As an extension of my intention to prioritize self-care this year, I am resolving to eat more vegetables. That means doing my best to include something green in every meal and eating the rainbow to benefit from all the goodness the plant kingdom has to offer. It also means finding new vegetables to try and learning how to cook them. For that, I have a collection of new cookbooks to help me out, which I'm going to share here in hopes that you can get some inspiration too.
Instead of resolutions, I'm setting an intention this year, and that is to prioritize self-care. New Year resolutions have never really appealed to me because I believe that you can make resolutions anytime of the year. And isn't it a wonderful thing to know that we don't have to wait for that one day in the year to start taking charge of our lives? We can start right now, this very second, wherever we are!
In the past couple months or so, since returning from a five-week trip to Europe, I took a break from work (and blogging) to take care of myself. I joined a gym, hired a personal trainer, and made the effort to do yoga every day and meditate. After several tumultuous years in which I moved from Malaysia to the United States and started a new life far away from home and my family and friends, I decided to take a breath. A deep breath.
I ended the year by putting myself on the path of healing and started the new year with the mantra that I am strong. I resolve to take actionable yet manageable steps to take care of myself and choose to be kind to my body and honor my health. Quite simply, that translates to eating well, getting enough sleep, and exercising. When it's cold, I make a warm drink using ingredients that support my health.
A couple of friends and I decided to pick a cookbook, choose a few recipes to cook from, gather for a potluck, and voila we have a cookbook club! The cookbook we picked was the impressive Chinese food tome All Under Heaven by Carolyn Phillips.
Honestly, I'm not a stickler for authenticity when it comes to home cooking. But you already know that based on what I've been sharing on my blog. I made a vegetarian rendang, originally a traditional meat-based Malaysian dry curry, with beetroot and then again with pumpkin. So you know where I stand.
I've been thinking a lot about my own food culture. The one informed by my Malaysian background. The one influenced by my move to the United States. In my American kitchen, I combine the Southeast Asian flavors I'm homesick for with the California vegetables I'm so in love with in the same pan. That is my food culture now. Put pumpkin in my laksa (Malaysian spicy noodle soup)? Let's try it! These dishes, although not strictly authentic, taste like home for me now.
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...
This post is sponsored by San Miguel Produce. We've teamed up with Jade Asian Greens, who provided the vegetables, to present a flavorful noodle dish that can be customized to your liking.
Ordering hawker or kopitiam (coffee house) noodles in Malaysia is not too different from the concept of building your own noodle bowl (or plate, if you like). First of all, you can choose to have them either in soup or dry style, to put it simply. Noodle soup is self-explanatory so my focus today is on the dry version.
Since Cantonese appears to be the lingua franca for ordering Chinese food in Kuala Lumpur where I hail, I'd like to start by introducing it by the name frequently used, Kon Loh Mee. Directly translated, it basically means "dry mix noodles," and perhaps that should give you some idea about how it's prepared.
Unlike the soy sauce stir-fried noodles I've previously shared, the noodles here are not stir-fried but tossed with a soy sauce mixture and served with toppings, which can vary depending on the vendor's specialty and customizable based on your preference.
Cut chilies on restaurant tables in Malaysia are a thing like salt and pepper shakers are in American eateries. They are usually accompanied by soy sauce, so you can make a chili soy sauce dip to go with your food. What can I say? We really like chilies. Even those who can't take the heat like chilies. Pickled green chilies are usually not very hot but sweet and sour instead and it's quite common to find a jar sitting next to the other condiments.
I can't tell you which kind of heat-less green chili we use in Malaysia. Most recipes there will simply list the ingredient as green chili because as far as we're concerned, there are only red and green chilies. But I'll tell you that when I make this here, I use either jalapeno or serrano chilies (below) with a preference for the latter because I like the sharper heat.
Shallot oil is the unsung hero in simple Asian cooking, the secret piece to that "I-love-it-but-I-don't-know-what-it-is" puzzle (true story). Simply put, it is oil infused with the aromatic shallot that can easily be made by frying sliced shallots and then preserving the oil.
The fragrant oil can be used in stir-fries in place of normal oil or drizzled over soups. It is in fact a vital flavor in the Malaysian soy sauce noodles known as Kon Loh Mee and really ups the flavor in the minimal Asian-style blanched vegetables.
Let's not forget the crispy fried shallots that come out of the simple process of making shallot oil. These tasty crunchy bits are your secret weapon to dressing up fried rice, noodles, soups, vegetable dishes, and even salads.
Did you know that there are believed to be more than 1,500 varieties of figs in the world? The first time I had a fig and fell in love with it was in Turkey. It was one of the dark skin varieties, Mission or Brown Turkey, which to me at that time was mysterious and exotic. The love affair continued when I moved to a house in California with an old fig tree that produces little green figs called Kadota.
