Kuah kacang

Coming from someone who hardly eats or even likes kuah kacang much, the assignment to make kuah kacang for a Raya gathering can be described as a bit of a gamble.

Kuah kacang is not something that I find to be particularly notable. I don’t gravitate towards it on buffet tables. I find it too sweet and sickly, and sticky, and oily. I don’t generally dip my satay in it. I am even less keen on the Indonesian version than the Malaysian version, which is even sweeter.

I’m not selling this very well, am I?

Kacang

Perhaps I have just never had a nice homemade kuah kacang. Actually, that’s not true – I have had Bigfoot’s mother’s kuah kacang, and wasn’t hugely keen on that either, a view which flies in the face of common opinion. Please don’t tell her. I think kuah kacang just doesn’t push my buttons.

But. BUT. I did quite like this. Maybe I adulterated it beyond recognition. Maybe it is not sweet enough to be proper kuah kacang. Or perhaps too spicy, or salty. Obviously, I  don’t think so.  It could be one of those strange things where once you have put effort into it, you trick yourself into liking what you have made. But hey, my peanut sauce, my rules / choice of seasoning.

 It also went down pretty well with the rest of the deprived-of-Malaysian-food-crowd. Yay me! 

Kuah Kacang / Malaysian Peanut Sauce (Satay Sauce)

Based on Anna Qawina’s recipe, tweaked and seasoned differently

5-8 cloves garlic
1 large purple onion, or 2 smaller ones
2 stalks of lemongrass
10-20 dried chillies, washed – adjust depending on how hot you want it
A thumb’s length of ginger
A slice of toasted belacan, around 1/2 cm thick and the length of your thumb – note that I have female-length thumbs, so don’t go too crazy. Toast it gently over a flame or in a toaster oven / dry fry in a pan until the colour changes a little.

1/2 cup water
500-800g blanched peanuts, toasted or fried
1 piece of gula melaka – this is the approximate equivalent of 1/4 cup of packed brown sugar, but start low and work upwards to taste.
1 tablesp asam jawa / tamarind paste in hot water, mushed until the water turns brown
Sugar and salt, to taste

  1. Grind the garlic, onion, lemongrass, chilli, ginger, and belacan in a blender or chopper until you get a paste. Fry this over medium heat until fragrant.
  2. Chop the peanuts roughly in a chopper or blender, then add them to the pan. Add the water so the texture is closer to a sauce.  Add extra water if needed. Lower the heat slightly, and stir so that the peanuts don’t burn.
  3. Add the gula melaka/ brown sugar, and stir until it is all combined.
  4. Season with the sugar, salt, and asam jawa. I obviously added no sugar, some salt, and almost all the asam jawa.

Enjoy with some other raya food. Savour it thoroughly, because I’m only making this once a year! 🙂

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On Asian Adaptations and Silken Tofu

I like silken tofu but I never know what to eat it with except soya sauce, spring onion + friends. Sometimes you need a little more kick than a peaceful meal of steamed silken tofu with soya sauce can provide.

Pre-sauce Post-sauce

Enter Szechuan inspired tofu.

Now, I hate Asian food adaptations as much as the next purist, especially because they are generally bland-ed down versions of the real stuff, but when you have just moved house and possess only half the necessary storecupboad staples, well, there isn’t really much else you can do.

Rest assured that at least this adaptation is far from bland.

A mess of peanuts

(Anyone else hate the words “silken tofu”?? Sounds so unappetising. I didn’t even know it was called that until a year or so ago).

Lunchtime!

Szechuan Inspired Tofu

No real source here – I checked out a couple of page for various other things then threw some stuff together. 

1 block silken tofu
1/4 cup peanuts, unsalted

4 garlic, peeled
1.5cm ginger, peeled
2 red chilli (or one large long red chilli)
1 tablesp kicap manis
3 tablesp light soya sauce
1 teasp white vinegar
1 teasp brown sugar
1/3 cup water
A pinch of flour – flour or cornflour are both okay

  1. Steam tofu!
  2. Meanwhile, put the garlic, ginger, and chilli in a chopper. Blend to a rough paste.
  3. Pour all the sauces into the garlic / ginger / chilli mixture, and let them all sit until the tofu is almost finished cooking.
  4. Toast the peanuts… for no more than 5 minutes! I used a toaster oven and burnt mine.
  5. In a pot, fish out most of the garlic / ginger / chilli and fry in a little oil over medium heat.
  6. When the ginger and garlic turns a little golden and becomes fragrant, add the rest of the sauce and 1/3 cup of water.
  7. Set the heat to high. Let the mixture come to a boil and simmer down until the sauce is black and reduced a little. Then, add the pinch of flour and stir until the sauce thickens.
  8. Pour sauce and peanuts over steamed tofu and serve hot, with rice.

