Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mom's Nyonya Kuah Lada (Fish & Brinjal In Turmeric & Peppercorn Gravy)

Kuah Lada ('Kuah': soup/gravy; 'Lada': pepper) is a specialty Melaka Nyonya dish consisting of fish and brinjal (aubergine/eggplant) cooked in turmeric and peppercorn gravy, with a hint of tartness from tamarind paste juice. Mackerel (ikan tenggiri) or stingray (ikan pari) are the two preferred types of fish often used to cook kuah lada, although other suitable fish may be used too, like hardtail mackerel (ikan cencaru) and pomfret (ikan bawal).

This is one of my many favorite homey Nyonya dishes often prepared by my Mom, who was a terrific cook of Nyonya food and cakes. This dish goes so great with a plate of plain rice. Depending on the palate of individual Nyonya household, the degree of tartness can be adjusted by using more or lesser tamarind paste juice. I love mine with more tamarind paste juice as the sour & peppery turmeric taste never fails to whet my appetite. It is also one of the 'specialty & less commercial' dishes that one can hardly find in a Nyonya restaurant, so if you love authentic Melaka Nyonya food, this is worth a try at home.


4 fish fillets/slices
2 brinjals, cut into 1.5 inches blocks and quarter them
1 tbsp tamarind paste rubbed in 2 cups water (use your fingers to rub and squeeze the tamarind paste thoroughly in the water, then discard the seeds)
1/4 cup oil

Pound/blend together:
40 gms garlic
80 gms shallots
1 inch long fresh turmeric (or half tbsp turmeric powder)
1 fresh red chilli (this is optional)
1 inch block Asian shrimp paste (belacan)
1/2 tbsp white peppercorns
3 candlenuts (buah keras)
salt to taste


Heat oil in a wok or pan, saute all the blended paste for about 10-13 minutes until fragrant. Transfer the sauteed paste into a small pot, add the 2 cups of tamarind juice, and let it boil on medium heat. Add in the brinjals, let it boil and cook until soft for maybe another 10 minutes, and then add in the fish slices and let it simmer for 5 minutes till they are cooked. Serve with rice.



  1. I've been buying these too. They are so beautiful and so cute. Great dish!

  2. I can eat lots of rice with this!!! Yummy!

  3. This looks so yummy and makes my mouth watering :D

  4. Oh wow...that looks awesome! I don't think I've ever had anything like it...those little eggplants are too cute :)

  5. What a wonderful dish! The gravy has such nice color.

  6. What an excellent looking & tasty dish!!

    MMMMMMMM,..just lovely!!!

  7. What gorgeous little eggplants! I love tamarind! The more the better. This sounds so very tasty!

  8. This is an excellent dish! The turmeric and peppercorn gravy sounds amazing!

  9. I've never heard of aubergines but they are so cute! This dish looks great!

  10. It looks tasty, some sort like asam curry, but with pepper corns.

  11. The curry on top of the rice really makes me hungry !

  12. Curry !! one bowl of rice is not enough..

  13. Looks really good.. I think either Mackerel or stingray are good for me, I love them... :)

  14. Such a beautiful dish!! I am glad to find your blog as well :)

  15. I love Bangam Bertha and other dishes with small eggplant, but have not had this version of before!

    Looks great...I just bought some cauliflower and potatoes for a curry, its time, actually over due in this house!

  16. I was wondering could you put a 'follow me' button on here from the layout of dashboard, so I can see your post each week? :)

  17. I had to Google aubergines - I thought they looked like eggplants. Beautiful color - both the eggplant and the sauce!

  18. hi Everyone, thanks for all your comments!

    p/s Chef Fresco & Barbara Bakes, I guess in the US, eggplant is the more common name compared to aubergine or brinjal.

    p/s Chef E, I love cauliflower & potato curry too! It's very popular in Indian restaurants here.

  19. Chef E, thanks for requesting for me to publish the 'follow me' button. will do it soon. cheers :)

  20. Wow, this is nice, can imagine the candle nuts giving the dish a tinge of creamyness! yummy!

  21. Hi there,

    I just stumbled upon your site via another blog in which you posted a comment. I am so completely crazy about Nyonya cuisine having first experienced it in Mallaca a few years ago and more recently in Singapore. I attended a cookery class at Cookery Magic with Ruxana (she is great), and met also a delightful lady who had co-wrote and starred in a TV series called "The Way of the Matriarch". I live in London so unfortunately never saw the show. I have become a follower, pls visit my blog if you have the chance.

