Chinese Eggplant Sambal

In my Asparagus Stir-Fry with Dried Shrimp post, I did mention on how we Malaysians are hooked on sambal:

“…our famous must-have condiment – sambal! When you blanch dried chilies and then grind it with some belacan (shrimp paste), you have with you sambal paste that be used in infinite possible ways. Ask any Malaysian and he/she would say that nothing can go wrong when it’s cooked with sambal paste!”

Here is yet another one of the infinite possible ways of using the sambal paste to make a delectable dish, this time around using Chinese Eggplants.

I have tried using all the different available types of eggplants: Chinese, Italian, Japanese and Indian and find them all to be wonderful. The Chinese eggplants though are naturally sweeter, to me. This somehow tends to give the spicy sambal a suitable balance.

Here, the eggplants are sliced up and then deep-fried. Separately, I sautée some sambal paste and then when it is completely cooked i.e. when the oil separates from the oil (the chili paste needs to be cooked thoroughly to prevent the chilies tasting raw), I add in the eggplant slices and gently coat them with the sambal.

A sambal-icious side dish!


Medhu Vada with Coconut-Mint Chutney Dip

Most people in the world are probably aware that vada is traditionally a South Indian savory snack. These people would be in for a surprise when they get to eat this crispy delicacy in Malaysia prepared by a Malay (my neighbor in Melaka has a pasar malam stall where she prepares and sells masala vadas) or even Malaysian Chinese. Oh yes, I still remember eating this hot and tantalizing snack prepared and served by a Chinese man in his roadside stall in Gajah Berang. In fact, his variation was special as they were prawn vadas served with chili sauce. Well, that’s how diversely united we Malaysians are :)

It’s not an uncommon sight to see a Malay preparing and selling the vadas or even the popular Chinese snack, pao (or bao), a kind of steamed bun with a variety of filling, both sweet and savory; a Malaysian Chinese preparing and selling Malay kuihs, rendang and nasi lemak or a Malaysian Indian preparing and selling char kway teow! That’s why we mostly prefer to identify ourselves as Malaysians first and then by cultural heritage because we share, give and take so many things among ourselves, especially when it comes to the Malaysian cuisine :)

As for me, this is yet another item that I have never bothered making them when I was in Malaysia mainly because whenever I wanted them, vadas are easily available in all Indian restaurants (all day) and roadside stalls during teatime. Out of the two common vadas, medhu (the donut-like vada with the hole) and dhal (prepared with lentils), I love medhu vada. Prepared the right way, it is usually crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inseide and pairs well with coconut chutney or even yogurt (medhu vada eaten soaked in flavored yogurt becomes dahi vada!).

I’d have to presoak the black gram dhal the night before and then grind it to a thick batter and then flavor the batter with salt, cumin seeds, cut green chilies, onions and ginger. A little long a procedure…so I usually take it easy when I don’t get the hole in the middle like :) and mostly just fry them up by pouring the batter in the hot oil without even trying to shape them. I usually target for perfection in taste and once I achieve that, the shape is really not a concern! I prepared some coconut-mint chutney to dip my vadas in this time. In little oil, I roast some cut onion, ginger, green chilies and a bunch of mint leaves together with some chana dhal before blending them in my food processor.

A wonderful savory snack, best enjoyed piping hot on a cold fall day!

Gobi Manchurian (Crispy Cauliflower Florets in Manchurian Sauce)

At home in Malaysia, mom usually adds cauliflower florets to her Chinese style mixed-veggie dish and we seldom use cauliflower in Indian dishes. It’s only after marriage that I learned to make this dish which happens to be one of hubby’s preferred vegetarian dishes. It’s not just simple to make this dish that can be served as an appetizer but also easy to like eating it :)

Although chlorophyll-lacking, cauliflower is one of the ‘white’ veggies known to be laden with health benefits. As it is the cauliflower may be as not as appealing as other vegetables but when cooked the right way and with the right flavoring, it can become as scrumptious.

Manchurian dishes are kind of popular in India and are a must in Indo-Chinese cuisine. The Manchurian sauce is basically sweet and sour sauce (soy sauce, ketchup, chili sauce and maybe some sweet rice wine vinegar) with individually favored level of spiciness. This sauce is used together with non-veg items such as chicken and fish as well as in vegetarian dishes using paneer (Indian cottage cheese) and like the post here, cauliflower florets.

First, the florets are coated in a batter made of rice flour, besan flour, chili powder and salt and are fried till crispy and golden brown. At this stage itself the fried cauliflower florets become tempting…hmmph…they are deep-fried after all! The crispy florets are then tossed with the prepared Manchurian sauce to make a tantalizing side-dish.


Asparagus Stir-fry with Dried Shrimp Sambal

One of my favorite spring vegetables…asparagus! They tend to be a little pricey off-season but it’s hard to ignore the beautifully arranged green, edible ‘pencils’ even in winter.

