Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Cooking up a storm in Malaysia

One of the great pleasures of overseas travel is eating out, but so is buying exotic produce and cooking with it. After visiting the Sungai Way wet market in Petaling Jaya (where I also devoured some delicious kueh and tau foo fa), I also managed to pick up some vegetables that I struggle to get back home.

The winged bean, also known as the asparagus pea, is something I very occasionally see in Indochinese groceries in Melbourne, but the specimens are usually of poor quality and are quite expensive. In Malaysia, it is cheap and abundant; referred to locally as 4-angle bean in English, kacang botol (bottle bean) in Malay, and kecipir in Indonesia. It is a fantastic vegetable and I wonder why it hasn't been popularised more in the West. Like the common green bean, it is a pod encasing a number of small beans - but the beans in this case are exceptionally high in protein (up to 39%). The protein is also a complete protein, in the way that meat and soybeans are, but common beans and lentils are not. It grows easily, and its leaves and tubers are also edible, making it an ideal crop for the developing world.

Likewise, edible ferns (pakis or paku) are seemingly impossible to come by in Australia, unless perhaps you are an avid wild food gatherer. In Indonesia and Malaysia, they are a common part of traditional diets, although moreso in the rural areas - they are one of the most common vegetables eaten by the indigenous peoples of Borneo.

Of course, buying vegetables is the easy part; you need to actually cook them too. Wanting to impress family and friends, I realise they had shamefully never tried Indonesian cuisine, so I felt it my duty to introduce them.

Above: we call this oseng-oseng kecipir in Indonesia, the 4-angle beans sliced finely and stir-fried with shallots, garlic and chili. The mushrooms are there only because they needed to be used up, but worked well anyway.

One of the better known Indonesian dishes, gado-gado. There are numerous ways cooking and presenting this dish, which is basically a variety of vegetables with peanut sauce. I used the boiled ferns alongside snake beans, bean sprouts, carrots and hard-boiled eggs. The sauce combines peanuts with palm sugar, kecap manis (sweet soya sauce), lime juice, ground coriander, shallots, garlic and chili.

Below: Opor tahu (bean curd in white curry gravy). Usually made with chicken, but the key ingredient is the sauce, rich with coconut milk and flavoured with lemon grass, lime leaf, garlic, galangal and other spices.

Below: perkedel jagung (corn fritters) - we Indonesians love our fried snacky things, and this is a very common dish. I add bean sprouts and kaffir lime leaf to mine.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful, thank you. I found your site quite by accident while trying to find a photo of the kacang botel for some friends of mine who have never seen them . . . our situation is your reverse - we are Aussies living/working expats in Malaysia. It's been four years now, after six in Singapore . . . and we love it.
    Thank you for your great blog.