Last year I ate out a lot. About 105 outlets visited, it is true, I tabulated the results in an Excel spreadsheet. It is ironic isn't it, that I have no time to study French grammar, but I have time to count how many restaurants and cafes I visited.
I don't think we'll better the record this year. We have no inclination to try out any new trendy places, in fact the more hip it is the more we are sceptical of it. Well, unless they let the dogs in too which is never going to happen in this country. Other than eating out with friends, we find ourselves very happy to stay at home, visit the markets and cook up a storm in the kitchen.
Like last Sunday for instance. When we made Ayam Buah Keluak by referring to the recipe in my favourite Peranakan cookbook "Nonya Flavours: A Complete Guide to Penang Straits Chines Cuisine" by Julie Wong (compiler).
I've always had the impression that Ayam Buah Keluak is very challenging to cook. First, we have to find the buah keluak, the Tekka market is a good source. The hard black nuts need to be soaked overnight, then pried open to extract the black paste within, pounded with salt and sugar, and then repacked into its shell. This step is rather tedious, we had 26 nuts to process after all, but it was not too bad with so many hands helping out.
The next hurdle was to prepare the spice paste, or rempah. The recipe called for shallots, belacan, dried chillies, galangal, turmeric, lemongrass, garlic, ginger and candlenuts. All these must be ground till fine- a step that will take forever with conventional food processors but only a few minutes in a Sumeet grinder. Next to the thermal pot and Spar mixer, I love love love my Sumeet.
Next, we readied the assam (tamarind water) and chopped up the chicken. Now we are ready to cook. This part was comparatively easy. The rempah was fried with a few kaffir lime leaves till very fragrant, then chicken was stirred around to coat in the spices before everything got bathed in assam water. The prepared buah keluak went in at this stage and we transferred the whole lot into a sturdy pot to simmer for about 30 minutes. What came out was this:
The buah keluak was extravagantly rich and earthy, and mingled with the spices beautifully to produce an intensely flavoured dish that is better than so many restaurant versions we've eaten. The chicken absorbed the sauce very well and was very tender. Everything in this dish was so good we had to cook another pot of rice to go with it. Still, there was enough leftovers for two more meals, a very good thing as the flavours improve further over the days that followed.
Since I love pineapples so much, I also made the Kerabu Ong Lai from the same book. It is nothing more than chopped pineapples, shallots and chillies dressed with sambal belacan, lime juice, sugar and salt. Very appetizing dish, and action-packed too, what with the sweet juicy pineapples, crunchy shallots, sour lime, hot hot hot chilli padis and of course, the salty and pungent belacan fighting for attention all at the same time.
Wait, there was more. Also from the same book, a very spicy and fragrant Sambal Ikan Bilis. The pictures are self-explanatory: grind spices, fry ikan bilis, fry rempah (similar to ayam buah keluak minus the galangal and candlenuts), combine with ikan bilis, season with lime juice, salt and sugar. This turned out too spicy for our tastes, next time I would do like Mummy which is to add onion rings for a touch of crunch and sweetness.
For some respite from all the spices, we cooked some sauteed spinach and drank soothing pork and sweetcorn soup. All very wholesome and delicious, which explained how after the meal, husband and I had to lie down and nap for two hours before we could get on with the rest of the day's activities.