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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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Matcha Tofu Cream Cheese [Video]

Matcha Tofu Cream Cheese [Video]

Here's a quickie but most definitely a goodie! 

I'm going to New York again, this time for the SAVEUR Blog Awards, where Vermilion Roots has been nominated as a finalist in the Best New Voice category. I can't thank you enough for your support in voting and cheering me on. The nomination itself has already been such a great honor and I look forward to meeting all the talented bloggers from around the world. 

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Fall for Spices + Five Spice Energy Bites

Fall for Spices + Five Spice Energy Bites
"The secret of happiness is variety, but the secret of variety, like the secret of all spices, is knowing when to use it." -Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness

What delights me more than a pantry full of spices from around the world is remembering I have an emergency stash of spices buried deep inside my purse. I call it BYO spice.

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Five Spice Apricot Chutney

Five Spice Apricot Chutney

The last time I took a walk in my neighborhood, I saw a big blue sign on my street with the word APRICOTS written in bright yellow. What did I do? I followed the arrow, of course, and walked into a backyard filled with golden apricots freshly-picked from a farm in the SF Bay Area. It certainly felt like I landed on a page in a Roald Dahl book! 

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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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