Asian Dishes, Malay, Salads and Vegetables, Singapore

Nasi Jenganan (Rice with Vegetables and Peanut Sauce)

I love nasi jenganan. It’s a dish which originated in Indonesia but much loved by the Malays here. Nasi means rice but I have no idea what jenganan means. Let me google this later. Is it a person’s name? The name of a place? When I was younger, I remember mispronouncing it as ‘jeng-ga-nan’

My late Papa used to love this dish so much. What is there not to like? Well, I guess if you loathe vegetables then this is not your cup of tea. However, what makes this rice dish so utterly addictive and unctuous is the rich fragrant peanut sauce.

All this time, I have been buying store bought jenganan sauce. It comes in packets and all you have to do is mix it with warm or hot water, and voila! You peanut sauce is ready. But this time, I thought it’s about time I learn to make this peanut sauce myself.

It starts off simple enough. Dry fry 300g of groundnuts till it’s completely toasted. Then grind them to a fine but not too fine texture. Like sand. Soft coarse sand.

And then in the same pan, dry fry about 8-10 dried chillies and 2-3 cloves of garlic in a little bit of oil. The chillies should be crisp and completely fried and hardened. The garlic cloves, browned.

And then in a blender, place the dried chillies and garlic in. Pour about half of the ground peanuts in and then some water, palm sugar, 1/2 a tablespoon of tamarind paste and salt to taste. Blend till all combined. Taste to adjust seasoning. Do you need more sugar? More tamarind paste? The taste should be slightly tangy, spicy and sweet. If you have cekur, or sand ginger, you should blend that in as well, but alas I didn’t have any. The sand ginger is what elevates this sauce from a simple peanut sauce to an AWESOME one. Unfortunately, I did not have any and in my area, there’re no shops selling this. Once you’re happy with the taste, put all the remaining groundnuts in and blend again to combine. Alternatively, you can just place the blended ones in a large bowl and stir the remaining ground peanuts in. If it’s too thick, adjust with a little bit of water at a time till you get a smooth consistency.

This peanut sauce is awesome but what makes this dish nasi jenganan is the accompaniments. You need a variety of vegetables, and in this region, cheap and delicious ones that go with this dish include kang kong, cabbage, long beans, bean sprouts. These four vegetables need to be blanched quickly in boiling water. And then since this is essentially a cheap dish, the proteins include fried tofu and fried tempe. Hey, this is the Malay version of a complete vegetarian and vegan dish!

First step: dry roast the groundnuts
Put them in a chopper and grind away.
The texture of coarse sand.
Fry dried chillies and garlic in some oil.
In a tall blender, add the chillies, garlic, peanuts, palm sugar, salt, sugar, tamarind paste, water. If you can get your hands on some sand ginger, add those in!
Blend away till well combined. Add the remaining ground peanuts and blend all again.
And you should come to this.
Serve with white rice, an assortment of boiled vegetables and fried tofu and tempe. This makes for a wonderful healthy lunch. And completely vegan too!

I can understand why my late father loved this dish. When he was alive, he would get very excited and happy when my mother cooked this dish. And she would make sure at least once a month, this would be on the menu. It actually pairs well with fish singgang, quite similar to the Filipino fish sinigang. Can you imagine eating this rich peanuty rice dish, crunchy vegetables and then sipping on some sourish fish soup together?

I’m glad I finally have learnt how to make this myself and that since this blog really is meant for my children to learn how to cook the dishes I grew up with, one day when I am gone and they are interested to read this blog, they will learn too how to make it themselves, or at least learn what their mother used to eat and like.

I am very sure whichever part of the world you’re in, these are easily available ingredients (except for the sand ginger, which I myself can’t get here!) and that making this peanut sauce the authentic way instead of using peanut butter will be more fulfilling.

Asian Dishes, Malay, Meat, Singapore

William Wongso’s Beef Rendang

Usually during Eid/Hari Raya, Malay homes will be resplendent with the aroma of rich spices of festive cooking. And for many homes here, beef rendang is a traditional festive dish.

While I did make this last week for Eid/Hari Raya, my obsession with finding the perfect beef rendang continues. And I am obsessed with trying out William Wongso’s recipe and technique.

William Wongso is legendary in the Indonesian world of beef rendangs. I believe he took this humble dish to the West, or rather popularised it. His method is crazy! Simmering the beef rendang for 8 hours in order to get that rich caramelised flavour. Though, in a video I watched on YouTube, he did concede one can use an oven too.

Beef rendang originated in the Indonesian island of Sumatra. There are many variations of it, and I know I’ve posted several versions of this dish. I usually make this in a pressure cooker because it’s fast and the flavours get retained. But I thought, I should try Willy Wongso’s way.

