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!
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