Onigiri /My new favourite thing 饭团

PicShells

Last Christmas my husband and I went travelling to Japan. We were visiting Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Tokyo and Nagoya. We also soaked in the onsen of Hakone and ate the legendary black egg that cooked in the hot spring. The whole trip was spectacular. Foods were amazing, it’s killing me to even think about it. Despite ramen, I also felt in love with onigiri, this simple rice dumpling with a little stuffing inside. The Japanese have proved their love of rice. I swear I have never eaten anything better than the rice I ate in Japan. Need not to put anything, I would eat 2 bowls of Japanese cooked rice with no doubt, which I did anyway. The texture is firm and chewy, the fragrance is indescribable. You would have missed out a lot if you are on a low-carb diet, it’d had be so wasteful.

I became addicted to onigiri since there have been a lot of times when we starved while travelling from places to places, a Japanese kiosk then saved our life. Costs around 1€ (150 ¥) each, two onigiris would be a satisfying meal for me already. Always available and always so tasty. Who said that you can’t travel cheap in Japan? Well we have paid between 300¥ to 60000¥ for a meal, as you can see you really do have a choice.

Talking about rice, you must use good quality Japanese rice for making onigiri. Trust me, I have tried with Jasmine rice, bad Japanese rice and good Japanese rice, huge differences that you would not have guess. Basically you can stuff anything you like inside the rice dumpling. The most typical ones are with salted salmon, fish roe, pork chop, chicken, shrimp with mayonnaise, tuna, egg, and even sour plum which was not my favourite. It’s up to your preference. Be creative!

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(Make 6-7 onigiris)

Ingredients:

400ml High quality Japanese rice

600ml Water

140g Salmon/ Seaweed roe for vegetarian, more suggestion see below

1tsp Salt

1/2 tbsp Butter

2 tbsp Japanese rice vinegar (Optional)

Methods:

1) Wash rice until the water becomes clear and drain. Add water and washed rice to a pot and bring to boil. Stir well and turn the heat to the lowest and cover with lid. Let it cook for 15 minutes and turn the heat off. Let it steams by itself for 5-10minutes then it’s done. Add in the vinegar and mix well. Let it cool for a little bit.

2) Heat up butter in a pan and add salmon. Fry until the salmon is cooked. You can break the salmon after it is cooked and then add salt in it, or break the salmon while frying and add the salt. The first method you get a juicier fish and the latter you get a crispier texture.

To form a onigiri, you will need:

1tbsp Salt

1 bowl of water

3-4 Nori seaweed, cut in half into a rectangle shape

1) Make your hands wet with water and rub some salt on your palms, take rice and form a triangle shape.

2) Dig a hole in the middle of the triangle-shaped rice and add in the salmon flesh/seaweed roe. Cover the hole with a little rice and press firmly to shape the rice dumpling. Wrap half a nori sheet around it and voila, you are good to have a big bite.

IMG_2228 IMG_2232I have to say that my favourite stuffing is the dried fish roe and seaweed mixture powder that you can buy from a Japanese grocery store, which gives the most taste to onigiri. Nowadays creative people are making onigiri with barbecue chicken, kimchi and many more. For vegetarian, I’d suggest putting seaweed roe, tamagoyaki, smoked tofu, flavoured seitan and kimchi.

Add some black sesame seed for a more appealing look!

IMG_2235Isn’t it a good idea for picnic? 😉

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My first dish as a 13 year old/ Simple egg fried rice

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I remember that I found a big bowl of leftover cooked rice in the rice cooker when I was home alone, hungry. Suddenly I felt so determined that I wanted to make food for myself. I was 13 and have never cooked in my life before. But during that time I have seen enough Hong Kong TV shows that teach people how to cook at home, and there was this particular dish called ‘golden fried rice/ 黄金炒饭’ which has brought many awards to the main character in the TV shows. His secret of the perfect fried rice is to make sure that every rice grains is coated with eggs, which are fried in a highly heated wok until they started to jump at the edge of the wok pan. So that every single rice grains is separated and firm that gives a nice flavour of egg and texture to the dish.

I’ve got so inspired and determined just out of a sudden. I was literally shivering while lighting up the gas stove as it was my first time. But somehow magic happened, I made the perfect fried rice! The process was smooth and trouble-free. I didn’t know that my fried rice was good until all my cousins came home and ate it and then wondered who has made it. They could not believed that it was me since I have never cooked. But one thing is for sure that I have got some talents as a 13 year old. 😉

Through years I have learned to make many types of fried rice. Basically it is like making spaghetti, you can put whatever you want with it. But I have found out that the best ones are those with the simplest ingredients. And this recipe is really easy that even a 13 year old can do. It is almost exactly the same recipe like I did back then except this time I have added broccoli and chilli to give some colours. 😀

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Ingredients:

400g overnight cooked rice

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 onion, sliced

2 Chinese sausage / Vegan sausage, sliced (optional)

2 organic eggs

4 tbsp good quality soy sauce

1/2 tsp white pepper

100gram broccoli florets (optional)

Methods:

1) Heat up 2 tbsp of peanut oil in wok pan, fry garlic until golden brown. Add in sausage, onion, broccoli and stir-fry for a couple of minutes.

