Taro cake has never really been a favorite snack of mine. I didn’t hate it nor was I extremely crazy about it back in Malaysia but recently, I’ve been craving for a plate of diagonally cut taro cakes topped with dried shrimps, fried onions doused in sweet and spicy sauce. It’s like one of those things that’s innately sitting inside the Malaysian side of me and god knows, what else is there? I wasn’t big on durians either back in Malaysia.
So, to satisfy my Malaysian craving of the tuberous kind in the form of a kueh I’ve decided to make some. It’s surprisingly easy to make, you just need to buy some taro root. For those of you in the US, or some parts of Canada, I think you call the taro root yam, which can be confusing because it’s two different root vegetables. In case there are any confusions the picture below will give you a good idea what a taro root looks like.
You can treat this taro cake as an appetizer or even as a meal in itself because it can be quite filling! Here’s a recipe I took from this book Nonya Flavors: The Complete Guide to Straits Chinese Cuisine, which was a gift from my dad. A lot of the recipes in that book is pretty authentic but some are a bit different from what I remember but that’s just because of personal preference from how my late-grandmother made some of the dishes. I highly recommend you get a copy of this recipe book if you ever encounter it, here’s a link to a Malaysian bookshop who will ship it overseas if you order it from them. Other Nyonya cuisine cookbooks.
And on to the recipe!
* Vegetarians: You can easily make this into a vegetarian dish by omitting the dried shrimps. It is just as tasty!
Savory Taro Cake (Orh Kueh)
350g rice flour
1 Tbsp green pea flour
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped finely
2 shallots, peeled and chopped finely
600grams of taro root, skinned and cut into 1 cm cubes
1 Tsp of Chinese five spice powder
2 Tsp of salt, or to taste
1 Tsp white pepper, but black pepper works too
50 grams of dried shrimps, soaked in water for 10 minutes and chopped
Topping: Fried shallots, kecap manis, Sriracha chili sauce, chopped green onions, chopped dried shrimps (soak in water for 10 mins first).
The batter will look like a messy clay but it’s okay just stay with it for a little while.
Eat with a cup of coffee or your milk tea – my favorite combination of all time!
I love Kaffir lime leaves. They impart a wonderful citrusy flavor and when they’re sliced finely and added to chicken curry, it brings the dish to a whole new level. The lemony scent it gives off in this chicken gulai dish opens up the appetite of even the pickiest eaters.
In case you’re wondering what gulai is, it essentially means curry. But in my understanding when gulai is made at home by my family, it usually has a citrusy tone to the curry with the addition of Kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass and/or juice of pineapples. This chicken gulai, besides the Kaffir lime leaves, I’ve also added pineapple juice to round off the flavor. It tastes very much like home. Actually this entire weekend has been like a trip down memory lane for my taste buds.
Chicken Gulai (Chicken Curry with Kaffir Lime Leaves)
A good curry starts with a good base. Pounding the spice in a mortar and pestle releases the flavors and meld them together better than blending it with a blender. When possible, try to pound your spice instead of blitzing them. There’s more love when you hand pound your spices. 😉
250grams of chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch slices
6 Kaffir lime leaves, finely sliced (Tip: Roll the leaves together into a long tube and slice)
250ml of thin coconut milk
50ml of thick coconut cream
50ml of pineapple juice
5 tablespoon vegetable oil
salt to taste
Spice paste (ground)
5 cloves of garlic
1-inch thick of galangal
1 stalk of lemongrass
1-inch thick turmeric root/ 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 tablespoon curry powder
Serve with rice.
***If you wonder why there are carrots in the gulai, the pictures are showing you the vegetarian version of the gulai during cooking period. The spices are exactly the same. Oh, this is also P’s first experience eating proper Nyonya food too.
I’ve also made some onde-onde, a cousin to the mochi but it’s coated with grated coconut and stuffed with palm sugar that bursts in your mouth with sweetness. It possibly my favorite childhood Nyonya kueh, a Malaysian tea time snack. That recipe will come next!
Happy Easter everyone!
I’m celebrating my long Easter weekend by cooking Nyonya food and the first on my list was Nyonya Nasi Ulam, or loosely translated as Nyonya rice salad in Malay. Nasi Ulam is incredibly healthy and unbelievably addictive. It’s delicious with the aromatic herbs, richness of the toasted coconuts and pungent spices. Like most Southeast Asian recipes, Nyonya Nasi Ulam is a little tedious with a lot of preparation work because the herbs are required to be carefully and finely sliced. A sharp knife would be necessary in this case.
