Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Malaysia is one of the most fascinating places I've had the honor to travel through.  Just like Singapore, it is an amazing mix of Indian, Malay, and Chinese culture brought together by a long and complicated history.  Malaysia is also the site of my worst round of food related illness.  Although the food is incredibly delicious, I didn't take enough caution when sampling the street food and ended up needing a trip to a hospital.  Fortunately, I got better immediately after a quick emergency room visit and a bag of pills which altogether cost me eleven dollars.   It took me a good while to fall in love with Malaysian food again, but the food is too good to let a single case of food poisoning ruin it.  It's full of rich and strong spices as well as strange and savory sauces filled with shrimp paste, tamarind, and lots of chillies.  This can all be a bit overwhelming for many first-timers, but once you develop a taste for it, you realize how exciting a cuisine it can be!

Fried Dried Anchovies and Peanuts

Certainly not the most popular item of the meal, but I truly enjoy this odd appetizer.  For most of our guests the flavor of anchovies, peanuts, and tamarind sauce was just too strange to enjoy.  The bones of hundreds of tiny fish can be off-putting for some.  But for those of you who have adventurous tastes I recommend giving it a try.

1/2 cup dried baby anchovies
Oil for frying
4 peeled shallots
4 peeled cloves of garlic 
1/2 inch piece of ginger
1/2 tsp shrimp paste
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tbsp tamarind paste
1 cup roasted peanuts

1. Heat oil in the wok and fry the fish over medium heat until they are crisp and brown.  Remove them with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel.
2. In a blender grind the shallots, garlic, ginger, shrimp paste, sugar, and tamarind paste to a rough sauce.  
3. Drain most of the oil from the wok and stir fry the smelly sauce for about a minute over high heat.  Add the anchovies and peanuts and stir fry another minute.  
4. Remove them from the heat, set them in a bowl, serve at room temperature.

Chicken Gulai

This is essentially a rich and hearty curry dish that combines Indian and Southeast Asian flavors.  Amy thought it tasted like a very intense version of chicken stew, which is not too far from reality.  There are many different ways this dish can be prepared so feel free to improvise as much as you like with the recipe. 

10 candlenuts or macadamia nuts roasted and finely ground
1 large onion sliced
5 cloves garlic peeled
2 inch piece of ginger
4 red chillies tops removed
1 can coconut milk
2 stalks of lemongrass slit down the middle
2 kaffir lime leaves (I keep mine in my freezer)
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tbsp tamarind paste
1/2 cup water
3.5 lbs chicken cut into serving pieces

1. Clean off that blender one more time and grind the candlenuts, onion, ginger, and chillies with a half cup of coconut milk into a smooth paste.
2. Heat a few tablespoons of vegetable oil in a pot and fry the paste for a few minutes until it becomes fragrant. Add the lemon grass, lime leaves, turmeric, tamarind paste, water and the rest of the coconut milk.  Raise this to a simmer and boil it down for five minutes.
3. Add the chicken and mix everything together, cover the pot, and simmer over a low flame for 30 minutes.  Remove the lid and reduce the sauce to a thickened consistency and serve.  (Make sure you make a lot of rice with all this food.)

Vegetable Fritters with Peanut Dip

Ok, for some reason people who live in hot countries love to eat fried food.  I believe this is because fried food is delicious and can be made quickly.  So once again we've included fritters with this meal.  These take about ten minutes to put together so make the sauce well in advance.

For the batter

1/2 cup water
1 tsp salt
1 cup besan (chickpea flour)
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp pepper

Mix all the ingredients together and set aside for a half hour.

For the Vegetables

1/2 lb chopped green beans
1/2 thinly sliced red onion
2 carrots julienned
Or any veggies you might have on hand
Also lots of oil for deep frying

Heat the oil in a wok set over a high flame.  Combine the vegetables with the batter.  Drop the batter into the oil by spoonfuls working in small batches.  Once the balls are fried, remove them from the oil with a strainer and serve with peanut sauce.

For the Peanut Sauce

1.5 cups roasted shelled and skinned peanuts
3 shallots
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground pepper
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tbsp honey
1 or 2 serrano chillies
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup water

1. In a food processor grind the peanuts, shallots, spices, chillies, soy sauce and honey to a rough paste.  Or be a complete Luddite and  do it the old fashioned way in a huge mortar and pestle for 15 minutes.
2. In a 2 quart saucepan combine all the ingredients and boil down to thick sauce.  Salt to taste (although I think the soy sauce adds plenty of salt) and serve at room temperature with the fritters.

Water Spinach and Shrimp Paste
Amy took charge of making this dish and immediately regretted it when she was blending the shrimp paste sauce.  For the uninitiated, please remember to not directly breathe in the fumes when this stuff is freshly ground up.  It is not good, but when it's given enough time to cook it mellows out into a deliciously savory taste that goes perfectly with the greens.

1. In a blender, grind the shallots, chillies, garlic, shrimp, and shrimp paste to a smooth paste using a few tablespoons of water to loosen the mixture.
2. In a large saucepan or wok heat the oil over high heat and add the paste.  Fry this for two minutes until it smells less horrible.  Now add the spinach and sugar and fry another two minutes.  Add a few tbsp of water to the pan and fry another two minutes or until all the water has evaporated.  Serve immediately.

Catfish Curry 
This was one of the easiest dishes of the night.  Just a few ingredients and about thirty minutes is all this recipe involves.  Add as many chillies as you can handle, this simple curry is supposed to be extremely spicy.  If you feel fancy, other firm flesh fish steaks work well with this sauce.  I'm sure tuna or marlin would be incredible.  But catfish is cheap and feeds a crowd, also it's really good.

2 lbs catfish fillets cut into 1 inch cubes
2 cans coconut milk
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground fennel
1 large onion sliced
7 red chillies with tops removed
1.5 inch piece of galangal or ginger if you can't get it

1. In a blender combine the chillies, onion, spices, and galangal with a half cup coconut milk until you render a smooth paste.
2. In a pot bring the rest of the coconut milk to a boil and add the spice paste.  Simmer this uncovered for 15 minutes or until the sauce thickens.
3. Add the catfish and cook a further 10 minutes adding water if the sauce thickens too much.  Salt to taste and serve immediately.


Making a full Malaysian meal for a crowd involves an absurd amount of dishes.  I must have washed the blender about 3 or 4 times over the course of prepping all of this food.  I spent my hangover doing these dishes.  The picture below captures just one of three large batches I went through.  But it was all worth it.  Although Malaysian food was the cause of the the worst round of food sickness I've ever suffered, the food is so good I'd go back and do it all over again.  Up next is St. Kitt's! 

No comments:

Post a Comment