Hey beautiful people, you must be shocked to the core that I’ve adhered to my promise from last week of a regular blog and are probably picking yourself off the floor! So life is still pretty hectic but I’ve made it a point to have Mondays and possibly Tuesdays off to take a breather, have some family time, and of course keep you informed of my adventures in the kitchen.
Malaysian cuisine is still somewhat of a mystery and undeniably eclipsed by Thai, Indian, and various other Asian cuisines that have made a firm mark in the UK food industry. My major gripe (not to be a moaning Minnie!) are those who profess to serve Malaysian food but the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. However since becoming a part of the whole Instagram community, I’ve discovered a few gems dotted around the country who like me are attempting to get the word out. But really I digress as today I want to sing the praises of the adventurous palates I’ve encountered during lockdown.
My customers tend to be those who have visited Malaysia or Asia, those actively seeking something unique to tantalise their taste buds, regulars who keep coming back for more, and Malaysians who just crave a taste of home. The first two categories tend to order more familiar or signature dishes like Satay, Rendang, and Nasi goreng. Occasionally they might test the waters with something different but there’s still a slight trepidation of venturing into anything totally alien or unheard of. However lockdown has seen a major shift in the usual pattern of orders as more and more people are trying dishes that perhaps would be overlooked at other times. This sudden surge of curiosity of course fills me with great delight as there are several items on my menu that have been languishing in the background that I myself had forgotten about!
‘Ikan Bakar’ is one such example. Translated it means burnt fish and I can hear you silently mutter ‘yikes’! Unappetising as it sounds, trust me when I say the taste is truly heaven. Brush all thoughts of a charcoal looking fish aside and bear with me. The fish is rubbed with turmeric and salt, topped with sambal sauce, lime leaves and bruised lemongrass, then wrapped in banana leaves and cooked on the BBQ or grill (BBQ is better). The banana leaves not only form a cocoon to ensure the fish cooks evenly with the sambal, but emanates an intense fragrance that permeates right through to the fish. You may have gathered by now that the ‘burnt’ aspect refers to the banana leaves that become charred and black during the cooking process. Back home the traditional choice of fish would be stingray but here I have used skate, salmon, cod, sea bream or anything that catches my eye at the fishmongers. Served with a tamarind and lime dip it’s certainly an amazing way to enjoy fish.
Then there’s mutton curry. I’ve cooked countless portions of chicken, lamb, prawn and vegetable curry but mutton is a rarity. With its rich and gamey flavour I always wondered why it wasn’t as sought after as the others. Well not anymore! Mutton is fast becoming a firm favourite to the point where the specialist butcher I visit immediately knows what I’m after the minute he lays eyes on me! There are many ways to cook mutton but my version has strong South Indian notes with whole spices like cardamom, cinnamon bark, cloves, fenugreek, star anise, curry leaves, mingling merrily with our own homemade Dapur Mariae curry paste. Whilst a host of spices enriches the flavour, I think the star player is the curry leaves and it’s absence leaves the whole concoction lacking that special something.
Prawn and pineapple curry has also become a firm favourite and
this particular dish is one of my mum’s recipes and part of the Eurasian community’s culinary repertoire. Unlike my bewilderment with the mutton, I didn’t really ponder too much on the lack of interest in this dish. Firstly prawn and pineapple sounds like a seriously odd combo, and then throw curry in the mix and there you have it! Mariae has gone insane! Book and cover comes to mind but the brave who’ve given it a go are totally converted. In fact this is one of my personal favourites as it reminds me of home and the waft of appetising smells that came from the kitchen as mum stood by the stove with a potful on the go. My brother and I would be in and out of the kitchen asking when it would be ready until she would be irritated to the point of shouting out (loudly) “I’ll call you when it’s done”! The mix of sweet and savoury and the intense chili hit makes me want to drink the curry like a soup and if the truth be known, hands up I’ve done it!
My ‘Nonya Roasted Duck’ has joined the ever expanding list of new favourites and has graced the table at many of my customers' celebrations. Ample for a family of 4 or 5 to share, it makes a grand centrepiece for a special occasion. This recipe came from one of my best loved cookbooks called ‘Nonya cooking’ by Terry Tan, a prominent Malaysian chef. It was a gift from a friend and every single recipe I’ve ever tried has turned out wonderful. I’m not an expert at Nonya cuisine by any stretch of the imagination and not wanting to blow my own trumpet, I seemed to have nailed this one and just had to add it to my menu. With bold flavours like galangal, lemon grass, chili, turmeric, and shrimp paste in the marinade, the end product is totally scrumptious. Roasted duck with pancakes will be a dim and distant memory once you’ve tried this.
Desserts are not something that people tend to order but recently my peanut pancakes have been part of a fair few requests. ‘Appam Balik’ as they’re known in Malaysia is a common feature in street food culture. The enticing smell of cooked batter and vanilla fills the air at markets and it would be impossible not to grab some and munch immediately or on the journey home. Of course I can’t provide the same atmosphere but after several initial attempts, I’ve managed to find a recipe that works. I can only describe it as a crepe met a crumpet and had a baby! Imagine a thicker than average crepe with holes inside. Apart from peanuts and sugar, creamed corn and sugar is another traditional filling. Sweetcorn in a pancake I hear you shout! In your defence I totally get why you find the notion of vegetables in a pudding very strange but creamed corn true to it’s name has a rich, velvety and sweet texture and in fact makes an appearance in many Malaysian desserts and cakes. Needless to say the peanut variety is the more favourable option here.
As you know by now, cooking is my passion and regardless of what my customers order, I welcome it with open arms. However I really do get a massive buzz at the desire to try new things, I have this overwhelming feeling of contentment that much loved foods from a rich and diverse heritage is now enjoyed here. It’s the closest I can get to sharing a piece of my home with those who haven’t been there.
Really I could waffle on and on but there is the risk of you falling asleep and I need to return to my kitchen to prep where a mountain of onions, ginger, garlic and chilli, are eagerly awaiting their transformation into something new.
I hope you enjoyed this week's blog and if you would like to join in the adventure you know where to find me. Recipe of the month will return next week so keep your eyes peeled. Until we meet again, take care and keep safe.
All my love, Mariae xxx
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