My Essential Southeast Asian Cookbooks, Part IV: Malaysia

My Essential Southeast Asian Cookbooks, Part IV: Malaysia

Honestly, I'm not a stickler for authenticity when it comes to home cooking. But you already know that based on what I've been sharing on my blog. I made a vegetarian rendang, originally a traditional meat-based Malaysian dry curry, with beetroot and then again with pumpkin. So you know where I stand. 

I've been thinking a lot about my own food culture. The one informed by my Malaysian background. The one influenced by my move to the United States. In my American kitchen, I combine the Southeast Asian flavors I'm homesick for with the California vegetables I'm so in love with in the same pan. That is my food culture now. Put pumpkin in my laksa (Malaysian spicy noodle soup)? Let's try it! These dishes, although not strictly authentic, taste like home for me now. 

It is with this sentiment that I'm writing this installment of My Essential Southeast Asian Cookbooks series, the focus being the three Malaysian cookbooks released this year.

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Pumpkin Curry (Malaysian Rendang Style) + A Gallery of Squash

Pumpkin Curry (Malaysian Rendang Style) + A Gallery of Squash

Does food define home for you? It took moving thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean from Malaysia to the United States for me to realize how much I look for home in what I eat and cook. Now that I also call my husband's home state California my home, the food on my plate is a mishmash of both of our cultures. 

One of the first Malaysian dishes I cooked in my American kitchen using local vegetables is beetroot rendang. Let me tell you what rendang is. It's a dry curry made with an intense spice paste and coconut milk that's usually cooked with meat. My fascination with all the new produce I was discovering at that time gave me the idea to make a plant-based rendang with beetroot during my first spring here.

Then when autumn came, I made rendang again with pumpkin...

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Build Your Own Malaysian Soy Sauce Noodles (Kon Loh Mee)

Build Your Own Malaysian Soy Sauce Noodles (Kon Loh Mee)


This post is sponsored by San Miguel Produce. We've teamed up with Jade Asian Greens, who provided the vegetables, to present a flavorful noodle dish that can be customized to your liking.

Ordering hawker or kopitiam (coffee house) noodles in Malaysia is not too different from the concept of building your own noodle bowl (or plate, if you like). First of all, you can choose to have them either in soup or dry style, to put it simply. Noodle soup is self-explanatory so my focus today is on the dry version.

Since Cantonese appears to be the lingua franca for ordering Chinese food in Kuala Lumpur where I hail, I'd like to start by introducing it by the name frequently used, Kon Loh Mee. Directly translated, it basically means "dry mix noodles," and perhaps that should give you some idea about how it's prepared. 

Unlike the soy sauce stir-fried noodles I've previously shared, the noodles here are not stir-fried but tossed with a soy sauce mixture and served with toppings, which can vary depending on the vendor's specialty and customizable based on your preference. 

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Pickled Green Chilies + Peppers of the Americas

Pickled Green Chilies + Peppers of the Americas

Cut chilies on restaurant tables in Malaysia are a thing like salt and pepper shakers are in American eateries. They are usually accompanied by soy sauce, so you can make a chili soy sauce dip to go with your food. What can I say? We really like chilies. Even those who can't take the heat like chilies. Pickled green chilies are usually not very hot but sweet and sour instead and it's quite common to find a jar sitting next to the other condiments. 

I can't tell you which kind of heat-less green chili we use in Malaysia. Most recipes there will simply list the ingredient as green chili because as far as we're concerned, there are only red and green chilies. But I'll tell you that when I make this here, I use either jalapeno or serrano chilies (below) with a preference for the latter because I like the sharper heat. 

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Step by Step: How to Make Shallot Oil + Crispy Shallots

Step by Step: How to Make Shallot Oil + Crispy Shallots

Shallot oil is the unsung hero in simple Asian cooking, the secret piece to that "I-love-it-but-I-don't-know-what-it-is" puzzle (true story). Simply put, it is oil infused with the aromatic shallot that can easily be made by frying sliced shallots and then preserving the oil.