We use many different types of herbs in Nasi Ulam, it’s the herbs and the other dry condiments that makes this dish absolutely mouth-watering good. When my late-grandmother makes Nasi Ulam, my mother would eat large portions of it almost as if she has a bottomless pit because it’s so good with a bit of sambal belacan. I was lucky enough to have found a place where they actually sell the herbs I needed to make Nasi Ulam in Montreal! March Hawai you da bomb. I’ve found wild betel leaves (daun kadok), Thai basil (daun selasih), Vietnamese mint (daum kesom), mint, fresh lemongrass (serai), fresh kafir lime leaves, fresh turmeric, toasted grated coconut (kerisik) and whole bunch of unrelated ingredients for other Nyonya dishes. I was like a child in candyland. I was unable to find torch ginger flower (bunga kantan) and galangal leaves (daun cekur) but even without these two herbs, the Nasi Ulam was still delicious.
Making Nyonya Nasi Ulam requires patience because there is a lot of preparation work. All the herbs need to be sliced finely by hand and no machinery or magical tools can do the job for you. But the effort will be well worth it in the end when you are paid off with a huge bowl of Nasi Ulam that you can never seem to get enough of.
The ingredient list is longer than the method for this recipe. Let’s get to it:
Nasi Ulam (Nyonya Herbed Rice Salad)
4 cups of cooked rice
100gms dried shrimps (soak, dice, fry & cool)*** not used
100gms salted fish (cut small thin slices, fry and cool)*** not used
1 teaspoon belacan (shrimp paste)*** not used
4 tablespoons of toasted grated coconut
1-inch fresh turmeric (chop finely)
Salt, sugar and grounded black pepper to taste
Ingredients B (FINELY SLICED):
1 stalk lemongrass (serai – use the thinner end only)
1/2 stalk torch ginger flower (bunga kantan)*** not used
5 kaffir lime leaves (daun limau purut)
3 stalks polygonum leaves (daun kesom/laksa leaves/Vietnamese mint)
3 stalks mint leaves (daun pudina – chop finely)
3 stalks basil leaves (daun selasih)
4 galangal leaves (daun cekur)*** not used
12 wild betel leaves (daun kadok/Piper sarmentosum)
Some wild betel leaves (optional)
Some mint leaves (optional)
Toasted grated coconut (optional)
Cook’s note: This is the full recipe of Nasi Ulam, I’ve omitted some of the ingredients so that it would suit a vegetarian. Items omitted are marked with ***
Serve at room temperature or slightly warmed.
Word of caution though, if you have manicured nails, you might want to book another appointment with your manicurist. All the slicing of these herbs, especially the turmeric, will dye your finger nails into the most unsightly colors. It’s no wonder I’ve never seen my late-grandmother with manicured nails, it just wasn’t practical.
This Nyonya rice salad is a perfect side dish to go with meats, fish and seafood. It is also good on it’s own with some sambal belacan or your favorite curry. I had my Nasi Ulam with some Chicken Gulai and Pineapple Kerabu.
This is not your regular vegetable soup, this was my grandmother’s vegetable soup. Made exclusively on Chinese New Year’s Eve reunion dinner, among many other things. Chap Chye Th’ng or Nyonya mix vegetable soup is uniquely a Penang dish. The flavor base of this soup is made out of cabbage, jicama bean, carrots, dried cuttlefish, pork bones and fried garlic oil, which gives it an aromatic and rich flavour. My grandmother makes her homemade bak wan/ meatballs to go with this soup. She steams them separately before serving them in the soup so that the meatballs do not lose its flavor or overcooked in the pot. This soup is especially comforting to drink on a cold day in February.
Like most Nyonya cuisine, it is not the most photogenic of foods. It’s extremely hard to take pictures of this soup, and to make it look at least presentable for this blog took me about a day. By the time I was done, the soup was stone cold but luckily I have more in my cast iron pot.
Preparation for this soup may take longer than the cooking time. I said “may” because it depends if you want to cut the carrots and jicama bean into nice patterns. The good thing about this vegetable soup with meatballs is that absolutely nothing goes to waste. And you’ll see why.
Chap Chye Th’ng with Bak Wan (Nyonya mix vegetable soup with meatballs)
Chap Chye Th’ng:
2 lb pork bones
2 piece of dried cuttlefish, washed and steeped in hot water
2 medium sized carrots, cut into quarter inch slices
1 large jicama bean, sliced
2 onions, cut into quarters
3 cups of cabbage, cut into 2 inch squares
3 slices of ginger
1 teaspoon of whole white peppercorns
10 dried Chinese mushrooms, re-hydrated and halved
2 tablespoon of garlic oil (minced garlic + enough oil to cover in a bowl + microwaved 2mins till golden brown)
soy sauce to taste
While you’re preparing your carrots and jicama bean, do not throw away excesses – keep them for the meatballs
Bak Wan (Homemade meatballs)
15 large shrimps
200grams minced pork
2 tablespoons of minced carrots
2 tablespoons of minced jicama bean
1 stalk of spring onion, chopped
3 Chinese mushrooms, re-hydrated and chopped finely
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon garlic oil + fried garlic bits
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon soy sauce
I remember eating just this over a bowl of rice as a kid. And while I did not appreciate the intricacy of this soup and the effort put into it, I do now. I stood at my kitchen counter for 2 hours chopping and shaping meatball. It was worth it and a most satisfying meal. 🙂