His rempah, or spice paste is mild. I used the recipe from this Jakarta Post site

Instead of using fresh coconut, I used the packet cream ones. Since the cream ones are thicker, I used 900g of cream coconut, added about 100ml of water and then the spice paste. I added the beef and then the aromatics i.e. lemongrass, turmeric leaves, kaffir lime leaves. And then I added on asam keping, tamarind fruit. Added salt and then I placed it in the oven for 1.5 hours.

Now, after that, I thought it’d be done but I was wrong! Even though I had placed it in the oven for 1.5 hours at 200 Celcius, when I took it out, the mixture was still yellow.

So I continued cooking on the stove top for another 3 hours! Yes! That’s how long it takes to cook rendang!

Here are the steps, and if you want to try this, use tenderloin (it was too expensive for me, so I use chuck) and make sure you remove the lemongrass after a while. I made the mistake of stirring the lemongrass while waiting for the rendang to caramelise, which resulted in many small pieces of lemongrass spikes. It took me ages to pull all of them out of the mixture!

The first step is to blend the spice paste till fine.
The next step is to take a heavy bottom pot or Dutch Oven and pour in your coconut cream.
Add the beef cubes, aromatics and season with salt and sugar. Add also the tamarind piece.
Put the pot in the oven at 200Celcius for more than my 1.5 hours. Maybe three should do the trick? If it’s still wet, continue slaving over the pot, making sure to stir constantly so the mixture doesn’t burn. Oh, and remove the lemongrass!!
It will slowly get darker. But this is still not ready yet! Continue cooking until you see oil coming out from the mixture.
Like this….this is when you can say it’s ready. Though, I wonder if I continue stirring, will it get darker? I wanted a very dark rendang, but maybe it’s got to do with the spice mixture too. I will try another recipe one day again.
It was indeed delicious! No doubt about that. There really isn’t nothing much to not like about rendang. It’s super flavourful, and the meat tender but still retained that bite.
I kept one container full for lunch today while took a plate of rendang to try. By the time this was done, it was close to midnight so it became my midnight snack!

And there I have done it. Slow cooking rendang without frying the rempah first but cooking the rempah in the coconut cream till caramelised. If you want to be adventurous and have lots of patience and time on your hands, I highly recommend trying to make this. It is after all voted as one of the top 50 foods to try by CNN.

food, Malay, Singapore

My Hari Raya or Eid

After fasting for a month, Muslims around the world celebrate this victory of the physical, spiritual and mental self with a few days of celebration called Eid. Or in this part of the world I’m from, Hari Raya – literally Day of Celebration.

However, the mood is sombre with what’s happening over in Gaza and here in our tiny island. We entered a phase of Heightened Alert so on Hari Raya we were only allowed 5 visitors to the home, but could visit two other homes. Naturally for me, it was a visit to the mothers’ but for some of my friends who have more than 5 people in their household, they stayed home. 😦

Let me share how Hari Raya is celebrated in my family. Which is pretty much how many Malays here would celebrate it.

In Singapore and Malaysia, cookies is a must and a staple on the table. When we receive guests, they sit around the table and are served cookies. Mind you, these cookies are never huge Subway kinds! Many times, they are dainty bite-sized pieces and they come in a variety of colours and flavours. I’ve shared a couple I think on this blog site, the latest being the Dahlia cookies. Slowly, when I roll into semi-retirement mode, I’ll make more cookie types and share them. 🙂

Growing up, a staple Raya cookie is the Kuih Tart or Pineapple Tarts which my mom would make yearly. My family’s version is an open faced tart instead of the balled versions. I have shared the recipe here.

Another family staple is Biskut Gajus (cashewnuts cookies), Macaroons (not the French type) and chocolate chip cookies. Alas, my mother is getting too old to be making Raya cookies so I usually buy them from others or try making one or two types if time permits.

These cookies are placed in pretty canisters of choice. Pyrex is the classic but lately, Pyrex does not make pretty canisters anymore so I have been using these pink ones I have since more than a decade ago.

Let me show how it’s like in pictures.