The fragrant oil can be used in stir-fries in place of normal oil or drizzled over soups. It is in fact a vital flavor in the Malaysian soy sauce noodles known as Kon Loh Mee and really ups the flavor in the minimal Asian-style blanched vegetables

Let's not forget the crispy fried shallots that come out of the simple process of making shallot oil. These tasty crunchy bits are your secret weapon to dressing up fried rice, noodles, soups, vegetable dishes, and even salads. 

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Asian Pear and Dried Fig Soup + California Fig Road Trip

Asian Pear and Dried Fig Soup + California Fig Road Trip

Did you know that there are believed to be more than 1,500 varieties of figs in the world? The first time I had a fig and fell in love with it was in Turkey. It was one of the dark skin varieties, Mission or Brown Turkey, which to me at that time was mysterious and exotic. The love affair continued when I moved to a house in California with an old fig tree that produces little green figs called Kadota. 

I learned to identify the types of figs I was eating, even when they were dried. It wasn't much later that I realized my family in Malaysia had been cooking with dried figs, particularly to make herbal soups, and that I was enjoying these elixirs without knowing the presence of figs in them. The recipe I'm sharing today, although much simplified in terms of ingredients, is a tribute to that tradition. 

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Asian Omelet with Snow Pea Shoots (Egg Foo Yung)

Asian Omelet with Snow Pea Shoots (Egg Foo Yung)

 

This post is sponsored by San Miguel Produce. We've teamed up with Jade Asian Greens, who provided the vegetables, to bring you an Asian-style omelet packed with green goodness. 

I have such a crush on snow pea shoots (dau miu) that I want to talk about them again here. A few weeks ago, I wrote about a tofu scramble recipe that features these greens, and today I have an egg recipe that also effectively packs in the veggie goodness.

As mentioned in previous posts, I've been developing recipes for the Jade Asian Greens website. When I presented these two snow pea shoot recipes for them to choose, we loved them so much that we decided to share both of them. Hurray for plant power! 

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Sri Lankan Jackfruit Curry + Jackfruit the Old-Fashioned Way

Sri Lankan Jackfruit Curry + Jackfruit the Old-Fashioned Way

Many of us now identify with jackfruit as a vegan meat substitute but I knew it first as a giant fruit bigger than the size of my head with bright yellow flesh as sweet as honey. Growing up in Malaysia, it was one of my mother's favorite fruits and I can still remember the nectarous whiff that came with it. We called it by its Malay name nangka and sometimes ate it deep-fried in batter as a mid-day snack. 

With all the recent jazz surrounding jackfruit as the "pulled pork" of vegan cooking, I was curious to find out how this tropical fruit had originally been cooked in other countries and cultures. Jackfruit has long been enjoyed in South Asia and Southeast Asia both in its ripe and green forms. In Thailand and The Philippines, the sweet fruit is thinly sliced and added to desserts. Countries like India and Indonesia treat the bland unripe jackfruit like a vegetable and use it in curries and stews, like the Sri Lankan curry I made. 

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Baby Bok Choy in Fruity Sweet Sour Sauce

Baby Bok Choy in Fruity Sweet Sour Sauce


This post is sponsored by San Miguel Produce. We've teamed up with Jade Asian Greens, who provided the vegetables, to bring you an appetizing dish featuring baby Shanghai bok choy.

Considering how well-loved bok choy is, I was very excited to be given the opportunity to share one of my favorite ways of enjoying this vegetable on the Jade Asian Greens website. In this recipe, one of several I've developed for the farm in Southern California, baby bok choy is cooked with a fruity Chinese sweet-sour sauce to be served simply with rice. 

Bok choy literally means "white vegetable" in Cantonese and may sometimes be called Chinese white cabbage. It is the Chinese vegetable most people are familiar with and because of its versatility, it is ubiquitous in Asian food, especially in stir-fries and noodle dishes. Baby bok choy, which is what I've used in this recipe, is basically young, smaller bok choy that's prized for its tender texture. 

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Heirloom Tomato Confit + Tomato Tasting Party at One Acre Farm

Heirloom Tomato Confit + Tomato Tasting Party at One Acre Farm

We never let summer go by without sinking our teeth into peak-season heirloom tomatoes but recently found ourselves with way too many after returning from a tomato party at One Acre Farm. I've written about some of the fun things we get to do when we volunteer there but I can't believe I haven't told you about tomato season at the farm. They grow more than 20 varieties of tomatoes there!