It’s always good to know when the things you already like to eat are especially good for your health.In my pregnancy book, asparagus is there in the list of ‘best things to consume pre- and especially during the early stages of pregnancy’ due to its high level of folate.

The usual bunches of asparagus are green in color but I have also seen them in their white and purple variants. My favorite though is the green ones with relatively thin stems. In fact, I once bought a bunch of pencil asparagus (the ones with pencil-thin stems) and oven-roasted them with just a tad of olive oil, pepper and salt for a perfectly crunchy yet succulent veggie treat.

This entry here is a perfect example of how one can ‘Malaysianize’ a dish: making it with our famous must-have condiment – sambal! When you blanch dried chilies and then grind it with some belacan (shrimp paste), you have with you sambal paste that be used in infinite possible ways. Ask any Malaysian and he/she would say that nothing can go wrong when it’s cooked with sambal paste!

My bunch of perfectly fresh asparagus gets stir-fried with some sambal paste with added dried shrimps for that extra umami-inducing crunch and taste. Just beware when adding extra salt as the belacan and dried shrimps are already salted.

Crunchiness, tenderness, saltiness and spiciness all in one bite!


Cekodok Pisang (Fried Banana Cakes)

One common trait shared by all Malaysians? Eating. We eat breakfast, lunch and before dinner look for kuih-miuh for tea and then sometimes after dinner, look in the fridge or stand in front of the 24-hour mamak stall, thinking what to have for supper! :)

The thing that I miss most here in CA is the splendor of tea-breaks. In Malaysia, at around 2pm, from nowhere you would suddenly find a makcik and her daughter put up a foldable giant umbrella under the big, shady tree of the right side of the pavement and set up several trays of homemade cakes on a table. And on the left side of the pavement, another 'uncle' and his wife set up a big vessel with gallons of oil and start frying up crispy vadais and bondas and samosas. Beside his set-up, another 'uncle' arrives and opens up the container attached to his motorcycle and sets up his fruit rojak ‘stall’. And this is just on the left and right sides of one of the several the pavements, mind you!

Ahh…teatime is Malaysia is really celebrated. No makciks under umbrellas or 'uncles' and 'aunties' to get teatime treats from here. Somehow I have lost the interest in tea-breaks after coming here. It’s all good too…counting all the calories I can save ;) But sometimes on a breezy day like this, it’s just so comforting to eat hot cekodoks with a hot cuppa coffee :)

Cekodok is a type of fried cake made of flour and flavored with a varieties of things from dried shrimps, dried anchovies, onions and ripened bananas – making it good savory as well as sweet.The cekodok featured here is sweetened with ripened bananas. I made it even simpler fr me by I adding mashed up ripened bananas into a cup of my favorite store-bought pancake flour (Krusteaz)and then fried up the thick batter in hot oil.

The result: cekodok pisang – crunchy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside!

Panko-crusted Baked Salmon Steak

When I was back in Malaysia earlier this year, I bought a couple of fillets of wild Norwegian salmon at Jaya Jusco (Melaka) and was pleased with the quality of the fish. It was a little bit pricey but I liked the fact that it was wild and not farm raised.

I have the same aversion to farm-raised fish just like poultry treated with antibiotics. With a toddler at home, I am especially more concern about such things these days. Luckily for us, all poultry and the dairy products sold at the grocery stores where we shop here in CA are sans plumping and antibiotics free.

However, there are aplenty of farm-raised seafood still available at these places: tilapia, salmon and even shrimps. Recently I have been reading a lot about how the level of PCBs (a toxic substance) is high in farm-raised salmon and how it can adversely affect our health. So it’s worth paying a couple of bucks extra to get wild caught fish. I am certain that I pay extra not just for safety but also for taste. I bought this packaged salmon from the grocery store the yesterday.

Frozen but wild caught and all natural so it was a good catch :) Marinated the salmon steaks in some ginger+garlic infused soy, mushroom and pepper sauce and then coated them with panko breadcrumbs and baked them to perfection in the oven!I just love the fact that I didn’t have to use even a single drop of oil in making this dish; just the natural and valuable oil of the salmon in this healthful, tasty dish.

The panko, Japanese breadcrumbs, stays crunchy even after the baking process and that’s why I prefer using this to coat my salmon steaks. Served on a bed of simple nasi goreng and some salad greens, a scrumptious lunch for sure!


'The No Claypot' Claypot Chicken Rice

Thanks to technology advancement, I not only got to browse the web for the recipe to make my version of the famous claypot chicken rice dish, I also got tips and shortcuts to help me make this dish in my kitchen :) If I were living in Malaysia, I doubt I’d ever consider making this special Chinese dish at home, especially when it is easily available at my favorite hawker’s center!

As the name suggests, the claypot chicken rice is cooked and served in a claypot in restaurants. I still remember the wonderful whiff that hits your face and fogs your spectacles as you open the cover of the pot!

After searching for sometime, I decided to stick with this recipe I got from a fellow blogger. Although easier and faster than the original version, the reason why I liked this recipe is because the blogger kind of shares my kitchen viewpoint: even though I like quick and simple cooking, “I never sacrifice taste or authenticity when it comes to my cooking.”

