Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What's for Dinner? Spicy Sambal Petai with Tempeh

Well, what's for dinner tonight was not for the faint-hearted who dislike spicy food, nor was it for the 'faint-nosed' because this is Sambal Petai with Tempeh in all its spicy-ness and stinky-ness!

Petai beans are definitely something of an acquired taste...and smell (just like the King of Southeast Asian fruits called Durian). Highly popular in Southeast Asia, the beans are contained in long, flat green pods with bulging bumps in the shape of small almonds. Petai has a really peculiar smell that is dispelled through the urine (so, make sure the flush works!). As such, it is also nicknamed as 'stinky beans'. Petai is said to contain 3 types of natural sugar - sucrose, fructose and glucose. It is also believed to be carrying many beneficial medicinal values from regulating blood pressure to curing a hangover with a glass of petai milkshake (err, anyone up to this challenge?!).
Tear the pod to get the petai beans. Peel off the white skin and split open the petai to spot for any cute tiny little worms in suspicious-looking beans.

Tempeh is essentially fermented soy bean cake that originates from Indonesia (where it has been a staple food & source of protein for hundreds of years) and is widely cooked and loved by Malaysians and Singaporeans alike, especially in Malay households & food stalls. Tempeh can be easily found in many supermarkets these days. Many also prepare homemade tempeh as it is easy and cheap. Dehulled soy beans need to be soaked overnight, cooked and ferment with tempeh starter, which is a dried mixture of live Rhizopus spores. Just like how one would need the desired lactobacillus and streptococcus bacteria to make yoghurt, the similar concept applies to tempeh which needs its desired 'agent'. Whoever created tempeh was really clever. If you can see from the pic below, the whitish surface has a really unique texture. It is not anything like a wet batter at all. It is slightly damp & with cotton-like texture. As gross as it may sound, it is just like the outer layer of a caterpillar coccoon as I imagined. Too much details? Don't worry, it's completely hygienic, healthy & delicious. Tempeh is highly suitable for vegetarians & vegans.

Traditionally-made tempeh are wrapped in a certain type of leave where fermentation process takes place. Fry the tempeh till golden brown and slice it.

Now, get ready for the spicy, stinky, delicious Sambal Petai with Tempeh.

For the Sambal paste (grind all together):
100 g shallots
20 g dried chillies (soak in boiling hot water for 15 mins)
1 inch belacan (Asian shrimp paste)
2-3 kaffir lime leaves (optional)

To cook my Sambal Petai with Tempeh, you need:
1 small bowl sambal paste (as above)
30 g ikan bilis (baby anchovies), fry with oil till golden brown & drain on paper towel
100 g prawns, deshelled
5-6 tbsp tamarind paste juice or 3-4 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp sugar
Salt to taste
3-4 pods of petai beans, skinned and split
1-2 pieces tempeh, fry till golden brown and slice

Heat 5-7 tbsp oil in a wok/frying pan. When it's hot, put in the grounded sambal paste and saute till the paste emanates a fragrant smell and somewhat drier than before. Pour in the tamarind/lemon juice, sugar and salt. You can add some water if you prefer a slightly wetter sambal. Put in the prawns, petai and tempeh all together. Stir and cook for 3-5 mins. Turn off the fire, leave the sambal to cool for about 10 mins, then mix in the fried anchovies. Stir well and serve with plain rice, coconut milk rice (nasi lemak) or bread.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Cheese Bread

One of the reasons why I like visiting food blogs is that they inspire me to stretch my boundaries. Bread is something that I've never really explored that much at all as I used to think that it's just too darn troublesome to do it all by hand without a bread maker. I guess, as "time and blogs" went by, I began to be more enlightened about the adventure of bread making.

This recipe below has been sitting on my mind lately as my sister who really likes making bread had tried it and said that it is a wonderful recipe. So, with all the inspiration and encouragement, I decided to try it and here it is.

It is fluffy & soft, with bits of melted cheddar cheese, butter & aromatic oregano embedded in the bread. I love the smell of dried herbs and this recipe was just great for me.

320 g bread flour
80 g plain flour
20 g sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tsps instant yeast
220 ml cold milk
1 egg
30 g butter
30 g cubed cheddar cheese
30 g roasted nibbed almonds
Dried oregano
20 g nibbed almonds
20 g cubed cheddar cheese
3 cheddar cheese slices
Dried oregano
Dried parsley

1. Mix (A) till well blended. Add (B) to form a dough.
2. Add (C) and knead to form a smooth and elastic dough (Here, I used a hand mixer with dough hook to rub in the butter more evenly. Oh! how I wish I had a hands-free stand mixer!)
3. Cover in a clean plastic bag and let it prove for 45 mins. Then, divide into 2 equal portions, mould into balls and leave to rest for 10 mins.
4. Roll the dough flat into rectangles and spread dots of soft butter on them, then sprinkle with (D).

