Kee chang / Alkaline rice dumplings

The Dragon Boat Festival is something I look forward to every year, for two reasons. One – it means summer has ‘officially’ begun. And more importantly – it means it is chang/zong zi (粽子) season.

I previously made bak chang (肉粽), and in that post I said I would have to learn how to make the sweet version: kee chang / jianshui zong (碱水粽) / alkaline dumplings… and I have! For those of you who have not heard about these little morsels, they are eaten as a sweet snack or dessert. They get their name because the glutinous rice is pre-treated with alkaline/lye water, which gives the rice its distinctive yellow colour. They often do not contain any fillings, and are eaten with a sugar syrup or kaya (Malaysian coconut jam).

kee chang 2

kee chang 3

I genuinely did not know how this was going to go, as I did not have a proper recipe to follow. Thankfully, they turned out reasonably well. I would do a few things differently next time though:
– Boil for 1.5-2 hours (I only boiled them for 1 hour and the rice was a not ‘mushy’ enough for my liking)
– Leave the rice for 60 mins at most (I left them for 3 hours and they had a very slight bitter aftertaste)
I’ve tweaked the recipe accordingly to reflect these changes.

The next ‘chang’ I’ll have to make will be the Nonya bak chang / Nonya zong (娘惹粽) – which is filled with pork, candied winter melon and peanuts. Watch this space!

kee chang 1

Kee chang / Alkaline dumplings
Makes 10-12 dumplings

For the kee chang:
– 200g glutinous rice
– 1/2 tbsp alkaline water
– 20 fresh, young bamboo leaves
– Cooking string/hemp leaves

The day before:
1. Wash glutinous rice until the water runs clear. Place rice in a tub, cover with water, and leave to soak overnight.
2. Wash the bamboo leaves, and leave to soak overnight.

On the day:
3. Drain the glutinous rice.
4. Add the alkaline water, and stir this through the rice. Leave aside for 30 min.
5. Whilst waiting for the alkaline water to permeate the rice, drain the water from the bamboo leaves. Pat the leaves dry with a cloth – it doesn’t matter if they are still slightly wet.
6. Select two leaves, and place them in opposite directions (i.e. the tail end of one lining up with the top end of the other). Do not use any leaves which already have holes in them, as they will cause water to seep into the bak chang during the cooking process.
7. Form leaves into a cone.
8. Fill the cone with the glutinous rice, until you reach the brim of the cone.
9. Fold the leaves around the pouch, and secure with cooking string/hemp leaves.
10. Boil water in a heavy based pot. When the water comes to a boil, gently lower the kee changs into the water. Make sure all the changs are completely submerged in water. Cover the pot with a lid, and cook over medium heat for 1.5-2 hours hours. (* I only boiled them for 1 hour, and think they would benefit from a longer cooking time to make the rice softer).
11. Leave to cool, and serve with palm sugar syrup.

For the palm sugar syrup:
– 200g gula melaka (palm sugar)
– 200ml water
– 2 pandan leaves

1. Place the palm sugar, water and pandan leaves in a pan.
2. Bring the ingredients to a boil, and simmer for 15 minutes until the syrup thickens.
3. Strain and leave to cool.
4. Serve with kee changs, and enjoy! (This syrup also works well with ice cream and yogurt)

kee chang 4

Chinese braised nuts

Most Chinese restaurants always serve a little ‘snack’ the moment you sit down at the table. These Chinese braised nuts (groundnuts) are a common feature, and I personally think they are a fabulous appetiser. Being in London means I don’t get to eat this as often as I’d like – which means there was only one solution: make it myself.

chinese braised peanuts

I’ve tweaked the recipe over my last few attempts, and I am finally happy enough to post the recipe. It is a very simple recipe, but does need a prolonged cooking time to ensure the flavours absorb into the nuts.

chinese braised peanuts

Chinese braised nuts
  • 500g raw peanuts/groundnuts (I prefer skinless ones)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 tsp five spice powder
  • 5 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 5 tbsp kicap manis (alternatively, use dark soy sauce + 1 tsp sugar)
  • 3 star anise
  • 60g rock sugar (any other white sugar is fine)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • orange peel from one orange (optional)
  • 5 cups water (you may need a few extra cups of water, see below)
  1. Wash the peanuts, drain, and place in a slow cooker/heavy bottomed pot.
  2. Add all the other ingredients to the pot.
  3. Cook on low heat (covered) for 2-3 hours, until the nuts are cooked through. Gently stir the mixture every 30 minutes. You may need to add in extra water as you go along – do not let the liquid dry out, as this will cause the peanuts to burn.
  4. Eat warm, or leave to cool and eat at room temperature.
On another note, here’s wishing all my Chinese readers a very Happy Chinese New Year! 恭喜发财, 万事如意! 
I leave you with a photo of us tossing ‘yee sang/yu sheng’ (Chinese New Year salad). Essentially, the higher you toss, the more luck you get!
yee sang
May the year of the Horse bring much joy, good health, prosperity, and good food!