No claypot, no problem…the rice cooker or the pressure cooker (that steam-cooks the rice in a jiff), like in my case, works just fine. With rice, mushrooms, chicken being the main ingredients, I happily gathered the rest of the sauces and spices needed for the dish and adjusted some details like no pork sausage and fried dried prawns instead of salted fish for garnish and voila, a contented cook, happy hubby and baby (yes, he loved it too!).

I also prepared a must-have condiment: chopped garlic and bird’s eye chilis soaked in light soy sauce for that added kick!

Yet another satisfying one-pot dish!


Stir-fried Amaranth Leaves

Amaranth leaves also known as Chinese spinach is indeed very popular in India with each region having a special way to cook it. The name may sound unique but it belongs to the more familiar family of the spinach we all know: the regular spinach leaves are all green whereas the Amaranth leaves are green with red and purplish hue.

Just like how I had previously captured the vibrant green of my Chinese style stir-fried baby bok choy here, this time around it’s a dish of leafy Amaranth leaves.

The addition of split pigeon peas (chana dhal) and grated coconut as well as dried chilies and dry spices such as urad dhal (ulunthu), cumin seeds and mustard seeds makes this dish Indian inspired.

However it's cooked, we just can’t get enough of leafy greens in our diet…luv ‘em…gotta have ‘em! :)


Broccoli Potato Soup with Cheddar

Our little tyke is close to his second birthday and he is usually very happy being served the food that we have. Even at this age, he is comfortable eating spices (on a bearable level…I don’t usually serve him something if I find it too spicy) and most of the ingredients I use in my cooking and this makes it easier for me because I don’t have to spend extra time cooking a separate dish for him.

This time, I wanted to make him a toddler’s version of a comfort food on this cold fall’s day and I wanted him all to get all the warmth, calcium (cheese, milk, broccoli) and energy (potato) he’d need all in a bowl full.

This hearty soup, although as suitable it is for adults as for kids, was made especially for our bouncy toddler because mom and dad just don’t have the machine-like energy he has to burn off all the calories (hello, potatoes, cheese, whole milk!)!

The easiest meal in a bowl yet…For a single serving, I pressure cooked a couple of baby Yukon gold potatoes and then stir-fried it with just a tad of (unsalted) butter, one minced clove and a handful of chopped broccoli florets just till the broccoli is tender. Added in about an ounce of whole milk and another ounce of shredded cheddar (the salt in this is enough for my baby) and a pinch of ground black pepper before removing it off the heat and pulsing it a couple of times in the food processor.

The result: a velvety, smooth soup with so much going on in every spoonful!


Diwali 2009 Feast - Melaka, Malaysia

My interest in reading magazines featuring gourmet recipes and watching Food Network shows presenting modern ideas and ingredients have made me adventurous and creative in the kitchen. I cherish traditional recipes and ingredients; I value the modern art of cooking :)

I proudly admit that much of my natural cooking prowess comes from my mom. She cooks without even stopping a moment to think how she creates wonderfully tantalizing dishes. I have learned and still am learning many useful cooking tips and ideas from her. She is also a wonderful baker although she tells me that I have exceeded her talent of baking cakes :) Still, no one can bake Nescafe cookies, coconut biscuits or peanut cookies like she does…which explains why many, many pieces do not actually get into the cookie jars during our regular Diwali cookie-baking sessions!

Including the Diwali that had just passed, I have missed four Diwalis being home in Malaysia with my parents. Thanks to a friend, I got to see the pictures of the various dishes my mom had prepared on Diwali day. It was so thoughtful of her to visit my parents on Diwali day and take pictures to send it to me so that I could drool over the Diwali food galore we had been missing! ;)

It’s my pleasure to publish these pictures of my mom’s cooking from her kitchen in Melaka, Malaysia here on my blogsite. Enjoy!

Nasi Biryani - Spiced Rice Pilaf

Ayam Masak Merah - Chicken in Chili Gravy


Mutton Perattal - Mutton Fry in Dry Gravy

Sambal Udang - Prawn Sambal (Dried Chili Gravy)

Chicken Kurma

Vegetable Achar (Pickle)

Mix-Veg Salad with Mayo Dressing

P/S: Thanks, Janet for the pics!


Butter Cake with Lemon Icing

The satisfaction of eating a slice of homemade cake is heightened when it comes with a big dollop of homemade icing. I for one learned this through a very sickly sweet experience!

