Sambal Belacan

Just like rice, South East Asians are very specific about the type of sambal belacan (sambal balacan), or shrimp paste chili dip they enjoy. Different ways of preparing can affect the way it taste. My family sneered at my sambal belacan made using electric blender – lack of character, they said. Pounding using mortar and pestle is really good exercise for your arm. After a few try, I am grateful I am not selling authentic sambal belacan for a living.

Sambal Belacan with Lalap Vegetables

We serve our sambal belacan with fresh vegetables such as lettuce and cucumbers or boiled vegetables such as long beans and carrots. This is called lalap, vegetables served with sambal belacan. We have lalap as our version of fresh salad. Sambal belacan to us is what olive oil and balsamic vinegar to Italians.

If you would like to keep your kitchen pungent-free, try the shrimp paste-free sambal belacan.

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Chicken Steak with Gravy

Chicken Steak

I haven’t been able to find out where this influence sparked from, but most home-style Chinese restaurants in town have “Chicken Steak” in their menus, most probably pronounced the old way of bistik ayam. It is very much like Viennese schnitzel, but with butter gravy and side order of homemade french fries, fresh tomatoes, lettuce and cucumber. Also instead of serving them as individual main course, it is served as one of sharing dishes, with steamed rice and other main meals. Can always tell which one goes first. The crunchy chicken and the fries! The sad lettuce is always the last to go. Except when we go with real breathing friends who actually choose lettuce over meat.

It is one of the dish that my mother makes that I have very fond memories of. We had great time in the kitchen last week when she finally showed me how it is prepared.

Prepping the chicken for deep frying, making the gravy, cutting the potatoes for fries – all seemed to be a lot of work, but they are actually very simple.

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Bitter Gourd with Eggs

Bitter Gourd with Egg

This is the one gourd I didn’t really get. It looks pruney. It is green. It is amazingly bitter. Couldn’t hold it down! Literally.

We often find bitter gourd prepared in the way that loses its texture and flavor all together. Simply because it is not the easiest thing to swallow down. The most common way is to cook it with variety of paste because the gourd can soak up the juices pretty easily then mask its real character. Although I am a big fan of pickled ampalaya (Filipino’s pickled bitter gourd prepared with vinegar, salt and sugar), bitter gourd fried with eggs in shape of omelette is refreshingly nice.

I still need a lot of plain steamed rice but you can enjoy the gourd the way it is meant to be eaten. Plain, crunchy and bitter.

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I wonder if spring rolls means a taste of spring rolled in a piece of wrapper. It could be.

I personally love the simplified modern style of fried spring rolls. It is the kind that you pick up at the freezer section at supermarket. Spring rolls from the restaurants or the ready-made version from the supermarket are made using instant roll wrapper, that have to be deep fried before serving. The conveniently packed wrappers are made from wheat flour.

The Chinese hawker version is made using rice flour wrapper, which is round – something like Vietnamese spring roll wrappers, but not see-through. These are bought in the wet market and can only last two days if sealed properly and refrigerated. Not many hawkers sell these anymore, I think it is because the skin is quite difficult to make. The spring rolls made using this skin wrapper can be eaten without deep frying. And they don’t last very long. Has to be consumed within hours of making if not fried.

This Chinese-style spring rolls are called “Popiah” in our local Fujian (Hokkien) dialect and as wherever there are Fujianese, there is popiah. Slightly different variation in filling can be found in Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan.

So the popiah spring rolls have lettuce, stir fried jicama and carrot, stir fried bean curd and bean sprouts, deep fried pork fat, braised pork belly, omelette, and sweet golden sauce.  It does sound like a mouthful, doesn’t it? I like a lot of hot sweet sauce with it. Sometimes we got the ones with roasted peanuts.

Spring rolls, popiah or not, are spring rolls. The essence behind it is that as long as you can fold some fillings with flour-based skin wrapper, you can safely call them spring rolls. The fillings can be anything. Roast charsiu pork, chicken, vegetarian style beansprout and jicama, panfried lamb, cucumbers. Let your imagination run wild! Go crazy.

This recipe is the standard version of the kind of Popiah spring rolls made at home. Not that wild, but you’ll get the gist. Each filling can be a dish on its own. It does seem to look an awful lot of work. I was exhausted after cooking.

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Chicken and Corn Soup

Chicken and Corn Soup

Something easy to make when I am feeling soupy. Last weekend the weather was horrible. It was raining really hard and the sky was dark. A nice bowl of soup would be nice – without the usual hassle of grinding and pounding on ingredients. So when I looked into the cupboard, I found a can of whole kernel corn. I was really tempted to make corn and coconut dessert but another trip to the market for shredded coconut put me off. By the way, that is really good, the corn and coconut dessert, but I will keep that one for another day.

Back to the soup, a recipe that can be made and enjoyed quickly and easily is the unpretentious one. And I am so proud of myself for posting a recipe that has less than five ingredients, salt and pepper not included. For the sake of my argument, salt and pepper are sort of given in any cooking, both simple and complicated recipes. Usually mother makes them only with corn, chicken and egg drop. An all yellow soup doesn’t look too photogenic, so i threw in carrot and chopped celery.

Fresh corn can be used too, but the peeling them off the cob sounded too much work for me. But be my guest, I am sure fresh corn is much more sweeter than canned.

We had this for lunch with some rice and again for supper with whole wheat toast.

Chicken and Corn Soup

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