5. Roll the rectangles up like a swiss rolls, then cut each dough into 3 pieces and place them in 2 greased paper-lined rectangle pans, with cut side facing up. Cover and let it prove for another 45 mins.

6. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with (E) on top. Bake at 190 deg C for 23 mins
7. Take out the loaves from the oven and quickly place cheese slices and herbs from (F).
8. Bake for another 7 mins. Unmould immediately.

- I made only half of the recipe above to get 1 loaf, thus did not divide the dough to 2 equal portions as mentioned on step 3.
- The top crust of my bread had burnt slightly due to the cubed cheese being sprinkled earlier on (step 6). I would suggest omitting this and just put more slices of cheddar cheese as guided by step 7.

Slice the loaf and have them by dipping in a bowl of spicy chicken curry. Yummy!

Have a great week ahead!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Mixed About Mixers! Cuisinart? KitchenAid? Kenwood? ...?

Cuisinart? or KitchenAid? or Kenwood? or ...?

It is every home baker's dream to own one of these sleek, gorgeous machines called stand mixers! I'm one of those dreamers right now.

While stand mixers are so great to have, I've read hundreds of mixed reviews about them, in particular the three brands above which I have shortlisted (as they are easily available in Singapore). My basic online research found many mixed reviews - good reviews amidst the bad ones, and just as well, bad reviews amidst the good ones. Honestly, I'm left more confused than ever. So, I decided to put up a post on this and seek reviews/comments from all of you, for the benefit of all home bakers like me who wish to learn more and make the best informed decision. Because lemme tell ya', these mixers are not cheap out here in Asia!

I would LOVE to hear from you if:
1) you or know of someone who own(s) a stand mixer of any model/series from the 3 brands above - Cuisinart, Kenwood and KitchenAid
2) you own any other brand of stand mixer (please state the brand) and are very happy with it
3) you too, have been dreaming of owning a stand mixer and have heard some comments/reviews from family or friends
4) you don't have a stand mixer and don't dream of owning one but would just like to say something

Would appreciate all comments/reviews especially on the durability and stability of the mixer (like its strength in slogging through heavy cookie/bread dough without having the whole machine struggle or shake). Hope you will participate as your comments will help shed some light for many of us who intend to own a stand mixer someday. Look forward to hearing from you!


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Peranakan/BabaNyonya - Its Historical Beginning And Culture At A Glance

"Peranakan", "Baba-Nyonya" and "Straits-born Chinese" (named after the Straits of Malacca/Straits Settlement under the British rule of Malaya) are terms used for the descendants of the early Chinese immigrants to the Nusantara region who inter-married with local folks. This region includes the British Straits Settlements of Malacca, Penang and Singapore and the Dutch-controlled island of Java.

