Giant pandan leaf and vegetarian zhang in Sarawak

Most people use bamboo leaves for wrapping Ba zhang/zong zi,the savory glutinous rice dumpling for Ba zhang festival.In Sarawak and Kalimantan,we use Giant pandan leaf for wrapping Ba zhang and the bamboo leaf for Kee zhang,the zhang cooked with a bit of alkaline solution.This Giant pandan tree grows up a height of 2-3 meter.It belongs to the same family of the regular pandan plant/screw pine we use in cooking Malaysian dishes i.e the family of pandanus.However,exact ID of this Giant pandan plant is still unclear.
Giant pandan leaves
Giant pandan leaves

 Its leaves are fragrant.Small spikes grow along both sides of young leaves but they disappear after the leaves mature.Just leave a leaf in the car to enjoy its fragrance.Giant pandan leaf can be soaked in warm water before use.Dip it dry before wrapping the zhang.Some of our zhang makers prefer to roll it straight with a wooden roller.

Zhang
Steamed vegetarian zhang from my kitchen.

 The picture above shows the steamed vegetarian Ba zhang from my kitchen.I am following the Taiwanese way of cooking Ba zhang.I prefer to steam it because it is less time consuming and less oily too.Usual way of cooking Ba zhang is boiling them for 5-7 hours.Of course,time can be cut short by using pressure cooker but for zhang makers,there is no way to install a big pressure cooker in their kitchens.In the past,most people used biscuit tins because they were big enough to contain all the zhangs.

In my recipe to be shared later,I mix the ingredients together with the rice but in most ba zhangs in the markets one can find the filling is placed at the middle of the rice.Mixing the filling together with the rice is to cut short the preparation time.So whatever way will do,just be flexible.

 

zhang
Left – Vegetarian nyonya zhangs are sold at the vegetarian cafe almost everyday.Right – Kee zhangs/碱水粽 with red bean paste and the other one is plain.The plain zhang is dipped in gula apong or brown sugar syrup.

 The picture below shows the regular pandan plant/screw pine we use in Malaysian dessert like kueh and for cooking fragrant rice like nasi lemak,nasi brayani and numerous dishes.Its leaf is fragrant and is an important ingredient in Malaysian Malay and Nyonya dishes.Pandan leaf tea is a popular health drink in the country.

The other pandan leaf shown on the left is pandan serani which is of different family from the regular pandan plant .Its leaf is not fragrant.It is mostly used for green food dye.In Malaysia and Indonesia,pandan serani is used for cooking Kueh Hijau,green cakes and green rice.

 

pandan
Left – Regular pandan plant.  Right – Pandan serani

The picture below shows menkuang plant found in swampy land.It is of same family with the pandan plant but the leaf is not fragrant and is spiky on both sides.Its leaves are for weaving mats and baskets.Giant pandan plants can be found on Pulau Ubin near Singapore  but less common in the Peninsula Malaysia whereas mengkuang trees are quite commonly found in some states of West Malaysia.

menkuang
Menkuang plant

 

Recipe

Vegetarian Ba zhang

Ingredients
  • 3 cups glutinous rice (soaked overnight)
  • 200 g chai poh(optional) – shredded
  • 50 g mushroom – soaked overnight and chopped finely
  •  2 dry chilies -minced
  • 300 g groundnuts- sorted and washed,soaked overnight,then boiled  for 30 minutes.
  • 1/2 tsp 5 spices powder(optional)
  • 2 tbs thick soya sauce
  • 1 tsp light soya sauce
  • 12 giant pandan leaves – cut into 40 cm length and soaked in warm water.Dip dry for later use.
  • 1/2 tsp pepper powder
  • 1/2 cup coriander leaves(optional) – chopped
Method
  1. Fry the chilies,chai poh and mushroom together.
  2. Add rice and groundnuts followed by all the seasoning.
  3. Scoop all the mixture into a tray.Add 1 1/2 cups of water,some small pandan leaves and steam for 30 minutes.
  4. Wrap with 1 – 2 pieces of pandan leaves as shown in the picture below.Tie with a piece of thread or string.
  5. Steam for another 1 hour.
zhang
Left- Bundles of Giant pandan leaves for sale in the market. Right – Wrap the zhang with 1-2 pandan leaves by filling  the rice in the cone formed by overlapping the leaves and covering the top by folding the leaves.Tie with a piece of thread.

