Of all the Chinese culinary-related events, I would like to vote dragon boat festival dumpling-eating is one of my favorites. It ranks way up there with pineapple tarts from Chinese New Year and moon cake from mid-autumn festival. The Chinese culinary calendar is very exciting for me and it gives me something to look up to. It doesn’t hold that much meaning anymore in the country, and more and more people are forgetting, or rather ignoring, what it stands for. For my mother, the tradition holds strong, and it passes on to me too.
When my grandmother was still around, this was always a big thing. All her children would gather up in her house and help with the preparation. They would also chip in to buy ingredients. The making of dumplings was a family-bonding time. These days, people would rather not eating than spending two days of preparation, not to mention spending money to buy best ingredients. At the end, only my mother and I were the only one left making them for the past two years. But we were having a lot of fun.
Different families have different way of preparing and use different fillings. Especially the technique of wrapping the dumplings, it is passed down within families. I love symmetry, naturally, and our way of wrapping dumplings result in very symmetrical three-cone-shaped dumplings. And I think they are the prettiest dumplings.
My mother believes that when you make and prepare dumplings, you’d need to be in a happy place. Those in bad mood will make bad dumplings. I think it works with cooking any dishes. Happy cooks make delicious dish. So to make me in a good place, I’d need a big fan, a big glass of ice tea, and soothing music. Wrapping dumplings is an all-day event, so a lot of things would need to be in place to keep me in a good place.
There are two types of dumplings we often enjoy during the dragon boat festival, the sweet and the savory kinds. The savory types are everybody’s favorite with all the rich and delicious fillings in there. The sweet dumplings, or also known as alkaline dumplings, are treated as dessert, served with coconut jam or gula melaka syrup.
This is the post that I have been trying to do for the past three years. This is really not easy, since we only cook the dumpling once a year, that is really one day a year. The whole preparation takes two days, a real two whole days, beginning with marinading the pork belly and washing the leaves. Naturally I always missed the first part, since they always did it when I was at work. And once I get the pictures wrong, I’d wait till the next year for another shot. Finally. After three years of waiting and three backposts.
I am yet to meet a Chinese who doesn’t love zong zi. The right way to eat the dumpling is to hold the wrapper and dumpling with both hands and eat straight from the leaves. We always eat it with fork, on a plate. After the third day, leftover dumplings are kept in the fridge. We’d heat it up by 15 minutes steaming before serving. They’d normally last for a couple of weeks, although ours never last that long.
Main ingredients are glutinous rice, various dried mushrooms and seafood, pork belly, garlic and salted egg yolks. The Indonesian inside us couldn’t resist adding bird’s eye chili. That is a definite must!
Get the best quality glutinous rice you can find. Lesser quality will include broken grains and sometimes some normal rice is mixed in there too.
I am officially in love. After fated fling with curry leaves and curry puffs, I am introduced to another beautiful dish with these fragrant leaves. Where were thou all my life, I wonder. When Pai went to the market to get the leaves, I specifically requested for a big bunch of curry leaves, with biggest stem (or branch) still intact. I hope to grow these babies in our front yard.
Pai came back with these. I couldn’t be happier. After carefully removed most of the leaves for the dish, I quickly stuck the branch to potted compost. With my fingers crossed. I should be able to tell if this easy trick works in a week time.
The next dish to be featured is Cereal Prawn, or Nestum Prawn. Also known as Udang Nestum. It is a famous dish in any Chinese restaurants originated from our neighboring country. There is always something special about deep-fried prawns in batter. In this dish, the richly textured condiments are added, namely crunchy grain oat flakes, chili slices and fresh curry leaves. These are stir-fried in heaps of butter. Absolutely finger-licking good. I don’t know if any other brand of oat works, but I believe Nestum Original is always used for this.
Do you think you can love this dish? I couldn’t keep poking on the cereal the whole time I was shooting this. Unfortunately, the cereal got a bit soggy at the end of the shooting session. I threw the pan into pre-heated oven for a couple of minutes and the whole thing just crunched back up.
If I have one pain that refused to cure itself for months now, it would be the steamed radish cake. Many people make this particularly easy dish really well. But when I asked them for specific recipe, they just couldn’t tell me how. It was killing me. After many trials, I am proud to say that it is now pain-free.