My favorite thing to bake is the basic butter cake because of its versatility to complement almost any type of icing…and my usual best choice of topping for my butter cake……. chocolate ganache…yum-o! I first learned making this basic butter cake in Malaysia several years back using a recipe from my mom's cookbook by a well-known Malaysian chef, Rohani Jelani. I have to admit that I learned a lot of good baking from her cookbook. Also when I prepare the cake batter, I usually use half of it for making a dozen of mini cupcakes, as seen in this pic, too for a convenient and cute treat :)


Back to my sickly sweet experience....For hubby’s birthday a couple of months back, I baked the wonderful butter cake but instead of using the regular chocolate ganache, I planned to use some lemon icing. The reason for this lemon-mania was that just a couple of weeks prior to that, hubby treated me to a delightfully enriching slice of lemon-raspberry cheese from the Cheesecake Factory restaurant and I had been craving for more lemony cake since then! There’s just something divine about tasting fresh lemon in a plate of desert…. a subtle yet pleasing sweetness.

So seeking convenience, I got a tub of store-bought lemon icing to decorate his birthday cake. But what a disappointment it was when we couldn’t really enjoy eating the cake as the icing was too very sweet…the kind of sweetness that and to top that displeasure, there was merely a hint of lemon in it.

This time, still craving for the lemony sweetness, I baked a basic butter cake and searched for a simple lemon icing recipe online. As usual I tweaked the ingredients to suit my needs and created the most beautiful lemon icing to satisfy my palate. The recipe calls for 3 cups of confectioner’s sugar but I used just 1 cup (this is fine because the cake has sugar and is already sweet); 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice but I used 4; and I added the zest of two whole lemons for that extra zing!

Adding ½ cup of butter to the above items, I whipped the life out it and came up with this fluffy, light and satisfactorily zesty cake topping!


My South Indian Thali

Thali is a Hindi word that means ‘plate’. A thali set basically refers to a selection of different dishes, usually served in a steel tray with multiple compartments. In India as well as here in the US, many Indian restaurants offer Indian dishes for lunch or dinner in a thali set. In India, different regions offer different types of thalis. Whatever it is, the dishes in a thali can be as simple or elaborate as one desires.

I have heard of many other cultures having this same concept too. For instance, thali is a Japanese version of the bento box: a lunch set that comes in a compartmentalized box.

This is my simple version of a South Indian Thali: rice, tomato cooked in lentils, fried tindora, papads and sweet mango pickle.

Tomato cooked in lentils – Back in Malaysia, many of my lentils-loving non-Indian friends used to ask me for recipes using the variety of available lentils. I wish I knew this back then because it’s just so simple and yet can satisfy any lentil-lovers palate. Lentils and fresh tomatoes are cooked for 10 minutes in a pressure cooker. Separately, sliced onion, crushed ginger and garlic, curry leaves, sliced green chilies with some dried spices (cumin, mustard seeds etc.) are fried till fragrant. This is then added to the cooked lentils and tomatoes and with salt to taste, voila….all ready to be savored! Good with chapatis, too!

Fried tindora – I never had this vegetable back in Malaysia. In fact, never had an idea until hubby mentioned to me about this vegetable as it is very popular in Andhra. The first time I bought this vegetable in the frozen section, I did some online search on how to prepare it and glad the cooking process is indeed simple and hence it is a regular now in my kitchen. The texture of this vegetable, also known as ivy gourd, is similar to that of green beans. Here, I fried my tindora with onions, ginger, garlic and some split chickpeas and added some fresh grated coconut at the end.

A wonderful vegetarian lunch!


Seafood Fried Rice

Fried rice which translates to nasi goreng in the Malay language is indeed a famous hawker food in Malaysia – good for breakfast, lunch, dinner and even supper! For most, nasi goreng is a humble way to make use of the leftover rice from the previous meal. It is just too easy to make but still it can be made gourmet with the right ingredients.

I just cannot list the varieties of nasi goreng available in Malaysia because there are just too many! There’s this specialty named ‘nasi goreng kampung’ which contains dried anchovies (ikan bilis) and lots and lots of bird’s eye chilis (cili padi) and even ‘nasi goreng USA’ that comes with slices of sausages. Since it’s a simple and a complete-meal-on-a-plate, people mostly create their own varieties according to their taste and creativity :)

Featured here is my version of nasi goreng flavored with a selection of seafood: imitation crab meat (which is basically made of a mixture of crab meat and white fish meat), dried shrimp (pounded with garlic, ginger and chilis) and some fresh shrimp. I jazzed it up a little by serving the seafood fried rice with a sunny-side-up egg and a couple of sticks of fried imitation crab meat.


Bitter Melon Rings

Well this may not be something that you’d gobble up like you would a plate full of onion rings but hey, you may be surprised by how this bitter vegetable tastes good when done this way! These crisps are always available at my grandma’s place except that she uses the Indian bitter gourd which are smaller in size and more bitter.

Bitter melons are used in various ways in the Indian cuisine: more typically in stir fries with spices. In some Chinese restaurants in Malaysia, I have tried bitter melon cooked with either chicken, eggs, dried prawns or even in soups and I enjoyed them all the same.

Since everyone in my family is a bitter gourd/melon lover, I love experimenting on the different ways of serving up this vegetable at my dining table. I may be posting more dishes made with this high-valued, medicinal vegetable but now here are crispy, fried bitter melon rings.