The birth of Malaysia's & Singapore's unique Peranakan or BabaNyonya heritage dates back to the early 15th century when Melaka was ruled by a Malay sultanate kingdom in which during that time, it was also a prosperous and strategic trading port for herbs and spices. As a trading port for the region, Melaka had enjoyed very strong relations with the kingdom of China.
Before I proceed further, let me explain why are there different terms, how did they originate and used interchangeably?
The word "Peranakan" is also commonly used to describe Indonesian Chinese back in those days (am not sure if it still applies now). In both Malaysia and Indonesia local languages, "Peranakan” means descendant. "Baba" refers to the male descendants and "Nyonya" the female.
"Straits-born Chinese" simply means the descendants of Peranakan people who were originally born in Malacca (like me and my big family), and which also extended to Penang and Singapore, when these three places which are located along the shore lines of the Straits of Malacca were treatised as the British Straits Settlements.
Why did some spell it as "Nyonya" while some others in Penang and Singapore may spell it as "Nonya"?
Well, the answer is simple. "Nonya" (no-nee-yah) is the simplified version to ease its pronunciation. "Nyonya" (nee-yo-nee-yah - and you have to say it fast and not by syllable) is the original spelling and pronunciation which is still being retained in Malacca. According to sources, "Nyonya" was rather tongue-twisting to say for many Chinese (who are non-Peranakans) whose mother-tongue is not Malay in places like Penang and Singapore. Thus, the simplified version emerged. Please note that Peranakans are also Chinese in race, thus I specified the above as non-Peranakan Chinese (other dialects like Cantonese, Teochew, Hainanese, Hakka, Hokkien etc). However, majority of the Peranakans are part Hokkien (probably due to the ancestral heritage of China's Princess Hang Li Po - see History below).
History: How did this unique culture first emerged?
Well, in the early 15th century, close relations with the kingdom of China was established during the reign of Parameswara (the founder of Melaka way before Malaya -now Malaysia- was formed). Great tributes were given during the visit by China's Admiral Cheng Ho (Zheng He) to Malacca. In return for such tributes, a princess of China called "Puteri Hang Li Po" ("Puteri" means Princess) was presented as a 'gift' to the ruling Sultan of Malacca, Sultan Mansur Shah circa 1459 AD (who was Parameswara prior to his throning) to forge closer trading ties. The Princess and her entourage of servants then settled in Bukit Cina (means "Chinese Hill") in Malacca. With the Princess having married the Sultan and later her entourage also followed suit by marrying local Malay folks, thus eventually emerged the beginning of this centuries-old culture called "Peranakan" or "Baba-Nyonya". In addition, records also show that following the successful union of China and Malacca through the marriage of Sultan Mansur Shah and Princess Hang Li Po, more Chinese male and female immigrants had come to Malacca, leading to more inter-marriages and the continued development of this unique Peranakan heritage.
By the middle of the 20th century, most Peranakans were English educated as a result of British colonisation of Malaya (which included Singapore at that time). They filled jobs in civil service as they had embraced English culture and education openly. The interaction with the British also resulted in some Peranakans converting to Christianity, thereby they became influential under the British colonisation. The Peranakan communities were also known as the King's Chinese due to their perceived loyalty to the British Crown. The culture and heritage then developed further and flourished to Penang and Singapore as Malacca Peranakans were transferred to fill administrative and civil jobs at these places. At that time, Malacca, Penang and Singapore had been formed the British Straits Settlements.
However, some records show that in the 19th century even before British colonisation of Malaya, some Peranakans from Malacca, drawn by commerce, had also migrated to the bustling ports of Penang and Singapore, and settled there. (During this time, it was believed that Malacca had began to lose its ground as the most sought after trading port, and was overtaken by Penang and Singapore. Thus, more Malacca Peranakan began moving out to these two newer ports and contributed to establishing firmer and stronger presence of Peranakan heritage in Penang and Singapore. Perhaps, there are other accounts as to how the Peranakan heritage flourished in these two states which are not to my knowledge, hence no other sources of information included here.)
Many Peranakans became traders and merchants and had amassed great wealth, mainly by the 1st generation of Peranakans. This was said to be due to the 'business sense and acumen' that were inherent in the immigrant Chinese who came and married local folks. Unfortunately today, the Chinese proverb proved to be quite true - the 1st generation creates, the 2nd generation builds, and the 3rd generation squanders! Up till the mid 1900s, many Peranakans were really wealthy and the community had colonised most of the large Dutch-influenced houses on Hereen and Jonker streets in Melaka. Fyi, apart from and prior to the British, Melaka was also colonised by the Portuguese and Dutchmen once upon a time in history. After Melaka and other Malaysian states were formed as Malaya, the Japanese and British 'came over'.
Suffice to say that today, Malacca, Penang & Singapore remain the 3 distinct locations where the Peranakan heritage is firmly established, preserved and appreciated. And proudly, till today Malacca continues to be known as the original birthplace of the Peranakan heritage and where its culture most well preserved - not through newly built museums or newly acquired cultural artifacts but through the generation of thousands of Peranakan families who are still living there and living out the culture through normal everyday lives. Through the original language of Malay-Chinese patois, style and slang of talking, customs and traditions and most definitely, through everyday food.
Pic: An old map of British Straits Settlements in Malaya.
Culture & religion

The Peranakans were partially assimilated into the Malay culture, especially in food, dressing and language, while retaining some of the Chinese traditions and culture, like religion, name, folk medicine and festival celebrations they brought from China, thereby creating a new kind of mixed culture of their country of origin with local elements. Among those, like Peranakan cuisine which has developed with very strong influence of the spices of Malay cuisine and the famous Sarong Kebaya clothing for the ladies.

Peranakans are not Muslims despite the inter-marriage with local Malays because in those days, there wasn't any sort of law that requires any religious conversion. Thus, till this day and age, many original Peranakans have retained their ancestral worship tradition of the Chinese (unless they are Christians), especially of their wedding ceremony which is largely based upon the Chinese tradition.

The Peranakan culture has lived through centuries and it is so unique that there is almost a kind of 'exclusive status' prescribed to it now. This is so evident in that many would claim to be descendants of Peranakans through the bloodlines of their deceased ancestry although they may not be all too familiar with its history, customs and language. Nevertheless, it is important to keep this heritage alive.


Because the early Peranakans inter-married with the local Malay population, most early Peranakans are tan in skin color, albeit in this modern day and age where the ancestry bloodline for many have been diluted, it may not necessary be so anymore.
Pic: Nyonyas in Sarong Kebayas in the early days. No Nyonyas would be dressing this way anymore as the Sarong Kebaya has sinced evolved throughout the years. Sarong Kebayas in those days were normally in light shades of transparent pastel colors with small floral embroideries all around the edges. Kebayas are now bold in colors and huge on floral designs and other animal motifs (like the phoenix), and its bodily cut has changed quite a bit too since it re-emerged as a fashion element lately.