2) Add in rice, break to separate it gently and mix well with all the ingredients inside the wok. Make a well in the middle and break in the eggs. ( Make sure to turn the heat to the highest) Stir very quickly to coat all the rice grains with eggs.

3) When you see that the rice has absorbed all the moisture of the eggs, gradually stir in the soy sauce and white pepper. I added 2 tbsp at a time to avoid getting the rice too moist. Taste accordingly to your preference by adding more or less soy sauce.

3) Stir fry for another 5 minutes or so until the rice grains are ‘jumping’ at the edge of the wok pan because of the high heat. Make sure that happens in order to bring a little taste of the ‘wok’ as so we say, or the taste of burn to make it a perfect fried rice. When it looks done, serve immediately. Top with chilli or spring onions if you like.

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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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Golden Pumpkin Rice/ 金瓜饭/ Living in a busy life

 

IMG_3209Halloween is coming, pumpkins are everywhere to be seen. Is it the same in all countries? I love seeing pumpkins, not only that I wish to know how to carve them and put candles inside them, they also remind me very much of Cinderella. You know, when the fairy flicked her magic wand and turned a pumpkin into a beautiful, glamorous carriage, and then Cinderella went to the castle with that and met her Prince Charming. And as you know eventually they live happily ever after. I know It sounds childish which I admit, but this story always make me feel like: Awww… I want that too. I know that it is never going to happen to me unless you are Kate Middleton, well literally. And in real life, it’s simply impossible to have a little tiny fairy to turn a pumpkin into a carriage. Very disappointing. I would really like to blame Disney for lying to all the innocent children out there, for letting them to believe in stories and things that do not exist. Sadly but truly this world is not as wonderful as we were told, and animals are not friends, most of us eat them. I’m thinking that it might be a bad attempt to over protectively keep children inside the ‘wonderful world’ bubble and away from the reality. They will then face too many bad surprises when they grow up.

Well, we all grew up just fine. Maybe it is just best to let them enjoy the perfect childhood when good people and heroes always win and bad people will always be punished. At least the believe itself is beautiful. 🙂

Back to the pumpkins. They are not just for decoration and their seeds. See? You can make a super delicious meal like this one, which my mom taught me. Translated directly from Chinese, it is called Golden Pumpkin Rice. My mom used to make this dish back then. I remember many times a row she did not succeed and accidentally turned the pumpkin rice into a pumpkin porridge. But, it tasted still really good. Pumpkin itself is sweet and has a unique fragrance, together with the flavor of sauté shallot and the sweetness from juicy paprika. Man! I’m in heaven! Guess what, this time I managed to make it perfect! My god, it tasted so good, the texture is there, the flavor is there and the nutrients are there. I kept telling my sister and my mom so proudly and kept explaining how great it was when the flavor lingered in my mouth. You have no idea. You simply cannot describe. It was so good that I must squeeze out time from my busy life and share this recipe with you!!

Warnings:

I’m gonna take it a bit slower now with my blog, as some of you might probably be wondering already. If you are here only for the recipe, scroll down please. 🙂

I started this blog as a thesis project for my bachelor degree, and I’m about to graduate at the end of this year. The thing is, my full-time job is getting busier now, at the same time with my band we are making new materials for our next album, my blog is also taking a bit too much energy from me… On top of that I just moved to a new home, my mom came to visit to Finland for 2 months, my sister is delivering a baby next week. I’m so out of myself. In fact, (if you are still reading) I had some sort of panic/ stress disorder last week and needed to go to the doctor. Well as expected, too much is too much. So I’m going to slow down my pace a little and try to prioritize what I do. I thank my followers and WordPress.com for bringing me such great attention every now and then. It makes me so excited and I don’t wanna stop! So I promise you, whoever are still reading this, I will write for you. 😉

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Ingredients:

400g Diced pumpkins

200g Shrimps ( omit for vegetarian& vegan)

6 Shallots, thinly sliced

6 Shiitake, diced

1 Red Paprika, diced

2 Spring Onion, diced

2 cups/ 320g Raw rice

1 tbsp Soy Sauce

1 tbsp Black soy sauce

1 tsp Salt

1 tsp White pepper

4 cups/ 640 ml Broth/ Vegetable stock

Methods:

1) Heat up 2 tbsp of oil in wok and fry shallots until brown and fragrant. Add in diced pumpkins, shrimps, shiitake and stir fry until the pumpkins are cooked/ soften.

