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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Nyonya Kari Chicken Kapitan

Since I was on a Nyonya high already, I couldn't go past this very famous chicken curry that you are bound to get from any good Malaysian eatery.  I think the locals could probably make this dish with their eyes closed and one hand tied behind their backs.  Well with both eyes open and both hands in operation I attempted a Gordon Ramsay version of this dish - not so Malaysian is he?  Put his on screen (a possibly off-screen in the kitchen) bad temper aside, I actually have much respect for Gordon (first name basis, 'cause we go way back..!) as a chef and businessman and I have followed a few of his recipes before and they have turned out superbly.  The term Kapitan was a name given to chiefs during the settlement days, early on in Malacca's history.  This kari dish may have been prepared especially for them or on occasions to honour the chiefs. So I figured "Ch(i)ef Ramsay's" dish seemed a worthy recipe to take on and adapt to my own.  The result was an exceptionally tasty curry with the right spiciness, sweetness and sourness that tasted really authentic.  
6 x chicken thighs, cut into small bite size pieces
3 tbsp x Light soy sauce
1 tbsp x Dark soy sauce
Pepper to season
2 tbsp x Cooking oil
2 x Onions, finely diced
1 440ml can x Coconut milk
1 heaped tbsp x Tamarind pulp, soaked in ½ cup of hot water
6 x Kaffir lime leaves, left whole, extra cut into fine strips for garnish
2 tbsp x Palm sugar, grated
For the rempah (paste)
4 x Red chillies (or more if desired), deseeded
2 x Lemongrass stalks, white part chopped
1 tbsp x grated Fresh turmeric, (or 1 tsp of Turmeric powder)
2 tbsp x grated Ginger
2 tbsp x grated Galangal
5 shallots, peeled and chopped
4 x Candlenuts, soaked in a little warm water
1 tsp x Cinnamon powder
1 tbsp x Belachan, (dry shrimp paste sold in blocks), dry roast in a pan for for a few minutes before use

Combine chicken pieces with the soy sauces and the pepper
Marinate in the fridge for about an hour
Place all ingredients of the rempah into a food processor and blend to a coarse paste

Squeeze the soaked tamarind pulp, retaining the juice, discard the skin and seeds and keep juice aside
Stir fry the chicken in batches until about three quarters cooked and reserve in a bowl
Cook the onions until they are translucent then add the rempah and fry for a further 2 minutes
Return the chicken to the wok and pour in the coconut milk, bring to a slight boil
Now add the tamarind juice, lime leaves and sugar
Lower heat and allow to simmer, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid burning
Garnish with finely sliced lime leaves and serve with rice or crispy roti canai

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Kam Heong Chicken...Golden Fragrant deliciousness

There's nothing like the feeling of accomplishment, for a foodie, when you have tasted a dish at a restaurant and been able to replicate back in your own kitchen.  This was definitely the case for Kam Heong Chicken, a Little Nyonya specialty that I had ordered and tasted for the first time some weeks back in Docklands.  This dish really explodes as a fusion of Chinese, Malay and Indian flavours - which is the very foundation of the Peranakan settlers to the straits of Malacca, who are credited with the creation of Nyonya cuisine.
Kam Heong translates to "golden fragrant", and this in itself sums this dish right up as it went down a treat, deliciously, and definitely had a very inviting aroma that made you feel you were right in the thick of it...Malacca that is!
The paste base for Kam Heong is surprisingly simple to make and I recommend bottling some away in the fridge, to use with other proteins like fish or even tofu.
Ingredients, to serve 4
4 x Chicken thigh fillets, skinned and cut into three portions
Oil for shallow frying
1 x Egg white
2 tsp x Light soy sauce
2 tsp x Oyster sauce
2 tsp x Sesame oil
1 tbsp x Shao Xing wine
2 tbsp x Cornflour
3 tbsp x Cooking oil
100g x Dried prawns, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes, then rinsed and drained
6 x Shallots, diced finely
4 x Garlic cloves, chopped finely
4-5 sprigs x Curry leaves, picked
4 x Red Chilli, chopped (deseed if you prefer a milder dish)
4 tbsp x Curry powder (I use a Malaysian meat curry powder which is more fragrant)
6 tbsp x Oyster sauce
2 tbsp x Light soy
1 tbsp x Dark soy 
2 tsp x Sugar
100ml water, plus extra to liquify
Combine all marinade ingredients, except the cornflour, with the chicken pieces
Allow to stand in the fridge for at least an hour
Dust in the cornflour and mix through with a spoon

Heat enough oil in a large frypan for shallow frying
Fry chicken in batches on each side for 3 minutes then again for a final minute
Set aside to stand while you prepare the sauce