I cut the medium-sized bitter melon into 2-inch thick rings, remove the pit and seeds and then coat them well with enough sprinkles of gram flour, rice flour, corn flour, salt, turmeric, chili powder and salt. These rings are fried till they are golden brown and pairs well with most dishes in the Indian vegetarian cuisine.

* Some like to wash the uncooked bitter melon with salt to remove the excess bitterness but I usually don’t because the more the bitter the better it is for me! :)


Shrimp-Flavored Rice Noodles

Of all the noodles varieties, my favorite is kway teow (flat rice noodles). The taste, texture and shape of these noodles are very much similar to pad thai (Thai cuisine). The most famous dish in Malaysia using this type of rice noodles is indeed char kway teow: the halal version of char kway teow is rice noodles fried with soy sauce, chili paste, prawns, cockles, eggs and bean sprouts and chives.

It’s actually a treat watching the dish being prepared by the hawker, in restaurants and even at pasar malams (night markets), using very well seasoned and huge kualis. However, while ordering our plate of char kway teow at these places, we make sure to request for the use of lesser oil as this dish tends to be more on the oilier side.

My own version of these noodles is flavored with fresh as well dried shrimps and eggs. I always like adding a handful of dried shrimps (I usually pound them together with garlic) because they add a very nice Malaysian flavor to some selected dishes. I also use extra chili paste (coz we like everything spicier!) which is why it is less darker than the regular char kway teow and a handful of shredded carrots at the end (a little out of the norm) to replace the crunchy effect of bean sprouts.


Bellam Garelu – Sweet Vadais

I am sure my fellow Malaysian Indian friends would go “really?!” reading the above title. Believe me when I first heard of this, I too went “hmmm….” rather doubtfully. I mean vadais are so popular among Malaysians – the Malays, Chinese and Indians alike - and we like it hot, crispy and with extra green chilies at the side, please!

There are basically two types of vadais – the ones made with chana dhal (paruppu vadai) and the ones made with urad dhal (methu vadai: crunchy on the outside but soft and fluffy on the inside). Methu vadas are also ‘lovingly’ called the vadais with the hole by some ;) But bellam garelu (Telugu) takes your love for methu vada to a different, sweet level.

Three years plus into my marriage and learning about the varieties of Indian sweets, I can say we Malaysian Indians no nothing much about the real Indian sweets! If laddoo, jelebi, halva, kesari, athirasam, paal kova, Mysore pak were (among few others) the most regular sweets we indulge in during Hindu festivals in Malaysia, in India the above are the most basic selection of sweets!

Well, first stop during my marriage in Andhra, there was a host of unfamiliar looking and tasting Indian sweets that were served but, I was the bride then: I wasn’t too interested in trying out the different types of sweets, if you know what I mean :) The second time I was in India was for my bro-in-law’s wedding in Bangalore early this year. I got acquainted to even more varieties of Indian sweets and this time they were all different from the ones I already knew during my marriage in Andhra! Phew…I couldn’t help but think how India is the perfect place for a person who loves Indian sweets (like my sweet-toothed cousin) :)

This dessert happens to be a traditional, festival favorite in Andhra where my hubby is from. For this dessert, unlike the regular vadai-making, no onions or green chillis go into the batter - just whole urad dhal soaked (overnight) in water, drained, ground to a fine paste with salt, beaten till fluffy and white, shaped into vadais (no holes necessary- like mine), deep-fried till crisp and golden brown and dropped immediately in warm syrup till they absorb the syrup. I used simple syprup for my sweet vadais: 1 cup sugar dissolved in 1 cup water. The traditional recipe actually requires the use of jaggery (palm sugar). I add a pinch of cardamom powder to enhance the aroma of the simple syrup.

Biting into a crunchy vadai, bursting with the sweet syrup is…hmmm….crunchy, salty, sweet all in one big, juicy bite!


Chicken Rasam - Indian-spiced Chicken Soup

A bowl of soup may take up so many other names – broth, gumbo, stew, chowder, consommé, bouillabaisse, potage, bouillon – according to its texture, ingredients and also the cuisine it belongs to. Nevertheless, a bowl of soup by another name would be as comforting :)

There is this particular soup which is a famous fare in Malaysia, popularized by its mamak community – the Tamil Muslim community. This dish is so popular that it was even featured in Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservation (episode Malaysia). It is basically beef, chicken or mutton soup cooked with a variety of spices and then served alongside cubed bread pieces (the croutons’ counterpart!).

In Melaka, there’s this food court in Jalan Bendahara (between City Bayview and Orkid Hotel) that includes a mamak stall serving this well-spiced beef/mutton/chicken soup. I remember my dad used to take us there for supper and hmmm I can still remember how the aroma of the spices excited my sense of smell even before my tongue got in-synced!