  22. Wow, I'm salivating lol! Love the flavour.

  23. I don't like aubergine, but the spicy gravy looks so tasty...reminds of 'Padang' food. Padang is a city in Indonesia known for its spicy and curry-like cuisine.

  24. hi Pete, thanks for visiting :). Yes, candlenuts make quite a difference to the consistency of the gravy.

    hi London Foodie, thanks for visiting. It's such a pleasure to know that you enjoy Nyonya food too.

    tigerfish, haha :D

    MLS, yes, full of flavor in this nyonya dish.

    Cooking-Gallery, I will definitely like Padang cuisine too. Very unfortunate earthquake event that hit Padang. Hope everything gets well and back to normalcy for the victims there.

  25. I love the sound and look of this, I want some with rice!! and the aubergines are so cute, I've never seen such small ones.

  26. These small delectable ggplants (aubergines! excuse me) are all oer St. Paul's Farmer's market - your recipe is just delicious. Must try it.

  27. hiyooo...looking at your curry ikan in the middle of the night make me hungry now,read here: wish your curry ikan is jumping out of my screen now instead of me just staring at the yummy gravy!! hahaha!! must go to cook instant noodle now:(

  28. I love mini eggplants ... and to cook them in the tangy tamarind gravy is just perfect!

  29. Hi Nyonya, wow! I have not eaten this dish can't remember when. I think a Malacca aunty made it wayyyyy back.
    I can still imagine the spicy, lovely aroma of the 'lada'.
    Nyonya, you are outstanding!
    Bet your hubby looks forward to your dinner every night.

    My wife is not a Nyonya....I did try to chari one be my wife, but the one I fell in love with happened to be twice my age...I posted a story about her and me. The longest posting ever, 19 episodes, three weeks total postings, ha ha.

    But my wife was the one that sangkut me....she got her Malay and Nyonya friends to teach her cooking and secretly learned what were my favourite dishes.
    She then cooked them, invited me home to eat.
    Tiga kali makan, gua kena sangkut big time. Habis cherita, ha ha.

    Nyonya, being a Nyonya, have you tried or know this dessert?
    Its called, "Rose Rose I love you' pudding.

    Rose, Rose, I Love You Pudding
    Type of Dish Dessert
    Cooking Method Boil .
    50g agar-agar strips
    3 screwpine leaves (pandan leaves)
    1,000ml water
    1 cup plain milk
    75g sago, soaked and drained
    1 egg white, beaten till stiff
    Red and green colouring, for roses and leaves

    Cut up the agar-agar strips, wash, then soak in water for about 10 minutes.
    Bring water to the boil with the screwpine leaves.
    Add the agar-agar and cook till dissolved. Put in sugar and bring to the boil. Remove half cup of agar-agar solution.
    Add colouring and pour into rose-and-leaves portion of the mould.

    Add sago to the rest of the agar-agar and cook till transparent. Remove from heat, add in milk and stir in the beaten egg white.
    Use a whisk to beat well. Pour over set roses and leaves. Leave aside then chill well in the fridge.

    If you do try it, send me telegram, I come over for coffee, ha ha.
    Have a pleasant week and keep a song in your hati, Lee.

  30. pigpigs corner, Claudia & noobcook, thanks for your comments. yes, the eggplants/aubergines/brinjals are so tiny & cute!

    Beachlover...haha, nevermind lah, instant noodles is nice too. next time come over, i will cook this kuah lada for you & you will get the real thing instead of just the picture on screen. or you could try it yrself & see if you will like it or not. i think you sure will.

    Uncle Lee, I must read your posts detailing your 'love affair' with the nyonya lady. Your posts are so cheekily entertaining. I know of the Rose song but not the pudding, only now I know. Another recipe from you which I MUST try. Oh my goodness, telegram is so yesteryear lah. Not sure if it still exists or not today. Luckily you didn't suggest that I send Morse code! Haha!

  31. Hi Petit Nyonya,

    Thank you for all these great tips, I have checked the sites you mentioned, they are great too, but I think yours is still the best! Thank you for the tips and for becoming a follower of my blog. I hope that we can meet up for a meal in London next time you visit the city.

    I went to Sushi classes in London provided by a Japanese woman called Reiko Hashimoto, she has taught me a lot about Japanese cuisine. I will be posting a review of her school ( this week.

    Hope all is well with you!

