Indian Spiced Okra with Kenyan Coconut Rice + Celebrating Diversity

Indian Spiced Okra with Kenyan Coconut Rice + Celebrating Diversity

Lately I've been making foods that I've never had before, allowing books like Shane Mitchell's Far Afield: Rare Food Encounters from Around the World to guide me in my exploration of new flavors. Whenever life stresses me out, I retreat to the kitchen. If I had to express myself succinctly without delving into the current political climate in the US, I'd say the last few months have been really disturbing.

In cooking I seek solace and I always find it, the discovery of a new ingredient or the excitement of trying a new recipe never fails to provide me with a sense of meaning in a time of confusion. Having Indian-style spiced okra with Kenyan coconut rice on the same plate makes perfect sense for me right now. And yes, they are tasty together!

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Monk Fruit Tea + Asian Food Trends at the Winter Fancy Food Show

Monk Fruit Tea + Asian Food Trends at the Winter Fancy Food Show

I'd like to talk about an ingredient I always pick up when we go to Chinatown: monk fruit. Hard, dry, and rather featureless on the outside, it is understandably a mysterious fruit even though it is a common ingredient in Chinese herbal medicine. I grew up having it as a tong sui (sweet soup) or tea to help suppress coughs and cool down on a hot day. 

Like goji berry, another age-old ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine, monk fruit has entered the Western market in the form of monk fruit sweeteners. Though seeing it on the alternative sugar section of my local grocery stores piqued my curiosity, I didn't get a chance to try it until I attended the recent Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. 

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Step by Step: How to Make Dried Orange Peel

Step by Step: How to Make Dried Orange Peel

The addition of dried orange peels in dishes gives it an inviting citrus aroma. You can buy the dried peels (known as chen pi) from Asian herbal stores but I've decided to make my own from the mandarin oranges I've been gobbling. Peels from different citruses will, of course, give different flavors. I used mandarin because it's in season now and the peel is usually thinner with less of the bitter pith (the white spongy layer between the fruit and the skin). 

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Red Bean Soup and Peanut Mochi

Red Bean Soup and Peanut Mochi

Peanuts for a long life, sticky rice for togetherness, red beans for love, oranges for good fortune... And all that sweetness for a sweet life in the new year!

Make no mistake, Chinese New Year is about food: the preparation, cooking, and eating are all a part of the ceremonious celebration that lasts about two weeks. It is when we eat special foods that carry symbolic significance for a healthy, happy, and prosperous new year. It is also when food is in abundance and generously shared to bring forth a full and contented spirit to start the year with. At this time of the year, more is always better and sharing truly is caring!

Today, in celebration of the lunar new year, I have two sweet recipes for you: Red Bean Soup and Peanut Mochi that are especially delicious enjoyed together. The recipes are adapted from the impressive China: The Cookbook, my friendly cooking companion this festive season. And it could be yours too as I'm giving away a copy! (Scroll down for details on how to win.)  

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Chinatown + Snow Fungus Soup for a Sweet Lunar New Year

Chinatown + Snow Fungus Soup for a Sweet Lunar New Year

There's a joke among Malaysians that we'll travel far and wide for food, and that includes speed driving across town for that special plate of char kway teow during our workday lunch break or making a road trip out of an intense desire for laksa on the island of Penang. That habit is a persistent one and even after relocating to the US, my husband and I often find ourselves making the hour-long drive to Oakland for our favorite Malaysian restaurant in the SF Bay Area. And because the restaurant is located in Chinatown, we get to kill two birds with one stone: eating and shopping!

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Step by Step: How To Make Tamarind Paste

Step by Step: How To Make Tamarind Paste

Many Southeast Asian dishes just wouldn't be the same without the fruity and citrusy sweet-sour flavor of tamarind, although I've used lime juice as a substitute during desperate times. The tamarind commonly used in cooking comes from the seed pods of the tamarind tree that can usually be found in pod form, as a hard block of pulp, as a concentrate, or in a powder form.

Tamarind concentrate and powder may present themselves as attractively convenient but I find the best results to come from making tamarind paste from the tightly packed pulpy block (preferably seedless), which is usually available at Asian stores and storable in the refrigerator for quite a long time. Based on my experience cooking in Malaysia, online research and trials at home, this is how you can prepare tamarind paste.

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Malaysian Laksa with Pumpkin (Spicy Noodle Soup)

Malaysian Laksa with Pumpkin (Spicy Noodle Soup)

"There is so much comfort in familiar tastes," writes Nigel Slater in The Kitchen Diaries. Laksa, a spice-strong noodle soup considered by some to be the unofficial national dish of Malaysia, is one of those dishes that serves up both comfort and surprise for me. There are countless variations and almost every state in Malaysia has its own version of the recipe. Depending on where I'm having it, the familiar dish can sometimes be a completely new discovery for my palate. 

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A Cup of Gratitude (Holy Basil and Rose Tea)

A Cup of Gratitude (Holy Basil and Rose Tea)

On New Year's eve, we stayed in and had sushi with Japanese whisky mixed with coconut water, watched two episodes of Black Mirror over popcorn and ice cream, and fell asleep at 11.30pm. The next day, we woke up without a hangover nor that feeling of regret in the pit of our stomachs. It was the best countdown ever, and the most obvious sign of um, graceful aging. 

Another day, another year. 2017 is here. I slept through its arrival, but I have a whole year to catch up so I'm not going to worry too much about it. Around the same time last year, I was standing on an old wooden ladder to put a fresh coat of paint on our kitchen walls. This year, on the first day of the new year, I was standing in the same kitchen making a cup of Gratitude Tea and counting my blessings.

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Basmati Saffron Pilaf [Video]

Basmati Saffron Pilaf [Video]

Family traditions are often created over the holidays. This year, we're thinking of spicing up our first Christmas in the new apartment. As we plan this year's Christmas menu, it's looking more and more like a multicultural feast made up not only of Western holiday staples but also some of our Asian favorites, like this spicy Basmati Saffron Pilaf and an East-meets-West pumpkin laksa soup I've been experimenting on (watch this space!). It appears a holiday tradition is in the making in our household, and it is one that embraces diversity as a delicious opportunity. 

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Fig Leaf Spice Blend from Dandelion and Quince

Fig Leaf Spice Blend from Dandelion and Quince

For a year we lived in a house with a big fig tree. It was the best thing about the house, along with the plum, kumquatorange, and avocado trees. During a year fraught with challenging life transitions, these magnificent trees, so exotic and peculiar to my tropical origins, blessed us with their alluring fruits. 

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Let's Talk About Cookbooks!

Let's Talk About Cookbooks!

In my first ever visit to New York early this year, I came across Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks in the East Village, a bookstore entirely dedicated to cookbooks. When I went back to New York again a few months later for the SAVEUR Blog Awards, my new friend Suchi took me to Kitchen Arts & Letters in Uptown, another bookstore filled to the brim with cookbooks and food-related reads.

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Malaysian Spicy Tomato, Anytime of the Year [Video]

Malaysian Spicy Tomato, Anytime of the Year [Video]

We know tomato as the quintessential warm-weather treat, literally bursting with flavor, minimally handled and enjoyed raw, only lightly adorned with a pinch of salt or a dash of balsamic vinegar to let its best qualities shine.

At other times of the year, especially in colder months like now, this recipe is how I like to eat semi-decent tomatoes still clinging to the heels of summer. Cooked with a rich mix of spices, it turns even subpar supermarket tomatoes into a scrumptious dish that will sustain any tomato craving all through the winter. In fact, hardier tomato varieties
that are more readily available year round like beefsteak and roma are best used to maintain a chewier texture. 

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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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