Sweet Rice Dumplings with Pumpkin (Tang Yuan) + A Pumpkin Party!

Sweet Rice Dumplings with Pumpkin (Tang Yuan) + A Pumpkin Party!

The last time I shared a kitchen with my family in Malaysia was on the night before my little brother's wedding, making tang yuan with aunts, uncles, and cousins I had lost touch with for many years. 

Tang yuan are sticky balls made of glutinous rice flour that sometimes have a sweet peanut, black sesame seed or red bean filling, served in a spicy ginger soup. These dumplings are usually made during the Winter Solstice festival (happening soon) or on the occasion of a family reunion. 

In Chinese tradition, the roundness and stickiness of the balls symbolize harmony and unity within the family. Rarely do we make tang yuan for no special reason, and they are almost always done around a table full of family members involved in various stages of the cooking process. Kneading, the shaping of balls, boiling and scooping, talking loudly, and laughing are all part of the ritual. 

That night, we were honoring the union of two people, and it was one of the most joyous tang yuan making sessions I've ever had in my life.  

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Easy Malaysian Fruit Salad (Rojak Buah) + Taste of Home

Easy Malaysian Fruit Salad (Rojak Buah) + Taste of Home

"What meal always tastes like home to you?" 

That question has been on my mind ever since it was brought up on the #WhyIWriteAboutFood interview series I host (read the interview here and and check out the entire collection of delicious conversations here). 

Vermilion Roots was born out of the necessity to find a sense of place after I moved from Malaysia to California. In many ways, it has given me a space to confront my feelings about the place I left and to explore the place where I now live. Along the way, I made a few new friends, met many more at the recent SAVEUR Blog Awards in New York, started volunteering on a farm, tried a bunch of vegetables I'd never heard of before, picked apples and pumpkins for the first time in my life, and became a better cook. A whole new universe opened up for me. All thanks to the universal love of cooking and eating. 

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Easy as ABC Soup

Easy as ABC Soup

This Summer, I have one simple word for you: EASY. I'm inviting you to join me for a fun and (hopefully) care-free time in the kitchen making easy Asian dishes. What I'll be doing is taking some of my favorite Asian recipes and giving them a new twist by simplifying them.

What that means is I will be replacing some ingredients that are either too difficult to find outside of Asia or too expensive to buy when you do find them. I will introduce one or two basic ingredients that may be new to you. I may even throw in several simple step-by-step videos to show how they are done. How exciting!

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My Time Capsule + Salted Kumquat Tea

My Time Capsule + Salted Kumquat Tea

A year ago, I filled up several jars with layers of sea salt and fresh kumquats from the backyard. I placed them on the shelf, checked on them every few weeks, and eventually forgot about them. Patience is an essential ingredient in this recipe. 

Salted kumquats are one of those things that get better with age, and I've been told they keep for years, in fact the longer the better. Almost every Chinese household keeps a jar, or knows someone who does, because salted kumquats in hot water with honey stirred in are a long-held Chinese remedy for sore throat. Add some ice cubes and you have the perfect sweet-sour-salty cure for a hot day. 

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Chinese Turnip Cake + A Special Anniversary Tribute

Chinese Turnip Cake + A Special Anniversary Tribute

Vermilion Roots is turning one in a few days and I wanted to make a cake to celebrate the milestone. I know what you are thinking: a cake made with turnips? Well, yes. There are a few things you should know about this cake. Firstly, it's a savory cake that goes really well with hoisin and sriracha sauce. The so-called icing on the cake are sprinkles of chopped spring onions and red chilis. It's based on a traditional Chinese dish known as "lo bak go" commonly served at dim sum restaurants and a staple in some parts of China during the Lunar New Year. 

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Chinese Egg Flower Soup with Leeks

Chinese Egg Flower Soup with Leeks

For the uninitiated, like myself, they look like super-sized spring onions at first glance. On closer inspection, you'll notice that they are not only bigger but also tougher. I have to admit that I was initially quite intimidated by leeks, and very curious to get to know them better. I was fortunate to have the guidance of Rachel Hanawalt of the blog Simple Seasonal to tackle this completely unfamiliar vegetable in our very first CSA share. So this week on the Spring Discovery series, we are talking about leeks, for me the gentle giants of the allium family. 

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Coconut Oil Jasmine Rice

Coconut Oil Jasmine Rice

Rice, oh, rice. You're a life saver. When I was a poor student living on my own, rice was an easy and cheap source of sustenance. When I was sick with IBS, I relied on rice porridge to get me through, sometimes for weeks in a row. A typical meal in many Southeast Asian cultures consists of a selection of flavorful communal dishes served with plain white rice. Rice is an Asian staple, so it should come as no surprise that it is on the list of this month's Asian Kitchen Project series, in which I share key ingredients that let me cook with a twist of Asian flavor no matter where I am in the world. And hopefully for you too. 

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"Economy" Soy Sauce Stir-Fried Noodles + Chili Soy Sauce Dip

"Economy" Soy Sauce Stir-Fried Noodles + Chili Soy Sauce Dip

If I had to pick only one Asian ingredient to have in my kitchen, it would be soy sauce. I'll tell you why. To me, it's as important as salt, and acts like salt in cooking and as a condiment, but with an unmistakable punch of flavor that comes from fermented soybeans. As part of the March Asian Kitchen Project series, I've been sharing key ingredients I'm stocking my new kitchen pantry with that let me cook with a twist of Asian flavor no matter where I am in the world. I've previously written about using dried jujubesgoji berries and Chinese Five Spice in some of my favorite Eastern-Western fusion recipes, but soy sauce was absolutely the first thing I had to get when I moved from Southeast Asia to the US. 

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Asian Kitchen + Jujube Tea with Cacao Nibs

Asian Kitchen + Jujube Tea with Cacao Nibs

I'm happy to report we're settling in nicely at our new place, but the work is not done. My project for March (can you believe March is right around the corner?!) is the kitchen. I asked myself what are the essential ingredients and tools for cooking with a twist of Asian flavor no matter where I am in the world. And I made a list of key items, which I am excited to write about in the coming weeks. 

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Winter Vegetables in Coconut Milk (Bubur Cha Cha)

Winter Vegetables in Coconut Milk (Bubur Cha Cha)

I come to you today with several discoveries. Firstly: Parsnip! Can you believe I had parsnip for the first time only a few weeks ago? Well, it's actually perfectly believable considering I moved to California less than 1.5 years ago from a tropical country that eats vegetables like kangkung and choy sum. Believable but perhaps not forgivable that I took so long to get to it.

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Brown Rice Porridge with Toppings (Teochew Style)

Brown Rice Porridge with Toppings (Teochew Style)

I started the year balancing on a tall wooden ladder, old but fortunately not rickety, while scraping the walls of our new kitchen to prepare them for a fresh coat of paint. January has been filled with renovation work around the house, and I haven't the time to muse about the new year, which is nice for a change.

If I've learned anything from the Januarys behind me, it's that successful transitions do not necessarily call for a set plan of action but are oftentimes a confident work in progress. I did find the time, however, to make a big pot of rice porridge, which thankfully stretched into several customisable, ready-made meals.

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