I have exactly six pink canisters, and luckily for me this year, I have exactly six types of cookies. 😂
We line these canisters with paper doilies. All these I learn of course from my mom and aunts. And when I married, I learnt that my mom in law does the exact same thing. It’s tradition I guess for many. It protects the canisters from the grease.
Fill the canisters to the brim with cookies. Because they look very pretty when filled. These are pineapple tarts, the filled ones which I bought online.
I just love my pink canisters! 6 different types of cookies, two which I made myself 😆
And then what we do is we place them on a table. I have two larger canisters filled with nuts. One was spiced coated cashewnuts and the other spiced peanuts.
Hope you have a rough idea how it’s celebrated here. Sitting around a table full of cookies and crunchy savouries and making small talk. This year, only my brother came with his family because the next thing we knew, the restrictions from 5 was reduced to 2! And that was the end of everything 😂

I must say I really do miss my celebrations not only pre-COVID but also pre-marriage days! Or rather pre-teen kids as now they feel theyare too old to celebrate with us days! 😂 It’s fun when you’re a kid, playing with cousins and eating tons of cookies without gaining a pound but that’s life. Maybe one day it’ll be fun again with grandkids? Oh my goodness! Hopefully that’ll be another 15 years from now! 🤣

Asian Dishes, Malay, Seafood

Sotong Masak Hitam (Squid in Black Ink Sauce)

So I finally learned how to make this popular Malay dish. It’s a family favourite dish in most households and I always wondered why, growing up as a child, my non-Malay friends would ask about the black colour of the dish when they see it sold at Malay stalls. Fast forward to a young adult me, I kept quiet when so many of these hipster kids laud approval at the Italian squid ink pasta. Same same, no? 😏

I realise also that besides this being so simple to make (well, once you get all the spice mix blended), that squid in my market is so expensive! Good thing squid is high in cholesterol so I won’t be buying this often!

As with a lot of Malay cooking, the first step is the spice mix or blended ingredients. Here, I have my blended dried chillies, blended onions, blended garlic, blended ginger and I used turmeric powder because I was too impatient to make the entire thing from scratch. Fry the blended paste in oil with two bruised lemongrass till the oil rises. Slow and steady cooking – don’t burn the mixture!
These are the ink sacs from the squid. As you’re cleaning the squid, carefully remove the ink sacs and set aside
Once the chilli and friends mixture has fully cooked, add the squid rings and cover. The squid will release a lot of moisture which will form your gravy later.
When the squid is cooked and very tender, add the ink sacs. Immediately, you’ll see the dish turning black. I added a kaffir lime leaf earlier too. Also, add about half a tablespoon of tamarind paste, and then salt to season.
Lastly, add tomato wedges and slit whole green chillies for some colour contrast. It’s very delicious eaten with jasmine white rice. Try this dish if you’re feeling adventurous!

Recipe

Blended Ingredients:

1. 10-15 dried chillies, soaked

2. 2 Bombay onions

3. An inch of ginger

4. 3 cloves garlic

5. An inch of turmeric (use powder if fresh is not available)

Others:

6. 2 lemongrass, bruised

7. Kaffir lime leaves

8. Tamarind paste

9. Salt to taste

10. Green chillies and tomatoes for garnish

Main star:

11. Fresh squid, cut into rings

Method:

1. Add sufficient oil in a pot and throw in the lemongrass

2. Add in the blended paste and fry till the oil surfaces (mixture must be cooked. Smell to ensure no raw smell of the chillies)

3. Add squid rings. Add kaffir lime leaves. Cover and cook squid.

4. Add squid ink sacs

5. Add tamarind paste, season with salt to taste

6. Add the green chillies and tomato wedges

Asian Dishes, Malay, Seafood, Singapore

Spiced Sting Ray

We love sting Ray (skate wings) here. Usually, the preferred way of eating in our hawker centers will be grilled on a banana leaf and then topped with a piquant sambal sauce. I’ve made one before and shared it here.

But last Saturday, I made this dish so that it could be mixed together with my other seafood dishes in a shellout day meal (Header Picture).

It’s a sambal dish but I added garam masala and plenty of black pepper. Fry till quite dry and caramelised but make sure not to overcook the fish or it’ll be dry.

This is the type of dried chillies that we use in a lot of Malay and SEAsian cooking. Rehydrate and then blend
These are the Bombay onions, garlic and ginger which I blended separately from the chillies
Mix the blended raw ingredients together
And this is the base for a lot of Malay dishes. Can be stored in the freezer for months.

The next few steps are video recordings of me frying the paste and then adding in the aromatic leaves i.e. curry leaves and lime leaves. And then the stingray pieces, and finally lots of black pepper and of course salt to taste. Fry till fish is cooked and the skins slightly caramelised.

The important part is to make sure the chillies are cooked through, or what we call in Malay ‘pecah minyak’. Basically, the oils from the chillies have surfaced. This ensures that the chillies are not raw. This dish is delicious eaten with hot rice or just on its own.

You can squeeze calamansi lime over before eating for a more uplifting experience!