To make the sauce heat the oil in a wok and add the prawns garlic and shallots
Saute for 2 minutes then add the curry leaves and chilli, fry for a further 2 minutes
Add the curry powder and stir through to lightly toast, do not allow to burn
 Combine the oyster and soy sauces with the sugar and stir into the dry ingredients
Pour in the water a little at a time mixing to combine
Taste the sauce and adjust for sweetness or saltiness
At this point you can remove about a third of the sauce and bottle it for another dish
Use a little extra water to bring the sauce to a thick consistency and a slow boil
Add the cooked chicken to the sauce folding through to coat and combine
Allow the chicken to heat through for about 4 minutes 
Serve with steamed rice and cucumber slices


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Chap Chai - Nyonya Style Stir Fry Vegetables

When I think of Nyonya cuisine, I picture curries - yellow coconut based ones and also the sour tamarind based ones, in contrast. After all, Nyonya is a blend of techniques and ingredients from the ancient cookbooks of the Chinese, Malays and Indonesian settlers to the area known a the Straits of Malacca.  The influences are definitely more pronounced in dishes like Assam Laksa or Nyonya Chicken Kapitan, but this dish, that I discovered after trawling the internet in search of a veggie dish that wasn't coconut or tamarind based, was quite different.  For me it was part Cantonese part Korean minus the sweetness and the chilli heat.  
Chap Chai was my first foray into the use of some very new ingredients to me, all of which were to be found in the dried food isle at my local Asian grocers.  The dish asks for black fungus, bean curd skins, shitake mushrooms, and, the very peculiar, dried lily buds.  More surprising than the fact that I actually found the actual ingredients was the price of each item falling below $2.00.  
The key to cooking any stir fry is in the preparation.  Chinese takeways can whip up a box of noodles in no time because of their meticulous pre-service prep.  I make sure to set-up all the ingredients into bowls so that when it came to the cooking, time is not wasted. 
Centre to Clockwise - Black Fungus, Soy bean paste, Lily buds, Cap mushrooms, Shitakes, Bean curd skins, Cabbage, Carrots and Garlic

Ingredients, serves 4-5
5 x whole shitake mushrooms
5 x whole black fungus
2 tbsp x lily buds, tied in a knot and tips snipped
2-3 strips x bean curd skins
2 tbsp x vegetable oil
4 cloves x garlic, crushed
2 tbsp x fermented soy bean paste
1 x carrot, cut into matchsticks
¼ x cabbage, sliced roughly into strips
250g x prawns, shelled and deveined (optional)
150g x bean thread (glass) noodles, softened in hot water and drained
1 tbsp x oyster sauce
1 tsp x sugar
Salt to taste
1 tsp x fresh Pepper
Fried egg (optional)
Fried shallots to garnish (optional)

The lily buds need their tips snipped and then the bud is tied into a knot possibly for textural reasons.

Place the dry ingredients into hot water to rehydrate for 20 minutes
Retain about a cup (250ml) of the soaking liquid
Add the oil and garlic to a wok and allow to heat up without burning
Stir in the fermented bean paste and fry for about a minute
Now add in the carrot sticks
Add in the sliced cabbage and allow to wilt slightly 
 Add in the rest of the ingredients plus retained soaking liquid and bring to the boil
Turn heat down and simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes then stir in the noodles
Fold through the oyster sauce, sugar and pepper
Adjust salt if required and cook for a further 5 minutes
Serve with a fried egg for each plate 
 Goes well with a couple of pan fried fish fillets and fried shallots for extra garnish

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Baingan Bharta, Eggplant Masala Mélange

At the top end of Melbourne’s Bourke Street sits a couple of Indian restaurants operating under the same chain.  They go by the names Green Pepper and Red Pepper.  Both places cook up similar dishes but the main variant in that Green Pepper is set up in a more classy almost fine dining manner.  Red Pepper is more of a regular take away joint that satisfies diners that are looking for quick informal bite to eat. 
Colleagues of mine have long bragged about the tastiest dish (according to them!) on the menus of both Red & Green Pepper – Baingan Bharta – a spicy eggplant dish from India that encompasses all things good about an eggplant or aubergine for my Poms out there!  The most memorable part of this dish is the smoky taste that comes from the cooking process of initially roasting the eggplant.  I recall this dish being made by my parents, but it is more of a side dish that was eaten alongside other vegetarian dishes with steamed basmati rice and daal.  At Green Pepper the dish is served as a main with your choice of naans or rice to accompany it, and as it is one of their specialties. Baingan Bharta costs more than most of the meat based mains and definitely packs more punch. 
I decided to challenge myself to recreate Green Pepper’s Baingan Bharta, after all how hard could it be?  Bharta in Hindi refers to a dish of a vegetable (usually), that has been pulped or mashed.  Another variety that was always popular with me as a child is Aloo Bharta which is made from potatoes.  The smoky flavour infused into the eggplant is the key to this dish. The aromas that fill the kitchen during preparation are sensational and give you a prelude of the dish to come - a mélange of masala delight!

