My beautiful, lovely Grandmother/ 外婆的咸肉粽/ Glutinous Rice Dumpling Wrapped in Bamboo Leaves

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I only started to appreciate traditions and festival foods after I came to live in Finland, a place that has winter more than 6 months, celebrates to the midnight sun during the summer that lasts no longer than 2 months. It is clearly different than where I came from, Malaysia. As Malaysian Chinese, we carried out many practices originated from China. Some food and cultures have been also created only in Malaysia partly influenced by the Malay, Indian and European cultures. To name, black pepper crabs, pork ribs in herb tea, fish head curry are becoming some of those signature dishes of Malaysia.

This dish I’m introducing today is one of those festival dishes originated from China. Making glutinous rice dumpling or ‘Zongzi’ in Chinese, during the Dragon Boat Festival remains one of those practices carried on from generation to generation. There is a nice story about the history of making glutinous rice dumpling. You may go ahead and google, all I will tell you is that this dish was supposed to be for fishes not human. 😀 Well, now it does not sound as tempting anymore, does it? No worries, this is not the same anymore compared to how it started. It is safe to be consumed by human and super delicious!

My grandmother, who I love to death used to make Zongzi every year. She would make countless bundles of these and hang them everywhere under the ceiling to cool. We always have too many Zongzi and enough to hand out some to the neighbours and relatives, it made me so proud. My grandmother used to have all the energy for it. But she stopped doing all these fun stuffs after she got that terrible stroke that made her body half paralysed. Before that she used to be out going, travelling to China, playing Ma Jong everywhere, running after me with bamboo stick real fast. I have been really sad to see that terrible change in her life. For over 20 years, she has been hiding from the society in her empty house, avoid meeting relatives and feeling ashamed of how she looks, not capable to walk properly. When me and my Finnish husband got married, I was excited to bring him back to the village I grew up in Johor Bahru and to meet my grandmother. I remembered while this white guy walked into her home, my grandmother immediately said that, ‘Oh no… there is nothing to see here, I’ve got nothing to show in my house, I’m a shamed!’

Should have correct her immediately that she is the only one and the most beautiful thing to be seen in that empty house.

I tried to call her every week and if not, I feel guilty and regret that I didn’t. Too bad there is a thing called time zone differences in the world. It makes it rather difficult to reach her before her bedtime. I’m sure my grandma would be very proud of me for making these rice dumpling all by myself. Oh well, my sister helped a little. 😉 I can’t see but next time when I tell her this, I’m sure she will be smiling like this.

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I did not realise that Popo, my grandmother looks much older than the picture in my head. 😦 Last phone call she said that she has a reason to feel happy again because she heard my voice. (Cried…)

Here is to my Popo, my beloved grandmother.

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(Make 50-60 bite sized Zongzi)

WARNING! THIS IS A VERY COMPLICATED AND TIME CONSUMING DISH!

Ingredients A:

1 kilo Glutinous rice

400g Peeled split mung bean

200g Dried chestnut

200g/ 1/2 pack Dried bamboo leaves

15-20 pieces Dried shiitake mushroom

4 Tbsp Oyster/Mushroom sauce

4 Tbsp Seseme oil

4 Tbsp Soy sauce

2 Tbsp Deep fried shallot (optional)

Several salted duck eggs (optional)

Plastic stings or hemp, cut into 50cm long and tight into bundles (I used wool thread :-P)

 

Ingredients B for Carnivores:

500g Pork belly, cut into biteable cubes

100g Dried Shrimp (optional)

2 cloves Garlic, minced

2 Tbsp Oyster sauce

1 Tbsp Soy sauce

1 Tbsp Dark soy sauce

1 Tsp 5 spice powder

 

Ingredients C for Vegetarians:

300g Seitan, cut into biteable cubes

150g Peanut, soaked in water (Can be replaced by canned peanut)

50g Chinese preserved kale/ vegetable (optional)

2 cloves Garlic, minced

2 Tbsp Mushroom sauce

1 Tbsp Soy sauce

1Tbsp Dark soy sauce

1 Tsp 5 spice powder

 

Methods:

1) (Ingredients A) Soak glutinous rice, peeled split mung bean, dried chestnut, dried bamboo leaves and dried shiitake mushroom in water separately overnight. Washed and drained. Mix glutinous rice and mung bean together with 2 tbsp oyster/mushroom sauce, 2 tbsp sesame oil and 2 tbsp soy sauce and deep-fried shallot in a bowl. Set aside.

2) Heat up oil in wok pan, stir fry mushroom and chestnut separately with the rest of the sauces, place also separately.

(The reason to place ingredients separately is to make sure that you get a piece of everything wrapped into every rice dumplings one by one.)

For Carnivores (Ingredients B):

2) Fry pork in oil with garlic, add oyster sauce, soy sauce, dark soy sauce and 5 spice powder until cooked. Meanwhile, toast dried shrimp in hot pan with a little bit of oil until fragrant. Set aside.

For Vegetarians (Ingredients C):

2) Fry seitan in oil with garlic, add in mushroom sauce, soy sauce, dark soy sauce and 5 spice powder and mix well. Meanwhile toast peanut with a little bit oil and salt. Set aside.

