August is always a festive month. It is our nation’s independence day. It also coincides with the 8th month of Chinese calendar. Many weddings and business openings because it is considered an auspicious month. Since the Ramadhan fasting month is also in August this year, work has been quite slow and I am taking it easy by staying home most mornings. Mother has made us promised not to eat meat for the whole August, mainly for being grateful that we have passed the tough four months in our family business. Before the vegetarian month started, I managed to squeeze this dish right on the last day.
We love a good steamed chicken rice at home. A lot of work goes into the cooking, but what’s new? When you are cooking for people you love, I don’t think anybody would mind a bit of extra work. There are many version of soy sauce-based steamed chicken rice around and this is just one of them. Famously known as ‘Nasi Tim Ayam‘, it is sold at traditional Chinese eateries. The halal version is to omit the pork.
The rice is steamed and cooked with other ingredients in an individual serving size bowl. Serve with lots of fresh coriander leaves and pickled cucumber. I can have two bowls of these. The rice is so flavorful and gooey and rich. Three steps are involved in the preparation. Getting the rice ready, cooking the meat and steaming the rice and meat using chicken broth.
Soak rice for an hour or so to hydrate the grains.
It is strange that we don’t use lotus root enough in our cooking. It is crunchy. It is starchy. It is very cute. It is also my most favorite root vegetable. We only use lotus root for pork rib soup. Lotus and pork soup is as homey and heart-warming as Western-style chicken soup. The three most important ingredients are fresh groundnuts, lotus roots and pork ribs. For sweetness, tomatoes or carrots are usually added. For that extra flavor, dried seafood bits are used. This can be dried scallop or dried oysters. Sometimes a pinch of dried shrimp is added in absence of scallops and oysters.
Wash the roots and peel using your peeler. Slice them into 1 cm thick round slices. Too thick would not be nice to bite, too thin slices would cause the root to fall apart after hours of cooking. 1.5cm thickness is the right way to go.
We grew up eating this never knowing the name. My auntie’s mother in law was from Penang and she taught her many years ago. My mother and I really love this although we only refer to it as “That Nyonya Dish”, but none of the family knows how to cook. Auntie makes a big batch and distribute to everybody once in a while and it is kept refrigerated and enjoyed sparingly. She showed me how to cook this and she claimed that I am the second person in the family who knows the recipe.
I did some reading and found out that most of the Penang versions are prepared without coconut milk. Our version is prepared with coconut milk and very rich, almost resembles very spicy and pungent curry dish. My auntie is a vegetarian, and she couldn’t shop for fish stomach (or perut ikan). So she omitted that particular core ingredient and substituted it with dried salted fish. I have never had pickled fish stomach before, and it is certainly not sold here. Again, very sorry for the perut ikan recipe, without the perut ikan (fish stomach).
The flavor of the dish only improves with time. The texture is soft and mushy, but you can actually taste each ingredient in every bite. The pungent smell of shrimp paste and shredded herbs are so beautiful. If you are wondering how the Chinese Straits cuisine taste like, this bowl of dish sums everything up pretty nicely. The dish is served with hot steamed rice.
The main herb ingredient is the betel leaves (or daun kadok) is not sold in the market. The betel leaves we have in our area is the narrower and longer type, also known as daun sirih. These particular leaves are round. My auntie has very keen eye, that when she is out on a tricycle riding around town, she takes notice of people’s front yard. She knows which houses grow the leaves. We went for betel leaves hunting a couple of weeks ago, snatching a bunch of them off people’s front gate and on the side walk. I decided that I am going to grow this on my front yard so she doesn’t have to pick them off people’s garden. I think it is now growing, but it would be a couple of months till I can harvest the leaves for cooking.
I can’t help but thinking how strange this is, with all the similarities of our Medan dishes with Penang, this is the one that we don’t have. I am so grateful to be able to learn this. The following step by step is done in panic, as there are so much ingredients that would go in there and so little time to do it. I have to do the washing, the cutting, the grinding, the shooting and the step-by-step shoots. I didn’t manage to get every single shot, but I will try to explain the steps that I missed.
What is that ugly melting but yet freezing bowl of ice cream there, you might wonder. I am on the verge of giving up taking shots of ice cream, but this is just too delicious to let pass. Chocolate sherbet is one of those ice cream that I make repeatedly. No one in the house actually share my love for bitter but sweet chocolate, so I am at bliss.
I think David Lebovitz is the most generous guy in the world. Very often I meet those who are so unwilling to share recipes, but he shares so generously on his site and his fabulous books.
Chinese love soup. Soup enriches by dried herbs, slowly steamed or simmered with low heat for hours, is one of the staple in home meals. Our soup is usually cooked with ginseng and chicken, steamed till all the goodness of all ingredients can be sipped in a bowl.
A good bowl of soup needs to have four types of ingredients, and each one balances the others out, which is one of the most important traditional Chinese cooking principles. Animal protein, that can be simmered for a long period of time slowly to get the juices out, is usually a choice of whole chicken or pork ribs. Sweet dried herbs that gives the soup that sweetness, these are dried fruit, such as longan or lychee. Bitter herbs are normally variety of roots. Choices of bitter roots are ginseng, angelica roots, or other type of roots. The last type of ingredients is the neutral ones, these could be wolfberries (or gojiberries), dried mushrooms or lotus seeds.
This recipe is what we love to cook at home. The ingredients are very easy to find in any Chinese herbal shops.
Herbs we used are dried longan, dried lychee and dried wolfberries. The roots are American ginseng, angelica root and red sage roots. Crack dried fruits with back of knife. Use the soft fruit part only. Run all ingredients under cold water to wash dust away.