2) Add in rice, paprika, soy sauce, dark soy sauce, salt and pepper. Mix well.

3) IF YOU HAVE A RICE COOKER: Add in 1 cup/160ml of broth or vegetable stock and stir-fry for a couple of minutes. Turn off heat and put everything into the rice cooker. Add the remaining 3 cups/ 480ml of stock and cook it through. Stir once when the rice is done and keep warm for 5 minutes.

IF YOU DON’T HAVE A RICE COOKER: Add in all the broth or vegetable stock and bring to boil. Keep stirring to prevent sticking from the bottom. Reduce heat to medium low. Cook for 5 minutes. Turn off heat, cover with lid and let it steam for 20 minutes.

4) Serve with chopped spring onion/ fried onion.

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I will be back!

Wish me luck for my thesis.

Oh yes, Happy Halloween to you! 🙂

Nasi Lemak with Vegetarian Acar /Memoir of the 90 years old granny

IMG_2730It was year 1993, in an old village where I used to live in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. A 90 years old Malay granny walked by my grandparents’ house.

‘Naaa…si Lemaaak…’, ‘Naaa…si Lemaaak…’ she dragged the vowels and sang so vulnerably.

Her voice was so hoarse and weak, sharp but harsh. I could hear her from far away especially in the early morning, right after our neighbor’s rooster woke everyone up. Just before I walked to my primary school at 6:45am, that was when she came to sell her Nasi Lemak.

As a kid I was already wondering why she needed to sell Nasi Lemak at her age. Instead of walking too slow, it seemed like she was basically trying to move forward like a turtle (my description as a kid), carrying a basket full of Nasi Lemaks wrapped in newspaper. Her back was bend and there was never anyone coming with her. My sister and I had always felt so pity for her. We even had a serious discussion about this. As a 7 and a 9 years old, we made up all kinds of reasons to help us understand why this thing would happen to her.

‘Her children must have had abandoned her!’

‘She must have been really poor!’

‘Maybe she is all alone in the world and she needs to take care of herself.’

How horrible. We always felt sad whenever we heard her calling for Nasi Lemak buyers on the street. My sister and I would spend our 50 cents, which was half of our daily meal allowance to buy her Nasi Lemak in order to support this poor old granny. We never understood what on earth had happened to her. Back then my grandmother was about 50 years old and she had never worked. How could anyone let this 90 years old work at this age in this condition? The little me realized that life was so unfair. Imagine that she needed to wake up around 4 or 5 am in order to prepare for Nasi Lemak, a traditional Malaysian dish that requires a lot of work. It would not do her any good. Once my uncle bought off all her Nasi Lemaks when he came visiting Johor Bahru. The granny was so happy, that she even graciously gave some discounts for my uncle. 4 Malaysian Ringgits for 10 packages, which made only 40 cents per package. I didn’t think that it was a good deal because I thought that the granny would have needed that money more than we did.

Need not to think, I’m sure that she is no longer selling Nasi Lemak anymore… But I still remember how she made her Nasi Lemak different than others.

This recipe is dedicated to her.

You can make Nasi Lemak in many ways and it usually turns out as delicious as it supposed to be. Most Nasi Lemak served with coconut rice, sambal, cucumber slices, fried anchovies and hard-boiled egg. You may easily find fancier ones that come with beef or chicken Rendang as well. I remember that the 90 years old granny used to make hers with a thin layer of omelet that was quite sweet and savory, which I have not seen anyone does it like that elsewhere. Today I’m making the egg her way just for remembering her. Her Nasi Lemak was always simple and plain, just sambal, peanut, anchovies, omelet and cucumber, and the rice was packed with flavor and fragrance from the coconut milk and banana leaf. It was always worth the 50 cents we have got on our hands, those shillings that we might have stolen from our grandfather’s pocket.

