Laksa is a dish of Peranakan origin. Peranakans are the descendants of Chinese immigrants who settled in the British archipelago - including Malaya (now Malaysia) and Singapore. Many of these Chinese immigrants married the local Malays and adopted the local way of living. Members of this hybrid community refer to themselves as Baba Nonya- Baba being the term for the males and Nonya for the females.
Apart from the architecture and food, even their clothing was locally influenced to evolve into their unique way of Peranakan attire. I can't write about Peranakans without mentioning their beautiful Sarong Kebaya and the intricate beaded slippers called Kasut Manek (See pictures above). Apparently, it takes 100 hours to finish one pair!! A true test of artistry and craftmanship.
From the Malay influence, a signature Nonya cuisine emerged using typical Malay spices like fiery red chilies, lemongrass, turmeric and shrimp paste etc. Nonya Laksa is a very popular dish in Singapore and Malaysia. It is cooked using special Laksa Beehoon simmered in a spicy coconut shrimp broth. It is usually served non-vegetarian using chicken, fish or prawns.
I have attempted the vegetarian version here using non-shrimp based curry and substituting tofus for the protein. And I have used reduced fat coconut milk to make it skinnier than the original version. The thought of using skim milk did cross my mind but sometimes its ok to be a little sinful, I guess :) I have not tried the actual Laksa so I am not sure about how this vegetarian version compares to it. But my helper who recently had her Laksa fix vouches that it is a close competition! Another challenge accepted and accomplished! Yay to me :)
Ingredients (serves 4 as a main meal)
Ingredients for Spice Paste (to blend)
1 thumb size turmeric rhizome
1 thumb size blue ginger (galangal)
2 tbsp roasted sesame seed paste
6 dried chillies, blanched in hot water for 30 mins till softened (or 3 tsp chilli paste)
1/2 cup water
3 tbsp canola oil
1 lemon grass
1 litre veg stock
400ml low fat coconut milk ( skim milk can be used as well)
1.5 tsps salt (adjust according to your preference)
1 tsp sugar
1 block of firm tofu, cut into small rectangles and shallow fried/airfried
2 cup beansprouts, blanched in hot water for 2 mins
2 packets of Laksa Beehoon, blanched in hot water for merely 10 secs (don't blanch for too long, it will turn mushy)
1/2 cup Laksa leaves, chopped fine
1 tsp sambal chilli
1)Get all the ingredients for the spice paste ready.
2) Grind to a smooth paste.
3) Add the canola oil to a soup pot and fry the blended spice paste and the lemongrass for 5-10 mins.
4) When the lovely aroma of the cooked spice paste fills your kitchen, add the veg stock and then the reduced fat coconut milk. Stir well to combine. Season with salt and sugar.
5) Add the tofu pieces and let the gravy simmer for 10 mins. (This is my own step as I thought that the tofu pieces will absorb the rich gravy and will taste yummy in the end. Usually it is just served on top of the dish just before serving.) In the meantime, blanch the beansprouts and chop the laksa leaves. Blanch the beehoon for no more than 10 secs. Remember the beehoon will also cook later in the hot gravy.
6) For the final steps, start assembling the ingredients. It is important to remember that Laksa must be assembled just before serving. Place the blanched beehoon first in a shallow bowl. Then top with the blanched beansprouts. (Apologies for the quality of my photos - it was difficult to get a nice shot with the sunrays streaming in through my kitchen windows.)
7) Scoop the still simmering gravy with tofu pieces over the beehoon and beansprouts.
8) Finally, garnish with the chopped laksa leaves and add a teaspoon of chilli sambal for that extra kick. Enjoy your first taste of Peranakan cuisine - vegetarian version ! [When I finished cooking Laksa yesterday, my first thought 'Is it really this easy and so straightforward?' I had always thought that Laksa must be a cumbersome time consuming dish. I was pleasantly surprised :) ]
Rendang is a popular dish of meat (chicken, mutton or beef) stewed in coconut milk and a variety of spices and chilli. Originating among the Minangkabau ethnic people of Indonesia, it is hugely popular in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. I do enjoy some of the dishes of the Malay cuisine but I don't fancy the use of meat of any kind. Upon seeing a FB video of Rendang Ayam (Ayam is chicken in the Malay language), I decided to come up with a vegetarian version of this dish. If you think about it, most of the dishes that uses meat can be replaced with the very versatile tofu. I replaced the coconut milk with skim milk to reduce calorie count. A tasty result with a strong flavor of lemongrasss and kaffir lime leaves - both of which I love :)
Ingredients (Serves 4 as a side dish)
2 red chillies - cut into big species
10gm dried red chillies (around 6 pieces) soaked in hot water for 30 mins
12 shallots, peeled and cut into half
2 cloves garlic, peeled and cut into half
2 inch turmeric root, peeled and sliced
1 inch blue ginger (galangal), peeled and sliced
2 lemongrass, skinned and cut into 1 inch pieces
4 tbsp canola oil (yes you need that much for the ground paste to cook)
2 pieces of blue ginger
2 lemongrass, slightly bruised to release the essence
2 heaped tsps mushroom seasoning
450ml skim milk ( 200ml Low Fat coconut and 250 ml skim milk)
2 blocks of firm tofu cut into 8 big cubes and grilled/shallow fried/air fried
5 kaffir lime leaves , sliced thin
1)Gather the ingredients - under A.