Besides that, the only other times I used to enjoy this kind of spiced soup is at home when my mom made chicken rasam. Rasam is a spicy South Indian soup compulsory in most Indian vegetarian cuisine. But for her chicken rasam, mom uses the same spices used in the regular rasam – cumin seeds, fennel seeds, black/white peppercorns, mustard seeds – minus the tamarind essence and hing. These spices are pounded with ginger, garlic and onions, fried in a little oil before adding the boney chicken pieces (the meatier part gets into the chicken gravy!) which are then simmered in water on low flame till the chicken flavor is well infused in the soup.

I did the same here for my chicken rasam. The taste was pretty good and the comforting effect of having a bowl of hot soup was there, except that whenever I feel like having a bowl of hearty soup like this, I wish I could have it from the mamak stall in Jalan Bendahara :)


Spinach-Chicken Tortilla Wraps

Hubby used to call me the ‘sandwich girl’ during our courtship :) That’s because my typical answer to his “what did you have for lunch/dinner today?” question was more often than not – sandwich! I was living on my own in KL, away from my family in Melaka, working 9-6 and managing a really long-distance relationship (which included phone calls and being online at odd hours !). At that time, the last thing I’d want to do was spend precious time preparing a three-course meal and then spend time cleaning the dishes.

Although my Cheras apartment was surrounded by eateries, eating out became a little too mundane. So I used to stock-up my fridge with various ingredients so that I’d have the option of creating a sandwich whenever I wanted.

What’s there not to like about sandwiches? It’s easy to prepare and so it’s time-saving and can be made as healthy as you would like it to be. It’s kind of a convenient comfort food. Plus if you whip up a sandwich meal at home, there won’t be too many dishes to do afterwards :) But seriously, sandwiches are the quickest and fastest way to have an all-in-all meal or a hearty snack.

These days, there is always a stock of rolled, uncooked tortillas in my refrigerator. Warm ‘em up a couple of minutes on a hot griddle and they are good to go as an alternative to bread in sandwiches. It makes it easy for ‘the sandwich girl’ to pack hubby a sandwich or two during the days of the week when he has to rush and commute from his office to the school campus for his MBAPM classes.

These Mexican flatbreads (almost similar to chapathis) are so versatile and especially wonderful for making warm sandwich wraps and the possibilities are simply endless. For the wrap featured here, first I cooked up some baby spinach leaves with garlic, pepper and some canned chicken meat and a few roasted almonds.

Then I pulse them a couple of times in the food processor with a little fat-free ranch sauce for the tanginess and creaminess.

Spread, wrap and chomp!


Scallops in Green Curry Sauce

The influence of Thai cuisine in Malaysian (Malay) cuisine is pretty strong particularly because Thailand is our northernmost neighbor. The uses of what are considered to be exotic ingredients in the U.S such as kaffir lime leaves (daun limau purut), galangal (lengkuas), lemongrass (daun serai) and pandanus leaves (daun pandan), are interchangeable between Thai and Malay cuisine.

Exotic-schmexotic….back home, when mom needed some kaffir lime leaves or lemongrass or even pandanus leaves for her cooking, all she had to do was get them from the backyard! Almost all my neighbors (mostly Malays) have these plants at their homes. Here, I paid a rather ‘exotic’ price for these imported ingredients – all frozen mind it!

Paying ridiculous price for an ingredient so easily found at home aside, it is always fun to cook using ingredients that I don’t regularly use. I followed the ingredients as listed in the green curry recipe I had bookmarked online. Green curry paste are sold for a much easier task and I have tried those but this time I wanted to make it from scratch especially because despite the long list of ingredients, it is rather simple curry dish actually.

We always use ‘light’ coconut milk for any recipes that call for it but the actual twist to my dish here is that I added a handful of roasted cashew nuts while making my green curry paste and the result was a creamier curry!


Although a seafood lover, I never did like any of the molluscs species in my food when in Malaysia. Yes, I steered clear from dishes involving clams, mussels, oysters and scallops too. It could be because the only place where I have seen these being sold are at the wet markets and jeez, they are definitely not appealing to the sight in their natural form. In the markets here, all I see are these fresh looking, clean, white meat! :)

The first time I tried scallops here was when hubby took me to a seafood buffet. I tried one and I asked myself why I never tried it before! Since I love shrimps and prawns, it was easy to enjoy scallops as they share a kind of the same texture and taste. The cooking time for scallops are also the same as for prawns/shrimps – they cook fast and overcooking can make them rubbery.

Overall, adding scallops to my green curry sauce was indeed a good move. A scrumptious seafood fare!


Stir-Fried Baby Bok Choy

Vegetables, including leafy greens, are indispensable in Indian cuisine. When I was growing up, leafy greens were served at my home almost daily.

Most Indian recipes involving leafy greens require a longer cooking time and while this is necessary in some recipes, it may cause the leaves to lose their vibrant green color and deplete their vitamins and minerals content in the process. That’s the reason why I like using the Chinese style of stir-frying my leafy greens: cooking on high heat (with less oil) for a shorter period of time. I remember eating at Chinese restaurants back in Malaysia where usually an order of leafy greens hits the table almost immediately.