In photos: Norman Musa & Ning London

I was never much of a cook until I came over to England. I always wonder if I’d be where I was today (cooking-wise) had I not left home – as one of my main aims of cooking has always been to recreate the food of home. What else can one do when there is a lack of good Malaysian food in London?

Which is why I was intrigued when I heard about Norman Musa‘s Malaysian London supperclub venture, aptly named “Ning London” after his restaurant in Manchester. I’d heard good things about Norman through the Malaysian foodie grapevine, as he is one of the more well known Malaysian celebrity chefs, and had always wanted to try his food. Another plus is that Norman hails from Penang, which is of course the best place in Malaysia for good food. Maybe I’m a little biased, but… it’s true! Ha.

All the photos in this post were taken with my phone, so please excuse the rather grainy photos (oh the plight of taking food photos in mood lighting). In my defence, I didn’t really feel like whipping out my dSLR in front of a crowd of people I had never met (it’s totally different for friends and family who are used to my photo taking, naturally).

Kerabu nonyaKerabu Nonya. This Malaysian “salad” (kerabu) incorporates a wonderful mixture of herbs – including the fragrant (and hard to find in London) ginger flower, or bunga kantan as we call it back home. I wasn’t expecting it come with rice noodles (bee hoon), but it worked really well. I might even have to borrow the idea for a quick summer meal – if summer ever comes, that is.

otak otak 2 Otak Otak. I still don’t know how this dish got it’s name, as “otak” translates to “brains”. But despite the slightly odd name, this Malaysian take on fishcakes is one of my favourite things to eat. The fish is marinated in spices, galangal and lemongrass; then wrapped in banana leaves (to add fragrance); and cooked on the grill.

Assam pedas ikanKari Kapitan Ayam. (Kari = curry, Kapitan = captain, Ayam = chicken). An old-school Malaysian chicken curry with a complex blend of herbs & spices,  that was a favourite of captains in the ancient port of Malacca.

Kari limau udangKari Limau Udang.  (Kari = curry, Limau = lime, Udang = prawn). This sweet and sour prawn curry is cooked with coconut milk, tumeric, chilli and a hint of lime. This was my favourite dish of the night.

Kari Kapitan Ayam
Assam Pedas Ikan. (Assam = sour, Pedas = spicy, Ikan = fish). We Malaysians like spicy and sour flavours, and this is a dish that showcases it well. The key ingredients in this dish are assam (I can’t for the life of me think what it is called in English), bunga kantan (ginger flower), and daun kaduk (polygonum/laksa leaves). Salmon was used in this, which is a little atypical (salmon isn’t eaten all that commonly in Malaysia), but I would imagine that this was to conform to the British palate.

Kangkung belacanSayur Goreng Belacan. (Sayur = vegetable, Goreng = fry, Belacan = fermented shrimp paste). This is a very classic vegetable dish – belacan is renowned for it’s strong smell, and those who are not used to it may find it rather unappealing. But believe me when I say the final product always tastes fantastic… why else would we use it as an ingredient in so many dishes?

yee kwan lemongrass and lime sorbetLemongrass & Lime ice cream. This was sourced from Yee Kwan – who by the way, makes the best black sesame ice cream ever. I tried it at a food fair a few years ago, and have yet to try a better version since.

CendolCendol. This is a very popular dessert, which comprises of pandan (screwpine leaf) flavoured “noodle strands”, red beans and shaved ice; served in a coconut milk base; and topped with palm sugar (gula Melaka) syrup. If I remember correctly, there weren’t any red beans in this version, which was a shame.

