South Indian Coconut Vegetable Curry

South Indian Coconut Vegetable Curry

When we think of Indian food, the first few things that come to mind are red curries and naan bread. Little do we know that these are generally North Indian staples and there's a whole different world of cuisine in South India.

Take this fresh-looking curry for example. It hails from Karnataka, a state in the south-western region of India, and gets its appetizing green color from a chewy curry paste made with grated coconut and cilantro. It's nothing like the curries we usually get in Indian restaurants here. 

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Five Spice Taro Rice (aka Yam Rice in Malaysia)

Five Spice Taro Rice (aka Yam Rice in Malaysia)

Taro root (wu tao in Cantonese and keladi in Malay) is probably not the friendliest looking vegetable in town. It has an irregular shape with dark shaggy brown skin that is an irritant to our skin and its flesh is mildly toxic when consumed raw. Yet, we eat it and we love it. It is regularly available in Asian grocery stores and farmers markets here in the San Francisco Bay Area, which tells me that there's a healthy demand for it. I personally think it deserves a little spotlight, which is why I've picked it as the featured vegetable of this week's Spring Discovery series. 

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My Essential Southeast Asian Cookbooks, Part I: Travel

My Essential Southeast Asian Cookbooks, Part I: Travel

Cookbooks on Malaysian food are rare in America but that is about to change when three cookbooks solely dedicated to Malaysian cooking hit the market in the next few months. Yes, three, and I am beyond thrilled! This shows a growing interest in Malaysian cuisine, the food I grew up eating, the food I learned to cook from my parents, and the food that soothes a homesick heart in my American kitchen.

Before we get to the new books (covers shown above), I'd like to tell you about the cookbooks that have helped me cook Malaysian food at home since I moved here. With suggestions from friends in the food business, bookstores, and publishers, I've assembled a collection of cookbooks with Malaysian recipes that I think is worthy of the attention of anyone interested in Malaysian cooking at home. These are books that I cook with and I'd like to share them with you through a series of posts starting with this one. 

Today's line-up is a mixture of old and new Southeast Asian cookbooks inspired by travel.

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Chinese Broccoli with Garlic (Gai Lan) + Getting to Know Asian Greens

Chinese Broccoli with Garlic (Gai Lan) + Getting to Know Asian Greens

With the arrival of spring comes the desire to go outside and explore, and one of my favorite things to do is visit the farmer's markets and peruse the stands for new vegetables to try, a passion I've diligently documented in the Spring Discovery series on this website. With the help of friends and vegetable-focused cookbooks, I've made many delicious discoveries since moving to America from Malaysia. 

This year, my focus turns to Asian vegetables, some I grew up eating and took for granted, some I've known about but lost track of since I moved due to name inconsistencies or differences in appearance, and some completely new to me. It's time to get reacquainted with some old friends and make new ones.

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Rice and Mung Bean Porridge with Vegetables (Kitchari)

Rice and Mung Bean Porridge with Vegetables (Kitchari)

I make porridge a lot. When I feel under the weather and need something light on the stomach, I make a simple rice porridge. When I do not have the time to cook, I make a big pot of rice porridge and have it over the week with various toppings: dried fruits, nuts, and seeds for breakfast or ginger, scallions, soy sauce, sesame oil, and ground white pepper for dinner. In fact, I've written about the various styles of Chinese porridge here and shared a recipe on the Protest Fuel zine (which you can order here). 

Porridge is good for anytime of the day, especially in the colder seasons when a warm bowl of food can bring so much comfort. This winter, I've been making an Indian-style rice and mung bean porridge known as kitchari that I learned about from Ayurveda cookbooks

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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 + A Chinese Cookbook Giveaway!

Red Bean Soup and Peanut Mochi + A Chinese Cookbook Giveaway!

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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