2) Under B.
3) Grind A and B into a paste seperately.
4) Get a big pot and heat the 4 tbsp of oil and start frying the blue ginger pieces and the lemongrass.
5) Add the ground chilli paste A and fry for 5 minutes.
6) Now, add the ground paste B and let it cook for 10 minutes on medium heat. Keep stirring and watch out for the heat so that the paste doesn't burn.
7) After 10 minutes, the mix would have taken an orange hue.
8) Add the 50 ml water and stir for a few minutes.
9) This will then be followed by the skim milk and grilled tofu cubes . Stir and cook for 15 minutes covered.
10) After 15 minutes, the gravy would have thickened and reduce to form a thick consistency. Add the sugar, salt and the sliced kaffir lime leaves now.
11) Cook for another 5 more minutes and switch of the flame.
12) Serve with any rice of your preference, garnished with more sliced kaffir lime leaves. If you find the gravy too thick, dilute with 1/2 cup hot water.
My first taste of curry puffs was when I was in Telok Kurau Primary School (incidently, the same school which our late founding father Mr Lee Kuan Yew attended) in Singapore and it was my first day in Primary 1. During recess, my brother took me to the stall vendor and got me a big curry puff for just 10 cents! I remember how I loved that taste with my first bite. I still remember devouring it in the school field while my brother played soccer with his school mates. My brother, Faizal, took care of me pretty much in school while I was still trying to find my way around and making friends.
Over the years as I grew up in Singapore, I came across different variations - with shrimp paste, with sardines but I only try to eat those which were vegetarian. Sometimes, a little shrimp could be tasted here and there, even though the stall owners vouch it is vegetarian!
Homemade version is always the best - because you know what you are eating. You don't want full fat butter in your dough, no palm oil while cooking the filling or when frying the puffs in palm oil. Palm oil is high in saturated fat. It is so alarming so many people don't know about the badness of palm oil. Because it is a cheap source of oil. palm oil is found in many types of food - cereals, chips, cookies, breads....Watch out for it in the ingredients of the food you purchase.
I attempted baking curry puffs because I get awfully guilty eating fried food. I am hardly exercising here in Bluebell, PA because of the cold weather even though it is supposed to be Spring! I simply wanted to eat my curry puffs guilt free. These baked curry puffs turned out rather well - even my fussy 11 year old Riya agreed!
Ingredients (12 curry puffs)
2 cups all purpose flour or whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
2 pinches salt
1 inch cube light butter (50% fat)
water needed to knead to a smooth dough
Method for Dough
Take a medium sized mixing bowl and place all the dry ingredients. Mix and then add the light butter and water and knead. Set aside for half an hour.
3 large potatoes, scrubbed, boiled or steamed in salted water, skinned and then cut into small cubes. (See Note)
2 tbsp. canola oil
1 big onion, chopped finely
1 green chilli, sliced
2 stalks of Chinese celery, chopped fine.
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 cup peas
salt to taste per preference
Method for Filling
Preheat oven to 375 deg F or 200 deg C and pray cooking spray over two baking trays. Set aside.
Heat a pot with canola oil and then fry the onion till translucent.
Add in the green chilli, chopped celery stalks and fry further.
Stir in the spice powders, salt and peas and cook for 2-3 mins.
Finally add in the cubed potatoes and combine well.
Let the filling cook on low heat for 2-3 minutes on medium heat.
Remove from stove and cool.
Roll out the dough on a floured surface and cut 4 inch circles using a small bowl.
Place the filling on one side of the circle dough and fold over.
Press the edges down with a fork to seal the curry puffs.
Brush a little canola oil over the curry puffs.
Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, turning over and pressing down slightly midway.
Enjoy warm with any dipping sauce.
As I have mentioned in my latest post under My American Moments, our first PM and our founding father has passed away on 23 March. Ever since then, I have been hungry for any information about Mr Lee, his history and his family.
While reading an excerpt from Mr Lee's sister Mrs Monica Lee, 85, she mentioned that Mr Lee, being of Peranakan (or Straits Chinese) origin, had loved Gado Gado, Rojak, Satay and Mee Siam. These are just some of our well loved local dishes in Singapore and that is just the tip of the iceberg!
I made Gado Gado today as a special tribute to Mr Lee.