Ingredients, to serve 4
2 x medium Eggplants (500g) (Baingan or Aubergine or Brinjal)
2 tbsp x Oil
1 tsp x Cumin Seeds
1 x Red Onion, finely diced
1 tbsp x Fresh Ginger, crushed
2 x Fresh Chilli, sliced (remove the seeds if you like it milder)
2 x tsp Cumin powder
½ cup x Peas
2 x Fresh Tomato, diced 
1 tsp x Mustard Oil (optional, but it adds to the flavour to the dish) 
Salt to taste
Coriander leaves, chopped for garnish 
1 tbsp x Ginger, cut into fine matchstick lengths 
Preheat the oven to 200o c
Place the eggplant in a roasting dish and allow to bake for 30-45 minutes
Turn the eggplant around with tongs every 15 minutes, the flesh will begin to collapse as it roasts
When the skin has darkened and is slightly hard to the touch remove from the oven
Turn the highest flame on your cooktop on
Hold the eggplants with metal tongs over the flame to blacken and blister the skin further, this will really infuse the smoky taste that is sought after
Allow the eggplant to cool then peel the skin off and mash into a coarse pulp
Heat a wok with the oil and add the cumin seeds
Fry for a few seconds then add the onion and cook till soft
Stir in the crushed ginger and sliced chilli with the cumin powder
Now add the eggplant and the peas and fold through the spice mix
Cook for 5 minutes stirring to avoid it from catching
Stir in the chopped tomato and mustard oil and cook for a further 5 minutes
Add salt to taste
Remove from heat and garnish with coriander and ginger matchsticks

"This is a very easy dish to create and does not have a huge list of hard to find spices.  It’s simplicity relies on the delectable smokiness of the eggplant and the freshness of the other ingredients.  With the addition of peas that gives the dish more body it even turns the tables on regular Baingan Bharta that my parents make as this now becomes a main.  Thanks goes out to Green Pepper for putting it on the menu, or else I would have never thought to cook an eggplant dish like this."
Baingan Bharta is a favourite dish at my workplace as most of my colleagues love the stuff and could probably live on it! 

So now when I make a batch of the good stuff, I make sure I take in plenty of lunch packs for the troops!
It saves me the trip to Green Pepper!!

Tapas in the park

Back in February of 2012 I attended a fundraiser for a quartet of long distance trailwalkers that were planning to walk a 100km track in the Dandenong mountains area.  It was all in aid of Oxfam's Trailwalker series that is held across Australia annually.  A couple of my work collegues were part of this team and they had organised an evening of paella and tapas in the newly renovated Victoria Park picnic area to help raise funds towards their team's grand total for Oxfam.  
The table is cluttered with delicious mouthfuls of goodness made with love
I put these pics up on the team's facebook wall but felt they also had a home on my blog too, since there was so much spectacular food about.  The best part is that it was all largely made by people with one thing in common, and that is this satisfyingly infectious state of being a big-time foodie.  
A welcoming platter of Spanish Tortilla, Stuffed Piquillo Peppers and Empanadas 

These tortilla squares did not last long! 

Creamy Filled Croquettas - my very favourite tapas by a long shot  

Putting the final additions to the paella...smelling good already

Another section of the picnic table laden with spicy dips, crusty bread and an impressive olive collection!

My love for bread is reason enough why this picture made the cut!

The prawns join the party and it's about to begin!

Some Sangria to wash it down...thank you very much!!

Most delicious meatball bathed in a rich tomato sauce....mmmm!

I see cooked rice so it must be.....time for fiesta of the taste buds - bring on the paella!

One plate is never enough!  I hope I get an invite again next year.

Review: Little Nyonya, Docklands, Melbourne

Little Nyonya Australia on Urbanspoon

Little Nonya is a quiet little cafe style restaurant along the waterside at Docklands.  Well secluded from the rest of the dining options in this, precinct, as it is not located in New Quay Promenade.  Little Nonya is accessible from the Bourke Street end of Docklands where there is plenty of parking and still has a great view across the water on the developing Victoria Harbour.  This place probably gets most of its business during lunchtime trade from the dense corporate populous in the surrounding buildings.  Nevertheless, the restaurant presents well for evening trade with waitresses in most welcoming traditional Malaysian costumes making the experience more authentic. 

