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Malaysian cuisine: Ricing to the occasion

A neighboring culture shows us how to breathe new life to an old staple.


By Adrienne Dy, M.D.


MAY 2013


Rice is something the typical Filipino spread can’t do without, but creativity is definitely something you can add to the table. Mix things up a bit, the Malay way—and give your family a true taste of the different flavors of Asia.

“Combination kasi ng a lot of [cultures], like Malay, Chinese and Indian ang main influences ng Malaysian cuisine,” explains Robert Joseph “RJ” Mabalay, executive sous chef of Berjaya Makati Hotel. Having had culinary training in Malaysia, he offers insights into the country’s abundant and sumptuous fare.

The uniqueness of the cuisine, therefore, lies in its subtle nuances. “Curries are something it has in common with Indian [fare], so sa consistency nalang nag-iiba. Indians like their curries thick, while Malaysians like it soupy, like the Filipinos. As for Chinese influences, these come out in noodle dishes, and in a version of Hainanese chicken. But the sauces are slightly different,” says the chef, citing geographical location as the reason for the cuisine’s influences. In fact, as its closest neighbor, Indonesian food is almost indistinguishable from Malaysian food—even the names are the same.

So deep and intertwined are the influences on Malay consciousness that there are names for all the subgroups: Nonya dishes are by the straits Chinese or the Pernakan—the products of Malaysians who married Chinese immigrants; mamak dishes are the creations of the Indian Muslims. “But all are considered Malaysian,” stresses Chef Mabalay.

True Malay dishes are distinguishable by the ubiquitous use of lemongrass, ginger, galangal—typical Southeast Asian spices. “And there’s always rice!” declares the chef—good news for all Filipinos. Here, he presents a different way of preparing nasi (rice), Malay-style. “Nasi lemak is practically their national food,” says the chef about the dish that uses coconut milk instead of water to cook the rice. Feel free to use organic rice for added health benefits.


Nasi Lemak

This is a fragrant rendition of steamed rice, cooked in coconut milk and pandan--a favorite staple on the breakfast tables of many Malaysians.


INGREDIENTS:

Coconut milk steamed rice


2 cups of rice
2 cups coconut milk
3 screwpine leaves or pandan
1 Tbsp sliced ginger
2 Tbsp sliced onion
3 pcs. Lemongrass, white part only
Salt to taste
2 cups coconut milk

Sambal Bawang

1 tsp of belacan or prawn paste
1 cup red onion, sliced
1 clove garlic
10 Indian dried chilies, deseeded
4 shallots
1/4 tsp of salt
1 Tbsp palm sugar
4 Tbsp cooking oil

Condiments

2 hard-boiled eggs, quartered
½ cup fried peanuts
1 small cucumber, sliced and quartered
½ cup fried dried anchovies


 PROCEDURE:


1. Rinse the rice and drain. Add the coconut milk, a pinch of salt. Add the pandan leaves, ginger, onion and lemongrass into the rice and cook your rice as you do with ordinary steamed rice.

2. Pound the prawn paste together with garlic, and dried chilies with a mortar and pestle. You can also grind them with a food processor.

3. Heat some oil in a pan and fry the spice paste until fragrant.

4. Add in the sliced onion and shallots.

5. Add salt and palm sugar.

6. Simmer on low heat until the sauce thickens. Set aside.

7. Serve steamed coconut milk rice with the condiments.

[Chef’s tip] Use four tablespoons of extra virgin coconut oil mixed in water instead of the two cups of coconut milk for the same fragrant coconut experience, minus the fat. Additionally, roast the nuts and anchovies instead of frying them to make healthier condiments.


[About the chef] Use four tablespoons of extra virgin coconut oil mixed in water instead of the two cups of coconut milk for the same fragrant coconut experience, minus the fat. Additionally, roast the nuts and anchovies instead of frying them to make healthier condiments.

For Chef Mabalay’s recipes for nasi goreng kampong—a livened up version of sinangag—and Malaysian chicken rice, grab a copy of the May issue of HealthToday!

Berjaya Makati Hotel is located at 7835 Makati Avenue corner Eduque St. Visit berjayahotel.com for more details.



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