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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Tofu Salad with Spiced Peanut Sauce + Midsummer Potluck for Peace

Tofu Salad with Spiced Peanut Sauce + Midsummer Potluck for Peace

Yay, summer's here! Can you tell that this tropical sun worshipper is jumping for joy? Salads are usually in heavy rotation for us during the warmer months of the year here in California and when I want a taste from my sunny home of Southeast Asia, this tofu salad with a flavorsome spiced peanut sauce is what I make. 

This salad is inspired by a tofu street snack in Malaysia that goes by the name tauhu bakar (grilled tofu) or tauhu sumbat (fried tofu stuffed with vegetables). It is fried tofu filled with bean sprouts, and shredded cucumber and carrots. The fried tofu pieces are cut into squares or triangles, and pockets are made by cutting their midsection, which is where the vegetables go. The fried tofu may also be grilled to a crisp just before serving. 

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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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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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Golden Turmeric Rice (Nasi Kunyit) [Video]

Golden Turmeric Rice (Nasi Kunyit) [Video]

Early autumn. Ah, the air is getting thinner, crisper, and colder. After living in California for two years, I've had a chance to deliberate over the changing seasons and even pick a favorite. It's a toss between spring and autumn, the transition seasons that allow my mind and body to prepare for the extremities of summer and winter.

You can read about my initial thoughts on springsummer, and autumn, but I've yet to embrace the dark age of winter. Brrr. (I know what you're thinking. California winter is nothing, but don't forget I grew up in a tropical country!)

Right now, I'm feeling comfortably cuddly in an oversized sweater the color of mustard yellow, an intentional choice to contrast the grayness of my day. I suppose I do the same with food, responding not only to my body's need to pack in heat and my craving for spices, but also an ocular desire for a bright dish to show up for dinner.

For that, I have turned to a basic rice preparation using turmeric, known in Malaysia as nasi kunyit and in Indonesia also as nasi kuning. 

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Malaysian Herb Salad (Ulam) [Video]

Malaysian Herb Salad (Ulam) [Video]

When considering some of the ingredients used in preparing the Malaysian herb salad known as ulam, it's easy to understand why anyone, including myself, would be intimidated. We're talking about herbs like daun kaduk (betel leaves), bunga kantan (torch ginger bud), and daun kesum (Vietnamese coriander), just to name a few exotic ones on the list, and all of which I have never seen since moving to the US. 

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Malaysian Beetroot Rendang

Malaysian Beetroot Rendang

If there's one thing I miss more than eating Malaysian food, it's hearing Malaysian food being prepared. The sizzle of garlic and onion in hot oil, the clanging of a Chinese metal spatula against the wok, and that conspicuous thump of a cleaver meeting a wood chopping block. Such is the soundtrack of a typical Malaysian kitchen. Add to that brilliant bursts of flames licking the sides of woks and you have a scene from a busy "daichow" (literally "big fry" in Cantonese) restaurant, like the one my dad used to cook in.

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Corn Pancakes with Apam Balik Toppings + A Year on the Road

Corn Pancakes with Apam Balik Toppings + A Year on the Road

It's been a year since I moved to California, and six months since I started this blog. The biggest lesson I've learned from it all is this: Nothing beats a good breakfast. Whatever happened yesterday, or wherever you were the day before, tomorrow's breakfast is as certain as the first light of day. There's a sense of newness to that time of the day, it's about being in the present and making a promise to show up for the future. 

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Malaysian Tomato Quinoa (Nasi Tomato)

Malaysian Tomato Quinoa (Nasi Tomato)

We're at the height of tomato season in our backyard. I feel like a proud mama watching the cherry tomato plants grow from little seedlings into the lush network of fruit-bearing machines they are now. Before this, I'd never grown anything, save for sprouting some beans on the kitchen top, but that doesn't count. Not everything we planted took off though, so we're still figuring things out around the garden as we go along. But for now, we're popping these juicy tomatoes in our mouth and admiring the faint hint of green that our thumbs are developing. 

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