I was so smitten with all the tomatoes during my first year there I didn't recover in time to report about them. But hey, we were more prepared this year and here we are with all the photos and notes from the tasting session to share with you. Plus, a giant bag of precious heirlooms and a recipe for extending their lifespan just a little longer. 

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My Essential Southeast Asian Cookbooks, Part III: New Indochina

My Essential Southeast Asian Cookbooks, Part III: New Indochina

2017 has been an exciting year for Southeast Asian cookbooks. I've compiled a list of newly released cookbooks that highlight the cuisines of mainland Southeast Asia, historically known as Indochina and includes Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia.

I've had the privilege to visit all these countries and enjoy the amazing food, and I really value the opportunity presented in these cookbooks to recreate some of the recipes in my own kitchen, all the way here in California. Thailand and Vietnam dominate the list, a testament to the popularity of their food in the West, while the release of a cookbook by a successful Burmese restaurant chain signals a growing interest in the food of Myanmar. I would love to see more attention given to the food of Laos and Cambodia as I think their contribution to the identity of the Southeast Asian flavor profile should be acknowledged. 

I'm saving the Malaysian cookbooks for another list so come back here for the next installment in this series. To see the previous lists on this cookbook series, click here for the classics and here for travel-themed cookbooks.

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Tofu Scramble with Tomatoes and Snow Pea Shoots (Dau Miu)

Tofu Scramble with Tomatoes and Snow Pea Shoots (Dau Miu)


This post is sponsored by San Miguel Produce. We've teamed up with Jade Asian Greens, who provided the vegetables, to bring you a protein-rich vegan breakfast featuring nutrient-dense snow pea shoots.

Christmas came early when we received a giant box of vegetables from a farm in Southern California. Yes, that's how some of us green-loving people like Christmas! (Hint, hint.) In the box were packets of baby bok choy and dau miu and the reason we've been showered with all these wonderful leafy greens is that I've been commissioned to develop some recipes for the Jade Asian Greens website. 

Nothing gets me more excited than writing about vegetables! I'm glad to know that my recent posts about finding and cooking Asian vegetables were something that you really enjoyed, especially this one on Asian greens. Today, we're turning our attention to snow pea shoots, known in Chinese as dau miu. And the recipe I'm sharing is a delicious way to sneak in healthy greens into your breakfast or brunch. 

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Spiced Rooibos Tea Potato

Spiced Rooibos Tea Potato

Think Chinese tea eggs and you have an idea of how this recipe was born. I've always been fascinated with the idea of cooking with tea. In China, tea is used to smoke meat, Japanese matcha finds its way into a variety of desserts, and a fascinating fermented tea leaf salad is made in Myanmar.

This recipe applies the concept of using tea as a seasoning and follows the traditional Chinese method of simmering eggs in a brew of black tea with soy sauce and whole spices. I used potatoes in place of eggs and an herbal tea instead of black tea. 

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Asian Style Pesto Noodles with Roasted Green Onions

Asian Style Pesto Noodles with Roasted Green Onions

Is it obvious that I'm mad about cilantro and green onions? It's very common for these greens to appear as garnishes in Asian food, hence the liberal sprinkling you see on many of the dishes I've written about here and here. Every now and then, I do something radical with them, like green onion hummus

One of my favorite ways to eat these greens together is in a Chinese dipping sauce that often comes with poached chicken in Malaysia. And that is essentially the basis of the ingredients in this flavor-packed pesto. 

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Thai Basil Zucchini and Bell Pepper

Thai Basil Zucchini and Bell Pepper

I could very well say that vegetables make me a better cook. When I first moved to the US about three years ago, I spent countless weekends at the farmer's markets. It was from there that I discovered new vegetables and learned how to cook seasonally. Those trips motivated me to volunteer on a farm, find out how food was grown, and try to grow my own vegetables

Zucchini was one of the first few things we planted during my first summer here.

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