We started with Gado Gado as an entrée to share and it probably wasn’t the best dish to begin a brisk evening’s meal as, in hindsight, something warm would have been a better choice.  The vegetables were made up of a crisp and fresh mix of carrots, bean shoots, spinach, beans and tofu.  The peanut sauce worked well and turned simple veggies into something delicious, we even held onto the sauce to eat with the rest of the meal.  Next time I will be sure to try the satay skewers, as this sauce would definitely make them a winner.
The list of mains available is quite extensive and is sure to satisfy.  Choose from a variety of beef, chicken, pork, seafood and vegetarian dishes.  The usual suspects such as Beef Rendang and Chicken Curry are definite "go to" dishes for anyone unsure of what to order.  We decided on a Sambal Prawn for the first of our mains in anticipation of an amazingly spicy dish that would warm the insides.
Sambal Prawn arrived served on a bed of steamed brocolli. The colour contrast was very appealing but the sambal was very light on the chilli and tasted more closer to a sweet chilli sauce.

For our second main I took a dip in the discovery pool and ordered Kam Hiong Chicken for the first time.  It is best described as a dry, spicy curried chicken dish flavoured with dried prawn and curry leaves.  It sounded tantalising enough and I was in the mood for something new.
True to its description, the dish was beautifully spiced with that mildly intense background of the dried prawn balachan.  It was an unusual fusion of tastes in a dish that I have rarely seen in Malaysian restuarants.  Well now that I know what it is, I will definitely seek it out  next time and be sure to try a version of my own sometime, at home.  It definitely got the taste buds singing as it is a foodie's ultimate pleasure to taste something new that ticks all the boxes.
We unfortunately skipped dessert since I have given up eating sweet sugary treats, but the menu looked most inviting with the various sago based and ice blended dishes to finish your meal with.  Teh Tarik is a 'kopitiam' favourite that I would have tried in my sweeter days!
Overall, the food we ate at Little Nyonya would pass the test for being vibrant, fresh and tasty.  The prices do reflect a more upmarket menu thanks to it's assumed extravagant location with a view.  The atmosphere is very cold though and this is due to it's lonely weeknight trade.  I would love to see it all abuzz with the chatter of customers and the waitresses running frantically off their feet with a proper dinner service.  The dining room is very elegant with high ceilings, ornate murals and decor organised creatively throughout.  It is a shame to see it not enjoyed by more patrons.    

Friday, June 15, 2012

Pasta alla Putanesca...spicy and saucy!

Ok so I had to do a post for the love of Pasta alla Putanesca, one of my favourite Italian hot numbers. Despite its rather controversial translation as “whore’s spaghetti”, there is no wrong done in loving this dish, believe me. The story goes that back in the day, the “working girls”, who were as strapped for time as they were strapped in their late-shift “get-up”, would prepare this meal for their hungry family by throwing together the staples found in most Italian kitchens – then and now. This pasta dish captures the usual suspects - olive oil, garlic and tomato but the sauce gets saucier with the addition of chilli, capers and black olives, in a background hit of pungent anchovies. I salivate as I type and a thought crosses my mind that if this is what the “putanesci” conjured when they were in a hurry; imagine what they cooked on their days off.
The anchovies disappear into the sauce as it cooks so if you are not fond of them you would not even know they are there. I have opted to use pickled chillies, as the hot and sour hit is much so a favourite, but substituting with dried chilli flakes wouldn’t stray too far from the intended spicy taste – make it as hot or not as you want. This is a quick dish to make and in the time it takes to boil and cook the spaghetti, the sauce is ready waiting to be folded through – and you can get back to turning tricks – as they did!
Ingredients, serves 4

400g x Spaghetti,
2 tbsp x Olive Oil
8 x Anchovy fillets, finely chopped
2 cloves x Garlic, crushed
3-4 Pickled Chillies (or a spoon of chilli flakes

400g can x Tomatoes, diced
1 tbsp x Capers, rinsed and drained
200g x Black Olives, pitted (Kalamatas, although Greek are my preference)
Parsley, a small handful, chopped for garnish
Parmesan cheese, sprinkled if you fancy!

Get a large pot of water on the stove and drop the spaghetti into it once it’s at a rolling boil
In a deep skillet or frypan heat the olive oil gently and add the diced anchovies
Use the back of a heatproof spoon to mash the anchovies into the oil as they start to disintegrate
Add the garlic and the chilli and stir to combine for about a minute
Raise the heat and add the canned tomatoes, capers and black olives
Allow the sauce to simmer gently for about 8 minutes

The spaghetti should probably be reaching the desired al dente doneness that it needs to be at by now (approx. 12 mins boiling)
Pour about ½ a ladleful of the pasta water into the sauce and mix well while sauce thickens slightly
Drain the spaghetti into a colander then straight into the sauce while it is hot
Use a fork or tongs to fold the sauce through evenly

Add a little splash of olive oil then garnish with parsley, extra chilli flakes and a dusting of parmesan

Serve with a nice glass of white wine as you may need a chilled drop to cool your tongue on this hot dish!