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.


Dover Sole Fillets in Spicy Tomato Gravy

My mom makes delicious crab curry especially when the good crabs are in season. The last time she was in US, she made for us that specialty and satisfied our craving for some crab! I love crab meat but am not at all interested in the idea of buying fresh crabs and cooking them. While crabmeat is easily found US, it is usually in a form that is usually suitable for salads or sandwiches.

The first time hubby and I tried Dover Sole fillets, we realized how it tasted like crabmeat. The fillets are sweet, soft and delicate tasting just like crabmeat. Here, the fillets are cooked in a thick and spicy gravy consisting of tomatoes, onions, ginger, garlic and chili powder. Almost like having mom's crab curry - a perfect, seafood lunch.

Fresh Blueberry Pancakes with Honey-butter Syrup

In Malaysia, pancakes or lempeng are eaten for breakfast as well as a teatime treat. I just love the taste of lempeng durian (durian pancakes) and even the coconut and banana flavored ones with a hot cuppa latte. Here, my pancakes are flavored with blueberries. There's nothing like adding fresh berries to your homemade pancakes! We don't use store bought pancake syrups-just to avoid the extra sugar. So I lightly drizzled the pancakes with a syrup of warm honey and melted butter.


Tomato Rice + Chicken Kurma

Tomato rice is usually savored in my home during Diwali (of course, prepared by my mom, a wonderful chef). Started making them after coming here with my mom's guidance and now it's a regular in my kitchen especially since my little hero is a huge fan.

Chicken kurma -chicken cooked in kurma spice from Malaysia (Adabi - my favorite brand for kurma) potatoes and coconut milk.

Side dish - Raita (cucumber+yogurt relish)

Hyderabadi Chicken Biryani

Hubby is my recipe guide for this dish. He has been making me biryanis (vegetable, lamb, chicken) very so regularly since the time we got married. These days he has been busy with work and business school and so I have taken over (temporarily) the biryani making business in our home :) This is actually an authentic dish from hubby's homeland. The chicken is marinated in a special Hyderabadi biryani spice mix with creamy yogurt before it is cooked with the fragrant Basmati rice.

In the background: left - sherva (tomato masala gravy), a special gravy usually served alongside biryanis; right - raita (cucumber+yogurt relish).

Ginger Chicken-Shiitake

Another dish I started making in my kitchen trying to recreate my mom's famous ginger chicken. Since hubby and I also like shiitake mushrooms, I added them to the usual ginger chicken dish and realised that the chicken-mushroom combination was so good. Shiitake is kind of meaty and does not have the woodsy flavor that some mushrooms have. This is a dish where chicken and shiitake mushrooms are cooked in fresh ginger-infused gravy made of oyster sauce, tamari and mushroom flavored sauce.

Nasi Lemak Biasa (regular)

I guess it won't be an offense to say that Malaysians cannot live without this dish that is a complete meal on its own. A dish that is so easily available all day long, one can have it in the 'simple' form like the one pictured here or go crazy by choosing from a wide array of 'toppings': fried chicken, chicken/beef rendang, squid sambal, tempeh and so the list goes on.

In this picture, clockwise from bottom-left: sambal ikan bilis (anchovy in chili gravy), telur dadar (omelette), crunchy mixture (fried Japanese anchovies + peanuts), sliced cucumbers, coconut rice (rice cooked in coconut milk).

Kung Pao Chicken

This is a variation of a dish more popularly known in Malaysia as sweet-and-sour chicken. In India, this dish would probably be tagged as Manchurian Chicken because of the combination of two major flavors: spicy and sweet.

I first tried this dish in U.S in an Asian diner as Kung Pao chicken. It is basically boneless chicken stir fried with vegetables (bell peppers+celery), along with peanuts in a special sauce that is a mixture of peppercorns, sweet chili sauce, oyster sauce, tamari (soy sauce - dark and light) and rice wine vinegar.

Stir-Fried Haricot Vert with Carrots and Eggs

Haricot Vert is french for green beans. I usually prefer this variety of green beans because they are longer and thinner than most green bean varieties. They are also more tender and have a more complex flavor. For the most part, they are interchangeable with green beans which are also called string beans or snap beans. This high-protein stir-fry is the perfect side dish!

Cili Garam Terung (Fried eggplant in chili gravy)

This is an authentic recipe of the Peranakan community in Malaysia. My mom acquired this recipe from our Peranakan family in Melaka and used to make it quite regularly at home. I remember helping her pound the chilies with a mortar and pestle (the original way of getting the chilies pounded) before we opted for the faster and easier short-cut = food processor :)

Cili garam (a thick chili gravy consisting of pounded fresh red chilies, shallots and candlenuts) is wonderful with all types of fried fish (especially pomfret) or even tofu. Here, I made cili garam with quartered and fried brinjals. A wonderful dish on a non-meat eating day!

Turkey Kheema

A kheema dish originally refers to any kind of minced meat (typically lamb, chicken and beef) fried with onions, ginger, garlic and a certain spice mix. Kheema is so versatile as it can be used as a filling in almost anything. In Malaysia, one can savor either chicken or beef kheema as a filling in kebabs in pasar malam (night market). My mom used to make chicken/lamb kheema as a filling for her homemade currypuffs. In the U.S, one can find kheema in tacos, tortilla and burritos or even chili dips. Here, I used minced turkey meat and fried it with Indian spices. This goes well with sandwiches and chapatis too!
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