Picture below shows how it looks before steaming for another 1 hour.Picture on the left shows giant pandan leaves used for wrapping panggang.Glutinous rice,after soaking for one night, is steamed for 1/2- 1 hour with coconut milk and a bit of salt.Place the steamed rice on a pandan leaf,fold over,secure the open end with a tooth- pick and pan-fry on a iron skillet on low fire.Most panggang sold in markets are wrapped in banana leaves.This pandan panggang is full of pandan fragrance.Try this at home and you will thank me for that.

zhang
Left – Uncooked zhang. Right – Panggang folded in giant pandan leaf

Some local people like to cook Ba zhang in ketupat case.Never seen one does not mean it does not exist.It is happening in Sarawak – people cooking Ba zhang in ketupat case,mostly not for sale.

Yes,Giant Pandan in Sarawak.For it to grow well,swampy or wet land is the key.That is why mine is not growing well.

 

 

 

So gardeners,

let’s plant giant pandan leaves.

Bundles of pandan leaves are selling well in our city.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Do you remember food cooked by Mom?

 

Remembering mom by remembering the food she cooked for us………..A sudden surge of emotion always touches my heart whenever I cook this lovely long bean rice for my children.Whenever she cooked this long bean rice,she would repeatedly told us how they survived during the second war world – the days of eating sweet potatoes,boiled paku and midin(wild ferns) and at the beginning of the war,long bean rice every day.

“Count us lucky because we lived  in small town.There were still a lot of paku and midin around.”She always concluded thus.On hearing this,one just could not help thinking – should we retreat to villages or jungles like our ‘midin’ in order to survive if another war is coming ?

During Japanese occupation time,there was a shortage of all kinds of materials.Of course,rice was one of the items that could hardly be found in abundance.Many just cooked very diluted porridge but in my hometown,local rice was still available.Almost every family in the town cooked long bean rice everyday.This hakka dish actually requires dried shrimps,garlic,rice and a lot of long beans.Simplified version is just cook it with long beans and rice plus salt.That’s it.That made a meal or meals for a day.Everything had to be kept as simple as possible.Those were the days when one really knows what ‘hardship’ meant.My mom passed away eleven years ago.Mom was a loving mom and a great cook.Memories of her images in the kitchen still lingers in my mind even up to this day……

Long bean rice -Don't be deceived by its humble look.
Long bean rice -Don’t be deceived by its humble look.


Let’s just look at some long beans before checking on the recipe.

The picture below shows the red tailed long bean.This is the most popular long bean  in Malaysia and it is used in the long bean rice recipe.It is fleshy and tasty.

The red tail long bean
The red tailed long bean

Shown below are the reddish purple long beans with green tips or tails.The vendors here in the markets call it red long bean.

The red skinned long bean
The reddish purple long bean

Shown below are the snake long beans.The beans are fleshy but not as tasty as the red tailed long beans.It is curly like snake,thus the name.

The curly long bean
The curly long bean

Shown below are the string beans,a very slender type of long beans.In some Chinese restaurants,the beans are boiled for a while and used as an decoration item in the form of a weaved basket,a mat or a boat-shaped plate.

There are less popular long beans not shown here,like the pale green long beans and extra long long beans.

The string long bean
The string long bean

Shown below is a stir-fried dish of red tailed long beans and the reddish purple long beans.Prepare 100 g of each of these two types of long beans and stir-fry them together with 1 tbs of miso and 2 chilies.That is it,as simple as 1 & 2 & 3……

Red and green bean
Stir-fried red and green long beans
Recipe

Long bean rice

Ingredients
  • 2 cups long grain rice (400 g more or less)
  • 600 g – 800 g long beans – cut into 2 cm lengths 
  • 4 dry chilies
  • 10 g vegetarian belacan or miso
  • 4 cups water
  • Garlic (5 cloves) – Optional
  • 2 tbs light soya source
  • 1/2 tsp salt
Method
  1. Soak the rice for half an hour.Drain the rice.
  2. Fry the long beans till slightly brown.
  3. Take out from the wok and drain out the excess oil.
  4. Discard excess oil from the wok.
  5. Fry garlic till slightly brown.
  6. Add rice  and belacan and stir-fry in the wok.
  7. Lastly add the chilies,the half-cooked long beans and 4 cups of water.
  8. Cook till the rice gets dry  in the wok then scoop the rice into the rice cooker.
  9. Cook the rice in the rice cooker for 1 hour.

Serve the rice with thick soya source and fresh chilies.As the name implies,this long bean rice should be rich in long bean flavor so the weight of long beans should be 1.5 x the weight of the rice.Don’t be fooled by its simple looks.It is actually very tasty.

Do not use small grain rice like bario rice for this recipe but bario rice is great for cooking long bean porridge.Most of the times local rice like gedong rice or any local rice can be used for cooking this Hakka long bean rice.

