Essential Malaysian Ingredients

I found this great illustrated guide by Normas Musa for guardian.co.uk on Malaysian ingredients. I particularly like the tip on kerisik (roasted coconut).

Lengkuas (galangal)

Lengkuas (galangal)
Lengkuas (galangal). Photograph: Ning Ltd

This herb is of the same family as ginger. The aroma and flavour is very pungent and citrusy.

You only need to use a bit in a recipe otherwise the dish will turn slightly bitter. 100g of fresh galangal peeled and blended with 100ml of water can produce up to 10 tablespoons paste. You will find it in the chiller cabinet of oriental grocery stores.

Serai (lemongrass)

Serai (lemongrass)
Serai (lemongrass). Photograph: Ning Ltd

This is one of my favourite herbs. The refreshing fragrance makes recipes smell so fresh and aromatic.

Four stalks lemon grass blended with 150ml water can give up to 10 tablespoons paste. Having cut off the tip, use the bottom half of a lemongrass stalk, chopping it into small pieces before blending it with the water. When frying it, it is best to extract the juice from the pulp so the oil will not spit.

Cili Kering (dried chilli paste)

Cili Kering (dried chilli paste)
Cili Kering (dried chilli paste). Photograph: Ning Ltd

Dried chillies are used a lot in Malaysian cooking. The colour is a rich, gorgeous crimson compared to using fresh chillies, and the flavour sweeter and more intense than sharp.

Twenty dried chillies (the bigger the better) with 150ml of water can give up to 10 tablespoons of chilli paste. To prepare, bring to the boil 1 litre of water and boil the dried chillies for 10 minutes. Remove the chilli stalk beforehand if there is any. Drain the water and blend the chillies with 150ml cold water in a blender. You can always soak the chillies overnight to soften the chillies first.

Daun Kari (curry leaves)

Daun Kari (curry leaves)
Daun Kari (curry leaves). Photograph: Ning Ltd

Curry leaves originate from India, and consequently a typical ingredient in Indian style Malaysian dishes.

Buying fresh ones is best. You can normally buy them in Asian grocery stores and markets. In Manchester, we have a so-called Curry Mile where you can pick them up. If you cannot get hold of them, you can use dried ones but soak them first in boiling water to soften them.

Kari Ayam dan Daging (meat curry powder)

Kari Ayam dan Daging (meat curry powder)
Kari Ayam dan Daging (meat curry powder). Photograph: Ning Ltd

The brand I use is Adabi, Malaysian produced. This curry powder is available in many oriental grocery stores.

It comprises a mixture of ground herbs like cumin, coriander, fennel and chilli powder, among others. It is good quality, saving a lot of time with the pestle and mortar.

Kari Ikan (fish curry powder)

Kari Ikan (fish curry powder)
Kari Ikan (fish curry powder). Photograph: Ning Ltd

Similar to the meat version, this is another type of Adabi brand but designed for fish curries, also use this in Murtabak LINK.

It is less spicy compared to the meat curry powder.

Kerisik (roasted coconut)

Kerisik (roasted coconut)
Kerisik (roasted coconut). Photograph: Ning Ltd

The authentic way of making this is by frying desiccated coconut until brown and then blending it until the coconut turns into a paste.

However, thanks to my best friend Yosrie, he taught me to do it a quicker way by putting the coconut block (creamed coconut) in a microwave oven for 3 minutes. Stir it immediately and microwave for further 1 minute to make it darker.

Like magic, it turns to roasted coconut of the same quality as if it was done authentically. One block of creamed coconut block can produce up to 8 tablespoons of kerisik. I get so proud telling my students how they will save time preparing it this way.

Asam Jawa (tamarind)

Asam Jawa (tamarind)
Asam Jawa (tamarind). Photograph: Ning Ltd

Malaysians use a lot of tamarind juice in cooking, as an alternative to lime or lemon juice. It gives the same effect.

Tamarind is like a sour plum, of which the pulp is edible (when ripened). Soak the tamarind pulp in boiled water for 5 minutes before using it. If the recipe only requires a few tablespoons of the juice, just soak a couple pinches of tamarind pulp. The remaining can be kept for months in the fridge.

Daun Pandan (fragrant screwpine)

Daun Pandan (fragrant screwpine)
Daun Pandan (fragrant screwpine). Photograph: Ning Ltd

Pandan leaves are from the “screwpine tree”, and are widely used in South East
Asian cooking.

Their distinctive, slightly nutty aroma adds a delicate scent to rice and added flavour to curries. In Malaysia, their extracted juice is a natural green colouring used for desserts. Tied in a knot, a leaf can also be used to brush oil on a pan.

Sos Cili Manis (sweet chilli sauce)

Sos Cili Manis (sweet chilli sauce)
Sos Cili Manis (sweet chilli sauce). Photograph: Ning Ltd

The best sweet chilli sauce brand I have come across is the Thai Mae Ploy label. The sauce has less vinegar in it and more garlic.

It is nice to have with spring rolls, samosas and also murtabak LINK. It is available in many oriental stores or the world foods aisle of major supermarkets.

Santan (coconut milk)

Santan (coconut milk)
Santan (coconut milk). Photograph: Ning Ltd

There are many brands available in the UK, but the best brand in my opinion is Chaokoh, produced in Thailand.

It’s very creamy and not watery compared to other brands you might pick up in a supermarket. It is available in most oriental groceries or in the world foods aisle of major supermarkets.

Kicap Manis (sweet soy sauce)

Kicap Manis (sweet soy sauce)
Kicap Manis (sweet soy sauce). Photograph: Ning Ltd

The brand I normally go for is Malaysian Habhal’s Kicap Kipas Udang.

There are two types available in most oriental grocery stores: sweet, with a red label; and salty, with a green label. Many of my recipes use the sweet type.

Belacan (shrimp paste)

Belacan (shrimp paste)
Belacan (shrimp paste). Photograph: Ning Ltd

Belacan is popular throughout South East Asia, made from fermented ground shrimps which are then sun-dried and formed into slabs like cheese or pate.

These days you can widely buy it in jars. Malaysians use the paste to enhance the flavour, though the smell can really put some people off.

Gula Melaka (dark coconut block sugar)

Gula Melaka (dark coconut block sugar)
Gula Melaka (dark coconut block sugar). Photograph: Ning Ltd

This type of sugar comes in blocks or discs, but is different from palm sugar which is widely available in oriental shops.

The sweetness is more intense compared to granulated white sugar. Malaysians use a lot of coconut block sugar for their desserts. I also choose to use it in my beef rendang LINK as it gives extra darkness to the gravy. only available in selected oriental grocery stores.

Bawang Goreng (crispy fried shallots)

Bawang Goreng (crispy fried shallots)
Bawang Goreng (crispy fried shallots). Photograph: Ning Ltd

You can buy these ready-made in plastic jars or packets. They are widely used in Malaysia to garnish curries – just sprinkle them over.

Curiously enough, Scandinavians enjoy them too. You can even buy them in the food shop of a certain well-known Swedish furniture store.

Rempah Tumis (whole mixed herbs)

Rempah Tumis (whole mixed herbs)
Rempah Tumis (whole mixed herbs). Photograph: Ning Ltd

Whole mixed herbs and seeds are available in most South Asian grocery stores.

They come in a packet containing a mixture of black mustard seeds, fennel, fenugreek and cumin seeds. I use them in my Kari Ikan (fish curry).

• This extract is taken from Malaysian Food by Norman Musa (Ning,£14.95)

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