Seri mukaSeri Muka. (Seri = happy/smiley, Muka = face). This is a traditional Nonya kuih (sweet dessert) that showcases pandan, glutinous rice, and coconut milk. Lots of coconut milk. As a child I used to only eat the green (pandan) bit of the kuih, but I now happily scoff it all up. The more carbs the better, eh?

ning london teamThe service from the team (pictured above) was wonderful, and Norman himself is a charming host. He worked his way around the room and ensured he said hello to everyone who was there. I also thought that their service of offering pick up/drop off from/to the station was a nice touch, as it caters to those who do not know the area well.

norman musa chocolates Norman also has a range of spice-inspired chocolates – my favourite is obviously the pandan, as it totally appeals to my obsession for it. (I incorporate pandan into anything I can…)

All in all, I had a lovely evening at Ning London. I think that the standard of food was high, but it wasn’t always completely authentic. I suspect that this is because Norman had to cater to a range of palates – he mentioned how he had to tone down the chilli to ensure everyone could enjoy the meal.

Let me put it this way – it is not the best Malaysian food I’ve ever eaten, but it’s certainly the best Malaysian food I’ve had in London. Would I return to Ning London? Most definitely.

p.s. Norman is hosting a ‘Malaysian Street Food‘ themed supper club on May 24th & 25th, featuring the very famous roti canai (Malaysian flatbread), satay (chicken skewers), and most importantly – nasi lemak bungkus. I am rather upset that I am working that weekend, or I would be there in a heartbeat.

Ning_logo®-02

Ning London
£35 per person, BYOB
http://www.normanmusa.com/restaurants.htm

Disclaimer: I attended the supper club as a guest of Ning London, but all views expressed are my own.

[instagrammed] Pandan bundt eggwhite cake

I first made this pandan bundt cake when I realised I had an ever-growing stash of leftover eggwhites in my freezer. I’m not a huge fan of meringue/macaron baking, and was trying to figure out what I could do with all those leftover eggwhites. And I have yet to purchase a chiffon cake tin.

I then came across this recipe for “Munavalgekook”, an Estonian eggwhite cake. I was intrigued, and not just because I couldn’t pronounce the name of said cake! So I made it. And absolutely loved it.

pandan bundt eggwhite cake

This cake has a slight pound-cake like texture, but has a beautiful delicate crumb due to the volume created by the whipped eggwhites. I personally prefer whisking eggwhites separately in cake recipes (even when the recipe calls for a whole egg), as I find cakes made this way result in a finer crumb.

And in keeping with my aim in life of putting a Malaysian twist on all my baked goods, I added a dash of pandan (screwpine) extract into the cake mix.

pandan bundt slicedNot a very good slice through the cake, is it? I really need to sharpen my knives… Oops.

Pandan bundt cake
Adapted from this recipe for Munavalgekook, from Nami-Nami

  • 6 large egg whites
  • 2 tbsp + 100 g caster sugar
  • 160 g plain flour
  • 1 heaped tbsp potato starch or cornflour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 100 g melted butter, cooled slightly (I use salted butter)
  • 2 tbsp pandan extract (I never measure, I plonk in as much as I feel is necessary on that particular day…)

1. Preheat your oven to 170’C (fan assisted).
2. Sieve the flour, potato/corn starch, 100g of caster sugar, and baking powder into a bowl. Set aside.
3. Place egg whites and 2 tbsp of the caster sugar in a clean bowl. Whisk until the egg white/sugar mixture forms soft peaks.
4. Gently fold in the sieved flour/sugar mix into the whipped egg whites, until it forms a smooth mixture. Be careful when doing this as you do not want to knock the precious air bubbles out of the egg whites.
5. Slowly trickle the melted butter and pandan extract into the mixture, and gently fold until just incorporated.
6. Pour the cake mix into a bundt tin. Bake in the preheated oven for 30-45 minutes, until the cake becomes golden brown. A toothpick inserted into the cake should come out clean.
7. Remove from oven and let stand for 5 minutes.
8. Turn the cake out onto a wire rack to cool, then eat!

Billy Law’s vinegar-braised pork belly & eggs

Well technically, it’s his mum’s recipe. But “Billy’s mum’s vinegar-braised pork belly & eggs” seemed a little bit long for a title!

For those of you who are not familiar with the name, Billy Law is a Malaysian (like myself) based in Australia. I first got to know of him through his food blog “A Table For Two”. Not long after, he appeared on one of my favourite shows – Masterchef Australia! For those of you who haven’t watched the Aussie version of Masterchef… you’re missing out! 🙂 Most people I know prefer the Australian format of the show, so it’s definitely worth watching to see if you like it.

But I digress.