This dish reminds us of my late mom.She spent most of her married life busy in the old kitchen equipped with big woks and pots.The best way to express love to her children was by preparing food for the family.That lead me to think – how many of us know how to express love in this way ?

Tell us your memories of the food cooked by your mom/dad or any adults that lead your tears rolling down your cheeks.Please connect with us on facebook.You can either comment or send us a message.

Yes………, memories of food cooked by mom,

     Always hold a place deep in our heart and soul….

 

 

 

 

How to cook Nasi lemak?

Nasi lemak,the coconut milk rice is a Malay dish well-loved by all the Malaysians from all walks of life.It is known as a national dish of Malaysia.It would be strange if it is not included in the Malaysian Vegetarian recipe.In Chinese it is 马来椰浆饭.My first encounter with this dish was in the university canteen.Back then it was sold at 50 cents for one plate.Now the price has gone up to at least Rm 3.Those were the days when we either ate nasi lemak or roti canai for breakfast or subsequent meals for the day.

 The most important part of Nasi Lemak is its source,known as sambal in Malay.In my recipe,I am using the unopened florets of  bunga kantan(torch lily).

The picture below shows a mature bunga kantan flower.

Bunga Kantan in full bloom
Bunga Kantan in full bloom

The flower is showy with waxy bracts of brightly colours ranging from white to pink,red and maroon depending on the variety.

The picture below shows young flower buds of bunga kantan.

Young flower buds of bunga kantan.
Young flower buds of bunga kantan.

The young flower bud can be cut into halves and used in soup.For the nasi lemak recipe,we  have to use the mature flower as shown in the first picture.

The outer bigger bracts of the mature flower are discarded,leaving the tiny bracts and unopened florets for use in cooking.

The tiny,aromatic bracts are used in soup or stir-fry with other vegetables.

Tender bracts from Bunga kantan.
Tender bracts from Bunga kantan.


  The picture below shows the unopened florets whicn can be eaten raw in salad.I use these florets to replace onions in my vegetarian Nasi Lemak recipe.The use of bunga kantan in the sambal gives the dish a kind of aroma which is so unique to taste.

Click here to find out more about bunga kantan.

Unopened bunga kantan florets.
Unopened bunga kantan florets.

The picture below shows the two ingredients for the sambal i.e. asam jawa paste(seedless tamarind paste) and the vegetarian belacan made from fermented soya beans and salt.

belacan
Left- The seedless tamarind paste. Right- The vegetarian belacan

 

Preparing the source(sambal assam)

Ingredients
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbs chilli powder
  • 2 tbs asam paste
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 10 g  vegetarian belacan – made from fermented soya bean.
  • 1 cup of unopened florets from 3 stalks of Bunga Kantan(can be replaced by 2 big onions).
Method
  1. Blend all the ingredients together except the florets of bunga kantan.
  2. Boil the blended mixture in the wok till it turns thicker but remains runny.
  3. Add in the florets and simmer for 3 minutes.
  4. Now the sambal is ready.Keep aside and allow to cool.

 

Long grain rice  to be cooked together with pandan leaves(screwpine leaves),cinnamon sticks,lemon grass and sawtooth coriander leaves.
Long grain rice to be cooked together with pandan leaves(screwpine leaves),cinnamon sticks,lemon grass and sawtooth coriander leaves.

 

Preparing the rice

Recipe

Ingredients
  • 2 cups(400g)  long grain rice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 6 stalks serai(lemon grass) – crushed
  • 6  pandan leaves(screwpine leaves)
  • 6  sawtooth coriander leaves
  • 2  cinnamon sticks
  • 2 slices of ginger
  • 600 g grated coconut without husk- from which extract 4 cups of coconut milk.

 

Method
  1. Wash the rice and strain.
  2. Add all the ingredients in the rice.
  3. Leave aside for 2 hours.
  4. Cook in rice cooker for 1 hour.

That’s it.It is that simple,isn’t it?

Serve the Nasi lemak with roasted groundnuts,pan-fried tempe,sambal,sliced cucumber and a quarter of boiled banana flower to add more fibre to the dish.

Very often nasi lemak is wrapped in banana leaf or brown paper and sold at Rm2 or Rm3 per packet.Vegetarian rendang cooked with chick peas and potatoes can be added to the rice as one of the side dishes.Pineapple and pumpkin cooked in sambal can be added too.In some vegetarian cafes,nasi lemak is served with additional side dishes like deep-fried vegetarian salted mock fish fillets and stir-fried kangkong.

Nasi lemak
Nasi lemak served with roasted groundnuts,sambal asam,fried tempe and boiled banana flower.

 


 

             It is hot!!! 

It is sweet!!!

It is sour!!!