    Luiz @ The London Foodie

  32. Hi Nyonya, thank you for the compliments.
    All my life only 2 women loved me like no other.
    One, it was age difference and my rising career that held me back, and she graceful enough, like a typical Nyonya lady was, or is the bravest woman bar none I have ever known....she even though loved read the story...
    she was one of the most graceful, gracious, warm Nyonya lady I have ever met, a a gourmet cook too.

    Ahhhh, better not tell you, let you read from the beginning.
    You'll learn a lot about me too, *wink*.
    Anyway, other woman, my wife today.

    If you pop over to my pondok, scroll wayyyyy back to almost the beginning, you will see, "A Faded letter from the past", D/d 1/ 4/ 08.

    As it was my early beginning and still new to blogging, have to excuse the whatever, ha ha.

    And Petite Nyonya, it is the longest story I have ever posted, 19 episodes.....strongly suggest you start at the beginning, ha ha,....
    'She' is still with me in memories because of this posting. I brought her back.

    Oh ya, should you wish to comment, please do so in present posting, saves me sending out my bloodhounds look for where you came in, ha ha.
    Let me know when you read...Best regards, Lee.

  33. I 'll have to keep this recipe as I've not seen it on menus in restaurants. YummY! When guests come from overseas, a meal at a Nyonya restaurant is often on.

  34. Hi there, I have left something for you in my blog. Please feel free to drop by. Thanks & cheers.

  35. Wow! This surely appetizing! Thanks for sharing the secret recipe! haha....

  36. How interesting! The spoon size eggplants!
    When I last time open a bottle of shrimp paste, my husband ran out of the kitchen immediately to the balcony, and my 3 cats rashed into the kitchen immediately from balcony...LOL

  37. I like your blog a lot and you've actually made me eat aubergine from now on! I'm so bookmarking you. I'm now following you, bookmarked you and practically and literally stalking you!

  38. cafe au lait, nice to know that you liked the dish & it made you hungry ;-)

    London Foodie, you're so kind, thank you! Oh yes, I would love to visit London again someday. Sushi-making is quite an art and I look forward to read up on your review of the school.

    Uncle Lee, you're a romantic story-teller & I've read all of your posts about Irene. Very moving indeed!

    KTSG, yes, this dish is one of the many secret dishes of a Melaka Nyonya household, thus can hardly be found on the menus of restaurants :D

    MLS, thank you so much, I will pick it up soon.

    Bits of Taste, yes it's appetizing and you're most welcomed.

    Angie, haha your husband & your cats ran in opposite direction, that's so funny!!

    What's Baking...oh memang sedap as you know too!

    Quinn, you're so funny. Well, stalk all you want, I won't be complaining :D. I must say that I sincerely love your blog too & you're so talented!

  39. Mouthwatering! Looks absolutely amazing, especially on a cold rainy night ... like tonight ;)

  40. Give me more rice to go with that please!!

  41. Little Teochew, yes, eating something spicy on a rainy night is the best!

    3 hungry tummies, pls help yrself to more rice :D!

  42. you make me drooling nyonya!! I will definitely eat a lot of nyonya food this time when I back to Penang! I am getting excited now!!

  43. Question - you mentioned that the red chili is optional. How would the dish taste like w/o the red chili? Would it be too tamarind tasting?

    Also, can chili powder be used instead of a fresh red chili?


  44. Anonymous, yes the red chili is optional. It won't affect the taste or make it any different, except maybe a bit spicier if the red chili is the hot variety. If you don't like it very sourish, you can lessen the amount of tamarind juice. No, pls don't use chili powder. Better go without any chili if you don't have fresh chili. Original version is without any chili in it. Just peppercorns.

  45. Hi there,

    I had tried your recipe but wonder why its have a bitter taste? I did substitute the chilli with 1 dry chilli (soaked and blend together with the other ingredients), 1 tbsp of turmeric powder and instead of using 1 tbsp of white peppercorn I used 1 tsp of black peppercorn.
    Luckily to reduce the bitter taste I add some sugar and fish sauce for the saltiness, as your recipe did not ask for salt.

    Anyway thank you for sharing the recipe.

    1. dear BabeIpoh, sorry to hear yours was a bit bitter. all i can think of is perhaps your turmeric powder is a bit stale or your tbsp is much larger than mine. maybe you can try to use less of it because i noticed that sometimes 'a tablespoon' may vary in size for different people if we use our 'rice spoon' to measure. i suggest you reduce your turmeric powder to half tbsp only. i will amend the recipe accordingly. thk you very much for your feedback.