The Pinnacle that is Nasi Lemak (and why you can’t climb it first time)

Moral of the story is: don’t expect to get it right the first time. Nasi lemak is HARD.

All the aunties of Malaysia, I’m sure that they’re laughing away at me for thinking I could get this iconic dish to work on my first attempt. Well, I guess I didn’t really expect it to work, I was just being optimistic. Like how, when someone asks me at 9pm how many hours of work I have left, I say 2, and I truly believe that’s the reality of the situation (it’s usually 4 hours, I generally underestimate by 2 hours).

Real proper nasi lemak makciks (aunties) train their whole lives to make nasi lemak. There are little nasi lemak schools in the kampungs (villages) where the little makciks start training at 4 years old, and a gnarly old makcik shouts at them over a loudspeaker: “Pound! Pound! Cepat cepat! (faster faster!)” That’s how a true nasi lemak is born, in the depths of a pestle and mortar. The sweet smiles of the nasi lemak makciks belie their biceps of steel. *

I used my faithful chopper, of course. Did you really expect otherwise?

Though I was at least pleased that this was recognisable as nasi lemak. Because on seeing it, people go: cucumbers, ikan bilis, red/brown stuff….Ohhh! It’s nasi lemak! Don’t ask why I went for this, I think I was bored, and also cold. Good enough reasons? Cold makes people do odd things. Yes, in my next post, I promise I won’t talk about the cold anymore. Agreed?

Advice to myself next time includes: don’t scrimp on the shallots (I was being cheap and didn’t want to buy a whole bag for 3 shallots), and add more sugar. Don’t forget the single garlic clove to be chopped into the sambal. Yes self, I know you think that one clove of garlic doesn’t really impart any garlic flavour because there isn’t enough of it, but I’m sure there is a reason behind its addition. Also don’t forget the peanuts. They’re an integral part of nasi lemak. Not clever.

More advice: try to get pandan leaves instead of giving up on the hunt so easily. Add a quarter of a chopped onion (raw, roughly chopped) into the rice before cooking. Also some whole peppercorns.

I intentionally left out the hard boiled eggs, because I don’t like them. Too bad, egg lovers of the world!

The rice turned out surprisingly well, fluffy and coconutty. Yay! And the sambal wasn’t half bad at all, considering all the forgotten ingredients 🙂

Nasi Lemak, Take #1

Borrowed and lazied up from Rasa Malaysia.

Rice

1 cup of rice, rinsed
1.5 cups of water, or however much you generally use to cook your rice, then add a little bit more.
1/2 bag of instant coconut milk – the entire packet made 150ml of coconut milk total
A pinch of salt

  1. Rinse the rice as per usual.
  2. Add the water. Drop in half the bag of instant coconut milk and salt, and mix properly to ensure there aren’t any powder clumps.
  3. Cook the rice how you usually would, in a rice cooker. Mine took slightly longer than usual.

Sambal

1 red onion – should’ve used shallots and a quarter of an onion! Oh well. I’ll make a proper attempt someday.
1/2 cup ikan bilis – people say they’re small anchovies, but anchovies taste different. I don’t know.
7 dried chillies – mine were smallish, you can use more. Deseed them or the hotness with overpower everything else
1/2 teasp belacan
1 tablesp asam jawa / tamarind
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 tablesp sugar – more to taste
A pinch of salt

  1. Rinse and fry the ikan bilis. Keep a few aside for later.
  2. Dump the belacan, half the onion, and the deseeded dried chillies into the chopper. Grind them down pretty well. If you want to be all proper, use a pestle and mortar. Probably you’re more hardcore than me.
  3. Soak the asam jawa in warm water for about 15 minutes. Mash it up good with a spoon so the water goes murky.
  4. Slice the other half of the red onion into rings.
  5. Fry the belacan paste until fragrant. Make sure to open a window!
  6. Add onion rings. Fry til soft.
  7. Add the ikan bilis (apart from the little bit you set aside). Keep frying.
  8. Add the asam jawa mixture, salt and sugar. Don’t add everything at once, keep tasting until you find a mixture you like. I followed the recipe exactly and thought that the sambal wasn’t sweet enough.
  9. Simmer on low heat until the mixture thickens.

Serve!

Cucumber
Remaining fried ikan bilis
Whole raw peanuts – Don’t forget!!
Egg
Banana leaf – hahah, yea right not in this climate

  1. Slice the cucumber, I like cucumber sticks
  2. Fry the peanuts with some salt. Don’t forget the peanuts!!
  3. Boil the egg. Cut into quarters. Don’t do it if you don’t like egg.
  4. Spread your imaginary banana leaf on a plate. Wipe it off and smooth it down, to remove imaginary dirt.
  5. Put some rice on the place. Surround the rice with a scoop of sambal, some ikan bilis, cucumber stick, and some peanuts. And a quarter of a boiled egg, or not.