Do not miss it when you are in Malaysia. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Teochew clan’s secret to prosperity,the making of rice pudding

Rice pudding,Teochew’s secret to prosperity ? Am I exaggerating? Well,a bit,may be.However, it was partially true because the Teochew people did earn a living by selling chwee kueh during those earlier days in Malaysia.Even today,we still can see Teochew people selling these small bowls of rice pudding, beside shop houses and at the markets near my area.

 

Rice pudding with chai poh topping
Rice pudding with chai poh topping

When the Teochew people first set foot on the land of Malaysia,just like chinese of other dialets,not all of them came with barrels of gold.For many,life overseas had to start from scratch.Many earned a living by selling their traditional food like ‘chwee kueh’ along with other nonya food.Their younger generations thrived and many had succeeded in business and professional field.In a way, chwee kueh represents their fighting spirit to be able to survive in such an adverse condition far away from their ancestors’ homes.

Rice pudding is called ‘chwee kueh’ in Teochew dialect.We used to have this for breakfast.My late mom would grind the rice using the stone mill.Today we can use a good blender to grind the rice.

Here I would like to share one simple recipe that is popular among the Teochew hawkers.

For babies and the sick,use the second recipe.
Left-Rice flour used in the recipe.  Right - rice pudding ready for steaming
Left-Rice flour used in the recipe.
Right – Half-cooked rice pudding ready for steaming.

 

Chwee kueh,the Teochew rice pudding
Recipe
Ingredients

1 cup  rice flour

1 – 2 tsp corn flour

125-150 ml tap water

3 cups boiling water

 

Left-Ready chopped Chai poh bought from market Right - Stir-fried chai poh and mushroom ready for topping
Left-Ready chopped Chai poh bought from market
Right – Stir-fried chai poh and mushroom ready for topping

 

For the topping,we need the following ingredients :

200 g   sweet chai poh,the preserved turnip

50 g  mushroom,soaked overnight and chopped finely

2  dry chillies,seeded and minced

1 tbs  light soya source

3  shallots (optional) – sliced

Method

Prepare the topping prior to cooking the pudding.

  1. Fry the mushroom,sliced shallots and chillies till fragrant.
  2. Add chai poh and continue stir frying until the mixture turns slightly brown.
  3. Season with light soya source and pepper powder.
Cooking the rice pudding
  1. Add corn flour to the rice flour.
  2. Mix the flour with 125 ml of water.Add more water if the mixture is too thick.
  3. Pour in 3 cups of boiling water to the batter.
  4. Keep on stirring until the batter is no more lumpy.
  5. Spoon the half-cooked pudding into the bowls till  3/4 full.
  6. Steam for 15 minutes(10 minutes for smaller bowls).
  7. Serve with chai poh topping and black soya source.

Make 6-7 porcelian bowls of chwee kueh.

 

Inverted Rice pudding served with chai poh and thick soya source.
Inverted rice pudding served with chai poh and thick soya source.

 

For babies and sickly people,it is better to make chwee kueh using rice instead of rice flour.

 

Recipe
Ingredients

1 cup local rice

3 cups of water

Method
  1. Soak the rice in one cup of water overnight.
  2.  Strain the rice.
  3. Blend the rice with 3 cups of water.
  4. Continue blending until the rice batter becomes very fine.
  5. Keep aside and let the rice batter stand for 1 hr or longer.Omit this step if your blender is a good one.
  6. Add 2 tsp of corn flour if it is not for babies and sick people.
  7. Filter if necessary.
  8. Blend again until the batter is very fine.
  9. Cook the batter in the wok until it becomes thick like pudding.
  10. Spoon into small bowls till 3/4 full.
  11. Steam for 10 minutes and the pudding is done.
Children under 1 year old and the sick should be fed without salt and the chai poh topping.Chwee kueh with thick soya source is allowed for the sick.

The rice used in this pudding is the only factor affecting its flavour,so good rice is the keyword.

Rice pudding in Taiwan has minced meat and mushroom as topping.Here in Malaysia and Singapore,the ingredients of the topping are chai poh,dry shrimps,shallots,chillies and pepper powder.

Normally,those we buy from the stalls are mini bowls of chwee kueh.The Teochiew vender would scoop out the rice pudding and add topping on top.In my recipe,I use medium-size bowls(4″ diameter),easier to wash if you want to know why.Also try to use porcelain bowls for steaming because one can easily take out the pudding using a wet plastic knife.

Remember to try your skill on this recipe.Who knows you might earn a business from it? Share your fruit of efforts with us by posting on our page (coming soon).

Chwee kueh in small bowl
Chwee kueh in small bowl

Enjoy the fruit of your labour by cooking chwee kueh!