I learned to identify the types of figs I was eating, even when they were dried. It wasn't much later that I realized my family in Malaysia had been cooking with dried figs, particularly to make herbal soups, and that I was enjoying these elixirs without knowing the presence of figs in them. The recipe I'm sharing today, although much simplified in terms of ingredients, is a tribute to that tradition.
This post is sponsored by San Miguel Produce. We've teamed up with Jade Asian Greens, who provided the vegetables, to bring you an Asian-style omelet packed with green goodness.
I have such a crush on snow pea shoots (dau miu) that I want to talk about them again here. A few weeks ago, I wrote about a tofu scramble recipe that features these greens, and today I have an egg recipe that also effectively packs in the veggie goodness.
As mentioned in previous posts, I've been developing recipes for the Jade Asian Greens website. When I presented these two snow pea shoot recipes for them to choose, we loved them so much that we decided to share both of them. Hurray for plant power!
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.
This post is sponsored by San Miguel Produce. We've teamed up with Jade Asian Greens, who provided the vegetables, to bring you an appetizing dish featuring baby Shanghai bok choy.
Considering how well-loved bok choy is, I was very excited to be given the opportunity to share one of my favorite ways of enjoying this vegetable on the Jade Asian Greens website. In this recipe, one of several I've developed for the farm in Southern California, baby bok choy is cooked with a fruity Chinese sweet-sour sauce to be served simply with rice.
Bok choy literally means "white vegetable" in Cantonese and may sometimes be called Chinese white cabbage. It is the Chinese vegetable most people are familiar with and because of its versatility, it is ubiquitous in Asian food, especially in stir-fries and noodle dishes. Baby bok choy, which is what I've used in this recipe, is basically young, smaller bok choy that's prized for its tender texture.
We never let summer go by without sinking our teeth into peak-season heirloom tomatoes but recently found ourselves with way too many after returning from a tomato party at One Acre Farm. I've written about some of the fun things we get to do when we volunteer there but I can't believe I haven't told you about tomato season at the farm. They grow more than 20 varieties of tomatoes there!
I was so smitten with all the tomatoes during my first year there I didn't recover in time to report about them. But hey, we were more prepared this year and here we are with all the photos and notes from the tasting session to share with you. Plus, a giant bag of precious heirlooms and a recipe for extending their lifespan just a little longer.
2017 has been an exciting year for Southeast Asian cookbooks. I've compiled a list of newly released cookbooks that highlight the cuisines of mainland Southeast Asia, historically known as Indochina and includes Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia.
I've had the privilege to visit all these countries and enjoy the amazing food, and I really value the opportunity presented in these cookbooks to recreate some of the recipes in my own kitchen, all the way here in California. Thailand and Vietnam dominate the list, a testament to the popularity of their food in the West, while the release of a cookbook by a successful Burmese restaurant chain signals a growing interest in the food of Myanmar. I would love to see more attention given to the food of Laos and Cambodia as I think their contribution to the identity of the Southeast Asian flavor profile should be acknowledged.
This post is sponsored by San Miguel Produce. We've teamed up with Jade Asian Greens, who provided the vegetables, to bring you a protein-rich vegan breakfast featuring nutrient-dense snow pea shoots.
Christmas came early when we received a giant box of vegetables from a farm in Southern California. Yes, that's how some of us green-loving people like Christmas! (Hint, hint.) In the box were packets of baby bok choy and dau miu and the reason we've been showered with all these wonderful leafy greens is that I've been commissioned to develop some recipes for the Jade Asian Greens website.
Nothing gets me more excited than writing about vegetables! I'm glad to know that my recent posts about finding and cooking Asian vegetables were something that you really enjoyed, especially this one on Asian greens. Today, we're turning our attention to snow pea shoots, known in Chinese as dau miu. And the recipe I'm sharing is a delicious way to sneak in healthy greens into your breakfast or brunch.
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.
Is it obvious that I'm mad about cilantro and green onions? It's very common for these greens to appear as garnishes in Asian food, hence the liberal sprinkling you see on many of the dishes I've written about here and here. Every now and then, I do something radical with them, like green onion hummus!
One of my favorite ways to eat these greens together is in a Chinese dipping sauce that often comes with poached chicken in Malaysia. And that is essentially the basis of the ingredients in this flavor-packed pesto.
I could very well say that vegetables make me a better cook. When I first moved to the US about three years ago, I spent countless weekends at the farmer's markets. It was from there that I discovered new vegetables and learned how to cook seasonally. Those trips motivated me to volunteer on a farm, find out how food was grown, and try to grow my own vegetables.
