to heat and pour in two tablespoons of peanut oil.
2) Dredge the beef, shaking off excess flour. Do not discard the marinade.
3) Brown the meat evenly.
4) Remove and set on a sheet tray lined with paper towel.
4) Place the shallots in a food processor and pulse until you achieve a smooth paste. Add a little water if the shallots won’t puree.
5) In the same dutch oven, pour in the vinegar and deglaze the pot.
6) Add the pureed shallots and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Do not burn the shallots or it will produce an oddly bitter flavor.
7) Add the anise, cloves and cinnamon. Stir for 2 minutes until the fragrance begins to waft in the air.
8) Add the beef back to the pot along with the left over marinade. Stir the mixture well.
9) Pour in the water.
10) Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer for about 2 1/2 hours.
11) While the beef is cooking, prepare the vegetables.
12) Fill a large pot with water and bring to boil.
13) Blanch the onions for about 2 minutes, then remove with a strainer and set aside.
14) Blanch the carrots for five minutes or until slightly tender, then remove and set aside.
15) Blanch the potatoes for 10 minutes or until slightly soft. Remove and set aside.
16) About 15 minutes before serving, add the blanched vegetables into the stew and cook until the potatoes are fork tender.
17) Blanch the peas and shock in an ice-bath.
18) Add the peas to the stew and turn the heat off.
19) Allow the stew to rest for 20 minutes before serving. The dish will taste even better the next day.
Cabbage is one of those vegetables that I don’t think about much, other than in cole slaw or on St. Paddy’s day in March. Yet, it’s one of the most difficult vegetables to miss in the isles of a grocery store, usually stacked in heaps. Perhaps it’s an uninspiring vegetable, both in form and taste, that seems to escape my attention. But all of that has changed now. I have found a way to create excitement and a bounty of flavor with cabbage. And it shall have a special place in my house from now on. Way to go cabbage!
Malaysia boasts the best Chinese cuisine in all of Southeast Asia. It’s flavorful and vibrant, unmatched by the Chinese cuisine in the surrounding regions. Chinese food has always been one of my favorite cuisines, even during the early days of my life in Malaysia. When people ask me to describe Malaysian cuisine, I often find myself diverting to Chinese cooking techniques or the flavorful ingredients they use. It happens so naturally.
What’s so great about cabbage and pork? Well, for starters I couldn’t believe how easy it is to make this recipe. It jumped out at me as I was flipping through Fuchsia Dunlop’s book Every Grain of Rice. The ingredient list might not be as exciting as one would expect, but with pork in it, how can anyone deny the glory of this dish? Pork and cabbage go together like a horse and carriage. Pork is naturally salty, so you don’t need much more seasoning. That briny flavor brings a game on match to the cabbage.
Cabbage and Pork Stir-Fry
Serves 2 as a main course or 4 as a side dish
2 tablespoons of peanut oil
1 tablespoon of sesame oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 piece of ginger (4-5cm), finely chopped
A few dried red chilies (optional)
1 lb. pork chops, bones removed, sliced into thin strips
2-3 tablespoons of Shaoxing cooking wine or rice wine
1/2 a head of cabbage, shredded
1 tablespoon of Red Boat fish sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
1) Blanch the cabbage in boiling hot water for 1/2 a minute.
2) Bring a large pan to heat and pour in two tablespoons of peanut oil and sesame oil.
3) Sauté the garlic, ginger and dried red chilies.
4) Add the pork and cook for 3-5 minutes.
5) Deglaze the pan with Shaoxing cooking wine.
6) Toss in the cabbage and mix well.
7) Pour the fish sauce over the cabbage. Use more if you like a briny taste.
8) Season with salt and pepper and serve hot with rice.