Personally for me, I am on the tan side and there were endless number of times where I was mistaken for as a Malay. This happened again just recently at the wet market near where I live (Ang Mo Kio, Singapore). I was buying fruits when a local Chinese aunty saw a packet of dried shitake mushrooms I was holding and she asked in broken Malay "Melayu ada masak ini kah?" (translation "Do Malays cook this?"). That was because dried mushrooms are typically used in Chinese cooking, not Malay. So, I politely corrected her (countless times I've done this!) that I'm not a Malay and am a BabaNyonya. That was when she let out an expression of "Oh, I see!" on her face. I just smiled!

Language & Interaction
Because of the interaction with different cultures and as well as retaining their own, Peranakans, up to the mid 1900s, were trilingual. They were fluent in Malay, English and Chinese Hokkien. However, Peranakans have their own language which is Peranakan Malay - a Malay-Chinese patois hybrid. Many of the words are different from the actual Malay language, and contains the influence of several Chinese Hokkien and Indonesian words. The slang of the language and the way it is spoken are also somewhat different from the official Malay language in Malaysia. An example of Indonesian influence would be, an elderly Peranakan Nyonya in Malacca is often called a "Bibik" or in short "Bik" which means 'aunty'. It is an honorific term of endearment and respect for the elderly Nyonya ladies. Hence, my mom was so fondly known as "Bibik Chwee" (Chwee was her middle name) to many folks who knew her and our family.
The Melaka Peranakan way of speaking is very informal and sometimes could be perceived as rude. Let me give you an actual account between my dad and a friend of his at a coffee shop in Melaka years ago. I was with him walking into the coffee shop when he spotted a very old friend whom he had not met up with for sometime. When both of them spotted each other across the coffee shop, one went: "Oi! Mana lu pergi lama tak jumpa? Gua ingat lu dah masuk gol!" (translation: "Hey! Where have you been? Been a long time since I've seen you. I thought you have kicked the bucket!). The other responded: "Sial lah lu. Apasal lu tak carik gua? (translation: "You idiot! Why didn't you come look for me?"). This conversation was exchanged in the middle of hearty laughter, jest and care for one another, and in no way was that a slightest hint that a possible fight might ensue! This is just the fond ways of the Babas!
When it comes to the Nyonyas, there are two contrasting ends to their characters. Before that, let me outwardly say that Peranakan ladies have reputations that precedes them. They are either very gentle and soft spoken, or the complete opposite - fearless and fierce! Or both!! Just that different situations would command the different sides of them to exhibit itself. My late maternal granny whom I've never met was exactly like the latter description - fearless & fierce! My mom was just gentle, compassionate and loving to her family and friends but never incur her wrath, as that would warrant the feisty side of her to come out. My mom used to relay to us that when she was a young girl, she had once a while peered at the door when my granny was trying to bun up her hair. Each time the 'bunning' failed (in this case it means having just one single strand of hair out of place!), my granny would grab her comb or her slippers and fling it right across the room, aiming accurately at my mom, whilst shouting at her to go out and start pounding the spices. In this day and age, that is called 'child abuse'!! She had a 'pantang larang' (taboo) that no one should be watching her while she was trying to bun up her hair because it would definitely mean that the 'bunning' will fail.
Most, if not all, Peranakan families in Malacca still speak the original Peranakan language today. One can hear it at many corners of or across Malacca's many narrow streets or in coffee shops. We speak it at home, with relatives, and even with other non-Peranakan Malacca Chinese. In fact, a typical Peranakan person could not really speak Chinese, just like my dad, my 3rd sister and her husband. Meanwhile, Peranakans in Penang tend to speak more Hokkien (as I was told by a Penangite). The older generation of Peranakans in Singapore can still speak Peranakan language largely due to their roots and relations to Melaka Peranakans. This is not the case with the younger generation who are mainly English and Mandarin speaking.
There is an abundant of things to talk about with regard to this unique heritage of mine and many other Peranakans alike -whether they are from Malacca, Penang, Singapore or other parts of Malaysia and the world where many Peranakans live today. From its elaborate wedding customs to crockery to architecture to fashion - there is a story to tell.
I hope to post them bit by bit as I pursue them with more research going forward. Like any other modern-day Nyonyas challenged by modernity and pop culture, there is a whole lot for me to discover as well, as I live to share more about All Things Peranakan.
In the meantime, I hope you have enjoyed yourself reading this post.
Sources: my own recollection and knowledge passed down by my parents, relatives and family friends, my own interactions and observations with other Peranakans, information from various Internet sites and images.
Caveat emptor: additional historical facts/information may be missing. my above post is meant to give a quick glimpse only.