Zucchini was one of the first few things we planted during my first summer here.
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.
I love it when a recipe challenges and teaches me a few new tricks. This vegetarian Pad Thai sparked an entire post about fishless fish sauce, in which I set out to investigate the commercial fish sauce substitutes available in my local Asian supermarket and put three vegan fish sauce recipes to the test at home. Click here to read the results and find the vegetarian fish sauce to make this all-time favorite Thai noodle dish.
There are a few things we can learn from this recipe found in the brilliant vegetarian cookbook Good Veg by Alice Hart. Most important of them is that whether you call yourself vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian, or lessmeatarian, meatless cooking poses more delicious opportunities than you realise. This book is filled with ideas highlighting flavor profiles from all over the world, including to my delight many recipes inspired by Asia and Southeast Asia.
The first time I wrote about fish sauce was for the Thai Glass Noodle Salad (Yum Woon Sen) recipe. It's difficult to talk about Southeast Asian food without talking about fish sauce. Made with anchovies fermented in salt, fish sauce is a staple condiment in Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Burmese, and Lao cuisines.
I also mentioned vegan fish sauce in that post and promised that I will explore the subject further. So here we are! I tested three vegan fish sauce recipes, used them to make the same Thai glass noodle salad, and took tasting notes. In the process, I learned a few things about umami ingredients, lessons that are valuable for everyone, vegan or not.
I only started using cookbooks after I moved to the US and had to learn how to cook Malaysian food while away from home. It was equal parts desperation and curiosity that led me to the kitchen and the creation of this blog to document my culinary adventures. I am a much better cook these days but I didn't achieve that all by myself. I had my parents on the phone for guidance, friends showing me recipes to save my life, and cookbooks providing the proper foundation for lifelong kitchen skills. Yes, an urgent craving for rojak is a matter of life and death!
So this is why I've started writing this cookbook series. Maybe you're homesick like me and need to soothe it with food from home. Maybe you've been to Malaysia or other parts of Southeast Asia, tried the food, and your life is forever changed. Maybe you're curious about Southeast Asian food and want to try cooking it.
This list is made up of classic Southeast Asian cookbooks with recipes that are as reliable as time. My focus here is on Malaysian food, but you will soon realise that some of the recipes from the neighboring countries are closely related.
To see the travel-themed books in the first part of this cookbook series, click here. To start cooking, click here for a list of recipes on my blog.
"The lotus flower blooms most beautifully from the deepest and thickest mud." – Buddhist proverb
I'm starting this post with this popular saying to give you an idea of the symbolic significance of the sacred lotus plant in Buddhist and Hindu art and literature. Straightforwardly, it means rising above the murk and resembles the purification of the human spirit.
More importantly, I'd like you to get a mental image of where lotus roots, today's featured vegetable on the Spring Discovery series, come from. Mud. Yes, mud.
Lotus roots are rhizomes of the lotus flower that grow in muddy ponds across Asia, known for the striking pattern of holes that reveal themselves when cut crosswise. As a young child in Malaysia, I called lotus root the "telephone vegetable", and I grew up having them boiled in soup with peanuts. The lotus root soup recipe I'm sharing here is a vegetarian version that I now make.
Vermilion Roots is TWO! So I made two cakes. Not that I need any excuse to crowd your screen with the plump, juicy colors of seasonal fruits and fresh berries, but I can't think of anything more suitable for this blog's status as a Spring baby. Besides, these beauties are for sharing. They deserve attention and we, my dear friends, deserve to celebrate.
You'd probably realised by now that I'm a fan of unconventional cakes. I'm known to show up at potlucks with a green cake in hand, and to commemorate this blog's first birthday, I made a savory Chinese turnip cake served with spring onions and Sriracha sauce! Continuing the tradition of unconventional cakes this year, I present to you Thai Basil Avocado Cake and Kaffir Lime Leaf Mango Cake, both smothered with all the berries the land has to offer this season.
Today's featured vegetable on the Spring Discovery series is technically a fungus. Since I've told you about white fungus, it's only fair that I also bring your attention to black fungus. This edible fungus grows on trees and is commonly available as cloud ear or wood ear mushrooms, owing no less to its appearance. Do you see ears in the bowl?
These mushrooms don't impart a whole lot of flavor but are enjoyed for their unique rubbery and gelatinous texture that adds a slippery yet pleasant crunch to dishes. They are also rich in dietary fiber, high in iron, and used in traditional Chinese medicine to help with blood circulation.
They are one of the key ingredients in a popular Buddhist vegetarian dish known as Buddha's Delight or Lo Hon Jai that is traditionally served by the Chinese in Malaysia during Lunar New Year and other festive occasions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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