3) To make a rice dumpling, placed 2 bamboo leaves together horizontally and put both ends together to make a pocket. Put in 1 tbsp of rice-mung bean filling, add one piece of everything on top: mushroom, chestnut, pork/seitan, peanut, some Chinese preserved kale (optional) and salted duck egg (optional). Top up more rice-mung bean filling to cover up. Fold the leaves to closure, wrap the dumpling tightly with strings.

4) Cook rice dumplings in a deep cooking pot with enough water that covers them. Add 1 Tbsp of salt. Bring to boil, turn the heat to medium low, cook the dumplings for 4 hours. Enjoy as breakfast, lunch, snack or dinner.

I froze most of the dumplings in freezer and whenever I feel like it, I take it out and steam it for 10-15 minutes. I have let my Finnish, Chinese and Russian friends tried too, some said that one is definitely not enough! 😀

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It is important to tight the rice dumpling well and firm in order to prevent leaking during cooking process. FYI, 2 of mine leaked.

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 Here is my vegetarian version of Zongzi.

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With a pressure cooker, it only takes 40 minutes to cook the glutinous rice dumpling (Zongzi) ready.

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There are many ways to wrap a rice dumpling. Be creative and make your own style! No stress.

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If you may wonder, the main flavour of this dish comes from the fragrance of the bamboo leaves: woody, tea like aromas, hard to describe, very unique indeed!

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 Now you may understand why I think my Popo would be proud of me for making this dish. 😉

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Garlicky Pork Noodle Soup 猪肉粉 / My all time favorite

Pork noodle soup ready to serve

I remember when I used to live in Kuala Lumpur, there was this food court named ‘Big Prawns’ located about 1.5 kilometers away from our home. Despite all the delicacies you may find, like clay-pot chicken rice, Asam Laksa, economy rice buffet, grilled chicken wings, otak otak…, pork noodle soup is definitely my all time favorite. You have to be alert, got to remember to ask for the one with only pork meatballs, pork strips or minced meat. Otherwise you will find pork stomach, intestines, and sometimes blood sausages in your noodle soup when it is delivered! I am not a big fan of bizarre food, but of course it is up to one’s preference.

Later on when I moved back to Johor Bahru, Southern Malaysia where it is right next to Singapore, I’ve realized that they don’t sell pork noodle soup at all. According to Malaysian local newspaper GuangMing Daily, Pork noodle soup is actually one of the Kuala Lumpur iconic hot dishes. Therefore my friends, do try it out when you ever visit my home country. 🙂

Rice noodle

Summer Cabbage

This is my quick version of pork noodle soup whenever I have only 30 minutes to cook and I’m super hungry. I added pickled mustard for extra flavor which you can find in ethnic store.

Pickled Mustard

( Serve 1)

Ingredients:

50g Rice noodle

100g Pork strips

2 garlic cloves, minced

5dl Stock/ water

1 tbsp soy sauce

1/2 tsp white pepper

80g/ 1 portion summer cabbage, chopped

1 tbsp pickled mustard strips (optional)

Chopped spring onion (optional)

Fried onion (optional)

Methods:

1) Heat up oil in a deep wok/ sauce pan. Saute garlic in oil until brown. Add pork and pickled mustard strips, stir-fry until pork is brown and fragrant.

2) Add stock/ water and bring to boil. Add soy sauce, white pepper and summer cabbage. Let it cook for a few minutes until the cabbage is cooked.

3) Served in a bowl with chopped spring onion and fried onions. Enjoy!

PS: For more authentic version, use pork bone stock and served with pork meatballs and minced meat. 🙂

Garlic in the frying

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1 bowl of water for 1 portion

Almost ready

开动咯!:D

Spaghetti alla Carbonara / Sweet memory from Rome

Carbonara

In 2011 my husband and I went to Rome for holiday. The city was so beautiful that we felt in love again. Walking through all the busy streets and allies just to discover local good food. What’s in Rome? Pasta and pizza! I ate a lot of those but only one of them was my favorite, that is spaghetti alla carbonara. Those chewy, perfectly cooked spaghetti with cheesy sauce packed with bacon fat, tasted like heaven! Sat next to the flowery window with a bottle of Italian white wine, it was just the perfect ending for a long day walk in Rome.

Last weekends we just had our mid-summer holiday at our friend’s summer cottage. The whole trip was about grill meat and vegetables and alcohol. Enough is enough, I have to have my pasta. My husband asked me sweetly:’ Baby can you make Carbonara, the one we ate in Rome?’ Of course. 🙂

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Barilla, the most sold pasta brand in Rome and we have one of them. The one I’m using is whole grain.

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Crispy bacon

(Serves 2 people)

Ingredients:

100 grams Spaghetti

1 pack/ 170 gram of bacon,

1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese

1 egg, beaten

1/2 teaspoon of sea salt

Dash of black pepper

Methods:

1) Cook spaghetti in boiling water with a pinch of salt for 8-10 minutes. Dry drain, save 1/2 cup of cooking water for later used.

2) Meanwhile, fry bacon in pan with olive oil until brown. Add garlic, stir and fry until fragrance. Mix cooked spaghetti into pan and turn off the heat. Add beaten egg and parmesan cheese. Combine the egg and cheese mixture with pasta, until the cheese dissolve. Add cooking water gradually to prevent drying out. Season with salt and pepper.

3) Serve immediately. Top up with more parmesan cheese. Buon Appetito!

Carbonara ready to serve