Baby Bok Choy, with light green stems and dark green leaves, are perfect when stir-fried as the stems stay crunchy and leaves succulent that way. I add a handful of garlic slices to my hot oil to infuse the dish with its wonderful aroma and taste before hitting the pan with a couple of dashes of oyster sauce.

No salt necessary here as the oyster sauce gives enough saltiness and flavor to this simple yet healthfully satisfying dish.


Cabbage Fry – South Indian Style

I know many who only prefer to have their cabbage in the form of the coleslaw served up at KFC restaurants :) That’s because on its own, cabbage may not be tastefully appealing. Cabbage, especially the Napa variety, is generally used in soups or in noodle dishes in Malaysia. On a bigger scale, one can find cabbage being used as the topping on their Ramly burgers :D We sometimes use shredded purple cabbage to add color to our salads.

Actually it’s worth taking the effort to create a nice cabbage dish especially since it has pretty good medicinal properties namely an excellent source of vitamins and minerals and dietary fiber. Adding the right spices can create a rather wonderful flavor to the otherwise ordinary cabbage.

The entry here showcases thinly cut cabbage, fried with sliced onions, ginger and garlic, some chana dhal (split chick peas) and grated coconut with a hint of turmeric for the vibrant color. This dish is special in its own way: a hint of sweetness and crunchiness from the cabbage topped with the crunchiness of the chana dhal and not forgetting the texture added by the grated coconut, makes it a nice side dish especially in an Indian vegetarian meal.


Cumin-Peppercorn Chicken

The one thing I have realized since I started cooking regularly is that simplicity in cooking always brings out great taste. This is of course not applicable for those special dishes (especially traditional dishes) that require a long list of specific ingredients and detailed preparation. Most often than not, one would need to stick to the original recipe to create the exact traditional flavor. Otherwise, I find simple steps and fewer ingredients usually help in enhancing the taste of a dish.

This delicious chicken entrée is one such dish that can be prepared almost effortlessly. Pepper chicken is something that I have tasted regularly at my home in Malaysia but I have recreated it in my kitchen by making cumin the star ingredient alongside its counterpart, ground black peppercorns.

Chicken pieces (coated with needed amount of cumin powder and ground peppercorns) are cooked to perfection with a generous amount of diced up shallots, ginger and garlic. A fulfilling lunch/dinner entrée indeed!


Spicy Plantain Fry

Unlike the regular banana, which is sweeter and eaten raw when ripe, the plantain has to be cooked before serving. Plantains are native to India and it is commonly prepared as a vegetable (like potatoes) in the Indian cuisine as a savory dish. In Malaysia, plantain chips (sweet and savory) are very popular snack and are even exported to overseas.

In the South Indian cuisine, the other parts of the plantain tree, namely its flowers and shoots, are also widely used. At my home in Malaysia, my mom made sure she gets hold of the plantain shoots every time she came across them in the market mainly because it happens to be my dad’s favorite.

These plantain shoots (vazhai thandu) are not available all the time because the plantain tree will only fruit once and only after the fruit is harvested, the plant is cut and the layers of the thick stem are peeled till the cylinder-shaped soft shoot is found. The shoots are not only delicious when fried with spices, they are also high in fiber and so, good for the digestive system.

Also special, but something I have never eaten in such a long time and something that is also not that easily available, are the plantain flowers. Mom has cooked this too but not in recent times. All I remember is that the cleaning and preparing of the flowers and shoots before the actually cooking process is a little lengthy. Being someone who loves to cook without having to spend too much time in the kitchen, I don’t think I’d be attempting those!


The more easily available and easier to prepare part of the plant is of course, the fruit itself – the plantain. In the U.S market, the plantain is sometimes referred to as the green banana. At the grocery store where I get my plantains, this sticker is on each of the plantains and serves as a convenient guide.

For my dish here, I used the plantain while still green. The first time I attempted this in my kitchen, I called mom to get some help: peel off the thick skin and then cube the plantains, boil them in salted water with a little turmeric for a couple of minutes (don’t let them overcook). This process actually helps to eliminate the excess starch. Then, after you drain them, you may use them to fry how you would potatoes.

I add a heaping teaspoon of chili powder, a dash of cumin and turmeric powder and the most special part of it all: add a handful of grated coconut towards the end. Yummy!


Ayam Masak Merah: Red Chili Gravy Chicken

This dish is so popular in Malaysia that I have never failed to find it being served at all the Malay weddings I have attended.

Having tasted the dish served by Malay chefs (at homes or restaurants), I realized that the Malay version of this is sometimes sweet as well as spicy. My mom, the expert chef when it comes to making ayam masak merah at home, usually makes the version that she has mentioned to me as my grandma’s version (her mother-in-law).

Cut chicken pieces are marinated in a spicy paste made of dried red chili paste (boiled to soften and then blended), onions, ginger and garlic. I think the best part of the marinade is the roughly chopped tomatoes that are just squished in to bring out the juices. This really adds a little zing to the dish and just a hint of sweetness from the tomatoes are infused into the dish. To the marinade also, a little turmeric for bringing out the bright color and some crushed black pepper is added for more kick. After about 30 minutes or so, the marinated chicken is cooked in oil infused with cinnamon sticks, cloves, cardamom and curry leaves for a wonderful aroma.


