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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

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