Gado Gado is an Indonesian salad of blanched vegetables served with peanut sauce. It is eaten as a complete meal because the rice cakes (Lontong) and Potato cubes provide the carbs while the tofu, eggs and peanuts the protein. You can omit the eggs if you prefer a vegan Gado Gado. Can be devoured either cold or warm but I personally prefer warm.
Ingredients for Gado Gado Peanut Sauce
1 cup peanuts roasted
1 clove garlic
3 tbsp. brown sugar ( or to your discretion)
1 bird's eye chilli (Chilli Padi) ( More if you prefer spicier)
1 tbsp. tamarind extract (from 1/2 tsp tamarind pulp)
1 tbsp. lime juice
1/2 tbsp. dark soy sauce
1/2 cup water
salt to taste per preference
Method for Peanut Sauce
Put all the ingredients into a food processor and blend till smooth or a little crunchy, whichever style you prefer. I left mine a little crunchy for the bite.
Ingredients for Gado Gado Salad
2 medium sized potatoes cut or 8 baby potatoes, boiled
2 eggs, boiled and cut half
2 cups Beansprouts, blanched in hot water for 1 minute
3 Long beans, cut into 2 inch long and boiled in water for 3 minutes.
2 small blocks of firm tofu, cut into cubes and pan grilled.
1/2 cup rice boiled very soft and pressed into square container and then cut into cubes.
To serve Gado Gado, assemble all the boiled vegetables, eggs and grilled tofu on a plate. You can either pour the peanut sauce over or serve it nearby in a small bowl with the rice cubes.
Cabbage, Spinach or French Beans can be used instead of the above vegs too.
Gado Gado is usually served with Vegetable or Melinjo Crackers too, which I didn't have at this moment.
In Singapore, there are 4 main races - Chinese, Malays, Indians and Eurasians. We all live in harmony without any interracial discord thanks to our government. And because we are so connected inter racially, our culinary is all jumbled up as we make each other race's dishes on a daily basis. This dish is of Malay origin and is popularly called Tofu Sambal.
I first learnt how to prepare this dish from my cousin Raihana. She is a wonderful cook. In fact, one of her dishes Vegetable Briyani, was featured in our national newspaper recently ( Way to go Raihana!!).
Along the way I have heard many variations like adding sugar at the end to give it a sweet sour taste or adding tamarind juice to give it an even more sour taste. I have resigned to this version as it goes well with my family.
Initially, I used to make this tofu dish by deep frying the tofus. For obvious reasons, I have started grilling them. I have used chilli paste instead of the authentic way of soaking a handful of dried red chillies and grinding them after.
No tofus at home? No sweat. You can use boiled eggs instead of tofus to come up with Egg Sambal.
Ingredients ( Serves 4)
1 block of firm Tofu ( 16 oz or 450 gm)
Oil for grilling and oil for cooking the spicy tomato sauce
I medium onion, chopped finely
3 garlic cloves, pounded
1 tbsp sambal oelek ( chilli paste ) or 2 if you prefer a spicier sauce ( See Note)
1 tbsp mushroom seasoning ( See note)
4 oz tomato paste ( 110gm)
2 medium very ripe tomatoes ( See note)
Salt for seasoning
Some scallions, sliced for garnishing
Cut the tofu in half and then half again. You should have 4 squares. Cut each square sideways. Now 8 squares. Cut each square diagonally so you will end up with 16 triangles. Grill on a shallow fry pan with minimal oil. Drain tofus on paper towels.
Take a medium sized pot, heat it and add 2 tbsp good quality veg oil.
Fry the chopped onion and then the pounded garlic till golden brown.
Add in the mushroom seasonings and then the sambal oelek. Let this cook for 2-3 mins on medium heat.
Add in the tomato paste and chopped tomato. Again, let it simmer for a few mins. Mash the tomato pieces in the pot so the whole sauce comes together. Season with salt.
Pierce holes into the sides of the grilled tofu and drop them into the sauce. Give it a good stir to get the tofus well coated with the sauce. Let it cook for 5-10 mins.
Serve warm garnished with sliced scallions.
Mushroom seasoning is actually a msg substitute without the bad side effects. Made entirely out of mushrooms. Easily found in Asian Grocery Stores
Sambal Oelek is found in many American grocery stores as well as Asian ones.
I used very ripe red tomatoes for this sauce. Look at the gorgeous red color!
( My first attempt in using Canon DSLR camera instead of my mobile phone for the photos - what a difference in color vibrancy and definition! And I could blur the background while focusing on the dish itself. Amazing )
Grilled tofu with Peanut Sauce is also called Tahu Goreng in the Malay cuisine. Grilling tofu instead of deep frying retains its nutritional value yet gives it a nice robust flavor. Top it with a homemade peanut sauce. Serve this dish with a light fried rice. Both dishes are simple to cook.