Fish Puttu: Shredded Fish Fry

Well, I really don’t know how else I could describe the Tamil/Malayalam word “puttu”. The end product is as shown in the picture here and the meat of the fish does seem like it has been shredded, so I guess it is acceptable here :)

My memory is rather faint here but I think the first time I ate this was when I was a little girl and the dish was prepared by my uncle in Melaka. I cannot recall having this dish prepared at home by my mom as well. However, in a more recent period, I remember having this dish at an Indian restaurant in Brickfields, Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur’s Little India. Most commonly, milk shark is the fish used in the dish. I guess the reason they call this particular species of shark the milk shark because in India, it is believed that eating its meat will improve the milk production of a nursing mother.

I have tried making this recipe with some shark fillets and the result was pretty amazing. I must say though that the dish tastes kind of the same even when I used different varieties of fish fillets such as tilapia, orange roughy or even dover sole.

I used ½ pound of tilapia fillets (around three medium-sized fillets) and fried them till they flake up really well in a sautéed combination of cumin seeds, onions, green chilies, finely chopped curry leaves. Then I added some grated coconut and chopped cilantro to add more pizzazz to the dish towards the end.

It’s so quick and simple to prepare this dish and the best thing about it is that it’s versatile. You can have it as a side dish for your lunch (with rice and vegetables) or roll it up in tortillas for a light and satisfying dinner, like I did!


'Maggi' Goreng: Fried Instant Ramen Noodles

‘Maggi’ is actually the brand name of instant noodles that is popular in Malaysia. In the U.S, one may find ‘Maggi’ brand instant noodles only in Indian stores. In regular American grocery stores, ‘Maruchan’ or 'Nissin' are the more popular instant noodles’ brand. Although now we have cut back a lot on the consumption of instant noodles, 'Maggi' instant noodles were a staple food during our varsity years.

'Maggi' goreng has got to be one of the famous fares of a Malaysian mamak stall (sidewalk food vendors)– it was mine for sure! It is basically taking the regular packets of instant noodles to a different level by frying it with eggs and chicken and sauces other than the one included in the original packets themselves.

What I have done here with my instant ramen noodles packets is to take it to a more gourmet level. I wanted to have a simple yet complete dinner and so I cooked my instant noodles in boiling water, tossed them out of the water and then fried the noodles with some onions, boneless chicken pieces, mushrooms, mixed vegetables and added a couple of dashes of oyster sauce, mushroom sauce on top of the provided sauce packets (for every two packets of instant noodles, I usually just use one of the provided sauce packets) and some chili powder for extra spice.


Avial: Vegetable Stew

Avial is a very popular dish in Kerala, India where it is certainly served during all festivals and even at weddings. It is basically the definite dish in Kerala vegetarian cuisine. My mom has made her own version of this dish several times in Malaysia. She probably got the idea from my grandpa (paternal) who hailed from Kerala :)

This vegetable stew is made of a combination of julienned vegetables (any kind that your heart desires) stir-fried with a spice mixture that primarily includes turmeric, cumin powder and green chilies. The stir-fry is then thickened with coconut milk and towards the end, some creamy yogurt is added. This dish goes well with steaming hot rice or even with chapattis, like how we had it this time around.

The selection of vegetables in my avial dish includes chickpeas (garbanzo beans), green beans, broccoli, carrots, red and green peppers, onions and also a handful of lima beans.


Upma: Savory Semolina

Tiffin is an Indian English word that basically means light meal. In South India, where my husband is from, the term is generally used for between-meals snacks: this could be anything from dosas, idlis, pooris, and even the dish featured here: upma. Sometimes, the word tiffin may also refer to a light meal of lunch or dinner. In Malaysia, we don’t use this word for light meals although Malaysians are probably familiar with the term tiffin carrier – a multi-tiered food carrier.

Upma is a very easy to prepare dish and we usually have it either as a hearty breakfast or for dinner when we want to end the day with something light. Since upma happens to be hubby and baby’s favorite, it's a regular in my home. Back in Malaysia, I remember savoring this dish in temples, usually served after certain special prayers are held.
Upma is the Indian version of a dish which is now popular in America as couscous. Cream of wheat, semolina or more popularly known in Malaysia as suji is cooked in flavored boiling water till fluffy.

While couscous may be cooked in chicken broth, upma is usually made as a vegetarian dish – cut vegetable pieces stir fried with peanuts or cashews, onions, curry leaves and dried chilies and even grated coconut. To this savory stir fry, water is added (semolina:water = 1:2) and brought to a boil. Then, the semolina is added into the boiling water and stirred consistently till all the water is absorbed.

It can be eaten on its own or with chutneys, vegetable gravy, yogurt or even with some sprinkled sugar.
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