Nasi lemak has a strong flavor, especially the sambal. Sambal is something that you hate or you love, because it has a strong pungent flavor that comes from shallots and fermented shrimp paste. Surprisingly my Finnish husband loves Nasi Lemak, despite the combination of pungent taste, saltiness and sweetness of it. He loves it so much that once he ate only Nasi Lemak as breakfast, lunch and dinner in Malaysia! It is so easily found anywhere. We liked to take-away our Nasi Lemak from 7-eleven and ate it on our way in the bus from Johor Bahru to Kuala Lumpur and the other way around. In Malaysia, the Malays make it, the Chineses make it and so as the Indians. But I have never seen a vegetarian version so far. Therefore I thought that it would be interesting to make it vegetarian this time especially for my vegetarian followers out there (hello and waves). And it turned out just GREAT. My husband loved it, as we all can predict already. 😉

Here are the main components for Nasi Lemak:

A: Coconut Rice

B: Sambal

C: Omelet /Boiled eggs

D. Salted peanuts

E. Cucumber slices

F. Fried Anchovies (omitted for vegetarian)

G: Vegetarian Acar /Pickled mix vegetables (Eva’s Special for vegetarian :D)

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(Make 4 servings)

A: Ingredients for Coconut Rice:

320g Jasmin rice

300ml Coconut Milk

180ml Water

1 tsp Salt

3 Pandanus leaves, knotted

Method:

1) Wash rice at least twice. Add in all the ingredients into a pot and bring to boil.

2) Turn the heat to medium high, cook for 5 minutes.

3) Stir to prevent sticking from the bottom, covered with lid. Turn off the heat and let it steam for 20 minutes.

4) Break the rice with chopsticks or fork, set aside.

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B: Ingredients for the Sambal:

4-6 Shallots (depends on size), chopped

4 Dried chilies, cut and soak in hot water for 10 minutes

2 Fresh chilies, chopped

3 Garlic cloves

1 stalk Lemongrass, chopped

1 Onion, sliced

1 tsp Tamarind paste and 2 tbsp hot water, squeezed out the juice and discard the residue

1 tbsp Sugar

1 tsp Salt

1 tsp Soy sauce (optional)

Methods:

1) Put shallots, dried chilies, fresh chilies, garlic, lemongrass into food possessor, blend into a paste.

2) Heat up 2 tbsp oil in a sauce pan. Fry paste and onion until fragrance. Add in tamarind juice. Stir.

3) Add in sugar, salt and soy sauce. Turn to low heat and cook for at least 40 minutes. Keep stirring to prevent burning. Set aside.

Note: Making sambal is very challenging. It is crucial to cook it with low heat for a long time in order to allow the shallots to transform its pungent taste into sweetness. Keep tasting, if it does not taste right, it is not done yet! 😉 For non-vegetarian, mix in fried anchovies at last and cook for another 5 minutes before serving for more authentic version. It is wise to make a bigger batch of sambal since it takes a lot of work. It goes extremely well with fried noodles, fried rice and even with the curry for Roti canai (Malaysian-Indian bread). It stays well in a sterilized container for up to a week in the refrigerator.

C: Ingredients for the 90 years old granny’s omelet:

4 Eggs

1 tsp Sugar

2 tsp Soy sauce

Dash of white pepper

Methods:

1) Beat up eggs, whip in sugar, soy sauce and white pepper.

2) Heat up pan and add 1 tbsp oil. Pour in half of the batch, move the pan around to make thin layer of omelet. Flip if preferred.

3) Repeat for another batch. Cut ready omelet into serving size.

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G: Ingredients for Vegetarian Acar ( Pickled mix vegetables)

100g Cabbage, sliced

100g French Beans, cut into 4 cm length sticks

100g Roasted peanuts, grounded

2 tbsp Roasted sesame seed

1 Cucumber, cut into 4cm length sticks

2 Carrots, cut into 4 cm length sticks

1 pack /250g Tofu, cubed

150g Pineapple, cubed

1 Lemongrass, chopped

2 Red chilies, seeded and cut into 4 cm length sticks

3 Shallots, sliced

3 Garlic cloves, chopped

3 Dried chilies, cut and soak in hot water for 10 minutes

1 tsp Turmeric powder

1,5dl Vinegar

3dl Water

2 tbsp sugar

Methods:

1) Mix cabbage, french beans, cucumber and carrot together and mix with 2 tbsp of salt. Let it sit for 20 minutes. Squeeze out excess water and wash the salt away. Drain dry.

2) Blend shallots, garlic, lemongrass, dried chilies and chilies in food processor into a paste.

3) Heat up oil in a sauce pan and fry paste until fragrance. Add in vinegar, turmeric powder, water and sugar. Bring to boil.

4) Pour liquid over the mix vegetables, mix in tofu and pineapples. Covered and let it sit in refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

5) Mix in ground peanuts and sesame seed, stir well before serving.

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To serve an authentic Nasi Lemak , prepare a piece of banana leaf on top of a piece of newspaper. Place one portion of coconut rice in the middle, assemble all the other components around it and top up with Sambal on a small piece of banana leaf. Wrap and fold the edges to the bottom. Served. Eat with your clean right hand.

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For her.

Maybe she just loved to share her Nasi Lemak with others.