* You should know better than to believe me by now. Really, I expected more of you.

Desperate Times and Tempe Kering

Deprivation is a sorry sight, and sometimes you have no choice but to cave and help. Home cooked food is often the only cure, because, for whatever reason, the people outside don’t cook the food that you want to eat. Unfortunately, sometimes the recipient is so excited about the food that you end up having to eat it 3 days in a row. Not that that’s a problem.

And thus began the great Melbourne tempeh hunt. I’m sure that the natives of this fine and freezing city* are going to be able to tell me exactly where to get the  nicest and freshest tempeh, wrapped in a leaf just like how it is at home. But, at the time, I wasn’t privy to such information.

The search started, cold and damp, with a trip to the market.  Not just any market, but the Queen Victoria market. On a Monday, at 4.30pm. They should have everything right? Yes, it was closed. Please try not to laugh too much, it’s only my third trip to Melbourne. I don’t know these things. I tramped across the road to the nearby Asian supermarket, only to find that Korean supermarkets don’t seem to sell tempeh. Cold and despondent, I caught the tram home.

The next day I decided to search in a more targeted manner. I used the internet! Internet sources would have me believe that tempeh could be found in Safeway in QV. That sounded positive, and matched up with what my friend had told me the day before about a Safeway in QV. Full of hope, I made the 40 minute journey through the cold to QV only to find…that Safeway doesn’t exist. There is no shop called Safeway in QV Melbourne. How could both my friend and the internet lie to me this way?

After a thorough examination of the QV directory board I decided to try and check out the Woolworths in the basement. I haven’t had the best opinion of Woolworths so far, based on my very lengthy experience with them (a whole two trips worth of supermarket study!), as they don’t seem to have many local ingredients in comparison to Coles. That’s my local not Australian local, in case you’re confused. As I suspected, they didn’t have tempeh.

Now, I already knew that the directory board didn’t mention a Safeway but I thought that perhaps QV was being tricksy, and that Safeway had an external entrance, or was on another level. So I walked around the outside of the shopping centre. No Safeway. In a last ditch effort I headed to check the directory on the upper levels of the building, because, perhaps, they might have different shops, you know? Logic was slightly lacking at this point.

But as luck would have it, I spotted a different shop on the directory on that upper floor – Laguna Asian Supermarket! Certainly there was no mention of this on the ground floor directory (I’m not very observant it seems). Of course I couldn’t find the shop at first. So, I did the next best thing. I followed some Asian student-looking girls around the upper floor until I eventually found myself near the shop entrance. Just to clarify, I’m not a large man, I’m an Asian student-looking girl too so it doesn’t qualify as stalking. In that house of glory, tempeh awaited!!!

After the day’s escapade I found myself questioning again whether Safeway really existed – seeing as, after looking at the directory three times, I only spotted Laguna Asian Supermarket on the third go.

I was later told that Safeway = Woolworths. Anticlimactic much.

 

Tempe Kering / Tempeh with Chilli, Peanuts, and Sweet Soya Sauce

Borrowed from Cooking Tackle, and edited.

1 block of tempeh, sliced thinly – about 3mm thick. 1 block is about 300g.
2 handfuls of peanuts, raw
6-7 small to medium sized (5cm length) chillies or equivalent**
3/4 large onion (preferably red)
4 cloves garlic
4-5 thin slices galangal
3cm asam jawa / tamarind pulp, mashed into 3tablesp warm water
4-5 tablesp kicap manis (sweet soya sauce)
1 teasp sugar, more to taste
Salt as needed

  1. Fry or grill the tempeh slices until crunchy.
  2. Dry fry the peanuts
  3. Grind chilli, onion, and garlic in a chopper. Traditionally done with a pestle and mortar, feel free to sweat it out if you like 🙂
  4. Add fried peanuts to the chopper and pulse for a few seconds
  5. Heat oil in a wok, and fry galangal with the chilli paste. Fry over medium heat until the colour of the mixture darkens.
  6. Add the asam jawa liquid, reserving a little and tasting as you go so it doesn’t get too sour.
  7. Add the kicap manis, sugar, and salt, tasting until you are satisfied. Add all of the kicap manis, asam jawa, sugar and a pinch of salt to have it taste like mine – but be warned, I like mine a bit more sour than usual.
  8. Add the tempeh slices to the wok, mix til coated.
* Actual temperature:  between 10 and 18 degrees C. That’s really cold. Feels like: 2 degrees C. I am relatively short person and therefore have a high surface area to volume ratio.
**You can play with this to change how spicy it is. For a less spicy dish, use 3 large chillies and 2 small ones. For a bit more burn, use 1-2 large chillies and 4-5 bird’s eye chillies. I was unable to get bird’s eye chilli, and used regular small chilli instead.