Mother has been freaking out that I have been eating so much (failed) radish cake. We are given our daily ginseng tea for extra strength and patience. The second part is really, really needed living in the country. Radish is believed to have certain cleansing quality. Mother thinks it ruins the ginseng we consume. I don’t know who is happier, me for nailing down the recipe at long last, or mother for no longer has to put up with radish cake.
The turnip is grated, finely or coarsely, with a grater. You should do this really quickly. When I took my sweet little time grating it, the radish water stung my fingers, slowly but sure. Grated radish is mixed with flour mixture.
The other ingredients, such as garlic and minced dried shrimp are stir-fried till fragrant before adding everything together.
We can buy freshly ground rice flour around here, which is the main core ingredient of radish (or turnip) cake. You will get 1 kg of fresh rice flour by grinding 1,5 kg rice. When commercially packed rice flour is used, adjust the water called for accordingly.
Soak dried shrimp in water for 30 minutes, then finely minced. Mince the garlic too.
Grate radish. Quickly or get ready to be stung.
I love food that’s really, really hot and sweet and sour. This quick dish is easy to whip up on weekends. Fish is fried to crispy brown and garlic-based sauce is served on the side. It doesn’t get better than this.
Lemon basil must be the easiest herb to grow in our region. They just grow like weeds. Weed is the right word since mother can’t stand to not throwing my big pot of basil away. I am now re-planting a new batch. I used a lot less basil than what is called for. Once my basil grows like weed again, I will be generous.
The fish is bought from the local market, where fish are laid out in the open. They attract a lot of buyers and more flies. I picked my fish quickly and paid the guy. I am not a fan of darkish-enclosed fish market with muddy water. As mother have told me a thousand times before that morning, wash your meat and fish with coarse salt and water. So I did exactly that. Ran the fish under tap water for a couple of minutes, giving it a good rinse. Then sprinkle generous amount of salt and rub it onto the skin lightly. Ran the poor guy under water again. Make some cut on both sides and sprinkle fine salt, again. Generously dust the fish with tapioca starch. The starch would keep the fish from sticking to the wok when deep-fried.
Heat some cooking oil in a wok. Wait till it is really hot before putting the fish in. Fry for 4 minutes each side.
I have been wanting to learn how to make this for many, many years. Since when I was in non-foodie stage on my life. I have had my share of bad curry puff, or karipok, as we call it in our local slang. But even the bad ones taste so good! Imagine how heavenly will be the good ones.
We always stop by this big grocery store on our way home from work. I can also tell you it is not good to go there when you are hungry. It is where I pick up my cooking ingredients (okay, I admit, the “ingredients” are chocolate bars and chips). There are some stalls right in front of the store selling fried snacks. My brother picked up a couple of curry puffs from one of the stall, and we all agree they are not the most delicious puffs in the world. But everytime we go, we continue steering our foot to the same stall.
I am happy to share that I have stumbled across a great recipe, that works for me really well for more than a month now. And also very forgiving! Don’t you just love forgiving recipes? But I took pleasure in following every word of it.
Our version of curry puff is almost similar with the ones in Malaysia or Singapore. I don’t know the difference yet though. The puff is made from butter and flour, very flaky when fried. The fillings are some meat, potatoes and carrots cooked with generous curry paste. A lot of patience is needed, but they can be prepared in advance, fried half way done and frozen.
The dish called for a lot of prep work to be done in advance. Potatoes need to be cubed and browned in advance. Carrot needs to be cubed too, boiled and drained. Chicken needs to be cubed.
Living in South East Asia does have its perks. One of which is you can always buy freshly ground spice paste. You can go to any traditional morning (and wet) market and you can find spice stall. Come up to one and just let the seller know what you are going to cook. Be it curry, soup, soto. She will scoop up each of shallot, garlic, turmeric, galangal, or whatever supposed to be in each dish, already in form of paste, into plastic bags. Dried spices are given too. It really is much more exciting to grind spice paste myself, like what I have been doing in the blog posts so far. It does save a lot of time to buy. This 20 g (about 4 tbsp) curry paste cost about 10 cent and the curry leaves came along with it. Any medium-to-large grocery also carry their own fresh spice paste section, like Carrefour. The spices are so fragrant, they’d make you want to buy everything! But since they are fresh paste, with no preservatives (hopefully), they don’t really keep well. So you should just get as much as you need. Substitute this with ready-to-use instant / jar curry paste. Any kind would do. I’d go with red curry paste.
First, start preparing the filling. Stir-fry chopped onion with a little bit of oil in a wok till fragrant over medium heat.