Billy recently released his debut cookbook, aptly titled “Have You Eaten?”. I think he explains his choice of title very well here: “In Malaysia, it is quite common for Malaysians to greet each other saying, ‘Have you eaten?’ instead of the usual ‘Hey how are you’. I simply couldn’t think of anything more appropriate for the title of a cookbook that reflects my background, my culture, and my food.” And you know what, he is absolutely right. Though to be perfectly honest it usually comes out in typical Manglish (Malaysian English) as “Eat already ah?” 😉

I must admit that I was impressed by his cookbook after a quick flip through the book. Here’s a little confession: I almost never buy cookbooks that don’t “look” nice. Photography (and the way recipes are laid out) are the most important aspects of a cookbook to me, and I immediately loved the photography of this cookbook – which was, by the way, mostly styled and photographed by Billy himself. Some people have all the talent, hrmph!

The cookbook is divided into several chapters: “Snack Attack” (smaller bites e.g. Brie en croute with cranberries & walnuts); “On the Side” (e.g. Roast spiced cauliflower & corn salad); “Easy Peasy” (simple dishes e.g. Cola chilli chicken); “Over the Top” (more adventurous recipes e.g. Nonya spicy tamarind snapper); “Rice and Noodles” (all Malaysian/Chinese recipes e.g. “Nasi lemak”); and “Sugar Hit” (desserts e.g. Popcorn & salted caramel macarons). There is a good mix of both Malaysian/Chinese (think “Assam laksa” and “Kangkung belacan”) and non-Malaysian recipes (“Smoked ham hock baked beans”, “Lamb shank pie”, and “Rocky Road”). Now I know “non-Malaysian” isn’t exactly descriptive, but I have no idea how else to put it!

I cooked “Mum’s vingear-braised pork belly & eggs” from the “Easy Peasy” chapter, and it turned out remarkably well. I usually don’t put vinegar in my braised pork belly dish (called “Tau Yew Bak” in Hokkien), so I definitely learnt a new trick! I made a few tweaks to the recipe though – I used less sugar, and more chilli. A lot more chilli.

This is a remarkably easy dish to make, but it does have to be slow cooked for at least 2 hours to ensure the meat is meltingly tender. I can’t complain, I love dishes that don’t require much attention!

P.S. Scroll to the bottom to find out how to win a copy of this fabulous cookbook!

Billy’s Mum’s vingear-braised pork belly & eggs
From Billy Law’s “Have You Eaten?”

  • 2 liters water
  • 500g pork ribs
  • 500g pork belly, chopped into 3cm chunks
  • 5cm ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 whole garlic, unpeeled
  • 10 star anise
  • 5 dried chillies (the recipe states this is optional. I used 10. Haha!)
  • 3 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons dark soy caramel (I used a mix of kecap manis + dark soy sauce)
  • 100ml light soy sauce
  • 1 cup sugar (I used 1/4 cup)
  • 6 hard boiled eggs, peeled

1. Boil the water in a large pot over medium high heat, until it starts to bubble.
2. Add the pork ribs, pork belly, ginger, whole garlic, star anise and chillis to the pot of boiling water. Bring to the boil again.
3. Scoop out any impurities that float to the surface – I find that it is quite useful to use a small fine metal sieve. Alternatively, use a spoon.
4. Turn the heat down to low (until the liquid is simmering), and add the vinegar, dark soy caramel, light soy sauce, and sugar. Stir well.
5. Add the hard boiled eggs to the pot.
6. Cook on low heat for at least 2 hours (stirring occasionally), or until the pork is meltingly tender. I cooked it covered for the first hour, then left it uncovered for the remaining cooking time.
7. Once the sauce starts to thicken, taste, and adjust the seasoning accordingly. If it is too sour/too salty: add more sugar. If it is too sweet: add more light soy sauce. Billy notes that extra water should not be used, the exception being if the sauce is drying out too quickly!
8. Serve with rice (noodles work well too).

Have You Eaten? by Billy Law, £25 hardback, published by Hardie Grant, is now available at http://www.hardiegrant.co.uk/books/have-you-eaten-paperback

If you’re not convinced by what I’ve said here, have a look at what some other bloggers thought about the book (my post is part of a 5-part blog tour, ending today):
Monday 1st – http://junglefrog-cooking.com/
Tuesday 2nd – http://englishmum.com/
Wednesday 3rd – http://www.babaduck.com/
Thursday 4th – http://www.millycundall.com/
Friday 5th – Me!

And now – how can you WIN a copy of Have You Eaten?, thanks to Hardie Grant Books? Simply follow Hardie Grant on Twitter @hardiegrantuk and RT the relevant tweet – simples! Competition is only open to UK residents though (apologies to everyone who isn’t in the UK!). Winners will be announced on October 8 2012.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of the cookbook, but all the views expressed above are my own.