Asian food is sometimes as much about the side dishes and accompaniments as it is about the main course. In fact there are times when there isn’t one main course as such, but a myriad of dishes which fill the table – meat, fish, vegetables, rice/noodles. The common thread is that there is at least one protein, one or two vegetables and a carbohydrate which is invariably rice. It is not uncommon for meat and fish to be served at the same meal, just in smaller portions so that everyone can have a little of everything. I like this style of eating… different flavours, textures and even temperatures melding together. Accompaniments are important, whether these fresh herbs, raita, chutney, chilli sauce, chilli oil, soy sauce, nam pla, lemon, lime etc… these give you the opportunity to tweak your dish to suit your own taste.
We eat this way too – you will often see a mound of rice in the middle or on the side of a plate, with the other items placed around it. Therefore you can either eat them separately with the rice, or mix a couple of items together to appreciate the different or contrasting flavours and textures. One thing which shocked me when I came to live in England was that in Asian restaurants not only did people order their ‘own’ dish, but if it was Indian food, they mixed the food up together on their plate! I still can’t get used to that, but I find it does happen less (or maybe thats because I always encourage people to share!).
Last weekend when I cooked the Beef Rendang, I wasn’t sure whether to do plain white rice or my mothers version of Nasi Kunyit (Nasi meaning rice). I ended up with the Nasi Kunyit, although a lighter version using Basmati instead of the traditional glutinous rice. Nasi Kunyit is Peranakan originally, and served at Malay celebratory occasions. It is essential rice with Turmeric and coconut – fragrant and a little sweet with a lovely golden colour. My mother cooked Nasi Kunyit as follows: Saute one finely chopped onion in a little coconut oil until soft. Add a star anise and a teaspoon of turmeric and a teaspoon of salt. Then add the washed rice (about 3 cups for 4 people) and stir to coat. Cover the rice with boiling water, but no more that 1cm above the top, and add one tablespoon of desiccated coconut. Let the rice boil until the water has almost evaporated, then turn the heat right down, cover and leave to steam for 5-10 mins. Turn off the heat, fluff with a fork, and then cover and leave for 20 minutes.
I also felt that beansprouts and tofu needed be eaten with this… I drained and then cut the tofu into chunks which i then shall fried until they were crisp on the outside. When this was cool i sliced it. I chopped an onion and crushed garlic, then chopped a spring onion into 3 cm piece. Heat a little oil in a wok… add the garlic and spring onion until just soft and then add the cabbage/greeens followed by the beansprouts and the tofu. In a separate glass mix 1/2 tsp sugar, pinch of salt, 2Tbs light soy and 1 Tbs Sesame oil. Mix this with the vegetables as you stir fry…add some chopped red chilli to taste.
This time next week I will be on my way to Malaysia…!